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Nola wriggled on his lap to sit more securely. “Okay, you don’t think any of my neighbors are stalkers. I guess that’s a relief, except we’re not any closer to answers.”

Something he intended to do his best to change. Somebody needed to push the authorities harder, tap into some of the base intel personnel, none of which he could do until after the holiday.

Which left him with time on his hands now. “In the interest of being open and honest and sensitive, I’ll own up to the fact that all this activity has my legs aching and your wriggling has another part of me aching.”

She angled her face up to his, her blue eyes as clear as the sky he used to parachute through on a regular basis. “Are you angling for another massage of all your aching parts?”

“Maybe a peek at that Jacuzzi tub of yours.” That should put them on a more even footing.

He eyed the marshy shore just beyond her house and wished for warmer weather. Swimming with Nola, making love in the natural watery environment would be awesome. In spite of his injuries, he could seriously hold his own in the water.

Would he still be in the area in the spring to live out those fantasies with Nola? A weighty thought, premature at that. Right now, he could focus on the Jacuzzi and a more immediate, simple surprise for her.

“I believe that could be arranged.”

Fixing things around her house, getting to know her neighbors. Coming up with ways to surprise her, win her over.

This felt too much like digging in, planting roots.

Damn. He missed the old days when the stakes weren’t scary as hell, when he only faced catapulting himself out of an airplane into a jungle full of live fire.

Nola plunged her body into the churning bathwaters in the Jacuzzi, her body already tingling long before the frothing jets caressed her skin.

Rick had created an amazing seductive spa setting with a Thanksgiving feast surprise she would never forget. The man certainly had a creative way with making a personal moment from things scavenged during a simple grocery store run.

Bunches of mixed flowers in large tumblers surrounded the tub interspersed with candles. The scents clung to the humidity, saturating the air and her awakening senses as the tub’s motor hummed softly underneath her. And her own motor was pretty well humming by now, too.

Best of all, beside the faucet rested something that meant more than all the candles, flowers or security upgrades in the world. An ice bucket holding four…

Milk shakes.

Vanilla. Chocolate. Strawberry. And something green she really hoped was mint because no way would she hurt his feelings by doing anything other than tasting it with a grateful smile and yum.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” Rick called from the doorway, one shoulder braced, his honed body on display and awesome even in jeans and T-shirt. “I wasn’t sure about your favorite flavor, but I wanted to add something to the meal.”

She scooped the strawberry shake from the bucket, lounged back and enjoyed the view along with a few memories from their night together that she couldn’t wait to repeat. “So this is what you put in that bag of yours when you snuck off at the grocery store.”

“That and the condoms.”

“Ice cream and condoms. A man after my own heart.” She put the straw in her mouth and drew on the creamy shake, holding his gaze.

His eyes narrowed. “A woman who doesn’t give a crap about flowers.” His voice went husky as his attention stayed right on her gently sucking on the straw. “A woman after my heart.”

She let her laughter float as freely as the bubbles rising toward her chin. How long had it been since she’d had this much fun? She never would have imagined being this lighthearted while some crazed nutcase gunned for her.

“You found my blender and everything.” Leaning forward, she traded the strawberry shake for the green. “You really went to a lot of trouble. I feel guilty. All I did was order the grocery store’s premade Thanksgiving meal.”

“I’m sure the pilgrims would have preferred the premade, hands down, if they’d been given the option.”

“Thank you.” She tasted the green shake—oh, chocolate mint. “How about you get rid of those clothes and join me?”

“Well, since it’s the doctor’s orders and all.”

“You want to play doctor?”

Barefoot, he shoved away from the doorjamb and lumbered toward her, shucking his shirt. “Among other things.”

He popped the top button free on his jeans to reveal his washboard stomach and her mouth dried right up. She brought her drink back to her lips and his pupils widened, his brown eyes darkening to cloudy skies.

Kicking his pants and boxers aside, Rick shook his head slowly. “Lady, your mouth is pure sin.”

She set her drink aside and held her arms open for him to join her. He lowered his body into the tub behind her, his thighs brushing her legs with tantalizing effect.

Nola settled back against his chest, sloshing bubbles over the side onto the rag-tie bath mat. “I did plan a more personal surprise for you later this afternoon.”

“Does it involve us staying naked?” He nipped her shoulder, his arms looping around her stomach.

“No, but that certainly would make the event all the more memorable.” She swallowed back a laugh at the thought of the two of them, naked, while… She couldn’t even finish the thought. It would be too funny. Too much of a fantasy.

She brought the milk shake to her mouth again and sucked, the creamy drink flooding her senses—and apparently her savoring driving Rick more than a little crazy because the next thing she knew he’d snatched her glass from her.

“If we’re not gonna stay naked,” he said. “Take back the gift.”

“Seriously now. You’ll really like this.” She hoped he would. God, what if she’d made a colossal error in judgment and hurt him with this? “Although since I made the reservation with my credit card which is officially frozen thanks to the creep, you’ll have to pay for your own Thanksgiving gift.”

