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Hawk: A Rough Romance by Piper Stone – Serialization (Part One)

Prologue

Brothers in arms.

Soldiers.

Cowboys and Marines.

We’d been called so many things.

Heroes. Monsters. Sinners and saints.

Above all we were men honoring our country even while our pasts continued to haunt us.

Some said we could never return, that we were damaged beyond redemption.

Others would stop at nothing to prevent us from doing so.

But we were determined to protect those we loved.

Six men determined to right the wrongs from our past.

Six men prepared to do what it took.

No matter the cost.

Then…

Chapter One

Hawk

“Watch out!” I bellowed as I dragged Vader toward the helicopter. “We have to get the fuck out of here!” The whirl of the blades pounded into my ears, the sand and dirt suffocating. As the other men of the expeditionary unit jumped inside the bird, Vader refused to let go of my arm, even as blood seeped through his uniform.

“We can’t leave him out there!” he exclaimed, gasping for breath.

“Get the fuck inside.” I pushed him into the arms of my best buddy, giving Mustang a hard glare. “Get him on board.”

“Where the fuck you going?” Mustang hissed. “We need to get the hell out of here.”

“I’m not leaving without Snake.” The rapid popping of continuous gunfire was getting closer. My gut churned, my heart aching.

“Then we’ll all fucking die!” Mustang snapped.

Smack!

The sound yanked me out of the wretched vision, the noise forcing me to reach for my gun as I took several deep breaths. My entire body was tense, my mind having already planned out the kill zone within the small space, as well as the two escape routes. Front and back door. I knew exactly how many steps it would take to reach the truck, how many rounds needed in order to eliminate the enemy.

“Get down,” I yelled as I yanked the controls, lifting the bird into the air. The ground was suddenly filled with at least a hundred enemy soldiers, every one of them pointing their AK-47s into the air. I swung the helicopter to the right, banking hard as I tried to accelerate, forced to fly through a spray of bullets.

Swallowing, I inhaled deeply as my mind cleared, the reality of where I was finally sinking in.

There were no outward enemies, no assholes prepared to shoot to kill.

Only a group of ranchers trying to purchase needed supplies.

Fuck me.

Hissing, I eased my hand away from my gun, still scanning the perimeter.

The poor dude behind the counter was petrified, paling to the shade of a ghost. I took another deep breath, remembering that I was back in the States, no longer on the front lines.

The clerk swallowed as his shaking hand reached for my first item even as I felt a presence drawing close. “Just some idiot dropping a box,” he managed, darting a look around me. There was a second distinct expression on his face.

One of dislike.

That’s when I heard the voice.

“I need to talk to you, Sergeant Travers. You will not continue avoiding me. That is unless you just don’t give a shit,” the voice said from behind me. “Start rolling the camera, Jerry.”

Talk.

Cameras.

The last thing I wanted to do after two days on a plane was talk to anyone, including the owner of the sexiest female voice I’d heard in a hell of a long time.

Huffing, I ignored the comment, reaching for my wallet. I also wasn’t in the mood to have my picture taken. My buddies remained on foreign soil, fighting to keep the peace.

“So, you don’t give a shit about your brother. Fantastic,” she continued. “What the hell is wrong with people in this town?”

The statement didn’t just sting. The words cut into my gut like a razor-sharp knife, causing guilt to wrap around my throat. Exhaling, I placed the remaining items I’d selected onto the counter, including the bottle of bourbon. I had a feeling I would need more than a single drink tonight, especially after the less than stellar greeting back in my hometown.

After all the shit I’d just been through, my anger level was on full overload, which didn’t usually bode well for people who pissed me off. The woman had done so not once but three times in less than two hours. Her phone calls had been chiding and now, she was accusatory? Fuck that.

I was exhausted, had yet to change out of my fatigues, and all I wanted was some peace in order to process the recent news. Damn if her sexy voice didn’t instantly turn me on even if I wanted to drag her over my knee for one solid whooping. I almost laughed at the thought.

Yeah, she’d get a pass this time around. I wasn’t ready to start a war with some reporter.

“Watch out,” the store clerk whispered. “She’s a real ballbuster.”

Snickering, I took my time before bothering to give the feisty woman the time of day. No one fucked with me.

Especially not after the shit I’d been through.

I wasn’t certain what to expect when I turned around, but when I did I was faced with the most gorgeous set of blue eyes, the kind a man could lose himself in was difficult enough. The fact she was drop dead gorgeous, her long dark curls spilling over her shoulders almost as sensuous as her hourglass figure left me sucking in my breath. My cock twitched from all the nasty thoughts of what I’d like to do to her swimming in my mind.

Kissing her voluptuous lips.

Driving my shaft into her pretty pink pussy.

Spanking her naked rounded bottom for the insolence in her voice.

There was an instant spark between us, one of those moments where time seemed to stand still. I was floored at my body’s response; the way my pulse shot into the atmosphere, every nerve was standing on end.

Her lower lip quivered as she dropped her microphone, enough that I could see the clear outline of her tight little nipples through her thin blouse. I could almost swear I gathered a hint of her feminine wiles, leaving me to believe her panties were damp. Every Neanderthal part of me surfaced, the longing to bury my face into her wetness almost all I could think about.

Almost.

Then reality kicked in.

What the hell did she think she was doing?

I glared at the cameraman standing behind her who was filming every nuance in my expression, including the way I clenched my jaw as I studied her intently. At this point, several of the other customers had formed a circle around us, actively waiting for my answer. I recognized a couple of them, the corner store a location that had been around for decades. They’d aged significantly.

Hell, so had I in the years I’d been away from Missoula.

As usual, whatever I said was going to be caustic. I didn’t like being accosted, especially when sensationalism and interrogation techniques were involved. While there were some pretty choice words I wanted to say to the sexy stranger, I did everything I could to rein in my anger.

“I don’t know who the fuck you think you are but get the hell out of my space before you find you and your camera idiot slammed into the dirt.”

Well, that didn’t go quite as expected.

But hell, I’d always been known as the bad boy. Even growing up, I’d gotten a bad reputation from my need to fight, refusing to back down from any asshole who’d gotten in my way. A hell of a lot of blood had been spilled, my ass spending more than one night in jail. No wonder the customers were afraid of me. They knew exactly what I could and would do.

Except for the sexy brunette with a penchant for getting in my face. She didn’t seem fazed in the least. I guess I’d have to teach her a lesson or two.

She cocked her pretty little head, glaring at me with the ferocity of a lion, once again shoving the microphone into my face. “I’ll take that to mean you are part of the systematic problem, while Drake Travers was honorable. What a shame that doesn’t seem to run in the family.”

I glared at her, stunned that she had that kind of audacity. What the fuck was she getting at? There was a chance news had traveled fast, even from a warzone. The shit that had gone down was difficult to think about, but I refused to have the incident shoved into my face. No one knew what it was like overseas.

Was the dangerous mission I’d barely escaped from with my life what her attempt at garnering an interview was about? I certainly wasn’t going to offer any details about my military service. Why the hell did she mention my brother? Rage flooded my system, the kind that usually got me into trouble. “Are you the one who’s been harassing me on the phone?” I barked as I purposely moved closer, the customers backing away, their eyes as large as saucers.

She swallowed yet kept her composure, her perfectly painted lips pouting. Fuck. I wanted to crush my mouth over hers, thrusting my tongue past her succulent lips. “It’s my job to ask questions,” she insisted.

The woman had no idea what kind of beast she’d awakened from his slumber.

“I assure you that confronting a Marine on furlough isn’t in your best interest. We can be kind of cranky.” In order to make my point, I planted my hand in front of the camera lens, giving a solid shove.

The hard thud as the poor guy hit the floor was followed by several gasps from customers.

“You’re an asshole,” the woman stated; proud as could be she’d issued the words, defiance laced in every one. There was also something else.

Intrigue.

I grinned as the cameraman scrambled to his feet, cursing under his breath.

“What a bastard,” she whispered, running her long fingers through those gorgeous locks of hers. I felt like a grenade was going off in my system.

Refusing to give into my wayward desires, I stood my ground, offering her a wry smile.

The stare-down was entertaining as hell.

“Jerry. Let’s get the hell out of here before things get ugly. Oh, and you don’t want to mess with me, Mr. Travers, or should I call you Hawk? Is that because you think of yourself in terms of reverence? It certainly can’t be because you snatch hearts with your talons. No woman in their right mind would touch you.”

The gasps within the store became even more intense.

Every section of my body—cells, tendons, and muscles—was on fire, the ache to claim her burrowing into every bone, leaving me aching all over.

“For the record, if you can get it through that thick head of yours, I bite instead of barking. Something for you to keep in mind.” I chuckled after seeing her reaction.

She turned on her heel, the slender skirt she was wearing drawing my eyes once again to her sumptuous figure.

This was too much to take. I took three giant strides and had her in my arms, my grip firm.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she demanded.

“I think you need a lesson in respect,” I growled, inhaling her perfume. Every part of me twitched, not just my aching cock.

She struggled in my hold, hissing as Jerry grinned and backed away. “Men are all assholes! Get away from me or pay the price.”

“We may be assholes, jerks, and bastards, little lady, but we know how to handle a misbehaving woman when we see one.” I planted my boot on a box of Corona yet to be stocked and swept her over my knee. It was funny how her tight little skirt managed to crawl all the way her creamy thighs. I didn’t hesitate yanking it up even further, the slight sound of ripping material creating a frenzy of guttural sounds from the crowd of people who’d formed a tighter semi-circle around us.

“What are you doing?” she screeched, kicking her legs. Damn, her calves were just as sexy as the rest of her.

“I’m giving you one hard spanking.” I didn’t hesitate even when she yelped various nasty words and threats. The sight of her vivid purple thong did things to my libido that had never been done before.

And my thoughts about what I’d like to do to her got even filthier, likely illegal in at least a few states in the union.

