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Chapter One


 

 Maddie awoke with a start when her mouth was suddenly covered by a hand that was much too big and beefy to be her own.  She opened her eyes blearily to stare down at the alarmingly familiar - if offending - appendage.  It was large enough to cover most of her face.  The palm was slightly rough against her skin, but the nails on the end of those impossibly long, impossibly thick fingers were flat and neatly trimmed. 

What’s more, his fingers smelled of where they’d been last night, bringing a flaming blush to the cheeks they covered.  Dear God, he certainly hadn’t forgotten what to do with them . . . he’d always known exactly how to get her to melt in his arms, and even after twenty years he hadn’t lost his touch one iota.  Her body always had been and always would be his, through and through – all he’d ever have to do is crook his finger . . . which he’d apparently done last night . . . not that she had a particularly clear image of much that had happened once she’d set foot in the casino.

The one thing she did remember was at least consistent.  When she drank, which was very, very rarely, and, for some reason, almost always in the company of this particular man, the memories that remained with her were always rated triple “x”. She closed her eyes against the truly smutty images – some of them a lot more detailed than she would have preferred – and tried to swallow, but some evil person had scotch taped her tongue to the roof of her mouth after dragging it over the carpet until it was good and fuzzy.  Maddie opened her eyes again, hoping against hope that she was dead wrong about where she was.

Turned out she was deadly accurate, and her blush turned to one of pure mortification.

Well, at least the all too intimate smell of herself was something she could do something about.  With her fingers wrapped gingerly around his bough-like wrist - as if it was a snake she expected to spring to life at any given moment - she divested herself of that atrocious reminder of last night’s folly by depositing it with exaggerated gentleness over its owner’s hip.

Moving her head any too quickly was definitely out, too, she discovered when the room began to spin dizzily around her after she had the audacity to try to lift it off the pillow while levering that heavy arm away from herself.  It seemed that small movement had sapped all of the strength she would be able to gather for the rest of the day, but Maddie knew that that could not – would not – be true.  She needed to get out of here.  Immediately, if not sooner.  There could be no possibility of a repeat of whatever – she gulped hard as even more steamy, real-life videos played behind her eyelids – happened last night.  Obviously, she’d completely lost her sanity somewhere along the line – or to a worse extent than usual – and had ended up in the place she was least likely to go voluntarily when sober.

She had to get out of here as quickly and quietly as possible.  Unfortunately, Maddie suffered no illusions about how hard that would be.  A quick personal inventory revealed that she was – as she’d worried – completely naked.  Well, there was no hope for it.  She’d make a dash – a stealthy, quiet dash, but a dash none the less – for the bathroom and grab a towel if she had to, but hopefully this was a swanky enough establishment to offer its guests robes.  Either way, she was going to beat a hasty, entirely cowardly retreat, and hopefully never set eyes on him again.

For the second time in her life. 

Somehow it seemed that her exits from him didn’t seem to want to stick . . . but she didn’t want to consider that point too closely.  Instead, she worried about how she was going to slip away from the spy who had loved her, once upon a time, more years ago than she cared to remember.  He was damned good at what he did, and she couldn’t imagine that even Mata Hari could get out of a room without him knowing, and being damned good and ready to let her go.

Still, she had to keep hope alive and try.

She began to ease away from him with excruciating care – only partly because she was afraid of alerting him.  Her head was demanding that she move as if it was perched precariously on the tip of a spike – and she wasn’t at all sure that that wasn’t its exact position.  It took her an abominably long time but it was worth it once she was standing next to the bed, free of him . . . well, almost.  On her way to it again, anyway.

For a long moment, Maddie stood staring down at him, tempting fate, she knew, but entirely unable to look away.  Every brawny, six foot four, naturally tanned inch of him was framed by the white bed sheets where they were strewn in abstract hills and valleys around him.  Even asleep as he was, he still managed exuded both raw sex appeal and infinite power.  In more than twenty years, she’d never known him to have a moment’s doubt about himself or his decisions.  He said what he meant and meant what he said.  A true throwback - John Wayne without the funny walk, and with the real combat experience the Duke had distinctly lacked.

