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She had a nightmare, one so murky and indistinct it would evaporate in the morning, leaving her none the wiser. Harm awoke to the sound of her moaning his name, struggling fitfully against the covers, flinching from unnamed danger. Groggy and disoriented, he shot to a sitting position and leaned over her with arms upraised, instinctively moving to protect.

It took several tense heartbeats before he realized it was only a dream frightening her. Panting in relief, he slid down beside her, lifted a hand to brush her delicate cheekbone, the fine hair at her temples. With murmured reassurances and gentle touches, he stroked the nightmare away, waited until she sighed and huddled trustingly into his chest before letting sleep deter him from his vigil.

The next morning, it was she who woke first, to the pale gold of promised sunrise and the solid warmth of her partner at her back. Her body was curled around the tanned forearm holding her securely against him, her legs entwined with his, her bottom nestled cozy in his lap. Unconsciously, she stretched, soaking in the contrast of hard planes and supple curves.

With a quiet sigh, he rasped her name and began tracing patterns on the back of her neck with his nose, using lips and teeth for punctuation. Drowsy, delighted, she shivered, as languid arousal steamed in her belly. On a shaky sigh, she tilted her head to clear his path.

He took her up on the invitation immediately, nuzzling from her nape to the arch of her neck. Fluid and restive, she swayed her hips, thrilled to the instantaneous thrust of rigid male response. Her core was swamped with wet heat, her pulse beating triple-time in the agony of anticipation.

Distantly, she realized they should probably slow things down a bit. Though they’d been more affectionate these past few weeks than she’d ever been with anyone, though she loved him more than anything and was fairly sure he loved her back, they hadn’t talked about either of these circumstances, much less about making their relationship a romantic one, planning dates, making love. For that matter, they’d never even shared an honest kiss.

She had just about convinced herself to begin to consider the possibility of maybe suggesting they put this off for a while, when every thought in her head scattered like dust. It was his teeth, no more. His teeth that scraped lightly just above the juncture of her neck and shoulder, and stole her breath, her mind, in a hot flood of need that left her trembling and raw. Stuttering his name on a soft moan, she rolled to her back, already lifting her arms to him.

And was met with nothing but empty air and the dull view of her ceiling.

With a chuff and a snuffle, he settled back onto her pillow, his head burrowing in above her shoulder. She reared up, turned with a frustrated glance, and found him sound asleep.

This was not to be believed. She’d been two breaths away from giving herself to him, surrendering to the fire he called so effortlessly within her. Her system was primed and crying for him in secret liquid pulses, slow to receive the message that nothing more was to come. A thin veneer of will power was all that prevented her from pushing him over and waking him up by making use of the morning erection that had sprung so readily at her urging.

Feeling like a horse ridden hard and put away wet, she shook herself and jumped out of bed, certain she couldn’t remain so near the site and source of her frustration.

But when she got to the living room, retrieved the Sunday paper from her doorstep, and began her ritual of news and coffee at the kitchen table, the chair felt unusually hard and unforgiving, her neck ached dully for bending over to read. Exasperated, she brought the paper to the living room, stretched out on the couch, and began to browse the front page.

And couldn’t seem to find a comfortable position in which to relax. Her body felt tense and jerky wherever it hit the cushions, so, for awhile, she simply thrashed around in aggravation, finally leaping from the offending sofa and throwing the paper down in a pique.

This is stupid, she lectured herself angrily. Silly, absurd, obnoxious. Every week for seven years, she’d accomplished this task without the aid of Harmon Rabb, without missing him until it ground in her stomach, only more ridiculous now for his being fifteen feet away, sleeping in her bed.

It wasn’t that she missed him, she insisted crossly. It was just that she felt like reading the paper in bed this morning. And if she felt like it, she damn well should, as it was her bed and her paper, and Harm didn’t have a damn thing to do with it if she said he didn’t. Snatching the newspaper in an angry fist, she repeated that rationale as she stomped into the bedroom.

If the sight of him, dozing placidly on his stomach, sprawled over her sheets gentled her heart, smoothed the rough edges of the morning, and put her suddenly, completely at peace, she certainly didn’t have to admit it to herself. If a doting smile graced her lips as she shifted his arm off her side of the bed and ran the backs of her fingers over his cheek, there was no one there to see it. If she spent more time watching his back rise and fall in steady, hypnotizing rhythm than focusing on current events, he would never know her weakness.

She sat Indian-style at his hip, using his back and bottom for a table as she browsed the insides of the first section. When he twitched restlessly, she gathered her pages just before he flipped over. Deciding it wouldn’t be quite as proper to use his front as she had his back, she folded the features section below the arm he’d flung onto her half of the mattress and rolled to her stomach beside him without missing a beat.

She’d just finished a six-column, two-page spread and was squinting at the caption beneath the adjoining picture of a man holding hands with an orangutan and a chimpanzee when the flutter of an irregular breath from the chest beside her told her Harm was awake. Looking up with a smile, she found him watching her intently, eyes at half mast but alert, so warm and adoring her throat filled with it. The hint of a smile tugging at the corners of his lips would stay in her mind for years to come.

Gentle, clumsy with sleep, his big hand rose to cup her jaw below her ear, his thumb brushed leisurely over her cheekbone. “Hey,” he whispered, thick and ragged.

Her hand came up to cover his, to hold his palm close against her face. “Hey.”

And so they lay, motionless but for the occasional pass of his thumb, observing and absorbing, for what could have been hours. This is what she looks like after sleeping in my bed, he thought, mesmerized. This was what it was like to wake up to her, to the sweet smell of her skin on his and a smile that made him feel like just opening his eyes was the best thing he’d ever done. This, too, was what they could have, what was waiting for them all the mornings they had left.

“It’s Sunday,” he announced quietly, as if their silent interlude had never taken place.

“Mmm-hmm,” she answered in kind. “What should we do today?”

Considering, he glanced out the window, combed hair absently away from her face. “Let’s walk down by the Mall.”

“Okay.” She smiled, thinking the idea sounded lovely in that husky morning timbre.

“What time is it?”

“Eight-seventeen.”

He reached over with his other hand to toss the paper out of the way. “Let’s sleep for another half hour yet.”

Even as she nodded, he was tugging her down, turning on his side to face her. She hunkered lower until her head was at the bottom of the pillow, just as she liked it, and bent her knees. Lifting his top leg in accommodation, he sandwiched her thighs between his and pulled the covers up to her elbows.

She wouldn’t fall asleep, of course, she thought as she closed her eyes and curled her fingers around a handful of his t-shirt. She’d never taken a nap within an hour of getting up, but Harm was probably still a little tired . . .

