“Jesus Christ,” Mustang muttered as he dove behind the overturned tank beside me, smoke and fire billowing from the burned-out hull, the acrid stench suffocating.
The rapid pop of automatic weapons came from every direction. This was nothing but a shitstorm.
“The fuckers knew the minute we arrived,” I snarled. The second I darted my head around the side, another spray of gunfire erupted. They’d come out of nowhere, the trap unlike anything any of us had experienced so far. But there was no doubt our unit had been set up.
“Where the hell are they coming from?” Reaper hissed as he rubbed sweat and dirt from his face. The sound of gunfire was deafening.
I shook my head, fighting to catch my breath. We’d been asked to check on the location, never expecting a fucking setup. Some asshole in our company either hadn’t done his job or our unit had been betrayed.
“We’re getting out of here,” Hawk yelled. “It’s too hot.”
“Hot ain’t the word for it,” Vader snapped. “He’s right. We’re sitting ducks where we are.”
As a flash caught my eye, I reacted automatically, firing off several shots, the bullets catching three of the insurgents at close range. The force pitched them back by several feet, but I kept firing, anger tearing through me. As blood sprayed from two of the three men, I watched as if in slow motion as they tumbled to the dirt. There were dozens more where they came from.
A lone enemy soldier burst through the smoky haze, his weapon pointed at Vader. I didn’t hesitate, my training taking over. The three shots issued weren’t enough for me. It would never be enough.
“Thanks, buddy,” Vader breathed.
“Goddamn it. The asshole almost had us. There are more of them behind that building. I’m going to chop them into pieces.” Scorpion shook his head. “You coming with me, bud?” He grinned as he glanced in my direction. The two of us were thrill chasers, refusing to back down no matter what we were forced to face.
“Get back to the chopper,” Hawk commanded. “Now!”
“Party pooper,” Vader said as he laughed. We all knew the score. This was one fight we couldn’t win.
When another flash drew my attention, I blinked several times, uncertain what the hell I was seeing. “Whoa.” Was that a kid? There was no way. The entire area had been ravaged by warfare. No one could survive out here.
Scorpion pushed my arm. “Let’s go.”
“There’s someone out there.”
Another round of gunfire drowned out my words, but my gut told me I was right. I inched forward, scanning the area. The smoke cleared just enough and when I squinted, I knew I was right. It was a goddamn young girl. Oh, hell, no.
“Come on, Snake. Hawk’s right,” Mustang screeched over the din of firepower, immediately trailing after the others.
“I’ll be right there.” I couldn’t allow an innocent girl to be caught in the crossfire. Without thinking, I took off running.
“Get back here!”
I heard Hawk’s voice, but nothing would prevent me from saving her life.
Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!
Gasping, I jerked up, thrashing my arms. I was suffocating, unable to focus. I pitched forward, dropping onto something hard.
I scrambled backwards, trying to find my weapon, my heart thudding to the point all I could hear were echoes. They were everywhere. Oh, God. The girl. She…
As I sensed a warm presence, rage tore through me. Kill. Kill…
Then I felt wetness against my face. What the…
I closed my eyes briefly, trying to control my breathing. When I opened them again, I stared into the most beautiful brown eyes. “Apollo,” I whispered then wrapped my arm around his neck. “It’s you, buddy.” My God. I’d been ready to kill my dog. Blinking, it took a few seconds before I could focus. Then I realized I wasn’t in the desert any longer. There was no war to fight, no bloodbath to endure.
Other than the one inside of me.
Half laughing, I leaned my head against the side of the bed, ravaging despair tearing through me. I’d thrown myself to the floor because of the terrifying nightmare. “Third one this week, buddy. They’re getting worse.” I was covered in sweat, every muscle aching. Especially my leg. I rubbed it for a few seconds, grousing over every aspect of my life.
Apollo sat down on his haunches, his tail thwapping against the hardwood floor.
“Don’t look at me that way,” I grumbled and struggled to stand. As a jabbing pain slammed down the length of my leg, I fell onto the bed face down. I fisted the covers, pushing my way to a sitting position. I refused to be a goddamn invalid. I’d ignored the pain this long. I could keep doing so indefinitely. “Besides, I could end up hurting you.” My violent tendencies were also getting worse, my anger a restless beast clawing at my skin on a constant basis. I glared at the cane, refusing to use it. The idiots from the hospital had told me I’d never walk again. I’d proven them wrong.
