Lily Morrisette paused with her water glass suspended
halfway to her lips as she stared in fascination at the big man letting
himself in through the kitchen door. The granite tiles beneath her feet
were smooth, and around her, the huge Laguna Beach ocean front house was
silent, the only sound the distant ticking of the antique mission clock
in the livingroom. Cool, salt breezes with an underlying hint of April
flowers blew in on the mans wake. But cool wasnt
the first word to pop to Lilys mind. He had to be about the hottest
thing shed ever clapped eyes on.
She knew who he was, of course, from
the photographs Glynnis Taylor had shown her. But none of those came close to doing him justice, and Lily was caught flat-footed by the sheer impact
of his physical presence.
He was six feet of dark and dangerous -- you could
tell the latter just by the way he held himself. As for the rest --
the midnight black hair and dark jaw stubble, the long legs, andthose
wide shoulders straining the navy material of his T-shirt -- well,
heck it was overkill, pure and simple.
Lily considered pouring her glass of water where
it would do the most good to cool her down. She didnt, naturally,
but holy petunia. Shed finally met her fantasy man in the
Then he opened his mouth and wrecked the illusion.
"Who the hell are you?" he demanded, swinging
an olive-drab duffle bag off his shoulder and down to the tiled floor.
"And what are you doing in my kitchen? Wheres Glynnis?"
His eyes were a clear, pale gray, the irises ringed in charcoal. Intense
and unflinching, they narrowed between thick, dark lashes to rake over
her, taking in her thin cotton, peppermint-ice-cream-colored drawstring
pajama bottoms and tank top. The scrutiny served to remind Lily of every
one of the extra ten pounds she could never seem to shed, no matter what.
She set her glass down on the counter top with a sharp click, but refrained
from responding in kind to his rudeness.
"You must be Glynnis brother Zach."
She stepped forward, extending her hand. "Shes away right now,
but Im Lily -- Lily Morrisette. Ive heard a lot about you
since I started renting a room here."
"The hell you say," he growled, ignoring
her proffered hand. His voice was so deep she could practically feel its
vibration through the souls of her feet, the way she always registered
the bass thumping from the car of the teenage boy who lived down the block
whenever he drove past. It was also nearly as frigid as those iceberg
eyes of his when he continued, "Glynniss always been a sucker
for every con artist with a sad story to tell, but I didnt think
shed go so far as to actually install one in our house while I was
"I hope you got whatever you were angling for
while the opportunity was ripe, lady." His gaze was so scornful it
took all Lilys starch not to recoil. "But dont let that
shapely little ass get too comfortable, because the free ride is officially
over. Go pack your bags."
He thought her bottom was shapely? And little?
Then she gave herself a sharp mental shake. Good God, what was the matter with her? His opinion of her butt was hardly the point. Straightening
her shoulders, she tipped up her chin. "No," she said firmly,
and crossed her arms over her breasts.
"What?" He went very still, as if no one
ever contradicted him.
Perhaps no one ever did, Lily surmised, recalling
that he was some hotshot Marine who specialized in reconnaissance missions.
Then his mouth went hard, and part of her attention got distracted by
the thin white scar that bisected his upper lip.
Funny the difference a few minutes and an insulting
attitude could make. What she undoubtedly would have considered sexy as
all get-out a moment ago struck her now as vaguely sinister. Pretty
is as pretty does, Grandma Nell wouldve said, and for the first
time Lily understood on a bone-deep, fundamental level exactly what her
grandmother had meant. This guys behavior wasnt pretty at
all, and she refused to be the first to flinch in the strange game of
Chicken they played. "What part of the word dont you understand?"
she inquired sweetly. Then her voice adopted the authority shed
acquired from years of dealing with the temperamental chefs whod
taught her her craft. "Im not going anywhere, so get used to
next thing she knew, she had a hundred and ninety pounds of irate male
looming over her, making her painfully aware of her own less-than-impressive
stature. "We can do this the easy way, or we can do it tough,"
Zach said, and the deep timbre of his voice registered up and down her
spine. "But one way or another, sister, you will be leaving."
Lilys head snapped back to meet his storm-grey
eyes. "Back off, Soldier Boy. And let me make myself perfectly clear:
you lay one hand on me, and Ill have the cops crawling down your
throat so fast itll make your head twirl." She hated it when people used their size to try to intimidate her.
"Yeah, I quake in fear of a little operator like
you calling in the local heat." But he eyed her warily as if unable
to figure out where she got her brass and stepped back. The retreat must
not have set too well with him, though, because those mile-wide shoulders
of his immediately adopted a stubborn set, his square jaw did the impossible
and became even harder, and he leaned into her just enough to invade her
personal space without actually crowding her to the point where she could
warn him off again.
