Authors: Sarah Roberts
Action Hero Junkie
Mia was stuck in a rut, until one night she went to the movies and everything kind of blew up.
Mia Haven’s life takes a bizarre turn when a gorgeous action hero leaps out of the movie screen and saves her life. It’s not until Mia gets sucked into the action movie, along with Special Ops Lt. Aiden Smith, that she realizes her hero isn’t crazy.
Mia doesn’t mind the alternate reality. After all, she’s getting hot sex and she has morphed into an awesome triage doctor. Aiden even asks her to marry him, but since it’s just a movie, that just isn’t going to happen, right?
The movie is about over, and Mia’s greatest fear is not being with Aiden when she disappears from the screen. She’d rather die in the final awesome special effects battle.
Genre:Contemporary, Romantic Suspense
ACTION HERO JUNKIE
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A SIREN-BOOKSTRAND TITLE
ACTION HERO JUNKIE
Copyright © 2012 by Sarah Roberts
First E-book Publication: July 2012
Cover design by Christine Kirchoff
All cover art and logo copyright © 2012 by Siren Publishing, Inc.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED:This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
ACTION HERO JUNKIE
Copyright © 2012
Mia had always loved action movies. It wasn’t for the action, either—though that was good, too. Staring up at the Rock’s lovely brown bod, or hearing Arnold Schwarzenegger snarl just one more time, “I’ll be back!” was nirvana to her. She couldn’t help but squirm as Bruce Willis’s maniacal laugh pushed past his bloodied lips, or when the Stath’s dark, menacing glare inThe Transporterannihilated his enemies before he kicked their collective ass.
It was all pure, lethal sex appeal.
It was no wonder Mia drooled into her popcorn—big bucket, extra butter, with a supersized Coke, in case anyone cared. There was just something about an alpha male. Not that any of them would be comfortable to live with, she reasoned. But for fantasy fare, bring on the testosterone-charged, gun-toting, take-no-prisoners, flawed hero with the weird sense of humor.
Mia spent a lot of time at the movies, usually at the late late shows. She went to work about the time most people were asleep in bed, so that meant her social life was kind of crimped.Uh, a desert. Like non-existent. Whatever.This was usually the point in her thoughts that she tried to give herself a good talking-to.Watch me breezily waving my hand like it doesn’t matter.She snorted to herself.And if you believe that one, let me tell you about the acre of swampland that’ll be perfect for your mom’s xeriscape nursery.She bought a lot of batteries for her personal appliance.
So there she was, minding her own business and chowing down on a bucket of popcorn, when something really, really weird happened. The lights went out. Well, theaters were supposed to be dark, but this was way more.The lights went out.No more explosions on screen, no more sound, no nothing.
Just as Mia stood up, about to curse the projectionist, she heard a deep voice yell, “Hit the deck!” Then the splat-splat of bullets and muzzle flares exploded out of the dark, coming from either side of the auditorium.
Mia stood there like a moron, her mouth hanging open and her eyes bugging out.
Something large and hard hit her in the back, and down she went, face-first into her smashed bucket of popcorn with extra butter, her front plastered in an icy-cold pool of sticky Coke. But Mia didn’t mind much the concrete floor. After all, what did it matter when there was a two-ton weight sitting on top of her, squishing the beejezus out of her lungs?
Mia freaked. She didn’t mind admitting that was what she was doing. She knew it but couldn’t stop herself. She was wheezing and screaming and wheezing, and the guns were goingack-ack-ack. She’d seen enough action flicks—those were automatic weapons!
Then whoever was sitting on her got off. A big hand grabbed the back of her sweater and hauled her up. “Come on! Come on!” She stumbled to her feet, kind of, because he was yanking her after him. A big, big gun was blasting away from his other hand. Her tongue was frozen to the roof of her mouth.
So the guy threaded them out of the seats, down the stairs in a crouching run, and then out the exit door. It was dark outside, a little chilly, and the cold Coke had stuck her sweater to her front. But Mia was sweating. She wasn’t thinking about the weather. Terror did that. Just made the little discomforts sort of go unnoticed.
The guy flung his back against the wall of the building. The gun wasn’t barking anymore. The barrel was pointed at the sky. Mia knew this because there was just a little bit of moonlight and it glistened blackly off of the big gun. It was a big,biggun.
“We’re out!” The guy’s voice was really deep. He sounded really focused. He had let go of her. She knew this because both of his hands were on the gun. His body was coiled like a spring, the vague shape of muscles popping out of his arms and large thighs. “They’ll follow us! I’ll hold them here! You run!”
Mia ran. She didn’t stop running. She streaked like a very well-fed deer. Her breasts jiggled and danced. She didn’t look back. Her car got larger and larger. Then she got the key out. She was unlocking the door, and diving into the car. Her hand was shaking so bad that it took her two tries to get the key in the ignition. But she did it. Her car was a V8, and it roared when she punched it. Mia was out of that parking lot so fast that she swore she feltGs.
* * * *
He had been hit. The pain seared his left bicep, and he felt the hot splashes of his own blood. It was flowing fast, too fast. He set his weapon down. He had to do what he could to stop the bleeding. He took out his wickedly sharp field knife to slash a piece off the tail of his shirt. Putting away the knife, he labored to wind the scrap of ragged cloth twice around his arm and knot it, pulling the clumsy knot tight with his teeth.
Then he picked up the gun again and waited. He pressed his ear against the surface of the gate and thought he heard sharp voices, but they quickly faded. Stealthily, he laid a hand on the gate to open it, but it didn’t budge. He tried again, a little harder, but without result. He cursed under his breath and took a long, slow look around him. He was too exposed where he was. He’d have to go to ground somewhere.
He started out at a fast crouch across the eerie nightscape. Search lights flickered all around, but he evaded the cold white beams. The barren field offered little in the way of cover, just a few solitary trees, but he was lucky. He slid down a slick rocky incline, dirt skating from under his boots, and suddenly spotted a darker outline. Cautiously, he moved forward to discover the low overhang of a cave. He crawled inside, pushing his weapon ahead of him. He looked back but could see nothing of the dark sky. That was good. His hiding place wouldn’t be readily apparent. He hunkered farther back into the black of the narrow cave. Damp, smelly air eddied past his face. He squatted in the mud and rotting debris.
It was cold, but he ignored it. He rested his back against the abrasive rock. His entire left arm was throbbing in pain, and it felt weighted down. He closed his eyes, suddenly feeling light-headed and tired. It had been a near thing, he thought. But at least the woman was safely away. He had watched her run away from him, a flitting, darting, graceful figure disappearing into the night. He had been ready to lay down covering fire, but there hadn’t been any need. His relief had been overwhelming, especially when he’d heard the roar of an engine and knew that she had found transportation of some kind.
He recalled the attack, the way the woman had just suddenly appeared in the middle of the exchange of fire, her face terror-stricken, her curvy body frozen in fear. Even in those few scant seconds he had seen how beautiful she was. He had yelled and run at her, tackling her to the mud and covering her body protectively. He hadn’t been gentle, not when the bullets were flying so near above their heads. He had hauled her up from the ground, her front plastered with mud and slop, and pulled her after him. She must have been out of her mind with fear, but she had gamely run with him as he wove a way through the dark, dangerous alleys. It had been sheer luck to find that broken gate in the wall. The woman had been able to slip away then.
Unfortunately, that had been the last of his luck. Things had gone to shit. He had lost all communication with his unit. The compromised gate had been discovered and reinforced. He was alone and wounded in enemy territory. The extended blood loss was affecting his mental sharpness. He shivered uncontrollably.It shouldn’t be this cold in this latitude.Dawn would come all too soon. And with it would come danger.
* * * *
At home, Mia flipped on the TV. She cruised the channels, but there was nothing about a shooting at a local theater. “Shit!” She told herself to stay calm. “Okay, Okay. That makes sense.” The police would want to keep a lid on things until they figured out what had happened.
She was still shaking. She decided that a nice hot shower would feel good about then. Besides, she was wearing mashed popcorn and Coke. Not her best look.
By the time Mia got out of the shower, she was feeling a lot calmer. She got dressed for work in her cute, adorable scrubs, except they weren’t green. They were pink with yellow flowers on them. As usual, she worked the last RN shift at the hospital. It was a normal night on her floor. No guns blazing, har-har, she thought sardonically.
When Mia let herself in to her apartment again, it was broad daylight, and she was bushed. But she hadn’t been able to get out of her head what had happened, so she flipped on the TV again. And again, there was nothing! That pissed her off. Here she almost got shot, and no one had reported anything about a shoot-‘em-up at the theater last night. Mia decided that she was going to go down to the theater and see what she could find out on her own. She grabbed her purse and left, still dressed in her scrubs.
The theater was just opening for the morning premier. There weren’t too many people there yet. Mia looked around the lobby, and she even went down the hall to the auditorium that she had been in the night before. When she put her hand on the handle, she felt a shiver down her back. She just couldn’t go in there. Other people were, though, and Mia couldn’t get over how calm they were. Didn’t they know that there were bullet holes in the walls, maybe a yellow police tape to mark a crime scene?
She went to find the manager and started to explain why she was there. “Last night I was watching the flick in number twelve and—”
“I apologize, ma’am. We realize there was a problem with the film. Let me give you a complimentary ticket that you can use at any of our features.”
Mia ended up clutching a free ticket in her hand and felt totally confused. No one was freaked by what had happened. No one seemed to even know about the shooting. She marched over to number twelve, pulled open the door, and walked inside. The lights weren’t dimmed yet, so she walked up the stairs and stared at every foot of the wall. There weren’t any bullet holes. Then she walked over to the opposite side and looked at that wall.Zero. Nothing. Nada.Mia started freaking again, but very quietly. If she was going crazy, she decided she didn’t want to give it away.
Mia left the theater and walked around the building to the exit door that the guy and she had banged through. A chilly breeze caught her at the corner, lifting her hair and making her shudder, and she hugged her arms around herself. She was just kind of glancing around, not really expecting to find anything anymore. Then she looked down at the pavement. It didn’t show up much against the asphalt, just dark spots, but she knew what it was. Dried drops of blood. The hair stood up on her head. She had read that could happen, but she had never experienced it before. It was a really weird feeling, all those tiny little hairs coming to shivering attention.
Mia spotted some more drops, and she walked over. Then, a little further on, some more blood. Okay, she was weirded out. Her heart was hammering. But she went on following the trail across the parking lot to a big concrete flood culvert. Mia skidded down the cement bank and bent over to look inside. She couldn’t make out much, except the barrel of a gun pointed straight at her forehead. Mia made some kind of noise in her throat, but nothing intelligible came out. Then she heard something else, a sort of rough, rasping breathing. So that made her look past the gun barrel, and in the deep shadows she could make out a crouching man. There was something familiar about the outline of his head and shoulders. “You didn’t kill me last night,” she remarked. “So it will be a real bummer if you off me now.”
“You.” The man shifted. The gun barrel moved so that it didn’t point at her anymore, and that made her real happy.
“Uh, you mind telling me what you’re doing in there?”
“Waiting for dark.”
“Oh.” Mia thought about that for a minute. “Are you hurt bad?”
A short laugh. “Bad enough. How did you find me?”
“I followed the dried blood.”
He muttered what sounded like a really nasty curse. “I can’t stay here, then. I need to move.”
“I’ll get some help.” Mia started to straighten.
“No! I can’t be seen. Have you got transportation?”
Mia frowned, staring into the shadows at the man.Transportation? What kind of a way is that to talk?“I’ve got wheels, yeah.”
“Good. I’m going to need your help in getting out of this locale.”
“You are a freak, you know that? I’ll go get my car.” Mia straightened up, climbed out of the drainage ditch, and walked away to where she had parked her car. All the time, these thoughts were going on in her head.The guy must be a psycho. Maybe he’s an escapee from jail.Well, she’d listened to the news twice now, and there hadn’t been anything about an escaped convict or a rampaging psycho.He’s got a gun. A big gun. Well, maybe he has a permit to carry a weapon.Uh huh, right.
Mia parked as close to the opening of the culvert as she could get. Then she opened the back door and skidded back down the concrete slope. When she crouched down, she could see that damn gun barrel again. “You know, that’s getting just plain annoying. Come on.” Mia heard a hoarse laugh, and then the man started toward her. He came out slowly, ducking free of the drainage culvert. He squinted his eyes, blinking at the sunlight.
She was startled by her first good look at him. Sure, he had black camo streaked over his face, and his dull-colored clothes were dirty. But nothing could disguise those blazing baby blues and that chiseled jaw or those big broad shoulders and nice lean hips. She realized she was salivating.Oh boy, oh boy.He did have a big gun, and she wasn’t looking at the one he carried. The other one—the bulge in the front of his pants—that was the one she was staring at.
Mia didn’t have much time to really check him out. He kind of dove into the backseat of her car and drew up his legs so that she could close the door. He tilted his head just above the window, his eyes peering out, and held his gun at the ready. This time it was the big black impressive semi-automatic one that riveted her attention.Yup, big gun.
