The Right Touch Eileen Nauman The Right TouchShe was living dangerouslyAs a TV camera operator and competing fencer, Devorah Hunter had enough to handle. She didn't need a tough, sexy guy like Cal Travis around–she suspected he was a real lady-killer.Yet when she met the notorious pilot at an embassy party in Hong Kong, she was in for some surprises. Devorah had planned on keeping her distance, but somehow her plans and Cal's moves just kept pulling them closer and closer… Travis Trilogy The Right Touch She was living dangerously As a TV camera operator and competing fencer, Devorah Hunter had enough to handle. She didn’t need a tough, sexy guy like Cal Travis around—she suspected he was a real lady-killer. Yet when she met the notorious pilot at an embassy party in Hong Kong, she was in for some surprises. Devorah had planned on keeping her distance, but somehow her plans and Cal’s moves just kept pulling them closer and closer… The Right Touch Lindsay McKenna www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) Table of Contents 1 (#udec8e4b2-5603-5558-9d0c-48c788dc6d9c) 2 (#u561c41fe-b2b5-5e7d-b82a-518c6fec05c9) 3 (#u56e9bb10-09ee-5c8b-a55d-b185a848583a) 4 (#litres_trial_promo) 5 (#litres_trial_promo) 6 (#litres_trial_promo) 7 (#litres_trial_promo) 8 (#litres_trial_promo) 9 (#litres_trial_promo) 10 (#litres_trial_promo) 11 (#litres_trial_promo) 1 “COME ON, CAL, you need to get off this carrier for a while,” Captain Scott Guthrie said as he entered the cramped quarters. He held his friend’s icy gray glare. “Tell the squadron commander I’m sick,” Cal muttered, lying on the bunk, hands clasped behind his head as he stared grimly up at the ceiling. Scott leaned against the hatch, shoving his hands into the pockets of his summer uniform. “You’re the guy who’s supposed to be heading up this shindig, remember? Hey, it isn’t every day we get an unexpected week in a port like Hong Kong.” Cal flinched, his eyes darkening to charcoal. He and his copilot, Chief Stanton, had been the reason for the stay in Hong Kong. Repairs to the carrier’s catapult system were being completed. Cal shut his eyes, unable to deal with the loss shearing through him. His copilot had been like a brother to him. Now he was dead. And Cal was alive. A fluke of fate. “I’m not up to a party, Scotty. Much less an embassy function,” Cal growled, wrestling with the pain that radiated outward in his chest. He hadn’t slept well since the accident. Four days…God, four nightmarish days. He had been put on waivers immediately after the helicopter had fished him out of the South China Sea. Doctors had checked him over. Reports in triplicate and quadruplicate had been filled out. A talk with his squadron commander. A talk with the chaplain. And then a talk with the psychologist. Cal was sick to death of being poked, prodded and probed. All he wanted was to be left alone to mourn the loss of his best friend. Scott’s oval face was shadowed with concern as he studied his fellow aviator. “Look,” he began earnestly, “maybe this is what you need, Cal. Get off the ship. Get away from here for a while. We don’t have to report back aboard for three days. Hell, let’s punch the ticket, do our bit for the American consulate, play escort and then hightail it to the Wanchai District over on the island and tie one on for Chief.” Cal drew in a ragged breath, opening his eyes, staring blindly at the ceiling. “Maybe you’re right.” Get drunk. That was a good idea. Maybe it would dull the pain. He was on flight waivers; he didn’t have to worry about having alcohol in his bloodstream because he wasn’t allowed near one of the combat jets he flew. Ordinarily, he’d toss down a beer or two with his friends. But right now, a couple of double scotches seemed a reasonable alternative. He could forget for a blessed while. He could finally get more than one or two hours’ sleep a night. Cal rubbed his bloodshot eyes and slowly sat up, moving to his feet. “That’s more like it,” Scott said as Cal pulled on his long-sleeved khaki shirt. “Where is this party being held?” Cal asked, putting on the shirt and then straightening the tie of the same color at his throat. “Over on Kowloon. Shangri-La Hotel. Supposed to be a five-star place.” Scott shrugged, a grin curving his lips. “Hell, good chow, good booze and more than likely some very foxy ladies. Us bachelors couldn’t ask for anything more.” Cal snorted, running a comb through his short, walnut-colored hair. “Right now, all I feel like is a dark corner with my drink and that’s it, not a woman.” “Just turn on your marine corps charm, smile and be the handsome devil you always are and you’ll survive,” Scott drawled. Cal picked up his jacket and shrugged into it. Hong Kong in late October was in the low eighties with ninety percent humidity. They’d sweat to death in their uniforms. All part of punching the ticket to get to test pilot school, he reminded himself. Only tonight, he wanted no part of official duties. He didn’t want small talk, coy games being played by a woman—he didn’t want any company at all. Grief wasn’t something he could share. It was too personal. Too explosive in its pain, ripping him apart inwardly every waking moment. If only he could sleep…God, he could escape the hurt. “I heard from Sam,” Scott went on, “that we’ll be playing escort to a group of national and Olympic amateur fencers from America. They’re over here for an international competition this week. The American embassy is throwing a party for all the competitors. Isn’t that something? Never met a fencer. I knew the sport existed, but I didn’t know it had women in its ranks. Always thought of it as a man’s game. They’ve even got the Russian and Chinese teams here for the meet.” Cal opened his locker and pulled out his service cap, making sure the black patent leather bill was dust and fingerprint free before he settled it on his head. He shrugged noncommittally. That would mean CIA types posing as businessmen littering the party. Those in the marine corps would be watched like hawks because one slip, one hint of top secret military knowledge would be just what the Russians would love to overhear—or so the undercover men would assume. Well, at the first opportunity, Cal was going to get rid of his assigned female and take a ferry over to Hong Kong and drown his misery in the Wanchai District. Scott opened the hatch and they both stepped out. “I know what you’re thinking, Cal, and we haven’t got a thing to worry about: we’ve got the complete U.S. fencing team with us. All they gotta do is draw their swords and protect us from these undercover guys, if need be.” He laughed genially as they ambled down the passageway toward the upper-deck stairs. “Wonder if those female fencers are built like bulldogs? Maybe tanks?” Cal shrugged his broad shoulders. “We’ll find out” was all he muttered. * * * “LOOK! HERE THEY COME!” Sarah whispered conspiratorially to Devorah. “Come on, Dev, at least look like you want to meet these gorgeous marine corps pilots.” Dev wrinkled her freckled nose, casting a quick glance toward the lobby. She could see a contingent of fifteen pilots from the U.S. carrier entering the huge marble and chandeliered area. “I hate blind dates. I don’t care who they are. Why can’t we attend this party alone?” Sarah touched her short crop of blond hair, her green eyes dancing. “We’re an international event, Dev! Of course the U.S. embassy is going to have us chaperoned.” She rubbed her hands together, tossing her unenthusiastic friend a brilliant smile. “And marines! Oh! I just love a man in uniform. This is turning out better than I’d ever dreamed.” Dev rolled her eyes. “Correction: you’re an international sensation, I’m not. You’re the top foil fencer in the U.S.” The comment went right over Sarah’s petite head, and Dev smiled benignly. Well, what could she expect? Sarah was only twenty and she was twenty-eight. A world of difference and different experiences, Dev thought, trying to look philosophically upon the evening. Sarah had eyes for any man who was handsome but remained loyal to her steady boyfriend David back home. Besides, for Sarah, life was a nonstop adventure. Sarah pouted. “You never give yourself credit, Dev. If you weren’t important, they wouldn’t have asked you along.” Dev grinned, her blue eyes sparkling. “Right. The woman èpèe specialist.” “Don’t knock it. You and Sue Barnes not only made it acceptable for women to fence one another with heavier weapons, but you’ve also got it legally accepted at the national level. That’s nothing to sniff at. It’s impressive.” “I just wish Sue was here right now,” Dev groaned. “Well, if you were having a baby right now, you’d be home, too.” “Can I say I’m having morning sickness and gracefully bow out of this party we have to attend?” Sarah laughed. “You’re so funny, Dev. Guess it goes along with your funny name.” “And funny, gangly body.” “Oh, stop it!” Dev laughed with her. “Hey, that’s how I got into èpèe in the first place: I was too tall for foil. Did you ever see a good woman foil fencer over five-foot-six?” Sarah shook her head. “Small means swift.” “Right. And large means a bigger target who’s slower moving.” She looked down at herself. “I’m five-foot-nine and a hundred and thirty pounds. That’s why I went into èpè. All épéeists are tall and slender. Merely a matter of self-defense.” She tapped her head. “And smarts.” Foil was a light weapon compared to the épée blade. Because of the difference in styles, many men thought women couldn’t adjust to the more demanding and physical game of èpè. Dev had proved them wrong. “You’re crazy, Dev! You always make me laugh.” Dev’s full mouth curved into a smile as she watched her smaller friend’s delight. “Yeah, that’s what the guys at the TV station say, too.” “Have Minicam, will travel,” Sarah agreed. And then she frowned. “You sure your wrist is healed enough? I mean, when that big guy tried to punch you out because you were the one with the camera…” Dev looked at her right wrist. Ordinarily, the California sun would have tanned her whole arm; around her wrist the skin was white. The ace bandage had come off two days ago. Dev had spent every moment she could spare from her exhausting job as a camera operator fencing to rebuild the strained muscles. “It should hold up. Coach told me to tape it, but I don’t know. I don’t feel like losing in front of an international television audience. I need all the flexibility I can get to win.” She hadn’t told Coach Jack Gordon there were times when she experienced such excruciating pain that she dropped whatever she was carrying in her right hand. No, if Jack had known that, he would never have allowed her to come to this international meet. She was there to show the rest of the world that women were just as good in épée and sabre as any man in the sport. Sarah frowned. “Yes, but if one of those big Russian women decides to poke you right there with the steel tip of an pe, you could really get it injured.” “Hey, don’t worry about it.” Dev put her hand on Sarah’s bare shoulder. The cocktail-length black chemise made Sarah look smashing. Dev, on the other hand, wore a stunning strapless Victor Kosta dress of red-and-white stripes, complementing her auburn hair and blue eyes. “I’m supposed to be big sister, not you,” she teased, laughing. “I know, I