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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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“Why?”

“I’m worried he might make you leave.” Urgh, why did she say that?

She felt his leg shaking against her foot. Was he…? “Are you
laughing
at me?”

“Pretty much,” he managed. He cleared his throat softly. “You were itching for me to leave a few hours ago, weren’t you? Admit it. I could see you planning the rest of your work once I’d gone.”

No point trying to deny that one. “That was before I knew we’d been bugged.”

“Look, sweetheart. I’m not an accountant. My boss isn’t going to snatch me away at the first sign of trouble. I’m military. He’s going to want me to stay until I figure out what’s going on. He may even send backup. So I’m not going anywhere.”

“Just so you know, I’m not scared for myself, but for my grad students, and Mueen and Ain. I can’t protect them myself if these bugs were placed by someone with nefarious intentions.” That much was true. She was never scared of trouble for herself.

“Nefarious?” She swore his leg started shaking again. “You sound like a woman in those Agatha Christie books. Wasn’t there a
Murder in Mesopotamia
or something?”

“Let’s not talk about murder, okay?” She wanted to talk out her thoughts, though. “The only good reason to bug my room would be to find out if we’d discovered anything from our archaeological survey. The only reason to bug you is to find out something military. The only reason to bug us both is to find out about that damn plane part, right?”

He shifted his legs away from her and sat up, his voice much closer. “That’s impressive deduction. I had come to the same conclusion. Who did you tell?”

She thought. “Molly and Jason know, but if they told anyone, their career would be over, so they know better than to mention it. Sadie knows about it. As does whoever gave you orders to come here. As far as I know, that’s it. What about you? Who did you tell?”

“No one. My commander knows, and that’s it, as far as I know.” He sighed heavily.

“What’s the matter? I mean, apart from the fact that we’re sitting in the dark avoiding a security guard and our rooms have been bugged?”

“I don’t know. Someone, somewhere knows something about that piece of metal. Which means it is significant in some way. I’m frankly scared to contemplate that possibility.”

Harry shivered. She did not like it a bit that Matt, of all people, was scared. “Why?”

He shifted to his feet and took her hand and pulled her up, too. “I think the guard has gone.”

His hand was warm and dry. She had a terrible urge to have his arms around her, to have him protect her. But she released his hand. She didn’t want to mess with his head. She didn’t want the discussions about Danny that would invariably follow.

“Why are you scared that someone thinks the metal is significant?” she insisted.

He checked the door for sound and then opened it, holding it and nudging her back out into the corridor. “Can we talk about it tomorrow? Maybe at the site, where no one can easily overhear us?”

She shrugged. Fair enough. She wasn’t that interested in talking about it anywhere anyone could overhear. “Sure.” She opened the door to her room. “Good night.”

“Good night,” he echoed.

She shut the door behind her, slipped the deadbolt, and for good measure, placed the trash can next to the door. It wouldn’t stop anyone from coming in, but it would certainly alert her to the fact that she was about to die.

Dramatic much?

She climbed into bed and turned off the light. Thoughts ran through her mind. The lovely idea that her next job could be in Greece had become more and more remote as the day had passed. The idea that light and carefree sex with Matt would be anything even approximating light and carefree also faded. The past twenty-four hours had been a perfect storm of her past and present colliding with her work.

She got up and put a night-light on. She doubted even that would keep her nightmares away tonight.

Chapter Ten

By the time his alarm went off, Matt had gotten no more than a couple of hours of sleep. His eyes felt like the time he’d been caught in a sandstorm in Afghanistan. Gritty and sore.

He’d spent some of the night outside on his small balcony talking with his boss on the phone. With the doors closed so the bug wouldn’t pick up his conversation, and the moon bright enough to see anyone below, Commander Jenks had been initially happy to hear from him. But as the conversation went on, and Matt filled him in on the hundred-dollar bills and the bugs, he’d grown quieter.

Matt understood why. It was a clusterfuck. He’d been in Iraq for twenty-four hours and there was no bright side to the situation, and they both knew it. Jenks didn’t have to explain his quietness. What could he say?

That he couldn’t leave these three American citizens in danger? That the news was obviously out that an airplane had had some kind of malfunction and probably crashed? That someone had put that together with the fact that there was no record of a plane being lost and figured out what Matt had as soon as he’d seen the money flapping in the breeze?

The bugs just added another nail to the coffin. If anyone else even thought there may be millions of cold hard cash under the sand, well, some people would do anything to get their hands on it. Anything.

He had to tell Harry, but he needed to touch base with Nitro and get some level of support. If he’d been contracted to provide in-country security, well, they needed a shit ton of it now.

