Carly stared at his profile, remembering the teen years she’d spent clashing with her father. “Adolescents do stupid things,” she said. “How did you two wind up friends?”

“When we were assigned a joint project in high school we discovered a mutual interest in computers. Booker invited me along to the Defcon conference with him and his dad.” He smiled. “And I learned that, along with his bizarre and occasionally wicked sense of humor, he’s a really good guy.”

“I bet that changed things at school,” she said softly.

He shot her a look with the remnants of a lethal intensity that had no doubt kept others in line. “After that I never stood by and did nothing again,” he said. “No matter who was the target.”

Carly’s heart melted. Hunter was the most honorable man she’d ever met. With Carly he had put up the good fight, and probably still would. But when it came to push or shove the good guy inside of him always won out. Deep down, where it really counted, he did embody the FBI motto.

What would it be like to have a man like that in her life?

She blinked back the rushing rise of emotion, the last of her resolve slipping away. “So...” she said. “When do we leave for Vegas?”

Hunter’s expression eased as he reached out and traced a line along her arm. The touch was simple. Warm. And clear in its intent. “Tomorrow night,” he said, and he lifted his slate-blue gaze back to hers, sending a thrill skittering up her spine.

She wondered what the noise was, until she realized it was herself trying to breathe.

The light in his eyes made them breathtakingly beautiful as he said, “Right after I spend the day teaching you how to handle my gun.”

NINE

Jim’s Indoor Firing Range was busy, but the shots fired by the patron in the adjacent booth were muted by the thick concrete walls and Hunter’s headset. Fortunately the heavy earphones they were wearing had a built-in microphone system that allowed him to hear Carly’s voice, including her sarcasm, albeit with a tinny sound.

“Is this how you dazzle the women you date?” she said.

His lips twitched as he reloaded the gun. “I wouldn’t think you’d be so easily impressed.”

“It’s hard not to be. You handle that weapon like it’s an extension of yourself.” She nodded in the direction of the distant bullseye where Hunter’s shots had been recorded electronically. “You hit dead center every time. I’m feeling inadequate already.”

“You have other areas of expertise,” he said, amused when she rolled her eyes.

Like holding a new firearm for the first time, it felt odd having her here—not necessarily wrong, just...different. And most likely that feeling would return when they boarded the plane for Las Vegas tonight. He’d never taken a woman to Defcon before—his days there were strictly his own. Mandy had wanted to come along once, but he’d talked her out of it, convinced she would have been bored. But this time he’d hated the idea of a weekend without seeing Carly. A disturbing trend it was best not to think too much about.

Concentrating on his current agenda was a better course of action.

Hunter attempted a serious tone as, with his nine-millimeter Glock 17 in hand, he stepped behind her. Both of them were facing the bullseye. “The safety is on, but remember to always treat a gun as if it’s loaded and the safety is off.” Mindful of her inexperience, he shifted closer, until he could feel the heat from her skin. Serious became harder to maintain. “Now, square your hips and shoulders with the target.” He placed one hand on her hip, ignoring the delicious curve, and checked her alignment as he passed her the weapon.

Arms extended, she gripped the gun as he’d instructed earlier, and targeted the bullseye at the far end of the room. Her hip shifted beneath his hand, and her voice was almost...distracted. “Are you intentionally trying to mess me up?”

Biting back a smile, he said, “You’re drifting down.” He reached around her to lift her wrists—a pseudo-embrace from behind.

“Not. Helping.”

“Just ignore me,” he said, amused even as he tried to apply the advice to himself. Arms extended alongside hers, he leaned in to help her aim, his mouth at the level of her temple. The scent of citrus and the feel of her skin set his heart thumping dangerously. “Look down the barrel and square the sights with the target.”

“I’m trying,” she muttered. “And you’d think I’d get a few lessons before I learned to deal with distractions.”

His lips quirked. “You’re a quick study. I’m sure you’ll have no problem. Now,” he said, forcing the serious tone back to his voice. He lightly gripped her elbows. “Brace for the kickback. When you’re ready, release the safety, check your alignment again, and slowly pull the trigger.”

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