Stepping free of the foliage, Kendrick blinked as the bright sun momentarily blinded him. Joel seemed to have no such problems adjusting because he whistled then said, “I’ll be damned. Someone brought his chubby girlfriend along.”
Eyes adjusting to the change in illumination, Kendrick let his gaze rove over the temporary camp until he spotted the woman in question. A lot more curvy than he preferred and pale skinned, so pale she’d burn if unprotected by sunscreen. She appeared delicate despite her height and full figure. According to his shocked senses, she was also one hundred percent human which made her totally out of place on this expedition. Oh, and if the sudden yipping in his mind and the hard on in his pants was any indication, his mate.
Un-freakn’ real. The adventure he’d looked forward too had just taken an unexpected twist, a fairly rounded one with wavy blonde hair.
Oh. My. God.
Yup, that about summed up the hotness level of the two guys who stepped from the jungle. Ruth had thought the current men she travelled with a good looking lot; Liam with his blond, Ken-doll appearance, Peter with his cocoa skin and beautiful smile, and the all too suave, Fernando, his Hispanic heritage evident in his accent and flirtatious dark eyes. But these two guys? Damn! Hot freakn’ damn.
Lest the studly newcomers get grouped in with those smooth jawed, lean and slick singers the media catered to, it wasn’t a pretty boy cuteness that rendered them so appealing but rather their innate ruggedness. From their short haircuts, almost military in style, to their square bristled jaws, wide, superbly wide shoulders and perfect height, these two guys oozed testosterone. Confidence. Swagger. Hot, I-am-the-man stuff. In other words, all the things that totally turned her on.
Sometimes she hated her hormones. Why did she always find herself attracted to the impossible to attain type? So unfair given her attraction was rarely returned. At six foot one, Ruth stared most men in the eye – or would if she didn’t duck her head from shyness in most cases. Unlike wafer thin models with confidence and pouty lips, Ruth hated her stature. No one wanted to date a girl who by sheer altitude could predict an early case of male pattern baldness. Sure, some men enjoyed the fact she towered over them, those whose face came to chest level, but Ruth had gotten better over the years at avoiding their creepy type.
Somehow she doubted her height would provide a source of intimidation with the group she currently travelled with. The shortest one, Fernando was probably still an inch taller than her. That was a great thing because it made her decision to forge ahead and demand a spot in their group easier. Tall guys tended to prefer short and skinny girls. So what if the rescue operation lacked other females. Given her track record with studs, she figured she was safer with these guys than with a group of short pervs intent on getting a peek. And if the cute guys did decide that tall and chubby was better than nothing at all? What happened in the jungle stayed in the… Yeah no, she’d probably enjoy that particular memory for a long time.
After a short, heated, but inaudible meeting with the men in the group, Mr. Tall – and really angry looking – stalked toward her, his handsome friend not far behind.
“You don’t belong here,” he stated without preamble.
Here we go again. Despite the intimidating tone in his voice and stern gaze, she stood straight – and shook inside. She couldn’t back down, even if he scared the pants off her. Carlie needed her. “You’re going after the missing girls. I need to go with you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Denial? Seriously? “Of course you know what I mean. Just like I obviously know or I wouldn’t be here.”
“Just freakn’ great. Who the hell opened their big mouth? Not that it matters. I don’t know how you got your information, honey, but just so we’re clear, we’re not taking you, journalist or not.”
“A what? You think I’m a reporter?” She gaped at him. “Why on earth would you think that? I don’t even have a camera.” Because she’d had it picked out of her hand when she went for a short sightseeing tour upon arriving at one of the stop over villages on her way to the jungle. A very short tour. After that, she kept everything double knotted to her body and a can of mace ready. Lucky for her, a scared looking, supersized blonde with a trembling finger on an aerosol can was more than the local thieves wanted to deal with.
“No camera, but you do have a notepad.”
