I won’t screw it up this time.
Stephanie forced her fingers away from her palms and choked back a groan, knowing Eli could hear her choppy breathing. Clamping her teeth together, she traced his long strides as he stalked in her direction, and the memory of the bulge in his pants at Château Pontchartrain made her eyes squeeze shut.
She did that to him.
Mousey, skinny, underdeveloped Stephanie Lauren Grant, who’d only ever been able to talk to her parents’ peers, and who became a puddle of nervous anxiety if anyone near her own age even so much as walked into hearing distance, far less the coolest, hunkiest, most mouth-watering man on the planet. She turned on Eli Gallagher. She made him feel alive.
Eli, who charmed everyone, kids, babies, old ladies, even Mr. Smuckins, the surliest night guard in the universe. Resisting the all-consuming urge to pinch her forearm viciously, Stephanie instead took a deep inhale. Relax. No panicking allowed. Not now. Not when it looked like maybe, maybe she and Eli…
She’d never fit in and had never been cool, like Eli.
He was so not in her league, with his buffed-to-the-max martial-arts body, those soulful gray eyes, the always mussed shock of wavy ash-blond hair, and his magnetic, charismatic personality. Her pulse skittered as he neared.
The words he’d uttered earlier washed over her and cocooned her in a blanket of tremulous hope. She made him feel alive. She’d fallen for him like a boulder tumbling off a sheer cliff; confused, erratic, terrified, aroused, giddy, and doomed to shatter on impact.
Their lovemaking the night of the Christmas party had followed the same pattern. Both of them had been clumsy, noses knocking in their frenzied kissing, her head banging his chin when she attempted to unbutton his shirt, and her pants tangled at her ankles making penetration awkward. Then he’d turned green—no.
Not going there.
She gritted her teeth and worked her jaw. Jutted her chin and replayed the social self-confidence mantra drummed into her by myriad child psychologists.
You can do this—you can.
“Okay?” he asked, his voice husky and all growl.
She stared into his eyes and the desire blazing there soothed her fear. She nodded
Planting his palms on the wall on either side of her face, he bent his head and brushed sinfully soft lips over hers. The tickle-tingle sensation sent sparks across her belly, pulling at her navel, tugging her clitoris.
Debbie, who’d lately taken to the layered look with sloppy clothes, had bent over to pick something up from the floor and her extra-large t-shirt had draped open. Her pregnant belly had been revealed for all to see.
“What the hell?” Cory erupted and his explosion cut off Aurora’s absurd exclamation.
“You’re pregnant.” Even as the words left her mouth, Aurora wished them back. No need to worry since Cory’s voice rose to a bellow and drowned out her obtuse remark on the obvious.
“Girl, why didn’t you tell me I’m going to be a father? A guy appreciates knowing these things.” The excited man swept the curvaceous blonde into his arms and hugged her until a smile wiped the horrified expression from her face. Flying high, happier than Aurora had ever seen him, Cory continued. “We need to celebrate. A man doesn’t find out he’s going to be a daddy every day.”
Shock zipped around inside Aurora, and the memory of the horror eight months ago emerged and wouldn’t be squashed. Was this Cory’s baby? She watched her partner closely. No one knew the girl in the same way that she did. For the first time, Aurora couldn’t read her. Innocent pleasure had wiped away all traces of wariness, and Aurora had to accept that adoration shone in eyes that were empty of treachery.
Cory kept his arm around Debbie’s shoulder and caught Aurora trying to sneak away. “Do me a favor doll? Make a reservation at the pub and tell them to expect a bunch of us. As soon as I convince this beauty to marry me, we all need to drink some toasts… on me.”
A couple of hours later, Aurora, cradling a beer, sidled up to a glowing Debbie and suffered the girl’s hug. “It’s a special day, Rory, you’ll have to put up with me.” Pearly whites shone as Debbie’s happiness forced a response from Aurora.
“Yeah, whatever. And don’t call me Rory.” Aurora allowed the hug and even returned it. Then she backed away and stared her friend down. “Give. What’s the story?”
The blank stare that met hers didn’t quite ring true, but the words were believable. “Cory came to see me a few days after Rhondo’s assault. You remember he was out of town when the attack happened? He wanted to make sure that the skunk hadn’t damaged me, broke my spirit, you know. Anyway, one thing led to another and we found ourselves undressed and—”
Drolly Aurora interrupted “I do know that part.” Her tone brought a smile to Debbie’s flushed face.
