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Perhaps later Gideon would appreciate the memory of a wet, naked Celia surging from the bath.
In the present moment, however, he was more concerned with containing the slippery, kicking, scratching she-draco before she could do some serious damage.
As it was, he took a wicked scratch to the throat, and barely avoided a knee in his most favorite part, before he swept her up over a shoulder, where the punches and kicks were more annoying than dangerous.
She did, while he was reaching down for the robe she’d left on the tile floor, get her teeth into his side, which had him this close to letting her drop straight down onto her head.
Fortunately for Celia, Gideon needed her alive, and conscious. So, while she dug her teeth in, he reminded himself it had been a gift to find the house emptied of servants when he broke in, and to expect the rest of the plan to go so easily would be greedy.
With this in mind, he gritted his teeth, slung her out of the bath and into the adjoining bedroom—already scoured of the previous night’s violence—and tossed her soapy ass onto the bed, where she immediately scrambled to her knees, ready to attack again.
“Think about it,” Gideon said, braced for impact. “I was being nice before. You come at me again, I won’t be nice. I might even do what I really want to do, and break your very lovely neck.”
She thought about it and, while she did, he tossed the robe, still scrunched in his left hand, onto her lap.
She ignored the scrap of fabric as she studied his face. “You’re not lying. You really would kill me.”
“I can’t believe you find that surprising,” he said as fresh blood welled from his neck and his side.
“But it’s not your first choice,” she observed, sitting back on her heels. “Which means you’re not here seeking revenge, so… what is it you do want?”
“Walks in the rain, a dinner that hasn’t been drugged, world peace—unless—did you mean right now?” he asked at her fulminating look. “I came for my coat,” he said, then nodded to her robe. “You may as well get dressed. Unless you want to catch a cold while I continue to not fall for your painfully obvious charms.”
Interesting, he thought, that the cool spy would blush so… comprehensively. She did, however, put on the robe, tying the sash with short, angry jerks.
“Happy?” she asked, biting off the word with enough violence to make it bleed.
“I’m still a long ways from happy,” he said, just as shortly. “About seven years, six funerals, and four thousand kilometers, give or take.”
“If you are speaking of the Nasa incident—” Celia began.
“It wasn’t an incident,” he cut her off, tamping down the old anger, which would not serve him here. “It was murder.”
“It was war,” she shot back. “And in war, a soldier does what she must.”
“Soldiers fight on the line, face to face. They don’t—”
“Don’t lie? Cheat? Steal?” She shook her head. “I’ve read your file, Colonel Quinn. Most of your career was spent behind the lines, destroying munitions, stealing supplies, and intercepting intelligence. Hardly fighting the honorable fight, was it?” As she spoke, her face, her voice, her entire body softened. “We are not so different, Gideon.”
“Yes, we are, and stop that,” he ordered, his tone deliberately bored. “We both know you’re as seductive as the proverbial road to Los Angeles, there’s no point pushing my buttons just to prove it. Which brings up another issue…”
“It does, indeed.” She looked down, then up again. “I thought you weren’t interested?”
“Ha. And I’m not,” he said between clenched teeth, because of course he was interested.
“Of course you’re interested,” she said with a scary little smile.
“You,” he said shortly, “are poison.”
“And you a blunt instrument,” she said, showing no sign of offense. “Weapons, the both of us, in service to our masters. But knowing that, why can’t we—”
“Why can’t we what?” he cut in, wishing his mouth weren’t so dry. “Just get along?”
“Something like that,” she said lying back on the bed, so the satin of her robe blended with the silk of the coverlet and it seemed to Gideon she was swimming in a pool of wine.
“Just that easy?” he asked, his voice rougher than it had been as her calf turned, just so.
“Why ever not?” she asked in her turn, while her hands slid up the coverlet to either side, open and inviting—until her right hand slipped beneath the massed pillows at the head of the bed.
He had to give her credit, she’d almost gotten her finger on the knife hidden under the pillow before he was on top of her, his left hand tightening around her wrist until she was forced to release the needle-like weapon.
