I just love a troubled Marine for a hero …
by Marie Harte
A fling might be just the thing …
Gavin Donnigan left the Marine Corps a shell of a man, hounded by guilt for deaths he couldn’t prevent. But teaching a self-defense class at the local gym brings some stability to his life—along with a gorgeous leggy woman who won’t give him the time of day.
Zoe York lost her twin sister to a freak car accident a few months ago. She’s been struggling to bury her grief, but it isn’t until she signs up for a self-defense class with its distractingly hot instructor that she begins to come out of her shell again. With the memory of her sister telling her to live a little, Zoe decides a fling with buns-of-steel Gavin Donnigan might be just the thing.
Soon they’re sparring both in and out of the gym. And for the first time in a long time, each is looking forward to tomorrow.
Thursday evening, Zoe gaped at the address Gavin had sent her to. She’d been lucky enough to dodge her mother’s phone calls, had missed Cleo stopping by earlier this evening, and had ignored Piper’s texts. Otherwise, she would have shared news of a date she wanted to keep to herself.
Now she had to get through said date without jumping the poor man. Every time she thought about how long she’d sat on him in the gym—knowing exactly what he felt like in those thin shorts, every inch of him excited to be with her—her world turned upside down. Not a prude by any means, she’d still never ground over an aroused man in a public place when she barely knew more than his name.
Well, she’d wanted to do a one-eighty from her normal routine. Cleo and Piper would be pleased. Or at least, they might be if Zoe decided to confide details about this date. Then again, depending on how tonight went, she might never speak to Gavin again. She sure the hell wouldn’t be sleeping with him on their first night out together.
So sad she had to keep reminding herself of that. No one-night stands.
Ignoring temptation, she shut her fantasies down tight. No, never.
After parking in the stone driveway of a huge old Victorian house on a nice piece of property in Magnolia,—a pricey area of Seattle that boasted quiet streets, lots of greenery, and amazing views of Puget Sound,—she cautiously left the car. She stared at the house with suspicion, wondering just what Gavin had in store.
He opened the door to greet her. Wearing a pair of well-worn jeans and a faded blue sweatshirt, he looked at home and way too handsome for her peace of mind.
She’d dressed down in jeans and a sweater over a thin T-shirt. With the cool spring evenings, she normally dressed heavier for comfort. A smart idea, considering she had no idea if they’d be indoors or outside tonight.
“This is your place?” she asked, not believing for a second he lived in such a grand, landscaped home. It just seemed all wrong for him.
He chuckled. “Nah. It belongs to a friend of my sister’s. Hope’s house-sitting, but she’s letting me borrow it tonight.”
Zoe followed him into the huge house. It had rich mahogany furnishings, a few sculptures that looked like they cost in the thousands, and the feel of a professional interior designer. No dust, no mess, and everything had its place.
Following him through the entrance and down the hallway, past the stairs to the kitchen, she stopped and gawked. The kitchen had to be as large as her living room, dining room, and pantry combined. It had an island, marble countertops, two sinks, stainless-steel appliances, and a Viking stove—the same high-end one Piper had in her kitchen. A large vase of flowers sat on the island, while the glossy oak table off to the back looked over an expansive patio, which in turn overlooked the ocean.
“Holy crap. This is amazing.”
“I know, right?” Gavin nodded. “Go on, check it out. But keep your sweater on. The fun’s outside.”
“Not sure what that means, but give me a minute. I need some time to take this in.” She walked around the kitchen some more, while he went out to the patio and down some steps to the backyard.
After sadly affirming that she’d never have a kitchen this grand, she made mental notes to share with Cleo, a fellow HGTV addict who would go gaga over this house.
A few moments later, Zoe stepped outside on the patio, looking for Gavin. She still had no idea why he’d brought her to someone else’s home, but it had been worth the drive just to see that kitchen.
“Gavin?” The stone deck ran the entire length of the back of the house and had plenty of room for a table and chair, potted flowers and plants, and a snazzy fire pit embedded in the ground. It was surrounded by rock that had been built up, no doubt to provide a measure of safety.
A glance beyond the deck showed the Sound in all its glory. The sun was setting, and an indigo sky surrounded a blanket of clouds trying to block out the rising moon—and failing. The wind picked up, bringing a chill to the air. But the crisp scent of salt water cleaned everything around her.
Zoe breathed in and out, knowing a sense of serenity she’d been missing of late.
“Over here,” Gavin called.
She gave up her view of the water and found him on the side of house, in a corner of the lot with trees on one side and the patio on the other. Talk about a nice amount of privacy. The clearing had several boxes filled with green and growing things. And there, in the distance, a small greenhouse.
She blinked, feeling as if she’d stepped into her version of heaven.
“Well? Don’t just stand there.” Gavin nodded at a small assortment of gardening tools on the ground beside him. A trowel, a weeder, a spade, and a shovel. “The gloves are for you.”
They looked brand new. She picked up the pink set, tugged off the tags, and put them on. “Pink?”
He smiled. “You like ’em? Maybe you can wear them with your yoga pants at the gym sometime.”
“You’re obsessed with those pants, aren’t you?”
He chuckled. “Come on. We need to weed.” He crouched down and reached a hand out to some overflowing green. “But I’m not sure if that’s a plant or—”
“Stop. That’s not a weed.” She gently nudged him out of the way before he could kill the coreopsis and garden phlox around some limp tulips. He handed her the snips, and she clipped the spent tulip blooms, then did a bit more pruning and pulled a few real weeds. She showed him the difference, then answered his questions about what to plant when and how to separate a few daylily bulbs that really should have been split before now. So lost in the gardening, it took Zoe a good half an hour before she realized this was to be the extent of her date.
