Distinguished service & every move you make (uniformly hot!)

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Subject: U.S. Marine MaceHarrisonCurrent Status: On his last leave of absenceMission: ASecret Undercover Operation...as a Bogus Boyfriend!Obstacle: Thisbusiness arrangement is turning a little toopleasurable...

Mace Harrison is a decorated Marine. In his country’s eyes,he’s a hero. But in six months his last tour ends, and Mace’s next step isunclear. Then he meets graphics designer and diner waitress Geneva Davis, and animmediate friendship turns into...well, a business deal. The terms? They feign arelationship to keep her ex-boyfriend off her back, and matchmaking pals offhis.

It’s uncomplicated. It’s convenient. And as far as Geneva isconcerned, uniformed dudes are entirely resistible—or so she’d always thought.But Mace is wickedly, mouthwateringly hot. And now she’s in a heap of trouble,because this soldier is very ready, willing and able to serve...to her completesatisfaction!

Plus another favorite book by Tori Carrington,Every Move You Make.

Six more military heroes.Six moreindomitable heroines.OneUniformlyHot!miniseries.

Don’t miss a story in Harlequin Blaze’sbestsellingminiseries, featuring irresistible soldiers from all branches of the armedforces.

Check out

FullSurrenderby Joanne Rock

(September 2012)

and

DistinguishedServiceby Tori Carrington

(November 2012)

Uniformly Hot!The Few. TheProud. The Sexy as Hell.

Dear Reader,

What happens when you take one sexy diner waitress, put her directly in the path of a hot Marine on leave, create a phosphorus-burning chemistry and then tell them they can’t have sex? Well, read on.…

InDistinguished Service,active duty Marine Mace Harrison is back in Colorado Springs for two purposes: to be awarded the Navy Star for courageous deeds he views as only doing his job, and to feel out old friend Darius Folsom’s new security firm Lazarus, where he hopes to work in six months when he retires his uniform. What he doesn’t bank on is meeting irresistible beauty Geneva Davis. They click on every level from the moment they meet. Problem is, Geneva is in no condition to get involved with anyone, and he is in no position to take on anyone in that condition. So they strike a bargain: pretend to date for the duration of his leave to clear out unwanted emotional clutter from their lives. A platonic arrangement that finds them exactly where they shouldn’t be—setting fire to the bedroom sheets…

We hope you enjoy Mace and Geneva’s blazing-hot, emotional journey toward sexily-ever-after. Curious about upcoming Tori titles? Visitwww.facebook.com/toricarrington.

Here’s wishing you love, romance andhotreading.

Lori Schlachter Karayianni

and Tony Karayianni

aka Tori Carrington

Tori Carrington

Distinguished Service&Every Move You Make

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

RT Book ReviewsCareer Achievement Award-winning, bestselling duo Lori and Tony Karayianni are the power behind the pen name Tori Carrington. Their more than fifty novels include numerous Harlequin Blaze miniseries, as well as the ongoing Sofie Metropolis, P.I. comedic mystery series with another publisher. Visitwww.toricarrington.netandwww.sofiemetro.comfor more information on the couple and their titles.

Books by Tori Carrington

HARLEQUIN BLAZE

243—OBSESSION249—SUBMISSION335—TAKEN359—DANGEROUS…377—SHAMELESS433—RECKLESS439—RESTLESS445—A FEW GOOD MEN471—BRANDED483—UNBRIDLED513—BLAZING BEDTIME STORIES, VOLUME III      “The Body That Launched a Thousand Ships”568—PRIVATE SESSIONS574—PRIVATE AFFAIRS580—PRIVATE PARTS617—RECKLESS PLEASURES623—WICKED PLEASURES629—UNDENIABLE PLEASURES652—RED-HOT SANTA675—BLAZING BEDTIME STORIES, VOLUME VI      “Maid for Him”703—GUILTY PLEASURES

Contents

DistinguishedService

Every Move You Make

Distinguished Service

This book is dedicated to dear friendsCris Gaytan Beck and Deb Leahy Dunphy,whom I think of fondly every time I see my right foot: You both are tattooed on my heart.

