When Emma Cartwright gets some very (very) bad health news, she handles it in just about the last way that anybody who knows her would expect. Namely, she heads out alone to a bar on Friday night, intent on having her first-ever one-night-stand. A single night of escape with a scorching guy, and then she’ll focus on her treatment and recovery. After all, what’s one night, really? Ever since coming back from Afghanistan two years ago, Dean Jessop’s life is all about ‘just one night’. No commitment; nothing permanent; nothing long-term. He meets Emma and one night of hot sex later, she sneaks out of Dean’s place while he sleeps – and they both think that’s it. Neither expects to see the other ever again. A month later, a chance encounter brings them back in to each other’s lives. They strike an agreement which includes: casual sex only, nothing too personal, and they can end it anytime with a single word. What Emma and Dean don’t count on is developing strong and real feelings for each other, despite Emma hiding her disease and Dean running from his guilt. When Dean finally tells Emma what happened in Afghanistan, she wonders if she can confess her own dark secret. But can she really expect him to forgive her for hiding her illness from him? If she tells him the truth, will he be there for her through it all? And can she help him make peace with his own demons? The Unseen Enemy is created by Marysol James, an EGlobal Creative Publishing signed author.
VOLUME ONE: Enemy Within
When Emma Cartwright pulled into the parking lot of Shooter's Bar on that Friday night, she was a woman with a mission. Like the best of missions, it was simple, clear, and had a defined and measurable aim: Emma was going to go in there and pick up a scorching hot man and go home with him.
Shooter's was, she knew, hands-down the best damn place in Denver to embark on such a mission. According to Kat, the guys in this place were pretty much after nothing but a good time. And Emma needed a good time tonight.
She sat in her car for a minute, running over the game plan in her mind. OK, so a few deal breakers in terms of her choice for her very first one-night-stand:
First, Kat had said that Shooter's attracted lots of soldiers passing through, and Emma wasn't so interested in guys recently back from combat. Chances were they'd be traumatized, and she had more than enough trauma going on in her life right now. No, tonight was an escape for her, and as such, she wasn't interested in damaged, possibly dangerous, guys. And she'd have to keep her wits about her here: no getting drunk and putting herself in a bad situation with the wrong guy.
Second, nobody too sweet. He had to be a nice guy, clearly, but not relationship material. She had a tendency to get attached to sweet guys, guys who held her hand and wanted to take her for dinner. But if this was just casual sex, then she didn't want it to be with a guy that she'd really want to see again.
Third, she needed to lie about herself. Not her name; that was going a bit far. But she definitely didn't want anyone knowing that she was a psychologist that tended to freak people out even at the best of times so tonight she was going to be Olivia Jameson's personal assistant. She was sure that Liv wouldn't mind the deception, though she was pretty certain that her actual assistant Nigel most definitely would.
As if she had conjured Olivia up just by thinking about her, Liv's ring tone trilled from Emma's purse. She pushed 'reject' and then turned the ringer to vibrate. She knew that Kat and Liv and Jenny were all anxious to hear the final diagnosis after almost a month of medical tests, but Emma didn't want to talk about that right now. Tomorrow was fine for doom and gloom. Tonight was about grabbing on to life with both hands, as hard as she could, as many times as she could take it.
She knew that what she was doing was unhealthy and reactionary. If one of her patients had received the kind of bad news that she'd gotten that day, and they then had turned around and flung themselves full-on into a one-night-stand, Emma would have plenty to say about that. She'd say they were in some major denial, and desperately trying to avoid inevitable pain, and maybe even engaging in some complicated form of self-harm.
Shut it, Dr. Cartwright. Looking for affirmation of life is completely normal when you've been marked by death.
She looked at herself in the mirror. Her blue eyes had shadows under them and she looked pale. She slicked on a bit of concealer and blush and shook out her long, dark hair. She unbuttoned the top button of her white blouse, hesitated, then undid the second one. And there she was, a curvy, thirty-one-year-old woman looking good in her tight black skirt and high heels, a pretty young woman just looking for a good time.
In the mirror, Emma met her own eyes for a few seconds.
Here we go.
It was the same Friday night that he had had the week before. And the week before that and before that. The same damn Friday night that he'd have the next week, and the one after that. Every Friday night was the same, and Dean Jessop was sick to death of it.
Not that he was in Shooter's every fucking week, but the location hardly mattered, did it? If he was in Shooter's or at The Cave or drinking beer with Dallas and Chris and Jim at his place, it was always the same. He was always the same. And God knows, the women were always the same.
Dean glared around the bar, pissed off at the noise and heat and smell. The other guys were all paired off already with women draped over their laps, and he knew as the lone man without a chick, he was a vulnerable target. Sure enough, the blonde at the bar was still eyeing him even though he'd shot her down pretty firmly earlier in a fit of bad mood. He knew she figured that after a few more drinks, he'd change his mind about her. The sad thing was, she wasn't wrong. Another two rounds, and he'd be ready to go home with just about anyone.
