The doorbell chimed, and, inhaling softly, she braced herself, walked across the living room and opened the front door to Brand.

"Hi." His gaze gave her an appreciative sweep. "Are you ready?"

She nodded. Damn, it was good to see him again. She hated to admit that much, and she gave herself a quick mental shake. Somehow, someway, she was going to get through this evening, and once she did it would be over between them. He could go his way and she could go hers, and never the twain would meet.

Once they were in the car, Erin suggested a Mexican restaurant that was less than a mile from her house. The food was good and cheap. All Erin was looking to do was to survive this evening with her heart intact.

The walls of the El Lindo were made of white stucco and decorated with several huge sombreros in bright shades of turquoise and gold. Erin studied the pictures on the wall, which were displayed in wide, bulky frames, in an effort to avoid looking at Brand. She dared not allow her eyes to meet his for fear of reviving memories from their last encounter.

"So where are you headed to next?" she asked, making sure her voice contained just the right amount of friendliness. A tortilla chip commanded her full attention as she dipped it in salsa.

"Probably San Francisco."

"When?" It felt good to have the upper hand in the conversation, Erin mused.

"Soon. A month or two from now, maybe less. Have you been there?"

"I don’t think there are more than a handful of naval bases where I haven’t been." She made light of the fact, when in reality it was a source of fierce bitterness. The comment was made with just enough sarcasm for Brand to recognize she wouldn’t return to that life-style again for anything or anyone in the world, including him. He must have gotten the message, because his face tightened into a frown.

Erin ordered the cheese-and-onion enchiladas, her favorite, and Brand asked for the chili verde. Both dinners were excellent, and they lingered over coffee, talking about a variety of bland but safe subjects. Brand told her about his two best friends, Alex Romano and Catherine Fredrickson. Like him, Alex was a surface warfare officer. Catherine was an attorney. All three had been stationed in Hawaii for four years.

When Brand pulled into the driveway in front of her house, her hand was already on the handle. She had a farewell, so-glad-we-had-this-chance-to-meet talk all prepared, but she wasn’t allowed to say one word of it.

Brand reached across the seat and gripped her hand. "Invite me in for coffee."

"We just finished having a cup."

"Invite me in anyway."

"I… don’t know if that’s such a good idea."

"Yes, it is. Trust me."

"All right." But she wasn’t pleased about it.

She led the way into her compact home. Buying a house was one of the first things she’d done after being hired for the Community Action Program. The payments were high, but Erin didn’t mind the sacrifice, because for the first time in her life she didn’t have to worry about being forced to move. No one was going to casually announce it was time to relocate. She didn’t need to worry that everything she owned was going to be stripped away from her almost overnight.

For the first time in her life, she was planting roots. They weren’t as deep as she wanted, not yet, but she intended for them to be. This home was hers and hers alone. It was her security, her defense, her shelter. Falling crazy in love with a navy man would threaten everything she’d strived to build for herself in the past several years, and she adamantly refused to allow it to happen.

Once they were inside, Erin turned on the lights and pointed to the bulky stuffed chair angled in front of the television. "Make yourself comfortable. Would you like some coffee?"


Brand followed her into the kitchen. "We’ve avoided the subject all evening," he said, standing directly behind her. He wasn’t actually pinning her against the counter, but he made it plain he could if he wanted to.

"We don’t need to talk about it."

"We do," he countered swiftly. "I’m leaving. Trust me, I don’t want to go, but I am. It’s part of my job. I don’t know when I’ll be back, but I will be."

She tried to look as uninterested as she could. "Look me up when you do," she said flippantly.

Brand frowned anew. "Erin MacNamera, that wasn’t nice."

"I apologize." She didn’t completely understand what she’d said that was so wrong. If Brand thought she was going to sit around moping for him, he was dead wrong.

Yes, she enjoyed his company, and when he left she’d miss him for a while, but after a week or so she wouldn’t give him more than the occasional fleeting thought.

"Kiss me," Brand instructed.

Erin’s heart went still. She’d prefer leaping off the Ta-coma Narrows Bridge to granting Brand Davis the privileges she had the day of their picnic. He might as well ask her to light a stick of dynamite and wave it around for everyone to see what a fool she was.

She tried to break away from him. "I can’t… I have no intention of kissing you."

"Just once, to say goodbye."


His hands drifted up and down her lifeless arms, bringing her against him. Erin didn’t know who moved, him or her.

"If you won’t kiss me, then you leave me no choice but to kiss you." He angled his head to one side and placed his moist, hot mouth over hers.

The kiss was unbearably good; it was all Erin could do not to melt at his feet. Somehow she managed to stand stiff and straight, not granting him an inch.

