CreateSpace Publishing / Lucy Monroe
Originally published: 08/31/10
Current publication: 01/10/18
If They Don’t Combust First.
To some, he is an assassin. To others, he’s merely the man who gets the job done when no one else can. Now politico-military black-ops leader Roman Chernichenko has to take out the leak in an espionage plot that could destabilize all of Africa. Nothing will distract him from his mission. Not even the deliciously appealing blonde who’s awoken his deepest desires—and just happens to be his target. . .
Tanya Ruston is a beautiful and brainy do-gooder—and Roman is supposed to dispose of her when all he really wants is to seduce her. Soon it’s clear Tanya’s no information agent—and now that his conscience has gotten the better of him, he and Tanya are on the run from the good guys and the bad. If they’re going to make it out alive, Roman will have to act fast–and stop thinking about how he’s going to get his feisty new charge down the aisle. . .
Originally published September 2010 in trade paperback and reissued July 2012 in mass market paperback and eBook by Kensington Brava.
“An exciting tale, CLOSE QUARTERS, the fifth novel in author Lucy Monroe’s GODDARD PROJECT series, is a fast-paced passionate romantic suspense that will grab your attention from the very beginning.”
—Dottie at Romance Junkies
“CLOSE QUARTERS was the very first Lucy Monroe book I read. I loved the characters. The hero and heroine are very well suited to each other. They spar in a way that shows their love for each other. Roman and Tanya are complete opposites.”
“Lucy Monroe once again wrote a beautiful book full of action, friendship and love. I especially enjoyed that for her there are no boundaries when it comes to love. I adored the two love stories which are sexy, cute and just beautiful. Her books don’t need an over the top showdown to be thrilling and interesting.”
—About Happy Books
“Overall, it was classic Lucy Monroe. There was a hero unwilling to let emotions rule him, a heroine who gave herself over to the hero without recognizing that she was in deeper than he was, and some lovely alpha-male groveling. The heat level was just right, the mystery of the conspiracy and treason was intriguing, and there was a very satisfying secondary romance to boot. A very solid 4/5 Stars.”
— The Romanceaholic
“Close Quarters is compelling. The danger from the corrupt soldiers is vivid and you can feel the menacing stares leaping off the pages. Tanya and Roman dance around their feelings and desire for each other. Their chemistry is tantalizing and powerful. The secondary romance of Dr Fleur and the state department official is deeply moving. This book will touch your heart and stay in your thoughts long after you finish. Lucy Monroe’s books are one of a kind and a must read. Enjoy.”
— Judy ( Cincinnati , Ohio)
Roman Chernichenko pushed open the heavy wooden door without knocking. It swung forward without a sound, revealing an office that would better suit a U.S. Senator than the director of a highly classified black-ops unit like the Atrati. Walls covered in floor-to-ceiling bookcases surrounded an imposing, oversized desk and two sets of office-sized armchairs facing it. The dark wood and non-factory-line upholstery screamed quality and power, and yet the man behind the desk was not a politician.
Not one elected by the American people anyway. Richard Corbin, retired Air Force Lieutenant General, had left the military despite all evidence pointing toward him achieving General Air Force Chief of Staff one day in the not too distant future. He’d taken a job that would never get him on the cover of US News & World Reports, but offered him as much power as any elected official and more than most.
He was also Roman’s boss. Well, technically, his boss’ boss, but being the team lead for the Atrati’s most effective unit, Roman often took his orders directly from Corbin.
“Thank you for joining us, Chernichenko.”
Roman inclined his head, taking in the other occupants of the room besides Corbin. Two men sat in the chairs facing the desk, having left two empty chairs between them. Colleagues perhaps, but not friends.
Though he did not recognize them and they both wore suits, there was no doubt they were military. Their haircuts and posture gave them away. Both men flicked him a glance, but the one on the right returned his attention to Corbin almost immediately. The one on the left sized Roman up with an experienced eye.
“Gentlemen,” he said, looking at the one the left as he sat down.
No one spoke for several seconds, but Roman felt no need to break the silence. He settled back into his chair, prepared to wait.
The man on his right fidgeted; the one on his left looked forward, but remained still and silent, and Roman’s boss ignored them all as did something on his computer. After a few clicks and some quick typing, he nodded to himself and finally focused his attention back on the men facing him across his desk.