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

1

LAZARUSSECURITYWASEXACTLYthe type of well-oiled engine he could see himself willing to get his hands dirty with.

Mace Harrison squinted into the watery early November sunlight where he stood near the back of the training center strategically located behind the building. Everything at the company was top of the line, including personnel. Situated on several acres just outside Colorado Springs, Lazarus was an extraordinary operation that in a short time was already gaining notable momentum within the private security industry.

It was one of the reasons why he was there.

The other was Lazarus partner Darius Folsom.

He nodded at his old friend now.

How far did they go back? Fifteen years, at least. To the first time Mace’s parents had shipped him and his older brother Marcus off to live with his paternal grandfather for the summer? Their military family had moved to yet another house in yet another city and he’d been young enough to need supervision, and old enough to cause trouble because he’d hated moving. And then there was his need to escape the shadow his brother cast that threatened to suffocate him. Dari and his family had lived around the block from his grandfather and he and Mace had become fast friends.

They’d enlisted in the Marines at around the same time—by that point Mace choosing to live at his grandfather’s house, which offered him greater independence—but they hadn’t been stationed together until the past year.

Darius Folsom had recently completed his second tour, but Mace still had a six-month stretch ahead of him. He was back home for a brief week break, investigating job opportunities, Lazarus at the top of the list.

Of course, it was also possible he’d take on that counterterrorism desk job he’d been offered in Washington, D.C.

And he was purposely ignoring the fact that he was also there to accept an award he didn’t deserve and didn’t want.

The Navy Cross…

A small bit of metal that might as well be the size of a Humvee as far as he was concerned.

Of course, some brave men and women went their entire lives without receiving such an honor.

He supposed he should feel guilty for not wanting it. But considering everything…well, many had made the ultimate sacrifice and received nothing more than a military burial.

How would his brother feel about the medal? He imagined Marcus would give him one of his trademark smirks and slap him hard on the back. “Still running after me, little bro? Think you’ll catch up? You might want to pick up the pace.”

Of course, Mace could only guess at what he’d say. Because Marcus wasn’t there. Not anymore.

But Mace still felt shadow hands choking him from behind, a sensation that was even stronger when he was within a hundred miles of his parents.

A time like now.

“So what do you think?” Dari said hesitantly, after having given him the nickel tour of Lazarus Security, apparently having noticed the darkening of his expression.

“Impressive,” Mace said, shaking off his thoughts although he knew better than to try to rid himself of the shadow; that would be there forever. “Very impressive.”

Darius’s grin was his response.

“Good job, old pal.” Mace squeezed his shoulder. “This is really something. You can tell you’ve put a lot of work into it.”

“Thanks.”

It still amazed him that Dari drew such words close to heart. Oh, not from anyone. The big, tough Marine wasn’t easily flattered. But when it came to his friends… Amazing. “Don’t let the success go to your head,” he teased now.

Dari laughed. “Don’t worry. This is a joint endeavor and I had very little to do with the start-up. I was too busy overseas getting my ass shot and saved by someone we both know.”

Mace grimaced as he glanced at his friend’s leg. “You’d have made it out on your own.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

What went unsaid was that several of their team hadn’t made it out.

And it was that incident that not only still gave Mace—and very likely Dari—nightmares, it was what had ultimately earned him that damn medal he’d be accepting at some sort of bigwig event that Saturday.

He wondered if it wasn’t too late to hop onto the first transport out. He’d take full-on assault from enemy forces over what he was facing in days.

“That’s how you earned it,” Dari said.

“I was just doing my job.”

“No, Mace, you always do more than your job.”

“You’d have done the same.”

“Would I have? I’d like to think I would. But I don’t know. While I would have ultimately done what was needed, I would have likely hesitated that split second to assess the situation before diving in. You…” Dari fell silent, undoubtedly reflecting on that late afternoon in the mountains of Waziristan when they’d been lied to by villagers and surrounded by enemy forces the instant they were outside town. “You charged straight in, to hell with the consequences.”

