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Thunder Trueno hadn't seen Carrie Lipton, his ex-wife, in twenty years. Not that it should matter after all this time. They'd been kids then, high school sweethearts, eighteen-year-olds who'd got married because of the baby.
A baby that had never been. A miscarriage, he thought. His child. Her child. Their child.
He frowned at the brick walkway that led to Carrie's door. She lived in a condominium that was located in the same desert town where they'd grown up. TheArizona land was vast and plentiful, with scattered ranches and pockets of suburban neighborhoods.
Thunder lived in Los Angeles now. He'd made a life for himself that didn't include the past. Of course he came back every so often to visit his family, but he'd never contacted his ex-wife.
Not until today.
Still frowning, he rang the bell. He'd called ahead to let her know that he was stopping by, that he wanted to interview her about a case he was working on that involved a missing woman. Thunder co-owned SPEC, a company that offered a variety of personal protection and investigative services. Their conversation had been awkward, to say the least. She'd been shocked to hear from him.
When a man opened the door, Thunder's scowl deepened. Who the hell was he? Carrie wasn't married. Nor did she have a live-in lover. Thunder knew because he'd flat-out asked her when they'd spoken, albeit briefly, over the phone. He'd wanted to be prepared, to know what to expect. He didn't like surprises. Yet here was some guy in her doorway.
He was as tall as Thunder, but with sandy-colored hair, blue eyes and a lanky build. Aside from their height, the two men didn't look anything alike. Thunder was a full-blood from the White Mountain Apache Nation, with eyes almost as black as his hair. The other man was as Anglo as Anglo could be. He was dressed in business attire, but his tie was undone, an indication that he'd got cozy in Carrie's condo.
Thunder knew he shouldn't care. Carrie wasn't his to care about anymore. Still, he wanted to knock Mr. Cozy straight on his ass. "Where's Carrie?" Thunder asked, not bothering to introduce himself.
Cozy didn't reveal his name, either. But he wasn't territorial, at least not in a tense way. His response was easy. "She had to run to the market. She'll be back soon."
Thunder didn't say anything. He'd arrived a little early. But the other man didn't seem to mind. His relaxed demeanor annoyed Thunder even more.
"You must be the ex-husband," Cozy said. "Carrie told me about you."
Thunder struggled to keep his attitude in check, to not let his frustration show. "She didn't mention you."
Cozy remained unaffected. "We haven't been going out that long."
Before Cozy could invite him inside, footsteps sounded on the walkway. Thunder turned around, sensing it was Carrie. The girl who'd panicked when she'd found out she was pregnant. The same girl who'd cried when she'd lost the baby. He wondered if she'd told Cozy about that, too.
Carrie stopped dead in her tracks. Then she just stood there, staring at Thunder, with two plastic grocery bags in her hands. She wore a polka-dot sundress and a pair of white sandals. Her brown hair was long and loose, just as silky as he remembered, with reddish highlights that hadn't been there before. Her skin was a warm golden shade. Carrie tanned easily — she had some unregistered Cherokee blood. It was the first thing she'd told him on the day they'd met.
Her face had matured, he noticed. And so had her body. Her girlish hips were gone. She was fuller, rounder.
"You look different," she said to him.
"So do you," he responded. She'd grown into the sort of woman he would want to pick up in a bar and take home for a one-night stand. As a teenager, she'd been pretty. As an adult, she was sultry. Her lips were shiny and wet, which he could tell was from the cinnamon-colored lipgloss she wore, but the effect hit him straight in the gut.
He moved forward, intending to take the groceries from her. Then he realized what he was doing. This wasn't his home. Or his wife.
When he stalled and glanced back at Cozy, the guy finally took his cue. "Oh, right. I'll get those." He grabbed the bags, and Carrie blinked at the man she was dating.
"Thank you," she said. "I assume you met Thunder." He shook his head. "Not officially, no."
She made the introduction. "Kevin Rivers. Thunder Trueno."
Cozy — Kevin — shifted the groceries so they could do the proper thing and shake hands. "Thunder Thunder?" he asked.
Apparently, blond, blue-eyed Kevin knew how to speak Spanish. Trueno meant "Thunder."
"My real name is Mark. But no one calls me that." Not even his parents. They'd given him the nickname.
"Got it," Kevin said. "I won't call you Mark, either."
