Read an Excerpt
One Night with a Hero
By Laura Kaye, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2012 Laura Kaye
All rights reserved.
Brady Scott ran down the Mount Vernon trail, the breeze off the Potomac River offering little relief from the late afternoon sun. The rush of blood through his ears, the rhythmic dull thud of silenced dog tags against his bare chest, the constant overhead roar of airplanes landing at Reagan National Airport — none of it was any use. He couldn't get the therapist's most recent assignment out of his head.
Get closure with your father.
Stationed back in the country three months with orders to get his head on straight if he wanted to go up for promotion, and it all came down to daddy issues.
Son of a bitch.
As if it wasn't bad enough being forced to see a therapist. There was no making yourself okay with the things Joseph Scott had done. Every mark Brady's little sister, Alyssa, had worn on her skin, every tear she'd spilled in fright, every wide-eyed help me gaze she'd ever thrown his way had sliced into Brady's heart until he was certain it lay shredded in his chest. He'd been old enough to fight back and defend himself, but Alyssa never stood a chance against their dad.
His stomach soured and churned at the memories. If that was the shit "love" led to, he wanted no part of it, thank you very much.
The trail dumped him into Old Town Alexandria, which was nicer for the shade the buildings and trees along Union Street provided, but more challenging for the crowds of people that thronged the sidewalks, and the rush of traffic that paid no heed to pedestrians. Brady bit out a curse as he dodged a minivan circling for parking and crossed the street, where the sidewalk brought him along Founders Park, a long strip of green that bordered Alexandria's waterfront. The park was crowded with groups staking out real estate in the grass with lawn chairs, blankets, and coolers.
Brady slowed to a jog, then to a walk as he came up behind a family pushing a stroller. "What's going on tonight?"
The father glanced at Brady's ID tags and gave him a smile. "Labor Day fireworks at sunset."
"Oh, yeah?" He was halfway through the ten-mile trail he'd sketched out. Maybe he'd come back down after grabbing a quick shower. Assuming he could find towels. And the shower curtain. He hadn't exactly unpacked after moving in to his new town house last night. And then it had been the ass crack of dawn before he'd gotten home from celebrating his new digs with the guys.
He was about to kick it back into a run when he saw her.
A woman sitting on a blanket removed from the mass of people. Arms around her knees, chin resting on an arm, forgotten book at her side.
She was all long lines and sun-kissed skin, and Brady couldn't stop looking. Wavy dark hair twisted on top of her head. A wide-necked white shirt exposed a long column of throat and most of one shoulder. Crossed at the ankles, the part of her legs not covered by the long skirt were tanned and toned.
Love, he wanted no part of. Lust, however, was a welcome old friend.
His mind churning on a plan, he braced his hands on his hips and debated how to approach her.
Her gaze swung around. Brady sucked in a breath. He would've thought those green eyes the most beautiful he'd ever seen, if they hadn't been glassy with tears. She blinked and looked away.
His brain shifted gears and he walked toward her before he'd even thought to do it, concern a growing weight on his chest and anger at whoever hurt her searing his gut. Neither made any sense, really, but he never could stand to see a girl cry. Hell, that instinct went way back. "Hey, you all right?"
She cast him a sidelong glance. "Peachy, thanks."
What's the attitude for? Caught off guard by the sarcasm in her tone, he dragged a hand through his hair and noticed hers had pink highlights mixed in with the rich brown. "Uh —"
"Look." Her grip tightened around her knees. "I appreciate the Good Samaritan routine and all, but I'm not looking for a hero today. Capisce?"
The hard edge to her tone was full of stubbornness and challenge. So much for trying to be the good guy. "Capisce? Seriously? Did we just step into The Godfather and I didn't know it?"
She rose in one fluid movement and brushed at the thin colorful skirt, a wrist full of bracelets jingling as she moved. A cascade of stars tattooed the skin behind a heavily pierced ear. "And what's wrong with The Godfather? It's one of the top ten movies of all time."
He drank in all her details, assessing and weighing her as if she were any other adversary he'd determined to figure out. About his age, he'd guess. "You like The Godfather?"
Standing on the edge of her blanket, she gave him a once-over that made his bare skin go hot. "Yeah. And what of it, sailor?"
He narrowed his gaze, his internal temperature kicking up another few degrees. "I got no beef with The Godfather, but I'm not a sailor." Fuckin' A, he couldn't tell if they were fighting or flirting, but these running shorts were about to make it crystal clear his body believed it was the latter.