"Tell you what," he said with soft menace,
"Ill save you the trouble and give them a call myself. Then they can escort you off the premises, and I can get a good nights
sleep. After playing hurry-up-and-wait on military transports for the
past two days, Im in no mood to deal with a wheeler-dealer out to
fleece my sister of her inheritance."
Oh, for --
Tired of the slurs against her character, Lily turned
on her heel. She caught a glimpse of his satisfaction out of the corner
of her eye and had to grit her teeth against the frustration that burned
like napalm in the back of her throat. Refusing to give vent to her ire,
however, she stalked out of the kitchen and down the adobe hallway to
her room, where she headed straight for the little fire-proof safe she
kept in the nightstand next to her bed.
Her blood raced so hot through her veins she was
surprised steam didnt rise through her pores, and her nerves jangled
just below the surface of her skin. Then her knees abruptly buckled, and
she collapsed onto the coverlet. Perching her bottom on the edge of the
bed and clutching the small box in her lap, she took several slow, deep
breaths. How on earth had everything gotten so far out of hand so flipping
The truth was -- Zachariah Taylor being a complete
idiot regarding her role in his sisters life aside -- he probably
had valid reasons for his concern. Glynnis was only a week or so from
her twenty-fifth birthday when she was supposed to come into a sizable
trust fund. Lily didnt know where the trust originated -- it
had something to do with a family-owned corporation and Glynnis
grandfather, she thought, but wasnt actually sure about the details,
since her younger friend had a tendency to go off on incoherent tangents
whenever she came to that point in a conversation. What Lily did know
was that Glynnis didnt have a great track record picking her friends --
at least when it came to men. Actually, that had recently changed, but
the point was that Glynnis had been burned more than once by guys chasing
after her for her money, and it was no secret she was an easy touch for
anyone with a hard-luck story.
No doubt Brother Zach had a hard time believing her
ability to read character applied solely to the male gender.
also conceded she may have been the tiniest bit predisposed to think the
worst of Zach before theyd ever met. Glynnis adored her brother,
but from everything shed ever said about him Lily had formed an
impression of one of those macho, overly dominant types who live to keep
their womenfolk dependent. Shed been momentarily sidetracked by
his Greek god physique, but Zachs insulting assessment of her character
had immediately plunged her right back into that mind set.
But perhaps it was time to draw back and regroup.
He was clearly stressed and likely worn to a nub from travel frustration.
That sort of thing could prey on a person and turn even the easiest-going
disposition nasty. So perhaps they ought to start over again. She opened
the box on her lap, withdrew what shed come looking for, then returned
the box to its drawer and headed back to the kitchen. Shed show
him this, then calmly explain how she had come to be living here.
Her willingness to give him another shot, however,
didnt render her so full of comradeship that she was ready to start
tossing flowers at Zachs oversized feet. She had her work cut out,
in fact, not to lapse into defensiveness the moment she walked back into
the room and found herself once again the cynosure of those take-no-prisoners
eyes of his. So although she politely extended the document to him rather
than slapping it against his hard abs the way she mightve done five
minutes ago, her posture as she faced him was screw-you erect.
"Whats this?" Not waiting for an answer,
he opened the thrice-folded paper and began to read. His dark eyebrows
suddenly gathered like thunderclouds above his nose, and his gaze snapped
up from the document to pin her in place.
"A contract?" he said in a dangerously low
tone. "Youve got a contract to stay here? I dont
have to ask whose idea this was."
Lily felt her good intentions slipping away. She
didnt like his tone of voice, much less what he insinuated. It was
particularly insulting in light of the fact that shed come up with
this idea as a way of teaching Glynnis a little financial accountability --
something Mr. Commando here might have taken the time to do himself. But
she held onto her temper with both hands. "Im not sure I understand
your objections," she said with hard-won equanimity. "As you
can see, Im paying a fair, market value rent, not staying here for
He simply looked at her, and she said in exasperation,
"You just read the contract -- you must have seen for yourself
that it doesnt favor my interests over those of your sister. And
its not as if I drew the thing up; Glynnis and I went to a perfectly
"And he was -- what? Let me guess." His
gaze took a leisurely up-and-down tour of her body, lingering over specific
curves. "A very good friend of yours?"
"I dont believe you! How can someone
as sweet as Glynnis have such a pig of a brother?" And how could
I have harbored even a momentary fantasy about this guy? Lily concentrated
the full force of her contempt on him, but he merely returned an expressionless
stare. Expecting steam to come whistling out of her ears at any moment
like some enraged cartoon character, she snatched the contract from his
hand. "Ive had it. Im going to my room. You just stay
the heck away from me."