know. Devorah Hunter is our den mother on this trip.” At that moment, Sarah was distracted. Her eyes grew large as she eyed the pilots. “Oh, don’t they look gorgeous?” she breathed. Dev gave them a practiced once-over. “No,” she drawled, amusement in her tone. “They look like they’re on the prowl.” “Marines! Real men! Look at them!” With a shake of her head, Dev excused herself and slid among the rest of the women fencers, making her way to the rear, resting her back against the marble wall. Mrs. Weintraub, wife of one of the officials from the American embassy, began to make introductions. Dev’s eyes sparkled with laughter as she watched the older woman pairing off pilots with fencers based on the criterion of height. Couldn’t have a short marine with a tall fencer, could we? Dev almost laughed aloud and then thought better of it. Most of the women were much younger than her; either Olympic hopefuls for 1988 or international foil fencers in their early twenties. And all short. Her gaze roved without interest over the pilots. Most of them were short, too, and Dev wondered why, never having had much to do with the military services. The closest she got was when her television station had her and reporter Fred Tucker drive up to Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert to take pictures of Shuttle landings and astronauts waving as they disembarked from the huge white craft. Dev smiled as she saw Sarah blushing. A decidedly handsome pilot barely a head taller than her gallantly took her arm and escorted her toward the bank of elevators. Sarah was in love, Dev decided humorously, drowning in all that dashing derring-do of the fighter pilot image. “Uh, Miss—let’s see, dear…” The wife of the embassy official gave Dev a forced smile as she walked over quickly to her. Dev straightened. She saw the woman nervously riffling through the neatly typed lists in her hands. “Oh, dear…what is your name?” “Dev. Dev Hunter, Mrs. Weintraub,” she supplied, trying to look properly interested. Good! Maybe her name wasn’t on the list, which meant she could go back to her room in the hotel and soak her wrist. It was aching and she had no desire to dance or do anything but rest her arm for the forthcoming meet. “Oh, dear…I just know they have your name somewhere here.” Dev looked up. Up into dark-gray eyes that ruthlessly assessed her. She swallowed, caught in the web of his appraisal of her. He was tall. Much taller than any of the other pilots. And his lean face was closed, measured and disapproving. Her heart beat a little more quickly, a reaction that nonplussed her. Whoever he was, he was whipcord lean with squared broad shoulders that were thrown back confidently. An image flitted through her alerted mind: the expression in those almost colorless gray eyes with their huge black pupils warned that he was ready to pounce and shred his next victim. He looked like an eagle. His mouth, although well shaped, was thinned by obvious irritation. But Dev might have been more on guard if the corners of his mouth hadn’t been turned softly upward. At some point, he must have laughed a great deal. He wasn’t laughing now. No, if looks could kill, she’d be dead and so would poor Mrs. Weintraub, who was flustered by the faux pas. Dev was far more concerned about Mrs. Weintraub’s embarrassment. She appeared to be going into cardiac arrest as she tore through the sheaf of papers in her trembling fingers. Dev reached out and touched her elegantly clad silk shoulder. “It’s quite all right, Mrs. Weintraub.” “Well, I just know you are a fencer…I feel terrible.” Dev risked a glance up at the marine corps officer, who was standing there as if bored to death. What was the matter with the arrogant idiot? He was just making Mrs. Weintraub that much more uncomfortable. Her blue eyes darkened when they met his gray ones. “Egotistical” flashed to mind. And then “cold.” Cold and cruelly insensitive. She disliked him intensely in those seconds. Well, she didn’t want to be here, either, but she wasn’t acting like an ass, at least. Dev’s mouth pursed. “Look, Mrs. Weintraub, it’s all right. I honestly didn’t want to go to the party. I’m really tired with jet lag and—” “Oh, my dear! I can’t possibly let you go back to your room just because of a silly typing omission!” Sure you can, Dev thought, trying to look properly chastised that she had even suggested such an alternative. Then another plan formed in her mind, and she looked up, giving the stonelike officer one of her warmest and most brilliant smiles. “Well, I’m sure the captain, uh—” “Major,” he corrected her coolly. “Major Cal Travis.” Dev waved her hand. “Of course! Major. Mrs. Weintraub, I’m sure Major Travis wouldn’t mind a bit if we just called it an evening.” Her eyes widened slightly in a pleading gesture as she held his insolent gaze. “Would you, Major?” she asked sweetly. God, she hated herself for such brash, sickeningly sweet, femme fatale methods. This just wasn’t like her. But at this point, Dev was willing to stoop to such a level to get out of having to go anywhere with this impudent officer! “Whatever the lady wants,” he drawled with a slight bow. I’ll bet, you arrogant— “My gracious, we just can’t have that!” Mrs. Weintraub grabbed the officer by the arm and practically dragged him over. “Dev Hunter, I’d like you to meet your escort for the evening, Major Cal Travis.” She moved from between them and pushed them together. The instant Dev’s forearm came in contact with his hard, masculine body, Dev moved away as if burned. “Now come, come! Just go up to the twenty-first floor and join the celebration.” Mrs. Weintraub grabbed Cal’s arm and led them toward the bank of elevators. Once inside one, Dev immediately went to the opposite corner. Her heart was pounding like a snared rabbit’s, yet she met his hard eyes. “I don’t like this any more than you do.” “Good, at least you aren’t the type to play games,” he said, looking her over as if she were a piece of furniture to be appraised. Cal saw a red stain come to her cheeks and suddenly felt contrite. Come on, Travis, who do you think you’re talking to? She’s probably twenty-four or -five, never been out of the States before and is completely out of her element, and you’re going to put her in your sights and shoot her down. He moved his mouth. “Sorry,” he muttered. Dev’s wrist began to ache, and she focused on that rather than this enigmatic officer who looked just as ill at ease as she felt. Lightly touching her right wrist, she shrugged. “I didn’t want to come to this party, either.” “Well, at least we agree on one thing.” She felt his hand settle on her elbow, and he guided her out of the elevator. Her head snapped up, her eyes wide with confusion as she stared up at him. Prickles of pleasure radiated from his touch. For all the anger she saw and felt emanating from him, his hand was firm without being cruel. He seemed to monitor her stride in her cocktail dress and heels so that she wouldn’t have to run to keep up with his longer-legged walk. “Drink?” Dev winced inwardly. His voice was like a whip. If she had to stand here for an hour and put in an appearance for the team’s sake, it was going to be agony. “Make it a double scotch, will you?” He tilted his head, a thaw in his gray eyes and, if she wasn’t imagining it, a slight hint of a smile pulling at one corner of his compressed lips. “We agree on two things. Stay here. I’ll be right back.” Dev raised her chin, her blue eyes flaring. “Yes, sir. Or should I salute you, too?” Some indecipherable emotion flicked across his face. “Just stand at parade ease and that will do, Ms Hunter.” Arrogant bastard! She stood there, seething. Well, to hell with him! Dev turned smartly on her white heels, perusing the huge room that was softly lit by the chandeliers overhead. The music was soothing, but she barely heard it as she prowled the perimeter of the two hundred or so guests. The women were in their finest and most colorful plumage, while the men wore a mixture of business suits or uniforms from the various services. An impressive party, Dev decided. Aha—a balcony. Just what she wanted. Perhaps if she went out there and hid, Major Travis with his vinegar personality might not find her and would go home—where he belonged. And then she could go to her room and sleep! The scintillating lights of Victoria Harbor were mesmerizing as Dev lounged against the wrought-iron balustrade. The sparkling reds, greens and blues from the island of Hong Kong itself danced off the rippling ebony surface so that she quickly became absorbed in the beauty of the night. A heavy cape of stars covered the shoulders of the night above her, and a soft, tangy salt breeze caressed Dev’s face. With a groan, she wriggled out of the heels, her feet already aching. She was used to wearing jogging shoes on the job and fencing shoes on the copper strip when going bouts with fellow fencers. Heels were something to be put in the darkest corner of her apartment closet and forgotten. Why women wore these tortuous, stilted monstrosities was beyond Dev. Then a silly grin split her squarish face. If she believed that, what was she doing wearing them tonight? The inconsistency of human behavior was alive and well, she decided. After that, so engrossed did she become in the sight of Hong Kong in the distance and a junk sailing by that Dev forgot all about the party and her sourpuss escort. Cal walked quietly across the huge stone patio that was embraced by carefully spaced, potted tropical plants towering above them. He missed little as he approached Dev: she had kicked her heels off, revealing shapely feet. The red-and-white cocktail dress outlined the fact that Dev Hunter was indeed tall and in good physical shape. Cal’s gaze roved appreciatively from her bare shoulders and arms down her long, delicately curved back to her slender hips. He was irritated with himself for having drowned in her pleading blue eyes earlier when Dev had tried to gracefully dodge him and the party altogether. Her hair was an unruly mass of auburn color shot with gold and had been piled into a careless topknot that obviously had refused to stay centered for very long. Cal halted a few feet behind her, watching as she rested her elbows on the balustrade, chin cupped in her hands, a dreamy look on her face. She wasn’t beautiful in a modeling sense. And he found himself applauding the fact that she wore very little makeup. Most women would have resorted to foundation to cover the riot of freckles across her slightly bumped nose and high cheekbones that insisted on staying after childhood had gone. Her lips were softly parted, full and expressive. Cal scowled, ordering his body to stop responding to that particular part of her anatomy. Her eyebrows were lightly winged, enhanced by a pair of wide, curious blue eyes framed with thick lashes. “Child” certainly fit her, he thought sourly. Innocent, childlike in one way, yet childish if he took into account the crack she had made earlier about saluting him. Mouth thinning, Cal decided to get the confrontation over with. “If you were trying to lose me, it didn’t work,” he said, coming up beside her. Dev gasped, startled. She turned quickly with a gazellelike grace that only a fencer with years of training would have acquired. Her eyes widened