“Heir to Atlantis” – Excerpt from WAVES (High Stakes)

13-WavesToday, I thought I’d share something a little different. This is from my Urban Fantasy series High Stakes.   The series blends our world with the magical worlds of the Strata – a place where the worlds intersect – and most of the stories in the series are at least loosely based on different musicals and fairy tales.  This comes from Waves, a new erotic romance inspired by the Hans Christen Andersen story “The Little Mermaid.”

Dr. Shelby Morrison always felt a little like a fish out of water. Most at home in the water, her profession as a marine biologist seemed the perfect fit… until the discovery of a family heirloom in her mother’s estate drops Shelby in the middle of a search for a lost world, and brings her up against a bounty hunter whose story strains reality to breaking, and whose mission could leave Shelby either royalty, or dead.

“Heir to Atlantis” – Excerpt from WAVES (High Stakes, Book #13)

The waves bundled onto the rocky shore, a splash of cool, wet blue and white froth that slammed against the coast before quickly retreating. Russ watched the ebb and flow morosely as itchy restlessness wound through him. He missed the surf, missed the feel of warm water surrounding him, growing cooler as he descended into the dark depths below where humans could go, until he crossed the barrier and into the underwater cities of the Lux Magica. Merpeople weren’t fish. They didn’t have half the body of a fish, either, and he often laughed at the images humans painted of the Merfolk. But he wasn’t laughing, anymore.

He was supposed to retrieve the princess and return to Atlantis. Only, the stubborn woman didn’t want to go. And she was messing with his head. Every time he looked into those big green eyes, he saw the sea-foam, and his heart softened. He saw uncertainty, and fear, and pain, and he wanted to soothe them all. A royal Atlantean wasn’t supposed to know those feelings. Those were for the outcast Merhunters like himself. Doubt, fear and pain were emotions that had no place in a respectable Mermaid’s life. And he had no right to think he was worthy of wiping them away.

Russ’ gut clenched as he recalled her beauty. Atlanteans were beautiful, even by Merfolk standards. They were some of the most beautiful people in all the Lux Magica. Among humans, the princess shone like a perfect pearl in a bed of dross. How she managed to hide that beauty, to keep it from becoming a burden to her in this uncivilized world, he had no idea. But she didn’t belong here. And he didn’t have the right to want her. He had a job to do, and her parents wouldn’t thank him kindly if he despoiled their daughter. Which didn’t stop his fists from clenching when he thought of the list of suitable matches her father showed him when his assistance was enlisted in retrieving the headstrong runaway.

What anyone failed to mention to him, though, was that she had no memory of who she really was. Oh, he’d seen that wistful look in her eyes whenever she looked out at the ocean, and knew the longing she held inside herself. It matched his own. Only, she also had a confused look, like she didn’t understand why she felt so drawn to the sea. And when he mentioned Atlantis, she laughed at him and called it a fairy tale. She was a scientist, she said, and she’d rather confine her searches to the real world. Whatever the hell that meant.

“There you are!”

He turned at the exasperated sound of her voice, to find Shelby Morrison striding toward him, her long, sleek legs carrying her into his space. His chest tightened and his breath whooshed from him as he took in her perfect form, her beautiful face. It wasn’t fair. No woman should be so gorgeous. She shouldn’t have the ability to tug at his heart, either, but the sadness in her eyes did just that, even as her annoyed expression tugged his lips up into an ironic smile.

“Looking for me?”

Was that a blush that stained her creamy, porcelain skin? He couldn’t be sure. He watched her puff up like a disgruntled seagull, and resisted the urge to attempt reading her. If she had any memory – even an instinctive one – of who she really was, she could slap his telepathic fingers hard enough to make them bleed. He wasn’t in the mood to find out.

