Soldier, Come Home
by Jane Leopold Quinn
eBook ASIN: B00AKHVB0G
Army Ranger Jess Crofton doesn’t plan on one last fling before deployment. He gets that with memories of Lorren Samples to carry with him into battle. Can a long deployment, a horrific Afghan mountain battle, and a wounded hero rekindle the passion he found on a hot Chicago summer’s day?
Note: Prologue omitted.
Crossing the street in front of the train station, Lorren Samples swiped at the sweat on her upper lip. Hot, steamy weather was the standard for a Chicago summer day. She couldn’t wait to get back into air conditioning after an abbreviated lunchtime walk. It was just too humid for comfort.
The rumble of the deep, rich, masculine voice with its western twang speared through her belly. And lower. Being a Chicago girl, she at first tried to ignore the stranger’s tall, broad-chested body crowding too closely. She warily clenched her fists and stiffened her shoulders to defend herself, if need be. You had to watch out for yourself in the big city, never wanting to be touched by a strange man on the street. Then she made the mistake of glancing up at him.
Holy frickin’ cow! He was the closest thing to beautiful male perfection she’d ever seen. Not in the movies, not on TV, not on stage. Certainly, she’d never seen anything like him in person. A passerby bumped her, throwing her against him. Her hands automatically reached for his forearms. He gripped her shoulders. She braced herself, silent and unexpectedly breathless, her heart thudding in her throat.
Wow! Brown eyes. Rich chocolate. Warm cocoa. All those good, lickable, delicious, sensuous flavors. Burnished dark eyes surrounded by lush long lashes gazed back at her.
A horn blared. She gasped, brushing her breast against his forearm as she turned to see what the hell the problem was. The sound, the brush, woke her to the city around her.
It was a cab that had pulled in at the curb at Union Station for a pick up. “Sorry,” she muttered and stepped back, trying to establish some distance between them. That’s when she noticed the luggage, an old-fashioned, soft, black leather satchel, at his heels.
Heels? Heels on cowboy boots. Tan cowboy boots. Well worn and scuffed as if he lived in them. Still mostly speechless, her gaze tracked the blue, faded jeans hugging long, long legs up to lean hips and a flat belly. Jeez! Her head jerked up. He had a hard-on. It was pretty difficult to hide that in snug jeans. Her face flamed hot in embarrassment.
He stared back, a smug, aware expression on his handsome face.
I guess he’s not embarrassed about his humongous hard-on. That’s when she noticed she still gripped his solid, muscled forearms. Bare forearms. Bare, hairy forearms. Okay, stop it. You’re acting like… Well, she didn’t know what she was acting like. She’d never been in this situation before. It was like a scene from a movie. The “meet cute.”
Jess Croften covered the woman’s hand with his. It wasn’t like he’d planned on picking up a pretty woman, but he had watched this one all the way from the intersection, willing her to cross over and continue straight toward him. He’d squinted a bit to sharpen his focus, and the closer she got, the more he could see she was all prime. He didn’t normally think of women in beef-related terms, but he wouldn’t mind having this fine lady on a plate and eating her up. Literally and figuratively. She’d obviously been preoccupied, her expression scowling and smoothing out in turn. Her lips were moving slightly as if she was talking to herself.
He was in Chicago on business, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t jump on the chance to find a woman. And he had no intention of letting this one go until he knew more about her.
The brush of her breast electrified the hairs on his arm, heating his blood even as she pushed away from him and looked down toward his feet. His skin sizzled as her gaze roamed up his body to where he wanted it to be—on his crotch? No secrets there as to how she affected him, were there? He smirked at her wide-eyed response to his arousal.
Whew! God, she’s a pretty thing. Her apple-round cheeks were pink and soft, her lips covered in a rosy gloss he wanted to lick right off her. She was tall. Her chin could easily rest on his shoulder, and he was six-three. Auburn hair, held loosely back in a ponytail by one of those elastic things, was fluffed up around her head, little damp ringlets plastered to her temples and neck. He couldn’t see the color of her eyes because of sunglasses, but he’d get around to that.