“Nice try,” he said, taking custody of the blade.
“Who says I failed?” Beneath him, she relaxed. Her lips parted, and he became uncomfortably aware how little fabric was involved in the robe she wore. “I got you where I wanted, didn’t I?” When he said nothing, she smiled. “Why, Gideon, I sense you’re… conflicted.”
Conflicted wasn’t the word for what he was. He could feel every centimeter of the woman, see the flutter of her pulse at her throat.
Every breath he took was filled with the scent of her.
It would be so easy to rip that flimsy bit of satin aside. So easy to…
What the hell is wrong with you?
He blinked, then let out a curse that came out more like a growl before flinging himself away, taking the knife with him.
She sighed, and curled herself to a sitting position with the consciously unconscious air of pure sexuality that, Gideon was certain, had raised blood pressures across all five of the United Colonies.
“Why,” she asked, “are you so resistant?”
He shook his head. “Where to start? Oh wait, I know, how about where you framed me for your husband’s murder? And that’s after I did six years hard labor because you persuaded him to frame me for treason? Nice work, by the way. I’d ask how you did it, but after last night and just now, I think I’ve got a good idea.”
She tossed her head. “Don’t be crude.”
“How can you say that with a straight face?” he asked. “But that’s not what I meant.”
She frowned. “Then what did you mean?”
“I meant that as attractive as you are—and yeah, I’ll be taking cold showers for a month—I find it odd that I only have to be in the same room with you and I turn into a randy teenager with the mental faculties of a dodo.”
“And that’s different from your norm in what way?”
“Ouch,” he said mildly, before continuing, “I felt it the first time in Allianz, when my team extracted you from under the enemy’s noses. I remember feeling nothing but irritation, at first. Then you shot that Midasian soldier, and he looked so surprised—and kind of hurt—that it was you pulling the trigger. I thought his reaction was odd, until you looked at me and all my thoughts just,” he raised his right hand and exploded his fingers outward in description of his mental state. “Then we were moving, and there wasn’t a lot of time to think, until you sent that little thank-you note, months after the extraction, which was weird.”
“I don’t see—”
“Weird because one would think a well-bred lady such as yourself would have sent the letter directly after the event, not months after it occurred. What was more weird, was that it arrived shortly after my company intercepted a courier bearing intelligence meant for Midasian Command from a spy named Odile.”
She said nothing, just watched him through eyes going remarkably cold.
“And then you came to my quarters in Epsilon while I was—otherwise occupied—and next thing I know, I’m sitting down to tea with you and my lover, while she happily opened up to you about pretty much everything, which should have felt way more awkward than it did, and which was an order of magnitude beyond weird.”
“Is it really so difficult to believe I found you attractive? Dani said you always thought too little of yourself.”
“Do not mention her name. Ever.”
She raised an eyebrow, but remained silent.
“All of those instances were weird,” he continued after a beat, “but what was particularly odd about that day, and about every encounter I’ve had with you, was that, at the time, I never found them odd at all. Not only that, I managed to forget them almost entirely after they occurred.”
“I don’t find that odd,” she said, “I forgot about them before they’d even ended.”
“Again, ouch. Also, a lie. Because if you had forgotten, you wouldn’t have convinced your husband I assaulted you. Who’d you get to mark you up, anyway?”
She sighed. “Nahmin. He did a very convincing job, so much so that Jessup went quite mad. Luckily my tears, and the fear of scandal, dissuaded him from confronting you directly.”
“So instead he used his position to send my company into Nasa, making me look like the traitor,” Gideon finished for her. “And I bet he never once questioned what he was doing, because it was you who asked him to do it.”
“He loved me,” she said simply.
“I’m sure he thought he did.”
She raised her hands in frustration. “How is that not the same thing?”
“It’s not the same thing because it wasn’t him loving you. It was you making him love you.”
Her face, usually so expressive, closed like a moonflower at sunsrise. “I have no idea what you mean.”
“Cut the crap, Celia. You know exactly what I mean, and you know exactly what I mean because you can feel it, and you can feel it because you’re a sensitive.”