“Well it was incredible. Truth to tell, it scared the shit out of me. However, I knew the rules. I couldn’t stay working with you and carry on with him. So, I called it a one-night stand and shut him down. Hardest thing I’ve ever done.” Twisting her water bottle in both hands, she stared at the floor. “You’ve probably noticed that I’ve been a bit grouchy lately?”
“Grouchy? Are you kidding? We could have handled a bit of grouchiness. Your viper’s tongue has drawn blood from every person in the department. They’ve taken to hiding when you’re sighted.”
“Heck, don’t hold back.” Debbie giggled. “Sorry. Between morning sickness and unrequited love, my hormones were touchy.”
Aurora thought back over the last months and recalled instances where the tension between Deb and the boss had sparked, but she’d just put it down to Debbie’s recent bad mood and temperamental personality. After all, her partner could be stubborn as a mule, and Cory took his management role very seriously. Little did Aurora know then that everything would change for her, and so quickly.
Becca pointed to his head. She wished her words would just come out already.
"You don't want to change into dry clothes first?" He raised a brow, then winced. "Damn that hurts. Okay fine, you win. I will probably curse and go stark crazy, so bear with me please?"
She may not have been able to find her voice to speak, but a quiet laugh escaped her throat. At least, that's what she thought it was.
Hunter crossed his arms over his bare chest. "Are you laughing at me?" Amusement danced in his gorgeous eyes. "That's so messed up! There is a little devilish side to you after all. I like it," he teased.
Becca smirked and pointed at the first aid kit. She wondered if he remembered any of the sign language, back from when she'd been mute and unable to communicate all those years ago. But so far, he'd been able to understand what she needed. The very first time he came to visit her, he'd learned it so they could talk. She remembered that day well on her aunt's back porch when Hunter sat beside her. He asked if she remembered him. She nearly cried that he'd taken the time to understand sign language for her.
"All right little devil, have at it. Just don't get offended for any swear words I may use." He cracked a smile. She loved that he could still have a sense of humor. It showed that even though he had some injuries, he was the same old silly Hunter she knew. She pointed down at the floor, wanting him to kneel before her. Again, he cued in right away and lowered to his knees.
Becca opened up the first aid kit and searched for what she needed. As she pulled out a large bandage, cotton swabs and the small bottle of peroxide to clean the wound, Hunter hissed. She flicked her gaze back to him.
"Call it psychological warfare. I'm anticipating that it's going to sting like you wouldn't believe. I know, I know, I'm being a baby and I should just shut up." Hunter raised his hands. "Think you can do that one handed? I might need you to hold mine with the other."
Becca grinned and held out her hand. She wished her voice would work with her so she could tell him how cute he was being. She couldn't be too sure if he was putting on an act to make her laugh or if he really was bothered by what she had to do. Regardless, she felt needed. Important. Something she longed for. When his shaky fingers curled over hers, a ripple of electricity zipped through her.
Now those were strange, random thoughts.
"Your hand is so cold. Not that mine is any better," Hunter said softly. "I know, I'm stalling. I should just man up and take it, huh? You won't tell anyone about my weak side there, will you?" He chuckled.
She slid him a knowing grin and put a finger to her lips, then ran the finger across them as if to say 'My lips are sealed'.
"I knew I could count on you."
“I kind of figured that. You don’t see many women out here waving their arms around.”
"Do you think you could help me?” She hated asking for help from anyone, but she didn’t see much chance of solving this problem on her own.
“I’m sure I can. What’s seems to be the problem?”
"Well, Mr…I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name?” This guy didn’t look like a crazy backwoods man that would drag her body off and do horrible things to her, but still she kept her guard up.
“You can call me Wes.”
“I’m Savannah Monroe and it seems I’ve run out of gas.” She brushed back a curl that managed to fall in her face.
He leaned forward and pointed to the car. “I’d think a fancy little thing like that would have a warning light letting you know it’s time to fill up.”
Great, a cowboy with a humor. That’s all she needed right now. “It does, but it seems I’ve decided to ignore it.” She realized the gas light was just one more thing in her life she was ignoring. Just thinking about all of it was depressing her all over again. She had hoped getting away for a while might take her mind off of her troubles, but it seemed her troubles had traveled right along with her.
“Hmm…not much good that got you.” Wes opened his driver’s door and step out of the truck and walked around to where Savannah was standing.