His gaze zeroed in on Roman. “We’ve got a situation.”
“We generally do…” Roman paused for a beat of silence. “When you call me.”
Corbin’s head jerked in a short nod of acknowledgement.
“So, this is your guy?” the officer on his left asked.
The man on his right made a disparaging sound. “I still don’t see why we can’t handle it in-house. From what I understand, this man used to work for us. His training can’t be any more specialized than our men.”
So, they were Army. Interesting.
Roman turned and gave the man a cool look. “Wrong.”
“Watch your tone, soldier.” The Army brass glared with enough heat to singe.
Roman merely lifted his brow.
“What the hell do you mean I’m wrong?” the other man pugnaciously demanded when Roman didn’t bother to reply. “What was I wrong about?”
“Explain yourself,” the older man demanded in a tone that said he’d have Roman’s balls if he didn’t like the answer.
Roman wasn’t nervous. It would take more than a riled up officer who had the look of a man who had never served in action to worry him. “If you could handle it internally, you would have. I never worked for you, I served my country and I still do. And my training goes well beyond what I went through to become a Ranger.”
“He’s right, at least about us handling this thing with our own ops,” the man on Roman’s left said.
Roman turned to face him. “You’re Army too?”
“No one’s supposed to know,” the other man furiously inserted.
“I’m not no one,” Roman said, without looking at the other man.
The one he was facing was more interesting. He had the haunted edges that indicated he’d seen action, probably more than he wanted to. War did that.
“According to Corbin, you’re the only one who can fix this mess.”
“Alone?” Roman jerked around to face his boss. Even an assassination required a team of operatives.
“With a truncated team.”
So, it was an assassination. Roman didn’t like it, but then if he did, that would say something about him he wouldn’t be happy knowing. It was bad enough that he had no qualms about doing his job, he shouldn’t enjoy it…and he didn’t. Still, his family would never understand the man he had become, but he had no intention of introducing them to him either.
“What’s the job?” he asked.
“There’s an information leak in our operations in southern Africa. All indications point to the courier being a medical relief worker with Sympa-Med.”
The name of the relief agency rang a bell, but Roman couldn’t remember why. It would come to him.
“Hell, for all we know, she’s the one gathering the intel as well,” the Army brass on his right inserted.
“That’s highly unlikely,” disagreed his fellow officer. “In fact, despite the circumstantial evidence indicating she’s the mule, I don’t think the relief worker is our spy. She doesn’t fit the profile.”
“A good spy never does.” Roman knew that too well.
“She’s a medical relief worker, for shit’s sake. She’s your typical girl-next-door out to make the world a better place. Tanya Ruston—“
Roman put his hand out and barked. “Let me see the file.”
“Wait a minute, we haven’t agreed to turn the situation over to your team.”
Roman ignored the other man and waited for his boss to hand him the grey folder on his desk, which he did. Roman flipped it open and started reading. They were right. There was definitely an information leak, but what in hell did it have to do with Tanya Ruston? Turning a couple of pages, he found out. All the evidence was circumstantial, but it was also damning. Her movements were linked too closely with the dissemination of the intel for it to be coincidence.
“What about other relief workers on her team?”
“She’s the only one who made very single circuit. Dr. Andikan sometimes stays in main compound and the other members of the team fluctuate.”
“But Tanya goes every time?” he asked, even as he confirmed it for himself with a list of her assignments from the file.
As he continued flipping through the file, Roman had no problem seeing why Army intelligence needed to pass the job off to someone else. Whoever had compiled the information had done such a piss-poor job that they hadn’t even discovered Tanya’s link to him, or the fact that her brother was married to a former Goddard Project agent.
He could understand the lack of info on his sister, Elle’s former employers. Even his boss had never heard of the Goddard Project, the black ops agency responsible for protecting America’s proprietary and potentially dangerous technology. However, Roman considered the cursory mention of his sister as wife to Tanya’s brother sloppy investigating. Elle’s past as a security specialist and current role as Chief of Security at ETRD wasn’t something that should be dismissed in a report like this.
Well, shit. It wasn’t exactly FUBAR, but it wasn’t real far from it either.
“Who the hell did you have assigned to this case, a junior gopher?”
