Series: Masters and Mercenaries #4
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Juliana O’Neil’s promising future was burned away in the heat of battle. She had been an officer with a bright future in the military, but now she is struggling to survive. Her husband gone and her career in shambles, she finds a job at Top as a hostess and tries to put together the pieces of her life. The last thing she needs is any kind of male attention, but she can’t help but be amused at her neighbor and coworker’s lothario antics. Not that she would have anything to do with him, at least not for more than one night.
Javier Leones doesn’t understand monogamy. No woman could ever be enough for his endless libido, but he has to admit Juliana has his attention. For reasons he doesn’t fully understand, he can’t seem to get the gorgeous redhead with the sad eyes out of his head. After one scorching night together, he realizes he’ll never be able to get her out of his system. But with his reputation, he fears she’ll never see him as more than a one-night stand.
When their passions collide, these new lovers will be forced to confront Juliana’s past and come to terms with Javier’s present. Will they find their way or will this reservation be canceled at the last minute?
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All alone with the storm. Maybe she should call Kai. And ask him to get out in the middle of this? That seemed pretty selfish especially since she knew exactly how poorly driving in storms could go.
A hard flash of white light made her jump back.
Nope. She wasn’t going there. She was going to stay in the here and now, and that meant finding a flashlight and trying to get some candles lit. Someone was out there working on getting the power back on, and then she would ride out the storm watching rom coms and falling asleep on the couch. It was going to be okay. Deep breath. It was going to be okay.
A few moments later she’d found her one flashlight and had a nice set of candles out, and she was faced with the problem of lighting the suckers. Oh, she had a big box of matches, but she’d never struck a match without her left hand.
A lighter would be easier. She could figure out a lighter maybe. Jules tried holding the box against the table with her stump while she struck the match with her right hand. She fumbled, the action so unnatural it made her slip up and break the match.
And the second one.
And the third one.
Tears pierced her eyes, but she wasn’t going to shed them. She was going to figure this out or she would make due with the flashlight. It was all about adapting. That was what she had to do. Adapt.
She wasn’t going to let this beat her. Normally she was tough. It had happened and she dealt with it, but between the storm and the conversation with Suzanne the day before about her mother and the sweetness of flirting with a handsome man she couldn’t have, she was feeling awfully vulnerable. She wasn’t going to sit here in the dark and cry.
A knock on the door made her gasp and jump.
Fuck. She wasn’t like this. She hated this…this anxiety she got when it rained. It was weakness and she couldn’t abide it.
If you walk away from this you’ll ruin your life, Juliana. Don’t think I’ll watch you do it. You go through with this and you do it on your own. Am I understood?
Sometimes she felt like she was still seven years old, and if she could just get her mom’s attention everything would be okay.
Jules gripped the flashlight and walked across her apartment to the door. It was likely one of the neighbors coming to check on her. Actually, that was an excellent idea. She could go down and see if Mrs. Gleeson needed some company. There were some elderly residents she could check on and a single mom she’d met at the end of the hall. She could see if she could be of any assistance and that would get her through the night.
She opened the door expecting to see anyone but the man she saw standing there.
Javier Leones. He had a flashlight in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. He was wearing jeans and a button down that he’d left undone enough she could see a nice swath of golden brown skin. His hair was deliciously mussed, as though he’d taken a shower and simply rubbed a towel over it to get it dry.
He was big and male and so sexy it hurt to look at him, and Jules realized she could do something else to take her mind off things.
Those plump, sensual lips of his broke into a bright smile. “I thought you might like some company. I know I would. I actually don’t have any candles, so I was sitting in my living room with this sad one flashlight. You look like a woman who likes some candles.”
But she couldn’t light them. She hadn’t figured that part out.
His face fell and he walked into her place, closing and locking the door behind him. “Hey, what’s wrong? It’s okay if you don’t have any candles. It’s cool. Two flashlights are better than one.”
He set the flashlight and wine bottle down and moved into her space, his hands coming up to cup her shoulders. “Jules, what’s wrong?”
She had to be stronger than this. She shook her head. “Nothing. I’m fine.”
His jaw tightened. “Don’t. Please don’t. I live with a stubborn asshole who won’t let me help him in any way. I get that we’ve only known each other for a few weeks, but I thought we were friends. You help me out all the time. You’re kind to me. Fucking let me be kind to you. I spend every day trying to help someone who won’t let me. Please let me feel like I’m worth something.”
If he’d said anything else, joked about the weather or told her to suck it up, she could have, but he’d opened a door. He’d been vulnerable and honest, and she found she couldn’t pay that back with stubbornness.
“I have candles and I can’t figure out how to light them.” Tears rolled down her face. She was vulnerable. All the time. Even when she pretended like she wasn’t.
“You can’t…” he began and then he looked down. Instead of stepping back and giving her space, he drew his hand down her arm, warming her skin where he touched her. It was dark but the moon was full and gave enough light to see the outline of his face. There was no look of horror there. He caressed her arm until he got to the place where she’d been split apart and sewn back together unwhole. He brought it up and wrapped it against his palm, his fingers closing around it until the whole thing was surrounded with his warmth. “You haven’t figured out how to do it yet. Probably hasn’t come up or you would know what to do. How long since you lost your hand?”
“A year and a half,” she said. He was touching her there. No one had touched her there except her doctors and therapists.
Come to think of it, no one had touched her at all since before the accident. Had it really been so long since she’d felt warm flesh against her own? He was so close, close enough that all she would have to do was go up on her toes to brush her lips against his.
Would that be wrong? As long as she remembered who she was dealing with, why couldn’t she take a few moments of respite for herself? If he wanted her.