IT'S ALWAYS BEEN YOU by Jessica Scott (March 4, 2014; Forever E-Book; $2.99)
She plays by the rules . . .
Captain Ben Teague is many things: a tough soldier, a loyal friend, and a bona fide smart-ass. He doesn't have much tolerance for BS, which is why he's mad as hell when a trusted colleague and mentor is brought up on charges that can't possibly be true. He's even more frustrated with by-the-book lawyer Major Olivia Hale. But there's something simmering beneath her icy reserve-and Ben just can't resist turning up the heat . . .
. . . and he's determined to break them
The only thing riskier than mixing business with pleasure is enjoying it . . . and Olivia can't resist locking horns-and lips-with Ben. He's got more compassion in his little finger than any commander she's ever met, a fact that makes him a better leader than he realizes. But when the case that brought them together awakens demons from Olivia's past, she will have to choose between following orders-or her heart . . .
About Jessica Scott:
USA Today bestselling author Jessica Scott is a career army officer; mother of two daughters, three cats and three dogs; wife to a career NCO and wrangler of all things stuffed and fluffy. She is a terrible cook and even worse housekeeper, but she's a pretty good shot with her assigned weapon and someone liked some of the stuff she wrote. Somehow, her children are pretty well-adjusted and her husband still loves her, despite burned water and a messy house.
She's written for the New York Times At War Blog, PBS Point of View: Regarding War Blog, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. She deployed to Iraq in 2009 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn and has served as a company commander at Fort Hood, Texas.
She's pursuing a PhD in Sociology in her spare time and most recently, she's been featured as one ofEsquire Magazine's Americans of the Year for 2012.
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“You don’t like being in command, do you, Ben?” she whispered. The air was thick between them, heavy with unsaid things.
He shook his head. “It’s too much responsibility for other people’s problems. I’m not qualified to judge someone else’s screw ups,” he said.
He shifted so he could face her, his body angled toward hers. A shadow partially concealed his face, casting it in hard lines and a dozen shades of grey.
“You’re not supposed to be perfect to be a leader,” she whispered. Her voice cracked, hung on the tension in her neck from sitting a little too close.
Silence filled the space between them. Heavy and warm and crackling with latent energy.
He licked his bottom lip, his gaze locked with hers. “I don’t want to be either,” he said. His voice was a husky whisper filled with need.
Her breath caught in her throat. A hesitant movement. A breath closer. This was monumentally stupid. Infinitely so.
And yet she parted her lips, her entire body trembling in anticipation of the faintest touch of his. He was there, just there. A breath separated them. Nothing more.
It was a hesitant kiss. A light, teasing brush of his top lip against hers. Her breath mingled with his, threading between them and urging her closer. She met his eyes, waiting. Wanting. Needing more of this deeply sensual man who made her feel so many writhing, hungry things.
It was forever before either of them moved. Her breath was locked in her throat. Then she felt it. His palm slid over her cheek, his fingers rough on her skin. Warmth penetrated her, wound its way over the surface to slide beneath her skin and stroke something long dormant to life.
Need. It was need that made her lean toward him. Need that made her part her lips and trace his mouth with her tongue. Need that made her nip his bottom lip and thread her fingers in the short hair on the back of his neck.
Need that made her gasp in pleasure as his tongue slid against hers, twining in that sensuous dance that brought her blood to life. Heat pounded between her thighs, an aching, pulsing want that scorched her like nothing she’d ever felt.
She gave herself over to the sensation, to the pleasure of his touch. Knowing it was a mistake and far past caring as her breath finally released, mixing with the heated strokes of his tongue.
She eased back after a moment, before she did something monumentally stupid, like crawling into his lap in broad daylight.
“We really should talk about those legal packets,” she said against his mouth.
His smile was unexpected. “Wow, you are hell on a man’s ego,” he said.
The laugh caught her off guard and she rested her forehead against his as she struggled to regain her composure. Something opened against her heart, something unexpected and warm.
For a brief moment, it was tempting to throw caution to the curb, to nuzzle his mouth with hers, to absorb his taste andwarmth.
And then reality kicked in.
“We really should head back. We’ve got that meeting in two hours,” she said.
He smiled. “Always responsible and focused.”
He brushed his thumb over her lip as he said it. This was something nice.
It was going to be an interesting legal briefing, that was for damn sure.
