“Hey, you okay?”
The voice startled me so totally that I jerked my head up and banged it on the underside of the hood. For a solid ten seconds, I saw nothing but stars as pain shot down the back of my neck. It was followed in short order by panic: here I was, alone in this field, with a car that didn’t work, and someone—a male—was here, too. And shit, I’d left the keys in the ignition, so I couldn’t even thread them through my fingers as a makeshift weapon.
The pain and the panic combined to make my blood boil. “Fuck!” Backing up, I shaded my eyes from the late afternoon sun, trying to locate the source of the voice. My fear subsided a bit when I saw a sleek silver car at the curb that bordered the field. The man in the driver’s seat had lowered his window and was gazing out at me from behind dark sunglasses. He was in a uniform I recognized.
The good news was that he wasn’t some vagrant skulking around, waiting to prey on what he assumed was a helpless female. This guy—this soldier—likely worked at Fort Lee and was on his way home. He was probably just trying to be nice and gentlemanly by checking on a woman whose car wasn’t working.
The bad news was that he was a soldier from Fort Lee, where I’d just spent the better part of the afternoon protesting. There was a better than good chance he wouldn’t take kindly to that. I snuck a glance into the backseat of my car, where the sign that read JUSTICE FOR ALL MEANS MILITARY TOO was lying face up for all the world to see.
And oh, great. I stifled a groan. Now he’d turned off his own car and opened the driver’s side door. He was coming over here.
“Hey, I’m okay. You don’t have to do that.” I called out the protest, but either he didn’t hear me or ignored what I’d said because he unfolded his body from the seat and stood up.
And in that moment, I forgot my car, his car, the reason I was here, the sign in my backseat, and even my own name, because . . . hot damn, this man was built.
He was in the same camo suit I’d seen on all the people leaving post today, and the same one I’d seen around town since I’d moved here. On most of the men, the fit was almost baggy, hiding any definition or lack thereof. And it wasn’t as though my new friend here was any different, but somehow, even this uniform couldn’t disguise the broadness of his shoulders or the narrowing of his waist, or the thickness of his thighs. I was willing to bet my last dime that the chest beneath the jacket was solid and chiseled, too.
It was hard to get a good view of his face, given the fact that his sunglasses covered his eyes and his uniform cap was pulled low on his head, but the mouth that was visible was very possibly the most beautiful mouth I’d ever seen on any man. The lips, slightly parted, were sensual, with the full lower one jutting under the thinner upper. I had a sudden and visceral sensation of what that mouth would feel like against my own . . . or fastened on one of my now-puckered nipples . . . or buried between my legs, moving—
“What seems to be the trouble?” He was close to me now, stopped a few feet away, one hand on his hip and his weight shifted to the side.
I became abruptly aware of two things: one, that I was still staring at him without speaking, and two, that all my lady parts were singing the song of my people. Oh, happy day, oh, happy day. We want him! Take us now!
“Uh, you okay?” Since I still hadn’t spoken, he was probably beginning to assume that I was somehow challenged. Reaching up, he removed the sunglasses from his face.
Mistake. BIG mistake. If he’d wanted me to somehow become coherent—or communicative in any way at all—he’d just done the wrong thing, because the eyes that he’d uncovered were a molten brown, fringed with dark lashes. And as he gazed down at me, I saw something there that echoed my own pulsing need.
It was at that point that my brain function came back, and the ability to speak returned. I decided it was my inherent instinct for survival finally kicking in.
“Uh, it won’t start. My car.” I pointed at it like I was an idiot. Okay, I’d said brain function was back. I hadn’t said it was brilliant or in any way intelligent.
“Yeah, I figured that by the way your hood was up.” He smirked, but it wasn’t snarky or mean, just a gentle reminder that I was stating the obvious.
“Right.” I took a deep breath to center again. I could handle this. I’d never met a guy who could fluster me for long, and this one wasn’t going to be the exception. “It’s not the battery or the cables, and I don’t think it’s the alternator. It didn’t click when I tried to turn it over.” I waved one hand in the direction of the engine. “I know it’s an old car, but I’ve taken good care of it. I just gave it a tune-up last month. There really isn’t any reason it shouldn’t be starting up.”
“Huh.” He looked down at me with new respect. “You know your stuff.”
I bristled a little. “Yeah, imagine that. The female understands how her car works. Alert the media. Stop the presses.”
“Whoa there.” He lifted a hand, and I tried not to stare at his tapered fingers and picture them plunging into my—no. We weren’t going there. Not right now.