She heard him sweep his bag up off the tiles as she
stalked stiff-legged from the kitchen. And although he moved quiet as
a cat, she sensed him padding along in her wake and had to bite back the
urge to scream. Fists clenched at her sides, she picked up her pace, eager
to reach the haven of her own space.
She wasnt quite quick enough, however, to avoid
hearing him snarl, "Oh, that just fucking figures. Youve even
got my room."
Mortification sent scalding heat up Lilys throat.
Shed offered to take the smaller bedroom down the hall when shed
first moved in, but Glynnis wouldnt hear of it. Shed insisted
that if Lily paid rent she ought to at least get her moneys worth
by having an ocean view. The younger woman hadnt once mentioned
that the room shed assigned Lily was her brothers.
wanting to see his expression, Lily refused to look around as she pushed
open the door. "Ill have my stuff moved down the hall in five
"Forget it," he said sarcastically. "I
wouldnt want to put you out. Ill crash in the guest room."
A disbelieving sound escaped her. "And let you
add that to my list of supposed crimes? I dont think so." She
stalked across the room to grab her big suitcase off the shelf in the
closet, then pulled the clothes that hung from the rod below it off their
hangers. Tossing them into the case, she then gathered a dozen pairs of
shoes off the closet floor, and swept the highboy clear of her framed
photographs and perfume bottles. Next she emptied the dresser drawers
and added their contents to the mix. She stuffed her jewelry box into
one corner, looked around to be sure she hadnt forgotten anything,
then went into the attached bathroom to collect her makeup and toiletries.
When she came out it was to see Zach standing over
her case staring down at its contents. Scorching heat settled in her cheeks.
What was it, Murphys Law or something, that the lacy, silky contents
of her undies drawer had to be right on top? Shouldering him aside, she
added her armload from the bathroom. Then she snatched the case up in
both hands. Shed crammed enough stuff in it for three suitcases --
much too much to ever close it.
"I think thats everything," she said
with hard-won civility, and carefully holding the case level to prevent
any liquids from leaking from the bottles within, carried it across the
room. "The room is officially all yours." So grown up,
a little voice in her head commended her. And polite. Yes, indeed --
youre nothing if not polite.
But she refrained from mentally issuing herself any
self-congratulatory pats on the back for such mature handling of the situation.
Because the sad truth was, had both of her hands not been fully occupied,
she would have been hard pressed to keep from slamming the bedroom door
so violently behind her itd rattle the big goons pearly white
Zach strung obscenities in creative combinations as
he prowled the hacienda-style house, locking up as he went. Irritation
rode him hard, and he decided that this was just one more crime he could
lay at Lily Morrisettes dainty little feet -- the fact that she
had simply waltzed off without bothering to secure the house.
Then the absurdity of the notion brought him up short. Yeah, right. That was kind of like worrying that the fox hadnt
locked up the hen house, wasnt it? Trouble from without was the least of his problems when it was already entrenched with a capital
T right here inside the compound with him.
But he stood foursquare by the fox analogy, since
that was exactly what she reminded him of. Wily, slick, and shrewd. Dangerously
intelligent. All pink and gold and built like a --
He gave his head a furious shake and headed for his
room. He wasnt going to accomplish anything tonight when he was
so damn tired he could barely see straight. Might as well catch some Zs
and figure out in the morning how to get little Ms. Morrisette out of
That left him Glynnis to fret about. Where was she?
And just when the hell did he get to quit worrying about her, anyway?
It wasnt as if she were a kid. Or that he wasnt a liberated
kind of guy -- hey, he firmly believed that women were every bit as
capable of looking out for themselves as men were. More so, many of them.
Only. . . Glynnie was different. There had always
been something sort of sweet and innocent and a little bit clueless about
his baby sister that made it just plain impossible not to worry.
Shed been nineteen years old to his thirty when shed come
to live with him at Camp Lejuene in North Carolina, where hed been
stationed at the time. Shed never known their parents, Grandfather
had just died, and shed been in need of someone to bolster her emotional
fragility. Since he was all the family she had left, that job had fallen
to him, and hed been happy to oblige -- when he was available.
But hed been in and out of the country on a pretty regular basis,
so hed had to leave her on her own quite a bit. Shed hardly
been a child, though. Hell, shed been a year older than he had been
when hed left that cold mausoleum of a mansion in Philadelphia to
join the Marines, so he refused to feel guilty about his inability to
be there on a constant basis. He did sometimes wonder, though, if she
might not have become a little more savvy during the past six years had
he been around more to ride herd on her.
