Excerpt from Over The Edge (Ty and Lauren)
As the engine wound down the helicopterâ€™s rotors lost speed, slowly thwapping at air saturated with late afternoon sunshine and humidity. Braced against the trunk of her car, Lauren Kincaid watched Ty Hendricks emerge from the helicopter. Acknowledging that heâ€™d set off a purely physical response in her body wasnâ€™t enough. She wanted to know why.
It could have been his hair, blond, too long, finger combed back from his face, or perhaps his eyes, dark chocolate, with spiky blond lashes. It could have been his square jaw, or the broad shoulders straining at the seams of a plain gray T-shirt as he spoke a few words to the chopper pilot, then hoisted his duffel over his shoulder and crossed the helipad.
But it wasnâ€™t any of those things.
It was the way he walked, utter confidence in his long-legged, loose stride as he cleared the helipad and set off down the aisle between two rows of cars and trucks left by Gulf Independent Petroleum employees working offshore. He inhabited his body as if it existed only to accomplish what he set his mind to, nothing more. He didnâ€™t dress it or accessorize it or sculpt it. He used itâ€”hands, arms, hips, legsâ€”and based on the torque he applied to a wrench the length of her arm to work loose a recalcitrant bolt, she had no doubt he could be unspeakably brutal if he chose.
His jeans were faded to pale sky blue and worn white at the seams from years of keeping him decent, nothing more. The T-shirt lacked ads for microbreweries or sports teams or Jesus, no funny slogans. Heâ€™d tucked it in, hooked his phone and Leatherman on a worn brown leather belt fastened with a dented silver buckle. Sheâ€™d spent a lot of years in the company of men, from gruff, gravel-voiced career NCOs to PhDs who hadnâ€™t seen daylight since Bush was president. She could tell a manâ€™s man from a ladiesâ€™ man, knew within seconds when a guy puffed up like a rooster to hide insecurities and when an insecure front hid a sweetheart of a guy.
Ty Hendricks was no sweetheart. Heâ€™d been offshore for thirty days, and pent-up need simmered in his industrial-strength body. Lauren hadnâ€™t felt a manâ€™s body, hard and demanding and maybe even brutal, against hers in a very long time. Illicit desire, long-suppressed and therefore all the more potent and volatile, zinged through all the right places.
He crossed the lot, his worn brown laced-up engineerâ€™s boots crunching gravel underfoot, and paused by the back of a crew-cab pickup to swing his duffel into the bed and head home. He had his key in the door lock before he paused, bent his head in something that looked suspiciously like resignation, then cut her a look with those melting eyes.
Sheâ€™d spent four days on an oil rig with Ty. A development geologist for Gulf Independent, her two-day trip to log the hole the drilling crew just finished drilling coincided with the end of Tyâ€™s thirty-day shift. Two bridges to clear before she could log the hole turned forty-eight hours offshore into ninety-six and gave them plenty of time together. Sheâ€™d caught him watching her with those shadowed eyes often enough.
â€œDead battery?â€ he said.
Her Lexus IS 250 had four thousand miles on it, and if the battery had died, the dealership was going to get an earful. â€œNothingâ€™s wrong with my car. Would you like to have dinner with me tonight?â€
The T-shirt strained over his shoulders as he braced his elbows on the side of the truckâ€™s bed and let his hands dangle. There was no glint of gold on his ring finger, but that didnâ€™t mean much. Wearing any jewelry was dangerous on a rig.
His expression didnâ€™t change. â€œDinner.â€
â€œYes. Dinner,â€ she said with a small smile. â€œAfter four days of gray mystery meat and iceberg lettuce Iâ€™d kill for a decent salad.â€
A breeze off the Gulf tossed his hair in his eyes, but he didnâ€™t move. â€œYou donâ€™t want to have dinner with me.â€
She lifted both hands to tuck a fluttering strand into the heavy knot at her nape, watched his gaze flick to her breasts, sparking a hot, tight clench low in her belly. â€œActually, I do.â€
He straightened, put on a pair of wraparound shades that hid his eyes. â€œNo, you donâ€™t.â€
That wasnâ€™t Iâ€™m in a relationship, or Iâ€™m seeing someone, or I have plans already, and his blunt statement raised her hackles. Sheâ€™d grown up having the circumstances of her lifeâ€”frequent moves in the middle of the school year, making friends only to leave them months later, the only place that felt like home her grandparentsâ€™ farms in Kansasâ€”dictated by her fatherâ€™s meteoric rise to general in the United States Army. Once she was in charge of her life, it was a point of pride to know what she wanted, why she wanted it, and then go after it.