as she met his dark, disapproving gaze, and her lips parted. Seconds hung suspended between them, and Dev felt an incredible dizziness sweep through her as he stood above her in the darkness. He was all at once a warrior, a male so vital and virile that he literally tore the breath from her, and she lost her voice. His eyes were large and intelligent looking as he stared down at her. Dev had to give herself a mental shake as he placed the cool tumbler of scotch and ice cubes in her hand. His eyes…had she detected sadness in them? He seemed so…desolate? Alone? Yes, she decided, he was terribly alone. Knowing that, she dropped her defensive shield and refused to be drawn into his ugly mood. “Thank you for the drink, Major. And yes, to be truthful with you, I was trying to hide.” She took a sip, stealing a glance up at him to see what kind of effect her honesty had on him. Cal stood inches away from her, incredibly handsome in uniform, the silver wings over his left breast pocket gleaming in the semidarkness. With a slightly self-deprecating smile, she added, “Neither of us wants to be here, so I thought if I disappeared, you could be spared my company and have an adequate excuse to take off.” Cal relaxed slightly, leaning against the wrought iron, taking a good, long drink of his own double scotch. “You ran off because you were angry.” “Touché.” “Is that fencing talk, Ms Hunter?” “It is, Major Travis. It means you scored one point against me.” “I believe I’ve caught you lying to me about the reason why you left.” Dev’s brows drew down, her eyes turning cobalt. “It was a white lie. White lies don’t hurt anyone,” she snapped. “By shading the truth, I wanted to let you and myself off the hook. There’s nothing wrong with that. Instead, you seem to like the bald truth, regardless of who it hurts.” She took another sip, a longer one. And so did he. They glared at one another. “I’m not in the mood for games tonight, Ms Hunter.” Dev almost choked on her drink and backed off a good two feet from him, her eyes flashing. “Well, excuse me for being alive. You think you’re the only one that has a bad day now and then?” She reached down, positioning her heels and angrily stabbing her feet back into them. She looked ominously at him. “Don’t bother coming after me, Major. I’m in no mood for a sourpuss like you, either! I’ve got jet lag. I’m tired. My wrist hurts, and I’ve got the biggest competition of my life coming up. I don’t need your arrogance, insensitivity and snarling disposition on top of all that!” Cal leaned back, pursing his lips as he watched Dev Hunter march off the patio and then disappear into the crowd. He turned and frowned. The beaded coolness of the tumbler between his long, spare fingers sedated his temper. Just as well. How long he stood there, gazing blindly out into the night, he didn’t remember. He did know when his tumbler was empty. Already, Cal could feel the numbing effect of alcohol, and he straightened and walked back to the noisy, crowded bar. He was jostled into someone else and turned to say, “Excuse me.” Dev Hunter was behind him with a pained expression on her face. He had stepped directly on her right foot. His moodiness was momentarily pushed aside when he saw tears gather in her luminous eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said, quickly reaching out to steady her as she leaned down to grasp the injured foot. “What are you doing back here?” Dev gritted out. “Same thing you are. Getting another double. Can you walk?” Dev sucked in her breath, hobbling away from the bar. “Of course! Just let me go. Haven’t you done enough damage for one night?” She sat down at a small table that had just been vacated, pulling off her heels. “I hate these things!” she griped, throwing them under the table. Cal hovered nearby. “Can I make it up to you by getting you a drink?” She snapped up her head, her lips compressed. “That’s the least you can do. Just get me a pop and leave me in peace. One piece.” Her pulse raced as she saw that slightly askew grin tug at one corner of his mouth again. “Okay, redheaded witch, you’ve got a deal. I’ll get you that drink and then leave you alone.” Dev was petulant when he returned. Her big toe was throbbing and bruised but not devastated. She barely acknowledged Cal when he set the drink down in front of her. “Anything else before I leave?” he asked. “Nothing.” “You’re welcome.” Dev’s mouth tightened. Now she was behaving like a spoiled child. At least he had had the manners to apologize for stepping on her foot! She looked up to apologize, but all she saw was the broadness of his shoulders tapering into a lean waist and hips as he was swallowed up by the milling, festive crowd. Following him with her gaze, Dev watched as Cal Travis went back out onto the patio. Alone. He was alone. Again. Angrily, Dev picked up the glass of pop. Why should she feel guilty? He was the one who had started this whole mess. In her present feisty state, Dev didn’t invite anyone to sit down with her. She drowned herself in thoughts of the forthcoming fencing competition, watching some of the women who would be her competitors and mentally reviewing each of their particular weaknesses or strengths against her own abilities. Chewing on her lower lip, Dev glanced up, straining to catch a glimpse of Major Travis. Yes, he was still out there, drink between his hands, staring off into the darkness. Her conscience pricked her. She wriggled her toe. It felt much better. Rising, Dev picked up her heels in one hand and her small white purse in the other and went out to the nearly deserted patio. “Major Travis?” Cal blinked slowly as if coming back from some far corner of his mind. He turned his head. “Yes?” Dev put her hands behind her back, gripping the straps of her heels. “I, uh, just wanted to come out and say I was sorry for the way I behaved earlier. You apologized for stepping on my foot, and I didn’t even have the decency to thank you for getting my drink.” Cal’s gaze lingered first on her flushed face, then traveled down her slender neck to her small breasts and finally to her feet. A slight grin pulled at his mouth. He was feeling no pain now with two doubles in him. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to go barefoot in public?” Dev matched his burgeoning grin. “My mother taught me to be my own person. Besides, some big marine came by and stepped on my toe.” “The brute.” Her eyes glimmered with humor, and Dev walked over to where he stood, looking out over the bay toward Hong Kong. “Are all marines like that? Brutish?” she teased, relieved to find him less threatening. Cal turned his glass around in his hands, studying it. “I don’t know. Are they?” She shrugged, enjoying his teasing, noticing that the hardness in his face was no longer quite so evident. “I’ve never met one. Until now.” Cal snorted softly and bowed his head for a moment. “I’m a lousy example, believe me,” he muttered. Her heart gave a funny lurch as Dev saw his face lose its coldness for just a second. What she saw in its place stunned her. Something tragic had happened to Cal. Now she really felt guilty about being nasty to him. “I don’t think so,” she countered, her voice husky with feeling. “I just think you’re terribly alone.” Cal tipped his head, studying Dev intently. He shook his head. “You look like a child, you know that? Those big blue eyes, soft mouth and that vulnerable aura about you.” Heat rushed to her face; Dev didn’t know quite what to do. “Nah, I just behave like a spoiled brat when I get my toes stepped on, that’s all.” He gave her a perceptive look, one that said, You don’t fool me. “By the way, how is your toe? I suppose it’s the one you have to fence on?” “It’s feeling no pain right now, believe me. After a double?” She laughed softly, leaning languidly against the railing, totally at ease. Cal turned, hip resting on the wrought iron, hungrily absorbing Dev into his memory. “No pain…. You know,” he said with a slight slur, “you’re right on target, Ms Hunter. No pain.” He turned and threw his head back and moved his shoulders as if freeing himself from some imaginary load. “No pain.” “You can call me Dev if you want to,” she said, watching him. He set down the tumbler. “Okay, Dev. How about another?” “No, thank you.” “Sure?” he asked, halting a few feet from her. “Positive.” His eyes darkened and held hers captive. “Will you be here when I get back, or are you going to run away from me again?” Dev trembled, the low vibration of his voice moving through her as if he had reached out and caressed her. She took a ragged breath. “No, I’ll be here.” “Your word as a fencer? You’re supposed to be chivalrous and all that.” Her smile was winsome, her laughter silvery. “I’ll be here, Major.” “Cal. You can call me Cal.” “Okay, Cal. I’ll be here when you get back,” she promised softly. He plunged through the crowd, head held high, shoulders pressed back like the wings of a proud eagle. Dev saw the women look up as he passed. A silly smile lurked on her lips. Careful, Dev, this is not a man you mess around with and come away from unhurt. She shivered with the memory of Cal’s intense, heated look. Her experience warned her that he played for keeps. No. He was a taker. What was his, was his. Excitement spread through Dev as she allowed herself to wonder what it would be like to be his. To belong to him. Because Major Cal Travis was an owner. Which had its darker side—one who took, who owned, could be selfish. A hunter. A stalker. Cal was dangerous, her instincts finally shouted. Dev returned her attention to the picturesque view of Hong Kong and mulled over the sudden change in their adversarial relationship. Cal joined her as noiselessly as he had left her, which put Dev a little in awe of him. She met his unreadable gaze as he stood next to her, his elbow lightly resting near her own. The heat of his body, the intoxicating scent of him encircled her, and she felt giddy. Giddy and out of control, as if someone had waved a magic wand and the two of them were the only people in the world at that moment. “You stayed,” he said, sipping the scotch. “I told you I would. Fencer’s word,” she teased. He cocked his head, studying her face for a long moment. “I don’t know anything about fencing.” “I don’t know anything about marine jet pilots, either.” His mouth lifted. “We’re usually called jet jockeys. Or fighter jocks.” “Is that anything like Big Man On Campus?” He shrugged nonchalantly. “Ask any marine who’s the best military man in the world, and he’ll tell you it’s a marine.” Dev couldn’t help but smile. “And along with that goes adjectives such as ‘arrogant,’ ‘self-centered’ and ‘egotistical’?” “Touché, Dev Hunter.” Cal lifted his tumbler in salute to her and took another drink. “But be careful that you don’t confuse my confidence with egotism. There’s a difference.” “Touché, Cal Travis. I believe the score is now two to one for you.” He nodded. “In fencing, how many points do you score to a game?” She laughed. “They’re called bouts, and whoever scores five points first is the winner of that match.” Cal was feeling pleasantly drunk. “Anybody ever tell you that you’re a feisty redhead?” Dev rested her chin on her hands, smiling distantly. “Well, at our age, Cal, I’m sure we’ve both been called a few things. Don’t you think?” He