(Uncompromising Series, #1)
Publication date: March 1st 2016
Genres: Adult, Romance
I pretend to smile.
Two years ago my life was perfect, until it wasn’t. I scattered my wife’s ashes then walked away from the Marines. I didn’t think I had anything else to lose.
I was wrong.
The blond showed up at my surf shop, beaten and stabbed. I did what I was trained to do—I stitched her up. I didn’t have a clue who she was and I told myself I didn’t care. Until they came looking for her.
I swore I’d take my last breath before I let anyone else hurt her except I didn’t know she was keeping a deadly secret. Now I had two choices, her life or mine.
Marriage and combat taught me the same thing—I was no one’s hero. And I was about to prove it.
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Siren strolled over next to me. I wrapped an arm around her neck and kissed her temple. She leaned into me and warmth spread through my chest. I trailed my hand through her soft hair and brought my lips to her ear. “You got another coupla hours, darlin’. Why don’t you go back to bed?”
She set her coffee down and snaked her hand across my bare stomach. Her breasts pressed against my chest, her scent filled my lungs and suddenly the air between us was so fucking charged, I couldn’t see past it.
Eyes stormy, cheeks flushed, her face tipped up. “I want to be with you,” she said softly.
My dick strained against my boxers. I didn’t know how much of her sentence was literal and how much was insinuation but I sure as shit was going to find out.
I pushed my hands into her hair. “I love hearin’ those words pass your lips, but you need to tell me what’s goin’ on.”
Despite me holding her head firm, she managed to look away. “Do I have to?”
Her hands gently braced on my chest. “Last night I felt safe. It felt good…being next to you.”
My muscles tensed, my jaw ticked and I shut everything down. “I’m no fuckin’ hero, I told you that.”
“I like you,” she whispered.
The weight of her words went straight to my heart and for one second I let myself breathe it in. Her quiet strength pushed out all the shit in life and filled the voids with her unassuming resilience. That alone should’ve had me running in the other direction but three words and I was sinking. I wanted to drag her into my arms and never let go but she deserved better. If she knew what I’d agreed to last night, she wouldn’t be standing here. “You don’t know me.”
Her hands dropped and she stepped back. “I’m sorry. Forget I said anything. My mistake.”
I was on her before the last word left her lips. I slammed my mouth over hers and sank my tongue into her heat. Pulling her against me, I gripped her hair, pressed her sweet little ass into my hips and kissed the motherfucking word mistake out of her mind.
I kept my secrets, always. But tonight, this woman, her scars, they were tormenting me. I wanted to open up and bleed. I wanted her shelter. I wanted her acceptance. I didn’t want to be a broken ex-Marine with a dead wife. I wanted to be something different and I wanted that different to be something worthy of her. But I was pumped on adrenaline and drowning in regret and all I could think about was the feel of her body under mine. “I want to go to bed.” My hand shook with restraint as I stroked the side of her face. “With you.”
Her head turned away from me and I panicked. Then I said something to her I’d never said to another woman.
“I just wanna hold you in my arms and sleep next to you.” I needed her innocence. More than anything.
“Okay,” she whispered.
Taking her hand, I led her to my bedroom. I wanted to see her scar. I wanted to see her ink. I wanted to sink so deep inside her I forgot my name. But I wouldn’t. Not tonight. Maybe not ever. “Get in bed,” I demanded, my voice strained.
I pulled my shirt off and removed my 9mm from my back waistband as she crawled across my sheets. Drinking in the sight of her like a starved man, I unbuckled my belt, unlaced my boots, and stripped down to my boxers. My chest tight, I got in next to her.
The second I pulled her into my arms, my lungs filled with air. “Fuck, you feel good.” If there was a heaven in my fucked-up life, she was it.
Her hand settled on my arm. “Are you okay?”
I didn’t want to talk or think anymore. I just wanted to lose myself in jasmine innocence. “Go to sleep, beautiful.”
She turned her head just enough to meet my mouth with a tender touch of her lips. “Goodnight, Talon.”
