Chapter 4

Edge of Defiance

 

 

He lowered his mouth to hers and her senses seemed to overload before their lips even touched. Her heart pounded in her ears and heat radiated from her like she had a fever. When his lips finally touched hers, all thought melted away. She could hold onto nothing but his broad shoulders as his rough, warm hands cradled her face and his firm lips…

“Cassie? Hello, Earth to Cassie?”

Derrick’s uncle Pat stood before her, his brows furrowed. They were in the back room of The Black Rose. It has been a week since that glorious kiss and she still couldn’t stop thinking about it, or the others that they’d had since. My God, that man could kiss. He made her brains leak out of her ears.

“If you’re going to help with inventory,” Pat said, turning from the box of coasters he’d been inspecting, “then you’ll need to focus.”

Holy crap. Her brains really had leaked out of her ears.

“Sorry, Pat. I…I was just thinking about my next article,” she said, ducking her head because her pale brown skin would betray her heated blush. She readjusted the clipboard holding the checklist in her hands and bent over it. She would not think about a certain hot guy right now. She was a grown woman. She could do this.

He snorted. “Whatever kid.”

He pulled another box from the shelf. “Half full of napkins. Just as I suspected. We’ve had bigger crowds in the last couple of weeks and we’re going through the supplies faster. Put down these to order too.”

It was because of Derrick. The women came to see him and stayed all night. It was almost amusing to see them flirting with him, trailing their nails over his arm or wherever they could reach. She gripped her pen too tight.

Almost amusing.

Pat took the clipboard from her. “Go wipe down the tables and get ready for the after work crowd.”

Dammit she’d been daydreaming again. “I’m sorry, Pat. I’ve got a lot on my mind.”

He huffed. “Please. I remember what it was like to be young.” He turned back to the shelves. “Most days.”

She left Pat muttering to himself. The dayshift bartender stood behind the bar wiping down glasses while the on shift waitress sat at the bar chatted with him. It was only mid-afternoon and the crowd was thin, but it was Friday. People would start coming in within an hour.

Before she could step further into the room, hard arms wrapped around her waist and pulled her back against an even harder chest. Derrick’s scent wrapped around her and she smiled. “We’re supposed to be wor—”

He spun her around and his mouth captured her words. Her hands were in his hair, a second after that his tongue touched hers. He walked her a few steps back until she hit the wall and then he pressed himself into her. She relished his lean strength and swallowed a moan when he kissed her neck.

“Do you think my uncle would believe it if we both came down with a stomach virus and went home for the day?” Derrick murmured into her skin.

“No, and there’s no way I’m doing that. He’s already kicked me off inventory to wipe down tables. I’d be demoted to janitor if I left before the Friday work rush.”

“I’ll make it worth it to you,” he said in a low, rough voice.

She shivered as heat lanced through her. It might almost be worth it. She shook her head. “No,” she said, stepping away, though her body missed his warmth immediately. “We can hang out after our shift. He’s letting us go at nine tonight. We have the whole night.”

“And you’re still good with just pizza and a movie at my place?” Derrick asked.

“Well, we might want to go for a ride first.”

He grinned. “You’re on.” He strode into the back room and she watched him go. He looked just as good from behind in those faded jeans of his. He glanced back over his shoulder and winked at her. He’d known she was watching.

She rolled her eyes and turned away. Time to get to work.

At nine that night, the pub was packed. She would have felt bad about leaving but Pat wasn’t short-handed. She suspected he’d rearranged everyone’s schedules to give her and Derrick an evening off together. Pat was a romantic under all that grumbling.

She met Derrick at the bikes. He led the ride this time, starting off with the same route along the river before finding a new twisty road to enjoy. It took them close to an hour to get to his place.

“I’m starving,” she said as she removed her helmet. “Let’s order right away. And maybe we should get two. Just to be safe.”

He laughed and led the way into the apartment building. “How can someone so little eat so much?”

