military romantic suspense ebb tide leah murray

Chapter 1

Jo stretched out on her towel, languished in the warmth of the sun as the shrill cry of seagulls echoed in her ears. She drew in a deep breath of fresh summer air, reveling in the feeling of being outside, finally able to relax.

She had escaped.

It had taken three months of anxious waiting but she hadn’t seen or heard from him and now she was sure she was free.

Sitting up, she pushed her sunglasses back to stare at her legs, checking on her tan, and she smiled at the tinge of brown on her skin. Finally, finally she was getting a decent tan. For the first time in nearly thirty years her skin would be the sexy brown of women in magazines.

Glancing up at the sky, she squinted into the mid-day sun, pulled the sunglasses back down over her eyes and twisted her hair up into a bun, securing the toffee-colored curls with an elastic band from around her wrist.

She glanced down at the shoreline at a sudden loud cry and her lips curved in a smile as a woman chased a naked toddler in a floppy sunhat away from the water’s edge, the little boy gurgling happily as white froth swirled around his pudgy legs.

God, she was glad to be here. Looe, Cornwall. And now, home.

Well, home for the next year, anyway.

She stared out at the calm waters of the bay, absently tracking a large white yacht as it headed out to sea. Yes, this was definitely a far cry from rural New Zealand, her parents’ dairy farm in the Waikato.

As far away from Jack as she could get.

Sighing with pleasure, she raised her arms above her head in a stretch, ignored the glances of the men on either side of her. But when one stared a little too intently, she stood, moved her towel further down the beach, closer to the banjo pier.

Attention was the last thing she wanted. The scars were still too raw.

She brushed the sand from her towel and lay back down on her stomach, placing her head on her arms and closing her eyes, intending to tan her back for a few minutes before seeking some shade.

A sudden coolness on her skin eclipsed the warmth of the sun and she raised her head, squinted up at the man standing at the edge of her towel.

`Yes, can I help you?’ she asked, trying to appear calm. Every nerve inside her was yelling at her to run; but it was panic and she’d learned to deal with it.

`I need to talk to you,’ the man said.

Jo shook her head. `I’m sorry but I think you’ve made some mistake. I don’t know you.’

The man smiled at her and suddenly the fear crawled higher in her stomach.

She scrambled to her feet, knowing with a sudden certainty that his intentions were anything but good. Perhaps it was the cold smile, the smile that was so much like Jack’s. He’d laughed when he’d hurt her.

She shook her head. `I’m sorry but I … I have to go,’ she said, stepping away from him.

`I don’t think so. We’re going to take a little walk.’ His voice was low, but steady.

He grabbed her by the waist and she flinched at the touch of his sweaty flesh.

She slapped his hand away and stepped back again. `Who the hell do you think you are, get away from me!’ her voice was high with panic but this part of the beach was relatively isolated and no heads turned.

The man grabbed at her again, his grip firmer this time.

No. Not again. Jo opened her mouth, tried to scream, but no sound came out.

`Run and Ken and Lucy are dead,’ he said, close to her ear.

Jo stopped struggling, more from shock and disbelief than from lack of will. Oh God. Her parents. What had he done to her parents?

He steered her up the walkway to the parking lot, his grip almost a pinch. Her breathing was uneven, her palms clammy, but she forced herself to think. She had to get away. Tell the police. Find her parents.

The man paused beside a black station wagon and she seized the moment, wrenching herself free of his grip. She raced blindly past the restaurant on the corner, weaving through a group of shocked tourists as she turned into a narrow lane, her heart pounding hard.

She heard him shout, could almost feel the vibrations of his steps as he chased after her, and she swerved to the right, running up a steep side street squeezed between ancient stone and plaster buildings, ducking her head to avoid several swinging baskets of flowers strung up outside a pub.

Chancing a look behind her, she saw the man still in close pursuit and she swerved again, racing into the middle of the lane, willing her legs to run faster.

A sudden screech of brakes registered at the same time as a searing pain in her shoulder and it was only as she felt herself falling that she saw the back of the Land Rover.

