THIRTY-NINE

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As Bruce waited to see what she would do next, Claire turned around, straightening her shoulders and looking resigned. "If you want to press charges, I will understand."

"What?" Feeling a little stunned, Bruce stood up, his eyes doing a series of rapid blinks. "What are you talking about?"

Wringing her hands, she stared down at his feet. "For—" She looked to her left and right before moving toward him, still not willing to make eye contact. When close enough to use a whisper, she stopped and murmured, "Sexual assault."

More blinking on his part. Then he threw his head back and laughed.

She finally met his gaze, hers shadowed by a frown. "This is not a laughing matter, Major."

'No," he squeezed out between chortles. He tried to suppress it, but the laughter kept flowing.

Until he saw her reaction.

Big brown eyes became shiny with tears before she stepped away from him, heading to her room.

No more laughing. "Claire, wait," he said, following her.

When she kept moving, he grabbed her upper arm and spun her around, backing her up against the countertop of the center-island. Placing his hands on the concrete at either side of her hips, he locked her in place. Clearly shocked by his move, she stood frozen while he used the proximity to enjoy a close-up examination of the freckles on her cheeks.

Regaining composure, she tried to edge her way out from the circle of his arms, but he held tight. "Let me go," she demanded.

"Not until we get one thing straight. Last night was by no means an assault. Sexual, yes, I'll give you that. But assault? No way."

"It was inappropriate. I took advantage of my position. I . . . I touched you, someone under my command."

"Well . . ." Bruce smiled a little and brought a hand up to her neck, running his thumb along her jaw line. "When I do this, do you feel assaulted?"

Her eyes widened. "No," she breathed.

He dragged his finger from her chin to the hollow at the base of her throat, drawing circles inside the sweet indentation. "How about now?"

The shake of her head was barely detectable. It was her expectant stillness that provided its own version of permission.

Stop, he told himself. This was a stick of dynamite rolling toward an open flame. It was early morning on a crowded base. At any moment someone could arrive at their door.

But as the tip of her tongue parted perfect lips, he tempted fate. His hand inched further down. He could feel the incline through her shirt where cleavage began. Slowly, he brushed his fingertip back and forth over her contours. "And now?" God, his voice was so raspy he hardly recognized it.

She closed her eyes and arched toward him in a way that got his blood pumping. Everywhere. Now this, this was more like it. She was with him in the moment. No one-sided clinical evaluation this time.

When a little moan sounded from deep in her throat, he forgot all about location and timing. He needed to touch her, to feel her breast in his palm even if it was through clothing. Flattening his hand, he—

A hard knock rattled the door on its hinges. "Commander Wilson," Morris's muffled voice called through it.

Claire gulped down a gasp and pushed Bruce aside. Bracing himself against the countertop, he hung his head and muttered a curse.

With the limited patience of a man that was used to being in command and catered to, the door knobbed turned . . . and in walked Claire's number one hypochondriac.

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