Read Line of Fire Online

Authors: Cindy Dees

Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Man-Woman Relationships, #Love Stories, #Suspense, #Erotica, #Special Forces (Military Science)

Line of Fire (6 page)

BOOK: Line of Fire
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“Sorry. No taxis run from Gavarone to Washington after 3:00 p.m.” he replied.

She fisted her hands on her hips. “Look. Enough is enough. Take me home. Now.”

“Believe me, Princess. I’m tryin’.”

“Just how far away from Washington did you guys take me while you had me knocked out?” she demanded.

“Kimberly, you’re not even on the same continent as Senator Norwood.”

She stared in disbelief. “I’d heard you guys took things to extremes, but did you actually have to fly me to Timbuktu for this little exercise of yours?”

“Timbuktu’s in Mali. Wrong continent. We’re in South America. That much I am sure of.”

She huffed in exasperation. “Fine. So I have to miss my dinner meeting tonight. At least get me to a phone where I can call the senator’s office and cancel. I really could use a shower and a hot meal, too, while you’re at it.”

“If you know of any hotels within walking distance in this jungle, by all means let me know,” he drawled. “Otherwise, camping it is.”

She stared in dawning dismay. “You’re kidding.”

“Nope,” he replied.

“But I don’t
do
camping.”

“You do now,” he retorted.

She took a step backward. “You don’t understand. My idea of camping is a hotel without room service.”

He snorted in amusement. “Then you’re going to be
real
disappointed with the accommodations tonight.”

He started to turn away, but he caught a glimpse of the genuinely frightened glint in her green eyes. And then the truth hit him. Poor kid was clinging to the whole this-is-an-exercise idea because she was scared out of her mind. “Think of this adventure as a learning experience,” he offered.

“I hate learning new things,” she said vehemently.

“Too bad. There’s a lot I could’ve shown you,” he murmured.

Her gaze snapped to his. Damn. He hadn’t meant for it to come out with quite
that
innuendo. He blinked in surprise when he actually felt his cheeks heating up. He couldn’t remember the last time anything had made him blush. Particularly a woman.

* * *

Kimberly spent the next few hours more miserable than she could ever remember being in her life.
This was real.
It had to be. There was no other explanation for why Tex thought he could make her this miserable and not get the tar sued out of him.

She was still having trouble wrapping her mind around the whole kidnapping idea, but this was definitely a jungle. A jungle! Complete with bugs and sweat and scary noises and God knows what crawling and creeping critters. Insidious fear almost but not quite overwhelmed her dragging exhaustion.

Just when she was sure she couldn’t take another step, couldn’t withstand another jolt of fear from an unexpected noise, memory of Tex’s sizzling kiss would pop into her head. Be it from irritation or titillation, thoughts of that kiss energized her, putting new life into her flagging spirits.

Most of the men she’d dated recently—okay, pretty much most of the men she’d ever dated—fell into the same category: politically correct, self-absorbed and more interested in what she could do for their careers than they were in her. Not that she went out with men she
despised
—Heaven help her if she ever got
that
jaded.

But Tex was definitely a departure from all other men who’d ever kissed her. His blunt honesty bordered on rude and he wasn’t worth a darn at slippery maneuvering.

Abruptly a vine snagged her foot and she pitched toward Tex. He whipped around and his hands shot out, snagging her shoulders and stopping her from falling. The display of lightning quick reflexes left her blinking. His strong hands were impossibly gentle as he steadied her.

She frowned. No man touched a woman like that unless he was at least a little bit interested in her. Her heart fluttered.

And then her brain kicked in. She must be suffering from jungle fever. He couldn’t possibly be interested in her. Two people couldn’t be more different than the two of them.

What
was
it about his mere touch that sent her pulse racing like that? It was more than a little unnerving. She avoided meeting his gaze as she disentangled her foot. His touch slid away from her skin, almost like he was reluctant to let go of her. She shivered with a sharp, sexual thrill.

“You okay?” he asked. “You haven’t complained for at least two minutes.”

“No, I’m not okay,” she snapped. “I don’t like this escape-through-the-jungle thing, and I want you to make it go away!”

As he resumed walking, his chuckle floated back to her. “That’s more like it.”