He was speaking again, and with effort, I pulled my attention back to his voice. “I wasn’t trying to intimate that women can’t know about cars or engines. I respect anyone who understands what she—or he—drives.” Those dangerous kissable lips curled into a smile. “I’ve met plenty of guys who talk big about their vehicles but don’t know shit about what’s happening under the hood.”
I relaxed a bit. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to be reactionary. I guess I’m used to men assuming that I don’t know shit about what’s under the hood.”
“No problem.” He slid off the camouflage cap, rubbed his hand over the short dirty blond hair there and then replaced the hat. “Okay, so it’s not the battery, the connectors or the alternator. How about the starter?”
“Yeah, that was my thought.” I nodded. “Which means I’m going to have to have it towed to a mechanic, I guess. I could probably do the work myself, but I’ve never actually replaced a starter.”
“Do you have a mechanic you trust?” He’d moved to the front of the car and was leaning down over the hood, checking out everything. I breathed in deep through my nose as the material pulled over his ass. Oh, mama.
“Um . . . no. I haven’t lived here that long, and everything’s been running fine that whole time.” I lifted one shoulder. “I did the tune-up myself in the parking lot of our apartment complex, but there’s something in the lease that says we’re not supposed to perform any kind of auto maintenance or repair on the premises. I guess they don’t want people leaving their cars around on blocks or whatever. So I’m pretty sure I’ll have to find someone to do this. I can ask my roommate, though, if she knows a decent shop. She’s been here longer than me, and she works in town.”
“You don’t?” He was staring at me again, frank interest and appreciation on his face. “You don’t work on post, do you? I mean, this is a strange place to park your car if you do.” He frowned. “What were you doing out here? Clearly, your car didn’t break down if starting it up is the only issue.”
“No, I don’t work at Fort Lee.” I tried a diverting tactic. “I’m a historian on-site at the battlefield.” I held out my hand. “Samantha Crewe.”
He gripped my fingers automatically, and my breath caught as we touched. He swallowed, the sound audible, making me hope that he was feeling the same tug that I was.
“Max Remington.” He pointed in the general direction of the gate to Fort Lee. “I’m stationed here.” He didn’t let go of my hand as he continued to hold my gaze, too. “So why were you parked out here, Samantha Crewe, historian? Were you looking for artifacts?” His tone held a bit of humor, and I grabbed onto that, laughing a little.
“No. Not exactly.” I pulled my fingers away from him and took a step back. “I was, uh, part of the demonstration here this afternoon. We were protesting what happened in town Saturday night. Maybe you didn’t hear about it if you were at work all day, but a soldier went into Petersburg, got into a fight with a local guy, and messed him up pretty badly. And then the Army came in, bailed him out, and is claiming jurisdiction over his trial and sentencing.”
Max tensed visibly, drawing back from me as his eyes went cool. “And so you were marching out here, complaining about that, were you? Must be nice to have both the moral high ground, and the time and leisure to throw a little tantrum when you don’t like how things work.”
Slow burn, secret baby?
Uh, yes, please!
Enjoy a little taste of The First Classman two weeks before it goes LIVE!!
“I love this part,” Willow murmured.
On the screen, the Statue of Liberty had left Liberty Island and was wading into New York Harbor as Jackie Wilson sang.
“Yeah, same,” I said distractedly.
“I mean, can you—oh!” Willow shifted, pressing one hand to the small mound of her belly. “I guess Lady Liberty isn’t the only one who appreciates Jackie Wilson. Baby Thing is getting its groove on.”
I stared at her. “You can feel the baby move?”
She glanced at me. “Yeah. Not all the time, but more and more lately.”
“You didn’t tell me that.” I was annoyed, and I wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t like I expected Willow to give me regular updates on the baby’s development. Since I’d been spending time with her, we only referenced her pregnancy in passing, and when we mentioned the baby, it was in weird generalities.
But now I wanted to know more. If Willow could feel the baby move, what did that mean? Was it kicking or just moving its arms around—and why did we have to keep calling the baby it? Shouldn’t she know the gender by now?
“No, I didn’t tell you,” Willow answered me slowly. “I didn’t think you cared.”
“Well, I do.” I crossed my arms over my chest.
“You never said anything. You haven’t asked me about how it’s doing—only about how I’m feeling.” Willow wasn’t upset; she sounded strangely reasonable.
“Only because I didn’t know how to ask—and I thought maybe you didn’t want to talk about it. Since you’re not sure.” I swallowed. “Also, I thought if your parents heard us, they might think it was odd that I was invested in the growth of a baby who doesn’t belong to me.”
