His hands fisted at his sides and she had the distinct feeling that what he wanted to do was bolt from the house and disappear into the fog—or maybe punch a wall. She couldn’t really blame him. After all, he was new to the Colonel’s husband hunt.
This was old hat for her.
“Really,” she said, shaking her head. “You ought to try to relax. All of that tension can’t be good for the spirit. Or the digestion.”
“Thanks,” he muttered, shoving both fists into his pockets, “but I like tension. Keeps me on my toes.”
Well then he should be happy to be around her. Because Lilah had the unenviable talent of making most everyone tense. It was her special gift.
Ever since she was a kid, she’d managed to say the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Still, no point in making him any more miserable than he already was. “Don’t take this so personal,” Lilah told him and was rewarded with a steely glare.
“I shouldn’t take it personal?” he asked, incredulous. “Your father, my C.O., sets me up and I shouldn’t take it personal?”
She waved her hand just to hear the sound of the silvery bells on her bracelet again. Very soothing. “It’s not like you’re the first,” she said. “Or the last for that matter. Daddy’s been lining men up in front of me since I was seventeen.” Just saying it made her want to cringe, but she curbed the impulse. “You’re just the latest.”
“It should be,” she argued.
“And why’s that?”
“Well,” she pointed out, “it’s not as though he isn’t picky when he’s looking for a man for me. He only chooses from the best. I am his daughter, after all.” Not the son he’d always wanted. Just a daughter with a penchant for crystals and toe rings rather than rule books and sensible shoes.
“So I ought to be flattered?”
“I’m getting that.” She leaned in and studied his fierce expression. “You know, your mirth chakra probably needs work.”
“I don’t get you.”
“Join the club.”
“Are you always this strange?”
“That depends,” she said. “How strange am I being right now?”
“Sorry about the interruption,” the Colonel announced as he walked back into the room. Both of them turned to face him, almost in relief. They certainly weren’t getting anywhere talking to each other.
He stopped just over the threshold and looked from one to the other of them. “Is there a problem?”
“Yes,” she said.
“No, sir,” he said at the same time.
Lilah turned and fixed the man opposite her with a hard look. The furious expression was gone, replaced now by the professional soldier’s blank, poker face. To see the man now, you’d never guess that only moments before he had looked angry enough to bite through a phone book. A thick one.
“Now’s your chance, Gunnery Sergeant,” she said, urging him to speak up and get them both out of this while there was still time. “Tell my father what you were just telling me.”
“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant,” the Colonel said, “what exactly were you saying?”
His gaze shot from her to her father and for one brief, shining moment, Lilah almost hoped that Kevin Rogan would stand up and say “no thanks.” Then he spoke and that hope died.
“I told your daughter it would be an honor to escort her around the base for the duration of her visit, sir.”
She sighed heavily, but neither man appeared to notice.
“Excellent,” the Colonel said, smiling. Then he walked across the room, gave her a kiss on the forehead and turned to face the other man. “I have some work to catch up on,” he said. “Lilah will see you out and you two can make some plans.”
When he left again, Lilah folded her arms across her chest, tapped one bare foot against the floor and cocked her head to one side. “Coward.”
He actually winced before he shrugged. “He’s my C.O.,” was his only explanation.
“But you don’t want this duty.”
“I didn’t want to go to Bosnia, either,” he said tightly. “But I went.”
Well that stung.
Still and all, it was almost refreshing to talk honestly with one of her father’s hopefuls. Usually, the men he handpicked for her were so busy trying to win his approval that they were willing to tell Lilah outrageous lies just to score a brownie point or two. At least Kevin Rogan was honest.
He didn’t want to be with her any more than she wanted to be with him.
That was almost like having something in common, wasn’t it?
“So,” she asked, “I’m like Bosnia, huh? In what sense? A relief mission or a battle zone?”
A flicker of a smile curved his mouth and was gone again before she could thoroughly appreciate just what the action did for his face.
And maybe, she thought as butterflies took wing in the pit of her stomach, that was for the best. She was only in town for a few weeks. Besides, she already knew that she did not fit in with the military types.
“Haven’t made up my mind yet,” he said. “But I’ll let you know.”
“I can’t wait.” Sarcasm dripped from her tone, letting him know in no uncertain terms that she knew exactly what his decision would be. She could see it in his eyes. He’d already come to the conclusion that this duty was going to be a pain in the rear.
And a few days alone with her would only underline that certainty.
“Look,” he said, crossing the room toward her so he could lower his voice and not be overheard. He stopped just short of her and Lilah caught a whiff of his cologne. Something earthy and musky and what it did to her insides, she refused to think about.
She blinked and tried to focus on the words coming out of his mouth, rather than the mouth itself.
“We’re going to be stuck with each other for the next month,” he said.
Okay, that helped. How charming. “And your point is?”
“Let’s try to make this as easy as possible on both of us.”
“I’m for that,” she said and inhaled deeply again, enjoying the woodsy fragrance that filled her senses and weakened her knees. She looked up into those green eyes of his and now that they weren’t scowling at her, she noticed the tiny flecks of gold in them.
Then promptly told herself she shouldn’t be noticing anything of the kind. Marine, she reminded herself. Handpicked by her father.
“You’re engaged,” he said, “whether your father likes the guy or not.”
An image of Ray filled her mind and she had to smile. “True,” she agreed and mentally crossed her fingers at the lie in a feeble attempt to ward off karmic backlash.
“And I’m not interested in changing that situation.”
“Good.” One fake fiancé was about all she could handle at any given time.
“So,” he was saying, “we strike a bargain.”
She stared at him for a long moment, trying to figure out just what he was up to. “What kind of bargain?”