Private Maneuvers / Page 6

Page 6


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"Ohmigosh!"


A rusty chuckle slid from Max's throat as he palmed her waist again. "Easy, now, Lieutenant."


Beneath the clear water, the dolphins circled in perfect harmony until they stopped just shy of the ledge. Side by side, their heads popped above the water.


Max knelt. An elbow resting on his knee, he extended a hand. "Hi, there, girls." He glanced up at Darcy. "I thought you'd like to meet them face-to-face."


She crouched beside him, unable to resist this peek into his world, a world so different from her own. "I understand intellectually how fast they are. But seeing all that power unleashed firsthand. Wow! It's just so..." She shrugged, picked at loose coral along the edge and flicked them into the water. "That probably sounds silly to you."


"Not at all. The day you lose respect for their strength is the day someone gets hurt."


Her gaze jerked to his face. Did he mean his words as a warning about himself, as well? One she should probably heed.


Each dolphin nudged his hand and received a stroke in turn. Those broad hands broadcast a similar restrained power. Magnetic strength.


Darcy pushed aside her fears as well as thoughts of taking a stand. Why not simply enjoy this moment with a man she found surprisingly as captivating as the prospect of a flight takeoff? "Which is which?"


He pointed left. "Lucy." Then right. "Ethel."


She stared at the pair of dolphins, both with gray-green backs fading into a white underbelly. "How do you tell them apart?"


"Every dolphin has a distinctive face and body markings. If you have a kennel full of beagles, they all look different. Or a pasture of horses. Or a room of people. Same with dolphins." A tree rustled behind them. Loose coral skittered down the cliff path. Max hooked a finger under her chin and guided her face toward the dolphins sticking their heads above water. "Look. Closer. Tell me what you see. Think details rather than the whole picture."


She narrowed her eyes until the two animals became more than just a bobbing duo, more than just twin 'Flippers'. "Lucy has a longer, uh—" Darcy gestured a circle around her mouth ''—uh, snout?''


"Rostrum."


"Right. And Ethel has a bigger bump on her head. What's it called?"


"A melon."


"Melon? Really? Cool." So the ivory-tower dude lived within the dangerous hunk after all. How many layers were there to Max Keagan? "What are all those marks along the side?"


"Laminar flow lines. Friction marks from the water rushing along the rostrum and melon."


His words barely registered in her distracted brain. She stared into Max's eyes, eyes as changeable as the blue-green ripples of the ocean. In spite of all that water slapping the rock face, her mouth dried right up.


He turned away, thank heavens, before she made a fool out of herself. Again.


Max reached low and patted the rocks until Lucy moved closer. "Go ahead and pet her if you'd like."


Darcy stroked the bulbous melon, the rubbery skin damp and cool to the touch. A gray snout nudged her arm until she fell back on her bottom.


Laughing, she righted herself, sitting on her heels so as not to be caught unaware again. "Surprised me, didn't you, Lucy?" Darcy inched her hand forward, then hesitated to glance at Max. "What should I do differently?"


"Nothing. Keep on with what you're doing. Careful and steady." He reassured her as she rubbed the rostrum. "Watch for signs that they're agitated. Yes, they've been trained, but don't forget for a minute they're wild creatures first."


Darcy's hand stopped midstroke. More warnings when dealing with the trainer as well as the dolphins? The man reminded her of that deceptively clear water luring her to jump in for a nice little swim, only to find currents and depths beyond what her limited experience would lead her to expect.


A careful woman might have backed off, and for five sane seconds earlier she'd considered it. Now she preferred to view her initial retreat as merely a wise tactical maneuver for regrouping.


Time to advance.


A Renshaw never backed down from a challenge, and this was her line-in-the-sand time. No more giving up what she wanted. And right now she wanted to kiss Max Keagan.


Max looked into Darcy's eyes and read her intent too damned well, easy enough to ID an echo of his own thoughts. Not smart at all, and he couldn't let her go for at least another five minutes until the intel contacts cleared the perimeter.


Ethel clicked and cackled a few feet away, bringing a return to reality with her demand for attention. Max couldn't decide whether to thank or curse his finned chaperone.


Darcy shifted, unfolding her legs and stretching out on her stomach along the rock. Her bare legs extended behind her in a mile-long, libido-assaulting display.


Reaching over the ledge, she wriggled her fingers. Again Lucy nudged Darcy. This time she kept her balance.


She smoothed a hand along Lucy's rostrum, even allowing the dolphin to grip her hand inside her mouth and shake. Darcy's earlier hesitation had faded, replaced by a reckless abandon, an embrace-life attitude he recognized. A woman like that wouldn't be content with half measures from any relationship.


Relationship?


What the hell was he thinking? He'd known her all of three days. Within another couple of days, she would be winging her way back to the States and out of his life.


Max used the lull of the waterfall to restore his concentration. He needed to pace himself. The underwater search could take days, weeks even, before he located which offshore communications cable carried the tap. If at all.


At least Darcy would be gone by then. Max stretched out beside her as she placed her hand into Ethel's mouth for another shake. "You're very trusting."


"You wouldn't have let me touch them if you thought they would hurt me."


Her expression was so damned open he could fall right in.


