By Geri Krotow
Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Books S.A.
He looked around the room, and Val imagined it seemed small, insignificant compared to the wards where he’d practiced medicine at Walter Reed. “It’s great to be here.”
“You never became a Navy JAG, after all?” His résumé had only stated that he’d served as a SEAL for five years.
“No, it didn’t work out. When I left Penn State, I had…a family crisis I had to take care of. I couldn’t manage law school that soon after college, so I opted for active duty right away.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” The words slipped out as if she had no control of her mouth. “Never mind,” she added. “It’s history and none of my business.”
“It was your business, and I should have told you—” He looked past her to Maggie. “I’m sure we’ll have a chance to talk about it over the next six months.”
She hadn’t wanted anything to do with a man interested in the military, not after what she’d watched her father go through with his PTSD from Vietnam. As much as it had hurt, she knew way back when they dated that she’d never see their relationship through, not if he was going into the military.
He’d had his life figured out, and that was one of the reasons she’d fallen in love with him. What she lacked in drive and direction, he’d had. What he’d lacked in knowing how to have fun, she’d shown him.
They’d shown each other….
“I’m Maggie, the admin.”
“I’m sorry.” Val wanted to go to her desk and hide behind her computer screen. “Maggie’s my right hand here at BTS.”
“Welcome, Lucas. I have the key to your suite, which I’m happy to say is our most recently remodeled. You have the best of everything, including a gas-insert fireplace.”
“That sounds wonderful.” The way Lucas spoke evoked a sense of warmth and security she hadn’t felt in a very long time.
What was the matter with her? Lucas wasn’t the first handsome man who’d walked into Beyond the Stars. He was, however, the first male counselor she’d employed. Not by choice; it was just a coincidence that the other three counselors were all women who’d been available at the right time.
This had been the right time for Lucas. For a male counselor…
But male didn’t begin to do justice to his aura of self-confidence and obvious physical strength. He had to be six feet tall, well over Val’s five-feet seven inches, and his shoulders seemed wider now, his body more filled out. Gone were the gangly, adolescent limbs. Though still slim, he projected a man’s strength.
His hands—God, his hands! Long, strong fingers she had memories of…
He was perhaps the most attractive man she’d ever met.
She all but ran to the coffee counter in the office corner. “Would you like a coffee or tea?”
“Water’s fine, unless you have green tea?”
She dropped a capsule into the coffeemaker that doubled as tea brewer.
She jumped and turned when he spoke. He stood directly in front of her. Too close.
Not close enough.
“Water’s in the fridge?” He bent down to the mini-fridge next to her and opened the door. The shelves glistened with their array of diet sodas, half-and-half and a bottle of pure water. He raised his brows and Val knew he was judging the amount of diet soda on the shelves. She wanted to slam the door shut with her foot.
“I have a bit of an addiction.” Why should she explain her love of diet soda to anyone, much less a new hire?
Lucas grabbed the water and stood up.
“That stuff’ll kill you.” He twisted off the top of the plastic bottle and guzzled half of it in three swallows. She couldn’t help noticing the tanned skin of his throat, his face, his hands…
Tanned skin in January. Maybe he’d turned into one of those metrosexual types, used tanning beds.
Not judging from his callused hands and five o’clock shadow.
He’d always liked the outdoors. The wrinkles at the corners of his eyes reflected it, too.
She ignored the misplaced elation that he might enjoy the outdoors as much as she did. What difference did it make?
“I exercise and eat well,” she said. “Our bodies detox the bad stuff.”
“Uh-huh.” His gaze captured hers over the tilted water bottle, his bemused expression the same one she’d known so well.
As if some magic door had been opened, Val saw herself walking hand in hand with Lucas across the Penn State campus. In that memory, he’d laughed at something she said and leaned in to kiss her.
She’d thought herself in love with Lucas when she was nineteen. He’d said he loved her, too.
Their chemistry had been undeniable, as unquestionable as their youth.
Their mutual innocence.
“Let me get you some final forms to fill out, and Maggie will walk you to your suite.” She had to put some space between them or she was going to make a huge mistake.
They’d parted after sophomore year, promising they’d write all summer. She’d hardly been able to wait until classes started again. Despite her feelings about getting involved with someone in the military, she’d willingly overlooked the fact that he was so keen on the Navy.
Then he’d vanished into thin air. Only one short note had arrived in her mailbox the second week of her third year, to tell her that he needed to take some time off, that she shouldn’t worry about him, that he was sorry but their relationship wasn’t going to work out.
She hadn’t seen him again—until ten minutes ago.