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Authors: Emmy Curtis

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary Women, #Erotica, #Contemporary, #Fiction

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BOOK: Pushing the Limit
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“Are you okay?” Harry was at his side, hand on his arm, and he had no idea how she got so close.

“I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?” He struggled to not jump away from her, but instead he moved from her touch slowly, pretending to look at the basil. He shoved his shaking hand in his pants pocket and chugged the rest of the tea with his other.

“You zoned out for a second there.” She laughed. “You must be tired still. We’ll leave in a little while. Ain was packing up some spices for Molly, and we should grab Jason before he loses his mind.”

“Huh? What’s wrong with Jason?” What the hell had he missed while he was out in the garden?

“Mueen keeps beating him at chess. Fast and roundly. I left the house just as Jason was failing to find the humor in it.” She held her hand out as if she wanted him to take it. “Come on.”

He didn’t dare touch her again, not with his equilibrium so screwed up. He really hoped that he could get back home tomorrow. He needed away from this clusterfuck of Harry and Iraq. The unlikeliest combination that seemed perfectly created to fuck with his head.

Chapter Nine

The journey back to the hotel was slightly tenser than the ride there. What with Jason still smarting at being beaten so easily by Mueen, and Matt glaring out the window, literally on the edge of his seat looking for danger as they slowly bumped back, Harry was certain that the vehicle was emitting a force field of negativity that no one would dare penetrate.

When they eventually got out of Mueen’s truck, they gathered around him to shake his hand and thank him for the evening.

“I’ll be here at eight for you, as usual,” he told them out the window as he peeled away, leaving them in the massive driveway of the hotel. Sometimes he reminded Harry more of an American than an Iraqi. She waved as he left.

“I am going to bed. I’ll be down for breakfast at seven as usual,” Harry told them, keen to end the evening and at least try to encourage the others to do the same. She’d been on edge since she found the artifact from the military plane and didn’t want to invite trouble by having Molly or Jason fool around in the bar or the pool at night. They were pretty close to her age, but she still felt responsible for them.

“Me too,” Molly said firmly. “I’ll walk with you.” She took Harry’s arm and steered her toward the entrance.

“Good night, guys.” Harry waved over her shoulder, leaving the two moody men behind them.

“Jason is such a piece of work, right?” Molly said as soon as they were through the doors.

“What do you mean? The chess thing?” Harry asked.

“Yes of course the chess thing.” She sounded exasperated. “Why is it that men are such poor losers? How can he get angry because someone beat him at a board game? It’s ridiculous.” Molly was walking faster and faster, clomping up the stairs as she spoke. “It’s so juvenile.”

Harry thought about Matt’s instinctive reaction to her revelation about Danny. Accusing, blaming her. “Yes, they are. They really are.”

“I mean, would he do that with his kids?” Molly ploughed along her train of thought, making Harry smile. She had obviously been stewing about it all the way back to the hotel and was just venting. “Would he be angry if his kids beat him at something? Is that, like, abuse or something?”

They reached Harry’s room, and she took out her key. “Molly. You’re twenty-three and a grad student. So is Jason. You met him three days ago. Please tell me you’re not planning on having kids with him already?” She gave Molly a look. A second passed as she watched emotions pass over Molly’s face.

“No.
No
. Of course not. But every woman who meets a man wonders what he would be like to marry, to have kids with. Even if it’s only for a second. It’s normal. Any man you’re interested in, that is. It’s just something we keep an eye open for, right? It’s, like, biology or something.” Molly reached in her bag for her keys and made her way to the next room.

“Right,” Harry said softly, turning and hiding the frown that she knew was on her face as she opened the door. “G’night.”

“Night, Harry.”

Did all women think about that? She never had. Never. She sat on the edge of her bed. Seriously? She was supposed to consider every man she liked as a potential parent and husband? And it was biology?

It made sense. All the studies that had been done about being attracted to men who had a symmetrical face or a strong jaw… her mind skipped ahead to Matt. He had both of those things, but she’d never once imagined being married to him, or having kids with him. Was there something wrong with her? Or was Molly wrong?

Molly was young, but Harry knew that she had an IQ of 149 and had rarely scored less than perfect on any standardized test she’d ever taken. And the only reason she knew those things was that Molly’d let it slip when they’d been out drinking in Thailand. If memory served, it had been the Mekong. The liquor that thought it was a nail polish remover. Harry stuck out her tongue in disgust at the mere thought of it.

