Authors: Cathryn Fox
Truthfully, his deepest desire was to be left alone, and Malik continued to make damn sure that never happened. From sneaking up on him to constantly hounding him to go on the snorkeling and scuba-diving excursions, Malik ensured he never had a moment’s peace. Just because he could spot what others couldn’t didn’t mean he wanted to go under the sea and look at fucking tropical fish. He hated fish, tropical or otherwise. And he hated snorkeling and scuba diving, goddammit.
Determined to regain his solitude, Cody shifted, offering Malik his back, his body language telltale.
“Would you like to walk with me?” Malik asked, despite Cody’s silent message to the contrary.
With his voice deceptively patient, he said, “No, I just want to be left alone.”
“Are you sure that’s what you really want, Cody?”
“Yes. It’s my deepest desire,” he replied flatly, twisting back around to face Malik. “Since that isn’t happening, I guess the elixir isn’t working for me.”
“Very well, then.”
A creature of habit, Cody turned his attention back to his scope and scanned the horizon. “What are you looking for?” Malik asked.
“Nothing,” Cody murmured.
Malik made a strange noise and said, “Remember, Cody. You can’t find what you’re not looking for.”
Cody scoffed. Okay, what the fuck was that supposed to mean?
hen Abby stepped
into the mouth of the path, she glanced up and spotted Mr. Malik coming her way. Smiling, she adjusted her beach bag higher on her shoulder and nodded her head in greeting.
“I see I’m not the only one out for an afternoon exploration,” she said, stopping to chat with him.
Mr. Malik smiled. “Abby, I was just on my way to pay you a visit.”
“Yes, a call came in for you at the main office.”
Her eyes widened. “Really?” Besides Artie, she couldn’t imagine anyone calling her here. Not that Artie had called.
“I believe it had something to do with a Mr. Drummond.”
She stiffened, her heart leapt and her mind raced. She hoped everything was okay back home.
In response to her tense body language, Mr. Malik said, “Everything is fine.”
Her smile restored, she took a moment to think about Artie. Perhaps he’d simply called to say hello, to say he missed her and that he couldn’t wait to hold her in his arms again. But why would he call the main office and not her cell phone?
Mr. Malik’s voice filtered through her thoughts. “His receptionist called to inform you that Mr. Drummond will be out of town for the next few days.”
Her smile faltered. “Oh, I see,” she said. Once again his receptionist was giving her news that Artie should have given her himself. “Did she say whether Artie wanted me to call back? Did he leave a number?”
“I’m afraid she didn’t say. Perhaps it would be best for you to call her back.”
With disappointment settling in her stomach, Abby schooled her face and nodded. She glanced past his shoulder, focusing on the many winding paths up ahead. “Perhaps it would,” she murmured halfheartedly.
“Is everything okay, Abby?”
She forced a quick smile and turned her attention to Mr. Malik. “How could it not be? I’m about to explore this beautiful island and I have everything my heart desires.”
Just maybe not everything her libido desired…
Mr. Malik stepped to the side to clear the way for her to continue past him. “Then by all means, get on with your exploration. I’ve taken up enough of your time.”
Abby glanced up ahead, taking in the maze of paths, wishing she had a map to consult. She’d hate to lose her way. “Where does this path lead?”
Mr. Malik narrowed his eyes. “Maybe sometimes we have to venture off the beaten path before we can find what we’re really looking for.” With that he walked away, leaving her with nothing more than her thoughts and his cryptic words to sort through.
Abby began her ascent up the mountain and took a moment to think about why having plans and a mapped-out future were so important to her. Perhaps it was because her parents had preached goal setting to her and her older sister their entire lives, only to sit back in disappointment and watch their oldest daughter veer off her life’s plan. And now her sister was pregnant, without a professional career and living with an artist who could barely support them. But despite all that, she had to admit, her sister did seem happy.
Now Abby was the only ‘good girl’ in the family, as her mother still called her. But maybe she was growing tired of always playing by the rules. Maybe during her time away she wanted to veer off the path just once, to see what happened.
With those thoughts spurring her on, Abby deliberately took two steps to her left, pushed through the thick foliage and stepped over the root-choked weeds that veiled the jungle floor. A variety of birds inhabiting the area took flight as she disturbed them. She trekked onward, noticing just how beautiful she found the untouched, overgrown surroundings.
