Read an Excerpt
The way to tell if a man was a good lover was to watch how he danced. Captain Jenna Larson didn't know if the observation was true, since none of her exes had enjoyed dancing very much. That should have been her first clue, since none of them had been exceptional in bed, either.
A slow country song throbbed through the speakers at Shooters nightclub, and Jenna could feel the seductive pull of it in her veins. Finishing her beer, she set the empty bottle down on the bar. She'd told herself a dozen times since she'd first spotted him that she wasn't going to look, but her gaze was drawn irresistibly back to the couple moving slowly across the dance floor. Despite the crush of people surrounding them, the man guided his partner effortlessly through the crowd, his hands holding her with an easy confidence.
He moved with a fluid grace, his body shifting and sliding in perfect rhythm to the music while accommodating his partner's motions. He was lean and fit, the material of his black shirt stretched taut across the thrust of his shoulders. His jeans rode low on his hips and his scuffed cowboy boots lent him extra height.
Watching him dance, Jenna had no doubt that he would be exceptional in bed, completely attuned to his partner's body.
He bent his head to catch something the woman said to him, and then he laughed and drew her closer to the curve of his body, never missing a beat. His teeth were white in his suntanned face and Jenna noted the deep indents in his cheeks when he grinned. As they turned the corner of the dance floor, his gaze slid lazily over the crowd and, for an instant, his eyes met hers and held.
Jenna stared at him over his partner's head, unable to look away. She couldn't recall the last time she'd been so enthralled by a man, military or otherwise. Everything about him commanded her attention, from his built-for-sex body to his lazy, devil-may-care smile. She didn't know the first thing about him, except that he was in the army, assigned to nearby Fort Bragg, just like ninety-five percent of the men in the club that night.
Jenna had caught glimpses of him several times on the army base, and even from a distance he'd captured her attention. Less than two weeks ago, she'd run into him at the local supermarket. Literally, as she'd turned a corner, she'd collided with his shopping cart. He had smiled at her as she'd apologized, and there had been no mistaking the masculine interest in his eyes. In fact, she'd felt him watching her as she'd walked away, and when she'd surreptitiously glanced back at him, he'd grinned shamelessly, making no effort to hide the fact that he was, indeed, ogling her. The knowledge had made her feel shivery and delicious.
Two days later, she'd bumped into him at the post office. Against her better judgment, she'd opened her mouth to introduce herself, but he'd looked right through her, without a hint of recognition or interest. The complete switch had puzzled her, making her wonder if she'd only imagined the heat she'd seen in his eyes just days earlier.
Now, as she watched him, the corners of his lips lifted and he closed one eye in an audacious wink, before smoothly swinging the woman away to the other side of the floor. Jenna realized she had been holding her breath and she let it out in a rush, signaling to the bartender for another beer. The music came to a stop and she peeked back in time to see him give the woman a brief hug before releasing her to rejoin a group of men shooting pool on the far side of the room.
She gave a snort of disdain as she watched the woman pause on the edge of the dance floor and preen for whoever might still be watching her. Wearing too-tight white jeans and a skimpy shirt that exposed her tanned midriff, she was obviously a local. Her long hair was dyed an unnatural shade of red, and she had enough makeup on to qualify as camouflage. But she had a curvy little body, and she smiled at every guy who looked her way, including her dance partner's pool-shooting buddies.
Jenna covertly watched as his friends welcomed his return with nudges and winks. He took it in stride, but while the other guys looked longingly at the redhead's ass when she finally sauntered away, he turned and stared directly at Jenna. She paused, her beer halfway to her lips, and then tipped the bottle toward him in a silent salute before taking a long swallow. He smiled, a slow tilting of his mouth that caused his dimples to emerge, then picked up his cue and turned his attention to the pool table.
"Who're you gawking at?"
Jenna turned to see her copilot and bunk mate, Warrant Officer Laura Costanza, squeeze up to the bar beside her. Together, they had flown three separate training missions during the past twenty-four hours, and had been given the next twenty-four hours off in order to rest and be ready to fly again. Aside from their shared love of flying helicopters, they had little in common, but they'd become close friends in the three years that they'd worked together. Jenna found the other woman's down-to-earth candor both amusing and refreshing. But Jenna also knew that if Laura discovered she'd been lusting after someone, she'd never hear the end of it.
"Nobody," she fibbed. "How was your dance?"
"Had my feet stomped on a couple of times." The younger woman grinned. "No biggie." She shifted her focus to the men shooting pool. "Ah, let me guess. Major Hottie in the black shirt and boots. He is drool-worthy."
Jenna shrugged and deliberately turned her back to the dance floor and the pool tables. "He's okay."
Laura laughed. "Yeah, right. Like every female in here doesn't want to jump his bones." She gave a dramatic sigh. "Sadly, he's way above my pay grade. You could always go for it, though. Oh, but I almost forgotyou don't get involved with military guys." She tipped her head as she pretended to consider. "Why is that again?"
Even Laura didn't know the real reason that Jenna avoided men in the military. Her father was a highly decorated Vietnam pilot and had taught Jenna how to fly when she was barely a teenager. But while he might be a legend in the military annals, he'd made her mother's life hell. The same qualities that made him an extraordinary soldier also made him a terrible partner. If she closed her eyes, she could still hear the bitter battles that had waged between him and her mom, mostly over his drinking and his numerous affairs. Jenna's mother would give him an ultimatum, and for a few months he'd actually remain sober. Those were the times that Jenna liked to remember, the long summer days on Cape Cod when she'd help him run his helicopter sightseeing and tour business. She'd logged more flight hours in her teen years than some military pilots did during an entire career. There was no question that her father had been an exceptional flight instructor; he just hadn't been a great husband or father. But he'd been her role model and the center of her young life, and she would have done anything to make him proud. To make him love her. But nothing she did ever seemed good enough. She gave her friend a tolerant look.
