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Navy Seal's Deadly Secret
Cindy Dees

She shrugged. “I inherited the place. Which is to say I didn’t volunteer for this. And my needs aren’t great—a roof, a bed, a place to cook my meals.”

He tilted his head, studying her more closely. Men in his line of work were trained observers, and he used those skills now. She wasn’t lying to him. She truly didn’t want anything beyond the basics. And she craved safety, if he wasn’t reading her wrong.

“You still got any family in Sunny Creek?” he asked.

“No. My mother died about six months ago. She was the last of my family.”

She was alone, then. Lucky dog. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“I hadn’t seen her in a long time. We had a falling-out about—” She broke off. “Well, a falling-out.”

Awkward silence fell between them, and he didn’t have a clue what to say next. Thankfully, she broke the silence. “I appreciate you stopping by to check on me.”

Humor pricked at him. She was getting rid of him the same way he’d gotten rid of her earlier. Turnabout was fair play, he supposed. Admiration for her spunk passed through him. Not too many women in Sunny Creek would be in this big a hurry to kick one of the Morgan boys out of their house. Of course, it was no less than he deserved. Not only was he unworthy to breathe the same air as someone like her, but he’d also been a jerk to her earlier.

He nodded as much to himself as to her, and spun on the heel of his cowboy boot. He muttered over his shoulder, “I’ll show myself out. Good luck with your sanding.”

Anna stood in the middle of her dining room, breathing hard. She couldn’t tell if it was fear or something else stealing the oxygen from her lungs. It had been nice of Brett to stop by and check on her. She wasn’t sure what to do with nice, however. It made her nervous. Jumpy. Mistrustful. Did he have an agenda of some kind?

But what could he possibly want from her? He came from a rich, powerful family, and she was a broke waitress.

Her better self kicked in. The entire world wasn’t made up of men like Eddie. Decent men no doubt existed out there. She shouldn’t read too much into Brett’s visit. Maybe the man truly was just making sure she was all right. Which was kind. Thoughtful. Totally nonthreatening.

She had to admit that man was beautiful. His eyes, when he’d stared into hers, had been so blue it almost hurt to look at them. And that jaw. Wowsers. His hair was a shade shaggy, just messy enough that she’d actually felt an urge to reach up and push it off his forehead.

Which was insane. She never wanted to touch another man as long as she lived. And she sure as shooting didn’t want a man to touch her. She’d barely managed not to flinch when he reached up toward her face.

Restless and disturbed by Brett Morgan’s visit, and by his overwhelmingly male presence invading the sanctuary of her home, she threw down the sandpaper and headed for the big, old cast-iron soaking tub that had been the very first thing she restored to its former glory when she moved into this place.

She filled the big tub with hot water and eased into the steaming bath, which was almost too hot to stand. Perfect. She leaned her head back and let the bath do its magic, unwinding the tension of the entire day, starting with the robbery and ending with her late-night visitor.

Strange man, Brett Morgan. Not much for talking. Not much for social interaction of any kind, in fact. How was it that a man as beautiful as he was seemed so totally ill at ease with women? From what she remembered of him in high school, he’d always had girls hanging all over him. She also remembered him laughing a lot and being plenty gregarious. How had he turned into the awkward, taciturn man in her dining room tonight?

It was a mystery. And God knew, she was a sucker for a good puzzle.

Except he was not her problem. She had enough of those in her life without some hard-luck cowboy messing with her head.

Eddie had been nearly as pretty as Brett, but he’d been completely self-centered. It was all about his desires, his pleasure. She had always been merely a means to his ends. But Brett—the way he’d stared so deeply into her eyes, the way his nostrils had flared when he’d stepped close to her—struck her as the sort of man who would take an interest in pleasuring the women in his bed.

She knew the sex with Eddie hadn’t been a shining example of how it could be. Problem was, if she was going to experience decent sex at some point in her life, that would entail an actual relationship with another man besides her ex-husband. No way sex was worth that. Brett Morgan might be nice to look at, maybe even to fantasize about, but that was as far as that was ever going to go.

She closed her eyes, careful not to let herself drift off to sleep and drown, which would be just her luck. To heck with pleasure. If only there was a way to wrest some peace from the wreckage of her life.

It had been a huge mistake to come back to Sunny Creek. Her need for self-destruction ran a lot deeper than she’d realized until today—when she actually was relieved to face death. Until Brett Morgan apparently appointed himself her guardian angel.

