slug in a twenty-two rifle.”

At twenty-six, the highly skilled female warrior was hardly anybody’s baby girl. “She’ll be fine.”

Tyler’s face creased in a frown. “I wonder.”

“What do you wonder, Dad?”

The softly feminine voice traveled along Daniel’s nerve endings straight to his sex, and he got as hard as a pike between inhaling and exhaling. Damn, how could a woman who dressed, acted and fought like a man sound so much like a woman and have such an impact on his libido?

She wasn’t exactly standard wet dream material, being on the short side of average with small curves. And her chin-length, reddish brown hair gave her a perky air, not a sexy one, but it didn’t matter. She made him react like a horny teen getting his first glimpse of Marilyn Monroe-style cleavage.

He wanted Josie like hell on fire, and she’d shown him six ways from Sunday that she wasn’t interested.

Tyler’s green gaze settled on his daughter. “I wonder how well you’re going to fit into the normal world.”

The smile she’d been wearing when she walked into the austere room that reminded Daniel of army quarters slipped right off her face. “About as well as I fit into this world, I guess.”

There was something in her voice that confused him, a bitterness he wouldn’t have expected. She made it sound like she didn’t belong, but he’d met few mercs as capable as she was.

Tyler grunted. “You fit in just fine with other soldiers.”

“But I’m not a soldier, Dad.” She sat down on the edge of a twin-size army bed pushed up against one wall and put one foot on the mattress, then looped her arms around her knee. Swinging the other leg, she gave her dad one of those serious looks that always caught at something inside Daniel he didn’t want to deal with. “I’ve never been enlisted. I don’t owe my undying allegiance to any world government.”

“You’re a better soldier than ninety-nine percent of the armed forces.”

She shrugged and turned to face Daniel, her small but tempting breasts outlined by her khaki tank top. “How are Wolf and Lise?”

It took him a second to respond to her words rather than the seductive force of her body. “They’re expecting a baby.”

Primal male tension filled him as he waited for her to ask about Hotwire. She’d shown a definite preference for the other man’s company on their last mission.

Oblivious to his tension, her pixie face lit up, and her smile made her seem too damn sweet to know as much about bombs as she did. “Hotwire didn’t tell me. They must have just found out.”

What the—“You keep in touch?”

Her pale green eyes warmed in a way that made Daniel want to hit something. “He’s been helping me with my computer training.”

For no discernable reason, Daniel’s muscles contracted into battle-ready mode. “He never mentioned it.”

“Probably because he knows you don’t like me.”

“What are you talking about?” Not like her? He wanted her more than he’d wanted any other woman.

Despite her total lack of encouragement in that area, he couldn’t get rid of the desire that made his blood bubble like molten lava whenever she was around.

She rolled her eyes, her nose wrinkling. “You didn’t exactly make a secret of it on the mission with Wolf and Lise.”

“I never friggin once said I didn’t like you.” Could she really be this blind?

Her laugh was hollow, and her eyes went dark with something he didn’t have a hope of defining.

The only thing he understood about women was their sexual response, and since Josie’s was about as clear as an over-cast day, he couldn’t figure her out at all.

“You didn’t have to. I mean, actions speak louder than words, don’t they?”

Hell, he’d always thought they did, but since meeting her, he wasn’t so sure. “I don’t dislike you.”

Her eyes went wide at his tone, but he wasn’t used to having to explain himself. Most of the time he wouldn’t have even bothered, but having her believe he didn’t like her bothered him. For all her strength as a soldier, she was vulnerable.

“Maybe you don’t dislike me, but you don’t exactly like my company either. You made it pretty clear I was just in the way on the mission.”

“You weren’t in the way.”

“That’s not what you said the last night of the mission.”

“I was in a bad mood.” She’d been all over Hotwire after treating Daniel like the untouchable man on their cross-country drive together.

“Which seems to be your constant state of being when you’re around me.”

He opened his mouth to argue when he suddenly remembered they weren’t alone. Tyler McCall sat on a straight-back wooden chair, an arrested expression on his weather-beaten, darkly tanned face. Daniel’s lips snapped together, and he frowned, first at Tyler and then at Josie.

“We can discuss this later.”

“Further dialogue on the blatantly obvious facts would be redundant.”

“You sound like a schoolteacher sucking on a lemon.” And a woman still very much convinced he did not like her.

The anger he’d learned to control fought to slip its leash as frustration ripped at his insides. It was as though she was being deliberately obtuse, only she was too natural to be putting on an act. She really believed that crap.

Did that mean she’d similarly misread his sexual signals?

He wanted her, and the truth was, an emotion as lukewarm as liking didn’t begin to come into it. His feelings where she was concerned were much too hot for mere liking.

Josie kicked the covers off and flopped onto her back to stare at the dark ceiling above her.

Staying the night at the compound had been a bad idea. Nitro hadn’t driven back down the mountain to his hotel until well after dinner, and her dad had insisted she stick around to discuss plans for the school with them. Even though she was no longer going to teach, he wanted her opinion on the new training program he’d been devising.

Usually, being asked for her opinion by her dad made Josie feel good. Tonight it had been an instrument of torture, keeping her cooped up in the same room with Nitro and his testosterone-laden body.

She wouldn’t have been at the compound at all, but her dad had finally consented to her computerizing his files. She’d finished the week before and was done installing the new software. All she had to do was go through the easy entry procedure with him, and he would be good to go.

She supposed she’d have to show Nitro, too, since he was going to be her father’s partner.

Her hands fisted at her sides while her body tingled the way it did every time she thought about him. Seeing him again had her hot and bothered and from past experience, she knew the feeling wouldn’t be disappearing anytime soon.

He was just so sexy. Everything about him turned her on, and she wasn’t used to feelings like this. From mahogany brown eyes that looked as though they held the secrets of the universe, to black glossy hair he wore just a little long, to a muscular but flexible body she desperately wanted to touch, he was the most appealing man she’d ever known, and she’d known a lot of men.

Her father’s school had seen hundreds of pupils over the years, and she’d gotten to know pretty much all of them, ninety-eight percent of whom had been male. None of whom had impacted her like Nitro did.

Maybe if she’d been able to spend any bonding time with the women who came through the school, she would now know what to do with the feelings Nitro elicited in her, but she hadn’t known how to relate to the female soldiers. She had no more fit in among them than she had in the public school she’d tried out for a couple of months before returning to homeschool at her father’s mercenary training compound.

She’d always felt like the rest of the world had a secret handshake she’d never been given, so she would forever be on the outside looking in. The only person in the world she was really close to was her dad, and he wasn’t exactly sane by society’s standards.

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