scowled. “Age? God, you make it sound like we’re both over the hill.” “Well, in two more years, I’ll be thirty,” she said lightly. “You’re not twenty-five?” “No. But thank you for the compliment, anyway. Want me to guess your age?” He shook his head. “If I don’t look eighty, I should,” Cal admitted, his face becoming tense once again. He stared off into the night. “Maybe a hundred. Hell, I don’t know.” Dev licked her lower lip. Cal Travis was complex and changeable. Already, she had seen his cold, ruthless side, a bit of his teasing demeanor, and now that desolate expression was on his face again. Taking a deep breath, she decided to take a chance. “Cal?” “Hmm?” “Why are you so sad? I was watching you a while ago, and you seemed so unhappy.” He grimaced. “God, don’t tell me I’m that transparent.” “No. I don’t think you are. Maybe just to me. Fencers are trained to watch even the most minute of movements, facial expressions, that sort of thing.” Cal hesitated. “Listen, my redheaded witch, you don’t want to open up Pandora’s box,” he warned. “Why not?” “Because it would be dangerous.” “In what way?” The look he gave her revealed nothing. “Either you like to live dangerously, lady, or you’re being naive.” “At twenty-eight, I’m hardly naive, Cal. You want to tell me why you’re polishing off that third drink like your life depended on it? You won’t be able to walk out of here if you do.” He held up the tumbler. “I guess fencers do like to live dangerously.” His voice hardened. “And don’t worry about me. I’ll be able to make it over to Wanchai when I want to.” Dev was nettled by his attitude. “Maybe it would help if you could talk about it.” “Maybe I think you should mind your own business. I don’t like women who think they can mother me.” “Why, you—God! You’re really exasperating! One minute you can be nice and the next minute a real bastard.” Cal turned and blinked at her. Her eyes were narrowed midnight fire, her hair an unruly mass around her head by now, her hands resting imperiously on her slender hips. He smiled, feeling dizzy for a moment. “I was right: you are a witch.” “Yes, and if I had a broom, believe me, I’d knock you over the head with it! Where do you get off taking my concern for a human being as mothering?” He shrugged, enjoying her spirit. “Aren’t all women mothers?” She set her lips, glaring at him. “I know some men that are real mothers.” “Like me, for instance?” Dev burst out laughing, unable to maintain her fury when he was baiting her. “You’re impossible.” “Yeah, that’s what I’ve been told. ‘Travis, you’re a ring-tailed bastard whose mistress is an airplane and whose mother is the marine corps.’” He turned, giving her a glazed look. “Doesn’t leave much room in my life for a wife, does it?” “Who said anything about a wife?” she asked, watching him closely. His eyes were heavy lidded, and he was almost completely relaxed. Dev wondered when the alcohol was going to fell him. “You.” “Me? I didn’t, either!” “See, there you go again. Exploding. You’re more sensitive than a laser-fired rocket, you know that?” “That’s your fault.” His smile was devastating. “You’d make good wifely material, Dev Hunter.” “You’re drunk, Travis. Stone cold drunk. And if you don’t sit down, you’re going to fall down.” Cal dismissed her with a wave of his hand, feeling no pain. At last, he was free of the anguish. He felt good. Dev made him happy just by being herself. “Sure, you’d make someone a great wife. Nice body, good sense of humor—” “You want to look at my teeth before you buy, Travis?” she snapped back, becoming truly concerned as he leaned precariously on the rail. Dev reached out, taking the tumbler from his fingers before he dropped it. She heard someone approaching and looked up. Her heart sank—two marine pilots. “Hey, Cal, you ready to go over to Wanchai? I think we’ve punched the ticket long enough. What do you say, buddy?” Cal tipped his head toward Dev. “Nah, you go on, Scotty. Got my hands full here.” “You sure?” Dev gave Cal Travis a deadly look and turned to the pilot named Scotty. “Correction: he hasn’t got his hands full of anything. He’s so drunk that he’s ready to keel over. Why don’t you take him back to the boat and—” “Ship, Dev. It’s called a ship, not a boat,” Cal corrected her, grinning lopsidedly. She glared at him. “Thanks for the naval lesson, Major Travis. Now if you gentlemen will excuse me, I don’t want to keep you from Wanchai or whatever it’s called!” Cal looked dismayed, watching her stalk off in anger, her auburn hair a burnished red and gold beneath the light of the chandeliers as she went inside to the party that was still going full steam. “I’ll be damned,” he muttered. And then a grin creased his features. She didn’t have her shoes on! He watched as she whipped between two groups of people. One of the heels she was carrying in her hand flew out of her grasp, dropping unnoticed to the floor. Scotty shot a glance over to him. “Whew, she’s a redhead, all right.” With a concentrated effort, Cal launched himself to his feet from his leaning position at the rail. “Yeah. Feisty. But nice. I was a little rough on her. Listen, you go on, there’s one thing I’ve got to do before I leave,” he told them, eyeing the white heel that lay on the floor. “Going to apologize, Travis?” Scotty drawled. “She’d probably nail me with a right hook if I tried to. No, she dropped one of her heels. I’ll take it up to her and then grab a taxi over to Wanchai. You guys going to be at the Golden Dragon?” “Is there any other place?” “No. I’ll see you in a little while.” Scotty grinned. “Yeah, well, try and stay on your feet, Travis. And don’t get nailed.” 2 IN THE MIDDLE of her beautifully appointed room, Dev wriggled out of her dress. She tossed the Victor Kosta on one of the double beds and stalked over to the mahogany dresser, jerking open a drawer. Who in the hell did Cal Travis think he was? What an arrogant ass! She yanked on a pair of her favorite threadbare jeans that were almost white from so much wear and a bright-red T-shirt emblazoned in white and silver with a fencer wielding an èpè. She spotted one of her heels. Where was the other? Muttering under her breath, Dev searched every square inch of her room. Where could it be? “Damn it.” She sat back on her heels. In exasperation, she loosened her auburn hair, and it tumbled down around her shoulders in wavy abandon, framing her face. Throwing her hands on her hips, she glared around the area. “It’s all your fault, Major Travis! My only pair of heels. I’ll bet I lost it when I left the party.” A knock on the door startled her. Immediately, her brows knit in a frown. “Who is it?” she yelled. She wasn’t in any mood for Sarah or any of her other fencing friends to visit her right now. All she wanted was to soak her aching wrist in Epsom salts, work on her fencing gear and then go to bed. Another knock. Dev leaped to her feet, angry at whoever it was because he or she didn’t even have the decency to respond to her call. Barefoot, she marched down the long hall, unchained the door and removed the dead bolt. With a yank, the door was open. “What do you want?” she demanded, glaring up at the marine. Dev tried to still her leaping pulse. Cal Travis looked remarkably relaxed. “Is that the way you always answer your door?” he asked silkily. Damn, she looked gorgeous, Cal thought, his gaze hungrily taking in her unruly hair, slender body emphasized by nice rounded breasts and those delicious, beautifully curved thighs. He was coming to appreciate fencers and fencing, he thought, laughing to himself. “When it’s an arrogant marine corps pilot like you, you bet I do!” Dev flared back. “Now if you don’t mind, I’ve lost one of my heels, and I’ve got to go back upstairs to find it.” Cal drew the white leather heel from behind his back, dangling it like a carrot before her. “I found it.” Dev pouted, feeling some of her anger abate. Well, he wasn’t a total bastard, after all. She reached out for it, her long fingers wrapping around the strap. He didn’t let go. Dev’s mouth narrowed dangerously. His eyes were a warm, inviting gray. He was silently laughing at her. “Let me have my shoe, Major.” “Only if you invite me in for a cup of coffee first,” he said huskily. Dev felt a thrill along her fingers as his hand remained lightly against her own. “If you think you’re coming in for a roll in the hay, forget it. Go to your Wanchai or whatever it is.” Cal’s mouth slowly drew into a mocking grin. “Are all fencers as blunt and paranoid as you?” Her eyes glittered. Dev felt embarrassed and stupid standing out in the hall with her heel gripped firmly between them. A warning bell went off inside her: he reminded her of a big cat playing with a cornered mouse. And she was his dinner. “Only when they’re under attack,” she parried nervously beneath his heavy-lidded appraisal. God, the man could melt butter with those eyes of his! “But I’m not attacking you. I brought you your heel, and I wanted to apologize for the way I behaved earlier.” “Apologize?” Her lips parted, and she ruthlessly searched his enigmatic expression for some telltale sign that he was lying through his playboy teeth. Cal released the shoe, lounged against the doorjamb and stuck his hands deep into his pockets, watching her. She was sensuous in that outfit. Tall and built like a racing greyhound. And not an inch of fat or flab on her. “Yes, ma’am. I wasn’t much of a gentleman earlier. I embarrassed the hell out of you in front of my friends.” His voice lowered. “And I am sorry. It’s been a tough week, and I really didn’t want to come to this function. I figured if I got drunk, I wouldn’t feel anything.” Cal glanced up, meeting and melting beneath her suddenly compassionate blue eyes. “I hadn’t counted on meeting a highly fascinating, not to mention beautiful, red-haired woman tonight.” Cal forced himself back to his feet, dizziness stalking him as he took his hands out of his pockets. He gave her a warm smile. “That’s all I wanted to say, Dev. I didn’t mean to ruin your evening.” Dev watched him turn and slowly walk down the hall toward the elevators. He was weaving. “Wait!” she called, her voice carrying strongly. “Cal?” He stopped and turned. “What?” She held up the heel. “How about that coffee? I mean, you drank a lot. And you’re walking like a duck.” His grin was irrepressible as he turned and came back toward her. “A duck?” “Sort of. You had three doubles. That’s a lot of liquor. Come on in.” Cal wandered through the door, taking a look around her room. He spotted the cocktail dress in a heap on one of the beds. In one corner were two green canvas bags, holding, he was sure, some of her fencing weapons. On the coffee table directly in front of him were two weapons lying disassembled with electrical wires sticking out of the bell guards of the blades. He carefully made his way around the table, unbuttoned his jacket and dropped it across the back of the blue silk settee before he sat down. He unbuttoned the shirt at his throat, loosened his tie and pulled the collar open. He hated ties. Although he was dizzy and out of sorts, his focus on Dev was all too clear. She was attractive, and he added another word—fearless. He liked the low, husky tone of her voice and listened to it as she ordered the lifesaving liquid. “The coffee will be here in