Feb 16 2013 12:00pm
Pararescueman Jose “Cuervo” James is committed to his job and not much else. He thought nothing could change that, not even sexy, smart Interpol agent Stella Carson. Their affair burns hot and fast, but family is everything to Stella, and Jose just can’t go there. His family demons are too deep, too tenacious.
The demands of their work make it easy to stay away from each other, until a fateful mission deep in the African jungle unexpectedly throws them together. With Stella’s life on the line, uncovering the truth about Jose’s fears and her tragic past might destroy the spark between them, or gain them a second chance at passion and forever…
Get a sneak peek of Catherine Mann's Free Fall (available March 5, 2013) with an exclusive excerpt from Chapter 5.
The thought of how close he’d come to losing Stella nearly drove him to his knees. Jose flattened his hand on warm metal to keep from punching the wall which would only draw attention to them when he finally had her completely alone for the first time since they’d escaped that compound. “Can you tell me what the hell was going on there?”
“Investigating different warlords, following the path of the stolen pirate stash.” She held the cloth tighter around her waist. “Sometimes it feels like we’re putting out fires without ever having access to the source.”
“Maybe it’s time for you to pack it in.”
She frowned, staring back into his eyes. “Are you crazy? You of all people should understand dedication to the job.”
She had a point. So where the hell had his comment come from? From his deeper frustration that had nothing to do with logic, the gut twisting burn of knowing she could have died. Living without her was tough enough, but at least he’d been able to envision her alive, walking the same planet as him.
The dam broke on the wall he’d built to hold back all that fear so he could get the job done, get her out of there.
“Stella, why are you still here? Really? I don’t care if your job gives you superhero status too, but someone should be looking out for you.”
“I can take care of myself.”
But she shouldn’t have to, not all the time. The real question detonated inside him, the one that had been eating him up inside since he’d first stepped into this airplane hangar and saw surveillance images of her on those screens.
He gripped her by the shoulders. “What were you doing inside that compound where you could have fucking been murdered?”
Her brows shot upward, her chest rising and falling faster and faster. She looked away fast, her eyes darting. Avoiding? He didn’t have to be a body language expert to know she was working on what to say, crafting her words.
Finally, she looked at him full on and blurted, “I came here to find answers about how my mother died.”
There was no denying the hoarse honesty in her whisper. He processed the words and with the notion that he’d thought he knew everything about her. God knows, he’d shared his secrets with her. He’d assumed she had done the same.
“I thought your mom was an aid worker killed a car accident.” He recalled everything Stella had told him, how Melanie Carson had spent half of every year in Africa dispensing aid in villages. “In this region, right?”
She nodded. “That’s what we were told, but I think the car accident story was just to cover her injuries so we wouldn’t question why her body was beaten up.”
“God, Stella, I’m not sure what to say.” He touched her cheek, all the comfort he expected she would accept. She had to have some kind of proof. She was too logical to say that about her mother on a hunch, which meant she’d been planning this all along, even when she was with him. “We were together for five months. Why didn’t you mention this to me before?”
And yeah, that stung a little. He’d poured his guts out to her, shared his demons.
She scrubbed her hand over her face, shaking her head slowly. “It’s not exactly romantic pillow talk.”
He knew a cop out answer when he heard one. “We did more than sleep together.”
“Honestly, Jose.” Her mouth went tight. “You didn’t need to know about my mother, so I didn’t tell you.”
“And you accused me of holding back?”
Her shoulders slumped. “I’m sorry I hurt you and I mean that. Being together like this must really suck for you.”
Straight for the jugular. He half smiled. “I’d forgotten how blunt you can be.”
“I’m a factual person—and we only broke up a month ago.” She touched his chest lightly.
“Feels longer than that.” He cupped her face, thumbing the corner of her mouth.
She chewed her bottom lip, her teeth so close to his thumb. “How long are you here?”
“Until the morning. Then I’m out of here, move on to the next phase.”
Not much time left with her, but he didn’t intend to waste a minute of it. His pulse thumped stronger, harder in his ears. Could he do it? Put his heart out there for her to crush again just for the chance to sleep with her one more time?
He angled closer. He could almost taste her, just from memory.
“Jose, wait.” She pressed her hand harder against his chest. “That isn’t what I meant.”
“Really?” He nibbled her bottom lip.
She sighed, her breath tangling with his next breath.
“Really,” she said softly, her mouth moving along his. “I told you about my mom because I thought we could use this time to talk things through more fully, to get closure.”
Right now, this felt more like a second chance than an ending. He skimmed a kiss along her jaw. “Okay, then you talk.” He kissed his way down to her neck. “I’ll listen.”
Her head fell back, giving him fuller access. “Because even though we broke up a month ago, it hasn’t been simple to close the door on what we … shared. I’ve realized I need more time with you.”
And just that fast, her hands went into his hair. She guided his mouth back to hers and kissed him. Full out kissed him and God help him, he was all in…
Copyright © 2013 by Catherine Mann.
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