“Ma’am?” he asked a third time. “Can you tell me which way to Michigan Avenue?”
She jerked her hand off his arm so fast it was as if his question had broken a spell.
“Um, sure.” She backed up to put space between them and took a deep breath. “Go to the corner, turn that way.” She pointed right. “And go about eight or ten blocks.” Then she glanced at his boots. “It’s quite a way though. Maybe you should get a cab so you don’t lug your stuff around.”
“Aw, ma’am, it’s not heavy. I’ve carried more than this.” Forty pound saddles back home and three times that in Army back packs.
“Well, okay then. Um—see ya. Have fun.” She gave him one of those little girly wiggles of her fingers before she turned away.
Son of a bitch if she wasn’t walking away from him. No way, honey. Grabbing up his valise, he sprinted, reaching her just as she turned the corner. Just as she turned to look back at him. If he would have put a bet on that, he’d have won.
A breeze lifted her hair, pushing a strand over her lips. She dragged it out of the gloss.
He wanted to see her eyes under the sunglasses. He wanted to find out her name, didn’t know exactly why he was so interested, but her mixture of contradictions enticed him. Tall, round-cheeked, hair just this side of frizzy and wild, but she was dressed in sophisticated clothing—tight skirt, very fitted, man-style white blouse and—thank you, God—fuck-me stilettos. High heeled, open sandals with cherry red toenails peeping out. Whoa, horsie. His hard-on just thickened.
“Which way’re you goin’?” They’d stopped again in the middle of the sidewalk with aggravated, complaining people streaming around them. He didn’t care. He wasn’t going to let her walk out of his life. Not that she was in his life, but…
If she’d just take those damn glasses off.
Oh God, what am I going to do with him? She certainly could think of a hundred things, but for crying out loud, he was a stranger. A woman didn’t just pick up a man on the street. “I’m on my lunch hour.”
“I’ll walk with you a ways, if you don’t mind, ma’am.” He poked up the front brim of his hat. “As long as you’re goin’ that way.”
How had she missed that hat? Well, she’d been too busy gawking at his package to notice his Stetson.
“Is that all right with you?” he asked, his voice softer and an octave lower than its already deep pitch.
The sound of his words spiked at her senses, the normal sentence abnormally sexy. Okay, that did it. Her nipples pinged tightly, and her panties dampened. She squeezed her eyes shut a second to compose herself. She wasn’t going to have to work too hard to come up with a fantasy to masturbate with in the future. This guy was the real deal—sexy, built, and gorgeous.
“The name’s Jess Croften.” He held out his hand.
Automatically, she placed her hand in his and found it engulfed by his large, dry palm, hot, sandpaper skin making her hand feel tiny and sweaty. “Lorren Samples,” she managed to say, hoping she didn’t sound too strangled and flustered.
What would it hurt to walk a few blocks with him? It’s not like he’s going to grab me. It’s a busy public street. I’m perfectly safe. And it’s not like I’ll see him again. More’s the pity.
“Okay, I can walk a few blocks with you back to my office.” She wished she could walk further. Or ride off into the sunset with the handsome cowboy on his Palomino stallion. She loved her flights of fancy, always having had a soft spot for the mythical cowpoke. She just never expected to meet one, especially in the concrete canyons of Chicago. Pulling her hand out of his grip, she smiled and nodded toward the east saying, “This way.”
He held out his arm in the time-honored gesture for her to place her hand in the crook of his elbow.
Caught up in the moment, she did just that. It should have felt strange to walk so intimately with a stranger, but it didn’t. Somehow, their paces matched without even trying, his long-striding amble shortening up for her high-heeled trot.
He brought her hand in close to his side.
She could feel the hard muscles in his body. Okay, first fantasy coming on: Muscled arms enclosed her against his massive, sculpted chest. Heavy-lidded, dark eyes drifted closed. Firm, expressive lips puckered, the pink of his tongue peeping…
Whew. Get hold of yourself, girl. Hidden behind the protection of her Chanel shades, she took the opportunity to check out the rest of him. After practically fainting in pleasure at his chocolate colored eyes, her gaze had dropped to his boots, and then rose only as far as his belt buckle. She shouldn’t have shallowly focused only on his crotch.