Purposely ignoring the heart-pounding throb, I lumbered toward the bathroom, the pain and stiffness stealing my breath.
For some crazy reason, my beautiful baby boy had never lost patience with me, and I was thankful he remained by my side. Even when I acted like a dickhead, which was happening more frequently. I wouldn’t give a shit about anything if I didn’t have him. Exhaling, I forced myself to stand, my muscles stiffer than usual. I needed a huge mug of coffee.
No, what I needed was a shot of bourbon. What the hell. I’d have both. It was the best way to start another day in paradise. Half laughing, I managed to throw on a tee shirt and stumble into the bathroom, turning on the water. After dousing my face, I grabbed the toothbrush, piling on too much toothpaste. Then I made the mistake of glancing in the mirror.
I no longer recognized the man staring back at me.
I rolled the bristles across my teeth as I narrowed my eyes, finally touching the ragged scars I’d been left with.
“You’re lucky to be alive,” I’d been told by at least a dozen people.
“You should be thankful you made it back home,” another four or five had told me.
“You have your whole life ahead of you.” Even my father had told me that. The problem was I had no idea what that life entailed. How many times had I shoved a pistol into my mouth? I wasn’t scared of dying. In fact, I relished the thought. I just didn’t want to leave Apollo alone after everything he’d been through.
After spitting and rinsing, I grabbed a towel, wiping my face. “Who the hell are you?” It was funny how my reflection never answered.
Chuckling, I raked my hands through my hair then headed to the kitchen, popping a pod into the Keurig machine. “You hungry, boy?”
He cocked his head as he always did when he thought I was being stupid. I grabbed his bowl, filling it with food then putting it on the floor. He woofed in appreciation before dropping his head into the bowl. At least I could make someone happy. After adding milk to my coffee, I debated the bourbon. What the fuck? I had nothing to do today.
Like every other day.
After pouring a hefty amount, I inhaled the aroma before taking a gulp, and almost felt like a human being again. Then I stared at the inside of my cabin, the place needing a lot of work, which I’d promised myself I’d do a dozen times in the months since my return. There always seemed to be an excuse to push off doing anything until the next day. Then the next. I was lucky to have the place, cheap enough I could afford it off disability.
Get a job.
That’s what my father would tell me the next time he called. Maybe I wasn’t ready. No, I preferred staying behind closed doors, refusing to go outside unless it was necessary. If it wasn’t for the few horses I owned, I likely never would. I took another sip, feeling pretty good for the first time in a couple of days. Maybe I’d venture out to go on a horseback ride today.
What else? Is that all you’re going to do for the rest of your life?
Fuck the inner voice. I was content for the moment, something new and different.
Then my peace was interrupted by a knock on the door. What the hell? If it was some idiot trying to sell me something, they’d get my full wrath.
Apollo went nuts, barking up a storm as he raced toward the sound.
Grunting, I took another swig of coffee, hoping whoever it was would just go away. After a few seconds, that’s exactly what I thought had happened.
Until the asshole pounded on the door a second time.
I slammed the mug on the counter, not caring liquid had sloshed over the side. As I took long strides, I prepared myself to give the intruder a raft of shit. The moment I flung open the door, Apollo jumped up just like a good boy, almost knocking over the idiot who had the misfortune of knocking on the door. The poor soul had no idea they’d be entering into a lion’s den.
“Hey there, boy. You’re a cutie pie. Oh, yes, look at you.”
Wait a minute. It was a woman’s voice, the soft lilt sending a shower of electricity right through me. That hadn’t happened in a very long time. Still, I didn’t want whatever she was selling, no matter what she looked like.
“Down, boy. Get over here, Apollo,” I barked, my tone gruff intentionally. “You have the wrong house, lady.” He was far too enamored with her, his tail swirling in a perfect circle.
“I assure you that I’m no lady and I’m never wrong about where I am or the reason why.”
