Authors: Lynda Chance
He strolled into the room and reached down and hugged her. "Hey."
She hugged him back. "When did you get back?"
Zach glanced around the darkened interior of the room. "My flight got in around midnight."
"Cool. I'm glad you're home." Hannah's phone vibrated and she glanced down.
He snickered at his sister's so obvious inattention. "Sure you are. Who are you texting?"
She didn't even glance up. "Wouldn't you like to know?" she questioned sarcastically.
The animation on her face as she read the text had Zach asking, "Is it a boy?"
Hannah rolled her eyes without looking away from her phone. "He's not a boy, he's a grown man. And I met him on the Internet," she teased. "And he's forty-five years old."
Zach ignored her baiting. "Is it Ava?"
She shrugged. "Sure, we'll say that."
"Seriously, is it a guy?"
She looked heavenward in exasperation and continued keying.
"You shouldn't be hiding in here at two in the morning texting boys," he couldn't help remonstrating.
She glanced up at that. "I'm not hiding. Mom and dad aren't even here. You're acting as if I'm committing a federal crime. I'm almost eighteen, Zach. If I wanted to do something wrong, there's nobody here to stop me. Lighten up."
"Where the hell are they?"
"They had to go to Shreveport again. Something about grandma's will."
Fatigue from the long flight and drive began wearing Zach down. He was punch-drunk already and needed some serious sleep. "All right. I'm going to bed."
Hannah looked down at her phone again and said distractedly, "Try to be quiet."
"Katie's asleep in the guest room."
A wave of heat spread through Zach's veins and grabbed him by the throat. "Fine," he answered as calmly as he could. The exhaustion he'd been feeling a second ago disappeared in less than a heartbeat. He wasn't going to get a damn bit of sleep knowing that girl was in the house.
He was almost to the door when Hannah said, "And can you make an attempt to be nice to her in the morning?"
His footsteps stalled and he turned to face his little sister. "Why wouldn't I?"
Hannah was finally looking him in the eye, giving him her full attention. "I don't know. Because her last name's Turner?" She asked him softly and knowingly.
Zach had no clue how to answer Hannah, he knew he'd been guilty of treating Katie poorly in the past, so he simply dipped his head in agreement and walked away, shutting the door as he left the room.
The house was a split-floor plan, with his parents' suite on one side of the house, and all the other bedrooms on the other. As Zach walked down the hallway toward his bedroom, he passed Hannah's room and then his footsteps stalled in front of the closed door to the guestroom.
Without realizing his intent, he put his hands flat on the door and held them there, as if he could see inside the room through touch alone. As he lingered in the hallway, he knew it was only his imagination, but he swore he could smell Katie's soft scent as it drifted in the air. His cock twitched and grew in his pants as he closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
She was always there. Always there in the back of his psyche. Months would slip by but she was always there. Out of his reach, but someone he badly wanted to touch.
Someone he badly wanted to own.
He inhaled raggedly. He was about to turn and leave when he heard the whimper. It was just a small sound, but it jerked him to attention and snapped him from the lethargy that had held him in its grip.
As he listened, he heard the sound again, only this time stronger, and the whimper became a wail of distress. The high-pitched sound was an inarticulate, mournful cry, and it was laced with such suffering that Zach didn't stop to think. He twisted the knob and pushed the door open, and as his sight adjusted to the dim interior of the room, he closed the door behind him and unerringly made his way to the side of the bed.
Katie looked small and helpless as she lay in the center of the bed, the sheets a tangled mess around her. Her head thrashed from side to side on the pillow. "No, no,
Zach sat down on the edge of the bed and very gently, gripped her hand with his. "Shh. Katie, wake up, sweetheart," he murmured, trying to rouse her from the nightmare but not wanting to startle her into full wakefulness.
Her body stiffened at the sound of his voice.
she cried, the word grief-stricken.
"Katie, wake up, baby." He gently shook her. "You're having a bad dream."
Her body jerked. "No. Stop.
"Katie!" Alarmed, Zach shook her harder until abruptly, her lashes lifted and she stared straight into his eyes.
She visibly swallowed and glanced around the room with a haunted look before her eyes found his again. She grimaced and inhaled deeply. "Zach?" she whispered.
He ran his hand up and down her arm in a light caress. "Yeah. You were having a nightmare."
She sucked in another breath, and then, to his utter amazement, with a quick, jerky movement, she jackknifed into a sitting position and threw her arms around his neck, clinging to him. She moaned softly again and his arms wrapped around her with no input from his brain. He held her for a moment, giving her what comfort he could while his body splintered with the pleasure he felt at having her in his arms.
She continued to cling tightly and the moment was surreal for him. He fully expected her to come to her senses and let go, but she didn't. Her grip only tightened and she chanted in a tiny voice as if reassuring herself, "Zach . . . Zach . . .
The way she said his name sounded peculiar, but Zach put it down to the nightmare she'd just had and waking up in a place that wasn't her own home. His head fell to her neck and he breathed in the scent of her hair as he let her take what strength she could from him. "Yeah, it's me. You're okay."
He lightly kissed the brown silk of her hair and lifted his head. "Are you awake now? Everything okay?"
She pulled a bit away from him but didn't let go and he could feel the fine trembling of her limbs. She looked into his eyes, and in a move that stunned him even more, she put her lips on his and pressed a firm kiss on his mouth. It wasn't a sexual kiss; her lips stayed tightly closed, and after holding them there for a couple of seconds, she pulled away from him and untangled her hands from around his neck. With his heart beating wildly in his chest, he watched as she fell back to the pillow and pulled the covers up to her chin.