He checked his watch again, and no, he couldn’t get an extra thirty minutes of shut-eye. And frankly he didn’t want to leave Harry unprotected. Nitro tonight, then, after he spent the day glued to Harry’s side. This was his mission. This was how he’d make it up to the karma gods for having sex with her. He would protect her. For Danny.

Danny’s face floated in his head again, and he dug his short nails into his palms to hold back the next image. It was no good. The explosion came as it had always done. But this time he flinched at the
boom
, felt the heat of the desert against his face as the dirt settled. They’d all fallen backward at the explosion, and not for the first time. Usually they all lay back laughing after someone had fucked up a controlled explosion. But not this time. He sat there, dirt and blood in his mouth, deafened. His best friend’s torso had disappeared.

More bangs. He shook his head, dry dirt flying from his helmet. Except it didn’t. The noise dissipated, and he realized where he was.

Jesus. How was is possible that he was getting worse with time instead of better? It must be being in Iraq that was setting him off. He sat carefully on the bed and dropped his head into his hands, rubbing the back of his longer than usual hair. He needed help. In every way.

But not now. Now, he had a mission.

He made short work of his shower, electing not to shave in order to blend in as much as he could. He put on his jeans, a t-shirt, and an open-collared shirt that he figured would see him through the day. He gave a passing thought to getting laundry done while he was here, given his minimal luggage, and headed downstairs to breakfast.

Keep it together. Just keep your head together for another couple of days.

Harry and her “kids” were already eating, and he nodded at them as he made his way to the buffet at the back. He heaped food onto his plate, not really paying attention to what he was choosing, and grabbed the chair at the end of their table.

He started to chow down and noticed the silence at the table. He slowly looked up. All three of them were looking at his plate in awe.

“Are you… hungry, by chance?” Molly said with a grin.

All of their plates had one piece of fruit and one piece of bread on them. His basically had one of everything from the buffet on it.

Swallowing, he leaned back in his chair. “I’m used to eating when I can so it doesn’t matter if I’m stuck somewhere with no food later. Sorry.” He grinned back at them.

“Well, you don’t have to worry about that here. I make sure all my workers are well fed. When we spend a whole day at the site, the hotel sends food for us,” Harry said, taking a sip of her coffee.

“I’m not one of your workers,” he replied, spearing a section of orange and shoving it in his mouth. Somehow Ain’s food had made him hungry. Really hungry.

“That’s what you think,” Harry said with a raised eyebrow.

“It’s only fair, dude,” Molly said. “I mean, you’re a big, strapping man, if there’s equipment to lug—”

“And there’s always equipment to lug,” Jason interrupted.

“—then it’s not very chivalrous of you to be there not helping.” Molly actually batted her eyelashes at him.

He choked back a laugh, and inhaled a morsel of bread. Harry hit him on the back, a little too hard to be a genuine offer of help. He eyed her. “You done, or you want to beat on me some more? Anything you want to say?”

“I’m good. Eat up, airman, we leave in ten.” She sat back down and opened her black file.

He continued to eat, and as he looked around at the other guests, he clocked an older man, also looking at the same black file. “Is that…?” He’d forgotten the man’s name.

“Malcolm Rapson. Yes. Also being funded by the same foundation.” He noticed a small frown flick across her face. “Actually, I need to speak to him.” She got up and went over to the man’s table.

“It’s a little mutual admiration society there,” Jason said. This time there was a frown from Molly at his words. But he continued. “It’s an occupational hazard of academia. Everyone jockeys position to write papers with each other.” Jason’s eyes followed Harry in a way that made Matt take notice.

“Although I predict that we find absolutely nothing here. Complete waste of time. There are no records that would suggest anything of interest was ever in this part of the region. It’s crazy that one foundation would want to survey such a big area of barren desert.”

Matt kept his face impassive, but it was indeed a good question. A hard, cold, solid mass grew in his stomach. The pieces of the puzzle didn’t fit together yet, but they definitely belonged on the same table. He tried not to look at Harry, but hell, she was bending over the table that Rapson was sitting at. How could he not visualize her face in the mirror the last time he’d seen her in that position? Dammit. He shifted in his seat to discourage his dick from getting a word in.

No. Just no.

* * *

“How was yesterday?” Harry asked Malcolm as she approached his table.

He looked up and smiled. “Oh, quite average. You?”

She laughed. “About the same. I suspect my grad students will be pretty bored by the end, but it’s good experience for them, I guess.”

“Agreed. I can’t imagine that we will find anything here. I wonder why Megellin thought this was a good place to look for promising excavation areas.” He took off his glasses, folded them, and then scratched the side of his head with them. “The only reason I can think of is… No. Maybe I’ve watched too many movies.” He chuckled. “Indiana Jones has a lot to answer for, I’m afraid.”

“May I?” she asked, pointing at the chair.

