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~STREET GAME CHAPTER ONE~
Last Updated: March 06, 2015 11:14:48

Street Game by Christine Feehan Black night.  No moon, no stars.  Just the way he liked it.  Master Gunnery Sergeant Mack McKinley crouched in the alley, close to the tall dirty building, allowing his senses to become tuned to the familiar sounds.  A cat raked through a garbage can, a drunk moaned and shivered in the cold.  Waves pounded the beach and sloshed against the pier just behind the building.  Three stories up, lights went out leaving the long row of windows like giant gaping black mouths.  McKinley smiled at the image, smiled up at the windows.  His smile was not pleasant.

This was the all important tip.  Tracking the explosives through Lebanon, Beirut, the South American Freighter.  San Francisco.  Always one step behind.  He had moved fast to check out the information, praying it was correct.  They had less than twenty-four hours to find the guns and the five-man unit of Doomsday.  He sneered at the name of the terrorist unit, but he had to give them kudos for scaring the crap out of every country they had visited.  They left behind wreckage and carnage and death.  More—they left behind fear.

Urban warfare was an art, anyway one looked at it, and his team had knowledge of the streets, were the best there was, but it was dangerous work and one had to have a cool head.  Too many civilians, too many potential hostages, too damn many things to go wrong, but his men were good at it, more than good—he counted them the best and Sergeant Major Theodore Griffen  wanted Doomsday taken out and when the Sergeant Major gave an order it was carried out immediately and to the letter.

The warehouse was wired.  He knew it, could ‘feel’ it.  But something...  His men were in position waiting for him.  As always First Sergeant Kane Cannon was at his back.  They’d started on the streets together, two kids trying to stay alive, eventually pulling in six other boys and two girls, all with ‘different’ abilities to make up their rag-tag family. 

From the streets Kane and Mack and one of the girls—Mack didn’t want to think about her—had gone on to the University.  The others had gone into the Marine Corp.  All had a gift for languages as well as too many other things, such as what he was doing now.  They were recruited right out of school and trained as operatives until the psychic testing.  That had been a huge mistake and all of his family had followed him—as they had all along. 

Force Recon—Special Forces.  Psychic testing where they’d all come back together just like on the street.  More specialized training.  S.E.A.L. training.  Urban war games.  Even more specialized training until they were pretty much killing machines.  They had stuck together and knew each other’s every move.  They trusted each other and no one else, not in the business they were in.  Well…with the exception of the new kid, but that was a whole other story.  There was no good thinking about that right now, not when he was surrounded with the ones he loved, leading them into a situation that was explosive at the very least.

Mack signaled for the others to pull down their night goggles, making it easy to see in the blackness of the night.   He and Kane didn’t need them.  They could both see in the dark as easily as during the day.  Something to do with the experiments they’d lent themselves to.  Stupid, but they’d done it for the good of the country and their need for a home.  Yeah, he knew the psychological bullshit everyone spouted.  It was probably all true too, but he didn’t much care.  It was also one hell of an adrenaline rush.

Still, he waited, hesitating before signaling his team forward.  His men were coiled and ready.  He had a bad feeling, deep in his gut, and he never discounted his instincts.  Something wasn’t quite right, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

What is it, Top?  Kane questioned, using telepathy, communication they had perfected as children and the military had enhanced when they volunteered for their psychic GhostWalker program.

Something’s wrong?  Not wrong, maybe, just not right.  How the hell could he explain that strange kick in his belly?

I feel it too, but I’m not sure what’s out of sync here.  There was another long moment of silence.  Abort?  Kane asked.

Mack took a breath.  Let it out.  No, but let’s all be very cautious. 
Of the eight of them, only the new kid the Sergeant Major had insisted they add to their team couldn’t communicate telepathically.  Telepathy had been the common denominator that had drawn them together on the streets.  They were all different and they’d all recognized the psychic gift in one another.  Mack had been the acknowledged leader and Kane had always, always had his back.