“Some would say that’s stupid.”

Dari squinted at him. “If you had hesitated, a leg wound would have been the least of my worries. And you’d have returned home to attend a very different event.”

Mace didn’t even want to consider that possibility. Not then, not now.

“What’s done is done,” he said. “I’d prefer it if everyone looked forward rather than back.”

Dari half-smiled. “Yeah.” He nodded. “Yeah.”

Mace shifted his weight from one foot to the other, wishing the subject done.

“Come on,” Dari said, seeming to pick up on his mindset. “Let’s go into town and grab some grub. I’ve got a favor to ask. Oh, and I hope you don’t mind, I told Megan we’d meet up with her at The Barracks afterward for a drink.”

Mace nearly sighed audibly in relief. “Fine with me.” He’d known Dari’s wife since she was little more than the reason his friend bought acne cream when the occasional zit popped up on his face. He’d only been in town for a few days and he’d enjoy the chance to catch up with her, find out what both of them had been up to outside their working at Lazarus together.

“She’ll be alone, right?” he asked, a thought occurring to him.

“What?”

Damn.

His friend had never been any good at lying. “Hell, Dari, I’m not in town for that long. I’d like to spend some time with my friends before heading back.”

“Surely there’s a little room for some friendly company.”

“No. There isn’t.”

“Aw. She’s a real sweetheart. I promise you’ll like her.”

That was the problem, he thought.

He didn’t want to like anyone. Not right now. Not without knowing where he was going to land in six months, if, in fact, he landed at all.

Not after what had happened the last time he’d tried to make a long-distance relationship work.

“Sorry,” Dari said. “I know you asked me not to do it. And I really haven’t. It’s Megan’s idea. I know how you feel about people knowing your business, so while I made your feelings on the matter known to Meg, I didn’t tell her why you felt that way. Without that…”

Without that, she couldn’t understand why he was adamant about not dating while on this leave.

“You’ll understand if I pass on that drink then,” he said.

Dari looked disappointed, but finally he nodded.

They walked back to the main structure, passing armed recruits making their way out to the state-of-the-art shooting range along the way. He shared his friend’s disappointment. He truly would have enjoyed having a beer with him and Megan tonight. But to be placed next to a woman hoping to be swept off her feet, one who looked at him with big doe eyes, who promised forever and then moved on to someone else while he was overseas…

No.

And that meant a long night stretched out in front of him with nothing to do but stare at his motel room walls.

He could go over to see his grandfather again, but he’d gotten into hot water with the nursing home attendants for having stayed past regular visiting hours once already. He didn’t want to risk having his visitation privileges revoked.

His grandfather…

Mace grinned even as he shook his head. The old man had one foot in the grave and still somehow managed to chase around anything female like a spry twenty-year-old.

Well, okay, maybe a spry twenty-year-old with a walker.

He remembered their last conversation. “Give me something, kid,” Dwayne Harrison had requested that morning. “Good-looking stud like you? Them skirts gotta be falling all over you. Surely you could send some sweet stuff my way.”

Mace had merely smiled.

Oh, he planned to date again. Hopefully soon. Once he was able to get rid of the bad taste Janine had left in his mouth.

Of course, he could always go over and visit his parents. They’d settled back in his father’s hometown five years or so ago when his dad finally retired.

Still, somehow, he didn’t look at their house as home.

And the shadow hands tightened at the thought.

Dari cleared his throat. “I don’t think I’ve had a chance to say it yet, but…well, I was sorry to hear about Janine. You deserve better than what she did to you.”

Mace turned his head so quickly to stare at Dari, his neck cracked. It wasn’t like his friend to mention something so personal in such a casual setting. At least, not without downing a few beers first.

“What?” Dari asked.

Of course, his friend couldn’t know that Mace had no sooner switched his cell phone on after his flight than he’d received a voice mail from the woman in question. He’d stopped dead in the middle of the airport terminal, staring at the notification. He hadn’t heard from her in nearly eight months. What could she possibly want now?