There was an edge to her voice and I’d yet to meet her. It usually took people at least fifteen minutes before they expressed their hatred for me. I was filled with dark amusement at my inability to come back with a biting comment.
That also never happened.
I could barely see her, but it was obvious Apollo was happy. He never reacted that way to strangers. The visitor bent over, patting him on the head, making cooing noises. Her attention to my pup wasn’t going to do her any good. I was still ready to launch into her for invading my privacy without being invited.
Until she stood and I was peering into the most gorgeous set of green eyes I’d ever seen, the dim light unable to shadow how large and luminescent they were. I was momentarily paralyzed, trying to figure out something to say. Another shot of electricity soared through every muscle going straight to my cock. I’d never had this kind of reaction around any woman. She was so gorgeous I turned my face away, hiding the ugliness of what I’d become. My breathing was more rapid than usual, anger sweeping through me, but it had nothing to do with the fact she’d dropped on my doorstep.
I hated myself.
However, there was no denying I was one horny man, my cock aching from the sight of her voluptuous body alone. I had mental images of all the nasty things I wanted to do to her.
Peeling away her tight blue jeans, revealing the luscious prize underneath.
Feasting on her swollen pussy lips, licking her furiously until her sweet juice covered my tongue.
Only after she came in my mouth would I fuck her like the savage man I’d turned into.
Jesus. I had to get my head out of my ass. I shouldn’t be thinking about fucking her, but she had wide eyes of innocence that begged for corruption by one big, gruff Marine.
She coughed on purpose, forcing me to glance in her direction once again. “Excuse me. The clock is ticking.”
“Whatever you want, I’m not interested. You’re gonna need to leave,” I told her.
“You’re not a very nice man, are you?” I’ll be damned if she didn’t take a step forward. There was a formidable quality about her that was appealing, even if her haughty attitude was off-putting. Still, nothing a good roll in the hay wouldn’t cure.
“Nope. Just do yourself a favor and get out now.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that.” She punctuated the six words with a sharpness that I hadn’t heard since being in the service.
And I didn’t like it one bit.
Who did she think she was, coming into my place with an attitude?
“Why the hell not?” Christ. I sounded like an impetuous child.
Dressed in faded blue jeans and a tight red tee shirt, the thick leather bomber jacket she wore was the same color as her cowboy boots. In her arms was some kind of rubbery roll, her eyes piercing through mine holding more than just a hint of frustration.
“Because this is exactly where I’m supposed to be. Are you Corporal Ricardo Garcia?” she asked dryly as she closed the door behind her, determined to come into my space. Who the hell did she think she was?
“I was. I’m not that man any longer. And you are?” Let me guess. The hospital had sent some two-bit shrink to tell me that I needed counseling on a regular basis. Fuck that. I’d get through this like I had everything else in my life as of late. Alone.
Stop feeling sorry for yourself, you asshole.
“I’m Nurse Garrington. However, you can call me your savior.” She dropped the roll onto one of the chairs then immediately removed her jacket, allowing me to see the full degree of her hourglass figure, her aroused nipples poking through the thin fabric making my mouth water.
The dim light couldn’t hide her stunning features, my pulse continuing to increase. I had difficulty taking my eyes off her breasts, my cock pressing hard against my jeans. She cocked her head, obviously realizing all the filthy thoughts that were running through my mind. As she breathed in and out, I took a few seconds to appreciate the lushness of her mouth. Her lips were soft and rosy, far too tempting to devour. No matter who she was. That wouldn’t be in my best interest.
“Ain’t no one going to be my savior.”
“Well, that’s going to depend on you, Corporal.” She glanced around the room then purposefully walked toward the double window behind the couch, opening the blinds.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Wincing, I purposely turned away squinting, fighting the rage that was swirling to the surface.
“We need more light, Corporal.” Her answer was matter of fact and it was apparent she couldn’t care less about my personal space.
“Don’t call me corporal. That was a freaking lifetime ago.”
“Then pray tell, what do I call you? Mr. Grumpy works for me.”
“Excuse me?” She’d just challenged me? I tensed all over again, cocking my head to keep from spewing words I might regret.
“Would you prefer Angry Beast?”
My God, the gall of the woman. I had no comeback. Again. Shaking my head, I looked away.