“Confessions in Blood” — Excerpt from SHADOW WALKER (Project Prometheus)

Project Prometheus BadgeEvery once in a while, as an author, you encounter a scene that just blows you away. This scene was that for me — totally unexpectedly. I originally intended for Trevor to come around alone, to have to battle his thoughts and personal demons completely alone, to illustrate how much inside of himself he’s gone in order to retreat from what he can’t understand or face. Instead, his disappearance dragged Jaye into the mix, and this amazing bit of character exposition developed all on its own.

“Confessions in Blood” — Excerpt from SHADOW WALKER (Project Prometheus, Atlantis Silver, Book #3) –

Ten minutes and a gurney trip later, Jaye frowned in true worry as she realized Trevor was still dazed and not at all himself.  Even worse, the bright fluorescent lights illuminated the blood on his dark skin that the moonlight and shadows masked.

Helping him to his bed, she left him just long enough to collect gauze, warm water, and antiseptic.  She doubted he lost enough blood to need emergency surgery or a transfusion, though the amount was alarming to view.  She frowned.  Even knowing it was probably a superficial head wound, and looked worse than it was, she was worried.

Standing before him, she dipped a piece of gauze in the warm water and began gently cleaning the blood from his face.  If she could get through the blood, she could find out if he needed stitches or not.

Trevor flinched with a hiss, and she raised startled eyes to find him regarding her with clear eyes, as if he’d never been the animal she found hidden in the bushes.

“Jaye?”  His voice was weak, and his hand trembled as he lifted it – the only signs he was actually unwell.  He glanced toward the window, and his brow furrowed.  “What time is it?”

“About two in the morning.”  Jaye bit her lip.  He lost track of time, and she didn’t like that.  Losing time was a bad sign in psychiatric medicine.  She wiped away the last smear of blood, and a chill passed through her.  There weren’t any wounds.  Not a single laceration.  She swallowed past her trepidation, but her voice still came out small and breathless.  “What happened to you?”

He tensed. “I don’t remember.”

The tone of his voice alerted her something was wrong, even before she met his gaze.  His eyes were clear, but evasive.  Damn it, he was lying to her.  “Trevor…”

“No.”

She loosed a small cry of exasperation.  Zero-two-hundred hours, when she barely slept last night, was not the time for him to start pulling his stoic routine on her.

“You never were a good liar.”

His gaze darkened as he stared her in the eye.  “And you must have a lot of practice at it.”

Those words drove the breath from her even more than his bitter tone did.  Had he finally remembered Somalia?  Did he know what she did?  She sought blindly for a place to sit as her knees weakened with fear.  “What do you mean?”

The anger dropped from his face, and he reached out to her, oblivious of the blankets dropping, leaving him naked from the waist up.

“Hey, I’m sorry… I don’t know what that was.  I just… I don’t want to talk about where I went, okay?”

For a reason she couldn’t explain if he asked, his secretive attitude annoyed her.  She went back to cleaning the smaller blood smears from his face and neck.  “Great.  Fine.  Do you want to at least tell me how you ended up naked and covered in blood?”

“Not particularly.”

“Damn it, Trevor!”  She threw the gauze into the bio waste container with more force than necessary and glared at him.  “This isn’t a game.  I’m trying to help you.”

“I’m fine.”

“Funny.  Your boss doesn’t think so.”

“I said, I’m fine.”

“Bullshit.”

His eyes narrowed.  “You never used to swear.”

She bit down on words that would turn the air blue, and instead snapped, “Yeah, well I had to get tough.”

The frown on his face pulled her attention from her anger, even before he hazarded, “Because of me?”

She flinched, in spite of her attempt to remain neutral.  She couldn’t help it; she’d run from the truth for too long.  “Yes.”

His gaze turned away, toward the window, and he looked truly ill for the first time.  “I’m sorry.”

The words hit her out of nowhere, and stung because he had no idea how little she deserved them.  She should be the one begging for his forgiveness.  Jaye bit down hard on her lower lip, and stepped closer.

“Don’t apologize,” she whispered as she stroked his cheek gently.  “Not to me.”

