Chapter 3: Marinah

1482 Words
The seat belt digs into my belly during the loud and bumpy landing. After we stop rolling, I release the armrests and rub my sweaty palms against my skirt. I don't care if I leave stains on the material, this outfit is ridiculous. If I had something to change into, I'd do it. King's rules were strict-one female liaison, no weapons, no luggage, no men besides the pilot, who is not to leave the plane. No explanation. Sun shines through the small windows of the cabin, the ocean I just evaded in the background. A group of Shadow Warriors waits on the black tarmac showing no signs the heat bothers them. Even in human form they're huge-large black straps crisscross their bare chests accenting each uncovered muscle. Adding to their intimidation stance, the straps hold enough weapons to take down my plane. Even without the weapons, their sheer intimidating power works its magic on me and I quake in my heels. Lovely. I guess I should be happy they're clothed from the waist down. According to the information I learned during the flight, they prefer wearing nothing at all. My father never mentioned this, but then again, he did a very good job of leaving me wrapped in a cocoon where the new world order barely invaded. I should have asked more questions. I should have told my father I loved him more often. I shouldn't be here, period. Being asked to handle this mission and being sworn in as defense secretary has set off a tidal wave in my brain. I've sat on my butt simply existing long enough. Never again. It's time I earned my keep. I only kept my job as an analyst due to the government's grace after my father's death. The alternative was a red stripe and as horrifying as being here is, the red stripe for some reason terrifies me more. I laugh nervously under my breath. Let's see if I survive the next hour. Rising to my feet, I smooth down my skirt and move toward the door. The pilot stands and shakes my hand. His solemn expression is the last thing I need. I only nod because no one provided water during the trip and I'm saving speech with my dry mouth for when it could mean something. While the engines remain running, the door lifts open and warm sticky air slides inside. The mechanical stairs lower with a loud rumble shaking the plane and knocking my teeth together. I grip the shaky rail tightly and take my first step into the Cuban heat. Do not fall, do not fall, I repeat silently in my head. I keep a steady course while squinting at my feet very much needing sunglasses to block the glare. A large shadow crosses in front of me. I lift my eyes and miss the next step. The flimsy rail buckles and I stumble down the next four steps. The man below doesn't catch me as I expect-he steps back allowing me to fall to my hands and knees. With gravel digging into my skin causing instant pain, a high-pitched cry escapes my dry throat. If I stack embarrassing moments in my life, this is at the top of a very long list. I awkwardly glance up at a pair of scuffed military boots, faded camouflage pants, a belted waist, and a bare, muscled chest. No offered hand comes out and the whir of the steps lifting behind me has me glancing over my shoulder. The pilot is leaving, which means he probably isn't looking out the window at my butt, which is on full display for him. Turning around and bringing my face within inches of the Shadow Warrior's boots, I retain my sense of humor and almost bend lower and kiss them. I think the Federation had something exactly like this in mind. What must I look like to the man standing above me? I've fallen so many times I rarely apologize for my awkwardness anymore. This could be one of those occasions when diplomacy trumps humiliation. We'll see. Using my arms, I gracelessly lift myself from the ground with a toothy grin plastered to my face. I wipe my dusty hands on my skirt, disregard my scraped knees, and lock gazes with unique, icy blue eyes. I shakily step back to put space between us while assessing King. I know it's him. No one else could get away with the name and wear it supremely except the man before me. He isn't handsome in a romance book sense but his square jaw, nose that's been broken at least once, stunningly unfriendly eyes, and full lips strike that feminine place inside me that makes me want to pull my shoulders back and add a little sway to my hips. Not happening. I nervously place my hand out, grin still firmly in place. "I'm Marinah Church," I say with a ton more bravado than I feel. He ignores my hand and the shaky introduction, taking scary warrior, half-animal dude to an entirely new level. King bends slightly at the waist and leans his face to the side of mine. He inhales and then exhales-his hot breath flows across my cheek and neck sending shivers over my skin. The slight noise he makes is faint but even so I realize he's... sniffing me. I smell him too, a pungent indescribable tang. Not unpleasant. Different. I'm unsure of the etiquette for this situation and nerves make me pull the smile. His head moves lower and it occurs to me he's gazing down my peach blouse. "I think you've smelled enough," I snap because irritation is overshadowing intelligence. I take another step back. The flare of his nostrils is prevalent along with his deadly regard as he rises to his full height. Nothing about this man says safe. From the toe of his boots, which I've seen up close and personal, to the top of his head, which I can only half-glimpse by straining my neck, I can tell King is an untamed death machine. His granite, clean shaven jaw takes nothing away from the animal lurking in his sharp, intelligent eyes. Long blondish brown braids tie at the back of his neck and fan out across his bare shoulders. I see nothing squirming around in them, so at least he has one plus. I missed the faint jagged scar trailing down his right cheekbone in my first perusal. He's hard, immoveable, and again the word deadly flitters through my overtaxed brain. I've never seen a human with a chest his size or muscles that bulge with every breath he takes. The leather harness runs across his pectoral muscles just below his n*****s. Maybe he thinks they make him appear more badass. They're unneeded. If King has a middle name, it's Badass. He carries two handguns, several knives, and a sword on the harness. The wide belt at his waist holds several more guns and knives. Overkill for sure. He could take out multiple humans with the strike of one large fist. He's such a Neanderthal and I can't help wondering if he grunts when he speaks. Bad Marinah, I mentally chastise myself. I anxiously move my outstretched hand back to my side. His eyes follow the movement and now he's staring at my lower half. I have a decent ass but no hips to speak of and my long torso always makes me self-conscious. I turn my palm upward and notice a slight trail of blood caused from my uncoordinated fall from the stairs. King's massive hand reaches forward and without thought I place my bloody hand out. His grasp is tight, not a handshake at all. He lifts my arm and sniffs my hand before his thick, rough tongue slides out and licks the blood from my palm. My heart almost stops at the strange feeling his tongue evokes. After two blinks, mortification takes over and I attempt to retract my hand. He continues holding me while examining the raw flesh like I'm some unknown specimen beneath a magnifying glass. Before I have a chance to snark something profound, he licks my palm again. Heat travels through my body and I'm about to drop to my knees and rethink the boot kissing when reason returns. "Stop doing that," I snap. "Release me at once!" Apologies are the farthest thing from my mind right now. I've never dealt directly with Shadow Warriors, but I would have heard if this were some kind of formal greeting. To animals maybe. I clip that thought. Thinking of these men as animals is what put the U.S. in our current situation. King releases me and takes a step back. His fierce expression does nothing to calm my anger. He suddenly pivots and stalks away, barking one gruff word over his shoulder, "Come." Yep, he grunts.
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