Which is More Dangerous?
Freya sat bolt upright in bed. A loud crack shattered the quiet of the night. Taking up half the volume of her chest, her pounding heart was about to bust through her ribs.
What the hell was that?
Scanning the back field, she climbed out of bed, staying in the shadows and peering outside. The half-moon was high in the sky, its glow illuminating only the most reflective leaves and rocks. Hearing nothing more, she sat on the foot of her bed and watched the darkness through the French doors that led to the back field.
Okay. It was nothing. Just her imagination, right? Her pulse was still ticking at twice the speed of the hall clock, but it was probably just a weird dream.
She was about to lie back down, when she caught a glimpse of a figure rustling the shrubs across the yard. Blinking, she rubbed her eyes and looked again.
Nothing. It’s fine.
No, that was something. And it wasn’t a deer. Nor was it hunting season.
Tiptoeing out of her room, she went to wake Sophie. Bedroom door wide open, bed made… Shit. Her pulse kicked up a notch as she remembered Sophie was crashing at Asher’s tonight. Great. What was the point of having a roommate when there was a potentially violent, armed creep in the backyard, and she wasn't home to tell you it was just your imagination?
Keeping to the shadows, she snuck back into her room and grabbed her phone. She leaned against the headboard, scanning the field through her window as she called her cousin.
Asher answered on the second ring. “Freya? It’s after midnight. You okay?”
Whispering for a number of foolish reasons, she said, “I’m fine. I just… I think I heard a gunshot, and I think I saw someone outside.”
She heard the sheets moving as he sat up. “Are you sure? Call 911.”
“I’m not sure. It could totally have been my imagination, then I’ll feel stupid for having called.”
“Call anyway. No one would fault you for being cautious.”
“But why would anyone be shooting guns and sneaking around in the middle of the night?”
“Just call the police.”
“No. I’ll feel stupid.” She felt stupid for even worrying about feeling stupid. “They won’t find anything, and I’ll feel like an idiot for calling.”
Grumbling on the other end, he said, “You have a Navy SEAL living above your garage. Call Zane.”
“No. He’ll think I’m crazy, and I don’t have his number anyway. You’re my cousin, a SEAL, and are about to be a police officer. And you’re sleeping with my roommate, and she’d want to know what’s going on. Can you see why I called you?”
“I’ll take care of it,” his gravelly voice relented as he clicked off.
Feeling even sillier as each passing second raised more doubt that the entire thing had been her imagination, she was at least going to be smart in case she wasn’t hallucinating. She snuck from room to room, checking that all the doors and windows were locked tight.
Tapping her fingernails on her teeth, she stood in the hallway, unsure if she should just go back to bed, or wait to hear back from Asher.
Another minute went by, according to the sixty ticks of the hall clock.
The doorbell chimed chipperly, echoing from wall to empty wall before buzzing her eardrums. Wow, that was fast. Leaping up, she rapidly tiptoed to the front door and whispered through the dense wood, “Asher?”
A growl on the other side said, “It’s Zane.”
Great. Asher’s genius plan was to call Zane. Huffing an exhale big enough to shift her hair out of her face, Freya accepted that her new neighbor was going to think she was a fraidy cat.
Unlocking the deadbolt, she opened the door just enough for him to slide inside.
Knocking her on her metaphorical ass like a meteor plummeting into her chest, a wallop of blazing-hot pheromones rocketed at her. Like a photon blast or superhero serum, the effects of it fueled her veins. He was…
Tall. Built. Ripped. Okay, so maybe she was being dramatic, but holy shit, she’d seen attractive men before, but Zane emitted one hundred percent Freya-altering pheromones.
Midnight forest eyes held dark secrets. Those lips were somewhere between pouty and stern, yet hinted at a wicked sense of humor… and could kiss all night without coming up for air. Big hands that would fit perfectly over her…
She nearly choked on her own saliva as she tried to remember how to breathe. How to stand. How to use her useless brain that would be irreparably rewired.
Okay, Freya, stop staring at the Norse god standing in front of you. Holding back the blushing giggle she hadn’t heard herself make in a damn long time, she bit her lips together and tried not to pant. “Hi.”
Middle of the frigging night, and his new neighbor, great backside that she may have, got spooked and needed someone to come scare away the big bad wolf. He tossed his phone back on the bed and contemplated the many ways he was going to kick Asher’s butt for this later.
And he’d just fallen asleep. Asher knew what it was like those first few weeks out. Between the nightmares of the day Jack got hurt, among many messed-up-as-frick ops they’d been on, he still jerked out of bed every few hours, thinking the rest of the team had been called out on a mission, and he’d slept through it.
Tossing on a pair of jeans, he grabbed a shirt, clicked off the music he had blasting in his headphones to keep the monsters at bay, and paused at the door.
What if she was right? He shook his head, hating the indecision. If there were really a shooter out there, he’d tell her to lock up and lay low, that neither of them should be going outside right now. Not much chance they were targeting either of them.
But she was probably wrong. This adorable little town probably hadn’t had a murder or violent crime in the last half century.