Before she knew it, she was shaking her head – gingerly - and smiling that frighteningly familiar soft, stupid smile down at him, until she wrenched herself back to her senses and crept to the bathroom – backwards, still staring at him just in case he should wake up, prepared at any moment to throw herself onto the floor to avoid detection.  Maddie didn’t dare to really close the door, fearing the soft click would awaken him, so she settled for just shy of closed and huddled in on herself in front of obscenely huge, wrap around mirrors that sent her scrambling for a towel – any towel.  Luckily there were several large, luxuriously plush towels in an étagère above the commode, one of which she proceeded to wrap around herself, covering all of her strategic, decidedly lumpy, forty-mumphgh-year old areas. Unfortunately, her quick sweep of the bedroom floor on the way there hadn’t revealed anything in the way of her clothing.

But she had to thank the designers of that bathroom.  The sight of herself from all sorts of appalling angles cleared her head in a way that nothing else could have.  That man in there - who was still snoring softly from the depths of the king sized bed – was dangerous.  Pure evil incarnate.  Hell, he was asleep and she’d been practically drooling down on him like some teenager in heat.  She had to get out of here before the giant stirred or she’d be lost forever.

Again.

The idea of having to go into a public hallway with just a towel on was giving her pause for thought, though.  A quick scouring of the room yielded none of the coveted robes she had been hoping for.  Maddie was no Cindy Crawford, and was naturally shy about her body.  She took a few minutes to breathe deeply and gather her gumption, reminding herself vehemently that he was not what she wanted.

When she thought she’d convinced herself – or come as close as she was likely to get – Maddie turned and reached for the door knob.

Just as she swung the door open, she realized one excruciatingly pertinent fact:

There was no longer any masculine snoring coming from the bed.

 

 

“Where do you think you’re going?” he asked in his perpetually firm but more gravelly than usual morning voice, leaning his forearm against the door jamb.  He was so damned big that he occupied every inch of the doorway, effectively crushing Maddie’s hopes of ever getting by him.

She was stuck.  Should she brave his ire and tell it to him straight?  Or try to play up to him and disarm him – as much as that was possible – until she could spot another chance to get away?  Deciding that she didn’t want to have to play up to him – since there was no telling where that might lead – she replied to his naked feet, which was where her gaze had settled – relatively neutral ground.  “Home.  Now kindly move out of my way.”  She put her hand out, but kept it well away from his skin.  Touching him could have very detrimental side effects – hell, just standing in his presence was making her senses riot almost uncontrollably.

The big lunk stood exactly where he was, not budging a millimeter.  She knew he was staring down at her as if she was a particularly interesting bug he’d discovered – taking all of her in, she knew, not missing a single thing about her.  She’d never been able to get away with anything when she was with him – he was too damned observant!

“You’re not going home, Maddie.  I told you that last night.”

She wasn’t about to admit to him that she had only a few, vague but embarrassingly tinglingly sensual memories about last night – especially the still tinglingly sensual part.  Maddie let her gaze wander up from those huge feet – which she knew were no lie – up his heavy, lightly hairy calves to those huge, muscular thighs, skipping demurely over the very outside of his hips to that flat, rippled stomach and broad, strong chest.  The arm that was bulging against the door was practically the size of one of her legs.

One would think that someone who was as brawny has he was would be slow and cumbersome in his movements, but not him.  His appearance at the door was proof enough of his stealthy abilities.  He had been a Navy Seal in one of his many incarnations, and was as tough as they come – slick and sly and silent as a cat when he wanted to be, strong as an ox or two when the call arose, and deadlier than a King cobra.

But Maddie had rarely seen those parts of his personality, although she knew they always lurked just under the surface – they were always an undertone, but never what he’d showed to her predominantly.  Even when she’d managed to anger him, which surprisingly wasn’t that easy for her unless she’d screwed up majorly, he’d always been excruciatingly careful of her . . . while he created abstract art with his blazing red palm print on the fair skin of her upturned rear . . .

