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Her Hero After Dark
Cindy Dees


Too famished to stand on pride, he ended up doing just that. God, he felt like a savage, shoveling food into his mouth with his bare hands. But to Jennifer’s credit, he didn’t catch even a single glimpse of disgust or revulsion in her eyes. He was stunned when she mimicked him and skipped utensils to eat with her fingers. She managed it quite a bit more daintily than him, of course. The compassion of the gesture startled him.

Near the end of the meal, which tasted better than anything he could ever remember eating in his life, she asked, “Any reason you didn’t take a shower?”

Glaring, he muttered, “I need a bath.”

She nodded evenly. “No problem. My bathroom has a soaker tub that even you should fit in. After supper, it’s all yours.”

He made eye contact with her just long enough to nod, but then he locked his gaze on his plate and refused to look back up. There was only so much embarrassment a man could stand.

Jennifer carried the empty plates to the sink as Jeff disappeared down the hall toward her bedroom. What a strange man he was. He’d fumbled with that knife and fork like he had no idea whatsoever how to use them. Which was absurd. The man was from one of the wealthiest families in the world and had the finest in education and lifestyle. Had he suffered some kind of weird memory loss where such basic skills were lost to him? More strange yet, she got the distinct impression that he was appalled at his own eating habits. Why, then, did he persist in eating like a savage?

Surely he wasn’t trying to make some grand social statement, was he? The man didn’t strike her as the type. He wasn’t defiant enough for something like that.

He seemed about equal parts angry and desperate. But desperate for what?

The longer she was around Jefferson Winston, the more the mystery deepened.

Jeff eased into the tub of steaming hot water and was overcome by ecstasy that momentarily overwhelmed his pain. The bliss was so intense as to be almost sexual. He exhaled a long, slow breath of relief.

That same wild, sweet perfume he’d caught before swirled around him as he luxuriated in the water. His body shocked him by responding hard and fast to the scent of the woman. She was extremely attractive if a guy went for that whole earthy, natural thing. Which, he had to admit, he definitely did at the moment.

Just how much comfort was she authorized to give him, anyway? He pushed away the idea of bedding Jennifer Blackfoot. Not only was he in no shape to withstand the physical rigors of sex, the woman was so wary of him she looked about ready to jump out of her skin most of the time. And then there was that shotgun of hers to consider. Did sex constitute harming her? Would she kill him afterward for violating their deal?

That outcome was likely enough that he satisfied himself with merely imagining her slender, bronze limbs wrapped around him, her black eyes sparkling in pleasure, her body taking his into her and satisfying his long-denied lust.

When the additional pain of his aroused flesh became too much to bear, he forcibly turned his thoughts to his mission gone terribly wrong. That first night in jail, to his shock, instead of questioning him, his Ethiopian interrogator had whispered urgently of a conspiracy. Of classified military intelligence from the United States being sold to El Mari and used to ambush Jeff and his team. The interrogator’s last words before the door burst open and a masked man jumped him and garroted him were that El Mari was determined to kill him. Even here in jail, Jeff would not be safe.

The guard had been right.

Thankfully, the other prisoners vastly underestimated his strength the first time they tried to kill him. They only jumped him with a half-dozen men armed with shivs. He beat them all to a pulp, retreated to his cell and never came out again to give them a second chance.

Jeff added more hot water to the cooling bath. When he found out who in El Mari’s organization had stepped into the bastard’s shoes now that the guy was dead, he vowed to himself to take that guy out, too. The unholy work of El Mari’s mercenaries had to be stopped.

But more importantly, he would find and punish whoever in the United States government had sold him and his men out. Five good men dead on his watch. God help Jennifer Blackfoot if she was part of the conspiracy that had killed his men.

His grim thoughts grounded him back in the reality of his suffering. He supposed it was fitting that if he was the one man on his team to survive, he was also the one who would suffer the most for it.

The steaming bath gradually soaked loose the accumulated filth ground into his skin over a period of months. He picked up a surprisingly pink loofah—Jennifer didn’t strike him as a peppermint pink kind of woman, but obviously he was wrong—and very, very carefully scrubbed the crusted dirt and caked sweat off his skin. It hurt like crazy, but being clean felt so good he was able to grit his teeth against the sensory stimulation long enough to finish washing.

As the tub drained, he stood up, naked, and let cold air wash across him. His skin puckered with goose bumps, but it felt good. Even the most minor relief from his pain right now was a blessing. But it did not last. His skin dried and the fires of Hell resumed searing away his flesh layer by blackened layer.