Want to know more?  Find out how it all starts in IN HER NAME, currently available from Desert Breeze Publishing.

“The Hero’s Geis” – Excerpt from HOPE OF HEAVEN (Project Prometheus)

Their mission is to search out and bring down those who trade in terrorism, fear, and human suffering by whatever means necessary.  To do this, they must be willing to give up their freedom, and even their lives. They are a mercenary unit with a mission, and a motivation that has nothing to do with what they get paid, and everything to do with the innocent lives they save. Meet the men and women of…

Project Prometheus

Peter Talladay swore he’d never return to Ireland alive, until a battle with a demon in Iraq left him certain he would die a broken man. But when his boss’ wife calls in an expert on demons, and a withering disdain for mercenaries, Peter’s found a new reason to live. Now, if he can only convince determined-to-hate him Hope MacKenzie to trust him, Peter may still find the peace he’s long believed lost to him.

“The Hero’s Geis” – Excerpt from HOPE OF HEAVEN (Project Prometheus, Book 2) —

Peter stared thoughtfully out the window as he hung up the phone. J.R. sounded like a kid at Christmas once Peter explained his reason for calling. He rattled on excitedly about what a find they unearthed, until Peter began to wonder why only he was uneasy about this discovery. The information J.R. gave him sounded familiar — almost eerily so. Peter shivered as a chill ran down his spine. Had Sinead told him those tales before? He couldn’t remember.

Peter crossed the office to the door, and made his way toward Hope’s room. A wry grin crossed his face as he neared the closed door. Ever true to her inquisitive nature, Hope ensconced herself in her room with Sinead’s journals and books hours ago, the same excited determination in her eyes she met every challenge with. Peter shook his head in amusement. Hope was amazing, with her vibrancy and absolute determination to never fail, no matter how hard the course. She was a woman a man should be proud to have by his side. Hope MacKenzie had staying power. Bowers was a fool, Peter decided darkly. He hated the man for using Hope’s innocence, for tainting her faith in men with his cruelty. Peter hated Bowers with everything in him, because he hurt Hope.

With a grimace, Peter marshaled control of his not-so-sudden desire to kill Robert Bowers and knocked at Hope’s bedroom door. A laugh answered him from the room’s interior.

“You know you don’t have to knock, Peter,” she called out. “Come on in!”

He nearly laughed as he opened the door to a room covered in open books and piles of paper and notebooks. “Did we have a cyclone I’m unaware of?”

She offered him an impish grin in response, her face awash with an enchanting blush. “This is amazing stuff. Your mother recorded practically every waking moment of her entire life.”

Memory, like a bittersweet arrow, lanced Peter, accompanied by images of Sinead at the end of a long day, settled into her favorite rocking chair with one of her ever-present notebooks, the sitting room fireplace crackling merrily. She called those moments her labor of love. He never understood what she meant until this moment. These notebooks were precious, his connection to the woman he never really let himself know.

“Aye,” Peter whispered around the sudden lump of emotion lodged in his throat. Swallowing hard, he changed the subject. “J.R. is going to e-mail me information he thinks will help us either prove or disprove your theory as soon as he gets back from Libya.”

“What’s he doing there?” Hope was distracted, her nose buried in a book on Celtic mythology.

“He didn’t say, but it sounded like it was probably covert and dangerous.” Peter shook his head sadly. “J.R. never did learn when enough was enough, and–”

“Oh, wow! Look at this, Peter,” Hope broke in excitedly as she waved him nearer.

“Find something?” Ironic humor touched his voice. She obviously didn’t hear a word he said.

She laughed. “Oh, yeah. Listen to this: ‘The Celtic hero myth is characterized by the belief that the hero is both mortal and immortal. He is often slain in battle, but just as often resurrected by some power or object. Such is often the case when the hero is slain to repay some great debt, called a geis, as in the tale of,’ ” she drew a deep breath, and triumph flickered across her face, ” ‘Cuchulainn!’ It says that Celtic heroes are resurrected at times when they’re needed again. Amazing stuff, huh?”

