Two days later
Lizzy loved the view from her balcony. The small apartment on the second floor of the complex looked out onto manicured gardens and a field. City buildings and treetops spanned the horizon beyond the perimeter wall. Kids played soccer below. She took a sip of coffee and yelled out a greeting, feeling once more like a functional human. A human with a date—with a significantly larger human. It wasn’t technically a date, just two friends going for lunch and treading carefully around the minefield of their past.
The trip back to Nairobi had been an awkward one. After takeoff, as Lizzy internally celebrated her successful release from the Peshawar nightmare and John snoozed in the corner, Max had slipped into the seat opposite.
“As far as Johannesburg goes, I’m sorry you were caught in the middle, but I wouldn’t have done anything differently. We removed a dangerous terrorist, and shortly after, brought down his entire cell.”
Lizzy nodded. “Abby’s been emailing me constantly. I haven’t been ready to reply to her emails.”
“I know, she’s worried about you. We all are.”
“She wrote that she’s pregnant. That’s fantastic news.”
“Yeah. Four months.” Max looked solemn.
“What aren’t you telling me?”
“Due to her traumatic history, it’s a high-risk pregnancy.”
“And you’re here—not there with her.”
“That about sums it up.” Max had turned away but not before she saw the flash of fear.
The capable soldier loved her friend. She was glad for Abby. They deserved a happy life. Lizzy worried over Abby’s health, and a possible phone call to her estranged friend lay in Lizzy’s future.
She splashed the pot of long-dead carnations with the last of her coffee and stretched before walking inside. A quick cleaning spree might be in order, she thought as she surveyed the untidy chaos. Not that John would notice, he was as messy as she was. She didn’t consider herself dirty; she cleaned the place regularly with a mother-load of bleach, but she was messy by nature—leaving clothes and magazines scattered about.
The place still looked cheerful, thanks to her color scheme. Indigo blue, yellow and white accents gave the living area a sunny feel. Ever-changing light shining through the two floor-to-ceiling windows made it seem larger than it was.
She’d woken up late, so after stuffing clothes into messy drawers, she leaped into the shower, then threw on black fitted pants with a khaki green button-up shirt and matching wedge sandals. Kenya’s warm climate meant that she usually went out sans makeup, but she wanted to look pretty, especially since the last time he saw her looking like a “hot mess.” She played up her blue eyes with burnished browns and coppers and added a lashing of mascara to finish the look.
Ten minutes later, John knocked at the door. When Lizzy let him in, he immediately walked her entire apartment, including the attached bathroom, which she hadn’t bothered to tidy.
“What in daisy blazes do you think you’re doing?”
“Checking out your security. I didn’t get a chance when I dropped you off the other night.”
“My security is just fine! I live in a compound.”
“A lightly guarded, sub-par compound. An eight-year-old could get past those two inept guards.” He pointed to her bathroom window. “You need security bars on this.”
“Boy, you know how to rile a girl up. How about ‘You look pretty, Liz. Ready to go, Liz? Let me escort you to my car, Liz.’”
John grinned. “You look pretty, Liz. Tighten your security, Liz. I want you to be safe, Liz.”
Lizzy stuck her tongue out and turned to grab her bag.
He grabbed her arm and pressed her into the wall. “You do look really pretty. So pretty that I want to lick that lip-gloss off those lips.” He paused before rubbing a thumb over her lower lip and touching his lips to hers. “You taste like passion fruit.”
She groaned, and with one hand he lifted her up and shoved his tongue in her mouth. Wrapping her legs around his waist, Lizzy registered the heat thumping through her veins as he ground her slowly over his engorged crotch, their layers of clothing preventing his dick from finding a new home. He nibbled on her bottom lip and rolled his hips. “God, I missed the taste of you.” Grabbing the back of her neck with his hand, his expert tongue tangled with hers as he growled in frustration.
She opened her legs wider, and he slammed them into the wall. Holy cannoli! He’d always been so careful with her before. She liked this rough warrior side to him, and her nether regions felt the same as she pulsed in time with his urgent thrusts. Even through his jeans, she could tell how huge he was. Her bruised thigh protested but she ignored the niggling pain.
“Yes, just like that.” Lizzy moaned as his erection ran over a sensitive spot. “Again. God, do that again.” They were dry humping in her hallway and she had never felt so beautiful—or so turned on.
John swore, and in two steps had her on the bed. “I’ve wanted to touch you for so long.” He nuzzled her neck. “I want you so badly.”
Firm fingers stroked, scraping fabric, and she jerked at the erotic vibration.
“We can’t—I want it too, but we’re supposed to be friends.”
