From Wall Street Journal bestselling author Brittney Sahin comes a sizzling new romantic suspense.
Cold one minute. Hot the next. She gives him whiplash, and he’s either going to ditch his duties . . . or make her his.
She was only supposed to be a quick assignment for Dalton “Finn” Finnegan—bodyguard for the sister of a friend, kind of gig. As the only single guy on Echo Team, an elite unit of off-the-books Navy SEALs, Finn’s certain his teammates are hoping to play matchmaker between him and the headstrong and gorgeous brunette.
Julia Maddox, a millionaire businesswoman with a passion for helping veterans, doesn’t want protection or love. But when she starts receiving threats from an unknown source, her brother calls in a favor. The last thing she needs is a sexy six-foot-tall roadblock standing in her way as she’s desperate to atone for her past and help save a friend.
And yet, her ice-cold attitude toward Finn slowly melts and things between them start to heat up when they find themselves halfway across the world on a wild adventure neither saw coming.
But despite their sizzling chemistry, Finn’s as reluctant to fall for Julia as she is for him, and he’s all too familiar with guilt. As they travel from Egypt and on to Dubai, they learn they’re mixed up in something much more dangerous than either imagined, and Finn is forced to conquer his own demons or risk losing the girl.
Will they be able to shelter their hearts while they weather the storm, or is one bound to get broken?
Chasing the Storm is a full-length standalone romance military novel with no cliffhanger and a happily-ever-after.
Release date: July 29, 2021
Reader says this book is...: action-packed (2) emotionally riveting (2) happily ever after (2) realistic characters (2) rich setting(s) (2) satisfying ending (2) sex scenes (1) strong chemistry (2) suspenseful (1) terrific writing (2) entertaining story (1) heartwarming (1) high heat (1) strong heroine (1) swoon-worthy (1) unputdownable (1)
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Chasing the Storm
New York City, New York – Present Day, May 2022
Finn took a sip of his Coke and observed his “assignment” as she sat across the room in the trendy Tribeca bar, looking bored out of her mind as her date for the evening chatted away.
Casually holding her martini glass by the stem, Julia Maddox leaned against the back of the booth, obviously disinterested in whatever her date was saying since her gaze kept shifting around the room as if searching for someone. Or maybe she felt the need to do Finn’s job for him. Scope out the place and keep an eye out for possible threats. But wait . . . she didn’t believe any of the threats were credible, did she?
There were only a few instances during the last two weeks when Julia had been nice to him. And he was pretty sure it was purely accidental. She wasn’t a fan of having a shadow and usually peered at him with an icy stare that’d freeze most hearts.
After nine-plus years of spinning up on countless dangerous ops as Echo Five, never once did Finn imagine he’d be called to duty as a babysitter. Okay, bodyguard. Well, more like keep-my-sister-safe duty as defined by Michael Maddox, the man who’d hired Scott & Scott and, by extension, Finn.
This wasn’t so much a job as it was a favor. The world owed a great debt to Maddox for his service and sacrifices on and off the battlefield. Michael was a Marine turned millionaire entrepreneur who committed all of his time to help veterans pursue their dreams. Everyone on Bravo and Echo would do just about anything for the man.
So, when Michael approached Luke Scott three weeks ago and requested bodyguard services for his sister because she was receiving threats at work, how could they say no? Michael was occupied with moving his family to Charlotte, and all of his Marine buddies were tied up.
Finn was already acquainted with Julia Maddox in a roundabout way. Julia had joined his self-defense classes back in January. What he hadn’t known at the time was that she’d registered under a fake name.
Finn had taken up teaching the classes in Manhattan whenever the teams had downtime and he was in town. He’d always been somewhat of a drifter, bouncing around from city to city for stretches of time. But in the last few years, when his teammates began settling down and having kids, most of Bravo and Echo lived either in New York near the Scott & Scott HQ office or around the DC area. So, Finn now alternated between the two locations, content to play the role of favorite uncle.
And at a recent engagement party for his two friends, Finn had bumped into Lois and discovered her real name was Julia. She’d immediately ditched his classes after that, which was a month ago.
