Archive for May, 2013

Breaking News! Military Romantic Suspense coming!

Saturday, May 18th, 2013

 

Well now you all know I like to write the occasional military hero, right? 🙂 That isn’t stopping anytime soon. I don’t have a lot of details I can give out this minute, but a trilogy I wrote some time ago which is military romantic suspense will be published this year or next (I’m hoping the first book will be out this year at least). These stories feature three brothers in three different branches of the military facing down a dangerous situation when they come home to a little town where they grew up. The situation puts them straight into the arms of three women. These are very “ripped from the headlines” stories. As soon as I have blurbs, titles, and all that good stuff to share I’ll do so here on my blog and book pages on my website. Look forward to sharing these hunky brothers with you! More details very soon!

 

Excerpt: Hot Pursuit (Hot Zone Story 5)

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Happy Monday morning. It’s a crazy day, so enjoy an excerpt to tickle your reading taste buds. Enjoy!

It’s make or break time…

Betrayal seems to follow Lucy Creed wherever she goes. With visions of her military-issue boyfriend kissing another woman dancing in her head, she stomps into a local bar, ready, willing and-hell, yeah–able to hook up for New Year’s Eve.

The first man who brings her inner wild thing to attention is one delicious hunk with “perfect one-night stand” stamped all over him. He also turns out to be the all-grown-up version of a young man she blew off in high school. And damn it, he’s the one thing she’s sworn off: military.

In Major Vic Moore’s mind, Lucy is the one that got away. Now that she’s popped up on his radar, the temptation to let their mutual desire burn is too intense to ignore. It also sends up red flags-he’s fresh from a relationship that almost ruined his career.

Yet their scorching chemistry is too strong to ignore, and Vic finds himself going all out to change her well-entrenched ideas about military men. But as their secrets spill out, the weight of the past may be too much for their fragile trust to bear.

* *

New Year’s Eve. Three hours to midnight. Clarksville, Wyoming.

Lucy Creed walked into Dixie’s Den with the full intention of finding a one-night stand.

In military terms, this would be a single engagement. A hot pursuit. She wouldn’t be denied satisfaction.

She stood at the entrance just inside the double doors, bombarded by music from the old-fashioned jukebox. A country singer wailed a pitiful melody of love lost and love found. The steel guitar twanged. The man’s voice throbbed low with sorrow and mimicked the pain in her chest. Her heart twinged along with him.

No. Don’t go there. You’re here to scratch an itch. To forget that scum bucket, low-down, dirty dog Mendoza.

Now that had all the makings of a song. Low-Down, Dirty Dog.

She’d move on to staid men in business suits, accountants or maybe men who worked in the high-tech industry. Just no more soldiers, sailors or marines.

God, that sounds so bad.

It made her sound and feel like a military hanger’s on. A groupie that liked military men for the alpha male mystique. Like the women who wanted to get laid by a Navy SEAL because they figured the men were all studs. Sure, she respected the military for what they represented, and she’d run into a lot of people in the military who didn’t fit the stereotype of alpha male. At the same time, she had to wonder at her rotten luck with military men. What was that all about anyway?

Lucy didn’t care if her closest friends, Freddie, Marisa and Neena were married to military or ex-military. She wasn’t doing the military again even if he looked like a god.

Chatter echoed all around her, the place packed and the room decorated with New Year’s Eve decorations from one end to the next. The large bar area smelled like peppermint, alcohol and the piney nuance of the real eight-foot Christmas tree in the corner. Old-fashioned decorations gave a Victorian air to the tree.

Christmas. The tree reminded Lucy of Christmas Eve and that scum sucking dirty…

Damn it. Forget it, will you?

She sighed and shoved that unfortunate night right out of her mind. Or at least to the back burner.

Low lights gave the bar and restaurant intimacy, and yellow and silver streamers hanging from the ceiling twirled and bounced shiny sparkles around the room.

Laugher broke out occasionally, especially at one big round booth in the back. Six women that could have been sextuplets giggled like girls at a birthday party in grade school. They wore party hats over their cascades of long blonde hair and she instantly was reminded of Felicia DeAnza. Blond. Buxom. Gorgeous Felicia.

The woman she didn’t want to hate, but had to.

“Good riddance, Mendoza. You and Felicia deserve each other,” she said out loud. She glanced at the women again. “Honestly. Six blonde women at one table?”

Surely one of those gigglers was a bottle blonde.

She glanced around to see if anyone had heard her mumblings. No one cared. The crowd seemed to have grown by twenty people since she’d walked inside. It was early but the place rocked. Good. She hoped there were a lot of men here. Eligible. Hot. Yeah, hot as hell would be a real bonus.