Precisely twenty-nine minutes later, she was startled awake by the chime of her inner alarm clock. Disgruntled and a bit embarrassed, she looked up to find him grinning at her, sleepy but impressed.

“Right on time,” he declared.

“Of course.” She dropped to her back and, because she decided she wanted him there, kept her legs linked with Harm’s, grabbed his waist, and dragged his body on top of hers. Unprepared for the attack, he complied automatically, pleasantly surprised by his new station. Then had to scramble to get his legs between hers and slide downwards so she couldn’t feel the immediate response of a certain part of his anatomy to their positions.

If she’d noticed, it didn’t seem to trouble her, so he went on with his plan as rehearsed while she’d dozed. “If you let me take a shower first, I’ll make you breakfast,” he offered hopefully, having already planned the menu and being in direr need of a cold shower than ever.

“You won’t take all the hot water, will you?” Her eyes narrowed with mock suspicion, though she had a feeling, judging by the noticeable . . . tension . . . in his body, that Harm’s shower would be anything but hot. Besides, if he was willing to cook breakfast, she’d do just about whatever he wanted; breakfast foods of all kind were a particular favorite of hers.

“Not to worry,” he assured with a wink and a half-smile. “You just relax for awhile.” Pressing an unexpected kiss to her collarbone and making her bones melt, he levered himself out of bed, careful to keep his back to her so she wouldn’t see the tent in his shorts. Or, for that matter, sneak a peek through the flap.

As he shut the bathroom door, Mac stretched languorously under the sheets, lingering in the roil of blood beneath the spot where he’d kissed her. It wasn’t even nine o’clock, and the day was absolutely perfect.

“Mac,” he shouted through the door, “can I use your toothbrush?”

“Use your finger,” she chided, then smiled to herself, knowing he’d use her toothbrush anyway.

A few minutes passed, then, “Mac,” came again, over the noise of the shower. “Can you bring me some clean clothes from the laundry basket?”

With an affectionate roll of her eyes, she threw back the covers and bounced out of bed. “’Kay,” she called as she headed for the living room. Not even nine o’clock, she thought again, and absolutely perfect.

After a quick shower, Mac sat on the counter and read aloud selections from the sports page while Harm finished the pancakes. She got the syrup as he dished up, three for her, four for him, and another four wrapped in foil for the refrigerator. Whenever Harm cooked for her, he always made extra so she would have leftovers. She loved the gesture nearly as much as the meals themselves.

“Do you have any brown sugar?”

She glared at him warily, having hoped it wouldn’t come to this. “Not if I have to watch you eat it on your pancakes.”

Harm had the unusual, and to her mind disgusting, habit of heaping his pancakes with brown sugar, rolling them up, and eating them dry. The idea alone had always been enough to make her shudder; then one memorable morning at Denny’s, he’d convinced her to try it. She’d had to swear off pancakes for over eight months, a tragedy for which she had yet to completely forgive him.

“So don’t watch,” he suggested implacably, hunting through the cabinets for his condiment of choice. As far as he was concerned, her palate was sadly lacking, despite all his efforts to improve it. It was a primitive, unrefined appetite that couldn’t appreciate the delicacy of flapjacks and brown sugar, and, though he generally enjoyed educating those around him, he’d given up playing missionary on this one long ago. The look of wretched horror on Mac’s face when she’d finally sampled the fare, not to mention the disapproving scowl he’d earned from Darlene, their matronly Denny’s server, had compelled him to abandon any conversionary tactics on this front.

“Top shelf on the right there,” Mac muttered, shaking her head as she carried her plate and precious maple syrup to the table.

True to her word, she didn’t watch as he spread the sugar precisely with the back of a spoon and ate the concoction like some kind of twisted burrito. Both read the paper instead – Harm got the front page, Mac the ‘Weekend’ section – as they ate in companionable silence.

“Anything happening downtown today?” he asked between articles.

“Sure, lots.” She skimmed the list at the left side of the page, frowning thoughtfully. “Not much for us, though. The Power Puff Girls are signing autographs . . . some kind of dog show parade . . . live polka band . . . and we’ve seen most of the exhibits at the Museum. Should be a lot of activity, though.”

He grunted positively around the last mouthful of pancake, sat back, and stretched in satisfaction. “Delicious. You’re really missing out, Mac.”

“You’re a sick man, Harmon Rabb.”

When he stood and turned toward the kitchen, she shoveled down the last few bites of her breakfast and rose to block his path. “Where’re you going?”

“I’m gonna go clean up,” he replied, with a vague shrug.

I’ll clean up,” she countered easily, taking his plate and nodding to the living room. “You go finish your paper.”

He didn’t need too much convincing – there was an op-ed on gays in the military he wanted to read, and he hadn’t left many dirty dishes anyway. “Thank you.” With a grin, he flicked a finger down her nose and headed for the couch.

When Mac emerged five minutes later, he’d decided the writer of the article was an ultra-right Bob Jones graduate who’d probably never even seen a soldier, let alone had experience with the armed forces. Eagerly, he dumped the paper on the coffee table and followed her to the door. Mac grabbed her purse and keys, and they were off.

By tacit agreement, they walked to the nearest Metro station – parking would have been a disaster and traffic more trouble than it was worth. Mac bought the fare cards, and, as luck would have it, they caught their train just before its departure. That they had to stand the entire ride was a small price to pay for the rare convenience.

The ride passed uneventfully in the dreary silence that was practically a social more on the Metro. When he caught a college kid staring at Mac’s chest, Harm stepped so close he all but enveloped her. When a large older man who’d forgotten to wear deodorant moved to the space behind them and raised his arm to grab the overhead rail, she burrowed even closer and buried her nose in Harm’s infinitely more fragrant armpit.

With a frown of confusion, Harm opened his mouth to ask her what she was doing. Then took a breath, felt his eyes start to water, and caught on to her motive. “That tickles,” he whispered furiously, gaze darting between the top of her head and the noxious passenger’s face to ensure they had avoided detection.

“Suck it up,” she advised firmly, having no intention of leaving the refuge of Old Spice High Endurance any time soon.

“I’m actually trying not to.”

Perversely amused, she choked on a giggle, unintentionally prodding her sensitive partner. Harm jerked on instinct, which only made her laugh harder, shoulders shaking with the force of it. Smelly shot them a curious glance; Harm shrugged and patted her back, hoping to pass her off as a pneumoniac or a claustrophobe or something equally innocuous. When Smelly grimaced sympathetically, Harm figured his ploy had been successful and concentrated on ignoring the tickle under his arm, which he was now convinced Mac was causing on purpose.