“I’m going to rip you to shreds. I’m going to cut you to ribbons. I’ll call the law on you. I’ll make certain you’re locked up for years, buddy. Years!” She kicked out, fighting to grab onto anything.

“You just try and do all those things, little lady. I’d like to see that. I’m sure everybody else in this place would as well.” I couldn’t help but grin as several of the customers started to clap.

She flailed her arms, managing to smack me in the chest.

“None of that now, or I’ll have to pull off my belt.” I snagged her arm, pinning it against her back as I brought my hand down hard and fast, making certain I covered all of her beautiful real estate.

“Ouch. Ouch. Ouch!” she wailed.

“Didn’t you realize that spankings are meant to hurt?” I countered, enjoying the heat building in my hand and the redness blossoming on her bottom. Damn, I was turned on, a rush of adrenaline flowing through my veins like wildfire.

“Argh! You will so get it for this.”

“Yeah? Bring it on, sweetheart.” I delivered several more swats, concentrating on moving evenly from one side to the other.

She moaned and hissed, refusing to back down. I did love a girl with spunk.

A smile remained on my face as I spanked her long and hard and when I finally released her, she blinked several times as she struggled to drag down her skirt. She was flustered, her cheeks shimmering, the lovely yet nasty mouth of hers twisting in frustration.

“Now, are you going to be a good girl?” I asked in the kindest voice I could manage.

She smiled sweetly, running her fingers through her disheveled hair. “Yes. Of course.”

I was shocked as hell at the change in her attitude, but finally nodded. “Well, good then.” The second I tried to turn away, one of the customers grunted, allowing me to catch the swing of her fist just a split second before it connected with my face.

I reared back, rubbing my jaw then crowding her space.

“Tsk. Tsk,” I huffed. “Would you like to go for round two?”

Her entire face moved into that place where nastiness grew, her eyes sparkling with venom. “That will never happen again, buddy.”

My entire body was alive, my mind reeling with the possibilities of doing nasty things. I snickered as she stomped toward the entrance, her high heels clicking on the chipped vinyl floor.

I had to be out of my bloody ass mind to find her attractive when her mouth was full of rocks and sandpaper. Maybe a good bar of soap would help clean it out. I watched her as she walked out to her van, easily able to tell she’d snapped at her cameraman for not coming to her aid.

The sound of clapping started again, even a few whistles afterwards. I waited until she stormed around to the other side of the van before turning around. My harsh gaze seemed to frighten the majority of people, several leaving the store immediately. I stormed back toward the counter, eager to get on my way. Damn if her scent wasn’t intoxicating as hell.

After walking back to the counter, I realized a few of the stauncher customers were staring at me, their glares harsh. Accusatory. Critical. Hell, they’d have to take a number for the reasons why. Fuck them. I wasn’t in the mood for anyone judging me. They didn’t know me anymore and I certainly didn’t want to know them. I was there for a single purpose and that damn well wasn’t going to take me long.

When they refused to stop staring at me, I issued a guttural growl. Finally, the majority of them scampered away like rats, two smashing into objects. Served them right.

“Who the fuck is that chick?” I said half under my breath, cocking my head as I snarled the words.

“Bad news. A local reporter. She thinks every news story involves some conspiracy,” the clerk answered. “I’d stay away from her if I were you, although you did seem to handle her well enough. Like your style.” His laugh was short-lived when I stared at him.

Stay away. While it was solid advice, my cock remained throbbing.

I couldn’t help but shift a gaze over my shoulder. I let out an exaggerated sigh as I watched her scramble into a large white van, the side shamelessly printed with her picture as well as the local station she worked for. Somehow, I knew I hadn’t seen the last of her. The shit she’d spouted off left a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t like being made a fool of. There was far too much to do in order to settle ranch affairs, allowing me to get back to what I was made to do.

Fight. Protect.

As I turned around, eyeing the gawking store attendant, his face pinched as he pulled two of the items closer to the register, two thoughts remained in my mind.

One: Why in God’s name was I so attracted to the feisty chick with a bad attitude?

And two: What the hell was she trying to insinuate and how did she even know that I was in town? Maybe there was more behind what had happened than anyone had been willing to tell me over the phone.

Evidently, the folks involved had no idea who they were dealing with.

I was a killer after all. They would tell me the truth.

One way or the other.

Chapter Two

Hawk

“Then why don’t you get the fuck out of here?” Drake snapped, pointing toward the door. “We don’t need your kind around here anyway. I’ll do just fine on my own.”

I growled as I stared at him, a series of nasty words swimming to the surface. When had everything gone to shit? Sucking in my breath, I moved toward the door, refusing to look back.

“Just remember. You’re no longer welcome here, brother.”

The memory was just as fresh as if it had happened only a few days before instead of seven years, the ache in my heart even more pronounced. I shoved my hand into my pocket as I stared at the same door that I’d walked out of all that time ago, never planning on returning again.

I took another hard look at the living room of the aging cabin, myriad strong emotions rolling through me like a firestorm. The place was a hell of a lot different than the last time I’d seen it, as if care and love had been poured into the timbers and stone. Even the sign at the front entrance to the ranch was entirely redone, Big Meadow Ranch highlighted in what appeared to be gold lettering. He’d taken pride in something that I’d tossed away.

I wasn’t going to come to terms with the news tonight. Sadly, tomorrow wasn’t going to be any better than today. Appointments had been scheduled, details to work out. Shit. I wasn’t any good with that kind of crap, but there was no avoiding my responsibilities.

Even seeing the stable full of beautiful horses had caught me off guard. I was surprised he’d kept them, especially since he’d changed careers. All Drake had ever wanted to do was handle the ranch, making it a success. Sadly, my father hadn’t been the best businessman, almost losing it twice when I was a kid.

One thing Drake had never mentioned was being a firefighter. Well, we’d both changed significantly since our nasty argument. A hell of a lot happened in seven years. As I heard another whinnying sound, I had to smile. Enjoying a long horseback ride had been one of the activities I’d missed after moving away. Maybe I’d get a few chances before rolling back out of town.

I could consider a roll in the hay as well, taking my time feasting on the reporter’s sexy body after I made certain her bottom was cherry red in color a second time around. I could tell she was indeed a ballbuster, likely not the type to follow any man’s rules. As my cock pushed hard against my zipper, I couldn’t help but laugh. Nope. The woman and I were oil and water. Best to stay as far away from her as possible.

Just being there seemed surreal, the magnitude of the last few days finally taking a toll. I hadn’t ventured any further than the room I was in and the kitchen, my emotions incapable of dredging up any additional memories. Maybe I’d find the gumption to look at the barn. I’d have to fully comprehend the extent of the land as well as the buildings. From what I could tell, selling the ranch should be easy enough to do.

I rubbed my eyes, ready to call it a night as I snapped off the lamp, loathing the shadows as they filled the room.

Then an odd noise fractured my pity party.

“What. The. Fuck?” Suddenly, the horses were agitated, the sound filtering through the thick walls.

Maybe it was the fact the plane ride from DC had been shit, the delays due to bad weather significant. Or maybe I was exhausted from being forced to hop on a choppy freighter flight out of Afghanistan only the day before that, the turbulence so bad my stomach had yet to calm down. Hell, even the two harassing phone calls had done nothing but rile the soldier in me.

Then there was the bizarre shit with the reporter, a woman who definitely needed a firm hand in her life.

Whatever the reason, I. Was. Pissed.

The sound just outside the house indicated an intruder. Was the person stupid as fuck? He had to see I’d just turned off the lights. Had the mysterious asshole not noticed the big Dodge Ram or the whinnying horse they’d obviously agitated?

I grabbed my Sig, growling more than once before moving in the darkness toward the front window. I’d carelessly kept the blinds open, certain no one would dare freaking bother me on a secluded ranch.

I was wrong.

Whoever thought they could take advantage of the situation had a hard lesson coming to them and I was just the man to do it. I peered out, able to see a good portion of the front lawn through the full moon highlighting the area. While I saw no movement, I was able to sense the asshole’s presence, my extensive training never failing me. I swept my gaze from left to right, holding my breath.

A single shadow drew my attention. What the hell were they doing? Wait a minute. The jerk actually thought he was going to break in through the front door? I snickered under my breath as I took careful steps toward the entrance, standing just about six feet in front, the weapon pointed at chest level.

And I waited.

Within seconds, the thief managed to unlock the door, very slowly pushing it open and taking a single tentative step inside.

“I’d think twice about planting another foot inside this house. I have a Sig Sauer pointed at your gut and trust me, I’m an excellent shot.” I kept an even tone in my voice even though I was furious, my blood pressure rising. No one dared to fuck with me.

There were two types of criminals. The one who was conciliatory immediately, begging for forgiveness and the one who didn’t give a shit whether they were doing anything wrong.

This asshole?

I hissed as the person bolted, jumping off the front porch before I had a chance to blink. “Fuck.” I took off after the intruder, shocked he was able to get such a significant head start. Hell, yes, I was one tired Marine, but this was ridiculous. As the person raced toward what appeared to be another vehicle, I lunged forward, grabbing the jerk by the scruff of the neck.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I demanded, dragging the guy several feet toward the house as his fists flew. I’d handle this privately. I wasn’t in the mood to call the sheriff. That would only lead to a night of questions and additional lack of sleep.

Plus, I really wasn’t prepared to shout out to the entire city that I was home.

The perpetrator didn’t make a single sound until I yanked him onto the porch. Then I heard an angry snarl followed by a pummeling of fists against my back, the hard wallop to my kidneys excruciating.

“You and I are going to have a discussion, buddy. Then I’ll make the determination whether or not to call the sheriff.”

“Fuck you.”

I was only inches away from the door when I heard the two words. They actually reverberated in my ears but not because of the vulgar language.

Because they were being spoken by a woman.

Correction, by the reporter who’d dared accost me.

