Midnight Hero - By Diana Duncan
Earlier that morning.
Conall O’Rourke was psyched to take the biggest risk of his risk-filled life. Determination and adrenaline pumped in his system as he strode across the parking lot toward the diner. Tucked into one pocket of his jacket were two dozen gold-shield condoms. In the other was the best platinum-and-diamond engagement ring a public servant’s salary could buy.
The ring might be premature. The condoms were way overdue.
Winter clouds loomed on the rainy Oregon horizon like smoke over a battlefield. Con flipped up the collar of his black leather jacket to stave off the dropping temperature. A winter storm was in the forecast. But no matter what the weather threw at him, it was gonna be a beautiful day. And night.
He paused outside the door in the chilly gloom to automatically scan the interior, and brushed his hand across his thick black hair. The habitual gesture was one of the reasons he went for a short spiky cut. Women had dubbed his hair “adorably tousled, stylishly edgy and just-went-a-wild-round-between-the-sheets sexy.” To him, it was convenient. When you could be called out any time to bash down doors and eat bullets, there was no time to screw around with your hair.
He rolled his wrist and consulted his watch. Ten in the morning, right on time. His girl’s idea of punctuality was arriving everywhere five minutes early. Through the window, he caught a glimpse of her and smiled. As dependable as the sunrise, Bailey was sitting in their booth at the back. The familiar cocktail of lust and tenderness kicked him in the chest—as it had the first time he’d seen her, and every time after that.
His woman. His soul mate. His future.
Some guys might consider proposing after only six months moving too fast. He didn’t. The average SWAT assault-and-rescue, from door breach to secure status, lasted four to nine seconds. His life and the lives of his teammates depended on his ability to devise a plan and act. Make quick decisions. Good decisions. Waffle, and you die. Worse, your buddies die because of you.
Fast was relative.
Bailey’s early phone call requesting a breakfast meeting had been unexpected. They already had plans to ring in the New Year tonight at the Montrose Hotel. She knew about dinner and dancing. His bended knee proposal and the resulting night of passion in the Ambassador Suite would be a surprise.
He couldn’t wait to see her face when she saw the ring. He’d scoured jewelry shops, hating the ice-cold stones and sterile settings. Discouraged, he’d stopped for a coffee break and spotted the ring in the window of an antique store next door. A one-carat emerald-cut diamond flanked with smaller heart-shaped diamonds. Vintage 1930s. Like the woman he’d purchased it for, the ring was unique. Old-fashioned yet stylish. Classic, yet romantic. Sparkling with warmth and personality. Like their love, it was timeless, and would last forever.
As he stepped inside, the smell of crisp bacon and fresh biscuits in the steamy air heightened his anticipation. Working up the nerve to propose cranked up a guy’s appetite. A clanging brass bell over the door announced his arrival, and Bailey’s head jerked up.
Her amazing blue eyes connected with his and his blood heated. He couldn’t believe his good fortune. One breakfast a day for the next sixty years equaled…21,900 chances to sit across the table from this fascinating, intelligent, sexy woman. The rest of his life. He fingered the velvet ring box in his pocket and fought the urge to jump the gun and propose now. Timing was everything. He, of all people, knew that.
He grinned and waved. Her posture tense, she didn’t return his smile. Instead, her wary stare watched him approach the booth. He blinked away a discomfiting mental flash of a hawk swooping down on a defenseless robin.
What the hell? He replayed their date last night. Had he said or done something to upset her? Where had he slipped up? They’d watched a chick flick. He hadn’t minded too much, as long as he was with her. They’d consumed popcorn and soda, and then made out on her sofa until his pager beeped. A lucky interruption, considering how tough it was to fight his desire to make love to her. He chafed under the growing need for her to belong to him in every way. For him to belong to her.
“Mornin’, darlin’. Switch with me?”
“Sure.” Her agreement was too quiet. Foreboding itched between his shoulder blades. During a siege, things often got too quiet right before all