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May 2015
Avon Books
ISBN-10: 0062356526
ISBN-13: 978-0062356529
July 2010, HarperCollins
ISBN-13: 978-0062024824
March 1997/November 2006
Love Spell
ISBN-10: 0505521822
ISBN-13: 978-0505521828


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Chapter One 


Rafael Santiago peered up over the rim of his dark aviator sunglasses, watching the young trainees who marched like blooming idiots across the blistering tarmac in front of him.

"EENIE, MEENIE, MINIE, MOE...," their platoon sergeant called out in a raspy, Clint Eastwood-style voice.

Like robots, the soldiers echoed their leader's sing-song "Jody Call" in beat to their pounding footsteps.


Oh, great! Nineteen Ninety-six, and I've landed in boot camp from hell...with a bunch of grunts calling out raunchy marching cadences.

Rafe put a hand to his throbbing head and wished he could be anywhere but in the middle of the California desert, on a hot August morning. Hell, I think my hair's startin' to singe.


Geez! I'm thirty-four freakin' years old. I have a law degree. I should be soaking in a gold-plated jacuzzi, instead of serving in the damn loony bin National Guards. I'm gonna kill Lorenzo for screwing around with my calendar.


Rafe's eyes widened with disbelief. He would have thought "Grody Jodies" went out with the Anita Hill hearings. Didn't you military fruitcakes learn anything from Tailhook? he thought with a rueful shake of his head. Some feminist is gonna slap a sexual harassment suit on you quicker'n a hometown hooker's five dollar trick.

But that was their problem, not his. Rafe had enough of his own. Bad enough that he'd been forced to serve in the guard these past twelve years to pay back college loans and to earn extra cash for bills, but his commitment ended this year. If he didn't get back to his law practice, his scatterbraomed legal assistant, Lorenzo Duran, would have him representing every deadbeat on the West Coast, and he'd be even deeper in debt...if that was possible.

Rafe threw the backpack holding his gear over his shoulder and made his way across the airfield toward the C-141 Starlifter. The piercing sun beat down so unremittingly that even his toenails felt like they were sweating. He'd arrived two days ago for the usual orientation, but he still had twelve more agonizing days to go. He wondered idly if he'd survive. Or die of boredom.

Then he saw the tall redhead standing at the foot of the ladder to the training jet, her straight-as-an-arrow, slim body encased in puke camouflage--the standard green, brown, tan and black BDU, or battle dress uniform--just like his. The woman officer was checking off the soldiers' names on a clipboard as they boarded. She must be the replacement for Colonel Barrow who'd suffered a heart attack the day before.

He recognized her immediately.

"Prissy" Prescott? My commanding officer for this ludicrous two-week military trek is Helen "Prissy" Prescott?

In that moment, Rafe knew his bad day was about to get worse.

As the woman turned her ramrod stiff body toward the chanting soldiers, a sudden backdraft clearly outlined her curvy hips and long legs in their Army regulation pants, also camouflage chic. A few wisps of flaming hair escaped the tight bun anchored at the base of her neck like a badge of her no-nonsense personality. Then the dull gold of the oak leaf cluster embroidered on her collar caught his eye.

Gold oak leaf? A major? She must have spent the past twelve years, since their college graduation, in the service--a lifer. She clasped the clipboard against her body when there was a lull in the embarking soldiers. Rafe's eyes shifted lower to her chest. And a very nice chest, it is, too, Rafe thought, glancing appreciatively at the full breasts straining against the blouse--identical to his own shirt, but immensely different.

Then he shook his head with self-disgust. The sun must be melting my brains if I'm getting turned on by Prissy Damn Prescott.

Major Prescott, he corrected himself as she narrowed her glittering eyes at the sergeant who was calling out the offensive lyrics. Apparently, the slightly overweight, ruddy-faced senior enlisted man didn't have the brains God gave a Mexican goose. Failing to notice Helen, or being incredibly stupid, he chose to ignore her as he began to sing out a new chant, "I DON'T KNOW BUT I BEEN TOLD..."

The recruits repeated his words in loud rhythm. There were no women in the company.


