Secrets buried in the sand…
Former US Army Captain Mia Starr has built a new life for herself in Denver, far away from camel spiders and sand—and the terrible secrets of her first deployment to Iraq. She isn’t looking for a relationship, especially not with an intrusive photojournalist. Joaquin Ramirez might be sexy, but in her experience, photojournalists only want to make a buck off other people’s suffering. Still, the universe must have a sick sense of humor because it keeps throwing her together with Joaquin, making the desire she feels for him harder and harder to resist.
An undeniable attraction…
As a Pulitzer Prize-winning news photographer, Joaquin has everything a single, straight guy could want—except the right woman. When he meets Mia while shooting a crime scene, he immediately sees beyond her cold exterior to the vulnerable woman beneath. Though the police consider her a suspect, he’s sure she’s innocent. Someone is killing soldiers—and trying to pin the blame on her. Unable to resist the pull between them, Joaquin stands by her, only to find himself snared in the killer’s net as well.
A twisted soul hungry for revenge…
Mia can’t help it when the heat between her and Joaquin melts away her preconceptions. As their passion explodes, danger draws ever closer. When it becomes clear that Mia is the killer’s true target, she must trust Joaquin with a secret that could ruin her…or risk losing the love of a lifetime.
Read an excerpt below...
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Mia stood in the doorway while Joaquin led Elena onto a bit of open wood floor to cheers from their relatives.
“Quino taught Elena to dance when she was only four and he was fourteen,” said a woman standing beside Mia.
So, Joaquin was thirty-four—three years older than Mia.
Not that it mattered or meant anything at all.
“He’s a photographer,” the woman said. “He’s the artist of the family. I’m Isabel, his mother.”
“Nice to meet you.” Mia really ought to head home, but having seen him dance once tonight, she couldn’t get herself to move toward the door.
He and Elena stood there debating something in Spanish.
Isabel leaned close to Mia. “My son wants salsa dura—the classic salsa—but Elena wants salsa romantica. They’ve agreed on Marc Anthony.”
None of that meant anything to Mia. She knew nothing about salsa, apart from the kind that went on tacos.
Finally, the music started and Joaquin and Elena began to move. People cheered, the noise bringing people who’d been in other parts of the house and wanted to watch, too. They pushed past Mia, but she barely noticed them, her gaze fixed on Joaquin.
He moved with natural grace, every step, every motion of his hips, even the way he held Elena radiating masculine sensuality. The two of them seemed to be connected, mirroring each other with their steps as if they practiced this together all the time. Elena—down-to-business Corporal Ramirez—had transformed into a dance goddess, her short dress barely enough to cover her butt. She twirled and tossed her hair, never missing a step, a bright smile on her face. How could anyone dance like that in three-inch heels? Mia could barely walk.
Then Elena turned in Joaquin’s arms, thrusting her ass backward toward him, her hips moving in a way that was blatantly sexual. He laughed, answering with thrusts of his own, their hips grinding in sync.
Mia’s pulse skipped.
If she had danced like this with a cousin… Well, let’s just say her conservative Baptist parents would’ve asked questions. But there was Elena’s mother, Aleta, and Joaquin’s mother, Isabel, and their little old grandma, laughing, their feet moving to the rhythm. None of them seemed bothered by this at all.
Then another thought struck Mia.
If Joaquin moved like that on the dance floor, what would he be like in bed?
God in heaven.
No. No, no. She couldn’t think about that.
She couldn’t help but think about that.
Elena had begun to sing along to the music, even her ribcage undulating as she turned in his arms once again, their feet keeping a perfect rhythm as they moved around the room. Although Elena was the showier of the two of them, Mia could tell it was Joaquin who was in control, his dominance clear—a touch here, his hand catching Elena’s there, his arms supporting her while she arched backward.
When the song ended, the room exploded into applause.
Joaquin hugged Elena close. “Welcome home, prima.”
“Joaquin is a good man,” Isabel said.
Mia looked over to find the older woman watching her. “I … um…”
Then Joaquin was there, hand out. “Dance with me.”
Mia shook her head. “I … I can’t dance. I’ve never—”
“Quino is the best teacher.” Elena looked at Mia, expectation on her face.
“Come on, Captain Starr,” Isabel said. “Give it a try.”
Her words were picked up by the others in the room.
“At least try it.”
“Quino can teach you.”
“You can do it, Captain.”
She glanced around at them. “Only if you all promise not to laugh.”
For some reason, they found this funny.