He stilled at her words. Her body screamed for release as her brain pulled her from her thrust-worthy fantasies.
He groaned into her shoulder. “Friends with benefits maybe?”
“You’re right. Resets don’t start in the bedroom.” The hulking man still didn’t budge.
“Um, John—as delicious as your giant pole feels nestled against my bits, we have made an executive decision to go to lunch.”
“I know,” he mumbled. “Just give me a minute, you smell so good, all peachy and—”
“What you’re smelling is apricot. I use an apricot hair perfume.”
“Shit, babes, it makes me want to eat you up.”
“Well, I want to eat a juicy hamburger so roll your brawny carcass off the bed.”
With a last neck nibble, he was up. Lizzy took a moment to appreciate the sinewy man standing over her. It wasn’t his powerful body that took her breath away; it was those tender eyes that gazed at her with soul-stroking embers. The “friends with benefits” option suddenly seemed tempting. Could she be physically intimate with him, yet still preserve her newly discovered independence? John held out a hand, and for the second time in as many days, she took it.
The place was a hovel in the wall. A relatively clean hovel, but it still emanated a definite shanty vibe.
Lizzy insisted on coming here—that was the thing with her, you never knew what to expect. Most women would insist on a fancier lunch—a place that served salads and wine. Not Lizzy. Nope.
The questionable neighborhood kept Johnny on his toes. He watched their six for the hundredth time, as she inhaled her double whammy burger. His firecracker could eat, and it was damn sexy. Johnny had an adventurous palate and loved to eat. If he hadn’t joined the military, he would’ve trained as a chef. He liked that Lizzy wasn’t afraid to try the local foods. She seemed to seek out the lesser-known foodie spots and he was happy to comply.
The meal tasted good and the local owner, Fadhili—Fadi for short—was apparently a friend. Lizzy greeted him smoothly in Kiswahili, the local language. When she turned and introduced Johnny in the foreign language, he did a double take. Her command of Swahili was impressive; she wasn’t by any means fluent—like he was—but she knew enough to get by on a rudimentary level. Remarkable considering she’d only been a resident for five months.
Wedged up in a corner with the best view of their surroundings, Johnny eavesdropped on their conversation. They’d switched to English, and Fadi asked her how Valentino was doing.
“He’s good—improving every day. Thanks for your help with building the new extension, it’s much appreciated.”
Who the hell was Valentino and what had Lizzy gotten herself involved with? Johnny zeroed in for any more clues.
Fadi smiled. “I’ll always make time for such a brave and kind woman, and for your fine friends.”
Lizzy thanked him again. “Asante. On Friday, we’re cooking up a large stew. You’re welcome to stop by. Valentino misses you.”
“He does? I appreciate the kind hospitality. I’ll bring along a large bowl of chicken wings.”
“I love your wings. Thank you.”
As the conversation jumped to the unusually warm weather, Johnny mulled over what he’d just heard. When Fadi moved off, Johnny moved in as she polished off her fries. “I’d sure like to come around for Friday’s stew. Where exactly is this happening?”
“Calm your covert butt down. I knew you’d be all over that. What? Do you need to scope out all the corners of Nairobi where I lay my feet?”
“Damn right, I do.”
Lizzy sighed and pushed her plate away. “I knew I couldn’t hide my little haven from you for long. I need to swing by anyway. Are you up for a small road trip?”
Five clicks out and with Lizzy’s direction, he pulled into a dusty lot. The place fell slightly off the beaten track, a little too isolated for his liking and he wasn’t quite sure where they were.
“What is this place?”
“We’re not about to get jumped if that’s what you’re asking. We’ve parked around back.”
She led him to the front, and he found himself staring up at the rusty sign secured to the front of the main building. Teens & Tots Haven.
“It’s a children’s village,” Lizzy said as she stopped beside him. “There’s not many like it. There are plenty of orphanages popping up in Kenya. They’re needed, especially with a severe AIDS epidemic and lack of food in the drought-affected areas. Except some children’s homes use the kids in commercials—to gain foreign donations. They don’t use the money for the orphans. Instead, they raise them on the poverty line, afraid that if they ran a beautiful orphanage, donations would stop coming.
“Teens & Tots is run by a local family who is improving the children’s lives on a daily basis and trying to bring in new legislation against the greedy pop-up charities. It’s still fairly new, but we’re making great progress.”
Hands on hips, he looked around the dusty playground. Indigenous bush surrounded the humble facility. “How did you get involved?”
“One of the flight attendants I first flew with brought me along. She volunteered a couple of times, then moved on, but I was hooked. I think I’m making a difference.”
