The Marine’s Embrace
He’s only looking for a room and a fresh start, but Zach finds more than he’d bargained for when he checks into Fay Lindemuth’s bed-and-breakfast. The single mom intrigues him with her quiet strength and gentle beauty. He knows he should keep his distance from Fay and her young sons. Not only is she still hung up on her ex-husband, but as an ex-marine, Zach Castro has no idea what he can offer them. No matter how much he begins to feel for her…
Dark. That was her first impression. Dark jeans and a black T-shirt clung to broad shoulders, a wide chest. Dark hair that reached his collar, the ends lifting in the breeze. Dark, full beard, just beyond the point of trimmed and heading into scraggly. Dark eyes surrounded by thick, sooty lashes, the lids heavy.
Eyes she couldn’t look away from. Eyes that seemed to assess—and dismiss—her before he even blinked.
She shivered. Hugged herself.
Not exactly the most reassuring—or kind—assessment, but there it was, born of some inner knowledge she hadn’t even realized she possessed.
Which was ridiculous. She could hardly claim to know whether he was dangerous or not based on being in his company for a few seconds. Just because he had a hard expression, hooded eyes and was in serious need of some professional grooming didn’t mean he wasn’t a perfectly nice man.
And no matter how hard she tried to convince herself of that, some primitive, maternal instinct had her glancing at her son to make sure he was safe. Had her edging to the side, putting her body between Mitchell and the stranger coming toward her.
The man turned, too, his hard gaze flicking behind her to see whom she was protecting. Beneath the beard his face was lean, almost gaunt, his complexion sallow, as if he’d recently been sick. It was then she noticed the scars, pink and angry looking, along his temple and high on his cheek.
It was then that she noticed the empty sleeve on his right side.
She jerked her gaze back up to his face as he reached her. Cursed the fairness of her skin, knowing her blush was not only visible but probably neon bright.
“Hello,” she said, trying that smile again. He nodded. She waited a moment, but that gesture seemed to be his response, so she forged ahead. “May I help you?”
“Is this Bradford House?” he asked.
“I’m looking for a room.” He paused, his expression tightening. “One that’s accessible.”
She stared at him blankly, trying to figure out why his deep voice tugged at her subconscious, the cadence and the way he said Brad- instead of Brad-strangely familiar. “They’re all accessible.”
How else would people get in and out of them?
He looked at her sharply, as if she was a few petals short of a full bloom. But it wasn’t until he set a large duffel bag on the sidewalk, the movement causing him to wince and fight to remain balanced, that realization dawned.
She really was as dim as everyone thought.
He hadn’t just lost an arm and suffered injuries to his face, he’d hurt his leg as well.
“You mean handicap accessible?” she blurted.
Another nod, this one short and sharp. “Do you have one available?”
His words were clipped. A challenge. As if she’d refuse him.
She wanted to. She wanted to tell him they were fully booked, recommend King’s Crossing or the Holiday Inn.
The thought shook her. Shamed her. Refusing to rent him a room was illegal. Not to mention immoral and hateful.
But her wanting to turn him away had nothing to do with his physical disabilities and everything to do with her instincts. They were shouting at her, begging her to please, for once, listen to them. To trust them. To believe them when they said that while the man before her might not be a con artist, thief or murderer, she still had to protect herself from him.
Thank goodness she always followed her heart and not her gut. Or her head.