five minutes,” Dev promised, putting the phone back into the cradle. Why did she suddenly feel nervous? She wasn’t eighteen and this certainly wasn’t a date. Yet the look in Cal’s eyes instantly made Dev feel breathless…and then afraid that she might want this man one day. He was male. Totally male, the strong column of his throat exposed at the open collar, a few dark hairs peeking out from above the white T-shirt he wore beneath his uniform. She swallowed and gave him a nervous smile, coming to sit down in the chair at the end of the coffee table. Wanting to somehow quell her nervousness, Dev reached for her small toolbox near the leg of the chair and began reassembling one of the weapons. “This is a first,” Cal said, amusement in his voice. Dev looked up briefly. “What?” “A woman with weapons in her bedroom. Do you always keep them lying around to scare off a man who might get ideas?” She met his smile, then forced her attention back to threading the wires through the aluminum bell guard. “So far, I haven’t had to march anybody out at sword point. But,” she added, measuring him with a look, “there’s always a first time for everything.” “Is that warning for my benefit?” “Take it any way you want, Major Travis.” He scowled. “Now we’re back to formality.” He leaned forward, reaching out, his long, tapered fingers gently wrapping around her wrist. “I’m not a wolf, and you’re certainly not a defenseless rabbit. So relax, will you? You’re making me nervous, and I’m drunker than hell.” His touch was electrifying, making wild tingles race up her arm. Dev’s eyes rounded, and she froze beneath his hand until he released her. “It isn’t every day I meet a hotshot pilot who’s handsome and a playboy to boot,” she muttered, returning to her work and refusing to meet his eyes. Cal eased back, putting an arm along the top of the settee, finding himself enjoying her company. The light from the lamp made her hair come alive, and he was mesmerized by the copper, wine and gold colors. He wondered what her hair would feel like beneath his exploring hands and had to physically stop himself from satisfying his curiosity. “I might agree with the hotshot pilot label. Definitely with the handsome bit. But I’m not a playboy.” Dev hooted, throwing back her head. “Excuse me, Major. But there’s no wedding ring on your left hand, and you’ve got all the subtle, sexy moves calculated to melt a woman right into your arms. Oh, yes, you’re a playboy, all right. And very good at it, too.” His eyes glittered as he studied her. “So what’s wrong with enjoying women?” “Nothing. Not a thing. It’s just that I’m not prepared to be one of your conquests, that’s all.” “Well,” he drawled, “I’m not stupid enough to invite myself in here, judging by the way you handle those weapons. Don’t worry, I’ll behave myself.” Dev lifted her chin, meeting his smile. Cal seemed so warm and open; in that moment, she liked him. He wasn’t afraid to poke fun at himself. She liked his honesty. “They’re called pes,” she said, slipping the pistol-grip handle back onto the threaded steel that was welded to the blade. “They’re called dangerous.” She liked his mellow laughter. After taking a screwdriver and tightening the bolt, she handed him the épée butt first. “Nah, they’re not dangerous and neither am I.” Cal sat up, gingerly holding the long, triangular blade. “Correction: any redhead is dangerous.” “Just ones without freckles. See? I have freckles. Your basic, harmless type.” “In my book, no redhead is harmless.” “And I’ll bet you’ve got lots and lots of experience under your belt with women from around the world.” The knock at the door broke their friendly mood. Dev got lithely to her feet, skipping across the room. Cal sat back, enjoying watching her. The houseboy, dressed in black slacks and a white top, brought in the coffee. He placed it on the table, bowed, then left. Dev flopped down, crossed her legs beneath the table and poured. When she handed Cal the cup and saucer, he had the oddest expression on his face. “Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked. Cal shook his head slightly, taking the fragrant coffee from her. “Don’t mind me, Dev. I’m drunk, remember?” She was so natural and unaffected. She had a way about her that shook his deteriorating control. Dev wore no makeup, looked utterly delicious in a pair of old jeans and a T-shirt that lovingly outlined every contour and valley of her body and matched his wit at every turn. He saw her eyes darken momentarily with concern. “It’s starting to get to you, isn’t it? First the dizziness, and next, you’ll pass out.” She wrinkled her nose. “Or worse, get sick. I hate getting sick. That’s why I never drink much. Except for tonight.” You’re getting to me, Cal thought. “Did I drive you to drink tonight?” “You know you did.” “I haven’t been very good company,” he agreed. She tilted her head. “Are you feeling worse? You’re looking pale.” “A little,” he lied. “Are pilots known for understatement?” He sipped the scaldingly hot liquid, hoping to quell the increasing hunger coming to life in him. What would it be like to kiss those full, smiling lips that quirked, pouted and compressed according to her quicksilver mood? Or to allow his hands to outline those wonderfully shaped breasts? Or…Cal took a very long breath and expelled it slowly. Well, he was drunk. And he wasn’t feeling any pain now over Chief’s death. He was feeling another kind of pain, a sharp ache deep inside his chest, one that he couldn’t quite identify, having never felt it before. “Probably,” he admitted, forcing down more coffee. Dev poured herself some and added a hefty portion of cream and sugar to it. All the while, she was watching him. “I’m not exactly sober myself.” “You hold your liquor real well,” he congratulated her. “So do you. But I don’t see how you’re managing.” Dev was so flustered by the keen, incisive look Cal gave her that she nearly dropped the saucer. She quickly set it down on the table in front of her, getting back to work on the second èpè. The silence became awesome, and inwardly Dev tensed, realizing he was watching her every move. “When do you fence in this competition coming up?” Cal asked, trying to ease the uneasiness between them. “Wednesday. I’m lucky, I have a chance to recover from jet lag before I have to go out on the strip.” “Strip?” Dev eyed him, noticing he had a silly smile on his mouth. A mouth that was used to giving orders and having them carried out. She wondered blankly what it would be like to be kissed by a mouth like that. “Uh, we fence on a copper-mesh strip that’s approximately forty-six feet long and six-and-a-half feet wide. Epèe and foil are electrically scored, and the copper strip grounds us. Officially, it’s known as a piste, but we call it the strip, instead.” Cal finished the first cup, awkwardly pouring a second one, spilling a few drops on the table. “How long are you going to be here in Hong Kong?” “A week. I have to fence Wednesday and Friday. We leave on Sunday. What about you? How long will you be here?” She looked up, struck by how relaxed Cal looked. “One week.” “Must be nice. A paid vacation to ports all over the world.” He grimaced, not meeting her teasing blue gaze. “Yeah, I suppose it is.” Dev picked up the bell guard. A flash of pain shot through her fingers and then up to her elbow. Her fingers became nerveless, and the bell dropped to the carpet. She bit down hard on her lower lip, instantly covering her injured wrist with her other hand. “What’s wrong?” Cal put the cup down on the table and leaned forward. “Oh, nothing,” she muttered. Damn it! She got up, holding her wrist, the pain increasing. She was so absorbed by the fact her wrist was giving her trouble again that she didn’t notice Cal get to his feet. It was only when his long fingers gently pulled her hand from her throbbing wrist that she realized he was there, standing over her. His brows were drawn down as he carefully examined the injury. Her pulse jumped; her heart thudded in her breast. Dev could feel the power radiating from Cal, making her dizzy, frightening her, thrilling her. She could smell his subtle cologne, and her nostrils flared as he carefully turned her hand over. “What did you do? Strain it? Looks a little swollen here,” he said, lightly running his thumb across the affected area. “I—I sprained it about three weeks ago.” She sounded like a stammering eighteen-year-old. Cal drew up her hand, positioning her wrist in a better light. “Yeah, there’s still some bruising. You can barely see it, though.” He looked up, his face inches from hers. “What happened? Did you hurt yourself fencing?” His eyes were so wide and inquiring that Dev lost herself in them. Eyes that were at once intelligent, clear and yet filled with genuine concern. He wasn’t a sham, after all; she knew it in her heart. This was another side to the enigmatic Cal Travis. Dev blinked, shaken. She reclaimed her hand and took a step away from him. “No…I got shoved down by a couple of union guys about three weeks ago.” “What?” Dev’s lashes flew up at his growl. “I’m a television camera operator. The reporter, Tucker, and I had to go out and cover a strike. He wanted some close-ups of the union people having words with the police, and he ordered me into the confrontation. One of the guys tried to tear the camera off my shoulder and out of my hands.” Dev shrugged. “I held on to it, but me and the camera both went flying.” She glanced down at her wrist. “I took a bad strain, and I’ve been trying to baby my wrist along ever since then so I can fence at my best in this competition.” Cal’s eyes flashed with anger. “Tucker was a fool to let you that close to something like that,” he snapped. “What’s the idiot got for a brain? A pea?” Dev gave him a feeble smile. “Don’t be angry at him. He’s always where the action is. I only banged up my wrist a little,” she lied. Cal threw his hands on his hips, assessing her. “That épée must weigh around a pound and a half. If you can’t even hold a lightweight piece of aluminum with that hand, how are you going to fence?” Dev raised her eyebrows, pleased by his insight. “Good question. I’ll probably have to wrap it tightly and pray it holds up during the bouts. I’ll be back in a minute. I want to get a warm cloth and wrap my wrist.” “No, sit down here. Let me do it.” “But—” “Sit down.” Dev sat, rather shocked, watching him stalk to the bathroom. When Cal came back with the washcloth and hunched down in front of her, Dev held out her wrist. “I want you to know, I don’t normally take orders from anyone.” Cal wrapped the cloth around her wrist, holding it between his hands. He raised his chin, meeting her cool blue eyes. Eyes that were flecked with gold spikes in their depths. “You’re pulling back from me. I guess sometimes retreat is the better part of valor.” “You’re impossible, Travis.” A grin lurked around his mouth. “Yeah, I know. And you like me that way.” A flush invaded her cheeks. “I didn’t say I liked you at all!” she blustered, her flesh tingling madly where his hands rested. His touch was firm without being painful. As a matter of fact, her wrist felt better already. “You also admitted I was handsome.” “And a playboy. Don’t forget the last label. It’s the most important one.” “What do you have against me enjoying the woman I want