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Infatuated (Ocean Beach Book 1) by Lea Hart (1)

CHAPTER ONE

Ace ground his teeth together and flung open the door to the van. “Get in and don’t say a fucking word.”

“But…”

Holding up a finger, he shook his head. “I mean it, Lisa. You’re on my last nerve, and I’m way past tempted to leave your ass in the middle of Al Hudaydah.”

“I didn’t ask for the rescue and had things well under control.”

Feeling the sharp, familiar pain in his neck whenever he was in the presence of the journalist, he lifted her none too gently and helped her into the van. “Sit and don’t speak.”

“That’s rude,” she replied as she slid across the seat and crossed her arms.

Following her in, he slid the door closed and nodded to Logan, who was at the wheel. “Clear.”

“Hey, Logan, nice to see you again,” Lisa said as she leaned forward. “How’s your sister’s baby doing?”

“Good. The little chunk-a-monk already has two teeth.”

“Show me a picture when you can.” Turning in the seat, she waved to Jax and Caid. “Hey, how are you handsome men doing?”

“You’re going to give him an aneurysm, babe,” Caid said as he shook his head. “Ease up on the dangerous meetings, so we don’t have to take him home in a box.”

Jax took her hand and squeezed. “Nice to see you again, doll.”

“No, it’s not,” Ace said tightly. “In no way is there anything nice about seeing Lisa in the middle of a room with dead bodies. And, it’s not okay to have her in a city under the control of Houthi rebels where 80mm mortars going off is a regular thing.” Turning, he gave her a snarl so feral that he wondered why she smiled in response. “You should be nowhere near this shit and why I’m the only one who thinks that is insane.”

Rolling her eyes, she leaned against the seat. “Are you done?”

“For now?” he replied sourly. Adjusting his MK4, Ace sat back and exchanged looks with Caid and saw his disapproval. He knew his speech had been over the top, but what the hell was he supposed to do when they had to pull her ass out of the fire every other day?

Stewing in frustration, he asked himself for the hundredth time why the woman was so adept at pushing his buttons. It was damn frustrating to be sure, and he couldn’t wait until the mission in Yemen was done, and he and the team could be on their fucking merry way.

Except he needed Lisa to get the hell out of the country before it happened since he didn’t want to worry about what sort of trouble she’d get herself into. And he knew how screwed up that was since every time they’d been in one another’s company, he struggled between strangling and kissing her.

Today, he’d been closer to strangling since she’d been too damn close to the bullets flying. But tomorrow could be a whole new story. Though he doubted it since she was like a freaking jack-in-the-box and popped up in places she had no business being.

Had they not shown up at the rebel leader’s hideout when they did, she might not have survived, and that wasn’t anything he wanted to spend time thinking about.

Why the fuck she needed to speak with the number two man of the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and not consider her own safety was something he couldn’t abide.

Even though it wasn’t any of his damn business.

Maybe her high-risk shenanigans were a result of an unexamined death wish and being a war correspondent was her way of working it out.

Or worse, she was just a kickass journalist who would do anything to get the story; danger and death be damned.

Something he really didn’t want to consider since it would put a pin in his balloon of righteous anger. And he sure as hell needed to hold onto it for a bit longer, so he wouldn’t pull her into his arms and forbid her from ever doing it again.

And wouldn’t that go over well.

Running his hand down his face, he tried to remember he was a reasonable adult and not an over-protective freak. When the need to yell didn’t disappear, he laid his hands on his legs. “What the fuck are you still doing here, Lisa?”

“Working, same as you.”

Hearing Caid snort, he shook his head. “The UN wants everyone out since the Saudis are about to begin their airstrikes.”

“I’m well aware of that, Ace, since…you know…I’m in the news business.” Pushing the scarf off her head, she lifted her hair and let out a long breath. “If I left every time the UN said, I’d never get a story.”

“But you might stay alive.”

Leaning over, she looked up and gave him a wide smile. “So sweet of you to always worry about me.” Batting her eyelashes, she put her hands together. “Maybe all your yelling means you really like me and I should take your rudeness as a form of flirting.” Pursing her lips, she looked over her shoulder. “What do you think, Caid? Does Ace want to kiss me and that’s why he’s so mean?”

“Maybe.”

“What the fuck?” Ace shouted as he stared at his buddy. “I do not like her and have no desire to kiss her.” Waiting to see if God was going to strike him down for the lie, he looked out the window.

No lightning occurred, so he turned and glared at his buddies. “I’m a grown-ass man, and if I want someone, then I do something about it.” Crossing his arms, he shook his head. “We’re in the middle of a war-torn fucking failed state, and this one,” he said pointing at Lisa, “should not be showing up at every mission we’re on.”

“Really, had no idea,” Caid replied drolly. “Thought we were here in this beautiful country for spring break.”

Flipping him off, Ace sat back and did his best to get himself under control.