“I have a high metabolism,” she said archly.

“Nah,” he said. “You just like pizza for breakfast.”

She elbowed him as they exited the elevator and though he tried to hide it, she caught his wince. “I’m sorry. I thought your side was healed.”

“It is,” he said. “I got the okay from the doc to start exercising again.” He wiggled his eyebrows. “Did you know that sex burns more calories than running?”

“Pizza first, Romeo.”

He laughed and dropped the subject. Contrary to his words, he hadn’t pushed her for sex. Though he kissed her every chance he got. It was nice. She wasn’t sure if she was ready for sex yet, but her body sure was.

They ordered and then sat on the couch arguing over what movie to watch, he wanted a comedy and she wanted a martial arts thriller.

“I’ll watch your movie if you answer a question for me,” she said.

He stilled and his eyes turned wary. She hated that. Hated that he had secrets from her and was worried she would probe too deeply. And yet it made her want to dig even more. She couldn’t just sit back and pretend she wasn’t curious, or worse that she didn’t care. Part of her wanted to drop it, to not ask, but that wasn’t who she was.

“How did you get hurt?”

His eyes shuttered completely and his face lost all expression. “I told you. I’m a soldier in special operations.”

“Yes. I know, you’re in the JTF2. I don’t even know what that means.” And she’d googled it, but there was hardly anything online. Derrick had said it was because the unit was still new. “But…is that all you’re going to say?”

A crack in his façade showed, as his frustration made him grimace. “That’s all I can say.”

Something inside her sank when he didn’t speak again. But then neither did she. The silence grew between them until her skin itched with it.

He shook his head, stood and went to the kitchen, leaving her alone on the couch. The fridge door opened. He came back with two beers and gave her one. He didn’t sit beside her though. He stared down at her.

“Can you handle not knowing? Because if you can’t, then this.” He waved his free hand back and forth between them. “It doesn’t go any further.”

She took a sip of her beer. The cold liquid soothed some of the tightness in her throat. “I can handle it,” she said. “But I’ll still ask questions. It’s in my nature.”

“And I still won’t be able to answer them.”

She shrugged and tried to act nonchalant. She wanted her evening back on track. “I bet it’s totally boring anyway. You’re probably just a desk jockey.”

His eyebrow lifted and a slight smile tugged at the corners of his lips. “Desk jockey?”

She inspected her nails. “No. You seem more like the receptionist type.”

“Receptionist? Woman, you’re going to pay for that.” He grabbed her beer and set it down with his on the coffee table. A wicked gleam entered his eyes.

She giggled and then smoothed her face. “I’d like to see you try.”

He leapt at her faster than she’d thought possible. She shrieked and he pressed her into the couch, never putting his full weight on her.

“What are you going to do?” she said, her voice breathless.

He snagged her wrists and held them together with one hand. She squirmed, but he didn’t release her. A smile spread across his face as he watched her.

“Derrick?” she said, not quite sure what she was asking.

“Time for your punishment,” he said in a low voice that melted her insides.

She sucked in a breath as he leaned closer, and then released it on a laugh when his free hand trailed along her ribs and up under her arm.

“Just as I suspected,” he said watching her writhe with laughter. “You’re ticklish.”

“Stop!” she shrieked, her sides already aching with laughter.

He paused, his face suddenly serious. “No more questions…for tonight?”

His hand on hers loosened as he waited for her answer. She pulled free and touched his too serious face. This was important to him. She could tell he felt bad he couldn’t tell her. That made a difference.

She nodded. “No more questions.”

He lowered his head to hers and proceeded to make her brains leak out of her ears again.

 

* * *

 

The following Thursday Derrick ran to her house for his morning run, surprising her with breakfast sandwiches from the deli on the corner and a latte. He gave her a kiss and dumped a small pack on her floor.

“What’s in the bag?”

“Clothes,” he said. “I figured I could shower here and then we could spend the day together like we’d planned.”