Brand appeared unconcerned by her lack of response. He drew her wrists up and placed her hands around his neck, then locked his own arms tight around her waist, lifting her against him.

Erin didn’t want to respond, had promised herself she wouldn’t, but before she knew what was happening her lips had parted and her tongue was eagerly searching out his. If only he weren’t so gentle. So tender and generous. Erin felt as if she were drowning in sheer ecstasy. She moaned, and the sound seemed to encourage Brand all the more.

He kissed her again and again, and it was even better than his lovemaking had been in the park. Even more wonderful, and she hadn’t thought that was possible. Brand’s kisses were long and deep, and before she knew it Erin was clinging to him mindlessly.

He released her slowly, letting her slide down his front. Once her feet were firmly planted on the floor, his hand closed over her breast. Erin whimpered – it was a soft sound of pleasure – as he battled with the buttons of her silk blouse, peeling it open. He unfastened her bra and filled his palms with her lush fullness. His sigh went through her like a spear, and as hard as she tried, she couldn’t keep from reacting.

Her nipples were so hard, they burned and throbbed and ached in a way she’d never experienced until now. Her hands were in Brand’s hair and her head was thrown back as she squirmed against him. She wanted his mouth on her breasts, just the way she’d imagined. Just the way she’d dreamed about for the past two nights.

As if reading her thoughts, Brand gave her what she yearned to experience, drawing her nipple into his moist, warm mouth and sucking lightly, then strongly, then lightly again. A sensation of pleasure so hot it bordered on pain flashed through her like lightning. It was all Erin could do to hold still. If he continued this much longer, she’d be climbing the walls. Literally.

The sensation was incredible, beyond description. She wanted him, needed him. Soon her own fingers were busy. She was so impatient, she nearly ripped the buttons off his shirt. It became imperative that she do to him what he was doing to her. She didn’t know if this was something women did to men, but she longed to return the pleasure he was giving her.

With her arms wrapped securely around his neck, she nuzzled the hollow at his throat, sliding her tongue back and forth in lazy circles while she fiddled with the opening on his shirt. Once it was free, she spread it back from his shoulders.

Erin had never seen a man as close to perfect as Brand. He was stronger than anyone she’d ever known. And he smelled so good, of spice and bay rum. He’d probably sprayed himself with an aphrodisiac before meeting her for dinner, but Erin was beyond the point of caring.

Brand’s muscular body felt hot to the touch. She was unable to keep her hands still. They roamed up and down the sides of his waist, then over the lightly haired planes of his broad chest until she inadvertently touched the tight buds of his nipples. When she did, she was gratified by the shudder that went through him, starting with a rippling motion in his massive shoulders and working its way down.

"Erin," he pleaded, "no more."

She ignored him. After all, he ignored her, and fair was fair. Her mouth fastened over the tight pearl of his nipple, and she gave him the same treatment he had given her. He tasted as wonderful as he smelled.

"Erin," he pleaded a second time. She paused long enough to sigh, loving the sound of his voice, so low and husky. It spurred her on more powerfully than any words he might have said.

"We’ve got to stop before it’s too late," he warned, working his hands between them.

Her response was to curl her fingers more tightly in the hair on his chest and tug lightly.


This time something in his voice did capture her attention. His hands were on her shoulders, and he heaved a giant breath as he wrapped his arms around her waist. Erin buried her face in his neck, embarrassed by the things she’d done and allowed him to do.

She rarely cried, but she felt the salty wetness coat her cheeks.

"Casey would shoot me dead if he knew how close I’ve come to making love to you."

Erin abruptly broke away from him, her eyes clouded with confusion. She nearly stumbled, finding herself off balance. Nevertheless, she glared up at Brand. "How did you know my father’s name is Casey?"

Brand closed his eyes slowly, as if he’d inadvertently allowed a top government secret to pass from his lips. "That’s a long story."

Erin jerked away and turned her back to him while her fingers frantically worked to assemble her bra and blouse. Her hands were trembling so badly, it made the task nearly impossible. When she’d finished, she walked across the room and removed her mug from the table, simply because she needed something to cling to. She felt as if she were being beaten by an invisible force, shaken so hard her teeth were rattling.

"How do you know my father?" she demanded a second time, and her voice trembled as severely as her fingers.

"We’re friends. We worked together a few years back, hit it off, and have kept in touch ever since," Brand announced, looking none too pleased. If anything, he looked downright irritated. "When Casey learned I was flying into Seattle for this assignment, he asked me to check up on you. Apparently he’s worried that you’re working too hard. Your father’s a good man, Erin."

That wasn’t exactly the way Erin would have described him at the moment. He was a meddling, interfering old fool who couldn’t keep out of her life! Copyright 2016 - 2024