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Micah Westmoreland glanced across the ballroom at the woman just arriving and immediately felt a tightening in his gut. Kalina Daniels was undeniably beautiful, sensuous in every sense of the word. He desperately wanted her.
A shadow of a smile touched his lips as he took a sip of his champagne.
But if he knew Kalina, and he did know Kalina, she despised him and still hadn't forgiven him for what had torn them apart two years ago. It would be a freezing-cold day in hell before she let him get near her, which meant sharing her bed again was out of the question.
He inhaled deeply and could swear that even with the distance separating them he could pick up her scent, a memory he couldn't seem to let go of. Nor could he let go of the memories of the time they'd shared together while in Australia. And there had been many. Even now, it didn't take much to recall the whisper of her breath on him just seconds before her mouth
"Haven't you learned your lesson yet, Micah?"
He frowned and shot the man standing across from him a narrowed look. Evidently his best friend, Beau Smallwood, was also aware of Kalina's entry, and Beau, more than anyone, knew their history.
Micah took a sip of his drink and sat back on his heels. "Should I have?"
Beau merely smiled. "Yes, if you haven't, then you should. Need I remind you that I was there that night when Kalina ended up telling you to go to hell and not to talk to her ever again?"
Micah flinched, remembering that night, as well. Beau was right. After Kalina had overheard what she'd assumed to be the truth, she'd told him to kiss off in several languages. She was fluent in so damn many. The words might have sounded foreign, but the meaning had been crystal clear. She didn't want to see him again. Ever. With the way she'd reacted, she could have made that point to a deaf person.
"No, you don't need to remind me of anything." He wondered what she would say when she saw him tonight. Had she actually thought he wouldn't come? After all, this ceremony was to honor all medical personnel who worked for the federal government. As epidemiologists working for the Centers for Disease Control, they both fell within that category.
Knowing how her mind worked, he suspected she probably figured he wouldn't come. That he would be reluctant to face her. She thought the worst about him and had believed what her father had told her. Initially, her believing such a thing had pissed him offuntil he'd accepted that given the set of circumstances, not to mention how well her father had played them both for fools, there was no way she could not believe it.
A part of him wished he could claim that she should have known him better, but even now he couldn't make that assertion. From the beginning, he'd made it perfectly clear to her, as he'd done with all women, that he wasn't interested in a serious relationship. Since Kalina was as into her career as he'd been into his, his suggestion of a no-strings affair hadn't bothered her at all and she'd agreed to the affair knowing it wasn't long-term.
At the time, he'd had no way of knowing that she would eventually get under his skin in a way that, even now, he found hard to accept. He hadn't been prepared for the serious turn their affair had taken until it had been too late. By then her father had already deliberately lied to save his own skin.
"Well, she hasn't seen you yet, and I prefer not being around when she does. I do remember Kalina's hostility toward you even if you don't," Beau said, snagging a glass of champagne from the tray of a passing waiter. "And with that said, I'm out of here." He then quickly walked to the other side of the room.
Micah watched Beau's retreating back before turning his attention to his glass, staring down at the bubbly liquid. Moments later, he sighed in frustration and glanced up in time to see Kalina cross the room. He couldn't help noticing he wasn't the only man watching her. That didn't surprise him.
One thing he could say, no matter what function she attended, whether it was in the finest restaurant in England or in a little hole in the wall in South Africa, she carried herself with grace, dignity and style. That kind of presence wasn't a necessity for her profession. But she made it one.
It had been clear to him the first time he'd met herthat night three years ago when her father, General Neil Daniels, had introduced them at a military function here in D.C.that he and Kalina shared an intense attraction that had foretold a heated connection. What had surprised him was that she had captivated him without even trying.
She hadn't made things easy for him. In fact, to his way of thinking, she'd deliberately made things downright difficult. He'd figured he could handle just about anything. But when he'd later run into her in Sydney, she'd almost proven him wrong.
They'd been miles away from home, working together while trying to keep a deadly virus from spreading. He hadn't been ready to settle down. While he didn't consider himself a player in the same vein as some of his brothers and cousins, women had shifted in and out of his life with frequency once they saw he had no intention of putting a ring on anyone's finger. And he enjoyed traveling and seeing the world. He had a huge spread back in Denver just waiting for the day he was ready to retire, but he didn't see that happening for many years to come. His career as an epidemiologist was important to him.
But those two months he'd been involved with Kalina he had actually thought about settling down on his one hundred acres and doing nothing but enjoying a life with her. At one point, such thoughts would have scared the hell out of him, but with Kalina, he'd accepted that they couldn't be helped. Spending time with a woman like her would make any man think about tying his life with one woman and not sowing any more wild oats.
When he'd met the Daniels family, he'd known immediately that the father was controlling and the daughter was determined not to be controlled. Kalina was a woman who liked her independence. Wanted it. And she was determined to demand itwhether her father went along with it or not.
In a way, Micah understood. After all, he had come from a big family and although he didn't have any sisters, he did have three younger female cousins. Megan and Gemma hadn't been so bad. They'd made good decisions and stayed out of trouble while growing up. But the youngest female Westmoreland, Bailey, had been out of control while following around her younger hellion brothers, the twins Aidan and Adrian, as well as Micah's baby brother, Bane. The four of them had done a number of dumb things while in their teens, earning a not-so-nice reputation in Denver. That had been years ago. Now, thank God, the twins and Bailey were in college and Bane had graduated from the naval academy and was pursuing his dream of becoming a SEAL.