Larina tensed, prepared to roll. However, the blow did not come to her neck. Instead he swung at the nearest slave. The crowd gasped and she heard yelling as the slave fell. Larina grabbed the sword and swung at the other guard. They were close enough to the gates to run.
"What else shall we greet the afterlife for but freedom.” He spoke quickly and his long legs ate up the path to the gates.
More guards were piling into the arena. Slaves were trying to close their only way out. Brennus lifted his leg and his massive foot slammed into the gate. It shot open, the iron bars smashing against the arena wall. Larina was close behind him, stunned and confused by the recent events. It didn’t matter. Sort all this out later. Right now, it was fight for freedom or die at the hands of the Romans. She followed him down a narrow path. Two guards approached but it took him mere moments and three swings to cut them down. She hopped over the remains and kept her hitched breathing in control. The smell was nauseous as they came up a door. What lay beyond was more shocking then she could have imagined and she’d seen a lot of scary shit. Bodies, most dismembered lay on slabs of concrete. The remains of defeated warriors. They were chopped up and sent down the water shoot which led to the lungotevere aventino. According to legend that was the river Romulus and Remus were collected from after being abandoned.
Brennus spun toward her, covering her back as she hopped into the filthy liquid. A hand floated up to greet her and she close her mouth to keep from wrenching. This was no time to act like a useless female. She took a breath and went under. The current quickly took her feet but she heard a splash behind her.
The water slashed at the dried blood and sand that caked in various parts of her body. Larina tried to swim but the current was too strong so she simply let it take her. When the ceiling lifted, she pushed against the stone floor to pop her head up and gather her bearings as well as take oxygen into her lungs. One the third such trip she spotted a big dark shadow behind her. One that grunted and cursed. She smiled despite the scrap of the stone against her skin.
Larina held a scream as the water shot her from the tunnel along with various body parts into the river. Her body landed harshly against the water and she sunk several feet before kicking her legs and bobbing to the surface. The big guy landed beside her doing the same. He was still cursing the Gods as they quickly swam toward the opposite side of the river. They had mere moments to get free and make a run for it. However, when she crawled onto land upon the sandy banks Larina fell to her back and stared at the blue sky. A sight she never thought to enjoy again.
“Or maybe it was a ploy devised to get us together and change the future.”
Lorn snorted. “A master sergeant and a former wastrel...what can we possibly do?”
Kallen lifted his lips in a grin. “Change the world, Lorn…change the fucking world.” He then reached out, grabbed a handful of Lorn’s shirt and tugged him forward.
Lorn could have fought. With his training Kallen wouldn’t have stood a chance. Yet, he followed the pull and planted his lips on Kallen’s. The kiss was slow, a sizzling burn that seemed to consume all the air in the room. Lorn was gasping as he pulled back, disturbed by just how much he enjoyed touching Kallen. “Again you tease the beast.”
Kallen grinned. “Hell fucking yes.” He then smacked his lips onto Lorn’s mouth.
This time the master sergeant took control. He grabbed Kallen’s chin, holding the man in place while his lips ravaged and his tongue stroked. By the time he pulled back, they were both gasping and it echoed throughout the room.
“Fuck, I’m so hard,” Kallen said then groaned. “Let me suck you.”
“I told you, private, I don’t do quick sucks.” Lorn wanted slow, consuming sex with this man. He ignored his early comment about having the heart of a hero and tugged his shirt over his head. Lorn flexed his muscle a bit more than he had too, grinning as Kallen watched with an open mouth. “Undress, private. The master sergeant wants to perform an inspection.” It was a clever quip that popped into Lorn’s head.
He pulled the Velcro of his pants open, slipping them down his legs to his ankles. His undershorts barely hid the raging erection prodding the material. Lorn tugged off his shoes and kicked his pants away then glanced at Kallen.
The man was beautiful. Pulling his pants down, Kallen’s legs were long and lean. Some blond hair was scattered on his thighs and Lorn’s mouth watered as his eyes fell upon Kallen’s dick. It was exposed to his eyes and the moon’s scarce light. The foreskin was wrinkled and being pulled apart to reveal the red tip and creaming hole. The long shaft curved upward strikingly, the thick vein on the underside throbbed as Kallen’s balls were tight to his body. A nest of blond hair was at the base of his cock. Lorn was officially taken by the sight. His eyes strained upward to a...shirt. “Undress. I want to see every inch of your body before I pull apart your butt checks to play.” It was a threat and a promise.