Read To the Brink Online

Authors: Cindy Gerard

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense

To the Brink (6 page)

BOOK: To the Brink
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He was wearing his formal dress greens. The uniform did little to conceal the breadth of his shoulders and the lean, toned musculature of his body. The black stripe running down the outside seam of trousers that bloused at the top of his black boots identified him as an officer. The green beret he held in his hand identified him as Special Forces. As did the insignia of crossed arrows on his lapel.

 

His rank—1st Lieutenant, which he wore on his epaulette—indicated that he was driven. The numerous ribbons and awards lined up in neat rows above the left breast pocket of his jacket indicated that he was also an overachiever.

 

For some reason, that made her smile, then smile again when she realized he was watching her size him up.

 

And well, well. Look who was walking her way with the ambassador in tow?

 

"Darcy. You look lovely." Ambassador Hayden folded her into a fatherly embrace, then dropped a light kiss on her forehead.

 

An amazing man, was Albert Hayden. Sincere, honest, and, in contrast to the perception of most diplomats as being driven by politics and ego, Ambassador Hayden was one of the most caring men she knew. On all levels.

 

He cared about his country. He cared about his ambassadorial function. But on a more basic level, he cared about people and family. And he viewed all embassy employees as part of his extended family. Most specifically, he watched out for those new to the post— and in many cases on their first extended stay away from home and away from the United States—as if they were his children.

 

This was not Darcy's first post. Neither was she a child. She wasn't a fool, either. She recognized the fatherly warning in the ambassador's
watch your step with this one
look as he introduced her to Lt. Ethan Garrett.

 

Interesting,
she thought as Ambassador Hayden gave her a discreet nod, then walked off to join another group at the far side of the room.

 

"Lieutenant," Darcy said, and accepted the hand he extended. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

 

"Miss Prescott," he murmured in a voice that was deep and smooth and had a totally unsettling effect on her. Then in a gesture that she should have found pretentious and affected but instead found oddly gallant, even charming, he brought her hand to his mouth and kissed it. "I assure you, the pleasure is mine."

 

Well, now.

 

His hand was rough, strong. His fingers tensile and lean. But his lips, where they lingered over the back of her hand, were incredibly soft. As soft as the breath that whispered across her skin and sent a shiver of arousal eddying through her system.

 

And not by accident.

 

The lieutenant knew exactly what he was about.

 

He was seducing her—launching a full frontal assault. And the look in his eyes when he straightened and met her gaze told her he wanted there to be no mistake about his intentions.

 

The eyes that held and captured her attention were a stunning, vivid blue. Intense and probing, alive and knowing. She'd never experienced such pure male appreciation as his gaze held hers much longer than was comfortable.

 

And yet she didn't look away. Truth was, she couldn't. She'd never reacted to a simple look with such instant awareness, such electric arousal. Even worse, he knew the effect he had on her. At least he had a pretty good idea if the smile tilting his lips was any indication.

 

Nice lips. Supple. Full. And he smelled ... umm ... he smelled of sandalwood and lush exotic spices.

 

Whoa.

 

She just might be in a little bit of trouble here. Not a position where she generally found herself with men. She understood men, could hold her own among them. But this man ... this man was different.

 

He had a lean and hungry look about him—like a big jungle cat on the prowl. Sleek and dark and dangerous. And the way he was watching her made her think he might pounce at any moment.

 

She didn't know whether to be annoyed or excited by that notion. One thing she could not be was impassive.

 

She covered her hyperawareness of the testosterone aura surrounding him with a flirty tilt of her head. It was either that or jump out of her skin under his onslaught. "Been out in the jungle a little too long, Lieutenant?"

 

He smiled. Not at all offended. In fact, he clearly found her speculation amusing. Not that he addressed it.

 

"Sit with me at dinner," he said instead, his voice as dark as the night, as tempting as the original sin.

 

He didn't beat around the bush, did he?

 

She could think of a hundred reasons to say no. Starting with a self-confidence that made no bones about his plans for her and ending with the peal of her internal alarm system warning that he was a big juicy bite of something that might taste great but would be a whole lot more than she could chew.

 

My God, the man was potent. And arrogant. And tempting.

 

No wonder the ambassador had felt the need to warn her.

 

And no, she thought again, Ethan Garrett was not the most stunningly handsome man she'd ever met, but she'd been right about the compelling part, because she was actually thinking about what an affair with him might be like.

 

To
compelling
she added
dangerous.

 

"I believe the place cards have already been set out," she said at long last, not knowing whether the little skip of her heart was prompted by relief or disappointment that she'd come up with an excuse.

 

"Place cards," he repeated with a frown.

 

She nodded. "Afraid so. I imagine it's a little too late to adjust the seating now."

 

"Ah, well." He smiled—another one of those devastatingly intoxicating smiles that did unreasonable things to her body temperature and respiration.

 

With a nod and a respectful, "Ma'am," he left her in the middle of the room.

 

Feeling like she'd been hit by a tank.

