He kisses my cheek and gives me a hug. My throat begins to burn as I squeeze him back tightly. A long minute later, I lean back and keep hold of his shoulders. “Will you come back so I know you’re okay?”
“Yes. I don’t know when, but I will.” Pulling away from me, he timidly glances up at the soldier that I forgot was still here. “Thank you, Mister,” he chokes out quietly before he takes off running. I watch until he disappears in the trees, and feel absolutely terrified I’m not going to see him again.
Standing up, I turn to the soldier and swallow nervously as his massive presence still gives off a threatening vibe. “Um, well, thank you very much. I’m not sure how you found us, but I’m sure glad…”
“What the fuck is wrong with you, lady?”
I flinch from his harsh tone before glaring back at him. “Excuse me?”
“I said, what the fuck is wrong with you? You do know that there was a war here between them and us only a few months ago, right? This place is still fucking dangerous, especially for people like you.”
People like me?
“And here you are, without a care in the fucking world, playing your goddamn guitar while off in fucking la-la land.”
“Hey!” I clap my hands loudly enough to get the pompous ass to shut up. “First off, buster, I know this isn’t the safest place in the world. My camp is only a few minutes from here and I am always careful…”
“Careful?” he shouts in exasperation. “You call jumping in front of a guy’s fist fucking careful? Christ, I’d like to see what you think is fucking safe.”
“What do you expect? I wasn’t going to stand by and let him hit Aadil. And excuse me, but who died and made you king shit?”
I become even more angry now that this jerk just made me swear. Knowing I don’t owe him any explanations, I start stomping away. Unfortunately, my temper gets the better of me. Spinning around, I storm back up to him and tilt my head all the way back until I match him, glare for glare. I try not to let his cold expression and very large size intimidate me, which is pretty much impossible, so I fake my confidence. I also notice he smells pretty darn good too. The mean, delicious smelling jerk.
Swiping angrily at a few stray curls that are blowing in my face, I square my shoulders then poke my finger in his hard chest. “I’ll have you know, I am not some dumb girl who sits and strums her guitar in la-la land. So before you throw out judgments at someone you don’t even know, buddy, you might want to choose your words more carefully next time. And when someone says ‘thank you’, you need to say ‘you’re welcome’. Not cuss and shout at them. Clearly your mother never taught you any manners.”
Feeling a little better, after putting him in his place, I spin back around and storm toward my guitar. But before I make it there, the unthinkable happens: my boot sinks into a pothole and throws me off balance. A sharp sting slices through my ankle and I land on my butt painfully.
I feel my face turn as red as my hair and I drop my head in defeat. Seriously, God? Couldn’t you have at least let me fall gracefully?
I feel the rude, sexy soldier still behind me and know he’s probably laughing his butt off right now, but my ego is too wounded to turn around and check for sure. So instead, I gather as much dignity as I can muster before I stand back up, but as soon as I put weight on my tender ankle it gives out on me. Sucking in a sharp, painful breath, I drop back down.
“Just take it easy there, Firecracker,” the jerk says, as he approaches me. He drops down in front of me, and I expect to see amusement on his handsome face, so I’m surprised when I see the same hard expression he’s had this entire time.
“I’m fine. I just need a minute,” I mumble, still feeling angry and embarrassed. He grunts as he reaches for my boot, but I scoot back. “I said I’m fine. So go ahead and get back to whatever it is you were doing before showing up here and yelling at me.”
Completely ignoring me, he reaches for my foot a second time, and then lets out a frustrated breath when I move it away again. “Listen, I’m fucking sorry for yelling at you, okay? Now will you just let me fucking look at it to make sure it’s not fucking sprained?”
I gape at him, wondering if he’s serious and quickly realize he is. “Well that is the worst apology I have ever heard from someone.”
He glares at me and makes no attempt to better it. When I realize he isn’t going to, I roll my eyes and give in. Carefully, I swing my leg back over to him, and gasp when his big, warm hand grabs my bare leg. Not from pain though, from something else, something I’ve never felt before. His eyes snap back to mine, and the way he looks at me I’d swear he knows what I’m thinking. But there is no way he can, right?