Three agonizing stops later, they shuffled out of the station and into fresh air. Mac gasped her relief, chuckling at the threatening shake of Harm’s finger.

“You’re terrible,” he admonished even as he took her hand and led her towards the Capitol.

“I almost passed out!” she argued playfully, twining their fingers without a second’s thought. “Thank God you keep spare deodorant in your car – I’d never have made it out alive.”

Rolling his eyes at her dramatics, he skirted a tour bus and towed her up onto the lawn west of the Washington Monument. They walked a long time, hand in hand, dodging tourists and Frisbees, dogs and small children, discussing everything and nothing as the mood struck. They were debating the benefits of national healthcare as they passed the Wall.

“Want to stop and say hi?” she asked, noticing his gaze trail inevitably to the black marble.

“Would you mind?”

With a smile, she shook her head and loosened their fingers, intending to wait up the hill for him. Harm only tightened his grip and drew her down after him, along the 67 steps from the head of the path to his father’s name.

They found it with the ease of long practice. Harm traced the familiar letters with his fingertips; Mac waited until he stepped back, then did the same. She wasn’t surprised to feel his hands at her waist, to find herself tugged back against him, where he wrapped his arms around her and rested his chin on her head. For long minutes, they stood silently, both facing the Wall, catching their reflection within, remembering the man they’d come to honor.

At last, with a deep breath, Harm tightened his grip, then released her. “I’m ready now,” he said, quiet and confident.

‘Thank you,’ she thought as she gazed once more at ‘Harmon Rabb, Sr.’ These were always her parting words to him.

Turning, she rested her hand along Harm’s cheek, checking for herself that he was all right. The peace and fulfillment in his gaze banished her worry. “Okay,” she breathed, then smiled and slipped her arm around his waist.

By the time they got back to the greens behind the Capitol, it had been nearly three hours since breakfast, and Mac’s stomach was grumbling in reproach. “Wanna buy me an ice cream?” she offered hopefully.

He gave her a withering glance; ice cream for lunch was, in his opinion, only slightly less atrocious than ice cream for breakfast. Cracking his wallet, he showed her the only bill inside. “I don’t think the vendor can break a fifty.”

Mac rolled her eyes and dug through her purse. Why he persisted in carrying such large denominations of currency was beyond her. Everyone knew anything larger than a twenty was completely impractical. Shuffling her cell phone and three packs of Life Savers out of the way, she opened her billfold and emerged triumphantly with a five.

“Here.” She thrust it into his palm, leaving him little choice but to obey. “A Mickey Mouse head, please. And buy yourself something nice too.”

He knew he was beaten, but shot her a warning glare that said he wasn’t happy to be the agent of such an unhealthy scheme. She winked impishly in response and waved him toward the cart.

While scouting for a habitable patch of grass on which to enjoy their snack, Mac noticed a little boy, no more than three years old, crying in broken Spanish and wandering in circles. A survey of the immediate area showed no possible parent or sibling to help him, so Mac cautiously approached and knelt at his side.

“Hello,” she greeted calmly in his language. “Are you lost?”

“Si!” he cried mournfully, breaking into fresh sobs. His eyes were jet black and clouded with tears, his cheeks smudged with dirt, but his clothes were clean and looked new, as did his shoes. Somewhere, she was sure, someone was looking frantically for this little guy.

“It’s all right.” When she smoothed his hair and smiled at him, he launched himself into her arms. Chuckling sympathetically, she stood and boosted him on her hip. “I’ll help you find your mom, okay? What’s your name?”

The Spanish came easily to her; she heard it more often than any of her other languages and sometimes watched Spanish soaps to keep herself in shape.

“Raffi,” he answered tearfully, plucking at the fabric of her shirt.

“I like that name,” Mac told him, though she’d never given it a second thought before. “Raffi, my name is Sarah. Are you here with your mamma?”

“No, my grandma and my aunt.”

“Do you know your grandma’s name?” A glance over her shoulder showed Harm was in line at the vendor’s, facing away from her. Mac decided not to wait; he was still several patrons back.

“Abuela,” the boy replied. It wasn’t much help, but at least the steady flow of tears had stemmed.

“Okay. What about your aunt’s name?” She cast determinedly around the crowd, but without success. There were many Hispanic families nearby, but none seemed agitated or on the lookout for runaway children. No one shouted for Raffi through the din.

“Gabi.” Sticking a thumb in his mouth, he settled his cheek on her shoulder.

“Good,” Mac sighed with relief. At least this was something to go on. “Do you know your last name, Raffi? I’m Sarah MacKenzie. And you’re Raffi . . . Lopez? Ruiz? Gonzales?”

“Muro. Where’s my abuela?”

“We’ll find her, sweetie.” She stroked his hair and kissed his grubby cheek. “You’re a very smart boy, and very helpful. Do you remember, was your abuela near a building or stairs or a tree when you saw her?”

She asked more to make conversation than anything. Though she continued to scan the faces around them, she’d been moving to the outskirts of the crowd, where she knew she would find a pair of cops on horseback eventually.

“By a big tree and a dog with spots, like in the movie,” Raffi answered, craning his little neck to look around from his new perch.

It took her a minute to translate ‘spots,’ but once she did, Mac paused and checked for Dalmatians on the lawn. She saw three, shrugged to herself, and started towards the closest one. As they walked, she asked the boy inconsequential things – did he like dogs, what was his favorite color, did he go to school – to take his mind off his worry. Finding no one fitting the description of his grandmother or aunt near the middle-aged couple playing with their pet, she turned in the direction of the second Dalmatian and stopped short at a cry from her left.

“Raffi! Raffi!” A young girl, no more than fifteen barreled through the crowd, arms outstretched.

“Gabi!” Raffi squirmed in Mac’s hold and fell into the girl’s arms, cinching his legs around her ample waist. “Here is my friend.” He pointed to Mac. “She’s helping
me look.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you!” Gabi gushed in rapid Spanish. “We turned for one minute, and he was gone. It’s bad to run off like that, Raphael, very bad. Your father will be angry when we get home. Thank you so much, miss. We didn’t know where he was. Thank you!”

When the praise would have continued, Mac patted the little boy’s cheek and reassured his aunt that everything was fine and that Raffi had been brave and well-behaved. With more thanks, waves and blown kisses, they hurried away to find Raffi’s grandmother.

It was this scene Harm witnessed from ten feet away, shaking his head in amazement. He’d turned from the ice cream cart to see his partner headed for the sidewalk, a grimy, dark-haired kid comfortably propped on her hip. When he overheard their conversation, he’d paused to check that it was really her before hurrying after them.

“I didn’t know you spoke Spanish, Mac,” he said as he stepped up behind her.

