Authors: Bianca D'Arc
Gifts of the Ancients, Book 1
Hal’s best-friend status with Casey’s brother always meant that the one woman he wants is strictly off limits. But now that he’s back from a harrowing mission in the ancient Iraqi city of Babylon, all bets are off. The strangely mystical experience left him and his Special Forces team with a new appreciation for life—and strange new abilities they are only beginning to understand.
Casey never thought she’d have a shot with the strong, silent Green Beret. Something about him has changed, though, and old feelings have risen up, demanding an answer. And her answer is an unequivocal yes. Now, to break the news to her brother and hope it doesn’t come to blows.
Her brother’s reaction becomes the least of her worries when Hal singlehandedly stops a car from running her down, then falls into her arms, weak from some kind of strange reaction. Whatever went down in Iraq has changed Hal and made him a target of foreign agents who’ve found his one vulnerability…Casey.
This book has been previously published.
Warning: This title contains dirty talk, sweaty carpentry sex and a sexy Special Forces super hero.
They cannot be sold, shared or given away as it is an infringement on the copyright of this work.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
577 Mulberry Street, Suite 1520
Macon GA 31201
Copyright © 2010 by Bianca D’Arc
Edited by Bethany Morgan
Cover by Kanaxa
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
electronic publication: June 2010
He took her in his arms and though she teetered on sexy, blue satin stilettos, he moved her around the floor as if she were born to be there. She’d never been so graceful, or so incredibly excited.
They executed a complex turn, and the beat of the music seeped into her pores. He twirled her out, then back in, curling her tight against his chest. Her flowing skirt tangled sensually around their knees, making it feel even more intimate. The dance itself was color and light and his muscular body kept her safe, secure and cherished while he guided her through its intricacies.
The music changed and he started tap dancing. Somehow, she knew the steps too. She danced perfectly in time with him as he smiled encouragement.
Casey groaned, lifting her head from the couch. Blearily, she realized she’d fallen asleep in the middle of the day again. This had to stop.
Dammit. The relentless ring of the phone woke her up. And it had been such a good dream too.
She checked the caller I.D., yanking up the phone with a disgusted curse.
“Dammit, Mark. I was dancing with Gene Kelly.”
There was a slight pause before a sexy male voice came over the line.
“I’d rather you danced with me.”
Her knees turned to jelly. Good thing she was sprawled on the couch. This wasn’t Mark. It only took her a moment to place the voice calling from her brother’s familiar number. It was her brother’s obnoxiously handsome friend. The one who had tormented her since she was a little kid. The one whose face still haunted her dreams.
“Hal.” She sighed heavily. “When did you get back? And why are you calling me from Mark’s? Where is he?”
“He’s watching over the grill out back and asked me to give you a ring. I just got in, and we’re having an impromptu barbeque. Wanna come over and play?”
The sexy purr in his voice sent shivers down her spine. Too bad he was only kidding around with her. She’d known him for too many years to read anything into his flirty banter. She was glad he couldn’t see her disappointment. He was the star of her most vivid fantasies, but he’d always treated her like a pesky little sister.
“Sure. Give me an hour, and I’ll be over with a bottle of Merlot. I can’t drink that beer he’s been brewing in his basement. It makes me sick.”
“I am duly warned. Actually, though, it tastes pretty good.”
“Oh, it tastes good at first. Just watch out tomorrow. You’ll be praying to the porcelain god if your stomach is anything like mine.” She laughed, remembering the few times her brother had gotten her to drink some of his home brew, and the sad consequences.
“You forget, I’ve been eating Army chow for the past twelve years. My stomach is cast iron.”
“Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Yes, ma’am. Now get yourself off the couch and put on something sexy. I haven’t seen you in far too long, Cas.”
“How’d you know I was on the couch?”
He chuckled in that masculine way of his. “Old habits die hard. I remember finding you curled up on that old couch in your parents’ house in the middle of the day more than once. You always reminded me of a kitten, basking in the sun coming in through the picture window.”
“Maybe I don’t have a couch or a picture window in my apartment. Did you ever think of that?” She didn’t know why she was being contrary, except that Hal had always known how to push her buttons. Five years of not seeing him apparently hadn’t changed that.
“You forget. I’ve been to your apartment. I know exactly what it looks like. Down to your daisy-covered couch.”
“They weren’t daisies. It was a lovely yellow and white paisley pattern, and it’s gone now.”
“What happened? I liked that couch.”