He glanced at the man and saw he was doing what Kane did best, searching the huge warehouse with his strange eyes.  He could, if he wanted, see right through the wood and metal to the heat inside, a gift from Whitney and his experiments.  Unfortunately if he used that special gift, he paid for it with blindness for several minutes after, rendering it an extremely dangerous talent to use in the field.  There were several new abilities in all of them.  Animal DNA.  A new genetic code.  They hadn’t signed on for that kind of experiment, but when they woke up, they had been changed for all time.  This time, he kept from trying to look through the walls and used his enhanced sight to detect movement only.

Mack signaled his men forward.  It took minutes to bypass the alarm on the side entrance door, far longer than it should have.  The alarm was too complicated for a wharf warehouse.  Who put together a triple, sophisticated alarm system, so complex, it took Javier, his best tech, precious time to unravel it?

We’ve got ourselves a pro system, here, boss, Javier said.  One I’ve never seen before.  Whoever put this mother together, knew what they were doing.  There was frank admiration in the voice.

No activity in the lower warehouse that I can spot, Mack, Kane said.  I can’t detect heat on the second floor either, but someone’s on the third floor.

Just one person?  That made no sense.

Just one.

Mac moved first, his brain more reluctant than his body.  He rolled inside the door of the first floor, under a trip wire, crawled military fashion beneath the maze of track beams.  The entire room was empty, deserted, with the exception of scattered building materials here and there.  The sophisticated alarm system seemed ridiculous.  Something was nagging at the back of his mind, refusing to leave him alone. 

Where are the sentries, Kane?

I don’t know, bro, but this is all wrong.

The roof was clean, protected only by an alarm.  His man, Gideon, was up there now, with a rifle and a radio.  Gideon could see in the dark, hear like an owl, and shoot the wings off a fly in the middle of the night if necessary.  Mack should have been feeling good, but that punch in his gut was getting stronger.  And where the hell was the sentry on the ground level?  Was this an elaborate trap?  Had Doomsday been tipped off that they were coming?

The little band of terrorists had no cause, no politics, no religious war to fight.  They were mercenaries, a brand new type spawned by the times.  They showed off their talents, sparing no country, no man, woman or child, with one idea, working for the highest bidder.  They sold their services to the highest bidder, which made them difficult to track as no one could ever figure out who they worked for and where they would be next.  This was the GhostWalker’s one opportunity to get them, following the weapons, yet Mack just couldn’t shake it that something was wrong.
Even as his mind struggled desperately with the problem, he was aware of every detail around him, aware of the newbie, young Paul that inch too high, close beneath one of the beams.  Mack hissed and all movement ceased.  The warehouse was utterly still.  His cold gaze pinned Paul.  Mack signaled with a flat hand.  The rookie’s body hugged the cold cement.  Despite the cover of darkness, Mack knew Paul flushed crimson.
           
The kid blushed a lot.  What the hell he was doing with their team, Mack couldn’t figure out.  Basically, they were babysitting and that could get them all killed.  No one on the team wanted the kid with them, but Sergeant Major Griffen had been more than insistent.  It wasn’t that the kid wasn’t highly intelligent—he was.  He also was psychic, although none of them had gone through Dr. Whitney’s program with him.  All the GhostWalkers tended to know or at least recognized one another.  Paul was an exception.  Mack didn’t like question marks, and the kid posed too many.

Mack rolled free of the interlocking track beams.  The loudness of the freight lift was out of the question.  It had to be the stairs, each one more perilous than the next.  There would be two flights to get to that third floor. 

Where the hell are the sentries?  The question nagged at him, would not let him go. 

Everyone was on high alert now, the question as disturbing to them as it was to him.  He waited a heartbeat, but couldn’t find a reason not to continue.

He moved cautiously.  Four stairs—seven.  He felt it on eight.  The wire puzzled him.  It was an alarm, not a mine.  His mind seized on that, worried at it.
Mack had done this so many times he knew exactly how each one of his men was feeling.  Adrenalin pumping, heart racing, fear choking, guns rock steady. 

Something was off kilter.  Wrong.  The word fluttered in his head, beat at him like tiny wings. 

Definitely off.