“That’s none of your business,” the brass on his right said.
The man on his left sighed. “You’re not far off the mark. Nepotism isn’t reserved for politicians; you find it in the Army too.”
“And it led to giving a highly sensitive investigation to an idiot?” Roman asked with exasperation.
“You can’t possibly draw that conclusion, just from reading the file.”
“On the contrary, my agents are trained to see things most miss,” Corbin said, entering the conversation for the first time since his announcement they had a situation. He gave Roman a penetrating look. “Do you know her?”
The question proved that it wasn’t only Corbin’s agents that noticed everything and knew how to interpret it all.
“I met her once. At my sister’s wedding,” he said, only giving part of the story. He lived his life on a need to know basis and his boss didn’t need to know everything.
Army guy on the right cursed.
“Is this going to be a problem?” Corbin asked.
“No, sir.” Roman couldn’t put personal considerations ahead of his duty.
Especially when it came to treason. He’d made that mistake one time. Once was enough to cause devastation he would never forget. He had lost three good men, one the best friend he’d ever had, when he’d allowed sentiment to influence his duty. When it came to serving his country, he would never again let private thoughts or feelings get in the way.
“You’re kidding, right? You expect me to believe you won’t have any problem taking out someone you know?” the increasingly annoying officer on his right disparaged.
“The easiest way to kill a target without making it look like a hit is to get close to him, or her. A passing acquaintance with Tanya Ruston will only make my job easier.” Roman met his boss’ gaze. “It will also make it easier to verify Tanya’s guilt.”
“The investigation is done. You are being brought in to remove the threat.”
Roman gave the Army brass on his right the full weight of his disgusted glare. “You want a kill without even knowing who she’s working for?”
“Sometimes, you have to settle for disrupting the pipeline.”
“Bullshit. Your initial investigation was so sloppy, it might have been done by a kid without access to Google.”
“It isn’t your job to pass judgment on our efforts.”
“You don’t define my job.”
“I do,” Corbin said firmly.
Roman inclined his head.
“Time is of the essence. The threat must be neutralized before a specialized JCAT program ends up in the wrong hands.”
JCAT was highly effective, expensive to develop, and classified software used to train groups of soldiers in hard to recreate realtime battle scenarios. As far as Roman knew, only Nigeria had access to JCAT in Africa. He could think of several politico-military leaders that would cause even more mayhem than they did now with access to that kind of training.
“What the hell are our JCAT programs doing in Africa?” he demanded of no one in particular.
“Officially, this one isn’t.” The annoying officer admitted.
That went without saying. “Well?”
“Some Stateside Colonel…” The man on his left gave the one on his right a disgusted frown. “Got the bright idea to offer a single seminar of training on this particular JCAT in exchange for first rights to a new naiobium mine.”
Roman could see the temptation to do something that stupid, but not giving in to it. Naiobium was used as a superconductor and had several weapon, anti-weapon and armor uses, but was in short supply worldwide. Still, only an idiot would offer such sensitive military software in exchange for the rights to a new mine. And he guessed he was looking at the idiot responsible on his right.
“So, you want me to kill Tanya Ruston to cover your own stupidity?” Roman asked, his disgust ratcheting up a notch.
“You do your job, soldier, and I’ll do mine.”
Roman turned to the other man. “You’re sure the JCAT is in jeopardy?”
“Chatter about its sale has been picked up. You don’t want to know which terrorist groups are celebrating right now.”
They were definitely approaching FUBAR on this one. “And you’re sure the Tanya Ruston connection applies?”
Colonel Idiot made a sound of disagreement, but his colleague just glared. “We aren’t sure of the relief worker’s involvement. Our best guess is that whatever information leak linked to her movements is also responsible for the chatter on the JCAT.”
“Tanya Ruston has to be neutralized before that software ends up on the open market.”
“You don’t even know she has the software,” the other man exploded.
“We can’t take any chances.”
Roman didn’t say anything. This was one messed up situation.
Corbin said, “You and your team are going in as personal guard for a State Department bean counter doing an audit of the mines near Sympa-Med’s base camp in Zimbabwe. You’ll be staying there with the auditor, Bennet Vincent. The camp is not near Internet access, but Ms. Ruston has her own satellite phone. Per our routine post 9/11, we’ve been monitoring her calls.”