She shook her head and looked at him, all hint of those tears long gone, the bright green of her eyes still stunning. In bare feet, she stepped into the grass and closed the four-foot gap between them. Brady's gaze was torn between watching her curvy body move and reading the ink that decorated the side of her foot. Her body won out, the way the thin cotton shirt shaped around her full breasts capturing his attention. She stopped in front of him, and his body went on alert, shoulders tense and muscles tight — not out of fear, but out of anticipation. The tats, the piercings, the hard wariness in her gaze, and the challenging tilt to her chin gave her a tough edge that was just shy of beautiful, but man was he was more than sold.
She flicked at his ID tags with her fingers and arched a brow. "I can see that."
The army was the only service that didn't spell out its acronym on the tags. Someone knew her military trivia. A fact that made her equal parts more interesting and more annoying. "Which is why you said it."
She licked her lips. "Now you're getting the picture."
Jesus, her tongue was pierced. Could this chick get any hotter? He wanted to pull her in and see if that mouth tasted as sweet as it looked. And bonus that it would cut off the stream of sarcasm she'd been dishing out. He tucked his hands in his pockets and chuffed out a humorless laugh. "Why are you messing with me?"
She pressed those ruby reds together, turning the smile he could've sworn she'd almost given him into a smirk. "Because you're an easy target."
"I'm an easy target? I think you have me confused with some other squid." Five years in the Army Special Forces, and Brady hadn't suffered a single injury. An easy target was the last thing he was. Not all his buddies had been so lucky, though, like his best friend, Marco. A good guy through and through, and yet he'd been injured so severely he'd been medically discharged and still struggled with his recovery — all while someone like Brady got off without a scratch. How fucking fair was that? His fists curled and he clamped down on the anger his thoughts unleashed.
"Nope. Just talking about you." Without a backward glance, she returned to her blanket. Damn if that skirt didn't hint at the very fine smart-ass beneath.
Brady shifted to hide his body's reaction to her, sure she was going to look his way again, but she didn't. She stretched out on her stomach, kicked her ankles up, and crossed them — revealing more leg in the process as her skirt pooled behind her knees — and grabbed her book.
What-the-fuck-ever. He scrubbed his hand over his short hair and after a moment of indecision, made for the brick sidewalk. When was the last time he'd been turned on, pissed off, amused, and embarrassed all at the same time? Being in her presence was like riding a roller coaster in the dark, totally unaware of whether a hill, a sharp turn, or a frickin' free fall was coming at you next.
"Hey, sailor boy?"
"Son of a ...," he said under his breath, turning despite himself. He met her amused gaze. She freaking knew she had him in knots. "Yeah?"
Her expression changed, grew more serious. "Just ... thanks for asking."
His heart kicked up in his chest. She could be vulnerable, too, and that gave him hope. "You got it, Pinky."
She wrinkled her nose. "Seriously?"
He smirked and found himself walking toward her again. She'd taken the bait just like he'd hoped she would. "Don't like the nickname? Gimme your real name instead." He crossed his arms and watched an array of expressions pass over her face.
She pretended disinterest and returned her focus to her open book, which — ding ding ding, now we're talking — was upside down in her hands.
He crouched down in front of her and grabbed the book. "It might help" — he made a big show of turning the book right side up and placing it back in her fingers — "if you read it this way."
Laughter spilled out of her and she dropped her face behind the open pages, shoulders shaking. The sound was deep and throaty, and the tension melted out of Brady's neck. Finally, she glanced back up, smiling so freely all the toughness fell away, leaving an exotically beautiful woman. If Brady hadn't been hooked before, wanting to hear that sound and see that smile shape those full, dark red lips reeled him right in. It was an odd reaction for him, which made her a particularly good distraction. She'd kept him guessing more than anyone he'd met in a long time.
He tapped his fingers against the back of the book. "Name."
The woman grinned up at him for a long moment, then rolled her eyes, which lingered on his bare chest.
Brady arched an eyebrow. "Name."
She heaved a sigh like she was all put out. "Joss."
"Joss. Okay. See, that wasn't so hard, was it? I'm Brady."
Joss pushed into a sitting position and tucked her legs under the pink-and-green tie-dyed skirt. The tattoo on her foot he'd glimpsed earlier read "courage" in elegant script. Now he was not only attracted, but intrigued. This chick was pushing all his buttons.
She tossed her book to the blanket. "Anyone ever tell you you're kind of a pain in the ass, Brady?"
He managed a rueful grin. "Every damn day."
"And why is it you sound so proud of that fact?"
He held out his hands and shrugged. "We all have to excel at something."
She tried to rein in her smile. Failed. "Congratulations, then, I guess?"
"Thanks." He glanced over his shoulder, toward where the grass was filling with people waiting for the evening's show, then looked back to her. "You gonna stay for the fireworks?"
"That was the plan."