“Certainly beats cryogenics.” Peter propped one hip against her desk to bury the pain that slashed through his head, and weakened his knees.

“Peter!” She scolded him, though she didn’t appear angry. “Don’t you see? Cuchulainn was known as the Lance Lord, and mythology suggests that he’ll be reborn at a time of great darkness.”

A scowl darkened Peter’s face. This all made a fascinating fairy tale, but he already knew that was all it was. Real life didn’t work that way; there wasn’t any savior waiting in the wings.

“So where was he in Nineteen-twenty-one, when Ireland was tearing herself apart at the seams?” As he saw the wounded anger in Hope’s eyes, he winced. She clearly still believed in heroes, and the power of faith. He didn’t have the heart for the truth, but he couldn’t lie to her, either. “Sorry, love. It’s not that I don’t believe in the supernatural. I can believe in spirits and Faeries and Bean Si, but once you’re dead, the condition is rather permanent.”

“Says who?” She challenged, her chin tilted defiantly. “You did it, didn’t you? And Matt Raleigh was a dead man in Lebanon, but love brought him back. Who’s to say there’s not some force capable of bringing the dead back to life?”

I do,” he rasped tightly. His fists clenched as he fought the pain that plunged through his head, and his soul. “I prayed for a miracle, for the lives of the three people who were my life to be returned to me, once. They’re still dead. There’s not a power in the universe that can raise the dead.”

Pick up your copy of Hope of Heaven, today from Desert Breeze Publishing. Find out how it all begins, with In Her Name, also available now, from Desert Breeze Publishing!

“Magic Mirror” – Excerpt from SHADOW WALKER (Project Prometheus)

Project Prometheus Badge

Trevor Watkins is the miracle of the hour; the survivor of an unassisted coma. But he awakes in a strange place, with no memory but one – the smiling face of a woman with jade-green eyes he has a dreadful feeling he’s supposed to hate. Trapped in a living nightmare from which he believes there is no escape, he finds himself face-to-face with a betrayal he can’t help but forgive, and a secret he can’t hide from. Now, the jade-eyed beauty from his past can set him free, if he’s willing to let her step into a world that could take her away from him forever.

“Magic Mirror” – Excerpt from SHADOW WALKER (Project Prometheus, Book #3)–

Red Widow’s fists clenched, driving her French manicure into her palms, as she glared out at the neon-lit night.  She wanted that mirror.  She was prepared to do whatever it took to make sure the Musir didn’t win, again.  Daniel was one of the newer generation of Arachaena.  She had to educate him.

“Do you have any idea how important that mirror is?”

His sigh sounded exasperated.  “Yeah, I know.  It was the inspiration for the tales of magic mirrors throughout European history; even believed to be the legendary mirror through which the Lady of Astolat watched Lancelot.  And it unlocks the Portal of Kronos.”  When she turned toward him, she saw his grimace.  “Aren’t we both a little old for fairytales?”

His sarcasm annoyed her.  That was part of what was wrong with this new generation of Arachaena.  They were decadent, self-indulgent, and jaded.  They didn’t understand the powers of the world, or why they were important.

“It’s no fairytale, Danny boy.  And the mirror is more than a mere key.”

He lifted one brow in skeptical attention.  “Convince me.”

“Cover that mirror in the blood of a Musir, and it acts as a beacon through the oblivion beyond the Portal.  We need it to guide the Great Lord back.”

She turned just in time to see him sit forward, his interest suddenly intent.  “How much blood?”

A slow, deadly smile curved up her lips as she moved to the bedside table, and extracted a silver kris knife that glowed with a dim blue-white light.  “One of our archeological crews uncovered this on a dig in Greece.  It took some work, but we figured out what it’s for.”

“And that is?”

“You shed the Shadow Walker’s life blood onto the mirror’s surface with this knife, and it begins a chain that no power on Earth can halt.”