Kane’s anxiety heightened his own. 

Mack gained the second floor.  Where the first floor had been mostly empty space and building materials, this one was packed with electronic equipment.  A bank of computers was built into the far wall, the only thing completed.  Everything else was in boxes, all electronics equipment, high end.

“Bingo,” Paul’s whisper came over the radio, trembling with excitement.  “Moving day.”

Check it, Kane.  Maybe we’re looking at how they transported the guns.
Inside electronic equipment?  This is satellite tracking, cameras, stuff like that, not guns.  We’ve stumbled onto something, but I’m not certain it’s what we’re after.

Mack wasn’t certain either.  He shook his head, his mind screaming at him now.  This was all wrong.  No sentries.  This type of equipment was far too advanced for the kind of terrorists the Doomsday organization were. 

He moved up the staircase.  Third stair this time.  No explosives.  Seventh stair.  He rolled beneath the beam on the landing, came up on one knee, breathing deeply.  Here!  HereHis men were spreading out, back-to-back, in a standard search pattern.

What is it?  What’s wrong?  Find the answer!  Find the answer!  Mac moved carefully through the furniture. 

The furniture, Mack.  All wrong, Kane hissed in his mind.

A long plush couch, a hand carved wooden coffee table, a priceless Persian rug.  Beautiful, expensive.  A small object on an end table.  A dragon.  Like in a living room.  A home.  Knowledge came a heartbeat too late.

Something stirred just feet from him, a weapon glinted. 

“Break off!  Break off!”  He yelled it even as he launched himself toward the small figure crouched behind the recliner.  His body, solid, heavily muscled, hit the smaller, softer one squarely, knocking the woman flat, pinning her to the floor. 

She shocked him by fighting hard, going for pressure points, obviously having a working knowledge of hand to hand combat tactics.  It took some strength and finesse to subdue her.  He successfully blanketed her body with his, tensed for the bullets he was certain would tear into him.  His team was well trained, superb even.  Not a shot was fired.  Even so, as a precaution, Kane caught Paul’s weapon, pushing it away from McKinley’s body. 

There was a long, deadly silence.  Mack could hear her breathing, her heart racing.  There was no struggle once he’d pinned her, she lay perfectly still beneath him.  For a moment, he was afraid he had knocked her unconscious, but her breathing was too ragged.

“Is anyone else up here?” he whispered the words in her ear.

She shook her head.

Kane and the others began a standard search pattern.  McKinley hoped she was telling the truth.  She smelled fresh and faintly exotic, her skin, satin smooth, petal soft.  The scent, the feel of her, was oddly familiar.  Too familiar.  His body recognized her before his brain did, reacting with enough testosterone for his entire unit, mixed with more adrenaline than any of them could possibly handle.

McKinley, slowly, carefully eased his weight until he was certain he wasn’t hurting her, yet still kept her pinned.  As each member of the team barked ‘Clear’, he shifted enough to get a good look at her face.  One leg remained firmly over her thighs, a warning not to move.

Behind them, a lamp was switched on.  “All clear, sir.”  That was young Paul.  His men were all staring, yet trying not to stare.  The woman was in a long nightgown.  See-through.  One of those diaphanous, filmy things that clung to every curve and sent a jackhammer through the middle of a man’s skull.  Her gown had pulled up her thigh, revealing a more than generous expanse of gleaming skin.

She had tousled hair, a riot of curls, and large, sapphire-colored haunting eyes.  He would know her anywhere, anyplace.

Jaimie. He said her name, at least he thought he said it, but no sound emerged.  Maybe he just breathed her name.  He touched her thick mane of silky, midnight black hair, his fingers sliding into one of the curls and tugging, letting the strands slide through the pads of his fingers, trying to regain the breath she’d stolen.

“Get off me, McKinley.”  The fear was in her voice, but she was striving for control.  “What are you doing here?  Hi boys.  I missed—most of you,” she greeted from the floor.

“Hey Jamie,” Kane said.

“Man, Jaimie,” Javier added. “Sweet damn security system.  I should have recognized your work.”