“If she’s using it to make contact with her buyers or anyone besides her family, we haven’t seen the evidence.”
“We can’t dismiss the possibility though.”
Roman refused to give Colonel Idiot the courtesy of responding to him. The man was really getting on “What about her Internet use when she gets access.”
“Nothing to raise red flags with our government or that of Zimbabwe.”
“So, you are basing her guilt entirely on the fact she’s been in the wrong place at the wrong time?”
“Repeatedly,” the man on his left said grudgingly.
Roman rifled through the file again until he came to the financial reports. “There’s no indication she’s been taking payment for espionage.”
“She probably has an account in the Caymans. Only a fool would take payment to her personal checking account.”
That was the first thing Colonel Idiot had said that Roman agreed with, but he still didn’t like the guy. And he had no intention of sticking around to get to know the Army brass any better. He stood up. “I’ve got a team to prepare.”
“Wait, this meeting isn’t over,” Colonel Idiot spluttered.
Roman looked at Corbin with a raised eye-brow.
His boss shook his head. “I have nothing else.”
He’d given Roman his assignment: neutralize the threat. Roman knew what that meant and he wasn’t about to stick around gossiping about it like a bunch of teenage girls.
“Well, I do.” Colonel Idiot jumped up from his chair, turning to face Roman full on for the first time. “It’s my people doing the training over there and I’ve got some ideas on how to handle this mission.”
Roman flicked a glance to the man on his left. His expression was blank, but it wasn’t too hard to believe he wasn’t any more impressed with Colonel Idiot’s posturing than Roman was. “What’s your pony in this race?” Roman asked him.
“I consulted on the JCAT, the voice of experience from real battle.” He grimaced. “It’s a powerful a training tool. We’d be royally screwed right up the ass if it landed in certain hands.”
Roman nodded. That he understood. Oh, he understood Colonel Idiot too. CYA was a strong motivator, but it didn’t inspire any sort of respect in Roman.
Accordingly, he made no effort to mask his contempt when he replied to the colonel’s remarks. “Those ideas would be welcome if your people were doing the mission. They’re not. I am and I’m not interested. If your command is responsible for the training going on, then they’re also responsible for the compromised intelligence.”
“That’s not the way it is,” the other man spluttered.
But Roman wasn’t listening as he headed for the door. The brass never thought they were responsible, but nine times out of ten? They were. Roman knew it, being team lead himself. It didn’t matter how many bars or stars you wore on your uniform, the fact was, when men or situations under your authority got compromised, you held ultimate responsibility.
And he had no respect for a man who didn’t see that.
The buzz of excited chatter outside the medic hut pulled Tanya Ruston’s attention from the inventory report she’d been working on in the small office off the main exam room.
“What’s going on?” she asked the Tutsi woman sitting at the other desk.
Dr. Fleur Andikan looked up from her own patient reports. “Good question. The man from your country’s government is not supposed to arrive for another two days.” The sound of jeeps approaching in the distance came in faintly through the open window.
“Surprising the mine owners with an early visit might be his way of attempting to get a truer read of what is going on in the mine.”
“Do you believe the man really cares if human rights violations are happening?” Fleur’s tone implied she didn’t.
Of course, Fleur had more reason than most to doubt the genuine concern of any government official. She’d been an innocent teenage girl during the Tutsi massacres in Rwanda, surviving only through blind luck and ingenuity. She had not come out of it unscathed, though. Her years living with distant family in Nigeria, attending university and medical school, had not undone the trauma of her final months in Rwanda.
No matter how much Fleur wanted others to believe she was untouched by her past and untouchable by the present, Tanya saw the haunted darkness in the doctor’s eyes.
“You don’t think it’s the corporate guys from Sympa-Med, do you?”
Fleur rolled her eyes. “They were quite unhappy your team missed the final stop on your last tour, but I do not thik they would show up here to make their displeasure known.”
“They take their schedules way too seriously.” The powers that be ran the medical relief agency a lot like a corporation, with rigidly scheduled routes for the travelling clinic and mandates regarding what type of medicine she and Fleur were allowed to practice.
Thankfully, Fleur was fully prepared to treat outside their mandate when the case warranted it.
