By Emmy Curtis
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Air Force Sergeant Matt Stanning has been called a hero, but he feels nothing like one when he realizes the sexy blonde in his bed is the widow of his fallen brother-in-arms. Even worse, he actually has to work with her, and she’s unearthed evidence that points to a military conspiracy. If they dig deeper, they’ll put their lives in danger. If they don’t, they’ll never know the truth-not only about the mysterious plane crash, but about each other.
Table of Contents
An Excerpt from Over the Line
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The rehearsal dinner for the wedding from hell, three months ago
Thank you, God!
A tall, very handsome man approached her table at the back of the restaurant. This rehearsal dinner was out of control. Too many people, too much security, too few places to hide and drink. Please let him be sitting here. Please let him be sitting here. Harry looked at the place name next to hers: Matt Stanning.
She promised God she would go to church on Sunday if this delicious man sat next to her. There wasn't enough alcohol in the world to sit at a table with the bride's ex-boyfriend, his work colleagues, and as lovely as she was, Harry's ex-boyfriend's new fiancée and make it through the dinner without embarrassing herself.
She scratched at a hairpin sticking in her scalp. Why, oh why, couldn't she have pretended to be out of the country on a dig? Hell, she easily could have been really out of the country. But Sadie had been there for her all through college, been there afterward when Harry's world fell apart. She fingered Danny's wedding ring that she'd worn on a necklace since he died. He would be laughing at her, shoehorned into a glamorous dress at a fancy restaurant. So not like her.
"I'm Matt," the impossibly good-looking man said as he pulled out the chair next to Harry.
"Henrietta," she said, extending her hand.
He shook it but held on as he sat, sending an overt signal to her. God, he must be a player. She tried to extricate her hand, but he only released it when the waiter arrived to take his drink order. "Scotch for me, and whatever the ladies are having." He said, slipping the waiter a hundred-dollar bill. "And keep them coming."
Harry couldn't help but giggle. She leaned in and stage-whispered, "I think the drinks are free."
"But now we have our own drinks waiter," he whispered back.
Hallelujah. Harry threw both arms in the air. "Score!"
Beth, James's new fiancée, seemed to find her excitement amusing. But come on. It was a wedding, and she knew no one save the bride and the bride's brother—her ex, who also happened to be the son of the director of the CIA. "So what do you do, Matt?" Beth asked as Harry took a sip of her mojito.
He leaned back, shoved both hands behind his head, and smiled at the pair of them. "I can turn my hand to most things."
Beth snorted into her drink. "Unbelievable."
He tipped his head to the side. "What? You don't believe me? I swear I'm pretty handy to have around."
So cocky. Now Harry wanted to take him down. She touched his arm in what she hoped he would take as a come-on. "Oh, honey. I can see you are. You obviously think you're very capable. But some women don't need men for anything."
Instead of deflating him, her pushback seemed to interest him. He sat forward, arms resting on his legs. "Nothing at all? I find that hard to believe."
Harry pretended to think, finger on her chin as she appeared to consider the one thing she could possibly need from a man. "Well, maybe I can think of one thing. One… very delicate task that I frequently need help with…"
His eyes traced her face and trended down to her legs. Beth was right. Unbelievable. If his dark eyes weren't so mesmerizing she would have left him to deal with Beth. But despite his incredible overconfidence, something compelled her to stay. There was something in his eyes. Like maybe he was playing a role. Yeah, like maybe that's just wishful thinking.
She dropped her voice as if imparting a huge secret. "Often, in the middle of the night"—she looked around the table furtively—"I get this feeling"—she pressed her hand to her stomach and rubbed it slowly—"and I wish I had someone with me to"—an Oscar-winning pause—"open the pickle jar."
Matt laughed out loud, throwing his head back. "I'll admit, you had me in the palm of your hand there." He shook his head at her. "Man, I definitely owe you a drink for that."
"So what brings you to the wedding of the year?" Harry asked.
"I'm a friend of the groom. I was supposed to be out of town, but my plans were canceled, so here I am. You?" He pulled in his chair a bit and put his napkin in his lap.
She pulled a sad face. "Maid of honor. Bride's friend from college. I should have been away, too." Well, she'd wanted to be away, at least. "So here we both are."
"Indeed." He took the scotch that the waiter had left and gulped almost half of it down. Peering at the glass, he said, "This is the good stuff. Very smooth."
"I don't think Sadie's parents actually know there are things in this world that aren't the good stuff. This whole shindig should be one for the record books."
"Well, I've never actually been to a wedding before, so I wouldn't know," he said.