Looking away, he clears his throat and mumbles an apology before pulling my boot off. I let out a relieved breath; thankful he thinks my reaction to him was from pain, which I immediately feel guilty for.
“It’s okay,” I reply quietly, not wanting him to feel bad for thinking he hurt me. Although he doesn’t look like the kind of guy to feel bad about causing someone pain.
While he examines my ankle, I let myself really look him over. My initial assessment was right, he is the most beautiful man I have ever seen, even with the whole ‘I’m going to kill you’ vibe he has going on. His messy, dark hair is a little longer than I would expect a soldier to have. It complements his warm skin tone and dark hazel eyes that are framed with thick, black lashes. If I had to guess, I’d say he has some Mexican heritage in him.
The white muscle tank he’s wearing reveals a lean, muscular body and displays a tribal pattern of black ink that is woven up naturally bronzed skin and cut muscles. The design goes all the way up past his shoulder and ends at his collarbone. Everything about him is darkly beautiful and reminds me of a fallen angel…
My eyes snap to his as he clears his throat, and my face flames when I realize he just watched me openly ogle him. Geez, Faith, get a grip.
Instead of calling me out and embarrassing me further, he gently probes my ankle with his thumbs and asks, “Does that hurt?”
I shake my head, worried what my voice will sound like if I speak at the moment. When he releases my foot, I instantly miss the warm connection from his rough hand. Man I am pathetic.
“I don’t think it’s sprained but it is a little swollen, so it might be tender for a while.”
Clearing my throat, I look down at my boots and nod. “Yes, I’m sure it’s fine. Thank you. I’m just going to sit here and move it around for a few minutes before trying to walk again.”
When he doesn’t say anything, or make any move to leave, I glance up at him to see his hard gaze trained on my chest. His demeanor, for some reason, seems colder, and when I look down I realize he’s staring at my massive, sterling silver cross pendant. I clutch the heavy metal nervously and wonder why he’s glaring at it. His eyes finally come back to mine, and for a brief second I’m sure I see pain resonate on his face. But it was so quick that I begin to think I imagined it.
Things between us become more awkward. “Well, thank you for looking at my ankle. Take care.” I wince at my pathetic attempt of trying to part ways with him and start to feel guilty, hoping I didn’t hurt his feelings.
He grunts and seems not to be offended in the least. “Nice try, Red. I’m not leaving you here by yourself after what just happened with that asshole.” He crosses his legs, getting more comfortable, clearly not going anywhere.
Something warms in my chest at him calling me Red. Considering the way he has acted toward me, I’m wondering why he cares what happens to me. He sits down across from me and gets more comfortable. “You don’t have to do that. I’m sure he’s not coming back. He was only here for Aadil.” My forgotten anxiety comes back at the mention of Aadil. Please, God, let him be okay.
“What are you doing here?” he asks, breaking me from my thoughts. I look at him inquisitively. “In Iraq, I mean.”
“I’m on a mission trip with my church.” Again something flashes in his eyes, but before I can even question it, it’s gone. What is that all about? “What about you?” I ask, trying to break the awkward silence once again. “Was Aadil’s father right, are you a soldier?”
“Something like that,” he replies, not offering anything more.
“How did you know we were in trouble?”
“I was out for a walk.”
“Is your base close by here?”
He responds with a single nod.
“Anyone ever tell you that you’re a real chatterbox?” He doesn’t smile like I hoped he would. Oookay…
It’s a good thing the guy is so good looking, because he doesn’t have much going for him in the personality department. I know I should be offended or even scared from the vibes he throws off, but instead I’m finding myself intrigued with this very sexy, very dark soldier.
“What is your name?” I ask, wanting to find out as much about him as I can before he leaves. He doesn’t offer an answer. “Oh come on. It’s only like what – two words? It’s the perfect question for your vocabulary.” I giggle at my sarcasm.