Especially when it came to money. Glynnis was dead
hopeless in the finance department. He couldnt remember a single
month since shed moved in with him that shed managed to live
on the allowance from her trust fund. Maybe that was his fault for always
bailing her out. He probably shouldnt have let her get away with
'borrowing' from him, particularly when nine times out of ten shed
just turned right around and shelled out his money to one of her lost
causes. She was too damn trusting for her own good.
brought Zachs thoughts swinging right back to the very curvy little
Lily. Ruthlessly cutting them short, he ripped his clothes off and padded
naked into the bathroom, ditty bag in hand. Dont even go there. He washed up and brushed his teeth, then headed back to the bedroom with
the full intention of getting some much-needed rest.
But exhausted as he was, sleep was slow in coming.
He had a months leave, and his plan had been to use the time to
catch up with his sister and figure out how to hang onto the only billet
hed ever cared to have for the final two years he had left in the
service. Now Glynnis wasnt home, he was struggling with the fact
that he needed to worry about his career at all, and to top it all off
he was half hard from the scent on his pillow left by some Marilyn Monroe
lookalike out to bilk his sister of her fortune. This wasnt the
way hed envisioned his homecoming.
He flipped over onto his back, cradled his head in
his clasped hands, and stared up at the ceiling. Big deal, so he was suffering
a random surge of lust -- that would get the zero attention it deserved.
And since he wasnt willing to go pound on Lilys door to demand
his sisters whereabouts, there wasnt much he could do about
Glynnis tonight. But the remainder of his military career was a subject
he could devote some attention to.
Nothing was the same as it used to be. He was the
only one left from his original unit, for starters. His closest friends,
Coop Blackstock, whom hed met his first day of boot camp, and John,
the Rocket, Miglionni, whom hed met not long after that, had both
been out of the service for several years now. Since their discharge,
Coop had gone on to become a best-selling author of military-techno-thrillers
and Rocket was a private detective with his own agency. And all the others
grunts in their unit had either retired, transferred, or died.
Zach had somehow ended up as the old man
in a new recon unit full of eighteen, nineteen, and twenty year olds. Jesus. He scrubbed his hands over his face. How the hell had
that happened? In any other business a thirty-six year old in his
physical condition would be considered in his prime. But reconnaissance
was a young mans game and the brass was beginning to hint he should
think about giving up field work to teach the younger men its finer points.
To teach, for crissake!
Sure, the younger men could go for days on end without
sleep and never have it catch up with them, and at some point during the
last year or so he had lost that ability. And yes, this last assignment
in South America had been a bitch. But, hell, it had been a hundred and
ten fucking degrees with humidity to match. Even the daycare kids, as
he sometimes thought of them, had gotten their asses kicked.
So, screw it. He could keep up with them any day of
the week. Maybe lately he hadnt liked being in the field as much
as he used to, but that was surely temporary. He was just a little discouraged
over the way the last assignment had shaken out.
All he needed was a little R & R and hed
be back in fighting trim. Hed always seen himself in a recon unit
right up until the day he mustered out of the service for good, and thats
exactly what he planned to do until he had his twenty years in and was
eligible for retirement. How to get the brass off his back in the meantime
was the question.
He realized, though, that there was no use worrying
about it tonight. Flipping onto his side, he pounded the pillow into submission,
and stuffed it under his head, only to have another subtle waft of fragrance
rise to tease his nose. An image of Lily immediately popped to mind and
this time refused to be dislodged.
She was such a little thing -- hed be surprised
if she topped out at five-two. But inch for inch, pound for pound, she
was pure sex on the hoof. It was more than the sum total of that froth
of blonde hair, those blue eyes, and that golden skin. It was the way
she moved and the sheer femaleness of her. It was the pheromones she exuded.
And it was those curves.
Man, oh, man. Those curves.
She had what used to be referred to as an hour-glass
figure: round breasts, tiny waist, and full, lush hips. Like a top-of-the-line
Cadillac, hers was a chassis designed for a smooth ride -- a guy only
had to take one look at it to get all sorts of ideas.
The wrong kind of ideas. Zach whipped the pillow out
from under his head and hurled it across the room. He rolled onto his
other side and pillowed his head on his biceps, swearing another blue
streak beneath his breath when the scent hed thought to rid himself
of merely drifted up from the sheets instead. It had been a long couple
of days, and he was beat -- no doubt that was why he was feeling so
he didnt try to fool himself -- Lily Morrisette was the type
of woman who could tie a mans thoughts in knots without lifting
so much as one single, dainty, rose-tipped finger. And that made her more
dangerous than a field full of land mines.
So first thing in the morning, after hed had
a decent nights sleep and his brain was once again working at its
usual brisk pace, hed find a way to send her packing.
End of Excerpt.