Hey all! Today is military Tuesday, and I’m introducing you to the second story in the Hot Zone series at Samhain Publishing. For more information on this story, please be sure to check it out on my website.
(Hot Zone book 2)
She’s archaeology, he’s Special Ops, and both of them teeter on the edge of stepping into the HOT ZONE.
She wants the adventure of a lifetime and isn’t willing to sacrifice it for any man…
Archaeologist Fredricka “Freddie” Bodine returns to her hometown for her twentieth high school reunion, unaware that her old crush, Keith Wallace, has blown back into town. A single memory is etched deeply on her brain—the high school prom where she shared an emotionally revealing dance with him. They’d both left town after graduation, feelings unresolved and teen angst firmly in place.
All he wants is to keep the girl he loved and lost safe, even if she hates him for it…
Keith doesn’t want her to travel to Los Diablos, an area near ancient ruins where his sister was killed years ago. As they grapple with family pressures and the exploding passion between them, their battle of wills may just lead them to the truth living in both their hearts.
She almost came out of her skin. She whirled to the left. Standing at the very end of the aisle, Keith Wallace stared at her with a furrowed brow.
“Oh—um, hi.” Her voice cracked and she cleared her throat. “I didn’t know you were here. Or even in town.”
“I didn’t know you were in town.” His voice, deep and overlaid with a sexy huskiness, had always melted her insides like the most delicious combination of peanut butter and chocolate and stirred feelings she didn’t want to have.
As he sauntered toward her, she sighed. The gods could not be so cruel. Or maybe they could. The changes in him had only increased his attractiveness. Boy, oh boy, howdy, he’d matured like a fine Merlot, rich with nuances that made her mouth go dry and her heart do a silly two-step. At thirty-eight he defined disgustingly gorgeous man with a capital G.
When she’d left this town twenty years ago, she’d never considered that he’d still have this effect on her. She recalled his attractiveness at eighteen, mature for his age, brooding and intense. At eighteen she’d wanted to date happy-go-lucky guys with uncomplicated backgrounds. Sure couldn’t say that about Keith. Still, nature had matured his physique in all the right ways.
At six feet and probably two inches, he made her five feet five inches feel small. The navy blue T-shirt stretched over his broad chest and wide shoulders. Muscles rippled in his biceps and forearms. Jeans defined his hips and muscular thighs and made his legs look miles longer. His work boots looked well used and scuffed. Always rugged, his face had matured into angles and planes that screamed danger and forbidden sensuality. His mahogany hair wasn’t the tousled boy anymore, but clipped military short. Without strands flopping over his face, nothing hid the thoroughly masculine lines that screamed the proverbial dark and dangerous.
Her heart did a flop, a flip, and started thumping away so hard she felt the pulse in her ears. Okay. So that reaction hadn’t changed in twenty years either.
When Keith hovered over her, staring down with those dark chocolate eyes, his frown showed genuine concern.
“What brings you here?” she asked.
“Came to pick up a book for my mom. Ernestine said you were here.” He crossed his arms, and then nodded at her huge book. “I heard you cursing. What’s wrong?”
Embarrassment heated her face. “It’s nothing significant.”
He came closer. “Oh yeah?” His lips quirked, and rare humor danced in his eyes. He glanced at the book lying open on the desk. “Sure it’s nothing?”
Freddie frowned. “I never was good at lying to you. This is—was—my favorite book in the library.”
“I used to check it out every once in a while when I was a kid.”
He moved nearer yet, leaning his hand on the side panel of the desk to look at the book. “A ripped page?”
She closed the book cover so he could see the photo on the front. “Archaeological sites in Mexico. Tikal. Or what my archaeology professor at Western used to say, Chicken Itza.”
He laughed, the low, rumbling sound sending vibrations through her stomach. She clenched her legs together in reaction. Holy, holy crap. A hot pulsing gathered in her loins. Talk about a record time to get turned on. Her mouth watered as her gaze traveled quickly over his chest.
“I’m sorry some asshole wrecked your favorite book. Why don’t you buy a copy for yourself and keep it so you can look at it any time you want?” he asked.
She sighed and opened the book again. “You always were a practical kind of guy, Keith. But I liked the ritual of coming into this quiet library occasionally and flipping through the pages undisturbed. Besides, the book is now out of print.”
He nodded, that slow grin creeping over his mouth again. “I get it. With your brothers and sisters running around that old house, I can see why you used come here for peace.”
