Midnight Man (Midnight #1)

“No, ma’am.”

He looked over and their eyes met. His gaze had such power in it Suzanne had to look away. She felt as if she had been punched in the stomach.

Say something, you idiot. “So, um, where are you from?”

He was silent a moment as he negotiated the tricky intersection off Harrison. “From all over and nowhere in particular. My dad was in the Navy and I grew up on Navy bases. Then when I was old enough to enlist, I followed in his footsteps. I’ve lived on most of the naval bases in this country and a good many abroad. Most of them sunny,” he added wryly. “When I took early retirement, I needed a home base of my own. Weather didn’t factor too much into the choice.”

“So…why Portland?”

“Don’t really know.” He shrugged. “A lot of people told me what a great place it was. I’d met Bud years ago when he was a marine. He said there were good hunting and fishing and sailing close by. Seemed as good a place as any.”

“Bud said he didn’t even know you were in town.”

“Yeah. I thought I was going to build my business up slowly, have time to see my pals, maybe fish and hunt some. Instead, business just took off and I’ve been chasing after it ever since. Haven’t hardly had a chance to catch my breath. I should have looked for larger premises much earlier than this. Though,” this with a sidelong glittering glance at her that took her breath away, “I’m really glad I waited. Really glad.” He swerved and parked. “Here we are.”

Again, he moved quickly for such a big man. A few seconds after stopping the SUV, he was at her door. The rain had stopped and there was a hush in the air. A car whished by, headlights catching him full in the face.

She caught her breath at the intensity of his expression, deep lines bracketing an unsmiling mouth. His arms were open to lift her down. She put her hands on his shoulders and leaned forward. He did too. Their noses touched.

Something in his eyes told her he was a hair’s breadth from—“Don’t kiss me,” she whispered.

“No.” His voice was low and rough. “When I start kissing you, I won’t stop. And the first time we have sex it should be on a bed, not on the front seat of a car on the open highway. So we can take our time.”

He plucked her off the seat and swung her down effortlessly.

They stood a moment, raindrops dripping from the broad oaks above them. His hands were still on her, almost spanning her waist. Suzanne’s heart was pounding. She should be shocked. She was shocked. At the harsh words, at the very notion. She should say…something. Something like “In your dreams, buster,” or “How dare you?”

The images his rough words produced—broad naked shoulders rising hot and hard above her, fevered kisses and powerful heated sex—robbed her of breath.

Power and sex came off the man in tangible waves, totally invincible, unstoppable.

She’d never felt like this in her whole life. Shaky, without bearings, like a toddler taking her first baby steps. She stared up at him mutely, their breath clouding in the chill night air, and then moved away.

“How dare you say that—even think it. Sleeping with me isn’t in the lease.” Her voice shook. “I don’t sleep around.”

His hand settled in the small of her back as he unfurled the big black umbrella over her head and started walking them toward the restaurant. “No.” His voice was low. “I’m sure you don’t.”

Suzanne sneaked a glance up at his face. He wasn’t grinning fatuously like some macho creep who’d just made a pass. His face was hard, unsmiling and serious. A soldier who’d just stated his military objective.

We’re going to take that hill. We’re going to have sex in a bed.

He was a multi-decorated soldier. He was probably used to gaining his objectives.

God help her, what had she let herself in for?

When they reached the restaurant, Suzanne heaved an unconscious sigh of relief, as if they had come in from more than the chilly evening. Moving into the familiar and elegant rooms, she felt on more solid ground, where she knew the rules. Where she could hold her own. In the twenty-first century, instead of in a cave where the man with the biggest club won.

The maitre d’ welcomed them and showed them to a secluded corner table, one of the best, near the huge open fireplace. Suzanne’s eyebrows rose. She ate often with clients at lunchtime here but they’d never been offered this choice spot. John’s dead president must have been a powerful one.

“Are you familiar with French food?” she asked as she opened the large leather-covered menu.