Then she was on the ground, grazing her hands and knees as she hit the tar, overwhelmed by an awful shooting pain in her shoulder.

Moaning, she tried to stand up but slumped back down, her breath coming in quick gasps.

She glanced up fearfully as the man sent her an awful smile, started towards her.

`Oh God, please help, someone help me,’ she prayed, trying to edge backwards, get away from him.

`Jesus.’

The voice was male, low, and came from behind her. Jo realized it was the driver of the car and relaxed slightly as the man from the beach paused, backed away.

Closing her eyes, she clenched her jaw against the overwhelming pain and thanked God for small mercies.

`Bloody hell woman, what did you do that for?’

Despite the pain, she felt herself bristling at the tone, frowned and opened her eyes again. About to retort, she saw the man crouched down in front of her and lost track of what she had meant to say as she met the intense blue of his gaze. God. For a moment all she could do was stare at him, dazed and suddenly light-headed. Then she dragged her eyes from his.

The fear returned and she tried to stand up, but cried out at the extreme pain. It was a matter of seconds before she felt the tears on her cheeks.

`Oh Geez. Look, where does it hurt?’ the man asked, his voice gruff.

Jo clenched her jaw, tried to think clearly. `My shoulder,’ she managed, taking several short, sharp breaths.

She felt herself begin to shake. At first it was simply a slight tremor but it soon became more violent and she didn’t even register the frown that creased the brow of the man in front of her.

`I think I better get you to a doctor,’ he said, and she felt his hands on her waist as he pulled her to her feet. She wavered, teetering on the edge of blackness, only half-aware of her surroundings as he swore again, lifted her into the car.

The taste of her tears stuck to her lips and she moaned anxiously as her teeth began to chatter together in shock. She was vaguely aware of the short drive to the emergency clinic, of someone putting a blanket around her to stop the shivering, handing her a pill and urging her to swallow it down. There were voices, someone asking her name.

`Jo. Joanne Williams,’ she managed, watching from far away as someone wrote it down on a clipboard. In the mist of pain, she remembered the beach, the man, her parents.

She had to get hold of them, had to speak to them.

`Please, I need a phone,’ she muttered. When nobody seemed to pay much attention she sat upright, not feeling the pain in her anxiety, struggling as a stranger’s hands tucked her into the blanket, urging her to sit still. Agitated, she raised her voice.

`Please! I need a phone!’

The tinge of hysteria caused the man to pause in his efforts at calming her and he turned to a nurse. There was a rapid conversation but Jo felt herself shivering again, her agitation increased but so did the nausea. Within seconds everything had turned hazy; she felt her heart slowing, her limbs becoming numb. Within minutes, she had drifted into a deep sleep.

 

Chapter 2

Jo woke to find herself in a small room. Momentarily disoriented, she tried to sit up but fell back down, anxious in the unfamiliar surroundings, her head still groggy.

She lay still for a few minutes, breathing deeply, her eyes closed. Then she struggled to move up the bed, but her arm was in a sling and she flinched at a sudden sharp pain as she tried to move it.

Pushing down with her right hand, she managed to sit up, lean her back against the pillows and look around.

It was a hospital room. There was a drip next to the bed and a trolley full of medical supplies. Outside the window was a mass of green shrubbery. In front of it, a white plastic chair and small table. She frowned at the painting on the wall across from her bed – a seascape with cliffs and a lighthouse. It was a sudden reminder of what had happened on the beach.

Anxious to contact her parents, she was looking around for a button to summon a nurse when the door opened and a tall figure appeared in the doorway. She recognized the driver of the Land Rover and gathered the hospital blanket in her fist to steady her nerves.

The man smiled and pulled the chair over to the side of the bed.

`You’re awake. Good. How do you feel?’ he asked.

`Better … thank you,’ Jo managed. She glanced away and there was a moment of silence.

The stranger smiled, held out a hand. `I guess I should introduce myself. Will Fletcher,’ he said.

Jo hesitated then nodded and reached over awkwardly to shake his hand, pulling her own away abruptly as a spark of energy danced between them.