Joaquin looked into her eyes, the intensity of his gaze pinning her to the spot. “I won’t laugh. I promise.”
Against her better judgment, Mia took his hand. “I’m warning you. I’m probably no good at this.”
“The basic step is easy. Elena, come show her.”
Elena walked over to stand at Mia’s right side. “Just listen to Quino.”
“Step back with your right, step in place with the left, then step slightly forward with your right again. Then back with your left, step in place with the right foot, slightly forward with the left. Rock back, replace, step forward. Rock back, replace, step forward. That’s it. You’ve got it.”
They repeated that several times, Mia watching Elena’s feet.
“Now, try doing it without looking at your feet. Look at me, and follow my lead.”
Mia looked into Joaquin’s brown eyes, felt her pulse spike—and her step faltered.
“Relax,” he said in a silky voice that made relaxing impossible.
“I’d rather be taking enemy fire.” She blurted the words—but it was the truth.
The room exploded into laughter—and somehow that helped. No one here wanted to humiliate her. No one wanted to embarrass her. They were just having fun, and they wanted her to have fun, too.
“It will be easier for you to follow if we’re a little closer together.” Joaquin drew her closer—not so close that their bodies touched, but close enough that she could feel the warmth emanating from him and smell his skin.
She inhaled deeper, savoring the scent of him, the male feel of him.
“Let’s try again. One, two, three, rest. Five, six, seven, rest. You’ve got it. You’re doing it. Now let’s try turning.”
The next time she stepped back with her right foot, Joaquin turned her to the right—and she lost the step.
That’s okay. This is new. You’ll get the hang of it.” Joaquin coached her until she’d managed to get through a few turns, not once losing his patience with her. “Let’s try it with music.”
Someone put on the same Marc Anthony song, Joaquin counting out the rhythm for her. “One, two, three, rest. Five, six, seven, rest. Look at me, not your feet.”
To her surprise, Mia found herself dancing, the rhythm of the music showing her feet what to do. At first, they moved forward and backward. Then Joaquin led her through a few turns, putting a hand on her hip to guide her. The contact startled her, his touch seeming to burn through the fabric of her dress. Again, her step faltered.
“Hey, no one gets it right the first time,” he said. “Just keep dancing.”
Mia tried to concentrate. One, two, three, rest. Five, six, seven, rest.
“You’re overthinking it. Let go.”
She gave in, looked into his eyes once more, the rhythm taking over.
“You’ve got it.” Joaquin grinned, his face stunningly handsome.
Mia found herself smiling, too. She knew she must look stiff and awkward, especially compared to Elena, but she didn’t care. “This is fun!”
“More fun than dodging incoming fire?”
She couldn’t help but laugh. “Yes.”
Too soon the song ended.
Cheers and applause.
Joaquin stepped back, raised one of her hands to his lips, kissed it, the contact alarming. “Thanks.”
Heat rushed into her cheeks. “Thank you.”
All at once, Mia needed to be somewhere else, anywhere else. “I should go.”
“So soon?” Elena looked disappointed. “It’s not even ten.”
“I’m an early riser, so this is late for me.” Mia gave Elena another hug. “It’s great to see you again.”
“It’s good to see you, too. Thanks for coming. I’ll get your coat.”
Mia thanked her hosts, accepting hugs from Elena’s mother and a kiss on her cheek from Elena’s father.
“Thank you so much for what you did for our daughter.”
When Elena returned with Mia’s coat, Joaquin took it and helped Mia into it. “I’ll walk you to your car.”
She was about to tell him there was no need for that, but the look in his eyes said that would be pointless. “Goodnight, Elena. Welcome home.”
Joaquin grabbed his jacket and followed her outside, and for a time they walked without speaking. He broke the silence. “Thanks again for coming tonight. I know it meant a lot to Elena.”
“I try to stay in touch with all of my soldiers. Well, they’re not really my soldiers, not anymore.”
“Like Andrew Meyer.”
“Yes.” Mia’s mood plummeted.
“I’m really sorry about your friend—and the news article.”
“You just have a job to do. Nothing personal, right?” Mia clicked the fob on her keychain, unlocking her car door, her headlights flashing.
Was she being unfair to Joaquin? It was his job. And she was a person of interest—at least at the moment. The police would clear her.
He opened the door for her. “I hope you get good news soon.”
“Thanks.” She stood there for a moment, caught between anger and attraction. “Thanks for the dance lesson, too.”
“My pleasure.” He waited for her to climb in and shut her door.