â€œFallâ€™s coming,â€ she said, glancing up at the faded blue sky. â€œThis is one of the last warm nights weâ€™ll have for a while. Iâ€™m going to go home, shave my legs, and put on a dress, then Iâ€™m going to McGuigans. They have a bar on the patio and a Thai chicken salad I like. Thatâ€™s where Iâ€™ll be around seven if you feel like eating something at the same time Iâ€™m going to eat something.â€ She was interested, not desperate, so she clicked open the locks on her Lexus and pushed away from the trunk. â€œTrust me, Ty. I know exactly what I want.â€
Excerpt from All On The Line (Sean and Abby)
Of all the places Sean Winthrop had stood around waiting in miserable conditions, the parking lot of an anonymous apartment complex in Galveston, Texas, was the worst. Objectively speaking, it wasnâ€™t. The weather was decent, the waning moon setting among the stars in the western sky, and he wore cargo pants and a button-down shirt against the cool, near-calm, early morning air. He leaned against his car, not standing at ramrod straight attention while upperclassmen flung abuse and spittle at his face, waiting for Plebe Summer to begin. He wasnâ€™t in an Oxford examination hall, his stomach in knots, waiting for an exam. He wasnâ€™t even hunkered down in a near-freezing foxhole, waiting for the right moment to signal his platoon to commence another attack on a Taliban position.
At five in the morning he was waiting for Abby Simmons to walk out of an apartment that wasnâ€™t her own.
0458 became 0502, then 0515 before the door at the top of the third-floor landing opened, then closed almost immediately. She padded down the concrete steps in her bare feet, her high heels and purse dangling from one hand, her car keys jangling in the other. She wore her No Limits waitress uniform, a black skirt and a white shirt, but the shirt was buttoned unevenly and untucked. Her red hair was a wreck, the shining, soft waves from earlier in the night tousled into bedhead. A pool of light from the parking lotâ€™s streetlights illuminated her face just long enough for him to see mascara and eyeliner smudged around her green eyes, and her mouth, swollen and bare of the bright red lipstick sheâ€™d had on earlier in the evening.
Cock-sucking lips was the term the Marines in his platoon used, but heâ€™d seen her mouth as well-used after a couple of hours of sex. She loved to kiss, loved to open her mouth and breathe into his, her tongue rubbing against his as he worked in and out of her wetâ€”
The state of her mouth almost sealed the deal, warning him to silence. After what heâ€™d done ten months ago he had no business being here, half- stalking her in a parking lot, no business asking her who sheâ€™d been with, what sheâ€™d done. Howling regret had no right to use sharp claws dripping with acid to crawl up from his bowels and into his chest to slice casually at his throat.
â€œAbby,â€ he said curtly.
So much for his much-vaunted impulse control.
In the act of stepping off the sidewalk she startled, regained her balance, and swung to face him. For a brief moment he was glad heâ€™d kept his Oakleys on, even though it was the purple-tinged blackness just before dawn. He didnâ€™t want her to see his eyes.
â€œSean?â€ She took a step closer, into the light. â€œWhat are you doing here?â€
Shock and disbelief infused her voice, so she hadnâ€™t seen him at No Limits earlier in the night, watching her wait tables in Galvestonâ€™s raunchiest, wildest nightclub. She used to drink and dance there, not work there.
â€œIâ€™m on leave,â€ he said. I wanted to see you. I missed you. I made the biggest mistake of my life telling you we were both too distracted to make a relationship based on thirty days of hot sex and five months of e-mail work while I was deployed.
And you did exactly what I told you to do. You moved on.
Those thoughts and more lay under his blunt words, but she didnâ€™t hear the subtext. â€œI meant, what are you doing here at five in the morning?â€
She crossed her arms over her torso as she spoke, shoulders hunching slightly as she glanced over her shoulder at the stairway sheâ€™d just descended. She looked for all the world like a teenager caught sneaking out of a house. He flashed back to the first night he met her at No Limits. The chemistry had been instant, and lava-hot, but sheâ€™d looked so young, so impossibly young, that heâ€™d made her show him her ID before he got a room. It was the freckles dusting her forehead and cheeks, the green eyes, the innocent cast of her mouth. He was sober enough to do the math. Twenty-three to his twenty-eight. Old enough according to the law, young enough to feel a little dirty. At first. Then it just felt right.
Until fear got the better of him.
â€œIâ€™m waiting for you,â€ he said, as if it was obvious.