A long-sleeved white oxford shirt with the cuffs rolled up to just below his elbows, open neck revealing wiry sprigs of dark chest hair quietly declared his masculinity. She pretended to look at the buildings, kept up some tourist focused chatter, and sneaked peeks at his face. Yeah, her first impressions were right on. A squared off chin, strong jaw line, full but masculine lips, nose flattened slightly at the bridge. Hmm. An imperfection? Yes, but only a teeny tiny one.
“Should I visit the top of the Sears Tower?” he asked.
“It’s Willis Tower now. Or you could go to the Hancock Building,” she responded. “Both have fabulous views, but the Hancock has a restaurant and bar at the top. You could catch the view and have something to eat.”
“What else would you suggest I see?”
“Well, it’s the height of tourist season, and things are very crowded, but there are Chicago River cruises. There’s Navy Pier and museums. I wouldn’t take you for a shopper, but Michigan Avenue is great for that.”
“Do you live in the city?”
“Yeah, I live in an area called Lincoln Park.”
“That’s near the lake, right?”
“You’ve done some research,” she said with a chuckle. “I have a view of it. Not a high view. Only tenth floor, but there’s nothing between the lake and me.” I hope that didn’t sound like an invitation. Change the subject, Lorren. “Are you in town on business or vacation?”
“A little of both.”
“This is my building.” She rotated her wrist, still held securely against his side, to look at her watch. “And I really need to get back. I’m late.” They halted outside the revolving doors.
“This looks old.” His gaze swept up the reddish stone elevation.
“The Rookery. It’s one of the oldest buildings, at least downtown. Isn’t it gorgeous?”
“Yeah.” His gaze came back to her. “Beautiful.”
“If you’re interested in architecture, the Architecture Foundation runs tours too,” she added, trying not to melt under his flattering attention. “I really need to get up there. My boss will kill me if I’m too late.”
“What do you do?”
She reluctantly stepped away from him. “I’m in my last year of law school and working as a paralegal right now.”
He grinned, his eyebrows arched. “I’m impressed.”
She blushed and shrugged away the compliment. “Now I really have to go. It was nice talking to you. Enjoy your stay in Chicago.” A feeling of loss flickered through her, but the fantasy of him would probably be better than the reality. He looked hot, but that didn’t necessarily equate to sexual prowess. And she was old enough to be well past the stage of jumping into bed with a hot guy just for the sake of sex. The fantasy would undoubtedly last longer anyway.
He dropped the valise at his booted feet and swept off his Stetson, plowing his fingers through hat hair, pushing it off his forehead.
Shit. The thought of running her fingers through those mink brown strands spiked heat through her belly—yet again. Or still. This guy couldn’t be for real. He was her hottest fantasy come to life.
“I’d like to see you again, Lorren.”
Her heart stopped. And started beating again full throttle. “Um, well…”
“Tonight? Can I take you to dinner at the Hancock Building?”
She couldn’t help it, she cracked an embarrassed smile. “I wasn’t telling you all that stuff just for you to ask me out.”
“I didn’t think that for a minute. I’d like to spend some more time with you. And would you take off your sunglasses?”
She raised her hand to the frames. “Huh?”
“I want to see your eyes.”
He held out a hand. “Please?”
Her heart skidded straight up to her throat. Oh Lord, she was sinking.
He lifted them off for her. “Ah,” he said. “Sage green with golden flecks.”
Sinking fast. Handsome and poetic. “Um.” She touched the corner of her eye.
Gathering her thoughts together quickly, she said, “I’m meeting some girlfriends at the Pump Room tonight at six. You’re welcome to join us.”
Those fabulous masculine lips quirked. “I know exactly where that is.”
“Good, then maybe we’ll see you. Bye now.”
“Yes’m, you surely will.”
She heard the low rumble of his voice responding as she whisked through the revolving doors of her building.