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Authors: Emmy Curtis

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

Pushing the Limit (8 page)

BOOK: Pushing the Limit
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Chapter Eleven

“He was there when we found the piece of wreckage, or whatever it was, and he knew I was calling the U.S. military about it. He knows that’s why you’re here, and he hasn’t told anyone, has he?”

“He’s an Iraqi
? Did you double-check that it wasn’t him, or one of his friends that
set the bomb that killed your husband
?” He grabbed her arms and squeezed.

“Let go of me, that hurts,” she said, looking pointedly at his hands. He dropped them immediately and stepped away. His eyes said sorry, the rest of him, not so much. He turned and walked a few paces in the now deserted dining room. He paced back to her, opened his mouth as if to speak, then clamped it shut and paced away again.

When he headed back to her, she held out her hand to stop him. “I said, I
he might have been. I don’t know. But I do trust him. I trust him with our lives,” she said simply.

“Well, that makes one of us.”

She shrugged. “There’s not much I can do about that except ask you to trust me.”
Please don’t mention Danny’s trust. Please.

He paused, frowning at her words. But as if he’d heard her silent plea, he just shook his head. “I’ll see you at the site. I’ll be about thirty minutes behind you.”

Molly was hanging out of Mueen’s truck door, looking for her. She pulled her ubiquitous scarf up over her hair and pushed through the hotel doors. A waft of dry hot air hit her, and it lifted her spirit a little. She loved the climate here. If only she could get Matt off the ledge he seemed to be perpetually on, maybe he’d see something here beyond the country he was at war with. And maybe not.

“What are we wasting our time on today, boss?” Jason asked.

What? “Excuse me?” she said.

Molly looked back from the front seat with a frown.

“Well, it’s clear we’re not going to find anything here. Why don’t we pack up, write that report, and go home? I spoke to the girl on Rapson’s team.”

Now Molly really turned around in her seat, and the two women eyed each other.


“They have tentative plans to leave tomorrow. They think it’s a bust.” He smiled smugly. “I do, too. I mean Rapson has a more… experienced team, so they should know, right?”

Wow. Maybe she’d made a huge mistake hiring him for this contract. There probably wasn’t a maybe about it. Thank God he was a freelancer.

“Firstly, the ‘girl’ you spoke with is not a girl. If she’s working for Rapson, I’m fairly sure she’s a woman. Secondly, you don’t work on Rapson’s team, you’re on my team. If you want to see if he will take you on, then you are free to do that. But we will fulfill the contract I signed as planned. We have at least one more day of geo-phys to do, and one day of report preparation. And that’s assuming we don’t find anything. But again, Molly and I have worked bigger sites than this by ourselves, so if you don’t want to be here, you can go. No hard feelings.”

His eyes flicked to Molly as if for support, but her eyes were covered with her big sunglasses, and her expression was difficult to define. She certainly didn’t say anything in his support, and for that, Harry was grateful. She wondered if it was a gender thing. Maybe he valued Professor Rapson’s opinion over hers. She mentally shrugged. He was entitled to think what he wanted.

“I… didn’t mean anything by it. I was just saying what that g—that wo—what Katherine had said.”

Harry hid a smile. “Okay,” she said mildly and looked out of the window as if she’d never seen the desert before.

As soon as they arrived at the site, Jason jumped out, and without being asked, for the first time, started prepping the ground-penetrating radar and the laptop that read its results. Mueen climbed nimbly onto the roof of their trailer and settled in for the day again.

Molly exchanged a big grin with Harry as she lugged a cooler filled with ice and water into the trailer. Maybe Molly wasn’t so interested in Jason. Certainly the tide of opinion seemed to have turned since his epic loss at chess. Maybe they were only just now seeing everything in him that a résumé couldn’t reasonably tell them.

* * *

Matt let himself into Molly’s room first. She’d left her laptop and phone on the desk in a devastatingly huge display of disregard. The locks were truly so flimsy that he was amazed they were still there. Still, now he couldn’t tell her to put them away.

He checked under the desk chair for a bug and found nothing. He looked at the rotary phone that was on the desk but figured someone as young as Molly probably wouldn’t even consider using it. He knew that practically every hotel phone in Iraq was bugged anyway. Whether anyone still listened after Hussein was deposed was a different question.