“Will it bankrupt me?” He leaned back and snagged the vanilla shake for himself while his other hand disappeared under the water between her legs and…


Her eyes fluttered closed for a second before she wrapped her hand around his so she could finish talking. “I make less than you do, pal, even with whatever your child support payments must be, so I seriously doubt this will throw you in the poorhouse. And no worries. When we untangle my finances, I fully intend to pay you back.”

His hand slid from the water and he flicked the water free. “You don’t have to. I owe you rent…”

“You’re helping out with the protection factor, remember?”

“We’ll discuss it later.” He flipped his hand to link fingers with hers. “Will it freak you out if I call my ex? Something wasn’t right with Lauren’s call yesterday.”

“That parent radar?”

“I don’t know if I can claim that. I’m not around her enough to call myself perceptive. Even a moron would know she’s upset.”

“I’m sorry.” And she was. It would be petty to mind him calling his ex, she just wished she didn’t have to listen in. Jealousy made her look petty and she hated such small emotions—not to mention what it said about how tangled her feelings for Rick had become in a short time.

Okay, they were sleeping together again, not in a one-night-stand capacity.

Determined to enjoy this Thanksgiving afternoon with Rick, Nola slid deeper into the bubbles, savoring his stroking touch between her legs. Not to mention the firm press of his erection against her, reassuring her that he wanted her every bit as much as she wanted him. As if she didn’t have enough to make her jittery hoping she hadn’t goofed with her surprise present.

Life would be far simpler if she could just fish out her earplugs and pretend she didn’t care about his phone call to his ex-wife.

Behind the wheel of the new SUV rental he’d put on his credit card when Nola’s bottomed out, Rick drove while he thumbed numbers on his cell phone. Calling his ex-wife never ranked high on his list of favorites, but they had a child to bring up. They may have sucked as a couple, but they loved their kid and Lindsay was a good mom.

This new guy entering the picture, however, he didn’t know jack about. Why hadn’t Lindsay phoned to let him know?

Nola sat beside him in the passenger side, periodically piping up with a “turn left” or “turn right,” but otherwise silent. He wondered about her surprise because he couldn’t plan protection from the stalker when he didn’t have a sense of where they would be. Stubborn woman refused to pony up the info. He grinned—

The cell phone stopped ringing and his wife answered. His smile faded.

“Lindsay, Rick here. I got a call from Lauren.” Might as well skip the niceties and cut right to the chase. Besides, Nola had said her surprise wasn’t much farther down the dusty county road. “She said you’re getting remarried.”

Nola went still beside him and Rick wondered for the first time if perhaps he should have had this conversation in private after all.

“Well, hello to you, too, Rick,” Lindsay answered with a touch of sarcasm. “I’m doing fine. How about you?”

“What’s the point of wasting time dressing this conversation up with a bunch of pretty chitchat?”

“Direct and to the point. You haven’t changed a bit.”

Nola had said she liked that about him. He found himself smiling and not so totally pissed off about having to play the Lindsay game right now. “How are you doing?”

“I’m fine, thank you. Very happy right now, as a matter of fact.” At least she had the grace to pause. Awkward silence crackled for the next four telephone poles whizzing past. “I was going to call and tell you about the engagement.”

“That would have been nice, but it’s not the point.” Although it was a subpoint. He would have liked a heads-up when talking to their kid. “She’s upset. Actually that’s an understatement. She’s really shaken up enough to say she wants to come live with me.”

Lindsay snorted. “That’s not going to happen.”

He knew it wasn’t possible, but still he bristled at Lindsay’s outright refusal to even consider the possibility. Sheesh. He wasn’t the Antichrist.


Calm the hell down.

His ex wasn’t a bad person, just ill equipped to handle military life, complete with a husband who hurtled out of airplanes and only spent two or three months a year at home.

Who could blame her? He never had before. Why the resentment now? He’d stopped loving her long ago.

Because for some reason he found himself wondering what a real life would be like. The kind of life she was building. Not with her, though.

Ah damn.

Nola gestured for him to turn left. He nodded, before resuming his conversation. “I’m concerned about Lauren. She didn’t sound happy.”

“She’s at her friend’s mountain cabin for the week. Maybe you remember me mentioning Becca Levy to you. Or maybe you don’t,” Lindsay said with one of her traditional not-so-subtle digs at his crappy parenting. “She’s having a great time skiing.”

Could be, and Lindsay undoubtedly knew Lauren better than he did. He’d barely spent any time with his own daughter. Although now that he thought back to her call, she’d sounded mighty upset for a girl playing ski bunny with her friend.

His mother would be ashamed of him. That burned. He was working to be a better man, a better father. Hopefully he would get there sometime soon.

Starting with being more perceptive—and he could swear his daughter was upset. But he’d learned long ago not to argue with Lindsay once she’d made up her mind.

“Okay, she’s homesick. Still, I would appreciate it if you would give her a call and check in. Or better yet, you could give me the number and I’ll call her. The number she used didn’t come up on my cell and her cell is out of range.”