Authors: Liliana Hart
Ten Years Ago…
“Mmm, is it morning already?”
Declan MacKenzie grabbed a stack of shirts from the drawer and put them in his duffel bag before turning to look at Sophia. Just the sound of that sexy, sleepy voice had his dick spiking behind his jeans and his heart hammering, even though he’d had her only a couple of hours before.
“It’s still dark out,” he said. “You can grab a couple more hours of sleep before you need to get up for class.” He zipped up the bag and shoved his wallet in the back of his jeans.
“It’s not working, you know.”
His lips quirked in a smile, but he kept his back turned, going to the closet to grab his boots. She knew him better than he knew himself sometimes, and his head was a scary place to be. He thanked God he had her to help balance the shadows that plagued him.
“What’s not working?”
“You can’t possibly think you’re hiding that hardon from me,” she teased. “It’ll give all the other soldiers something to talk about. Unless you want to come over here and let me help you get rid of it?”
He dropped his boots on the floor and moved to sit down in the corner chair, but he made the mistake of looking at the bed and all thoughts of the new mission he’d just been assigned flew out the window.
“Jesus, Soph,” he groaned, his hand going to his belt buckle.
She was a vision—tousled blond hair framed the face of an angel, kiss-swollen lips and that sexy mole just at the corner of her mouth. She pulled the sheet down slowly, revealing plump breasts and small pink nipples. He could see where his beard had abraded her skin from the night before, and he reminded himself he needed to be easier with her, but if anyone made him lose control it was her. He flexed his shoulder, the soreness from the bite of her nails a reminder that she wasn’t always gentle with him either.
The sheet continued its downward journey until she was completely bare before him, the naked folds of her sex glistening and swollen with desire. She crawled to the center of the bed and moved to her knees, skimming her fingers up her thighs and belly until she cupped her breasts in her hands.
“You’ll have to make it good,” she purred. “This will have to last me until you get back.”
“I’m only going to be gone a week. I think you’ll survive.”
“If you’re not interested, I guess I just need to take care of it myself,” she said, pouting those pretty lips. She’d been a virgin two years before when they’d started dating, but she was the best kind of lover—generous and curious in equal measure—willing to try anything until sometimes he felt like she was teaching him.
“Like hell you will,” he growled. “But if you’re not screaming in ten minutes I’m going to come and leave you hanging. I’ve got a flight to catch.” He grinned as the light of challenge flared in her eyes and she crooked a finger at him.
“I’ve got faith in you,” she whispered. “I bet you’ll have me coming in five. Plenty of time to spare.”
A laugh burst from his lips and he moved to the side of the bed. She grabbed at his belt buckle and unfastened it before moving to the button of his jeans.
“Time’s ticking, hot shot. What are you going to do about it?”
Husky laughter escaped her throat as he grabbed both of her ankles and flipped her back onto the mattress.
“I guess I’m going to make you scream.”
He pulled her to the edge of the bed and pushed his jeans down to his hips so his cock sprang free. He’d be lucky to last five minutes himself. Her feet rested on his shoulders and he gripped the base of his cock, sliding the head through her slick folds until he groaned from the torture. Someday he’d be able to take her without a condom, but not yet. He had plans for the future he wanted to implement very soon.
“Hurry, Dec,” she panted. “I can’t wait.”
He leaned over and opened the nightstand drawer, grabbing a condom and ripping it open with his teeth before sliding the protection on. Her hands went to her breasts and squeezed and he filled her with one solid stroke.
“Fuck me hard,” she screamed.
He bent over her and held her legs together so her feet stretched above her head. And then he did as she’d demanded.
His hips jerked against her in uncontrolled thrusts and his fingers burned against her flesh. He’d be feeling the grip of her sweet pussy wrapped around him for weeks. Her cries were loud and he had a feeling his neighbors would be getting an earful if they listened too closely, but it was like music to his ears.