Will’s mouth tightened at the corner. `And you are …?’ he asked, giving up his attempt to hide the grin.

Oh God, she was simply staring at him. `Um, Jo.’ She flushed, attempted to reach for a glass of water to hide her embarrassment.

Will stood at once. `Careful, don’t move your shoulder too much. The nurse told me you’ve torn some ligaments but luckily nothing was broken,’ he said, handing her the glass.

Jo avoided his gaze, took the glass with muttered thanks and sipped the water. `It was good of you to help yesterday,’ she said to break the silence, which he seemed far too comfortable with.

Will leaned back in the chair. `No problem. You gave me a hell of a fright though. One minute I’m pulling out of the park and the next you’re on the ground.’

`Sorry. I didn’t see you.’

`What was the big rush?’

Jo suppressed a shiver and glanced away. `I … I’m not sure,’ she replied. It was a lame attempt at evasion and she knew it.

Will looked thoughtful, but before he could comment Jo changed the subject. `Do you know where I can get a phone?’

`Here, use mine,’ he said, reaching into the pocket of his jeans for his mobile.

`Are you sure? It’s a long distance call. Maybe I should use a public phone?’

He shrugged. `Don’t worry about it. Where are you calling anyway?’

`New Zealand.’

`So that’s the accent.’ He grinned again and Jo smiled politely in return.

After a moment, Will stood. `Okay, well I’ll leave you to talk. Be back in a few minutes,’ he said.

`Thanks.’

She watched him leave, hesitated, then picked up the phone and made the call, relieved when her mother answered the phone.

Will headed over to the coffee machine near the reception desk, pushed the buttons to select a cup, strong and black, the way he liked it. Seeing the snack machine on the other wall, he reached into his pocket for some coins and fed them to the machine, selecting a chocolate bar.

He shrugged then fed in some more coins, collecting a second bar for Jo.

He walked over to the window, took a sip of coffee and looked out, tried to take his mind off her. He knew he hadn’t really needed to come in and see how she was doing, had been telling himself that from the moment he woke up and found he could think of nothing else. His initial interest had been based on simple attraction and he knew it, but her poorly hidden attempt at evasion when he’d questioned her had sparked a protective instinct that surprised him. And made him uncomfortable. That same instinct told him this woman was complicated, and he was well aware that complicated was the last thing he needed right now. Annoyed at himself, he tipped the rest of the coffee in the bin and turned away from the window. He looked down at his watch. It had been fifteen minutes. That was long enough for a phone call.

She had finished the call when he returned and was sitting staring out the window but turned to face him as he walked in. He couldn’t help but stare again, fascinated by the yellow-green color of her eyes, the curls around her shoulders – the way the sun lit them up.

`Thought you’d like something to eat,’ he said, handing her the chocolate bar.

Then he shoved his hands in his pockets to stop himself from reaching out and touching her.

`Thanks,’ she replied, still not meeting his gaze. For some unfathomable reason he found himself feeling slightly nervous and he was almost relieved when there was a knock on the door and a nurse entered the room.

‘I’ll get the doctor to come have a final look at you and then you can go home,’ she told Jo. ‘Please fill out these forms first though,’ she said, handing Jo a clipboard before she left the room.

`Would you mind filling it in for me?’ Jo asked, pushing the board over the bed towards him, `I’m left-handed so it’s a bit difficult.’

`Sure,’ he replied, grabbing the board and filling in the form as she dictated the answers. It was a matter of minutes before the nurse returned with the doctor and Jo was told she could leave as soon as she felt ready.

`I’ll give you a lift back if you like,’ Will offered.

Jo hesitated but then smiled and nodded. `Alright, thanks.’

He left her to change and barely suppressed a grin when she appeared in a white hospital robe.

`I don’t have any other clothes,’ she muttered as he stepped back to hold the door for her.

He helped her into the car and buckled the seatbelt, felt her tense immediately when his hand brushed against her arm. He met her gaze and had to stamp down a sudden urge to lean closer.