Startled, she spun around, blushed enchantingly, and snatched her ice cream as an excuse to duck her head. “Harm, I grew up in Yuma,” she reminded him tolerantly. “That’s like 20 miles from the border. Even my Iranian grandmother spoke Spanish.”

She unwrapped her Mickey Mouse, took a long, satisfied lick, and leaned over to examine his selection. “What’d you get?”

He tore his wrapper off grandly, revealing a large red Popsicle with strawberry chunks frozen inside.

“Ugh, fruit? You’re no fun.”

“Oh, yeah?” With a fiendish smirk, he swooped down and took a hearty bite of Mickey’s right ear, humming with relish at the taste.

“Hey, that’s my favorite part!” Because she looked ready to pout, he decided to distract her.

“I speak Spanish too, you know.”

“Oh really?” Skeptical enough to call him on it, she continued in that language, “So, Harmon, if I have two apples and Pedro has eight and he gives me six and I give you three, how many apples do I have left?” She was fairly certain he could’ve solved the riddle in English. Probably.

Harm only blinked and smiled serenely. Then informed her in proud, flatly-accented Spanish, “My shirt is red.”

She didn’t even glance at his grey t-shirt before bursting into laughter.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

They had fun that afternoon, taking genuine, simple enjoyment in each other’s company in a way that, until a few months ago, they hadn’t allowed themselves in a long time. He teased her by inventing and proposing pointless little schemes he knew she would never agree to. (“Mac, let’s go in there and pretend you’re a Russian dignitary and I’m your bodyguard. Maybe they’ll give you some free shoes.”) She made him laugh with bad puns and biting social commentary on the billboards and advertisements they passed downtown.

Not even the Metro’s getting stuck for twenty-four minutes just before their stop could dampen the mood. Harm and Mac were sitting in a pair of side-seats when the delay was announced over the speaker. The train was full, but people shoved over for their neighbors until only a young man was left standing beside them at the front of the car. Harm hauled Mac onto his lap and motioned to the vacated chair at his left. With a friendly smile, the man sat down and nodded in time to the rap music blaring from his headphones. Harm wasn’t sure who had performed the greater favor – himself for clearing the seat, or the kid for taking it without protest, allowing him to keep Mac where she was.

Mac, for her part, shot him a suspicious glance over her shoulder and tried to hold as much weight as possible over her hand on the armrest.

“Just relax,” he murmured in her ear, making her elbow quiver. “You’re not heavy.”

With a mental shrug, she gave in, rested fully on his thighs. He wrapped his arms around her waist and gazed at her back. It was a part of her he didn’t pay nearly enough attention to. He liked the way her hair, longer now than it had been for awhile, fell along her neck. Followed with his eyes the soft slope of her shoulders, the strong, slender length of her spine. Her weight felt comfortable atop him, the light press of her heels against his shins cozy and sweet. He blew casually, imperceptibly on her nape, just to see what would happen, and grinned when a shiver rippled through her.

Forcing an innocent expression just in time to meet the warning glare she sent his way, he removed his right arm from her waist on the guise of scratching his back. With another frown for good measure, she turned her eyes front and tried to focus on the evacuation sign over the opposite seats.

No sooner had she relaxed against him than she felt his hand sneak under the back of her shirt. She went stiff as a board in his arms, half-dreading, half-eager to see what he would do next.

He only stroked in tiny circles from the middle of her back to the small of it, lulling her, waiting patiently for her to settle. When she did, the pictures began. He started simply, a five-cornered star, then a flower with rounded petals. They tickled at first, and she trembled in response, dug her fingers into his left forearm where it lay across her belly. Then he pressed a little more firmly, and she stilled, unwound, and leaned forward ever so slightly to give him an open canvas.

Next, he drew an airplane, then something she thought might’ve been a brontosaurus. Then came a triangle, a pair of glasses, and a spiral. An arrow told her to look at the people in the front-facing seats beside them, where an old, white man nodded off on the shoulder of a younger, African-American woman who stared at him with a mixture of shock and helplessness.

Mac was still chuckling when he drew two parallel lines connected at their centers by a perpendicular – an “H,” she recognized immediately and waited, deciding he was writing her a message.

An “A” was next, slow and deliberate, followed steadily by “R-M-O-N.” He hesitated, and her spine trilled with a shiver that had nothing to do with ticklishness or chill. She swallowed hard as he traced the “R-A-B-B,” released a shaky breath when he flattened his palm against her as if to seal the words in place.

Branded, she thought as she closed her eyes and bit her lip, desperately savoring the sensation. With no more than the burn of his forefinger on her back, she’d been claimed and marked as his, as someone who belonged, who was important, even cherished by the man who cradled her so carefully. It was a secret need, a possession known only by the two of them, but as binding in her mind as a ring or a vow. She was his because, in acknowledging his actions as the claim they were, she wanted to be. And he, she intended to remind him, was hers.

With a deep, calming breath, she slackened against him and pried his left arm from her middle until she held his hand in her lap. Gently, she tipped the palm up, signed her name into it methodically, precisely – “S-A-R-A-H M-A-C-K-E-N-Z-I-E” – and closed his fist around the letters.

Mine, she thought, enthralled, as she folded her arms over his where they wound around her. Mine.

His breath flickered across her neck again, and she elbowed him lightly to get him to knock it off. She was already so wet and hypersensitive it was a miracle Harm couldn’t feel the arousal drifting from her in waves. She didn’t need his help getting any more turned on when there was no reasonable possibility of relief in the near future. In retaliation, she squirmed on his lap, pressing her ass a bit more firmly against him to goad and caress the erection that had been steadily increasing since he’d dragged her on top of him.

He froze in shock, snatched her waist instinctively to immobilize her, and groaned almost soundlessly into her back. This problem had, quite literally, arisen more than once in the course of their partnership and had been unconditionally ignored. They weren’t supposed to address it, and she certainly wasn’t supposed to encourage it as she was doing now, shifting infinitesimally in his grasp to drive him wild.

But God, it felt so good, so amazingly, heatedly perfect, he wanted to kick himself for waiting so long to let it happen, for torturing himself these past few months by easing closer to it, to her, and driving himself that much crazier with need. They were in a crowded Metro car, for God’s sake, he admonished even as he pushed up discreetly in response to her wriggling torment. It was a struggle to keep his face impassive, his breathing even, when his eyes wanted to cross and his lungs to pant. They had gone too far this time, and if they continued much farther, he was really going to make a fool of himself.

When the train jerked into gear less than ten seconds later, Harm told himself it was a good thing. Lucky, fortunate, perfectly timed. And his body cried out with loss as Mac regained her composure, sat completely motionless for the remainder of their ride.