“Hmm… The nickname suits you. Slithering here and there.” Her eyes opening wide, she sighed and shook her head. I watched in fascination as a warm flush crept along her jaw, slowly trickling up both cheeks. When she spoke again, the tone was less acidic. “That was shitty of me, and I apologize.”
I’d already gotten under her skin. Good. Maybe she’d hightail it out of my place.
“It’s my call sign, but you wouldn’t know anything about what goes on in the military,” I huffed, allowing the irritation I felt to come across loud and clear. Of the four shrinks I’d seen for maybe a day and a half, only one had any knowledge of horrors inflicted during times of war. I could tell she was no different, a precious princess who’d taken up a cause to make herself feel useful in life.
“Why is that?” Her arrogant defiance had returned.
“Because you haven’t spent a single day in the military, facing dangerous situations before breakfast every day.”
She said nothing, which meant I was right.
I took a single step closer, instantly blown away by her light fragrance, the hint of citrus and something intoxicatingly floral assaulting my senses. “Yeah, you heard me. There were times that I couldn’t stomach eating the crap food we were supplied. The stench was just too ripe. And of course, seeing the images of men ripped to pieces, their intestines hanging out wasn’t appetizing either.”
She glared at me dryly, obviously figuring out what I was trying to do. Then her expression cooled, a slight sparkle appearing in her eyes.
“I’ll give you an A for effort, Snake, but I don’t have a weak stomach or thin skin. It doesn’t matter what you say to me or how you try and run me off. I’m. Not. Leaving.”
Goddamn, the woman was tenacious.
Look at her nipples. They’re hard as little pebbles. Why don’t you go over to her and rip off that tight little tee shirt she has on?
Hissing, I turned my head, restraining the beast inside of me.
“What the hell are you doing here and just who are you? I ain’t sick.”
“If you’re looking for my qualifications, I’m a licensed registered nurse with a degree in physical therapy. If you want to be technical, I’m a few courses shy of getting my psychology degree.” She dared to walk closer, her eyes never leaving mine, the bite in her voice a reminder the woman was full of venom.
Apollo whined, wagging his tail as if enjoying every moment of our caustic banter. Well, the pup better get prepared. Things were about to get heated. “I don’t need a shrink, lady. So just go back the way you came.”
“Let’s see,” she said as she crowded my space, tapping her long manicured nail against her lips, which of course forced me to stare at them longingly.
I huffed in response.
“What do I know? I know you are a highly decorated Marine who served in Afghanistan. I know you were captured and held for several months, burned in a horrific fire. When you were finally rescued, you had no memory and the wrong dog tags plastered around your neck. You remained in a hospital overseas for months of recovery, which unfortunately didn’t include regaining your memory of the incident or of your true identity. Only after a United States senator made it her mission to track down what happened to you was it discovered that you’d been listed as missing in action then deceased, finally returning to your hometown a hero. How am I doing so far?”
My God, the audacity of the woman hadn’t just gotten under my skin. Her attitude had just pushed my last ounce of patience.
“You know jack shit.”
She threw out her arm. “Allow me to continue.” Now the little woman stood within a few inches of me. When she placed her hands on her hips, I couldn’t help gazing down the length of her luscious body one more time, the earlier filthy thoughts bordering on vile. I wanted to strip away her clothing, revealing the prize underneath. Then I wanted to drive my cock so deep inside her sweet little pussy she screamed out my name. The sinful thoughts forced my cock to twitch, an ache developing.
“What I just spouted off could be read in any military file. But here’s what else I know about you, Corporal Garcia. You’re rude, arrogant, insufferable, and selfish. You think just because you were wounded serving your country that you get a pass, allowing you to be an asshole and an introvert. You missed two appointments with me. Two!” She accentuated her terse words by holding up two fingers, shoving them in my face. “But that was only after you tossed aside two other very qualified physical therapists who subsequently refused to work with you. They called you difficult, impossible, and not worth their time.”
“Then why did you bother?”
“Because I’m not a quitter. Because everyone who sacrificed themselves to protect our country deserves to have the best life they can.”
Her glare continued and I shifted my gaze down her long, shapely legs, forced to swallow given all the lurid thoughts running through my mind. It took everything I had to remain in control.