How was she supposed to pay for her sins with him on the job?

Chapter 4 (#u7af247a9-950a-5d0e-bb40-35d2bc41d8e4)

She dreamed of Eddie. Or to be precise, of his ghost. He haunted her dreams most nights, terrifying her and accusing her, never letting her forget, never letting her move on. Not that she deserved to move on. She was already in hell. A hell of Eddie’s making that was never going to let her go.

She woke up breathing hard, as if she’d been running for her life. Which she was in a way. No matter how far she ran, she would never escape Eddie. Not now. Not ever.

While she lay huddled under the covers trying to catch her breath, she heard the new furnace working hard. But the tip of her nose felt like an ice cube. Until she got something more permanent than plywood and duct tape to seal the window openings, she supposed no furnace could possibly keep up with subfreezing temperatures outside. Urgency to solve the window problem was the only thing that got her out of bed this morning and rushing into jeans, a T-shirt, sweatshirt, thick socks,and sheepskin-lined boots.

She was huddling over a mug of hot coffee, stealing its warmth with her red, chilled fingers and willing away the unpleasant memory of Eddie, when a knock on the front door startled her into nearly dumping the scalding drink on herself. Who on earth was banging on her door like they wanted to knock it in?

“I’m coming!” she shouted. She paused with her hand on the door handle. “Who’s there?”

“Brett. Brett Morgan.”

Her stomach leaped in anticipation, then fell back in dismay.

She threw the front door open, and a burst of frigid wind gusted around her, making her shiver violently. The shape of a man wearing a cowboy hat was silhouetted against the bright white of the year’s first snow turning the weeds in her front yard into a blanket of white.

“Brett? What do you want?”

He looked intensely uncomfortable, but a determined look filled his eyes and made his jaw hard. He ground out, “I’d like to come inside and quit blowing all the cold air in Montana into your living room.”

“Oh.” Dumbfounded, she stepped back. He swept past her, his sheepskin rancher’s jacket big and cozy looking, filled to bursting with muscles and more muscles. What on earth had brought him back here at the crack of dawn? It was barely 8:00 a.m. Hardly a civilized time of day for an unannounced visit! He was darned lucky the cold had already woken her up.

“Are you here to check my pupils again?” she tried.

“No. I brought you something.”

A gift? From Brett Morgan? What on earth? He held out a plastic grocery bag, and she took it, startled at how heavy it was. She peered inside.

A rotary power sander.

“It’s old, but I cleaned and greased the motor last night, and I stopped by the hardware store this morning and picked up new sanding disks for it.”

“I can’t accept this—” she started.

He cut her off briskly. “Then consider it a loan. Do you know how to use it? If you lean on it too hard, you’ll leave swirl marks in the wood. Start light with the pressure and gradually press down harder—” He broke off and reached for the bag he’d just handed her. “Here. Let me show you.”

“I can figure it out—”

He wasn’t listening. He slung down a coiled orange extension cord that he’d been carrying over his right shoulder. “You attach the disks like this…”

In minor shock, she watched as he showed her how to operate the sander. He put the thing in her hands and guided the sander to a broad expanse of paneling. He flipped the switch, and the machine jumped in her hand. Hastily, he put his big, warm hands over hers, steadying the bucking sander. Not satisfied with that arrangement apparently, he stepped behind her and reached around her to put his hands over hers once more.

Her brain went completely blank as his arms surrounded her, and the heat of his body permeated her clothing all down her back. For a millisecond, she enjoyed the sensation of being held and protected. But then fear reared its ugly head, making her go stiff.

Oblivious to her distress, Brett guided the sander across the wall, and the old finish melted away from the wood like butter, leaving fresh, bright walnut exposed, its natural tones a mix of blond and brown. As if that was what she was concentrating on at the moment.

Man. Muscle. Heat. The simultaneous push and pull of attraction and repulsion all but paralyzed her. She could do this. He didn’t mean anything by it. He was just showing her how to sand a wall. Concentrate on the good parts. Like the scent of pine trees and mountain air rising from his clothes. It was as if the Rocky Mountains themselves had swept into her living room. She always had loved the mountains.

Brett’s hands pushed hers back across the wood in a gentle, even swath, magically clearing away another broad strip of old varnish and grime.
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