And if I couldn’t let her go after one hour, what makes me think I’ll happily let her leave in two weeks?
Is there something wrong with me? Who lusts after a girl who is so clearly troubled? Scared? Running away from something?
Because it’s not just sex I’m craving from her.
It’s something else, too. That quiet strength in her eyes grabbed me around the throat, roused my protective hackles. Made me feel possessive. I don’t simply want her to be the first woman I’ve had in years. I want to be the shield between her and whatever she’s scared of.
The sound of the shower running brings my head up.
Is she already naked?
Just thinking of the suds coursing down over her nipples, my simple, white bar of soap lathering up her pussy, makes my dick pulse hot. It thickens in my jeans, damn near making me dizzy. But the girl is starved and exhausted, so I need to rein it the hell in.
Ordering myself to focus, I throw some steaks on the stove and roast some root vegetables from the garden. I’m buttering some bread and setting it on a plate in the middle of the table when she enters the kitchen, her long hair wet, a plain white T-shirt of mine down to her knees. The fact that she looks so goddamn young doesn’t abate my lust, but it sure as hell makes me feel like a bastard.
I pretend not to notice when she turns a surreptitious eye to the stack of mail on my sideboard. Looking for a name to call me, no doubt. A name she’s already supposed to know.
Either way, I’m anxious to hear her say it.
“Sit.” My voice is nothing but a scrape of sound. “Get started if you want.”
I turn my back, so she doesn’t have to be embarrassed about inhaling the bread and butter. And sure enough, when I turn around a minute later, half of the plate is empty.
Right then and there, it’s decided.
If a man is responsible for hurting this girl, I’m going to carve out his entrails.
No one hurts her again. Ever.
God, I wish I knew her real name. I’d know everything about her by morning. I’ve got the intelligence connections to make that happen easily. But I can’t ask for her government name without ruining the ruse—and something tells me she needs this deception. She needs to hide inside this game we’re playing and for some reason, I’m compelled by something deep and resolute to give this girl what she requires. To feel safe. To stay.
When the light hits her cheek and I realize the dirt was a bruise, I set the steak and vegetables down in front of her harder than intended. She flinches, but keeps her head down.
“How was your shower?”
She picks up her utensils, visibly trying to pace herself. Not dive in right away. “Amazing,” she says. “I didn’t want to get out.”
“Why did you?”
A corner of her mouth twitches. “I smelled dinner.”
My laugh is more of a grunt. “Do you want a beer?”
“Oh, I’m not—” Old enough. Damn. Not even twenty-one. “Sure.”
I take two cold ones out of the fridge, twist off the caps and set them down. Take my seat across from her at the table. She picks up her bottle, reads the label and takes a long sip while I try not to obsess over the way her throat looks swallowing.
“So…” she says, looking at me through her lashes. “What is your book about?”
Shit, I didn’t expect her to ask. I haven’t told anyone the plot. But I find myself wanting her to know. Find myself wanting to tell her anything, just so she’ll look at me. “A retired army ranger. Home after a decade, living with a wife who doesn’t know him anymore. There’s a murder in his hometown and his PTSD makes him wonder if he committed it during a blackout. His wife and him…they…”
“I don’t want it to sound like a romance. It’s not.”
She arches an eyebrow. “Just say the rest.”
I hesitate. “They reconnect, I guess, while solving the mystery together.”
“Oh,” she says casually, the beer bottle poised at her lips. “Is there kissing?”
“No,” I say firmly. Then, “Might be. Haven’t decided. It’ll be minimal, if so.”
“Good idea.” She smiles into a bite of a carrot. “No one likes kissing.”
I make a mental note that women allow men to have their small victories.
Or at least this one does.
“Um.” She shifts in her chair and I realize I’ve been staring at her beautiful mouth. “You said writing the book wasn’t your idea. Whose was it?”
Now it’s my turn to shift uncomfortably. “My doctor.” I pick up my fork, but it remains suspended over my plate. I’m no longer seeing the food, but a rush of color. A riot of sound that includes gunfire, chopper blades, screaming. “I brought a little too much war back with me. He thought putting my focus into something else, a fictional world, would be helpful.”