He stared at her intently for a few seconds before he could think straight enough to get his voice to work. "Answer me, Katie. Are you all right now?"
Her fingers began working the piping on the sheet. "Yes."
Zach glanced around the room until his eyes found hers again. "What was that all about?"
She licked her lips. "What do you mean?"
"I mean . . . do you have a lot of nightmares?"
She hesitated. "No."
"So, what were you dreaming about?"
Her expression looked haunted but her voice had regained its strength. "I don't remember exactly." When he looked as if he didn't believe her, she bit her lip and continued, "I saw something upsetting yesterday morning and that was probably it."
He frowned at her answer. "What did you see?"
"It's not a pleasant thing to talk about." She looked away and Zach felt as if she was shutting him out and he didn't care for it.
"I think I can handle it."
"I was watching the sunrise from my bedroom window and I saw . . . " her voice trailed off.
"What'd you see?" he nudged her.
"I saw a coyote take down a fawn not fifty feet from my window."
The bloody, graphic image exploded in his head. But as Zach watched her expression, for some reason, he wasn't sure she was telling him the truth. But what she was saying very well could be true, and if she'd witnessed something like that, it no doubt would have been upsetting to her. "I'm sorry, baby." He pushed a strand of hair behind her ear and as he made the move, he was fully aware he only used it as an excuse to touch her. "But that's the circle of life, you know?"
"I know, but I didn't expect to see it outside in the yard in all its gruesome glory. Maybe on the Discovery Channel, but not in my backyard."
"Yeah, well, that's what you sometimes get when you have acres of pasture and farmland around you. You'll forget about it soon enough."
"I guess so. I never thought I'd forget how it is out here, but after living in Arlington for so long, I kind of do."
"Yeah. It's two different worlds. I know exactly what you mean."
Her eyes came to his before darting away again. "I thought you were in the Middle East."
"Just got back."
"Is Hannah asleep?"
"Nope, she's in the media room watching television and texting some kid." Zach thought that was an innocuous enough statement, but when he said it, Katie flushed and looked away. Or was it his imagination?
"I'm sorry I disturbed you," she said in a raspy voice.
Zach took a deep breath and slowly blew it out.
She always disturbed him
. "It was no trouble."
"I guess I better let you go to bed now."
Even though he understood that she was excusing him with a subtle hint, Zach made no move to stand up. "If you say so."
Katie was silent as she stared down and continued to rub the corner of the sheet between her finger and thumb.
Zach studied her for a moment, trying to see inside her head. "Why'd you kiss me?"
Her eyes flew up and crashed with his. "I didn't
"You didn't?" He was fairly damn sure that she had.
"It wasn't a kiss. It was an. . . embrace. A hug. That's all."
He raised a single eyebrow. "I'm not so sure. I seem to recall your lips against mine and that's the definition of a kiss, not a hug."
She shook her head. "It wasn't a kiss."
Of its own volition, his hand reached out and lifted her chin. "Katie?" He felt the quiver of her body as her gaze clung to his. Heat traced down his spine.
Her eyes were enormous but she stayed silent.
definition of a kiss . . . just so you'll know." Without waiting for her agreement or disagreement, he lowered his head over hers and took her mouth under his.
As Zach's lips landed on hers, Katie felt a jolt to her midsection. Added to her already-shot nerves from the nightmare she'd just escaped from, her mind was a spinning mass of confusion. But one thing beat loud and clear in her bloodstream, and that was the fact that this was Zach.
She was safe
. She was okay. Zach would never physically hurt her. He wouldn't.
As his tongue slid along the seam of her mouth and began pushing inside, a wave of heat slid down her spine and settled in her stomach. Stunned, her body frozen, she realized immediately that this kiss wasn't anything like the last kiss he'd given her, all those long, long months ago. That kiss had been angry and full of animosity; what she was experiencing now was a gentle assault on her senses.
Her mouth opened slowly, and as he slid inside to taste her, Katie felt a deep rumble come from the back of his throat. It was a vibration of heat and passion, and it contained an urgency that for the moment at least, enthralled her. His tongue swirled around hers, and after a few seconds of trying to conquer the whirling in her head, she breathed in what oxygen she could manage and very slowly, joined him in the kiss.
Hesitantly, she began swirling her tongue with his, and the second she did, his arms came down and encircled her within his embrace, lifting her from her pillow. One arm landed at the small of her back, where he pushed his fingers into her spine and began rubbing her there, his fingers moving in a slow circle, massaging her lower vertebrae. His other hand slid up to her neck, and held her captive.
His kiss became more aggressive, and Katie knew she was experiencing only a small taste of what his primal heat would be like. A thousand emotions took off in her head: she was beguiled by his sexual need, she was fascinated by the feel of his masculine touch, and she was alarmed by the twin feelings of terror and desire that were unfolding within her.
As his tongue dueled with hers, her eyes closed and she felt his hands reach around and grasp her face, as he made a small adjustment of his mouth on hers. He could taste her deeper this way, and he began taking more than she thought she was ready to give. Katie shuddered as tension accelerated in her already confused mind.
In the back of her mind, she was aware that his touch was pleasant; it was more than pleasant, it begged her to let go. She felt safe in his embrace. His hold on her was hot and persuasive, inviting her to join him. She tried to go with it, this was Zach, after all, and how many times had she seen him from a distance in her pre-teens and young teenage years and dreamt about a day he might kiss her?