He was going to be naked in her shower.

“Cassie?”

All that water would stream over his sculpted muscles, down his chest, past those rock hard abs to—

“I can go home if you’d like?”

“What?” She shook the images away, her face burning. “Uh no. You can stay.”

He smirked. “If you’re sure. I’d hate to distract you from your work.” He indicated the pile of papers on her table.

“No really,” she said. “I was just working on my report while I waited for you.”

“Good,” he said. “Then you’re okay if I finish my exercises before I shower?”

“Exercises?”

“Pushups and sit-ups. You know, the usual stuff.”

Her heart fluttered, actually fluttered, in anticipation. “Umm, sure. Mi casa, su gym, or something like that.”

He stripped off his shirt and dropped to the floor, pushing up and down from the floor in a steady rhythm. His biceps bulged and his back muscles flexed and tightened in a delicious way with every movement.

He stopped in a plank position and looked up at her. “Are you just going to stand there and watch me?”

Hell yes.

His eyes gleamed. “Cassie?”

She bit her lip. Dammit, she really did have work to do. “No, I…I should get back to my report.” She backed toward the table unable to take her gaze from him. He was magnificent. How the hell had she managed to capture his attention? Even for a moment?

She bumped into her table and slid into her seat, still transfixed.

I finally understand why guys watch porn.

He snorted and continued his pushups.

Omigod. She’d said that out loud. But she still didn’t look away. It was while she was studying him that she started to notice the scars. A puckered line ran across his bicep. A bullet graze? A small formation of thin jagged lines flecked the left side of his back. She stared at that one for a long moment. Her uncle had gone to Vietnam and had something similar from…shrapnel?

He stopped his push-ups. Had he done a hundred? And moved on to sit-ups. Now she saw his abs and realized his bandage was gone, but the wound wasn’t. It showed an angry red against his pale skin. Another jagged line that would fade to white and join the others on his body.

She bit her lip. Could she really date a guy that she knew so little about? That she wasn’t allowed to get to know?

His phone dinged from his backpack. He stopped his sit-ups and dug it out, flipping it open. “Blackwell,” he said in a clipped voice.

He listened, frowning and she studied his expression, wondering yet again what was going on.

“Yes, sir,” he said.

Now she frowned. He caught her gaze for a brief moment before moving to her balcony door and stepping outside, shutting it behind him. He faced away from her, shutting her out completely.

Hurt lanced her. He’d warned her that he couldn’t tell her anything, but seriously? It’s not like she could hear anything and even if she did, what would she do about it? She sucked in a breath as realization struck.

Outside, Derrick snapped his phone closed, bowed his head a moment before sliding open the door and stepping back inside.

“You don’t want me to hear anything because that’s the rules, or because I’m a reporter?”

He shook his head. “Cassie, it’s protoc—”

“Because if you think I’d do a story on you or what you do then this…” She waved her hand back and forth between them. “This isn’t going to work.” She clenched her jaw tight on the other accusations she wanted to shout.

He rolled his eyes. “This isn’t because you want to be a reporter.”

Want to be? “I am a reporter.”

“Whatever,” he said. “This is military protocol. I can’t tell you anything. You said you’d be fine with that.”

“I am.” She shook her head. “I was. But…you don’t have to leave to have a conversation. It’s like you’re a cheating husband or something.”

His eyes widened. “You’re getting a little ahead of the game, aren’t you?”

She flung her arms out. “It’s an expression! I do not want to marry you,” she yelled.

Something almost like hurt flickered in his eyes and was gone in an instant. “Good, because I don’t recall asking.”

Oh my God. What were they even fighting about? “This is insane. I don’t even know why we’re doing this.”

His face shuttered completely. “I agree. You obviously have a problem with my work.”

“I meant the fight, not…us,” she said.

He shook his head and strode to the door, grabbing up his pack. “I have to go back to base. I’m going to head there now and get settled in.”