He sighed. What he really wanted was to be taking a morning swim in the Pacific by his house. Fate was cruel. That was sure. He needed help. Professional help. The help he’d been brushing off for seven years. He knew that now. Maybe if he’d taken it when it was offered back then, he would be fixed by now. He was fucked up beyond all recognition. He knew this was true because he still wanted her. Still wanted to possess her even though she belonged to Danny. He couldn’t even look at her without wanting to be inside her again. It was like a drug.

A drug with nasty side effects. Flashbacks. Guilt. The feeling that he was no longer in control of his battle-scarred thoughts and memories. It was a control he’d fought hard for over the years, and it was evaporating like clouds in the desert. He took a breath and dragged himself back to the task at hand.

Even the smell of Molly’s perfume in the room, and the copious amount of red and black lacy underwear on the floor didn’t give him pause. Didn’t even make him visualize her in it, not even for a second. Maybe it would take a shrink to get both Harry and Danny out of his head. Maybe everything out of his head.

He was deeply, deeply fucked up.

There was nothing suspicious in Molly’s room, so he quietly let himself out and found Jason’s.

At least there was no underwear on the floor. Matt checked the desk chair, and all around the table in case, but found no bugs. That was a huge relief. He wouldn’t have to argue with Harry about keeping everything need-to-know for now.

He let himself out and made his way back down to the lobby, where he planned on asking them to arrange a taxi for him. As he rounded the corner of the staircase, he literally bumped into Nitro.

“Dude,” Matt said as he grasped the banister to stop them both falling. “You are a hazard to be around.”

“Sorry, man. I was coming to see you. Keeping my ear to the ground, you know.” He paused, then shrugged. “Thought I’d touch base, see if you needed anything.” He turned around on the stairs and continued down with Matt, but not before he cast one last look up the staircase. It was a strange look, and Matt wondered if he’d in fact interrupted a liaison with someone in the hotel. Horny bastard. At least that hadn’t changed.

“I could use a ride. Is that in your remit?” Matt asked, only half-facetiously. Military contracting firms, although populated with ex-military, usually had very different rules of engagement, and what might seem a logical request for someone who was contracted to be his security point man, chauffeuring might not count.

“Anything you want, buddy. I’m here for you. Just keep me in the loop, and I can anticipate what you might need.”

David “Nitro” Church held the door to his Suburban open and Matt got into the passenger seat. As David walked around the back of the car to get in, Matt marveled at the equipment that was installed in the SUV. He was surprised, but also not, to find a military-grade GPS, a handgun Velcroed under the dash so just the butt was showing, and a satellite uplink, for what he couldn’t fathom. But he did know contractors, and they did like their toys.

The last time Matt had been in a war zone, he’d been in a Humvee with only a radio, and it had always been a bit hit-or-miss whether it’d work. In the world of military contractors, money talked.

When Nitro settled in and put the car in gear, Matt asked him about his work with MGL Security. “How long have you been in-country?”

“Nearly a year. Wait. No, yeah, just about a year at the end of the month.” David nodded to himself. “It’s a long time to be away from home, but it’s nowhere near the hardship of our deployments. I have an Internet connection anywhere I am, and a sat phone that works so much better than the ones we had in Afghanistan. You remember those? Jay-sus. It’s a miracle any of us got outta there alive.”

Matt laughed. “You just never knew how to use it. You thought shaking it like an Etch A Sketch would reset it.”

David laughed.

“You enjoy it?”

“Hell yeah. I get paid triple the salary I pulled in the air force. It’s not as easy as being in. The politics are worse, believe it or not.”

“Ah. There are politics everywhere.”

“So what are you really here for, Boomer?” David asked abruptly. “I heard rumors that you’d given up combat. But instead of going to a civilian bomb squad you went… to find dead people?” He sounded skeptical, and when he put it baldly like that, he could see what he meant.

“Yeah.” He couldn’t count the ways in which he didn’t want to talk about this, especially not to Nitro. Especially not sober. “Hey, maybe we’ll save the soul-searching until we’re better lubricated?”

“Deal. Tonight? Your hotel has about the only bar in a fifty-mile radius, apart from my hotel. And I’m sick of that bar. Say, eight? We have a good few years to catch up on.”