Exhaling, I yanked the girl inside and kicked the door shut, struggling to turn on the closest lamp while she continued to fight my hold. As the yellowish glow flooded the room, I let her go, still keeping the barrel of the gun pointed in her direction.

She obviously needed another lesson the hard way.

In front of me stood the gorgeous, bratty, and rebellious woman that I’d found difficult to take my mind off the entire evening. Fuck me. This wasn’t good. Even wearing a ball cap covering her hair and an ugly flannel shirt several sizes too big, I’d recognize her anywhere. My balls tightened as my thoughts drifted to tearing away her clothes, delighting in the sexy package underneath.

You’re not some barbarian. Cut the shit.

Inhaling, I had to give the woman credit. She had chutzpa.

“What the hell is wrong with you? You could have killed me,” she demanded, her eyes darting from my face to the gun, watching in slow motion as the cap tumbled from her head.

Somehow, I would have expected the woman to be shaking in her boots or at least to begin pleading for her life. Not this girl. She stood defiantly, her long dark curls framing the face I hadn’t been able to get out of my mind. And those gorgeous blue eyes shimmered in the shadows, deep and inviting. Her chest rose and fell rapidly, and my gaze shifted from her long neck and voluptuous breasts to her shapely legs. Even though she was wearing clunky boots, worn-out jeans, and the ugly shirt, there was no chance at disguising her beauty.

That didn’t take away from the fact she’d managed to break into my brother’s house or had tossed a list of accusations at me in front of a crowd of strangers. What in God’s name was she after, her fifteen minutes of fame? I had yet to be able to look into her allegations, preferring to soothe the savage beast dwelling inside of me with several glasses of bourbon.

For a few seconds, we were at a standoff, the girl tapping her boot on the hardwood floor as if I was the actual intruder. The gall of the woman was more rebellious than the majority of soldiers I’d known in the Marines.

That made my hunger all that much more significant.

The obvious attraction we shared remained, her lips pursing and her hips swaying. The electricity that had occurred before was now dancing like a live wire, sparks flying everywhere.

Her face flushed and I sensed she was doing everything possible to curtail her reaction. Seemed like a good thing to do.

She had a point to get across but so did I. I wasn’t going to accept this kind of behavior from anyone, especially when she didn’t know me.

I’d sworn off women the moment I’d entered the world of the Marines, preferring combat to personal interactions. I had no place allowing temptation. Then what the hell was I doing?

“What the hell is wrong with me? You were the one breaking into my house, not the other way around, sweetheart,” I retorted, studying her intently. After sliding the safety back into position, I slipped the gun into the small of my back, intrigued that she’d gone this far for some interview. “I would have thought my earlier lesson would have done you some good. I can see I was wrong.”

“First of all, if you dare call me sweetheart again, I’m going to rip your lungs out. Second, this isn’t your house. Maybe you’re the one who needs to be arrested. Your brother wouldn’t dare allow you to set foot in his home, not after…” Her words trailed off, a moment of self-doubt sinking in, forcing her to blink several times. “And third and most important. You will not lay a single hand on me again or I will cut it off.”

I sucked in my breath, memories flooding into the back of my mind, none of them I wanted to resurrect.

She’d obviously spent some time checking on my brother and his possessions, as well as our caustic relationship. Maybe she and Drake had been an item. I wouldn’t know since I hadn’t talked to my brother since storming out the door. As she shifted from foot to foot, I inched closer. I folded my arms as I glared at her, remaining unblinking. “Like I told you before, little lady, I’d love to see you try.”

“You have no idea what I’m capable of, cowboy. Or can you even handle a horse any longer?”

My God, the woman didn’t know when to quit. “Let’s try this again. Who the hell are you?”

She hadn’t identified herself and I hadn’t cared to find out her name.

Yet you spanked her bottom until it was cherry red.

And I would do it again.

“Call me Red Riding Hood and why the hell are you here?” The way she scanned the room, her eyes resting on the various pictures located on the bookshelf made me curious. What exactly was she looking for? I had the distinct feeling she’d never actually been here before. If she was so close with Drake, wouldn’t she be allowed in his house?

“Then that would make me the big, bad wolf.” I couldn’t take my eyes off her lovely face, her cerulean blue eyes piercing even in the ugly light of the room. While her voice held utter arrogance, the lilt was beautiful, my cock shifting hard against my zipper. “As far as why I’m here. Well, that’s entirely my business, now isn’t it? And why would you do something like this when you knew I was in town?”

“Because the information I received said you were staying in a hotel.” She cringed the moment the words slipped out of her mouth. “Shit.”

“Shit is right. Your mouth gets you in all kinds of trouble.” I couldn’t believe the lengths she’d gone to in order to find out what my plans were. Another red flag rushed up the flagpole. There was no logical reason for me to comment to her ridiculous statement, but I found myself doing so. “No idea why I’m telling you of all people this, but I was planning on staying at the hotel. I had no idea how I’d feel about stepping foot in the old cabin. Then I figured it was best. My name is Jake. Jake Travers. Only my friends call me Hawk. And you’re not a friend.”

The tension was as raw as the attraction, the way she looked at me as if her hunger was off the charts.

She snorted, her lust-filled gaze turning into one laced with venom and disbelief. “Look, Hawk, although we’re not going to be friends. I’m just trying to get to the bottom of what happened to a real friend of mine, one with a heart of gold and a hell of a lot of integrity. What I do know is that you shouldn’t be here. I’m not even certain you really are a member of his family. Drake never talked about his brother, except in terms of how much he hated the man. Hell, that could be you. I already hate you and I’ve just met you.”

Another jab in the heart. She was pulling out all the stops, the feisty girl full of powerful venom.

The audacity of the woman was mindboggling. I studied her as she glanced around the cabin, her lips twisting. “You know exactly who I am so cut the crap. And for the record, Drake and I had a falling out, but I have every right to be here. Last time I checked my name was still on the deed. You, on the other hand, were breaking and entering. In these parts, that’s a crime. I don’t care what kind of a story you’re trying to get, I’m not doing any talking, especially to a foul-mouthed woman who specializes in invading people’s privacy.”

She laughed as she gave me a hard onceover. “Right. As I said before, you’re likely part of the problem, especially since you’re so damn smug.”

Smug.

Jesus F. Christ.

We were getting nowhere and as attracted as I was to her, all I wanted was some peace until I was able to sort this out. “What do you want, Red Riding Hood? I’m not going to give you a story because I don’t know shit. As you already found out, I stepped off a long and arduous plane flight just a few hours ago. Now, I think you need to tell me what the hell you’re getting at with these accusations.”

“I can’t reveal my sources or what I know.” She seemed uncomfortable as hell. Why did I have the feeling there were obvious holes in her story?

“Right. Not good enough. You are going to tell me.”

When she didn’t respond, my patience reached the point of no return. I yanked out my phone, prepared to call the sheriff’s office. I had to laugh. I used to know all the local numbers by heart. Not any longer. I’d have to call 9-1-1 unless she decided to come clean. “I’m calling the sheriff. You can explain whatever the fuck you were doing to him. My guess is that you go around accusing a lot of innocent people in your line of work. He might find that interesting.” I waited until five seconds before shaking my head, sliding my finger across the screen.

“Don’t,” she snapped then exhaled, the sound exaggerated.

“Why?”

“Because no one else believes me.”

I studied the way she fidgeted and shook my head. What the hell kind of story was she attempting to obtain? “Try again.”

She fidgeted, telling me that I was right.

“Okay. The sheriff doesn’t like me very much. Just an asshole who hides evidence.”

“Gee. I wonder why he might dislike you. Getting yourself into trouble everywhere you go?” What the hell? My hackles were raised, my blood pressure rising. While I hadn’t been close to Drake for years, he was an honorable man. If something was going on, I was determined to find out what.

“That’s not fair. You don’t know me,” she stated, her nostrils flaring. I couldn’t help but notice she dragged her tongue across her lips in one hell of a provocative manner.

“And you don’t know me, but you certainly don’t mind accusing me of shit. You also don’t mind insinuating crimes without backing up your story. That’s not acceptable on any level. One last chance to tell me what you think you know.” I was furious with her. The impudence that she’d accuse me not once but twice of hoarding information about my brother was ridiculous. And unfounded.

As if you knew anything he was into.

I sucked in my breath, realizing that my inner voice was right.

I tapped my foot on the hardwood floor as I watched her lovely mouth twist in frustration. The carnal man deep inside was suddenly very hungry, but I didn’t come all the way to Missoula, Montana for one wild night in the sack.

Although that would certainly soothe the anger and the sadness.

I could tell she was fighting with a longing to rake me over the coals and realizing that she’d been caught in the act. While I had little patience, I stood quietly, curious as to what the gutsy woman intended on doing.

“Look, I’m sorry about trying to break in. That’s not the way I usually operate,” she said quietly, her shoulders sagging. I wasn’t convinced she was truly conciliatory. “I just feel desperate.”

“How do you normally operate, burning the place down?”

“You are an asshole,” she hissed. “Why did I bother?”

“And you’re the one who needs her mouth washed out with soap.”

“Fuck you!”

I laughed, shaking my head. Every fiber of my being wanted to drag her over my lap and give her one hell of a hard spanking all over again. Then I’d require her to stand in a corner to think about her caustic mouth and bad attitude. Maybe that would teach her how to ask nicely for what she wanted. Nah. I doubted that would do any good and I was exhausted from the trip as well as the guilt that remained carved into every inch of my mind. “Just go. This isn’t getting us anywhere. I’m not talking and we’re not friends. At least we established something useful out of this.”

She didn’t budge.

“I just need to find answers, Hawk,” she finally said. “No, I’m going to demand them. Somebody has to give a shit.”

There was utter fury in her eyes, the kind that set emotions on fire. I knew that level of rage well. “You ain’t gonna get them from me, at least not tonight. Now, I’m losing my patience. You need to get out of my house or pay the price. Up to you.” I was prepared to let it go when she took two long strides until she was only inches away, her eyes sparking with venom.