“Yes. To take notes. I’m a botany major. You know, someone who studies plants and stuff. I’ve actually specialized in jungle flora and fauna, which makes me useful as I’m familiar with the vegetation we’ll encounter.” Ha. She’d throw logic at him and see how he handled that.
“You’re a gardener?” He sneered.
Her smile fell. “We prefer the term botanist.”
“Splitting hairs, honey. But whatever you want to console yourself with, you still don’t belong. This is a rescue operation, not a tea party.”
“I’m aware of that, hence the attire.” Because seriously, no woman with wide hips would ever wear the totally unflattering cargo pants tucked into black – weighed a thousand pounds – boots.
“Listen, I don’t care who you are, what you do, or your reason for insisting on coming. Me and the boys are going to track the missing girls and we’ll bring them back when we find them.”
“When? You sound pretty sure.”
“Because I am. I don’t give up.” Grim determination etched lines into his face and Ruth’s insides tickled, but not just in arousal – because honestly, when a good looking guy, with obvious strength made an uncompromising statement like that, she couldn’t help but hope he could keep his word. If he did, then perhaps this mission stood a chance. Optimism and hope, Ruth would take it any day, even if it meant putting up with an obnoxious chauvinist and especially if it meant saving her sibling. Of course, her goodwill to him evaporated as he kept talking.
“Now that we understand each other, why don’t you run back to the village and wait like a good girl while the boys and I do our job.”
Look at that. Chauvinism was alive and well in the jungle. In normal circumstances, faced with an order from a domineering male in a position of power over her, Ruth would have ducked her head and maybe managed a weak nod. But not today. Today she had purpose at her back – and a shot of whiskey from a flask Fernando offered her. A sip to give her energy after their long trek or so he’d explained when he offered it. More like five minutes of coughing with watery eyes as it burned a path down her throat to her stomach. Given she never imbibed alcohol of any kind it went right to her head. It also loosened her tongue. Screw this guy and the high horse he rode in on. How dare he act like only his will counted? She wasn’t about to trust her sister’s fate to the hands of a stranger. “No. I’m not going back.”
His brows drew together. “No? Like hell. Since it seems you haven’t heard, you’re not in charge of this expedition. I am.”
Staring up at him, a novel experience which left her heart racing and palms damp, Ruth couldn’t help but shiver and not just because he scared the panties off her with his grim countenance. Up close, despite his male scent that screamed jungle sweat, he set her nerve endings on fire. Heat curled in her lower tummy. She fought an urge to flatten her hands on his chest, not to push away but to draw him nearer. She really needed her sip of liquor to wear off before she did something stupid, say like suck on his stubborn lower lip. “Who are you exactly? Liam didn’t say anything about someone else coming.”
“I’m Kendrick Grayson and this is my second in command, Joel Marsh. And now that you’ve met us, I’ll have my friend here run you back to the last village.”
Was this guy deaf? “No.”
“Did I say you had a choice in the matter?”
Why did he have to look so sexy when he arched his brow and pulled a Captain Caveman? “I won’t go. My sister is one of the girls missing. I have to help.” His expression softened. “I am sorry about your sister. I know you must be worried, but it changes nothing. You can’t come. You’d slow us down.”
“Why? Because I’m not a skinny fitness model?” she retorted, the words spewing forth before she could stop them.
“Hey, you’re the one who said it. Not me. But yes. This is going to be a physically challenging trip.”
“I can keep up.” The skepticism in his eyes made her tilt her chin stubbornly. “I can.” Hadn’t she made it this far already?
“No, you can’t.”
“Um, in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m here. And I got here using my two feet.” “On a well trod path at a slow pace so we could catch up.”
Slow? Damn. “I can still keep up.”
“Let me prove it.”
“Oh no you don’t, honey,” he said, a glower crossing his face. “I’ve seen that look too many times with my sister and fallen for way too many a stupid dare. You can stop it right now. It is not going to work.”
“I’m not your sister.”
He raked his gaze over her; head to lips, onwards to her chest then lower before coming back to her eyes. “So I’ve noticed."