Clearing his throat, he closed the door, walked round to his side of the car, and told himself to cool off, think of ice cold showers and cold beer, football.

`Where to?’ he asked, climbing in and starting the engine.

`Hannafore Road. You know where that is?’

He raised an eyebrow. `Sure do. It’s almost walking distance from my place. Are you renting a house there for the summer?’

`For a few months,’ she said, glancing out the window. ‘I’m supposed to be working, but I guess I won’t be for awhile with this shoulder.’

`Where do you work?’ he asked.

`Mills Vets.’

`No shit. Really? What are you doing over there?’

She turned to face him. `You know the place? I’m a vet.’

`Yeah I know Ian. Geez. He said he was getting some hottie in to help out but I forgot all about it.’

She laughed out loud. A real, warm laugh, and he knew she was trying to imagine Ian, who had to be close to sixty and who was a very quiet, patient, serious man, actually saying the word `hottie’.

`For some reason I don’t quite believe that, but thanks anyway,’ she said.

He felt a strange need to keep her talking, to try to bring back that laugh. `So how long have you been out this way then?’ he asked.

`Three months but I’m on contract for a year,’ she said. ‘Anyway, what do you do?’ she asked.

`I’ve got a pub a few feet from where you managed to get yourself run over yesterday.’

`You mean from where you decided to run me over yesterday.’

He smiled at the uppity tone. She really was loosening up.

`If you say so. Speaking of which, care to have lunch at the pub?’

From the corner of his eye, he saw her turn and give him a considering look. After a moment, she nodded. `Okay, sure. Thanks.’

`Least I can do. After all, I did run you over,’ he said.

She smiled and turned to look out the window again. They sat in silence and Will concentrated on driving, forced himself to think of that beer.

He turned back to her as they crossed the bridge, headed up West Looe Hill and turned left into Hannafore road.

`Which house?’

`The yellow one,’ she said, pointing to the right.

He stopped the car outside the house. `You could have told me a number you know.’

Jo pulled a face. `It’s yellow. It’s easier to see the color than look for a number.’ He shook his head at the female logic, opened her door to help her out the car, then followed her up a grey stone path to the simple two-story terrace house fronted by a small patch of lawn.

Jo hesitated then bent down and lifted a terracotta pot filled with bright orange flowers to pick up a house key.

`You shouldn’t keep your key in such an obvious spot.’

`I know, but the landlord has an arrangement with the cleaner and I lost mine on the beach,’ she said by way of reply as she pushed open the door.

He followed her into a narrow entrance hall through to a homely sitting room filled with vases of flowers and piles of books and dominated by two large, puffy white couches.

`Take a seat,’ Jo said, pointing at one of the couches. `I’ll just go up and change.’

`Okay.’

Will sat down then stood up again, overcome with a nervous energy he could only dispel by pacing the room. A fat white Persian cat stalked in after a few minutes and jumped onto the window seat. He wandered over to pet the cat and glanced out the window, watching with annoyance as a black station wagon did a U-turn behind the Land Rover and narrowly missed a silver hatchback he presumed belonged to Jo.

`Will?’ she suddenly said from behind him and he turned to see her clad in a black knee-length skirt and navy T-shirt, her hair tumbling loose around her shoulders.

He felt another tug of attraction and smiled. `Ready?’

`In a minute, can you please help with the sling?’ she asked, her cheeks suddenly flushing red.

`Oh, yes. Sure,’ he said as she turned her back for him to adjust the strap at the nape of her neck. He moved her hair aside and tied the knot. `There, done,’ he said, stepping away hastily and reminding himself he was thirty-four and not fourteen.

Jo turned to face him and smiled. He tried not to notice that she wasn’t wearing a bra, supposed she didn’t really have a choice when she couldn’t move her shoulder, but the sight was driving him crazy and it took every inch of self control to keep his eyes on hers.

Bloody hell, he was probably going to need that cold shower after all.

 

Chapter 3

What on earth was she doing? Jo sat in the car waiting for Will to come round and help her out and told herself it hadn’t been a bad idea to accept the lunch date.