Olivia looked away. The first packet was heavy in her hand. “The quick summary is that you have five drinking and driving, two assaults, three hot urinalysis tests and five soldiers caught with other intoxicating substances.”
“Define ‘other intoxicating substances’? What the hell does that mean?”
“Huffing, spice, bath salts.”
“Bath salts? What the hell are bath salts?”
Olivia pulled out her phone and pulled up a website explaining the drug. “They’re really new but we’re starting to see more of them. They’re meant to be a synthetic drug that mimics cocaine and ecstasy but they’re really bad stuff. Some of it is variants of plant food.”
Ben reached for her phone and angled it so he could see. His hand was big and rough against hers. Hot where their skin met. If he noticed, he didn’t give any indication. “Plant food?”
Olivia tried to ignore how his hand felt against hers. Because, oh yes, she’d noticed. Heat spread across her skin, sliding up her forearm and tingling down her spine. “Soldiers will smoke anything these days,” she said quietly.
“That’s a whole ’nother discussion,” she said, easing her hand out of his. “The short version is that intoxicating substances are prohibited by regulation and I advise you to do two things with these kids: send a strong message that this behavior won’t be tolerated but also enroll them into drug abuse counseling to send a message that you’ll help those who want it.”
Ben studied the paperwork in front of him. Tormented emotions flickered over his face and it was everything she could do not to ask him what was on his mind. She didn’t have time or reason to go crawling around Ben Teague’s head but that didn’t stop the want pulsing warmly over her skin.
“I know this kid,” Ben said quietly. “I served with him downrange last deployment but ever since he’s come home, he’s been nothing but trouble to the old commander. Zittoro has three previous drug charges,” he said.
“Private Zittoro is a different case. I recommend you separate him from the military under a chapter nine, rehab failure.”
She heard his quick intake of breath. Saw the conflict flicker over his sharp features.
He cleared his throat roughly in the awkward silence. “Zittoro… he’s got nowhere to go. He’s got a deadbeat dad and his mom is… well, she’s not winning any parent of the year awards.” His fist clenched on the table in front of her. “If I throw him out of the army, what happens to him? He’s an addict.”
She flinched at the pain in his words. Ben had only been a commander for a couple of hours but the strain was already obvious in his voice.
“You can’t save everyone,” she whispered. She waited until his eyes met hers.
“You know that, right?”
There was no comfort she could offer. This was the burden of command: to balance the needs of the army over the needs of the individual. A tightrope he had to walk alone.
All she could do was give him the facts and her opinion. But in that moment, she had the sudden urge to save him from this. “If you keep him, do you have the manpower to keep going to his room and making sure he hasn’t overdosed every night? Do you trust him enough to give him a weapon and believe he’ll do his job?”
Ben’s throat moved as he swallowed. “Guess not,” he said quietly. He leaned back and it was as if a wall of glass crystallized between them. “What other fun things do you have in there for me?”
Olivia wasn’t convinced by the sudden shift in Ben’s mood but now wasn’t the time or the place for digging any deeper. She reviewed the rest of the drug packets, watching him tense more with each one. She stopped after the last driving under the influence.
“Why is this bothering you so much?”
He offered a half-assed cocky grimace that failed to mimic the smile he was going for. A pretty shitty attempt to cover the darkness twisting beneath the surface. He took a deep breath. “I’m a big boy. I’ll do what has to be done.”
“I didn’t imply that you wouldn’t. But that doesn’t mean it’s not bothering you.”
He drummed his fingers on the table. “Let’s finish this up. I’ve got to get down to my company and start digging out from the mountain of crap that my predecessor left me.”
He brushed her off. The action was as insignificant as a paper cut.
She leaned back and picked up the next packet and wished it didn’t sting like it did. Then she made the mistake of meeting his gaze. There was such a dark lack of hope in his eyes. A bleak resignation to the things he was forced to confront. She almost reached for his hand. It would have been a simple gesture of support. But he looked at her as though a single touch might have shattered him.
He was not her problem. She didn’t do damaged and introspective.
Because there were people counting on her not to get distracted.
But looking at him now, she wondered about the glimpse of the tired warrior she saw behind those tormented brown eyes.
“Hey,” she said quietly.