Finn had held back on flirting with her while she was in his classes because he didn’t want her to think he was some creepy guy who only taught self-defense to hit on women. But once she stopped attending, he’d considered looking her up and asking her out.
And then her brother called in a favor, and well, now, Finn had no plan to ask her out on a date even when this job ended like he’d initially considered.
Finn focused back on the friends he’d dragged out tonight with him. Roman and Harper were the most recent, and the last two of his coworkers, to give up their single status.
He was ridiculously happy they’d finally come to their senses and were now engaged. Their journey had been a road fraught with danger and pitfalls, but they’d made it happen.
Roman had been with the teams since the beginning, but Harper joined them in 2019 after leaving the CIA. She was their intelligence gatherer and analyst and overall badass go-to for ops. Often the brains behind Echo Team missions, as was Jessica for Bravo.
“She hates me,” Finn casually remarked.
“Julia doesn’t hate you, and you know that. She hates the situation.” Harper poked the ice in her glass of water with a straw, pushing the cubes around instead of meeting Finn’s eyes.
None of them were allowed to drink tonight. They were on “hurry up and wait” orders from the President, which meant they’d be operating soon, they just didn’t know when and where. So, no drinking. That also meant Finn’s stint as bodyguard to the millionaire would end soon as well. At the time of Maddox’s request, none of the retired SEALs who worked security for their cover story, Scott & Scott, had been free, so Finn had drawn the short straw on Echo Team.
Finn had no clue what they would say to Michael when the time came for him to hand over duty to another guy from Scott & Scott. He didn’t want Michael to think he was ditching his sister, even if it was pretty much true. Michael was completely unaware that Finn was much more than a bodyguard.
Not that he had anything against being a bodyguard, he’d just rather be in Pakistan right now with Bravo Team. Taking down an arms trafficker who was funneling weapons to an up-and-coming wannabe terrorist group was preferable to having Julia reminding him every second how much she didn’t want or need a “babysitter.”
“She’s certainly selling her hate for me pretty damn well.” Finn’s back was to the bar in order to keep his assignment in his line of sight. Thankfully, it was after ten at night, late enough for the dinner crowd to have dispersed, yet too early for the late-night partygoers. Plus, it was a Monday.
In the forty-five minutes since their little entourage had arrived, Finn had only clocked two quasi-suspicious men, and that was because they appeared to be undressing Julia with their eyes rather than mapping out a plan to toss her into their trunk and run off with her. Besides, they’d taken a look around, seen that the place was devoid of single women, and left.
At the moment, Finn was fairly confident he was the only single person there. Hell, even the employees were all wearing wedding rings.
“If looks could kill,” Finn added, shaking his head in frustration when Julia met his gaze while sipping on her overpriced cocktail. He’d rather get kicked in the nuts than pay thirty bucks for a martini. Not unless Emily Blunt herself poured the drink into the glass would he put up that much cash for a drink.
He also kind of hated that Julia happened to resemble his celebrity crush. He didn’t have a clue what color Emily Blunt’s eyes were, but Julia’s were a take-no-prisoners blue. The kind of blue that made a guy want to commit a crime if she were the arresting officer. Let her put him in handcuffs and . . .
What. The. Actual. Fuck? And did I seriously just channel Ryan Reynolds’s voice in my head? For some insane reason, Julia had felt the need to let Finn know that the actor was her type. He mentally rolled his eyes as he continued to observe the woman who had managed to get far, far beneath his skin.
She’d changed her hair color since their run-in at the engagement party in April. What was once an inky black was now a light brown with some blonde strands woven in. Her hair was soft and wavy and hung like a pool of silk draped elegantly over her white blouse. Not a single hair out of place. Her makeup appeared perfect as well. Natural colors to enhance her bone structure, some mascara and liner to play up her bold blue eyes.
Finn squeezed the bridge of his nose at the mental image of that luscious hair wrapped around his fist, tugging her head back as she surrendered to his kiss. Willingly giving him those pouty blood red lips of hers.
