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'What an insensitive ass' and throw me out of your life so you wouldn't have to face whatever the hell it is we have between us."

"That's not true at all." Or was it?

"When have you ever stopped searching for reasons to shut me down?"

Julia started to apologize again, then paused. How had he sidetracked her? Maybe he'd been right to hold back initially, but later he should have told her. "When have you ever stopped trying to control everything around you?"

He stopped in his tracks. "Run that one by me one more time."

His totally clueless look stirred the embers of her anger. How could he understand so little about her and still expect her stay with him? "If you want me to call you something besides Colonel, then quit treating me like one of your troops."

His eyes heated from brown to molten gold as they swept over her. "Believe me, Julia, I've never wanted to do to anyone under my command the things I want to do with you under me."

The fire within her combusted into a blaze.

Julia trembled from the effort to hold herself back. Although she would gladly trade the confusing swirl of emotions for something she understood perfectly.


Zach advanced a step, the hungry wolf aura returning. All those memories rose from the sofa and taunted her with everything she was giving up by pushing him away. She backed from the couch until her legs bumped the edge of his desk, all the while knowing she was lying to herself. She wanted Zach Dawson any way she could have him.

And right now she wanted him in at least fifteen different ways.

He closed the last inches between them, flattening his palms to the desk until his arms bracketed her. One lean, muscled thigh insinuated between her legs, his face only inches away. "What the hell do you want from me, Julia?'

"Everything," she blurted the truth she couldn't hide from herself any more than from him. "I want a man who's honest with me even when it hurts. I need a man who'll give me everything of himself and expect the same from me."

But for now, she would settle for what she could have.

Julia grabbed the front of his flight suit and jerked him to her. Not that he needed much coercion. Apparently his intention to hold out for an invitation to her bed had combusted in the moment. His mouth sealed over hers, open and needy, tongue thrusting while his hands slid low to cup her bottom, lifting, molding her against him.

No gentle meeting or mating, she gripped at his shoulders, crushed herself to him. She explored the moist heat of his mouth with her tongue, battling for dominance with a man who never relinquished control.

She couldn't win. She understood that all too well. The best she could hope for was some kind of equality here in this moment, a victory in knowing he became as mindless as she whenever this desperate craving between them ignited.

Control spiraled elusively away, and Julia grappled for some stronghold to steady her long enough to drag Zach into abandon with her. She skimmed down his broad shoulders, over the muscles rippling along his back. Sliding a hand between them, Julia scored a nail down his chest, along the links of the zipper on his flight suit, a zipper perfectly designed for her intents since it opened from the bottom as well as the top.

No slow sensual glide, she yanked it halfway up his chest and dipped her hand into his boxers, finding him hard and hot and so ready for her.

Groaning, he stumbled. Not much, just a slight lurch before he braced a hand on the desk.

A thrill of feminine victory trilled through her.

Then he scooped and lifted her to the edge of the desk and she lost serious ground in the battle for control. Zach burrowed a hand under her sweater, palming her breast, his thumb stroking, tantalizing until she groaned into his mouth. Without raising his lips from hers, Zach swept open her wrap-around jean skirt, tore her panties down and off.

His chest heaving against hers, he paused to kiss her eyes, her ear. "If this isn't what you want, you'd better say something now."

"I only want you to finish what you've started." How could he even talk? Forming words or coherent thoughts proved almost impossible. "I just want..."

She let her body speak for her as she kissed him, her fingers encircling him, guiding him forward. One bold thrust and he was inside her, then she couldn't have spoken even if she'd wanted to.

And she definitely didn't want to talk.

Her legs locked around him, heels digging in to hold him closer, safe and alive, oh so alive, against her, inside her, all around her.

So very alive when she could have lost him.

She could have still been standing on the runway, waiting for a plane that would never land and that scenario made her long to grab what she could from life and this man.

Faced with the possibility of losing him, the sense of what it would be like never to have any of him ever again, made her wonder if she could settle for less than everything.

Although, right now he was giving her everything she could handle and more.

Forget control. She collapsed onto her elbows. Her head flung back as she met each thrust, surrendering to the sensation of Zach moving within her. Maybe she could live without his love if they never had to talk, if they just plunged into this desire for each other until it consumed them both.

In her heart and even in her mind, she knew better. But that didn't stop her from wanting to be unwise and reckless, taking what she could from a life that had already taken so much from her.

She fought to hold on to Zach and this stolen pocket of time until the need for release clawed at her with painful intensity. She arched up, flinging herself against his chest, clinging, moving, straining toward...


His mouth muffled her scream. Or had she taken his shout into hers? She couldn't pull together enough thoughts for more than melting into the moment and against him as wave after wave of completion crashed over her.

Trembling in the aftermath, Julia cradled his head in the curve of her neck and savored each caress of his heated breath over her skin. He filled her body and heart so completely.