Determination motivated each step as she sauntered through the crowd that spilled over from the bar into the restaurant. Dixie’s Den had opened a month ago, a country-and-western theme predominate in the decorations that were sprinkled throughout the bar and restaurant areas. She’d been here once, with that D-bag of a boyfriend, and now she wanted to wash the memory right out of her hair by christening the place with a new man. Huh. Christening wasn’t exactly the right word for what she needed.

Mindless, wonderful, screaming sin sex.

Anything less…well, she’d had less. She wanted more for a change.

A man who’d treat her like a princess and make love to her like he never wanted to let her go.

As she gazed around, she didn’t expect to see what she did. A room full of cowboy hats, most of them on the heads of older men averaging age sixty and their going-grey wives. Okay, so maybe this wasn’t the best place on a New Year’s Eve to forget about a two-timing asshole. Then some of the cowboy-hat heads in the back turned, and several were young. Too young. Maybe barely legal. No. She didn’t want or need that complication.

She spotted a man sitting on a stool at the bar, a long-necked beer bottle in his right hand. And oh, my, my, my. He would photograph well. She could have used him in this year’s charity calendar arranged by her friend, Neena. A brunette with flowing long hair headed for him. She wore a tight white T-shirt, butt-skimming mini-skirt and teeter-totter screw-me shoes. She clasped his forearm and leaned close to whisper.

She saw his eyes go wide for a half second, then laughter burst over his face. A low, deep toe-curling laugh that sent sensual vibrations all through Lucy. Holy macoroni. The man shook his head and said something to the woman. The woman’s body language held regret as she pouted and sauntered away, looking stinking drunk and ready to fall of her too-tall shoes.

Lucy’s mouth went dry as she took a closer look at the guy. He seemed familiar somehow, but she didn’t know from where. The room seemed twice as loud and her vision twice as clear. Though he sat at a slight angle away from her, she could see the breadth of his wide shoulders stretching an emerald green sweater that looked soft and touchable. The sweater managed to enhance his muscles without appearing too tight. He cupped his hands behind his neck. Muscles rippled. His biceps and forearms bunched with sculpted muscles, but he wasn’t a body builder in an overdone way. No. He was perfectly symmetrical. Powerful. The man screamed of sex and that primitive, knee-buckling, unable-to-control attraction that hammered a female over the head and made everything inside her return to the cave. This was the kind of man a woman could get crazy with, loose inhibitions and forget her own name with.

Jeans curved over long legs consisting of hard thighs and calves and ending in sensible all-weather black boots. She’d bet on a stack of bibles he had a world-class butt. She’d love to photograph him with or without clothes.

Her active imagine went into overdrive. Without clothes. Oh, yeah. Would his chest have a hint of hair, or would it be smooth? She liked chests with hair and never understood the trend toward a man waxing his chest.

Instinct drew her forward one step. Two. Soon her boots moved across the room with confident strides. She sensed a couple of men at the bar checking her out, and she worked it, allowing their blatant appreciation to expand her confidence as she walked. She moved with major attitude. Tall, tough and with the slightest swagger.

The man she’d ogled swiveled the bar stool and looked straight at her. Her breath caught. Thick, dark lashes framed piercing brown eyes. Black hair cut short waved close against his head. His features were cut sharply, as if heaven had designed him with a rough hand. He had a long nose, broad but well-sculpted mouth and an almost cruel look that probably scared the hell out of the enemy. He was so—well, he was so not beautiful. Just all…man. Primal female response stood up and noticed. Her body flushed, heated with total awareness of him as a male. Her hormones screamed for attention.

His face lit up with recognition. The dark eyes softened with warmth, the mouth curved into a smile. “Lucy? Lucy Creed?”

His voice was deep, mellow, with an underlying edge of steel.

She blinked. “I’m sorry. I don’t…”

He stood, and her five foot six inches had nothing on over six feet of hard muscle. The sweater stretched over his chest a little and his front looked as fantastic as his back had.

He sauntered toward her, beer bottle forgotten on the counter. When he stood near, his woodsy, leather scent caught her attention. A brown bomber jacket was slung over the back of the barstool. Mmmm. Leather.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” That damned voice had mellow qualities, a deceiving softness with an underlying rumble of pure passion.

There was a familiar something about him she couldn’t put her finger upon. “No. Should I?”

He grinned and her body responded with a flash of heat. “Last time you saw me I was at our senior party. At Jennifer Calvin’s house over on Ridgeway.”

