Page 49

At Ellie’s house, Grant went in first, Beretta in hand. A quick trip through the house verified they were alone. He ended the tour in the upstairs hall.

“It’s clear.” He holstered his weapon.

Ellie went into her bedroom. Grant followed, leaning on the wall while she set a small tote bag on a chest at the foot of the bed. She left the room for a few minutes and came back with an armload of clothes.

His phone buzzed. He read the display, hoping it wasn’t Hannah. He really needed an hour off. At a swipe of his finger, a message from Mac displayed on the screen: Medical examiner released the bodies.

His mind resisted the news.

“Is everything all right?” Her eyes searched his.

He put the phone down. “Yes.”

“OK. I’m just about done here.” Her brows furrowed. She didn’t believe him, but he didn’t have the energy to explain. Exhaustion weighted his body, and he eyed the bed. Late nights with nightmares and crying children were taking their toll. “Would you mind if I closed my eyes for a combat nap?”

Ellie looked up from her packing, a folded sweater in her hands. “Not at all. Do you want me to leave the room?”

Grant stretched out on the bed. “Actually, would you mind lying here with me?”

“Not at all.” She eased onto the bed next to him.

He rolled over, put an arm over her body, and buried his nose in her hair. She smelled like flowers. “Wake me in thirty minutes.”

With years of practice, he slipped into a combat nap in seconds.

“Grant?” Ellie’s whisper pulled him back. “It’s been an hour, but you can sleep more if you like.”

He opened his eyes. “You were supposed to wake me in thirty minutes.”

“You were out cold.” Her face was inches from his. Her hand rested on his shoulder. Contentedness washed over him. The moment felt almost painfully ordinary in the quiet bedroom. That was the most restful chunk of sleep he’d gotten since he came home. He could get used to seeing her when he woke.

He reached up and touched a lock of hair that fell over her shoulder. He twirled it around his finger. Every moment since he’d received the call about Lee had been filled with worry, grief, and fear. He didn’t want to let this peaceful moment end. Just for a few minutes, he could pretend that waking to a beautiful woman was his normal. What would it be like to have moments like these all the time? Instances of intimacy that were earth-shatteringly common.

“Do you want to sleep more? You’re up most of the night.”

Sleep? That was not anything close to what he wanted to do right at this moment. He dropped her hair and curled his hand around the back of her neck, tugging her down to lean across his chest. Suspicion and desire darkened her eyes. Both emotions sent Grant’s blood rushing south. He lifted his head and touched his lips to hers. The soft moan that slipped from her throat pulled his hips off the bed. Her mouth opened. He slipped his tongue into her heat, wishing for more. Ellie could heal him. But it was selfish to ask for her help. Whatever transpired between them couldn’t be permanent.

But he tugged her across his chest. Wrapping his arms around her, he deepened the kiss. His tongue stroked hers. She answered, opening her mouth for more. He delved deeper, want and need building until they blotted out the pain he’d been carrying for more than a week. All he wanted was Ellie. He wanted to steep himself in her until nothing else existed, and he wanted it badly enough to ignore the limits of their relationship. Just for now. One afternoon. That’s all he was asking.

He slipped a hand under her sweater to caress the smooth skin of her waist. Her soft groan spurred him to move higher until he cupped her breast through the cotton of her bra. Her fingers clenched in his T-shirt, and the scrape of her nails against his skin made his erection pound. His hips lifted off the bed, seeking her body. She sat up, peeled her sweater over her head, and tossed it on the floor.

“Are you sure?”

Instead of answering, she flicked the front closure of her bra and freed her breasts. Small and round, they were in perfect proportion to her slim body. Grant cupped one in the palm of his hand. His thumb flicked over the nipple. Ellie arched back, the pleasure on her face transforming her wholesome looks into an erotic dream.

Needing more direct contact, he levered his torso up on the bed and whipped off his shirt. He slid his jeans off his legs, reached into his pocket for his wallet, and took out a condom.

Ellie stood and stripped. When she rejoined him on the bed, he rolled until she was beneath him. Skin on skin, heat on heat. This was what his body demanded. Her hand slid down his abs until she stroked his erection. Anxious to get started, it pulsed in her palm.