She stared at his back through narrowed eyes. One thing was certain. Tex Monroe hadn’t kissed her for political reasons. He knew she was out to take his Special Forces unit apart.

That had to gall him. No doubt he was sure the world would fall apart without men like him running around patrolling it. The idea was well and good in theory, but save-the-world heroes were purely the stuff of legends. They didn’t actually exist. She knew that better than most. After all, she’d grown up with a man the whole world touted as a hero. And what a crock that was.

Tex Monroe was no different than her father. Just like William Stanton in Vietnam, he’d burn himself out chasing after an imagined destiny of saving the world. Although she doubted the hard soldier in front of her was that deluded.

Tex might act the gentleman and help her through this nightmare, but she had no illusions about his real motives. His fanny would be in a sling if he didn’t keep her safe. Pure self-interest motivated him.

But, as he’d promised, Tex stopped when the light finally began to fade and the relentless steam heat of the afternoon broke. She sagged down onto a moss-covered log, completely drained. “Thank God. I don’t think I could take another step.”

He replied, “Rest here while I do a little scouting. Gotta be some water around here somewhere.”

Water. A long cool drink sounded like manna from heaven. She pulled out the neck of her bedraggled sweater and blew down its front as Tex disappeared into the greenery. If she knew he’d be gone for a while, she’d take the darned thing off.

Her stockings were ruined, the French silk full of holes and runs. Her shoes were destroyed, too. The fine leather was badly scuffed and muddy.
Wherever you are, Donatella Versace, please forgive me for what I’ve done to your lovely shoes.

The air hung on her skin like soggy cobwebs, heavy and sticky, without even a hint of movement, as she listened to the myriad exotic sounds trilling and screeching through the jungle. The day’s hothouse humidity slowly seeped out of the vibrating air and the jungle’s vivid hues faded to gray.

She jumped violently when a hand landed on her shoulder from behind. She lurched off the log and spun around.

Tex.

“You scared the daylights out of me!” she exclaimed. “How did you do that?”

“Hush,” he admonished her. “It’s my job. I’m not exactly in the Boy Scouts, you know.”

Now that was stating the obvious. No Boy Scout kissed like he did, she was sure.

“I found us a good spot to sleep tonight. I also found water,” he announced.

“Hallelujah,” she replied fervently. But the word died on her lips a few minutes later as she stared down at a muddy pool of water. It was little more than a puddle, really.

“But it’s dirty!” she cried in dismay made all the worse by her raging thirst.

“Sediment looks bad, but it won’t kill you. Hell, little kids eat dirt all the time. Think of it as an extra-thin latte.”

She sniffed delicately. “Shouldn’t we boil it first?”

“Can’t risk a fire,” was his terse reply. “Here’s the thing, Kimberly. Both of us have gone over twenty-four hours without water. I bet you’ve got a decent headache going by now.”

She did, but she wasn’t about to admit it. She wasn’t on the verge of dying, and nothing short of that was going to get her to drink that filthy water.

“Your lips are chapped. You’re not sweating enough, and you’re grouchy as hell. Classic signs of dehydration. We’ll die in about four more days without any water. But, any disease we pick up from that—” he pointed down at the puddle “—won’t kill us for a couple weeks.”

“Lovely,” she muttered.

He shrugged. “That’s the worst case scenario. It’s much more likely that if the water’s contaminated you’ll only get a good case of the runs.”

She looked up, appalled by the prospect.
The runs?
No thank you. “I’m not drinking that slop,” she announced. “Why don’t you do your Daniel Boone thing and find us some clean water.” She crossed her arms over her chest for good measure.

His gaze narrowed into a dangerous calm she was beginning to recognize as a bout of bull-headed, testosterone induced, macho mad. “You need water, and you need it now,” he growled.

“Not on your life.”

“Look, Miss High and Mighty. I’m responsible for your welfare, and I’m ordering you to drink that!” He pointed at the mud puddle.

“Sorry,” she answered breezily. “I’m a civilian. I don’t take orders from soldiers.”

The muscles in his jaw rippled and suddenly he seemed to grow taller and broader. Uh-oh. He looked just like he had at the firing range when he’d gotten ready to kill something. He loomed dangerously close. She took a step back. And another.