The higher she climbed, the heavier the air felt around her. When she reached the top, she made her way toward the edge. It was a slow process, but the second she reached the cliff she knew it had been worth it.
The foliage thinned to reveal the blue skyline. Smiling as she took in the island in all its seductive splendor, she stood there staring down at the water, realizing that she was overlooking her private cove. A movement out of the corner of her eye caught her focus. Startled, she stiffened and turned sideways.
“Oh,” she said, her hand flying to her chest, her smile dissolving. “I didn’t realize there was anyone else out here,” she added in alarm at seeing Cody Lannon stationed at the top of the mountain, like some predator, or a caged animal ready to pounce. He sat perched on the edge of the cliff, dressed in military-issue fatigues and boots, with some sort of scope in his hands. She faltered backwards when his intense gaze locked on hers.
In the blink of an eye he was standing in front of her. His large hands spanned her waist, and he quickly anchored her body to his to keep her from falling backwards.
She tilted her head back to look at him. Dark eyes met hers, and in that instant she felt like she’d just been sucker punched. There was something very sexy about a broad-shouldered, rock hard man in military fatigues, she decided. Shock waves rocketed through her body, and the spark from his dark eyes was all that was needed to ignite her blood and dampen her panties.
When it finally occurred to her that she’d stopped breathing, she sucked in a tight breath, filling her oxygen-starved lungs with the moisture-laden air.
Taking full advantage of their up-close-and-personal stance, she let her gaze sweep over him for a long inspection of his fine body, firm, square jaw, sun-kissed hair and dark, intense eyes. She took in his watchful gaze, noting his body’s primal reactions to her presence. There was a restless energy about him that swirled around them. It raced over her flesh and exploded on her senses.
His face might have remained expressionless, icy even, but his eyes bore into hers with a gaze so intense and probing, it was all Abby could do to keep herself upright. Ripples of sensual pleasure started at her core and traveled onward and outward.
Her entire body trembled. Almost violently.
Aware of the way he was affecting her libido, and needing to gain control over her hormones, she stepped back and reclaimed her personal space.
Lord, it was one thing to fantasize about the hero in her spicy novel, but to fantasize about this hot, enigmatic man while he stood before her, in the flesh, was another thing entirely. She berated her wayward thoughts and focused her attention.
“I’m Abby Benton,” she said, holding her hand out in greeting in case he didn’t remember her.
After he glanced at her outstretched hand, guarded eyes met hers. “I remember.” Like any well-disciplined soldier, he closed his hand over hers for a firm shake, and she wondered whether he even knew he was idly stroking the soft pad of his thumb over her wrist.
Sensing she was encroaching upon his solitude, she glanced past his shoulder to the sandy beach below. She tried for casual. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.” Her voice sounded tight, even to herself.
He grunted something incoherent and took a distancing step back. Hard, corded muscles shifted as his arm’s fell to his sides. It was all she could do not to stare.
Curious to know what he’d been looking at, what he’d been
, she angled her chin and focused on his scope.
“What are you doing up here?” she asked him.
Even though his words said one thing, the dark look in his eyes suggested otherwise. She shot him a dubious glance. “Bird watching, huh?”
“Yeah.” He widened his stance, folded his arms and arched a challenging brow. “Bird watching.”
Her glance raced over his fatigues. “You don’t seem like the bird-watching type to me,” she said. Her words implied that he was some kind of Peeping Tom.
His mouth lifted in a mocking half smile. His expression was coy but sexy. “As opposed to all your other bird-watching friends?”
Okay, he had her there. She wanted to test him, to see whether he’d been peeking in anyone’s window or invading anyone’s privacy, so she asked, “Have you spotted anything unusual? Anything rare? Anything that
your interest?” She stretched out that one word, hoping he’d catch her double meaning.
A quick grin momentarily softened his warrior features, and she suspected he knew full well what she was referring to.
“Just a few red-throated lorikeets and a couple of fruit doves,” he responded.
She arched a brow, impressed. “Oh, so you do know your birds. Mind if I have a look?” She caught his hesitation, sensing a desire for solitude. “I’ll just take a quick look and then be on my way.”
He reluctantly conceded. “Fine.”