Thunder assessed the other man's casual manner. Was he trying to drive Thunder crazy? Trying to prove that his and Carrie's relationship was secure? That he didn't perceive her ex-husband as a threat?
Thunder wanted to be a threat. He wanted to sweep Carrie back into his bed, even twenty years later.
"We should go inside," she said.
Carrie led the way, with Kevin on her heels. Thunder went in last, irritated by his attraction to her and checking out the place where she lived.
The two-story condo featured tan carpeting, rattan furniture and prints of watercolors — seascapes — on the walls.A gas fireplace was flanked with white bricks.
Kevin moseyed into the kitchen and put the groceries on the counter. Then he returned to the living room and gave Carrie a kiss on the cheek.
"I should get going," he said to her. "Will you stop by my motel room later?"
She nodded, and Thunder's envy flared. The urge to knock Kevin on his ass returned.
The other man looked his way. "It was nice to meet you."
Yeah, right. Cozy Kevin had got him by the balls. He jerked his chin in response. He didn't trust himself to say anything.
Carrie walked Kevin to the door. They didn't linger. A simple goodbye, and he was gone.
Thunder gazed at his ex, and silence engulfed the condo. She fidgeted with her highlighted hair, twisting the ends.
"Quit looking at me like that," she said.
"Like I'm still married to you."
"You should have told me Kevin was going to be here."
"I don't owe you an explanation, Thunder."
"Maybe not. But I asked you over the phone if you were with anyone. You could have been honest."
"It isn't serious."
"Really?" He wanted to step forward, to crowd her, to get as close as he possibly could. "Then what's the deal with the motel?"
"I have to work later. I manage my parents' motel now." She zeroed in on the groceries in the kitchen and went to put them away.
Refusing to drop the subject, he followed her. "That doesn't explain why Kevin has a room there."
She opened the fridge and put a bag of apples inside. A jar of mayonnaise went next, followed by some prepackaged lunch meat. "That's where he stays when he's in town. He's a salesman for a pharmaceutical company."
Thunder raised his eyebrows. "You're dating a drug dealer?"
"Very funny." She finished putting away the groceries and removed a red-labeled can from the cabinet. "Do you want coffee?"
He gave her a frustrated nod, then leaned against the counter. "Why did he ask you to stop by his room later?"
She shot him an exasperated look. "We plan on having dinner tonight. During my break."
He couldn't help himself. He grilled her as though she were a cheating spouse. "Are you sleeping with him?"
"Not that it's any of your business, but no, I'm not." She went to the sink to fill the carafe with water.
"We're still getting to know each other."
"And he's okay with you putting him off? What a wuss."
She heaved a sigh. "You haven't changed a bit."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that some men know how to be friends with a woman." She looked him square in the eye. "You've never grasped that concept."
He frowned at her. "You and I were friends."
"No we weren't. All we had was sex."
Her words stung, right down to the core. "We had more than that." He watched her put coffee grounds in the filter. "We had the baby."
Her hand nearly slipped. "I got pregnant because we were sleeping together. Not because we were friends."
"Fine. Whatever." He ignored the emptiness in his chest, the ache that always surfaced when he thought about the loss of their child. He knew the miscarriage had left a hole in her heart, too. He could see the familiar sadness in her eyes. At first they'd been scared spitless about becoming parents, but within a matter of weeks they'd grown romantically accustomed to the idea. "I didn't come here to dredge up the past."
No, Carrie thought. He'd got in touch with her because he wanted to interview her about a case he was working on. She wasn't surprised that he did high-profile security and investigative work. She'd been a homebody, a nester, but he'd always dreamed of bigger and better things, of saving the world, of making a difference. After the divorce, he'd enlisted in the Army, where he'd become an intelligence officer. She'd heard that he'd been a mercenary too, that after he left the Army, he'd taken high-risk jobs. People were always telling her things about Thunder. But that happened when you lived in a small town, where everyone seemed to know your past. Not that she hadn't been curious about him. He hadn't been an easy man to forget.
She poured the coffee and tried not think about their youth, about him splaying his hands across her tummy and asking her what they should name the baby.
They'd chosen Tracy for a girl and Trevor for a boy. Carrie handed him his coffee. He accepted the steaming brew, watching her with an intense expression in those deep, dark eyes. He'd aged strong and hard, with unrelenting features. He was bigger, broader, more muscular, burgeoning into the warrior he was destined to become.