Jesus, I didn’t deserve this. This girl was better than being my landing zone. I grabbed her face and slipped my tongue in her mouth to taste her sweetness, just once. Forcing myself to pull back, I tightened my arms and curved my body protectively around her. “Night, Siren.”
She settled into me like she belonged and minutes later her breathing evened out.
It was the fix I’d been looking for. I fell asleep.
She stared at me like she could read my mind. “I used to think your eyes were green. When I first met you, you were wearing an olive-colored shirt. It made your eyes look green.”
Not many people noticed my eyes were actually a combination of blue and brown. That she’d noticed wasn’t what surprised me. Her remembering the first time we met was. “And now?”
“They’re half-brown, half-blue. The green, it’s an illusion.”
“White flowers on a blue background,” I said, describing the pattern of the dress she’d worn that night.
Her back stiffened in surprise.
I fingered a strand of her silky blonde hair. “Do you know what I’m talkin’ ’bout?”
“The dress I had on that night,” she said quietly.
Staring into those complex eyes, I fought to restrain myself. I wanted her small body in my arms and her taste in my mouth. The memory of this morning taunting me, all I could think about was kissing her. “Do you know what I thought when I first saw you?” I traced her bottom lip with my thumb.
She didn’t answer.
A bar full of women and she’d stood out like a fucking sunrise. Yeah, I’d noticed her. I’d noticed her under Randy’s arm. I’d noticed how she hadn’t looked at any other guy. I’d noticed how nothing in her expression had given away a single emotion, except one thing had stood out above all else. “You were fuckin’ beautiful—and miserable.”
“Talon.” My name whispered across her lips.
The air between us snapped and I almost lost my train of thought. All my blood rushing south, my voice low and rough, I gave her the truth, “I saw through you.”
She grabbed a handful of my shirt and my mouth was on hers.
I sank my tongue into her heat and fucking lost it. One hand tangled in her hair, the other caught the back of her knee and I wrapped her leg around my waist. Pushing into her, I kissed her. I kissed her to feel. I kissed her to forget. And I kissed her because I was fucking desperate for her.
I stood on the deck, breathing in the fresh salt air a few minutes before I walked back into my room. Heading for my home office, I stopped short. Wrapped in a towel, her back to me, Siren was looking at the suits in my closet I rarely wore.
“You lost?” I asked casually.
She didn’t turn around. “You have nice clothes.”
“They were a gift.” I had no fucking clue why I told her that.
She fingered one of my custom-made dress shirts. “From who?”
“She has good taste.”
I told myself not to but I did it anyway. I let the goddamn cat out of the bag. “Had.”
She turned and took in my expression like she was reading my soul. “Had?”
Seeing the bruising on Siren’s delicate face, something strange happened. My heart didn’t take its usual blow over the thought of my dead wife. Instead, it took a hit seeing Siren’s bruising. “She’s dead.”
Nothing changed in Siren’s expression. “Leigh?”
I didn’t respond. I didn’t have to.
She nodded. “I can’t imagine what you went through.” Her voice clear, her eyes studying, she didn’t react with pity or sympathy or fake bullshit understanding. She didn’t even look at me like I was broken.
Air filled my lungs and I inclined my head at my clothes. “You need somethin’?”
“A shirt. Mine are dirty.”
She didn’t flirt. She didn’t feel sorry for herself. She didn’t look like she particularly cared one way or another about anything. I couldn’t figure her out. “Laundry room’s downstairs next to your bedroom.”
“I know. My clothes are in your washer. You said you would loan me a shirt.” She tugged her towel tighter with her good arm. “And it’s not my bedroom.”
I was acutely aware whose house she was in and whose towel was wrapped around her gorgeous body. “You goin’ somewhere with that last statement?”
I didn’t buy it for a second. She was either putting up boundaries or letting me know she wasn’t staying. Either way, I didn’t push. I stepped forward and reached around her. She followed my movements but she didn’t stir an inch. Her cheeks didn’t flush, her breathing didn’t change, even her expression remained the same. I grabbed a T-shirt off the shelf and handed it to her.