to give my undivided attention to?” he asked huskily, the vibration of his voice moving through her like a sensual drug. Dev wanted to run. She was reeling from his decidedly masculine aura. “Nothing. Everything,” she muttered, refusing to meet his eyes. “If you were my woman, you wouldn’t be saying that,” he told her softly, his voice deep, penetrating. Her defenses were up; the red light was going off in the back of her head, and she was trembling. Trembling! And it wasn’t from fear. It was from the promise in Cal’s intimate baritone, aimed at her. She swallowed. “My wrist feels better now.” He shook his head, removing the cloth and then refolding it around her wrist. “Why are you afraid of me, Dev Hunter?” Cautiously, she met his frank gray eyes. “You make me feel as if I’m being hunted.” She was completely unprepared as his hand left her wrist and framed her face, tilting her head slightly upward. His breath was moist against her flesh as he bent his head. “You are….” he said thickly, his mouth slanting across her parted lips as he slowly drew her to her feet. The breath was stolen from her body, replaced by the gentle invasion of his mouth, tasting, testing and teasing her lips. Her world shattered into a million golden fragments as Dev felt his hands frame her face, deepening the exploration, coaxing her to partake of the heat that boiled within them. She had no time to react, her hands automatically lifting to rest against the hardened muscles of his upper arms. The scent of Cal entered her nostrils, and she tasted the maleness of him. A driving hunger flared to life in her lower body, liquid fire racing through her as he continued to gently tease her lips with little nips, his tongue lightly stroking her flesh with unexpected tenderness. Her knees weakened, and Dev trembled outwardly as his onslaught continued. Somewhere in her stunned, incoherent mind, Dev recognized that if Cal had been ruthless or brutal, she would have reacted negatively. Instead, he had surprised her again. He was a man of war. Someone who was used to flexing his muscles and using his strength. But he wasn’t capable of using force on her. Dev found herself capitulating to his coaxing. Cal slowly broke the kiss, need screaming through his hardened body. “God, you’re so sweet,” he rasped, looking deep into her dazed cobalt eyes. “Sweet and good and all woman.” Dev blinked, languorously. If it weren’t for Cal’s fingers spanning her jaw, she would have slumped against him, dizzied by his kiss. She had never savored the utter raw sensuality of a kiss before as she had with him. Confusion darkened her eyes as she basked in his warmth. Dev saw a hint of a smile tugging at his wonderfully shaped mouth. “Come on, I think you’d better sit down before you fall down.” Cal led her over to the settee, briefly keeping his hand on her arm. He picked up the cloth that Dev had allowed to drop to the carpet when he had kissed her. Going to the bathroom, he wet it again. Dev gave him a guarded look as he walked back toward her; he saw her defenses going up. Could he blame her? As he hunched down, Cal felt a wave of dizziness race through him. Not because of her giving, vulnerable kiss, either—because of the damn liquor he had consumed. Wrapping her wrist once more, he cursed himself. Now he wanted to be sober. To be clearheaded. Dev interested him. She was different. Independent. And she didn’t play games. Cal didn’t regret the kiss, but he regretted how he was feeling. It had been a stupid, immature idea to drink. Normally he’d have had a few beers, that was all. No carrier pilot lasted long if he hit the bottle. “I have a favor to ask,” he began, meeting her grave eyes, “and I know you’ll probably think I’m playing a game when I ask you.” Dev’s arm tingled where Cal’s hand rested. Her voice was soft when she answered. “Are you feeling bad?” A mocking smile lingered on Cal’s mouth. “Not from kissing you, believe me. It’s from the scotch.” His brows drew downward. “To make a long story very short, Dev, I’ve had about seven hours’ sleep the past four days. All that liquor and I’m ready to keel over.” “You’ll never make it back to your ship.” “No, I won’t.” He glanced toward the beds. “If you could let me just kick off my shoes and sleep for a few hours—” Her eyes flickered with concern. “Four days? Cal, what happened? I mean—” His mouth thinned. “I can’t talk about it, Dev. Trust me, all right? Just let me get a few hours and then I’ll leave. I promise I’ll keep my hands off you. No games, my redheaded witch.” She studied him for a moment. Her instincts always ran true, no matter how the rest of her was feeling. She searched Cal’s face, noticing that the skin was drawn tautly across his flesh, dark shadows beneath his eyes. “Okay. Go lie down. I’m tired, too. Do you want a shower? The hotel supplies robes—” Cal slowly stood up. “No. I’ve taken enough advantage of your generosity already, Dev. If I can grab a few hours, that’s all I’ll need.” He walked over to the bed, turned the lamp off and sat down. Dev watched as he took off his shoes, then stretched out, his hands behind his head. She got up, moving to the hall and shutting off another switch, which darkened the entire suite. Her lips still tingled from the coaxing fire of his kiss, and dazedly, she wandered into the bathroom to have her bath. The evening was turning out to be incredible in so many ways. Dev languished in the orange-scented bath salts, her thick mane piled on her head. If someone had told her she would be meeting a devastatingly handsome man, a marine corps fighter pilot, she would have roared with laughter. And then to have him in her room, sleeping in one of the beds! If Sarah ever found out, her twenty-year-old eyes would widen to saucer proportions, and her mouth would drop open. Dev smiled. Cal Travis, you are something else. A breed apart. An interesting man. A fascinating human being. She mulled over the facets of him that she had glimpsed that evening. Putting them all together, Dev confirmed her belief that something tragic had happened lately to Cal. After he had kissed her and she had opened her eyes, Dev had seen grief in his gaze. Raw anguish that hadn’t yet been expressed. She sighed tiredly, rising from the water and stepping onto the rug, wrapping the thick white towel around her and drying off. Slipping into her lavender-sprigged, knee-length gown, Dev quietly opened the door, shutting off both the bathroom and hall lights. She waited a few moments, allowing her eyes to adjust to the gloomy darkness. A slight smile chased across her lips: she could hear Cal’s occasional soft snore breaking the silence. Padding barefoot into the main room, she noted that she had left the gauzy blue panels drawn across the huge wall of windows. The lights of Hong Kong shed a luminescence into the room, making it easy to see where she was walking. Dev hesitated after pulling back the covers on her own bed, turning to look at Cal. He had rolled onto his side, legs slightly drawn up toward his chest, arms around the pillow he had laid his head on. In sleep, he looked vulnerable, and her heart gave a funny lurch. No longer did the corners of his mouth pull in as if he were experiencing some pain known only to himself. Dev felt sudden compassion for him and, walking around the bed, drew a lightweight blanket up across his body. Several strands of his dark-walnut hair had dipped down across his brow. She leaned over, coaxing them into place with her fingers. “Good night, Cal,” she whispered. “I hope you’ve escaped all that hurt I saw in your eyes.” Dev straightened up, her own eyes fraught with worry. She recalled the only time in her life when she had gotten miserably drunk and on a great deal less than what Cal had probably consumed. Dev gnawed on her lower lip for a while before going back to her bed and slipping between the cool, crisp sheets. If Cal hadn’t slept much in four days, he wasn’t going to be getting up in a few hours feeling fit. Or even human. Dev found herself hoping he would sleep through the night and be around when she woke up in the morning. Her dreamy side wished that. Her realistic side chided her: Cal would get up in a few hours and quietly walk out of her life, never to be seen again. She snuggled into her pillow. Despite everything, she liked Cal Travis. Despite his obvious love of himself, he did have some face-saving traits that endeared him to her. On that thought, Dev spiraled into the welcoming folds of sleep. * * * CAL MOVED RESTLESSLY in a stupor that straddled sleep and the nightmarish reality that haunted him. He twisted his head to one side, feeling a rivulet of sweat running down from his temple, across his jaw. His mouth moved, unintelligible words torn from him. Chief was smiling. Even though his friend wore the mandatory oxygen mask, Cal could always tell when his copilot was smiling because the corners of his chocolate-brown eyes crinkled. He smiled back beneath the rubber of his own face mask. They were running through the last compulsory checks on their A-6 Intruder jet. It stood poised in front of the catapult that would soon sling them like an arrow off the deck of the carrier and into the pink dawn. “Hey, you know you have to see my sister, Kaya, when you make it to test pilot school,” Chief teased him, flipping on a few more switches with his gloved hand. Cal leaned over, his gray gaze making a final sweep of the instruments. “Told you I would.” “I’ll scalp you if you don’t, buddy,” he teased good-naturedly, giving Cal a light punch on the right shoulder. “I promise. I promise.” Cal looked over at his friend, with whom he had flown for over a year and a half. Joe was a full-blooded Hopi Indian, one of the first Hopi to make it through the rank and file to become a fighter pilot. Maybe it was because they were both taciturn, revealing little of themselves, that they had initially been drawn to each other. Cal wasn’t sure. What he was sure of was that Chief, his teasing nickname for Joe, was the very best of the fighter pilot breed. They were top scorers in competitions around the world in air-to-air and air-to-ground target practice. Cal and Chief were inseparable. “My sister’s pretty. So just keep your hands to yourself, Travis.” Cal laughed, bringing the canopy down and locking it. His long fingers folded over the dual throttles. “If she wasn’t your sister, she wouldn’t be safe.” Chief gave him a dangerous look laced with amusement, throwing him a thumbs-up sign. “I know. Okay, check complete. Let’s get this baby airborne, I want to play eagle.” The hookup man on deck, crouched beneath the A-6 Intruder, handed the plane off to the catapult officer, who stood a few feet off the wingtip. The cat officer thrust his right hand, two fingers extended, into the air and waved it in a rapid rotating motion. Cal scanned his instruments and moved the control stick forward and back, from right stop to left stop. He saw four other deck-crew troubleshooters rapidly moving down the expanse of his aircraft, searching for leaks, proper engine function, control movement or anything abnormal. When one of the crewmen gave a thumbs-up, the cat officer looked down at the hookup man, still kneeling by the aircraft’s hook that was now linked to the steam catapult. Automatically, Cal asked, “Harness