“Oh, I still have the couch, but I had to have it reupholstered. And to answer your question, Mark happened. He got mud, oil and some kind of glue on his clothes working on his boat then flopped down on my pretty couch. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get the stains out.”
“The moron.” His chuckle made her feel oddly better about losing her pretty fabric, even though it was a sticking point between the siblings. “I’ll have to beat him up for you. I’ve had fantasies about you on that little daisy couch.”
“I’ll just bet you did.” She laughed, hoping she could disguise the instant heat in her veins by treating his comment lightly. He was only kidding. Had to be. He’d never seen her as anything more than his friend’s kid sister.
Then why was he flirting so hard? That was three potential come-ons in one conversation. Either he’d changed drastically in the last five years, or he was trying to get her mad.
He’d changed drastically in the last five years. She decided that the moment she stepped into Mark’s little house and saw Hal.
Tall, tan, fit and handsome, he looked more weathered than when she’d last seen him. His closely cropped hair was a little longer than usual. His grin was the same lazy, sexy spread of sensuous lips. She’d fantasized about his smile for years.
His arms were all man, muscular and strong as he hugged her in greeting, holding her just a little longer than propriety demanded. It had been five years since they’d seen each other so she guessed it didn’t really mean anything.
She’d written to him for holidays and his birthday, sending him funny cards and updates on her family, since she knew her brother was a terrible correspondent. Hal had answered when he could, but he’d been in a lot of dangerous spots around the world over the past few years, and he hadn’t always been able write back. When he had, he’d impressed upon her how much he enjoyed hearing from her, so she never felt stupid shopping for that perfect card to make him smile weeks in advance of his birthday, or any other card-giving holiday. Heck, she figured she probably kept the local corner card store in business all by herself.
He smelled good too. Like hot, strong man, a bit of charcoal smoke, probably from the barbeque out back, and just a hint of masculine aftershave. He couldn’t wear it in the field, but when he was home, he sometimes used it. She knew his favorite brand and loved the scent of it. She had even bought it for him a few times for Christmas and his birthday.
She was glad he still wore that brand. It was forever identified with him in her mind. Maybe she’d have a chance to buy him a new bottle this year if he were going to be home for the holidays.
“I’ve missed you, squirt. Why haven’t I seen you in five, long years?”
She pushed back in his arms to look up at him. He didn’t let her go completely and she had to tilt her head back to see him. This was as close as she’d get to him until he left again, and she’d be granted another hug—this time in goodbye. Those parting hugs were always a little harder to bear.
“Well, let’s see. You’ve only come home about once a year from wherever they’ve got you stationed, and each time I was either already on vacation or on a business trip out of town. We kept missing each other. If you’d given me a little warning, I could’ve scheduled around you.”
He shook his head. “It doesn’t work that way for me, Cas. You know that. I don’t always know when I’m going to be able to get leave and when I do, I have to go quickly, before they call me back to go to some other foreign hellhole.”
She daringly reached up and stroked his cheek, amazed at the tender look that came into his eyes at her innocent touch.
“I worry about you, Hal.”
That earned her a second hug, with an extra squeeze this time, and she was glad she’d dared voice her fears. She knew he could more than take care of himself and that he truly loved what he did. It didn’t help her worry any less that one day he wouldn’t come back. The thought brought tears to her eyes that she refused to let fall.
He saw them anyway and bent down to kiss her eyelids softly. The tenderness in his unexpected salute was unmistakable. He’d never treated her this way. Maybe what they said was true—absence really did make the heart grow fonder.
“Don’t worry for me anymore, Cas. I’m out of that life, and I’m coming home to stay.”
“What?” She pulled back from him, astounded.
“I’ve been reassigned.”
She wasn’t sure if that was indigestion or dread on his face. Either way, the only thing that mattered was that he’d be home. She couldn’t hold back the joy coursing through her.
“Where to? Doing what?”
He put her aside with a firm grip around her waist." That's on a need-to-know basis, sweetheart.” His serious tone didn’t match the humor in his expression. His teasing warmed her.
“But you’ll be home?”
He nodded. “I’ll be nearby. Close enough to come home every weekend if I want.”
“That’s great news.”
Her brother Mark strolled in from the back deck with a plate of burgers in one hand. “I guess you heard. Looks like Hal will be crashing here on the weekends until he finds his own place.”
“Where’d they put you? Fort Hamilton?” She was confused, and rightfully so. Why would a highly decorated Green Beret be given a desk job at a base where nothing ever really happened?
