Read an Excerpt
Tempted by the Soldier
A Falling for You Novel
By Nicolette Day, Nina Bruhns, Kari Olson
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Tara Fuller
All rights reserved.
Charlotte, North Carolina July
"I can't believe I'm doing this." Lilly Grayson tapped her heel against the floor under the Starbucks table and sipped on her third cup of coffee that morning. Across the table her roommate, Paige, gave an answering grimace.
A nauseating mixture of caffeine and apprehension buzzed through Lilly's veins as she watched the glass door to the coffee shop. Any minute the bane of her existence was going to walk through that door, and she was going to be expected to play nice and rely on him for help. Walking on broken glass sounded more appealing. In her experience, the only thing you could rely on Nate Jennings for was a mind-melting orgasm. Expecting anything more only led to disappointment.
Outside, the source of her current crisis was whipping the trees into a frenzy and filling the sky with ominous-looking clouds.
Tropical Storm Cindy.
More like Tropical Storm Pain-In-My-Ass.
Didn't Mother Nature know Lilly was not to be screwed with this weekend? She had a wedding to get to. And not just any wedding. This was Hayden's wedding. Her former boss was going to annihilate her if she didn't get her camera to Vermont by Saturday to document the Jace Jennings saying the big "I do." An event like this deserved a spot in National Geographic, for God's sake. She could see the headline now.
Wild Jennings Brother Tamed and Wed!
And her neurotic, obsessive-compulsive friend trusted Lilly to be her wedding photographer. When that friend was a photographer herself, an award-winning Time Magazine photographer, that meant something. This wasn't just any job. This was a job that neither tropical storms, canceled flights, nor douchebag ex-Marines could get in the way of. Hayden hadn't just been a boss to Lilly for three years. Somehow she'd wormed her way past the barriers Lilly kept around her heart and become one of her closest friends. Which meant letting her down wasn't an option. Even if that meant she was going to be stuck with the jackass half of the Jennings brothers.
For fifteen hours.
In the cab of his truck.
Honestly, she couldn't believe he'd even agreed to it. Especially since every time they'd been forced into the same room together for the past year, all they'd managed to do was exchange heated glares and cutting insults. Not that she understood what he had to be pissy about. She was the one who'd been left a wad of cash on the dresser in lieu of a good-bye after what she had interpreted — clearly mistakenly — as a bone-deep connection and night of life-altering sex. Then, after she'd shown up at the club he co-owned with his brother to tell him what she thought of him and his cash, he'd had the balls to tell her she'd been nothing more than a convenient distraction on a shitty night. And that he'd thought a girl like her would understand a night of casual sex.
Excuse me? A girl like her?
The asshat was lucky she hadn't introduced his nuts to her spike heels and ruined his chances at procreation right then and there. In that fatal declaration, Nate had done the one thing she could never forgive. He'd made her feel like a whore. And she was hell-bent on never letting it happen again.
She ripped apart a helpless Sweet'N Low packet, envisioning Nate's smug, too-handsome face. If she didn't find a way to rein in her emotions, this road trip was doomed to end in disaster. Or death. Nate's, to be exact. And there was no way she could go to prison. She looked terrible in orange. Guess she'd just have to get creative when hiding the body.
"I can't believe I dragged my ass to the airport at four a.m. during a tropical storm only to find out your flight was canceled," Paige said. "I told you we should have checked before we left."
Lilly tapped the shredded packet against the table and cast a withering look at her roommate. "I was hoping for a miracle."
Hell, it didn't even have to be a full-blown miracle. Just a helping hand from the Big Man upstairs. An available car at the rental desk. For Super Storm Cindy to get her panties out of a twist and go wreak havoc anywhere other than the east coast. Anything to avoid being stuck in a vehicle for fifteen hours with the one man she couldn't stand.
She nearly groaned at the memory of Hayden's words.
It's just a ride, Lilly. One day out of your life. Besides, it'll be good for you two to work out your issues. You're both going to be in Jace's and my lives. You have to find a way to coexist.
The only issue to work out was that Nate Jennings suffered from a severe case of assholeitis. Unless they'd found a miracle cure, she didn't see a future that included her playing nice with soldier boy.
Paige checked her watch. "Private Panty-Melter better show up in the next five minutes. I've got to get to work."
Lilly set her coffee down and raised a brow. "Private Panty-Melter? Really?"
Paige yawned and tucked a few strands of the long dark hair that was piled on top of her head back into her messy bun. "Better than your names for him."
Lilly flipped through the mental directory of colorful names she had reserved for Nate. Colonel Cranky. Sergeant Douchebag. General Jerk.
