Page 5 of Closer

“You’re the first civilian to thank me for my service,” he growls. “Aside from my mom, I guess.”

“Oh really?” I say, hoping it doesn’t sound as stupid to him as it does to me.

“Yeah.”

“I would’ve thought people would be, um, more eager? I mean, you literally risked your life.”

He shrugs, although the look in those blue eyes is intense.

“No, people seem to give me a wide berth,” he says with a wry smile. “As you can tell, I haven’t really been out all that much since I got back.”

Actually, I can’t tell except for the mysterious air haunting him. But I smile again.

“When did you get back?” I parrot, almost like a breathless hanger-on.

“Five days ago,” he answers. “I’ve been mostly sleeping. And eating my mom’s food. It’s good.”

I smile at this, and he looks away, suddenly embarrassed. But I want him to keep going.

“Is everything just as you left it?” I ask gently. He turns back to meet my eyes, those blue eyes searching mine.

“Um no actually,” it comes out in awkward blocks. “Well, most of it was the same. Except one. My dog died while I was gone.” Judging by the way he averts his eyes as he says this, I can tell this is hard for him. And that it’s relatively new information. My heart goes out to the man, and I put one hand on his muscled arm in sympathy.

He takes a deep breath.

“She died like a year ago, but my mom didn’t want to tell me while I was gone. Thought it would distract me from my duties,” he shrugs again.

“It sounds like your mom really cares about you,” I say warmly.

Brent nods.

“Yeah, and I mean, I think she made the right choice,” he says. “But it was still a bit of a shock when I came back expecting to find my dog there, and boom! She wasn’t.”

Oh god. How can such a huge, strong man look so vulnerable? I’m insanely drawn to him, to the sensitive lines around his mouth and the juxtaposition of hurt and strength. Unable to control myself, I place my hand on his arm.

“I’m sorry to hear about your dog,” I murmur, and Brent relaxes a bit under my touch as if it soothes him. “What was her name?” I add.

“Goldie,” is his grunt. And then he suddenly smiles. It lights up his whole face, his eyes joining in. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. My insides churn into mush, making me feel sick with attraction to him. “She was a good girl. She was a golden retriever, and I got her when I twelve. Not much imagination for naming, I guess,” Brent adds wryly. I smile back at him, enjoying his memories.

“Well, Goldie was a very lucky dog to have been loved so much,” I say. He looks at me incredulously.

“What?” I ask him, taking my hand off his arm, suddenly terrified I’ve said something wrong. But he grins, taking my hand between his, sending my heart plunging down to my stomach to join my already mushy insides.

“No, don’t worry,” he says. “It’s just,” he pauses. “You’re so easy to talk to. I guess I can’t believe I’m spilling all this personal stuff and we’ve only just met. Sorry bout that.”

Relief floods through me.

“Don’t apologize,” I manage through the awareness of both his hands enveloping mine like he’s holding an injured bird. The gentleness of this huge man is incomprehensible to me. Are these warm, calloused hands the same that held guns and grenades? How is that possible? With shock, I wonder whether he’s killed anyone in the name our country. Had it been in self defense? Or was it offense? Suddenly, I don’t want to know.

But Brent’s staring at me now, those blue eyes devouring my features.

“Have we met before? I dunno, you look a little familiar,” he says, looking into my face intently like he’s trying to recall something. I shake my head, perplexed.

“No. I’m pretty sure we haven’t,” is my murmur. He smiles and I wonder whether I’m going to vomit from the butterflies it sends through my insides. Thank god I didn’t end up eating that cheesecake earlier.

“It’s just that you seem so familiar,” he rumbles again. “Like I knew you in a past life or something.”

I stare back into his eyes because the connection between us is crazy. I know what he’s talking about. There’s an invisible string binding us together, as if we’re old souls meeting in a new life. I feel like we’re the only two people in the world right now, and everything else has faded into a blur. I blink suddenly, my mind dazed and confused. Because this is what the alpha male does to me – within two minutes, he’s got me eating out of his hand … and desperately wanting more.

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