She wasn’t as flexible on the schedule and routes for the travelling clinic. “They have their reasons for the schedules and routes we take. If Sympa-Med offends a village elder by not showing up when promised, they might well refuse to allow us access on the next trip through.”
“That’s so stupid.” But Tanya knew Fleur was right. “It couldn’t be helped anyway. We got slammed with that outbreak at the last stop we managed. One of our own team came down and we were out of medical supplies. If we hadn’t returned, we would have lost him.”
“I am aware.”
“But you still think I should have managed to stop by the village?”
“You could have sent the rest of the team on and made a visit on your own. The jeep could have been sent back for you.”
“Travel without security or supplies?” Tanya jerked her head in negative.
She cared about the people she served, but she wasn’t putting herself at that level of risk just to keep some egotistical village official happy. “Maybe it’s Ibeamaka, come courting again.”
“Speculation, while pleasant, is a waste of time.” The regal African woman stood, her expression showed how little true pleasure she found at the prospect of a visit from the pompous government official. “I suppose we should find out.”
“It beats paperwork.”
“You and your dislike of paperwork. It is a good thing you did not go to medical school.” Fleur shook her head.
“I didn’t want to wait eight years to come back where I was needed.”
Fleur nodded. “And you would have hated all the papers and written tests necessary to pass.”
“Two years training as an EMT was bad enough,” Tanya had to agree. She had not enjoyed school, which neither of her parents had understood.
Her brother hadn’t either, but he had supported her choice to enter the Peace Corps right out of high school.
“I have known few others as intelligent as you who had less use for traditional education.”
Tanya shrugged. “What can I say? I live to disappoint my parents.”
“I know that is not true.”
“Trust me; I’m a complete disappointment to them.” They’d been upset when her older brother chose to pursue science rather than the more lucrative career as a professional football player. However, that was nothing in comparison to how ballistic her mom and dad had gone when Tanya decide to forego university all together.
They hadn’t been any happier when she’d returned Stateside to do her EMT only as training in preparation for returning to Africa. The soil reclamation project she’d worked on in the Peace Corps was important, but Tanya hadn’t been able to get over the desperate need for medical care almost everywhere she went.
So, she’d decided to get EMT training and come back. She’d never regretted that decision. The work they did in Zimbabwe and the surrounding countries was not only important, it was absolutely necessary.
“I do believe they did not approve or understand your choices,” Fleur said, “but I do not believe you enjoyed disappointing them.”
“You know me too well.” It still hurt that her parents had never once acknowledged she might be doing something good here.
Fleur looked surprised by the comment. “Yes, I suppose I do.”
Tanya knew that a big part of the other woman’s reserved nature was due to her Tutsi heritage. She’d been raised to always comport herself with dignity, to express very little emotion, and to believe she had a responsibility not to squander the privilege she’d been born to. The fact that very same privilege had caused her to be the target of a vicious genocidal force had not erased her sense of duty.
She was an amazing doctor and could have worked in any of the big hospitals, or even left Africa for more stable and profitable climes. Instead, she’d taken the directing doctor’s position for Sympa-Med’s southern Africa medical relief team.
Fleur was one of the few people in Tanya’s life who actually understood her reasons for coming back to Africa as a medical relief worker after her stint in the Peace Corps was through.
They were two women from very different backgrounds who were very alike. Tanya had been raised to stifle her emotion as well, though the lessons had not taken like they had with Fleur. While she hadn’t been raised to believe she had a responsibility to those less fortunate, she had been taught to appreciate the opportunities offered to her.
The fact that appreciation had led her to want to use those opportunities to better the lives of people half a world away hadn’t gone over well with her parents. She imagined that Fleur’s parents would not have liked her career path any more, had they survived the Tutsi slaughter in Rwanda.
Ultimately Fleur and Tanya had made the same choices. And from what Tanya could tell, Fleur did not regret hers either.
When they came out of the medical hut, there were two unfamiliar, military looking jeeps parked in front. Eight men, six clearly military, one just as obviously the State Department auditor and the other a not unfamiliar local government official.
Tanya couldn’t help the grimace as her eyes fell on the local official. If anyone had an interest in glossing over human rights violations in the local mines, it was Ibeamaka. Unlike Fleur, Tanya did not believe that all government officials were corrupt, but this one certainly was. And he had an over the top, if unrequited crush on Fleur.
