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“Wallet,” he continued in between working serious magic on a newly discovered erogenous zone at the base of her neck. “Table.”

“Ah. Right.” Now she saw it resting by the lamp and thank goodness he’d thought ahead because, heaven help her, she surely hadn’t.

Leaning, Nola reached, so grateful he stayed with her during the whole stretch of foreplay, never breaking the amazingly shivery contact. Her hand slapped to rest over his wallet, grappled until she fished out the thin packet.

Straightening again, she ripped open the birth control and sheathed him in a smooth sweep that sent his arm twitching around her, muscles taut.

“More?” she teased.

He slid two fingers home inside her. “More.”

Much more.

He teased her again and again with a familiarity he couldn’t possibly have remembered from before yet somehow he seemed to know just what she enjoyed most. When she thought she couldn’t take any more without finishing here, now, he slid both hands to her back, down to cup her bottom and grip. A slight shift and lift upward brought her mouth to his again for a deeper kiss, more kissing while they continued. More intimacy. Her heart raced faster along with her breath threatening a hint of hyperventilation, because with the joining of their mouths, she adjusted her body to accept…


His body moved into her hers again with a familiarity that washed away the awkwardness and yes, the fears, too.

A second healing pulsed through her veins, throughout her entire body, her mind, her soul. A cure beyond what could be found from any doctor or medicine.

Her fingers dug into his shoulders, gripped deeper into memorable muscles to anchor her in the moment.


“Totally. You?”

He throbbed inside her.

She grinned against his mouth, tickled to her toes again that two such chatty people could be reduced to one-word responses by the power of their response to each other. Nola leaned in for another kiss, rocking her h*ps as he thrust up. This would be okay, fun and normal and wonderful. She could have this part of her world and body back.

More sensations tingled to life again along every inch of skin. Shivery and alive and building as they rocked in synch. Bedsprings squeaked in harmony with their movements, echoing the growing riot within her. She dipped her head to taste his skin, beads of sweat popping along his collarbone, her fingers finding the pebbled hardness of his nipples.

He throbbed inside her again, his growl rumbling against her oversensitized chest. Power trilled through, knowing that she brought him as much pleasure as he gave her.

She opened her mouth to give him another of those one-word encouragements only to find even that much speech had dried up in the fire of her response. She could only throw back her head and savor, hold, shake. Surely it was only because she’d gone so long without.

A little voice in her head told her otherwise.

But then she told that little voice to hush up. She was busy right now enjoying the most amazing, freeing sex of her life, soon to be the most awesome completion. Building now and she didn’t want to risk dulling the edge from the finish. Or worse yet, lose her focus and lose the moment…

“Shh…” His voice and hands soothed over her skin as his body thrust. “I’m with you and I’m not finishing without you, like the two of us taking the leap together. Have you ever done a tandem parachute jump? It’s freaking amazing.”

She liked the image of their bodies locked like a joined freefall jump from an airplane. What a lovely vision of their two worlds mingling. He’d found words when she needed them, when she needed him. She believed him, trusted him.

And…oh…her body convulsed so completely around his, her arms locking him so tightly to her, she couldn’t draw him any deeper as she soared into the sensation.

So amazing. Beautiful. World rocking.

She’d deluded herself once before that she could have a weekend only with this man. Collapsing against his chest, she knew this time she wouldn’t be leaving him a note in the morning.

And even as she fought to catch her breath from the wonderful pleasure he’d helped her find again, she knew that untangling her mess of emotions for this complex man scared her far more than any combat mission.

Chapter 9

Breeze whipping off the marshy water and over him, Rick twisted the screwdriver on Nola’s mailbox, removing the last of the hinges holding the door. He might not have the answer yet for stopping the letter-writing, car-bombing, finance-sabotaging scum. But Rick intended to make damn sure there wouldn’t be any lethal surprises hidden in the U.S. mailbox, like a poisonous snake or spider, not to mention another bomb.

He’d been working his way through the list of possible dangerous surprises and general handyman fix-its. Aside from wanting to help her, it felt damn good to be out in the world again. Never again would he gripe about mowing the lawn or changing out the heater-AC filters. Nothing like a year in a rehab center to cure a man of grousing about chores around the house.

If only his body would cooperate with the length of his list. He rested his elbows on the mailbox to ease the pressure on his legs. The night of vigorous sex had tapped his reserves, too.

He grinned. Well worth every aching muscle.

So since he was done with the mailbox, why was he hanging out here rather than heading back inside with her? Giving Nola space.

She’d trusted him with a mammoth revelation, and now she was scared. He’d faced fear—in others, and hell yeah, in himself—enough times in the field to recognize it in a heartbeat. Best thing to do? Watch her and take his cue from her. Protecting her had taken on a lot more dimensions than he’d expected.

A shapely shadow stretched over him, reminding him of his primary purpose for being here—and it wasn’t about being in Nola’s bed, much as he enjoyed the pleasurable position.

He needed to remember how easily this woman could distract him from watching the cars driving by, sparse though the traffic might be on the back road, especially on a holiday. All the same, a large blue truck approached, slowing.