And then he chastised himself. Kissing Julia Maddox would be a very bad idea. The woman was the devil in disguise, the snake in the Garden of Eden. No doubt she lured men, like this poor bastard, into her lair and did away with them. Why else was it rumored she never dated the same man twice?
Finn imagined the beautiful Julia drawing him in, pressing her lips to his, coaxing his mouth open only to bite down on his tongue and knee him in his painfully blue balls. The thought had him choking on his own spit.
“You good?” Roman hooked his arm behind Finn’s back to slap him twice as if he had a martini olive stuck in his throat.
“Yeah,” Finn coughed out the answer while attempting to banish his ridiculous thoughts and calm his rapid heartbeat.
He took a deep breath and swept the room with his gaze again, checking for newcomers.
Michael had provided Finn with the threats that had been sent to Julia’s office. At least, those her admin had intercepted. Apparently, Julia had tossed quite a few.
The letters were handwritten with a standard blue pen and were fairly tame. No serial killer vibes. There were no personal details mentioned about Julia, and the death threats were unoriginal. It was almost like a kid in eighth grade was bored and felt like stirring up some trouble.
Michael may have been overprotective, but he had valid concerns. Concerns Julia didn’t seem to share. And it didn’t help that the letters had stopped the moment Finn began looking out for Julia. That or she paid her admin to shred any new ones.
“But really, that woman’s intense stare is vicious. It could scorch off my”—Finn thought the word dick rather than saying it, not wanting to be one in the presence of Harper—“well, you know what I mean.”
“Tell him she doesn’t hate him.” Harper elbowed Roman. He blinked as though startled out of a daydream. Finn was confident Roman would prefer to be back at the loft he and Harper had moved into last week having sex rather than sitting at this pretentious bar.
The things Finn would rather be doing?
Freezing his ass off while running from a polar bear in the Russian ghost town, Pyramiden.
Playing hide-and-seek with the Taliban.
Or a nice game of guess who’s the bad guy behind door number eight in Syria.
Anywhere but here, guarding the devil.
Finn mentally slapped his hands together in prayer pose and begged the powers that be to spin up Echo Team soon so someone else could watch over her.
Or, at the very least, he prayed for “Lois” to return.
Lois was kind. Sweet. Funny. Hell, even flirty.
Finn would also take the Julia he’d met at Roman and Harper’s engagement party in April. They’d barely spoken that night, but she’d been nice enough.
This Julia was a force to be reckoned with. That movie The Perfect Storm? Yeah, Julia Maddox was the storm. And she’d thrown a gale force of negativity his way from the moment she learned her brother hired a bodyguard after she’d specifically told him no.
Dalton, what are you doing here? Julia had asked when he walked into her office two weeks ago. Sorry, I mean Finn. She’d smiled as if his presence was a welcome surprise and stood from behind her bright white modern-looking desk, then brushed her hands down the sides of her red pencil skirt paired with a black silk blouse.
Your brother didn’t tell you? I’m here about the threats. Someone, uh, wants you dead.
Her smile had quickly transformed to a frown. Someone always wants me dead. Comes with the territory of being a successful woman. She’d gracefully returned to her chair and focused on her laptop. Michael is overprotective. Your services are not needed. Julia had begun typing as if she fully expected Finn to walk away.
And not-so spoiler alert, he didn’t leave.
After a lot of heated back-and-forth once her brother arrived at the office, Julia had managed to renegotiate the terms of the deal. Finn sure as hell wouldn’t want to go up against her in a board meeting or whatever the hell rich businesspeople did for a living.
She’d settled for allowing Finn to keep an eye on her everywhere but at home, insisting she trusted her building security and the 9mm she kept by her bed.
Thankfully, this was Julia’s first date in the thirteen days and fourteen hours (yes, he was counting) since he’d begun guard duty, which meant they’d spent more time together than either liked.
The fact he screened every meeting beforehand, business and personal, including this wonder boy she’d met last month on Instagram, sent Julia over the edge.
Hell, if he had a sister who found her dates online, he’d be relieved to have someone ensure they not only looked like their profile photo but weren’t of the psychopath variety. Julia should be thanking him instead of sending him death stares every five minutes.