"Nope. I still like mine better." She pushed aside her coffee and groaned. "Maybe I could fake an illness. Tell Hayden I came down with the Ebola virus."
"Sounds like a good plan. I'm sure you won't have a problem telling an award-winning Time Magazine photographer that she's going to have to hire Photos-Are-Us to do her wedding portraits. You want me to try to find a coupon in the paper? It might soften the blow."
Lilly emptied another tattered Sweet'N Low packet into her coffee and stirred. "Very funny. I pull that, and Hayden will go all bridezilla on a tiny unsuspecting town in Vermont. Think of the carnage."
"You do realize that your problems are my fantasies," Paige said with a sigh. "You get offered a road trip with a sex-on-a-stick ex-Marine with deeply repressed emotional issues who is just waiting for some lucky girl to kiss it and make it better. And you actually expect me to feel sorry for you?"
"I don't care if he is an American hero, or on the verge of being related to one of my best friends, or hot enough to melt steel." Lilly's heart stopped when the door dinged and she looked up to find an elderly man with a cane strolling in. She blew out a frustrated breath. "He's still a complete jerk."
Paige shrugged. "Maybe you should try again. People change."
The fact that he was an hour late proved he hadn't. He didn't respect her time any more than he'd respected her as a person.
"No. They don't." Once an unreliable asshole, always an unreliable asshole. She'd been subjected to too many to count. Her mother had paraded enough of them through their home to last a freaking lifetime. All just meaningless substitutes for the one man who had never wanted her for more than a quick lay. Her father.
Lilly quickly put the lid back on that depressing box and blinked the memory of her mother's face away. "Why do you care so much, anyway?"
Paige folded her arms across the table, concern crinkling the space between her brows. "Because you ate like two tubs of Ben & Jerry's over this guy, Lil."
"My point is you've never stuffed your face with ice cream over a guy," she said. "I've never seen you let someone in like that. I'm just saying, I think that says something."
"It's not happening, Paige. Get over your sexy soldier fantasy. Trust me, I have."
Another round of people poured through the door, none of them her ride.
Paige was right. Lilly had let Nate in. She'd let him in because for the first time in a very long time, she'd actually found someone she liked. And in return, he'd proven that he was just like every other male on the planet — who thought with his dick instead of his brain. Lilly followed Paige's interested gaze to two men standing in line. Cute. But neither sparked even a flicker of interest inside her. No one had since her night with Nate.
Yet another reason to hate him. The bastard had broken her libido with his wonder penis. Jerk.
Without permission, her mind wandered to the memory of Nate's mouth against hers, his shoulders bunching under her fingertips. No one had ever kissed her that thoroughly. Touched her like he couldn't get enough. Made her pulse pound and her panties wet with nothing more than the perfectly placed rumble of his voice against her ear.
She squirmed and rubbed her thighs together. Damn Hayden for doing this to her! She'd put all that behind her. Moved on. She was perfectly happy hating Nate from afar. But she feared that being with him in such close quarters for that long with no escape was going to put a serious chink in her self-control.
"At least tell me you packed the clothes I laid out for you," Paige said as she sat up straight and tightened the red bandanna keeping her hair in place. As if she needed the touch-up to grab any man's attention. She was a yoga instructor, for God's sake. The woman could bounce a quarter off of her abdomen. Or anywhere else, for that matter. "I had to dig through your boxes for an hour just to find them. Which brings me to my next point. You are a terrible packer."
As if Lilly needed the reminder that in three short weeks she was going to be out of a home. With Paige moving across town to open her new yoga studio, there was no way Lilly could afford the rent on their apartment alone. If she didn't find something soon, she was going to end up on her brother's sofa. God help her.
"Hey, I have a system," she said. "And you better have packed those boxes back the way I had them."
"Stop changing the subject. Did you bring the outfits or not?" "You mean the groomsman bait?" Lilly raised a brow. "You know I can't show up to this wedding looking like I'm headed to a nightclub. There may actually be some opportunities to do some networking. I need to make a good impression."
Paige tore her attention away from a guy with a sleeve tattoo who was returning her smile, and faced Lilly. "Who said you have to wear it at the wedding? Why not now?"
Lilly frowned down at her leggings and off-the-shoulder pink shirt. "What's wrong with what I'm wearing?"
Paige shrugged and sipped her latte. "Nothing. Unless you were interested in dishing out a little torture on Private Panty-Melter. He is an hour late. It's not like he doesn't deserve to be messed with."
