Excerpt from Guarded Hearts

They ran another three miles before McKenna pulled up, eyeing a snow cone stand on the side of the path. She’d emptied her bottle of water a few miles back and was dying of thirst. Plus, she hadn’t had a snow cone since she was ten. She nodded toward the stand as she worked to catch her breath from that last incline.

“Want one? I’ll buy.”

His eyebrows snapped together and he opened his mouth to protest, but she held up a hand. Yes, these were empty calories, but suddenly she couldn’t think of anything but a snow cone.

“What flavor do you want?” He drew out his wallet and approached the cart.


He slid her a look out of the corner of his eye. “Blue isn’t a flavor.”

“Fine. Coconut.” She leaned on the stand beside him and let the scent of the flavored syrups take her back to her childhood, to hot summer afternoons in the park with her mom. Okay, maybe best not to delve too deeply into those memories. The snow cones had been good, though.

Ethan handed over a five-dollar bill. “A coconut and a grape.”

“Grape?” she teased. “I thought you’d at least get something that pretends to be natural.”

“Which of these would that be?” He indicated the rainbow of syrup jugs as the old Hispanic man scooped crushed ice into a paper cone. “Bubble gum, perhaps? Tutti frutti?”

“Ooh, watermelon!” She looked at the man with her best wide-eyed plea. “Can I have half coconut and half watermelon?”

“That’s disgusting,” Ethan declared, taking his snow cone and biting into the ice.

She tapped the back of his hand so his nose dipped into the purple treat. “Be nice.”

He scowled, then tipped her hand up so the snow cone hit her chin. Squealing, she scrambled back, stumbling on the path. He caught her with one hand around her upper arm, but half his ice slid to the path at her feet.

“Oh, no! I’m sorry!”

Eyes glinting, he scooped the ice from the asphalt into his palm, and smeared it down the front of her throat.

She danced backward with a gasp of surprise at his playfulness, and her skin tightened with the shock as the sticky liquid dripped down the front of her shirt.

Pushing aside her worries—wasn’t she entitled to some fun?—she offered him a taste of her snow cone.

His gaze on hers, he leaned close to taste it, and she nipped the other side, close enough that her nose bumped his chin as the flavor washed over her tongue. His scent overpowered even the coconut, clean male sweat beneath his soap.

She pulled back, not meeting his gaze. “I need to get back. I have a lot of work to do.”

The ease that had been between them on the run was gone, replaced by a tension that could be  oh-hell-what-have-I-done?

Or, oh-hell-what-am-I-about-to-do?

The sound registered only a hair of a second before Ethan wrapped his arms around her, pulling her to the ground. He landed with a grunt and flipped her onto her back. The breath knocked out of her as his weight dropped over her. As something warm and wet that was not his sweat dripped onto her, she realized the echo rolling over the surface of the lake was gunfire.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Mary Curry
    Feb 20, 2014 @ 18:12:04

    Love the excerpt. MJ. Such a well done scene!


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