Embarrassed by the turn her thoughts were taking – visions of her younger self lying over his lap one of those multiple times getting her bottom roasted for whatever infraction she’d committed against the rules according to Ty Everett Scanlon – Maddie decided to try to make a break for it, despite how badly the odds of success were stacked against her.

She pushed forwards, into him, and it was like trying to move a brick wall.  He wasn’t going anywhere, certainly not at her behest.  There were very few things or people that could move him if he didn’t want to move.  Maddie stole a look up at him, and saw him staring down at her.  He wasn’t smiling – he rarely did – but she knew him well enough, unfortunately, to note the humor about his eyes.  He was having fun watching her try to physically persuade him to move.

“Excuse me,” she said loudly, but she knew better than to expect that appealing to manners and courtesy were going to get her anywhere with him.

Annnoyed, and sick of him staring at her as if he could see into her soul, Maddie crossed her arms over her breasts in a self-defense maneuver, and sighed in exasperation.

His only response was to bring his free hand up to her chin to tilt it up.  She watched, mesmerized like a rabbit by a snake, as his lips descended confidently towards hers.

But Maddie stepped back several steps, away from him and his roving hands and lips.  “Oh, no, you’re not.”

His thick eyebrows rose.  “I’m not what, little girl?”

He’d called her that since she could remember, but his use of it now just didn’t seem to fit. She was no longer his little girl, his girlfriend, his wife, his anything.  All of that was over quite a long time ago, and she had the divorce papers to prove it.  He couldn’t just come waltzing back into her life any time he wanted to and expect that she would fall down at his feet, legs spread in welcome. 

It wasn’t gonna happen.

The problem was that it apparently already had.

“We’re not going down that road is what.  I want you to get the hell out of my way so that I can go home.”  He hadn’t moved an inch.  “Alone,” she felt it was vitally necessary to add.

Ty took a deep breath and leaned further against the door frame.  “We’ve already been down that road – two or three times last night,” he rumbled, “if I recall correctly,” watching first a high pink then a cherry red splash across her fair face, “and no.”

It was his very calmness, his refusal to meet her very righteous anger that had always driven her insane.  Ty didn’t get mad.  He got even.  Very slowly and methodically.  When she was in trouble, she always felt it on her bottom, and then in other very sensitive places on her person – he never spanked her that he didn’t turn her onto her back and love her with a devastating thoroughness afterwards, as if he wanted to impress on her that although he’d hurt her with his palm, he could also bring her to unbelievable heights with the very same hand.

“No?”

“You’re not going anywhere.”

Maddie had had about enough, and she knew from long experience that talking to him when he’d made up his mind about something was a waste of breath.  So she stepped back from him, watching him subtly brace himself, expecting her to make another run at him.  She always knew that the few times she’d confronted him physically – all of which she’d lost – that she had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting through him, but she also knew that no matter how wildly she struggled, he would make sure that she remained entirely unhurt.  She’d scratched him with her nails and drawn blood, kicked those rock hard thighs and shins hard, and once tried unsuccessfully to sink her pearly whites into his bicep – although she almost got lock jaw trying to open her mouth far enough to bite – and she knew she’d succeeded in hurting him a little because he’d grunted occasionally from her efforts.  But regardless of what she’d done to him, he’d always brushed it aside like she was some sort of annoying mosquito and he didn’t have any Off.

Instead, although she’d always found herself subdued in an embarrassingly short amount of time and with almost no effort on his part, he’d always made sure that he’d accomplished it in a way that cause her absolutely no harm – she’d never so much as broken a nail when she was with him.

So, having no other outlet for her frustrations and no other avenue of escape, she fell back on old reliable – she threw her head back and screamed bloody murder at the top of her not inconsiderable lungs.

Maddie knew a split second of pure satisfaction when she saw the absolutely stunned look on his face, but it was a short lived spark of glory, since he snapped out of it almost immediately and came after her with that familiar evil glint in his eye that meant she was in deep, deep trouble.

