Within His Embrace
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by Denise A. Agnew
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
Description: With her job gone and her carefully crafted life plan wrecked, Leigh Strong decides to take a short vacation from reality before she has to face putting it all back together again. A wild shootout puts her in the sight of SWAT cop Craig MacGilvary, the man she is fiercely drawn to, but that drives her crazy at the same time. She finds his stern, strong and silent personality a tad too uptight and decides he needs to live a little. She's determined to discover if he's really stoic, or if under all that starch burns a man of fire.
eBook Publisher: Atlantic Bridge/Liquid Silver Books, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: March 2010
35 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [385 KB]
Reading time: 235-329 min.
"Shots fired. One civilian down. Black Firebird leaving the scene," the dispatcher for the El Torro County Sheriff's Department relayed over the squad car radio.
Sergeant Craig MacGilvary drove through Gold Rush, Colorado, noting of the address and license number of the perp as he did.
Even though city police had jurisdiction, Craig could cut the shooter off if he headed in his direction.
His blood pumped as he pulled a u-turn and neared the area, lights flashing and siren blaring. More radio chatter filled the air, city police responding to the incident.
"Suspect is former boyfriend to The Bridal Boutique owner Delilah Willow," the dispatcher said and Craig's veins froze at the mention of the shop name. "Suspect just shot her new boyfriend and is heading toward the owner's shop to destroy her property."
Jesus. What the hell is it with this town and jealous boyfriends?
Then his heart froze. Leigh. She might still be at the shop.
He swallowed hard, his heartbeat pounding in his ears. If that fucker in the Firebird goes anywhere near Leigh--if that dirtball hurts one hair on her beautiful, golden head--I'll kill the bastard.
Craig pressed the gas pedal to the floor.
Leigh Strong closed the door on The Bridal Boutique for the last time. Since Delilah had decided a month ago she couldn't make a go of the shop, Leigh'd had plenty of time to select a new future.
She'd procrastinated big time.
What am I going to do?
Hell, I don't know. Now I'll have a crap load of time to think.
She'd already traveled the world, so that was out.
She flicked open the top two buttons on her fire-engine-red silk blouse and fussed with her blazer lapels. She wished she'd gone without pantyhose because this pair itched, and the black business suit skirt felt too confining as it cupped her butt in stretchy material.
Guaranteed to stretch with you in comfort, the catalog advertisement had promised.
Yeah. Right. I feel like a damn sausage.
"No more suits for a while." She sighed. "Yeah, that's what I need. Freedom."
She could blame her baking-in-the-oven-like-a-piece-of-meat feeling on the weather. May in Colorado had turned unusually warm, but clouds gathered on the horizon with the promise of rain. Lightning jumped across the sky in the far-distant horizon.
She glared at the glass door, the closed sign, and the finality, then turned away with a sardonic smile and the determination to become a wedding planner again soon.
She'd parked too far away on the street, damn it. The silence on this small corner of the business district felt strangely disquieting, as if Halloween was just around the corner rather than signs of spring. Bah humbug anyway.
Too early for Christmas discontent and way too late to complain about Valentine's Day.
Get over it.
She smiled, because she'd heard more than once that pretending you felt good could lead to actual sensations of happiness. Her thoughts scattered to her friend Celeste's wedding less than a month away. The big event would be perfect...or else. She wouldn't let her best friend down. She slung her handbag over her shoulder and headed down the sidewalk.
Envy spiked through her as she walked. Celeste's fiance, Mick MacGilvary, was a gorgeous sheriff's deputy and an on-call SWAT officer. Anyone could see that Mick loved Celeste down to his core. What would it feel like to know a man cherished you like that? She couldn't imagine.
Not that Leigh wanted to marry. At least not anytime soon. More than one acquaintance had paraded eligible bachelors in front of her, but not one of the guys turned her on mentally or physically. As she'd once heard an old woman say, they were all milquetoast.
Mick had two hot brothers also on the sheriff's department and in SWAT, but neither one would do. Trey had married Olivia Scott last year. And Craig...well, Craig was so not the kind of guy she needed.
He probably didn't have a sexual bone in his body.
Besides, there was a mutual dislike between them.
Yeah, that pretty much put a damper on any chance of a hook up with a hot cop. Not that she'd do such a thing anyway. Her past pretty much precluded anything serious. Hell, anything not serious, either.
She heard the roar of a muscle car somewhere down the street and ignored it. The engine revved like a drag racing machine, and then she heard a strange pop so loud she jumped, startled.
A sharp sting slashed across her upper right shoulder, and she clapped a hand over the area, shocked. What the--
She swung toward the road, searching.
A black Firebird screeched to a halt along the sidewalk.
A city police car came to a screaming stop right behind it.
The Firebird driver aimed out the window at the cruiser behind him and fired. One of the shop windows shattered. Screams split the air as people across the street scrambled for cover.
She dove into an alley and plastered her back against the wall. Her heart banged frantically in her chest, sweat breaking out as fear jolted like lightning through her. What the hell--?