Mia got into the car and started driving. Her mouth engaged, sans brain. “So, where you from? I hope you’re not bleeding too bad all over my seat. Blood is a bitch to get out. You got a name? Maybe I should take you to the hospital. Or the police station. It’s a really pretty day. Not too warm yet.” Just making basic conversation, she told herself, not babbling.
“No hospital, no police. I just need a safe house until dark. Take me to your place.”
“Whoa!” Mia’s eyes whipped up to the rearview mirror. She was so surprised that she even tapped the brakes. She heard him grunt when he hit the back of her seat. “Sorry about that. No, I don’t think that’s a good idea. I mean, I think the police can help you better than—”
There was that double-damned gun barrel again, pointed right at the back of her head. She drew a breath while her hands tightened on the steering wheel. “Okay, then. My place.”
Luckily, there was no one around when Mia got back to her apartment. Her neighbors all worked during the day while she was sleeping. Mia had never more bitterly regretted her lack of social life. She unlocked her apartment door. The guy muscled her out of the way and went in fast, his gun pointing first one way and then the other. “Okay, you first.” Mia sighed and shut the door behind her. “Do you want to check under the bed? Maybe in the closet?”
He just looked at her over his shoulder, his eyes very cold. Then he marched into her bedroom. Mia tagged along behind him. He had a nice butt. He really did check out the closet and under the bed. She wasn’t surprised. He also took a quick look in the bathroom and then spun around to pin her with his baby blues.
“We’re clear. We’ll probably be safe enough for now.”
“Yeah, thanks for that.” Mia turned around and headed for the kitchen. “I’m hungry. You want something?”
She could hear him following her. Not that he was loud or anything. She could just hear a bare rustle of clothing and his breathing. That short, rasping sound that she’d heard before. Mia stopped dead and turned back around. He almost ran into her. She poked a finger into his broad chest. It felt hard and warm. “You, back to the bathroom. I want to check you out. If you’re still bleeding—”
“I’ll do, ma’am.”
“Don’t give me that macho crap. Turn your beautiful buns around and march, soldier boy.” Mia scowled up at him just the same as if he was a miffy patient. He gave a ghost of a laugh. He didn’t argue but went back to the bathroom. She made him sit on the closed toilet seat. Then she started looking. It wasn’t too hard to find where the blood had come from. His upper sleeve was saturated. A strip of ragged cloth was clumsily knotted around his huge bicep. Mia got a mental vision of him pulling the knot tight with his teeth.
Mia got out her emergency kit. It had in it a little more than the usual Band-Aids and antibiotic wipes. She took out what she needed. Mia noticed that he was watching her and that he looked kind of pale.Must be the lighting.“Okay, lose the gun. I’m going to cut that rag off. Then you shuck the shirt, so I can see the damage.”
He moved kind of slow. He sure didn’t want to let go of the gun, but he did. He propped it up against the tub. Mia cut through the ragged bandage with a pair of sharp scissors. It came away stiff in her hand, and she dropped it into the trash can. “The shirt.”
He pulled the tails out of his pants, unbuttoned the shirt, and shrugged out of it. He had on a T-shirt underneath. It was sweat-grimed and bloody down one side, but it stretched nicely across that broad chest and molded to a flat stomach.
Mia swallowed. She shook her head free of bad, bad thoughts and looked at the wound. It was better than she thought it might be. “The bullet sliced cleanly through the muscle. Looks like it might have nicked the arterial vein. That’s why all the blood. You were lucky.”
Mia cleaned the gaping edges of the torn flesh. Then she threaded a needle. He was looking pale again. “You’re not going to faint on me, are you?”
He gritted his teeth. “No! I just don’t like needles.”
“Rambo would have stitched himself up already.”
He lowered his brows and cast a glance of dislike at her. He muttered, “John Rambo is a legend.”
“Yeah? Then take a page from the legend’s handbook and hold still.” Mia began stitching. It took a few minutes. She had to pull together some underlying muscle tissue before she could close the wound and set several neat closing stitches. She tied it off and snipped the thread. Then she covered the wound with a waterproof bandage and taped it. “There you go. A very neat job, even if I do say so myself.”
He didn’t lift the back of his head from the wall. He just opened his eyes. They glittered at her. Mia didn’t think he appreciated her cheerfulness. His mouth was held in a grim, straight line. He looked kind of limp leaning back against the toilet box.
Mia cleaned up everything and put away the emergency kit. She picked up the clean water glass that she always had on the counter, turned on the faucet, and filled it. “Here. You’re probably dehydrated. If you feel up to it, get cleaned up in the shower. I can put your clothes in the wash. I’m going to go make something to eat. Come out when you’re ready.”
Mia left the bathroom, shutting the door behind her.
* * * *
He drank the water slowly. The cool liquid soothed the tissues of his parched throat, the welcome coolness spreading down inside his body. The nausea receded, and his stomach stopped flipping. He set the empty glass down and dropped his skull back against the wall again, breathing heavily. His head was still swimming.My arm aches like a son of gun.
The last several minutes had taken a lot out of him. The woman had been efficient and quick, but the stabbing of the needle and the dragging together of torn tissue had hurt. It was more than that, though. It was just thefeelof the thread tugging through his flesh.
He had been lucky. He knew that. Anyone could have found him. The woman had obviously come looking for him in order to help him. It must have taken incredible courage for her to do that, and then to bring him back to her home and care for him. He was grateful and humbled.
She had had the medical supplies and the knowledge to do what she had to do.She has to be a trained medic.She had been matter-of-fact and even a little abrasive, with those cracks about Rambo that were obviously meant to stiffen his manly pride. He huffed a grating laugh. It had worked, too. But damn, it had been hard not to squeal and make a few snuffling noises and maybe shed a tear or two!
He worked off his bloodied T-shirt and bent to undo the laces on his dirty combat boots.Time to get cleaned up.He’d be glad of a shower after the night he’d had, even if the water turned out to be ice-cold. The water inside the town’s environs wasn’t always adequate and was often rusty. Shedding his pants and briefs, he stepped naked into the bathtub, glancing down at the drain. No orange discoloration from rust. Either the woman was a maniacal cleaner or she was one of the fortunate ones. He closed the shower curtain and fingered it for a moment, frowning at it.Pretty pattern, pretty color.
The building where she lived had looked much better than other places he had seen. It was better kept, not tumbledown or as worn. Apparently, someone who had her skill set was compensated with better living conditions even by the present regime.
He twisted the shower knobs and braced himself for icy spray. A cascade of hot water hit his shoulders, and he groaned in sheer pleasure.Hot damn and hold the sundae!He had tumbled into heaven.
He found shampoo to wash his hair and then soaped himself down. The water sluicing off of his body was pinkish until the dried blood was washed away. He handled his heavy shaft and balls, cleaning himself briskly, until he suddenly thought of the woman. The incredibly sexy, incredibly brave woman who had saved his life had dangerous curves. His hand slowed, and his equipment grew heavier.She has the most perfect ass.He envisioned grabbing that ass and sliding into her slick heat.
He uttered a soft curse. Bracing himself against the tiles with one flattened hand, his shoulders bowed under the splashing water spray, and he stroked and jerked himself to completion.
When Mia got home from working a shift, she usually fixed something for dinner. Then she did some household chores and maybe read or zoned out in front of the TV or went to the movies before she got ready for bed. It was kind of a lonely, boring life.Nothing exciting ever happens to me.She derisively grimaced to herself.Poor, poor me. I ought to get a cat.
Now she had a deranged hunk taking a shower in her bathroom.
Mia calmly put together a one-dish skillet dinner, consisting of hamburger and spicy rice. The aroma of sizzling onions and chili powder and browning hamburger made her mouth water. She opened the fridge and got out a couple of beers. On second thought, she got out another bottle. She’d need two for herself.
He came out wrapped in a blue-and-orange-and pink beach towel. Mia guessed one of her fluffy terry bath towels wouldn’t have covered much. Not that she still couldn’t tell that he had a nice package. His gold hair was damp. His gorgeous face was clean of camo now, but sported a sexy bad-boy shadow. His manly chest was covered with a dark red-gold mat of hair that narrowed as it descended to his flat belly. And there she was at that package again. Mia grabbed one of the beers and chugged a couple of cold swallows. It didn’t seem to do much against the heat in the kitchen.
He was carrying his gun in one hand and his clothes neatly rolled in the other. “I didn’t know where to put these.”
Mia made a come-hither move with her hand. When she tried to talk, she kind of squeaked and had to clear her throat. “Give them to me.” Mia took the dirty clothing. “Uh, there’s food and beer. Make yourself at home. I’ll be right back.” She hurried to the tiny laundry room and quickly shoved the soiled clothing and soap powder into the wash. She whirled the dial. The washer started itschuck-a-chuck-a-chuckdance. Then she hurried back to the kitchen.
He had found plates and stuff, but he hadn’t started eating. Mia frowned at him. “What’s the problem? Don’t you like what I fixed?”
“I was waiting for you.”
She melted.Ah, that is just so sweet. A deranged hunk, wrapped in a frou-frou beach towel, with manners!“Okay, let’s eat.”
While he made appreciativemm-mmgood noises, he looked around again at her apartment. He nodded approvingly. “You’ve got the curtains all drawn. That’s good thinking.”
“I sleep during the day. It keeps the sun out.”
He grinned like she had made a really funny joke.
Mia waited as long as she could. She hoped it wasn’t true about curiosity and the cat, because she hadn’t forgotten about the big gun. After all, there it was, leaning against the table. Mia tried not to look at it. “Look, who are you? What happened last night?”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “I shouldn’t say anything, but I owe you. I’m special ops. You don’t need to know about last night, except that you were a civilian in harm’s way, and I took measures to keep you alive.”
“Okay, then. Thanks for that.”So much for conversation.
Mia removed the dirty dishes from the table and carried them to the sink. He followed, and when she looked up, he smiled down at her. His grin was like a one-two punch. Mia practically swallowed her tongue. “Let me wash up. It’s the least I can do.”
His deep voice finished her. She melted into a gooey puddle. “Uh, sure.”
Mia had heard the banging stop, so she knew the wash was done. She pointed toward the hallway. Like an idiot, she crab-walked. She was still pointing. “Uh, I’ll go put your clothes in the dryer.”
When Mia came back, the kitchen was clean.Spotless. Better than I would have done.She wondered if he would leave the toilet seat down.
Mia turned around. He was sitting on her sofa, facing the coffee table, his muscled legs spread wide. She was disappointed that the big beach towel didn’t gape that much. She got just glimpses of knotted hairy calves. They were very nice calves. He had taken part of the newspaper and spread it out on the coffee table, and his gun was broken down into parts. He was cleaning one of the pieces with a rag and some stuff that Mia guessed had come out of his pack.
“I’m going to go take my shower. I just wanted to let you know.”
He glanced up, kind of quick, and his electric-blue eyes seemed to flare. But he just nodded, so Mia went away.
Mia didn’t take too long in the bathroom. She didn’t want to leave her guest by himself. He might feel lonely. She threw on a loose T-shirt and some comfortable sweat pants and hurried out to the living room.
The gun was all put back together and was leaning against the sofa. Her hunk was lounging against the corner sofa pillows, one leg straightened out on the cushions, the other leg sprawling over the side of the sofa. He looked gorgeous and tired.
“Why don’t you go to bed? You probably need the rest.” Mia sat down on the arm of the big stuffed chair that was kind of angled at the side of the sofa. She combed her fingers through her damp, naturally wavy hair.
He shook his head. “Someone has to keep watch.”
“I usually stay up for a few hours after I get home. I’ll take first watch.” I’ll take first watch?How dumb is that?Mia shook her head at herself. “I’ll wake you when I get sleepy.”
He got a slow, sexy grin. “Thanks.” He sat up and swiveled his body, putting his bare foot down to the floor. The beach towel pulled open, and Mia got a real nice glimpse of thick, corded thigh. She was still processing that when he stood up and walked past her. Her eyes widened at sight of the nice flare of flank and butt. “Uh—”
“What?” He stopped and turned. The bulge behind the beach towel was about at her eye level. That close, it looked a little bigger than it had before.
Mia looked up quickly, up the long, long length of his abs and chest and pecs.God, what shoulders!When her gaze collided with his electric eyes, she felt a spear of heat sear right down to her toes. “Your gun—” Mia swallowed and tried again. She flapped a hand. “Your gun. You should—should take it with you.”
He shook his head. “I must be more tired than I thought. Thanks.” He brushed past her again and bent over. Mia closed her eyes then snapped them open again just as he straightened with the gun in his hand. He padded past her a second time, and her head acted like one of those bobblehead toys. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from his hard-as-steel ass. He didn’t look back as he walked down the hallway to her bedroom. Mia bent way over the chair arm, craning her neck.Wait. My bedroom!Mia snapped upright, nearly giving herself whiplash. Visions of tangled sheets and hot sex careened madly through her head. She snorted at herself.Like, ri-ight.“Get a grip!”
Mia didn’t remember hitting the TV remote. She didn’t really remember what she watched. When she started yawning, she turned off the TV. Then she crept down the hallway to her bedroom.