His words sliced into her. “But it’s Thursday,” she said softly. “I thought…”

He paused, his hand on the doorknob and her heart, her thoughts, everything stretched taut waiting for him to walk out, leaving her.

No. She wouldn’t let him go like this. She knew if she did, then she’d never see him again, and that thought was unbearable. “Please don’t go like this,” she said.

He turned to her. “I don’t want to go,” he said. “But I’ll have to eventually. Will you be okay with it when I do?”

She nodded and then decided to be honest. “I’ll try.”

“I’m back at work on the base starting Monday, but I should be able to get some of my weekends off.”

Should.

Some.

Weekends.

Those words did not sound promising for a budding relationship. But for Derrick and for this fragile thing between them that promised so much, she’d try.

“Okay,” she said and squeezed her hands together to help stop her from asking all the questions she wanted to. “Can you spend the weekend with me?”

“I can spend today. But I have to be back tomorrow for PT. After that the docs want to check me out again.”

She swallowed. “And the weekend?”

He smiled. “This one is yours.”

And for that smile, she’d stop questioning.

 

* * *

 

Pat had given her the weekend off. It had been three weeks since Derrick had gone back to work at the base and things hadn’t been that bad. They talked most evenings and he came to visit on the weekends, spending the nights with her. He was coming tonight for dinner and to spend the weekend.

A smile spread across her face as she put her special grill pan onto the stove. She wouldn’t cook the thin slices of marinated beef until Derrick came. She had lettuce ready to wrap the meat and cooked vegetables. It wasn’t quite the BBQ her mother made but it was close. Cassie also had a bowl of Kimchi as a side. The smell of garlic, chili and ginger scented the air and made her stomach growl.

A knock echoed through the apartment and her heart leapt. She bounced on her toes as she opened the door. Derrick wore faded jeans and his leather jacket over a black t-shirt. His dark hair flopped over his forehead.

Sin personified.

He stepped into the room, his presence so large he almost overwhelmed her. He dropped his pack and hauled her into his arms, burying his face in her neck.

“I’ve missed you,” he said gruffly, as he kissed his way up to her ear.

Her head fell back and she stifled a moan as he nibbled, lighting her on fire. “Wait. Who are you again?” she said.

He kicked the door shut and lifted her up. “It seems I’m going to have to remind you.”

She wrapped her legs around his waist, her core clenching with need when he pressed her back against the wall and took her lips in a fiery kiss. This time she did moan.

He pulled back. “Remember me now?”

She gripped his hair and tugged him toward her. “It’s starting to come back to me, but I need another reminder.”

They both groaned when his phone buzzed. He set her down, without looking at her and dug it out of his jacket. Her stomach sank when he turned from her to answer it. It had to be the base.

“Blackwell,” he said curtly.

His shoulders tensed and then slumped as he listened to whoever was on the phone. But his voice was pure professionalism when he said, “Yes, sir. I’m on my way.”

She swallowed hard. He was a soldier and was being called back in. That was okay. It wasn’t the end of the world.

He finally met her gaze. “I have to go back. We’re being deployed.”

“Deployed? What does that mean?”

“It means we have a mission.” He reached down and picked up his pack. “I have to go.”

This sounded bad. Deployed sounded like he was going to war or something. “Where are you going?”

“I can’t tell you,” he said softly, his gaze holding hers.

“When will you be back?”

He just shook his head.

“But…will you be gone a few days? A week? A month?”

“However long the mission takes.”

She crossed her arms. “That’s not an answer.”

“Cassie,” he said softly. “This is the reality of what I do. Think long and hard about it while I’m gone.” He kissed her forehead. “I’m sorry.”

As a special ops soldier he could be going anywhere and fear squeezed her heart. Before he could step away, she gripped the sleeve of his leather jacket. “Come back to me.”

He didn’t say anything, just touched her cheek once, before turning and leaving.