Why couldn't she be content with that? Instead, she could only mourn that she would never fill his heart as fully.

Zach held Julia against him until they both stopped shaking.

And until he could be certain his legs would hold him if he backed away from the desk.

Just the scent of her drifting over him stole what little control he had left. He wondered if he'd ever find stable ground again. Or if he would even be given the time to try.

All his progress in convincing her to stay had been blown away in a day. In one flight.

Who the hell was he kidding?

The flight had been months in the making. He'd screwed up bit by bit in a hundred ways and still didn't know what he could do differently. The need to serve, defend and protect went beyond a simple occupation. Compromise too often involved life-and-death decisions. How could he reconcile his duty to his job with what Julia and his family seemed to want from him?

He didn't have a clue. Like flying through a storm with his instruments shot to hell and back, he could see the crash coming, yet couldn't formulate any plan for avoiding it.

But that wouldn't stop him from trying all the way to ground.

Sliding his hands beneath Julia, he lifted her from the desk. She mumbled a weak protest against his shoulder, but held on as he walked across the office carrying her. He lowered them both to the sofa, Julia in his lap.

Zach rested his cheek against her hair until her warmth seeped past the numbness into his skin. "Do you think we'll ever make it to the bedroom?"

He wanted to know in more than some passing sort of way. Letting him into her bed and making that room theirs implied a commitment Julia didn't seem ready to make. If ever.

And time was running out with the ground screaming toward his windscreen at mach speed.

"Well, Jules?"

Slowly, she stirred against his chest. Her fingers circled a light dance along the back of his neck. "After what happened today, I just don't know."

Even predicting her answer didn't stop the stab of disappointment. "I meant it when I said I was sorry. Today's flight was about more than fulfilling some job obligation or even trying to reconcile in my own mind what happened on my watch." His gaze gravitated toward the flags with unerring navigation. "It wasn't his fault, Jules. They tried to pin it on him, but damn it, I couldn't let that happen. A control tower down in South America screwed up and gave him the wrong headings. He probably never even saw that mountain coming—"

"Stop." She tensed against him. "Enough, Zach."

He rested his cheek on her hair, inhaling the mix of strawberry shampoo, fresh night air and Julia. "I flew today for Patrick so he could be proud of his father, so he could hold onto those hero's medals from a father he would never know."

Zach clutched her to him, his fingers digging deeper into her arms than he intended, but he couldn't make himself be gentle. He couldn't make himself let go when he could feel her slipping away. "Julia, I did it for you."

She lifted her head from his shoulder, her bottom lip quivering. "Oh you big, dense man.

I don't need another dead hero. I need you. Alive."

Searching her eyes, he finally understood the full implications of her anger. She'd made it clear she was furious with him for keeping her out of the equation, but he hadn't thought beyond that.

Her anger and pain were all for him. She wasn't hurt because Lance's memory might have been dishonored. Knowing would have upset her over the past months, but not in any devastating way. Dead was dead as far as Julia was concerned.

She'd been afraid for him, Zach.

And even in her fear she hadn't shied away from that runway as Pam had. It hadn't been a champagne-showered homecoming, but Julia had been there waiting for him.

In a flash of her tear-tinged green eyes, Zach saw everything he and Julia could have had together. He saw everything he'd thrown away.

From his desk, a muffled ringing sounded. From Julia's purse. A phone.

In increments, Zach's world widened beyond the woman in his lap. Julia stood, sweeping her jean skirt back in place.

He grabbed her wrist. The minute she answered that phone, he knew the moment and any chance to work through this would be lost. He would lose her. "Let it ring."

She squeezed his hand. "I can't. It could be one of the children."

Damn, where was his mind that he could have forgotten that? Zach adjusted his clothes, zipping his flight suit while Julia grabbed the cell phone from her purse.

"Hello?" She tucked the phone under her chin as she re-tied her skirt. Her face blanched.

Zach's hand paused in straightening his flight scarf.

"We'll start looking." Her hands hurried to tug her sweater down. "Call us on the cell phone if you hear anything."

Julia disconnected. Concern and shock strained her face, launching Zach's every parental instinct on full alert. She touched his chest, just a small comforting gesture that had him ready to bolt out of his skin with uneasiness. Which kid?

"That was Pam. Shelby's missing. She left a note saying she and John have run off together."

Zach spun away, spitting out a curse. His whole damned world was crashing down around his ears at once. "I'll take you home before I head out to find her."

He just prayed he could track Shelby before she threw away her life.

Julia tucked around him in front of the door. "You're never going to get it, are you?"

Impatience pumped through him. "Later, Julia, and I do mean later. Now isn't the time for us to finish this."

"Stop and listen." Tender comforter long gone, Julia jabbed a finger in the middle of his chest. "I'm not the wilting flower type. I don't need you to protect me. I don't want you to shove me behind you when things go—"

Her teeth gritted back a frustrated shout. "Forget it. You're right. This isn't the time.