Peering over her shoulder, she frowned at Gavin and turned to face him, standing so that they could look eye to eye. Or rather, eye to throat. She had to glance up to see his gaze. “This is our date?” Gardening?
The pleasure seemed to leach out of him as he looked down at her. “Uh, yeah. Why? You don’t like it? We don’t have to play around all night in the dirt or anything.”
“You thought I’d like weeding someone else’s garden for hours?”
He sighed. “Stupid idea, right?”
“No, not at all.” She stared at him. “How did you know I’m into plants?” Fascinating. He’d chosen one of her favorite things to do, and he seemed to be interested in her explanations about planting and zones and soil type.
“I overheard you at the gym. You and Loretta talk about gardens as if they’re the second coming. I wanted to do something different with you, and I thought you might like this.” He smiled. “You did say sex was off the table.”
She nodded absently, disconcerted that he’d read her so well. “I like this. Do you?”
He flexed his dirty fingers, because he apparently hadn’t bought himself any gloves. “Surprisingly, yeah. It feels…good.” He looked bewildered. “It’s just dirt and flowers. But I like putting it all together, maybe seeing it grow.” He stared at her as if she had the answers.
“That’s what I like about it too. I have a small garden in my backyard. I spend a lot of time caring for my flowers and veggies. It’s fun for me, and I like knowing my hard work will pay off in tomatoes or green beans, maybe even cucumbers.”
“Fresh is best,” he agreed.
She smiled with him. The moon darted behind clouds, then broke out over them both once more. She shivered when the wind made another pass.
“Wait here,” Gavin ordered. “I mean, don’t stop digging and stuff. I’ll be back.”
He left, and she assumed a new spot by another bed, where lilies and clusters of out-of-control lavender congregated. He returned with a tray of cocoa and marshmallows, all served on some fancy-looking crockery. “Wasn’t sure if you liked coffee or tea, but thought I couldn’t go wrong with cocoa.”
“Yes.” Chocolate, one of her major weaknesses. She tried to eat healthy, but the heaven known as liquid milk chocolate constantly called to her. As did those mini marshmallows.
He handed her a mug and watched her with intense eyes.
After a few decadent sips, she frowned. “Do I have marshmallow on my lip or something?” Then she licked her lips just to be sure they were clean.
“Did you have to do that? I’ve been so good, behaving myself.” He took the mug from her and set it on the wooden border of the flowerbed, then moved into her personal space.
She refused to back up, so they stood so close that she nearly bumped his chin when she tilted her face up to see him better.
“You’re so pretty. Even when you’re not wearing pink,” he teased, his voice soft on the cool wind.
The moment seemed like a freeze frame from the most romantic scene ever. She still tasted chocolate. The moon overhead lit everything with a preternatural glow. The scents of earth and lavender and Gavin filled her head, until she could focus on nothing but him.
“Gavin?” She didn’t know what she was asking him for, but the promise of safety in his eyes drew her closer.
“I’m gonna kiss you now,” he said, his voice low, warm.
He leaned closer at the same time she did.
Their coming together felt amazing. Perfect. Right. The kiss shook her. Deep, sensual, yet not as close as she wanted. His tongue swept her mouth, caressing while he took charge of the embrace. But not once did he overwhelm her. Instead, she followed him, sip for sip, and let the rush of her heartbeat pull her into a tide of longing she couldn’t suppress. Not now, surrounded by all her favorite things.
“Gavin,” she murmured when he kissed his way from her mouth down her cheek to her throat.
He pulled her to him, but their clothes kept them too far apart. Gentle bites down her throat ended in a soft kiss that caused a full-body shiver.
“Cold?” he whispered as he straightened.
She shook her head, unable to speak, and blinked into his shuttered gaze. Then he made everything worse. He tucked her head under his chin and hugged her with affection. No way she could chalk this up as a gambit to get her to bed, not when he had the gall to make her feel.
With a sigh, he ended the embrace and pulled back. “Now show me which ones I can pull and which ones I can’t.” He nodded at the third flower bed they hadn’t gotten to yet, not winded or affected by their kiss, apparently. Hell. Zoe couldn’t feel his heartbeat through their clothes, but hers raced like a thoroughbred intent on taking the Triple Crown.
The bastard had the nerve to wipe a clean thumb over her lower lip, causing that thoroughbred to run past the finish line with no signs of stopping.
“I have the urge to flip you again, right here,” she rasped. For starting something he wouldn’t finish. And for making her want to finish it, regardless of their newness.
He smirked, as if reading her mind. “I know. I can’t stop thinking about us in the gym either.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
He wiggled his brows. “I think it is. Next time I’m flat on my back, I’ll be thinking only of you, Mistress.”
“You’re such a pain.”
“I know. It’s a gift.”
She wanted to smack him, so she did. When his laughter ended, she pulled him close and planted a kiss on him that had him panting and grabbing for her—but this time she had the presence of mind to disentangle herself. “Now,” she said, her voice hoarse, “grab that trowel and let’s get back to work.”
He kept staring at her mouth. “Trowel?”
She groaned, because she wanted to get back to that kiss as well. “Why me?”
Award-winning author Marie Harte has been writing professionally since 2005. She’s both a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author and has written over 100 books and counting. Marie writes books with heat, humor, and character.
She writes independently and for several publishers, to include Sourcebooks and Samhain. Though currently writing contemporary romance, she also writes paranormal and romantic suspense.
Before turning to writing full-time, she earned a B.A. in English from Pennsylvania State University and spent several years in the United States Marine Corps as a communications officer.
Marie currently lives in Central Oregon with her family. There’s nothing she likes more than finding a good book to read and a great cup of coffee to drink.
Find out more about Marie at http://marieharte.com/
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