“Great to see you, Jaime,” Brian Hutton added with a little grin.  “Although we’re seeing more of you than brothers are comfortable with.”

“What the fuck are you wearing?” Mack demanded.  Lust punched hard and mean, his entire body tightening, his cock hard as a rock.  He was furious with her, scared for her.  Shocked at seeing her.  What was going on?  She had fucking left him. 

Left him. Disappeared without a trace.

His hand gripped her throat and he trapped her there on the floor, letting her feel the strength of his anger—of his need.  He leaned close.  “Did you find yourself, Jaime?  Did you find everything you were looking for?”  Did you miss me the way I missed you?  Did you bring my heart back, because I have a damn big hole where it should be.

He stared down into her eyes—eyes he always fell into—eyes he’d always drown in.  Damn you, Jaimie.  Damn you to hell for this.  The attraction was worse than it had ever been, flooding him until his body was no longer his and discipline and control had gone out the window.  “Don’t you dare look at me that way.”

She swallowed hard.  He felt the movement against his palm of his.  “What way?”
           
“Like you’re afraid of me.  Like I’m going to hurt you.”  There was panic in her eyes.  Fear almost amounting to terror and it sickened him. 
           
“Mack.”  Kane’s voice was very soft.  “You’ve got your hand around her throat and you’re sitting on her.  That could be interpreted by some as aggressive action.”

Mack hissed, his head snapping around.  “Anyone else have anything brilliant they want to contribute?”
           
No one else was that stupid—or brave.
           
He loosened his hold on her throat, but retained possession, feeling the satisfying frantic beat of her pulse into the center of his palm.  “What the hell are you wearing?”  He demanded again.  “You might as well be wearing nothing at all.”
           
“It’s called a nightgown,” Jaimie replied, her voice sarcastic.  “Mack, let me up.  In case no one’s ever told you, you’re heavy.”
           
He was solid muscle.  And right now every single inch of him was as hard as a rock.  Moving was going to be painful, one way or the other.
           
Sighing, because everyone was going to know exactly what she did to him, he shifted very carefully.  “Get some clothes on.”  Abruptly, Mack was on his feet, pulling her up with him.  A quick flick of his eyes and his men found the ceiling interesting.

They were grinning like idiots.  All of them.  Even Kane.  He resisted swearing at them.

“Have the decency to turn around,” he ordered the others. 
Morons.  Every single one.  He didn’t turn around.  He glared at her.  Daggers. 

“That’s a hell of a thing to wear unless you’re entertaining, Jaimie.  Are you entertaining?”  His hand slid down to the satisfying hilt of his knife. He’d do some entertaining of his own if some son of a bitch was moving in on Jaimie.  Not waiting for an answer, he tore off his jacket and threw it at her.  “Cover up.

“Go to hell, Mack.  This is my home.  My bedroom, in case you haven’t noticed.” 
Still, she slipped her arms into the jacket and inhaled, rubbing her cheek along the material without thinking and then stalked across the room to yank open a drawer. 

“You’re a long way from home.”  Jaimie made the observation as she donned a pair of charcoal sweatpants.  “Not to mention you’re a little overdressed for these parts.” 

He noticed her hands were trembling as she pulled the edges of his jacket together. 

Her voice was exactly as he remembered.  Soft, husky, beautiful.  Like clear running water.  It hurt him to look at her.  Her chin was in the air—same defiant Jaimie he’d known forever, but she wasn’t looking at him—not directly—and that wasn’t like Jaimie.

“The next time you want to drop in, local custom demands that you do me the courtesy of knocking.”  She paced away from him, back again, unable to rid her body of the adrenaline.  “What are you doing here, Mack?”

“We followed a shipment of weapons.”

Her eyebrows shot up.  “To San Francisco?  To my home?”

“Right to your front door, baby.”

She winced.  “I’m not your baby, Mack.  That was a long time ago.  What are you really doing here?”

“Our information…”

“Mack, come on,” she crossed to the window and looked out over the pounding waves.  “You and I both know this is too big of a coincidence.  If you weren’t the one to arrange it, then your informer wanted you here.  Wanted us together.”

