Falling for the Enemy Excerpt
Copyright © 2014 by Samanthe Beck.All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Holy crap, I’m going to die like a gnat, splattered against a windshield.
The thought blazed through Virginia Boca’s mind while a pathetically unremarkable montage of her life flashed before her eyes. Twenty-eight years of sucking in the country air of Bluelick, Kentucky was about to come to a gruesome end thanks to that reckless little shithead, Justin Buchanan, and the stupid red Mustang his idiot father bought him last year for his sixteenth birthday. Worse, after running her down in the street like a dog, Justin would probably walk away with a slap on his wrist, because his idiot father also happened to be mayor. And without her around to throw her hat into the ring, Tom Buchanan would win re-election next month without breaking a sweat.
The steel death machine barreled down on her, so close she could see Justin through the windshield, texting away while speeding along Main Street. A scream slammed into
her frozen vocal cords, but she could no more free the noise than she could change direction in midair. She’d already passed the point of no return on the journey from sidewalk to the crosswalk, and now momentum held her prisoner.
Time slowed and stretched as the Mustang neared. Justin looked up. Their eyes met. His went wide and filled with the kind of terror that came from confronting a math problem along the lines of, “How many feet does it take to stop a two-ton car traveling at sixty miles per hour?” and realizing the answer was more than he had.
Ginny closed her eyes—not so much because she accepted her fate, but because she preferred not to be there for it—and braced her body for a brutal kick-off into the hereafter.
An arm banded around her middle and yanked her backwards so fast she lost what she’d assumed would be her last breath. Displaced air from the speeding car buffeted her, but nothing more. She opened her eyes. Despite the black dots dancing around the perimeter of her vision, she managed to see the Mustang disappear down Main without a single flash of brake lights.
She might have indulged in a longer, more inventive rant, except the dancing black dots made her dizzy and a little queasy. She blinked fast, trying to clear them, but the stubborn things merged together to limit her vision to twin tunnels while the rest of her body turned as weightless as a helium balloon. Maybe Justin had hit her after all, and this was what death felt like? If so, the dark tunnels were even more troubling. Wasn’t there supposed to be a light to float into? Lord knew she wasn’t a saint. She’d fallen a bit
short of chaste at times, and yes, she gossiped more than she should, but she’d recently vowed to mend her ways and do something meaningful with her life. Where the hell was…er, scratch that…where in heaven’s name was her light?
Strong arms kept her tethered in place and a low voice murmured, “You’re okay.”
The words vibrated in her ear, echoed around in her foggy head, and then surged down her spine, forcing her nervous system into a shaking, stuttering re-boot. Her brain attempted a physical inventory and picked up some unsettling stimuli—whipcord taut thighs braced to support her far better than her own trembling legs, a sloping wall of hard abs along her back, and a warm, wide chest pressed against her like a shield.
Her neck muscles took a time out, and the back of her head connected with a well-developed pectoral, then lolled to the side and her cheek settled against the muscular cushion. A strong, rapid heartbeat pounded under her ear, and his rough breath fanned her temple. Both told her she and Justin weren’t the only ones hopped up on adrenalin from their near-fatal game of car versus pedestrian. She stood there shivering while he did all the work—kept her from sinking to the sidewalk while somehow managing to slow his breathing and his heart rate.
Her breath and heartbeat played follow-the-leader and synched up with his, and her awareness of every plane and angle of the unquestionably male body behind her heightened. She’d never had a premonition in her life, and didn’t particularly believe in them, but apparently a near- death experience coupled with a months-long sex hiatus brought about heretofore undiscovered powers, because a vivid image filled her mind. Her, naked and backed up against her guardian angel while he ran his big, sure hands down her sides and clasped her hips. She arched her back, groaned, and—
His answering groan pulled her back to the here and now—and to the unmistakable ridge burning a brand along the seam of her jeans. Get ahold of yourself, Ginny. You don’t say “Thank you for the save” by rubbing yourself all over a stranger. She lowered her eyes and saw her hands clamped around strong, tanned forearms. Her fingernails dug into his skin as if her life still depended on him.