“I still don’t remember.”

His grin widened. “I sat next to you in chemistry and we had English lit together.”

She frowned, embarrassed that she couldn’t remember him.

“I was short.” He tilted his head to the side. “Skinny. Ugly as sin. I hear I’m still ugly, but at least I took care of the short and skinny.”

Oh. Holy. God. Recognition slammed her at the same time as embarrassment. “You’re not Victor Moore? No way.”

 

 

Excerpt: Close Quarters (Hot Zone story 4)

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Happy Friday all! Here’s an excerpt from story 4 in the Hot Zone series! Enjoy!

When all hell breaks loose, sometimes you just need someone to cover you…

Neena Williamson struggles to keep her high-pressure job from overwhelming her, and she thinks the demons of her past have long since disappeared. One night, she sees a man wearing the most hideous Hawaiian shirt on earth and vows he’d never fit her image of a hot bod for a local charity’s new hot male calendar. Then the evening erupts in violence, and he proves that first impressions can be dead wrong.

Sometimes having a simple cup of coffee can turn into a complicated situation…

Mitch Gilroy hides in plain sight, enjoying his low-key handyman job.  His former life isn’t open for discussion, and Clarksville, Wyoming is the perfect place to find peace. Then a gunman forces his hand, and Mitch must remember everything he’s tried so hard to forget.  Thrown together, Neena and Mitch quickly discover how tangled their emotions can become, and only by working together can they banish the monsters that haunt them and heal a lifetime of regrets.

 

* *

She registered the heat and hardness of his body. Her breasts mashed to his chest, his hips and thighs pressed along hers. Close up, his face held the chiseled hardness of an old west movie hero, without anything fancy to pretty him up. A cut jaw, a nose slightly on the big side. Only his mouth was sculpted, lips just right on a man—not too big, not too thin. He felt so warm, so protective…

He released her and walked toward the door. He tried the knob. When it didn’t budge, he slammed one palm against it. He tried kicking it down, but the door wouldn’t budge. She realized the room was a huge pantry with shelves on three sides. No way out.

Handyman tried budging the door one more time to no avail. “Damn it!”

That’s when true fear slammed her. Like it or not, she was trapped in a locked room with a total stranger. Tears gathered in her eyes and spilled over her eyelids before she could stop them. Handyman turned toward her, striding across the room until he cupped her shoulders.

“Hey, it’s going to be all right.”

She nodded and buried her face in her hands. “I know. I just…”

Tears spilled, and a sob escaped her.

“Hey, hey. Easy.” He gathered her close once more, and she found her hands buried in his big shirt again. As tears spilled from her and she gulped and sobbed, she tried to regain control. Embarrassment sliced her with cruel fingers. His touch slipped through her hair, gently massaging her neck.

“It’s all right. He’s gone.” Velvet and husky, his voice held safety and comfort.

Poor fashion sense or not, his voice was to die for.

So was the body pressed along hers. She felt muscles. Lots and lots of glorious muscles. Or maybe the fear had destroyed her reasoning ability and she wanted the man holding her to play the hero. Right now, with a tenderness that put her off guard, he fit the lead part in her adventure movie down to a capital T.

Only difference is, he hadn’t whipped out a gun and gone Kung Fu on the bad guy’s ass. Which in reality made perfect sense. If Handyman had played knight on a white horse, they’d be dead. She shivered and then did another stupid thing. She slid her arms around his waist and held on. Yeah, he has a trim waist, too. Hmmm…

“When that jerk pointed his gun in your face, I thought he was going to kill you right in front of me,” she whispered through a sob.

“So did I.”

His voice rumbled deeply, so matter-of-fact she couldn’t believe how distant he sounded. His arms tightened around her in a gentle squeeze, the only sign that he felt anything about his near miss with death.

“You had a gun pointed at your head, and here I am babbling like an idiot.” She gulped back another sob.

“So did you, remember? You were looking right down the barrel for a long time.”

Right. She had. Her tears started to dry, and the fright calmed somewhat. She forced herself to pull back out of his arms. “God, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to go all girly like that.”

“It’s okay. What just happened scared the shit out of me, too.”

A man who’d admit his fear. Interesting. His expression might show no fear and his voice gave no indication of the trauma he’d faced. Yet he could speak the words.