There were eight blocks between the station and her apartment. They walked them briskly, mutely. He didn’t hold her hand or her shoulders or guide her by the small of the back. He couldn’t touch her, or the cacophony of need in his head would reach an unbearable pitch. Things seemed to be flying by, cars, people, buildings, in vivid swaths of color too bright and blurry to process. His thoughts seethed under a veil of fog and were only of her. He couldn’t get his pulse under control.

Then they stopped, and he realized they were at her apartment, she on one side of the threshold, he on the other. She couldn’t turn him out now, he thought distantly. His clothes were in there, and his car keys. And his heart.

“We should, um, probably talk about this, Harm.” Her voice was faint and uneven, her fingers clenched around the doorknob in an effort to ground herself, to stay sane.

“Uh-huh.” Mindless, he nodded agreement. His eyes were wide and unfocused, his mouth hung vacantly open. He could see only the red of her lips, think only of how badly he wanted them.

“Maybe we should . . . have . . . dinner, or something . . .” This wasn’t a game anymore. She needed him, now. Could barely stand for the tearing ache of it.

“Okay,” he said with another blank nod. “Sure.” And swooped down to bury his lips in hers.

Heedlessly, frantically, mouths met, tongues clashed. His hands rose to frame her face, to pull impossibly closer. Hers lifted to his wrists, to hold him there as her knees dissolved cell by cell. There was nothing in the world but his taste, that hot, dusky flavor she would die trying to name.

He backed her hastily into the room, kicked the door shut not out of concern for propriety but for the need of something solid to press her against, to facilitate this endless quest to get closer, always closer. Grabbing her under the arms, he spun around, pinned her to the wall, and ground his body into hers. The humming whimper this drove from her throat fanned arousal to new heights.

Desperate, he whisked his hands from her shoulders to her waist, then snaked beneath her shirt for the trip back. He stopped at her bra, traced its borders, palmed the cups. Lightly, his thumbs plucked at her nipples. Both groaned when they hardened in response. He wanted them in his mouth, on his tongue, but couldn’t seem to stop kissing her long enough to figure out how to make that happen. She tasted as he’d known she would, sweet and mysterious, and each time he tilted his head or tried to pull away, he discovered some new flavor to explore.

When she looped her leg around his and pushed up against him, he almost passed out as blood rushed from his head to his groin, where it throbbed and roiled demandingly. His chest ached as emptiness and fear twined and grew, with only her touch, her scent to slake them. If this terrible ferocity was need, he had never needed before this instant. If the dark flood grating within, wrenching his entire body taut and reckless was desire, he had never desired till now. There was so much yet to do, so many touches to give and take, but first, God first, he had to feel her, just to see.

Clumsy, shaking, he unbuttoned her jeans, apologizing even as his hand plunged impulsively inside. “Mac,” he muttered against her mouth, nibbling and sipping in the newfound space between their lips. “I just have to – ” And darted past her panties to spear one long finger into her core. “Jesus.” He found her burning and drenched, slick and snug. Perfect. Waiting. “Oh, my God . . .”

A choked cry escaped her as she seized around him, everything winding, pulling him closer. The crest of that first peak was all the more shattering for its speed and surprise. He gave her no time to recover, no room to steep in the glory of the climax before he captured her lips, raced to her throat to nuzzle and ravage. He tore his hand from her center, drawing groans of disappointment from both of them. Then busily tugged her shirt up her sides, whipped it off, and battled with her bra.

It was a gorgeous piece of silk, to be sure. Dark blue, dappled with flowers, a lovely, low-cut frame for the generous flesh beneath. But at the moment, it was only in his way. He fumbled for the clasp at the back, cursed when he couldn’t find it, then simply flipped it up and out of his path. Finally, he thought feverishly as he brushed his tongue over a nipple, bit gently and latched on. Finally.

Mac, her arms still hanging senseless above her head in the wake of her shirt, had nearly summoned the wherewithal to tell Harm the clasp was at the front when he started to suckle. Thoughts jumbled and collided in her brain, the joy and wonder of the new sensations matched only by a lashing need for more, more. She could do no more than breathe it, and his name, into his shoulder as he took and took and took.

The hands that had gone limp and nerveless at his initial attack now trembled with thirst for skin and pleasure. Even as she moaned and writhed against him, she kneaded the muscles of his back, blindly unfastened his jeans, wanting only to return the passionate insanity he’d given her. She brushed him as she lowered his zipper, slid through the hole in his boxers to close him in her fist, to stroke up and down his length, measuring, caressing.

He surged against her and nearly came apart in her hand, so wild and churning was the need. When she nipped at his neck, ran the tip of her tongue along his ear, he groaned at the hunger raging within.

His mouth left her breast, and she whimpered, lost. He swallowed the sound in a light, teasing kiss, drew away when she would have deepened it, frustrated her seeking tongue by worrying her lips, changing angles with restless amusement.

“Bed,” he demanded, tipping her head back to scrape his teeth under her chin, over the pulse beating rapidly in her neck. Quickly, irresistibly, he led her towards the bedroom, shuffling backwards, dodging furniture by hazy memory and instinct alone.

“Couch,” she countered, pulling him to the nearest horizontal surface available.

He ended the dispute by lifting her under the arms, locking his lips on her throat until she dropped her head back and wrapped her legs around him in surrender. “Bed.”

Deciding they both deserved a reward for having solved their first sexual argument so peaceably, he closed his mouth around her neglected breast. Her broken moans accompanied them to the bedroom.

Eagerly, she clawed the t-shirt up to his shoulders, as far as it could go without his cooperation. Much as she wanted his mouth to continue its current task, she wanted the freedom and feel of his chest even more. “Harm,” she panted, tugging ineffectually at his head. “Up.”

With a stormy burst of strength, she prized him away, yanked insistently at the fabric.

“Mac,” he scolded sharply, not at all pleased to have been diverted from his mission. Distractedly lifting one arm, holding her firmly in place with the other under her bottom, he let her pull the shirt mostly off. It hung, forgotten, from his elbow as he dove for her again.

The essence of her, velvet and tender, in his mouth, the feel of her hot center jostling against his throbbing shaft with each step, combined to make him feral, greedy. There was no room in his mind, in his body, for anything but her, the scent, the tastes, the different silken textures of this woman he would kill to possess. Reluctantly, he loosened his arms, let her slide achingly down his front until she stood before him, her chest bare and heaving and pink from his mouth, her jeans open, feet bare and hair tumbled. Her eyes were languid with the recent climax, bright in anticipation of a second. He wanted to capture her like this, to see her this way until the day he died . . . but maybe without the pants and underwear.