Eyeing his disgusting clothes in a heap on the floor, he couldn’t bring himself to don the filthy garments again. Gingerly, he wrapped a towel around his hips and headed for his hostess.

She was in the living room, reading a newspaper. Eagerness to find out what was going on in the world gripped him. Later, he’d read that thing front to back. But right now, he needed something to wear or access to a washing machine.

She glanced up and made a faintly choked sound. “Problem?” she croaked.

“Clothes. Mine are gross.”

“Aah. If you’ll look in the dresser in your room, you should find some men’s clothing. Although I’m not sure any of it will fit you. But maybe you can find something that’ll work until I can have larger clothing sent out.”

He pounced on that like a lion on prey. “We can get things sent here? How fast?”

A delicate eyebrow arched over her right eye like a swallow’s wing. “Is there something in particular you want?”

He eyed her warily. He didn’t for a second underestimate the intelligence of this woman, his adversary. “I’ll need to have some things couriered to me. Clothes for one. Medications. Business documents. I’ve been away from my company for too long. Things are probably a mess there by now.”

She pursed her lips thoughtfully but made no immediate comment.

Rather than stick around to let her say no, he retreated to his bedroom in search of clothes.

Oh. My. God. Jeff Winston in a towel was one of the most incredible sights she’d ever seen. Sure, she worked around a lot of buff special forces operatives who were blatant exhibitionists when it came to showing off their muscles, but every last one of them would slink away in shame if they ever had to stand next to Jeff. Something primal and female stirred deep within her at the sight of this overpoweringly alpha male.

He looked a bit like a world-class body builder. Except where a body builder would sculpt his body for beauty, symmetry and an idealistic form, Jeff’s body was built for sheer, raw power. The man looked like a rock. Or more accurately, a pile of bulging boulders and slabs of granite stacked into a humanoid shape.

No wonder he’d been so unbelievably heavy when he had landed on her and knocked her out of the way of the gun battle erupting over their heads. The guy hadn’t ever heard of body fat, apparently.

As he retreated down the hallway, she noted that his back was no less defined than his front. He looked like he could lift a truck. Heck, he looked like he could pick up a truck and throw it.

Heat flared in her cheeks as she realized she was ogling her prisoner like some hot-to-trot college coed. She was a grown woman, thank you very much. Fully in control of her desires and not the slightest in need of a man in her life. But good heavens, what a man. She’d seriously never seen a specimen even remotely like him. He was a beast.

But as soon as the word crossed her mind, she frowned. His current appearance wasn’t his fault. But with all that hair and that wild look in his eyes, it was hard to separate the man from the animal he’d had to become to survive whatever the Ethiopians did to him.

She cranked up her laptop and fired off a quick email to Brady Hathaway at H.O.T. Watch. She asked for additional steak to be sent to the island, along with a new cell phone for her. And then she ended the message with,

See if you can back channel an off-the-record conversation with the Ethiopian Army. What in the world did they do to this guy in prison to turn him into what he is now?

Chapter 3

Jeff stared at himself in the mirror. Both the T-shirt and cutoff sweatpant shorts he wore stretched too tightly across his massive physique. But they were the only garments that even came close to fitting him. If nothing else, they highlighted his power pretty blatantly. Hopefully, it would be enough to intimidate his hostess into sending for his drugs immediately.

He rejoined her in the living room, where she was most of the way through the newspaper now.

“Better?” she murmured as he sat down on the sofa opposite her.

“Indeed.”

He waited until she glanced up at him questioningly, debating with himself while he waited. Indirect subtlety or direct and straightforward? How to get Jennifer to order his drugs brought in? His gut told him to go the direct route, but habit told him to approach all women circuitously.

“What’s put that frown on your face?” she asked.

“I’m debating how to handle you,” he replied frankly.

She smiled sardonically. “How about you let me do the handling for now?”

That sent his right eyebrow sailing upward. Did she mean the sexual innuendo? Surely, it had been intentional. She was too smart to make a sophomoric slip of the tongue like that. Thought she could use sex to manipulate him, did she? If he weren’t in so much pain that he could hardly see straight, she would probably be right to think that. He’d played the field as hard as the next guy over the years. Maybe harder than most.

But since he’d met Dr. Gemma Jones, that had changed. The drugs had taken over his life. Now they were his one and only mistress.
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