“Yeah. Some.” John shrugged. “But I’m not a picky eater. I’ll have whatever you’re having.” He had seated himself next to her on the banquette instead of across the table and she could feel the heavy muscles of his biceps as his shoulders lifted.

Suzanne lowered the menu. “Suppose I ordered the Rognons à la créme ardennais?”

John settled his wide shoulders against the back of the banquette. He snorted. “You think I’d balk at eating kidneys in cream? You don’t know what crappy rations we have in the field. When we’re lucky enough to have rations. My men and I holed up in a cave once for three weeks and all we had to eat was a mountain goat we captured. We had to eat it raw because we couldn’t afford to light a fire. We ate everything including the eyeballs. We’d have eaten the hooves and the fur if we could.”

“Ugh.” She shuddered delicately. “Where was this?”

His mouth quirked. “Someplace a lot more unpleasant than here, that’s for sure.”

“If you told me, you’d have to kill me?” she teased gently, swirling a lock of hair behind her ear.

“No. Never.” He caught her hand, his face sober. “I don’t hurt women, Suzanne. Couldn’t. Don’t ever worry about that.” He brought her hand to his mouth and brushed a kiss across the back. “But yeah. It’s best for you not to know.”

Her hand tingled where he’d kissed it. It surprised her, scared her.

The waiter came to slip a small plate of warm hors d’oeuvres in front of them and to take their order. John ordered in decent French. The man was full of surprises. He could pick locks, eat raw goat and speak French. An unusual combination for an unusual man.

“You speak rather well. Your French is better than my high school French, that’s for sure.”

“The Navy sent some of us to Monterey for intensive courses. Learning French and Spanish was okay, but Farsi and Pashto were bitches—er, tough to learn. Pashto’s a good language to swear in, though. With the added benefit that no one else understands.”

He didn’t relinquish her hand. With the other arm along the back of the settee, he was effectively holding her in an embrace.

Suzanne cleared her throat. She had the wall to one side and the wall of his chest to the other. She couldn’t see any of the other diners. He filled her entire field of vision, overwhelming her.

The flickering candle cast fascinating shadows over the hard planes of his face. He was closely shaven as if he must have shaved just before coming out. There was no hint of an after-shave but she was acutely aware of his scent just the same—clean clothes, leather and soap. And some indefinable something that must have been…him.

Suzanne coughed and fidgeted. He was so close to her she felt she couldn’t pull in enough air in her lungs. She tugged gently at her hand, then harder. His large hand tightened.

“If you’re trying to get me to back off, it won’t work.” He leaned even further forward and buried his nose in her hair. “You’re too alluring for me to even think of backing off,” he murmured. “You smell too good, feel too good. Christ, I want you.” When his right hand moved from the back of the settee to cup the back of her neck she jumped.

“Am I spooking you?”

“A little,” she whispered.

“Too bad. Because I’m not backing off. No way.” He was playing with her fingers, running the rough pads of his fingers over her skin. His eyes glittered. She still couldn’t figure out what color they were. Dark, but not brown. Not quite blue, either.

He relinquished her hand to stroke the back of his fingers over her cheek. “Soft,” he murmured. “So soft.” One large finger ran over her jawbone, then down her neck. He traced a vein that was pounding. “You might think you’re spooked, Suzanne, but I don’t think it’s that. Do you know what I think? Hmm?”

She was breathing shallowly, her breath coming light and fast. “No.” Her voice sounded husky even to her own ears. “What do you think?”

“Your skin is so fine, I can see the blood pumping through your vein here.”

His finger moved tantalizingly down, stroked her collarbone, and traced the swell of her breast. He circled her nipple.

“You’re hard here, honey. Like a little rock.”

Through the lace of her bra, through the silk of the shirt, she felt it acutely. Felt it down to her toes. And when he brushed back and forth against her nipple she felt—shockingly—her womb clench, the fluttering prelude to an orgasm.

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