As she eased the bedroom door open, she wondered what he would do. Actually, she wondered if he would shoot her, but that was really just a tiny thought in the back of her mind. She was too busy hyperventilating, in lust, as she tiptoed over to her bed. “Hey, soldier boy.”
She got no response. She just heard a heavy snore.Well, damn.Disappointment didn’t begin to cover it. In the dark, she walked to the bathroom and fumbled inside the open door to flip on the overhead. A bar of yellow light fell across the bed. She crossed back across the floor to look down at the man lying under the bedclothes on her bed.
He looked dead to the world. There were dark circles under his closed eyes, and now that his face was relaxed, she could see lines of fatigue that she hadn’t noticed earlier. All of her lustful inclinations poofed out of existence.
Mia picked up his wrist, her fingers pressed on his pulse. Under her fingertips, she could feel the rapidity of his heartbeat. She frowned down at him. She was a little concerned. He had lost some blood, no doubt about it. His shirt and undershirt had been stiff with it. She laid the back of her hand against his forehead. She could feel the hectic heat of fever. “This is so not good.”
She gnawed on her lip, thinking about her options. He hadn’t wanted to go to a hospital. There had to be a doozey of a reason for that. Again, the words “psycho” and “escaped convict” sprang to mind. She shook her head, telling herself again to get a grip. She had no reason to think he was either one. Not really, anyway.
Well, I’ll watch him. If he gets too bad, I’ll callEMS.
If that happened, there would, of course, be awkward questions that she couldn’t answer. But she guessed that would be better than trying to dump a dead body. It wasn’t like she could call 1-800-BODY2GO.
Mia checked the bandage on his upper arm, but she didn’t see any seepage.That’s a good thing, at least.She gently laid down his arm and smoothed the bedclothes up over his broad chest. Somehow, touching him that way—to make him more comfortable—made her feel a little tender toward him.
Mia turned off the bathroom light and returned to the living room, leaving the bedroom door open so that she could hear him if he wakened. She’d sleep on the sofa and get up again in an hour or so to check on her crazy-good-looking but nutty patient.
Lying down on the lumpy sofa, she punched one of the cushions into an indented pillow for her head. She pulled a woolly afghan over herself and wriggled around until she was more or less comfortable. She knew she wouldn’t get much sleep, so she would be tired when she went back in to work. She told herself it wouldn’t bother her too much. She was used to long hours. What she didn’t want to think about was what she might have to do if her patient got really, really worse.
He got worse. He was hot and restless.
Mia popped a thermometer into his mouth, one of the instant LED kinds, and read it. His temperature wasn’t that bad, but she still didn’t like how restless he was.I can’t just go in to work and leave him.
She decided to call in sick. She was never sick, so she had a lot of sick leave saved up. Mia didn’t think she was very convincing, but her supervisor bought it.
Her patient slept for a long time. When he woke up, it was like instant on. His eyes just popped open, and he was looking up at her. Actually, he was frowning at her. Mia smiled back. It was important to project a positive attitude. “How do you feel?”
He moved around, gingerly flexing his body and stretching his legs back and forth under the covers. Mia watched with interest. His voice sounded gravelly. “I’m okay. What time is it?”
“It’s way past second watch. You slept for hours.” Mia was feeling really cheerful. He looked a lot better. She offered a glass of water to him, and he sat up to drink. The bedclothes fell down to his waist, leaving his naked torso exposed. She looked at his bodacious chest and felt a tingling in parts south. She didn’t feel at all platonic toward him like she had a few hours before.
He gave the emptied glass back. Mia set it down on the bedside table. When she looked back at him, she saw that he had narrowed his eyes, and he was staring coldly at her. “You should have woken me up.” He clenched his jaw like he was biting back some more words, only not the polite kind.
Mia realized he was angry. That surprised her. Then she realized he was still feeling the weakening effects of the wound and resultant illness. For someone like him, an almost perfect human specimen, it must be worrisome that he felt so unlike himself. She spoke soothingly to him, just like any good nurse would. “Look, you lost a lot of blood. You were dehydrated, and you probably started suffering from hypothermia after being out like that all night in the cold. You needed the rest.”
He looked like he was going to pop off at her, so she popped the thermometer into his mouth. He looked like he might bite it in two, but she shook her head at him. “Be good.” Mia took hold of his wrist, and they tussled a little bit before he would let her take his pulse. All the while, his electric-blue eyes were blazing at her. When she was done with his pulse, she took out the thermometer. His pulse was steady, and his temperature was falling back to normal. Mia was pleased, and she smiled at him. He narrowed his eyes again.
Her cell phone rang. She plucked it out of her pocket and looked at the caller ID. She flipped open the phone. “Hi, Marti.”
“Are you okay?”
Her hunk sat up and reached for the frou-frou beach towel. Mia whipped it away out of his reach. He glared at her. “Oh, sure. Just a touch of food poisoning, I think. Must have been the shellfish.”
“Mia, you don’t eat shellfish.”
He got an evil grin on his face. He reached for the edges of the bedclothes and grasped them, slowly pulling them down past his naval. A narrow, south-heading line of red-gold hairs was revealed. Mia instantly got that he was threatening to throw off the bedclothes. He was buck naked underneath, of course. It wasn’t like she was bashful or anything. In fact, at any other time, she probably wouldn’t mind seeing what he had. However, now was so not the time. She didn’t want to lose control of her patient.
Mia hurried to end the call. “A bad hamburger. Whatever. Look, I’ve got to go puke.”
“Eeew! Okay, bye!”
Mia snapped the phone shut. Sternly, she leveled her finger at him. “You’rethe one who said no hospital!You’rethe one that got a fever!You’rethe one who couldn’t be left by himself, oh no! SoIhad to lie and take off from work. Stop being such a big baby!Stay in that bed!Got it?”
“Got it.” His intensely blue eyes glittered like deep lake water struck by bright sunlight. He looked mulish, but he settled against the pillows and pulled the bedclothes back up to his gorgeous chest. Watching that nice flat belly disappear, Mia sighed regretfully. He growled at her. “Who’s Marty—Martin?”
“Just my best girlfriend in the whole, whole world! Marti hates her real name—probably because her mom is the only one who calls her Martina.” Mia shot a stern look at him as she picked up the water pitcher and poured another glass of water. She palmed a couple of aspirin and handed the glass and the aspirin to him. “I don’t like fibbing to Marti or to my boss. You better appreciate it.”
He was quiet for a second while taking the aspirin, but he was watching her with eagle eyes. He put the empty glass on the bedside table beside the water pitcher. “You said you had to puke.”
“I needed to get off the phone quick.” Mia frowned down at him. “You’ve been trouble from the get-go, do you know that? Men make the very worst patients! Now, get some more rest! You’ve still got a little fever. I don’t want to lie any more than I have to, to cover your pretty ass.”
He didn’t grin, but she could see the rise of laughter in his eyes. “You’re the boss.”
“Yeah, hotshot, I am.” Mia marched out of the bedroom, mumbling under her breath.
It was a long day. Mia filled in the time by cleaning the apartment and catching up on the laundry and cooking. It was actually kind of fun. It was almost like a mini vacation because she didn’t have to hurry through everything just to get out the door. She sniffed appreciatively. Her place smelled all lemony fresh, even under the aroma of homemade chicken soup. What was good for the soul was good for the body, too. Especially if it had extra garlic.
Her patient was docile. She only had to scold him once, when he had stumbled into the wall on the way back from the bathroom. She had heard the hard bang and rushed into the bedroom in time to help him safely back into the bed. After she had gotten over her fright and finished giving him a piece of her mind, Mia thought it was a shame that he’d been covered up with the blue-and-orange-and-pink beach towel.
* * * *
Actually, he didn’t mind staying in the comfortable bed. He felt inordinately tired, so he knew he was still in pretty bad physical shape. He could feel the dying flames of the fever still licking his bones dry. Yet from time to time, he caught himself shivering with chill under the warm covers.
He had been very, very lucky. He could have bled to death overnight. That shallow cave might have ended up becoming his tomb. Instead, a brave, smart woman had rescued him and patched him up.
Experimentally, he lifted and rotated his wounded arm. He was rewarded with a spasm of fiery pain, so he didn’t do it again. Instead, he concentrated on getting better.
He ate when the woman gave him something to eat. He let her take his pulse and his temperature. He made no complaint, even though he had to grit his teeth, when she changed his dressing. Most of the time, he dozed. Other times, he stared at the ceiling, wondering about the woman.
Whenever she came into the bedroom, he felt the way his whole being instantly felt more alive. He tried hard not to show it. He tried even harder to ignore the pleasant sexual tension that she aroused in him, but that was becoming difficult.I’m a mindless, hopeless, horny idiot.
* * * *
Mia thought he must have hated being regulated to the bed, but he didn’t say so. His eyes lit up whenever she came into the bedroom, so she figured he must have been bored out of his mind. He didn’t seem to care that she bullied him a little. He just grinned up at her and “yes-ma’amed” her.
Mia could mentally feel herself swooning.He is just so cute. I’d like to keep him.
But he was steadily getting better, which meant things were going to change.
When Mia placed his clean, folded uniform and underclothes on top of the dresser in the bedroom, his handsome face was powered up by a big, flashing smile. “I guess this means I can get up soon?”
“Yeah, you’re fine. Give it a while longer, and you can dance on out of here.” She was caught by surprise by a humongous yawn. “Sorry! I’m going to go get some sleep, okay?” Mia stepped out and closed the bedroom door behind her. As she walked down the short hall, she decided that she couldn’t put it off any longer. She had to go back to work. But first she had to get some sleep. She had been going for almost two days, and she couldn’t stay up anymore. She collapsed onto the sofa and almost instantly tanked.
When Mia woke up, it was dark. She sat up quickly and looked toward the kitchen. She could see the glow of the digital oven clock, and she squinted at it. “Oops!” She scrambled off of the sofa. She hadn’t checked on her patient in far too long.I’m sure he’s okay.Actually, what she was most worried about was that he might already have left. She raced down the hall to the bedroom, pushed open the door, and rushed over to the bed.
Out of the semidark, an iron arm swept out and around her, yanking her off her feet. Mia yelped. She landed on the mattress, on her back, the arm still banded around her, and a heavy, heated, very nude male body covering her.
All her inner alarms were going off like crazy. They didn’t calm down when warm breath puffed on her face, and a deep voice rumbled, “I’ve wanted to do this for hours.” Then his lips came down hard on hers, and her mouth was devoured. Mia managed to pull one arm free and did the only thing a girl could do under those circumstances. She lassoed his brawny neck—and they went at it like French cousins.
A huge, hot pike pressed firm against her thigh.
He suddenly heaved up, groaning, and rolled over onto his back. He flung an arm over his face. His chest was heaving a bit. Mia was panting pretty heavily herself. “Sorry! I shouldn’t have—”
Her mind was short-circuited, but she still had enough neurons firing to understand he had quit before things were finished. Mia shimmied out of her sweatpants and took hold of the velvety-hot joystick. He jerked, his body coming up off the bed, but her bent legs were already grasping his hips. Mia took her seat and let it rip. She had once ridden a mechanical bull. The soldier-boy bucked a whole hell of a lot better.Yippy-ki-yay!
It was really, really good. No batteries required.
Mia sank into a deep, contented sleep. But not before she felt his hand smoothing her hair and his weight lifting off of the bed. Her last drifting thought was that she was glad he had second watch.
* * * *
He found his uniform and underclothes and dressed quickly. He padded barefoot back into the outer room. There were no lights on, but he didn’t need any illumination. He had memorized the furniture setup. Without giving it much conscious thought, he moved with easy physical grace through the darkened room.
He approved of the blackout curtains. There would be no one peeping in the windows and no hint of light or movement from inside would leak through. He wondered what kind of life the woman led that required such precautions. He recalled the well-supplied medical kit. Was he just the last in a line of refugees she had helped? She was obviously an American, a civilian. What was she doing in this backwater country?
He carefully moved aside a corner of one drape far enough to give a swift glance outside. The sky was edging toward an orange sunset, creating lengthening shadows. He could see the entire sweep of bare ground in front of the building. Not a living thing in sight, just a few parked vehicles. He grunted, pleased, and let the curtain drop. The place was safe enough.
He felt an unexpected peace seeping into him. His body was relaxed but ready for action. The stitched-up wound on his arm barely bothered him. He felt good.
He seated himself in the big stuffed chair and angled his weapon across his knees. It was his turn to stand watch and guard. It was more than a duty. Fierce feelings burned in his chest, protectiveness and frighteningly strong liking. Somehow, the woman curled up asleep in the warm bed in the next room had become more than a hot, convenient hook-up. She was so utterly unlike anyone else he had ever been with. He was beginning to think his life had been turned upside down.I’d take a bullet for her.
* * * *
Her alarm went off. Mia put out her hand and groped for the clock, finally slapping the button on the top. She stretched, yawning, feeling all warm and pleasantly relaxed with the aftereffects of her erotic dream.
“You’re awake.” The deep voice was familiar.