He dropped her legs so they splayed open, and he came down on top of her as he felt the familiar tightening in his balls and up his spine. Her legs twined around his waist and he buried his head against her neck as he felt her tighten around him and the vise-like squeeze of her walls clamping around him.
“I love you, Sophia,” he whispered in her ear. “Always.” And then they followed each other into ecstasy.
Four Days Later…
Sophia wiped her brow with the back of her sleeve and picked up another box, carrying it into the bedroom she’d soon be sharing with Declan. Her parents were going to have kittens once she told them she was moving in with him. She still had a year of school left before she got her degree, not to mention her parents were both very traditional and wouldn’t be happy about her decision to live in sin. Which was why they would keep thinking she was living in her dorm room until the semester ended. Maybe she’d find the courage to tell them by then.
But sin was just fine with her as long as she was sinning with Declan, and if she was lucky, he’d ask her to marry him sooner rather than later. They hadn’t talked about it, but she could tell it was coming. They loved each other too much for there to be any other option for them.
She unpacked another box of her clothing and then fell back on the bed. It was sometimes overwhelming to think that life was so perfect. She’d been a small town girl, moving from a poor community in southern Virginia to the big city to attend Georgetown University on a full scholarship. She swore her eyes had nearly popped out of her head the first few months after she’d moved.
But then she’d met Declan and things had just clicked. She knew immediately she’d found the other half of her soul. It felt stupid to say, and her friends had told her she was just too inexperienced to know any better, but she figured she knew her heart and her body recognized the man who was made just for her, so she ignored her friends and trusted her instincts. And she and Declan had been together for two full years without a hitch, with a lifetime in front of them.
She pulled herself off the bed and headed back into the living area of his apartment—no, their apartment—to grab another box and put things away when she heard a key rattle in the lock.
Excitement filled her and she ran to the door to undo the deadbolts and the chain. But when she opened the door it wasn’t Declan there as she’d expected. It was his younger sister Darcy. She was a few years younger than Sophia, and she knew Declan and Darcy were close even though she’d only met the girl a couple of times. She was actually one of the few members of Declan’s family she had met.
“Darcy?” Sophia got a good look at the girl’s face and saw the streaks of drying tears down her cheeks. “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”
“I came to get some of Declan’s things,” she said. “Mama said he’d want his own things when they land and get him settled in a room.”
Fear clutched at her belly and she grabbed Darcy’s arm in a tight grasp. “What are you talking about? What’s happened?”
“The attack—” her face crumpled again as she looked at Sophia. “One of the Black Hawks was shot down with a surface-to-air missile. All the SEALs on board were killed, but Declan was somehow thrown from the wreckage before it crashed. They said they didn’t know if he was going to make it, but they’ve got him stabilized at a hospital in Germany and are flying him back here because there’s a surgeon who knows how to fix him. Mama said he’d be just fine. He’s too stubborn to die.”
Darcy’s breath hitched again, but Sophia was too numb to cry. She dropped her hand from Darcy’s arm and backed up a few steps until her knees hit the back of the couch and she sat down hard.
“I didn’t know,” she said. “How—how long ago?”
“I’m sorry I didn’t think to tell you, but I don’t even have your number. I know you and Dec are close. From the looks of your things in here, it looks like you’re closer than I thought.” Darcy grabbed one of the empty boxes she’d left sitting around and headed into the bedroom. “Come on,” she called out. “We’ll get him a few things and then we’ll head to the hospital. You’ll want to be there when he arrives.”
Three weeks later…
Declan knew Sophia was there—he’d heard her whispered words of encouragement through the fog in his mind and felt her lips brush across his forehead.
He couldn’t seem to break free of the nightmares that plagued him. He felt as if he’d been swimming through a black, inky sea toward the light that shone at the top of the water, but just as his hand reached out to break through the surface, something grabbed hold of his ankle and pulled him down again until he was swimming through the faces of the soldiers he’d seen blown into oblivion.