"Really? I thought I was the only one who'd managed to be away for everyone's weddings. This is exactly my second one ever."
"And how does this compare?" he asked.
"Well, the first was mine, and I got married on a beach… so this one is in a league of its own as far as I'm concerned."
"You're married?" She saw him peek at her ringless hand. At least he bothered to check. A lot of guys don't really care.
"Not anymore." She thought it best to keep the murky details to herself. No point in bringing the party down with her sad story. "You?"
"Nope." He laughed. "Never even come close. I move too fast." His player grin came back. She wanted to slap it off his face. She was more and more convinced that he was smoke-screening. She knew because she was an expert at it.
He looked surprised to be called out on it. "I just travel too much to put down roots."
Harry wanted to know what he did, but she had this feeling that by getting him to spill all his details, she would somehow be compelled to do the same. Life was too short.
"So are you here for the whole weekend?" Suddenly she had to shout to be heard over the chatter in the room that had almost reached critical mass. She looked around. There seemed to be more people in here than the tables could possibly fit. She was jostled by someone walking behind their chairs.
Matt turned all his attention to Harry. "I'm going to slip out for a smoke. Want to come?"
"Nope." He stood and made to pull out Harry's chair, too. What? She looked up at him, puzzled. And then she felt a kick on her ankle. Beth gave her a meaningful look and nodded her head toward the door with a grin.
He helped her up with a hand under her elbow and steered her through the throng of people to the restaurant's patio. He opened the French door and held it for her to go through.
As soon as the door closed behind him, he took a deep breath.
"Are you all right?" she asked, still puzzled by his actions.
"I'm fine." He took another deep breath and looked out over the gardens. "Wow. Who would have expected this oasis in the middle of D.C.?"
* * *
As soon as her attention was diverted by the picturesque garden, he took several silent, deep, slow breaths. Come on, Matt. Hold it together. He tried to concentrate on Henrietta. She was stunning. Petite, blond, with a vibrancy that seemed to pulse out of her. She was exactly his type. Exactly the distraction he needed.
Usually he was able to pick up a woman before the crowds came. Bar, nightclub, party… get there early and close the deal before he got too claustrophobic. It was just the noise and the thrum behind the chatter. Made him edgy. It was like every wave of sound and energy chipped away at his sanity. It was normal, given what he'd been through. Nothing to worry about.
The garden was lit up with low-level solar lights casting shadows in the night. The air was cooler than when he had arrived, suggesting the forecast storm was indeed going to pass through the area. But here he was. Away from the tightness he'd felt at the table.
"You're right. It's beautiful out here. I hear the chef grows his own herbs and vegetables in these gardens," she said, walking along one of the many paths that snaked out into the garden from the patio.
He followed her while he could still see her in the dim light. The fragments of laughter and music from the restaurant diminished with each step. Damp air and darkness swallowed him up the farther they went into the garden. He lost sight of her in a mini-orchard of mature fruit trees.
Suddenly her voice came from his left. "If you don't smoke, what made you want to come out here?"
Out of the corner of his eye he saw her sitting on what looked like a stone bench under a tree. SERE school had taught him that peripheral vision was stronger in the darkness. It had saved him more than once during the Survive, Evade, Resist, and Escape training he'd undertaken years earlier.
"You must have great night vision," he countered, trying to change the subject. He picked his way through the plants to get to her.
"I have to in my line of work," she answered softly, as if a loud voice would shatter the peace.
"What do you do that requires good night vision?" he asked as he sat in the middle of the bench. No use being polite and sitting as far away from her as he could.
"I'm an archaeologist. All tunnels, crypts, and cold dark tents in the middle of fields."
"That must be interesting. And dirty, and cold."
"All of those." She laughed.
He was well aware of how archaeologists work. He worked with a lot of them. "What made you want to be one?" he asked.
She hesitated, and for the first time he sensed he had somehow touched a nerve.
"I was left some money when I was young, so I decided to use it to study. I decided…" She stopped again.
He didn't fill in the silence. He never did.
"Initially, I just liked the past. I decided that I could live in the past quite easily if I elected to study it. And soon it became the love of the job. The discoveries, the frustrations, the investigating. It's like a drug to me."
"I get that. Completely." She had just described his feelings about his job precisely. He protected teams who did what she did. He investigated, dug, and enjoyed moments of elation followed by intense sorrow at what they'd found.
"So why did you want to come out for a smoke?" Her voice firm in the darkness. She clearly wasn't going to let that one go.
"I like being outside. Away from people," he said, taking a subconscious move away from her on the bench. Fuck. Where had that come from? "Well, at least these people. Too rich for me," he recovered.