Lilly tapped her coffee cup, considering. Paige had a point. While she may not be interested in giving him any more ammunition, the idea of giving Nate a set of blue balls to match those bedroom eyes of his sounded too good to pass up. She couldn't let him get away with making her wait. Not after the way he'd treated her this past year. If she let him have the upper hand this early in the trip, she'd never live it down. With Nate it always felt like a battle, and she was in no mood to lose. The door dinged and Lilly looked up. Not Nate. Again. As a woman in head-to-toe floral-print scrubs walked past their table, Paige met Lilly's gaze and raised a questioning brow.
She took a deep breath and grabbed her cup, purposely sloshing a few drops of coffee onto her shirt. "Oh! Would you look at that? I guess I'm going to have to change, after all."
Paige grinned. "Wear the white one. He won't know what hit him."
Lilly stood and rolled her carry-on toward the bathroom. When she emerged, she was clad in a wispy white dress that brushed the back of her thighs, a snug military-green jacket and a pair of sky-high heels that she knew made her legs look phenomenal. Not exactly the most comfortable ensemble for a long road trip, but hey, everyone had to make sacrifices in war. Right?
She sank back down on her seat and pulled a tube of lip gloss out of her purse and swiped it across her mouth. Paige gathered up her purse and coat, watching her with a little smirk.
"Are we going to talk about the possibility of you screwing your archnemesis six ways to Sunday by the time you get to Vermont? Because in that outfit, I can't see this trip ending any other way."
Lilly's mouth dropped open and her face flushed with unwanted heat. "That is not going to happen!"
Paige shrugged as she stood up to leave for work. "Never say never. Those words will always come back to bite you in the ass."
Lilly checked her watch, severe irritation chasing away the last vestiges of doubt in her mind. Seventy-two minutes late. She folded her arms across her chest and glared at the entry door. "This isn't a seduction, Paige. It's a war. And you can bet your last dollar that I'm going to win."CHAPTER 2
You're so fine and you're mine. I'll be yours till the end of time ...
Nate Jennings swept his arm across the messy nightstand on a search-and-destroy mission. Whichever electronic device he owned that was dragging him back into consciousness was going to die a slow and painful death. Was that ... Madonna?
He slammed his fist down on what he guessed was his phone and the music ceased. With a groan he collapsed back onto his sweat-drenched pillow. He was in the ninth circle of hell. Or maybe that was just the hangover he'd inflicted on himself beating the shit out of his brain. Jesus H. Christ. How much had he drunk last night?
He cracked an eye open and the empty fifth of whiskey sitting next to his bed answered his question.
Note to self: Whiskey is not our friend.
However much he'd had to drink, it hadn't been enough. Despite the black fog that the alcohol had created, the nightmares had still found a way through. They always did.
He closed his eyes, trying to ignore how cold and wrong the dog tags around his neck felt against his bare chest — especially with the memory of charred flesh and death still fresh in his mind. He wanted to rip off the damned metal tags ... but even that felt like a betrayal. The weight of them around his neck kept him grounded. Made sure he never forgot — I'm the one who survived, and this is my fucked-up life.
An empty fifth of whiskey. An empty bed. Everything just ... empty.
He felt sick.
Like a virgin. Touched for the very first time.
The music had started up again from the floor beside his bed. Motherfucker. Nate leaned over the mattress and grabbed his cell phone off the floor. A picture of his brother flipping him off with a shit-eating grin on his face flashed across the screen.
"You've been fucking with my phone again," Nate snapped into the receiver.
"It could have been worse. I could have gone with Miley Cyrus."
He sat up and threw his legs over the edge of the bed, pinching the bridge of his nose. His head throbbed, pinpricks of pain that mimicked the steady beat of helicopter blades slicing through his thoughts.
"You're a sick bastard. You know that, right?" he muttered.
"I've been trying to call you all morning. I thought I was going to have to send a search party."
"I was sleeping." Nate pushed himself off the bed and lumbered to the bathroom where he put the phone on speaker and set it on the counter. Jesus. Couldn't he have one night of getting shit-faced and sleeping away his demons without the rest of the world beating down his door? He twisted on the cold water and splashed his face in an effort to wash away the remnants of his nightmare.
"Why do I get the feeling 'passed out' is the more appropriate term here? You sound like crap," Jace observed. "You okay?"
Okay? Nate braced his hands on the counter and stared at his dripping reflection in the mirror. His scars were on full display, the ridges of white flesh a cold reminder of the crash that had turned his life upside down and inside out. He ran a hand over the tattoo on his bicep that had once been the marine insignia his father had worn on his skin. Now the ink was broken up and unrecognizable where hot metal and flames had licked his flesh. The nerve endings were long gone, leaving the area numb, but days like today, he could still feel the burn.
Excerpted from Tempted by the Soldier by Nicolette Day, Nina Bruhns, Kari Olson. Copyright © 2014 Tara Fuller. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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