“However, in my book your behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. I spent years in school, working two jobs while studying, volunteering to go overseas to help wounded soldiers. As far as your comment about seeing a warzone, you’re wrong again.”
“Oh, yeah? Let me guess, you took a tour of a facility overseas, which had been cleaned of the blood and gore before you got there.”
I knew I was pushing all the buttons, but I was beginning to enjoy toying with her, seeing what she was made of.
She rubbed her chin, glancing off for a few seconds before answering. “Oh, no. I was there for almost two years. Let’s see. While serving in the same war you did, I was shot, almost killed twice, and thought I would never make it home. You see, our medical station was bombed, three of the best people I’d ever known blown to bits like you said in front of my eyes.”
When moisture slipped into her lovely eyes, I’d never felt so much like a shit in my life. I wanted to say I was sorry, but I couldn’t piece the words together.
“Not that you’ll care in the least, but I spent some time in a hospital myself. But I had the determination and strength to make it back home so I could resume my life. So, here’s how we’re going to play it, Corporal Garcia. I’m going to lead you through these exercises, and I’m not leaving until I do. I’m going to help you get better.”
Her words hung in the air, crushing in on me like a tight vise. And my cock just got harder, my mind whirling around grabbing her by the arm, dragging her over my knee for her insolence. This was my home. Mine.
But dear God, I wanted her so badly I could barely think straight.
My breathing ragged, I was flabbergasted and couldn’t put three words together that would make sense. No one had talked to me like that since I left the military. At least not unless they wanted a hard kick in the teeth.
When I didn’t say anything, she took two long strides, grabbing the mat then making herself right at home by shoving aside the coffee table.
“Do you always treat your patients this way?” I managed. I remained shocked at my initial reaction to her. My cock hardening, my blood pumping, and my fingers itching to wrap around her long, dark curls just before I yanked her closer. It had been disturbing, visceral, and had immediately put me on the defensive. That normally pushed people away. Not her. Now, as she tossed me a look over her shoulder, I made a promise to myself that the feisty woman would belong to me in every way.
“Only when their wit and charm threaten to bowl me over.” She glowered at me then looked away, as if dismissing me.
I fisted my hand, flabbergasted that she’d managed to silent the angry asshole inside of me.
“I suggest you get into some comfy clothes, Corporal. I need you as flexible as possible. Then we are going to work and work hard. I’m going to do things to your body that will make you cry like a baby. But when I’m finished with you, you’re going to scream out in satisfaction.”
Lady, you have no idea what you just did. I’m going to tie you down and fuck your brains out. But only after I feast on your pussy.
I almost said the words out loud. Fuck. She was a tiny thing against my six-foot three-inch frame. I could crush her with a single hand, yet she had no issue challenging me.
“I’m waiting and in case you haven’t figured it out, my time is valuable. Get moving,” she said harshly.
I had become insufferable. At least that’s what my buddies who’d served alongside me said. What the hell did I care? However, the woman standing in front of me had a viperous tongue to rival her beautiful exterior. That told me she had a deadly poison swirling in that gorgeous body of hers, ready to strike at any given chance.
She glared at me with those sultry eyes of hers and I gritted my teeth.
Then she pointed toward the hallway. “Now!”
While a part of me wanted to toss her out the door after giving her one of my usual nasty retorts, what I actually did surprised the fuck out of me.
I headed toward the bedroom to change.
Oh, my God. What had I actually agreed to?
As soon as I’d walked into the brute’s ranch, I’d been swept away by Corporal Garcia’s good looks. His large frame was in near perfect muscular shape, which I hadn’t anticipated given his time out of the military and his lack of interest in any physical therapy. From my standpoint, his chiseled facial features had been sculpted by a god. I was happy that my expectations had been shattered.
Then he’d opened his mouth and the extreme, yet inappropriate feeling of attraction had burst into flames, crumbling to ash within seconds. Men had a distinct way of crushing all the sinful thoughts women had by simply opening their mouths.
He’d not only acted like a bully, he’d also patronized me with his words and his gestures. That never boded well for my brusque personality. Perhaps I’d been too hard on him, but at this point, I’d already lost my patience. Snake wanted me to crumble, running away with my tail between my legs, which I refused to do.