Release death grip now. At the same time she loosened her hold, his arms tightened fractionally around her, keeping her in place. His jaw brushed her ear. He exhaled slowly, then released her, and stepped away. The warm June evening didn’t stop a final shiver from skipping up her spine at the sudden absence of his body heat.
She turned to face her rescuer and experienced a jolt of…inevitability. She didn’t know him, but she recognized him. Recognized his mass of overgrown dark hair, stubbly jaw, and deep, brown, impenetrable eyes. She’d seen him around town several times over the last few weeks, always solitary, always silent, but something in the way he carried his tall, hard-packed frame hinted at coiled energy beneath his cool, relaxed surface. Solitary and silent were about as far from her type as a guy could get, but this man worked every erogenous zone in her body with nothing but his brooding stare.
Gossip abounded about his identity, and as the owner of the busiest hair salon in town, she heard every word of it. She didn’t have a clue if any of the reports contained a
kernel of truth, but his dangerous, almost feral appearance had inspired her friend Melody to dub him “Wolverine.”
Before she could ask him his name, he turned and…for God’s sake…started walking away.
“Wait!” she called to his retreating back. He didn’t slow, so she yelled, “Thank you.”
He shrugged his broad shoulders in the universal no worries gesture.
“Hey!” She waited until he craned his neck around and looked at her. Then she pointed to the entrance of her salon. “I owe you a haircut.”
His hand came up in a casual salute, and that’s all the acknowledgment she got. He made a right at the end of the block and disappeared around the corner.
Well, hell. Her system revved with the impulse to chase him down, but a quick glance at her watch nixed the notion. She was already late to meet Melody at Rawley’s Pub. Damn it, she had to walk away from tonight’s encounter with her curiosity—not to mention a few other things—unsatisfied.
Shaun Buchanan climbed behind the wheel of his stripped- down Wrangler, started the engine, and fought the urge to head straight out of town and keep going until he drove clean off the continent. The sexy little redhead might consider his presence outside her salon tonight a lucky coincidence, but he knew better. For weeks now he’d been finding excuses to pass by at the end of the day, blend into the shadows like a ghost, and watch as she talked and joked with her last customers.
An unsettling habit, considering “ghost” was an apt description of him these days, and that’s just how he wanted it. He intended to stay on the untethered fringe, not get drawn in. She, on the other hand…everything about her drew people in. Her salon buzzed with activity most of the day. A steady stream of clients overlapped, lingered, and chatted while the auburn-haired beauty worked her magic. She had the energy and personality to match her business. She was a talker, and a toucher, adept at putting people at ease—though “at ease” definitely didn’t describe him after having her slender curves locked against him during their brief-but-intense encounter. Her sultry, slightly husky voice lingered in his ears, but in his imagination she was calling out a grateful “thank you” for entirely different reasons.
If it was only his pent-up libido pulling him in, he wouldn’t find the situation so troubling. But it went deeper. She radiated purpose and vitality—two qualities sadly lacking in his life at the moment—and they attracted him at the same time he told himself to steer clear.
He put the Jeep in gear and took the familiar route toward Riverview Road and the big, stately homes of Bluelick’s bluebloods. He had zero capacity for getting involved. Not with the community, or his messed-up family, and certainly not a hot redhead with twinkling green eyes and a quick mouth.
Thanks to Justin, family involvement couldn’t be avoided tonight, but the rest of it? Hell, yes. He maneuvered his Jeep into the circular cobblestone driveway of the largest house on a street of large homes, and pulled in behind the red Mustang parked haphazardly at the apex. A few strides brought him to the white doors of the colonial he’d called home for the first twelve years of his life. He’d barely set foot in the place over the next seventeen, but he walked in as if he owned it.
Justin stood in the entryway, screwing around on his phone. He looked up when Shaun strolled toward him.
The single word dripped with attitude. Shaun ignored the tone. “Where’s Dad?”
Justin shrugged and returned his attention to his phone. “Out to dinner with fuck-me-up-the-ass Barbie.”
By that lovely endearment, he assumed Justin referred to the third and latest in the line of Mrs. Tom Buchanans— twenty-three-year-old former cocktail waitress Brandi something-or-other, who had hastened the inevitable split between their father and Justin’s mom. Fidelity wasn’t Tom’s strong suit, and he had two ex-wives to prove it. Equally apparent, there was no love lost between Justin and Brandi.