Date.

She felt a nervous rush in her stomach and tried to convince herself that that was not what this was. He felt guilty, that was all. Was treating her to lunch in reparation for the accident.

Of course that’s what it was.

Then why was her heart beating triple time, why were her palms clammy with nerves and why did he have to be so damn attractive?

She’d sworn off men. Promised herself there would be no involvements for at least a year. And now … and now she was trying to take her mind off what had happened at the beach, attempting to regain her sense of safety, prove that she would not be cowed. This is what she told herself but when the car door opened and Will helped her climb down, his hand on her waist sent a rush of energy through her that did nothing to help with the nerves.

`Come, I’m starving,’ he said, grabbing her hand and leading her across the road and up a short flight of stairs into a large room. There was an old wooden bar to her right, the kind that had seen decades of use and was treasured by collectors. In the middle of the room were a number of tables and chairs and against the walls numerous red leather booths. A huge flat-screen TV was angled at the far corner.

Inhaling the sweet scent of polished wood, she walked over to the large bay windows and gasped.

`Wow. That’s an amazing view!’ she said, turning with a smile.

Will grinned. `I agree. Particularly from where I’m standing.’

Jo flushed, knowing very well he wasn’t referring to the harbor, and wished she could think of a smart retort. It wasn’t usually a problem but something about him left her annoyingly tongue-tied.

`Smooth, very smooth,’ was all she could manage. How had they moved from the awkward silence to this steady banter so quickly? Who was this man?

Will laughed and headed towards the bar. `Would you like a drink?’

Jo hesitated but the nerves won out. `Yes, please. Wine would be great,’ she said.

`Red or white?’

`White, please.’

Will went round the side of the bar and reached into a fridge, pulling out a bottle of Chardonnay while she settled on a stool. He’d just finished pouring the glass when a stocky, red-haired man appeared from a doorway behind the bar.

`Hello, hello what have we here?’ he asked, pausing as he saw Jo.

She smiled and glanced over at Will.

`Ah Jo, this is Gus, my business partner. Gus, Jo,’ Will said as Gus came over to Jo to shake hands.

`And what happened to you?’ he asked, pointing at her sling.

`Actually I’m afraid that’s my fault. I ran into her with the car,’ Will said, handing Jo the glass of wine. She took a sip as Gus gave an astonished guffaw.

`Lad, I can see she’s a looker but don’t you think that was a rather desperate means of attracting her attention?’

Jo laughed, felt herself relaxing. `Actually, it was probably more my fault. I wasn’t really watching where I was going.’

A movement behind Gus caused her to look up and she returned the smile of the woman who stood at the door. She wore her long, dark hair in a ponytail, the tip of which brushed her waist, and her eyes were the same bright blue as Will’s.

`Hi Jules. Jo, this is my sister Julia,’ Will said and Jo smiled again as Julia waved a hand and came round to take a seat next to her.

`What’s wrong with your arm?’

`Ask your brother. He ran her over with that monster car of his,’ Gus said.

`What? Will!’

`I know, I know. Why don’t you call Hayley and let her in on it and then you can all have a go at me and get it over with,’ he replied.

`Get what over with?’ asked a short, plump blond woman as she joined the group behind the bar. Jo assumed this was Hayley. She was rather surprised when Gus introduced her as his wife; they were an oddly matched couple. Hayley turned to Gus with her hands on her hips when he told her about the accident.

`Let the poor boy alone Gus. You can see he feels badly about it already,’ she scolded. Then she turned to Jo with a wicked grin. `We don’t want to go embarrassing him in front of Jo, now do we?’

Jo laughed as Will groaned and laid his forehead on the bar, where he had pulled up a stool.

`It’s a bit late for that,’ he said, sitting back up. `Anyway, we came to get something to eat. She’s been in hospital all night and hasn’t had anything to eat all day.’

`Oh, you poor thing. What would you like? I can rustle up a chicken salad?’ said Hayley.

`Thanks, that would be great,’ said Jo.

Hayley started towards the back room.