"Good. So, pizza, sub sandwiches, or fried chicken?"
"Which one would you prefer I bring back for dinner?"
More of that free laughter spilled from her lips, making a big old show out of her tongue piercing. Man how he'd love a closer inspection of that little silver ball. She shook her head. "You're not serious."
"As a heart attack."
"Okay, well. On the off chance you actually come back, surprise me."
Brady rose and patted his hand twice over his heart. "Oh, you can count on that. Gimme an hour, ninety minutes tops."
"Right on, sailor boy."
He shook his head. "Before the night's through, we're gonna cure you of that," he said, then he turned, hit the sidewalk, and broke into run. All those dark thoughts of his father he hadn't been able to shake earlier? They were long gone.CHAPTER 2
Jocelyn Daniels watched the man make his way through the tourists until she couldn't see him — or his powerful thighs and incredibly well-muscled back — anymore.
Well, that was interesting.
Shaking her head, she stretched out on her blanket. Maybe she should go home. Not because she believed the guy would return, but because her emotions were clearly too close to the surface for public consumption. If only she hadn't run into Ethan and his freaking new girlfriend at the store this morning.
Apparently it was just her he wasn't ready to commit to. Because the woman's round belly and glittering ring finger sure as hell looked like commitment to Jocelyn.
It would be really nice if, just once, someone wanted to keep her.
So not helpful, Joss. Cut it out. But she couldn't help it. Seeing Ethan happily devoted to another woman seemed further proof that men would always leave her.
She sighed and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear.
To be honest, though, she felt a lot better after the run-in with Brady. He'd been an unexpected distraction. And it never hurt to be flirted with, especially when the guy was so ... really, really freaking hot. And funny. And kind of annoyingly endearing.
Yeah. That definitely explained her lighter mood.
She retrieved her novel, her gaze going unfocused as she remembered the embarrassment of being caught holding it upside down. Thank God he hadn't noticed what it was about. She hid her growing smile behind the book, her mind going back to the sight of him.
Sailor boy. The nickname tugged at Joss's cheeks. Tall. Built. Light-brown hair kissed by the sun with a hint of blond. All that lean, bare muscle. The way his running shorts had hung low enough to reveal the cut of his hips. Sex on a freaking stick.
And a soldier to boot. Bet he looked seriously fine in his dress uniform. Panties probably dropped at the mere sight — thongs, too. Maybe even like the one she was currently wearing.
Not that she was actually expecting Brady to return and put her willpower to the test. And that was for the best. Because she suspected he would be a little too much fun to play with and a lot too risky for her fragile ego. Her thong should have nothing to worry about.
Something bumped into her arm, pulling Joss from her thoughts. She glanced up into the smiling eyes of a toddler retrieving a pink plastic ball that had rolled onto her blanket. "Hi, sweetie. Is this yours?"
The little girl with a yellow gingham jumper pointed. "Ball."
A woman came jogging over. "I'm sorry."
"Oh, it's all right. Here you go." She held the ball out and the girl took it in her chubby hands.
"Thanks." The mom smiled and playfully tugged on the girl's blond pigtail. "Come on, Emily."
"Ball!" the girl shouted, holding it up to her mother.
"That's right," the woman said.
Joss watched them return to their neighboring blanket, an empty ache forming in her chest. The girl threw the ball in the air and chased it when it bounced.
One day, that would be her. A wife, a mom, having a fun outing with her family. It wasn't the kind of dream people expected she'd embrace from looking at her. Nothing said June Cleaver like tattoos, piercings, and pink highlights, right? But the two had more in common than was obvious on the surface. When you grew up alone in the world without a family, you had to carve out your own identity. The ink and metal coloring and piercing her skin told the story of that effort, but they didn't mean she still didn't yearn for the family.
She sighed and opened her book again. The badass, hard-bodied Navy SEAL in this story rocked her world. Only now, she couldn't help but imagine a certain flirtatious soldier in the hero's place. That didn't hurt one bit.
Soon, the words sucked her in, drew her into a battle scene with a bad guy that made her forget the sun and breeze and growing crowd. Having spent so much time alone, reading had always been her biggest source of escape. When she read, she lost track of what was happening around her. Many times in her life, that had been a damn good thing.
Which is why she didn't hear him.
"That must be some good book," a loud — and amused — male voice said.
Joss looked up into Brady's smiling brown eyes. "Oh," she said. "Were you ... I didn't ... you're back."
He smiled, and she shook off the story's hold on her, surprised to see that the sun was much lower in the sky and park grounds more filled with people. "You doubted me?"
Excerpted from One Night with a Hero by Laura Kaye, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2012 Laura Kaye. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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