He’d found out soon enough. Her words still reverberated through his mind.

“Welcome home, Mace. I know I’m probably the last person you expected to hear from, but… Well, I just wanted to say I’m sorry…again. And to tell you I’d love to see you while you’re in town. Call me…please.”

Curiously, hearing her voice hadn’t moved him in the least. But her apology and her request to see him again had elicited a very specific response: Hell no.

He opened the door and stepped aside so his friend could precede him inside. “Something tells me you’re getting a bit soft around the middle.”

Dari rubbed a rock-hard six-pack.

“Not that middle.”

They chuckled and walked back to Dari’s office in the front of the building.

While Mace could make light of his relationship woes when the situation called for it, there was nothing but heaviness in his heart at the memory of Janine’s betrayal.

“So, Rocky’s Diner after I close up shop here.”

He nodded. “Rocky’s Diner. Meet you there in an hour.”

They shook hands and gave each other a bro hug. Then Mace headed out to the parking lot where his rental car waited, trying not to think about Janine…or the phone call he’d gotten from her that morning.

He failed.

* * *

GENEVADAVISTOOKthree meat loaves out of the industrial oven, swiping the back of one of the oven mitts across her brow after placing the last on the stainless-steel counter. Two of the kitchen staff had called in sick this afternoon, leaving her and one of the other waitresses to pick up the slack at Rocky’s Diner. Monday’s Meat Loaf Mania was one of their busiest nights when all staff was present. Handling it with two people short was going to make the evening hell on earth.

Trudy Grant, the mercurial owner who was a combination of Betty White witty cuteness and Bea Arthur brashness, hung up the phone on the wall near the door. “Cindy just called in.” She shook her head. “This damn flu is going to put me out of business.”

Make that three people short.

Of course, Trudy’s proclamation was an exaggeration; something or other was going to put her out of business at least three times a day. Still, somehow she’d managed to keep the diner’s heart beating for the past twenty years when she’d bought the previous owner out.

Tiffany, the other waitress, breezed by with warm pies to stock the counter displays in the other room. “Cindy ain’t sick. Cindy has a blind date tonight.”

Geneva shared a smile with Mel, the main cook, but didn’t say anything as she slid off the mitts and gave the large pot of homemade mashed potatoes a stir. As expected, Trudy went off like a bomb, filling the kitchen with inventive curse words. Everyone moved around her, giving her the wide berth she required. They all knew the steam would dissipate and Trudy would be operating on full throttle again soon without risk of being scalded.

Geneva moved around Mel, where he tossed burgers, to turn off the alarm for the French fries. She took the basket out of the oil and hung it on the rungs above to drain.

“Oh, and Gen?” Tiffany poked her head back inside the kitchen. “Your Baby Daddy Dustin just took up residence in his usual place at the counter,”

Geneva stood perfectly still for a moment, staring unseeingly at the golden potatoes, battling back a sudden surge of nausea.

“You okay?”

She glanced at where Mel had leaned in to quietly ask the question.

“Yeah. Fine.” She smiled. “Thanks.”

She removed her hand from where it lay against her stomach, a spot she often found it resting lately, and then tipped the fries out onto two plates and salted them.

Lately, it was getting harder and harder to face Dustin. She didn’t know how to explain in a way that would register with him that just because she was pregnant, it didn’t mean they were a couple. And that she didn’t expect anything more from him but to be a good dad. But he seemed determined to make something out of nothing. And his unwanted attention was eroding what had once been a great friendship.

A friendship that had accidentally become more for five whole minutes a little over two months ago.

It wasn’t that the sex had been bad…

Okay, maybe it had been.

But that wasn’t the reason she didn’t want to be anything more than a joint parent with him. They were friends— period.

And the one-nighter had happened on the day she’d buried her mother in the ground and her sadness in a bottle of tequila.