“The price? You mean the way you handled things in the grocery store? That was more like some Neanderthal than a true man. Who do you think you are, cowboy of the year? I don’t get it. You just don’t seem to care that there might be something criminal going on in this town. That makes you a true monster in my opinion. The fire that killed your brother was… suspicious.”

Another line drawn in the sand. Jesus Christ. The woman had balls. I realized the only way to get her the hell out of my… the house was to offer my opinion.

And she was going to listen.

“Look, I read the report regarding the fire. Okay? Everything was pretty clear. It was a tragic accident and nothing more.” I thought about the single page that had been emailed to me after four phone calls from overseas, two of which I’d had to issues threats on after being stalled. I had to admit, the report was bullshit in my opinion, but I wasn’t in the position to challenge the situation. The fact this reporter was digging into whatever had occurred wasn’t likely in her best interest.

Or mine.

Certain people in authority positions had a funny way of handling being threatened and I didn’t think the lovely reporter was prepared to find out what that meant. Why was there an intense pool of uncertainty developing in my gut? Christ. I didn’t need this.

She snorted as she offered a heated gaze, her eyes traveling the entire length of me before settling on my eyes. The fire burning within her was far too enticing, my heart racing and my balls tightening. Why was she goading me so hard?

“All lies,” she stated as if she knew for certain.

I folded my arms, remaining unblinking. “Then you tell me what’s going on and maybe, just maybe, I’ll tell you what I know.”

“That’s not going to happen, buster. No one treats me the way you have. You get nothing from me. Zero.”

While I appreciated her tenacity and her spunk, the moment she raised her arm to smack me across the face, I’d had enough.

“That’s it. I’ve had it with your hard push, your ridiculous behavior, and your accusations.” I snagged her wrist, pulling her arm behind her as I dragged her closer. The feel of her body planted snugly against mine wasn’t in my best interest. I craved the woman, her perfume alone more intoxicating than any bottle of tequila on a warm summer’s night.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded, her tone even haughtier than before. Her lower lip quivered as her eyes darted back and forth.

My buddies might call my actions impetuous, even stupid, but this little lady was impossible to resist.

“First, I’m doing this.” I crushed my mouth over hers as she struggled, finally snagging my fingers in her luscious curls.

She wiggled against me, moaning into the kiss, the friction creating a round of electricity like nobody’s business. The taste of her was sweet and tangy, just like the woman herself. I enjoyed dominating her tongue, yanking her body into a soft arc as I held her.

Stars floated in my field of vision as I explored her mouth, the essence of her fueling the need to devour every inch of her.

She pummeled her fists against me then clasped her hands around my shirt, still undulating her hips like the sassy brunette had some kind of control.

The woman would soon learn differently.

I broke the moment of passion, still holding her close. “Now, I’m gonna give you a second lesson in cowboy justice. You break the rules, you have to pay the price.”

Struggling in my arms, the way her hips jetted back and forth across my cock only added fuel to the fire. Damn, this woman turned me on like no other.

“Over my dead body!” she exclaimed. She reared back, managing to smack me hard across the jaw.

I couldn’t help but grin as I dragged her closer to the couch, fumbling with her jeans. “We can do this the easy way or the hard way. It’s up to you.”

“What? You’re insane. I’m not going to stand for this. Forget it, asshole. You’re nothing but a motherfucking jerk.”

“Motherfucking jerk. That will cost you. Now, I’m going to use my belt. You can lower your jeans and panties all by yourself or I’ll be happy to cut them into shreds for you.”

Her eyes remained open wide, both darting back and forth across mine. “You’re serious.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t kid about a thing like this, I assure you.”

“I will poke your eyes out with a knife if you dare try,” she retorted, rolling her eyes.

“And if you keep on, things are only going to get much worse.”

When she dared to jerk out of my grasp, I yanked her over my lap, immediately issuing several brutal smacks.

“Ouch. Ouch. Ouch!” she yelped, continuing to do everything in her power to fight me.

“Yup. Around these parts, whippings are supposed to hurt. Or are you one of those city slickers who thought coming to cowboy country was her ticket?”

“My ticket to what, assholes and chauvinistic pigs?” she yelped, kicking out her legs, the move grinding her sweet pelvis against mine.

I gritted my teeth, my jaw clenching as the overwhelming need to fuck her wrapped around my senses like venomous snakes. After peppering her bottom several additional times, I pulled her back onto her feet, adoring the warm blush spilling across her cheeks. I could only imagine the color of her ass cheeks.

She took several deep breaths, her mouth remaining slightly open, her lower lip quivering. “How. Dare. You.”

I gripped both her arms as she swayed, plastering a smile on my face. “Well, here’s the thing. You still broke the law and I have the upper hand. Now, either you lower your jeans and panties, or I’ll have no choice but to call the sheriff. We can sort it all out in front of him. I’m certain it’ll make for great news at eleven. Entirely your choice as to which you’d prefer.”

While remaining appalled, her eyes flashing sparks of venom, I could also see resignation working its way into her mind.

“I don’t have all night, sweetheart. What’s it gonna be?”

Another ten seconds passed.

Twenty.

“Fine,” she spit out. “But rest assured, if you have anything to hide, Mr. Jake Hawk Travers, I will find it and I will be happy to bury you.”

In those few seconds as her face remained the softest color of pink roses, her mouth twisting in frustration and excitement, I couldn’t get several over the top, ridiculous yet mind-blowing thoughts out of my mind.

She was a crazy destiny that I’d never thought would happen.

And I would enjoy every minute of training her.

After all, she was going to belong to me.

Chapter Three

Bryce

Arrogant asshole.

Jerkoff extraordinaire.

All six foot five inch of his rugged body was nothing but dangerous.

And magnetic.

And…

He was a brawny bastard…with the sexiest chocolate brown eyes dripping of filthy sex, a mouth that screamed of passionate kisses on a cold winter’s night. Then there were his bulging, sculpted muscles that no military-issued uniform could ever manage to hide.

I’d never been prone to hungering for the kind of man who took what he wanted, but my body had already betrayed me, leaving me wet and hot all over.

The moment he’d turned around in the store, I’d shuddered to my very core, trying my best to keep my composure. That wasn’t the makeup of a woman who hadn’t had a date since God knows when, one with strong resolve and the ability to shove aside temptation.

But he’d been so unexpected in appearance, like a biker on steroids, a man of utter domination. The picture I’d seen of him from years before had been grainy at best, more of a cowboy with a lopsided smile. This man was a hulking mass of sexual appeal, formidable in every way.

So I’d challenged him. Every good reporter would do that with a difficult interviewee. Right? Maybe I’d gone a wee bit too far, but he was the most arrogant man I’d ever encountered.

Then he’d spanked me. In front of others! The humiliation would likely continue for weeks to come, the damn cameraman ribbing me constantly. I couldn’t handle the embarrassment.

Even if the most gorgeous man on the face of the earth had been behind the spanking.

My God. I was daydreaming when the commanding creep expected me to be disciplined like some bad little girl all over again. Who the hell did he think he was? Did cowboys really do this kind of thing? I sucked in my breath, glaring at him with as much venom as I could muster, although more than a hint of guilt remained. I had no business breaking into his house. No, Drake’s house.

I had to have been out of my mind to think I could get away with snooping. And I was going to kill the damn intern at the office. I’d been assured that Mr. Travers had checked into a hotel. Oh, I was way out of my league.

And the jerkoff piece of shit had already forced me over his knee, treating me like an impetuous child. An actual moan popped into my mouth from the memory of how deliciously hard his cock had felt against my legs.

No. No.

Even my nipples ached, my pussy wet. I could only imagine how soaked my panties were. How could I be this aroused? I was out of my mind, my behavior on several levels bordering on stupid.

“I’m waiting,” Hawk huffed, the tone just as sexy and inviting as the moment I’d heard it in the little store.

I felt nauseous inside, although a portion was from the electricity surging through me. However, I refused to accept that I was attracted to him. From what little I’d read, or even found on him, he was one hard man, his reputation as a tough soldier fueled by recent catastrophic events. He was also considered a hero. Even though he’d turned private contractor, he’d been given a tough assignment. The intel had ended there.

Shuddering, I turned away, still uncertain why I’d accept his form of punishment.

Because you don’t want to tangle with the sheriff.

That was the truth, but it had nothing to do with fear of being tossed in jail.

I refused to tip my hand to whoever the jerk was out there setting fires. One thing was for certain. I’d ruffled more than a few feathers in my effort to get to the truth. I needed to slow down, perhaps lay back for a few days in order for the arsonist to show himself.

My hands were shaking, ice cold and rigid as I attempted to unfasten my jeans. Even the act of this was sinful, adding to the already naughty thoughts I’d had about the mysterious man since earlier.

The scent of him made me woozy, intoxicated by the musk that was all around his roughhewn body. I tried to hold my breath even as I continued to struggle, the sound of the zipper ridiculously explosive in my ears. Every sensation was heightened, every sound like rockets. For all my bravado, I was terrified that I’d made all the wrong choices.

Almost laughing, I managed to wiggle my fingers along the waistband of my jeans, shifting my hips back and forth. With every inch of the material lowered, I was forced to bite back a whimper, the stinging from the start of his wretched discipline creating goosebumps. The jeans fell to the floor and I almost jumped, darting a look over my shoulder.

And I was dead on the money. My panties were absolutely soaked.

There was no mistaking the expression on his face, dominating and electrified from hunger. I could almost get swept up in the moment, falling into some crazy round of wickedness, fucking his brains out. He took a deep whiff and I was pulled into a vacuum of longing, visions crowding out every rational thought.

Stop acting like a foolish, lovesick woman, my inner voice admonished.

The nagging voice was right. Hell. No. I had my standards and my work ethic. I wasn’t going to allow anything to get in the way of moving on with my life. While Missoula was beautiful, cowboy country wasn’t in the cards for me. So the big man had pegged me. I was used to big cities with twenty-four-hour access to restaurants and shops. Living here meant giving up all the modern conveniences I’d been used to.

