October Book Of The Month: The Mighty Finn
He approached cautiously. He could take the dog, but did not want to hurt the protective beast who had only done his job last night in defending his mistress. The dog opened its eyes and its lip curled.
“Hey, buddy, I’m not going to hurt your girl,” Eric said softly, squatting down to get closer to the dog’s level.
The dog raised it head and looked down its nose at him with patent distrust. Eric supposed he couldn’t blame the dog for that. Slowly, he reached for the woman’s beach bag. The dog’s suspicious gaze followed his every move. He rummaged in the bag and found a lightweight blanket. He pulled it out, unfolded it, and draped it over the sleeping woman.
The touch of the fabric against her and maybe something else woke her.
“Finn?” she called as she rose up on her elbows and shook her head blearily.
The dog stood and dipped his black nose to nuzzle her hair. For a second, Eric had the oddest sense of jealousy. He wanted to be the one to nuzzle her awake. That thought led to what he’d like to do to her once she awakened warm and soft in his arms. His body reacted predictably to the brief fantasy.
A groan escaped him and caught her attention. The woman shifted to her knees, which led to all sorts of other possibilities in Eric’s mind that had his body clamoring for relief.
“What are you doing?” she demanded resentfully as she pawed at the blanket that covered her.
He knew he deserved the unfriendly welcome. He gestured toward the blanket and said, “You were getting sunburned.”
“Like you care,” she muttered and tugged her shirt down. Eric found he missed the display of her skin.
He opened his mouth and she interjected, “If you’re just going to accuse me of stalking you again, then get the hell away from me.”
Dull red flagged his sculpted cheeks and he blinked. “No, ma’am,” he said softly. “Actually, I came over to apologize.”
She blinked. Several times. Rapidly. She sat back on her heels and crossed her arms. The movement drew his attention to her full breasts, which were just the way he liked them.
“I’m waiting,” she prompted with a steely glint in her eyes.
He dragged his gaze from her breasts and licked his suddenly dry lips. She frowned, noticing his visual focus. He could practically hear her think, “Pig.”
“I … ah … I was out of line yesterday,” he said awkwardly. Eric freely admitted he was more apt to kill someone than to apologize. The apology was harder than he anticipated.
She sat there, not speaking, just glaring at him. Nope, she wasn’t going to make this easy for him.
“I … er … I’m sorry. Really. I’d like to make it up to you.”
She raised her left eyebrow skeptically. Her continued silence unnerved him more than bullets flying overhead. It just wasn’t right that this woman, who likely weighed about a hundred pounds less than he, intimidated him more than battle. He glanced over at the dog who watched them both. Yeah, it was that big-ass dog that intimidated him. Yeah, that was it.
“Yes, I’d like to make it up to you,” he repeated more strongly. He forced himself to ask rather than order: “Will you go out with me?”
“You have got to be kidding me,” she said. “You yell at me, threaten me, and now you expect me to forgive and forget and go out with you?”
“Ma’am … would you at least accept my apology?”
She frowned at the exasperation in his voice, in his expression. Then she pressed her lips together and said, “No. No, you can’t just blurt that you’re sorry and everything be hunky dory.”
He blew a breath through pursed lips. “That’s why I’m asking you to go out with me. Just one evening. Dinner. That’s all. We’ll talk. I behaved like a jerk with you and I’m not … I’m not like that. Usually, I’m quite the charmer.”
Her gaze solidified into metaphorical stone. “Charming, huh? Like I’d bet that those boys you bully every morning think you’re charming.”
He frowned. “They’re trainees. They want to be SEALs and it’s my job to weed out the ones who don’t have what it takes to be the best.”
Charlotte shook her head, disappointed, although she wasn’t sure whether the disappointment was with him or herself. Why, she wondered, would she be disappointed with herself? She hadn’t committed any transgressions. Well, Finn had crashed into him, but that was an accident and neither of them was hurt. But why couldn’t she just accept his apology and get on with her life?
She shook her head to clear her thoughts and sighed. The big man looked so uncomfortable and sincere. When he wasn’t sneering at her, he was quite attractive. She decided to take pity on him.
“All right,” she sighed. “I’ll give you one chance to grovel for forgiveness.”
“Do you have plans?”
“No, but I can’t leave Finn unattended in the hotel room.”
He thought quickly, “You could come over to my house. I have a fenced yard.”
“No,” she replied sharply, every mental alarm ringing, because that was dangerous. No one knew better than she that stepping inside a stranger’s house could be a poor decision. Although she hadn’t actually volunteered to go into that house; she’d been dragged. She considered a very public alternative and said, “I’ve got Finn scheduled for grooming at the dog spa tomorrow. I could meet up with you at a restaurant for lunch.”
“Dog spa?” he repeated incredulously, wincing internally at his blunder. After being held hostage for three weeks, there wasn’t much chance an intelligent woman would go anywhere private with a strange man.
“We’re from the Midwest. There isn’t a lot of sand and such there. Finn needs to be groomed.”
He nodded and suggested, “There’s a coffee shop a few blocks from here. Their sandwiches are good.”
Charlotte nodded hesitantly and said, “All right.”
“I’ll pick you up.”
“No. No, I’ll meet you there. Give me the address.”
“I said I’d pick you up,” he insisted.
“What makes you think that I would go anywhere alone with you?”she demanded coldly.
Red bloomed over his cheekbones. She wasn’t sure whether the flush came from embarrassment or anger—probably a bit of both. But she held firm. This man was dangerous. He did not deserve her trust. He was not her friend. Finn was her friend and protector.
So what if he was just a dog? The FBI would never have liberated her from hell without Finn’s help. As far as Charlotte was concerned, she was never going to be alone with another man unless Finn was with her. She ignored the fact that the dog had a much shorter lifespan than she did.
“I understand your reluctance to be alone with a man you don’t know,” he said gently.
Her eyes narrowed and her lips pressed tightly together. After a second she said stiffly, “You know nothing about it.”
“I know you were abducted and held for three weeks,” he said.
She blinked several times. The terror of those weeks washing over her mind mingled with a creepy sense of violation. She sighed and looked down at her lap.
“How in the hell do you know anything about me?” she asked, her voice low and icy.
“I asked around,” he answered, deliberately vague. It didn’t reassure her. “You’re pretty famous.”
Her hands twisted together and she couldn’t seem to stop it.
He blew a breath and tried to fix what he’d broken: “Look, I was out of line, way out of line yesterday. I was wrong. All I can say is that I don’t normally go off half-cocked like that, but that doesn’t excuse my bad behavior.”
Her hands still twisted in her lap. Then his big, tanned hand settled warmly over them and she went very, very still. Charlotte could hear her heart thudding in her chest.
“I won’t hurt you,” he said even as the dog rose to its feet and curled its lips back to reveal dangerous teeth and powerful jaws. A low growl rumbled from the deep chest. Eric lifted his hand and slowly drew it back.
“Too late,” she muttered and turned her face into the dog’s shoulder.