You sure these letters aren’t from someone you met online? he’d pressed earlier that day in her office.
I haven’t been on a date in over a year.
Finn had been standing close enough to breathe in her perfume. She always wore the same fragrance. Subtle. Sexy. A hint of something familiar he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Her intoxicating scent combined with an almost imperceptible trace of sadness he detected in her words had him wanting to gather her in his arms, comfort her.
Until Julia had glared straight into his eyes and jabbed the white-painted nail of her forefinger to his chest. Not that it’s any of your business.
Damn. His friends back in Massachusetts always warned him to stay away from women who wore white nail polish. They said it was a sure sign of a heartbreaker.
“Julia’s clearly trying to scare you off,” Harper went on. “Drive you nuts, so you’ll quit. It appears she’s working damn hard at it, too.” Harper bit her lip which did nothing to hide her smile. “She’s obviously independent and most likely stubborn. But no, she doesn’t hate you. She’s just pissed that her brother arranged protection.”
Finn stroked his jaw, forgetting he’d trimmed his beard last week and it was much shorter than it’d been for months. He regretted the decision. It was too short. Prickly and itchy. Sort of like Julia’s personality.
“You guys set me up for this gig, didn’t you?” Finn asked a heartbeat later. Harper and Roman had been exchanging odd looks ever since they’d arrived, and a little voice in the back of Finn’s mind told him something was up with those two. Maybe they could see their plan was failing.
When Harper lifted her eyes to the ceiling, Finn knew she was searching for a lie. Roman only grinned.
“You all made sure I’d draw the short straw when Michael asked one of us to keep her safe. The whole thing was rigged. Damn you all.” Finn shook his head and tsked, feigning disappointment. But he wasn’t all that surprised. After all, he was the only single guy left on the teams. “Your game of matchmaking was an epic failure.”
“No, we weren’t trying to set you up.” Harper’s voice was pitched a touch higher than normal, and she fluttered her eyelashes one too many times. The woman was totally bluffing. “But come on, would any attached guy on Echo want to tell their wife or fiancée they had to glue themselves to a hot millionaire businesswoman as her bodyguard?”
“Bullshit.” Finn looked over at Julia’s table to verify she hadn’t ghosted him and slipped out the back. That was more likely to happen than any real danger striking. “No. You’re definitely trying to set us up.”
Echo Team had been dubbed the FSGs. Forever Single Guys. And now, it was simply TSG. The Single Guy.
But he was okay with that.
Harper frowned. “Oh, come on, you don’t want to be single. I know you don’t.”
“I’m fine with being single. I only hate it on days that don’t end in Y.” Finn shot Harper a wink, and Roman laughed.
“Mm-hmm. Sure. It’s not easy being single. It kind of sucks, actually.” Harper was likely speaking from experience because of the difficult path she and Roman had taken to get to where they were now.
Finn stepped back and brought a hand over his heart as if her comment about him being single did indeed hurt. “Single sucks, hm? Salt right in the wound. Just rub it in. Yeah, I’m feeling pretty shitty now that you keep reminding me.” He couldn’t hide his smile, but then he remembered he was technically working, so he glanced at his “target” once again to ensure she was still alive and kicking and in no imminent danger.
When Finn returned his focus to his friends, Roman was ogling his fiancée as she feathered her fingers down the column of her throat to the low neck of her pink blouse. She normally wore silly graphic shirts and jeans, but this place had a dress code, so she’d worn a dressy top with skinny black pants and heels.
Harper turned back to Finn. “I was hoping you’d dress up tonight to help with the whole winning-her-over thing. You know, wear something a little less Roman-like.”
“What’s wrong with my clothes?” Roman complained, looking down at his gray long-sleeve tee, the top few buttons undone, then on to his black jeans.
Harper laughed. “I love how you look, babe. But Julia is a stylish, high-powered businesswoman. Look at her, she’s like a goddess, so maybe—”
“I should change myself for her?” Finn shook his head. “Hell no. And wait, why are we discussing this? There is no ‘winning-her-over thing’ happening.” He pushed his sleeves to his elbows. “And also, I’m not dressed like Roman.”