All for the sake of trying to get ahead, the job offer one that I hadn’t been able to refuse. I was more driven than any other reporter I’d met. I would make it to the networks within two years. Tops.

Swallowing, I closed my eyes as I convinced myself this was going to turn out all right.

What if he doesn’t keep his end of the bargain?

Good damn point.

“How do I know you aren’t lying to me and that you’re still going to call the sheriff?”

The question seemed to catch him off guard. I heard of the sound as he moved closer, could almost feel his hot breath.

“Because I have honor,” he said in such a quiet, reserved way that I was able to feel his angst at even being asked that question.

I hesitated only briefly before wanting nothing more than to get things over with. I yanked at my panties, disgusted with myself that I’d worn a bright red thong. What had I been thinking?

As the cool air hit my naked skin, I sucked in my breath, trying to pretend I was anywhere else but here.

The dentist’s chair.

The gynecologist.

Hell, even a harsh admonishment from my boss.

“Lean over the couch,” Hawk stated as he tugged at his belt. The man had been serious. He was going to use a thick leather strap to punish me? I glared at him, studying the tired lines in his face, the colorful tattoo crawling from his shoulder down his arm. When he lifted his head, raising a single eyebrow, I reluctantly shuffled toward the couch. My God. I was actually forced to shuffle my feet.

I was some bad little girl.

Ugh.

I gripped the edge, trying to calm my nerves before stretching over the back. All I could think about was how ridiculous I must look with my jeans and panties pooled around my feet. He seemed to be taking his sweet time before heading in my direction as he tugged the belt free of the loops. One. At. A. Time.

By the time he had the strap in his hand, I was panting, my nerves on edge. He was making me wait on purpose, adding to the sickening anticipation. Bastard. No man had ever spanked me and my father certainly had been a civilized man, treating discipline as a method of negotiation. Maybe that’s why my two serious boyfriends had both called me a brat.

I had the distinct impression that he’d continue to press me about what I knew about his brother. The sad truth was I knew squat. If it hadn’t been for one anonymous phone call, I wouldn’t be here today. However, what the caller had alluded to had driven me to breaking the law in the first place. Maybe I was out of my mind.

I fisted my hands when I finally heard the hard thudding of his boots as he approached. Somehow, I didn’t think he was going to go easy on me. The way he sucked in his breath made me stiffen, my heart racing.

The hard snapping of his wrist echoed in my ears first, the whooshing sound only adding icing on the cake. When the strap landed on my bottom, I bit back a whimper, anticipating blinding pain. There was only a nagging feeling remaining in my stomach, a dull ache surfacing. Pleasantly surprised, I relaxed just a smidgeon.

Until the second, third, and fourth strike came down in rapid succession. I was forced to suck in my breath, my legs shaking involuntarily. Pain shot down the backs of my legs, the sensations like jabs of hot iron.

“Oh. Fuck!” I screeched, pounding my fists against the back of the couch.

“No cursing. You’re the one responsible for this. Take your medicine like a good little girl.”

Good little girl. Really? He obviously didn’t know me or my brash personality. I took nothing lying down, refusing to give into assholes or those who believed they could get one up on me. I’d worked too long and too hard to develop my reputation, a woman determined to get to the truth.

“That’s… painful!” I yelped, kicking my feet even though they were ridiculously tethered.

“Yup.”

The feel of his callused fingers sweeping over my backside was far too intimate. When he tugged at the shirt, jerking it up and around my waist, I hissed at him. “You’re a jerk.”

“And that just cost you an additional five more.”

“No. No!”

“Would you like to try for ten?”

“No. Sir.” Why in God’s name I used a word of respect was beyond me. He certainly didn’t deserve it.

“That’s what I thought,” he chortled. “Stay in position and no more cursing.”

I clamped my eyes shut as he swung the strap again, so damn accurate in his position that I knew I wouldn’t be able to sit comfortably for at least two days. I tried to control my breathing as he brought the belt down again, this time catching my upper thighs. I could feel my nails digging into the material of the couch, hoping I would rip holes into the damn thing.

A single moan slipping past my lips, I hung my head, more lightheaded than I was before. “You are mean. Just mean.”

“You have no idea how true that statement is, Little Red Riding Hood,” Hawk half whispered, once again rolling his fingers across my buttocks, caressing in a gentle fashion. When he slid them along my spine, taking his time, I held my breath.

“Bryce,” I managed, struggling with my nerves.

“What?”

“My name is Bryce Myers.” There was no reason for me to tell him, other than I knew he’d have me checked out to the letter. I’d read enough about him to know that to be the case.

“Bryce. I think the name suits you. Reminds me of a very mischievous woman.” His voice was even more gravelly, the tone so husky that I was immediately thrown into imagining the words he’d say out of adoration instead of during a round of discipline.

When he continued the spanking, I was drowning in self-pity, loathing myself for being such a stupid girl. A rush of embarrassment also festered in my system, building with each passing moment much like the desire roaring through me. How could I be wet during the middle of harsh punishment? How could I even think of this as anything but a man being a control freak?

But there was no mistaking the wafting of my pussy juice as it trickled down the insides of my thighs or the way my nipples scraped hard against my lacey bra. I was on fire with a longing I hadn’t felt in years.

Maybe ever.

All because of one rugged Marine.

I lost count as he brought the belt down several more times, alternating between brushing the tips of his fingers across my skin and peppering me with brutal smacks.

There was no denying the connection we shared, one that was so powerful I thought we might combust. Even his ragged breathing was a clear indicator. He was all male in every sense of the word.

As I fell into the lull of being spanked, the pleasure building, I realized I was sagging against the couch, no longer able to feel my legs.

“Whoa, sweetheart. I think you’ve had enough.” His voice had returned to the gruff tone, tinged with a hint of arrogance.

“I’m not your sweetheart.”

He chuckled as he helped me to my feet, even pulling me against his massive chest. For a few seconds, I actually felt more protected than I had in my life, as if his big body could take care of any enemy who happened along the way. As he rubbed his fingers down my arm, even the thick flannel couldn’t keep the sweeping sensations from tingling my every nerve.

He was far too enigmatic, the draw to him unacceptable. I purposely pulled away, biting back a laugh at my stiff gait. I had to get dressed. He’d seen far too much of my naked body for my comfort.

Thank God he moved away, allowing me space. I was only able to take shallow breaths as I slowly pulled the way too tight jeans over my bruised skin. I couldn’t believe the amount of heat that skittered from my fingertips to my toes from a single spanking.

And I was never, ever going to go through this again.

Over my dead body.

Or his.

Taking deep breaths, I ran my fingers through my air. I must look like some freaking mess in the ridiculous outfit, my hair damp from perspiration. I wasn’t even certain I could face him, embarrassed as hell for acting like such a child.

I bolstered my courage and turned around, instantly ready to growl like some wildebeest seeing his amused expression. “What’s so damn funny?”

“Nothing is funny, Bryce. Other than the look on your face. You did very well. I’m proud of you.”

“Proud. Of me? Are you out of your mind?” I snapped, instantly reeling in my anger. I certainly wouldn’t be able to take round two.

“I suggest you do not start with me again. I am in no mood for insolence.”

“Or what?” I continued to challenge. Everything about him riled the woman inside, pushing every button. Or maybe I just wanted to push his. Either way, I was furious that he continued to have a nasty attitude after what he’d done to me. I moved closer, staring him directly in the eyes.

“Or you ain’t going to like what happens next.”

I was tingling all over, wanting nothing more than to find out exactly what he had in mind.

Stop. You’re insane. Walk away. Do it.

What a shame I’d never been able to follow my good intentions instead of bulldozing ahead. This was no exception.

Laughing, my mouth was Sahara dry, my pulse skipping. “Sounds like a threat. I eat men who make threats for breakfast.” I dared inch even closer to him, drinking in his musky scent like a drug that I couldn’t do without.

“Lady,” he half whispered, the sound guttural. “I don’t make threats. That’s a promise and trust me, I always keep my promises, no matter what I have to do.” He lowered his head, his nostrils flaring and his eyes shimmering like pools of molten lava.

The heat shared between us was oppressive, electricity wrapping around my extremities and refusing to let go. “You don’t scare me, Hawk.”

“Oh, yeah?” he growled. “Well, I damn well should. I’m the kind of monster living in your dreams, crowding out your sleep. I’m the lion ready to tame his prey.”

His dark words penetrated my very soul, smashing the padlock that I’d used to imprison my emotions and my cravings. “Fuck you,” I whispered, taking a giant step backward.

“Oh, yeah?” he asked, leering at me.

“Oh. Yeah,” I countered, giving him just as much defiance as he was giving me.

Chuckling, the second he snagged my hair in his hand, entangling his fingers in my long strands, I was yanked against him, his other hand cupping my bruised bottom. “Do you know what happens to misbehaving little girls with bad attitudes and nasty mouths?”

I slammed my hand against his chest, the feel of his hard body sending shivers dancing down my spine. Unable to speak, all I could do was glare at him defiantly.

“They get fucked.” He crushed his mouth over mine, fisting and twisting my hair as he pulled me into a deep arch.

I struggled against him, smashing my hands in rapid succession against his massive chest. There was no way I could budge him, not even a single inch. He had me as his captive. I was floored at my body’s immediate betrayal; the way my pussy clenched and my nipples begged to be freed, plucked, and sucked.

Everything about this was so wrong, humiliating on every level. He was the kind of man who took what he wanted, refusing to accept anything less. He growled through the kiss before thrusting his tongue past my lips, becoming even more dominating as he drank from me. My legs shook as he ground his hips back and forth, making certain I knew exactly what he wanted.

All of me.

Lights flashed in front of my eyes as I kneaded his rippling muscles, unable to focus on anything but the primal act. He was nothing but a true savage, just like the reports I’d read on him.

