Just a Dream
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by Aliyah Burke
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
Description: Caden Bradshaw has vowed never again to get involved with a military man. Having lost her Navy husband to war, she knows she couldn't bear to suffer another loss. Her determination fades quickly on meeting handsome Gunnery Sergeant Liam Quinn. When Liam spies Caden's car stopped in a snowstorm, he's instantly struck by the dark beauty. A whirlwind courtship brings the promise of a lasting relationship, but Caden's stubbornness proves to be a roadblock. Can Liam convince Caden that his love for her is real, and not just a dream?
eBook Publisher: Phaze, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: May 2009
28 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [114 KB]
Reading time: 67-94 min.
The thumping noise was back. Or is that a thunk? With a sigh, a frown crossed her face. This is so not what I need right now. Casting a glance in the rearview mirror, she gave herself a small smile in the fading light of day. It was gloomy as snowflakes fell sporadically from the gray sky. Every now and then a powerful gust of snowy wind would swirl around, rocking the vehicle. Her fingers gripped the wheel tighter to make sure the tires stayed between the lines.
She had to get up to D.C. tonight. There was a warm hotel room and bed waiting for her. Tomorrow ... tomorrow was another day in the battle to get a deserving veteran his benefits. Rolling her shoulders to try and release some tension, she adjusted the heater and moved on to the volume of the music, turning it down.
"Damn, it's been a long day," she muttered as she noticed how few headlights there were. In fact, she couldn't see any in her rearview, nor brake lights ahead of her. The lane of oncoming traffic was empty as well. It was as if someone had yelled "Fire!" and she was the only one left. Worrying her lower lip with her teeth, she squinted her tired eyes to see through the increasing wall of white.
Increasing the speed of her windshield wipers made her wish again that she was already in D.C. At least the noise stopped, whatever it was. For a while she drove along, her mind focused on the reason she got into her line of work. Her father's face. Air Force Major James Whaller. He had been so proud to serve his country. A Vietnam veteran as well as a Gulf War vet. When he had died, her mother had encountered an unusually high number of obstacles to obtain his benefits. Despite their claims of willingness to take care of military families, the Department of Veteran Affairs made it very difficult, placing obstacle after obstacle in the way. Caden had done what she could to help--she dug deep and asked many questions, refusing to be put off by bureaucratic red tape and people who wanted to dodge her.
Tears filled her eyes as she remembered the men in her life taken away from her by the ravages of war. Father, brother, and husband. Her brother had died in the first Gulf War and her husband in the second. Still, Caden Renae Whaller Bradshaw had nothing but the utmost respect for the men and women who volunteered to defend this amazing country. She didn't hate the military, not at all. What she hated was the way the vets and dependents of fallen heroes were ignored by the country they had given their lives to protect. So now, she worked at the Department of Veteran Affairs and had developed a reputation of being a mama wild animal, protecting her young when she fought for those she represented.
The next day was a disability case hearing and she really had wished to get a good night sleep before it, but at the rate she was traveling that was a wish she didn't think would come to pass. The lights on her dash faded and came back. Caden frowned. While cars may not be her specialty, even she knew that wasn't a good sign. The noise from earlier returned louder than before with increasing frequency.
Clunk! Clunk! Clunkclunkclunk
Everything on her car died. Lights faded, the engine stopped and, with a loud string of curses, Caden directed her rolling car to the shoulder and allowed it to come to a final halt.
"Shit!" she swore as her hand smacked the steering wheel. Reaching across to the passenger seat, she grabbed her cell phone and flipped it open. No bars. "Can you hear me now?" Caden sneered as she tossed the phone back on the seat. "Damn it all." With a sigh she looked out the window--it was almost dark and there was no sign of other life. "Figures I couldn't break down near civilization. This is probably the one spot along the interstate where reception isn't any good, either." She tried to start the car again. Nothing.
Not believing it would do any good; she pushed the button for her hazard lights, then grabbed her jacket and slipped it on. One final check to see for any oncoming traffic and Caden opened the door to go out into the cold, swirling snow. She walked all the way around the vehicle, making sure it wasn't something simple like a flat tire. That she could handle.
"Shoulda paid more attention to Dionte when he tried to teach me about cars." A wistful smile crossed her face as her husband's features flashed before her. His warm chocolate gaze chased the cold away and made her feel like it was all going to be fine. He always arose in her mind's eye wearing either his dress whites or in jeans and a tee. Today he was in his dress whites. The way the starkness of his officer's uniform contrasted with the dark cocoa of his skin never failed to take her breath away.
"Dionte, I miss you." He had been a line officer, a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. His last stint over in Iraq he'd been lost when he gave his life to save the rest of the unit he'd been assigned to serve with.
Caden walked back to the driver's seat and climbed into the warm interior of her car. Fingertips touching, she allowed her eyes to close briefly as the tears snuck out from behind the lids. Willing herself into a calmer state of mind, she fought the growing panic within her. It will all work out. It has to. Reaching for the key in the ignition, she turned it again. Nothing. Nada. Not a thing, not even a click. A low groan of frustration filled the vehicle and she gave herself over to the tears that longed to spill over.
* * * *
Liam Kitchi Quinn raked a hand through his hair as he shook his head over the increasing amount of snow falling from the dark sky. In less than ten minutes night would be fully upon him, but for the moment a few rays of remaining light fought its way through the encroaching dusk. His noticed a stationary vehicle alongside the interstate a way ahead of him. The desire to ignore it and keep going vanished the second he witnessed a movement.