With pursed lips, Harper skated her gaze over Finn. His jeans were a little lighter than Roman’s, his shirt slightly darker, and they both wore boots. Okay, so maybe they did dress alike, but they were guys. Best friends. What’d she expect him to wear, a suit and tie? If Julia didn’t like him for who he was, then . . .
Whoa, what am I thinking? I don’t want her. It doesn’t matter.
Harper carried her attention to Finn’s face, one dark brow lifted in challenge. “You’re practically twins tonight. Plus, you have the same hair, beard, bodies and . . .”
“Bodies, huh?” Roman asked with a cocky twitch of his lips. Harper let loose a laugh that quickly turned into a yelp when he playfully slapped her ass. “If Finn and I are so similar, why’d you end up with me?” Roman challenged, an easy smile parked on his face.
“Oh, simple.” Harper shrugged. “He doesn’t have any ink. I’m a sucker for a few tatts. Annnd, he didn’t ask.”
At that, Roman swatted her ass again, causing the full glass of water in her hand to bobble and nearly spill. Finn chuckled. Oh, she was going to get it when they were home. And damn, Finn envied their relationship. More than that, his dick mourned the fact it’d been about five million years since he’d had sex.
It may have taken them forever to end up together, but Finn was happy that his buddy and Harper had finally achieved their happily-ever-after. Roman really was a lucky man. Harper was smart as hell, gorgeous, and a total sweetheart. Some people believed men and women couldn’t be platonic friends, but Finn disagreed. He’d always thought of Harper like a sister, same as Jessica Scott. Now Jessica Hayes since she’d married Asher, Bravo Three.
Even though it’d been years since Marcus, the first man to hold the title of Bravo Three, was killed and Asher replaced him, there were still times when the loss of Marcus reared up and hit Finn hard. Marcus had been the only Teamguy married at the start of their new jobs in 2013, and Luke had initiated a no-marriage rule after his death. He didn’t want any more widows. But then Luke went and fell in love, and like dominoes, the rest of the guys found their soulmates, too.
“Regarding your matchmaking plan, it’ll fail. I am who I am. She has no interest in me. Not even a quarter of a teaspoon worth of interest.”
“Who are you, Mary Poppins?” Harper chuckled. She set her water onto the bar top, then slapped a hand on his shoulder and peered into his eyes. “Picture this, an enemies-to-lovers romance. You argue. Act like you hate each other. And then”—she comically waggled her eyebrows a few times—“it’s game time. You two fall head over heels in love.”
Finn turned to check Roman’s reaction. He couldn’t possibly believe this insanity Harper was concocting. What had wedding planning done to the woman?
“Or just get Tinder. Swipe left or right. Or—”
“What do you know about dating apps?” Harper swung her focus on Roman, interrupting him.
“The man is our human Wikipedia. He knows something about everything,” Finn reminded Harper of her future husband’s big brain as well as the nickname the guys had given him. But he also knew Roman was just getting back at her for saying he and Finn dressed like twins.
“Mm. Have you ever swiped left or right?” Harper’s narrowed eyes were locked on Roman as a low, rumbly laugh erupted from deep in his chest right before he grabbed her waist and pulled her into him for what should probably have been a private moment.
“Nothing is going to happen between Julia and me,” Finn declared while Roman whispered something into Harper’s ear. “As soon as her brother finds a replacement, I’m done.” He rechecked her table, setting his eyes on her date, who looked nothing like Ryan Freaking Reynolds, the actor she claimed was her “type.”
This guy was a six-foot Italian who worked for some famous plastic surgeon and probably took advantage of all the services because who had skin that freaking smooth and tight? He also shared more selfies of his abs on Instagram than you could shake a stick at. According to his profile, he had no permanent address. A man of the world was what he’d posted beneath his photo.
Whatever happened to meeting someone the old-fashioned way? Shit, and now he was drawing a blank on what the “old-fashioned” way even was.
Probably why I’m single at thirty-nine.