“I remember my wife couldn’t even keep crackers down during her first try,” Mel said, putting two cheeseburgers onto buns and then handing the plates to her.

“Thankfully I haven’t been sick once.” She smiled as she dressed both burgers and then balanced all four plates on her arms. “I only feel like I’m going to be.”

All…the…time.

Trudy gathered her wits. “With my luck, your first time will be all over one of the tables. A full one.”

“Knock wood,” Geneva said, edging through the swinging doors to deliver the burgers to Table 6, passing Tiffany as she went.

“Trade you Table 7 for 3,” the too-pretty nineteen-year-old said.

That meant there was someone male and attractive at Table 7, one grouped in her regular station. She didn’t even glance that way. Instead she took in Table 3. A crowd of rowdy teenagers.

“Pass.”

“I’ll share the tip with you. Fifty-fifty.”

Geneva kept walking.

“And you can keep the other tip.”

She let her silence speak for her.

She genuinely didn’t have it in her to deal with the other table just then. Not after pulling a double shift and working all last night to get in a rush job to design a last-minute sales flyer for Johnny’s Jalopies car dealership.

She said hello to Dustin as she passed without stopping to hear what he might have to say, then waited with a smile for the couple at Table 6 to move their joined hands before placing the burgers and fries down in front of them.

“Anything else I can get you for now?” she asked.

“Ketchup,” the girl asked.

“On the table.”

“Oh. Thanks.”

“Are the pies fresh?”

“Always. Today there’s blueberry, apple and, of course, Trudy’s chocolate marshmallow.”

“I’ll take a piece of the blueberry,” the girl said.

“And I’ll have Trudy’s,” the guy added.

“Very good. You want them now or after you’ve finished?”

“Now.”

“After.”

“I can do both,” Geneva said.

She got the coffeepot, which unfortunately happened to be near where Dustin sat, and the blueberry pie. After delivering the pie, she moved on to Table 7, filling the two cups that had been turned up to indicate coffee would be appreciated.

“Welcome…gentlemen.”

Wow.

Okay, so she didn’t normally agree with Tiffany’s taste in men, which seemed to run from blond kids with mohawks to tattooed motorcyclists. But this time, the fickle teen was spot on.

She recognized Darius Folsom. He came in to the diner often enough and was a great guy along with a great-looking one.

But his tablemate was new.

And he was hotter than a July Colorado Springs day.

She silently cleared her throat. Not that she was interested. After all, she was an expectant mother. But she did still have a pulse.

And, apparently, a sex drive. Something she hadn’t anticipated, given her condition. Which probably explained her unusual, spellbound response.

Just looking at this guy made her think of sweaty sighs and hungry kisses.

“Hi, Geneva,” Dari said with a smile. “It’s crazy in here tonight.”

She made an effort to ignore her curiously overwhelming chemical reaction to his friend. “It always is. What can I get for you today?”

“Meat loaf, of course.”

She looked at his guest…and nearly lost her breath.

God, did eyes come any browner?

And the way he was looking at her…

“Well, if he’s game, so am I. Meat loaf.”

She smiled, probably bigger than the situation called for.

“Meat loaf it is, then. Are you sticking with the coffee? Or would you like to add something else?”

“Milk,” Dari said. “A nice, big cold glass.”

“Make that two.”

“You got it.”

She turned from the table feeling something other than nausea stir her stomach. It was a welcome change. Not overly so—while she wasn’t and had never really been involved with Dustin, she wasn’t shopping either—but nice nonetheless. It had been a long time while since she’d felt anything other than expecting.

“I hate you,” Tiffany said as they passed again.

“I love you,” she said back and then disappeared into the kitchen.

She leaned briefly against the wall inside, savoring the very female feelings while she could. She knew better than anyone that she’d soon have to nip them in the bud.

“You all right?” Mel asked after seeing her face. “You look a little flushed.”

“What? Oh, yes. I’m fine. It’s just hot in here.”

How long had it been since she’d experienced that unmistakable spark of attraction? Long enough for her to have forgotten what it felt like. Even though she knew exactly how long: since before her mother fell ill a year and a half ago.