Pain stung her arm, and she saw red spreading over the upper arm of her blouse. Oh, God. Am I shot? Instinctively she clamped her hand over the wound again.
The Firebird engine roared and the muscle car's tires squealed as the driver tore away from the sidewalk.
The city police car followed, tires burning rubber. Stunned into immobility, she stood unmoving against the wall. Sirens blared as another law enforcement car whizzed by. Breathing hard, she dared a peek around the corner. Patrons from other stores spilled out of the doors, curiosity getting the better of them.
A sheriff's department car zoomed to the sidewalk, and the deputy jumped out with pistol drawn as he looked around.
Relief flooded her.
He saw her a second later and ran in her direction. "Leigh?"
She edged out of the alley, but not far, half expecting more shots to come from nowhere.
Craig holstered his weapon as he reached her. "Are you all right?"
"A MacGilvary to the rescue," she said, her voice raspy. "What the hell is going on here?"
His gaze caught on her shoulder, and his normally glacial green eyes turned incinerator hot, blazing with concern. "You're hurt. Christ." His deep voice went husky. Before she could answer, he reached for her arm and tore the sleeve practically off her arm. His mouth tightened. "Damn it."
Unexpected dizziness made her unsteady on her feet, her breath coming hard. "Oh."
"Come on, there's a first aid kit in my car."
He clasped her forearm gently and led her toward his cruiser, all the while using his shoulder radio to report his status and the need for an ambulance.
"I don't need an ambulance." She managed a caustic smile, still unable to believe what had happened. "What do they say in the movies? It's a flesh wound. It doesn't even hurt much."
"You've been shot. You need medical attention."
She didn't know what to say, because the concept that some jerk had shot at her didn't penetrate. "I just felt this little sting and then this jackass in a Firebird tears by."
As Craig tended to her wound, she noticed the gathering crowd. She peppered Craig with questions. "What is going on? Why did that jackass shoot at me? Have I made enemies I don't know about?"
He explained about Delilah's old boyfriend having a grudge and shooting her new boyfriend near Delilah's house. "That's all I know."
"Oh, God. I should call her. She's all right isn't she?"
"Don't know. Hold still while I finish this and then you can call her."
Backup came in the form of a city police cruiser with two cops. Craig relayed what happened at the scene while the city officers asked her questions and took her report.
"How did you happen to be so close?" she asked Craig when the police started taping off the area.
Craig stared at her with his trademark intense look. A little over six feet tall, he commanded respect. His military-short golden blond hair receded a bit at the hairline. With a nicely cut nose, firm jaw line, and looks too rough-hewn to qualify as handsome, Craig possessed a masculinity that screamed don't mess with me loud and clear. His wide shoulders, muscled arms, and trim waist made the short-sleeved brown uniform look as if it was tailor made for him.
He shrugged, hands on hips and firm cop face in place. "I was headed through town and heard the call." For a split second his expression softened, his eyes meeting hers with a clear, unguarded sincerity. For a fleeting moment his professional exterior disappeared and she thought she saw real panic on his face. "When I thought you might be in danger I--" He cleared his throat and his composure returned. "I happened to be nearby."
Amazement blossomed inside her. He spent most of their infrequent social encounters making sure he could escape as soon as possible. He always seemed to be running away. The fact that he'd run toward danger for her blew Leigh away.
Nah. Craig MacGilvary barely stands the sight of me. He was doing his job, nothing more. He would have done the same for anyone. What's the motto? To protect and serve? He's seen many people injured and shot. I must have imagined it.
"Well, thank you." She didn't know what else to say.
Not that she had much more of a chance, because the ambulance drove up. Though she felt like a dweeb, she allowed the paramedics to check her out. She half expected Craig to disappear, but like a sentinel he hovered, disapproving and glowering, in the background but not far away.
"What's the verdict?" he asked the female paramedic as she checked Craig's handy work first aid.
"Good work, MacGilvary. She's fine. We'll take her to the hospital and see if this needs stitches."
Her stomach tossed. "Stitches? Ugh."
The female paramedic threw a grin at her partner. "Squeamish?"
Leigh grinned, and when she included Craig in that smile, he returned her look with his trademark coolness. Leigh cleared her throat. "Couldn't I just drive myself? I mean, I don't think I need an ambulance."
"I'll take her," Craig said.
Leigh's eyes widened in astonishment. "What? Don't you have other things you need to do here?"
"No. You can't drive with that arm, and if you aren't taking the ambulance, I can drop you at the hospital. It's on my way out of town."
"Fine by us," the male paramedic said as they began to close up the ambulance.
"Saves on a medical bill." Leigh kept the smile, determined to keep this incident light. Craig didn't return the smile.
Fine. Be that way.
Before long they'd left the area in his cruiser. She'd never ridden in a cop car before either in the back or the front. The plethora of gadgets caught her curiosity.
She made a call to Delilah's cell and discovered she'd also gone to the hospital to be with her boyfriend. Turned out Delilah's ex had appeared with no warning. Her current boyfriend had suffered a gunshot wound to his leg, but the injury proved to be minor. After signing off, Leigh heard Craig's radio squawk that Delilah's ex had taken a header in his Firebird straight into a gas station gas tank and blown up.