The memory of that kiss made him crave another taste of her. He’d thought she was fire and passion and so damned determined before. Now he knew that quiet energy she directed toward work was merely a hint of the passion concealed beneath that cool exterior.
It was a passion he wanted to feel beneath his fingertips. That he wanted to slide against.
“Hey.” He swallowed, about to cross a line from professional to… something else.
And damned if he wasn’t afraid to cross that line. That kiss earlier was nothing compared to what she’d just given him.
She’d lied for him today. Ben had been about to make something up that would get his battalion commander off his back and Olivia had stepped in with a smooth story that had deflected Gilliad’s attention with no one the wiser.
She’d agreed not to tell the boss. He hadn’t expected her to all-out lie for him. And now that she had? He didn’t quite know how to broach the subject with her. Not at all.
She straightened and leaned against her desk. The broken scale tray swayed as she bumped it with her hip. He grasped at it for a distraction from his racing thoughts. “You know one of these is broken?”
She nodded. “It’s supposed to be.”
He studied her quietly. “What like broken justice?
Ben paused, studying the soft bun at the nape of her neck. Her skin was exposed. Her neck was long and lean. He had the sudden image in his head of dragging his tongue down that tender flesh. Would she gasp? Would she tip her head and grant him access to more of her secret places?
He cleared his throat roughly. “You lied for me today.”
She stilled, guilt flashing over her face. “Yeah, about that…”
“Thank you,” he said quickly.
She lifted one brow. “For lying?”
“For giving me the benefit of the doubt. That doesn’t happen very often,” he said quietly.
“Really? But you’re such a charmer.”
Ben shifted until he stood a little too close. Until he could see her eyes darken the way they had in the car when he’d given in to the temptation to kiss her. “Are you teasing me? Because if you are, I think I need to make a note on my calendar that yes, you do officially have a sense of humor.”
A smile crossed her lips. It took everything he had not to slide his thumb over that soft skin. He wanted to see her lips close over the tip. To feel her warm mouth encircle him and… Jesus, he still had to go back to work.
“I do have a sense of humor. I just don’t get to break it out very often because the only thing I see at work is the seedy underbelly of the army. There’s not much humor in what I do.”
“Maybe you need to relax a little more.” Ben shifted until he could nudge the door shut behind him. He didn’t want anyone to see. Didn’t want to give anyone a hint of something that was private and intimate and deeply compelling. Were they flirting? This felt like flirting. And with this woman, he had absolutely no basis to say either way what this really was.
“I don’t know what this ‘relax’ is that you speak of,” she said.
He felt a long-forgotten twinge deep in his belly. It was something so foreign, he’d forgotten it was something he was capable of. In all his casual encounters, he’d forgotten what real attraction felt like.
He swallowed the dryness in his mouth. He didn’t know what to do with this realization that Olivia Hale was someone he wanted to… someone he wanted. It was one thing to flirt with someone at a bar, to take them home for a few hours of mindless sex.
This? This was something entirely different.
Something more than wanting a few hours of sheets sliding over skin, of warm bodies slipping together. This was something darker. Something warmer.
Something infinitely more valuable.
“Maybe I’ll ply you with alcohol tonight at Stable Call. We’ll see if we can’t get you to unwind a little bit.” His voice was low, grating on his ears.
“Good luck with that. I only drink socially. There will be no drunken pictures of me immortalized on the Internet.” She stepped toward him then, closing the last distance between them. She reached up and slid her hand over his cheek. Ben went very still as her palm slid over his skin. Her palm was cool against his face. Gentle. It took everything he had to let her slip out of reach again.
He captured her palm before she could slip away. Held it there against his cheek. “Thank you,” he whispered. “For Zittoro.”
Her lips parted. He could feel the slight huff of breath on his skin. “Thank you
for trusting me with the truth.” She slipped her fingers from his, her eyes sparkling. “Just don’t make me come after you for that packet.”
Ben caught her hand before he thought about it. His hand closed over hers, her index finger captured in a gentle loop between his thumb and forefinger.
He had the sudden wild idea to put her finger to his lips. He pressed it gently to his mouth. Felt the pad of her finger on his bottom lip. A single bolt of electricity snapped over his skin.
A simple touch. Nothing more.
They were at work. It was the single stupidest thing he could have done.
He released her quickly, before anyone could see. Before he could do something stupid like pull her close and kiss her again. The want inside him was powerful. Raw and needy.