Sometimes love really is worthfighting for, but picking your battles isn't so easy—especially when lives are atstake.
Personal tragedy and the loss of both parents at a young age made Ariela Perrine cross self-sacrificing hero types off her datable list. But Ariela is literally swept off her feet when an accident brings her face to face with an unforgettable pair of blue eyes, a playful smile, and an overly affectionate dog.
Oh yes, journalist Dylan Bond makes her sizzle, but dare she risk it? After all, he's just returned from covering conflicts around the globe. With his assurance he'll be handling domestic stories from now on, Ariela's weak resistance crumbles and their relationship intensifies at a dizzying speed. But then an unexpected phone call lures Dylan back to Iraq and he falls off the radar. His disappearance will test them both. Will it bring them closer or destroy their fragile peace forever?
“Please, come in.” Ariela grabbed her sweater off the hook on the wall and slipped it on, feeling a little underdressed in her pajamas.
What on earth was he doing here, and how had he found her? Not that she was complaining. Oh no, far from it. He’d made a startling impression on her earlier today. When he’d smiled at her, she could have sworn his brilliant blue eyes were dancing like fairies at a midsummer frolic. Odder still, when he spoke she’d imagined butterflies circling her head. She’d heard tinkling bells. At the time, she hoped it was because of the knock on her head. Now she wasn’t so sure. Just looking at him again was doing crazy things to her mental and physical circuitry.
The guy entered the apartment and gaped at the furniture right out of the sixties. Very familiar with this reaction, Ariela laughed.
“Yeah, I get it. The Jetson’s meet Beetlejuice, right? Probably not the décor you’d expect two interior designers to have.”
He shook his head, still blinking as he took it all in.
Overlapping the edges of her unbuttoned sweater, she hugged herself, painfully aware she wasn’t wearing a bra. “Well, there’s a simple explanation. When you’re cash poor and starting a business with next to nothing, you can’t exactly go wild in your own apartment right off the bat. We’re still living with the furniture we had during college, courtesy of Uncle Henry and Aunt Rose—with a few freebies thrown in to make it really eclectic.”
She gestured to their space-age teal sofa. “Please, have a seat. Appearances aside, it’s actually quite comfortable. Can I get you something to drink—juice, tea, coffee maybe?”
Anything, anything at all?
Turning, he flashed a little dimple. “No thanks. I’m fine.”
He’d get no argument from her.
They sat down and he looked pained when she settled into the bright tangerine-colored armchair. Understandable. It did clash jarringly with her pajamas—pastel balloons floating across a soft pink background. The poor guy blinked several times, seemingly trying to handle the color overload. Biting her lip so she didn’t break out laughing, Ariela tucked her feet up and gave him a slow, curious smile. He sat up straight, recognizing his cue. “Right. Sorry. I suppose you’re wondering why I’m here.”
“It crossed my mind,” she admitted.
“I didn’t get a chance to give you that business card before they carted you away.”
“Oh, and you brought it to me? That’s so nice of you. Thanks.”
He peered at her intently, more serious now. “How are you?”
Even though she didn’t know him, there was something in his expression that made her believe he could be trusted, and more importantly, he wouldn’t have asked about her if he didn’t honestly want to know. The naked concern radiating out of his deep blue eyes transformed his handsome face into something miles beyond devastating.
“I have a mild concussion.” Why was she blushing?
The corner of his mouth curled up a smidgen. “Headache?”
She felt her warm cheeks flare hotter. What was wrong with her? “Not anymore.”
“Good.” He broke into a full-blown smile and settled back on the sofa, apparently satisfied.
Still reeling from the power of his smile, Ariela shifted uneasily in her chair. “I have a confession— I can’t remember your name. It’s really bugging me.”
His head dropped back and he laughed. “Dylan Bond.”
She brightened. “Like in Bond, Dylan Bond?” She’d remember it now.
His eyebrows flicked up in amusement. “Something like that.”
“Dabbles in international intrigue?” She was toying with him, but it was fun.
He flashed a sexy-assed smile. How many kinds did the guy have? “I’m comfortable being in the middle of the action, but I’m back to working domestically again.” Say what? Ariela’s eyebrows rose so high she felt her hairline shift. “I think I need a translation. What is it you do?”
He had a great laugh. “I’m a journalist. I just finished a stint in Iraq, but I’m back now. It’s nice not having to deal with body armor and helmets.”
Looking skeptically back at him, she assumed he was putting her on. “Is that right?”
“Actually, yes.” He shifted onto one butt cheek and pulled out his wallet. A second later, he handed her a press pass from a recent event. “I’m working out of my house now—mostly covering the political side of the war.”
She read the pass, her doubts dissolving. “You actually live around here?” She handed the card back and he put it away.
“Sure, why not?”
Shrugging, she said, “Well, Lewiston isn’t exactly Washington DC.”
“With the internet and a telephone, you can stay connected from pretty much anywhere. Still, I do plenty of traveling and Washington is only a two hour drive. I can be there and back before Max even notices I’m gone.”
His blue eyes were dancing again. Hello tinkling bells. “My retriever.”
“Ah yes, I remember him now.”
Dylan grinned. “He’s probably the reason you woke up wanting a wet wipe.”
She laughed and his smile deepened. That dimple of his was growing on her.
“Listen,” he said, leaning forward, elbows on his knees. “How about going out with me sometime? We can do something gentle—bumper cars maybe?”
She waited for her retreat mechanism to kick in. It was strangely silent. “Here I was, hoping you’d suggest hang gliding or bungee jumping.”
“Anything you want. I’m flexible.”
Another perfect smile flashed at her and Ariela’s heartbeat spiked. “Sure, why not?”
“Good.” He stood and pulled the business card out of his front pocket. “Here, before I forget.”
Ariela unfolded her legs and reached for the floor with her bare feet. When she rose he was right there with the card. Taking it, she noticed he was taller than she’d initially thought. She supposed that made sense. How well can you judge anyone’s height when you’re on your back?
She walked him to the door. Opening it before she could, he turned and asked, “When?”
“When what?” She watched his eyes move as he took an unabashed tour of her face.
“When can I take you out?”
The birds in her stomach were back, fluttering away. Good thing they were keeping the noise down. “Whenever?”
Dylan gave her a meaningful look, full of promise. “Expect a call.”
Ariela closed the door behind him and fell against it. If she hadn’t locked her knees, she would have been a puddle of melting woman on the floor. As Dylan’s footfalls faded out and the back door shut, she pressed a hand to her excited heart. Something told Ariela that she was in for a wild ride with this one. Hell, just sitting in a quiet room with Dylan was exhilarating. Now she knew it wasn’t just the concussion. There was far more at play here. Scary.
She was about to find out whether Dylan’s hands were capable and steady on the wheel, because he was already in her driver’s seat. She knew it, and judging by the look he gave her on the way out, he knew it too. Suddenly the Beatles were singing Drive My Car in her head.
Ariela pulled herself up and wobbled on shaky legs into the kitchen for a cold drink of water with loads of ice.