"Oh, my God," Leigh whispered, her throat aching. She shivered. Nothing in all her experiences had prepared her for this, and that was saying a lot.
Craig switched off the cool air intake, and glanced her way. "You feeling all right? How's the arm?"
"It aches a little. It's not bad."
"You're shivering." He made it sound like a crime.
She glared, emotions starting to churn inside her without an anchor. "Doesn't help when you have the air conditioner on."
She heard the snark in her voice and winced. What was it about this man that brought out the worst in her?
"It's off now."
Equal coolness in his voice cemented that she'd stepped in it. She sighed. "Look, I'm sorry. This is all surreal. I can't believe this town. I moved here four years ago and in the last year and a half I've had a rock tossed through the window at me, witnessed my best friend being taken hostage by her ex-boyfriend, and now I happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when some weirdo pops his cork. I mean...come on."
Craig's mouth twitched. Was that an attempt at a smile? Mr. Never-Smile-And-You-Couldn't-Make-Me? Still, he said nothing.
He's maddening. "Wait. Is that a little beginning of a grin? Craig 'Viking' MacGilvary smiling? Stop the presses."
He tossed her an annoyed look. She was right, though. Until she'd gotten mixed up with the MacGilvary clan her world had stayed pretty stable. After she'd left behind her family in California and became reacquainted with her old college friend Delilah, Leigh's world had remained calm. Uneventful for a change. Then she'd become friends with Celeste. Celeste had turned to Mick for protection when her ex turned out to be a psychopathic stalker. At one point the ex had tossed a rock through Celeste's window and it hit Leigh. That's when she'd met Craig for the first time.
The man had plagued her ever since.
Electricity had sparked, but his arrogance and cool detachment had turned her off.
"You could have been killed, Leigh." Craig's voice broke through her musings.
The softness in his voice surprised her, but his face stayed impassive, his gaze firmly on the road.
"Yeah, but chilly reality isn't much fun. I'd rather block that concept all together."
Another half twitch at the corner his mouth. Her gaze lingered on those firm lips, and a wild, inappropriate excitement zinged straight into her belly. The few times she'd seen him smile, the effect had proven devastating. So what if from the first time she'd met him more than a year ago, her body had instantly reacted to his masculinity, screaming a resounding, "oh baby do me"?
That's what confused the hell out of her. What was it about him? Finding him sexy--scratch that--hot as hell--made her crazy. Maybe what the scientists said about chemistry was true. Still, she couldn't blame it on his aftershave. The few times she'd been close enough to him all she smelled was clean man. No heavy scent that repulsed her, no wildly exotic cologne.
She sighed. Maybe she just needed sex, period. She'd find some other exciting guy to bed and then--
She didn't do casual sex either. Though maybe she should consider it. Anything to banish this nutty response to a man who often looked as if he was carved out of stone.
She schooled her libido into submission. Remember. He's too much like Chad. Perhaps that resemblance explained her attraction to Craig.
Chad the cad. Oh, not that Craig was a dishonest piece of scum like her former boyfriend, but his looks reminded her too much of Chad. His 'tude even resembled the filthy rich scumbucket she'd loved and lost.
Resentment boiled up. God, Leigh. Now is not the time to rehash old baggage. I am so over that bastard.
She moved her arm too quickly, and a sting lashed deep. She hissed in a breath.
Craig threw her another look of genuine concern. "All right?"
He grunted, his expression doubtful. "Do you feel nauseated? Shaky?"
She frowned. "What? No. Why?"
"You might be going into shock."
"With a small wound like this? I hardly think so."
"Sometimes mental shock is enough to create a physical reaction."
He flipped on his lights and siren and the cruiser surged forward.
Ooookay. Bemused, she settled back as he made quicker time to the hospital. Hmm. Not only could she ignore the fact she'd been shot, she could take the challenge of unraveling Craig MacGilvary's legendary composure. Delicious. And too much fun not to engage completely in.
"Gee, this is fun," she said. "But I wish you would have let me turn on the lights and siren."
He tossed her an incredulous look, and then a genuine, full smile spread across his mouth and sucked every last breath out of her lungs. Once more that smile disappeared in a flash.
Everything girly inside her sat up and took notice. Her body tingled in places she didn't even know could tingle.
"You're..." He started to say.
She arched one eyebrow. "Yes?"
"You're pretty damn cheeky for a woman that almost got her ass shot off being in the wrong place and the wrong time."
She shrugged and then regretted it as her shoulder ached. "I deal with drama by ignoring it."
Running away from it, a little voice said in her ear.
"As shoe leather, I'm told."
The hospital came into view, and he navigated traffic with perfect skill as he swung into the emergency entrance and came to a halt. "Wait here."
He left the car before she could squeak, and short minutes later came back with a nurse and a wheelchair. Amused, she acquiesced and they wheeled her inside. The nurse shooed Craig away as they rolled Leigh down the hallway. Leigh caught one last glimpse of him as he stood in the hallway watching her.