Rick knelt down to pull the hammer from the box and leaned against the mailbox as the truck neared to reveal…her neighbor, the ex-cop, Malcolm Cuvier. The truck pulled over onto the side of the road across the street, crunching downed branches.

The burly man hopped out of the truck cab. “Happy Thanksgiving.”

“Same to you. What can we do for you?” Had he really just said we in a territorial claim staking of his woman?

Hell yeah.

“Just doing a drive-by to make sure all’s well with Nola and that you aren’t having any more trouble from that bastard who’s been bugging her lately.”

Rick assessed the older man through narrowed eyes and wondered what if… They surely wouldn’t get any support on that theory from the local police since Cuvier was part of the blue wall. This would be better mentioned to someone in the OSI. “All’s been quiet, other than some snafus with stolen credit cards. Child’s play to straighten out.”

That would rile him into action if he was the perp, hopefully anger him enough to make a careless mistake.

“Well, if there’s anything I can do, just let me know.” He backed toward his truck. “And tell Nola happy holidays for me.”

“You bet.” Rick dropped the hammer into the toolbox with a thud as the man drove away.

And speaking of Nola…

She strolled his way down the stone walk, watching him through wary morning-after eyes. Her arms crossed over her chest reminded him of the main reason he needed to get his head out of his ass and scrounge up some “sensitive guy” stuff to reassure her.

“Morning, gorgeous.” Not too original, but pretty decent in a pinch.

And totally true.

With her blond leggy beauty, she stretched those jeans and the simple green sweater out in all the right places. She continued her sashay down the stone walkway, towering oak trees casting a bower of branches and Spanish moss over her. With an extra kick of sass, she batted away the tire swing swishing in the wind. Rigged to lie flat, the tire swing swirled like a chocolate doughnut.

He certainly did plan to have a Thanksgiving feast of her later on.

“What are you doing out here when you should be propping up your legs?” she inquired with gentle censure. “You’ve already fixed everything that’s broken and a number of things that weren’t.”

“Nothing major.”

He dropped the screwdriver into the small toolbox he’d found in her garage. He hadn’t found an elaborate workshop, but she had the basics. Rick mentally made a list of a couple more items he could pick up and teach her to use…for after he left? “Just tying up some loose ends to rig better security for your place.”

“I spent a fortune on my security system after those letters started showing up.” She threaded her fingers through her damp curls, looking left and right down the deserted road. “The cops are doing drive-bys. What else could you possibly have in mind?”

He patted the open mailbox. “A few simple techniques I learned in Terrorist Combat 101. And making use of more manpower.”


“Have you gotten to know your neighbors?” If they could be called that, all a mile or so down the road in sparsely populated subdivisions.

“Um. I’m really never here and they all live pretty far away.”

“I’m not pitching stones. My house is every bit as glass as yours is, lady. I figured it was worth my while to check out the locals in case you had some creepy lech with photos of you plastered to his bedroom wall.”

Her eyebrows shot straight upward. “You’ve been checking out my neighbors’ bedrooms?”

“I stopped in to say hi to a couple of the ones who lived closer when I saw them out doing yard work, wrangled my way inside for a drink of water, which led to a trip to the bathroom and enabled me to scope the house and get a feel for their personality.” He shrugged. “It’s not foolproof, but a quick look start.”

“And you’ve told them my problems?”

“I wouldn’t tell the divorced dentist next door jack about you because then he might make a move.” He looped his arms around her waist and buzzed her neck.

She wasn’t as easily put off.

“All right.” Calves cramping, he shuffled from foot to foot as unobtrusively as possible.

What he wouldn’t give to have his old body back. He would fling her over his shoulder and haul her inside for all-day sex. “Not your problems exactly, because I did have to take into account that I might be wrong in my estimation. I told a couple of the older ladies who’re home during the day that we’ve had trouble with teenage vandalism. That we’d appreciate it if they would keep an eye out and let us know if they see anything suspicious.”

“Oh.” She sagged back against a towering oak. “Good idea.”

“Damn straight.” Joining her by the tree, he dropped onto the tire swing and hauled her onto his lap instead of over his shoulder, not too bad an alternative after all.

He smothered her yelp of surprise with his mouth, lingered. Too easily he could hibernate here with her…

Rick lifted his head and his thoughts back to the crispy fall moment. “Never discount the obvious help just because it’s not full guns blazing.”

Hmm. Could that be a subliminal slip?

Sitting crossways on his lap, Nola rested her head against his shoulder while the swing creaked back and forth on the thick branch. “I would have thought you would be all about the firepower.”

“We make use of anything we’re given.” He hated self-pity, but he couldn’t shake thoughts of what he’d lost, memories of the man he’d been when she’d seen him five years ago, pumping push-ups on the floor.

Heaven knew he was digging deep in his arsenal when it came to impressing this woman. Maybe he needed to take some of his own advice on looking for ways to make a contribution without quite the same level of firepower. His training for pararescue might be parlayed into something less adrenaline-pumping, but maybe just as useful if only he could clear his head from the weight of frustration to figure out what in the hell that might be.