Oh, boy. Rafe could hear Helen's gasp of outrage from twenty feet away. He folded his arms across his chest, waiting for the inevitable fireworks. Helen Prescott hadn't been nicknamed "Give 'Em Hell Helen" for nothing. And he would bet his left nut that she hadn't changed that much over the years.


Hackles duly raised, Helen tucked the clipboard under her arm and straightened her shoulders, which only served to emphasize her "endowments," Rafe thought idly, knowing full well how she would hate that he had noticed. Then she stomped furiously toward the group of soldiers who were marching in place near the edge of the field. She even stomped rather nicely, Rafe noted, her buttocks bouncing the slightest bit.


Rafe turned his attention away from Helen and back to the witless wonder. Boy, could I recommend a good lawyer for this schmuck. He's gonna need one, and soon.

But the brain-dead sergeant had his back to Helen, who was about to tap him on the shoulder. Totally unaware that he was cutting his own throat, he sang out, "ALL I KNOW IS WHAT I HEAR..."

Before the fool could open his mouth again, Helen finished for him in a clear, disciplined, carrying voice, "COURT MARTIALS ARE SOMETHIN' TO FEAR."

Rafe smiled. Way to go, Prissy!

The sergeant spun on his heels and his jaw dropped open in surprise. "Major Prescott, I didn't see you..." He snapped a quick salute.

"Apparently." Helen returned the salute.

"I didn't know...hell, I didn't know there were any women...I mean...," the flustered sergeant stuttered.

"AT-TEN-TION!" she yelled, real loud. Rafe was pretty sure they heard her five miles away.

Snapping leather, the flustered sergeant--who should have been the one to call "Attention" immediately--and his company obeyed without question. They stood rigid as boards, waiting for her next directive.

"The Army does not tolerate sexism, soldier," she barked at the red-faced NCO, "whether women are present or not."

"Yes, ma'am," the sergeant ground out.

"If you value those stripes, soldier, I would suggest you start singing a different tune."

"Yes, ma'am!"

She stared at him and his company for several long, drawn-out moments, as if trying to decide what punishment to mete out. "Continue as you were," she ordered finally, granting a reprieve.

The sergeant let out a long breath of relief. Then he saluted, waited for her return salute, did a jerky about-face, and ordered his troop to march back toward the barracks. This time, there were no chants, just the sharp click of boot heels.

After they left, Rafe watched, transfixed, as Helen inhaled and exhaled several times, deeply, as if to collect herself. Then she raised her face, eyes closed, to the sunlight, uncaring that she might add a few more freckles to those that dotted her straight nose and clear complexion.

Rafe felt a deep pulling sensation in his chest. He had forgotten how attractive Helen was--not beautiful, but compelling. He hated himself for remembering those painful college days they had shared. He hated feeling like a horny kid again, tripping over his too-big feet the first time an Anglo girl looked his way. Most of all, he hated the memory of his yearning for a young woman who had always been beyond the reach of the token Hispanic at an all-white, private military school.

Abruptly, Helen turned back toward the plane, breaking his unwelcome reverie. She walked with brisk, efficient steps, bespeaking a hard-as-nails attitude. She was totally in control now, her face a mask of military resolve.

Rafe waited for Helen to recognize him as she approached, but she just cast him an assessing sweep of a glance as she passed by...and clearly found him of no importance.

That irritated the hell out of him.

He'd spent his entire life fighting condescension and outright bias toward Mexican-American "greasers," like him. He should be used to it by now. Not that there had been anything smacking of prejudice in Helen's dismissing glance. Actually, she'd treated him as if he didn't even exist. Somehow that was even worse.

Well, he'd show her.

She was already climbing the ramp to the aircraft by the time he caught up with her. With perfect timing, he waited until her hips were smack dab in front of his forehead, then asked in a silky smooth voice, low enough so the soldiers standing around couldn't overhear, "So, Major Prescott, do you still have your tattoo?"