He wanted them together, so whoever had done this deliberately or not, he owed them.  Jaimie had disappeared out of all of their lives some time ago.  She’d been a big part of their street family and now, here she was—practically in his lap.

He crossed to stand behind her, gently taking hold of her shoulders and moving her back away from the window. 

Kane cleared his throat. “The information was, the shipment we’re after was offloaded and stored in this block of warehouses.  Corner.  High security.  That’s this warehouse, Jaimie.”

Her sapphire gaze touched his face, jumped away.  “Actually, it’s not.  You want the one at the end of this block.  Mysterious trucks in the middle of the night.  Hard cases, trying to look friendly.  You want that warehouse, not mine.”  Her gaze swung back to Mack.  There was something faintly accusing in the depths of her eyes, but then she glanced away from him—as if she couldn’t bear to look at him.
Deep inside, there was a stirring, an answer.  Mack could feel his body’s reaction, taut, dangerous, a man’s reaction.  Jaimie Fielding.  His fists curled.  His Jaimie.  Stubborn Jaimie with her outrageous sense of humor, her computer brain and her pure ethics.  Her small teeth bit nervously at her lip, drawing Mack’s immediate attention to the fullness of her soft mouth.  He had always wanted to crush her lips beneath his when he saw that mouth—still did.  She left him.

“I think my rights as a United States citizen have been severely violated.” Jaimie pointed out.  “You just invaded my home.”

Mack swept a hand through charcoal hair.  “Can it, Jaimie,” he snapped, “this isn’t funny.”  Seeing her threw him.  Drawing her scent into his lungs sent his body into some kind of permanent overdrive.  He was supposed to be disciplined, but somehow, with Jaimie around, his body went haywire, thinking with other portions of his anatomy rather than his brain.

“Do I look like I’m laughing?”  Her eyebrows arched in inquiry.  “I can assure you, I wasn’t trying to be funny.”  At his look, her full, lush lips curled, pursed.  “Well, so, all right,” she conceded.  “Maybe I was a bit.  Your hotshot intelligence group made a big mistake.  Left you with egg all over your face.  Not to mention I was waiting for you.”

Mack snatched up the frying pan lying beside the sofa.  “I suppose you thought you were going to bean the entire team with this.”

A low rumble of laughter swept through the room.  Jaimie smirked at them.  “Laugh all you want, hotshots, if I’d been your enemy, you would be dead or wounded right now.”

“She has a point.”  Mack’s glittering eyes swept the room.  “We’re lucky this isn’t the place.”

Kane watched Mack watching Jaimie.  It looked like trouble to him, but then, it always had been trouble when the two of them had been in close proximity. Combustible.  Like a match to dynamite.  He found himself grinning.  “Did you provide the anonymous information?”

“Not a chance,” Jaimie denied staunchly.  “I’m sort of doing my own thing here and wouldn’t call attention to myself.  Nor do I want an angry neighbor torching the place with me in it, if I set the hounds on them.”

“Why all the security?” Paul demanded, unconvinced.  “And what’s with all the electronic equipment?”

“I’m a spy for Russia,” Jaimie snapped.  “Where’s your search warrant?  This is still the United States, whether you have an invisible badge or not.”

“He’s new, Jaimie,” Kane said softly.  “Cut him some slack.”

“He’s a hot head.”  Her hands were still trembling.  Jaimie felt her stomach lurch uncomfortably.  “And he’ll get one of you killed.”  She pressed one hand to her midsection hard.

“Take them out of here,” Mack ordered Kane, frowning at her action.

“You can go down to the first floor.  There’s heat, but little else,” Jaimie said. 

“I wouldn’t mind looking at your equipment on the second floor,” Javier said. 

“Looks like a sweet setup.”

“I’ll just bet you’d like a look.  It’s my new business, Javier,” she flashed him a smile, “and I’m not letting you anywhere near those computers.  I don’t need the competition.”