He thought surely he must be dead too, because he remembered jumping into the Black Hawk with the SEALs he’d been working with, his hand grasping Lieutenant Jake Long’s forearm, pulling him up as the copter went airborne. He remembered looking into Jake’s face, pale green eyes staring back at him from a face smeared black with camo paint.
He’d still been holding onto Jake’s arm when consciousness had briefly returned. It wasn’t something he’d ever forget—the way he couldn’t hear anything but his own heartbeat when the rescue squad came to search for survivors or how he’d seen everything in sharper colors for just a few minutes. And then he thought of Sophia because he wanted her face to be the last he saw.
So much blood on his hands. It had been his meet, his op, and eight men were dead because he hadn’t been careful enough. He should have known, should’ve anticipated. The longer he worked within the covert ranks of the CIA the more his name was whispered by the men who would pay to see him dead.
It was too late to change who he was now. He was Declan MacKenzie. And he’d always be hunted. Which meant anyone tied to him would become hunted as well. He would gladly sacrifice his life for his country, but not Sophia’s.
He loved her. So much that the thought of what he had to do clawed its way through his guts, sinking sharp talons into his heart and ripping it out of his chest. But it was the only way because they would never stop hunting him.
Her voice called out to him and it soothed the ache in his chest, and he let himself tell her he loved her in his dreams. One last time.
Sophia stretched her neck and back and got up from the uncomfortable chair she’d pulled up to the side of Declan’s hospital bed. She had a class in another couple of hours and she needed to look over some notes.
He’d been in and out of consciousness the last couple of days.
. And it still brought tears to her eyes that he’d opened his eyes and looked directly at her before whispering he loved her. He’d woken again some hours later, but his mom and dad had been taking their turn sitting by his side. But every time he opened his eyes now she could see his strength and determination growing, and he spoke a little more, even though it was hard for him with the bandages on his face.
Parts of his chest had been badly burned and there were several deep gashes in his legs that worried the doctors. He was hooked up to so many machines she was afraid to touch him, and he moaned in his sleep when the pain medication started to wear off. But she had to be strong for him and keep up a brave face.
Declan had a lot of work and rehab ahead of him if he wanted to be back on his feet and back with his unit, not that she really even knew what he did. It was all very secret, though she knew he was in Special Forces of some kind, and he never went anywhere without his dog tags. He said they were his good luck charm.
She pulled the mangled tags from her pocket and stared at them, letting the sharp edge bite into her hand. The two tags were melded together from the fire, and part of his identification had disappeared. But they’d survived, if not whole, just like he would.
“They look like hell, huh?” he rasped from the bed.
Her head came up and she moved to the side of the bed, taking his hand. “Do you need any water?”
“Not yet.” He swallowed once and stared at her from unreadable eyes, but she could see the pain he tried to keep hidden.
“Let me get the doctor. They wanted to check you the next time you were awake.”
“Not yet, Soph. I need to say something. I need to tell you—”
“Ssh,” she said. She didn’t know where else to touch him. His hand was the only thing not wrapped in bandages. “It’s okay. You told me already.”
“No, you don’t understand.” The machines next to his bed beeped rhythmically, but there was no erratic movement in his heartbeat. He was steady and stable. “I’ve made a mistake.”
She shook her head, not understanding what he meant.
“I realized something when I was flying out of that helicopter. When I looked over and saw friends dead on the ground beside me, their limbs torn from their bodies and some of their faces unrecognizable.”
“God, Dec—I’m so sorry, baby.”
“Just let me get it out, Soph.” The bite in his voice stung, but she let it go. He was hurting and she had no idea what to do to make it better. She couldn’t imagine losing her friends in such a way. She nodded and his lips tightened to a straight line, shifting the bandages that covered the wound on his face.
“What I’m trying to say is that when a man sees death staring him in the face, there are things he thinks about—regrets and wants and needs and mistakes.”
He licked his lips again, but she didn’t ask him if he wanted any water. Something tightened inside her and the air around her became heavy, closing in on her until she thought it would crush her.