When her tongue scraped the side of his lips, Brand s heart went still. She offered him another slice, but he took it from her fingers and fed it to her. He watched as she chewed and swallowed, and then he leaned forward to kiss her. She tasted of orange and woman. He deepened the kiss and was gratified when she opened up to him in excited welcome. His tongue swept her mouth in slow, even strokes, conquering as it plundered.

Erin looped her arms around his neck and melted in his arms. "I promised myself this wouldn’t happen."

"And now that it has?" He angled his head to one side and dropped a series of long, slow kisses on her neck, working his way under her chin and to her ear. "Do you want me to stop?"


The satisfaction that one word gave him was worth a thousand from anyone else. "Let’s get out of here."

"Why?" How afraid she sounded.

His mouth hovered a scant inch from hers. "Because there are other places I want to kiss you, and I don’t think you’d appreciate me doing so in public."

His lips inched back to hers in breath-stealing increments. The closer his mouth edged toward hers, the choppier her breath became.

"Brand… I don’t think this is such a good – "

He silenced any protest with a hot, need-filled kiss. She welcomed his tongue, and was panting by the time he dragged his mouth from hers.

"Come on," he said, vaulting to his feet. He reached for her hand, pulling her upright. "Let’s get out of here."

"Where… will we go?"

"Your place."

"Brand…I don’t know."

He turned and planted his hands squarely on her shoulders, his eyes refusing to release hers. "I’m not going to make love to you, yet. That’s a promise. We need to talk, and when we do, I want it to be in private."

She might have had objections to the high-handed manner in which he was issuing orders, but she didn’t voice any. Nor did she speak while he drove to her house in West Seattle, although the ride took nearly thirty minutes. The only words she did manage were to relay her address and give directions once he was in the vicinity.

It wasn’t until he helped her out of the car that she did chance a look in his direction. Brand had to smile. Her eyes seemed so round and wide, an aircraft carrier could have sailed through them.

"He said yet, you idiot." She repeated the sentence two or three times once they were inside the house. Brand found it amusing the way she talked to herself. Without telling him what she was doing, she walked, as if in a daze, into the kitchen and started assembling a pot of coffee.

Brand hadn’t a clue what she was mumbling about. He wasn’t interested in coffee, either, but since she hadn’t asked him, he didn’t say so.

"There’s something you should know," he began. Then he changed his mind. This wasn’t the time. He needed to taste her again.

"What?" She sounded as though she were coming out of a coma.

"Come here first."

She walked over to him as though she were sleepwalking, her steps sluggish and her look disoriented.

"Kiss me first," Brand whispered, "then I’ll tell you."

As if she were in a stupor, she planted her hands on his chest, then stood on tiptoe and brushed her lips lightly over his. Unable to hold himself back any longer, Brand wrapped his arms around her, pulled her close and buried his face in her neck, savoring her softness.

For the last several days he’d been wondering what it was about Erin that preyed so heavily on his mind. After kissing her, he understood. He felt strong when he was with her. Strong emotionally. Strong physically. When they were together, he became another Samson. She gave him a feeling of being needed.

She needed him, too. She’d never admit it, of course, never deliberately tell him as much, but it was true.

"You said we needed to talk," she reminded him. With what seemed like a good deal of effort, she moved away from him.

"Yes," Brand answered softly, and rubbed a hand along the back of his neck. "What are you doing every day for the next four days?"

"Why?" A worried look dominated her face. Then her eyes, which had been so gentle and submissive only seconds before, flashed to life with a fire that all but scorched Brand. "You don’t need to tell me. You’re only going to be in Seattle four more days."

Chapter Four

"Why are you so angry?" Brand demanded, not understanding Erin. He was being as honest as he knew how to be with her, and she was looking at him as though he’d just announced he was an ax murderer.

"You know… You know…" She walked over to the cupboard and slammed two ceramic mugs down with enough force to crack the kitchen counter. "From the beginning you’ve known how I feel about navy men."

"I didn’t mislead you," he reminded her in as reasonable a tone as he could muster. "You knew from the first I was on a short assignment."

Grudgingly she answered him with an abrupt nod.

If Brand was upset about anything, it was the fact that he’d waited so long to do as his friend Casey Mac-Namera had asked and checked up on the old man’s daughter. If Brand had contacted her the first week he’d arrived in Seattle, a lot of things might have worked out differently.

"Here’s your coffee." The hot liquid sloshed over the edges of the mug when Erin set it on the glass table top.

He pulled out a beige cushioned chair and sat. His hands cupped the mug while he waited, giving Erin the time she needed to sort through her feelings.