“Maybe you don’t want us to look at them for a reason,” Paul said.
Jaimie shrugged, her gaze cool as she looked the man up and down.  “Maybe.”
“I’ll take them to the first floor,” Kane said.  “And contact the Sergeant Major to see where our information went haywire.”

Jaimie switched off her elaborate security alarm to speed things up.  Mack waited until they were alone.  He followed her into the kitchen area and watched as she reached for the tea kettle.  Tea.  Of course.  She always made tea when she was upset.

“Are you all right?” he asked gently.

“You took ten years off my life,” she admitted.

He leaned one hip against the cupboards, drinking in the sight of her.  “What are you doing here?  What is all the equipment?”

“Just something I’m working on.” 

She refused to look at him.  Her shoulders were stiff.  Her body posture screamed at him to go.  “I’ve missed you, Jaimie.” Stubborn, he wasn’t about to back off from a confrontation.  She’d taken his heart and soul when she’d left.  He’d been a zombie, a machine without a direction.  He couldn’t take his eyes from her.  He knew there was accusation in his voice, in his expression, but damn it all, she deserved it.  “You disappeared without a trace.”

“You had a choice, Mack,” she reminded.  “You made it very clear to me where your priorities were.  They weren’t with me.  With us.  It’s called self preservation.”
“That’s bullshit.  You knew I had no idea you’d just disappear.”

“As I recall, you said in no uncertain terms you weren’t ready for any kind of commitment.  I took you at your word.  What did you think I’d do?”

Weep for him. Wait for him.  Crawl back and beg his forgiveness.  Not fucking disappear.  Never that.  She’d taken his life.  She’d taken everything he was from him.  “I expected you to realize I was busy.”

She kept her back to him, her hands shook as she lifted the whistling tea kettle. 

“Busy?  You mean your drive to make the world right?  Your need to save everyone?  You walked out on us, Mack.  If you want to pretend you didn’t, if that makes it all good for you, it’s all right with me.  I survived.  You survived.  You have the life you want.  I’m good too.  I moved on so I’m guessing we’re both good.”

“Is that what you’re guessing?”  He waited until the kettle was safely back on the stove before gripping her arm and spinning her around to face him.  “Guess again, Jaimie.”

She didn’t struggle as he’d expected her to.  She simply went very still and looked down at the fingers circling her wrists like a steel vise.  Her gaze flicked up to his face, lingered on his mouth for a heart-stopping moment before her eyes met his.  He had the curious sensation of tumbling forward. 

“Mack, let go of me.”

He nearly didn’t.  He nearly jerked her against him and took possession of her mouth.  That perfect mouth that could drive a man out of his mind, take him to paradise.  He knew she’d melt into him.  He knew she belonged to him—every last inch of her—but he wanted more than her body.  He’d had something precious and didn’t know it until he’d lost it.  He dropped his hand and was annoyed when she rubbed the mark of his fingers from her skin before turning back to her task.
He stared at her back for a long moment, trying to find a way to reach her.  Anything.  The rage and pain of his loss was too close to the surface rendering his quick brain useless.  This was his Jaimie, yet not.

“Jaimie,” he said softly.  “Talk to me.”

She kept her back to him.  McKinley.  She’d never called him McKinley, even when they’d been best friends.  Cannon, McKinley and Fielding.  Where one had been, there was the other, but he had been Mack, always Mack. 

“Was this really an accident?  A coincidence?”

His fist tightened until his knuckles turned white.  “Of course it was an accident.  What else?”

She turned around then, her large eyes luminous, beautiful.  Eyes a man could get lost in. “It’s a bit farfetched, don’t you think?  You just happen to get the wrong warehouse and find me in it.”

“It’s a small world.”

“Don’t give me clichés, Mack,” she cautioned.  “You scared me to death.  I thought you were a burglar.”

“And you were going to attack him with a frying pan?  What the hell’s the matter with you?”  He had to keep his hands in check when he wanted to step forward and hold her trembling body against the shelter of his.  When he needed to touch the silk of her hair and smooth the frown lines from her face.

“I’m keeping a low profile.  Shooting a burglar or beating the crap out of him is a good way to advertise my presence, now isn’t it?”