Mia opened one eye to take a peek. Yep. There was her erotic dream, leaning against the doorframe, dressed in his clean, dull-colored uniform. She opened the other eye. He was giving her a slow once-over. Her whole body flash-warmed red. She kind of bunched the sheet in her hand and pulled it up over her bare breasts.Bare. She looked down.Well, I guess I lost my T-shirt somehow.
He was grinning at her, a kind of sexy, knowing grin. His eyes were heated as he stared at her. “You look real pretty, all rumpled and sexy.”
Mia swallowed. “Uh, hi.” She could have hit herself. Could she have sounded any lamer? She tried again. “I better get up and–and take a shower.”
He straightened. His wide hands flexed at his sides. The heat flared hotter in his eyes. For a second, Mia got the impression that he was going to pounce on her. He didn’t say anything, but his jaw tightened. He nodded then spun round on his heel. She heard his rapid tread going down the hallway.
It was obvious that her hunk wasn’t at risk anymore. Mia reached for her cell phone on the bedside table. Her supervisor was happy to hear from her. Her regular shift was covered, but the emergency room had been slammed, and another body was needed, someone who had experience in triage.That’s me.
It didn’t take her long to leap out of the bed and scramble into the bathroom. The toilet seat was down, which made her grin. She showered, shampooed and conditioned, and dried off in twenty minutes. Then she put on her work clothes. Mia stared at herself in the mirror, frowning at her hair while she blow-dried it. She needed a cut, maybe some highlights. She took more time with her make-up than she usually did. Gorgeous guy in the house, so sue me. She knew she would have to hustle on the way to work to get there on time.
When she was ready, Mia sucked in a good, deep breath. It didn’t help. She was still nervous. Mia went to find the incredible hunk who had given her the most fantastic night of her life.
He had fixed her breakfast.Okay, cleans up the kitchen.Check.Puts toilet seat down.Check.Makes breakfast.Check.Screws-your-eyeballs blind sex.Check. Check. He was perfect. Too bad he was crazy.
Mia sat down at the table and looked at the orange juice, scrambled eggs, and toast. “This is great!” She picked up her fork and dug in.
He joined her at the table, but he didn’t have a plate. Mia looked a silent question, which he actually understood. “I ate earlier.” He flicked his fingers in her direction. “You’ve got scrubs on.”
She nodded and swallowed some more puffy-light eggs. The man could cook. “I’ve got to get to work.”
“I don’t think you should go out. It could be dangerous.”
Mia looked at him over the toast that she had lifted up to her mouth. “It’s the last day of my shift. I can’t pretend to be sick anymore. Besides, I already called in, and I’m really needed. I wouldn’t want to, uh, make anyone suspicious by changing my routine.” She bit into the toast.
He frowned thoughtfully. “You’re probably right.”
Mia finished breakfast and carried her glass and plate to the sink. She rinsed the dishes. “You’ll be all right here until I get back, right?”
“I don’t think anyone will look for me here. I’ll be safe enough.”
Mia turned away from the sink to look at him. “How are those stitches holding? Do you want me to look at them before I leave?”
His face softened. “I’m fine. You can take a look and change the bandage when you get back.”
She ran to the bathroom to brush her teeth and then into the bedroom to snatch up her purse. She hurried to the front door. “Okay, lock up behind me. I’ve got a ten-hour shift. I’ll see you after.”
Before Mia got out the door, he grabbed her close and lifted her high enough that her feet left the floor. His kiss was hard and quick. He set her down, murmuring in a low voice, “You be safe today.”
Her head went up and down just like a bobblehead toy again. Mia stumbled out of the apartment, shutting the door behind her. She heard the locks slide home. She got into her car and kind of drove off on autopilot.
Mia was almost at work before she realized something really, really important. They didn’t know each others’ names. “Well, shit.” If she ended up dead, done in by a gorgeous Rambo-wannabe, she wouldn’t be able to tell anyone who had killed her.
Mia’s mind wasn’t really on her work. Even when blood spurted from a bleeder and she had to set a clamp, she just got the job done. She didn’t let anyone die or anything, but it was just one of those days. Some days, she just didn’t want to hear a lot of whining or moaning from sick people. Fortunately, most of them were knocked out with pain medication or sleeping.
She called her best friend, who worked on the same floor she usually did, to let Marti know that she was back but stationed in the ER. Marti came downstairs to sit with her at break and started chattering in her usual cheerful way.
Mia couldn’t help it. Her attention wandered. She wondered what her hunk was doing. She knew what she wanted him to do—to her. She propped her chin in her hand and drifted into a pleasant, sultry daydream.
Her girlfriend abruptly broke off in mid-sentence. Marti tilted her head, eying her. “What’s with you tonight? You act like you’re off in your own little fantasy world.”
“That’s about right,” Mia muttered.
When Martireallylooked at her, Mia could see the wheels spinning. Mia knew that she knew that she hadn’t really been sick. Marti sometimes could come off as a little flakey. She just had that innocent, naïve, beautiful kind of face. She also had blonde hair. But she was smart.
Marti was scary smart.
Mia looked at her best girlfriend and debated telling Marti about the weird stuff that had happened to her lately. She kind of edged up to it. “I met this guy at the movies. We had hot monkey sex last night.”
Marti’s eyes got real round and excited. “Girl! You had a one-nightstand? Meaningless, randomsexwith astranger?” She squealed, hurting Mia’s ears.
Well, it was only one night. And he was pretty strange.Mia didn’t know anyone else who had gotten shot up in a theater where there hadn’t been any bullets flying. “I’m seeing him after shift. I think.”
She frowned.He could leave. He could disappear. I’d never know his name. I’d never walk bow-legged again.
It was too horrible to think about.
“Details! I wantde-tails!” Marti’s eyes glistened. She didn’t get much action, either. Mia thought Marti was a whole lot prettier than her, too. She was normal-curvy. Mia had more bosom—she liked thinking of it that way better than saying she had “big tits” because she thought it was more dignified. Mia also had an apple butt. Only her waist measurement was smaller than her friend’s.
“There’s not much to tell.” But Mia grinned, just to let her girlfriend know she was lying. Marti squealed again and bounced in her chair. So Mia told her about her hot bull ride and about a couple of horizontal slow dances, too. When she was done, Marti slumped back in her chair, fanning herself with her hands. “You lucky girl! I am just sojealous!A man in uniform, too!”
“Yeah, but Marti, he hasn’t said, but I get the feeling he’s not going to stick around long.”
Marti nodded, looking wise. “Special Ops. You’ve got to expect that. They can get orders to ship out at anytime.”
“Yeah.” Mia felt herself sink into deep gloom. She stared down at the pitted Formica tabletop and heaved a mournful sigh.
“Ah, Mia. Don’t look like that.” Marti consolingly patted her arm. “You’re off for the next two days, right? So make the most of it.”
Break was over, and they both hurried back to their stations. Mia usually loved working the ER. It could be such an adrenaline rush, all the blood and broken bones and screaming. This time, she couldn’t wait for her shift to be over. She hoped her hunk would be waiting for her.
When Mia finally got home, she inserted her key in the lock. She didn’t want to take him by surprise and get shot, so she called out a warning. “Incoming!” She pushed open the door. Someone grabbed her by the arms, and her feet left the ground. Mia got a whirling look at her living room. She heard the door slam. Then she was thrown up against it. A hot mouth slammed down, sealing her half-open, astonished mouth. Strong hands flexed on her butt, lifting her up, and lean hips pressed between her thighs.Whew. Now that’s a welcome home, honey.
He let her slide down. His forehead rested against hers. His hands smoothed circles over her tingling ass. He was breathing hard. Or maybe that was her. Mia couldn’t tell. The heat still radiated between them. Her heart was trip-hammering.
He stepped back. The door was Mia’s new best friend. It was propping up her melted body. His hot blue eyes glittered at her. “I missed you.” There was that growly deep voice again, the one that sent shivers straight to her toes.
Mia sucked in another breath.Gotta be strong. Be strong, girl.She eased away from the door. Her shaking legs held her up. That was good. That gave her confidence. She held out her hand. “Mia Haven.”
He looked at her. Then he grinned and stuck out his own hand. Those long, calloused fingers wrapped around hers, very carefully, like he was afraid he might break her hand. “Aiden Smith.”
“Well, Aiden Smith.” Mia got her hand back. She sort of slid past him, but she didn’t take her gaze off of him. “I’m going to take a shower. Just thought I’d let you know.” Mia deliberately dropped her purse. She backed up a step. She toed off her sneakers, first one and then the other. She took a step. She pulled her scrub top off over her head and took another step. Mia dropped her dangling top from her crooked forefinger. She took a couple of more steps backward. With her thumbs, she slid her scrub bottoms down past her navel. Mia stepped back again. She dropped the bottoms and stepped out of the puddle.
All the time, she was walking away from him, sometimes backward, sometimes looking over her shoulder. Mia watched his electric-blue eyes grow hotter and hotter. He brushed a hand across his mouth. Mia slowly traced a fingertip over the edge of lace on her bra. She licked her lips. That was when he rushed her.
He slung her over his shoulder. Mia squealed and bounced against that muscular back. His arm pinned her bare legs against his front. A warm hand was spread wide on her butt. Mia grinned while watching, upside down, the flex of his magnificent buns. He marched straight into the bathroom.
There wasn’t much room. But he lowered her to the floor. Mia felt every inch of his hard body slide over her tingling front before her bare toes touched the cold tile. His thick pike pressed into her soft belly.It must be awful uncomfortable behind that terrible, confining zipper.Mia shuddered deliciously.
“You drive me mad, Mia!”
“Yeah, well, you’re doing a pretty good job of turningmeinside out.” Mia didn’t even know what she was saying. She was too busy pulling his shirt out of his pants. She started undoing buttons, and her arms were knocked by his forearms because he was working at his belt and pants.
The rest of their clothes kind of melted away. Then they were standing under the stinging spray, doing naughty things to each other with fingers and tongues and slippery soap and hot body parts. Pretty soon Mia flew apart.I’m wrung out tighter than the washcloth.
Aiden carried her to the bed. He laid her down and then lay down beside her. He pulled the covers up over their damp bodies. Mia snuggled up against him, her butt nestling into the warm shallow of his lean hips. She could feel the warm, softened bulge pressing against the curve of her rear. His muscular arm came down over her waist, his big calloused hand sliding under and cradling her breast. He didn’t say anything about first watch. She was glad.
* * * *
Aiden basked in the warmth of his woman’s soft, pliant body. Her generous breast nestled in his hand. His hands were big and calloused from handling weaponry. It amazed him that she didn’t seem to mind them on her tender flesh. Her womanly scent filled his nostrils like the most seductive perfume. He couldn’t remember feeling so content in his life. It felt right being with Mia Haven. He could let down his guard with her. She made it so easy. She was brave and playful and beautiful. What more could a man like him ask for? If he died tomorrow, he would die happy.
He shifted, spooning her closer, so that he pressed against her from shoulder to thigh. She sighed softly. He adjusted his shoulder and angled his wounded arm more sharply over her supine body. Realization hit him, and he lifted his arm into the air, rotating it. He grinned, looking up at the new pinkish scar.Not a twinge.He hadn’t even felt anything when he had thrown Mia over his shoulder and carried her into the bathroom.
Suddenly, he realized what his recovery meant to him and to them.
His grin faded. A mingling of desolation and resignation hit him. He was no longer an invalid. His obligation to duty loomed up in the room like a gray, billowing pall of battle smoke. Aiden lowered his arm and folded it back around her, cradling her close. He sighed heavily, regretfully, his breath huffing against her hair. He closed his eyes tightly. For a moment, he pressed his lips against her soft, dusky curls. For a moment longer, he pretended.Damn it.Damn it!
Reluctantly, he disentangled himself from her body and got up out of the bed. His metal dog tags and the silver medallion he wore on chains around his neck swung forward then back against his sternum, jangling softly. Mia stirred and rolled over, her eyes blinking drowsily. Under the edges of her lids, her eyes gleamed. He knew she was watching him. For a moment, he stood looking down at her. She lay on her back, one hand curved under her cheek, her curly, chestnut hair falling onto the pillow. She was beautiful. He knew he was already memorizing the sight of her, with her lush naked body sated from his lovemaking, because he might never see her again.
He didn’t say anything. It hurt too much. He just turned away and went into the bathroom to get his pants on. She didn’t say anything or call after him, either. It was like she already knew.
* * * *
Mia got dressed in a T-shirt and jeans and trailed into the kitchen, where the light was on. He had turned around one of the kitchen chairs and was straddling it, his big forearms folded on the top of the back. His chin was cradled on top of his arms. There was a ferocious frown on his face. His dark-gold brows were lowered, and he held his mouth tight in a grim line. He raised his head and looked up at her with a darkened gaze when she came in. “Mia—”
“Yeah. I know.” Mia slowly walked over behind him and pressed herself over his bare back. She put her arms around him, her breasts flattening against his hard muscles, and she could feel the heat of his body through her T-shirt. Mia laid her cheek on top of his head. His thick, tousled hair tickled her face. “You’re leaving.”
His fingers closed hard over one of her hands, and then he let go. “I’ve got to.”