"Hey, Dean. You gonna relax and get into the spirit of the party?"
He looked back at his friends. Chris' chick-of-the-night was up at the bar getting another horrible fruity drink and Chris was leaning forward, staring at him.
"I'm trying, man. Slim pickings tonight."
The two women at the table looked offended.
"I'm not referring to you, of course, ladies." D
ean flashed them his charming smile and they calmed down. "I mean everyone else."
Dallas ran a massive hand up and down the redhead's leg. "Uh-huh. We sure lucked out, huh?"
"I think we did, baby," she purred back. "The second you guys walked in, every woman in the place wanted to be where I am right now."
"And where you'll be later," Jim said. The blonde on his lap smirked and rubbed his broad chest.
Yeah, OK, Dean knew that the four of them made an impressive group when they walked into a room. Tall, muscular, strong, with a general air of 'don't-fuck-with-us', they were all former Rangers now living semi-civilized civilian lives in their own ways. They weren't in active combat anymore, but every man still lived and breathed what he had been through in Afghanistan, and they were one tight group. It seemed to Dean that women couldn't wait to work their way into their little circle, but it was a hopeless case: no woman would ever be able to be much more than a fuck to any of them.
Dean, Jim and Chris had been through training together and then served in the same unit. After three tours, they were all fully operational and highly-trained and skilled killers. By contrast, Dallas had been the sharpest sharp-shooter around. He had been brought in for extreme situations and he'd blow someone's head off, pack up his shit, and then disappear until the next assignment; as befit a sniper, the man had practically been a ghost. Despite that, they'd all become friendly. There was lots of downtime when waiting for a target to emerge from a building, and they had spent it hanging out, talking, learning to totally have each other's backs.
Back in the real world now as Dean still had to remind himself to call it they stuck together, they picked up women, they fucked and drank and worked out. And they talked; they talked all the time about sports and poker and their jobs. But never about anything else. They knew better than to go back there unless they absolutely had to.
Dean sighed and looked around the bar again, wondering if maybe he'd just give the whole night up as a lost cause. Maybe he should just duck out, leave the boys to it. Go home alone, have a beer and watch some bad late-night movie on TV with his feet on the coffee table.
Dallas saw Dean's face and knew his friend wasn't into it. "Hey, man. One more beer before you go. OK?"
"Yeah. Yeah, OK." He shrugged his huge shoulders. "Sorry, guys. I'm just not feeling it tonight."
"You're not feeling that?" Jim nodded at the blonde leaning on the bar so her ass jutted out. "Really?"
Dean's well-practiced eye took her in. Tall and curvy and in a tight dress which left nothing at all to the imagination, he thought she wasn't even wearing the tiniest of tiny thongs under it. She was all cleavage and thighs and deep tan, and he honestly couldn't figure out what the fuck the problem was here. She was stretching her neck and arching her back, displaying herself for him, but he didn't want one single thing that she was offering.
You're just tired. Take a night off from it all.
"No, not really." Dean turned away from the blonde again. "But yeah, I'll grab one more beer and head out. You guys need anything?"
They shook their heads and Dean got to his feet. The blonde obviously thought he was coming over to her, because her eyes lit up as he headed towards her. When he passed her and kept on walking, he heard her make a loud sound in her throat and mutter something under her breath.
Ignoring her completely, he walked farther down the length of the bar and leaned on the counter. It was damn hard to get service in this place if you didn't have boobs hanging out, but the guys tending bar did know him a bit. One caught Dean's eye and he nodded and held up one finger. The guy nodded back and grabbed a bottle of beer. Dean took it and sighed and stared around again, wondering if maybe he should just get shit-faced and go back to the blonde. He was sure she'd forgive him if he played nice.
"No, thank you. I appreciate the offer, but no thanks."
The voice was low-pitched and sweet and it came from right next to him. Dean glanced to his left and saw a dark-haired woman in a crisp white blouse and black skirt standing there talking to some guy. He was clearly drunk and leaning in pretty close to her.
"Come on, why not?" the guy slurred. "One drink never killed anyone, did it?"
"Thank you," the woman said again. "But I have a drink."
"And I'm offering you one more."
"No, really "
"Tight-assed bitch," the man said, his voice rising. "I'm not fucking good enough to have a drink with, is that it?"
Startled, the woman backed up right into Dean, spilling his beer. She turned.
"Oh, God. I'm so sorry"
"Not your fault," Dean said.
"Hey, bitch." The man grabbed the woman's upper arm and jerked her around roughly. "Don't you fucking turn your back on me!"