She stabbed the knife’s point into the table between them, and met his gaze with narrowed eyes.  He would do what she wanted.  She wouldn’t tell him about the magical lettering said to reside within the mirror’s surface.  Or that those letters would become clear in the presence of Ausar’s vessel.  That was a secret she planned to keep to herself.  Those letters were one part of the key to the Philosopher’s Stone, and the source of everlasting life.  The Musir were reincarnates; they hadn’t yet figured out their own history.  Aside from that threat, only the Widows and Dimitri Lapinov knew about the truth of the Philosopher’s Stone.  And she intended to keep it that way.

 

Read the book that started it all! IN HER NAME is available now from Desert Breeze Publishing!

“Againt the Rules” — Excerpt from MIND KILLER (Underground)

MindKillerCoverMatt Clipper is a product of the streets. His slot with the Commandos depends on his ability to keep playing a game with death he’s growing tired of. But with no military skill set, no education to fall back on, and no special skills to call upon, the streets and gangs are his only way to contribute to the team. But when the game he’s been playing goes from deadly to suicidal, his only hope of salvaging his sanity could rest in keeping how close to the edge he really is to himself.

 “Against the Rules” – Excerpt from MIND KILLER (Underground, Book 2)–

This couldn’t be good.  Jen LaSaulle swung her chair toward the hydrolift’s monitor as the signal of keycard activation buzzed in Comms.  The only people not in the Underground tonight were Ishmael, who was probably at least three thousand miles away, and Matt, who shouldn’t be back until dawn.

She sucked in a breath and fought away the grip of queasiness as her gaze locked onto the image of the black man currently slumped against the wall of the hydrolift, one hand pressed to his side.  Was he injured?

Her heart twisted as she searched his face for signs of pain, and found only weariness.  He must have forgotten about the monitoring system, or he’d never show this kind of vulnerability.

“Rough night?”  She spoke into the Comms headset, aware only he could hear her, in the confines of the soundproofed hydrolift.

Matt’s head jerked up, and all hint of vulnerability was gone as the badass returned full-bloom.  Only now, she knew it was all bullshit.  “Nah, I’m great, Catwoman.”

She rolled her eyes, even aware that he couldn’t see her expression.  When was Matt going to actually let her in?  “I’m a psychologist and a profiler, Clipper.   Give me some credit.”

He swore, and glared toward the camera as the ‘lift came to a halt in the Underground.  “Then read my mind, Doc.  I don’t wanna talk about it.”

Annoyance zipped through her.  This was an old argument.  She wasn’t prepared to have a relationship with a man who couldn’t share himself with her, and he only seemed to want to have a good time.   So they stalled at sex.  She told herself she was fine with that, then called herself a liar.  Still, they had the job, and if he couldn’t respect her as a lover, he was damned well going to respect her as a teammate.  “You don’t have a choice, tough guy.  You have to report in.”

The door to the hydrolift slid closed, but not before she saw his response in an uplifted finger.  Her cheeks burned with fury.  Damn it all, she was sick of this.  She couldn’t get him to talk to her, anymore, without pulling rank as the team fitness evaluator.  Even then, she knew he was handing her a line, even if she couldn’t prove it.  Matt Clipper was not okay.

Shoving to her feet, she stalked through the door and out into the corridor just in time to see Matt heading up the hall toward the housing sector.

“Get back here.”  Her words were cold, and laced with all the fury and pain she held caged inside her.  Matt wouldn’t treat anyone else on the team with this kind of careless disdain.  Why her?  “You know the rules, Clipper.”

He turned, and for a split second, the walls dropped.  Jen sucked in a gasp of surprise and dismay.  Matt was close to dropping – not unusual – but his eyes were wild and troubled.  She had no doubt where he was headed, or what he would do once he got there.  Her anger was forgotten as she hurried toward him.