With the self-important walk of a man who craved power, but really wasn’t all that important, he approached Fleur. “Dr. Andikan, these men are from the United States government.”
Tanya noticed the less polite reference of men rather than gentlemen used by the official. In addition, the man spoke Shona rather than English. Petty. She rolled her eyes. And then had to stifle a smile as Fleur neatly avoided shaking hands with the political wannabe.
Nodding her head in her usual dignified manner, the blue and white turban she wore moved just enough to signify respect, but not enough to imply obeisance. “Mr. Ibeamaka. It was good of you to escort them to our compound. We were told to expect them in two days.”
“Yes, well, they were on a military flight and arrived early.” He didn’t sound any happier about it than he looked. “This is Bennet Vincent, an official from the State Department and his personal security team.”
Ibeamaka didn’t look any more pleased that the man had arrived with his own security than he did that Bennet Vincent had arrived early.
“Call me Ben,” the man who looked more like a government bean counter than social investigator said as he put his hand out to Fleur.
She shook it while Ibeamaka looked on with a disapproving frown. “Dr. Andikan.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I enjoy your blog.” Tanya was happy to see that Ben wasn’t put off by Fleur’s reserve, his mouth curving into a warm smile. “I’m impressed with what you are doing here.”
Fleur jolted as if startled. Whether it was from the man’s hand which had yet to let go of hers, or his words, Tanya could not tell. “I can only update the blog infrequently.”
“I know. I’m a subscriber so I get notified whenever you make a new post.”
“Oh, well…that’s nice to know.” Fleur didn’t sound like she was sure she meant it and she tugged her hand out of Ben’s. “Let me introduce my colleague, Tanya Ruston.”
“It’s a pleasure.” He put his hand out to Tanya, squeezing her fingers in a friendly gesture rather than shaking her hand. “Dr. Andikan has written glowingly about you on her blog.”
“I didn’t know that.” Tanya had never read the blog that Fleur only updated when she had internet access, which was usually only when she was in Harare on a supply pick-up.
Fleur said it was important that the news out of Africa was not limited to official government channels.
“She’s very impressed with you.”
Tanya stared at her boss. “Thank you. The feeling is mutual.”
Fleur nodded, giving Ben a disgruntled look. “Tanya does not read my blog.”
Fleur frowned. “Mr. Vincent.”
“Ben…” Fleur paused, as if trying to gather her thoughts. Finally, she shook her head and said, “You and your security force will be staying in an empty chalet on the east side of the compound.”
Tanya let her gaze travel over the American soldiers while Fleur pointed out the three-room hut that they often used to house Zimbabweans displaced by the eighty percent unemployment rate and recent government sponsored de-urbanization programs.
While two of the men looked younger than the others, not one of the soldiers appeared fresh-faced or anything approaching naïve. These were seasoned warriors, even now hyper aware of their environment and any trouble they might find there. The two youngest soldiers had Marine uniforms, but while the others wore state of the art camouflage, no badges or epaulettes had been sewn onto their clothes to indicate which branch of the military they hailed from, or their rank. One sported a Marine high and tight, but the others had the short buzz cuts usually found in the other branches of the Armed Services.
As her gaze landed on the man to the farthest left, the one who wore the mantle of leadership, if not the insignia, her breath escaped in a loud gasp.
“Tanna?” Fleur asked, slipping into the local pronunciation of Tanya’s name, concern evident in the doctor’s voice, if not her carefully neutral expression.
Tanya could not answer. She was too busy staring. “Roman?” The question came out in an embarrassingly squeaky croak. “Is that you?”
“You know the civilian, Geronimo?” the big soldier with the high and tight asked.
So, it was Roman. Here. In southern Zimbabwe, as far out of the lab as a man could get. Leading a team of soldiers providing security for a State Department official. It didn’t make any sense. He’d run the security at Elle and Beau’s wedding, but it had been Tanya’s understanding that the Special Forces soldiers he’d pulled in to help had been friends, not colleagues.
Unless his family had been lying to her, that was their understanding too.
“I thought you were an Army scientist.” According to Elle, he was every bit as brilliant as Tanya’s brother Beau. Why would Roman Chernichenko be in Africa on a security detail? When he didn’t reply, simply stared at her, she turned to the other man who had spoken. “Why did you call him Geronimo? He’s Ukrainian, not Native American.”
