Authors: Amity Wilde
The Soldier's Firm Hand
Copyright © 2014 by Amity Wilde
All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced or used in any manner without the express written permission of the copyright holder. This story contains explicit content that is intended for adult audiences only. All characters involved in sexual situations are 18 years of age or older.
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*** Lauren ***
h, shi..oot!” I slammed my hand against the wooden shutter and nibbled on my torn nail. It had looked nice and rickety from a distance, but up close it was just as impossible to budge as all the others.
This was the fifth house I’d tried, and each one was locked up tighter than the last. Without fail, every single door and window had been sealed, latched or flat out nailed shut to keep out the weather. Nobody messed with storm preparation around here.
Except me, apparently.
Stranded in the middle of what was turning into a real doozy, I couldn’t say that I blamed them. My plan had been simple. Get some shots of the battered summer houses lining this stretch of beach, and then call the hotel to get a ride back. I’d scouted everything out ahead of time online, and decided this spot was just rustic and remote enough to have the right feel for what I was looking for.
Except deserted wasn’t turning out to be such a great idea. I should’ve listened to the hotel full of people back in town warning me off going out on my own today, but like always, I’d known better.
Better than the actual residents?
Shut up, hindsight.
I made a dash for the next house through pelting rain, hoping for a change of luck. Breaking and entering wasn’t exactly something I had much, okay any, practice in, so my only hope of getting shelter until the storm blew over was if someone hadn’t remembered to lock up.
Or better yet, was actually home, but I’d given up on that a while ago. This month was when the summer residents of Amaro Cove started to return for the season, but the majority of those I’d run into so far seemed to be waiting out the storm in town. I wasn’t a complete idiot, this wasn’t hurricane season, so how was I supposed to know it could get this bad?
I rubbed my hip and tried not to feel too sorry for myself. There was a dull, throbbing ache from when I’d been blown off my feet and landed on a rock, and to add insult to injury, the rain had long since permeated my windbreaker and soaked my clothes. Water slid down my neck and trickled all the way into my shoes. If the sun was out it might’ve been a comfortable temperature, but as it was, the skies were ugly and grey, the chill of late spring still stubbornly hanging on and making me shiver.
It was so tempting to give in to the burning behind my eyes and let the frustrated tears flow, but that would be admitting defeat and I was here to do some real work for a change. If my father could keep on going while dealing with bombs and gunfire, my pride wasn’t going to let a little bad weather get the better of me.
I banged on the door, but there was no response, the house was dead quiet. “Crap.”
Understatement of the year.
Water squished between my toes, and I gave the handle one last good shake. “Crap! Crappity crap!” I shouted into the uncaring wind, just to make myself feel better.
My brother was going to rip me a new one when I got back.
I got back in one piece and didn’t end up blown out to sea, that is. That could happen, right? He’d never been supportive of my photography, and if I ended up in the hospital, half drowned with pneumonia, I’d never hear the end of it. Cue the chorus of: “Remember that time...”, for every family holiday from now until eternity.
Storm first, pride later.
I rummaged through my camera bag looking for anything useful. Dead phone, not helpful. Chocolate bar, useful, but not going to keep me warm. Nail file, maybe?
While I was filing off that stupid hangnail and debating how likely it was I could learn to pick locks in the next ten minutes, the door of the last cottage slammed open with a bang.
“Hey!” An irritated male voice carried over the wind. “What the hell are you doing over there?”
What a grouchy but beautiful sound.
An unladylike whoop burst joyfully from my mouth, and I bolted across the wet, sandy ground with my bag clutched to my chest. A sudden gust of wind caught me off guard and my happy little sprint turned into a muddy freefall right at the strangers feet. Sand and grass spattered everywhere, but I didn’t care.
“Oh, thank God. I was starting to get desperate.” Relief combined with the absurdity of my situation made me laugh, and once I started, I couldn’t stop.
Some people are emotional criers, I giggle.
“Desperate for what? Money? You on drugs or something?”
I blinked. My white knight sounded more jaded and pissed off than I’d been expecting. “What? No! I’m Lauren, Lauren Witt.” A giggle slipped out again and he scowled at me. Or at least I thought so, with all the water in my eyes it was a little hard to tell. “I was just out taking pictures.”
“Yeah, right. It’s such a nice day for it.” He sounded skeptical, but held out a hand to haul me off the ground. “Get your ass inside and wait while I check their door. If anything seems off I’m calling the cops. Don’t... just don’t drip on anything. I’ll be right back.”
I nodded meekly, unsure what I’d done to get quite that degree of grumpiness aimed at me, but glad nevertheless to be going inside. He could be as big of a jerk as he wanted if he gave me a corner to sit in and let me borrow his phone.
Normally the idea of being trapped alone in the middle of nowhere with an angry stranger would have terrified me, but today it was by far the lesser evil. Besides, the inside of the cottage looked more like somewhere my grandmother would’ve decorated than the home of a serial killer.
Clean, simple and accented with bright colors, I hadn’t gotten a clear look at the man who lived here yet, but this definitely didn’t seem like a bachelor’s fishing shack. There were colorful paintings of sunsets on the walls, and decorative jars full of sand and shells scattered around. Obvious feminine touches that made me think maybe there was a wife somewhere in the picture.
He couldn’t be all bad if someone put up with him, right?