Tattoo? Helen stopped halfway up the plane's ramp, and cringed, clutching the rail tensely. No one had mentioned her tattoo in twelve years, ever since she graduated from Stonewall Military College. And that voice--oh, Lord--only one man in the world spoke with that sexy, Mexican-American twang.

Slowly, reluctantly, Helen turned and peered back over her shoulder. All she saw was a head of thick black hair and a pair of aviator sunglasses staring boldly, eye level, at her butt.

Aaaarrrgh! she groaned silently and fought for her usual calm composure. Then she pivotted and backtracked down the ramp. At thirty-four, Helen was rather sensitive about her hips and rear end, and the aerobics war to keep them from blossoming into Rubenesque proportions. No way was she going to wave them in the face of the lascivious, arrogant, bad-mouthed man who had been the torment of her life for four long undergraduate years at Stonewall.

"Captain Santiago," she snapped, noting the two black bars on his collar, "your remarks are ill-timed and inappropriate under any circumstances, but very, very foolish when addressed to a superior." She put a check mark after his name on the clipboard. "A warning," she explained sternly, raising her eyes.

Even though she was five-foot-eight, Helen had to look up at the lean, well-muscled soldier who grinned lazily back at her, not a bit intimidated by the threat in her voice or the note she had made on her clipboard. She couldn't make out the expression in his eyes behind the dark shades, but she could see the path they made as they appraised her from head to toe. And probably found her he always had in the past.

Then, as if reading her mind, Rafe removed the glasses, and Helen almost staggered under the steam of his pale, luminous blue eyes. Rafael Santiago threw off heat like a sexual inferno. If anything, his well-toned, dark-skinned body had improved with age. Darn it!

"So, Prissy, you didn't answer me. Do you still have the tattoo?"

Without thinking, Helen's palm shot to her right buttock in horror. She could have kicked herself for the betraying action, and the blush she could feel creeping up from her neck. She didn't blush, or, at least, she hadn't in twelve long years. Time melted away suddenly, and Helen felt as if she were a gangly, young girl again, flustered by the attention of a too-handsome, too-brash Mexican-American cadet.

She'd had a fierce crush on him all through college, although she'd made sure he never suspected. He'd dated flamboyant, easy women, and she'd been neither of those. The worst part was that, at eighteen, he'd turned her brain to mush. Now, two minutes in his company, and he was doing it again.

Helen knew by Rafe's raised right eyebrow that her embarrassment amused him, that needling her had been his goal. Prissy! He has the nerve to call me Prissy! The man has not changed at all. "My name is Major Prescott," she reminded him, "not that ridiculous...nickname."

The rat just smiled, displaying a disgusting set of dazzling white teeth against the contrast of his dark Hispanic skin.

"So, Major Prescott, don't you want to know if I still have my matching tattoo?" he drawled with feigned innocence and planted a long fingered, deeply tanned hand on his back pocket, and left it there, in challenge.

Helen had always intended to have the horrible butterfly removed from her buttock, but, in the end, she'd left it as a reminder of her one careless lapse in self control. She looked up and glared at Rafe. The tattoo had been all his fault. They'd been seniors at Stonewall, and a group had gone to Tijuana at the end of finals week of their senior year. When a dozen of them, under the pressure of too little freedom and too many Margaritas, had decided to get matching tattoos, Rafe had taunted and taunted her, in his usual fashion, until she'd agreed to join the her everlasting humiliation.

She noticed the growing line of trainees and other personnel behind Rafe, waiting to board the aircraft, all of them listening with avid interest. What was wrong with her, allowing one of her men to carry on a personal conversation with her while on duty? It was strictly against the rules. And, if nothing else, Helen prided herself on attention to precise military protocol.

Bracing her shoulders, Helen belted out in her most authoritative voice, "Captain Santiago, get on this aircraft. NOW! There are a dozen paratroopers sitting up there in that sweltering tin can waiting for this parachute exercise to begin." Then she added in an icy undertone, "I don't know what you're doing here, Lieutenant Santiago, but you can be sure you will be out of my company by the end of this day."

