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Marcy Johnson was a determined woman on a single-minded mission. Her high-heeled navy pumps clicked furiously on the pavement as she resolutely made her way through the crowded Manhattan streets.
Her mind was focused on one thingor more precisely on one person: Nathan Carter. She had only met him a week ago, but that first glance had been enough. He was definitely a man she wanted to get to know better. Now, she had one goalgetting the elusive hunk to admit he was interested in her, too.
They had shared a searing kiss on New Year's Eve, but since then, he had avoided her like the plague; however, she had never been one to be put off for long, especially not when there was something she wanted. A smile tilted the corners of her mouth; Nathan Carter was about to find that out firsthand.
Not that she needed an excuse, but she did have a builtin reason to seek him out; his sister and her brother were getting married in three days, and as they were both in the wedding party, they naturally had things to discuss and do pertaining to the bride and groom.
Knowing which suite Nathan occupied, Marcy breezed into the very expensive ornate Muse hotel and made her way to the elevators without stopping at the reception desk. She had no intention of having herself announced so he could make up a convenient excuse not to see her. She smiled and punched the button that would take her to the designated floor. When the doors closed, she took a compact from her navy bag, freshened up her red lipstick and made sure her hair was in place before exiting the elevator when it stopped.
While she walked to Nathan's door, she removed her black leather coat and peeled matching gloves from fingers. Brushing an imaginary piece of lint from the lapel of the figure-hugging navy skirt suit, she took a deep breath, released it and resolutely knocked on the door, waiting impatiently for Nathan to answer. When he did, she fought back a laugh when shock followed by vague annoyance registered on his handsome face.
"Good morning, Nathan," she brightly greeted, walking past him into the room without waiting for an invitation.
"Come on in," he said as he sarcastically waved his hand, closing the door behind her.
He scratched his hair-covered chin. Lord, help him! What was Marcy Johnson doing here, and more importantly why was he so glad to see her? Because you're attracted to her, you idiot!
As always, she looked fabulous and smelled sinfully wonderful. Every nerve ending in his traitorous body stood at rapt attention as they did whenever they were in the same room together. He silently cursed her disastrous effect on his usual steadfast equilibrium.
"What's wrong, handsome? Get up on the wrong side of the bed?"
Appreciative eyes slowly traveled over the white terry cloth robe he wore, lingering at the V opening that parted revealing a tantalizing glimpse of his smooth, muscled dark brown chest. She fought down an insane urge to jump inside the robe with him and let nature take its coursemmm, mmm, mmm!
"What are you doing here, Marcy?" He pulled his robe together and belted it tighter, eliciting a teasing smile from his gorgeous intruder.
"Well, since our respective siblings are getting married in a few days, I thought you might want to go shopping for a wedding present with me."
He swallowed a groan as she sat on the edge of his unmade bed and crossed those shapely long legs, hitching the already outrageously short skirt higher on her upper thighs. Her actions caused a quickening of his pulse and an uncomfortable tightening in his groin.
Say no, he silently ordered. In a matter of weeks, maybe days, you're on your way to Yemen with the rest of your team on a secret mission to rescue the U.S. envoy and his aides from insurgents. You don't have the time or the right to start anything you know you can't finish with Marcy, so nip it in the budnow! Remember your training, and exhibit the self-control you know you possess. Even though you want to say yes, say no.
"I plan on doing my shopping later," he replied.
"When?" At his silence, she smiled cajolingly. "Come on, Nathan. You have to buy them a present and so do I. Why not come along with me now?"
She stood, walked over to him and touched his arm, feeling firm muscles contract beneath her fingers. Lord, he was rock-solid hard. How did a lawyer get an athletic body like his? Everything about him was just yummy from his close-cropped black hair to his neatly trimmed goatee that just begged for her fingers' touch. Her heart skipped several beats as she once again marveled at his dizzying effect on her.
"Don't you have to be somewherelike at work?"
"Not this morning." Unable to resist, she took a step closer. "I'm going in later. I cleared my schedule especially for you. You're not going to let me go to all that trouble for nothing, are you?"
" He paused, groaning inwardly. He was so close to caving that it was embarrassing.
"Good, then let's go." Her fingers tightened on his arm.
A smile played about his lips. "Do you mind if I change first?"
"Don't do it on my account." Her eyes slowly traveled over his magnificent form, lingering on the revealed flesh of his legs and chest before locking with his eyes again.