It took her far longer than he expected. She paced the kitchen ten or fifteen times, pausing twice, her eyes revealing her confusion and her doubt. Both times she glared at him as though he’d committed unspeakable crimes. After a while, her brisk steps slowed, and she started talking to herself, mumbling something unintelligible.

"Am I forgiven?" Brand asked when she sat in the chair across the table from him.

"Sure," she answered, giving him a weak smile. "What’s there to forgive?"

"I’m pleased you feel that way." Because of the abrupt switch in her behavior, Brand didn’t feel as confident.

"Meeting you has… been an interesting experience" was all she’d say.

Brand felt the same way himself. "Can I see you tomorrow?"

"I’m busy."

Brand frowned, and a sinking sensation attacked the pit of his stomach. "Doing what?"

"I don’t believe that’s any of your concern."

Oh, boy, here it comes, he mused. "But it is. If you’re attending church services, then I’ll go with you. If you’ve promised a friend you’d help them move, then I’ll cart boxes myself." If Erin thought the Irish could be stubborn, she had yet to butt heads with the German in him.

"Brand, please don’t make this any more difficult than it already is. I can’t change who I am for you. I told you from the first I don’t want to become involved with anyone in the military, and I meant it. I don’t know why you can’t accept that. And I don’t even want to know. You’re leaving, and when it comes right down to it, I’m glad. It’s for the best."

"I’m stationed in Hawaii. It’s not all that – "

"I have no intention of flying off to the islands for an occasional weekend, nor can I afford to, so don’t even suggest it."

"The only thing I was going to suggest was the two of us getting to know each other better." He strove to sound casual, although there wasn’t a single bone in his entire body that was indifferent to Erin. She affected him far more strongly than any other woman he’d ever known. Generally he was the one seeking an out in the relationship.

Erin sipped her coffee, more relaxed now. Centered was the term she’d used earlier, and he could see it in her. She’d made her decision, and neither hell nor high water would sway her from it.

"Will you see me again?" He didn’t like asking a second time. It went against his pride, but he was learning that when it came to Erin MacNamera he was willing to give more than with anyone else.

Her nod took a long time coming, but when it did, Brand felt the tension ease.

"On one condition," she added.

"Name it."

Her beautiful dark eyes found his, and he noted how lost and bewildered she looked. "What is it?"

"No more… of what happened today in the park."

"You don’t want me to kiss you again?" Brand was sure he’d misunderstood her. They were just beginning to know each other, learn about each other, and it seemed ridiculous for them to put their relationship into a holding pattern now.

"I’m offering you my friendship, Brand, nothing more." He wanted Erin for more than a friend, but saying so would likely cut off any chance he had with her. If those were the ground rules she was setting, then far be it for him to argue with her. He fully intended to do whatever he could to change her mind, but she’d learn that soon enough.

"All right," he said, grinning at her. "We’ll be friends."

"No more of that, either," she countered sharply.

"What?" Brand hadn’t a clue what she was talking about.

"That smile. The navy could launch missiles with that smile of yours."

Was that a fact? Brand mused. He’d have to remember that and use it often.

Agreeing to this dinner date wasn’t one of her most brilliant moves, Erin decided later. Brand was scheduled to fly out of the Whidbey Island Naval Station early the following morning. They’d talked several times by phone, but she hadn’t seen Brand since their date on Saturday afternoon.

Erin hated admitting what a good time she’d had with the lieutenant j.g. They’d toured Sand Point and had a picnic at Woodland Park Zoo, although the only animal she’d encountered was of the human variety. And something else had happened Saturday, something she kept trying to forget and couldn’t.

Brand had kissed her senseless.

It caused her cheeks to burn every time she thought about the way she’d abandoned herself in his arms. No one had ever told her kissing could be so wonderful… especially the way Brand was doing it. She felt achy and restless every time she dwelled on it. Her heart would start to beat, slow and sluggish, and the heat would start creeping through her. A warm excitement would fill her, and she could find no way of explaining it. The heat started low in her abdomen and grew into an achy restlessness that disturbed her beyond anything she’d ever experienced.

Then her breasts would start throbbing the way they had when he’d pressed her against the blanket and whispered there were other places he longed to kiss her, too. It had been all she could do not to ask him to take her nipples in his mouth… She wished he had – which was a crazy idea, since they’d been in a public place.

It wouldn’t have stopped there. Erin knew that as well as she knew her own name.

Brand awoke carnal instincts in her. She’d never guessed she was capable of feeling sensual sensations as strong as this. Erin had always assumed she knew herself well. Apparently that wasn’t the case after all. Not if Brand could evoke such an overwhelming reaction in her with a series of wet kisses.

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