Mia straightened up. She made herself act all business. “Okay, let me look at the stitches.” Aiden dropped his forearms. He got up, turned around, and sat back down. Mia stepped between his spread knees so that she could better see the wound. Her work looked good. It looked more than good, in fact. The stitches had dissolved. The wound was closed and pink and healthy-looking. “You heal quick.”
He nodded. His chiseled face tautened, and a tic jumped in his jaw. “That’s why I can’t stay any longer. I’m fit enough to go back into action. I have to leave tonight.”
She felt it. She had never before understood that old phrase, “It feels like a kick in the gut,” but now she did. “This sucks.”
He barked a short laugh. “It does.” He put his hands on either side of her waist and drew her in closer, wrapping his arms loosely around her, with his large hands pressing warmly across her back. “Ah, Mia.”
Aiden buried his face in the turn of her neck and shoulder. Mia felt his firm lips press against her skin. She blinked her eyes rapidly. She sniffed a couple of times.
He lifted his head, and his electric-blue gaze searched her face. “Mia, sweetheart, don’t cry.”
Mia brushed her eyes, quick, with the backs of her hands. “I’m not. I won’t.”Not until later when I’m alone again.The forlornness of her thought caught in the back of her throat. She scowled at him and poked her finger in his chest. “You better come back or call me or something!”
“You can count on it.” Strength emphasized his firmly spoken promise. His eyes glittered with a savage light. “Even if I have to knock out this whole town to get to you!”
She liked that. It was extravagant and macho and sounded a whole lot better than the evasiveI’ll call you sometime.She perked up and moved out of encompassing warmth of his embrace. “Good!”
Nothing had changed. He was still leaving. She didn’t want to think about it.
Mia glanced around, unsure what to do with herself, so she started bustling around the kitchen, opening the refrigerator, taking stuff out of the pantry. It was good to have an excuse to move around. “I’ll make us something nice.” She didn’t look at him much, but she could feel him watching her. She slapped some pots on top of the stove. “So when are you going?”
“There’s time yet. I’ll wait until full dark. I’d like to eat first, pull my gear together, and spend the time with you.” He caught her gaze. “I’m going to need your help again, Mia. I need to get back to where my communications got dropped.”
She nodded. She chopped vegetables like a sushi chef. “Okay. I can drive you there.”
“I need to get inside. I need to go back in the way I got out. I tried that the other night, after you escaped, but the entrance was barred from the inside.”
“Oh. Right! The door can’t be opened from the outside.” Mia thought it was weird that he didn’t want to just buy a ticket, but then maybe he didn’t want to be seen at the theater. After all,someoneshot him. Maybe they were still hanging around. Also, she was pretty sure there were rules about carrying a gun into a theater. Especially a big one. She sure didn’t want him to leave the scary thing at her place. So she could definitely see his point about going back in the same way. She set the oven to preheat. “I can probably get the door open from the inside for you.”
His eyes narrowed as he considered her offer. “Can you do that? I don’t want you to get into any trouble.”
“Well, there aren’t usually too many people around that late. I don’t think anyone will bother me if I open the door, even if they do see me.” She shrugged, stirring the bubbling contents of one of the pots she had going. “I don’t see what they can say. It’s not like I won’t have a right to be there. I even have a free pass.”
Surprise crossed his face. He laughed, his eyes gleaming at her. “Mia! You’re amazing.”
“It’s no big deal. I’d do it for anyone.”
Aiden’s smile slowly faded. His electric baby blues seemed to be looking straight into her soul. “I believe you would.”
Mia cleared her throat. There was something strange and unreadable in his eyes that made her body feel too warm. She opened the hot oven to slide in the baking dish with the cheese-topped entrée. “There’s just one thing, Aiden. You said you dropped your communications. They sweep the place every night.”
He frowned, his expression turning thoughtful. “You’re right. But I don’t have a choice. It’s the only way that I can reestablish contact with my team.”
She shook her head. She didn’t have much hope that a little communication device, or whatever it was he had dropped, would still be in the auditorium. She hadn’t even found any bullet holes in the walls. She broke an egg into a bowl then fished out a bit of shell. She added sugar and milk to the egg. “Well, I can always ask if anything was found the other night.”
Aiden’s eyes suddenly blazed. The angle of his strong jaw jutted out. “I don’t want you involved! I don’t want the connection made between you and me. It’s too dangerous.”
“Relax, soldier boy! We’ll take it as it comes.” Mia thought he was making too much out of it, but what did she know. He had saved her life. Sheknewit. Even though there were no bullet holes in the walls. Mia briskly whisked while she thought about that for a minute.Yep, I have quietly gone crazy.Bizarre as it seemed, though, she was really getting a kick out of it. Well, except for the sucky part about him leaving.
* * * *
Aiden watched Mia charging around the tiny kitchen, preparing a lavish send-off meal. He counted three pots on the stove, and there was something heating in the oven, too. Enticing aromas filled the air, but he didn’t feel hungry. His stomach felt a little knotted up like it did before a mission. He’d eat everything just to please her, though. She deserved that much from him.
He swallowed past the unexpected lump in his throat. She was making such an effort! He knew it was all for him. It wasn’t just what she was doing with the food, either. It was like she kept reminding herself to smile, and so she did. She smiled, but her brown eyes were softened with sadness. Aiden felt his heart constrict.Ah, damn it, sweetheart.
He was a member of an elite fighting force, but when it came right down to it, he wasn’t as tough as this fabulous woman. She was so awesomely brave, he practically had to wink back tears!
Hiding his own surging emotion, Aiden broke down his weapon and methodically cleaned the already pristine workings. He had the faintest tremor in his hands, which he couldn’t control, and for the first time ever he fumbled with putting the well-oiled parts back together. He was glad that his buddies couldn’t see his less-than-stellar performance. They’d unmercifully rib him for sure.
* * * *
They didn’t talk much over dinner and cleaning up afterward. They didn’t even say anything when they walked back to the bedroom, undressed, and got back in bed. They made love, slow and sweet, more than once. Then they got cleaned up and dressed again.
Aiden had put on full uniform. He streaked black camo across his nose, cheeks and chin, until he had turned his face into a startling mask. He carried his pack and his gun out to the living room.
Mia sighed. She blinked back tears. Her heart felt heavy.He’s really leaving.Slowly, she followed him, dragging her feet. In the living room, she stopped and just looked at him with misery. Muttering a curse, Aiden pulled her to him. Mia whipped her arms around him, pressing herself against his warmth. For a time, they stood there simply clinging to one another. Then he sat on the sofa, gently tugging her down to sit beside him, and put his arm around her. They watched TV. The sitcoms didn’t even make them crack a smile. They might as well have been watchingHannibalLecter.
After a while, Aiden slid his arm out from around her shoulders and got up. Mia mutely watched him. He walked over to the window, lifted a corner of the drape, and peered out. He looked back at her, his black camo-streaked face set in a ferocious scowl. “It’s dark.”
Mia bit her lip and nodded. It was time for him to go. She passionately wished that she had three wishes.
Mia parked her car pretty close to the side of the theater. Aiden opened the door and slid out, crossing the dark asphalt pavement in a crouched run. He disappeared into the shadows. Mia locked her car and walked around to the front of the theater. She didn’t stop at the ticket kiosk but just went on inside. The college-age guy taking tickets was bored. He didn’t even look at her. Mia handed over the free pass. He tore it in two and gave her back half. His monotone sounded like crazy Hal inASpace Odyssey. “This is good for any feature. Have a good evening.”
Mia walked down the hall to auditorium number twelve. She drew a deep breath and pulled open the heavy swing door. The feature hadn’t started yet, but the trailers were running. It was already too dark for Aiden to do any looking around. They would have to wait until the feature was over and the lights came up again. Mia glanced up at the rows and rows of empty seats. There were only a couple of kids in the theater, way up at the top. No problem there. She crossed over to the outside exit door and pushed it open. “Aiden?”
He came in quickly, a swift, dark shadow. Mia caught a glimpse of the black gun barrel, pointed up. The door closed with a metallic whoosh. His voice growled very low in her ear.“I want you to go now.”
He pushed her toward the outer door. She resisted, digging in her heels. Mia grabbed the rough sleeve of his shirt with both hands. “No way! I’m staying with you as long as I can!”
He snapped a curse. But he didn’t argue. He found her hand and clasped it tightly. He held his big gun at the ready in his other hand. “Keep it quiet, then.” He was edging them along the auditorium wall when the first exciting scene of the feature, a military helicopter raid on an armed compound in the middle of a sun-drenched town, flashed on the screen. The blinding white light of the first explosion dazzled Mia.
That was when all hell broke loose.
Whunp! Whump! Whump!
The sound was deafening. Wind whipped Mia’s hair around her face, the ends lashing her cheeks. Explosions rocked the ground under her feet, and she staggered. Aiden steadied her, his hand locking around her upper arm. She could feel the shock impact of his gun conveyed through his body as he fired. “Run!” he bellowed.
Terror stuck her tongue to the roof of her mouth.This is where I came in the first time.No time to think. A burst of gunfire rat-a-tat-tatted too freaking close. Mia ducked, her heart trip-hammering, and ran. Aiden pulled her faster. She needed no encouragement. She flew over the ground.Four minute mile? Easy!Her laboring lungs felt like they were going to burst.
Blurred blades were suddenly ratcheting overhead. Aiden gave a massive heave, boosting her upward. Other hands reached out, snagging her shoulders and arms, hauling her up. Mia felt herself screaming, but she couldn’t hear herself over the awful noise. She sprawled on a hard metal surface, the impact squashing air out of her lungs. Mia sucked for breath. A metal door slammed shut.“Clear!”
Then she was pressed down, the huge hand of gravity on her back. The noise of battle dropped away, and there was just thewhump-whump-whump.
Mia was dazed.I’m on a helicopter.A damn helicopter!The pieces of her scattered mind started coming back together.What the freaking hell!
She felt someone take hold of her, lifting her, and she lashed out with her fist.
She stared up wildly. It was Aiden. He was the one holding her. But she didn’t want him to.I want to go back! I want to go home!She burst into noisy tears.
He pressed her face against his shoulder. His familiar scent— musky sweat and gunpowder—surrounded her. Strangely, she was comforted. He raised his voice, leaning close to her ear, so she could hear him above the noise. “It’s okay! It’s going to be okay!”
“Sir? Is the lady hurt?”
“She’s fine. She’s just shaken up a bit.”
Shaken up?Shaken up?
Mia reared straight up, almost clocking Aiden in the chin with the back of her head. He made anumphsound, but she didn’t pay attention. She was mad, really, really mad. “Shaken up? You nimwit! I’ve been shot at! Things are blowing up all over! I’m hauled into a helicopter like a sack of potatoes! And I’m justshaken up abit?” Mia slapped the side of his head.
She was glaring, but Aiden didn’t seem to care. He was grinning at her. Mia heard several weary chuckles. She whipped her head around. That was when she saw there were more men dressed like Aiden, with camouflaged faces, and they were all grinning at her. Even the ones who looked drawn and were sporting bloody bandages.
Mia shut up, but she shot Aiden a really dirty look.
* * * *
At Mia’s dagger-glance, Aiden grinned. It relieved him that Mia seemed to have recovered somewhat from her fright.The helicopter came down almost on top of us—like they were looking for us!He couldn’t have planned it better, except for the firestorm that the appearance of the helicopter had generated. That had been a little hairy. He couldn’t believe how quickly Mia had reacted. Her instincts had been right on target. She had taken off running straight for the ’copter.
When he had tossed Mia into the helicopter, she had been shaking, practically hysterical. She was obviously terrified at finding herself suddenly in the middle of a running gun battle, and rightly so. Aiden’s own heart had been bounding with fear—fear for her. Fear, that she would be hit—he shuddered—or worse.
Those terrible minutes, until they were safe aboard the helicopter, he had cursed himself, up one side and down the other, for getting her into danger. He shouldn’t have let her stay with him. He had known how hazardous it could turn out to be. He should have insisted she go home.But I didn’t want her to leave me, selfish bastard that I am!
Now here she was, wrenched out of her familiar life and thrust into circumstances that had to be frightening to her. Yet she seemed to be handling it all right now.
Aiden tightened his arm around her. She didn’t pull away but nestled closer against his side. He rested his chin on top of her head. The soft, tangled strands of her hair caressed his jaw. He drew in his breath, and he could smell her wonderfully distinctive scent. He smiled to himself and closed his eyes. Almost, he could persuade himself that they were back in her small apartment, shut off from the dangerous world in their own private intimate cocoon.
The familiar, clamoring din of the helicopter beat at his ears.
* * * *
The helicopter ride didn’t take long. Everyone got off. Aiden kept Mia close, standing kind of off to the side. He was holding her hand, but he was busy directing things and exchanging laughing quips with the other men. One of the men nodded to her, his dark eyes glinting with amusement. “You’ve got a handful there, lieutenant.” Mia glowered at him. She wasn’t sure, but she suspected he was laughing at her. He walked off, chuckling.
Finally, Aiden was done. He and Mia climbed into a waiting jeep and they were whizzed off toward a silver tootsie-roll-shaped building. It looked like she was on a military base somewhere. It looked kind of familiar. Well, a lot familiar. Mia was really puzzled by that. She preferred to think about that smaller weirdness instead of the whole big picture.
