Tinsley Abernathy never thought she’d have to ask herself that question. And Ash Ford isn’t just any run-of-the-mill, drop-dead-gorgeous stranger, he’s the soldier she’s been exchanging letters with every week for the last three years. And now he’s back in town. And he’s ready to meet her.
After all, Ash has a proposition Tinsley would be crazy to refuse….
Warning: Ash is one sticky, sweet, military muscle-man in camo cargos. He’s set his sights on one woman only, and he won’t stop until her heart is Under Siege.
“Welcome home, dickhead!” A group of guys erupted into a round of cheers at the bar. My eyes slid across the polished wood table to land on my best friend’s.
“I think it’s time we hit the road.”
Lily huffed, sucking another strawful of her margarita. “Nonsense.” She swiped a hand as if to bat away the silly thought. “We just got here, and you have been talking to this guy for the last three years. I mean, you’ve ditched me for him on Saturday nights, writing those long love letters.”
“I told you, they weren’t love letters. We’re just friends.” The last letter I’d written him rattled through my mind--the one where everything in me had wanted to confess I was falling for him. Only I’d been a coward and scribbled the whole thing out. Now I was thinking my foresight was pretty keen--this group of guys looked like a bunch of wild college guys, certainly not a group my thoughtful, affectionate Ash would be friends with, right? The frown deepened on my face.
Lily huffed, taking another drink. “You should go talk to him, introduce yourself.”
“Yeah…” I glanced over at the crew at the bar. A dozen guys at least. Ash and I had never exchanged a photo while he was away, and we’d had a little vow that we wouldn’t look each other up on social media. I’d kept it, but I wasn’t sure if he had.
I frowned, watching a shorter guy get a round of shots for everyone. “I don’t really care which one he is, to be honest. I don’t think any of them are my type.”
“Well, he was your type for three years when you were writing back and forth every week.”
“Was…” I gnawed down on my bottom lip, thinking I’d made a giant mistake even coming here tonight. Ash and I should have left well enough alone, pen pals while he was deployed with the navy overseas and nothing more. “I vote we head home and start the next season of Pretty Little Liars.”
“Well…” Lily arched one perfectly manicured brow at me. “I vote you swallow down the rest of that drink while I get us another round.”
I was still shaking my head when she rose from the table, finishing her drink with a wink and then scurrying off to the bar.
I rolled my eyes inwardly, sucking on the end of my straw and wishing Lily and I were curled up on the couch right now with pints of Ben & Jerry’s in hand. I had a feeling Lily wasn’t going to let me off the hook that easily, though. We’d been living together for more than two years now; she’d seen the letters from overseas coming fast and furious. I think she was as nervous and excited about this night as I was.
I groaned, sucking down the last of my drink before standing to make my way to the bathroom. A hard mass of muscle brushed by just as I stepped off the elevated platform. I stumbled, losing my footing and heading for a face-plant on the floor.
“Shit, sorry ’bout that.” A heavy palm wrapped around my elbow and caught me in a graceful spin. Hauled against the chest of one very tall, broad monster of a man, I steadied myself on slabs of pectoral. Lightning sparked through my veins, racing to my toes as I inhaled a quick scent of woodsy cologne. The smell was so hypnotizing that my head began to spin with pure intoxication.
“You okay, Freckles?” Ice-blue eyes caught mine, the hint of a cocky grin playing at the side of his mouth.
“I’m fine. Thanks for catching me.” I pulled away. His palm didn’t leave my elbow, though, like he was following me, insisting on invading my space. “It looked dire for a second there. Thank you,” I whispered, both embarrassed and shy about the situation.
“Pleasure’s all mine.” Those ocean eyes trailed across my face, down my neck, and hovered at the vee of my cleavage. My body prickled with desire under this stranger’s gaze. Sparks burned through my fingertips and hardened my nipples, a slow ache beating like a drum on my nerves. “You here for the party?” His deep yet soft voice reverberated through my body, somehow making me feel that this was the voice I was meant to hear for the rest of my life.