She briefly closed her eyes, willing the sudden cold away.

How alive it made her feel, that spark of shared attraction. Hot summer sunshine seemed to course through her veins even though it was a chilly and rainy November day. And twenty pounds at least had been lifted from her feet.

“It’s not like you to waste time daydreaming,” Trudy said as she passed with a mop.

Geneva blinked.

No, it wasn’t like her.

And like that, the moment to nip the sexy sensations had arrived. Time to return to the real world where sexy strangers didn’t exist.

Damn.

2

“IKNOWYOUSAIDyou don’t plan to be in town long, but aboutthat favor I wanted to ask…” Dari said.

Mace found himself following the pretty waitress with his eyes.She was all curly light brown hair, tanned skin and long legs, even in theunattractive white orthopedic shoes she wore.

He bet her thighs were toned and strong and could grip his hipslike nobody’s business.

And that mouth…

“Hmm?”

He looked to find Dari grinning at him.

“Thought you weren’t interested in dating,” his friend said,indicating the waitress.

“I’m not.” He sipped his coffee, which was surprisingly goodfor diner fare. “I might, however, be interested in getting laid.”

Dari howled with laughter. “I stand corrected.”

“You’re sitting, but I get your point.” He put his cup down.His words were meant as a joke, but just barely. The waitress did stir somethingin him he hadn’t felt in a while. And while it was physical, there was more toit. There was a genuine quality to her smile, a kindness. “Are you really askingfor a favor already? I’ve been in town, what?” He looked at his watch. “Fiveminutes?”

“I meant to ask you the first minute.”

Dari’s expression, more than his words, got Mace’s attention.It wasn’t like his friend to exaggerate. Whatever he was going to ask wasimportant.

In his career in the military, Mace had come to understand howimportant it was to immediately recognize who he could count on…and, moreimportantly, who he couldn’t.

Going back to their teenage years, he’d always been able todepend on Dari.

He grimaced, wishing his friendship skills extended torelationships. Maybe he would have had better luck.

His hand instantly went to his cell phone where another voicemail waited from Janine. He didn’t expect it to be much different from the firstone.

“Shoot,” he encouraged now.

“Okay. I’ve given you a brief rundown on how quickly Lazarushas grown in such a short time. And with that, comes growing pains. Mostnotably, we’re attracting some high-profile contracts I’m sometimes afraid we’renot prepared for yet. This one falls solidly into that category.” He paused.“There’s an ex-general, now a political radio pundit, coming into town the dayafter tomorrow for a three-day stay, including two public rallies. We’ve beenhired to handle security for the public end of his schedule—transportation, etcetera—in cooperation with his personnel and local law enforcement. While I’msure we can handle it, well, it would be stupid not to utilize our assets. And Isee you as a definite asset in this case, what with your background and yourconnections.”

He nodded. “Go on.”

“Well, in a nutshell, I was wondering if you would considersitting in as co-lead on this one?”

Mace sat back, carefully considering what Dari was saying…andnot saying. His friend went on to share some additional details, such as thename of the dignitary. He was familiar with the guy. Hell, nearly everyone inthe western hemisphere was familiar with him, if only because of his skill atgaining attention, usually by exhibiting offensive behavior.

“Okay, I get the military connections and the growing pains.But this job sounds pretty run-of-the-mill, tooling around with a politicalcelebrity. What is it you’re not telling me?” Mace asked.

“There have been threats.”

“Threats.”

“Yes. Specific to his visit here.”

For the past few years, Mace’s military career focus had beencounter-terrorism, so this was right up his alley. But…

“And…?” he led.

Dari chuckled and pointed a finger at him. “Never could getanything by you. Truth is, these threats are serious enough to concern hissecurity personnel and serious enough to concern me.” He checked the cell phonehe had on the table next to his wrist. “And…well, if I’m hoping that by pullingyou in on this job, it’ll convince you to sign on with us when your tour’s overin six months…that’s between me and the wall.”

