Countdown To A Kiss
Kiss of a Lifetime: Chapter One
Kiss of a Lifetime
“I hear,” Leo Ramos said as he pulled Grace toward his chest with one arm, pivoted, and expertly rolled her body over his hip, “that you’re kissing Lewis Kampmueller on New Year’s Eve.”
Grace Devine landed flat on her back on a mat that really needed to be softer. She had to wait a moment before she had enough air to speak. She’d been at the FBI’s Washington Field Office for six months and hadn’t mentioned the annual Devine-Kampmueller New Year’s Eve Ball to anyone. She had done her absolute best to not even think about it. “There’s no way you can know that,” she finally wheezed.
“And yet,” he squatted next to her, forearms resting on his thighs, “I do.” Ramos’s brows quirked over amused eyes, his irises a shade of deep, rich brown.
Grace rolled to her side and came up on her knees, facing him. He was close to laughter, his black silky hair mussed and his skin damp from exertion. For a crazy half-second, she was tempted to lean over and brush her lips against his, just to see if his smile tasted as good as it looked.
Yeah, and he’d probably fall over flat on his back in shock.
Grace was one of the guys. She sweated with the squad during workouts, outshot most of them at the firing range, won her share of Friday night poker games and never, absolutely never, ordered a sweet drink at the Pub.
In the testosterone-fueled world of FBI special agents, it worked for her.
Or it used to.
Their off-site training facility, affectionately nicknamed The Pit, was empty now except for the two of them. While much of her work on the counterterrorism squad involved field interviews, computers and too much late-night coffee, their squadron leader, David Carter, had the whole squad train together twice a month to keep their defensive skills sharp. Tonight, Ramos had stayed late to help her with the Koshinage hip throw, a seemingly simple move that she’d mangled every time she tried it. Damn it. She didn’t want to leave until she had it mastered. Ramos knew that about her. He was the same way.
“Why so quiet, Devine? Are you getting all dreamy about Kampfiller?” Ramos’s lips curved into a taunting grin. A smile of one kind or another was rarely off his face. Sometimes she wondered if he used it to keep people at a distance. Nobody asked you what was wrong if you were smiling.
“Kampmueller. And no, I’m not.” She tilted her head. “Have you been messing around in my file?” And had her background check really included the New Year’s Eve Ball? Ugh.
“I’m hurt, Devine. That would be against regulations.” He placed a hand over his heart. “I’m a by-the-book kind of agent.”
“I don’t doubt that. Exactly what book is the question.” Whatever one it was, it definitely wasn’t an open book. For all his friendliness, Ramos remained a mystery to her.
He ignored her jibe and leaned slightly forward on the balls of his feet, balance still perfect. He studied her. “Devine has a boyfriend. Surprise, surprise.”
“What are you, twelve?” She lifted a hand to touch her ponytail, suddenly conscious that her makeup must have sweated off. Her faded, baggy t-shirt, a relic from Academy training, hung past her hips. Gray gym shorts hit her legs mid-thigh and were ugly as hell, but easy to move in. She was not the type of woman most men dreamed of at night, but she lifted her chin, pricked by his teasing. “And your surprise is not very flattering.”
A dimple flashed in his cheek. “I’m surprised that my expert FBI deduction skills failed me. You never talk about a man in your life. Nobody ever meets you at the Grub Pub when we all go out. You never blush when reading a text and, most importantly, office gossip is silent about you.”
“Oh.” Stupid of her to suddenly feel like the most boring person alive. She pushed quickly to her feet, wanting to get some distance from him. “So you found out about Lewis how?”
Ramos rose more slowly. “Baxter and I were going over some reports from the Raleigh office this morning.” Roy Baxter had the desk behind hers. “We overheard you on the phone saying something about Kampfooler and New Year’s Eve and kissing.”
“Kampmueller. You listened to my phone conversation?” That was so not allowed. At least not without reasonable cause, reams of paperwork and the proper court order.
“After the first couple of words, both Baxter and I stuck our fingers in our ears and hummed. Honest.”
The angelic look on his face made her struggle to keep her frown. Exactly what had she said on the phone this morning while talking with her little sister? They’d discussed their older sister Tess and her impending divorce, but mostly Annabelle had been bubbling over with news about the New Year’s Eve Ball, now only three weeks away. And, as usual, she couldn’t resist teasing Grace about the stupid bet that had been started years ago.
The Devine sister who didn’t have someone to kiss at the New Year’s Eve Ball at midnight had to kiss Lewis.
Of course, there were all sorts of potential problems with that. What if more than one sister didn’t have a date? What if Lewis did have a date? Not that any of that mattered because she was the only one whose date always disappeared before the stroke of midnight, and Lewis had never once brought a date to the Ball.
Her newest strategy for dealing with the fact that she lost the bet every single year was to make losing sound really good. Unfortunately, once she started rhapsodizing over the rare wonder of kissing Lewis, Belly had started laughing uncontrollably. Belly had the kind of laugh that filled a room with warmth, and once started made a person want to feed it like a roaring fire to keep it going. So Grace had gone on a riff about how Lewis had a talent for kissing that was so amazing, someone should market his gift. She’d then spewed some nonsense about developing a new sex toy called KampKiss—vibrating lips guaranteed to make rabbit ears obsolete and revitalize the economy. Empty car factories in Detroit would convert to K-Kiss production. Unemployment would plummet. Depression would become a forgotten diagnosis.