"Well, I hardly think I can go out like this." He shook his head at her.
She smiled and moved slightly closer to him until their bodies were almost touching. He smelled fresh and clean from a recent shower. His eyes darkened at her actions and seemed slightly unsteady. Good, I do affect him.
Removing her fingers from his arm, he moved purposefully away from temptation by walking a few feet away, bending down to pick up the clothes that were neatly laid out on the bed. He turned toward the bathroom.
"I'll be ready in a minute," he shot over his shoulder.
"I'll be waiting," she promised and laughed when he sighed loudly before closing the bathroom door behind him. She walked over to the closed door and leaned against it, "I can't believe your parents let you stay in a hotelalbeit a luxurious one."
"They weren't happy about it, but I finally convinced them it was for the best." His voice was muffled by the closed door.
She placed her hand on the brass knob, toying with the scandalous idea of opening it. What would he do if she sauntered in while he was dressing? The thought of the possible wonderful repercussions of such action on her part almost made her test him. But she decided to be goodfor now.
"I'm officially on vacation, but there are some
things that I still need to be on top of. I'll be getting phone calls at all hours, and it's just easier if I have my own place." Inside the bathroom, he smiled as he remembered his mother's indignation as he had tried to explain that fact to her. She had not been pleased to say the least.
"A workaholic," Marcy sympathized, reluctantly dropping her hand from the doorknob and walking a few steps away.
He chuckled. "You, too?"
She peered into his partially open closet. His clothes were neatly hung and ordered by typeshirts, dress pants, jeans, sweaters and several immaculate suits. His shoes were neatly lined at the bottomalso sorted by types. She smiled and made her way over to his dresser and picked up various objects, studying them. Again, everything was neatly lined up in its proper place indicative of a man who thrived on order; she could relate, but she was determined to inject a little well-aimed chaos into his orderly life while he was in town.
"Are you always so disciplined and in control, Nathan?"
"Always." His response was quick and sure.
She chuckled. "I knew you were going to say that."
Unable to resist, she opened a drawer and found his socks neatly folded and equally spaced. Another drawer housed his underwearblack boxers, each pair purposefully folded in the same dimensions. She ran her fingers lightly over the soft material, and her smile widened. He gave a new meaning to the word organized.
"What are you doing out there?"
"Waiting for you," she innocently responded, closing one drawer and then the other. "Were you ever in the military?"
He was silent for a full twenty seconds before warily asking, "Why do you ask?"
"Because your room is extremely well ordered with everything in its proper place. You're more organized than I am, and that's saying something," she said and laughed. "Nathan?" she prompted when he remained noticeably silent.
"I did a short stint in the marines after high school," he finally answered.
That was an interesting tidbit. She stared at the still-closed bathroom door, curiosity piqued.
"Did you ever consider going career military."
"No, military life wasn't for me. I wanted to be a lawyer. I enjoy sparring with words more than with weapons or my fists."
Okay, that was a necessary little white lie. He loved hand-to-hand combat, the nonstop action and the insane danger his secret military career exposed him toor at least he had loved it; however, recently nagging doubts about his inability to carve out a normal personal life due to his unusual profession had started surfacing, making him question his priorities.
When he reentered the bedroom, Marcy lowered a bottle of cologne from her nose and returned it to its proper place. He arched an eyebrow at her intrusiveness.
"I'm ready." He was dressed in a cream sweater and chocolate pants. He slipped his muscled arms into the sleeves of a brown leather bomber jacket.
God, he looked good! It should be a crime for a man to be so gorgeous. He held up her coat, and she walked over and slipped it on. Unable to help herself, she then looped her hand through his arm as they walked to the door.
He inwardly groaned at the feel of her body against his. Shoving his hands into his jacket pocket, he fought down an overwhelming urge to grab and bury all ten of his fingers deeply into that gorgeous hair of hers and pull her soft, tempting mouth against his.
"You're going to have a good time, Nathan," she promised as they entered the elevator.
Not if I can help it, he silently promised.
As if she could read his mind, Marcy's smile widenedthe sight was like a kick in the gut. Lord, she was a beautiful womanone he had no business agreeing to go shopping with. He was just being polite to his future sister-in-lawno harm in that. Hell, if he could routinely deal with terrorists, assassins and threats against the United States or its citizens, he could handle going shopping with Marcy Johnson for a few hours. However, could he squelch his exponentially growing attraction to her? That was the real question for which he didn't have a satisfactory answer.