Mace considered him.

Dari grinned. “Did I mention that it won’t hurt business tohave a Navy Cross recipient on board with us? No? Well, then there’s that.”

He grimaced at the reminder.

“By the way, Megan and I are looking forward to attending theceremony Saturday.”

“You’re going?”

“Of course, I’m going. My ass is part of the reason you’regetting the sucker. What makes you think I wouldn’t be there?”

He took a deep breath.

“I plan to sit up front and center.”

“Refill, gentlemen?” a knockout blonde smiled at himsuggestively as she held up a coffeepot.

Mace found himself looking for the pretty brunette even as heand Dari held up their cups. The waitress topped them off then hovered for amoment before finally moving away.

“You didn’t even look at her,” Dari said.

“Sure I did. She’s too young and too…”

“Eager?”

“That, too.”

They shared a laugh.

“Okay,” he said.

“Okay what?”

“Okay, I’ll do it. Where do you want me when?” He laughed andlooked around the diner again.

There she was.

He found himself relaxing in to the booth as the waitress who’dgarnered his attention came through the kitchen door looking even moreattractive.

She brought their meals quickly despite the busyness of theplace. They ate while Dari outlined the specifics of the assignment.

This beat the hell out of staring at the cracks in his motelroom ceiling, feeling guilty about not spending more time at his parents’ anyday.

And it made him forget about those shadow hands pressingagainst his neck for a much-needed while.

Mace’s gaze followed their waitress where she bussed the tablenext to theirs, even as another couple moved to occupy it. She was calmlyefficient and attentive, smiling warmly despite the obvious crowdedness of thediner as she took their drink orders.

He couldn’t help noticing that there was a guy about his ageseated at the counter who kept trying to get her attention for more than asecond at a time…and that she did everything politely possible to avoid givingit to him.

She briefly glanced in his direction and their gazes met,inspiring something a little more than respect in his response to her.

He smiled and she returned it before she moved on to anothertable then went back into the kitchen.

Oh, he’d bet she was the type who’d be up for anything, anytime. A challenge, a new experience, a new restaurant, it wouldn’t matter; she’dbe in…and make it doubly worth it just by being there.

“Okay, I’d better get moving,” Dari said, edging from thebooth. “Megan’s already at The Barracks.” He stood, pocketing his cell phone.“Thanks for agreeing to come in on this job for me, Mace. You have no idea howmuch of a relief it will be having you aboard.”

“You haven’t seen what I charge for babysitting a political bigmouth yet.”

“Whatever it is, I’m sure you’ll be more than worth it.” Hepeeled off a couple bills to pay for his half of the meal. “Sure you won’tchange your mind and join us for a drink?”

“I’d rather step directly into enemy fire.”

“I believe you would.” They shook hands and agreed to meet atLazarus the following morning, then Dari left.

Mace sipped on his coffee and watched his friend through thefront window of the diner, even as more customers approached.

He glanced around. The place was more than busy, it bordered onchaotic. At different times, he was aware of a woman swearing in the kitchen, acouple of tables complaining about the lateness of their meals and from what hecould tell, there wasn’t a busboy to be found.

His cell phone vibrated in his pocket. He fished it out to findJanine’s name highlighted again. He sat and watched the screen blink until hercall finally rolled over to voice mail.

Why was she being so persistent?

He couldn’t even begin to guess. So he didn’t try.

He slid the cell back into his pocket without checking themessage.

“Dessert?” the pretty waitress asked.

He looked up at her. Despite everything, she managed to treathim as if he was her only customer, where the other waitress practically shooedpeople from the tables the instant they took their last bite.

“Trudy’s chocolate marshmallow pie is the house specialty.”

He took her in, noticing how the world seemed to rush aroundher in a blur while she stood perfectly still.

Of course, that could be just him.

The vintage jukebox in the corner. Definitely the jukebox. He’dplay a song—an old one—pull her into his arms…lean her against the machine andwork his hand up her skirt to find out just how sweet those thighs and what laybetween them were…watch her smile melt into a sexy sigh.