"National Guard, Special Forces," he answered flatly, walking by her to climb the steps. She forced herself not to flinch back, afraid he might accidentally, or not so accidentally, brush against her. He didn't, but his eyes twinkled knowingly as he explained, "I owed Uncle Sam a pigload of cash for seven years of college loans, and he decided the 'Nasty Guard' would be a good method of payback. Plus, I always need extra cash. This is my last tour of duty, but, if you know a way to get me out now, I'd be eternally grateful."

"Why am I not surprised?" she muttered under her breath, knowing he'd never felt the loyalty to the military establishment that she had, having grown up as an Army brat.

"I never took you for a 'Nasty Girl' type, though," he added, referring to the crude name given to women of the National Guard.

She arched a brow questioningly, which she regretted immediately when he responded, "Too much starch in your drawers."

Helen clenched her fists at her sides and counted to ten. "That's it, captain. This goes on your permanent record." She made another check mark next to his name and was about to reprimand him further, but the smirk on his face stopped her cold. Just like the old days, he was goading her into losing her temper. This time she disappointed him by turning away.

Then she had no more time to think about the jerk as she supervised the loading of the aircraft, trying to ignore the many eyes that seemed to rivet questioningly on her behind.

Oh, Lord. Helen just knew this was going to be the longest day of her life.


An hour later, the plane was airborne. Helen had given her unit--ten men and two women--instructions for their upcoming drop near the California/Nevada border, then checked all their equipment and jump gear. The soldiers appeared relaxed as they chatted softly among themselves, seated on the platform benches that lined both sides of the huge aircraft, but Helen knew they with pumped up with excitement. Regardless of all the precautions, there was always an element of danger, the possibility of injury or death, in any skydiving event.

Despite their usual full-time civilian status, all were experienced paratroopers who made at least one drop each quarter in order to stay on jump status and earn their incentive pay. Half of the soldiers were here today serving their annual two-week National Guard duty--so-called "Weekend Warriors"--but the others were making "pay drops".

Those in the special forces were hand chosen for their particular expertise, such as doctors, lawyers, language or communications experts. Often they were used to help train troops in other underdeveloped countries.

Even though he said he was in the National Guard, Helen figured Rafe was probably just a "pay dropper" the rest of the time--one of those occasional skydivers who made practice drops for the military to keep their skills up to date, for a fee. She instantly chastised herself for her lack of charity. Doing pay drops was not dishonorable...for the most part. Many of the same men and women who did pay drops in the off-seasons were the same men and women called up to fight forest fires and other natural disasters. The backbone of the peacetime defense forces, they even went into emergency military action, like Grenada.

Helen looked over at Rafe sitting at the end of the bench on one side, near the tail. He sat several seat lengths apart from the others, further separated by a slight abutment...a loner, like he'd always been. His head rested back against the fuselage, his eyes closed, and his skin a mite greenish.

Tucking her clipboard under her arm, she maneuvered her way through the aisle and leaned down to him. "Are you sick, soldier?"

His eyes opened lazily. "Why? Are you gonna rub my tummy?"

Helen recoiled, then made another mark after his name on the clipboard. "You're already in serious trouble, lieutenant. The next step is the stockade."

"Is it air-conditioned?"

She gritted her teeth. "Your conduct is arrogant and insubordinate. I've tolerated more than I should for old times' sake. Don't push me any farther."

"Listen, Helen. I'm in a bad mood and I'm taking it out on you. Maybe we better not talk anymore."

The plane hit an air pocket and she swayed with the turbulence.

"Buckle your seat belts, ladies and gentlemen," the pilot droned over the loud speaker. "We've hit a temporary rough spot."

Reluctantly, Helen sank down on the seat next to Rafe and buckled up. He grinned at her like a mischievous child.

She made a clucking noise that sounded prissy even to her. "You haven't changed one bit."

"Neither have you." He smiled wickedly, his eyes making a bold assessment of her body.

"How so?" she asked, against her better judgment.

"You're as prissy as ever."

Seeing the look of consternation on her face, he leaned over and took the pen out of her hand, making a mark next to his name. "Just saving you the bother, babe," he explained.

