Navy Seal's Deadly Secret
He climbed into his truck and pointed the heavy vehicle down the mountain without any destination in mind. Maybe he should check out the Sapphire Club. It was a strip joint that had opened up on the edge of Sunny Creek sometime since he’d joined the Army. But he had no appetite for crowds and smoke and drunks, and instead pulled over by a curb in the ramshackle part of Sunny Creek down by where the old lumber mill used to be. The neighborhood had gotten significantly more ramshackle since he left a decade ago, and a bunch of the houses were boarded up and had waist-high lawns of weeds.
He pulled out his cell phone and did a quick internet search on one Anna Larkin of Sunny Creek, Montana. Nothing. Crap. She must not have been back in town long. He debated starting a rumor, but ultimately risked calling Joe Westlake.
“Hey, Joe, It’s Brett Morgan. Can you tell me where Anna Larkin lives? I want to stop by and thank her for returning my Saint George’s medal to me.”
“Yeah, sure.” Joe rattled off the address. “She’s single, by the way.”
“Eff off, Joe,” Brett bit out. He hung up on his cousin’s laughter.
He drove past her place with the idea of just taking a quick look. Making sure she was okay.
How his truck ended up parked at the curb in front of her house, he had no clue. And how his door opened and his boots crunched down into the frosty grass, he couldn’t say. He really shouldn’t be heading up the cracked sidewalk to the wreck of a house in front of him. A pile of torn-out drywall at the end of the driveway announced that construction was ongoing inside the bungalow. That, and light showing around the cracks in the plywood covering the front windows announced that someone was home.
Turn around. Go back to the truck. Get the hell out of here. Run!
And yet, his feet kept moving, one reluctant step at a time. What was he doing? The rational side of his brain answered that he was only checking on her health, doing what he should have in the first place. The other side of his brain, the skeptical side that knew his BS for what it was, informed him he was lying to himself.
He watched in disbelief as his fist knocked on the wooden door frame.
Please, God, don’t let her answer the door, he begged her.
Light footsteps sounded behind the panel, coming close.
So much for God giving a crap about him.
The door opened, and there she was, outlined in light spilling from behind her, strains of bad disco music blaring in the background. Her hair fell in two messy braids over her shoulders, and her shirt was covered in fine brown dust.
“Oh! It’s you! What are you doing here?” she asked.
That was a hell of a good question. “You hit your head earlier,” he mumbled. “At my place.” Damned if he didn’t feel like scuffing a toe against the doorjamb. He refrained, however, mumbling, “Wanted to make sure you don’t have a concussion.”
She stared at him like he’d grown a second head.
“Should’ve done it before,” he muttered lamely. He risked a glance up from his scuffed boot toes and was blown away by how clear and soft her brown eyes were, even when filled with skepticism. And fear. He swore at himself. Coming here had been the mother of all dumb ideas.
He was careful to make no sudden moves, to keep his hands at his sides, to do nothing to spook her further. He even leaned back, even though his impulse was to move closer to her, to provide the bulk of his body to protect her from whatever was scaring her so badly. Thing was, he suspected he was the thing scaring her.
Up close, her skin looked like the finest velvet, impossibly smooth, dewy and flawless. He felt like a scarred old relic in comparison with her.
“How does one check for a concussion?” she inquired.
What? Oh. Right. His totally transparent excuse for stopping by to see her. “Pupils,” he choked out. Crap, he couldn’t even find the simplest words. Language had all but deserted him. “Uneven dilation,” he managed.
When he didn’t say any more, she finally asked, “Are mine even?”
He glanced up unwillingly once more. “Can’t tell. Too dark.”
“Oh.” She stared back at him, looking as confused as he felt.
“Porch light?” he managed.
“Not working yet,” she replied. “It has to be rewired. I, um, haven’t gotten around to that.”
It was his turn to mumble, “Oh.”
“Come inside?” she offered reluctantly. “There’s light in the living room.”
“Uh, sure.” Geez. He hadn’t been this awkward around a girl even when he was sixteen and picking up Suzy Niblock for his very first date.
His gaze drifted to that pert derriere of hers as she led him over to a work light pointing at a stretch of partially sanded wood wainscoting. Actual sweat broke out on his brow as he watched her rear end twitch temptingly. Day-um. He exhaled carefully. She might be diminutive, but she had one fine body.
How long had it been since he’d been with a woman? He couldn’t remember the last time, truth be told. It wasn’t that he was a monk by any stretch. He just hadn’t been anywhere near any women other than female soldiers who were strictly off-limits in, well, forever.
Abruptly, his hands itched with the remembered feel of soft curves, smooth skin, and the yielding strength of the female body. He remembered the scent of a woman, sweet and lightly musky, each one slightly different. The taste of clean, fresh flesh, the warmth of a woman’s arms around him, the delight of a woman’s mouth opening beneath his—
The memories flooded back so fast and hard, slamming into him like a physical blow, that he stumbled behind Anna and had to catch himself with a hand against the wall.
How could he have forgotten all of that stuff?
Anna stopped abruptly in what looked like a dining room and turned to face him, tipping up her face expectantly to the light. The curve of her cheek was worthy of a Rembrandt painting, plump like a child’s and angular like a woman’s. How was that possible?
“Well?” she demanded.
“Uh, well what?” he mumbled.
“Are my pupils all right?”
He frowned and looked into her eyes. They were cinnamon hued, the color of a chestnut horse in sunshine, with streaks of gold running through them. Her lashes were dark and long, fanning across her cheeks as lightly as strands of silk.
Pupils. Compare diameters. Even or uneven. Cripes. His entire brain had just melted and drained out his ear. One look into her big, innocent eyes, and he was toast. Belatedly, he held up a hand in front of her face, blocking the direct light.
She froze at the abrupt movement of his hand, and he did the same. Where was the threat? When one of his teammates went completely still like that, it meant a dire threat was far too close to all of them. Without moving his head, he let his gaze range around the room. Everything was still, and only the sounds of a vintage disco dance tune broke the silence.
He looked back at her questioningly. What had her so on edge? Only peripherally did he register that, on cue, the black disks of her pupils had grown to encompass the lighter brown of her irises. He took his hand away, and her pupils contracted quickly.
“Um, yeah. Your eyes look okay,” he murmured. “Do you have a headache?”
“Yes, but it’s from all the sanding I have to do and not from my tumble off your porch.”
He frowned at the wood paneling as high as his chest and extending the entire length of the long wall, not to mention the intricate molding outlining it. “You’re planning to refinish all of that by hand?” he asked dubiously.
“Power sanders are expensive, and I’ll probably never use one again after I finish renovating this place.”
His frown deepened. “You’re fixing this house up all by yourself?”
Her spine went straight and rigid. “Yes. I am. Have you got a problem with that?”
“No. Not at all. I’m just impressed that you took on such a big job by yourself.”