He was always working nonstop, though. This current break between missions wasn’t the norm. Their last op had rocked the boat, and POTUS had been holding off on having them operate until the dust settled.
Although, at this very moment, Bravo was taking down some baddies, so the dust was finally where it should be. And his people were ready to roll.
Finn focused on the happy couple, and Roman now had his arm around Harper’s back with her tight to his side. “Any word from Bravo?”
Harper checked her watch and smiled. “Not since you asked me ten minutes ago.”
“If we have to leave in the middle of the night, is anyone free yet to step in for me?” Finn dropped his voice lower despite the fact there was no one near them at the bar.
“I, um, did find one guy at Scott and Scott who is free. I have him on standby,” Harper answered.
Finn simulated the blades of a helo and spun his finger in the air. “Call him now. Let’s swap.” This was the best news he’d heard all day.
“You really want Ladies Man Kevin watching Julia?” Roman asked, a note of hesitation in his voice like he expected Finn to have an issue with the guy.
“Kevin? Sure, why not.” Kevin was a good guy, but he was also a charmer. But hell, better him than me, right? So why did Finn have an uneasy feeling about it?
“If we get the green light, he’ll handle her.” Harper checked her watch again and faked a yawn. “Getting late. I think it’s time we head home. What do you say?”
“Yeah, I’m beat.” Roman patted Finn on the shoulder a few times. “Good luck, man. Hope you survive the night.”
“You and me both,” Finn grumbled and said goodnight, then returned his attention to the corner booth across the room where Julia was supposed to be.
Annnnd she was gone. I suck at this bodyguard thing. He was about to rush to the ladies’ room and barge in, but he didn’t have to.
Julia was emerging from the back hallway, but instead of going toward her table where her date remained seated, she started straight for Finn.
Her long, wide-legged black pants hid whatever heels she had on, and he did his best not to focus on the sway of her hips as she moved with confidence. Her cleavage peeked above the deep scoop neck of her silky white top, too.
“We’re leaving.” Julia remained rooted in place, though.
“When you say ‘we,’ who exactly are you talking about?” Finn glanced over her shoulder at her date still sitting in the booth.
Julia merely waved a hand between herself and Finn in answer. Their close proximity allowed him to get a whiff of her perfume as she lifted her chin. Whatever she wore, it was most likely expensive. And for some insane reason, it made his dick twitch ever so slightly as he stood and gazed down at her.
She was only five-six or so, and he was a solid six feet. A legitimate six feet, too. According to Julia, any man claiming to be six feet tall on social media was actually five-ten. And a six-two guy was six feet. So, he’d brought a tape measure with him the next day so she could verify his height for herself.
I’m not dating you. No need to check your honesty, she’d said.
No, but for the time being, your life is in my hands. I’d think you’d want to know that I’m trustworthy, he remembered responding only to get chilly silence for a return.
Julia still hadn’t budged other than to stretch her long neck as though trying to make herself look taller or more intimidating. Which only resulted in Finn noticing how smooth and creamy her skin was there. “Why aren’t you moving yet, sailor?” A dark brow rose even as her eyes stayed riveted on his.
Here we go again.
Finn broke first and blinked, then gave her an insincere smile. He wasn’t interested in playing chicken with a pro like her. “Not calling me a commando this time?” He allowed his phony smile to stretch so she knew her little jibes didn’t get under his skin as he lowered his face closer to hers.
He studied her features for a moment, not that he hadn’t already memorized every inch of her that wasn’t covered in clothing. Her oval face, straight nose, and high cheekbones didn’t require any filters or magazine touch-ups. She was perfect, at least to him. Irritatingly perfect. And those ridiculously kissable lips . . .
Finn focused on her mouth that constantly wreaked havoc with him, whether she was driving him nuts by bossing him around, refusing to follow his suggestions, or doing that damn pouty kiss-me thing like she was doing now.
Dealing with Julia Maddox was HARD. And if she didn’t stop biting on her plump bottom lip, he’d need some private time to deal with something else that was hard.
As soon as her lip was no longer captive to the hint of white teeth, she whispered, “I’m walking home tonight.”
