Authors: Cora Seton
A Chance Creek Novella
The Navy SEAL’s Christmas Bride
Copyright © 2014 Cora Seton
Published by One Acre Press
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Navy SEAL Dan Hemmins goes head to head with soldier Sarah Metlin to prove once and for all that women can’t possibly qualify for an elite branch of the military, but when Sarah proves she’s not just one of the most qualified warriors he’s ever met, she’s also one of the smartest and sexiest, too, he’ll do whatever it takes to get closer to her, even if he has to challenge her to another contest…or three…or five!
ant to race?”
“In snowshoes?” Mason Hall held up one of his feet. “Sounds like a good way to break a leg.”
“I guess so.” Dan Hemmins sent his host an apologetic look and continued to pace beside him along the snowy track that looped through the woods. Fresh out of the Navy after twelve years of service in the SEALs, he’d arrived in Chance Creek that morning for a week-long stay at Crescent Hall, and he hoped his time on the quiet Montana cattle ranch would soon help soothe his need for constant excitement. “Guess I’m feeling antsy. I’m not used to taking it easy.” He appreciated Mason taking time out for this tramp around the property. Even though Christmas was looming near, a rancher’s chores never ended, and the place was chock full of company.
“I understand. Why don’t you tell me more about your business plan?”
Dan hadn’t served directly with Mason Hall, who had also been in the SEALs, but they’d met each other a number of times over their years in the military, and they’d kept in touch. Dan had planned to go home for the holidays when he left the Navy to stay with his parents temporarily, just until he sorted out where to settle down and start his extreme training camp, but that had all fallen apart when his parents’ house sold suddenly after sitting on the market for months. They were too busy moving to host him for Christmas, so when Mason told him he had a spare room and was welcome to join his family for the holiday, he’d decided to check Chance Creek out. He figured Montana might make a great location for an adventure training facility, and secretly he hoped Mason would see the merits in his plan and decide to either invest in it, or possibly even join him as a partner.
“There are lots of guys who don’t want to join the military, but do want to try out the experience to see how they measure up. Those are the customers I’ll target. I’ll create all kinds of programs to cater to their interests. One camp will simulate the physical conditioning program we all did when we became SEALs. Others will concentrate on survival skills. As I get a feel for what people want, I’ll tailor my programs accordingly.” He glanced at Mason, wondering if his sales pitch was doing the trick. He couldn’t run this kind of business alone. If he couldn’t find a few more SEALs, he was sunk.
Their snowshoes thwapped as they stepped through the snow, but otherwise the cold, crisp December morning was as quiet as the Afghan desert he’d left only weeks ago. Dan caught himself scanning the forest for signs of threats, then shook his head to make himself stop. There wasn’t any danger here.
“It’s hard to turn it off, isn’t it? That instinct to keep tabs on your surroundings?” Mason said. “I still do it and I’ve been home for half a year.”
“I guess it never goes away, huh?”
“Not entirely, but it does get better. A nice, calm Christmas here on the ranch will help sort you out.”
“I sure hope so.”
“A SEAL-style training camp is interesting.” Mason changed direction, heading eastward. “Are you looking for partners?”
“I am. You interested?” Dan brightened. Maybe he’d sold his idea better than he’d thought.
“Probably not, but I might know someone. A soldier.”
Dan grimaced. “I was hoping for SEALs.”
“Wait and see before you judge,” Mason said. “You might be surprised.”
“Wait and see? Is he coming here?”
“That’s right—coming for Christmas, but it’s not a he; it’s a she. Sarah Metlin. She’ll arrive this afternoon.”
Sergeant Sarah Metlin
gazed out the window of Regan Hall’s F-150 at the ranches slipping past her window. Her friend had collected her at the airport and was bringing her home to the ranch she now called home. Sarah had been surprised that Regan had given up her city lifestyle to marry a cowboy, but she was beginning to see the draw. The Absaroka Mountains shimmered in the distance to the south like guards on sentry duty. There were few vehicles on the road, but she could see cattle in the closest pasture grouped together at some sort of feed station. After her latest tour overseas, it was hard to realize that no danger lurked in her surroundings. There were no soldiers concealed in the barns and outbuildings, and the broken-down Chevrolet they had passed a mile or so ago wasn’t wired with explosives.
Still, she couldn’t relax. There was more than one kind of enemy and some of them were concealed in plain sight. She hoped Hall family Christmases weren’t anything like the pitched battles she would find at her own home. She sighed, knowing more than likely they would be. The Halls were military men, just like her brothers and father, and like them they served in the elite branches. She’d been competing with men like that all her life. Her father and brothers were all in the Special Forces, while she was nothing but regular Army; a distinction she’d heard about every year since she’d joined the military.