Slowing down, he scanned the area for buildings, even though he knew the answer. Absolutely nothing. He also noticed that there were no other cars around. Liam pulled off the road behind the older Toyota Camry and put his Durango in park, turning up the heat a bit. Taking a drink of his lukewarm coffee, he unbuckled his belt and opened the door, stepping out into the cold.
Shoving back a shiver, he walked toward the driver's side door, hands buried deep in the pockets of his jeans. The frigid air shot straight through his sweater and dotted his skin with needle-like pricks. As he reached out to knock on the window, his gaze took in a decidedly feminine form hunched over the steering wheel.
"Great. A whiny woman is not what I need to deal with right now." He rapped three times in quick succession. A small feeling of guilt filled him when she jumped and squealed in fear. His observant stare saw the tear streaks down her smooth brown face and he bit back another groan as attraction rocketed through him.
Her surprise faded in no time and her gaze, dark brown he supposed, filled with suspicion. He signaled for her to lower the window and her eyes narrowed. Liam was amazed when she reached for a handle and cranked it so the window dropped down about an inch.
"Is everything okay, ma'am?" he asked, pushing his hands back into his pockets.
"Does it look like everything's okay?" she retorted. "Of course it is. I just felt like sitting here alongside the road with my car off in the cold weather."
His hackles rose at her scathing words, delivered in a sultry voice. "Well good, glad you don't need any help then. Sorry to bother you."
"Wait," she said in a gentler tone. Liam arched a brow and waited for her to continue. "I'm sorry. I don't know what is going on. My car just died."
Her frustration poured out of the car and across his skin. "Pop the hood let me take a look." The sound of the latch releasing filled the night. Shivering, Liam moved to the front and frowned over the fact there was no light coming from the hood.
"The interior lights dimmed and I heard a loud thunk, or clunk, and everything just died." Her voice reached him from over his right shoulder. Turning his head, he allowed his gaze to travel up her form and absorb the image she made in the remaining light and large snowflakes.
She stood watching him. There were no more tears visible on her face. Instead he saw a look that on anyone else he would consider one of desperation. But not on her. Her face was composed; those remarkable dark eyes were damn near stoic. No lingering sign of the teary female he first encountered. Her body shuddered as a gust of wind bore down upon them.
"Why don't you get out of the cold?" he suggested as he adjusted the battery cables.
"It's not right for me to sit in there while you're out here." Her tone was matter-of-fact.
The wind picked up again and this time he shivered as well. His initial check of the engine told him he'd need a lot more time and light. Shaking his head, Liam backed out from the hood and looked at her again. Snowflakes lingered in her hair and the urge to brush them away filled him.
"It's gonna take me a bit longer to figure this out and I have to get a flashlight along with my coat." He spoke before looking past to where he could see his running Durango. The hazards blinked endlessly beneath the headlights like a lighthouse signaling to warn ships of danger. Even with the cold, the amazing scent of warm mulled cider filled his senses. His intense reaction shocked him and he almost stopped to bury his nose in her neck and hair, desperate to find out where the smell was located.
The light from the headlights gleamed off the rich caramelized highlights in her hair. As he walked to his car, Liam brushed a hand over his face, to remove the wetness from the snow and to give himself a second to regain in his rapidly waning control. This was the first time since he had returned from his last tour in the Middle East that he experienced desire for a woman with such intensity.
Why couldn't she be a whiny woman? A wry smile crossed his features as he shrugged into his coat. Figures that I'd change my mind the second I realize she isn't what I'd pegged her to be. As his coat warmed him, he opened the hatch and reached for his Mag-Lite. His fingers closed around the flashlight as he backed up, shut the tailgate and walked back to the female who stood with her car.
His mystery woman stood by the front of her car, waiting for him. She'd put on a coat, but his eyes eagerly traveled over the way her jeans hugged her lower body. What would it be like if she was mine and waiting for me? With a strong mental shake, he focused on the task at hand. First to get her on her way, then to lose himself in a drink.
As he passed her he noticed she was the perfect height. She would fit against him oh-so-right. Both in and out of bed. With a silent toss of her head, she held out a hand to him. Without hesitation he handed her the light and bent back over the exposed engine. The silence between them was broken by occasional comments on where to move the light. This ain't happenin'. Shaking his head, Liam retreated out from under the hood. Their eyes met in the glow of the lights, dotted by the large heavy flakes which fell faster.
"My opinion is to sell it for parts. There are burnt fuses and spark plugs, and I would also bet your alternator has gone the way of the dodo." He watched her eyes close and her long lashes briefly grace her high cheekbones.
"Could you take me to a gas station or something like that? I'd be happy to pay you for your time and trouble." She looked him in the eye as she made the request.
He could hear her reluctance to ask for more assistance. An independent woman. "I live about twelve miles from here and you are more than welcome to use my phone." Her gaze became shuttered so Liam added, "Or, there is a gas station about twenty-five miles away if you'd prefer that."
"I don't want to put you out," she said.
Liam sighed. He was hungry and cold, so he took the decision from her. "Get whatever you need from your car and you can call to make arrangements from my house." He slammed the hood and arched a brow at her. A small smile teased the corner of his mouth as she sighed and walked to the passenger side of her broken-down vehicle.