Friday, August 2, 2013

Two Charming Heroes--And One Lucky Woman

What happens when two heroes ditch the charm to fight over one woman?

Seasoned warrior Tybor has been selected to train rookie soldier Huon, to kill an enemy human.  Tybor discovers Huon is being sent on a suicide mission, and goes AWOL to protect him.
To infiltrate the enemy's headquarters in Venice, Huon has to seduce the chief weapons officer, an attractive woman called Judie. Tybor wants Huon to go home, and leave the mission to him, including the seduction of Judie, to him.
From Warrior's Apprentice.

Huon walked on, circling around the twisted streets of Venice, returning to the restaurant twice more before he finally found her. At the back, sitting alone at a table set for four, was Judie Scanlon. A waiter stood at the table, writing as she spoke, words Huon was too far away to hear distinctly but which seemed to be in fluent Italian. Huon steadied his breathing and sauntered inside. Some of the tension eased from his shoulders as he looked around. Every table had at least one occupant, giving him the excuse he needed. He stepped up to her table, rested his hand on top of the vacant chair and flashed what he hoped was a reassuring smile, not the nervous grimace it felt like.
“Do you speak English?”
She nodded, her expression distant, as if she looked past him.
“There are no vacant tables,” Huon said, gesturing around the restaurant with one hand. “Would you mind if I shared yours?”
Then Judie Scanlon looked at him and Huon gripped the back of the chair. A man could drown in the depths of those soft brown eyes. They glanced around the restaurant, sweeping over several empty chairs at other tables. Huon’s stomach clenched. She was going to say no.
Alysha Ellis
He smiled, opening his eyes wider, aiming for innocence. If he had to be slender and boy-like, he might as well make the most of it. “I’m glad you speak English. I would be very grateful if you could help me with the menu.” The smile he maintained made his cheeks ache but he had to break through the barrier of this first conversation. “I heard you speaking Italian to the waiter so I knew you had that part of it right.” A sudden burst of inspiration hit him and he added, “There are other tables with empty seats but I thought it would be nice to sit with you.” He held his breath, wondering if lines like that impressed women.
Nothing he’d ever said to any Dvalinn female had worked, but the human world seemed to be different, because her shoulders lowered and her stiff spine curved into a more relaxed posture and she said, “Sit down.”
He pulled out the chair and settled himself in, taking care not to lean toward her in a manner she might find aggressive or threatening, then picked up the menu and flashed the obviously winning smile again.
“I don’t speak any Italian.”
He figured the small lie wouldn’t count. All the Dvalinn spoke English and Tybor had tried to teach him Italian too, but it hadn’t taken as well as the rest of Tybor’s lessons.
“I don’t understand anything here. What do you recommend to eat?”
Judie Scanlon’s lips moved in a small, social smile and for the moment it was enough. At least she wasn’t ignoring him. She pointed to the menu.
“It depends if you want to embrace the Italian lifestyle and eat your main meal in the middle of the day or if, like me, you prefer to stick with a light lunch and eat more at night.” She pointed to a few items, naming and describing them.
Damn it. What would the kind of male women found attractive do? Show her that in spite of his slight build he had a man’s appetite by ordering everything from antipasto through to dessert? Yeah. That was what someone like Tybor would do, with his solid athletic build and bulky muscles. He raised his hand to summon the waiter but before he arrived, sound and sense belatedly wound their way into Huon’s overloaded brain, alerting him to the second part of Judie’s sentence—stick with a light lunch, like me. If he ordered a huge meal he’d be left on his own, eating. Judie’s light lunch would be over and she’d be gone, taking away his chance to walk with her and get to know her.
The waiter appeared at his side and Huon looked at him in confusion. “I’ll have... I’ll have...what she’s having.”
The waiter rolled his eyes and walked back toward the kitchen.
“Have you been in Venice long?” Judie asked.
“No, I just arrived,” he replied. The exchange seemed too banal to lead anywhere but who was he to judge how conversations that led to sexual encounters began?
The next question was a routine inquiry about his first impressions. Halfway through his answer, the waiter arrived carrying a plate that he set down at Judie’s place.
A rush of cold, nauseous saliva flooded Huon’s mouth and he swallowed it down before he gasped, “You’re not going to eat that.”
Judie’s head jerked up from her smiling contemplation of the meal in front of her. “Of course I am. It’s my favorite.”
“But...but, it’s black and stringy. How can you contemplate putting that, whatever it is, in your mouth?”
“It’s squids’ ink pasta and it’s a Venetian specialty. I thought you knew that,” a deep voice said from behind him.
Before Huon had the chance to turn around, Tybor pulled out one of the remaining two chairs at the table, smiled at Judie, said, “May I?” and, without waiting for an answer, sat down.
“What? What are you doing here?” Huon asked, teeth gritted, fists clenched beneath the cover of the table.
“Young Huon here and I are work colleagues,” Tybor said, grinning at Judie. Then he looked across at Huon. “I brought some extra equipment from head office.”
