Fatal Truth: Shadow Force International (26 page)

It was her sister’s birthday. He’d seen it in the file, but it hadn’t registered until now. “Parker is smart, resourceful, and intuitive, like you. I’m sure she’s fine.”

“I don’t feel smart or resourceful at the moment.”

“For what it’s worth, you’re doing an amazing job handling all of this.” He touched her arm. “And we
are
friends, by the way. This isn’t just a mission for me.”

Her eyes tracked his hand on her arm, lifted to meet his head-on. “You mean that?”

“I do,” he told her, although he wasn’t sure what kind of friends they could ever be.

Relationships. Always complicated, and then when you added in his profession, his past, he didn’t stand a chance at anything resembling normal or long-term.

Savanna deserved better than that.

She handed him a plate. “Help yourself.”

He loaded it with bacon and pancakes, grabbed a cup of coffee from the still-brewing pot. She did the same and they settled in at the breakfast bar to eat.

“To Parker,” he said, raising his coffee in toast.

Savanna did the same and tapped her cup against his. “Happy Birthday, sis, wherever you are.”

The first bite was warm and delicious, an explosion of vanilla and sugar on his tongue. He hadn’t had chocolate chip pancakes since… He couldn’t remember when.

“Syrup?” she asked, handing him a squat bottle.

The previous evening’s kiss was still there between them. She was doing a good job pretending it wasn’t. “Don’t need it. These are perfect the way they are.”

A small smile lifted her lips and she went back to her food, crunching on a piece of bacon. They sat in silence for several minutes, eating and enjoying the quiet. Trace almost felt sorry for Poison and Henley, missing out on this incredible breakfast with a beautiful woman while freezing their asses off outside.

“You were correct, yesterday,” Savanna said, cupping her hands around her coffee cup and staring at the dark liquid inside. “My wrist wasn’t the reason I quit the Olympics.”

His hunch had been right, yet, he sensed her hesitation to divulge her secret, so he simply nodded and kept eating. “You don’t have to tell me.”

“I do.” She nodded, as if giving herself a mental pep talk. “Unless you don’t want to hear it. It’s…ugly…and you might think less of me after I tell you what happened.”

Damn. There was strength in her voice, but the rawness in her eyes sucked him in.
What happened to her all those years ago?

The idea that her secret could be worse than his was ludicrous. The fact that she thought anything she’d done could make him think less of her, even more so. “Done plenty of shit myself that I’m not proud of.”

“In service to your country, though, right? That’s sort of what I did, or at least that’s how my mother and my coach spun it so I’d keep my mouth shut.” Inhaling, she shook her head. “I kept my mouth shut about something I shouldn’t have in order to keep the US Olympics Women’s Team from being touched by scandal. Real heroic, huh?”

The sarcasm in her voice didn’t quite cover the pain underneath. The sound of that pain crawled under his skin, a warning. He wasn’t going to like what he heard. “What type of scandal?”

Her throat worked and her eyes shifted away. “Nora’s coach…he…”

Goose flesh rose on Trace’s skin. His gut tightened. “He what?”

“See, we had a team of coaches, and he was one of them. He was a touchy-feely sort of guy, always had his hands on us, giving us instructions and correcting postures. I didn’t think much of it until a couple of weeks before the Olympics. We were already in Sydney, adjusting to the time difference and getting used to the stadium. One night after a late practice, he caught me in the locker room. Said he wanted to go over a few ideas he had on how to make my floor routine standout.”

Trace tightened the hold he had on his fork. He knew where this was going.

“Coach Watson’s touch didn’t scare me at first. I was fourteen. I’d never even had a boyfriend, and he was a coach. A well-respected and sought-after coach. I just thought the way he brushed a hand against my bottom or my breasts was an accident that night. Later, after I’d won a couple of those medals, he caught me alone again and said he wanted to congratulate me…he had a treat for me.”

Her voice had grown lower, softer. She drew in a shaky breath. “You can imagine the rest. He didn’t rape me, just molested me.”

Just
molested. As if that was somehow okay.

Trace couldn’t help it. He dropped his fork and laid his hand on her back. “What did you do?”

She stared, unseeing, into her coffee. “My whole world shifted after that. The experience was horrible, but it was what happened afterward that compounded it.”

“What happened?”

She took a deep sigh. “I’ve never told anyone this.”

He rubbed the base of her neck with tiny circles meant to comfort. “Like I said, you don’t have to tell me.”

“I went to my mother, scared and looking for help, and she told me to keep it quiet. She accused me of misunderstanding or misinterpreting what had happened, and I was dumb enough to wonder at first if she were right.”

Another deep breath. The coffee cup trembled. “I was naive, but I wasn’t stupid. I insisted on telling Nora and her mom, because I was afraid he was doing it to Nora too. But coming out and accusing Nora’s coach of sexual molestation could ruin his career and mine, my mother said. Not to mention Nora’s career and the rest of the girls at the Olympics. It would taint everyone’s medals, ruin everyone’s careers. I would create a scandal that would go down in the history books. Was that how I wanted to be remembered?”

A tear slipped from the corner of her eye and Trace reached out and wiped it from her cheek. He wanted to pull her into his arms and hold her. “Jesus. You were just a kid.”

“I was, but I did it. I kept quiet, and I tried to go on, do my routines and put it behind me, but every time I saw him watching me from the sidelines, I’d freeze up. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t focus.”

“So you made up the wrist injury and pulled out.”

“Yes.”

“Why would I think less of you because of that? You did what you were told to do. Your mother’s the one I think less of. She should have her ass kicked for making you keep such a horrible secret. Did you have counseling, anything?”