She was just drawing in her second breath in order to start screaming again when the paw that had awakened her originally this morning secured itself over her mouth again as he lifted her against him, carrying her to the bed as if she weighed no more than a feather.  He lay her carefully down on her back and followed her down, positioning himself atop her as if he had every right to be there, even going so far as to use his bulk and weight to insinuate his legs between hers – there was no denying him. He sank down onto her from stem to stern as if he had every right to do so.

If looks could kill, the eyes above his hand would have struck him dead right then and there.  Ty looked down at her, those deep black eyes revealing nothing, and asked in his most placatingly steady tone, “No more screaming unless you’d like me to give you something to scream about.”  No lie, just fact. 

Maddie knew that if she so much as opened her mouth again he would flip her onto her stomach and bare her already nearly bare bottom for a spanking.  So she merely nodded, and he removed his hand.

She was surprised to see a trace of laughter about his eyes when he said, “I’d forgotten that you play dirty.”

“Learnt from the best,” she returned without a thought.

He nodded, not immodestly but merely acknowledging the truth of her statement, just as a loud knock came from the door.  All remnants of good humor left his face at that sound and that wary aloofness that was never far below the surface came to the fore as he levered himself off the bed and dragged a pair of jeans up his legs before going to the door.  Without opening it, he asked, “Who is it?”

Maddie’s eyes bugged as she realized that he had a big black gun in his hand.  Who the hell was he expecting to come to the door, for crying out loud?  She frowned, realizing she probably didn’t want to know the answer to that question.

But it was unusual for him to involve her in anything that might be a threat to her.  She knew what he did for a living – well, vaguely, anyway.  She knew it involved covert operations of some sort conducted by the government all over the world, and that he would never be free to talk about his work.  Sometimes she’d felt like one of the Mafia wives in “The Godfather”, who were never allowed to ask their husbands about what really went on in the family. 

 At first glance, they had the proverbial white picket fence of a marriage . . . as long as one didn’t look too closely.  But he was gone for long stretches of time during which she was lucky if she had so much as a contact number for him, other than an old friend who might or might not be able to get a hold of him.  Sometimes he came home wounded – she’d nursed him more times than she could count – and he almost always came home with a new scar of some sort, which meant that he’d been hurt badly enough that “they” had decided he’d needed to be hospitalized.  But any inquires about what had happened, how he’d been hurt, had been met with a stony silence. He’d explained it to her even before they’d gotten married – that he’d been in the military for a while and now he was doing special assignments that would take him away from her and that he couldn’t tell her about. Ever.  Maddie had loved him so deeply, so completely that she couldn’t imagine anything driving her away from him for any reason.

Eventually, though, being married to an absentee husband who was apparently doing a good job of trying to get himself killed when he wasn’t with her made Maddie take a good, hard look at their marriage.  Not at the man she was married to, because she knew she’d always love him, foibles and all, but at the relationship – such as it was – itself.  She’d been sure she would be fine not having him around all the time, but it was driving her crazy never knowing if he was dead or alive from one minute to the next.  Even the wives of the soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan had a reasonable idea of where their men were and had fairly dependable means of getting a hold of them.  Maddie hadn’t been able to get an answer at the number he’d given for his “friend” when his father had died, so she tried to get the Red Cross to find him – but they didn’t know anything about him.

He hadn’t found out about his father’s passing until he came home a month later.

But he’d always kept that part of his life very far away from her – from them.  She’d never felt in any danger when he was home – just the opposite.  Maddie knew that she was protected by the ultimate warrior on those rare occasions when they shared a bed.  He’d even deliberately claimed the side of the bed that was closest to the door.  She’d never felt in the least scared when he was around.

But now he was standing at a hotel door with a gun drawn, his stance poised and ready for anything.  Maddie felt a chill run down her spine and grabbed up what she could reach of the sheet and blanket to clutch against her chest.  What the hell was going on?

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