The SEAL’s Secret Lover

 

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For Eileen Rothschild, and as always, for Mark.

Chapter One

Rose Powell was going to kill her baby brother. If she could. Like she stood a chance against a battle-hardened Navy SEAL with three deployments behind him. But she knew a trick or two that she could use on Jack, who’d weaseled out of taking their grandmother and her lifelong BFFs on a whirlwind tour of Turkey.

“Does everyone have everything?” Rose asked for what felt like the two hundredth time since she’d met up with the Bucket List Babes at the airport in Lancaster.

“We do, dear,” Grannie said. Florence and Marian nodded as well, although Rose could plainly see Florence’s guide to Turkey peeking out from the seat pocket in front of her.

“Florence,” she said. “Your guidebook.”

“Oh!” Florence reached one liver-spotted hand into the seat pocket and came up with both the guidebook and a pair of earbuds.

As stressed out as she was, Rose had to smile at the image the three of them presented as she followed them down the aisle into the jetway. Her grandmother and her two best friends were dressed in nearly identical travel clothing, with zippered pockets on backsides, replacement hips, and thighs, sturdy walking shoes favored by elderly world travelers everywhere, and half-zip fleece pullovers custom embroidered with B
UCKET
L
IST
B
ABES
on the collar.
Driving Miss Daisy
does Turkey, in L.L. Bean.

For the third time Rose checked her own bag, a sturdy leather tote, ensuring she had her laptop, Bose noise-canceling headphones, cell phone, tablet, adaptors, and everything else she couldn’t afford to lose if their luggage was left behind in Munich, or worse, Lancaster. Phone in hand, she turned it on and watched it search for a connection. Although she was ostensibly on vacation, her meteoric rise to Senior Director—Operations and Logistics for Field Energy Company meant she couldn’t afford to let up for a moment. This was not a good time to revert to the 1990s, technologically speaking. She looked up from her stubbornly silent phone to see three bright-eyed, lined faces looking back at her expectantly.

She wrenched her mind away from her phone. “We need passports and U.S. currency for the visa and immigration channels,” she said, mentally signing Jack up to squire Grannie to every single Garden Club function for the rest of their lives.

The international terminal at Ankara’s Esenboğa airport hummed with people arriving from all over the globe, in a wild variety of dress from modern Western wear on both men and women to traditional head scarves and long skirts. The flow of language was largely unintelligible to Rose, until the pleasant female voice on the loudspeaker switched to English for a series of announcements about departures, arrivals, smoking, and parking. She shepherded the Babes through immigration to baggage claim, where their guide was supposed to meet them with the Land Rover.

“Rose, dear, can we just…?” Marian said, gesturing at the ladies’ room.

“Go ahead,” Rose said. She’d take advantage of the line to power down her phone. Maybe it just needed to reset itself to some difference in equipment or signal in Turkey.

“We’re old,” Grannie said as she walked away. “We need lots of potty breaks. I hope the guide Jack found for us understands that.”

“I’m sure he will,” Rose said distractedly, watching the wheel spin on her phone. And spin. And spin. Until Grannie came back.

“It’s such a shame Jack was too busy with his coursework to come along,” Grannie said.

The statement triggered Rose’s lifelong emotional barometer for her younger brother: protective love, profound irritation, and profound concern. Jack had told Grannie the technical truth. A former Navy SEAL, her brother was taking classes at Lancaster College, but he’d left out key details—a racing heartbeat, hypersensitivity in his nerves, and a tremor in his right hand—when he told Grannie he was backing out. He wasn’t up to the trip, he told Rose, but he’d arranged for a buddy of his to meet them in Ankara and take over as their driver and guide.

The phone had powered up again, but she still didn’t have a signal. “I can’t get connected. I’ve got WiFi, though.” She started downloading email and watching while her text conversations bounced around, sorting incoming messages to the right conversation. The lack of a carrier signal wasn’t a good sign. Not good at all.

In baggage claim, the Babes carefully tucked their passports into one of the two dozen zipper pockets decorating their fancy travel purses. Rose did the same as she headed for the baggage carousels, searching for their flight number.

The carousel wasn’t even thunking around yet, so she walked over to the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the drive, and from there the street, alternating her first good look at Turkey with glances at her downloading email, hung up on what looked like a monster file from the HR department. She was on the leadership team tasked with interviewing new hires and weeding out the bad matches before the senior leadership team met with the top three candidates—and they were always hiring. Right now the highest priorities were an IT director for the newly acquired office in Tulsa, an operations specialist for her own department, and a senior security position she hadn’t had a chance to look over yet.