*** Jared ***
hat was it about his life that attracted this sort of chaos? Jared couldn’t believe yet another thing had managed to go wrong. He only had two weeks of leave to get the place fixed up for his folks, and not only was the weather not cooperating, now he was taking in strays.
At least the power was still on, but with the way the wind was kicking up, it was only a matter of time. There were plenty of supplies to last a couple of people for a good while, but the idea of sharing his hard earned peace and quiet with a soggy, giggling stranger wasn’t sitting easily.
He snorted, amused at her spunk in spite of himself. It helped that she hadn’t actually pulled anything loose at the Miller place, so she might just be exactly what she said she was. A tourist in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not that he had much choice about taking her in. Leaving someone stranded outside on a day like this wasn’t happening. How comfortable he made her stay though, that depended on if he felt he could trust her or not.
It was hard to believe anyone had come out in this on purpose, but it
picked up quickly, and tourists were notorious for getting caught off guard by fickle weather. She said she’d been out taking pictures, but how did she get stranded all the way out here? Who would drop off a helpless little thing like her and just leave her to the elements?
Certainly nobody who’d looked into those distractingly green eyes.
Not that he was interested. Besides, she looked about sixteen from what he’d seen. Maybe she was a runaway, but that didn’t feel right. She hadn’t seemed nervous or frightened of anything but the weather.
Back inside, Jared pulled off his jacket and ran a hand through his dripping hair to shake out the excess water. He could feel his muscles relaxing now that he wasn’t fighting against the wind. Man, it was a mess out there.
She must have been scared out there. It was no wonder she’d been trying the doors and windows. Being out today in the first place still showed an unfortunate lack of common sense, but that didn’t mean she deserved to be stranded helpless in the full force of a coastal storm.
What had she said her name was again? “Lauren?”
She was looking at his mother’s paintings, and spun around guiltily at the sound of his voice. “Sorry! I was just looking. I haven’t touched anything, promise. My stuff is by the door. I hope that was okay.”
He nodded, distracted by his first real look at her. She wasn’t nearly as young as he’d initially assumed. Probably mid-twenties and not much younger than he was.
Unexpected attraction curled through him, stirring his interest. Without her jacket, it was impossible to miss how her soaking wet clothing clung to every sexy curve. It wasn’t that she was unusually beautiful, but there was something about her pretty round face and bedraggled state that made him want to take care of her.
Rain-darkened honey blonde hair framed her face, and she wasn’t wearing a bit of makeup that he could see. Her nose was dotted with a spread of pale freckles that stood out against her ivory skin. That was probably what had made him think she was younger at first glace.
Lauren’s emerald eyes widened as she took a good look at him in return. He couldn’t help enjoying the way her gaze traveled over him. Nothing wrong with that, except he didn’t like that she looked nearly as nervous as appreciative.
Knowing what she saw, he tried to keep his expression friendly. Strong genes had done their part to gift him with height and a broad, sturdy frame. The army had done the rest, building him up into a man who was rarely not the biggest person in the room. By a wide margin today, so he didn’t blame her for being nervous of a stranger that was likely nearly twice her weight.
He smiled encouragingly. “The pictures were made to be looked at, but you want to tell me a little more about what you were doing out here on your own?” Jared needed to know more before he let himself get too distracted. Just because she was pretty didn’t mean she couldn’t still be trouble.
“I...” Lauren swallowed audibly, and gave herself a little shake like she was pulling herself out of a trance. “Um, I was trying to get some pictures before the storm cleared and too many people came back. That’s what I do. I’m a photographer.” She pointed to her bag by the door. “I thought getting some shots of everything all closed up would be an interesting visual balance to later on once the vacation season really starts.”
Not quite the typical tourist then, but that wasn’t going to stop him from giving her a piece of his mind. “Didn’t you see the weather report? And how did you even get out here without a car? Don’t tell me you came out here without at least a phone.”
The idea of a woman wandering around on her own without any means of contacting anyone made him furious. You never knew when something could happen, even in a relatively safe area like this.
She cringed and her pale pink lower lip quivered, but then her eyes flashed with defiance. “Give me a break. I might’ve taken a chance but I’m not an idiot. You think I was planning on hiking back to town?” She pulled a cell phone out of her pocket and offered it to him. “My hands were wet when I tried to call for my ride, and I dropped it in a puddle. It looks fine, but when I try to use it, it just sorta flickers and dies.”
He sighed and popped the back off her phone to take out the battery and let everything dry out. “I didn’t say you were an idiot. There’s a difference between
stupid, and doing something stupid, but they can get you just as dead.”
“Oh, come on.” Lauren put her hands on her hips. Now that she was feeling safer, she seemed to be remembering her backbone. “
They’ll get you just as dead,
” she mocked.
“Lauren...” Jared’s eyes narrowed, and there was a soft rumbling growl deep in his chest that she ignored.
Every word that came out of her mouth was making him realize she still didn’t understand how close she’d been to being in real trouble. Just because she’d had a bit of luck, she seemed to think that made everything all right.
She waved her hands dismissively in his direction. “So you’re big, and strong and sexy. That doesn’t mean you’re any better than me,” she huffed. “What? Are you some sort of expert or something?”
Jared held back a smile at her admission that she thought he was sexy, and stalked over until he was right up in her personal space. She had to crane her neck to keep looking at him with those captivating eyes of hers, and he felt grudging admiration that she stood her ground even though she was clearly in the wrong, and he must have been intimidating.