Why did she sound so breathless? For that matter, why was he feeling slightly dizzy?
What just happened?
He blinked, realizing she’d turned and already started for the door.
“It’s raining now,” he called out after her as the hostess scurried to open the door for Her Majesty.
Julia waved her hand in the air without turning back, already stalking toward the crosswalk as if she’d set her sights on her prey. “I’m not the wicked witch. I won’t melt.”
“Could have fooled me,” he said when he caught up with her, which earned a quick over-the-shoulder scowl his way.
There had to be something wrong with him because no matter how often Julia treated him like dirt on the bottom of her Manolos, her sass and attitude continued to turn him on. Right now, he wanted to pin her to the closest building and tell her exactly what that rain-soaked white blouse was doing to him. Share the dirty thoughts running through his mind.
Of course, he wouldn’t. At least, he didn’t think he would.
But damn, the vivid images he’d conjured up of the two of them ravishing each other had his blood running hot. He’d swiftly pin her against the brick building at his three o’clock, whisk her arms over her head, and trap her slender wrists with one hand. Startled, she’d stare at him, her pouty, red lips forming a perfect O, her breasts heaving with deep, angry breaths. And then she’d give in and plead with him to make a move. To suck her lip. Feel her tits over the material of her blouse now nearly sheer from the rain.
“Are. You. Coming?”
Finn jerked his head to see Julia standing on the other side of the crosswalk with her hands on her hips and her perfect hair growing wet.
Am I coming? Hm. Sadly, no.
It’d been way too long since he’d had sex. And that wicked mouth of hers was just—
“Dalton, damn it.”
His given name snapped him back to attention yet again. He really needed Kevin to take over for him. On a scale of one to ten, Finn was a negative five tonight in terms of professionalism.
He hurried across the street to join her and prayed for an act of God to prevent him from ogling her blouse and slipping back into that never-will-happen fantasy in his head.
“What is wrong with you? You truly suck at this job.”
“I know.” He smiled. “But you actually waited for me,” he replied in a glib voice as he worked to pull himself together. All Harper’s talk about dating must’ve screwed with his head. Both heads. “And I only suck because you don’t make shit easy, princess.”
She faced him, and he was proud of the fact he kept his eyes up top.
For all of two seconds, and then his eyes latched on to the beads of water sliding along the column of her slender neck, taking a nice ride down, down, down into her cleavage.
She was wearing a bra, at least.
“Eyes up, sailor.”
Why did her words turn him on so much? He’d swear she was two seconds away from hitting him in the head with her purse. “What happened with your date, by the way? Strike out?”
She combed her fingers through her hair, her purse strap nearly falling off her shoulder in the process. The longer they stood there, the more drenched they’d both get.
But the alleyway up ahead made him a little uneasy, and then he turned to the side to put eyes on the sidewalk behind him. No one was on his heels or suspicious from what he could tell anywhere nearby.
Did someone spike his drink? Why was he so off tonight? This woman made him nuts, so it would seem.
“The date was fine. Last date I’ll be going on, though.”
“Wait, what? That bad?” He replayed her words, unsure if he’d heard them correctly. Did he need to go clock the guy? Did the man-boy back there say something wrong? Get handsy? “What happened?”
“Just . . . never mind.” And was that a flustered breath?
She was already on the move, but this time to hail a taxi. The woman didn’t believe in Uber, huh? There were still yellow taxis in New York, though, and she’d managed to get one.
“What happened to walking?” he asked once they were both in the backseat. “Hey.” Finn redirected his attention to the driver when he caught the man’s eyes in the rearview mirror, trying to catch an eyeful of Julia’s soaked blouse. “Eyes on the road.”
“Mm. Hypocrite,” Julia muttered under her breath while crossing her arms as if chilled.
“Can you turn on the heat?” he asked the driver in a nicer tone this time.
“Don’t do me any favors,” she tossed out, and Finn had no clue if she was talking to him or the driver.