Urgh, enough of the navel-gazing. She yawned and stretched, got up to lock the bedroom door, and slipped into her sleep shorts and tank again, pausing for a second as she caught a whiff of Matt’s soapy scent as she pulled the tank over her head.
Yum
.

She slipped between the sheets and paused for a second. Nope. Still not thinking about having kids with him. Other things, yes. Procreating? Definitely not.

* * *

Matt knew something was off as soon as he stepped in his room. A scent of tobacco, maybe? He closed the door and looked around the room. To the average person, it would look the same as he’d left it. To Matt, it was obvious someone had searched the room.

He wasn’t entirely surprised. All through training, they’d always been told that as soon as they were in a foreign country, they were to assume someone was going through their things.

But this was different. This wasn’t some provincial policeman curious about what a U.S. serviceman was here for. Or a hotel worker looking for valuables. This was a pro job.

He opened the wardrobe. He’d hung up his uniform and three tan uniform t-shirts, and two uniform blues shirts. He’d hung them in a group of two, then one, then the four other items together. Now they were hanging in one pair and then five together. They’d been careful about the bag he’d placed on the floor but not how the clothes were positioned on the rail.

He opened a drawer in the dresser. He always placed his socks in as if he’d dumped them straight in from the suitcase. A casual observer would assume he was messy. But he also always placed one pair of woolen socks, facing west. W for woolen, W for west. Now they were messed in with the rest of them.

Everything except for those two things were perfect. He couldn’t tell if the bag had been touched, although seeing that the searcher was obviously professional, he had to assume so. Luckily he never traveled with anything that could be used against him, or the U.S.

Slowly he turned around, looking at every item of his, and the hotel’s. His breath steadied as he surveyed the room. Windows were closed, the blinds were half-down where he’d left them, the bed was made, although God knew he was going to examine that carefully before he got in it. He was looking for one thing, one thing that might tell him exactly why his room had been searched. And then he found it.

In the threadbare carpet there was a slight indentation where a foot of a chair had been. It was slightly to the right of where the chair was now. Clumsy for a pro, but maybe he’d been disturbed. Quietly, he got on his hands and knees and flipped onto his back so he could look under the chair. Somewhere in his fucked-up brain he half expected to see a pressure switch to a bomb, for no good reason except his brain had been messing with him since he’d landed here.

It wasn’t a pressure switch, it was a bug. A quarter-sized round bug that looked like a watch battery, smooth and flat. Two tiny antennae poked out of it.

He sighed as he looked at it, relaxing a little. You don’t booby-trap a room and bug it at the same time. It was usually one or the other. If his room was going to explode, no one would leave an additional piece of equipment like a bug. Too easy to trace signals.

Sitting up, he wondered. No one knew he was even in country except immigration and his commander. And Nitro. But Nitro was there to guard him. Which reminded him to call him the next day to arrange to see him for a drink. If he was still here, that was.

He leapt up. Shit. He should check on Harry’s room, too.

As he let himself out of his room, he called himself out on his excuse to go see her. Who would professionally search the room of an archaeologist? Or bug it, come to that.

By the time he knocked on her door, he’d persuaded himself that it was imperative that he search her room for a matching bug. Vital, even.

The door wrenched open. Harry stood there in the same clothes that had entranced him yesterday. Tiny soft cotton shorts and a tight-fitting tank top. She scrubbed her eyes with her fists. Dammit. Was she freaking crazy? He could have been anyone.

“What the fuck are you doing, opening the door in the middle of the night?” he stormed.

“You knocked.” She yawned and stretched her arms over her head, showing off a luscious section of tanned belly. “That’s how it works. You knock. I answer.”

“And if I’d been a crazed gunman with a grudge against Western women?” He slammed the door behind him.

“Then I’d be dead, and I guess by morning, you’d be feeling guilty because you forgot to warn me that there were crazed gunmen in the hotel.” She grinned.

Un-fucking-believable. He took a breath and closed his eyes. He did not want to punch a hole in the wall. That would be bad. Bad. That would be bad. He repeated that in his mind until Harry opened her sassy mouth again.

“I was sleeping. What do you want?”

He paused, remembering why he’d come in the first place. “A good-night kiss.” He shrugged and almost laughed at the expression on her face: half disbelief and half annoyance. Ah well.