And if she was too chicken to call the cops like she should, she might spend the whole night sobbing in the bathtub. Wouldn't be the worst hostage rescue he'd pulled off. Five, maybe ten minutes, and he’d be back in his own bed.
Rubbing the sleep from his bleary eyes one last time, he pulled on his shoes and checked outside through the windows, then slipped out the door. Nothing unnatural about the night; he heard only the wind rustling through the trees in the distance. Sticking to the shadows, he crossed the yard until he reached the front door.
Not wanting to scare her more than she already was, he rang the doorbell to announce his arrival, still scanning the area while he waited. Out in the open like a sitting duck. Asher owed him more than a few favors for this one.
Half a second later, he heard a voice ask through the door, “Asher?”
At least she wasn’t a complete idiot. “It’s Zane,” he responded.
The door creaked open, while she hid behind the door. Running a hand through his hair, he geared up and stepped inside, dreading the weepy mess he’d be walking into. A dim light on the ceiling cast an amber light across the entry, the rest of the house otherwise was cloaked in blinding darkness.
Instead, he was knocked flat by the fierce woman that greeted him. He swallowed his tongue as every logical thought in his brain was pulverized by… everything about her.
Pushing the door closed, he stood and stared like a gawking dumbass. That wild black hair was curled with inherent rebellion, a few strands framing her angular jaw. Piercing blue eyes saw and understood every deep imagining that had passed through his soul from the moment he’d stepped foot on this earth.
That wasn’t even the half of it. A lacy tank left little to the imagination, and miniscule shorts revealed some perfect, curvy legs that should be wrapped around him right now.
Okay, brain out of gutter, he chided himself, clearing his throat and trying to say something before he melted to the floor.
“Hi,” she said, as breathless as he felt. At least it was a mutual dumbfounded ogling.
He raised his eyes to her face again, ignoring the spectacular breasts under that top, pretending he hadn’t noticed her nipples tighten under the delicate cotton as she responded to him. And hoped to hell she didn’t notice his cock salute back.
“Hey,” he nodded, burying the overwhelming visions of peeling off those tiny shorts to find out if that backside was as grabbable as he’d dreamed. “So, uh, have you seen any more sign of anything?”
“No. It’s probably nothing. I mean, I’m still a little jetlagged, so, I’m sure it was my imagination.”
“Well, I’ll hang out until we know it was nothing.” And absolutely not make a move. Hell, after the divorce, he’d played the field more than he should have. When Asher joined up, the pair had wreaked havoc on the single female population of San Diego. But the last few years, the job getting to him more than it should, he hadn’t even pictured a woman naked.
“Thanks. I’m really sorry for waking you. If I thought it was anything serious, I would have called the police.”
“So you called Asher instead?”
“I got my driver’s license first and hauled him all over town for months, so he owes me many a late-night rescue.”
Nodding, Zane found an easy smile quirking up the corners if his mouth. “And I owe him a favor or two. Could you tell where the shot came from?”
“I haven’t heard a lot of gunfire, and I was asleep, so I couldn’t even begin to guess.”
“Well, I have. Show me where you saw them.”
She crossed her arms over her chest and led the way across the main room and toward the back bedrooms. “It was probably my overactive imagination, but I would swear I saw something move just to the right of that maple.”
“Okay.” He hung back in the shadows and watched out the door.
Standing next to him, she stared along with him. Wasn’t even touching him, but his skin prickled at the heat radiating between them.
She didn’t strike him as the sort to make a big something out of nothing. Maybe it was the sharply sketched flower tattoo on her arm or the tree of life over her left upper back. That she'd jumped in to help unload his truck, without even sticking around for a thanks. Or maybe it was simply a vibe; she was solid, not crying or fussing. Instead, her breath came slow and easy, her eyes scanning the darkness, sporting a scowl of frustration that she might be right.
“Seriously, it was probably just my imagination. You should head home.” She stepped back and sighed.
“Do you imagine a lot of gunshots? I mean, I do, but that’s the PTSD talking,” he shrugged, hoping she didn’t think he was totally nuts.
“No, that was a first. But I haven’t been back in the States long; must be all the talk about everyone having guns around here,” she rolled her eyes at herself, her mouth turned up in a soft smile.
“Well, I’m not leaving until we know the coast is clear.”
She brushed past him, hopping onto the far side of the bed and propping up her pillow against the headboard. Leaning back, she stretched those long legs and took a deep breath that drew the tank lower. Patting the spot next to her, she waved him over. “You can stand there or get comfy.”
Rubbing a hand over his face, he willed away the fucking rock-hard erection at the sight of her inviting him to bed. As she rested another pillow in the spot she’d saved for him, he held his breath, hoping his jeans were snug enough that she wouldn’t notice how desperate he was.
“Really, I feel terrible waking you for a figment of my imagination. No qualms about waking my cousin, but you I feel bad about. Besides, if this wasn’t my imagination, and you just risked your life for a panicky woman that couldn’t just lay low and call the police?”