“Maybe later,” he said.

He didn’t detect any flicker of disappointment that he wasn’tleaving to free up the table for another diner.

“And only if you promise to have a piece with me. It’ll be myprice for having leant a hand…”

* * *

THREEHOURSLATER, Geneva was even more impressed with MaceHarrison than when he had first slid from the booth, introduced himself, thenasked for an apron and bussing tub.

What guy did that?

None that she knew of.

And certainly not a complete stranger. She’d verified he wasnew in town since none of the staff nor Trudy could remember seeing him in therebefore, much less knew him.

And certainly not a completely hot stranger who made her feellike a wanted woman instead of the host of other titles to which she’d grownaccustomed lately.

Refusing his generous offer hadn’t even entered her mind. Truthwas, they were busier than she could ever remember being and Trudy’s usuallyeasily dismissed sounds of dismay had begun turning into very real ones.

Mace had been as good as gold, a natural as Mel had noted, hissheer size and impressive presence not interfering with his assisting withoutbeing asked, and doing at least two of the jobs for which they were shortstaffed, lightening the load for the rest of them.

Was he military? She guessed yes. And that normally would havecounted as a strike against him in her personal notebook, considering herexperience with members of the armed forces.

But what had happened tonight was anything but normal.

And what was happening to her fell solidly into the samecategory.

Finally, one by one, satisfied customers began to ease to aworkable trickle, and then the staff began to leave, including Trudy herself,who begged off with a migraine. Thankfully, Dustin had given up trying to cornerher an hour ago and left, as well. Only Mel remained. But seeing as closing timewas in ten minutes, he had only one order to finish up and she knew he’d beleaving, too, as he always did to get home quickly to his wife and family.

Now, as Mace stood spraying dishes to go into the washer, shecouldn’t help staring at his hands. He’d rolled up the sleeves of his crispwhite shirt while the full-body white apron covered the front from his chestdown to his knees. If his feet hurt in his dress shoes, she couldn’t tell, eventhough he’d been on his feet all night.

Her own dogs were barking loudly and she wore the equivalent ofgym shoes.

Geneva absently wrapped up the little that remained of the meatloaf and mashed potatoes, not realizing she was still staring at Mace until heasked, “Did I spill something?”

She met his gaze, reading the telltale grin there, then smiledherself. “Sorry. It’s been a long day.”

Tiffany had left in a huff about the same time Dustin had,apparently disappointed that her obvious flirting wasn’t gaining her any moreattention from the unhired help than Mel got.

Actually, Geneva was pretty sure she’d gotten less.

Interesting. Not many men were capable of refusing the prettyblonde’s charms at normal speed, much less when she amped them up. And she’ddefinitely set her sights on Mace.

A few minutes later, Mel removed his apron and grabbed hisjacket. “Well, it’s that time again, kids.”

Geneva held up the paper bag she’d readied for him and he tookit, giving her a loud kiss on the cheek.

“Thanks, doll. See you on the morrow.”

“Tell Alice hi.”

“Will do. ’Night.”

“’Night.”

And just like that it was only her and Mace.

Well, and three people at two tables in the other room.

He finished up the dishes while she closed the last of thegarbage bags then washed her hands.

“How about that pie?” he asked.

“How about it? Take a seat at the counter. I’ll join you in aminute.”

“Deal.”

She watched as he did as suggested, trying hard not to stare athis tight rear end and failing.

All right, she could be forgiven this once, right? For beingselfish? For being needy?

For being a woman?

She went about wrapping up and putting away a few other items.It had been a long day. Still, strangely she didn’t feel tired.

She peeked around the window that opened up into the diningarea, catching Mace’s gaze.

“Be right there,” she said.

“Take your time.”

She ducked back away and caught her breath.

Okay, she could do this. All she had to do was serve him pieand coffee and tell him she was pregnant. That was sure to douse whatever sparkhad ignited between them but quick.

Only she was hoping it wouldn’t…

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