Midnight Man (Midnight #1)

“So you’ve finally found a tenant. Good. Claire’s worried about you all alone in that part of town and, frankly, so am I. Who’d you rent it out to?”

“A man named John Huntington. Commander John Huntington, a former naval officer. Do you know him? “

“John?” He gave a short laugh. “I sure do. And if he’s your new tenant, then your troubles are over, honey.”

Or just beginning, she thought. “Can you tell me something about him? What’s his history?”

“Well, he was a damned fine soldier. Got a chest full of medals.”

“Yes, I saw that on his discharge sheet.”

“Hon, that would only give the medals he won for overt operations. He’s got a safe full of the other ones. The ones for operations we don’t know anything about, and never will.”

Other ones? “What—what kind of soldier was he?”

“A SEAL. Elite commando. Best of the best. Expert in black ops. Operated best under cover of darkness. His men called him the Midnight Man. Got superb night vision. Probably killed more tangos—that’s terrorists—than you’ve had hot dinners. Ha-ha.”

“Ha-ha,” Suzanne echoed hollowly. She had no trouble at all believing what Bud was telling her. The stillness, the palpable aura of danger about the man, told its own story. She’d just let into her home a very dangerous man. Not a simple soldier at all, but a trained killer. A man who killed for his country, true, but a killer nonetheless.

Bud interrupted her thoughts. “Say, how come Midnight Man is renting from you? I didn’t even know he was in town. I heard he retired on disability, but he disappeared from sight after that.”

“Disability?” The man she’d seen hadn’t looked disabled at all. The contrary, in fact. “He didn’t strike me as disabled.”

“He got shot up pretty bad about a year ago, busted his knee. Navy bought him a new one, but he can’t operate at peak levels any more. I don’t know what he’s doing now.”

“He has an international security company. Named Alpha Security.”

“You don’t say.” Suzanne heard a low whistle. “Alpha Security’s a classy company. Got a really good rep. So Alpha’s John’s, huh? He’s living in Portland now?”

“Guess so.”

“Well, I’ll be damned. You tell that son of a—er, son of a gun that he’d better get in touch, pronto. And honey—don’t worry about John. He’s honest and totally, completely reliable—and if he’s head of Alpha he’s more than solvent. I’m glad he’ll be in the building with you. Now we don’t have to worry about you in the Pearl. You’ve got a really dangerous guy on your side there.” The background noise level rose again. Dear God, was that the sound of a shot?

“Morrison, get your ass over here pronto!” someone shouted.

“Hey Suzanne, gotta run, it’s a real zoo here today. See you.”

Really dangerous guy. Suzanne was standing beside her desk. She put her cell down on her desk and stared blindly down at her hand. A really dangerous guy was going to live right across the hall from her.

But she wasn’t supposed to worry about anything.

Right.

“So you did call Bud. Good,” a deep, rough voice said and she screamed.

“Oh my God!” She reared back in shock.

He was standing right in front of her, even larger and taller than she remembered.

“Here.” A flick of his big hand and a plastic card, a pair of small needle-nosed pliers and a bent steel rod fell on her desktop. “That’s what it took to get through your security. Because I was in a hurry. Given a bit more time, I could have done it with spit and a wire. So that’s what your security system is worth—hey!”

Her heart was pummeling its way out of her chest. She had to sit and there was nowhere to sit. Trying to move, she stumbled and was pulled against a massive chest as she tried to focus past the bright spots in front of her eyes.

“Hey, hey, calm down. Sorry I scared you. I just wanted to show you that you need to upgrade your security. Nothing like a live demonstration to convince people. You weren’t supposed to faint on me.”

She wasn’t even listening to the words. His voice was a deep meaningless rumble in his chest. She rested her forehead against his collarbone, palms up over his pectorals.

He was holding her tightly, so tightly she could hear—even feel—his calm strong heartbeat, one beat to her two.