The entire room seemed to be spinning as the kiss continued. All the guilt and shame for walking away from my former life crowded in, matching exactly the way I felt for daring to entice Hawk. I’d acted like a silly girl. Now there would be additional consequences.

He broke the kiss, laughing in a dark and evil manner as he tugged on my hair, stretching my neck.

I slammed my fists against him, now struggling to get out of his hold. Sadly, with every shift of my hips, I could only feel more of the hard throbbing of his cock, adding to the jolt of excitement surging through me. Maybe I had a thing for bad boys.

Maybe I was out of my mind for thinking I could handle this.

Maybe I hungered to free myself of the tight constraints that had held me back for so damn long.

“You should know better than to tempt the devil himself,” he whispered before nipping my ear, his hot breath sizzling every nerve ending. Another dark chuckle left his lips as he licked up and down my neck, raking his teeth across my sensitive skin.

I’d never felt so alive, my entire body shifting into a heightened level of sensitivity even as I continued to shake. How could he do this to me? How could I allow this to occur? A part of me wanted to scream at him, fighting him every step of the way. The other was lost in a sea of entangled desires, the long fingers of the sinful act dragging me toward my own sense of purgatory. I was a good girl.

I bit back a strangled laugh, pushing the thought aside. Evidently not.

His grip changed, his fingers digging into the back of my neck as he rolled his tongue across my collarbone then down to my exposed cleavage.

A slight whimper escaped my mouth as he pulled me away, his grip on my neck firm as he slowly began to unbutton my shirt.

I was caught in a place of no escape, no longer able to rationalize what was happening between us. His growls filtered into my ears, the sound haunting even as excitement built. Images fluttered into my mind, powerful and vibrant highlighting one big, bad, and very hungry wolf. I closed my eyes as he used his teeth to rip aside the thick flannel, his ragged breathing mixing with the rapid beating of my heart.

“All mine,” he muttered as he pressed his succulent lips against my skin, brushing them over the fullness of my breasts.

No way. I refused to be his.

The thought was ridiculous.

Tantalizing.

Disgusting.

Amazing.

I was losing my mind, the hunger crowding into every cell and muscle too difficult to tame. I moaned when I heard the slight ripping sound of my bra as he fought to shift the unwanted material. The second he flicked his tongue back and forth across my nipple, I wrapped my hands around his muscular arms, taking deep sweeping breaths.

He was a man on a mission, refusing to accept anything less than my submission. Molten desire continued to sweep through me, a reminder that I’d craved passion, longing for the intensity of a single wicked tryst.

Everything was foggy as he nipped my tender flesh, pulling my hardened bud between his teeth. Oh, God. Oh…

Every sound he made was that of an animal and as he rolled the shirt over my shoulders, I was instantly frozen. Only minimally aware the material had fallen to the floor, I could no longer breathe as he fumbled to unfasten my bra. When the tension was released, freeing my aching breasts, I shuddered audibly.

Free of the hindrance, he raked both hands down my back as he held me, his growl even more barbaric. A beast freed from his cage, he moved from one breast to the other, licking around my aureole as if savoring the most decadent chocolate.

I clung to him, my nails biting into his skin, no longer able to feel my legs. “Oh. Oh…”

As he rolled his lips to my other nipple, biting and sucking, I tried to force myself back into reality. This couldn’t happen. I wasn’t a bad girl. I wasn’t the kind who fell for just any hard body, no matter how sexy or intoxicating his scent.

I couldn’t accept the blood coursing through my veins or the wave of bliss threatening to give me away. He didn’t deserve to unravel me, dragging me into whatever sinful act he had planned.

I shoved him hard, managing to break the connection.

Hawk stumbled backwards, grinning as he wiped his mouth, his eyes pools of darkness. “One feisty vixen.” He tore the shirt over his head, tossing it aside, the expression he wore carnal.

Every breath was stolen as I gazed down at his toned body, his chest a thing of beauty. What struck me more than his six-pack abs or his carved chest was the ink he wore with obvious pride. He was a Marine through and through, the symbols of courage and honor dancing in vibrant color.

I knew I should turn and race away, pretending I’d never been stupid enough to try to break in, but the draw to him was overwhelming.

There was no holding back his needs. He snagged my chin and neck, pulling me into his domain, a beast drawing his prey into his lair. He rubbed his thumb back and forth against my lips, every swipe more forceful than the one before. “But you’ve met your match, sweetheart. As I said before, I am going to fuck you.”

He tore at my jeans, his large fingers easily managing to maneuver the button and zipper, yanking them past my thighs just like he did my panties.

There was no denying just how wet I was. He took a deep breath, a wry smile curling across his lips just before he tossed me over his shoulder.

I was shocked, trying to catch my breath as he ceremoniously removed one boot then the other. The second he yanked off my jeans, I’d never felt so naked and exposed in my life. There was also no way I was getting out of his hold. When he eased me onto the overstuffed easy chair, pushing me hard against the back, I gasped, still fighting him.

He dropped to his knees, immediately tossing my legs over each arm and yanking my bottom closer to the edge. Quivers shifted all the way down my legs as he splayed my legs even wider, taking his time lowering his head.

The feel of the first swath of his hot breath cascading over my slickened pussy ripped through me, the sensations exploding like bottle rockets. The action itself was filthy and dark, butterflies floating through my tummy as he dragged just the tip of his tongue around the inside of my thigh.

“Oh, God. Oh…”

“The dirty things I’d like to do to you,” he muttered as he barely brushed his lips across my swollen pussy lips, the simple action driving me up from the chair, my back arched. He was intent on dragging out my pleasure, stopping at nothing to force me into a tailspin of need and want.

He peppered kisses on the inside of my other thigh, biting down once before shifting his attention to my wetness. I closed my eyes, digging my fingers into the arms of the chair, my entire body floating as it continued to shake.

“But only if you’re a good girl.”

The words were just as delicious as the act. When he pressed his lips into my pussy, I let out a series of moans, tossing my head back and forth.

How had this happened?

Hawk swirled his tongue around my clit as he used a single finger to tease me, sliding just inside. His hunger seemed to know no bounds, as if this were his last meal.

There were no coherent thoughts, no chance of shutting down my system. He knew he had me exactly where he’d wanted, taking full control. While this would never happen again, I lost all sense of myself, panting as he sucked on my clit, adding a second finger and shoving both inside.

With every swipe of his rough tongue, every thrust of his fingers, I found myself falling into an abyss.

He took his time feasting on me, savoring every sweet drop as he growled, the sounds filtering into the air all around us.

I lolled my head, keeping my eyes shut as he thrust his tongue in alongside his fingers. The dichotomy was indescribable, yanking me toward the wondrous moment of absolute bliss. My body had accepted the place of treachery. I could no longer push him away, or even think about shutting down. He’d opened every padlocked door, exposing the woman inside.

“Oh, oh, oh…” I could tell my body was holding back, unable to let go.

With a hard pull, he drew me further off the chair, pushing my legs until they were fully open.

And he continued eating, lapping my cream as if a man dying of thirst.

I folded my arm over my face, biting back a scream when he thrust two more fingers inside, flexing them open. Oh, God. Oh, no. Oh… I was awakening, shifting to a point of no return.

“Do you want to come for me?” he asked, his voice dripping with lust, so husky I had to strain to understand what he was saying.

“Uh-huh.”

“Then ask.”

His command was just as dark as his demeanor, something not to be denied.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop the tide as it swept in, words tumbling from my mouth. “Please let me come. Please.”

He issued a low-slung roar before burying his face, shifting it back and forth.

I could hold back no longer, my mind crazed from needing relief. I was pitched into the sweetest nirvana, the climax rushing into me like a sledgehammer.

“Yes. Yes. Yes!”

Unable to breathe, I opened my mouth in a silent scream as the orgasm continued building, rolling through every inch of my body. My skin was on fire, my mind rattled. I stared down at him with hazy eyes, blinking several times in an effort to focus.

He was studying me with his cold eyes, the light sheen covering his face only adding to his sex appeal. As he rolled his arms under my legs, he started to stand, dragging me with him. I was forced to straddle his hips, gripping his shoulders as I struggled to breathe.

He said nothing as he took long strides, pressing me hard against the wall. Then he issued another direct command, one that gave me chills.

“Free my cock.”

My fingers were almost stiff as I tried to obey. I felt the possessive heat that flowed through every pore of the man as I attempted to follow his order. I’d never been around anyone so dominating.

Rugged.

Exciting.

Dangerous.

He exuded the level of ruthless care about everything and everyone I’d always run from. The moment I finished my task, I wrapped my hand around his shaft, squeezing.

“Fuck. Fuck!” he huffed, glowering down at me as he blinked several times.

My reward was the sweet glisten of his pre-cum. I licked my lips as he slowly tilted his head from one side to the other. I pumped up and down, squeezing his cockhead as I watched his eyes become unfocused, his pupils dilating.

“I’m a man with no patience,” he whispered as he jerked his pants, lifting then bringing me down onto his cock, the aim perfect. As he thrust the entire length inside, his entire body shook, his jaw clenching.

Oh. My. God.

He was so thick, stretching my muscles until they ached. I gasped, closing my eyes as the sweet surge of adrenaline and electricity became combustible, the flow of energy white-hot. I wasn’t certain I was capable of making a sound as he pulled out, driving into me again.

“One wet little thing, aren’t you?” His question was whispered, his mouth now dangerously close to mine. “Do I fill you, Bryce? Do you crave what a big, thick cock can do?”

I bit my lower lip, refusing to answer. This wasn’t about romance.

This was only brutal fucking.

He pulled one arm over my head then the other, planting his hands on mine.

I was going nowhere.

Everything was on fire, my body succumbing to his force of nature as he fucked me, driving me hard against the wall. Thuds shifted into the room, floating over us, mixing with his guttural sounds.