Neena became aware of a shift in perception. Not a smidgen of change, but a whopping ugly belief that she’d altered in the last few minutes. That the world had undergone a drastic, nasty transformation. She’d never believed in a rosy world, but this one had sharp thorns. She held her hands in front of her. They shook. A heat wave and then a cold flash washed over her in relentless strokes. Her stomach curled. Shaking, she put her back against the one wall minus shelving and slid downward until she plopped on the floor. Cold and hard, the landing felt brutal against her ass. Incongruously she noticed a run in the right calf of her thigh-high stockings. A jagged, gaping slit that might have been there before the robber came into the coffee shop, or maybe happened sometime in between. Who knew? Who cared? For a second she gave a damn. A really big damn. Then she took a shaky breath. She was acting like an immature, shallow twit. She’d buy more. Ten pairs more if she survived her stay in this stupid pantry. Then she wanted to smack the robber across the face with her purse for the inconvenience.

“Damn it.” Handyman glared at the door. He peered through the half dozen bullet holes that had come through the doorway. “The bastard put something heavy in front of it. Can’t see a thing.”

“You think?” she asked, her voice laced with sarcasm. Then she regretted her snarkiness. “I’m sorry. I’m just…pissed off.”

“You think?” he asked with a smile.

She cracked a reluctant half grin in response. “I’m sitting here getting twisty headed because I have one big-assed tear in my stockings. How messed up is that?”

Her hands still quivered, and she hated that even more.

“Hey.” He knelt down in front of her. He touched her forearm and gently squeezed. “You look like hell.”

“Thank you.”

His frown deepened. “You’re trembling.”

“I hate to admit it, but I feel sick.”

His big hand caressed her hair, pushing it back from her face. This surprised her so much she gazed into his concerned expression with curiosity.

“Probably adrenaline. You just came down from a big rush.”

“You know about adrenaline?”

“Yep. Take deep breaths if you feel dizzy.”

She put her hands to her head, in case she needed to hold her skull on her shoulders. “Good idea.”

He stayed kneeling in front of her while she sucked in one big breath and then another. It worked.

“Better?”

“Much. Thank you.”

His gaze, mysterious yet calm as a slow flowing river, captured and held hers. “You ever see a man shot?”

She put her hands down. “Are you kidding? I hate guns. It was so…loud.”

“Yeah. In a confined space. In any space.”

“Why did you ask me that?”

“Because it would explain your reaction. It’s not because that coffee cake is making you sick.”

“Never. Davina makes the best coffee cake there is. Hey, wait. You noticed what I was eating?”

“You noticed something about me. I saw you glaring at me a few times.”

Under the circumstances, she couldn’t dredge up the energy to feel embarrassed. Misdirection had worked for her often. No need to stop now. “Have you ever seen a guy shot?”

His eyes hardened, as if he’d not only seen a man shot, but perhaps witnessed far worse. “Yeah. Yeah, I have.”

He peered around the room. Handyman observed the corners, as if assessing any reasonable escape route. Determined not to be a girly girl anymore, she stood on wobbly knees. He followed. She rubbed her hands down over her hips, aware that her serviceable white blouse and blue gabardine skirt felt hot. The room probably didn’t have much ventilation.

Hands on hips, he turned to her. From here, his shirt was still ugly. But something about Handyman was different. Less…geeky. She sensed a hard core inside him, and her intuition told her she’d been wrong about him in more than one way. Neena’s earlier concern arose. She didn’t know him. And she was stuck in here for God knows how long.

Yet her priorities had changed, too. In one striking moment, she understood things about herself she’d stayed blind to for a long while. She’d start off the rest of her day with a fresh slate. She also had another revelation. Handyman probably wasn’t a rapist or mad murderer, thank God. That would have really capped her day. Instead she’d felt his strength of character, and a solidness that gave confidence.

 

Excerpt: Private Maneuvers (Hot Zone series)

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Howdy again! Today is a delicious excerpt from the third story in my Hot Zone series, Private Maneuvers. Hope you enjoy!

Sometimes a woman craves what she shouldn’t want…

Marisa Clyde wants nothing to do with the soldier who is acting as a temporary bouncer in her uncle’s tavern. Stoic and over six feet of smoldering masculinity, the hunk helped rescue her during a tour gone bad in Mexico. During those few short moments after she first met him, the tension between them screamed off the charts. A devastating hurt in the past blocks her willingness to surrender to him. If she can wait him out now, he’ll only be in town a month and then he’s out of her life.

Sometimes a man wants more than a woman is willing to share…

Jake Sullivan watches Marisa like a hawk, well aware his need to protect is messing with his mind and making him care for Marisa way more than he should. Priding himself on clinical detachment in the game between man and woman, he figures once he’s slept with her, she’ll be out of his system for good. But that’s before he experiences her on a deeper level and learns she just might be in danger again.