 

When Darcy entered the dining room with Sandy Jankowski—a coworker in the vice consul's office—an hour later, it came as no surprise that the lieutenant was already seated at the table.

 

"Who's the hunky SF lieutenant with the gorgeous baby blues?" Sandy asked with a grin. "And why does he look like he wants to eat you alive?"

 

Sandy was a petite brunette with big brown eyes and an irreverent smile. She and Darcy had become fast friends in the year since they'd started their PCSs in Lima.

 

"Ethan Garrett," Darcy said, and felt her pulse spike under his blatant scrutiny. "And to answer your second question, I have no idea."

 

Sandy laughed at the bewilderment in Darcy's tone. "Were I you, I think I'd be finding out."

 

"I don't know," Darcy said. "He might be a little too much for me to handle."

 

"Sweetie. Those are the best kind. Now go forth and flirt before the poor guy busts a vein."

 

Sandy gave her a gentle nudge in the lieutenant's direction and took off across the room.

 

Inertia more than a conscious decision propelled her in his direction. He rose when she walked toward him, watched her with those hungry eyes. She felt an instant and alarming shock of an answering need.

 

Oh yeah. This guy is colossal trouble.

 

"Miss me?"

 

She smiled, because for God's sake, what else could she do? "You're very confident of yourself, aren't you?"

 

"Confident that I know what I want when I see it."

 

She tilted her head. "I think I was right. You
have
been in the jungle too long."

 

He chuckled. Like his voice, the sound was deep and throaty and embracing. She managed to stay on her feet, but it felt like her bones had just liquefied.

 

"Well, would you look at this." He pulled out the chair beside his, feigning surprise. "What a nice coincidence. We seem to be seated next to each other after all."

 

She glanced from him to the place cards that sat side by side amid fine china and polished sterling and paper-thin crystal and did, for a fact, have their names printed in gold script. She had no doubt that he was responsible for shuffling the seating arrangement with a nifty bit of sleight of hand.

 

"Tell me, Lieutenant Garrett," she said as she took a seat. "Are you always this resourceful?"

 

He bent down as he pushed her chair in for her. His warm breath whispered across her ear. "When compelled, yes."

 

She stalled a shiver and smelled— "Cherry? Do I smell cherry?"

 

He sat down beside her and reached into his breast pocket. She actually salivated when he produced an open roll of cherry Life Savers.

 

"Oh my God. I haven't had one of these since I left home."

 

He held the roll out to her. She popped a Life Saver into her mouth with an appreciative, "Umm. Wherever did you find them?"

 

He didn't answer her for the longest time. He just watched her before finally saying, "If the look on your face is any indication of how you respond to pleasurable stimulation, I'm thinking I'll have to keep that my little secret. That way when you want something sweet, you'll have to come to me to get it."

 

He truly should have been assigned to a tank division. "Has anyone ever suggested that subtlety's not your strong suit?"

 

He pocketed the candy, all the while holding her gaze with an intensity that made her heart skip. Again. "I generally find subtlety a waste of time."

 

When she could speak beyond the lump that had suddenly lodged in her throat, she reached deep for composure. "Speaking of time ... you don't believe in wasting any, do you?"

 

"No, ma'am, I don't. Life's too short."

 

Yes,
she thought. This man would know about how short life could be. A warrior's wariness lay beneath all the heat in his eyes. He was a soldier. Not just any soldier. He was Special Forces. Elite of the elite. He knew about life and death. He experienced both every day.

 

Oh yeah. The self-confident lieutenant was as close to danger as she had ever come. There was a certain excitement in knowing that. Knowing that someone like him would be this interested in the youngest daughter of Delmar and Mary Prescott from Cincinnati, Ohio, whose most exciting moment to date had been boarding the plane to Peru.

 

Somewhere in the haze of all this excitement and riveting sensual awareness was the truth. She had reason to beware of this engaging alpha warrior whose intentions were as clear as the blue of his eyes. He could burn her. He could burn her quite badly if she wasn't careful.

 

But as the night wore on and her defenses wore thin, the fear of stepping into the flames with Ethan Garrett gave way to the bigger fear of what she'd be missing if she stood outside the circle of his fire.

 

Somewhere between the entree and desert, and despite Ambassador Hayden's warning look and what she suspected would be a monumental error in judgment, Darcy decided to take a huge leap of faith and a giant step closer to the brink of what just might be her ruination.

 

"Just how much time do you plan on spending in Lima, Lieutenant Garrett?"

 

She could see it in his eyes. His beautiful, expressive blue eyes. He knew he had her, he
had
to know, yet the only indication he gave was a subtle shifting of his body closer to hers. "How much time do I need?"

 

 

Chapter 5

 

JOLO
 
ISLAND,
 
PHILIPPINES

PRESENT

 

"Roger that." Ethan spoke quietly into
his SAT phone as daylight of the second day broke down through the jungle like a strobe blaring through the overhead canopy of green on green. "Later, Bro."

BOOK: To the Brink
13.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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