He drew in his breath.  “You’re working undercover.”

She leaned against the sink and looked at him with her killer eyes.  He felt the impact like a wicked punch to his gut and then lower, the pain reminding him he was more than alive.

“I’m starting a new business that requires a good reputation, privacy and respectability.”

“That’s a load of bullshit.  I’m family.  If I’m nothing else to you, at least I’m that.”
Her eyes flashed fire at him.  Threw sparks.  “You broke my heart, Mack.  You threw me away for your adrenaline rush.  Well, you’ve got the life you wanted.  I learned my lesson, and believe me, it was a hard one.  You wanted sex and I was handy.  I’m attracted to you and was willing to give you just about everything.  I didn’t see for a long, long time that that, ”she jerked her chin toward the thick rock-hard bulge in the front of his jeans,“ was all that mattered between us, all that you were ever going to give me.  It isn’t ever going to be enough for me.  I’ve got a life, now, Mack.  I’m never going to feel like that again, the way you made me feel.  I hated myself.  I don’t want to see you again.  I’m asking you to just stay away from me.”

“Like hell.  Like hell I’ll stay away from you.”  He stepped closer, his breath coming in ragged gasps.  He burned for her.  Every moment of every day.  He couldn’t think straight without her.  She stilled his mind.  Made him human.  “I can’t breathe without you and damn you, you know it.  You don’t get over what we had together.  You can’t.  I can’t.  We belong no matter what bullshit you’re telling yourself.”

She shocked him by standing her ground.  Staring at him.  Her body was still, coiled and ready.  She was trembling and there was a slight quiver to her perfect mouth, but she didn’t crumble under his demand as she always had.

“It was your choice to throw us away, Mack, not mine.  I’m not going to argue with you about my feelings.  You just aren’t entitled to know what I’m feeling anymore.  You aren’t entitled to anything of mine.  Not my body and not my heart.”
“Think again.  If I kissed you, touched you, you’d still belong to me.”

She gave him that casual shrug that ripped his heart out and made him madder than hell.  “Probably, Mack.  We always had that firestorm to fall back on, but I realized something when you walked away from me, that’s all we had.  You told me what to do and I did it, like a puppet.  Your puppet.  I was good in bed, but you didn’t need me for anything else.  There are millions of women who are great in bed, find one of them, one that just wants sex.  I want more and I deserve more.  I need more.  You can’t give me what I need, Mack.  I’ve accepted that.”

He could hear the quiet acceptance in her voice and panic welled up.  She wasn’t stringing him along.  She was serious.  He risked a breath when his lungs burned for air.  He took his gaze from her and looked around the huge warehouse.  It was a home.  Unique.  Like Jaimie.  She was far from Chicago where they’d grown up.  As far as she could get.  She really hadn’t provided the information.  This wasn’t her plan, someone else had gotten them together.  She had made a new life for herself…  There were flowers in a vase on a table.  Roses.  Red and white.  Jaimie’s favorite.

Jealousy burst like a dam, flooding him with poisonous rage, a dark red strain that spread fast, gripping like a demon.  She’d killed him when she disappeared, left him half a man and damn her, she’d just moved on as if he wasn’t part of her heart and soul the way she was his.

“Is there a fucking man living here with you?”  He bit out each word.  Wrenched the sounds between gritted teeth.

“I’m not doing this with you.  I told you I wanted a family, Mack.”

“We were a family.  We are a family.  It’s always been us.”  And what the hell did that mean exactly?  He continued to look around the spacious floor for signs of another man.

“Do you remember what you said to me when I asked about getting pregnant?”
“I told you it was fine.”

She shook her head.  “That is not what you said, Mack.  First you looked angry and you demanded to know if I was pregnant.  When I didn’t answer you, you said if I was pregnant, we’d handle it.”

“Well, we would have.”

Handle it?  That’s not wanting a family, Mack, that’s making the best of a bad situation, or worse, maybe your handling it was to suggest an abortion.”

“Damn it, Jaimie, I would never suggest you get rid of our baby.  Is that what you thought?  You know me better than that.”