"Because I like to keep my private life just thatprivate," she said. "Getting involved with another soldier is asking for trouble. And how can you tell he's above your pay grade, anyway? Do you know him?"
She and Laura were assigned to a helicopter battalion out of upstate New York, but had been at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for just over three weeks while they prepared for a six-month deployment to Afghanistan. Their training exercises left little time to socialize or meet other soldiers assigned to the base. The only reason Jenna found herself looking twice at this guy was because she'd been going through a particularly long dry spell. At this point, it didn't take much to fire her engines.
"Well, I don't know him," Laura hedged. "I only know his name is Chase Rawlins. He's an army major with Special Ops. His unit deploys in a couple of days. At least, that's what I've heard."
Jenna glanced over her shoulder at the pool table in time to see him smoothly knock a cue ball into a side pocket. Major Hottie, indeed. She'd pegged him for an enlisted guy, which would have made him off-limits, since fraternization between officers and enlisted members was strictly prohibited. But if he was also an officer Despite her self-denial regarding men in uniform, she couldn't prevent the surge of anticipation she felt at learning he was fair game, should she choose to end her abstinence.
There was just one small problem.
"We leave for Afghanistan in three days," she said glumly. "Even if his unit wasn't deploying, and even if I was interested, it's not like I have time to get to know the guy."
Laura raised her eyebrows and took a sip of beer. "Who says you need to get to know him? You're a helicopter pilot. You're genetically predisposed to have meaningless sex."
Jenna laughed, but acknowledged that, for most of the unmarried pilots in her battalion, that was the truth. It was one of the reasons she avoided dating them. One-night stands and short-lived relationships were an accepted way of life for them. Of course, they were also men. Despite the fact she had achieved equality in the cockpit, distinct double standards still existed. If she slept around as much as some of her male counterparts did, she'd find herself the target of some pretty derogatory comments.
Not that Jenna hadn't had her share of hookups. She had. Just not in the past eight months. But she always chose men who had nothing to do with the military; guys whose worlds were so far removed from her own that there was no chance of them colliding. Guys who couldn't follow her when she returned to base, safe behind the razor-wire fences and security checkpoints.
Of course, that would all change in six months, when both her deployment and her military commitment would end. After a lot of soul-searching, she'd made the decision to get out of the military altogether and return to Cape Cod, where she hoped to help her father run his tour business. He wasn't getting any younger, and she felt a need to spend time with him, to show him that, although she might not be the son he'd always wished for, she'd done okay.
She'd never even considered hooking up with one of her fellow pilots, as gorgeous and funny as some of them were. Most women would kill for the opportunity to peel one of those hotties out of his flight suit, but not Jenna. She'd seen too many relationships crash and burn within the battalion to make that particular mistake. Plus, most of her male colleagues had egos the size of aircraft carriers. From Jenna's perspective, it seemed, no matter how much a female pilot might be liked and respected, ultimately she became the competition. Or the attraction eventually waned, and then the two were stuck working together. She'd seen it happen again and again, and the resulting friction created discomfort for the entire unit.
Thanks, but no thanks.
Despite what Laura had said, Jenna wasn't entirely averse to hooking up with someone in uniform, as long as their respective military careers ensured they wouldn't run into each other during duty hours. The fact that it had been years since she'd been tempted by a fellow soldier didn't mean anything. She just hadn't met anyone who interested her enough to set aside her own number-one rule of engagement. Until now.
She slid a covert glance at Chase Rawlins as she weighed the risks of getting involved with him, even for one night. At least he wasn't a pilot, and they worked in completely separate units. During the three weeks she'd been at Fort Bragg, she'd never run into him while she'd been working. And in three days, she'd be gone.
"Special Ops, huh?" she asked, tracing a fingertip along the rim of her bottle, considering. If he really was deploying, the likelihood that they would ever see each other again was slim to none. Special Ops commandos kept to themselves and operated under the radar. Their deployments took them to remote locations where few people were aware of their existence. If she decided to get involved with this guy, it would definitely be a hit-and-run maneuver. "So you think I should go for it?"
Laura made a scoffing sound. "Are you kidding? The guy is beyond hot. Besides, we're outta here in a couple of days. It's not like you'll ever see him again. And if it makes you feel any better, in six months your commitment to the U.S. Army is over. Once you're back to civilian life, there'll be no chance of running into him again. He's totally checking you out, by the way. No, don't look!"
Jenna groaned. "This is ridiculous. You'd think we were teenagers." After a moment, she slapped both hands decisively on the bar and hopped down from the stool. "I'll take care of this."
"What're you going to do?" Laura asked, her face alight with anticipation.
"Watch and learn, oh young one," Jenna replied, waggling her eyebrows.
"Wait!" Jenna watched as Laura dragged her pocket-book from the back of the bar stool and began rummaging through it. "Here, take this. I always keep extras, just in case." She pushed something into Jenna's hand.
Jenna stared down at the shiny foil packet and gave a huff of astonished laughter. "A condom? Seriously, Laura, I don't think"
"You're rightone's not enough. Take two." She shoved another small packet into Jenna's fingers.
Afraid that someone might see, Jenna stuffed the two condoms into the front pocket of her jeans. "You're unbelievable. This is just a dance."
Laura rolled her eyes. "Yeah, right. And the Beatles were just a band. Now, go!" She made a shooing motion with her hand.
Inside, Jenna's heart was beating fast. She was going to ask him for a dance, and whatever happened after that would be up to him. If they only ended up dancing, it would be no big deal. As she approached the group of men, he straightened and leaned against his cue to watch her, masculine appreciation in his expression. By the time she reached him, the other men had stopped to watch, too.