Lizzy flinched like he’d slapped her, and he tried to self-correct. “I didn’t mean—”
“I know what you meant. What value would a silly princess like me possibly have to offer.”
“Goddammit, Lizbug, that’s not—”
“I have some nursing experience, and I’ve recently completed an Immunization and Injection Training Program in Kenya. I’m certified. I also run non-medical projects with the children. I hold sewing classes once a fortnight and teach them about music.”
He pulled her in for a stiff hug. “You’re freaking amazing, baby. I was only curious as to what you do every day and what programs are on offer.”
“Oh. So, you’re not mad?”
“Why would I be mad? It sounds amazing. The perimeter needs securing—my team can help with that—but I’m all in. Show me around.”
His words were met with an infectious grin as she grabbed his hand and pulled him through the front door with hurried eagerness. With no one in the foyer, they winded their way to the back. He took note of the layout. Single-story structure with a fresh coat of yellow paint, offices leading off a central hallway that split at the end. They turned left. More doors to the right.
“Who’s Valentino? Does he run the place?”
“He’s a little young for that. He’s one of the orphans. Valentino’s been here from birth. He was a newborn—found in a dumpster on Valentine’s Day, three years ago.”
“Hence the name?”
“Yeah. He’s at the general hospital though; he has bronchitis and breathing difficulties. We’ve just discovered he also has severe asthma.” Lizzy walked him into a large lunchroom. At least seventy small faces turned their way. Children, ranging between approximately four and sixteen years of age. Deafening squeals had him stepping back as a horde of tykes ran for Lizzy. She gathered as many to her chest as humanly possible. Fucking adorable.
An older Kenyan lady bustled in, yelling at the kids to get back to their benches. She spoke to them in English, and with Lizzy’s help, the kids disbanded and returned to their food.
Lizzy bounced up and introduced Johnny as “Jay Jay” to the fearsome lady. “Esther and her husband, Denis, run the home. Denis is staying in Tanzania for contract work. He should be back in eight weeks. I haven’t met anyone yet who can outwork Esther. This is her life’s work, and it’s an honor to work with her. She’s my dearest friend in this crazy city.”
“Wow! Lizzy, you know how to introduce a girl.” Esther pretended to blush, and Lizzy giggled. “Welcome to Teens & Tots Haven. We are greatly blessed to have you with us.”
“I’d like to help,” Johnny said, stepping forward. “It looks like a wonderful place. The kids look happy and well fed.”
Esther fanned her face. “Look at you—looking like you punched your way out of the earth’s center and landed on my humble doorstep!”
Johnny felt his eyes bulge, but Esther didn’t slow.
“Where do you hide your cape, young man? Even if you had one, I doubt it would hide much of that fine-looking specimen standing before me. If ever a large as life lady like me interests you, please lay that cape on my pillow.” Esther turned to a laughing Lizzy. “Well done, lady. You’ve landed yourself a good one, keep him close!”
“He’s not mine,” Lizzy said. “For now, he’s a good friend.”
Not if Johnny had anything to do with it. He followed the two cheerful women out back, plotting his next move.
The flame tree was in bloom and Lizzy couldn’t resist walking out of the front gates of her apartment complex and plopping down beneath the scarlet tree. She crossed her legs and picked up a bright flower as she waited for John.Lizzy loved people-watching, and this was the perfect spot for it. Locals ran for the bus stop, mopeds sped by, and cars negotiated through the morning bustle.The previous day had been a pleasant surprise. After a quick walk around the children’s home, Lizzy excused herself, helping in the kitchen by chopping up vegetables for the evening meal as John thoroughly walked the property, listing potential improvements.It shouldn’t surprise her; John took everything in stride, and his easy adaptability was one of the star qualities that attracted her to the man.By the end of the day, he’d accrued a workforce of teenage boys as a gang of wide-eyed little girls trailed his every move, peppering him with question
The next day, Lizzy decided to swing by the hospital to see Valentino. She waited until John was free, and they headed to Nairobi’s central hospital.Kenya had some of the most advanced medical facilities in Africa—private hospitals that rivaled those in the West. This selection of impressive hospitals was available only to those who can afford it, with fees beyond the means of most Kenyans.In contrast to the millions who relied on severely overcrowded and under-resourced government facilities, the central hospital tried its best to cater to the hundreds of patients who sat in the waiting rooms every day, under tremendous pressure to meet the needs of the Kenyan people.John seemed as saddened by the overcrowded wards as Lizzy was.It was times like these when Lizzy regretted not finishing her nursing degree. Every bit helped. Standing on the periphery didn’t feel natural or very helpful.Little Valentino sat in a sea of chaos on