“Better watch your mouth, unless you want to spend your senior year at a military academy in Savannah.”
His brother looked up and smirked. “Fuck that shit. I’ll go live with my mom.”
Not likely, based on what he knew of Justin’s mom, and he suspected her only son realized as much. Still, he didn’t bother correcting the statement. Justin’s custody options were not his concern. He held out his hand for the phone. “Can I see that for a sec?”
The teen gave him an irritated look but handed it over. “It’s an iPhone, dumbass. Didn’t they have those in the SEALs?”
He dropped the sleek device to the floor and stomped it under his heel. The screen shattered.
“Hey, you freak, what the fuck—?”
“Now it’s a piece of garbage. If I see you speeding through town again, the car is my next target. Got that, dumbass?”
“You’re bat-shit crazy. I’m telling Dad.”
“Go ahead. Be sure to mention the part where you almost killed someone while you were texting and driving. Bet he buys you a new phone right about the time hell freezes over.”
Dark eyes disconcertingly similar to his own burned with pure, unadulterated hate, and the kid’s hands tightened into fists. Part of him hoped his little brother would go ahead and take a swing, because as far as he could tell the kid needed an ass-kicking, but dishing one out meant sticking around for a bunch of physical and emotional cleanup he preferred to avoid. So he dished out his version of cautionary advice instead. “Thinking about banging heads with me? Think about this. I’m taller, I’m heavier, and I’m trained to drop a guy twice your size. I can grind you under my boot just like this”—he kicked the battered phone so it slid to a stop by the toe of Justin’s two-hundred-dollar athletic shoes— “without breaking stride.”
The anger had to go somewhere, so Justin swung his foot and kicked the phone into the baseboard, where it landed with a thud and a shower of parts. “You suck.” He turned and stormed up the central staircase. “Go back to Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or whatever shithole you came from, and stay there this time.”
“Aw, you’ve hurt my feelings.” Petty, but for some reason he couldn’t resist having the last word. He was dead tired, still pissed, and, frankly, they’d never been close. He’d been
ten when his parents had split. With the ink barely dry on the divorce decree, Tom had turned around and married Monica. She’d been such a bitch on wheels Shaun had gladly escaped to military school a couple years later when Justin came along.
A combination of choice and circumstances—including four years at Annapolis and six years with the SEALs—had kept him away pretty consistently since then. Despite the lack of brotherly bonds, he harbored some sympathy for the kid. Or at least not complete apathy, he silently corrected as he returned to his car. Monica had moved to Atlanta without a backward glance. According to their father, she couldn’t be bothered to do more than send an occasional text to Justin.
He steered the car back the way he’d come and thought about the other half of the parental equation—their father. Tom Buchanan loved his sons…in his own distracted, dysfunctional way. His parenting technique swung between benign neglect and attempts to overcompensate for his lack of attention by doing favors and purchasing affection. No surprise Justin had turned out spoiled and self-centered. Life with Mommy and Daddy had taught him to put his needs and desires first, or nobody would. Not your problem, a weary voice in his head interjected. You’ve got plenty of your own.
A left turn onto Main brought the salon into sight for the second time, and a few personal needs and desires pushed to the forefront of his mind. They centered around the woman he’d held in his arms less than an hour ago, her body pressed so close he could still feel the imprint of tight, toned curves in some very key places. The citrus-y scent of her perfume, or shampoo, or whatever it was, still flirted
with his senses—something as distinct and teasingly sexy as the rest of her. Her soft, shuddery moan reverberated in his memory and fueled all sorts of highly entertaining and incredibly inadvisable thoughts.
Her words replayed in his brain as he drove past the shop. I owe you a haircut.
Without meaning to, he glanced at his reflection in the rearview mirror. Dark hair fell across his forehead, nearly to his eyes. His pulse kicked up at the thought of taking her up on her offer.
If he was smart, he’d go to Lexington for a haircut. Or Darfur. Or Mars. Any of those would be less risky. Hell, he’d cut it himself. He was taking care of all his other personal needs these days. Why break tradition? Especially not with a sultry salon owner he could too easily imagine giving him much more than a trim.