Animal Magnetism

By: Jill Shalvis

One




Brady Miller’s ideal Saturday was pretty simple—sleep in, be woken by a hot, naked woman for sex, followed by a breakfast that he didn’t have to cook.

On this particularly early June Saturday, he consoled himself with one out of the three, stopping at 7-Eleven for coffee, two egg and sausage breakfast wraps, and a Snickers bar.

Breakfast of champions.

Heading to the counter to check out, he nodded to the convenience store clerk.

She had her Bluetooth in her ear, presumably connected to the cell phone glowing in her pocket as she rang him up. “He can’t help it, Kim,” she was saying. “He’s a guy.” At this, she sent Brady a half-apologetic, half-commiserating smile. She was twentysomething, wearing spray-painted-on skinny jeans, a white wife-beater tank top revealing black lacy bra straps, and so much mascara that Brady had no idea how she kept her eyes open.

“You know what they say,” she went on as she scanned his items. “A guy thinks about sex once every eight seconds. No, it’s true, I read it in Cosmo. Uh-huh, hang on.” She glanced at Brady, pursing her glossy lips. “Hey, cutie, you’re a guy.”

“Last I checked.”

She popped her gum and grinned at him. “Would you say you think about sex every eight seconds?”

“Nah.” Every ten, tops. He fished through his pocket for cash.

“My customer says no,” she said into her phone, sounding disappointed. “But Cosmo said a man might deny it out of self-preservation. And in any case, how can you trust a guy who has sex on the brain 24/7?”

Brady nodded to the truth of that statement and accepted his change. Gathering his breakfast, he stepped outside where he was hit by the morning fresh air of the rugged, majestic Idaho Bitterroot mountain range. Quite a change from the stifling airlessness of the Middle East or the bitter desolation and frigid temps of Afghanistan. But being back on friendly soil was new enough that his eyes still automatically swept his immediate surroundings.

Always a soldier, his last girlfriend had complained.

And that was probably true. It was who he was, the discipline and carefulness deeply engrained, and he didn’t see that changing anytime soon. Noting nothing that required his immediate attention, he went back to mainlining his caffeine. Sighing in sheer pleasure, he took a big bite of the first breakfast wrap, then hissed out a sharp breath because damn. Hot. This didn’t slow him down much. He was so hungry his legs felt hollow. In spite of the threat of scalding his tongue to the roof of his mouth, he sucked down nearly the entire thing before he began to relax.

Traffic was nonexistent, but Sunshine, Idaho, wasn’t exactly hopping. It’d been a damn long time since he’d been here, years in fact. And longer still since he’d wanted to be here. He took another drag of fresh air. Hard to believe, but he’d actually missed the good old US of A. He’d missed the sports. He’d missed the women. He’d missed the price of gas. He’d missed free will.

But mostly he’d missed the food. He tossed the wrapper from the first breakfast wrap into a trash bin and started in on his second, feeling almost . . . content. Yeah, damn it was good to be back, even if he was only here temporarily, as a favor. Hell, anything without third-world starvation, terrorists, or snipers and bombs would be a five-star vacation.

“Look out, incoming!”

At the warning, Brady deftly stepped out of the path of the bike barreling down at him.

“Sorry!” the kid yelled back.

Up until yesterday, a shout like that would have meant dropping to the ground, covering his head, and hoping for the best. Since there were no enemy insurgents, Brady merely raised the hand still gripping his coffee in a friendly salute. “No problem.”

But the kid was already long gone, and Brady shook his head. The quiet was amazing, and he took in the oak tree- lined sidewalks, the clean and neat little shops, galleries and cafés—all designed to bring in some tourist money to subsidize the mining and ranching community. For someone who’d spent so much time in places where grime and suffering trumped hope and joy, it felt a little bit like landing in the Twilight Zone.

“Easy now, Duchess.”

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