Hawk kept his lips inches from mine, darting his tongue back and forth across the seam of my mouth. With every savage thrust, I was pushed closer and closer to ecstasy.

I clamped my fingers around his, folding my feet together as he powered into me. He reeked of aggression, his chest heaving as he plunged in a perfect rhythm. He refused to stop, rolling onto the balls of his feet.

Shivering, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. So damn handsome but damaged somehow, a man who refused to accept who he was.

His body tensed, his muscles straining.

Harder and faster he slammed into me, leaving me breathless and spent.

As his jaw clenched, beads of sweat appearing over his lip, I knew he was close to coming. The world was a blur as he continued thrusting, but the moment I clamped my muscles, squeezing around his thick cock, he threw his head back and roared.

“Fuck!”

As he erupted, spewing his seed deep inside, I shuddered. I was one shameful little girl.

Seconds later, he dropped his head, the same wry smile returning. When he issued the abrupt words, my rebellion immediately returned.

“Next time, I fuck you in the ass.”

Chapter Four

Bryce

Next time, I fuck you in the ass?

Oh, hell, no.

A man like him used women, only taking what they wanted then tossing them aside. I’d been stupid enough to fall into his realm of bullshit.

He eased my legs down, the gleam in his eye returning.

My legs continued to shake as I watched him dressing, tugging on the plain tan tee shirt and adjusting his fatigues. He was very much the soldier, neat and organized.

“There isn’t going to be a next time, Hawk. Maybe I should just call you Mr. Travers.” Even though the bad girl inside craved more. No. I refused to give in to temptation for any reason. I was a professional just seeking a story.

Uh-huh.

Hawk studied me with wary eyes, finally moving to toss my clothes toward me. “Have it your way, sweetheart.”

Goddamn, the man was infuriating. I turned away as I dressed, hating the fact his scent would cover me for hours.

Or at least until I could take one long, hot shower.

What had possessed me to allow my guard to fall?

Insanity.

Don’t lie to yourself. He’s hot as raw sin.

I cursed under my breath the entire time I dressed, a new round of guilt and shame and ugly embarrassment grasping onto me like thick talons.

He lifted that same single eyebrow once again, his face stoic. “It looks like you could use a drink. I know I could. This day has been shit.”

I thought about his offer and while I should decline, I also knew that maybe I could garner even a tiny bit of information from him. Every other source had proven to be futile. I was beginning to think there wasn’t a story. “Why not? I guess I deserve at least that for allowing you to fuck me.”

His look remained curious, a single lift of his eyebrow adding hatred into my mixture of emotions given he seemed to be thoroughly amused.

Well, fuck him.

“I hope you like bourbon cause it’s all I got. At least that I know of. Haven’t had any time to look at what’s in the house.” He was going to totally ignore my embarrassment or the fact we’d just had sex.

Fine. Two could play at that game.

“Bourbon is just fine.” I wasn’t a big drinker, but I’d make a huge exception tonight. Why not continue to grill him on what he knew? The least I could do was get some kind of story out of this or my producer would be pissed. Even if it was a fluffy humanitarian piece. Wasn’t the big Marine supposed to be some kind of hero? My mind was conflicted. I’d already gone out on far too many limbs over the past few days. Anything I could get out of him would be worth the effort.

And pain.

Every inch of the skin on my bottom ached, the jeans digging in every time I moved.

I rolled my eyes, watching as he walked out of the room then scanned the cabin, hoping for any clues.

Clues for what? I wasn’t some detective and Drake Travers certainly hadn’t been charged with any crime. He’d attempted to do his job as he’d done countless times before. That much I knew. As far as the rest of his life, his buddies and the community had been oddly quiet. Maybe out of reverence to his memory.

The place was beautiful, although fairly small, the large stone fireplace the showstopper in the room. I’d always wanted a real cabin, which was another reason I was drawn to taking the job in the first place. What I’d been able to afford was a rundown house that was half the size of this one. While the landlord was nice as cherry pie, he hadn’t kept up with the maintenance needs in maybe a hundred years.

I heard the clink of ice in two glasses and moved toward the mantel. There were no pictures of any kind, only an odd-looking statue of a moose or maybe it was a deer or elk? Hell if I knew. I felt his presence even before I heard him, his hulking mass somehow stifling the air in the room.

Or maybe that was all about my raging lust.

“You don’t know Drake at all, do you? That was just bullshit you spouted off.” As he reached over me, placing the glass into my hand, I felt myself sagging all over again even as the electricity flowed from his hand into mine, creating another round of quivers dancing down my legs. The look on his face was pointed. He wasn’t going to let me get away with a damn thing.

“Okay, fine. Guilty as charged. I know who he was as well as his excellent reputation,” I admitted.

“Uh-huh. So, not only are you a thief but you’re a liar as well. I doubt that second spanking is going to do you any good. You just don’t seem to get it that you can’t roll people over to get what you want.”

I shifted so quickly out of his reach that I almost tripped over the small hearth, squealing like some stupid high school girl. His reach was much further than I expected, his hand wrapping around my arm and yanking me to him with ease.

There was no concept of breathing, no way I could stop the stars floating in front of my eyes. I realized I’d placed my hand on his chest, but only ten seconds later. The entire few seconds was far more embarrassing than being eaten like cherry pie.

Oh, God. What had I done?

“Careful there, sweetheart. I don’t want to have to take you to the hospital,” Hawk growled.

Damn the man for making me turn into some kind of mushy woman. That wasn’t me at all. I hated men who attempted to dominate women either in business or in pleasure. While I jerked away again, I did so carefully, refusing to make an even bigger fool out of myself.

He chuckled, his eyes never leaving me.

I felt even more uncomfortable. He wasn’t just undressing me with his eyes, he was devouring me with them. A feast presented on a silver platter, a man desperately hungry and prepared to take all that he wanted. I hid behind the drink, taking several sips. The burn of the rather harsh liquor was almost comforting given the wretched night.

“You want to tell me why you lied about that as well?” he asked quietly as he planted his hand on the mantel, studying me intently.

“I thought you’d feel more comfortable talking to me. I knew who he was, and I met him twice over the last few months, but I never spent any time talking to him. One thing I can tell is that Drake was entirely different than you are. You really don’t seem like brothers.” I wasn’t certain how he’d take the statement and was prepared for another spew of anger.

He looked away, taking a sip of his drink before answering.

“Yeah. Only four years apart but we were night and day on almost everything. We were always polar opposites, even growing up. Kind of a shame.”

There was so much remorse in his tone.

“I can understand that. My sister and I are oil and water. Drake seemed very private. I could find almost nothing on him. I checked with neighbors and they barely talked to him. He certainly didn’t go out to bars or clubs, at least from the few statements I got from neighbors and trust me, I was told almost nothing. Ranchers seem to be very private.”

He swirled the liquid in his glass, taking a deep breath. “My guess is that he had his reasons. When you get into Missoula, things might be different, but out here, people stick together. We don’t like little reporters trying to pry into our lives.”

Hawk was always going to remain a man of mystery. I could see guilt, sadness, and anger in his eyes. I certainly wasn’t going to push my luck in trying to get him to talk, at least about himself. Everything else was no holds barred.

But I wasn’t going to fall into his web.

“We all have our reasons for being the way we are, including assholes.” I threw out the words for spite.

“Jesus. Have it your way but you need to talk to me, Bryce. I don’t need any bullshit or innuendoes. I want some truths from you. What are you trying to do with whatever piece you’re putting together for the news?”

“We just had sex. Now, you want to talk.” I laughed, more to myself.

“If you want, I’ll be happy to lay down the rules.”

“You don’t own me, Mr. Travers. No man has or ever will.”

“It’s Sergeant. I still hold the title.”

The words seemed odd and I made a mental note. Had he gotten himself discharged or was there a darker story?

“Sergeant,” I repeated.

His smile was one of knowing, as if he already had plans in place to do just that. Own me.

“Just talk, Bryce. I received a report on the fire that clearly showed it was an accident. I haven’t had a member of law enforcement or the fire department contact me otherwise. Then you come along spouting off crap while I’m just trying to pick up the pieces of my brother’s life. I think I’m owed some answers. Don’t you?”

I debated what to say since I’d found zero evidence, but why the hell not push it. I’d already gotten myself into enough trouble as it is. “I don’t think what happened to your brother was an accident.”

“Why would you say that? From what I read, there was a horrific explosion, the firefighters unable to contain it. It’s my understanding the building is a total loss. Both my brother and another firefighter were caught in the middle of the building.”

I nodded, remembering the sight of the building vividly in my mind. The aftermath was horrific. “While I certainly haven’t been privy to the fire investigator’s report, I strongly believe the fire was purposely set.”

He clenched his jaw, his eyes holding a faraway look. “Why? I’m going to guess that you have a reason in that mind of yours.”

“It’s more of a hunch really.” I wasn’t ready to tell him about the anonymous tip. “There were two other similar fires recently.”

“That’s what you’re basing this on?”

Sighing, I could tell he wasn’t buying my story completely. “At this point, but I’ve only begun my investigation.”

“Right. So, you broke into my brother’s house to find what exactly?”

I took a much larger gulp of the drink than I should have, coughing afterward. All the while his stare remained. “Your brother might not have been very social, but he was open about fires, expressing his opinions on them, at least from what I heard.”

“Okay. Let me get this straight. You think he was targeted in this fire?”

The way he asked the question made me realize how ridiculous the entire situation might be. If it wasn’t for the damn informant, I would never have gone down this path. Maybe this was nothing more than a wild goose chase. But why? What did the caller have to gain? Ruffling feathers?

“I don’t know, Hawk. I just have a very bad feeling and I wanted to find out more. When I heard you were coming into town, I jumped at the chance to talk with you. I wouldn’t have gone to the extremes if you’d just answered my questions.”

“You mean confront me.”

Heat blasted my neck and face, matching the condition of my aching body. “I might be way off base, but my guess is that you want to know the truth. If the fire wasn’t accidental, I mean.”

