Marisa yawned and closed her eyes. God, she wanted to succumb to this sudden, acute exhaustion. But she couldn't. She walked toward her uncle's office, ready to start on the paperwork he'd left her. Still, running errands around Clarksville this morning had drained her bizarrely meager physical resources. She couldn't understand why her body acted like a wet dishrag. She'd slept in. Maybe she needed more rest and relaxation before she started helping her uncle, but she hated to feel lazy. Then again, her night had been filled with weird dreams about her soldier. Perhaps that explained why she felt weary.
Correction. Not her soldier. Simply Chief Warrant Officer Jake Sullivan. Or as his team members called him, "Sully". Chief Sullivan to her. If she thought of him as Jake or Sully, she found the name too intimate. Then she'd remember those dreams again and again until they overflowed and demanded more attention than she wanted to give.
Dreams that edged on the erotic, filled with images of him sprawled, semi-naked, over her bed. Yesterday, when she'd eavesdropped on Uncle Dexter's conversation with Jake in the office, she couldn't even feel ashamed of herself for listening. She'd stood in the hallway, her senses spinning when she realized Jake Sullivan sat in her uncle's office and negotiated taking a job at this bar. No way. No way could Jake be here messing up her life. Delving into her psyche and creating crazy scenes in her dreams. But he had.
She settled behind the desk and tried to forget how Jake's masculine form had dwarfed the chair across from her. His image seemed burned into her mind with laser precision, designed to torture, to seek out all the answers in her mind she didn't want to give. Growling with frustration, she flipped on her uncle's computer. Thank goodness he used a computer, kept records and always backed up his files.
Morning came and went as she worked on his records. He called around two o'clock to say his golf game had lasted longer than expected. She smiled and returned to work. Good for him. He needed the break.
A sharp cracking noise near the back door made her jerk and gasp in fright. Heart pounding, she started to stand. An unaccountable fear rose in the pit of her stomach. Her breath hitched as she muscled around the ridiculous reaction to the innocent crack of expanding or contracting wood. She came around the side of the desk, headed for the door, and ran smack into a large body.
She bounced backwards and lost her footing. A squeak left her throat as two powerful arms whipped around her waist.
"Whoa," Jake said as he gathered her close to his chest.
"Jake," she gasped.
"Hey. Everything all right?"
She breathed out a sigh of relief and clung to his shoulders. "Yes."
Time slowed to a crawl as she registered his body tucked from chest to thigh along hers. Solid man didn't quite describe him--it was an understatement. His eyes went hot and caressing, and desire curled in her stomach. Instead of releasing her, he kept her pressed close. Heat engulfed Marisa.
He released her slowly. She didn't know whether to feel relief or disappointment. Overwhelmed by primitive sensations she couldn't quite define, she decided retreating might serve her better than standing immobile like an idiot.
"What are you doing here so early?" she asked.
He stepped farther into the room. "I'm moving into the other apartment next to yours. Remember?"
"Oh. Right." Lame, girl. So lame.
Jake crossed his arms, and those biceps bulged way too nicely. She couldn't help noticing, as much as she'd rather not. Face it, girl, he has something special. Not sure what, but it's there. So what. She didn't have to succumb to his charisma. People made choices all the time, and she made one now, to keep herself detached.
"Where's your suitcase?" she asked.
He nodded toward his feet. He'd dropped his drab olive duffle on the floor when he'd prevented her from falling. "Everything in here is all I need for a month's stay."
Her eyebrows went up. "You're an optimistic guy. You were pretty sure my uncle would offer you this job?"
She shifted her gaze to the side, staring at the floor to avoid an intimidating quality in his eyes. "My uncle could have told you no."
"I was pretty sure he wouldn't."
"You're a self assured man. My uncle likes that. I suppose you two get along fabulously."
He smiled. "He promised to kick my ass if I didn't treat you right. But you'll never have to worry around me. I would never hurt a woman."
"I can tell. You like to protect women."
His head tilted to the side. "My father instilled that in me too. I've got a large family. I'm the oldest of six kids. I'm the big brother and the rest are all girls."
She smiled. "Wow."
"Wow is an excellent word for it."
Okay, so maybe she'd jumped to a few conclusions about his rescuing personality. He'd grown up surrounded by women, and that often created one of two reactions in a man. Protectiveness or utter contempt for females all together.
"Look," he said, "I'd like to start over."
"We got off on the wrong foot somehow. From the day we met I felt a weird...I dunno...tension?"
Was that what he called it? Tension. Ha. She turned away, as much to escape how male and delicious he smelled. "I'm not sure I understand what you mean."
He followed her inside. "I think you do. That first day in Mexico there was a connection between us."
Oh, damn it. She didn't want him to acknowledge that. Admit it, feel it, and certainly not act on it. Now she understood he'd experienced the same pull toward her, part of her wanted to scamper into the nearest hideaway where he couldn't locate her.
She rubbed the back of her neck. "That's mighty presumptuous of you, don't you think? I'm not sure I believe in mind reading."
He shrugged and came in close. Funny thing was, she didn't move away even though he left scant room between them. "It doesn't take a mind reader to see that you're skittish around me. I'd like to know why. Are you scared of me?"
"What?" She made a scoffing noise. "Of course not. Why should I be?"
"No reason at all. You know I'm in the business of protecting people, not hurting them."
"You're a soldier. You have to hurt some people some of the time."
He leaned one hand on the back of the chair next to him. "In war. When I went to Mexico with Captain Wallace, we planned a direct action to look for his girlfriend and everyone else on your missing tour bus. I did that to help him, and to help you. The only hurting would have happened if you'd been in immediate danger and we had to take on the enemy. And hurt would be a mild word for what we would have done to the assholes who blew up the museum and raided your bus."
Her lips twitched in a half smile at the same time guilt replaced a smidgen of her defensiveness. "I know. I never did thank you, did I?"
She placed her glasses on the table in front of her, then stepped nearer to him. Slipping her hand behind his head, she drew him down toward her.
She bussed his right cheek with a quick kiss. "Thank you."
As she drew back his eyes narrowed, darkening and heating from within. She didn't have a chance to move away before his arms slipped around her waist.
He tilted his head just right and then his lips molded sensuously to hers.