She squeaked in surprise when he grabbed her in a damsel-carry, giggled as he tossed her on the bed and lunged after her. Then he jerked the jeans down her hips, threw them haphazardly into a corner, and circled the inside of her ankle with his tongue. Her laughter throttled into a moan of pleasure, her toes curled so tightly they cramped. Slowly, delicately, he traced her calf, licked once, shatteringly, behind her knee, and continued up the curve of her leg until he reached the damp, steamy crest where she throbbed for him.

“Harm,” she begged breathlessly, arms reaching, too dizzy to sit up. “No more games. I need you.”

“In a minute,” he murmured, hazy and already focused on his newest challenge. “In a minute . . .” And clutching the backs of her thighs, he nuzzled her, trailed his tongue along the sultry line of her core.

“Harm! Jesus . . .” Wildly, her hips thrust up for more as her hands fell to clutch at the bedspread.

He grinned in secret, enjoying the advantage of surprise, basking in the knowledge that he could make her want him as badly as he wanted her. There wasn’t much time – he had to take her soon or die – but he was determined to learn all he could about this musky haven he’d dreamt of for so long.

In tiny circles and tantalizing strokes, he lapped at her clit, rolled her around on his tongue like candy, nipped ever so lightly with his teeth. She trembled above him and around him, her head thrashing on the pillow, hands gripped so hard on the covers her knuckles turned white. He drank in the sight and sound of her, mad to push her as near to the brink as he’d been for hours, months, years.

Mac wanted to plead with him to end the torment, was desperate for something to bear down on, but could only catch her breath enough to chant his name and the occasional “Oh, my God.” Her hips moved without her control now, her mouth fell open in silent cries of ecstasy. She’d been a good sport, she thought dimly, had let him have his fun for as long as possible. But damn it, there was only so much a girl could take. Her core wept with emptiness and longing, but Harm didn’t seem in any hurry even to reintroduce his finger to assuage her.

“H-Harm,” she stammered, all but incoherent, weak from the persistent torrents of pleasure he called forth with only his tongue, his lips. “No more. Please. Come inside . . . come inside . . .”

He lifted his head, was satisfied at last by the delirious need in her eyes that she was as reckless and abandoned as he. Crawling up her body, avoiding the areas he knew would be too sensitive to endure even a casual touch, he took her hands, linked their fingers on each side of her head. And settled his weight hungrily between her legs.

Automatically, she struggled to increase the contact, to take and be taken, though he held himself determinedly just out of reach.

“What do you want?” The words grated from his chest, rough and urgent. Anything, anything she desired at that moment would be hers if it killed him. Fast, slow, tender, furious, whatever she wished for, she would have.

Sarah.” Frantic to get her attention, he shook their joined hands, rested his hips more heavily on hers to still her writhing search. When her eyes slipped open, drifted grudgingly into focus, he caught them relentlessly. “Tell me what you want.”

“You,” she sobbed, needy and exposed. “Just you, Harm, please, I want –”

The request ended on a cry of approval as he plunged into her, held himself there, pushing as far as he could go.

Mac.” It was a harsh sound of discovery and awe, of disbelief and brutal desire. Nothing could feel this good, fit this well, that hadn’t been made exclusively for him.

For several rapturous heartbeats, he froze, disoriented with pleasure and possessiveness. His entire being compressed to the union of their bodies; everything else was numb, blind, deaf. It was all he could do to drag himself back from the peak, to restrain his passion in the desperate pursuit to increase his partner’s.

When he was sure he could move without exploding inside her, he pulled back cautiously, testing himself, tormenting her. Mac squirmed and panted beneath him, begging for more, demanding it with a whimper of his name. In deep, measured thrusts, he drove her on, clutching raggedly at thoughts of baseball, gym socks, flight physics even as she clutched at him with hands and lips and searing softness.

He was just getting the hang of it, settling into a rhythm he felt he could sustain for at least a few minutes longer, when her moans turned throaty and wanton, her cheeks flushed and eyes fluttered with the onset of fulfillment.

“Harm,” she breathed, fervent and husky. “God, please, harder . . .”

He almost lost it then and there, had to dig deep for a valiant recovery. If there was anything sexier than those four words on Sarah MacKenzie’s lips, he had no idea what it could be. Against the odds of two and a half years’ abstinence, an aging body, and a lifetime of fantasies about this one woman swimming through his mind, he prayed for stamina and obligingly added force to his thrusts.

She whimpered and wrapped her legs around his waist, deepening the angle until she felt him up the small of her back. This was unbelievable, the most amazing thing she’d ever felt, and if he . . . oh, God . . . if he just twisted his hips like that once more, hit her pubic bone just . . . there

“HARM! God –”

Wracked with the orgasm, transfixed in it, she coiled convulsively around him and collapsed. Her arms and legs fell limply to her sides, her body shuddered weakly in the aftershocks of spent passion. And still he was there, locked tight within her, his length a hot, thick invasion that was almost painfully satisfying to her sensitized inner flesh.

Harm squeezed his eyes shut and counted to ten, then twenty, forcing the flood of need in his system to simmer and hold. At that moment, he wanted the woman in his arms more than he wanted his next breath. She had come twice, violently, because of him, was still trembling beneath him in the wake of what he had done, because he had made her lose control. He grasped the knowledge in his mind like a prize, an honor. She’d already given him everything – a home, a center, herself – now, he was going to take more.

With small, almost imperceptible movements, he started to rock against her. It was a slow, patient beginning with none of the fiery demand of their first joining. Her need had been slaked, but he had every intention of bringing it to the surface again. His own had sliced deep into his veins until it was an ache in the blood, one that might never be soothed. For now, it had gentled, even become marginally tolerable. But when she whimpered and gazed up at him with blurry brown eyes, it shot straight back to the edge of immediacy.

“Harm.” Her voice was thready and hoarse, her eyelids flickered languidly. “What are you . . . wha – mmmm . . .”

She mewled and shifted as he hit a tender spot. Whether it was to avoid the contact or increase it, neither could say.

“Shh.” He kissed her softly, chewed with thoughtful delicacy on her lower lip and rocked a little harder, blowing on embers to rekindle the flame. “Once more.”

Her eyes widened and scrambled into focus when she saw what he had in mind. “Harm, no.” But the protest was flimsy and wavering. “I can’t . . .”

“Sure you can,” he reassured her with a gentle, confident smile. “I’ll give you a hand.”

Even as the devil shot into his gaze, he slipped his right hand between their bodies to coyly graze the bundle of nerves that still quivered with recent release. He circled carefully, flicked and rubbed, experimenting with patterns to find the one that best coaxed and cajoled.