He snarled, polishing off almost the remainder of the bourbon. “If anyone purposely tried to hurt my brother, they will die.”

Somehow, I believed him. Another awkward silence settled in, keeping my nerves on edge. “I should go.”

“Yeah, you should. You’re not going to break into this house again, do you understand? If you do anything of that nature, I assure you that your punishment will be much worse.”

The odd awkwardness between us created a lump in my throat.

“I wouldn’t dream of it. I’m… sorry. Okay? I’m just trying to make something of myself.” While the statement was the truth, I was shocked I’d admit it to a man like him.

A gorgeous damaged soldier who excites the hell out of you.

I hated the rambling thoughts inside my head. I was just tired, nothing more.

“At the expense of anyone who gets in your way,” he rebutted.

I hadn’t thought about what I was doing in those terms. Maybe he was right. “I guess if necessary.”

He shook his head, taking the glass from my hand. “Not involving my brother. I will be the one to find out the truth. You’re going to drop this piece.”

“That’s not going to happen.”

“Yeah, it is.”

As he crowded my space, the same rush of desire threatened to derail me all over again. “That’s not fair.”

“Sweetheart, nothing in this life is fair. The sooner you realize that the better.”

“Yeah. Perhaps you’re right, Hawk. One more question then I’ll go. What happened between you and your brother to make you leave and never come back?”

His sneer was exactly what I would have expected. The man actually thought he did no wrong. “That’s private business. I’m certainly not going to spill my guts to a reporter who’s hell bent on using anyone to get what she wants. You wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of me, Bryce. Your instincts were right. I’m a dangerous man. Stop asking questions. Stop pestering me. And do not get in front of that camera.”

I could argue this all night, but I wasn’t going to win the argument.

“Okay. I promise you that I’ll drop it, forever. Just like you are never going to get a chance to touch me again.” I moved quickly toward the door, scooping the ugly hat into my hands. I was surprised when he followed me, even more surprised that my body still ached for him. As I walked out into the night air, I shivered, but not from the slight chill in the air. Hawk was far too oppressive, a man possessed by the need to learn exactly what had occurred.

Or maybe he was the kind of man who took possessions. The thought was riveting.

“Never say never, Bryce. You know what will happen if you break that promise. I suggest you think about that.”

His words shifted over me like a warm blanket, sending another round of shivers dancing down my legs. I was far too attracted to him. That was going to end right here and right now.

I walked to my beat-up truck, the only thing I’d been able to afford since arriving in Missoula, trying to find any right words to say to him. Was there anything that could be said at this point?

Thank you for spanking me twice?

Thank you for fucking me?

Thank you for catching me breaking into your house?

Or maybe, I hope you find the truth about your brother’s accident?

Jesus. I’d never been at a loss for words, but that’s what the brawny hunk did to me. To hell with that. I was a strong woman and refused to allow his prowess to invade my plans for success. I had work to do.

Damn it.

I opened the door, surprised he placed his hand on it as I eased inside. “I hope you find the right answers, Hawk. I really do.”

“Oh, I will. Trust me. You have no idea what I’m made of.”

And he had no idea what I was made of.

“And for the record. Any time you misbehave, you will be punished. Whether by me or by someone else. You need it desperately in your life.”

“Like I said, it’ll never happen again. At least between you and me.”

“All right. I’ll stay out of your business if you stay out of mine,” he said in a daring way.

Damn him. “I am going to do my job, Hawk. That’s just what’s going to happen. I’ll leave your brother out of it, but my producer expects a report of some kind that can be used on the air. Whether you like it or not, you can’t stop me.”

“Guess we’re going to see about that.”

A part of me wanted to rake out his eyes, the other nodding like some bobble-head doll. Neither was going to happen. I was simply never going to see him again.

He grinned and winked. The man actually winked at me.

Offering a slight smile, I turned the key. When there was nothing but three clicks coming from the engine, I closed my eyes and tried again.

Please, God. No.

This just couldn’t be happening to me.

“From the sounds of it, I’d say that your battery is dead as shit. Let me take a look at it. Hopefully, I can give you a jump.”

“If not?”

He laughed softly, looking up at the sky before answering. “Then I guess you’re stuck with me, little thief. I think I might just take the time to teach you a few lessons about respect and honor.”

Obnoxious.

I wasn’t certain why the word continued to float through my mind, but it had at least ten times. Hawk was larger than life, his persona as huge as his ego.

A few lessons, my ass. I’d teach him a thing or two. And what was the cut about respect and honor? As I shifted in my seat, the harsh sting made me grimace. With every breath I took, I gathered a scent of him.

Musky.

Sexy.

All male.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

I had to get my mind off this. Him. The man. The Marine. The cowboy.

Was he enough of a cowboy he could hogtie a bad little girl in a flash?

God, there wasn’t enough alcohol in the world to make this go away.

I wasn’t certain the big Marine believed me regarding his brother. He had no reason to. Sighing, I thought about the shutdown I’d received from both the sheriff’s office and the chief of the fire station. He’d brushed me off as if I couldn’t possibly understand.

I continued to nurse the drink as Hawk remained outside, trying to go over what I did know in my mind, which was very little. The man who owned the building where the explosion had recently occurred was an up and coming mogul in town. By all rights, he was well respected and on the up and up, even though just his leering smile always gave me the creeps. I was observant about people and always had been, enough so that I knew Ramsey Ellis was far too slick.

That wasn’t something that I could allow to go public.

I heard the door and immediately rose to my feet.

“Well, sweetheart, you’re stuck with me for a while. I had to place the battery charger on that truck of yours, but I have my doubts I’ll be able to get enough of a charge to get you home.”

“You are kidding me?” Things couldn’t go any worse. There was no way. I might be attracted to him, but I wasn’t going to spend the night with him.

He wiped his hands on the rag he was holding, giving me a scornful look. “Don’t worry. I’m not the one who bites.”

I gave him a hateful look, doing my best not to shiver. “And my bite is poisonous.”

“Why don’t I make a fire? It’s chilly in here.”

“Not because of the weather.”

His exhale was exaggerated, the man grumbling under his breath, storming out of the front door. I waited for a few minutes, finishing the rest of my drink as my head continued to spin. Damn this entire day.

After another full minute, I walked toward the kitchen. I definitely needed another drink if I was going to be forced to spend more time with him. I noticed a single duffle bag on the floor, keys to whatever vehicle he was driving dropped on the kitchen table. While it appeared that he’d sifted through the mail, there was little sign of anything else.

The house was clean, the dishes put away. There was nothing amiss.

It was obvious that Hawk didn’t plan on hanging around long. What could have made the two brothers never want anything to do with each other? From what my producer had told me, Drake and Hawk were the surviving members of their family, the parents dying a few years ago. The ranch was expansive, over one hundred acres and likely worth a pretty penny given its location.

There was a hell of a lot more to their story and a part of me wanted to continue digging, even if I’d made a promise.

I poured another hefty amount of bourbon, not bothering to add any additional ice. Why would I want to water it down? I stared at the duffle, my instincts screaming at me. Just a single peek wasn’t going to hurt anything. It wasn’t like I was going to steal from the man.

Snorting, I walked toward the kitchen door, peering out to make certain he was still outside. I took a sip then a gulp of the drink before easing the glass onto the table and grabbing the bag, placing it on the kitchen counter. My hand was shaking as I unzipped the outside flap. When I pulled his credentials into my hands, for some reason I was in awe.

Sergeant Jake Travers, United States Marines

I pressed my finger across his picture, trying to imagine what it was like for him in the field. After carefully placing his identification on the counter, I pulled out a group of papers. Snooping suddenly seemed like the wrong thing to do. I couldn’t invade his privacy. I wasn’t that kind of reporter, no matter how much I wanted to succeed.

“See something of interest?”

Hawk’s tone of voice was gruff, but soft as brushed velvet. I held my breath as I returned the papers to their rightful compartment, adding the ID before turning to face him.

He was leaning against the doorjamb, his feet crossed and his arms folded. Sadly, he was expressionless.

“I’m sorry, Hawk. I shouldn’t have done that.”

“Nope. You shouldn’t. You just can’t help yourself, can you?”

“I just…” What the hell could I even say to him?

“You just decided that you would steamroll your way into finding information that doesn’t concern you. You just thought that my life and my privacy don’t matter. Isn’t that right, Bryce?”

I felt about two inches tall. “I have no idea what to say.”

“All evidence to the contrary.” He moved swiftly, grabbing my wrist and yanking me behind him. “Here’s how we’re going to play this. Unfortunately, I’m stuck with you tonight. I’m taking you to the guest room where you’re going to undress completely and stand in the corner where you’re going to wait for me. Like a damn freaking good little girl. When I return, I’m giving you another harsh spanking. Then you’re going to go to bed where you will stay until I come and get you in the morning.”

He dragged me up the stairs, looking at the four closed doors, grousing under his breath. Opening the first one, he flipped a switch, pointing into the bathroom. “This is the only other location you’re allowed to go.”

I continued glaring at him.

“Do you hear me, because it certainly didn’t seem like you did?” he demanded, dragging me to another closed door. The soft light highlighted the increasing anger on his face.

“Yes. I hear you.” I wanted to call him a series of terrible names for his overreacting, but I knew better than to fan the flames. I was already in far too much trouble as it was.

He gave me the kind of stern look that could melt someone into the ground. “Yes?”

Jesus. What the hell did the man want? Oh, yes. How could I forget? Respect. “Yes. Sir.”

He softened, enough so he lifted his head, even if he cursed under his breath before opening the door.

The light from the bathroom was just enough or maybe too much, the shock of what I was seeing forcing a gasp from my lips.

Hawk shifted his gaze as he searched for and found the overhead light. When he saw my eyes, he slowly turned his head.

“Oh. My. God.”

That’s all until next week’s installment! If you’re aching to finish right now, though, just click below and buy the book!

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