She remained quiet the rest of the way back to her building, her gaze set out the window, and he did the same. He thought back to that alleyway, which had him remembering the night Luke and Jessica had recruited him. Whatever happened to that kid? He’d never been able to track him down, and he’d always been curious what became of him.
“We’re here,” the driver said upon arrival as if Julia wouldn’t recognize her own building.
She was quicker on the draw with paying the fare than Finn, which irritated the hell out of him. “Let me pay you back for the ride,” he insisted as they walked past her building security to get to the set of elevators.
“Hell no.” She pressed the top button and avoided eye contact in the reflective golden doors. “You don’t need to ride up with me.”
“Doing my job, even if I suck at it,” he said.
When the doors opened, she quickly stepped inside. “The threats are most likely bullshit. I wish you would believe me and walk away.”
He waited for the doors to close before answering, “I don’t walk away from people.” He slowly turned to put eyes on her. “How long have you actually been receiving threats? Is that the real reason you took my classes? You wanted to protect yourself?” The questions had been floating around in his mind for two weeks.
Julia swept a hand across her collarbone as if brushing away any remaining water droplets rather than buying herself time. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be able to protect yourself.”
What are you hiding? There was something in those cerulean-blue eyes, rain-smeared mascara now beneath them, that told him she was keeping secrets. Probably from her brother, too. And those secrets might get her killed. “You’re right, but—”
“Stop where you’re at. You can’t help me.” She eased a step closer and lifted her chin to continue holding his eyes.
“Help you?” he whispered, his stomach tightening. Worry settling hard and deep. “Why can’t I help you? That’s what your brother hired me to do.”
The doors chimed and opened but neither exited.
“No, he hired you to keep me safe, not to help me.” Her eyes dropped closed for a second before flashing open. “All you’ve done is get in my way.” And like that, she peeled out of the elevator and started for one of only three apartments on the floor.
“Julia, wait,” he called out, hating the desperation in his tone. “Please.”
She’d already slipped inside her apartment and was on the verge of closing the door, effectively shutting him out, but he quickly pushed his booted foot into the slight opening.
“I don’t want you. Go away.”
Her words had him recalling someone else’s voice. Their words that’d been a knife to the heart so long ago. I don’t want you. I can’t look at you. Go away.
“Julia.” Her name escaped his barely parted lips as he forced himself to focus on the present. “Please, don’t make this so hard.” He’d shove open the door if he had to, but he was stupidly hoping for an olive branch of some kind. For her to let him in. Talk to him.
What’d he expect from a woman who’d gone out of her way to push him away for two weeks, though?
“I’m home now. You’re off the clock.” Why the hell was there a tremble to her tone this time? A chink in that steely defense she’d erected.
“We need to talk. I need to know the truth.”
“Sure, remove your boot from the door, and I’ll pour some tea and we’ll have a heartfelt chat.” And there was the woman he’d come to know. The woman who wanted him gone. Ninety-nine percent sour with rare and accidental glimmers of sweetness.
Harper was right.
It was an act.
Julia had slipped up tonight. Let him know there was a hell of a lot more going on than just some notes sent to her office.
“Go. I won’t ask again.” He couldn’t see her face through the slim crack. She must have turned her back to the door, too afraid to look at him because he might witness the truth in her eyes.
“If you change your mind, you know how to reach me.” He was terrified he’d come to regret this decision, but Finn slowly slid his boot from the opening. “Lock up. Be safe.”
The door clicked shut a moment later, just as his work phone began vibrating in his pocket.
“Hey, Harper,” he answered while starting for the elevator, his heart heavy and his thoughts weighing him down more with each step.
“Wheels up at zero nine hundred. Catching a military ride,” Harper cut straight to the point. “Kevin will meet up with you at Julia’s apartment in the morning to swap places so he can take her to work before you head to the hangar.”
Shit. He paused outside the elevator, knowing she wouldn’t answer the door anyway if he went to her apartment now. He’d wait until the morning to tell her he was, in fact, walking away. Doing exactly what he’d told her he didn’t do. But it was what she wanted.
“Where are we going? Did Bravo get a location for us?” He punched the call button and waited.
“Yeah, we’re heading to Egypt.”
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