“Please,” she softened her tone as she approached, and saw him tense as if he meant to flee.  “Just talk to me.  Let me be your friend, Matt.”

He shifted, and his face blanched.  Jen’s eyes widened and her gaze dropped to the floor, where she saw a growing puddle of blood on the concrete and steel floor.  “Oh my god!”

Join the Commandos! Pick up your copy of the critically-acclaimed book that started it all, TAMIA, at Amazon.com today!

“The Green Man” — Excerpt from PHOENIX RISING (Legends of Tirum)

PHOENIX RISING CoverPhoenix Telyn Gwndal has finally accepted the Majik that’s her birthright. But when her mission to finish her father’s quest sends her into the beleaguered Borderlands, she’s about to discover Fate has quite different plans from the ones she’s made — and they involve a man she’s already promised herself never to love, and a proud people she can’t turn her back on. Can Telyn escape Destiny’s designs with her heart still intact?

 

“The Green Man” — Excerpt from PHOENIX RISING (Legends of Tirum, Book 2) –

Excitement pulsed a fiery song through her veins as she urged Bloodcloud toward the forest surrounding Phoenix Hall. She had no fear of its darkness — her Bathron eyes would grant her vision even in its darkest corners and brambles. And, if Kishfa rode with her this night, she’d have the Phoenix Book in her hands before the morning light.

Bloodcloud, however, didn’t appear as thrilled about their destination. At the edge of the forest, he shied up and danced away from the path several steps on two powerful legs, nearly throwing her from her seat on his back. Gripping his flanks hard with her knees, she leaned into him until he was forced to drop his weight back down. Yet, he refused to move forward, digging in with the tenacity of a pack mule.

Telyn’s brow furrowed. She’d never seen him act like this before. Bloodcloud was a trained warhorse, and until now, she’d have sworn he didn’t have a skittish bone in his whole body. If he backed away, it was for a very good reason.

“Come now, old friend,” she crooned to him as she stroked sure, calming hands over his softly bristled coat. “What bothers you? Is there Majik in these woods?”

“Now there’s a fool’s query if I ever heard one!”

Telyn’s head snapped up at the sound of a new voice. She’d swear she was alone out here. There shouldn’t be anyone within a league of this place. But there, just in the shadows of a large roan tree, leaned the form of a man — if indeed he was a man, and not some form of spirit come to haunt her. He was whipcord thin and dressed head-to-toe in what looked like moss, leaves, and brambles. Between his crossed arms rested a long bollstaff decorated in what appeared to be shiny eggshells, silverflower, and crane feathers. Every sense she had went on alert as the anaqueri at her side hummed to life and began to sing a familiar tune — impending battle.

“Who are you?” she demanded, uncertain she was willing to battle what might turn out to be some specter of this place. “How did you get here?”

He straightened, and stepped forward into the light, blocking her path into the forest. “Those would be questions for me to ask. You, after all, are the stranger here.”

This was becoming more confusing by the moment. “You mean you… live here?”

His eyes — a deep, forest green that blended into the darkening wood behind him — glinted with cold humor. “These wood be my home, and all that is seen. For I, Warrior Maid, am the Jaran Green.”

“The Green Jaran?” Telyn barely held in her scorn. The Green Jaran was a myth — a tale told to children to frighten them into good behavior.Said to be the lingering spirit of one of the Old Gods, the Green Jaran supposedly guarded the wood and all it housed, and often stole naughty children, whom he made into his goblinesque servants in punishment for their wicked ways. “Who are you, really?”

His gaze narrowed in cold fury that gave her pause. “Trust not your own eyes?”

Telyn frowned as she let her gaze travel over his unusual appearance. He certainly looked the part of the Green Jaran. Hadn’t she just learned the impossible about herself? Who was she to doubt the man before her?

“All right. So you’re the Green Jaran. However,” she paused, considering the wisdom of her next words. She had no idea what kind of power he truly had. Then, she shrugged. If he meant to kill her, there wasn’t much she could do to stop a god, after all. “I’m not a child. You can’t frighten me.”

