Private Maneuvers / Page 29

Page 29


With Darcy.

A woman so incredible as she fought like hell to stay awake, holding on to life and giving him any advantage she could. He only had maybe six inches of Perry's chest in sight. Darcy too close.

Her only chance lay in Max taking that shot. And praying she didn't launch over the cliff.

The Glock weighted heavy in his hands. He stared at her one last time. Hoped she would read his intent and prepare. Prayed she would see how much he loved her.

Max cocked his head to the side, aiming. "Perry?"

"Yeah, boss?"

Max pulled the trigger.

The bullet tore through Perry's shoulder. Propelled him backward toward the edge, his arm banded around Darcy's waist.

"Max!" she screamed.

No! He launched forward. Darcy flung her arms out, kicked backward as she angled over the side with Perry. Max ran, reached. Her hand clapped against his wrist even as Perry's body dragged her down.

Max's fingers clamped around her forearm, and he wasn't letting go. Ever. He set his feet. Jerked. Perry's crazed eyes met his over Darcy's shoulder for one expanded second.

And then he fell away.

Max yanked Darcy into his arms. He buried her face in his neck to shield her from the vision below and thanked God she wasn't down there, as well.

For once he was grateful for those fast reflexes his power-tripping father had honed in him over the years. "Damn it, you scared the hell out of me."

Her limp arms looped around his neck as streaks of morning sun fingered through the sky. "I guess that means you were worried and you care. But we're gonna have to work on your delivery, Doc."

"We've got time for that." Thank God they had time. He cupped her face and studied her dilated pupils. "Are you okay?"

"Just doped up on some kind of...dolphin drug," she answered, her words slurring as her lids drooped. "Maybe you could take me back to our room and have your wicked way with me. Except I probably couldn't stay awake much longer."

He laughed into her hair. No question, it took more than tranquilizers and a brush with death to down Darcy. Damn it, yes, he loved this incredible woman. "You're a tough one, Darcy Renshaw."

"Well, like Perry said earlier. I'm one tough lady to kill," she answered just before sagging in Max's arms.

He scooped her up, turning toward the path. They had a long road ahead of them in more ways than one. But none of that mattered anymore. He'd been willing to do anything to keep this incredible woman alive. Now he knew he would do anything to keep her in his arms, as well.

Darcy leaned back in Max's arms and gazed out over the ocean from Lovers' Leap. How much difference a day made in perspective. Standing on the edge, she basked in the noonday sun gleaming off the breakers. The windswept cliff stirred none of the fears she'd felt over the past weeks whenever she"d considered climbing the path. The past had eased its grip.

Thanks to Max.

Wind twined around them in their bathing suits, bound them. Sea-scented air whispered memories of yesterday, softened by the hope for all her tomorrows.

Max's arms locked around her, maybe a bit too tight, but understandable. She recognized the protectiveness for what it was. Love. Fear of losing her. More love.

She liked that "more" best of all.

She didn't intend to pull away, but rather savor this moment with him. There wouldn't be much time for them to talk in person in the coming weeks with Max tying up his investigation. And he planned to fly out to talk to Perry's family.

Max had already made it clear to his superiors that Perry's wife and children never needed to know the details of his traitorous activities. Let them take comfort in believing he had died in the line of duty.

Kat Lowry had finally contacted a JAG. No way would she walk, but she might escape execution for handing over operatives by trading evidence for her life.

Darcy let the wind carry away tension as she watched the tide ripple, Max's dolphins riding those waves into the open sea. He'd set them free hours earlier. Alone. Max would never be a chatty guy, but he was perfect for her.

And of course then he'd invited her to join him now.

So many goodbyes for both of them today. Now if they could just figure out how to hold on to each other.

Max rested his chin on her head. "You know I'm not going to walk away from you when we leave here."

The man's ability to sense her thoughts was getting downright spooky. And wonderful. "I know. We're going to make this relationship work."

He nodded against her.

She squeezed his hands, clasped together over her stomach. "I don't even want to think about going home yet. I miss you already. But I can use leave-time to fly out to California. I'll try to wrangle TDYs to wherever you are." She stared down at their linked hands. Keeping that bond was worth fighting for. "I'll also look into cross-training to another plane with a base closer to you."

Max lifted her hand and pressed a kiss to the inside of her wrist. She tipped her head to glance back and share a smile. She saw the appreciation in his eyes, could also see he understood what it cost her to offer.

Saying goodbye to him forever would cost her too much more.

He dropped their linked hands back to her stomach. "Hold that thought for a while. I've been doing some thinking myself."

Darcy absorbed the heat of his chest through her back. Please, please, please don't offer to go the professor route, a tempting proposition for her. But so very wrong for him.

"I'm going to talk with some people I know in the OSI."

She turned in his arms to face him. "Run that by me again?" She couldn't envision Max in a uniform any more than in the classroom.