Savanna shook her head. “I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone. Then six months later, Nora came up pregnant. Her family claimed some teenage boy was the father. Nora had gone on this wild rampage after the Olympics, drinking and getting into trouble, so the story made sense. But I knew the truth. At least I think I do. It was Coach Watson’s baby. He stayed around in the gymnastics world for a couple more years but that was it. He disappeared. Nora’s parents made her give up the baby and she committed suicide a year after the child was born.”

The cup was shaking so badly now, he feared she’d spill the hot liquid on herself. He carefully removed it from her fingers and set it down. Then he grabbed her thighs and turned her to face him. “None of that was your fault. You know that, right? The coach was a dick, and what happened to Nora is tragic, but not your fault.”

In the candlelit room, her blue eyes were the shade of the sky outside. “It
was
my fault. If I’d told someone, even my dad, maybe I could have prevented Nora from being abused and ending up pregnant. Maybe I could have prevented her suicide. If I’d just said
something
.”

A familiar urge burned low in Trace’s gut. The urge to kill. “Where do you think Watson went?”

“When I landed my news show, I tried to find him.” She shrugged. “He must have changed his name and started over. I found no trace of him anywhere.”

“Did you ever tell Parker?”

Savanna’s face darkened as she caught his drift. “You think she…? No. She doesn’t know what happened. I never told anyone, except my mother.” Her gaze dropped to his hands on her thighs, slowly came back up to meet his. “And now you.”

Pulling her into his arms would be a bad idea. He wanted to comfort her but wrapping his arms around her would lead to something else. And he couldn’t go there, especially after what she’d told him. Taking advantage of her in such an emotional state broke his personal rule.

She bit her bottom lip. “About last night…”

The left turn took him by surprise. “You don’t have to apologize. And your segue sucks.”

Her lips twitched. “I wasn’t going to apologize, because I’m not sorry I kissed you. I just wanted to say that I know it made you uncomfortable—you don’t like breaking the rules and you’re not into me. I get it. I wanted to assure you it won’t happen again.”

“I’m not apologizing either,” he said.

She looked taken aback. “For what? You didn’t do anything.”

“For this.”

He pulled her off the barstool and slid her body between the V of his legs, one hand going behind her neck as he brought his lips down on hers.

Chapter Seventeen

_____________________

______________________________________________________

S
AVANNA FELL INTO
Coldplay’s body, a freefall into hot, needy desire.

More like a magnet snapping against steel.

Her missing sister’s birthday, the horrible past with the coach…all of it evaporated in the heat of his hands, his lips.

He tasted like chocolate chips and strong coffee. His kiss teased, probed, teased again—a game that left her panting, her nipples tightening under the soft cotton of her borrowed sweatshirt.

She wanted more.

Parting her lips, she flicked out her tongue, catching his as she wrapped her arms around his neck. One of his hands, the one buried in her hair, massaged the back of her neck, then traveled down her spine, his tongue going deep enough, he nearly bent her backwards. The other hand rested at the top of her butt, securing her firmly in place.

Fire. She was playing with two-hundred pounds of steel and fire.

Instead of feeling panic, she felt safe, hungry for more than pancakes.

Moaning, she pressed herself closer, her nipples begging for the feel of his hard body, her pelvis burying itself deeper between his legs. He obliged, spreading his solid, muscled thighs wider, guiding her in with his hands.

He broke the kiss, looked into her eyes. “I shouldn’t be doing this, but I can’t resist you.”

“Not many men can,” she teased, brushing her lips against his.

He kissed her back. “You’re so beautiful, so smart, and so damn wrong for me.”

Savanna stiffened. “Why am I wrong?”

“You don’t know who I am, Savanna. You don’t know the things I’ve done.”

True. She didn’t. But she didn’t want to care at this moment. She owed him her life. She’d seen the gentleness in him as well as the trained killer.

She found both sexy as hell.

Did that make her sick or stupid? Did it matter if she didn’t know his name or his background? Hell, she’d thought she known everything about Brady before she’d slept with him. He was the ultimate boyfriend on paper—good pedigree, great education, dreams for their future together that matched hers. They were White House bound, he’d told her. She was going to be his First Lady.

But he’d been keeping secrets. Damning secrets. He’d lied to her and ruined everything. She hadn’t really known him any better than a stranger off the street.

Coldplay was an enigma. She knew so little about him and his past. Didn’t care at this moment about his upbringing, his education, his future plans. She trusted him enough to confess her deepest, darkest secret. He hadn’t run away. In fact, he’d comforted her and acted as if he wanted to hunt down that coach and strangle him.

She laid her hand over his heart, watching the unsettled look in his eyes. He was fighting with himself, trying to protect her again, only in a different manner. “Maybe you’re not right for me either, but you are a good person, and that’s all I need to know.”

His chest muscles bunched under her hand. “With my…profession…I can’t promise you anything. A future. You deserve better.”

“I’m not looking for a commitment. I just want to be held, caressed, appreciated for a little while.”
I want to forget my life.
“I could die today, tomorrow. I don’t want to die with regrets.” She stroked a lock of his hair from his forehead and whispered. “I want you. If you want me, too, then let’s call it even. We might be bad for each other as partners in a relationship, but I bet we’ll rock this house to its foundation with a bout of casual sex. What’s wrong about that?”

He growled deep in his throat and kissed her hard. His hand skimmed her ribcage, the underside of her breast. She urged him on, running her hands over his shoulders, his back, his chest. He grazed her nipple with a thumb and she arched into him.

Lost in throes of sensation, it took her a moment to register the buzzing noise in the background.

And then she was airborne, corded arms of steel wrapping her up and taking her to the floor in a sudden rush that made her gasp.

Coldplay, kneeling in front of her, pinned her up against the side of the kitchen island, his face a mask in the candlelit darkness. “That’s the security alarm for the infrared perimeter outside. Something’s been breached. Stay here and stay silent. I’ll be back for you.”

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