Helplessly, Mac felt her body melt into his all over again, could barely tell anymore who she was or where she began and ended. There was only Harm, his guitarist’s nimble fingers, and that leisurely, ceaseless push of his body into hers. Against all logic, a fresh wave of arousal, a pure shock of need, swept through her system, leaving her edgy and shaking. She moaned with it, couldn’t think beyond the sudden craving for him, for what he could bring her.

The wince of breath sucked through her teeth let Harm know when he touched too much on the fragile, over-sensitized nub; her whimpers told him when to touch more. Soon, he found an increasing pattern of teasing circles and rhythmic thrusts that worked for both of them. Then he scraped her elusively with a blunt fingernail and discovered his Sarah had wellsprings of passion inside that surpassed even his own.

All at once, she was demanding and desperate, mad for release where she’d been certain it was impossible. She clutched at his waist, dragged at his hips to get him closer, deeper. Groaned his name like it was being wrenched from her soul.

Sarah.” Distantly awed, more than a little proud, he battled back the climax his body was screaming for, would’ve cut off his arms rather than come before seeing just how high she could go. “Jesus, baby, you’re – ”

He couldn’t finish the thought, had to swallow a cry of shocked delight when she twisted sinuously, squeezed him tight and insistently without warning.

“Harm . . . faster . . .”

Eyes cloudy, face taut with passion too long withheld, he gave in, pounding into her again and again until the bed springs creaked in protest. When she reached back to grab the headboard for leverage, tilted her hips high, and clenched her inner muscles around him, the last scrap of sanity flew from his grasp. Savage now, mindless, he thrust blindly in and out of the wringing, snug sheath of her, helpless to stop, still grinding his fingers unconsciously against her clit.

“Come . . . aahhh, God . . . come with me this time,” she gasped, imploring and inviting.

“Yes,” he promised, gritty and ravaged. But waited until her eyes went black and she screamed her satisfaction before finally, finally letting go. His big body went utterly stiff for hot, endless minutes as he emptied into her, then crumpled on top of hers, shaking and spent.

An eternity passed before he could see again, or manage to breathe without having to remind himself to do so. The things around him should, he knew, be at least vaguely familiar, but it took several, somewhat frightening minutes for the names of simple objects – her nightstand, her lamp – to solidify in his brain. If he was borderline comatose after one orgasm, he decided he’d better check to see how Mac was handling three. With a monumental huff of effort, he pushed himself up for a look at her face.

And froze at the pale traces of tears running from the corners of her eyes to her temples.

Sarah.” The whisper was horrified, miserable. “I hurt you.” Despondently, hating himself, he lifted a hand to brush the wetness away, hesitated inches from her cheek and let it fall uselessly to his side.

Her eyes cracked open then, dreamy, glowing with contentment, and mildly bemused at his reaction. “No,” she purred, lazy and sated. When he squinted doubtingly down at her, she smiled and reached up to cup his jaw. “Harm, I promise, no. That was . . .”

Just the memory made her tingle, and she stretched in response, bowing her back and hugging it to her. “Incredible,” she decided, and let him see the truth of it in her eyes. “Wonderful. Fantastic.” She chuckled at his expression, at once smug and spellbound. The sound danced alluringly across his nerves.

“You cried, Mac,” he argued fretfully, not ready to forgive himself the imagined offense. “I was too rough.”

Rolling her eyes, she grabbed him by the ears and planted a smacking kiss on his lips. He could be such a martyr.

“You were perfect,” she declared indulgently. “Any better, and I’d be dead.”

Appeased, he let the smile come at last, then chuffed a laugh as he kissed her again and dropped to his back. “You wouldn’t be the only one.”

But as he slipped from inside her, still raw and wobbly, he remembered something else, something he’d never forgotten with any other woman. Bolting upright, he cursed himself, slumped dejectedly back against the headboard.

‘A gentleman always asks.’ He’d heard it millions of times from Frank, his teachers, his coaches, CAGs before shore leave. The words raced through his head, taunting, recriminating. ‘It shows caring, foresight, and respect. A gentleman never assumes.’

He moved so abruptly, Mac instinctively sat up as well, then scanned the foot of her bed for insects or mice. Harm was afraid of mice, she knew. Half-relieved to find nothing amiss, half-perplexed by this strange behavior, she stroked his shoulder, frowned in concern. “Harm? What’s wrong?”

“I’m sorry, Mac,” he breathed gravely, and her heart stopped. Regret. She hadn’t expected regret, wasn’t sure she could cope with it and keep herself intact. Stunned, defenseless against it, she could only wait, only listen.

He stuttered, plowed a hand anxiously through his hair. “I didn’t ask – I mean, I didn’t use . . . I didn’t even think . . .”

She let out a nervous breath and folded shaking hands. Okay, she thought cautiously, this didn’t sound exactly like regret, so far. She could deal with this. “Harm, what are you talking about?” The question was gentle and slow, careful, considering. “Do you – do you mean protection?”

When he nodded, forlorn, she nearly laughed in relief. That was all? That was all? Christ, he’d almost given her a heart attack.

She touched his shoulder again and waited till he looked at her. Her smile was small and encouraging, her brow still wrinkled uncertainly. “I’m on the pill, Harm, you know that. And we were sitting right next to each other in the corpsman’s tent when he gave us the clean bill of health.”

Fondly, he remembered the day. Mac had been beside herself, convinced she was immune to radiation and just as sure he was somehow acutely susceptible. If he hadn’t felt the same way about her, he probably would have been insulted. When their tests had come back negative, they’d both wilted with relief. Mac had snickered when the medic diagnosed Harm as slightly anemic. She had also been the one to remember when to take him for his iron supplements and B-12 shots and to haul his ass in for a two-week retest once they got back to Washington.

Harm, for his part, had been livid when he found out Mac was suffering from moderate dehydration. After dragging her to the mess tent and looming threateningly at her side while she drank six glasses of water under protest, he had given her a strict lecture on the foolishness of giving her partner half her water rations when she damn well needed them herself, and no, her I-grew-up-in-the-deserts-of-Yuma excuse was not going to cut it this time.

It had turned into quite the argument, motivated mostly by relief from the tension of their weeks in Afghanistan. “Well, you’re the one with anemia!” she’d accused scathingly, stepping right up to his toes as she always did when they fought. “There’s no iron in water, brainiac,” he’d retorted, glowering down at her, arms crossed stubbornly over his chest. Then she’d paused for a sip of water and, before he could guess her intent, squirted a thin stream of it right in his face. For a moment, she’d looked almost as shocked as he’d felt. Her stupor hadn’t lasted any longer than it took for the first drops to splash from his nose to his gaping mouth, however, and she’d stifled a giggle and taken off at a sprint for her tent. No longer angry, but seeing no reasonable alternative to giving chase, he had run after her full-tilt, nearly beating her to the tent, wrestling her to the sand inside, and tickling her until she screamed with laughter.