`Hey, what about me?’ called Will and Hayley turned and pointed a finger at him. `You, young man, are three hours late to stock take. I would think you could come and help me in the kitchen to make up for it.’

`So much for being the boss,’ said Will, groaning. He got up off the stool. `I’ll be back in a minute,’ he said, following Hayley into the kitchen, leaving Jo to face Gus and Julia.

`Well then, what a nice introduction to my family,’ said Julia. `Is it broken?’ she asked, pointing at the sling.

Jo took another sip of her wine and shook her head before replying.

`No, I’ve torn some ligaments but hopefully it’ll be back to normal in a few weeks.’

Julia nodded, looked puzzled.

`Where are you from? I can’t place the accent.’

Jo smiled. `New Zealand.’

`Really? I’ve been wanting to go there for ages. I’ve been nagging my husband to take me there ever since we saw the Lord of the Rings,’ Julia said and Jo grinned.

`It’s not quite Middle Earth but there are some amazing landscapes. Especially in the South Island. You should definitely take a trip.’

`South Island?’ asked Gus, who had been stacking glasses in the corner. He came over to join them now, leaning his elbows on the bar as Julia helped herself to some nuts in a small bowl in front of him.

`Oh, yes. New Zealand is made up of two islands. The top one is called the North Island and the bottom one the South Island, funnily enough,’ Jo replied.

`So where are you from?’ asked Julia.

`The North. My parents have a dairy farm in a region called the Waikato, but I’ve been living in Auckland the past few years.’

`Isn’t that the biggest city?’ asked Julia and Jo nodded, taking another sip of wine.

`What kind of work do you do?’ Gus asked.

`I’m a vet.’

Gus grinned, nudged Julia.

`She’s a vet, her parent’s own a dairy farm and she’s tall, blonde and beautiful. I’d say your little brother’s hooked.’

Jo flushed, tried not to choke on her wine.

Julia swatted at Gus. `Leave her alone’

She turned back to Jo. `Don’t mind him. He’s just stirring. So … when did this accident happen? Will didn’t mention it when he was in yesterday.’

`Oh, it was yesterday afternoon. He took me to the clinic then came to see me again this morning in the hospital. Gave me a lift home.’

`Thoughtful of him,’ Gus put in, laughing and stepping away as Julia slapped his shoulder.

`What do you do?’ Jo asked her, eager to change the subject.

`A bit of everything around here really. Cook, manage, waitress on occasion. I’m the general dogsbody.’

`And you love it, stop pretending you don’t,’ said Will, reappearing from the room behind the bar, a plate in each hand.

`Want to sit outside? Escape this lot?’ he asked.

`Um, okay,’ Jo replied, sending an apologetic smile at Julia and Gus, very aware of their eyes on her as she followed Will outside.

`Speak to you later Jo,’ Gus called out and she smiled as Will scowled.

`Sorry, I didn’t realize the whole troop of them would be here. We’re supposed to be closed for the day and I forgot all about the stock take,’ he said, putting the plates down on a table near the balcony, which overlooked the beach.

She shrugged. `They seem nice.’

He smiled, left to get a beer as she pulled out a chair and sat down. She couldn’t help but look out over the beach, scanning it for some sign of the man from the previous day before turning her attention to the food.

Will returned, started eating with obvious relish and she took the opportunity to study him closely, noticed a narrow scar that snaked down from his eyebrow to his left cheekbone and wondered what had happened.

He looked up and met her gaze, smiled and she looked away quickly, unnerved by the intensity of his stare.

`So why Looe?’ he asked after a moment.

She frowned. `Why did I move here you mean?’

He nodded.

`I wanted to be somewhere near the coast but also not right in the middle of things. Cornwall seemed to fit the bill. We came here a few times on holiday when I was a child and I liked it. So I found a job and a house and moved.’

`That easy, huh?’

She met his gaze, knew what he was asking.

`Yes. I don’t have to answer to anybody else.’

He nodded, took a swig of beer before speaking again.

`Why did you want to move in the first place?’

She swallowed. `That’s a bit of a personal question.’