"Isn't this lovely, Nathan?" Marcy held up a silver photo album.
"Yes, lovely, just like the candlesticks were, and the picture frame and the tray at the other store," he reminded her.
He was annoyed. What he had prayed would be a short trip had turned into a marathon. Why couldn't women ever make up their minds? They had been window-shopping over two hourshe had spent two long agonizing hours fighting his attraction to this captivating, spirited woman, and each passing second in her presence felt like torture.
"True, but this is really nice, isn't it?" She lightly fingered the inlaid rose pattern, undaunted by his exasperated tones.
"Yes, Marcy, it's lovely," he dryly repeated. "I don't know why you're wasting so much time over it. You're not going to buy it."
"Women like to browse and find the best bargains." She wrinkled her nose at him as she replaced the album on the shelf. "What is it about men that you hate shopping?"
"We don't mind shopping. What we do mind is the uncertainty you women exhibit at every turn. Men know what we're looking for, go out, find it and buy it."
"Well, you must not know what you're looking for because you haven't bought anything yet, either," she sweetly reminded him.
"Maybe I'm not going to give them silver or crystal," he quickly replied.
"No?" She placed her hands on her shapely hips. "Then what do you have in mind?"
"I was thinking more along the lines of
" His voice trailed off, and he thought fast but not fast enough.
"You have no idea what you're going to get, do you?"
"Of course I do."
"Really, then tell me what it is," she challenged.
"I was thinking of something else, but since you dragged me to all of these crystal stores, I've decided on wineglasses."
She smiled and pointed behind him. "They have some lovely ones here."
"I saw them. They're not what I'm looking for."
"What type were you thinking about? Goblets? Champagne glasses? Flutes? Are you looking for a particular brand of crystal? Waterford? Baccarat? Mikasa? Bavari? Lennox?" She expertly rattled off possible choices.
"Stop hurling possibilities at me." He smiled despite himself. "I'll know them when I see them."
"Sure you will." She chuckled and couldn't resist impishly adding, "There's nothing indecisive about you."
"Are you going to get that?" He pointed to the music box in her hands.
"No." Marcy set the box down, linked her hand through his arm and pulled him away, smiling at his knowing smirk. "Let's try this other little shop down the way."
They exited one of the wonderful specialty shops in Greenwich Village and walked toward another. Marcy could get lost in this part of Manhattan for days. As they walked down the pedestrian-filled sidewalks surrounded by various shades of redbrick buildings on either side of the busy one-way street filled with cars, buses and cabs, Marcy glanced at the barren trees that littered the sidewalk; she couldn't wait for them to bloom with the arrival of spring.
She had purposefully taken him to five different places simply to prolong their time together. Now she guided him into the store where the wedding present she had ordered for Damien and Natasha was being held.
"Ms. Johnson." The female clerk beamed as they entered. "I know why you're here. Let me go and get it." She disappeared into another room.
Nathan's lips thinned. "You've already bought Natasha and Damien's present?"
"Yes." Marcy laughed at his exasperation. "Wait until you see it."
He sighed loudly and then asked, "Then why did you drag me to all those other shops?"
"I thought you might like some ideas," she innocently responded. At his look of displeasure, she asked, "Is my company so unbearable?"
Quite the contrary; he enjoyed being with her. She was a breath of fresh air, and in her presence, he felt as carefree as sails of a boat being hoisted by liberating winds. He shouldn't be here with her, but honestly, he had no desire to be anywhere else.
"I don't like being played." He tried to sound stern but failed miserably.
"And I love to play," she admitted around a chuckle, touching his arm and moving closer to him. "What are we going to do about that blatant contradiction?"
He shook his head at her as a smile played about his lips. He had never met a more brazen or fascinating woman.
"I'm sure you'll think of something," he drawled.
"Oh, I'm sure I will," she agreed.
"Here you are, Ms. Johnson." The clerk returned carefully cradling a twelve-inch crystal sculpture of a male and female ballerina, limbs frozen in movement dancing close to each other.
"Oh, it's gorgeous." Marcy approved, gently taking the figure from the woman's hands and lifting it for Nathan's inspection. "Isn't it, Nathan?"
"Yes, it's very nice." He smiled at the joy lighting up her facejoy at doing something for someone she loved.