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“The originals are with the police back in Charleston, South Carolina, where I’m stationed, but I keep these with me at all times in case another comes when I’m on the road so I can show local cops.”

She watched while he thumbed through the stack of her stalker’s notes about how he was watching her. How he’d seen what she chose at the mall. When he’d noticed the specific date she’d come home from a flight.

An outfit of hers he liked most.

The low hum of life in the hall continued while he read. A cart rattled by. A television squawked and talked and blared laughter. Conversation echoed from the chow hall.

All the while Rick’s jaw grew tighter with each Xerox copy before he finally replaced the stack into the envelope. “The explosion’s not coincidental.”

“I don’t think so.” She’d kept the notes because the police instructed her to do so, but she hadn’t taken the whole thing too seriously until now. She’d been so certain her training would be enough to protect herself against anything anyone could bring her way.

She hadn’t factored in car bombs.

“Jesus, lady. How can you sit there so calmly?”

He thought she was calm? Hah.

She pulled a tight smile. “Trust me, my heart’s racing like a newbie pilot during a check ride.”

“Have you had other accidents like this?”

“This was the first, actually. Before now, I’ve only gotten letters. I lead a simple life. Work and more work.” Of course he was curious, but she’d answered these questions so many times she wanted to bang her head against a wall. “Believe me, the police and I have both been over and over this. We have no idea.”

“What about an ex?”

Was he asking about a boyfriend? “There’s none in the picture, and certainly none of the psycho type.”

“What about your ex-husband?”

More questions about her love life? She certainly didn’t have any romance going on now or anytime recently, and she didn’t dare wrap her brain around the notion Rick might be interested in jump-starting their short-lived affair. “Peter Grant and I haven’t been together in over five years. I even went back to my maiden name the minute we separated.”

Which brought to mind the fact that she and Rick had been together just after her marriage breakup, a timing he apparently noticed, as well. The remembered weekend tingled through her mind, as real as if it had happened yesterday as she stared into his eyes, seeing herself and want reflected.

He blinked slowly, without looking away. “Who else could it be then? Stats show a stalker is usually someone you know.”

She shook her head to break the contact more than to negate his statement. “This has to be some bizarre coincidence, a threat meant for somebody else, like your mobster theory. I’m not even home, for heaven’s sake. And the letters… I can’t even hazard a guess. It has to be some freak, one of those strange people you walk past who decides there’s some cosmic connection and reads signs where there are none.”

“Whatever his reason, there’s a huge leap from letter writing to blowing up your car.”

His face went hard, protective, a visage she recognized well from working with these guys on a daily basis. He was in defender mode, and all she could think was that Rick had been injured because of her.

She reached to touch his shoulder gingerly. “I’m sorry about your back.”

He went stock-still. “It’s barely a ding. I’m fine.”

“Still, is it okay if I say you’ve got enough on your plate medically?”

“Not really.” He growled. Then gave her a begrudging smile. “But then I guess because of that full plate I barely notice this. Now can we drop the subject of the scratches on my back?”

Her mind winged back to other scratches on his back, ones left by her fingernails, the intensity of their sex wringing responses from her she’d never felt before or after.

Actually, she had no encounters after her surgery at all to go by. Showing her scarred body to a man had been a more difficult hurdle to overcome than she’d expected. She’d found it easier simply to focus on work. There was plenty of work to go around these days with conflicts all over the world.

One day blended into the next until suddenly here she was, five years later after her encounter at the bar with Rick and her mastectomy. Ready to face the rest of her life but suddenly having her foundation blown to bits again—literally.

Rick rubbed along his jaw. “You mentioned telling the police about the letters…” he continued like a dog with a bone.

“Of course. I told the cops at home about the third letter. These are copies.”

He stared at her and she stared back, sinking into the moment the way she’d done five years ago during their “say all the wrong things” fun moment and before she knew it her mouth was moving. “I want you to feel free to say no because this could really be dangerous. But I was thinking it might be in my best interest to have a man living under my roof right now.”

The minute the words fell out of her mouth she almost looked over her shoulder to see who’d said them. But yep. She’d been the one to voice the outrageous offer. She had most definitely said the wrong first date thing.

She desperately wanted to call the words back. Some maniac was trying to blow her up and now she’d done more to lure a watchdog of a man into her life? Rick had already been one foot on his way toward following her home. Now she would never shake him loose. She didn’t need or want this. She’d meant to say goodbye.


God. How convenient that there were four pretty walls nearby for her to bang her hard head against. The stalker must have been scaring her more than she’d been willing to admit.

“So, Rick? What do you think about my idea?” Maybe he would say no.

And maybe pigs would fly out of her ears.

He scratched along the back of his neck. “How about run it by me again, because I think my hearing’s gone bad.”

“Never mind. Forget about it.”

