Excerpt from The Protector

     Her peachy scent ambushed him halfway up the steps, undermining his noble intentions. Over the groaning of the risers, he heard the sound of a page being turned. She was reading, he realized, peeking through the half-open doorway.
     He drew back with a start. Eryn lay on her stomach across the bed, wearing nothing but that strappy top she'd worn the other night and white lace panties. Oh, shit.
     At his quick retreat, the floorboards squeaked, and she shrieked, fumbling to cover herself. He hovered on the landing, torn between the common-sense urge to run like hell and his determination to set the record straight, once and for all.
     "Okay, I'm decent," she called, her voice wobbling.
     He peered around the door frame, staying right where he was. She had wrapped the sheet around her like a toga, but the tops of her shoulders and most of her legs were still bare.
     "It gets hot up here," she said with a proud lift to her chin.
     No kidding. "You could open the window," he suggested.
     "I've tried. It's stuck."
     Her answer left him no choice but to wade into the room to un-stick the window. Chill, moist air wafted in as he jimmied it open, cooling his scalding mental image of Eryn laying across her bed practically naked.
     By the time he turned around, she had pulled the sheet over her shoulders. Smart girl. "I came to apologize," he said, edging toward the exit.
     "For what?"
     Why did women do this? "I was out of line today," he added. Obviously.
     "Which part?"
     Damn it. "Eryn, you're not..." He cut himself off, afraid that he would either offend her somehow or make himself sound depraved.
     For a change, she kept absolutely mute as he struggled to articulate his thoughts. "Look, I'm not going to betray your father's trust," he finally ground out, deciding that was the safest excuse handy. "He trusts me to watch over you, not—" fuck your brains out.
     "Take advantage of me?" she delicately supplied.
     "Exactly." He jammed his fingers into his pockets to disguise his erection.
     A crooked little smile seized her lips, making his pulse quicken. "I get it," she told him, blushing prettily. "You don't have to beat yourself up, Ike. If it's any consolation, I'm not opposed to being...taken advantage of." Her voice trailed to a husky whisper as her lashes swept downward concealing her gaze.
     Not helping.
     Swear to God, all she had to do right now was to drop the sheet, and he'd be across the room burying his face between her thighs.
     Calling on his last ounce of restraint, Ike turned briskly toward the stairs. "Shut the window if it rains again," he called, fleeing from the temptation she embodied.
     "Sleep tight," she sang out.
     He pushed into his room and firmly shut the door. Sleep tight? Right. She had to know she had him too worked up to sleep. Besides, he couldn't afford to sleep, not when he had some serious planning to do.
     Turning his lock against the desire to return to her, he spread an oil-stained towel over his dresser top. He then set out the lubricant and cloth needed to clean his sniper rifle. For the next hour, he'd lose himself in mindless routine.
     If the Feds made a move tonight, at least he wouldn't be caught with his pants down. Some comfort that was.
     * * *
     Eryn collapsed onto the mattress, half euphoric, half chagrined. What on earth had compelled her to say those words, I'm not opposed to being taken advantage of?
     She covered her hot face with her hands. Had she known what she was saying? It wasn't like her to be so forward.
     But how else was she going to get to know Ike when he refused to talk to her? Even before he'd kissed her, she was dying to get to know him better. But the kiss itself had given her insight.
     The real Ike was lonely and despairing. He needed her.
     Only, how could she comfort him when he refused to let her in? That line about not betraying her father's trust—hogwash. It was fear that held him back. She could see it so clearly now. He was afraid of her; afraid of intimacy, period.
     That was why he lived in this crumbling cottage, in deep seclusion.
     Poor man. A picture of what he used to look like flashed before her eyes. What had happened to the confident warrior her father had so loved?
     It could only be due to the incident she couldn't remember, perhaps had never really been told. All she knew was that lives had been lost. Friends of Ike's, most likely. He blamed himself, obviously. He'd quit the military because he felt he'd let them down. For a man who took his duties extremely seriously, their deaths would have been a crushing blow.
     That had to have been what happened. Instinctually, she felt that he'd be better off discussing the trauma, either with her or with someone else, maybe a trained professional. Otherwise, wouldn't the guilt fester in him, like a tumor?
     Then again, who was she to force him to talk? And what made her think she could play counselor when she'd never experienced that depth of guilt and grief herself?
     Bottom line was that she wasn't equipped to help him. Moreover, she and Ike were two very different people, their future paths unlikely ever to cross again. Having tried the impractical route back in college, she'd determined long ago not to waste her time on bachelors without promise. She was holding out for Mr. Right.
     And Ike was so not that guy.
     Seeing rain splatter the window sill, she rolled out of bed, dragging the sheet behind her to close the draft and shut off the light.
     She sprawled back across the lumpy mattress in the dark, where the memory of Ike's hard body had her touching herself. Pleasure gripped her as she envisioned his rough hands on her breasts, relived the thrill of his tongue tangling with hers. Ike. She whispered his name, arching toward her fingers in an effort to appease the hunger deep within.
     Her decision to leave Ike alone made her sudden climax a hollow and unfulfilling one.
     She wanted more. She wanted all of him, every mysterious, tortured part of him. But that desire was impractical, if not impossible. The man would barely even talk to her, let alone share his life with her. Practicality won the day, and she fell asleep, unsatisfied.
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