"I'm not one of those too-rich people?" she asked softly.
He smiled in the dark. "I know you're not. You've been scratching the pins in your hair since I first saw you. And as you walked the path, you kept smoothing the sides of your dress, like it was unfamiliar. I'd say you're dressed for the occasion, not the lifestyle." He leaned his elbows on his knees and looked at her in the dark. "Am I wrong?"
She paused. "No, not wrong at all. This is the first time I've worn a bra and a dress in about three years."
What? Did he hear that right? He half laughed, half coughed. "What?"
"You heard. I'm usually in shorts and a tank top. And these girls do not merit a bra, as I'm sure you've already noticed." She sounded rueful.
When he'd first seen her he'd thought she was ideal for him, almost feline in her petite frame. Women have a very skewed impression of what men like. Or maybe it was just him. "You looked flawless to me. I just wish I could see you better in the dark."
"That's easy. Let's see if your fingers are as observant as your eyes." She took his hands in hers and stood to rearrange herself. "Come on."
Speechless, he stood with her and sat when she did, astride the stone bench so their knees touched.
"My best friend at high school was blind. She taught me to see with my hands," she said, placing his fingers on her forehead. "Close your eyes and touch me."
His brain just about exploded. How did he go from wanting to take Henrietta home to here, having her ask him to touch her? He hesitated, struggling with the thought that this might be an elaborate hallucination. How else did you go from chatting at a wedding to feeling up a beautiful woman in the dark? Hell. Just go with it.
Her hands rested on his knees as she tipped her face up slightly. His fingertips traced her forehead and hairline, ears, eyelashes. Her skin felt like warm silk. "You're beautiful," he said, cursing his gravelly tone. He was as hard as fuck, and he didn't know why. He wasn't some damn teenager. Strangely, touching her felt completely right and slightly wrong at the same time.
"May I?" she asked in the dark, and raised her hands to his face before he agreed. Her touch was warm against his skin. He closed his eyes again and just concentrated on her fingers.
"You feel tense to me. As if you spend too much time frowning. Do you have a stressful job?"
He used to, that was for sure. He used to be an EOD airman. The one they bring in when they find explosives. The one who has to detonate bombs safely in a war zone. The one who has a two in three chance of not making it home. He'd been young and figured he was invincible. They all had. Until they weren't. Until he'd lost his best friend because they'd been messing around.
After another couple of years of EOD, he'd been sent to JPAC, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command. The dry name for a team of people who scaled mountains, hiked deserts, and parachuted into inhospitable areas to find missing troops. Didn't matter how long they'd been missing, one year or eighty years. They went to get them. It was his atonement for leaving Danny in Iraq. Well, most of him.
His heart clenched at the wound inside that just would not heal. It had been seven years, and he still lived with his loss every day. Was it supposed to be like this?
"What's wrong?" Henrietta's hands stilled over his tight lips and then dropped to his hands. She wove her fingers between his rigid ones. "Tell me about it."
Hell, no. Hell. No. "I'd rather talk about you." That was a lie. All he wanted to do was lose himself. To forget. Before he could second-guess his motivation, he leaned forward and snaked his hand into her hair and pulled her toward him.
She hesitated for the smallest second before he felt her hair tumbling down over his hand. She must have been really ready to lose those pins. Her cool heavy hair caressed his hand and arm, and the scent of vanilla invaded the space between them.
He could think of nothing else but tasting her lips. He opened his legs wider and roughly brought her closer. She took a shaky breath when he was a mere inch from her mouth. As she exhaled he pulled her head to his. His tongue swiped at her lower lip before he pressed his mouth to hers. Her tongue touched his lips, and he nearly exploded. He stroked her tongue with his as he held her head at the perfect angle between his two hands.
Her fingers gripped his knees as if she was scared to fall. Then they inched up his thigh. Jesus. He was so hot for her. The air turned oppressively heavy as their breathing became more labored. She found his erection through his pants and pressed against it.
He groaned against her mouth. Somewhere in his head the words "Game On" flashed like a neon bar sign. He dragged his hands down her back to her zipper and pulled it to her ass. His hands slipped inside the dress and felt the skin on her back.
She moaned and arched her back pulling her mouth from his. He slipped the dress down from her shoulders so it pooled at her waist. As if God had intended, the moon peeked out from the clouds and illuminated her perfectly. His heart nearly stopped. She was beautiful. Her lacy bra barely covered her pert breasts, and she gave off an incredibly hot wanton air, sitting in front of him half-naked. Her eyes fluttered open, and she held his gaze, unembarrassed.