Turning her back to me, she dropped the towel to put the T-shirt on and surprise locked the air out of my lungs.
“Hold up a sec there, Siren.”
The thick scar ran straight up her spine from just above her waist to her shoulder blades. I couldn’t stop myself. I skimmed my fingers over the raised flesh.
Trying to control my anger, I pounded on the door. Twenty seconds, thirty… “Siren, open up.”
Goddamn it. I knew she was in there. I knocked again, softer this time. “C’mon, darlin’. I wanna know you’re okay.”
Silence, then, “Go away, Talon.”
I leaned my forehead against the door and relief washed through me at the sound of her voice. “I’m not leavin’ till I see you.”
“You know I’m not playin’. Two ways this can go down. You can open the door or I’ll do it myself. Either way, I’m gonna see you. What’ll it be?”
The lock clicked and she opened the door three inches. Ocean-blue eyes that used to look cautious looked dead—frighteningly dead. Anger and adrenaline surged and my fists clenched. I was going to fucking kill Randy.
“Take the chain off,” I slowly annunciated.
“Where’s your accent?” Her usual soft voice gone, she asked the question without an ounce of emotion.
I stepped back two feet. “Move.” Her face disappeared and I slammed my boot into the door. The chain popped, the piece of shit door swung open and she was in my arms.
I took my first full breath in three hours.
My hands in her hair, I pulled back to look her over. “You okay?”
My heart rate slowed marginally when I didn’t see any evidence of new bruises but I couldn’t swallow past the tightness in my throat until I knew. “He touch you?”
She shook her head but she wouldn’t make eye contact.
“Look at me, damn it.”
When she lifted her face, she looked so damn checked out, I almost didn’t recognize her. “You have to leave.”
Rage boiled to new depths. “What did he do to you?”
“Nothing. It’s what he’s going to do to you when he finds out you came here.”
“I don’t give a shit about him. Pack your bag and grab what you wanna keep, ’cause you’re not comin’ back this time.”
She didn’t move. “You need to go.”
“Siren,” I warned. “I’m not leavin’ without you.”
She stared at me like she didn’t even see me. “I don’t want to go with you.”
Even though I knew she was lying, its impact was staggering. “You already made this decision. You left him,” I reminded her.
Any other woman, I would’ve thrown her over my shoulder and walked the fuck out. But this was Siren and she wasn’t like any woman I’d ever met. I didn’t want to force her to leave with me. I wanted her to want to leave with me. “I know you don’t want this.”
She turned her head and focused on the carpet. “Someone will tell him you’re here. He’ll come back. You have to go.”
I lost it. “I don’t give a shit! You think he has a fucking chance of getting close to me?” I yelled.
She picked her head up and her gaze strayed over my shoulder.
“A big fucking chance,” Randy snarled.
Sybil Bartel grew up in Northern California with her head in a book and her feet in the sand. She dreamt of becoming a painter but the heady scent of libraries with their shelves full of books drew her into the world of storytelling. She loves the New Adult genre, but any story about a love so desperately wrong and impossibly beautiful makes her swoon.
Sybil now resides in Southern Florida and while she doesn’t get to read as much as she likes, she still buries her toes in the sand. If she isn’t writing or fighting to contain the banana plantation in her backyard, you can find her spending time with her handsomely tattooed husband, her brilliantly practical son and a mischievous miniature boxer…
Here are ten things you probably really want to know about Sybil.
She grew up a faculty brat. She can swear like a sailor. She loves men in uniform. She hates being told what to do. She can do your taxes (but don’t ask). The Bird Market in Hong Kong freaks her out. Her favorite word is desperate…or dirty, or both—she can’t decide. She has a thing for muscle cars. But never reply on her for driving directions, ever. And she has a new book boyfriend every week—don’t tell her husband.
To find out more about Sybil Bartel, be sure to follow her on Twitter (she loves to hear about your favorite book boyfriend!), visit her website, like her on Facebook or join her Facebook group Book Boyfriend Heroes for exclusive excerpts and giveaways.
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