“Maybe you should take her to dinner tonight and work out the sexual tension, so we don’t have to listen to you bitch and complain,” Jax said as he leaned over and slapped Ace on the back. “Every time we go out on a mission, you’re wound tighter than a clock since half your mind is worried we’re going to find Lisa in the middle of some crazy shit.”

“Really?” Lisa asked as she took Ace’s hand. “That’s so sweet. You really do care.”

Ignoring her soft skin, he grunted. “Whatever.” Wanting to tighten his hold and push her away in equal measure, he did nothing and held himself still. Letting the last of the adrenaline slide away as Logan drove them out of the city, he wondered if he was destined to keep the company of crazy women.

When the scent of her shampoo filled his senses, he looked over and watched her head fall to his shoulder. “Lisa, you gotta get out of here and quit taking such outrageous risks.”

“I’m not done yet, and the world needs to know what’s happening here. The people are on the verge of starvation, and if the Hodeidah port falls to the rebels, it will happen for sure.”

“You can’t tell the world anything if you end up dead, and today was too fucking close. Had we been a minute or two later, you would’ve had your brains blown out.” Not hearing a response, he looked down and saw her eyes close.

“Doing that won’t make me go away or be quiet.”

“Believe me; I know since I’ve tried a bunch of times.” Lifting her head, she gave him a smile. “Maybe Jax is right, and we should go out on a date. What do you think?”

Releasing the last of his anger, he let out a rough chuckle. “I’ll go as long as you let me talk you into going home.”

“If that’s all you want to do, then forget it. I asked you out on a date, not a lecture. Maybe it’s been a long time, and you’ve forgotten what men and women do together.”

Jax leaned forward, and fist-bumped Lisa. “Word.”

Ace lifted his middle finger over his shoulder and then studied Lisa’s face. “All right, fine. I’ll go.”

Lisa clapped her hands and grinned. “Great! I bet once we get to know one another outside of these life and death situations, we’ll get along great. You might even decide to stop yelling.”

“If you promise not to put yourself in those situations anymore, then I can promise I’ll never yell again.”

“Not really possible since it’s my job.” She put her head back down on his shoulder and sighed. “Maybe we shouldn’t talk on our date and just kiss. I’m tired of fighting, and if we don’t keep our mouths busy, then that’s what we’ll end up doing.”

“If Ace says no, then count me in, babe ‘cause I’d be more than happy to kiss the shit out of you.”

“Thanks, Caid.”

Ace turned his head slowly and saw his buddy holding back a laugh. Tightening his hold on Lisa’s hand, he scowled. “If we don’t get called out, then maybe we can grab some chow.”

“I’ll be working on my article, so come find me if it works out.”

“Roger that.” Feeling himself relax, he decided hanging out with Lisa wasn’t the worst idea in the world. It sure wasn’t the best either, but who was he to refuse a woman’s invitation?

Especially from the one who’d invaded his dreams every night since he’d met her.

 

***

 

Lisa sat on her cot, combing out her hair and noticed her hands had started shaking again. Folding them together, she took several deep breaths and mentally tried to make the images of the day disappear. It had been hours since the meeting she’d had with Abdulmalek al-Houthi and way past time for the experience to be locked away in one of the tight boxes she kept in her brain.

Closing her eyes, she gave the pictures of the bodies that fell at her feet one last shove and slammed the lid, so they couldn’t get out again.

Eventually, there’d be a time and place to process everything, but today wasn’t it.

Hearing a short, loud knock, she stood and stepped over to the door, swinging it open. “Didn’t think you’d come.”

Lifting an eyebrow, Ace slid his hands on his hips. “You want to go over to the mess, grab some chow, and pretend like we’re mature adults?”

Stepping back, she waved him in. “Sure, I just need to get a sweatshirt, in case it rains.” She moved aside as he walked in and noticed once again his size as he filled the small space she called home. “My sister just sent cookies, so help yourself.”

“Thanks.” Looking around, he nodded. “Nice hooch.”

Frowning, she crossed her arms. “I’m afraid to ask what a hooch is.”

He let out a huff and stepped back. “It’s military slang for barrack or living quarters.”

Letting her shoulders drop, she let out a small laugh and pulled a pink hoodie out of her bag. “Totally not what I expected you to say.” Pushing her hand into his arm, she waggled her eyebrows. “Sounded kinda dirty.” Seeing his eyes crinkle as a small smile crossed his face made her realize once again how very handsome he was. “You should do that more often.”

“What’s that?” he asked.

“Smile. You’re a good-looking man, and when you snarl and yell, it’s easy to forget that.” When his hand went to his neck, and he groaned, she decided to keep the rest of her observations to herself. “Let’s get out of here before I say anything else that’s awkward.”

Opening the door, he waited until she walked past. “Telling me you find me attractive isn’t awkward, just surprising.”

“You do have a mirror, don’t you?”

“Can we talk about something else?”

“Sure,” she replied with a laugh as she took his hand and walked toward the mess. “You chose the topic, though.”

“Do you really want this to be a date, Lisa, or were you yanking my chain since I gave you such a hard time at the raid?”

