It happened again. The air between them shifted and swirled, changing the mood during the time between heartbeats. In that fleeting second, they went from being friends to something dangerously and deliciously other.
She couldn’t take her hand off his arm.
The intensity of the moment, like everything else in her life, scared her.
Their connection was more powerful than just the physical, but the physical weight of her hand on his muscular arm was so thrilling that she couldn’t resist running her thumb over his skin.
His breath hissed—or was that hers?
“You know,” he murmured, “you have a real knack for making things better and worse, all at the same time.”
“I don’t mean to,” she said.
Even so, she damn sure couldn’t stop touching him right now.
“Tell me.” He leaned closer, bringing that heat and masculine urgency with him. “There’s something important you’re not telling me.”
“No.” That didn’t sound convincing, so she tried again. “No.”
“What are you hiding—”
Suddenly something invisible happened to him, and he stopped dead, flinching.
His eyes widened and fixed on a point behind her; his shoulders hunched in on themselves. Beneath her fingers, meanwhile, she felt the sudden stiffening of the muscles in his arm.
Frozen to the spot, he didn’t answer.
Alarm shot through her veins. Was he in pain? Having a heart attack? She glanced all around, looking for an explanation and someone who could call for help, because she’d stupidly forgotten her cell phone. But there was no one in sight and the coast guard chopper off the coastline was the only—
Inside her panicked brain, neurons began to fire.
Wait—was that it? The chopper?
“Tony,” she cried.
His rigid body had begun to vibrate. If a marble statue could shake, she thought desperately, it would feel exactly like this. Following his line of sight, she saw what he saw: a clunky red coast guard helicopter sweeping the shoreline, buzzing close but not close enough to kick up the sand.
Tony was dripping sweat now. His black pupils were so dilated she could hardly tell where they ended and his brown irises began.
Oh, God. Was this the fear he’d been talking about? Was this what life was like for him—everyday occurrences triggering debilitating panic attacks?
Well, she wasn’t going to just sit here and—
“Tony.” When he didn’t answer, she clamped her palms on his jaws—delivering something like a quick slap. “Tony!”
His entire body jerked, including his gaze, which latched on to her face.
Was that progress? It sure didn’t feel like it, not with his big frame still trembling from head to foot. She had a wild image of the industrial paint shaker at the hardware store. Had someone slipped one of those inside this poor man’s body?
“Tony,” she said again.
She smacked his cheeks again. Screw it. She could apologize later. She gave him another hard shake.
“Tony.” Working really hard to keep her voice calm and her own growing panic at bay, she stared into his eyes. “Where are you?”
He blinked again then unstuck that throbbing jaw of his and opened and closed his mouth.
“You’re scaring me, Antonios. You answer me, goddammit. Answer me.”
“At—at home,” he said, his body now straining with the effort of drawing breath. “And I told you…not to call me…Antonios.”
Something made her choke. She was either laughing or stifling a sob—she couldn’t tell which. “Where is home?” she demanded.
The helicopter, which had to be the slowest moving aircraft since the Wright Brothers flew their plane, made its meandering way out of sight, its rotors still audible for what seemed like ten minutes after it was gone.
But Tony was doing better. Maybe.
“Who am I?”
Another blink, and it was as though he slammed back into his body.
One second he was checked out, probably on some horrible road in Afghanistan under fire from the Taliban and receiving air support from U.S. helicopters, and the next he was present, focused and, judging from the color now flooding his cheeks, embarrassed.