He’d been out in the rain. He smelled delicious—some heady mixture of male, rain and leather. She moved her right hand slightly under his jacket and felt a leather harness of some sort. Intrigued, she moved her hand further across his chest and encountered grained wood and a steel barrel.

He wasn’t letting go. She was going breathless from another type of shock now. One big hand covered the back of her head, the other clasped her about the waist. He pressed hard with that hand and her stomach came into contact with something equally hard.

Not a gun.

She jumped back as if scalded. Some dim part of her brain realized that she was able to do that only because he’d opened his arms the instant he felt her jolt. Otherwise there was no way she could have freed herself from his embrace. The muscles she’d pushed against to jump back were like steel.

Wordless, she stared at him.

“You need a new security system,” he said.

She opened her mouth but nothing came out. New security system. The words circled around her head but couldn’t find a place to land. She couldn’t get a handle on them, on her emotions.

His expression was completely unchanged. Set, unsmiling, serious. She couldn’t begin to read his reaction.

If he even had one. He seemed completely unaffected. And yet she knew he had been affected in at least one big way.

Embarrassment was coming in right after the shock, in great rolling waves. She could feel the heat of it rise in her face, together with another heat, completely uncontrollable.

Suzanne searched in her depths for some way to deal with the situation. Some nice neutral ladylike etiquette that would help her handle having felt the penis of a complete stranger.

Erect penis, if you please.

Huge, erect penis.

Oh God.

Her gaze shot to about six inches above his head. Her throat was dry and her lungs hurt.

“You need a new security system,” he repeated. New security system. New. Security. System. She needed a new security system.

Well…yes. If he was able to break through her system in the time it took her to place a phone call, she probably did need a new one.

“Okay,” she croaked. She cleared her throat. “Okay. I’ll look into it as soon as I can. I’ll ask around—“

“Don’t bother. I’ll install one for you. One not even I can get through. As a thank you for your designs.”

“You don’t need to—“ Suzanne looked at his face. Not a face you said no to. “Okay. Thanks.”

“What’s your favorite restaurant here in Portland?”

She huffed out a little breath, shifting gears. “Well, I suppose… Comme Chez Soi. But why do you—“

“We can talk about your new system tonight, over dinner.” He stated it as a fact, like gravity.

“Dinner?”

He nodded. “I’ll pick you up at seven.”

Suzanne fumbled to get her bearings, but balance eluded her. She couldn’t even begin to think, not with this man in the same room, sucking out all the oxygen and taking with it all her common sense.

She said the only thing she could say. “Okay.”

“Bring a key for me because I won’t be able to install the new security system until the day after tomorrow at the earliest. I’ll be sleeping here tomorrow night. I’ll bring my bed first thing.”

Bed. His bed. Suzanne could imagine him only too well in his bed, big body sleeping in tangled sheets.

“Okay,” she whispered.

He stared at her for another few seconds, dark eyes boring into hers as if he could walk inside her mind. Then he nodded and walked toward the door. He didn’t seem to rush but he covered ground fast. In a second, he was out the door.

Large as he was, he didn’t make any noise. How could that be? He was wearing boots and they had to make some sound on hardwood flooring, didn’t they?

But he disappeared as silently as he had come. He’d appeared before her as suddenly as a ghost. And then he was gone.

Suzanne stared at where he’d been long after she heard the front door snick shut, then groped blindly for a chair. She had a busy day ahead of her but she couldn’t go anywhere until her legs stopped trembling.





CHAPTER THREE


At 1900 on the dot, John rang Suzanne’s front doorbell and at 1901 he heard the light click of her heels on the floor inside. She was punctual, he had to say that for her.

John supposed he shouldn’t be surprised. Suzanne Barron was a businesswoman, after all, and a successful one at that. You don’t survive in business if you can’t meet a schedule.

He’d found the business world, in its own way, as demanding as the Navy.

John stood patiently outside the door, refraining from picking her locks and cutting through the alarm system out of pity. He’d made his point.

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