“Yes, we do.” Matt agreed.

“Here we are,” David said as they skidded to a halt on a sandy path. “I’m not going further; this has a ton of bulletproof shit on it—if it gets caught in the sand, we are never getting it out. And I’m not having it taken out of my paycheck. You can walk the rest.”

“Really?” he said, undoing his seatbelt. “Well if I get shot walking from here to there”—he pointed at Harry’s ops center trailer—“you better not get a fucking bonus this year.”

David’s constant smile faded as he took off his shades.

“I’m kidding, bud,” Matt said.

“No. Look. That’s… no, that’s not… it can’t be, right?” His voice started to get high-pitched and wobbly. “It’s just the desert, right? A mirage? The country’s fucking with us right?” He looked at Matt. “You don’t see her, right?”

Matt’s heart sank as he realized that Nitro had just seen Harry walking toward them. “We’re not in a
Tom and Jerry
cartoon, dude. No chick is going to arrive in a grass skirt with a cocktail in a pineapple skin.”

For the first time ever, Nitro looked terrified, white and sweating, like he really had seen a ghost.

“It’s me, right? This is my punishment?”

“Punishment for what? Pull yourself together, man. That’s Harry, Danny’s wife. She’s an archaeologist. She’s really here. Come on. Get ahold of yourself. You don’t want her to see you having a fit of the vapors, do you?”

Matt watched as David slowly pulled himself together. Matt obviously wasn’t the only fucked-up member of the team, then. For a second he wondered about the other four guys who usually deployed in their rotation. Justin, Liam, Bill, and Mark. Maybe there wasn’t anything unusual about his own flashbacks after all. Maybe they were all messed up.

Harry stood in front of the truck waiting for him to get out. He stole a look at David. How well did he know her? Or had he met her before Danny died? David reached for the interior door handle and opened the door. Matt got out, too.

“Harry, this is David Church. He was…” Matt began.

“Yes, I know. David? I know you were kind enough to come to the house after Danny died; I recognize your face, but not your name. It was all a bit of a blur. You played ball with Danny’s little sister when you visited. Thank you for that. Thank you for visiting. And it’s nice to meet you again.”

He watched them shake hands, smiling, but his brain was whirring in a bad direction. He hadn’t thought to visit Harry. Okay, that was a lie. He had thought about going around to pay his respects to Danny’s family, but he hadn’t. He’d worried that some big guy coming around and breaking down in front of them wouldn’t do them any favors. And by the time Danny’s death became “normal” inside his head, it was really too late to make a courtesy call.

“What are you doing back here in Iraq? Did you know you’d both be here?” She looked between them with a smile that faltered as neither of them spoke.

David stepped toward her. “Not until I got the wire asking me to meet him at the airport, and since he nearly decked me in the arrivals lounge, I suspect he wasn’t expecting to see me, either.”

“Wow. So this is all one happy coincidence. I feel like I brought the team back together.” Harry grinned.

David slid seamlessly into flirt mode. “If you’re not doing anything later…”

“She is.” Matt hoped his tone drew a line under that particular thought process.

Harry laughed out loud. “I do have a dinner planned with a colleague. But thank you. Maybe some other time.” She looked at Matt and shook her head. “I’m heading back.”

Matt hitched his backpack to his shoulder. “See you tonight, Nitro.”

“Later, man,” he replied as he got back in the Suburban.

“This is turning into a very weird trip,” Harry said as they started along the sandy pathway.

“No kidding,” he said. “Who are all the extra people?” He nodded toward the trailer, where Mueen was perched. There were about twenty additional people there.

“In all the excitement, I forgot to advise the sheik that our schedule had changed, so he sent a bunch of workers from the area to help out. Generally he chooses the families who need the work and money the most, so I don’t want to send them back without anything. So come hell or high water, we will pay them for their day here, even if some of the workers are just kids who will be drawing with Molly for most of the day.”

He watched the men all turn at the same time and stare at him. The ones who were crouching stood. Vulnerability prickled at the base of his spine as he fought with himself not to reach for the weapon tucked into his waistband or to look around to see if Nitro was within hailing distance.

BOOK: Pushing the Limit
8.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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