Once she reached the pool and garden, she staggered to a halt. She didn’t know where to go. She was trapped inside this villa because someone wanted to hurt her. Just like how someone had hurt Danny. Pulverized his heart. The same heart she had listened to every night for thirteen years.
She jolted when Marcus touched her shoulder. She felt like she’d jump out of her skin if the wind blew in the wrong direction.
“I’m sorry,” Marcus said and turned her toward him, dragging her into his arms. He held her tight and pressed his face against the top of her head. “I shouldn’t have— I’m
She wrapped her arms around his waist and held on until the tremors passed. He felt safe, and she savored it even though she knew it was a false safety. The crash of emotions she felt toward him were anything but safe.
He eased away and gazed down, worry creasing his forehead. “Are you okay?”
She nodded, but when she tried to speak no words came out. She cleared her throat and tried again. “I thought I was ready to know how he died.”
He cradled her face in his hands, and she’d never seen his eyes so kind, so tender. “Danny’s last thought was for you and the kids. He loved you so much, Leah. That’s all you need to know about what happened that day. That’s all you need to hang on to. Let me carry the burden of remembering the hard parts, the ugly parts, for you.”
She brought her hands up to his wrists. “That’s not fair to you.”
“He’s dead and I’m alive. I’d say that’s plenty fair.”
She wasn’t sure what made her do it, but she stood up on her toes and pressed a kiss to his mouth. Maybe it was the emotional upheaval of the last few minutes. Maybe it was the way he looked at her with such tenderness, like she was the most precious thing he’d ever held in his arms. Maybe it was because she’d been yearning for the kind of connection she once shared with Danny. She’d never felt alone when he was alive. Now it was nothing but lonely days followed by even lonelier nights.
It was selfish, but for a moment, she wanted to be selfish.
Right now, she just wanted to feel something other than anger, hurt, fear, and sorrow.
Marcus’s muscles tensed as she slid her hands from his wrists to his shoulders. He wasn’t responding to her kiss.
He just stood there, all statue-like. She drew away, heat flooding into her cheeks.
Dammit, that had been stupid. “I-I shouldn’t have—”
Marcus released a shuddering breath and grabbed her around the waist with his big hands, drawing her flush against his hard body as his mouth descended on hers. He wasn’t gentle, wasn’t asking. He was taking, devouring, and nerve endings she forgot she had sparked to pleasurable life.
Every worry vaporized in the heat of his kiss. Every fear.
Every horrible image filling her mind. Everything. He made it all disappear. She gripped his shoulders, clung to him, feeling anchored for the first time in a year.
But then he released her.
The action was so abrupt she wobbled and nearly fell over. No more anchor. He’d ripped it away and left her drifting again.
Marcus stared at her with hooded eyes, his chest heaving with ragged pants. Since he wore nothing but sweatpants, it was impossible to miss how the kiss had affected him. He
was aroused. Very aroused. Her gaze skimmed down to the tent at the front of his pants, and she felt an answering clench of need deep in her belly.
Marcus casually covered his erection with one hand. “I, uh, have work to do before the team gets here.”
He spun away, poised to bolt like she was a dangerous creature he had to escape. She couldn’t let him. If she let him run now, he’d keep running. That was what he always did.
“Marcus, wait.” She caught his hand and he glanced over his shoulder at her. Their gazes clashed, held. In his dark eyes, she saw the heat of desire, but also the blaze of anger. Was he angry at her? Or himself?
She dropped his hand, letting him go. He didn’t move. Just stood there, half turned away, a muscle ticking in his jaw.
“It’s not right,” he finally said so softly she wasn’t sure she’d heard him correctly.
“It’s not right.” This time, there was no doubt in his voice. He waved a hand back and forth in the empty space between them. “This. You and me. Can’t happen.”
Long Excerpt 2
“Leah, why are you here?”
She waited a beat too long before answering. “Because everyone’s worried about you.”
“That’s not why you left your children and flew across the world.”
“No,” she admitted. “It’s not. I need your help.”
“You could’ve called.”
“Would you have answered?” When he didn’t respond, she continued. “No, you wouldn’t have. You haven’t answered any of Regina’s calls. When was the last time you spoke to your mother?”
“She left a voicemail yesterday.” And she could’ve given him a heads-up that he’d soon have company. Leah must have already been on her way here when his mom left that message.
“Uh-huh, a voicemail. Did you call her back?”
He said nothing in response. He didn’t need to. They both knew the answer.
Jesus, why was she here, prodding him to go back to a place and a life he wasn’t sure he wanted anymore? His temper sparked at the thought. “I’ll pay for whatever repair
you need or school fee or—fuck, whatever you need help with. If you’ll just…leave me alone. That’s all I ask.”
“What, you’re going to throw money at us?”
“It’s all I have to give.” He turned away and scooped up his surfboard from the sand.
She huffed out a breath in disbelief. “Typical Marcus. The going gets tough, so you get going.”
What could he say to that? She was spot-on. It had always been his reaction to heavy emotional stress, and it had worked for him for thirty-four years. Why change it up
“I can’t believe you,” she said with disgust. “You won’t even deny it.”
“There’s nothing to deny. You have me nailed down, Leah. I’m a coward. What else do you want me to say? I’m sorry? I’m not. I’m a drunk with enough baggage to fill a 747 and the sense of humor of a fifteen-year-old. I’m a fucking mess. You and your kids are better off without me around.”
“No.” She stormed after him and caught his arm. “Marcus Deangelo, you don’t get to do this again. You don’t get to walk away, to disappear and start over again. You broke Danny’s heart the last time you vanished on us.”
She aims, she scores.
Direct hit, straight through the heart. He flinched at the pain of it but jerked his arm free and kept walking.
Nearly six years ago, he’d made a bad call during a hostage negotiation that ended a young girl’s life. After that clusterfuck, he hadn’t been able to live with the guilt. He’d left the FBI and disappeared—came here, to his little slice of surf heaven. His mother hadn’t known where he was for a solid six months, and he’d told her then only because she’d threatened to set the world on fire looking for him. Regina Deangelo didn’t make empty threats.
But Danny, his best friend and partner, hadn’t known where he was for two long years until sheer boredom eventually drove him to return to the States and join HORNET. And wasn’t it just his luck that HORNET’s first mission intersected with one of Danny’s cases? After that,
Danny hadn’t given him a choice and dragged him back into the family fold.
But Leah wasn’t like Danny. She was fire and temper and wasn’t going to let him slink away to lick his wounds this time. In that moment, he hated her for it.
She dogged his heels. “You told me that Danny, with his dying breath, made you promise to take care of me and the kids.”
“By staying away, I am. You ever need anything all you have to do is call, but you don’t want me hanging around fucking things up for you.”
“Is that what you think Danny meant?”
“No, but it’s the best I can do.” He shoved his board into the sand by his front porch and spun to face her. “Because I know he sure as hell didn’t mean I should fuck you, and that was exactly where things were headed when I left.”
She flinched and took a step backward. Her arms folded tightly around her middle, pushing her breasts up under her flowing tank top. And he hated himself for noticing. What kind of man looked at his best friend’s widow like that?
After a moment, she released a long, slow breath. “That night, we were both drunk and crazy with grief. I was drowning and needed someone to hold on to. You were there. Convenient. We came to our senses before…”
“Doesn’t matter. We went too far, and I refuse to dishonor Danny like that. I won’t hurt him like that.”
Tears filled her eyes and spilled over. “Oh, Marcus. You can’t do anything to hurt him,” she said softly. “He’s dead.”