Max set his jaw and studied the blood-red coral reef. He forced himself to think of another woman who'd believed in him. "Like I said. You're too trusting."


Pulling her hand from the dolphin's mouth, Darcy rolled to her side. Odd how she moved with more caution when approaching him than she had the wild beasts in the water.


Damned wise woman. Or maybe not.


She touched his arm. Lightly. Just one finger outlining the rectangular border of his tattoo. His skin burned beneath the soft pad of her finger with more heat than when the needle had marked him seventeen years ago in one of his countless moments of teenage rebellion.


What was it about this woman that turned near-innocent moves into a siren song?


Darcy continued the featherlight torment over the scar on his arm, tracing up into the edge of his sleeve. "What's life worth if we always play it safe?"


He grabbed her wrist. "That doesn't mean you should be reckless."


"Some risks are worth taking." Her eyes glinted with determination—and an underlying vulnerability that rocked him more than confronting armed divers guarding the drug runner's sub in South America.


Max knew what was coming long before her gaze dropped to his mouth. Knew he should stop her. Instead he held her wrist and stared back.


She kissed him, and heaven help him he didn't pull away.


Their eyes stayed open as he devoured her with his gaze, instead of an open mouth. A damned stupid thing to do, but how could he have known this simple act of trust from her would arouse him as much as if he'd kissed her the way his body begged him?


Darcy's mouth softened beneath his. Her pupils widened in a message of arousal that matched his own, just before her lashes fluttered close. Those generous lips of hers parted in an invitation he didn't stand a chance in hell of turning down.


The tide roared in his ears, giving him only a half second to realize a dolphin was approaching with a—


Splash.


Water sluiced over them in a lukewarm shower. Not nearly cold enough.


Darcy jerked back with a squeal. Max sat up, swiping the drops from his eyes.


Then regretted the move. Blurred vision proved much safer than a clear view of the goddess in a wet T-shirt sitting no less than twelve inches away. Soaked cotton molded to every curve and peak of her breasts, and man, had she ever hidden some generous curves beneath that flight suit.


Max cleared his throat, if not his thoughts, and hooked an elbow over his knee. "We shouldn't have done that."


"Why?" She trailed her fingers along his jaw in a gentle invitation. "I already want to do it again."


He scrambled for a face-saving out for her. "I'm not interested in starting something I don't stand a chance of finishing. We live on opposite coasts. I'll be here for weeks. You're going to leave in a couple of days."


Darcy's brow scrunched into that "I'm checking you out'' frown, the one that made her bottom lip full and tempting. As if it needed any help. "What makes you think I'm leaving in two days?"


Uh-oh.


"Another day of cr—" He stopped himself cold before he slipped up and used the phrase "crew rest," military jargon a biology professor had no business knowing. Damn, but she had him too rattled. "Another day for your crew to rest up and then you're back to the States."


"Usually, yeah. But because of that earthquake in Taiwan, we're staying in Guam on stand-by to fly in relief supplies and bulldozers." Absently she plucked at her wet shirt, showcasing mermaid curves. "I'll be here for three weeks."


Foreboding mingled with an edgy thrill, and finally with a ragged fear. This was about more than turning away a woman who was wrong for him. About more than protecting her from tangling her life with a man who wanted nothing from a relationship except sex.


This was about keeping her well away from a situation that could turn deadly in a heartbeat.


Resisting Darcy for a couple of days was tough enough. Resisting those mermaid curves and siren eyes for three weeks straight would be damned near impossible.


And if he screwed up this mission, she could be the one to pay. A hell he vowed never to visit again.


Chapter 4


Robin flicked a spider off the crumbling World War II-era bunker and took a front row seat on the cement box for the lovelorn scenario unfolding on the beach below with Max and his lady pilot. No need to hide in the brush. Lurking would only look suspicious.


/ have as much right to watch the sunset as they do.


Robin traced the slits along the camouflaged bunker, stroking the tiny openings for guns in battle like a talisman. Robin inched closer. Sure Max would be irritated if he saw his audience of one, since he'd demanded the beach stay clear. But he'd just have to get over it. Keeping track of Max's every move was essential.


Boring. But essential.


The jungle edged right up to the shoreline. Historic invasions had occurred here, the perfect site for a modern-day battle if only Max would look up and wonder. Just a hundred or so yards separated them, not far at all if Max were focusing on anything other than the woman with him. Interesting.


Max cupped her shoulders. Then carefully set her away. Renshaw moved forward, but Max kept her firmly at arm's distance.


Apparently make-out time was over.


Too bad the crashing waterfall muffled their conversation, but even without the words, it became increasingly clear Max was giving her the brush-off. Not surprising since he hadn't shown more than a short-term interest in any woman since Eva.


Eva.


The need to hurt Max, badly, surged to the surface. Robin tucked the beach bag closer. The hefty 9mm inside rasped along the rough cement surface, taunting with how easy it would be to tuck inside the bunker, make use of those gun slits and end it all, warrior-style.


Wasn't two and a half years long enough to wait?


But to act prematurely would toss away meticulously plotted revenge. Years of subtle torture. Watching Max shred himself up with guilt had been downright entertaining.


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