He hooked his arms around her back, low. "The switch from CIA to civilian employee in the Air Force OSI wouldn't be a problem."

Like Vinnie.

She let the image shift in her mind. Slowly, it took shape into the man she'd seen standing down Perry just a day earlier. "How would it work?"

"I'd most likely go straight in as a GS 12. My cover as Doc Keagan is shot to hell anyway for CIA ops." His eyes gravitated back out toward the seascape below. "No doubt, the OSI will make use of my diving skills when possible. But I learned something these past weeks thanks to you. It's the investigation that drives me."

The image shifted one last time before settling with total rightness. She could see it, the way he'd blended all the parts of his present, his past, even reconciling baggage with his military father enough to be a part of his world.

Best of all, she also saw her future with this wild, unconventional man who stole her breath and her heart with his moody smiles and tender touch. She could learn a lot from him. Being with Max would keep her horizons broad, her regimented world so very colorful. Only Max could have figured a way to blend their lifestyles.

Max, as an OSI secret-agent dude bringing all that unconventional vision and those colors to the Air Force world.

To her world, as well. Perfect. "You're good, Max. Damned good."

His mouth kicked up in a wicked smile echoed in his eyes.

She slugged his arm. "At your job."

"That, too."

Her fingers unfurled to caress his tattooed bicep along an arm that had saved her. "Thank you for the big rescue."

"Rescue? Hell, woman, I've never met anyone less in need of rescue. I'm sure you'd have bludgeoned him with his tasseled loafers before much longer."

Maybe. Maybe not. "Thank you for coming soon enough so I didn't have to."

He winked. "No problem."

Her fingers twisted in the softness of his over-washed T-shirt. "I hated feeling helpless like all those years before. I hate losing."

"Staying alive, hell, staying awake constituted a major victory. I don't care how precise Perry thought he was with those drugs. He pumped enough tranqs in you to down two dolphins for twelve hours." He bracketed her face in his broad palms. "Darcy, you're a survivor. You were twelve years ago and you are now."

His words soaked into her brain, into her. Damn it, she was a survivor. But thanks to Max, she was also alive. Really alive in her soul, ready to take on the world.

No fear. Not because she'd battled and won, but because she finally realized she didn't have to battle alone.

Yes, she could take on the world, fight her own wars, but having a wingman in life as well as in the air was a good thing. A person needed someone to count on. Even more so, somewhere to recharge. Recoup. Simply be alive.

As she was in Max's arms.

Loving Max didn't mean losing herself. She'd just found a better, stronger Darcy in being with him. "Hey, Doc?"

"Yeah?'' He toyed with her dog tags draped along the neck of her bathing suit.

"I'm ready now."

She wondered how long it would take him to catch on as he stared back at her.

Not long at all.

A smile creased dimples into that bronzed-god face of his, this man who heard her needs before she voiced them. Sometimes before she even thought them.

Yes, he understood, but he deserved to hear the words.

She skimmed her hands up his arms and around his neck. "Do you know who I am?"

"Yeah, Darcy, I think I do. But why don't you go ahead and tell me, anyway."

"I'm the woman who loves you, damn it." She reinforced her vow with a brush of her lips against his. "And I'm also damned certain I always will."

His laugh caressed her skin seconds before his lips. Max kissed her back. Just kissed her, but man did he ever have a way with just kissing her until she couldn't think.

Finally, she rested her forehead against his and inhaled the scent of coconut oil, musk and man. Hers. "If you start having second thoughts about the OSI, don't do it. I would never ask you to make this change for me."

"I know. That's what makes it so easy." His sea-green eyes lit like the glistening sparks on a cresting breaker. "And the way I see it, Darcy, this is a new adventure. A new wave. Sometimes a guy can get so caught up in catching every wave, he misses the big one."

She looked into his eyes and realized that unspoken communication of his worked both ways. She could see that Max was really okay with the new direction for his life.

For their lives.

She allowed herself the pleasure of finger combing his spiky hair. "No dreadlocks, please."

His laugh rumbled up and free, taking flight into the air and over the ocean he sometimes called home.

"No dreadlocks." He rocked their h*ps closer, igniting the ever-present spark between them. "Although, I've been thinking about a new tattoo."

That fire kindled hotter. "Oh, really? Where? What?"

"A bird."

"An eagle? Cool."

He shook his head. "I'm thinking more along the lines of a wren." He placed her hand over his heart. "Right here."

Darcy sighed, totally hot and completely melting all at once. "Maybe I should look into a tattoo for myself."

"We won't be the most conventional couple on base."

"What woman needs conventional when she can have pineapples, coconut oil and more.''

She stretched up into another kiss, tracing the spot along his chest over his heart—a heart that picked up pace under her hand as Max lowered her to the soft pad of grass for a lifetime of more.

Much more...