He folded his muscular arms across a chest that looked broad enough to be a football field. “We play the roles the Colonel wants and at the end of the month, we say goodbye.”
“I’m always reasonable,” he said and darned if she didn’t believe him.
He looked so straight-arrow, gung ho Marine, he wouldn’t know a bend in the road if he fell on it. Completely the wrong kind of man for her. Exactly the kind of man she’d avoided most of her life.
In short, he was perfect.
They could get through this month and make her father happy and neither of them miserable. She smiled again as she considered it. For the first time, she and a Marine could be honest with each other. They could form a friendship based on mutual distaste.
This idea actually had merit.
“Well?” he prodded, apparently just as impatient as her father. “What do you say?”
“I say you’ve got a deal, Gunnery Sergeant,” Lilah told him and held out her right hand.
He enveloped it in his much bigger one and gave her a gentle squeeze and shake. Ripples of warmth ebbed through her, much like the surface of a lake after a stone’s been tossed into it. She blinked and held on to his hand a moment longer than was necessary, just to enjoy the sensation. Tipping her head back, she thought she noticed a like reaction glinting in his eyes, but she couldn’t be sure.
When he released her, she still felt the hum of his touch. And she was pretty sure that wasn’t a good thing at all.
Twenty minutes later, Kevin was gone and Lilah was sitting in the living room alone when her father walked into the room.
He moved straight for the bar and poured himself a short drink, then asked, “Would you like something, honey?”
“No, thanks,” Lilah said as she studied her father. A tall, handsome man, he had streaks of gray at his temples, smile lines at the corners of his eyes and the solid, muscled frame of a much younger man. Not for the first time, she wondered why he’d never remarried after her mother’s death so many years ago. But she’d never asked him. And now seemed like as good a time as any. “Dad, why have you stayed single all these years?”
He set the decanter down carefully, studied the amber liquid swirling in the bottom of his glass, then turned and walked to the couch. Sitting opposite her, he took a sip, then said, “I never met another woman like your mom.”
Her mother had died when she was eight years old, but Lilah still had a few memories. Snatches of images, really. A pretty woman with a lovely smile. A soft touch. A whiff of perfume. She remembered the comforting sound of her parents laughing together in the darkness and the warmth of knowing she was loved.
And then there were the lonelier years, when it was just she and her father and he was too busy to notice that his daughter had lost as much as he had.
She shifted, curling up in a corner of the overstuffed love seat. “Did you try?”
Again, he looked for answers in his glass before saying, “Not really.” Another sip. “I just decided I’d rather be alone than be with the wrong person.”
“I can understand that,” she said, meaning every word. In fact, she thought that if they’d had this conversation a few years ago, she might have been able to avoid the series of matchmaking attempts he’d been foisting on her regularly. “But what I don’t understand is,” she added softly, “if it’s all right for you to be single, why is it so important to you that I get married?”
Her father sat up, leaned forward and set his unfinished drink on the table in front of him. Folding his arms atop his knees, he looked into her eyes and said quietly, “Because I want you to be settled. To find someone to—”
“Take care of me?” she finished for him and felt a spurt of frustration shoot through her veins. To him, she’d undoubtedly always be his slightly flaky daughter. But it might surprise him to know that in some circles, she was actually pretty well thought of. “Dad, I’m a grown-up. I can take care of myself.”
“You didn’t let me finish,” he said and stood up, looking down at her with a fond expression on his face. “I want you to have what I had. What your mother and I had for too short a time.”
Hard to be angry at something like that. But it was his methods she objected to.
“If that’s what I want, I can find it myself,” she pointed out and gave herself points for not raising her voice. After all, he meant well.
“I’m not so sure.” He looked at her bare ring finger and Lilah curled her hands under the hem of her shirt. Blast, she should have bought herself a ring to wear. Lifting his gaze to hers, he said, “You picked Ray, didn’t you?”
“What’s wrong with Ray?”
“Probably nothing,” her father allowed. “But he’s the wrong man for you.”
In more ways than one, she thought, but only asked, “Why?”
Her father reached out and cupped her cheek. “Honey, you’d run him in circles inside a week. You need a man as strong as you are.”
“Like Kevin Rogan?”
“You could do worse.”
“I’m not interested, Dad,” she said, preferring not to think about the flicker of attraction that had licked at her insides when Kevin Rogan was too close. Rising, she stood up straight, though she was still nowhere close to being on eye level with him. “And neither is he.”
One of his eyebrows cocked up and then he played his ace in the hole.
“He’s a little down on women right now.”
“Gee, then thanks for setting him up with me.”
He smiled at her. “You’ll be good for him, honey. His ex-wife cut quite a swath through his life a couple of years ago.”
Instantly, Lilah felt a tug of sympathy she didn’t want to feel. And she knew darned well her father had been counting on her natural inclination to want to mend broken hearts. “How do you know?”
“Gossip travels on base as easily as it does in the civilian world.”
True. Hadn’t she been the subject of enough base gossip to know that for a fact?
“So take it easy on him, huh, honey?” he asked, and bent down to kiss her forehead.
Before she could answer, he left the room and she was alone. Wrapping her arms around her middle, she wandered over to the wide front window and stared out at the encroaching fog. Despite the fact that she didn’t want to care, Lilah couldn’t help wondering just what Kevin’s ex-wife had done. And what she, Lilah, could do to help.
Bright and early the next morning, Kevin reported for “daughter duty.” He parked his car in front of the Colonel’s house and turned off the engine. Silence crowded him, as for a few minutes, he just stared at the place.
Windowpanes gleamed in the morning sunshine. The lawn was neat, the house tidily painted. And inside, waited a woman who was, he knew, going to be the bane of his existence for the next few weeks.
There was just something about her, he thought, remembering that almost electrical charge he’d felt when he shook her hand the night before. He hadn’t been expecting it, and for sure hadn’t wanted it. But damned if he hadn’t felt something inside him tighten up and squeeze.
Hell. He’d been too long without a woman, that was all. Obviously. If one touch of a hippie’s hand could send his hormones into overdrive, he was due for some R and R. Fast.
But, for the next month, his personal life was officially on hold. Although, he admitted silently, his personal life wasn’t exactly jumping, anyway. Except for stopping by his sister’s house to visit his niece, Kevin pretty much centered his life around work.
Concentrating on his job and the recruits in his charge made for a nice, orderly