He might have black hair and chiseled features that could possibly be mistaken for certain tribes found in North America, but his perpetual five o’clock shadow, grey eyes and six-foot-five frame were far more Eastern European. All fingers to press every one of her personal hot buttons.
Not that she’d acted on the nearly debilitating attractions she’d felt when they’d met. What would be the point when she had only been in the States for a couple of weeks and their worlds had no chance of colliding again?
Or so she thought.
“Geronimo was a warrior that led other warriors and he preferred counting casualties to counting coup.”
“Are you saying Roman…” Her voice trailed off as everything she thought she knew about this man rushed to realign itself in her brain.
He was not a scientist. According to his fellow soldier, Roman Chernichenko was not only their leader, he didn’t balk at killing for his country either.
And even knowing that, the attraction that had hit her harder than a semi-truck on a downhill runaway the first time she’d seen him came roaring back with no safety uphill grade in sight.
She swallowed against her dry throat and put her hand out to the man with the high and tight. “I’m Tanya Ruston. Roman’s sister is married to my brother.”
“I heard your name when that pretty doctor said it, but I gotta tell you this is the first we heard you were related to our chief.” He shook her hand, his big paw gentle. “Nice to meet you. I’m Kadin Marks. The boys call me Trigger.”
“Do I want to know?”
She nodded in acknowledgement and turned to the next man who introduced himself, but didn’t share a nickname. The others all followed suit until she had a name to go with every face. “You’re all here to keep Mr. Vincent safe?”
Kadin said, “That’s the plan.”
“Ben, please.” The bald man who didn’t look more than thirty-five insisted.
She smiled at him. “Ben.”
“Do you prefer Tanya or Tanna?”
“I’m used to Tanna. It’s what everyone around here calls me and well, I like who I am here. So, it sounds good to my ears.”
Ben looked at her like he was trying to read her mind. “That’s good to know. I didn’t realize you were acquainted with one of my guards.”
“I don’t think any of us did.”
“Did you know I was here?” Tanya asked Roman, not one to suffer assumptions when the source for facts was at hand.
The one word answer almost shocked her after the way he’d ignored her other question and had yet to speak to her. “Did you tell Beau you were coming?”
“Oh.” Man, the attraction was so not mutual. And so not going away. She wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. The fact it wasn’t mutual kept her safe from doing something stupid, but then safe wasn’t all it was cracked up to be either. Safe could be really, really lonely. “Well, when you get home, you can call him and tell him I’m healthy and happy. He doesn’t always believe me.”
Roman didn’t reply.
She didn’t remember him being this rude at the wedding, but then she’d barely worked up the nerve to say, “Hello,” much less open a conversation. She’d been avoiding him and her shocking, thigh-clenching desire to experience him naked. She’d had relationships, but she had never reacted to a man the way she did Roman. Not even Quenton, the man she’d thought she would one day marry.
He turned to Kadin. “We need to get the chalet ready.”
Fleur called the buildings chalets. Tanya preferred huts, but the fact was, whatever you called them, they were simple dwellings built from local materials. None of the structures had glass for their windows, just screens and shutters for the rainy season. Not all of the buildings even had electricity. The medical hut did, as did her and Fleur’s quarters, and lucky for Ben and the soldiers, the chalet they would be staying in did as well.
“I’ll have Mabu stop by your hut in an hour. He can give you a tour of the compound,” Fleur said, speaking of one of the non-medical Sympa-Med staff members.
“I would prefer to have Tanya do it.”
Roman’s request shocked her, coming as it did after his nonreaction to pretty much everything she said.
Fleur looked at Roman coolly. “Mabu is in charge of the compound security. I am sure he will be able to answer any questions you might have.”
“I will talk to Mabu, but I want Tanya to show me around.”
“I assure you Mabu’s English is quite up to the task.”
Roman gave Tanya an inquiring look. “Do you mind showing me around?”
“Of course not.”
“Is that the building you work in?” he asked, indicating the medical hut.
Naturally, he’d noticed her coming out of it when he arrived, the super observant soldier that he was. “Yes.”
“I’ll find you there when I’m ready for the tour.”
And then he walked away, dismissing her pretty darn effectively.