“No, sis, they put him on Plum Island. Can you believe it?”
“So much for keeping it quiet, bro. That’s not supposed to be public knowledge.” Hal shot his friend a dirty look.
“Hey! I’m not the public. I’m your best friend’s sister. I have a right to know the truth.” She teased him, able to tell he wasn’t really upset by the relaxed set of his firm jaw.
“All right then, but you can’t tell anyone else. Understood, squirt?”
She gave Hal a mock salute and squealed when he picked her up and turned her around so he could get to the outside door and rescue the smoking steaks.
“Damn, he’s strong,” she mused, watching him turn the meat as her brother chuckled.
“Why would they put him on Plum Island? I thought there was some kind of hush-hush, top secret, biomedical facility out there, not a military installation.”
“Beats me, sis. Maybe he’s helping with security or something. I guess they need to have someone out there to make sure it stays top secret, right?”
“Yeah, maybe.” She wasn’t convinced.
They ate dinner outside, enjoying the evening air and her brother’s freshly landscaped backyard. The house was a fixer-upper, and he was doing the work on it himself. They talked about the renovations he was planning, and she agreed to come by the next day to help paint the upstairs bedrooms. While she was doing that, the guys planned to repair the ancient fence out back.
Hal surprised her when he walked her out to her car later that night, tugging her close for an unscheduled hug that left her gasping. She felt his lips brush her temple and the light, unexpected caress sent her senses into orbit.
“I’ve missed you,” he whispered.
She reveled in his strong embrace while one part of her brain questioned why he seemed so affectionate now, instead of the chummy surrogate brother he’d always been. She’d loved him for so long. He’d never given any indication he returned her very grown-up affection, until now.
“That’s my line, Hal. I can’t believe it’s been five years since I’ve seen you.”
“I was counting every day, Cas. Believe me.”
She laughed, enjoying the moment of closeness as he tucked her head under his chin. He seemed content to just hold her in the warm evening breeze. It would probably rain later, but for now, everything was perfect in her world. Again she felt the light brush of his lips against her hair and turned her head up, seeking answers. The words died in her throat when she saw the raw need in his eyes, split seconds before his lips moved to claim hers.
It was a kiss of homecoming, of welcome, and of hot, dangerous desire. Hal had never kissed her this way. Heck, no one had ever kissed her this way. He kissed her like she held the secrets to the universe in her soft sighs.
“Cas, you’re sweeter than I ever imagined.”
He came up for air only momentarily before diving in once more to recapture her lips with his. He kissed her long and hard, insinuating his tongue into her mouth. He kissed her until she no longer knew where he left off and she began. He romanced her tongue into dancing with his, his hands holding her almost chastely. Only his mouth moved on hers.
It was sweet, in a way. In all other ways, it was damned near the hottest experience of her life.
When he finally drew back, both of them were breathing hard. She looked into his eyes, reflecting blue in the dim light of a thousand stars. She thought she saw a slight flare of light in his eyes for a brief moment, but it was gone before she could take a second look.
“What was that?”
She felt shell shocked by the kiss it seemed she’d waited her whole life to receive.
“That was me doing something I’ve wanted to do for years. Should I apologize?” His expression teased. He damn well knew she’d enjoyed every moment of his kiss. It was written all over her flushed face.
“I don’t think so,” she said after a moment’s consideration. “I’ve wanted you to kiss me for probably just as long.”
“Sometimes I think I was born wanting you.” He rubbed her shoulders in the most amazing way. She was disappointed when he took it no further. “Be sure, Cas. Think about this. I won’t rush you, but I won’t hide it anymore. I want you.” His rumbled words caused a clenching deep in her womb. “I’ve wanted you for a very, very long time.”
He let her go. He tucked her into her small car and made sure she was buckled in safely. She was in a daze, astounded by the sudden, sharp turn their relationship had just taken. He closed her door, leaning to fold his arms over the window she’d rolled down.
“Drive carefully, squirt. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“It’s only a few blocks.”
“Don’t remind me.” He smiled ruefully. “I’ll be over here, sleeping on a lumpy mattress in the guest room, thinking of you, only a few blocks away, nestled in your own comfy bed. That’s almost more temptation than I can handle right now.”
She laughed and reached up to cup his stubbly cheek. How she loved the feel of him. “You’re such a tease.”
He held her palm to his mouth for a lingering, licking kiss. “I’m not teasing, sweetheart.”