Memories of twenty years ago flooded her mind, some of them good, some of them not so good. She swallowed hard as the impact hit her. She looked down at his boots.
“What brings you to town?” he asked.
“For the twentieth class reunion. Twenty years. Can you believe it? How about you?”
“Visiting the ranch.”
She couldn’t help smiling at him again. “When I arrived the other day, I wondered if you ever came back to town.”
He shrugged. “I don’t very often. Been too busy.”
She’d heard rumors, but didn’t want to blurt out what. Small towns really were chock full of bullshit sometimes. “Doing what?”
“I’m in the military.”
She nodded. “I heard the Army.”
Oh, yeah. There it was. He had that brooding, intense look she’d never forgotten. Now that he’d reached thirty-eight years old, the gloominess appeared far more serious than it had before. Gloomy, hard, and oh so sexy.
“So you had time off?” she asked.
“My unit was sent back from an overseas deployment two weeks ago. I had some leave coming and decided to get away. While overseas I managed to get hurt, and since I have thirty days I need to use or lose, Mom and Dad asked me to come out to Clarksville.”
Concern twisted her stomach, and her gaze cruised over him quickly. “What happened? I mean, how were you hurt?”
A disturbance flickered in his eyes. “A bullet. It hit me in the left thigh.”
“Oh God, Keith.” Worry braided through her midsection and made her stomach muscles clench. She stood automatically, and squeezed his shoulder. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
“Thanks.” He winked, and his mouth turned up in a teasing grin. “It’s just a flesh wound.”
She returned his smile, not wanting to think about him more seriously hurt.
“Our unit will probably go back in six months.”
“Damn,” she said softly.
He didn’t react to her quiet statement, and when his eyes shuttered, she knew she’d lost the lightness of their earlier conversation. A heaviness wrapped around her she couldn’t deny.
“You’re still an archaeologist?” he asked.
“Yep. Got my Ph.D. and I’m working at Western College starting this fall.”
His eyebrows winged up. “You chose to come back to this town? When you left I thought you said you were never coming back permanently.”
She nodded. “Yeah, but what you say when you’re eighteen doesn’t always stick, does it?”
“No. No it doesn’t.”
Was he remembering that last dance they had? The one she’d cherished all these years? Her face heated with the memory. God, she didn’t know if she wanted Keith to remember. The evening hadn’t ended quite so well as that slow, sensual turn about the floor she replayed in her fantasies on lonely evenings when it rained. Rained just like it had at the town hall dance on prom night.
“Are you going to the class reunion?” She tried not to sound hopeful. “It should be fun.”
He snorted. “Right.”
She threw him a dirty look. “Come on. Here’s our chance to show off to those cheerleaders and football players that we made something of ourselves. And I hear cheerleaders and football players have a tendency to get fat and lose their hair after high school.”
His grin widened. “You don’t really care about that, do you? Half the time I can’t remember any those putzs’ names.”
“Of course I don’t care that much. But don’t tell me you aren’t like everybody else and don’t wonder occasionally what happened to those people. And it’s nice to relate to some of them on a mature level instead of teenage hormonal imbalance.”
“You’re assuming some of them don’t still have a hormone imbalance.”
“Hmm, well… It’s good to have the proof, even if it’s just for one selfish second, that you did make it in the world even though you weren’t the most popular guy on the block.”
His brow furrowed. “That’s for sure.”
“I didn’t mean to insinuate…”
“It’s okay. I wasn’t popular. It’s no big deal.”
“Come on. You didn’t feel that natural twinge every teen does when they aren’t popular?”
He gazed at the floor, his eyes shuttered. “Not really.”
“Well, I was so glad to escape high school I couldn’t see straight,” she said. “I wasn’t popular either.”
Keith shook his head. “Can’t understand why not. You were so pretty.”
Her mouth did fall open then, and she wondered if the shock would kill her. She managed to find her voice…just barely. “Um…thank you. That’s sweet of you to say. I don’t know how braces, unruly as hell hair, and poor fashion sense made me pretty,
“I saw you.” His gaze cruised over her now, warm and searching and way too intimate. She felt his attention like a sensual caress. Admiration burned in his eyes. “Just because you couldn’t afford all the trendy crap the cheerleaders were wearing doesn’t mean you weren’t pretty.” Once more his attention glided from her hair, over her face, and then with unrepentant precision straight over her breasts and back up again. His voice, when he spoke, was low and husky. “And now you’re beautiful.”