The recollection made him smile until he noticed Mac pulling away from him on the bed, drawing her knees up and wrapping her arms around them in sudden embarrassment.

“I guess I . . . oh,” she said quietly, and the corner of her mouth lifted in an empty impression of a smile. “I guess I just assumed there was no one . . . It’s none of my business.” Her tone changed quickly to brisk negligence, her shoulders rolled with impatience and forced indifference.

Biting the corner of her lip, she straightened the bedspread beside her. When she would’ve leapt up and ducked into the bathroom to hide the silly, naïve tears punching at her nose, he snagged her by the waist and plunked her, stiff and edgy, between his legs.

“Sarah,” he scolded soothingly, loving the shudder that rippled through her when he said it. “It is your business, and you know there’s been no one else.” Because her spine remained rigid against his front and she had crossed her arms self-consciously over her breasts, he folded his own around her, nudged and prodded until he’d snuck them underneath her elbows. In subtle persuasion, he waltzed his lips up the side of her neck, scratched deftly with his teeth when she tipped her head onto his shoulder in accommodation.

“Then why – ” Her breath broke as he hit the spot between her neck and shoulder, so he did it again, and again. Gloried in the restless hum of his name on her lips.

“Why the worry?” she managed, blinking fog from her mind.

“I should have asked, Mac,” he explained, exasperated with himself not only for forgetting but for causing all this trouble when there was still so much of her to enjoy. “It’s . . . polite – ” He ignored the chortle of amusement that inspired. “What if you wanted me to wear one?”

“Is that all you were worried about?”

In fact, yes, but it just made him feel stupid when she said it like that, so he kept his mouth shut.

With an exaggerated sigh, she flopped back against him and drummed her hands on his thighs. “Harm, you drive me nuts,” she announced happily.

He untangled his left arm to push her hair out of his way and settled his chin comfortably on her shoulder. “You’re the one driving, baby.”

A groan at the old joke was her only reply. After a minute of reflection, she turned to peek up at him. “Can I ask you something?”

He nodded, ready to grant her anything when she looked at him like that.

“You’ve been sort of . . . different lately. With me, I mean. More open . . . more affectionate than usual.”

“Really?”

His innocent guise must have been convincing; she whirled to face him, eyes wide with surprise. Then smirked when she saw he was teasing.

“Harm. You knew it. Why the change? Weren’t you sure it was what you wanted?”

The idea might have angered her a week, even a day ago. But the way he was holding her, the tone of his voice when he said her name, told her that if he hadn’t been sure three months ago, he was now. That was all that mattered. The key to deciphering Harm was knowing when to let some actions speak louder than others.

He snorted in gratifying disbelief and gathered her against him again. “Yeah, right. This is what I’ve wanted for a long time, Mac. I mean . . . not just this, but everything we’ve had over the last few weeks that we didn’t before.”

She mulled that over for a few seconds, decided she liked the sound of it. “Well – and don’t think I’m complaining, because I’m definitely not – but why didn’t you say something? I’d’ve been a lot quicker to join the game if I’d known how it would end.”

He chuckled at that, as she’d intended, then caught her fingers, pulled their left hands out in front of them and marveled at the differences as he formed an explanation.

“I guess I didn’t know what to say,” he began haltingly. “I mean, I couldn’t just go up to you and suggest we give it a shot. I thought maybe I could . . . ease you into it.”

He could all but hear her eyebrow rise skeptically. “Ease me into it?”

He huffed, impatient at his uncharacteristic lack of eloquence and tried another tack. “How many chances have you given me, Mac?”

She hesitated, then shrugged, baffled by the question.

He answered for her. “At least a dozen this year alone. How many more are you willing to give?”

“Well, how many more do you think you’ll need, Harm?” Her voice was wary and helpless with the knowledge that, no matter how high the number, she would somehow have to find whatever patience he asked of her. She didn’t have a choice anymore, hadn’t for a long time.

He understood all she didn’t say, kissed her neck, her jaw, her cheek in humble gratitude. He wasn’t proud of taking advantage of her soft, forgiving nature but was prepared to make up to her for each time he had. “I didn’t want to find out the hard way,” he admitted wryly. “It’s just . . . I’m so tired, Mac. Of this distance between us and of forcing myself to keep it in place. My body’s tired, my mind. My heart. I know what I want – hell, I’ve known for a long time. But I was afraid it was too late to go after it.”

Her eyes filled with sympathy and hope and an ache of love. The quiet joy of it trembled in her voice. “Why didn’t you just tell me that?”

Harm rolled his eyes in chagrin. “What was I supposed to say, Mac? That I want you? I think that’s been pretty evident over the past six years. That I need you? That’s no secret. That I love you, that I’d do anything for you, that you’re the most important thing in my life?” He bumped her forward with his shoulder, tilted her chin so he could look her in the eyes when he said it. “You already know that, Sarah. Maybe all I can tell you that’s changed is that I’m ready. Ready to let go of whatever I was holding onto that kept us apart. What about you?”

Tearfully, she took it in, memorized every word, every nuance to replay the confession whenever she needed it. She figured her reply was pretty evident, given her behavior since they’d entered the apartment. She didn’t do that with just any man who signed his name on her back, after all. But his eyes were so blue and unsure, she thought she’d better spell it out for him.

“I’ve never been an ‘easing into it’ sort of girl, Harm.” Her tone was warm and suggestive, her eyes even more so as she spun demurely to face him. She sparkled with the knowledge that it was her turn to have fun now. Inch by inch, her hands climbed his thighs as she melted temptingly closer. “Why don’t you just lie back and let me show you my philosophy?”

His eyes lit with awareness and arousal. The little sailor who should’ve been about gasping his last had suddenly hit his second wind and rose intrepidly to the challenge. There was just one more thing . . .

Resolutely, he placed his hands over hers, ensnared her in a gaze gone solemn and sweet. “Tell me you love me, Sarah.” It was more need than demand, more a hope than an order.

Her smile was more beautiful than anything he could imagine, the hint of her tongue on his lower lip the most erotic thing he’d ever felt. “I love you,” she whispered, heart shining in her gaze.

He smiled back, utter contentment with a glint of anticipation. “Then I’m all yours.”

And lifted his hands in surrender.

 

The End

 

 

Part 1 Part 2
 
 
   

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