I sucked on my bottom lip, wishing instantly I could disappear. Melt into the floor at his feet. Something about the way he held himself, the look in his eyes as he watched me, made it impossible for my body to ignore. My thighs shifted, and I swallowed the bundle of nerves choking my throat. “I was supposed to meet someone.”
I averted my eyes, not really wanting to explain my circumstances for being there at that moment. “Well, I'm someone.” He thrust out his hand, cocky smile deepening. “Name’s Ash.”
My heart thundered to a halt.
Just like that, the world spun on its axis, and I was left heaving for oxygen and desperate for words.
“Got a name, Freckles?” Ash clasped my hand in his, yanking me against him.
This was it.
This was the part where I confessed my name. That I was Tinsley, the Tinsley he’d been writing for the last three years. I owed it to him to be open.
My lips parted, the words on my tongue, before something else slipped out altogether. “Freckles has a nice ring to it.”
His gaze jumped from my eyes to my lips. I sucked in a slow breath, his hand tightening at my elbow and hauling me infinitely closer.
“I think so too.” His warm breath washed across my neck, sending chills racing through me.
I had to contain the moan from slipping past my lips.
This man had that thing about him. That thing that drew women to him like honey, and I’d been a fool to think that just because we had three years of letters behind us, we could be anything in real life. Ash was out of my league. I should have picked up on that when he talked about fun-filled vacations with friends and wild parties, but I hadn’t given it much thought because it didn’t matter then.
It mattered now, though.
A dead weight settled on my shoulders then. He and I were worlds apart, probably never even would have crossed each other's paths if it weren’t for me reaching out to the military pen pals charity a few years ago.
He was in a desperate time. We were both looking for friendship…
“Hey, Tins! I told him to make yours a double.” Lily chose that moment to burst the small bubble we’d created.
“Tins?” Ash arched an eyebrow with interest. “That short for anything?”
Shit, he totally knew.
“Uh…” Lily pushed my new drink at me. “I’m Lily, and you are?”
“Ash Ford.” He thrust a hand out and shook Lily’s hand, those icy-blue orbs glued to mine the entire time.
Lily’s eyes grew to the size of saucers. “So, you’re the man of the hour?”
Ash’s eyebrows rose. “’Spose so.”
“And which one of those fine gentlemen behind you might be willing to buy a girl a drink?” Lily cooed. The realization set in that she was leaving me alone, with Ash, now that she knew who he was.
“Go introduce yourself. Sure you won’t be short on offers,” Ash said.
“Don’t mind if I do.” Lily’s eyes gleamed as she cast me a glance, leaning in to mouth the words, “He’s gorgeous. I’d climb him like a tree if I were you.” I nearly spat out my drink. “Wish me luck!” she called as she sauntered away.
“So,” Ash breathed. “Tins or Freckles, what should I call you?”
I narrowed my gaze at him. The way his eyes did that gleaming thing, making my panties wet and my knees weak, was irritating as hell.
“Nothing to you.” I steeled my spine, setting my drink on the table and making to dash around him and get the hell out of here.
I was in over my head. Dating wasn’t my thing, ever, and this guy was all sorts of intimidating. I could hardly get a word in; my brain swam with so many thoughts of feeling his body pressed to mine again.
And to think this beautiful, cocky bastard was Ash Ford.
The man I’d unloaded all of my past, dreams, and hopes onto.
“Excuse me.” I barely managed the whisper, defeat lacing my tone as I turned away.
But Ash Ford wasn’t about to make walking away easy.
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About the Author
Aria Cole is a thirty-something housewife who once felt bad for reading dirty books late at night, until she decided to write her own. Possessive alpha men and the sassy heroines who love them are common, along with a healthy dose of irresistible insta-love and happily ever afters so sweet your teeth may ache.
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