Babe! She was about to rebuke him for addressing a superior officer in such an intimate manner when he made her protest impossible by asking, "Should you be talking to a lowly soldier like me? Isn't it against the rules or something?" He put special emphasis on the word "rules" as if they were something loathsome. As if he didn't know exactly what the rules said.

When Helen realized she'd played right into his hands, again, she forced herself to relax, to cut him a little slack.

Rafe had always put her on the defensive, caused her to over-react, made her feel guilty for...well, practically everything--from the way she dressed to the patriotic values she revered.

"I asked you a question, Captain Santiago. Are you ill?"

"Do I look ill?"


"If I'm ill, do I get to go home...back to L.A.?"


He shrugged. "Then I'm not ill. Just a little hung over."

"Always looking for the easy way out, aren't you? Let me give you a little bit of advice, as an old friend."

He quirked an eyebrow at her use of the word "friend," but she continued doggedly, "You're the same as you were back at Stonewall, and that kind of insolence won't cut it in today's Army."

Now it was Rafe's turn to stiffen. "Lady, you didn't know me then, and you don't know me now."

Helen felt her face flush with embarrassment. "You're right." But she couldn't allow his familiarity to go on. "Just don't call me those...names. I'm your commanding officer, in case you've forgotten."

His lips twitched with amusement. "Should I salute?"

"That would be a start."

"Whatever melts your butter." He sat up straight and gave her a short, smart salute.

"Well, that's more like it."

Then he ruined the effect by winking.

She ignored his wink, although it did strange things to the pattern of her breathing, and decided to change the start over on a fresh note. After all, she was the leader of this operation. Surely she could carry on a civil conversation with one of her men. "What have you been doing for the past twelve years?"

He hesitated. "Are we talking major and captain here? Or Helen and Rafe?"

With a quick glance, she saw that they were screened somewhat from the other soldiers by the protruding abutment. She studied him for a long moment. "Two old acquaintances," she conceded.

"I'm a lawyer."

"Oh, that's right. I remember reading something in the newspapers. 'Hot Shot L.A. Lawyer Hired By Movie Mogul' or some such thing." Her voice carried a slight tone of contempt.

"You got it, sweetheart. That's me. Hot Shot L.A. Lawyer."

He studied his fingernails casually, but Helen could tell that his teeth were gritted.

A woman sitting on the other side of Rafe, several seats away, leaned forward, craning her neck to watch them with interest. In truth, it was Rafe she was ogling like a delicious dessert. Heck, who wouldn't? He was a drop-dead gorgeous hunk. And, much as Helen disliked his values and lifestyle, in all honesty, she couldn't deny her attraction to him, as well. Even after all these years.

Meanwhile, his insolent eyes, fringed with lashes thick as black feather dusters, were visually caressing some intimate parts of her body. Trying to ignore the butterflies in her stomach, Helen hissed, "Stop looking at me like that. It smacks of sexual harassment."

"No, no, no! If there's one thing I know, it's the law. Sexual harassment is when I'm the ranking officer and I'm forcing my attentions on helpless little you. I'm just a helpless man here, admiring a good-looking woman who happens to be wearing a uniform. Don't read anything threatening into that. And, besides, you agreed this was a civilian conversation."

"I didn't say I feel threatened," she said, pursing her lips with disgust, "but your insolence is intolerable under any circumstances, military or otherwise. And tasteless."

"Stop acting like your sucking on a lemon all the time."

Helen had to clench her fists tightly to keep her boiling outrage from translating into some violent act, like slapping the teasing smile off his handsome face. "That remark just took you beyond a reprimand and into the stockade for the night," she said icily, making another note on her clipboard. "Conduct unbecoming of an officer. I'm locking your heels for good, Lieutenant Santiago."

"I'm sorry. I did cross the line that time."

She took several deep breaths to calm down. Finally, she acknowledged, "Apology accepted. And I did say we were in a civilian mode. I won't file charges...this time. But, Rafe, you are truly the crudest, most arrogant man I've ever met."

"Yep, that's me. Crude, arrogant, hot shot lawyer." He didn't look at all upset that Helen had such a low opinion of him.