“It can be whatever we want; a cease-fire, a make-out session, or just two people sharing some bad food in the middle of a military base far from home. I’m easy and only ask that we don’t get into a quibble over your over-protective, pain in the ass ways.”

“My over-protective, pain in the ass ways have kept you alive. Which means you should be thanking me and not complaining.”

“I do appreciate what you and the guys have done, no doubt, but why are you the only one yelling when it happens?”

“I don’t like the way I feel when you’re in danger, and the fact that you don’t seem to take your safety seriously pisses me the hell off.”

“You don’t yell at any of the other journalists; why am I so lucky?”

Stopping next to a building, he shoved his hands into his pockets and looked at the sky. “I’m not sure. All I know is that the idea of something happening to you guts me in a way I’ve never experienced. It’s fucking uncomfortable and makes me madder than hell that I can’t get it under control.”

“Oh, that’s very…”

“Inconvenient and stupid?”

Looking up, she leaned against the building and noticed the absolute confidence that usually surrounded him like a haze was absent. “No, just really sweet and heartwarming.” She put her hand on his arm and gave him a solemn smile. “I’m only here for another two weeks and will do my best not to give you any more reasons to worry.”

“If only that were possible,” he replied as he cupped her jaw. “You fucking make me nuts, and I’m not sure what to do about it.”

Feeling his rough, calloused hand move along her jaw gave her a few ideas, but she didn’t know if he’d be open to them since the spark between them could go either way.

The overhead lights flickered on, and she took a moment to appreciate his roughened good looks and let her eyes crawl over his beautiful dark chocolate eyes, scruff-covered square jaw, and tempting full mouth.

CPO Ace Henderson was the whole alpha package and damn near irresistible, so she decided to go for it. “Maybe you could kiss me and see if that helps.” Seeing his mouth twitch into a smile, she stepped closer. “It probably won’t make it worse.”

“Oh, it’ll absolutely make it worse,” he said as he advanced slowly. “Because once I put my mouth on you, it’s going to be hard to stop.”

Her stomach clenched as he leaned over and rested one hand against the wall, running his nose along her cheek. “Sounds horrible,” she murmured as his scruff rubbed her cheek. “I’m sure I’ll absolutely hate it.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much guaranteed,” he said just before pressing their mouths together.

A flash or blazing heat skittered over her body as his hips pressed into hers without any semblance of softness. It was determination that defined the moment and a thing so real she couldn’t name it.

Feeling his hand tighten on her hip, she moaned as he kissed her with a passion so raw and charmless it was impossible not to respond.

This was no gentle, let’s test the waters and see what happens kiss. It was one meant to consume, mark, and claim.

Which is what she’d always dreamed of, but never expected to get.

Moving her hands to his chest, she dug her fingers into his T-shirt and held on as he mated them in a way that was irresistible.

Were the irrational feelings real or just a jacked-up reaction to cheating death once again?

Maybe it didn’t matter, and the thing to focus on was the free-fall her stomach was taking as Ace took her to a place she’d never been.

Minutes or hours later, she heard a Jeep in the distance and pulled her mouth away, breathing heavily. “I guess that’ll keep us from bickering.”

Resting his head against hers, he let out a groan. “What the hell was that?”

“Us not fighting.”

“No shit, honey.” Running his hand along her arm, he let out a low laugh. “There are kisses, and then there was that.”

Not able to deny his words, she pushed her lips together and wondered what the hell that slow, deep, and incredibly hot kiss could be called. And where, by the way, did he learn the technique?

“I could kiss you for the rest of my time on this earth, and it still wouldn’t be enough,” he said quietly.

Stepping out of his hold, she looked up and laughed. “That’s either the cheesiest line in all the world or the finest thing anyone has ever said to me.”

“Let’s go with the finest since I’ve never uttered anything like it to another human being.” Letting out a breath, he ran his hand over his jaw. “I have no idea what the hell to do with you.”

“We could do more kissing.”

Smirking, he looked down. “That’s not even a question.” He took her hand and grinned. “Do you want to go the mess or just go back to your hooch and eat all those cookies your sister sent?”

Stepping back, she looked down and saw the bulge in his jeans. “Is that a rhetorical question?”

“No, I’m just trying like hell to be a gentleman.”

“No need.”

“Thank God ‘cause it probably wasn’t going to work.”

“I’m not one to miss a meal, but I’ll make an exception with you.”

“I never miss a meal since I love to eat more than anyone I know.” Moving his hand along her neck, he licked his bottom lip. “Seems I found something else to satisfy my appetite.”

“Cookies?”

“Sure, we can go with that for now.” He took her hand and grinned. “Show me your treats.”

Throwing her head back, she let out a laugh and was incredibly grateful that she and Ace had found something else to do with their mouths. “All right, sailor, follow, me.”

“Best words in the world.”

Stopping, she looked over her shoulder. “Trust me, Ace, those are not even in the top one-hundred.”

“Lay ‘em on me, honey.”

“In due time, Ace. In due time.”