Excerpt from The Enforcer
He didn't give her time to backpedal. "Do you know what I see when you smile?"
He stepped closer, holding her gaze captive. "I see who you really are." Amazingly, he didn't have to work hard to find the words to sweet-talk her. They rolled effortlessly off his tongue, probably since he was being completely honest, for a change.
In the stunned silence that followed, he could hear a cricket chirping in the grass beneath their feet. A bird twittered in the trees behind them.
"Sorry." He grimaced and shoved his fingers into the pockets of his jacket. "I don't know where that came from. I'm not trying to be insubordinate or anything, but you work so hard to hold everyone else together. What about you? What about your happiness?"
Bravo. Suddenly, it was like he was standing off to one side watching his own performance, along with Dylan's reaction.
Damn, you're good, Toby. Judging by the look on her face, his remark had struck gold. You manipulative son of a bitch.
* * *
Dylan couldn't find her voice. Protocol demanded she rebuke Tobias for his impertinence. How dare he speak to her on such a personal level? But his words had stripped off her façade as militia leader, and, for the life of her, she couldn't seem to slap it back on.
"Don't get me wrong." He bent toward her, pitching his voice lower. The velvety timbre soothed the pinpricks of agitation needling her skin. "I think what you've done for the soldiers here is a good thing. You've given them a sense of purpose, someone to lean on. But who's taking care of you?"
Where was he going with this? "Why would I need taking care of?"
"Come on, now," he chided her with a wry and sympathetic smile. "I know from Morrison that you used to retrieve the fallen. Let me tell you what. You wouldn't be human if the things you've seen didn't get to you sometimes."
A lump swelled in Dylan's throat, lodging her cool retort as a vision of her boys lying broken in their coffins panned across her mind.
Tobias's hands came out of his pockets. Stepping closer, he lifted them slowly, cautiously to her face. The breath evaporated from her lungs as his warm and lightly callused hands cupped her cheeks.
"It's okay to lean on people." His dark gaze, nearly the same color as the cobalt sky, searched her face before sliding toward her mouth. "If you want to lean on me from time to time, that's okay, too." In the next instant, he lowered his head, startling her with a swift, sweet kiss that left her lips tingling.
Taking in her stunned response, he slowly dipped his head again, giving her time to pull away before his lips settled snugly over hers, thawing her from her frozen state with a deft, warm, unthreatening kiss.
Like melting wax, Dylan's lips softened then parted, allowing his tongue to glide against hers, filling her with an intimate knowledge of his taste, his texture. He intrigued. He intoxicated. Parting her lips wider, Dylan sought more, rolling up on her toes in a tribute to the woman buried deep inside.
Fill me. She coiled her arms around his neck and kissed him until her head swam. Fill me with your light and warmth and laughter.
And he did, kissing her with such gentle skill that it stripped away her captain's guise and left her nothing but a woman utterly at the mercy of her own desire.
So this was how it felt to be alive. She'd forgotten. The bloodbath that had ended her career had robbed her of the memory. But it rose in her anew, like a resurrected Lazarus. She reached for the quenching beauty with all her heart, wanting to hold it close.
Her pebbled nipples grazed the sturdy fabric of his jacket. Desire traveled in a slow burn along her neural pathways. She ached to touch his skin, but his jacket and clothing formed a frustrating barrier.
Slowly, lingeringly, Tobias lifted his head and ended the magic. Fresh air cleared Dylan's head. The reality of their embrace speared her consciousness, and she guiltily jumped back.
"My fault." He was quick to take the blame but sounded not at all repentant.
Dylan wedged her tingling hands under her crossed arms, whirled away, and stalked blindly along the path skirting the tree line.
What just happened?
Her mind scrambled to make sense of that kiss. Sergeant Burke had crossed the line, but so had she. Worse than that, she'd sucked him in like a black hole. God, how humiliating!
Glancing back, she ascertained that he was following. Yes, and much closer than she'd thought, not having heard his footsteps. Adrenaline spiked her pulse. She'd almost forgotten that he used to be Special Forces. He must have been a stealthy fighter, a masterful tactician.
"You don't have to worry that I'll say anything."
His softly spoken promise was meant to reassure her, but to Dylan it sounded smug. She spun around to face him. "I am your commanding officer," she bit out, swiping her own hair out of her eyes. "What just happened between us was a complete breach of protocol. It cannot happen again."
Her firm reproach would have made any of her other soldiers back away.
Tobias looked down at his boots. A devilish glitter twinkled in his eyes when he looked up again. "Well," he drawled, clearly measuring his words, "if we were actually in the service, ma'am, I'd have to agree with you. But we're not. No matter how much you pretend for the sake of the others, you're as much a civilian as I am."
His logic undermined her authority completely. At the same time, a weight seemed to lift off her shoulders. She was a civilian. For a second time in just minutes, he'd left her with nothing to say.
"I don't see anything wrong with us getting to know each other better." He sent her an appreciative and appraising look.
Squelching the pleasure evoked by his words and his obvious interest in her, Dylan clung to her righteous anger. "Our discussion is over, Sergeant Burke. Kindly go back and help the others," she commanded.
He tipped her a disappointed-looking nod and turned away, but his stride remained confident.
Watching him walk away, Dylan's knees shook. She would never accept his offer to lean on him. To do so would make her appear weak to the others. Yet there was a certain truth to what he'd said. She was human, and the gruesome atrocities she'd seen did get to her sometimes.
When he disappeared from view, she turned and walked blindly toward the light pouring out of the kitchen.
Alive. A fragment of her earlier exhilaration clung to her, still, lightening her step as she approached the rear entrance.