**

The second Marisa Clyde saw the soldier she knew he was trouble.

He took Marisa’s hand as she stepped off the old tour bus. Huge fingers and a big palm wrapped her much smaller hand. Her body shivered as warmth flickered in her stomach. In fact, her entire body quaked.

He looked like rescue.

He looked like safety wrapped up in one sexy, strong, powerful package.

She could blame it on the events of the last twenty-four hours. Danger and fear could rattle a person. Or just perhaps, it could be this man and the power he emanated.

Maybe the long, thick lashes framing the onyx eyes staring down into hers influenced her senses to scatter. She was nuts to go completely ga-ga over the man standing in front of her when she refused to find a military man attractive ever again. Maybe she could blame her reaction to him on the heat wavering upward from the washboard surface of the road and the relentless sun beating down. Or perhaps the humidity level coming from the Mexican jungle all around them had steamed her brains. Of course, the fact that her ribs had taken a bit of beating didn’t help. Every time she breathed, a dull ache radiated outward from her left side.

Not what she expected to experience on a vacation, but she’d made it through worse and lived to tell about it.

As her Uncle Dexter back in Clarksville, Wyoming would say, the pucker factor for the last day had escalated way off the charts. She had a right to feel disoriented, hungry, and exhausted. A smear on her glasses irritated her, but she didn’t bother to try and clean it. Face it, a smear was so not that important when she’d just survived what would amount in the news to an international incident.

Her ribs panged, and she winced.

“Are you all right, ma’am?” the soldier asked, his deep voice a husky sound that brushed along her senses like a feather tickling all her erogenous zones.

She couldn’t answer him. Through her tiredness, her hormones registered that he stood around six three or four, his muscular build apparent through the camo wear. He wore no rank or insignia that could identify him.

His military short obsidian hair gleamed with blue highlights under the fierce sun. He topped the charts into unbelievably gorgeous. No. Not exactly. Dark and dangerous, a huge cliché, didn’t explain the unique mix-and-match hardness in his features that added up to one handsome visage. Yet dangerous certainly described his aura, a kick-butt-and-don’t-bother-to-take-names presence. His angular face defied description—his jaw formed a solid frame around his hard mouth. His nose was a smidgen crooked. Those intriguing, mysterious eyes didn’t hide anything. Did he know how his feelings gleamed so starkly in his gaze? Probably not. Right now his eyes narrowed, as if he wanted to read her mind and excavate answers.

When she didn’t answer him, his gaze turned dark, serious and concerned. “Ma’am?”

“Poor dear is a bit shocky,” Ida Hambly said behind her. “She’s had quite an ordeal.”

“I’m fine,” Marisa said. “There’s nothing wrong with me.”

“Right. Nothing wrong. You’ve just made it through a bombing, a robbery, and a broken down bus. All in a day’s work for an accountant?” Ida leaned heavily on her cane, and when the soldier saw Ida hesitating on the bottom step of the bus, he released Marisa’s hand and helped the elderly woman down and over to where Marisa stood. “And then the cavalry rides in on white horses and saves our butts. I’d say that’s enough to rattle your sweet young cage.”

Marisa smirked. “Ida, your sense of humor kept me sane.”

That, and maybe Freddie Bodine. Freddie stood clasped in the arms of her boyfriend, another one of the soldiers who’d come to the rescue. Apparently he’d traveled from the U.S. after putting together this team of army men to look for Freddie when the tour bus went missing and didn’t report back to the hotel.

Freddie’s head pressed against her boyfriend’s shoulder, and his hand cupped the back of her head. He touched his lips to the top of Freddie’s head in a tender gesture. He looked drained with relief. What would it feel like to have a man love me that much?

Excerpt: Unconditional Surrender (Hot Zone series book 2)

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Howdy all. Next up is an excerpt of the second novella in my Hot Zone series, Unconditional Surrender. I hope you enjoy it!

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.

*

“Ms. Agnew delivers a power punch of emotion… A strong voice and a well-plotted story line definitely make UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER a true pleasure to read. The interactions of the characters are realistic and the heat generated between Freddie and Keith is so hot I’m sure that had it been a paperback that it may have caught on fire. UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER is a refreshing blend of sweet romance and fiery passion sure to satisfy any reader and is proof that Ms. Agnew knows how to blend romance and suspense perfectly every single time.”
~ Jenn, Romance Junkies

 

“Freddie?”

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.”

“Was?”

“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.”

“Yep.”

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,
but—”

“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.”