Outside the window reunion scenes played out, families greeting each other with hugs and kisses for men and women alike. The neon signs in the shops across from the airport’s main drive were in the Cyrillic alphabet, unreadable to her. Her brain was so fried it took a moment for her to latch onto a word in English, neatly lettered on a small sign just in front of her.

Powell.

That was her name! The man holding the sign looked Western, even American, with his dust-marred desert combat boots, a pair of cargo pants, and a fleece pullover the twin of her grandmother’s but in black, no embroidery. Their eyes met, and Rose felt a hot thrill shoot along her nerves. Her heart started to pound.

He looked familiar. The sun was setting, drenching the covered airport drive in shadows, and there was something beguiling about his face. Despite the shadows, she could tell his hair was a sandy blond with a hint of curl to it, the beard covering his jaw slightly darker. Backpack straps curved around his shoulders, and his sunglasses hung from the V created by his unzipped fleece. It wasn’t just his face, she realized. It was the way he held himself, totally still in a swirling scene of airport chaos, feet planted, unmoving, like he could stand there forever. Jack had the same stance.

“Oh,” she said, feeling rather stupid. Without looking at her phone, she walked over to him.

“Keenan?” she hazarded.

He nodded. Up close his eyes were denim blue, and fringed with spiky blond lashes. His deep tan extended down his neck and into the gray T-shirt under the black fleece, and she was staring.

“I’m jet-lagged as hell,” she started, intending to explain why she’d been goggle-eyed.

“Nice to meet you, jet-lagged as hell,” he said. “Jack always called you Rose.”

She laughed, feeling off-balance and ridiculous, two emotions she didn’t often experience. Keenan was probably used to women going all tongue-tied around him. “Yes, I’m Rose.”

With that amused not-quite-a-smile on his face, he held out the hand not holding the sign. Bracing herself for the bone-crushing grip so often used by men, inadvertently or not, Rose squeezed back. But Jack’s grip was firm, warm, and when she started to pull free after the usual couple of seconds handshakes lasted, lingered with the same heat as his gaze lingered on her face.

Not good. Not good at all, because she had a rule about military men. She didn’t date them. She was the daughter of a career Army officer and the sister of a Navy SEAL. They were extraordinary men, and extraordinary men didn’t fit into her strategic plan for her very ordinary life. There was no use in going down that road when she was all too familiar with the dead end.

Keenan held her hand a moment too long, then let go. “Welcome to Turkey,” he said.

“Thanks,” she said. She straightened her shoulders, lifted her chin, and reached for her composure. “The flights were all on time and smooth, which is a good thing when you’re traveling with nervous flyers.”

“Where’s the rest of the group?” he asked as he rolled up the sign and tucked it into the empty water-bottle pouch on the left side of his backpack.

Rose peered through the glass to the baggage claim area, then pointed. “Grannie’s the one in the purple fleece. Her cousin Marian is the one with the hat. Florence, their friend since the third grade, has her nose buried in her guidebook. Should we go introduce you?”

“You bet, Jetlag,” he said.

The walk across the baggage claim area left Rose feeling like she had a wolf at her heels.

“It’s very kind of you to use your leave to be our guide,” Grannie said when they’d all shaken hands.

“I’m not on leave, ma’am,” he said, his shoulders tightening ever so slightly. “I left the Navy around the same time Jack did.”

“Did you fly into Ankara on the same flight we did?”

“No, ma’am,” he said. “I’m living in Istanbul. I picked up the Land Rover there and drove here today.”

“Living in Istanbul?” Florence said. “But you’re American.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said. “This is closer to work for me.”

By this time the baggage carousel had finally started to turn, and bags began sliding down the chute to thump against the metal wall before being carried gently around the bend. “Keenan, would you help me with the bags?” Rose asked.

“Sure,” he said.

They threaded through the crowd to a clear spot by the carousel. “For the record,” Rose said, “I don’t need help with the bags. I thought you’d need a break from the Inquisition Team.”

He shot her another one of those veiled, amused looks.

“You can blame Jack for that,” she said, purposefully not looking at him. “He used to make up the most ridiculous stories about what he did, where he’d been. Right before he started BUD/S he had Grannie convinced he’d washed out of the Navy and was working the shake machine at a Mickey D’s in Virginia Beach.”

An actual smile broke free. “How’s he doing?”

The fact that Keenan asked that question wasn’t a good sign. Jack and Keenan used to be best friends, in the weird way men were best friends—nicknames, beer, hours of
Call of Duty
and watching sports. But Keenan was in Turkey and Jack was back in Lancaster, and Rose had no idea what it all meant. “Well,” she said carefully, “he’s not here, and he won’t talk about why he left the Navy. All we know is that a mission went south, and another SEAL died.”

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