The man was all fire and brimstone, pushing every one of my boundaries. The fact he smelled like sandalwood and a heavy spritz of citrus had pulled me into a strange vacuum. The last time a man had rendered me speechless for more than ten seconds was the single date I’d experienced in high school. Chuckie Boy’s idea of a date had been to drive me to the outdoor stadium, trying to get into my pants near the fifty-yard line. Kicking him in the balls hadn’t been my finest moment, but during the next few years, I’d thought of the incident fondly during difficult times.
I took several deep breaths, trying to control my nerves and my heavy breathing. Thank God I hadn’t started perspiring in front of the man. That would have given him ammunition to continue treating me like shit. I’d been warned about him by four professionals who’d told me there was no way he could be rehabilitated. I’d laughed. Now I knew why.
As the pup whined, I glanced down at him. “Why is your daddy so pigheaded?”
Apollo lowered his head, lifting a single paw into the air.
Snake was without a doubt the most difficult patient I’d ever attempted to work with, and we’d just met. He was also the most gorgeous man I’d ever laid eyes on. I was breathless, very naughty girl images floating in the back of my mind. Maybe because I’d studied his picture more than once before deciding to accept the tough task. He had scars on his face, but from what I’d read, he thought they made him look like a monster when in fact, the burn treatments and subsequent plastic surgery he’d received at a hospital in Germany had been incredible.
He was the epitome of tall, dark, and dreamy, his blue eyes like the clearest part of the Caribbean Sea. I would have become mesmerized by them, lured into my naughty girl thoughts if I hadn’t seen the anger and venom that came from deep inside. Still, he was the kind of man fantasies were made of. Muscular in all the right places, he had the physique to tackle the limp over time.
If he had the drive to do so, which by all accounts didn’t exist.
Whatever he’d gone through had changed his personality. Maybe at least I could fix his body.
Shuddering, I placed the mat on the floor, trying to determine which exercises I’d start with. I had no doubt he’d fight me whatever I decided. To hell with him. I was a professional. He wasn’t going to treat me like anything else. As I smoothed down the rubber, my mind continuously wandered to thoughts I shouldn’t be having. There’d been an instant spark between us, but he was so irritating. I’d obviously been single for far too long.
I almost laughed. I hadn’t engaged in any adult activity in three years, maybe more. Unless my collection of vibrators counted. The moment I stood, I sensed his presence, the crackle of electricity sizzling sections of skin.
After swallowing, I lifted my head, making certain I wore the same stern expression as before. He stood in the doorway, his eyes open wide. He’d changed into shorts, allowing me to see just how gorgeous and muscular his long legs truly were. He’d been doing something to keep them from atrophying. And the colorful tattoos on his arms drew my attention as well. They were intricate in design, but some of them were reminders of his violent nature.
When he didn’t come any closer, I pointed to the mat. “Come here. Let’s get started.”
He walked toward me with a slow and deliberate gait, acting like the same holier than thou self as before. This was going to challenge every ounce of professionalism.
“What do you want, sweetheart?” Mr. Grumpy asked.
Sweetheart. The man had just plucked my last nerve.
The question was also loaded, his tone exacerbating the slight fake southern drawl he’d used. I chose to ignore his sexual banter. I doubted it would be his last.
“Get down on your back. We’re going to do some stretching exercises. I suggest you get yourself a similar mat to make this easier when you exercise on your own. You’ll need to stretch several times a day.”
“That’s not going to happen.”
“Oh, yes, it will.”
Even if I have to hogtie you in order to make that happen.
“You’re a pain in the ass.”
“So I’ve been told.” The man’s stubbornness defied all comprehension. “Do you not want to get better? Are you happy being the big grump, refusing to come out of your house?”
“Yeah, maybe I am.”
“Unbelievable,” I muttered. How many buttons was he planning on pushing?
“Lady. You can leave if you don’t like it.”
What an asshole. The upturned corners of his lips told me in no uncertain terms he was enjoying every minute of this.
I pointed to the mat, keeping a stern schoolteacher expression on my face.