“Exactly how loud were you humming?”
Ramos grinned. “So what’s the big deal? Why are you keeping this Kampdrooler a secret?”
“Kamp––” She paused. There was no way she was going to explain the whole Lewis thing to Ramos. “When you start sharing your private life, I’ll start sharing mine.”
His smile faded. “Fair enough.”
Okay. That had sounded harsher than she intended. He’d just been ribbing her, a standard form of guy communication. “Ramos ….”
He held up his hands. “Not a problem, Devine. Let’s run through this one more time and then go meet the rest of the squad. I have someone waiting for me at the Pub.”
Of course he did. She’d put money on the fact that Ramos always had a date on New Year’s Eve too.
“One more time.” She nodded at Ramos and took a step back. “You attack me.”
He came at her panther-quick, before she had time to set her feet in the proper position. His hand circled her forearm and she jerked him toward her, pulling him slightly off balance while she turned her backside into his pelvis, bent forward and let his momentum propel him over her hip and onto the floor.
Unfortunately, this perfect move was ruined by the fact that his hand still gripped her arm. Her body followed his and smashed into six feet of muscle and bone.
Sprawled across his chest, breath knocked out of her lungs again, she silently blinked. His eyes were only inches away, liquid darkness. Her pelvis rested against his stomach and she could feel the regular rise and fall of those hard muscles as they slowly lifted her, lowered her. Her legs, slightly parted, aligned perfectly against his.
Little flashes of light started to stab across her vision and she realized she wasn’t breathing. She sucked in air and stopped mid-motion when her breasts pushed more firmly against him.
“Breathe,” he ordered gruffly.
She gingerly released her breath and took a few more shallow gulps of air. “Well. That certainly wasn’t supposed to happen.” She tried to sound brisk and analytical, as if her only thought was to figure out how the Aikido move had gone wrong. She would be in big trouble if his attack had been for real.
Ramos’s body heaved and twisted and she was suddenly no longer on top of him, but trapped beneath, one arm still firmly locked in his hand, the other wedged between their chests.
Okay. She was in big trouble anyway.
“Treat an arm grab like a wrist grab,” he instructed, his face close to hers, his breath a warm brush on her cheek.
“A wrist grab.” She nodded. His eyelashes were the exact shade of his hair. Small smile lines radiated from the corners of his eyes, even though he wasn’t smiling.
“When I grabbed your left arm, one of your possible moves was to step toward me with your right foot, rotate your left arm within my grip to weaken my hold and then strike my attacking arm with your right elbow.”
She could feel his heart beating. Or maybe that was hers. No, the rhythm was too slow and steady. He turned to look at her arm and raised it slightly, as if to bring his grip to her attention. Did he think she’d forgotten he was holding her?
What he actually brought to her attention was his neck, which was very, very close to her lips. The skin was smooth beneath the dark wave of his hair. She lifted her head slightly, as if to look at her arm. Her lips brushed the area beneath his ear, and without her consciously directing it to do so, her tongue lightly flicked against his skin.
His body froze.
Grace carefully lowered her head. She held her breath. She hadn’t just done that, had she?
“Right.” Ramos finally moved. He released her arm with a jerky motion, put both hands against the floor and lifted his chest, his knees still on either side of her hips. She shivered. The room suddenly felt twenty degrees colder. “We should head off to the Pub now.”
“Right,” she echoed. She waited for him to demand why she’d licked his neck. Then again, the movement had been so quick, he might not have noticed. In fact, she was sure he hadn’t noticed. Those moments he’d gone scary still had only been a perceptual trick, like the way time doesn’t really slow when you’re watching a bullet speed toward you, it just feels like it because your senses are sharpened. Not that a bullet had ever sped toward her––her job was not as dangerous as her mother believed––but she’d watched a lot of movies, and they couldn’t all be wrong.
Okay, her brain had officially derailed. She shut her eyes and tried to focus on saying something reasonable. Her tongue felt strange and she rubbed it against the roof of her mouth, savoring the subtle flavor of him.
“Are you okay?”
Grace’s eyes flew open. Ramos’s gaze had settled on her mouth. He abruptly stood and stepped to one side of her body.
“I’m fine.” She scrambled to her feet and smoothed a strand of hair behind her ear. “Thanks for staying to help me practice.” She made herself meet his eyes. She was acting like an idiot. Ramos was her friend and an agent that she admired. He always went the extra mile with any of the squad. He was well respected and as much a leader as Carter.
He nodded, his face oddly serious as he stood there.
She tugged at the bottom of her shirt. Ramos didn’t usually look at her in such an intently brooding way and she didn’t know how to respond to him. Saying “I just licked your neck and am interested in tasting more of you,” seemed wildly inappropriate.
Unfortunately, it was true.
He was part of her squadron. Work relationships were messy. He was also a wicked charmer who was attracted to gorgeous women like her older sister Tess, not to sweaty jocks like her.
“I’ll head to the locker room and I’ll see you over at the Pub.” She waited a second. When he didn’t respond, she lifted her hand and waved. She turned and walked quickly toward the women’s locker room. Good Lord, had she really waved, like she was Queen Elizabeth or something? She felt a blush heat her cheeks. When she rounded a mat and broke into a jog, she hoped she looked athletic and not as if she was running away.