“Oh, my dear, of course, I’m sorry. Forgive me for being rude.” He got up and pulled out the chair, waiting until she was seated before he sat back down.

“It was
The Mummy
movie for me,” she whispered, delighted at his humor. “So what did Indiana Jones make you think we were here for?”

“If you excuse the melodrama, there is a remote possibility that we are actually looking for something that Megellin wants to find. What do you think about that?” His eyes seemed to sparkle at the suggestion of intrigue. “What do you know about the foundation?” he continued.

Surprised, she took a second to answer. “Not much. I know they sponsor university digs, they can pull strings to get visas to countries, and they never seem short of money. I did a survey for them a couple of years ago in Kurdistan. Uncovered a burial ground that a team from Amersham College later excavated.”

“Amersham, you say?” He nodded sagely. “Ah well, it’s probably nothing.” He leaned forward conspiratorially. “I have some feelers out, my dear. I’m expecting some return calls later today.”

“Well, actually, I came by to ask if you wanted to have dinner tonight for some industry chat?” She was actually thrilled that he was so engaging. A lot of scholars in her field were standoffish. Especially the English ones. And besides, she wanted to figure out if she needed to warn Malcolm, too. If his team found anything like they had on their site, she’d have to warn him about the bugs.

“I’d be delighted, my dear. You did hear about what happened on the last night of the Ancient Bronzes conference in Istanbul this past September, didn’t you?” He got up with a wink.

The wily old gossip! “I can’t wait to hear about it.” She smiled.

They agreed to meet that evening in the lobby before he left. Harry returned to her table. “Guess who has a dinner date tonight?” She said as she grabbed her now lukewarm coffee and plunked back on her chair.

“Do we need to try to find you some condoms?” Molly said, elbowing her in the ribs.

Harry rolled her eyes in response. “Are we ready to head out?” And then she tried to remember if Matt had used a condom. She thought he had, but… Was that something she could ask him? Her mind went to that night, and she couldn’t help but look at him. He’d been silent since she returned to the table. His expression was completely inscrutable. God, he was so handsome. She wanted to twine her fingers through his hair, which she was sure was longer than regulation. A heat spread through her as she thought about that stubble scratching her skin. She squeezed her thighs together and felt a flush sneaking up her face. His eyes hadn’t left hers.

Okay, nothing to see here, move along.
She jumped up. “Are you coming to the site with us, or do you have other things to do?” she asked him.

“I’m with you. I’d like to keep my eye on you all. If that’s okay?” he replied, also getting up.

In truth she was relieved. She’d always felt safe in Iraq, but not now, not with a bug in her room. Not with the stupid,
stupid
piece of metal they’d found. She didn’t feel afraid exactly, just wary. She had no doubt in Mueen’s ability to protect them if necessary.

Initially she’d been unsure of the man the sheik had picked to protect them on their first visit; she’d assumed that he’d been chosen because he spoke perfect English. But she’d once seen him fieldstrip his weapon and put it back together again. Silently and in just a few seconds. She’d been so amazed by what she’d seen that she stayed hidden and watched him do it over and over until she’d realized that he was doing it with his eyes closed. After that, she’d been 100 percent sure that they were safe with him. She wondered if they needed to tell him what they’d found.

She knew the answer. It was yes. They should tell him. And she knew that Matt wouldn’t be happy with that. But she intended to ask the question nonetheless. She held up her hand to him and waited for Jason and Molly to disappear into the lobby.

“We need to talk about when we can tell everyone about the bugs, about what you think the metal could be. Mueen, Molly, and Jason have a right to know,” she said in a low voice.

He took a second and looked out the window of the restaurant. She couldn’t tell if he was looking at something or considering his response.

“Go to the site. As soon as you’ve left, I’ll check Molly’s and Jason’s rooms for bugs. If they are not bugged, there is no reason to involve them right now. And if we don’t involve them, then we don’t need to involve Mueen, especially since he’s…”

She fisted her hands. “He’s what?” she virtually hissed at him. “The enemy? Iraqi? How could you say that about him after you enjoyed his hospitality last night?”

“Calm down, cupcake. I didn’t say that. I meant, there is something that bothers me about him.” He held up his hands to ward off the barrage of aggression she’d opened her mouth to fling at him. “His English is too good. His weapon is perfectly placed on his body. Nearly everyone here slings their gun around their shoulder like a purse, but not him. I just… don’t know what to make of him. Yet.”

Harry took a breath. Okay, fair enough. “I’ll tell you something if you promise not to blow up,” she said.

Now it was his turn to look pissed. “What?”

“Promise?”

“I. Promise,” he bit out.

“I think he used to be in the Iraqi army.”

BOOK: Pushing the Limit
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