Snorting, he kept his hard glare for a few seconds before doing what I asked. The moment he laid down, my eyes fell to the thick bulge between his legs. Shit. He was still fully aroused.
Get your mind out of the gutter. He’s a patient. There are rules.
To hell with the rules.
I bit my lower lip to keep from laughing then dropped down onto my knees next to him. At least his nastiness would keep me from doing anything stupid. “Take a deep breath. It’s important you breathe as you exercise. I’m going to lift your uninjured leg to test your extension abilities.”
“Talk English, nurse. Some of us are idiots.”
“I need to test your abilities to know how to provide the best care. You’re not an idiot, Snake. In fact, you have a genius IQ. You were trained in some of the most dangerous work in the Marines, which means your skills could allow you to do anything you wanted.” Shit. Why had I spouted that off to him?
“In other words, why am I wasting my life away doing nothing. Right? You’re just a shrink in disguise. To hell with that.”
“You’re also an arrogant pain in the ass with a God complex. You refuse to care about anybody other than yourself, which is going to leave you old and lonely. And quite frankly? From what I’ve seen, that’s exactly what you deserve.” A single bead of perspiration dared to slip down my temple, which of course he noticed, grinning like some delinquent kid in a candy store ready to tear the place apart. But it was obvious he didn’t respond to compliments. I had no problem dishing out exactly what he was looking for as long as it made him angry enough to show off. I jerked my hands away, chastising my behavior.
“Do I make you nervous, sweetheart?”
“Crocodiles make me nervous, Corporal. Wolves in heat make me nervous. You just piss me off.” My frustration was growing. If I could hear it in my voice, so could he. It was providing far too much satisfaction for him.
At least my snarky comments garnered me a natural grin. “I assure you that I have sharp teeth, Ms. Garrington, and I ain’t doing this.”
When he dared to try to get up a second time, I planted my palm on his chest, straddling his legs. “You will not fight me or so help me God, I will make you suffer.”
For the first time, a full smile crossed his face, his eyes twinkling. “I’d like to see you try, lady.” In a flash, he rolled me over, straddling me, his muscular thighs pressing against my hips. When he yanked my arms over my head, a moment of sheer terror roared into my system, a single vision almost creating panic.
But I managed to stop it, grasping that even as difficult as Corporal Garcia intended on being, he wasn’t a monster.
Just a man suffering from PTSD.
And a jerk determined to throw me off my game.
“Get your hands off me,” I hissed, although there was no conviction in my voice. From this vantage point, I was able to bask in his glorious body, drinking in his musky essence. The citrusy scent was traveling far too deep into my system, exciting every nerve ending.
Bad girl. He’s a patient.
I closed my eyes, turning my head.
“Look at me,” he growled.
His command sparked something inside of me, an intense need so compelling that I obeyed him instantly.
“When you’re in my house, you will follow my rules.” His words were thrilling, which shocked me more than I could rationalize and as he lowered his head, my breath skipped several beats. I could swear the man was going to kiss me.
And I wanted him to devour my lips as aggressively as he was espousing his anger.
Do not do that.
Swallowing, I tried everything I could to control my breathing, but it was no use. My mind and body revolted at the same time, bumping my hips up, gaining enough leverage I was able to toss a leg over his. Seconds later, I managed to hoist him over onto his back.
He was shocked, his expression full of anger at first. Then he grinned like a mischievous child, allowing his heated gaze to fall to my breasts as he licked his lips. “A fighter, eh? You’ve met your match.”
“I don’t think so.” I pushed his arms out to the side, gasping for air as my long hair splayed across his face and chest. He smelled of testosterone and desire, a dangerous combination.
“Be careful, naughty little nurse.”
Was he threatening me? No, he was just trying to break my resolve.
He dragged his tongue across his lips for emphasis, even issuing a husky, guttural sound.
“Hmmm… So, you like challenges. Then work with me. Use that anger you have bottled up inside and fight me. Show me you’re better than me.” I continued glaring down at him when my body was starting to betray me, my nipples aching from desire, my panties damp.
“Give it your best shot, nurse.”
“It’s Chasity.” I had no business telling him, yet it felt right or important for him to know.
Why did you tell him your first name?