A surprised Lizzy opened the door. “What are you doing here?”“A guy can’t see his girl for four days in a row?”“I’m not your girl.”Johnny pushed past. The strappy dress she wore revealed tanned limbs, and he ached to kiss the couple of freckles dotting her right shoulder. Instead, he laid a pizza on the counter. “Want some?”“It’s nine in the morning.”“I’ve been up since five, sorting out the team’s week. They’re rolling in late tomorrow, and then we’ll be heading out the following day.”“How long will you be gone?”“I’m not sure.”MIT2 were heading to the Kenyan territory bordering Somalia. They planned a joint training exercise for Kenyan first responders and law enforcement professionals to support efforts concerning extremist activity. MIT worked closely with PREACT—Partne
In a flash he was on her, fondling her breasts as he kicked off his underwear. Lizzy smiled as she kissed the top of his head. She had the brawny operator wrapped around her finger. It was him, and only him who she wanted in her bed.She couldn’t imagine being with anyone as solid, as sheltering as James Cane. His strength chased away her cowardice, and when he looked at her with those hound-dog eyes, she felt like she could climb Everest.A future with this handsome soldier still fell somewhere off her radar, but she could enjoy the moment, and what a moment it was. She sensed his thrill of arousal. His expert tongue swirled along her entrance, and her lady parts clenched at the electric touch. She came. Then he made her come again with explosive pleasure. After what seemed like hours of torturous bliss, John pulled back.He ran a finger up her swollen folds and sat back to sheath himself. “Are you ready, Lizbug?”She nodded as he raise
Embrace the suck, Johnny thought as he walked gingerly into the maintenance shelter and laid out the plate carriers next to the holsters and radio equipment. Thanks to a sex-crazed little blonde, and the baking heat in the warehouse, his joystick didn’t feel all that joyful.Velcro crackled as Slater pulled apart a plate carrier. “You okay there, bro? You’re embracing that Wyoming cowboy swagger.”“Fell in the shower,” Johnny muttered.“Damn shame. My grandma can lend you a non-slip shower mat if you need it—”“Screw you.” Another hour with Lizzy’s luscious mouth and body and he would’ve been wheelchair bound. He’d forgotten how tough she was; it stood to reason that she’d take to bonking with the same amount of enthusiasm as she climbed trees.Johnny didn’t mind her climbing all over him like he was a giant oak, already counting the days until he could
KenyaOne Month Later“I’m still pissed that we left without the Scythian all wrapped up for HQ in a neat little camo bow,” Slater said.Donnie agreed. “At least we’ve made progress and trained up a generous contingent of indigenous forces. If the phantom Horse Lord steps back onto Ethiopian soil, the welcome committee is ready.”Johnny glanced at his two weary comrades as he drove. He’d been away from Lizzy for a month and it felt good to be back in Nairobi. He couldn’t wait to surprise her—he couldn’t wait to catch up on sleep. Four weeks of hunting, then training the local military took its toll. The Scythian had slipped out of their grasp, rumored to be back over the border in Somalia. MIT2 wouldn’t give up and awaited more intel. In the meantime, Max had taken the red-eye out of Addis Ababa to Fort Bragg in California, with meetings lined up with MIT&rsq
Two days of hard grafting and the fence was up with cameras installed. They’d even set up a basic alarm system that alerted the staff to intruders on the property.Lizzy invited the men back to her place for dinner and left the orphanage early to dash home to cook a delicious roast. As the food simmered away, she slipped into the shower. Soaping up, she let out a loud shriek when firm hands wrapped around her waist.“James Johnny Cane! Do you want me to keel over from fright?”Already naked, he twisted her around and shoved her against the tiles. “That’s what happens when you give your ‘friend’ a key to your apartment. Now don’t move. I need to get clean and then please my woman.” He wrenched the soap bar from her hand. He’d already sheathed himself in a condom and she ran her eyes over the very male picture he made.“I’m not your woman.”“At this moment, you’
The sofa wasn’t large enough for the mighty chaperone spread across its awkward cushions. Lizzy sat down wearily on an armrest and watched John sleep.When they’d first arrived, he’d offered his help. As a medic, he was more than qualified, but Garrison refused the offer. John didn’t argue, instead situating himself in the front room.At three in the darn morning, they were finally done. It looked like the family had viral stomach flu—a norovirus—and after a round of IVs and anti-nausea meds, they all slept like babes.All that time, John waited patiently, the diligent soldier always guarding her back. Why her? She didn’t deserve his loyalty, still kicking him in the nuts when she should be thanking him.She’d worried that if John ever found out about her past with Ivan, he’d treat her as carefully as her family did. But nope. He never tiptoed around her. John attacked life like a sledgehammer. He neve