Her brain imploded.Picture? As in—in an action flick?As in—in?The fantastic idea seized hold of her mind. Her careening thoughts ricocheted and stuttered.Oh shit, oh shit.Mia’s heart started thumping like a hormone-mad bunny.I am officially, certifiably around the bend—lock me up and throw away the key!She knew she was totally wigging out, but she couldn’t help herself. She was hyperventilating, gasping for air.
Long, warm fingers squeezed her hand.
Mia quickly turned her head. Aiden was looking down at her with his gorgeous electric-blue eyes, concern in his expression. He looked so cute when he was worried. She couldn’t help but smile. Her racing heartbeat slowed down. She squeezed his hand back, earning herself a blindingly sexy grin. Mia blinked.Well, maybe crazy isn’t so bad.
The jeep jerked to a stop in front of the building. They got out and went inside the silver tootsie roll. The interior was brightly lit, and there were several desks and chairs and tables, all occupied by uniformed personnel, and Mia saw a lot of fascinating electronic equipment. She got the impression of quiet efficiency.
Several people were bustling around, carrying folders marked “Top Secret.” Aiden snagged one of them and asked a question Mia couldn’t hear. The man nodded. “Follow me, lieutenant.”
Aiden took her hand again, and their guide ushered them to the center of the building, where there was a small area cleared of everything except for a large table covered with some maps. An older man with a stocky build was standing in front of the table, staring down at one of the maps.
Aiden and Mia’s guide cleared his throat. “General, sir, Lieutenant Smith is here to report in.”
The general abruptly turned around. He had an iron-gray buzz cut. An unlit cigar was clamped between his big white teeth. His winter-gray eyes were cold. “Smith! We thought we had lost you. Good to see you back.”
“I’m glad to be back, sir!” Aiden snapped to attention. He had dropped Mia’s hand. She stood beside him, feeling kind of awkward.
“At ease, Smith. I’ll want a complete debriefing.”
“You’ll have it, sir.”
“Who’s this, Smith?” The general barked the question. He was looking straight at Mia, and he wasn’t smiling. She could feel the coldness of his gaze flicking over her. It was pretty uncomfortable, but she tried to look him in the eye.
“She’s a civilian medic, sir. She came back for me when I was wounded, got me to a safe house, and stitched me up. She helped me get back to the extraction point.”
The general looked at her with approval. The atmosphere turned a degree warmer. Mia cautiously let out the breath that she hadn’t known she had been holding. “Good job. Your name, ma’am?”
“Mia Haven.” The general nodded and turned his attention back to Aiden. Mia felt like she was no longer on the spot, and she relaxed. She looked around curiously. She’d never been in a movie before.
Mia felt a hysterical giggle bubbling up behind her breastbone and trying to break free.In a movie! Tee hee tee hee!It was like running to the bathroom at the movie theater and discovering a wait line a mile long. The urge was just that bad.
“Ahem. Ahem!” Mia pressed a fist against her breastbone.Okay, focus! Look at all the bright lights and pretty uniforms and high-tech stuff!It worked. She calmed down and she looked around again.
She wondered if this was a control center. The general bombarded Aiden with questions, but Mia didn’t pay much attention. She looked at the maps. There was one of an island with several flags pinned into it. Half-hidden under that map was something that looked like a blueprint. She started to move the map off of the blueprint so that she could see it better.
The general slapped his palm down on the map. He stared hard at her, rolling the cigar around between his clenched teeth. Mia got the message. She quickly stepped away from the table, somehow managing to stumble over a big utility cord. Aiden reached out his hand and caught her elbow, steadying her. She gave him a quick, grateful smile. “Thanks.”
“You look like you both need some rest. I’ll have someone escort Ms. Haven to the VIP quarters. You’re dismissed, lieutenant.”
Mia edged closer to Aiden and took tight hold of his uniform sleeve. “I’m staying with Aiden.” She didn’t want to be separated from Aiden. He was the only thing that connected her to home. He was the only thing that connected her with sanity.
The general stared at her. His hard, unblinking eyes regarded her for several seconds. Mia didn’t dare speak or move. Finally, his sharp gaze moved beyond her face, and his voice was dry. “Fast work, Smith.”
Mia quickly glanced up at Aiden. Between the streaks of black camo on his face, she could see the red flush staining his cheekbones. “As you say, sir.” He sounded very stiff, maybe even defensive.
The general snorted. “Very well! Lieutenant! Show Ms. Haven to your quarters. She will be your responsibility as long as she is with us.”
Aiden saluted smartly. “Yes, sir!”
Shaking his head, the general turned his back on them. Aiden and Mia looked at each other. Aiden grabbed her hand, and they hurried to make good their escape.
They left the command center and walked a short distance to a cluster of small buildings that all looked alike. Aiden motioned, and Mia turned with him to walk up to the front door of one. Stepping onto the small porch, Aiden opened the door and politely ushered her inside.
Mia stepped past him, and he followed her, the wooden door falling closed behind him with a hollow thud. She looked around slowly. The room was divided into living room and dining room, judging by the sofa and matching armchair and coffee table and TV on one side, and the small dining table and four ladder-back chairs on the other. A big circular rug covered the floor. It was a plain, utilitarian place, not a thing out of place, all clean and tidy. She could smell the invigorating aroma of Pine-Sol.
Mia turned until she was facing Aiden. They looked at each other, both of them kind of serious, neither of them, obviously, really knowing what to say.
Aiden slowly shook his head. He looked troubled, and his wide chest lifted in a long sigh. “I didn’t want this, Mia. I wanted you to be safe at home.”
“Yeah, well, that makes two of us.” Mia lifted her shoulders in a confused shrug. There was a lot going on in her head. She was being tugged in too many ways. She could be safe at home, right now, lying in her own familiar bed.Alone. All alone, so alone.But here she was instead, with Aiden, in a scary, different world.
Mia wasn’t sure what she really wanted, so she just walked forward into his arms. His massively muscular arms closed tight around her. Her cheek pressed against his hard, warm chest, and Mia felt it rise beneath her cheek with his breathing. The sound of his heart thudded solidly in her ear. She felt safe. She felt like she was home.
He eased her back from him, and his large hands came up to cup either side of her face. His thumbs brushed her cheeks. She looked up into his eyes. He was looking down at her with the most serious expression. The black camo streaks really added to the seriousness. “You’re so very beautiful and brave, Mia. I love you.”
The man was delusional. But she didn’t try to bring him to his senses. Instead, she gave a breathy-sounding laugh. She didn’t know where it had come from. It sounded far too sexy to be hers. “Take me to bed, Aiden.”
His electric-blue eyes instantly heated. He picked her up in his strong arms, like she weighed nothing—she really loved that part—and carried her through an open door into a small bedroom. He laid her down on a wide bed, and then he undressed her, and she undressed him. There were lots of murmurings and touchy-feely exploration, and then he was hot inside her, and Mia was losing her mind.
When Mia floated back into her body, she was tucked against him, wrapped up in his arms with her head pillowed on his lovely, hairy chest. His chest was rising and falling rapidly beneath her cheek. He smelled good, all musk and male and expended sex. With her eyes still closed, Mia grinned. She couldn’t help it. This was the way-coolest thing that had ever happened to her in her life.
“Mia, I don’t want us to be apart anymore.” His fingers were threading gently through her hair.
It felt very, very nice. She glided her own fingertips over his outstanding pecs and the mat of rough, wiry hairs. “I don’t want to be apart from you, either.”
His fingers went still in her hair. Mia could feel his chest stop moving before he took a really deep breath. His voice went all deep and rumbly. “Mia! Are you sure? You’ll marry me?”
Her eyes snapped open. Mia reared straight up. She stared down at him in shock. “Whoa, soldier boy! Where did that come from?”
Aiden sat up, too. She was momentarily distracted by the flexing of that magnificent manly chest matted with red-gold hairs. “I just asked you to marry me.”
Mia shook her head so hard that she thought her brain rattled.“Wow.”Her brain was still stuttering along on half-batteries, and her mouth didn’t work much better. “But–but you don’t know me! I don’t knowyou! We’re from two different worlds.”Boy, that was an understatement.
“I know it’s crazy! You’re right. I’m Special Ops. My life can be crazy. I never know where I’ll be sent.” Aiden placed his large warm hands on her bare shoulders. “But, Mia, I’m crazy aboutyou! I want you in my life.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know.” She shook her head. She was all shaken up. She couldn’t think.
His hands tightened on her shoulders. “Mia, are you trying to say that you don’t…care about me?”
She looked up quickly at him. His face had gone all stony looking. His mouth was a tight line. He was looking at her with a fierce light in his eyes. He looked really scary with the black streaks of camo on his face. “Oh God, Aiden! You’re the best thing that has ever happened to me!”
He crushed her to him. His lips came down on hers. Mia just kind of melted against him. Then she didn’t think anymore while she kissed him back. He had her breathless in seconds.
When he stopped kissing her, he folded her close. One of his hands stroked up and down her bare back. His breath ruffled her hair. “We’ll work it out, Mia. I promise you.”
She nodded, but she didn’t say anything. She couldn’t, without sounding crazy to him.Oh, I’d like to stay with Aiden, all right!But she was inside of a movie! And she wasn’t part of the movie. Wasn’t there some sort of cosmic law against that? What happened if she suddenly got zapped home? What if she got zapped home, naked, and ended up at the hospital or the grocery store?Okay, okay, let’s not fall into a pit.She should think about the positive. Here she was, in a great movie, and a really hot action hero thought he was in love with her and gave her great, hot sex. Duh! What was she thinking?Run the ball, Mia, run the ball!
Mia raised her head and smiled up at him. She traced Aiden’s nicely-shaped jaw with her fingertips. “We’ll take it as it comes, soldier boy.”
He nodded. He got a goofy, tender expression on his face. “That’s why I love you, Mia. You’re so damn brave.”
Mia felt tears prick her eyes. She swallowed. She tried to be a brave, brave woman and not burst into thankful sobs. How had she gotten so lucky? “You have duties, right? I don’t want to just sit around while you’re busy doing soldier stuff. What can I do?”
“They’re always short-staffed at the field hospital. Would you want to—”
“Perfect. That sounds perfect.”
He smiled down at her. “You’re amazing. All right, let’s get some sleep. We’ve been up a long time.”
Mia moved her hand down into his lap and stroked a certain large, warm part of his anatomy. He sucked in his breath. “I was hoping you’d stay up a little longer.”
Aiden chuckled. He rolled her under him. His knees spread her legs open, his lean hips settled over her, and he slid home. Mia gave a huge sigh of contentment. She wrapped her arms and legs around him. She grinned up at him. “Did I ever tell you that I really like rock and roll?”
He laughed again, and then he rocked her world away.
Mia must have fallen asleep afterward because the next thing she knew, she was being gently shaken. She opened one of her eyes. Aiden was sitting on the bed, smiling down at her. His face was clean and shaven. He was dressed in a fresh uniform. Mia opened both of her eyes. “Oh. You’re leaving.”
“The general wants to see me. Do you still want to go to the field hospital?”
She sat up. “Yes, will you take me there?”
His gaze slowly dropped to her bare breasts and lifted back to her face. He smiled that slow, sexy smile. “I’dtakeyou anywhere, Mia.”
She blushed. Mia couldn’t believe it. She never blushed. She grumbled under her breath. He laughed at her. Mia hit him on the shoulder. It was like connecting with granite. “Where’s the shower? And my clothes?”
Aiden stood up and offered her a hand. She took it. He lifted her effortlessly from the bed to her feet.Ooh, I love big muscles!He pointed. “The bathroom is through that door. I’ll get your clothes together and put them on the bed.”
“Okay.” She walked away from him. She could feel a laser centered on her, like one of those red dots before you get shot. Mia stopped and turned around. She frowned at him. “What?”
“I love looking at your gorgeous ass.” His eyes were heated again, and his voice was low and rumbly. His hands flexed, like he wanted to grab that part of her.
Mia flushed. “Oh.” She stood there for a second, kind of self-conscious. Then she lifted her chin. She pivoted and made like a runway model, swinging her well-rounded hips. She heard a low growl behind her. By the time she shut the bathroom door behind her, Mia was grinning. Her guy was really good for her ego.
She showered and shampooed and shaved. There wasn’t any moisturizer or a blow-dryer.Of course not—soldier boy isn’t into metro.She dried off and wrapped herself in the large white towel before she left the bathroom. She might be having great, hot sex but that didn’t mean she was going to parade around in her jiggling, bouncing skin. Aiden might not be the only one who lived in this house.
In the bedroom, lying on the bed, was a uniform and some underwear and a bra. There were also socks and some nice shiny boots. Everything was smaller than what Aiden would wear. Not that he would wear the bra, of course. “Aiden? Where are my clothes?”
His disembodied voice came from somewhere outside the bedroom. “On the bed. I’m having your own clothes cleaned.”