tight?” The raw power of the catapult, hurling the A-6 off the deck at one hundred eighty miles per hour, could snap a neck. The crisscross of harnesses kept Cal and Chief tightly strapped to their individual ejection seats, pinned in one position. Cal always had bruises on his shoulders from the straps biting deeply into his flesh. “Yeah. Tight enough to make a pig squeal. Brakes full power,” Chief replied. Cal saw the hookup man scurry away from beneath their A-6. Immediately, his gaze moved to the yellow-vested cat officer. Cal snapped off a salute, preparing himself for the release. “We’re going to get the signal,” he said, watching as the shooter, who stood over the catapult console on the edge of the deck, raised both arms skyward. The cat officer took a wide stance, his left hand in the air, two fingers extended. He returned Cal’s salute, then suddenly dropped to one knee, signaling the shooter to press the button that would send them down the deck. Cal heard the call from the control tower that sat above them. The dawn was turning a brilliant red and pink; the South China Sea was placid on that beautiful late October morning. But Cal didn’t notice. He was locked into one of the most dangerous maneuvers ever to be performed by any pilot in any jet—takeoff from a carrier. The jet began to scream, trembling and howling like a banshee around him and his copilot as he arced the throttles to full power. Then, at a hand signal from the navy crewman who stood five yards away from the wingtip of the jet, he knotched them into afterburner range. Cal braced himself, unconsciously pressing his helmet back into the seat and keeping his neck relaxed. His fingers tightened imperceptibly around the stick. The wrenching jerk of the catapult driving the screaming jet down the expanse shattered the aircraft’s immobility. There would be five seconds of thousands of tons of catapult pressure pushing the jet, giving it enough speed to safely hurl it off the carrier. It was then that Cal heard an explosion. The jet suddenly lagged beneath them. His gaze snapped to the engine manifold pressure. The engines were screamingly alive. The catapult! So many thoughts sheared through his steel-trap mind. He had decisions to make: slam on the brakes and shut down the engines, try to stop before they hit the lip of the deck and slid over the edge of the carrier or— No, it was too late! Too much yardage had been eaten up. His hand pressed against the throttles, willing the engines that were shrieking around them to have the power to lift them. Too late! Too late! His eyes bulged as he saw that the manifold pressure wasn’t enough to lift the jet’s tonnage off the deck. His breath froze in his throat. He heard Chief’s curse. The A-6 screamed off the carrier, but Cal felt the jet drag, and he kept the throttles to the fire wall, working the sluggish rudders to turn the aircraft out of the path of the carrier. If they dropped below the bow and crashed, the ship would be heavily damaged. Teeth clenched, his body straining against the harness, Cal wrenched the stick to port, praying the jet would make the turn before they hit the gray-green water coming up fast. And then…water spewed in avalanching sheets around them as they hit the ocean’s surface. Cal wrenched back with all his strength, keeping the nose of the jet up so that they wouldn’t tunnel in, giving them precious seconds to break free as the jet’s stubby wings kept them on top of the water. His teeth ground together. Pain soared up through his left hand as the stick was ripped out of his fingers. Frantically, Cal and Chief worked open the jammed canopy. Steam shot skyward as seawater rushed into the hot engines. Water gurgled and burped into the cockpit. Cal’s hands trembled badly as he worked to unsnap all his harnesses. He glanced over at Chief. He was doing the same. “I’m in trouble, I’m in trouble,” Chief yelled. Cal released the last hitch on his harness, twisting. Water slopped in over them. He felt the jet’s nose begin to drop. It would be a matter of seconds before they were swallowed by the ocean. Cal tried to help Chief get the lap harness released. The thick, heavy, leather lap belt was held by a stout aluminum device. Water washed up to their chests. “It won’t come….” Cal said, gasping. He twisted back again, pulling his survival knife from his belt, throwing off the sheath. “Jump, Cal!” Chief cried hoarsely. The jet was sliding in, wing down. Sliding into a cold, watery grave. Cal cursed, sawing into the confining leather belt. “No! Shut up, damn it!” Water closed over them. Cal took a deep breath into his lungs, clinging to the belt as the jet sliced downward with frightening speed. The knife made huge, gaping tears across the leather. Cal felt his chest expand as if it would burst. Two more cuts…God…just two more and Chief would be free. The aircraft suddenly rolled over. As it did, the action wrenched Cal, who had nothing holding him in the cockpit other than one hand on the leather belt, free. His gloved hands clawed outward as he felt himself tumbling, trying desperately to grab for the cockpit frame. Fire arched through his chest. Water funneled up into his nose and down into his throat. He was going to drown. Chief! Oh, God, Chief! Cal struck out toward the surface that seemed so far away, blackness closing in on him. Only one thought screamed through him: Chief was going down with the jet. He would drown. He’d die. Oh, God, no…not Chief! Not his best friend. “Cal, Cal, it’s all right…shh, it’s all right. You’re safe…safe.” A soft voice crooned to him. Cal shuddered, still hooked into the nightmare of survival that haunted him, as he broke the surface of the gray sea. Gasping, he vomited up the sea he had swallowed, flailing weakly to stay afloat. Instinctively, he pulled the cords on his life vest and it inflated immediately, holding his head and shoulders above water. He cried out Chief’s name, oblivious to the rescue helicopter that had been launched immediately after the accident. He felt cool hands on his face, fingers gently combing through his hair, and he sobbed. Chief was dead. The only real friend he had ever made was dead. Heading fifty fathoms down in a jet while he floated on the surface, rasping and swallowing the life-giving oxygen. “You’re safe now, Cal. Relax. Come on, you’re going to be all right….” Cal felt movement. It wasn’t the movement of the ocean that embraced him. He forced open his tightly shut eyes, aware of sweat running down his taut face. Dark. It was so dark. Cal felt the moist warmth of a cloth against his face. Heat. It felt so good and he was so cold. Icy cold in the water. Automatically, he began to relax. Someone was gently running a hand across his trembling shoulders, and he visibly responded to these tentative ministrations. Where was he? Where? “Chief?” His voice came out in a raw whisper. “No. It’s me, Dev. Just rest, Cal. You’ve been through a lot. Just close your eyes and rest. You’re safe. I promise you….” Her voice was so close, so rich and husky. Cal closed his eyes, trusting her. Trusting her hands that were easing the coldness and terror out of him. “But…Chief…” “He’s gone, Cal. You couldn’t help him. But you’re alive. Alive. Come on, try to rest. You’re so tired.” A huge pressure welled up like a fist within his chest, and Cal turned his face, burying it in the soft warmth of her. He shut his eyes tightly, fighting the pressure, trying to wrestle with the grief and loss. The instant her trembling hand settled on his hair, he blindly reached out, his arms sliding around her body. He felt scalding tears pummeling the back of his eyes, and he felt her arms embracing him. Holding him and rocking him. The pain was like a fist ripping through him, and a low, tortured sob tore from him, sending a shudder through his entire body. The sounds were so foreign to him, so strange. But he couldn’t help himself. Animallike sounds shattered him, expressing the loss, and all the while, she held him. Held him and murmured soft, unintelligible words meant to heal. 3 CAL FORCED HIS EYES OPEN to mere slits. His head was throbbing like a kettledrum, and his mouth felt as if an army had tramped through it. His scowl deepened as he realized someone was sitting very close to him. He forced his lids higher, his vision unfocused. Light was cascading from a hall, slanting into the room, backlighting the unruly auburn hair that framed her concerned face. Her eyes were cobalt as she sat there in silence, leaning across him, her one hand resting near his hip. He moved his mouth, trying to form coherent words. He felt drugged and incapable of speech. “Where?” “You’re in my hotel room, Cal. The Shangri-La Hotel. Remember?” Her voice was low. He was grateful for that; each sound multiplied and reverberated through his pounding skull. His eyes slitted again as he tried to piece together the jumble of events, separating the present from the accident. And Chief. Giving him an understanding smile, she sat up, removing her hand. “You’ve had a rough twenty-four hours, Cal.” He forced his limited attention back to her. Back to her kind and beautiful face. He knew her. Yes, Dev was her name. Wasn’t it? “Dev?” His voice was raw as if he had been screaming at the top of his lungs for hours. Had he? “Touche, Major Travis. You’re starting to remember, I see. How about some water? You’ve been very sick. I think you’re close to dehydration.” The information was too much for him to assimilate. Twenty-four hours. What was she talking about? And sick? Why? The water sounded heavenly. “Yeah…water… please….” It hurt to talk. Croak would be a more appropriate word, he thought blearily. He watched through blurred vision as she rosé and went over to a table. What was she wearing? White knickers and socks and a red T-shirt? That didn’t make sense. He closed his eyes, dizziness making him nauseated. The moment the cool dryness of her arm slid beneath his sweaty neck and she supported him with her body, Cal reopened his eyes. He rested his head against the softness of her breast and shoulder as she pressed the glass to his lips. The coldness soothed his raw throat, cleansing his mouth of the bile taste. He sucked up the water thirstily, some of it dribbling from the corners of his mouth. “There’s more,” Dev said, setting down the glass and then blotting Cal’s mouth and stubbled chin. She poured another glass; he stared at it like a man who had been in the desert and was about to die from lack of water. Finally though, his thirst was satisfied, and dizziness forced him to close his eyes once again. He heard the steady beat of her heart, nuzzled his bearded cheek into the hollow between her breasts and took a deep, shuddering breath. “Feel a bit better?” she asked, holding him. “A little.” Dev gently laid him back down, pulling the blankets up across his naked chest. “Go back to sleep, Cal. I’ll be here if you need me.” Her voice was like thick, soothing honey pouring over him, somehow easing his spinning head and exhaustion. He looked up into her eyes, lost in their luminous softness, and felt safe from the storm’s remnants. Cal wanted to say “Thank you,” but total fatigue dragged him back into the healing realm of sleep. * * * SHE WAS SITTING BY HIM when he awoke the second time, her eyes filled