Anger churned in Huon’s guts. How dare Tybor pull this shit? Everything Tybor had asked him to do, every task, every aching, screaming muscle Huon had pushed to exhaustion, every target he had hit, every minute he had denied himself sleep meant nothing. The bastard was here, taking a seat at the table because he didn’t believe “young Huon here” was good enough to carry out this mission. Huon’s desire to reach out and slam his fist into Tybor’s face fought with the urge to walk out of the restaurant. But from somewhere deep inside he felt a frisson of pleasure because it was so good to see that toned body again.
The sense of duty Tybor had instilled into Huon’s very bones kept him seated at the table. Be damned if he would do anything to validate Tybor’s lack of faith in him.
Judie glanced from one man to the other, her eyes flicking uneasily between them. Whether her nervousness was caused by the tension sparking from him or a more natural unease at the presence at her table of two male strangers, Huon couldn’t tell, but he knew that if something didn’t change she was going to get up and leave. Once she did, the task of infiltrating Hopewood’s headquarters would go from difficult to almost impossible because any further contact with Judie Scanlon under those circumstances would set all her stalker alarms ringing.
The best way to allay her fears was to tackle them head-on. “When I sat down at your table, I didn’t intend to usurp it for a business meeting,” Huon said, forcing his lips into what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “I had no idea my colleague had come to Venice.” He hoped his expression didn’t reflect his feelings, because if it did, the smile would have morphed into a snarl.
“The last thing I want to do is upset a beautiful lady,” Tybor said, his smile wide and natural-looking. “If we’re bothering you by being here, we’ll move.”
Judie’s shoulders lowered again, her stiff posture loosened and the tight line of her mouth softened. “It’s routine to share tables at the height of the tourist season. I don’t mind,” she said.
“I’m glad,” Tybor replied. “The meal will be more enjoyable with such charming company.”
A warm, pink blush colored Judie’s cheeks and the pupils of her eyes widened before she dropped her lids, half concealing them. Shit. Tybor had taken over the job of seducing her. Did he think Huon couldn’t do anything? Okay, chances were Tybor had a lot more experience with women than he had—hell, any experience at all would put him ahead of Huon—but did he have to prove it right under his nose?
“What business are you in?”
Judie’s question was general, but Tybor answered it. “Personal security.”
“Bodyguards? I imagine you’d be good at that. You look very fit. You must work out a lot.”
Of course he did. Anyone with eyes could see the perfection of Tybor’s physique. Except Judie wasn’t looking at Tybor, she was looking at Huon and—holy crap!—her lips parted and her tongue slipped out to moisten them.
“Internet and financial security as well,” Tybor continued, nodding at Huon. “Our company covers a wide range of activities. Perhaps we could interest you—”
The reappearance of the waiter interrupted him. Without glancing at the menu, Tybor ordered. “Saltimbocca. Insalata. Valpolicella.” Then he uttered a few more phrases in rapid-fire Italian to the waiter, who hurried off.
Judie Scanlon looked at him and smiled. “You speak Italian very well, Mr...?” Her sentence ended on the uplifted pitch of a query.
“Ty, Ty Borland.” Tybor held out his hand and when Judie raised her own to meet it he lifted it to his lips.
She didn’t snatch it away but looked up at him through her eyelashes. “What a charmingly old-fashioned gesture.”
Tybor placed her hand back down on the table and covered it with his own. “But suited, I hope, to the timeless ambience of Venice.” He leaned forward in exactly the way Huon had decided would not be wise. “And I am an old-fashioned man.”
Huon snorted. Got that right! At least a thousand years old-fashioned.
As if Huon had said the words out loud, Tybor turned his gaze on him. “Did you say something?”
“Me? No. I haven’t had a chance to get a word in, have I?” he replied.
Tybor’s gaze dropped briefly and Huon knew he’d acknowledged the hit.
Tybor drew his hand back and rested it on Huon’s shoulder. “Has my...” there was the slightest hesitation, “colleague introduced himself?”
“Er, no. We hadn’t got around to exchanging names. I’m Judie Scanlon,” she said. 
Huon could feel Tybor’s charm heating the atmosphere until he was sure Judie was ready to eat out of Tybor’s hand, nasty black pasta and all. “May I introduce my colleague, Huon Green?”
Huon’s fists clenched but he kept a smile pasted on his face. Green. Tybor just couldn’t resist the urge to pick at him. Tybor’s presence underlined his lack of confidence in Huon’s ability to succeed on his own and the name Tybor had concocted insulted him but remained true at the same time. Compared to Tybor he was green, but he’d been chosen for this mission for good reasons. No one would ever suspect Huon of being what he was but Tybor, who knew more about women and fighting than Huon ever would, was the epitome of a Dvalinn warrior.
Huon sat at the table in the restaurant, Tybor’s hand on his shoulder, grateful for the polyglot crowd who talked and ate and moved past them to and from tables.
Grateful because if they had not been there, if it had been just himself and Tybor, Huon would not have known whether to hug him or hit him.

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