Shaking his head, he found that rusty smile taking over his face again. He relented to the inevitable and plopped down on the bed next to her and kicked off his shoes. Leaning against the headboard, he glanced at her, then back out the window. Going to be a long f-ing night… he suppressed an inappropriate laugh vibrating under his ribs at his poor word choice. No f-ing tonight. Sadly. “You mentioned jetlag?”
“I just got home.”
“I lived there.”
His brow furrowed as a distant bell was ringing in the cobwebs of his memory. “Painter. The sunset in Asher’s apartment.”
Grinning, she pulled her legs up and rested her arms on her knees as she relaxed into the cushy headboard that matched his own, suspecting Paul and Denise had spoiled her return, too. Must get a nice discount through the store. “That’s me.”
He glanced around the room, noting the lack of other furniture and personal possessions in the room. “I heard you were making a living at it. Are you still? I mean, Foothills doesn’t seem like a good spot to be for a professional artist.”
“Yeah,” she muttered, glaring at the window.
And he’d stepped in it, as usual. Biting his lips together, he watched out the window, willing the gunmen to return. At least that was something he knew what to do about. Polite conversation? Not so much.
She sighed, “Sorry. I mean, I know I’m going to need to travel a lot and it’s a huge risk, moving home. Marketing and social networking and all the crap I hate about pimping out my passion. But I’d been gone for too long. You ever get the draw to return home? That nowhere else in the world will suffice?”
He snorted, wishing more than ever for that damn shooter to reappear. “Not really.”
Exhaling heavily, she rested her chin on her knees.
Goddammit. Half the damn reason he’d joined the military rather than following the path his parents and Blaire had planned for him, was so he wouldn’t have to deal with communicating like normal people expected. Clearing his throat, he tried to redeem himself, “I mean, my parents have moved like six times since I left the house, and I hate New York. So not home, no, but I get the desire for familiar.”
Her satin pink lips drew up in a quiet smile. Watching the dark night, she said, “Asher is familiar.”
He nodded, a knot swelling in his throat. “Yep. Dragged my butt up here for good reason. I don’t exactly have much going for me these days.” Turning his head, he looked over at her.
Voice musically light, she said, “Sometimes you need to start over to find out where you want to be.” Her bottom lip pulled into her teeth, breath coming fast as her infinite blues locked on and searched his muddy green.
Like a fricking idiot, he leaned in.
A distant crack struck the air.
Ricocheting around in his skull, bringing him right back to too many firefights, Zane looped his arm around Freya and rolled her off the bed with him.
Knocking the wind out of him, his back hit the ground and he absorbed their combined weight. Without pause, he flipped their positions, so he covered her body with his. Ears tuned in to every noise, unblinking as he watched out the window for the slightest shadow, he stilled. Pulse beating slow and steady under his skin, he listened.
Nothing. Would have to be a pretty unlucky random shot to get them inside the house, with how far away that shot was. But better safe than sorry with all the unknowns. Like why the hell someone was shooting a gun in the middle of the night in nowhereville.
Beneath him, Freya’s chest rose and fell as she caught her breath. Alert, panic under control, she watched him rather than peering out the window.
No more gunshots. The night was dead quiet.
He rose to his elbows, looking down to see her expression easing from stunned to amused, her wicked blue eyes flashing with merriment. From somewhere in his brain, his chest, he blushed and grinned and shook his head at the absurdity. “I, uh. Yeah. Sorry. I’ve been shot at a few times.”
“Impressive reaction time.” As the moment quieted, her fishhook grin widened. “I was hoping we’d end up in this position eventually.”
Chuckling, he parked his tongue between his teeth as he considered what to make of her.
Sighing like she was settling in for the evening, arms resting over her abdomen, she asked, “All okay?”
He nodded, relenting to an ironic laugh under his breath. “I don’t think you imagined the gunfire.”
She trailed her fingers along his forearm, then tracing up along his triceps, stirring a tingling in her wake. “As you seem awfully calm, it must not have been very close?”
“Should we call the police?”
“Probably.” He couldn’t make himself move. Her body calm and warm and half naked under his, her fingers teasing his skin under his sleeves, she drove him mad with a desire he hadn’t felt in way too long.
While he wracked his brain for a single reason to move off her, she wrapped one hand around his shoulder, and the other gripped the back of his neck and pulled him to her. Leaning up to meet him, she pressed a silken kiss on his upper lip, then another on the corner of his mouth.
Helpless, enchanted, he stilled. Her tongue grazed along the crease of his lips, then she gently nipped at his lower lip.
Groaning at her simple touch that drove him absolutely beyond the tipping point, he took her mouth with his. Exploring, savoring her spiced, feminine scent, heat surged through his limbs, the outside world fading into nothing as she kissed him back, no holds barred, like she was as drunk on the chemistry as he was. Again and again, he tasted, learning the contours of her supple lips, a zing of electricity zapping him back to life with each touch.
Plunging her tongue inside his waiting mouth, she moved deeper, then looped her bare leg around his and clung like a horny Koala.
Lost, found, starving, he massaged velvet against velvet, heat building between them.
More fricking gunshots.
Pulling away, his breath lost, her lips kissably warm and soft from the best kiss he’d had… ever… he sat up and muttered, “Better call the cops.”