He gripped her wrist. “Let’s slow this down a little.”

“Says the man who isn’t used to having kids around.” Ellie reached down and cupped his balls. His hips surged toward her. “Our time is limited. I can guarantee you’ll be summoned just when things are getting good.”

The truth in her statement rang in his heart. “Things are already pretty good, but indulge me, just for a few minutes.” He wanted, needed to savor her so he could remember these moments in the lonely hours when he returned to Afghanistan.

He slid down her body. The salty, sweet tang of her skin drove all thoughts save her from his mind. Moving down her belly, he licked and tasted. The pitch of her moans guided him to her sweet spot. Her body arced. Her hands reached for his head. A primitive and shameless groan made his erection throb. Her fingers tightened on his scalp. He wanted this moment to last for as long as possible, but she was right. Their time was limited.

With a heavy feeling that almost felt like regret, he opened the condom and sheathed himself. He moved up the bed. One hand slid between her legs, testing.

“Grant.” Ellie wrapped her legs around his waist. Her whisper was breathless and urgent in his ear. “Now. Please. I’m more than ready for you.”

He nudged inside her, intending to be gentle. But pleasure flooded him, and his body surged into her without input from his brain. She bowed backward.

“I’m sorry.”

“Why did you stop?” She arched, her heels digging into his ass, pulling him even deeper.

“I thought I’d hurt you.” He panted, his muscles shaking with the effort of holding still.

“Obviously not.” Her hips moved beneath him. “Now stop thinking. That’s an order.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He pulled back and surged forward again. Her body tightened around him as if it couldn’t get enough.

Her eyes widened. Her pupils dilated. “Grant.” His name was a moan from her lips. “More.”

Levering his torso on his hands, he swung his hips forward. Her body bent backward. Her nails dug into his shoulders. His body, his need, took over, increasing the speed and urgency of his motions. She kept pace, her hips thrusting to meet him, their bodies locked into a natural rhythm.

Ellie’s limbs tensed. Her eyes closed, and a guttural sound emanated from her lips. She clamped around him, and he let go. Pleasure shot through his spine as he surged into her one final time. Ellie wrapped her body around him, riding out the pulsing wave of their joint pleasure.

Grant’s arms gave out, and he collapsed on top of her. She eased her legs from around his waist. He planted a kiss on the corner of her mouth. “Thank you.”

“I think I should be thanking you.” Her words were light, but her eyes were worried. “Next time you say you need room to maneuver, I’ll be more than happy to comply.”

Knowing there likely wouldn’t be a next time turned the moment bittersweet, but Grant refused to let go of this small happiness. She’d just given him a gift. Soul-cleansing freedom from the grief that had been strangling his heart for days. Ellie’s warm body was better than any therapy, but their afternoon was fleeting. As she’d said before, their time was limited. “I remember the first time I saw you.”

“The barbecue.”

“Yes. You were wearing a yellow sundress. Your legs were tan. I couldn’t take my eyes off of you. If I hadn’t been shipping out . . .”

Ellie cupped his jaw. Her eyes were moist. She pulled his head down and kissed him tenderly on the lips. Grant’s heart swelled until it threatened to burst from his chest. It was too much, too fast, and the timing was all wrong. But he could be happy with nothing more than Ellie in his life.

“I’ll be right back.” He eased off her body and went into the bathroom. He’d dispose of the condom quickly and return to her bed. But when he walked back into the bedroom, ready to flop down on the mattress and enjoy her naked body, she was sitting up. His cell phone was in her hand.

“You have a message.” She held the phone out to him.

Remembering the previous text, his grief and anxiety returned in an instant flood, almost as if their lovemaking had never occurred.

The message was from Hannah. The baby and Carson were both awake, and Hannah was needed on a conference call.

Disappointment flushed through Grant. No time for postsex intimacies. Those few minutes—way too few—with Ellie had energized him. They’d shown him what could be, and because of that, it could never happen again. He wouldn’t want to leave her when the time came. And he didn’t want to get used to something he was going to give up.

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