"Well, at least, you achieved your goal, Mr. Hot Shot Legal Eagle. All you ever wanted was to make a ton of money."

"Right." His eyes flashed angrily as if he was about to argue with her. But then he deliberately banked their blue fires with a mask of unconcern. "Not everyone gets to be born with a silver spoon in their mouth, like you."

His gaze riveted on the gold oak leaf cluster on her collar. Before she realized what he was about, he flicked one of them with the tips of his fingers which grazed her neck. Fortunately, they were screened from the other soldiers because Helen felt branded by even that mere touch. His eyes held hers for a moment, hot and smoldering, and an unfamiliar heaviness pulled sensuously at her limbs.

For sure, she was going to have Rafe removed from her company the minute they hit ground. She would never survive two weeks of close company with this prime example of walking testosterone.

"I see you went into the career military, like your daddy wanted you to," he said suddenly, jarring her back to harsh reality. "I thought you wanted to be an artist. Ah, well, Daddy's Girl all the way, huh?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means, Prissy, that you still haven't learned to stand on your own two feet. You do what Daddy tells you to."

"How do you know the military isn't what I want?"

He shrugged as if the conversation bored him suddenly. Then he noticed the ring on her left hand. Before she had a chance to protest, he took her hand in both of his and traced the large diamond with one forefinger. Alarmed at her racing pulse, she looked up guiltily to see if anyone was watching, but Rafe's back and the abutment still blocked their view.

"So, who's the lucky guy?" There was an odd note in his voice, almost like regret, which puzzled Helen. She decided it was probably sarcasm.

"Elliott Peterson. Colonel Elliott Peterson."

"Colonel. That figures."

Helen tried to pull away, but he turned her hand over and began to trace enticing little circles in the palm, holding her eyes the entire time. Helen yearned to close her eyes and yield to the sweet thrumming sensations spiraling from the sensitive skin of her hand to all the important nerve centers in her dormant body. At first, she didn't realize he was still talking to her. "What?"

"How long have you been engaged?"

"Three years."

His eyes widened and he made a low snickering sound, shaking his head from side to side. "That figures, too."

Helen hated the way Rafe made her feel, all jumpy and achy inside. He always had. And he probably knew it. She yanked her hand out of his.

He laughed huskily.

"We haven't been able to coordinate our schedules," she said defensively.

He snorted rudely with disbelief. "So, do you and the colonel salute each other before you hit the sack? Hey, I'll bet you work hot sex around a schedule, don't you?"

Hot sex?

He hooted gleefully, slapping one hand on his knee. "Oh, Prissy, you are so transparent. You haven't the faintest idea what I mean by hot sex, do you?"

"Now I remember why I always hated you." She made another note on her clipboard. "You know that I can make the next two weeks very miserable for you, don't you?"

"I'm already miserable," he pointed out, continuing as if she hadn't even spoken, "I can just picture you and Colonel


"It's Colonel Peterson."

He waved his hand dismissively and went on, "Your tight-assed military dude probably says, 'Can I' and 'May I' and 'Please'. Probably pats you on the rump afterward for a job well done. And then falls dead asleep before he can do you again."

"Do" me? Helen bit her bottom lip to keep her jaw from dropping open. "There's nothing wrong with politeness."

"Hah!" He chuckled softly as if suddenly enlightened. "I'll bet you even take that damn clipboard to bed with you."

She forced herself not to make another mark on the clipboard which sat on her lap, knowing that's what he expected. "You're as bad as that sergeant who was calling out those gross jody calls earlier."

His head snapped back as if she'd slapped him. "I'm no way like that jerk, Prissy. He was being a vulgar, sexist slob. I like women and I love sex. That's a natural part of life. And sometimes it's even crude. So-the-hell-what! Why don't you loosen up a little and live?"

Rafe's all-too-accurate assessment of her life cut deeply, but Helen would never admit that. She should get up and walk away before her carefully regulated emotions were exposed for a sham. She should never have stayed to talk with him. She should forget the ways in which his words had wounded her more than a dozen years ago, and still did today. But she stayed, yearning for answers. "Why do you always criticize me, Rafe? For four years at Stonewall, you made my life a nightmare. You--"

"I made your life a nightmare?" He cocked his head in surprise.

