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HOT-BLOODED
by Karen Foley

Genre: Current Series Imprints, Harlequin Blaze, Series

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Chase heard a low, distant whoompf, and knew another mortar had just been launched. Elena. He had to get to Elena. She’d be terrified, alone in her trailer. He’d told her that if there was an attack, to get her ass to the nearest bunker, but with the choking dust, he wasn’t sure she’d even be able to find her way.

Without hesitating, he leaped down the steps and began sprinting toward the housing area, ignoring the shouts of his men to come back. The third mortar hit somewhere just outside the compound wall, but close enough that the impact made him stumble. Regaining his footage, he ran on, searching the faces of those who passed him in the other direction, hoping that he’d see Elena. But there were only soldiers, racing toward the bunkers and their stations. He reached Elena’s CHU and tried the door handle, but found it locked.

“Elena!” he shouted, knowing the likelihood of her hearing him over the wail of the sirens was slim to none. “Elena!”

There was no response, and he wondered if she might actually have listened to him and already left for the bomb shelter. But she wouldn’t have locked her door behind her, which meant she was still inside. Standing back, he used his foot to kick the door in and then he was inside her quarters, moving swiftly through the empty living area and into her bedroom.

 “Elena, what the hell are you doing?” Sheer relief at seeing her sitting uninjured on the edge of her bed washed over him, making his voice rougher than he’d intended.
She’d donned her protective vest and her helmet, and was struggling to pull her boots onto her bare feet. Now she looked up at him, her eyes enormous.

“I--I just need to get my boots on,” she explained, “and then I’m leaving.”

“Too damned late for that,” he growled, and bent to haul her to her feet. “You should have been gone ten seconds after those sirens sounded. Christ!”

To his astonishment she twisted her arm free and turned back to the bed. “I need to put my boots on,” she said stubbornly. “I can’t run in my bare feet.”

“Then I’ll goddamned well carry you,” he all but shouted, “but we need to go now.”

Before she could protest, he bent a shoulder beneath her and lifted her over his back, holding her in place with one hand across the back of her thighs and Jesus! Beneath the armored vest she wore nothing but a pair of panties, and his palm rested solidly against soft, warm skin. He realized that she must have been sleeping when the attack occurred. 

Now she struggled in his grasp, pushing herself upright as she clutched at his shoulders. “No, wait!” she panted. “I need my boots! I can’t go out there without my boots!”

“Elena--"

“Put me down!”

He could carry her even if she struggled, but it wouldn’t be pleasant for her or for him, so he put her down, prepared to reason with her and yes, even let her put her damned boots on if that’s what it took to get her to a bunker. 

But the moment he set her on her feet, another whooshing sound came from overhead. Instinctively, Chase pushed Elena to the floor and covered her with his body. The impact, when it came, was dangerously close, rattling the windows of the little hut and shaking the walls. Almost immediately, the mortar was followed by the sounds of a counter attack as the U.S. troops fired back, launching their own missiles in the direction of the insurgency.

As he covered Elena, he became aware of several things at once. The first was that while Elena wore both a flak vest and helmet, he’d charged out of the Tac Ops building wearing neither. In fact, he was damn near as naked as Elena was, wearing only a pair of shorts and a tee shirt. The air conditioning had quit when the power went out, and when the heat had become too oppressive, he and his men had changed into casual clothes. But to have gone sprinting across the base during a mortar attack without his protective gear had been beyond stupid. Christ, he knew better!

In the next instant, he became aware of Elena, curled on the floor beneath him. She hadn’t fastened her helmet and it had fallen off when she’d hit the deck. Now his nostrils were filled with the scent of her flowery shampoo. The armored inserts of her flak vest dug into his chest and stomach where he pressed her against the floor, but her legs--her smooth, bare legs--were tangled with his.

The mortars had stopped although the sirens still wailed. Chase lifted his head and looked down at Elena. Her eyes were tightly closed.

 “Elena, it’s okay. You’re safe now. Listen.” He cocked his head. “The sirens have stopped.”

Elena raised her head and as they listened, the sirens let out several short blasts.
 “Hear that?” he asked softly, keeping his voice low. “That’s the all clear sign. It’s over.”

 “Thank God,” she breathed. “I never want to go through something like ever again.”
Chase pushed into a sitting position with his back against her bed and pulled her across his lap, cradling her head against his shoulder. He pressed his lips against her hair, knowing this was a perfect opportunity to suggest she return to Kuwait or even the States, but he selfishly kept his mouth shut. He didn’t want her to leave, even though he knew it was dangerous for her to stay. He tried to convince himself that he only wanted her near so that he could keep an eye on her, but that was a lie.

He wanted her near because he was a selfish bastard. 

Because he just plain wanted her.