“Chasity,” he repeated, his tone much softer than before. “It suits you.” But his gaze continued to be full of fire and need, which confused me as much as the hunger lingering in my core.
Seconds passed and I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe.
“Why is that?” I finally rolled off, gently bending his knee. It was the only tender gesture he was going to get today. I expected a snarly return.
“Because it’s beautiful like you are.”
Were the words said honestly or was this some new game?
I was so shocked, I stopped in mid-action and the feel of heat rising on my cheeks embarrassed me so badly I almost walked away. Then I firmed up my grip, said nothing, and started the therapy session. He wasn’t going to get to me, no matter how insanely gorgeous he was.
As I pressed his leg back at an awkward angle, I darted my look into his eyes. He was doing everything he could to hide the pain.
Snake gritted his teeth, slamming his fist against the floor.
“You’re doing great,” I told him, moving to the other leg and repeating the exercise.
“I can’t do this shit.”
“Yes, you can.”
“You’re a pushy bitch.”
Laughing, I lifted my eyebrows. “You have no idea. My brothers thought I was just a little girl. They soon learned I could best them at almost everything.”
“Oh, yeah?” The way his hooded eyes gazed at me left no room for imagination. His thoughts were entirely inappropriate.
So were mine.
I’d never been so drawn to a man, craving his touch.
Stop it. He needs your help.
My little voice was right, but the swell of longing continued to fight with my rational mind.
I shifted his leg out to the side, pressing down, which forced me to crawl closer to his heated body. “Yes. I’m never going to let any man best me.”
I wasn’t certain why I made the proclamation, other than to warn him that I had no intentions of getting involved.
“Be careful, Chasity. Issuing a challenge of this nature to a man like me might not be in your best interest.”
“I’m always careful but I also get exactly what I need.” I managed to maneuver through a few additional stretches, but I could easily tell he wasn’t pushing himself at all, allowing me to do all the work.
“Yup,” I retorted, then I’d had enough with his brazen attitude. I shifted the maneuver, stretching the muscles of his damaged leg in a different direction.
His reflexes reacted instantly, jerking his body so that I was pitched against him, our lips only a few centimeters apart. His reaction was more chivalrous than I’d thought him capable of, wrapping his arm around me to keep me from tumbling off.
Then he narrowed his eyes, his breathing becoming more ragged than before.
I was stunned how insanely intoxicating his scent was as it filtered straight into my core. I was suddenly hot all over. Swallowing, I dragged my tongue across my dry lips, the feel of his taut body against mine igniting something deep within.
“Be careful there, little Chasity. I don’t want you to hurt yourself.” The sound of his husky voice penetrated every cell and synapse in my body, rendering me virtually useless for a few seconds.
“I… Um…” His lips were soft and moist, the kind meant for kissing at all hours of the day, sucking on well into the night.
Girl, you need to check your libido.
The attraction to him was wild and uninhibited, just like the man. I was lightheaded, still unable to control my breathing.
“What’s wrong, cowgirl? Cat got your tongue?”
That did it, his usual foot in mouth approach breaking the wanton moment. Perhaps it was for the best. Perhaps? Oh, God. I’d fallen down some crazy abyss.
When I scrambled off him, crawling backward by a few feet, he eased his arms behind his head, gazing at me with a twinkle in his eyes. “I’ll repeat my earlier question. Do I make you nervous, sweet thing?”
“Nervous? You? Not a chance, buster.” I rose to my knees, yanking fallen strands of hair behind my ear. He was watching my every move like a hawk, the twinkle in his eyes yanking on the vixen inside of me.
“I’ll offer you a single warning. When I crawl under your skin, which I will enjoy doing, you might be surprised how much you find me irresistible.”
There was no reason for me to shiver at his words, but I did. Although the attraction between us was strong, I couldn’t afford to allow the desires I’d thought long dead to be brought to the surface.
I couldn’t risk that again. I wouldn’t.
That’s the promise I’d made to myself.
Don’t think about it. Let it go. He can’t hurt you unless you allow him.
I wasn’t that girl any longer. I was stronger. And I was very much alive.
“Just wait, my little pet. Our time together isn’t over. I will come for you again.”