“I thought I knew you.  I thought we both wanted the same thing out of our relationship.  It was a shock when I discovered I was wrong.”  She shrugged.  “I handled it.  But it’s best if we don’t see each other.”

“Because we belong together.”  There was smug satisfaction in his voice.

“Because we aren’t good for one another.”  There was finality in her tone.

“Jaimie, are you happy?”  Everything in him stilled.  Waited.  Her answer would determine his fate.  He wouldn’t ruin what Jaimie had if it was really what she wanted.  Jaimie would never lie.  She might avoid the question, but it wasn’t in her to lie.  He knew her too well.

The tip of her tongue touched her lip.  She blew on her tea, avoiding his eyes.  “You didn’t need a family, Mack.  I was always surprised that so many didn’t.  I wanted desperately to belong.  That was why I joined you in the first place and later did undercover work.  I needed to belong somewhere, to feel I was part of something and someone.  I haven’t found that yet, but I will.  At least I know what’s important to me and I’m going after it.”  She flashed him a small smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.  “I’ll be all right.”

Everything in him settled again.  If she wasn’t happy, that meant he had a chance.  It might be a slim one, but he was a GhostWalker and he thrived on slim chances.
“I’m coming back.  I have to go to work, Jaimie, but I’m coming back.  If you have another man in your life, get rid of him.  He isn’t making you happy.”

Her eyes flashed again, tiny sparks.  He felt the answer in his gut.  He had never been able to stop his response to her and since his psychic enhancement, the pull between them was electric.  He remembered her as a teenager, a young girl, all eyes and hair and that awesome mouth.  When she smiled she could make the sun rise.  He’d never met anyone else as intelligent.  She could keep up with him on any subject, her mind quick, like the computers she loved so much.  He spent hours just talking to her back then, watching the animation on her face, knowing she was his—that she’d always been his.

Very carefully she set the tea cup onto the sink, more to keep from throwing it at him than to prevent him from seeing her hands shake.  “I’m not starting up with you again, Mack.  It took too much out of me.  I loved seeing all of you.  I’ve felt terribly alone, these past couple of years, but I can’t go there again.  I’m asking you to please leave me alone.”

He stepped close, crowding her body with his so she could feel the heat radiating from his body and the brush of hard muscles against her soft curves.  “Honey,” his voice was gentle, tender even, as it only managed with Jaimie.  “You might as well ask me to stop breathing.”  He caught her chin in his hand and lifted her face to force her to meet his gaze.  “You’re home to me, Jaimie.  I’m tired of being without you.  I’ve never wanted anyone else.  I’m not walking away from you.  Not after finding you again.  I don’t care if someone threw us together on purpose, I don’t care how it happened.  And don’t try disappearing.  Don’t do it, Jaimie.  This time I’ll come looking and God help both of us if I have to kill a man over you.”

She jerked her chin out his hand.  “I hate the way you have to be so alpha, beat your chest all the time.  I’m not a bone to fight over.”

“No, you’re a woman worth everything on this earth to me.”

“Well that’s a big change isn’t it?”

“I’m not fighting with you.  God knows we did enough of that.  I’m done fighting with you.  I want to come home.”

She pushed at the wall of his chest.  The shove didn’t even rock him.  A flicker of anger crossed her face.  “You haven’t changed at all.”

“You always loved me just the way I am, Jaimie, alpha or not.”

“I was a kid and anything you did was incredible and cool.  I’m all grown up now and I know the difference between physical attraction and love.  I want love.  I want a family.  I won’t settle for anything less and you don’t have that kind of commitment in you.  You aren’t tearing out my heart, Mack.  Go do your thing.  Get your adrenaline rush, but when you come back all hot and bothered, find another woman to expend all that energy on, because I’m not available.”

A muscle ticked in his jaw, always a bad sign.  It took discipline to keep his hands off of her.  “We’ll see, Jaimie.  I’m coming back and I’d better find you here, alone.”

He turned on his heel and stalked out.




CHRISTINE FEEHAN, #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR

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