“Let me see if I follow. It goes something like this. After over a year in a hospital, I need a babysitter who won’t drive me crazy. You’re an independent soul, and I know you can kick any stalker’s butt. But having a man around can give off a first line of defense.”

Might as well go with it. “Kind of like having a dog with a loud bark.”

He picked at the rubber on the top of his crutch. “I’m not sure whether you’re complimenting or insulting me.”

“I’m not calling you a Chihuahua if that helps.” She grinned for the first time since she’d blurted the impulsive offer. “My garage has been converted into a studio apartment so you would have plenty of privacy. It’s a first floor, no stairs to worry about.”

Ooops. She could see his back getting up about her mentioning his injuries. Men could so miss the big picture. But then who was she to talk? She couldn’t bring herself to be with a man because she was wrapped up in her own self-image.

Time to help the man out. He’d obviously been through hell and she understood the bite of those flames well.

“People profile, and you’re a really big guy.” Ego stroke time. “A police dog?”

“You’re good at the suck-up game.” He surprised her with a half smile.

A really surprisingly cute half smile on that rugged big mug of his. She had trouble remembering what she planned to say and that was so not good.

So she grinned right back. She could do this. She was good at putting distance between herself and men, after all, she worked in an almost exclusively male environment. “Just so we’re clear, I’m not insinuating that we pick up where we left off five years ago.”

His smile went wider than hers. “You mean the point where I woke up in a bed by myself with a letter that said, ‘Thanks for a great weekend. Have a nice life.’”

Her smile faded, contrition biting. “The letter wasn’t that…uh…”



“However you want to remember it.” He passed the envelope of stalker notes back to her.

“I’m very sorry if I was rude. That was an amazing weekend during a difficult time for me.” She gathered up the envelope to her chest and made a stab at backing out of this setup after all. “It was a silly idea that we should move in together. I shouldn’t have asked you to put yourself in danger. Forget I said anything. I’m just…I don’t know. Shaken up, I guess.”

He watched her silently which made her all fidgety when she prided herself on her poise under fire.

She got off the fake leather sofa ASAP before she did something reckless like move close enough to share leg-to-leg body heat with him. “It was good to see you again. Enjoy the cookies.”


She backed away, hoping the rental car company would show up with a temporary vehicle for her soon. She definitely needed to get out of here.

“Nola.” His voice swelled to a growl.

Her spine stiffened but her feet kept inching her toward the door.

“Nola, damn it.”

She stopped.

“I never said no.”


He’d let her babble on just to see what she would say?

Rick nodded toward the window showcasing the burned-out shell of her SUV. “The minute that car blew, you had yourself a new roommate.”

Chapter 3

Rick dropped onto the edge of the bed in his empty room, resting his crutches against the nightstand. He’d used up his reserves today walking around with Nola. He’d been on his feet more this afternoon than any day since the accident—and he wasn’t a slacker around this place by any standards.

He carried his weight on the rehab circuit. He wanted the hell out. Not just out, but on his own two feet. Whole, back to some kind of productive work. He knew he couldn’t return to his pararescue life at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. That part of his life was packed up tighter than his furniture in storage.

All of which he would think about later. Right now he had a more immediate goal—finding out what was going on in Nola Seabrook’s life.

She was with the cops again while they finished up a few more last-minute details about her vehicle. He didn’t like being shuffled away for the second time. Who did they think he was? An overbearing boyfriend in a wife-beater T-shirt? He told them he hadn’t seen the woman in five years, but cops didn’t have reason to trust what people said.

Might as well make the best of this time alone. He figured he had about a half hour to catch his breath before he would see her. Then they would start to make plans to move in together—strangers who knew what the other looked like naked. Except he didn’t look the same anymore.

Regardless, he would be out of this place by morning.

He would be living with a woman for the first time in ten years. Holy hell, he really did need a shrink after all because this was the craziest thing he’d ever done and in his line of work, he’d taken more than a few insane risks. Rick shook his head and focused on practical concerns, rather than perfumed and n**ed notions of sharing a place with a female.

Practical. Focus. Living at her house would serve a dual purpose. He could provide some extra protection, and he could push himself harder on the rehabilitation path than they allowed him here.

A win-win situation.

His cell phone rang from the table beside him, jerking him back to the present. Scooping it up, he checked the screen…and cursed. Truth was he lived to see that number. Now he didn’t know what to say to her.

His kid. His daughter. Not a baby anymore.

At fifteen years old, Lauren had expectations and rightly so. Even at full speed, he hadn’t been the best of dads, but at least he’d been someone she could brag about. She deserved that hero father who could do more than hobble in and out of her life. He’d never been much when it came to the emotional quotient—just ask his ex. Still, in the minimal time he’d spent in the States he’d tried his best to do something with his daughter. Camping and hiking. Amusement parks and air shows. Beach surfing marathons.