His hands moved by their own volition to cover her from prying eyes, but there weren't any; they were completely secluded. Her light eyes took him to a different place—one free of distractions or anxiety.
Thunder rumbled overhead, but neither looked away. She reached up and loosened his tie enough that she could slip it over his head. Then she unbuttoned his shirt. He let her. He knew he shouldn't. He knew someone could come out at any moment. And then a drop of rain fell on her, sliding down her collarbone over the swell of her breast and into her bra. Followed by another and another.
Maybe no one would be coming out at all.
Neither of them moved, she didn't even flinch as the rain came down steadier. "Take off your shirt," she said. "I want to see you."
His hands went automatically to the sides of his shirt. He hesitated. "Take off your bra. I want to see you."
Henrietta took it off in one move. Hell, he'd never met a woman like her before. Fearless. He shucked off his shirt and they looked at each other for a moment. Rain fell steadily. The cool water made her nipples erect. He wanted to get his mouth on them so bad his mouth watered.
She drew patterns on his chest with her fingernails, playing with the raindrops on him.
He grabbed her hips and yanked her onto his lap. Her legs wrapped around his waist as her lips descended on his. He never wanted to leave this spot. It felt like a dream. Almost an out-of-body sensation, with the rain, the lightning in the distance, and the incredible half-naked woman in front of him. She must be a dream.
His lips tracked kisses down her neck to her breasts and as the tip of his tongue touched her already hard nipple, she gasped and arched into him. His dick stiffened even more, pressing against the heat behind her panties. His control was attached to him by the finest thread as he sucked on her, delighting in the gasps and moans threading their way around the garden.
It would take the merest hesitation to be balls-deep in her. Just the unzipping of his fly, the rip of a foil packet, and he could be sliding inside her velvet. As he gently twisted the nipple his mouth wasn't around, she ground her pussy against his pants.
Fuck, what was stopping him? This wasn't right. Maybe his brain wanted to lay her on silk sheets, take her to dinner, discover more about this incredible woman. Maybe that was it?
Really? He wanted to save her for the best, like a damn suit for church? Hell to that. He wanted to hear the noise she made when she came for him. He inched his way back from her a little, just enough that he could slide a hand between them. She bucked when he touched her panties, her heels digging into his butt. He traced the edges of the thin scrap of material that lay between him and heaven. She tensed and went completely still. As his fingers passed under the silk, she sighed and melted around him. His fingers gently stroked her folds, she seemed completely bare down there, and that excited him more than he would have ever imagined. He wanted to see her so bad. Naked.
As if in time with nature, thunder crashed as he stroked her from clit to ass, reveling in the heavy wetness that his fingers slipped through. He pressed at her ass gently, then slid back. He shifted to one side and eased two fingers into her. She moaned and found his mouth with hers. As he pulsed his fingers inside her, his thumb found her clit, pressed and used the wetness there to slip over it again and again until she tensed, gripped his fingers, and spasmed as her soft throaty sounds enveloped them both.
"Amazing," Henrietta whispered. "You made me feel amazing. My skin is vibrating."
"To be fair, that could be the rain." He laughed as she stretched her arms over her head and lengthened her spine like a cat. He could watch her forever. His.
Not his. Hell, he didn't even know whose she was. She got up and pulled one leg around and sat next to him, back straight like a schoolteacher oblivious to the fact that she was still naked. "And now I want to make you vibrate for me," she breathed as she reached for his fly.
He wanted to stop her, wanted to be the better man here, but he was consumed by the moment. Rational thought was definitely still alive and well in his head, but so was his utter need to ignore it.
She unzipped him and took his dick in her rain-wet hand. Her firm grip almost undid him right there. Normally he wouldn't care so much how long he lasted. The women who got in his pants rarely saw him again. It was always just sex at its very basest level—a release. An escape. Nothing more.
He ground his teeth together to hold on to his control. But having her in his sight was almost his undoing. Still stripped from the waist up, she leaned over him, touching his dick to her breasts, teasing her own nipples with it. He swallowed hard.
He closed his eyes and instantly felt the sharp touch of her teeth and the softness of her tongue on him. She swirled her tongue over its tip and then slid down so he was totally in her mouth. He groaned with a primal need for her. A need he doubted would be sated anytime now.
As she pulled up, she sucked slowly and squeezed his balls. A stream of fire filled his entire body. She sucked down his shaft again, pausing and then sliding him in right to the back of her throat. Every instinct made him want to hold her head and fuck her mouth. Control. He had control.