His thoughts shifted back to Kalina. She was a woman who refused to be pampered, although her father was determined to pamper her anyway. Micah could understand a man wanting to look out for his daughter, wanting to protect her. But sometimes a parent could go too far.
When General Daniels had approached Micah about doing something to keep Kalina out of China, he hadn't gone along with the man. What had happened between him and Kalina had happened on its own and hadn't been motivated by any request of her father's, although she now thought otherwise. Their affair had been one of those things that just happened. They had been attracted to each other from the first. So why she would assume he'd had ulterior motives to seek an affair was beyond him.
Kalina was smart, intelligent and beautiful. She possessed the most exquisite pair of whiskey-colored eyes, which made her honey-brown skin appear radiant. And the lights in the room seemed to highlight her shoulder-length brown hair and show its luxuriance. The overall picture she presented would make any male unashamedly aware of his sexuality. As he took another sip of his drink and glanced across the room, he thought she looked just as gorgeous as she had on their last date together, when they had returned to the States. It had been here in this very city, where they'd met, when their life together had ended after she discovered what she thought was the truth. To this day, he doubted he would ever forgive her father for distorting the facts and setting him up the way he had.
Micah sighed deeply and took the last sip of his drink, emptying his glass completely. It was time to step out of the shadows and right into the line of fire. And he hoped like hell that he survived it.
Micah was here.
The smile on Kalina's face froze as a shiver of awareness coursed through her and a piercing throb hit her right between the legs. She wasn't surprised at her body's familiar reaction where he was concerned, just annoyed. The man had that sort of effect on her and even after all this time the wow factor hadn't diminished.
It was hard to believe it had been two years since she had found out the truth, that their affair in Australia had been orchestrated by her father to keep her out of Beijing. Finding out had hurtit still didbut what Micah had done had only reinforced her belief that men couldn't be trusted. Not her father, not Micah, not any of them.
And especially not the man standing in front of her with the glib tongue, weaving tales of his adventures in the Middle East and beyond. If Major Brian Rose thought he was impressing her, he was wrong. As a military brat, no one had traveled the globe as much as she had. But he was handsome enough, and looked so darn dashing in his formal military attire, he was keeping her a little bit interested.
Of course, she knew that wherever Micah was standing he would look even more breathtaking than Major Rose. The women in attendance had probably all held their breath when he'd walked into the room. As far as she was concerned, there wasn't any man alive who could hold a candle to him, in or out of clothes. That conclusion reminded her of when they'd met, almost three years ago, at a D.C. event similar to this one.
Her father had been honored that night as a commissioned officer. She'd had her own reason to celebrate in the nation's capital. She had finally finished medical school and accepted an assignment to work as a civilian for the federal government's infectious-disease research team.
It hadn't taken her long to hear the whispers about the drop-dead-gorgeous and handsome-as-sin Dr.
Micah Westmoreland, who had graduated from Harvard Medical School before coming to work for the government as an infectious-disease specialist. But nothing could have prepared her for coming face-to-face with him.
She had been rendered speechless. Gathering the absolute last of her feminine dignity, she had picked up her jaw, which had fallen to the floor, and regained her common sense by the time her father had finished the introductions.
When Micah had acknowledged her presence, in a voice that had been too sexy to belong to a real man, she'd known she was a goner. And when he had taken her smaller hand in his in a handshake, it had been the most sensuous gesture she'd ever experienced. His touch alone had sent shivers up and down her spine and put her entire body in a tailspin. She had found it simply embarrassing to know any man could get her so aroused, and without even putting forth much effort.
"So, Dr. Daniels, where is your next assignment taking you?"
She was jerked out of her thoughts by the major's question. Was that mockery she'd heard in his voice? She was well aware of the rumor floating around that her father pretty much used his position to control her destinations and would do anything within his power to keep her out of harm's way. That meant she would never be able to go anyplace where there was some real action.
She'd been trying to get to Afghanistan for two years and her request was always denied, saying she was needed elsewhere. Although her father swore up and down he had nothing to do with it, she knew better.
Losing her mother had been hard on him, and he was determined not to lose his only child, as well. Hadn't he proven just how far he would go when he'd gotten Micah to have that affair with her just to keep her out of Beijing during the bird-flu epidemic?
"I haven't been given an assignment yet. In fact, I've decided to take some time off, an entire month, starting tomorrow."
The man's smile widened. "Really, now, isn't that a coincidence. I've decided to take some time off, too, but I have only fourteen days. Anywhere in particular that you're going? Maybe we can go there together."
The man definitely didn't believe in wasting time, Kalina thought. She was just about to tell the major, in no uncertain terms, that they wouldn't be spending any time together, not even if her life depended on it, when Brian glanced beyond her shoulder and frowned. Suddenly, her heart kicked up several beats. She didn't have to imagine why. Other men saw Micah as a threat to their playerhood since women usually drooled when he was around. She had drooled the first time she 'd seen him.
Kalina refused to turn around, but couldn't stop her body's response when Micah stepped into her line of vision, all but capsizing it like a turbulent wave on a blast of sensual air.
"Good evening, Major Rose," he said with a hard edge to his voice, one that Kalina immediately picked up on. The two men exchanged strained greetings, and she watched how Micah eyed Major Rose with cool appraisal before turning his full attention to her. The hard lines on his face softened when he asked, "And how have you been, Kalina?"