â€œHow did you find me?â€
â€œLisette told me where you were,â€ he said, naming another cocktail waitress at No Limits. When he asked where Abby went, Lisette said she swapped closings with her and went home early. Heâ€™d rattled off her old address, the procedure of double-checking dates, times, coordinates drilled into him over the last year, and Lisette gave him a new one, thrown over her shoulder as she hurried off to another table. Heâ€™d assumed sheâ€™d finally moved out of her fatherâ€™s house.
His assumption made an ass of him.
Sheâ€™d been young, not stupid. â€œIâ€™ve been asking myself the same question,â€ he said. This was a mistake. He should have gone to No Limits the night he got home and ended this for good. But heâ€™d wanted Abby. Red-haired, freckle-starred Abby, now leaving her loverâ€™s apartment at five in the morning.
â€œYou broke up with me ten months ago. You sent me a four-sentence e-mail saying I was a sweet girl, but I had a lot of growing up to do, and neither of us had the time or emotional energy to commit to supporting each other through a difficult situation.â€
Heâ€™d meant to respect her wide-open, no responsibilities, no ties life, because the home front was different. Life went on there, and she didnâ€™t have to be tied to a man fifteen thousand miles away with no time for her. He drew breath to say something calm and rational when the door at the top of the landing opened again and a manâ€™s heavier tread thumped down the stairs.
A uniformed cop, his utility belt in one hand and car keys in the other, rounded the corner. His keys sounded businesslike, metal on metal, at least a dozen. It was the key ring of a man with responsibilities or maybe access to bedrooms all over town. He stopped when he saw Abby, then his gaze zipped over to Sean.
Big motherfucker, even without the vest adding bulk. Paramilitary haircut, paramilitary demeanor, close but not quite the rebar backbone the Naval Academy jammed up your ass to the base of your skull your first day of Plebe Summer. But the guy could handle himself. It was in the way he squared up and shifted his weight to the balls of his feet when he saw Sean.
Without moving, Sean leveled a look at him that said Bring it the fuck on.
â€œProblem, Abby?â€ the cop said without taking his eyes from Sean.
â€œItâ€™s fine, Ben,â€ she said. Red hair tumbled over her left hand as she rubbed her forehead with her palm. No engagement ring, no gold band, just the smell of the copâ€™s skin and sweat as a faint breeze drifted from Abby to Sean. â€œI know him from a long time ago.â€
The words seemed to be enough for Ben the Galveston Cop, who looked like he wasnâ€™t any more eager to begin his day with a takedown in his parking lot than Sean was to end his with one. More telling, Ben didnâ€™t show a hint of remorse or embarrassment at Abbyâ€™s tousled condition, nor did he look proud, or cocky. Heâ€™d fucked her, she was going home, and it all meant nothing, or at least there was no shame in it.
Sean wouldnâ€™t have let another man see her like that, not for the shame of it, but because it was so personal, so intimate. Between them only.
Ben looked over to the Mustang. â€œThat your car?â€
Sean gave him the barest hint of a nod.
â€œYour plates expired four months ago.â€
â€œHe was deployed to Afghanistan,â€ Abby said impatiently. â€œHeâ€™s got a grace period to get them renewed.â€
Still expressionless. Ben offered Sean a bare nod of his own, then spoke to Abby as he got in his car. â€œText me when you get home safe.â€
The message came through loud and clear. Ben had the right to ask that of her, or at least offer the security of checking in with a law enforcement officer. Sean didnâ€™t, and heâ€™d better get to the courthouse sooner rather than later. A blue Shelby Cobra with a red racing stripe and plates that read 500 HSPR would attract attention even without a word from Ben to his colleagues.
Abby watched Ben hoist his utility belt into his truck, then leave the lot. When her attention returned to Sean, he said, â€œWow. A cop. Not so sweet anymore.â€
Oh yeah, he was the master of impulse control and logical argument. Make it personal, throw it back in her face. Except on closer inspection the shadows under her eyes werenâ€™t the smudged makeup on her lids. They were the deeper purple of exhaustion.
Her chin lifted, throwing her swollen mouth and stark cheekbones into relief. â€œThatâ€™s right. Iâ€™m not.â€
â€œIs he your boyfriend?â€ Say no. Wait. Say yes, because no means booty callÂ .Â .Â .
AndÂ .Â .Â . that was worse, hearing the word in her mouth, seeing her freshly fucked and doing the walk of shame at five in the morning. â€œJesus Christ, Abby.â€
â€œItâ€™s none of your business, Sean. You made it none of your business.â€
Cold, flat, and saying exactly what his conscience said thirty seconds earlier. â€œRight,â€ he said. â€œFine. Iâ€™m out of here.â€
He turned to get in the Mustang when Abby spoke. â€œHow long are you in town?â€