A door slammed, and a spark of a lighter came from the restaurant patio. She paused in response. Two men started a conversation under the awning. Sitting up and looking in the direction of the restaurant, she put her hand on his dick, stroking gently.
And then Henrietta started twisting her hand around his shaft, and his whole body sat in suspense. His muscles tightened. They were so close to being discovered. It made him hot as hell. Then she stood up properly, and her dress dropped to the ground, leaving her bare to him. She paused a moment, giving him the chance to burn her incredible image into his memory forever. Henrietta, in a thong, high heels, and nothing else.
She pushed him back so he was lying along the length of the stone seat. She bent over him and took him straight in her mouth again. With one hand, she held the base of his cock steady, with the other she caressed his balls. As she sucked up and down his length her small breasts bobbed in front of his eyes. Stars peeked out from the clouds, the rain stopped suddenly. It was like heaven was showing itself to him. He croaked, "I'm going to come."
She gently increased the pressure on his balls and took him in the tight vacuum of her mouth. She sucked up his length once, twice, and then he exploded as fireworks popped in his head. A tiny rational thought wondered if he was having an aneurysm, but he was in so much ecstasy that he embraced it.
He wanted nothing but to hold her in his arms, feel her naked body along the length of his, touch her all over. She'd been almost nude, but he still felt deprived of something much better. He sighed as she kissed her way up his stomach. Henrietta had turned him into a chick.
"Harry! Are you out here?" A woman's voice came from the patio.
"I'll be right there!" She yelled back in a surprisingly loud voice for such a tiny thing.
He leaned up on his elbows and watched her zip her dress back up. Man. He saw the faintest smudge of ink on her back. He wished it wasn't so dark.
"Harry?" he asked.
"My friends call me Harry."
"What can I call you?"
She grinned over her shoulder as she retreated down the path. "Henrietta."
Iraq, present day
Harry lightly fingered the artifact in her pocket as she watched her grad students at work. Okay, she was pretty sure it wasn't an important artifact, historically anyway. But it was still an unusual find.
About three inches square, it was a piece of metal with embossed numbers. When she'd taken a photo and sent it to her lab, they had discovered the numbers were a code for an aircraft part. A military aircraft part.
She wondered if the piece had fallen from the sky, or if there was a plane crash, or if it was just incidental detritus. As an archaeologist, she was very aware that the discovery of one artifact didn't necessarily mean the rest of it was close by. Someone could have dropped it. Or sold it to someone who dropped it.
But to be safe, she'd e-mailed her friend at the Department of Defense, Sadie, and passed on word of her discovery. It was out of her hands now. But she couldn't help but touch the piece of metal. It had become a touchstone. A talisman of sorts.
She held down a button on her walkie-talkie. "That's the furthest north side of our site, so mark that please." Molly and Jason pulled small red flags from a backpack and placed them at intervals along the line of sight.
Harry checked the laptop and stopped them. "That's the western border, there." She did the same when they reached the other two sides of their site and then called them back. They hopped on their little ATV, and Harry smiled when she saw Molly wrap her arms firmly around Jason's waist. Molly had driven the ATV a hundred times before and definitely did not need to hold on to anyone. Maybe recruiting Jason was more than just a good thing for Harry's business.
She handed them bottles of water from the cooler when they got back to their small trailer-turned-lab pop-up to the south of their site. Then she threw one at Mueen, who sat on top of the trailer. He was their armed security guard. Quiet, unassuming, with a slight American accent borne of studying at UPenn, he was ever vigilant for problems, looters, or anyone that he deemed a threat to the team.
Harry had worked with him before on her first visit to Iraq. He and his wife had been pillars of strength for her, coming for the first time to the country where her husband had died. And thanks to them, she'd felt almost at home there. She'd been delighted and excited when she'd heard she'd been chosen for this job, mostly so that she could see her friends again.
"The site doesn't seem very big," Jason said.
Harry smiled at the newbie. "It's plenty big for the three of us, trust me."
"But we're not excavating or anything, are we?" he asked, sitting on the blue-and-white cooler and taking a hefty slug of water.
Harry pulled up an image on the laptop and swiveled the screen so it faced them. "We will be working the site in a grid. In each square, we will take samples, survey for anomalies, and do a cursory check for surface artifacts. In places I've marked, here and here, we will auger boreholes to test the composition of the earth. At the end of the two weeks, we will use geo-phys across the whole site. That's all we're here for this time. If we find something interesting, chances are we'll be invited back to investigate further before the team of university archaeologists take over. And if we don't. Then we still will have earned our money."
- On Sale
- Nov 4, 2014
- Page Count
- 272 pages
- Forever Yours