“O-kay.” Mia eyed the pants. She knew from experience that pants without elastic waists didn’t fit her. If she got them big enough to fit her hips, the waist always gaped open. She always had to have new jeans altered after she bought them. Mia put on the silky bra and underwear. They weren’t exactly standard military issue, beingVictoria’s-Secret sexy. She shrugged. Maybe they were standard movie issue. Then she dressed in the uniform and the footgear. She looked down at herself. Mia frowned. Everything was a perfect fit. Even the waistband of the pants.
Aiden had obviously found her purse because it was sitting on the bed. Mia snatched up the bag, relieved to have her emergency makeup kit, and returned to the bathroom.
She finished doing her face and fluffed her hair, looking in the mirror.
Mia leaned closer. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Her make-up was flawless. Her ordinary brown eyes looked smoky and sultry. Her hair, which she believed had been cursed from hell, fell in soft waves without a hint of frizz. It was a fantastic chestnut brown with glinting-red highlights.Boy howdy.I look freaking amazing!She’d somehow gotten a fairy godmother! If the fairy godmother was small enough, Mia was going to put her in her purse and take her home.
She left the bathroom and went to find Aiden.
The general had sent a driver and jeep for their use, and Aiden and Mia climbed into the military vehicle. The driver hit the accelerator, and the jeep took off. Mia was pressed back for an instant in her seat. The warm wind blew back her hair.
Aiden could have walked to headquarters, of course, but instead he chose to ride along to the hospital with her. Mia was glad. It gave her a few more minutes to be with him. She had never experienced separation anxiety before.
Aiden must have picked up on her worry vibes. “Everything will work out, Mia. I promise.” He smiled reassuringly at her, lacing his strong fingers with hers. Mia tried not to worry. There wasn’t anything she could do about any of it, anyway.
The driver stopped to drop her off at the field hospital. Mia climbed out of the jeep. Aiden, still seated in the jeep, looked out at her. Concern shadowed his expression. His intense blue gaze searched her face. “You’re going to be all right?”
“Of course I am.” Mia managed to bring up an almost normal smile for him. Truthfully, she was terrified of being without him. She didn’t know what to expect out of the movie. Maybe it would just blow her right out of the screen into the theater like a giant noogie.Gross, Mia! You’ve been around way too many preteens!
“You’re not just saying that, right?”
“Of course I am.”She opened her eyes very wide. She broadened her smile, showing all of her teeth in a grinning rictus.
Aiden muttered under his breath, beginning to look wild-eyed. He grasped the side of the jeep and the seat, tensing his whole body, as though he was about to launch himself feetfirst out of the vehicle. “Wait, Mia!”
Her hunky hero’s overreaction pushed her over into laughter. Her nervous qualms disappeared. Mia suddenly felt a whole lot better. She made shooing motions, flapping her wrists and hands. “No, really! I’m going to be fine. Now go to work.”
Aiden subsided back onto the seat. He flashed a relieved grin and then motioned to the driver. “Okay, let’s go!”
As the jeep roared away, Mia waved good-bye to Aiden. She turned and went inside the base hospital. The smell of antiseptic hit her, and she sniffed in appreciation.Just like home.
Action movies didn’t spend much time showing the inside of hospitals, so she was curious. She stood looking around for a minute. It was a madhouse. Everyone she saw was scurrying around, so she didn’t try to stop anyone to ask for directions.
Mia eventually found the duty nurse on her own. “I’m Mia Haven. I’m here to help out.”
The duty nurse didn’t question her. She just handed Mia a white lab coat and stethoscope. “I’ll call for the on-duty physician.”
Mia didn’t have long to wait. The on-duty physician emerged from one of the brightly lit corridors like a whirlwind. He was tall, balding, and wore murky-green scrubs. He shot a swift, assessing glance over her. Shaking her hand, he almost crushed her fingers. “I’m Dr. Mason. And you are?”
Mia told him her name. “I’m here to help out while I’m on base.”
“Good! Come with me. We’ll get you started. It’s a busy morning.” The doctor was walking so fast that his white coat whipped back. Mia had to trot after him to keep up. “So where did you do your residency? Have you been around gunshot wounds?”
Still trotting, Mia corrected him. “I’m a nurse.” She told him that she’d trained for two years at a major inner city hospital, where gunshot wounds and drug-deals-gone-bad victims had been a daily occurrence.
He nodded. “Good. We need experience.” A nurse rushed up to him with a chart and a pen. He didn’t stop walking. He glanced at the chart, signed it, and gave it back to the nurse. The nurse sped away. “I’ll show you the ER.”
When they entered the ER, he introduced Mia to the nursing staff. “This is Dr. Haven. She will be working with us temporarily. Show her a good time, folks.” He nodded and raced off.
Mia waved her hand in the air. “Uh, I’m a nurse. Not a doctor.”
No one paid any attention. It was like they couldn’t hear her words.
A nurse beckoned Mia to go with her. They set out at a fast clip. Mia wondered if anyone moved at anything but speed of light. “This way, Doctor!”
They entered the emergency room, but Mia hardly noticed. She was too busy sputtering over being called ‘doctor’ again.
“Oh, this is just great!” Mia knew she was freaking out again. She could tell because her palms were sweating. Dismay made her mind whirl. She’d been promoted. She didn’t have the training. She hoped that she didn’t kill anyone.Coming to the field hospital was a bad idea, a very, very bad idea.
The nurse nodded at what Mia had said, but she obviously hadn’t caught her sarcasm. The nurse glanced around proudly at the shiny, well-lit emergency room. It was bustling with activity. “Yes, we’ve got a pretty good facility for a field hospital. We can deal with almost anything. But as you can see, we’re swamped right now. We’ve just had a wave of wounded come in.”
Mia knew what that meant. “Triage.”
Mia guessed that the nurse thought she meant for her to take her there, because the woman nodded. “Yes, Doctor.” She cut to the right, and Mia followed her. Mia didn’t bother trying to correct her about the doctor title. She just hoped that there were real doctors around. Her heart was thudding madly in her chest from dread. Stress could cause cardiac arrest.
They entered a chaotic area full of wounded military personnel. More were being brought in. There was a lot of blood and shouting and rushing around. Mia’s nerves settled down. She was in familiar territory. Triage was something she knew and was good at. You just did what had to be done to stabilize the patient. Then the patients were sent on to emergency for more individual care.
Mia plunged into the work. It was exhilarating. Her brain snapped, crackled, and popped. Her hands and her mouth were right in sync. Staff scurried and snapped to with her crisp orders. Mia’s heart pounded with the adrenaline rush. It was hours before she looked up. That was when she heard her name. Well, nothername, but close enough.
“Dr. Haven! Dr. Haven!”
Mia focused on the nurse’s face. The woman was looking at her, wide-eyed. Mia brushed the back of her hand across her perspiring forehead. “What?”
“You’re done, ma’am!” There was a peculiar note in the nurse’s voice. She sounded awed, but that couldn’t be right. Mia was obviously missing something important.
Mia looked around the triage area. The flood of wounded was now a trickle. “Oh! All right, then. We’ve done some good work.” She snapped off the latest pair of bloodied latex gloves and dropped them into the trash.
“Yes, Doctor. I was asked to tell you that you have a jeep waiting to take you home.”
“Thanks. I’ll be glad to go get a shower.” Mia glanced down at herself. Her once-pristine white coat was covered with blood. Under her clothes, she was sweaty. She probably smelled like a pig. Mia grimaced. She hoped she could get that shower before Aiden saw her. The condition she was in, even her new fairy godmother would have her work cut out for her.
The jeep whisked her back to Aiden’s quarters. Mia went in, almost dragging her feet. She wondered tiredly when the nice shiny boots had gotten so heavy. She saw a uniformed man sprawled on the sofa, and it wasn’t Aiden. He gracefully leaped to his feet. His unreadable dark gaze roved over her. He frowned.
Mia frowned back. He looked familiar.Oh yeah, the smart-mouth at the helicopter.“What areyoudoing here?” She was hot and tired and grumpy. She sounded unfriendly, and she didn’t care.
“You’ve got blood on your forehead.” He pointed at her head.
Mia thought that was really, really rude. He hadn’t told her his name. He hadn’t said why he was there. He hadfrownedat her.
She scraped with a fingernail at her forehead and felt dried scales flake off. She remembered that she had brushed the sweat off of her forehead before taking off the bloodied glove. “Yeah, well, I just got out of my laboratory. Frankenstein’s parts squirted.”
He kind of clamped his jaw. He didn’t look like he appreciated the joke.Okay then, no sense of humor.Mia’s temper fled south. He was rude, and she was too tired to summon up her company manners.I sure don’t intend to stand here, jawing at him.
“Look, I don’t see Aiden. So you”—she pointed at him, then at the door—“get out.”
He snapped a salute in kind of a snarky way. “Ma’am! I’ll just wait outside for the lieutenant.”
Mia nodded. “Fine! Do that!” She tromped into the bedroom and slammed the door shut. Her gaze fell on her own clothes, clean and neatly folded on the bed. Somehow, it made her sad. She had been a part of the movie all day. When she took off the dirty military getup, it would be like it was all over. Tears pricked her eyes. She liked being Dr. Mia Haven, awesome triage doctor.I don’t want to give up the silkyVictoria’s Secret lingerie, either.
Muttering to herself, Mia stripped off the military gear and just dropped everything on top of the discarded boots. Then she went into the bathroom to take a shower. Getting under the steamy spray and washing her hair, her mood perked up. After all, she was still in the movie. She was still with Aiden. So what if she had to put on her familiar, oh-so-not-sexy cotton bra and briefs? As long as he wanted to rip them off, she was good.
Mia stepped out of the humid bathroom, humming. A waft of damp air eddied along behind her. There was no one in the bedroom. Mia dropped the towel she had wrapped herself up in and got dressed in her civilian clothes. She didn’t put her sweater back on, though. It was too warm for anything more than her T-shirt paired with her jeans. She fluffed her damp hair with her fingers.
She heard sounds like someone was moving around in the living room. The bedroom door was shut, but she could hear the rumble of male voices on the other side. Mia recognized Aiden’s deep voice when it got a little louder, especially when he said her name.
“I’m not giving up Mia!”
Well, that was enough to snare her attention! Mia tiptoed to the door and laid her ear flat against it.
“Aiden, I know how you feel—”
“No, you don’t! I love her. She saved my life. Sheismy life!”
Mia grinned to herself.Ah, that is just so sweet!
Her smile slowly faded.But wait just a minute.Give me up? No way, no how.
Aiden had asked her to marry him. She couldn’t do that, of course. But until it was over, no one was going to screw with her fantastic fantasy!
Mia jerked the door open and stomped out of the bedroom. She could practically feel herself breathing out flames. She shot a glance around the living room. Aiden and the other solider stood staring at her, their mouths gaping open like they were in mid-flap.
Mia narrowed her eyes in a lethal stare.Yup, that snarky, rude, smart-mouth. The same one she had tossed out on his can. She pointed at the unknown man. “You! I knew you were trouble the first time I saw you!”
She marched over in her bare feet and planted herself in front of him. She had to look way up before her gaze tangled with his hooded brown eyes, but she tilted her head and gave him a glare that should have singed his eyebrows. “Where do you get off telling Aiden to give me up? Huh? Huh?” Mia poked him in the chest several times. It made her finger sore, but she didn’t care. “How would you like me to cut you a new one and forget to sew it up?”
“Mia! Hold on.” Large, familiar-feeling hands came down on her shoulders and pulled her back. She felt Aiden’s hard body standing behind her, and she turned into him. His clean, masculine scent filled her nose as she pressed in. His arms closed around her.
Mia’s face was practically mashed against him. Her voice came out muffled. “Who is this asshole? Break his arms, Aiden.” The warmth of his breath huffed over her hair. Against her cheek, she felt the rumble of laughter in his chest.
“Bloodthirsty little thing, isn’t she?” The smart-mouth sounded admiring.
Mia lifted her head and glared over her shoulder at him. “Shut up.”
Aiden let her go. He slung one arm over her shoulders. With his other hand, he waved at the other man. “Mia, meet my best friend, Caesar Thomas. He’s been watching my back since we were kids.”
“Well, Augustus, you can take your advice and slither on back toRome! Aiden ismyguy.” Mia crossed her arms over her chest. She saw his eyes drop to her breasts, which were pushed up rather nicely under her T-shirt. “Eyes up, soldier boy!”
He jerked his gaze back to her face. He glowered darkly at her. “My name is Caesar.”
“Right. That’s what I said. Augustus Caesar.” Mia saw that he and Aiden were both looking at her with the same I-don’t-get-it expression. She shook her head in disbelief. Military elite and they’d never heard of Augustus Caesar, one ofthegenerals of the ages? Even she knew that much! She waved her hands in the air. “You know, crossing the Rubicon? Et tu, Brute?”
Their puzzled expressions didn’t change.
Mia gave up. She was getting distracted from the point, anyway. “Never mind!You!Tell me why you want Aiden to break up with me. You don’t even know me!”
“Yeah, Caesar. Tell her why.” Aiden sounded challenging.
Caesar glared at him. “You know it isn’t a good idea.”