He stalked after her. He finally spoke low and silky. It positively made her skin crawl. “Am I going to have to kiss you half senseless again to get you to drink some water?”

Again…She stopped retreating indignantly. Was he implying that he’d kissed her before only to get her up that hillside? How
dare
he?

“Half senseless…me…
again?
You lout!” Fury boiled up in her gut, and somewhere very deep inside her, a kernel of hurt formed. That kiss had blown his socks off. She knew it as surely as she was standing here. He could deny it all he wanted, but she wasn’t buying it for a second. “You didn’t kiss me to coerce me into climbing that hill and you know it,” she accused.

He lifted a skeptical eyebrow and gave her a cool-as-cucumber look. “Do you need me to prove the point?” he drawled, his leering gaze locked on her mouth.

“Don’t even think about it, mister!”

He laughed and took a step forward.

“If you lay a hand on me, I’ll…I’ll…”

“You’ll what?” he challenged.

She stared at him, her mind a blank. What did you threaten a commando with when you were temporarily stranded in the middle of a jungle with him? “I’ll make you admit that kissing me completely blew you away!”

That set him back on his heels. His gaze narrowed ominously.

She glared right back.

Finally he sighed and looked away. “We don’t have time for this foolishness, but I’ll make you a deal. If you’ll drink some of this water, I’ll filter it for you and get most of the dirt out first. It won’t be sterile, but it’ll look better.”

Part of her wanted to tell him to go suck an egg. But the other part reluctantly had to admit that he was right. Her head throbbed and her lips were cracked and parched. “Is that
really
the only water available to drink?” she asked thinly.

“It really is,” he answered quietly.

“Okay.” She gave in with ill grace.

He walked a few yards away and tore off several gigantic leaves from a plant. He dug a depression in the ground with the heel of his boot and lined it with the leaves. Then he pulled out the red felt beret and scooped up a hatful of the water. He held it over the shallow hole.

Nothing happened at first. But then water started dripping steadily out of the hat. As it collected in the basin it was clear, the sediments trapped by the hat’s felt, more like drinking water was supposed to be.

After he’d strained a good half gallon of water, he handed her a thin reed she’d seen him pick a while earlier.

She looked at the stick blankly. It wasn’t thick enough to whack him over the head with like she’d like to.

“It’s hollow,” Tex explained. “Like a straw.”

Ah. She poked the end of the reed in the makeshift basin and drank. The water was warm and tasted terrible, but she couldn’t remember the last time anything felt so good going down her throat.

Tex drank, as well, using another reed. He strained water until both their thirsts were slaked.

He stood up. “Come on. I’ve got to build a shelter before it gets full dark.”

She’d expected him to lead her to a nice little clearing, build a cheerful fire and maybe find some logs to sit on. But instead he pushed into the thickest underbrush she’d seen all day. More of the giant-leafed plants hung low over a tangle of vines and roots.

She watched him pull a bunch of the leaves down and lash them with thin vines to a waist-high jumble of growth. Then he bent back enough of the vines and brambles below to create a tiny hollow. In a few minutes a little green cave took shape.

“Get in,” he ordered. “I’m going hunting. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

“Hunting? As in for food?” she asked hopefully. Her stomach growled impatiently.

He shrugged. “That, too. I’m going to do a little reconnaissance along the way, though.”

Reconnaissance? That sounded dangerous. She warned him, “If you get yourself killed and leave me alone out here, I’ll have your head on a platter in the afterlife.”

He answered dryly. “I’ll keep that in mind. Wouldn’t want to jeopardize my immortal soul.” Grinning, he shouldered the gun he’d called an AK-47 and pushed the other gun into the shelter. “If somebody approaches you, point this baby at them and pull the trigger once. I’ll hear the noise and come back right away.”

“You’re suggesting I
shoot
someone?” she exclaimed.

“Keep your voice down!” he barked under his breath.

“I’m not suggesting anything. I’m
ordering
you to shoot anyone besides me who approaches you.”

“What if I miss?”

“RITA doesn’t miss. It’s a computer-guided targeting system. You only have to point in the general direction of your target and it’ll do the rest.”

She recoiled from the thought of blowing someone’s head off like she’d seen him do to clay targets. “I can’t kill someone!”

BOOK: Line of Fire
4.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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