Tess Weston soaked a face cloth with cold water then bent forward, drew her hair over one shoulder and held the cloth to the nape of her neck. Rivulets trickled down her back, merging with the sweat seeping from her pores. Even with the windows open and a fan oscillating as languidly a spoon through soup the temperature on the second floor of her house was hotter than the ambient air outside.
She swiped the now-tepid cloth down her throat and paused at her collarbone. The washcloth soaked the thin ribbed fabric over her breasts while she considered the sheer curtains hanging lank beside the open window. Such an unremarkable thing, an open window, a simple pleasure people generally took for granted. Drew Norwood, her Navy SEAL boyfriend, had extensive experience managing risks of all shapes, sizes and situations. Given her borderline neighborhood, he’d weighed simple pleasures against physical safety and insisted on windows and doors locked tight at night. However, Drew had disappeared almost a month ago, as usual with no warning. Three times in the six months they’d been dating he’d simply vanishing into thin air, reappearing weeks later sunburned, thinner and exhausted.
The disappearing act didn’t bother her. It came with dating an active duty SEAL and she was used to people walking out of her life. The reappearing, as abrupt and unannounced as the disappearing, still set her back on her heels.
Not much else did, but a brutal heat wave, an AC unit that became a frankly ugly pile of scrap metal three days earlier and no money for repairs left her with two choices: sleep in a situation Drew adamantly opposed or melt into a puddle in her bed. She preferred to dissolve into liquid bliss when he was the one heating her up and she flat-out didn’t have the money to fix the AC.
What Drew didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.
She scrubbed at her breastbone as if she could wipe away the disloyal thought then draped the washcloth over the edge of the sink. When she shut off the bathroom light and stepped into the moonlight illuminating a path along the scratched hardwood floor, a shadow disengaged itself from the dark corner behind the bathroom door, clamped a hand around her wrist and spun her face first into the wall. The callused palm clapped unceremoniously over her mouth muffled her instinctive shriek. With her free hand braced at shoulder height and a strength born of sheer terror she pushed back into an iron-hard body. Her captor didn’t move an inch. Instead he knocked her off-balance by wedging one leg between hers and with minimal effort forced her flat. He had superior size and strength, the advantage of surprise, and she was trapped.
Eyes wide with panic she twisted her head and peered over the big hand engulfing the lower half of her face, but her vision only confirmed the input from the quivering nerves in her hyper-sensitive body. Heavy shoulders and a broad chest clad in black pinned her torso, and a ridged abdomen trapped the arm bent behind her back. Squirming futilely in an effort to regain her balance only ground her bottom against his hips, and her thin cotton bikini panties provided no protection from the insistent erection shoved firmly against her ass.
Knowing it was futile she inhaled sharp and hard, drawing breath to scream. The air rushing through her nose carried with it the familiar scent of musky skin and the sharp odor of no-frills soap used at Coronado. In a millisecond she plunged from ice-cold fear to weak-kneed relief and sagged against the restraining body.
Drew. Back with no warning. In her bedroom, scaring her half to death.
She’d been working downstairs all night, the front and back doors locked with the handle lock and deadbolt. He had a key but hadn’t used it; the door would have caught on the chain. The downstairs windows were so warped that opening or closing one was a noisy process that took effort, even from Drew. But upstairs the windows were unlocked and slid loose and flimsy in their frames. Discarding the possibility he’d slithered under the front door, he must have clambered in through the damned open window in her bedroom.
“Tess, you are in so much trouble.”