Book 1 in the Anchored Hearts series
The music at Hamilton Lanes pumped loudly through speakers in the ceiling. Wavy locks hung around Layla’s face as she tied her shoelaces. She tucked the wayward strands behind her ear and smiled at me. “So, are you any good?” She’d caught me off guard, and for a moment, I didn’t know how to answer. That had to be an innuendo.
“At bowling?” A smile worked its way onto my face as I teased.
“What else would I be referring to?” There was no mistaking the flirting in her words.
“Could be any number of things.”
“Why don’t you fill in the blank how you see fit?” She retrieved a ball from the rack, letting her fingers graze my thigh as she slunk past me.
I closed her in by the ball rack. “I’m extremely good.”
“Fill in the blank as you see fit. The answer will still be ‘yes’.”
“What do you think?” She strutted and twirled like a runway model.
“Wow, Layla! You look amazing.”
The slinky black dress was simple, but elegant. Cut just low enough in the front to allow her breasts to tease, and low enough in the back to draw my eyes to her perfect curves.
“I love it. This is the one.”
“I haven’t even tried the other one yet.”
“You can try it if you like, but this one gets my vote.” As Layla examined her reflection, I placed my hand on her ass, sliding up and down over the velvet fabric. “If you get this one, I won’t be able to keep my hands off you.”
Her luscious lips curved into a flirtatious smile. “Then maybe I will get it.” She looked at the price tag. “Or maybe not. Ethan, this dress is ridiculously expensive.”
“And you’re worth every penny.”
“I should at least give you half. Or we can go to a less expensive store.”
It was time to put my foot down. “Layla! I’m buying it. Now, go try on the other dress if you want, but we’re leaving here with one of them.”
“And when you’re done, pick out some shoes.”
She darted back to the fitting room.
“And lingerie,” I called after her. “Do you know they have panties that you can actually eat?”
While I waited for Layla to try on the second dress, the sales clerk who’d helped us earlier showed me a pearl necklace with matching earrings. “These will go with whichever dress she chooses.”
I looked over my shoulder to see if Layla was ready to model the next dress. She hadn’t come out yet, but what caught my eye caused a knot to form in the pit of my stomach. What. The. Fuck.
My heart pounded, forcing panic through my veins with every beat. I stood, paralyzed with fear, as Commander Murphy strode right toward me. Where had he come from? What was he doing here? We were several miles away from the base. I hadn’t considered the possibility of running into someone who knew us.
“Parker! How’s it going?”
I shook his outstretched hand and prayed he couldn’t detect the sweat on my palm.
“I’m good, Sir, how are you?”
“As good as can be expected. What brings you to this neck of the woods?”
“Oh. I, um… I’m picking up a gift. For a friend.” That wasn’t a lie… except Layla was much more than a friend. I tried to appear relaxed in spite of the alarming thoughts flooding my mind. Reduced pay. Reduced rank. Captain’s Mast. Dishonorable discharge. Confinement. “What about you, Sir?”
“I just received news last night that my brother passed away. We’re flying to New York in just a few hours.”
“I’m sorry for your loss, Sir. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do.” I had to calm my breathing, or he’d know something was up.
His brow furrowed. “Actually, now that you mention it, there is. I’ve been working out the details for an upcoming operation. I’d hate for my impromptu travel plans to impede the mission.” He took a step closer to me and continued in a lower voice. “You’re the only one with the security clearance to access it.”
“Say no more, Sir. I’ll take care of it.”
“Great. I really appreciate it.”
I stole a glance toward the fitting room, hoping Layla would stay put for a while. Please, please. Let the zipper get stuck. A squeaky door hinge set me on edge. Holy shit. This was it. The end of my career.