"Of course, you did. All that teasing. My old-fashioned values were out-of-date. The rules I followed were silly. I was a Daddy's Girl. My appearance was prudish and drab. Did you enjoy putting me down? I never did anything to hurt you."

"Helen, Helen, Helen. I thought you were smarter than that." He made a sexy clucking sound as if she were incredibly dense. "Talk about nightmares! Sweetheart, you made my heart skip a beat the first time I saw you at freshman registration. You were wearing a yellow sundress with tiny straps." He drew two lines from his shoulders to his chest to demonstrate. "Your hair was pulled back on each side with gold barrettes. And your perfume smelled flowery, like..." His words trailed off as he realized how much he'd revealed with his words.

"You're making this up. I know you are."

"Hah! Know this, babe, you were the center of every wet dream I had for four long years at Stonewall. And there were a lot of them."

"How dare you! See what I mean about your vulgarity? Military insubordination aside, men don't say that to women they respect."

"Maybe you've been running with the wrong men." He put a hand on her arm to stop her from releasing her seat belt and getting up, as she intended. In a softer tone, he added, "I did make fun of you a lot, Prissy. But it was because I wanted you so damn much. I thought you knew that."

Her mouth parted on an exhale of amazement...not that she really believed him. He probably learned all his smooth lines in "Hot Shot Lawyer 101". And the crude ones in "Sleazy Lawyer 102".

"Didn't you ever wonder why I followed you around all the time?" he persisted.

Helen was too dumbstruck to answer, at first. It was true, he had seemed to be practically everywhere she was during their four years at Stonewall. "But you never asked me out."

"Would you have gone?"

Her silence spoke volumes, and he waved his hand in a curt "So there!" manner. Rafe's gaze held hers then, in challenge, and Helen detested the way he made her squirm...questioning, remembering.

Later, she would think about all he had said, but for now she sought desperately for some other subject, some way to rein in her roiling emotions and get back into her stoic military frame of mind. "I assume you're ready for this jump, Rafe. You have been keeping up on your skydiving practice, haven't you?"

He nodded, the twitch of mirth on his beautiful lips telling her he wasn't fooled by her change of subject.

"Did you serve in Desert Storm?"

"Nope. Got an emergency deferment."

Her upper lip curled reflexively with distaste.

"I did serve in the L.A. riots, though. Even though that's not normal special forces fare."

"What? Stealing televisions?" She rued her words at once, even before he bristled and his eyes shot blue sparks at her.

"I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry."

"I'm used to it. Once a greaser, always a greaser, right? A wetback in a suit is still a wetback." He looked away, dismissing her, but Helen saw the hurt in his revealing eyes.

"Rafe, I am sorry. I was reacting to you, not your heritage."

"Well, that makes me feel much better."

"You bring out the worst in me."

"Keep talking. You might draw blood soon."

She groaned. "I apologized. What more do you want from me?"

"Not a damn thing."

Intensely humiliated, Helen shifted and unhooked her seat belt. She was about to stand and walk away.

"Wait," Rafe said, halting her. He leaned so close that she could feel his warm breath against her neck. His gruff voice promised revenge for her insult. "I lied. I do want something from you," he whispered near her exposed ear. "If I had my way, we would go behind that curtain there and engage in a world class wall-banger. I'd wrap your legs around my waist and bury myself in you so deep your womb would sing. And I'd be kissing you the entire time to muffle your screams. Because, believe me, babe, you would definitely scream."

Stunned, Helen just gaped at him.

"Don't forget your clipboard," he reminded her with an infuriating grin.

She growled and came very, very close to bopping him with a left hook. And she could do it, too. Instead, she did what she should have done fifteen minutes earlier. She stood, her back rigid and her face scarlet with mortification, and walked away from the insufferable slimeball.

But the images he had painted in her mind lingered, just as he'd intended.

She should have been livid. She should have been offended.

Instead, she was tempted.

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