He flicked her words away with one long-fingered hand. “You’ve come for the Book.”

She gaped. “How… I mean…”

“I know much about all who venture through my wood. But you, I have known since the moment of your birth, and I knew that one day, you would come. You have come for the Book.”

After what he just said, it would be foolish to deny his words. “Aye.”

“Then you should be terrified.”

Follow the Legend from the beginning… Get your copy of DAUGHTER OF ASHES, today at either Desert Breeze Publishing or Amazon.com!

“Confronting the Past” – Excerpt from BETWEEN WORLDS (Project Prometheus)

Project Prometheus BadgeThere are levels to this book even I haven’t fully grasped, yet (mainly because I’m still writing it). It takes quite a bit of detail juggling, as it ties the starter set of Project Prometheus together. But mostly, it’s the details of these two people, and the complicated, interwoven past they share.

From the outside, these two might seem uncomplicated, but there are so many layers to each of them, I’m almost certain we’re going to see them, again, during the course of this series.

“Confronting the Past” – Excerpt from BETWEEN WORLDS (Project Prometheus, Book #5)

She had no reason to be here. He said he didn’t want to see her. She shouldn’t be here. Delila glanced nervously over her shoulder at the sensation of eyes on her back, even as she inched closer to the hanger door. Hell, she wasn’t supposed to have even been behind the wheel of the jeep. But she couldn’t let Jim leave. Not like this. Not with their argument hanging between them.

The sense of eyes on her grew stronger, and her heart beat like a hummingbird trapped in her throat. Who was out there? She shifted her shoulders uneasily, and nearly screamed when large, hard hands closed over her arms from behind. She nearly wilted at the voice that growled against her ear.

“How the hell did you get here?”

She opened her mouth to tell him, but he cut her off with a gruff, “Scratch that. I don’t care how you got here.”

He spun her around to face him, and Delila swallowed hard as she stared up into Jim Walker’s scowling face and angry green eyes. “What do you want, Delila?”

She stiffened at his snarled demand. This wasn’t the gentle man she knew. This man was beyond angry. But that anger only stiffened her spine more, and she glared back at him.

“I came to apologize.”

The thunderstruck expression on his face nearly made her smile. The anger faded from his eyes, replaced with surprise. “Apologize?”

She nodded, and dropped her gaze from his face. She had to do this. She knew their argument was more her fault than his. But her pride took a beating beneath that knowledge, and his suddenly kind regard. She cleared her throat.

“I didn’t mean to lead you on. I know you thought I was…offering…”

“Shh.” The gentle touch of Jim’s fingertips to her lips startled Delila, and jerked her head up to him. And the soft light in his green eyes twisted her chest and yanked seldom-loosed tears from her eyes. “You have nothing to apologize for, sweetheart.”

“But I… I…”

“You said no.”

She nodded miserably.

He sighed, and his hands dropped to her shoulders, rubbing gently. “Delila. Look at me.”

She glanced up, met his gaze. The serious light in his eyes grabbed hold of her heart and wouldn’t let go.

“You said no.”

“I… I’m sorry.”

“Damn it!” He exploded, releasing her to stalk away. She cringed as he whirled around, his expression intense. “You have the right to say no, Delila. Never apologize for it.”

She hunched her shoulders and mumbled to herself. It hadn’t mattered to John if she said no.

He froze, and the air between them crackled with tension. “What did you say?”

She flinched. She didn’t want to tell him. “Nothing.”

“Delila.” His voice was so gentle as he approached her again that Delila blinked away her tears. “Talk to me, sweetheart.”

She winced, but met his gaze again. “I said, it never mattered before.”

He sucked in a breath, and she watched a new anger kindle in his eyes, but this time, she knew he wasn’t angry at her.

“Who?” He gripped her shoulders again, giving her a tiny shake. “Who hurt you?”