“Mission of Love” – Excerpted from NO STRONGER BOND
copyright 2008 by Esther Mitchell
It was quiet. Too quiet. Moira drew her weapon, the familiar bare rasp of gun against holster the only sound as she eased carefully into the dark house. She could see dim light - the living room lamp? - filtering through the hallway. A warning beacon that froze the breath in her lungs. Tension climbed along her neck as her mind flashed to another entryway, seven years ago, and the terror that greeted her at its end. Please,God, no.
There should be sounds of children, here. The drone of the TV, or the sound of Jason’s video games. Lisa singing to herself as she played with her dolls. Her heart clenched in dread, and she didn’t want to move forward. For the first time in all her years of service, first as a Federal Marshall and then as a Promethean, she didn’t want to see what lay at the end of that hallway. She couldn’t bear it. But, against her will, her feet kept moving forward.
As she stepped into the family room, Moira froze at the sight that met her eyes, and an entirely new sensation wormed through her chest. Her heart caught, and warmth spread through her that brought irrational tears to her eyes.
Michelangelo Mennetti sat in the middle of the room’s sofa, his large body imposing in the space, and a small smile tickled the edges of her mouth. His head was tipped back, and he was fast asleep, his Italian complexion kissed by the glow of the room’s solitary light source. Like a giant, sleeping dragon. Against the left side of his chest, Jason’s dark head rested, a childish copy of the man against whom he lay, and on Mike’s right, Lisa’s dark curls fanned against his thigh, where her small head rested, one thumb tucked in her mouth as always, and her face relaxed in sleep. Mike’s arms encirled his children as if he intended to protect them, even in sleep. And she had no doubt he could, and would. Across his left thigh, a children’s book rested, and it didn’t take a background in profiling to know what happened here.
Moira’s throat tightened as she took in the scene, moving slowly across the room to ease into the chair across from them. She didn’t trust her legs; they were wobbling like crazy. That was a reaction she never experienced before, but she chalked it up to relief. Jason and Lisa were fine.
She turned her attention back to their father, more fascinated than she knew she should be. He was a well-formed man, tall and muscular, built like a brick wall. She still found it amazing that he actually flew fighter planes. How did he fit in the cockpit? A wry smile curved up her face.
He shifted, and she nearly jumped out of her skin, her breath trapped in her throat. Then, slowly, those long, dark lashes flickered, and his head raised forward as he blinked owlishly into the semi-dark. When he saw her, a smile crept over his lips that danced her heart around in her chest. Almost like he held the strings.
She pushed the disturbing thought aside. The kids. It was the kids who held her heart. She just felt gratitude that he was a better parent than his wife had been. She smiled back at him, and softly accused, “You wore them out.”
His gaze dropped to his kids, and the smile that pulled across his lips tripped her heart all over again. There was no doubt in her mind; Michelangelo Mennetti loved his kids. Then, his gaze lifted to her again, and the look there troubled her. “You came back.”
She flushed, remembering why she’d stormed out earlier, as his hot gaze raked over her. “I still have a job to do.”
He frowned. “We’re not a job, Moira. My kids are not a job.”
“That’s not what I… I mean, I know, but…” For the first time, she felt flustered. She couldn’t explain it to him. They were supposed to be a job. She was supposed to be objective. She wasn’t supposed to care this much.
She watched in a blend of fascination and dread as Mike eased his big body from between his sleeping children and stood, moving to lean over the chair where she sat. She shrank back into the plush upholstery as he leaned in, his arms planted on either side of her. She didn’t want him to touch her; already, the heat of him reached out, made her dizzy with longing for things she wasn’t allowed to want.
“I don’t want you to be here,” he murmured, his light New York Italian accent swirling over her. “Not unless you care.”
She swallowed hard. She couldn’t fight the pull of those dark, magnetic eyes. “I do care.”
He stared into her eyes for another long moment and then, with a low groan, lowered his head until his mouth fused over hers in a possession she hadn’t a clue how to fight. How did she tell him no, when her heart was screaming yes?