He grabbed her by the back of her neck and pulled her in. Her eyes were wary, but she said nothing. He angled his head as if he was going to kiss her, and he felt her take a step back. He pressed his lips against her ear and whispered, “My room’s bugged. I just want to see if yours is, too.”

Harry jerked her head away from him and seemed to search his face. She nodded slowly. And then grinned. He watched perplexed as her hand swung back, almost in slow motion, and then flew forward and slapped him. Not hard, but still.

“What the…” He resisted the temptation to rub his stinging cheek.

Her smile got wider as she spoke. “How dare you. You can’t just kiss me, you judgmental oaf.” She swept her hands around her and shrugged, giving him the opportunity to look at the stuff in her room.

He circled the room until he got to the huge desk chair she’d been in the night before. “It really wasn’t… I really didn’t think that.” He got on his hands and knees again and looked under the chair. Nothing. Then under the metal casters, next to the wheels. Bingo.

He was elated for a second that he’d found it, and then a cold finger of realization pricked his spine. If they were both bugged, it must be because of the artifact. Unless every freaking room was bugged, but he couldn’t imagine that was the case. The bugs were sophisticated, nothing the Iraqis would have access to at this stage in their redevelopment. Putting them in every single room would require a lot of money, and a lot of manpower to listen to the feeds.

He looked at Harry and finally registered that she was making crazy kissing noises. God help him, but he wanted to laugh. He rolled his eyes at her and nodded toward the door.

Once on the other side, Harry looked expectantly at him.

“I don’t know. I have no answers now. But it’s better, for the benefit of whoever is listening in, to pretend that we don’t know they’re there. Just try not to say anything about what brought me here, okay?”

She nodded, and then her eyes widened. “Do you think they listened to us… last night?”

He wanted to put her mind at rest, but in all honesty he couldn’t. He shrugged. “Maybe? Until I know who’s so interested in us, I won’t know. I’m going to find an empty room and check it for bugs, just to make sure it’s just us.”

“The Iraqi couple next door left this morning. I don’t think anyone’s checked in since,” she said, pointing to her left.

He took out his wallet and removed his military ID. Should be easy. Except he couldn’t get caught. If he did, all manner of diplomatic issues would arise. Job-threatening ones.

* * *

Seriously? He was just going to break in? She didn’t know a whole lot about the justice system here, but she doubted the authorities would look too kindly upon a U.S. military man breaking into a hotel room, albeit an empty one.

“Okay, but I’m coming with you,” she said.

“Sure you’re not. Get back in your room and just act normally.” His face was quite formidable when he was pissed off. Except he had no reason to be.

“Look. If you get caught, and you’re with me, I can at least claim it was a mistake, that we mistook this room for mine? You know it makes sense.”

He tipped his head and the noise of a crack from his neck startled her. “Okay. But if we get caught, for God’s sake, let me do the talking.”

What a nerve. “Because you’ve won over everyone here with your charm and wit?” She shoved her fists into her waist at each side and waited.

“Fair point. Let’s get this over with.” He leaned against the door and knocked. The weight of his body muffled the sound of the knock. No reply.

Harry looked up and down the corridor, checking for guests or staff wandering around, but it was empty and quiet. She glanced back at Matt, but the door was already open and he had disappeared inside. She made a mental note to make sure she double-locked all her doors around him.

She elbowed the door open and slid in. “You are way too good at that. Did you have a criminal childhood or something?” she whispered.

“Or something.” He switched on the small desk lamp and looked around.

She watched as he lowered himself to the floor and looked under the furniture, then peeked out the door to check for unwanted guests. Boots clomped on the stairs, sending her heart rate into the stratosphere. “Someone’s coming,” she hissed.

Matt was lying on the floor looking up at the desk. “Close the door and flip the light switch,” he said.

She did as she was told. Footsteps went to the far end of the corridor and inexplicably came back. Oh God, was it the security man? She backed away from the door silently. Up and down the man paced. She got on her hands and knees and crawled in the dark over to Matt so she wouldn’t make a noise. “He might be there all night,” she whispered as she approached.

Suddenly her hand was on his leg. His big, hard leg. They both went completely still. “Sorry,” she said pulling away and sitting with her back to the bed, propping her feet against his legs. “Any ideas?”

“There were no bugs in here, so best guess is that we were the target. I’m going to have to call my commander to update him.”

Harry began to worry. What if his commander insisted he leave? What would she do then? Would she be safe? “Can you… not call him?” she asked in a whisper.

BOOK: Pushing the Limit
12.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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