Watching him on stage now, she still didn’t know how to read him. It was hard to reconcile the man in front of her with what she knew about his job. Being a Pararescue Jumper was one of the toughest jobs in the military. The training was so ridiculously hard that very few candidates ever graduated from the Pipeline in the first place. At just over three hundred active duty members, their tiny number said it all.
God, the man could sing. Since he hadn’t noticed her, she stayed, eyeing his T-shirt-clad broad shoulders and muscled back as he played. Until that day in the hospital, she hadn’t been able to envision him doing any of the dangerous things PJs did. She could now. That confrontation had been one hell of a wake-up call.
Maya was startled to realize she was smiling. His voice was incredible. Smooth and deep, with no hint of his usual Texas drawl. She’d never have guessed he had a talent like this. The man always surprised her, and it was captivating as hell.
He kept his gaze on the piano rather than the audience, hands gliding across the surface of the keys, that hypnotic voice striking a chord deep inside her. The timbre of his voice was intimate, warming her from the inside out. When the song faded away to the mad applause and screams from the female members of the audience, he looked over his shoulder at someone off stage.
Facing away from the mike, his voice barely carried enough for her to catch the words, “Get enough for sound check?”
His new fans wouldn’t have it. “Encore, encore!” they chanted, even some of the men, clapping and whistling in unison until it seemed like everyone but Maya joined in.
Jackson faced the audience and offered a boyish grin, a little shy, as if he wasn’t used to the attention. Hot.
“More, more!” they chanted.
“All right, one more,” he said in that gorgeous Texas drawl that made her think of long, hot summer nights spent relaxing on screen porches with pitchers of sweet tea and ceiling fans revolving overhead.
But mostly it made her think of long, lazy sex. The kind that would last all night and leave them both sweaty and too sated to move.
She shoved the thought from her head to halt the wave of arousal flooding her veins and refocused on him at the piano. A slight breeze ruffled his short, nearly black hair.
He launched into another ballad, and this time Maya recognized “Danny Boy.” The sad, poignant lyrics drifted into the air, his clear, mellow voice raising goose bumps all over her skin. He had everyone there riveted, including her.
As though he sensed the weight of her stare, partway through the chorus he glanced up from the keyboard. When his bottomless brown eyes locked on hers, he faltered for the barest of moments, a single heartbeat. He recovered fast, and continued gazing right at her as he sang. It felt personal, as though he was singing to her alone. Then he smiled a little. A sexy, secret smile aimed right at her, and her heart fluttered. In that instant, she knew they were both thinking about him pinning her to that wall. About what might have happened if they’d had more privacy and he’d acted on the sexual energy arcing between them.
Her stomach did a tiny somersault. Held by the quiet intensity burning in that hot gaze, she was trapped. Couldn’t look away.
A powerful current of sensual heat swept throughout her body, making her tingle all over. The crowd dissolved away as her vision tunneled on him. He was singing to her as his long, strong fingers caressed the keys. Watching those lean, strong hands move, she wanted to feel them drifting over her bare skin just as smoothly, for her body to be the center of that focus. He was both protective healer and lethal warrior. Which would he be in bed? Gentle as his hands were on those keys? Or fierce and demanding, giving over to the unquenched fire she’d seen burning in his eyes that day?
The tantalizing prospect started a curious melting sensation low in her belly.
Jerking herself from her wayward thoughts, she raised one eyebrow at him and gave an impressed nod. His grin widened a fraction before he finally looked away. A strange sense of disappointment hit her and she felt colder all of a sudden, as if the temperature had just dropped.
When the song finished, she was sad to see his performance end. This time he stood and waved at the crowd, that charming smile in place as he shook his head to politely decline their demand for more. Someone else came on stage with an acoustic guitar and set up to play. Jackson hopped down from the stage with an easy, athletic grace she appreciated, and headed right for her. She stood her ground, surprised that her heart was pounding. He made his way through the crowd, pausing only to smile and say a word or two to the people who spoke to him. Thanking them for their enthusiastic compliments, no doubt. Someone had sure taught him nice manners.