with worry. She was chewing on that full lower lip that he sharply remembered kissing. Cal was dully aware that it was barely dawn, the sky lavender through the panels drawn across the windows. The low lighting from the hall shadowed her pale face, and he wondered why darkness lingered beneath her glorious blue eyes. “How do you feel?” she ventured softly, placing a hand on his shoulder. Cal felt the dry warmth on his cool, damp flesh. It felt good. Stabilizing. “Like hell,” he answered, finding his voice a rasp. “Do you remember where you are?” Memory of the room and of Dev eventually congealed in his sluggish brain. Cal felt as if someone had taken a bottle brush to his mind and wiped it clean of everything other than Dev’s haunting voice. Cal moved his gaze back up to her. “I think I do. You look tired.” Again that slight smile. Her hair curled around her head and shoulders. She looked like a winsome child. “It can’t be because I’ve been playing nursemaid to you for almost thirty-six hours. I have to hand it to you: when you want to get drunk, you really go all the way, Major.” Cal frowned. “Thirty-six hours? What are you talking about?” He struggled into a sitting position, his head throbbing. The sheet and blankets fell away, revealing his powerful chest and hard, flat belly. He looked down at himself and then up at her, questions in his gray eyes. Dev shrugged apologetically. “The first twenty-four hours you were sick. You sweated a lot. I had to take off your clothes because they were soaked. The next twelve hours you slept like a baby. No nightmares…” His mouth tightened at her whispered words. “Nightmares?” Dev’s expression grew soft. “Yes. You kept reliving the accident, Cal.” She couldn’t meet his narrowed gaze. “I’m sorry about Chief. My God, you almost died, too, trying to save him.” Dev shyly reached out, her hand sliding across his, her voice quavering. “How tragic….” Cal groaned and pulled his hand away from hers, covering his face. He leaned back against the headboard, bringing up his knees beneath the covers. “Damn it,” he muttered thickly. Dev rosé, sensing that he didn’t want her near him. That hurt her. In the past day and a half, she had grown close to Cal as he relived the raw grief. He had found release in her arms. “Listen, I’ve got to go jog three miles. Part of my daily exercise routine. I’ll be back in a little while.” Nervously, she slipped into her jogging shoes to complete her outfit—baggy pink sweatpants and shirt. Dev felt his eyes on her as she straightened up, a knot forming in her shrinking stomach. As Dev met his predatorlike gaze, she pulled on a red sweatband. “The hotel supplies razors and that sort of thing if you feel like getting cleaned up.” Grabbing her wristwatch and a key for the room, she quietly left the stilted silence, glad to escape Cal’s wariness. Cal sat there in bed, feeling utterly embarrassed and angry with himself. Dawn was creeping over the horizon behind the island of Hong Kong, the golden rays reaching and stretching out in brilliant arms. Dawn. The time of their accident. Of Chief’s death. He rubbed his face, aware of the sharp stubble of his beard. Then he became aware that he needed a shower. Badly. His head ached but not so severely as to stop him from getting up. Throwing back the covers, he noted with chagrin that he wore only his briefs. As he slowly got to his feet, he looked around for his uniform. The room was neatly picked up with the exception of Dev’s épée still on the coffee table. Grumbling to himself, Cal stared at the clock on the bed table—5:30 A.M. What day was it? He found his aviator’s watch on the stand next to the clock. Wednesday morning? No. Impossible! He glared at his watch in his open palm. The party had been Monday night. Where— “Damn it,” Cal muttered, stalking off toward the bathroom, ruthlessly combing his spotty memory for details. The scalding-hot shower washed away the sweat of fear from his body. It improved his mood about one degree. The bathroom was steamy and warm as he wrapped a thick white towel around his waist and then shaved. Borrowing Dev’s tortoiseshell comb, Cal tamed his wet hair into place, looking a hell of a lot better than he felt. His mood deteriorated even more when he couldn’t find his uniform anywhere. He searched each closet and found many white fencing uniforms, a few dresses and slacks but no uniform. Disgruntled, Cal shrugged into one of the thick terry-cloth robes the hotel provided and padded into the room. He called down for coffee, then went over to the windows and stared stonily out. Several junks floated past the hotel. The cobblestoned shore nearby was lined with many of Hong Kong’s citizens going through their morning t’ai chi ch’uan exercises. Then he spotted Dev off in the distance, jogging back toward the hotel along the wharf. Some of his anger dissipated as Cal watched her stride with long-legged confidence, her auburn hair captured in a ponytail, drifting out behind her with each rhythmic step. As Dev drew closer, he could see the flush to her cheeks, thinking that she looked beautiful. Scowling, Cal turned when the houseboy announced himself. Coffee had arrived. Thank God. Dev knocked before she opened the door to her room, just to make sure Cal had had time to dress. Her heart was pounding strongly in her breast, and that wasn’t from the workout. She closed the door and walked down the hall. At the end of the hall, Dev halted, her lips parting. “Oh.” She stared stupidly across the room at Cal, who was sitting on the settee, coffee in hand, observing her. Instantly, she flushed and pulled the damp sweatband off her brow. “It looked like you were having a good run.” Dev walked over to the bed and sat down, unlacing her shoes. She was surprised at the quiet quality of Cal’s voice. Was he angry? He was a man of immense pride, she suspected. Yet he had spent the past day and a half in her room, helpless as a baby, having to rely totally on her for care. Dev didn’t imagine Cal leaned on anyone for anything. Especially a stranger who had witnessed him suffering a deep, personal tragedy. She licked her lips, tasting the salt of perspiration on them as she leaned over. She nudged off her shoes, giving him a shy glance. Cal looked devastatingly handsome, though weary. His face was free of the dark, bristly growth of beard, his gray eyes were probing and the planes of his face were relatively free of tension. He smiled a little, making Dev relax slightly. She prayed that the tenuous middle ground she felt they both wanted would grow between them. “Got time for a cup of coffee?” Dev’s heart lurched at the husky quality in his voice, and her spirits rosé. Cal wasn’t angry with her. For all his ego, he wasn’t going to take his embarrassment out on her. She rewarded him with a genuine smile. “Let me take a shower first.” “Sure.” Cal watched her walk to the bathroom, impressed, even mesmerized, by her graceful carriage. He sipped the coffee, relishing the taste. He had seen the unsureness in Dev’s eyes as she had come into the room. Suddenly, all the embarrassment and anger he might have aimed at her dissolved. Dev didn’t deserve that from him, no matter how ashamed he felt. Oddly, Cal found himself wanting to reach out, to continue to bask in her company. Whether he liked it or not, Dev had shared one of the most brutal moments in his life with him. And Cal had never shared any of his deep emotional responses with anyone. Except Chief. But not to the degree he had with Dev. Ruminating on that, he contented himself with watching the traffic increase in Victoria Harbor as the sun rosé and the morning stirred to life. Dev emerged from the bathroom in a pair of white polyester knickers, white socks and a pink T-shirt that lovingly emphasized her breasts and flat stomach. Her hair was piled in a loose knot on top of her head, tendrils curled temptingly around her temples as a result of her shower. Dev smiled and flopped down opposite him, legs crossed beneath the table. “I think I’m going to live now,” she said, pouring herself some coffee. “I’m thinking about it, too,” Cal offered wryly, watching her slender hands slide around the china cup. “You look a hundred percent better.” Her blue eyes sparkled as Dev drew the cup to her lips. “You look handsome again.” He smiled. “I don’t feel very handsome.” He met and held her gaze. “I’ve been remembering some of what happened, Dev.” His voice dropped to a husky whisper. “The past day and a half have been a living hell for me and not much more than that for you.” Dev placed the cup on the table. “I know you’re feeling awfully vulnerable and emotionally raw right now, Cal.” “I feel brittle. I think if someone yelled at me right now, I’d shatter. I’ve never felt like this before,” he muttered. “Only when you lose someone who’s very close to you does that happen.” Cal took a deep breath, closing his eyes and shaking his head. “You know what I find phenomenal?” “No. What?” “Us. You and me. I’m a stranger who crashed into your life, made an ass out of myself, embarrassed the hell out of you in front of my friends and yet you stuck it out with me.” He opened his eyes, his turbulent gaze settling on her. “You had every right to kick me out of your room Monday night. Why didn’t you?” Dev swallowed against a forming lump. “Because you were hurting.” Cal stared at her. “The women I know would gladly have booted me out and told me to catch a cab and go back to the carrier to get sick.” “You’d had too much to drink, Cal. I didn’t think you could have even made it downstairs to get a taxi. What I hadn’t counted on was your tragedy.” Dev lowered her lashes. “Now I understand why you wanted to get drunk and why you didn’t want to be at the party on Monday.” She clasped her fingers in her lap. “You were hurting. And—and when you started crying—” Cal stared disbelievingly at her. “I what?” “Cried. What’s wrong with that? I was crying right along with you after I pieced together what had happened.” He stared at her. “I couldn’t stand by and not help you.” Dev raised her head, drowning in his gray eyes. “You needed help. I couldn’t kick you out.” And then a small smile touched her lips. “Besides, you weren’t a total bastard. You came and apologized to me for your behavior earlier, and you also brought me the heel.” A vague memory stirred in Cal’s shocked mind. Yes, he remembered being held, rocked to and fro like a child in the arms of its mother, sobbing. And Dev’s softened weeping as she held him tightly to her. Cal swallowed hard. “I’ve never cried.” Dev frowned, searching his face that was lined with denial. “I see. Is that a maxim of the marine corps or fighter pilots in particular? You’re real men? Real men don’t cry? Don’t show any emotion?” Dev’s voice lowered. “Well, in my book, any man who exhibits that kind of behavior is emotionally constipated. I see nothing wrong with showing and displaying how you feel. As a matter of fact, it’s kind of nice to be able to share someone else’s feelings. Women do it all the time. A man has a heart and can feel just as we do. Why shouldn’t he cry when he’s in pain?” Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/eileen-nauman/the-right-touch/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. 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