He raised an eyebrow and she let her breath out sharply.

`Sorry. Touchy subject.’

He didn’t reply and she shifted uncomfortably. `I broke up with a boyfriend, okay?’

He grinned. `No need to explain. I didn’t ask.’

She glared at him.

He finished chewing, obviously amused and she rolled her eyes, shoveled in a piece of chicken and stared out at the sea.

`How are you liking it, then?’ he continued, not in the least ruffled.

She sighed, looked back at him. `I was enjoying it until yesterday.’

`Sorry to ruin the party.’

`Dammit that’s not what I meant.’ She could feel the heat rising in her cheeks, the agitation rushing through her. God, she was usually cool, calm, controlled. What had happened to her?

He laughed, reached out and squeezed her hand before returning to his meal. `Relax will you? I’m just making conversation.’

`I’m trying but you just … argh, I don’t know. You’re just annoying.’

He laughed again. `Why thank you. And here I am trying to win you over with my wit and charm.’

She couldn’t help a small grin. `Okay, maybe not that annoying.’

He leaned back in the chair, laced his hands behind his head.

`I could try telling you you’re beautiful and sexy and I haven’t been able to think of anything else since the moment I met you but somehow I don’t think that will go down very well.’

She was in the process of taking a sip of wine and paused, startled at the blatant come on, met his gaze before swallowing.

Dammit. Why couldn’t she think of a smart reply?

`See? No response. How about I get back to annoying you and you can be comfortable again.’

She glared at him. `Stop trying to chat me up.’

`Why?’

`Just because. It won’t work. I’m immune to your charm, much as that may be novel for you, it’s the way it is.’

He laughed hard this time, leaned forward, and she felt him move a leg between hers under the table as he grabbed her hand, ran his fingers up the inside of her arm, his eyes locked on hers.

`I don’t think so Jo. And you should know, for future reference, that saying something like that is nothing but a challenge to a man and is unlikely to get the response you were looking for.’

He reached up and ran a hand down the side of her jaw as she sat, frozen. `Unless this was what you were after,’ he continued, his voice low.

She felt her breathing grow unsteady and managed to drag her hand away, unnerved.

`Stop it.’

He sat back again, smiled and sipped at his beer while she stewed.

Damn arrogant male. Why was she reacting like this? Why couldn’t she control herself? She never had this much problem brushing guys off. Okay, so she didn’t really want to give him the brush off but there was something dangerous about him, she could feel it. An undercurrent. And the effect he had on her just made it worse. She couldn’t escape.

`Jo?’

She looked up, shook her head when he squeezed her hand again.

`How’s the meal?’ he asked, obviously trying to lighten the mood.

`Great. Hayley’s an excellent cook.’

`How do you know it wasn’t me?’

She laughed at that, felt herself relaxing again. `I don’t know but it definitely wasn’t. You just don’t seem to belong in a kitchen.’

He grinned. `Okay, you’ve got me. I merely filled Hayley in on the gossip while she did the cooking.’

Jo nodded around another mouthful of salad. `I thought so,’ she said as she finished chewing.

`Have dinner with me.’

`I can’t. I need to get home, call Ian and let him know what’s happening. Figure out what I’m going to do for the next few weeks.’

`How about tomorrow then?’

Did he never give up?

`Okay fine.’

`Don’t sound so excited.’

She felt her mouth twitch, amused despite herself.

`Don’t push your luck.’

He grinned, reached out and pulled on a curl at the side of her jaw.

`Sorry, I’ve been wanting to do that all day. See if it would bounce.’

She shook her head.

`I refuse to let you get me riled up again.’

He laughed. `Jo, remember what I said about challenges.’

She sat back in her chair.

`I do. Perfectly.’

`Ah! Then let the games begin …’ he said softly, tracing a finger along her bottom lip. She took a deep breath and turned her head away, hoping to God she wasn’t playing with fire, knowing she was. But the temptation was simply too great to resist.,

Excerpt from Ebb Tide, Leah Murray

Copyright 2017-2020

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