It wasn’t that her family didn’t love her—they did. But men were men and women were women in the Metlin household. Men served their country, and women served their men. Sarah had broken all the rules.
If women were allowed in the Special Forces, she was sure she could have changed that bias. She was strong, fast, smart, fearless—except when it came to celebrating holidays with strangers—and she had always been at the top of her class, or unit, as the case may be. But women weren’t allowed in the Special Forces, which left her brothers plenty of latitude to lord their superior status over her, even though she’d served in plenty of dangerous situations. Hell, she’d driven convoy trucks along some of Iraq and Afghanistan’s deadliest corridors. She was sick of the distinction between her and the rest of her family, and she dreaded having it flung in her face this Christmas by the Hall brothers, too. How many times did she have to fight the same battle?
Still, she hadn’t turned down Regan’s invitation to come for Christmas. She and Regan, a petite brunette whose slim body was nearly lost inside a thick down parka as she sat in the driver’s side seat, had been classmates back in Middleton, Wisconsin, years ago. They’d lost touch for a long time, but had recently found each other online and reconnected. When Regan found out Sarah had joined the military, she’d begun to use her as a sounding board as she became accustomed to all the military men who were now in her family. Regan’s husband, Mason, was a Navy SEAL, and Mason had three brothers. Austin had been in the Special Forces like Sarah’s father and brothers, but had now left the military. Zane had recently left the Marines, and Colt was a Combat Control officer in the Air Force. Sarah had been able to explain many strange military customs that baffled Regan, and Regan had been a real support when Sarah began to think about ending her military career, something she definitely couldn’t discuss with her own family. Lately, she wasn’t satisfied with her limited options. She longed for more latitude with her job and a chance to shine without any restrictions placed on her. She had no idea what she wanted to do next, though, so when Regan offered her a stay at Crescent Hall, Sarah had jumped at the invitation.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Regan said, keeping her eyes on the icy road, but smiling.
“It’s beautiful here.”
“It is, isn’t it? I’ve grown to love it. At first when I left New York I thought I’d miss the city. I couldn’t wait to leave Wisconsin when I was young, remember?”
Sarah nodded. They’d both been brimming with plans to leave their hometown when they last saw each other.
“After ten years in the city, though, I got tired of it. It’s been so easy to become part of the community here in Chance Creek. I know more people now than I ever did when I lived in New York. And I wouldn’t want to raise a child in the city. On the ranch there will be so much room to run and play.” She dropped a hand to her belly.
“Boy or girl? Do you know yet?”
Regan’s smile widened. “It’s a boy. I’m so excited. So are Mason and his brothers. You should have seen them when we found out.”
Sarah clamped down on a twist of jealousy deep inside her heart. “It suits you here.” She wished she felt a similar sense of belonging somewhere.
“How about you?” Regan asked. “Have you given more thought to leaving the military?”
“I’m still trying to figure that out. My brothers will have a field day when I do. According to them, I never should have been allowed to join.”
“That’s stupid. You’re a Sergeant. You must be doing something right.”
“I could be a General and it wouldn’t change a thing. I suppose Mason and his brothers will feel the same way.”
Regan turned to her in surprise. “I don’t think so.” She returned her focus to the road. “I told Mason all about you. He was really interested in your career. He has a friend coming to stay for the holiday, too. Dan Hemmins. An ex-SEAL. Dan’s starting a business. I’m sure he’ll tell you all about it.”
Sarah rolled her eyes. “Right. As if a SEAL would even talk business with a lowly soldier.”
Regan laughed. “Come on, I won’t let him or anyone else give you a hard time. It’s different at Crescent Hall than what you’re used to, you’ll see. You’ll love it here.” She pulled into a long driveway that led to an old-fashioned house perched up on a rise of land. “There’s the Hall. Don’t you love it?”
Sarah could see why Regan had fallen for the place. The imposing, three-story, gray gothic building had a wraparound porch and a tower in one corner, and as they drove up and parked in front of it, she saw that the proud old house commanded a view for miles. There were the Absaroka Mountains in the distance again. Snowy pastures spread out from the house in every direction.
“It’s breathtaking.” She was surprised at the impact of the winter scenery on her. She’d never fancied herself a country girl, but something about the stark beauty of the landscape surrounding her touched her heart.
“Are you ready to meet the most handsome man in the whole world?” Regan broke into her thoughts. She got out of the truck awkwardly and Sarah followed suit. Several men and women spilled out of the house to meet them and she scanned them, looking for the handsome man who would be Regan’s husband. They were all good looking in their own way, but the one who caught her eye wasn’t moving to greet Regan.