“Okay.” She wiggled around until she faced me, her long hair framing her pretty face. “Well, we’re here alone now. Ask whatever you want.”
Of course, now I couldn’t think of a single thing. “Um, what does it feel like when the baby moves?” That was a good place to start.
Willow smiled. “Weird in the beginning. At first, I didn’t realize what I was feeling. I thought it was just gas or something. But now I can tell when it’s kicking. It happens mostly after I eat or drink, or when there’s music.” She pointed to the TV. “Case in point.”
“That’s cool.” I stared down at her belly. “It’s crazy, isn’t it, that we had sex last summer, and now there’s a little being moving around in you.”
“Very crazy.” Willow laughed. “Do you want to feel it move?”
“Are you serious?” My eyes went wide. “Hell, yeah, I do.”
“Okay. Give me your hand.”
She circled my wrist with her fingers and placed my palm flat against her. I was surprised at how tight and hard her bump was, and for a moment, that was all I could think about. And then, suddenly, I was poked in the palm.
“Holy fuck!” My smile was huge. “It really did—what was that, a kick?”
“Probably. I can’t tell yet which is what when it comes to arms and legs.” With a thoughtful expression, she moved my hand a little lower. “Try here. This is a favorite spot.”
We sat there for the next half-hour, the movie forgotten, as I moved my hand over Willow’s stomach until I couldn’t feel anything else.
“Yeah, it’s probably sleeping now. Worn out from all the excitement.” I didn’t miss the way Willow curled one arm protectively around her belly. I wondered if she realized she was doing it. “Baby’s first New Year’s Eve—in utero, that is.”
“Oh, my God—that reminds me. What time is it?” I looked at my watch. “Eleven fifty-eight! Hand me the remote quick, please.”
As the hosts traded quips, Willow and I were sitting closer together than before. When the ball dropped and clock struck twelve, she turned to me.
“Happy new year, Dean.”
“Happy new year, Willow.” For a moment, I was tempted—so fucking tempted—to hold her face in my hands and kiss her lips. I could still remember what she tasted like, how she felt, and the memory was killing me by degrees.
But in the end, I chickened out and leaned forward to kiss her cheek before I pulled her tight against me, our baby between us. My heart was thundering. Here in my arms, I was holding two very precious beings. It was an odd feeling, brand-new, and it made me more than a little nervous.
I only knew his first name.
The night we met, we were only having fun. It wasn’t serious. It was one last fling before real life took over. I knew I wasn’t ever going to see him again.
But I was wrong.
I didn’t ask for her last name.
She was a spontaneous night of fun right before I went back to West Point and football. We were only together for a good time. I knew we couldn’t have anything real beyond that one night.
But I was wrong.
And when we meet again in the most unexpected way, I find out that one night of fun could cost me my career and all of my goals.
It could mean the end of her dreams, too.
And it all started on one fateful night . . .
Read a sneak peek here!
When I reached my car, parked out of the way at the end of the gravel drive, and waited for her to catch up, I heard Willow’s sharp intake of breath.
“Oh, my God. That’s your car?” She gaped at my baby. “That’s a fucking Thunderbird. Nineteen fifty-seven?”
I cocked my head. “Nineteen fifty-six. You a fan?”
“Oh, my great-uncle had one, and I always thought it was the coolest car ever. He let me drive it to prom one year. I was in love.” She slid me a side-eye. “With the car, you know. The guy was a total loser.”
“Well, at least you had the Thunderbird,” I consoled her.
“True. For one night.” She touched the door handle. “You have yourself one bitchin’ car, Dean.”
“Thanks.” I stuck my hands into my pockets, enjoying her appreciation of my pride and joy.
“But I think we should get one thing straight up front.” Willow lifted her hand and pointed at me. “Even with this totally righteous automobile—” The corners of her mouth curled, and her eyes danced teasingly. “Even with this beauty . . . you should know that I am not going to fall in love with you tonight. So if you were driving me home on the off-chance you had a shot, forget it.”
I clutched at my chest as though wounded. “Wow. There goes my massive ego, crumbling to the ground.” Straightening, I added, “Don’t worry, Willow. For the foreseeable future, there’s only one love in my life—and you’re about to drive her.”
Willow twirled the keys on her thumb. “Get in, pal. Now that we know we’re both on the same page—no falling in love for us—I plan to enjoy the hell out of this ride.”
I circled the passenger side and opened the door. “One last hoorah before life gets serious?”
She laughed, and the sound made me second-guess my promise.
“One last hoorah, pal. Just one more night of fun.”
Coming February 21, 2023