Seeking shade under a palm tree, Abby sat on the ground, dropped her beach bag beside her, and crossed her legs, tucking them under her thighs. Crispy, sun-burnt grass and twigs crunched beneath her. Cody moved with stealth and precision in beside her and helped her position his scope.
“Like this,” he said. His warm breath fanned her face and fragmented her thoughts.
His close proximity made her feel weird and jittery, and it took all her effort not to moan in frank appreciation when his rich, manly scent closed around her.
“You sure have a long range of sight with this thing.” She shot him a sidelong glance. “Perhaps the guests should be warned to keep their curtains closed.” She scanned the sandy shore below until she reached a chaise lounge—the same chaise lounge she’d masturbated on less than an hour before.
Had Cody been stationed here then?
An unexpected burst of lust whipped through her veins. Moisture dampened her panties and the nerve endings in her clit screamed for attention.
Under her breath, she added, “Or reserve their intimate indiscretions for behind closed doors.”
“Well, that depends.” His voice was low, maybe even a little harsh.
“If they like to be…
” One brow arched as though he was fully aware of her budding fetishes.
Abby gulped air. This guy was far too perceptive.
She admitted it was possible she had pleasured herself on the beach deliberately, hoping someone would catch her…
Maybe that did excite the hell out of her.
She cleared her throat and shot him a questioning glance. “And obviously you like to watch,” she managed to choke out.
“It comes with the profession, Abby. Watching, waiting, calculating…”
Her body broke out in a sweat at the sensual way his voice had softened when he said her name. “You must be a very patient man.”
“Whatever it takes and no matter how long it takes to get the job done.”
Her gaze raced over his face, wondering whether he was still talking about his job, or something else entirely…
She looked through the scope again in search of a distraction and smiled when she spotted Lauren on board
, Ryan seated next to her. Was it possible that Ryan was Lauren’s Tarzan man?
Abby decided to redirect the conversation. “You watch over everyone like you’re some sort of guardian angel.” Abby noted the way his eyes froze over, his body going cold. She studied his body language a moment longer. Oh, yeah, she mused. This guy was repressed, all right. Certainly no different from any other guy she knew. She recalled her conversation with Lauren, and the way her friend had encouraged her to have an affair with Cody. She suspected he could get the job done sexually, but as far as unleashing himself on her, driving them both into a frenzy of need and passion, she had her doubts.
“Sniper,” he corrected her. His expression turned dark. His hands fisted, and the anguish in his gaze turned her blood to ice. She shivered.
As she considered his combative stance, and sorted through matters, understanding quickly dawned. “I see,” she said. She was intelligent enough to know that such a job would undoubtedly require cold calculation.
Was this why she sensed an iciness inside him? Why he was so guarded?
Needing in some inexplicable way to make a connection, to help ease his anxiety, she put a placating hand on his leg. He flinched at the feel of her palm on his thigh.
Despite his obvious discomfort, Abby kept her hand there, offering her warmth and sympathy. “I’m sure your job must be a very difficult one.”
He made a face, surprise registering in his eyes. “What?” she asked, unable to understand his reactions.
“Nothing, really. You just caught me off guard for a second there. Most people think it’s a pretty cool job, and the first thing they want to know is how many kills I’ve made.”
“I don’t see anything cool about it.” Narrowing her eyes, her glance swept over him again. “Were you injured?”
By small degrees his body tightened and his jaw clenched. There was something sad in the depths of his eyes. “No.”
His behavior contradicted his words, and he didn’t fool her for a second. He might not be injured on the outside, but she could only guess that it would require him to build a wall of defense around his heart to survive in the field. Abby knew there was a form of protection in closing off one’s emotions.
“Then why are you here if you’re not injured?” Abby inquired with one raised eyebrow.
He shook his head at her, but his smile seemed genuine. “You don’t pull any punches, do you?”
The spark of warmth and passion she glimpsed underneath his cool exterior caught her by surprise. It disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. But there was no mistaking what she’d seen. Her pulse leapt in her throat. Her breath quickened and her entire body buzzed to life.
Was it possible that Lauren was right? That passionate men did exist in real life? That if she unearthed Cody’s buried emotions through her erotic touch, he’d go wild on her, like the hero in her spicy novel?
Even though she had the distinct impression she was playing with fire, her entire body shook and she suddenly wanted…no,
, to find out.