WHEN THE SMOKE CLEARS
by C. CHILOVE
Lieutenant Colonel Brenden Jasper lives a life of secrets, danger, and clandestine missions. As commander of the most elite Black Ops unit in the world, nothing is more important to him than protecting the country he loves. But there’s a reason only the toughest, battle-tested, alpha men can call themselves members of the Black 2131 brotherhood. None but those in the highest realms of government even know of its existence, and it’s Brenden’s job to avoid emotional entanglements so he can keep it that way. Dr. Paige Nichols has spent her life ruled by logic and reason, teaching and analyzing art history, so nothing could have prepared her for the completely overwhelming attraction-at-first-sight when she sets eyes on Brenden. Their chance encounter at a party opens her up to a tantalizing dark side she never knew she had—and leaves her wanting so much more. But a man with a dark side often comes with way too many secrets…ones that could put her life in danger. Though their chemistry burns hotter than ever, when danger comes knocking on Paige’s door, Brenden will have to walk a fine line between duty, honor, and love.
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“Are you done hiding from me?” The smooth tenor jump-started her heart.
Paige whipped around to see Brenden leaning in the door frame. A smile curved his lips as she struggled through heavy breaths. “Hi… Hiding from you?” She gulped down a mixture of fear and excitement as butterflies began dancing in her stomach. She wasn’t sure if she wanted them to stop because at least the fluttery feeling confirmed she wasn’t dreaming.
He slid his hands into his pockets while his eyes intently scanned her face as if he were committing every inch to memory. “You didn’t give me a chance to tell you Happy New Year.”
A flush crept along her neck before stinging her cheeks. She peeked up, afraid of how the energy in her body was responding to Brenden. “Ditto,” she muttered. “Happy New Year! I guess chivalry does exist.”
He shrugged and began moving towards her. Face to face, he looked upon her, again studying her like a work of art. “Not sure if the thoughts I’m having of you would be deemed chivalrous, Paige.”
She felt her mouth form a little “o” while her heartbeat triple timed. The sincerity etched across Brenden’s face and the want laced within his husky voice began casting a spell, unraveling inhibitions she’d clung to for fear of failure or rejection.
“Why are you here by yourself?” He shifted his gaze beyond her to the ocean before taking a few steps to claim the space at the balcony rail.
“I could ask you the same,” she replied before returning to her place along the rail that was now a few feet from the sexiest man alive.
“True, but I suppose neither of us wants to share what we’d rather forget.”
Paige nodded. How did he know? She’d been trying to forget for the last twenty years. And now, seeing the sliver of tension twitch at Brenden’s jaw, it made her curious to learn what he wanted to forget.
“Forget?” she asked out loud, and not on purpose.
He faced her. Sweet Jesus, the man’s eyes could read a girl’s soul and betray her most private thoughts. “Don’t you want to?”
Something in him whispered to her deepest, darkest desires. Her body slowly began overriding her mind. “How?” she asked, desperate for her next breath. She then swallowed an inhale and reached up, pushing strands of his tousled hair from his face.
Brenden stepped in, closing the distance between them. He looked down into her eyes, lowered his head, and brushed his lips across hers. His fingers threaded the strands of her hair before he tilted her neck and pressed his lips to her bouncing pulse.
Her breaths became more unpredictable, fueling the sharpening ache between her legs that halted rational contemplation. Mind versus body. Never before had she been uncertain of which would win.
Another stuttering breath escaped her lips, and her eyes closed as Brenden’s teeth sank into her skin. “Mmmm…feels good.”
“Tastes good.” His body pressed harder against hers. “And now you know my most indecent thoughts.”
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ABOUT C. CHILOVE
C. Chilove is the current Secretary for Romance Writers of America (RWA) and past President of CIMRWA. She is a southern girl writing sexy, thought-provoking romance that explores the human condition while proving love transcends societal clichés. Her characters are strong, witty, and prove that diversity is beautiful. When she’s not writing, she’s living out her personal happily-ever-after by rockin’ the stands for her Volleyball star, cheering on her future MLB slugger, or celebrating date night with her hubby.