Mia looked at Aiden, but he didn’t glance down at her. He held his friend’s eyes with a dare-you stare. His chiseled jaw was rock-hard. But he spoke to her. “You’re a civilian, Mia, and I’m Special Ops. That’s enough reason. Right, Caesar?”
Caesar thrust out his own granite jaw. “You could go off on a mission and never come back. She’d be left alone. Youknowthat.”
Mia could see the stag horns rattling already. She held up her hands, tapping a time-out. She glared at Aiden’s friend. “Whoa, hold it! I’ve been alone. I don’t like it. Now I have Aiden. Whatever time we have together, I want it. Got it?”
Caesar eyed her for a minute. Then he smiled. “Yes, ma’am. I got it.” Mia decided he was actually pretty good-looking when he wasn’t scowling. He shifted his eyes away from her and nodded at Aiden. “I’ll see you round, Aiden.”
As soon as Caesar left, Aiden picked her up in his arms. He whirled her around and laughed. Mia was breathless when he set her down. She stared up at his grinning face. “What has gotten into you?”
“I’m so proud of you, Mia! You don’t back down for anyone! Caesar likes you, by the way.”
She just looked at him. She didn’t say so, but she was pretty skeptical. “Yeah? How can you tell?”
“Well, he didn’t kill you.”
Aiden said it so matter-of-factly. Mia wasn’t completely certain he was joking. “Ha-ha. Very funny. What are we going to do for the rest of the day?”
Aiden smiled real slowly. His large, warm hands slid up her arms, raising shivery goose bumps. “About what you said—”
Mia caught her breath. The heat in his electric blues almost scorched her. “Which was?”
He slid his fingers into the nape of her damp hair and pulled her head back. His eyes glittered down at her. “Let’s work on that time together.”
“Okay,” she whispered, just before his mouth crushed hers.
He picked her up and carried her into the bedroom, kicking the door shut with his boot. Then he had his wicked way with her. It wasn’t exactly PG-13.
Mia’s plain white cotton undies didn’t bother him.
It was barely dawn when Aiden wakened her. His arms were still wrapped around her. A warm hand squeezed one of her breasts like it was a ripe melon. The fingers of his other hand played wickedly between her thighs. She was still drowsy, but her body was already stirring. Mia said something witty. “Mmph.”
His thick, hot length slid into her from behind. Mia might have moaned. She wasn’t sure. The slow friction of his big rod was creating good sensations, the kind that made her body hum. With her eyes still closed, Mia reached back and grasped his undulating hip.
He picked up her top leg, grasping it behind the knee, and held it up in the air. His shaft thrust deeper inside her. Mia arched her back.Oh, hell yeah!He tightened his hold and began to move faster, harder. “God, I love your body,” he muttered into her ear.
“I kinda got that last night about the third or fourth orgasm,” Mia gasped. He was rocking her hard. Her breasts bounced. Flames started licking up quick-time through her body. She was a bonfire about to burn out of control. Aiden was masterfully fanning the conflagration.
“You’re going to come again, Mia! And so am I!”
She couldn’t argue with a plan like that. She exploded, the tremors of earthquake shaking her. The blaze consumed her. Through the intense rolling heat, Mia felt Aiden coming inside of her. This time, he hadn’t worn a condom. It didn’t seem to matter a whole lot.
It was a while before they managed to roll out of bed and get ready for the day. Mia discovered new, crisp, perfectly fitting military issue clothing in the closet in her size. She was already one contented, sexed-out woman. Finding out that she was still in the movie was a bonus. Her good spirits rose up even another increment when she found the new set ofVictoria’s Secret matching pink bra and panties. She didn’t even have to fight bedhead! Her hair behaved itself, not a frizz in sight.I love having magical movie-dust sprinkled over me!
After she gave Aiden a hot, tongue-in-the-throat, bone-crushing good-bye kiss, Mia cheerfully waved him off to do his soldier stuff. He looked like a stunned ox, and he was walking kind of funny. She giggled.Poor guy. Duty called.
The jeep driver, who had watched with interest the fervent good-bye kiss, grinned at her and winked when she climbed in the jeep. He whisked her off to the field hospital. “Have a good one, ma’am.”
“Thanks!” Mia smiled to herself as she strode inside the hospital. She felt happy and confident. She didn’t care anymore that she wasn’t a real doctor in real life. Here, in action-movie land, she seemed to have all of the training and skills she needed. She was looking forward to a good day.
After Mia’s shift at the field hospital, she was informed by her jeep driver that the general wanted to see her at headquarters after she’d had a chance to clean up.
When Mia got to headquarters, an aide escorted her to the general’s work area. She saw that Aiden was already there. Mia grinned at sight of him, but Aiden didn’t smile back. He looked pretty serious. So Mia rearranged her face to look serious, too. She didn’t put her hands on him or kiss him like she wanted to, either. She didn’t know what the military protocol was. She might get him into trouble with a public display of affection.Maybe we’d both get the firing squad, what do I know?
The aide asked Mia if she wanted a cup of coffee. After working in the field hospital all day, a shot of caffeine sounded good to her. “Okay.”
The general greeted Mia with a nod. There was a measure of approval in his expression when he looked at her. “I hear that you did quite a job yesterday, Dr. Haven. I’m grateful.”
Mia nodded. All day, she’d had a certain question burning inside of her, so she just blurted it out. “I’m curious, sir. Where did all of those wounded come from? Surely not just from here. It isn’t possible.”
The general rolled his unlit cigar between his teeth. “You’re right, ma’am. Our forces are fighting on more than one front. This base is a catchall.”
Mia thought that made as much sense as anything else. Actually, she reflected, it made a lot of sense, in a weird way.There were a lot of action and military-themed movies. The wounded and dead had to go somewhere offscreen. Mia wondered if she would see any casualties from the thrillers or spy flicks. The Queen’s man, 007, always racked up a few. She might even see Bond himself! Mia was majorly juiced. She really, really loved action movies! She grinned, feeling happy with her strange new world. “I feel right at home.”
“Much as we need someone like you on a permanent basis, Dr. Haven, you cannot remain here.”
Mia snapped back into the moment. She looked at the general. The general stared back, his face expressionless. His cigar didn’t even twitch. Suddenly, she was getting a really bad vibe. She shot a look at Aiden. He didn’t look very happy, and he kind of avoided her eyes.Uh-oh.Funny, isn’t it, how something great can be shit-canned in an instant? And you don’t even see it coming.“What? Why can’t I stay?”
The general shook his head. Mia thought she saw a glint of regret flash in his narrow stare, but his jaw was rock hard. “You worked at the civilian clinic.”
“Uh, okay.” Mia frowned.Civilian clinic?She could only suppose that the general was talking about the hospital. Therealhospital, in the real world. She was thinking hard, trying to find the logic. She guessed that she had to be explained some way in the movie. It all made a crazy kind of sense, when she thought about it.
The general gestured with his squared hand. “You work for that international aid outfit, right?”
Mia lifted the cup of coffee to her mouth. “Mmm.” She didn’t want to lie. She was a real person stuck in celluloid. She didn’t think the general would want to hear that.
The general didn’t seem to need her to say anything. “You will be missed. We can’t just have you disappear. It would cause all kinds of trouble.”
Yuh think?Mia almost rolled her eyes. Yeah, there would be trouble if she didn’t show back up in her life. Her apartment manager would miss getting the rent. He always got kind of pissy about little things like that. “I can see how it might, sir.”
“I don’t want an international incident.”
“Of course not, sir.” Mia snorted to herself. Like that was going to happen. The movie plot didn’t exactly revolve around her, now did it? Aiden wasn’t exactly a lead character, whileshewas just a few forgettable minutes on screen. Mia sighed over that unpalatable truth. She took another sip of coffee. It tasted bitter.
“I am glad you are taking this so well, Dr. Haven.”
“I think I always knew that my time here was limited, general.” Mia glanced over at Aiden. He had been silent the whole time. When he saw her looking at him, he gave her a sad half-smile. She felt a twinge somewhere in the vicinity of her heart. But there was a spurt of anger, too. She didn’t understand it. She didn’t have any reason to be angry at Aiden.He hasn’t said anything! Why doesn’t he say something?She buried the uncomfortable feeling.
The general rolled his unlit cigar some more. He looked at Aiden, and he swiveled his boxy head to look at Mia. There was a fierce look in his hard eyes. Then he shook his head. “All right, Smith! Let’s get back to work.”
The two men turned to bend over the table with the maps. While Mia sipped her coffee, she brooded darkly. It so wasn’t fair. She had found this gorgeous, wonderful hunk, and she couldn’t keep him. The script sucked.
After a while, she started paying attention to what the general and Aiden were talking about. Something about a missing spook. It sounded a whole lot more interesting than listening to her own whiny thoughts. They were debating about some of the details of the layout of the commandant’s fortress. Mia put in her two cents. “The barracks faces the west side of the courtyard. The munitions room is directly opposite the barracks.”
The general pivoted slowly. He stared at her with his fierce eyes. “You’ve been inside the compound?”
“Well, no.” She didn’t think it was a good idea to explain to them that she’d seen parts of the compound on a big movie screen. “But certain things I do know.”
Mia stepped up to the blueprint on the table. She looked at it for a minute, getting oriented in her mind. She nodded to herself, satisfied that she had it straight. She pointed. “Yeah, this is the commandant’s office. See this window? It overlooks the town. He stands there sometimes. The rest of that wing, the one with the sea view, is the private quarters of the commandant.” She made a face. “It’s where he takes his women. Sometimes you can hear their screams in the courtyard. And over here” —she ran her fingertip along another side of the blueprint—“There aren’t any windows on this side of the building. This must be where prisoners are held.”
“You can hear their screams.” Aiden repeated her words in a slow, heavy monotone.
Mia looked up to meet Aiden’s eyes. He was gazing at her with such a cold, controlled fury that it made shivers run up and down her spine. Mia carefully trimmed the truth. “The soldiers talk in the cantina. Sometimes the women are taken to the clinic—after.”
The general and Aiden exchanged an identical grim look. The general’s jaw worked, and his cigar jiggled wildly. He struck his hand flat against the table. The clap of sound made Mia jump. She spilled her coffee, but luckily, it had already cooled. She switched the cup to her other hand and dried her wet fingers on her pants.
“I want this son-of-a-bitch, bad! We’ll take the bastard out if the opportunity shows itself. Our number one priority is still to free our man, but our intel is too sketchy. We can’t go in on what we’ve got. We’ve already sustained too many losses.”
Aiden thoughtfully frowned down at the blueprint. “Sir, what we need is someone on the inside, someone who knows the layout of the compound and the routines of the guards.”
“Uh, I might be able to help you there.” Mia found herself again the target of two pairs of narrowed, sharp eyes. “Do you know of a man called Cadero?”
“Who is he?” The general’s voice was rough. He chomped furiously on his unlit cigar.
“He used to be one of the commandant’s lieutenants. He hates the commandant’s guts.”
“How do you know this Cadero can be trusted?”
Mia drew in her breath and gave them the movie backstory. She hoped she wasn’t messing up the movie by clueing them in. After all, this part was supposed to have taken place a long time before the military action had hit the screen. “Cadero questioned orders. Instead of having him killed, the commandant sent Cadero away for duty somewhere else. When Cadero returned, he found out the commandant had got hold of his sister. She hasn’t been seen since—at least, not by anyone I’m aware of—but it’s said she doesn’t walk now.”
The general’s face darkened, and the lines bracketing his mouth deepened. “What happened then?”
“Cadero went crazy, tried to attack the commandant. He was beaten up pretty bad then taken out in a boat and dumped overboard in the harbor. Somehow he made it back to shore. Some townspeople found him on the beach and hid him.”
“So Cadero is in hiding.” The general’s bushy eyebrows bristled in a ferocious frown. “Do you know where?”
Mia shook her head. “He has friends at the cantina. Not the soldiers, but others, like the bartender.”
“He might be the edge we need.” The general didn’t take long to think about it. He nodded decisively. “Find Cadero for me, Smith.”
“There’s just one more little thing you might want to know.” Mia looked at the general, then at Aiden, then back at the general. “Cadero is really, really mean, and really, really crazy.”
“Loose cannon.” The general’s voice was dispassionate. He shrugged. “We’ll have to watch him close, then.”
“Sir, I’ve also got another idea. Mia says the commandant has a habit of standing at the window of his office. What if we put a sniper in the church bell tower?” Aiden took his thumbnail and ran a trajectory line from point to point on the map of the town.
“Just on the chance of getting off a shot? Risky, but I like it.” The general gave an approving nod. He smiled, baring his teeth clenched around the cigar. “Good! I’ll give the order.” The general looked at Mia, and she swore that she could see regret in his hard eyes. “You’ve been a great help in your short stay with us, Dr. Haven. We will miss you. Smith will see that you get back to the clinic tonight.”
“Tonight?” Mia thought she could feel a part of her drop into her toes that had no business being there. It felt real heavy, and she thought it was bleeding.
“I think it will be best. That is all.” With a last look at Mia and Aiden, the general turned his back on them. His posture was stiff. Mia knew it would be of no use to argue.