Maya waited with her arms folded across her chest and her feet braced apart, a half smile on her face as he approached. Part of her was surprised that he’d seek her out publicly after their last meeting, but it didn’t bother her. She didn’t give a shit what people thought or said about her. She’d learned a long time ago not to let that sort of petty crap bother her. Besides, she had a solid rep here with the Security Forces. Her superiors liked her work ethic and dedication. No one would dare accuse her of fraternization with an enlisted if she talked with Jackson here, and she was too smart to get caught if she decided to take things further with him after this.
When he was close enough to hear her, she shook her head slightly in admonishment. “I didn’t know you could sing or play piano.”
He gave a modest shrug, stopping a step away from her. “You know what they say about us PJs. Jack of all trades, master of none.”
She liked his self-deprecating style. Most men she knew went the other way, straight into arrogant asshole territory. He was a welcome change from the chest-beating, alpha male machismo she was so used to dealing with. “Are you part of the concert tomorrow?”
Up close he was even more gorgeous and smelled delicious—a combination of fabric softener and wintergreen. His tan skin held a bronze undertone, maybe from some Mediterranean ancestor. The cut of his high cheekbones hinted at possible Native American ancestry too.
He rubbed a hand over his strong jaw, covered with a few days’ worth of nearly black stubble. It made him look rugged and intensely masculine. Sexy beyond words. “Naw, I’m just helpin’ out to make sure the sound system is working right.”
“Maybe you should reconsider. Looks like you’ve already got quite an enthusiastic fan base.” And groupie base if he wanted one, she thought with a surprising bolt of jealousy.
He ignored the comment, that keen, dark gaze zeroing in on her right cheek. “So, what’s with the shiner?”
She raised her battered right hand to touch the sore spot, now stinging under a new rush of blood that had her whole face turning hot. She never blushed. What was wrong with her? “It’s nothing.”
“Whoa.” Frowning, he caught her hand in a firm but gentle grip before she could pull away. Maya’s pulse leaped, warmth radiating up her arm from the innocent contact. He’d never touched her before, had never attempted it. Not even when he’d had her against that wall and there’d been no one around to see them, and even though he must have known she’d wanted him to.
Maya glanced down to where he cradled her hand in his larger ones. They were broad, long-fingered, the nails clean and short. Strong but gentle hands, capable of saving a life or taking it, depending on the situation. For some reason she found that extreme contrast sexy as hell. Her heart thumped hard against her ribs while she did her best to appear unaffected by his touch. She wasn’t sure how to read the situation.
Was this his idea of an olive branch? An unspoken truce?
“You’ve been fighting.” He tsked.
“Comes with the territory.” His touch felt way too good. She should pull away. God knew she’d thought about him far too often in the past few weeks, wondering what might have happened if he’d made a move on her instead of walking away. She would have wrapped around him and kissed the breath right out of him, buried her fingers in that thick, dark hair. He kept it cut to regulation length, even though he could get away with relaxed grooming standards because of his position as a battlefield airman. It said a lot about his personality.
Raising his head, Jackson gave her a speculative look, a hint of amusement gleaming in his eyes. He lifted one dark eyebrow. “Just what’ve you been doing to yourself, Lieutenant?”
He was only holding her hand and it was still enough to play hell on her nervous system. “Nothing.” Tingles raced from her fingertips to her shoulder. What would happen if she kissed him? Leaned up and pressed her lips to that full, tempting mouth inches above her own? She mentally shook herself. “Just a few angry insurgents and a resistant drunk. But hey, you should see the other guy.”
One side of his mouth curved upward at her attempt at humor. “Yeah, I bet you pack quite a punch.”
The admiration in his voice warmed her inside. She’d fought all her life to earn respect from others, especially men. From what she’d seen, Jackson was all about giving women respect. She had no experience with that sort of man.
Cross, Kaylea. Lethal Pursuit (Bagram Special Ops Series). Carina Press. Kindle Locations (154-228). Kindle Edition.