Authors: Misty Evans
A SCVC Taskforce novel
Copyright © 2014 Misty Evans
Cover Art by The Killion Group, Inc.
Formatting by Author E.M.S.
Editing by Marcie Gately and Amy Eye
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“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs,
who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
but who does actually strive to do the deeds;
who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself on a worthy cause;
who at the best in the end knows the triumph of high achievement,
and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,
so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
~ Theodore Roosevelt from The Man in the Arena
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you.”
~ Jane Austin, Persuasion
This book is dedicated to all the men and women in the arena striving to do the deeds that need doing to keep our country safe and free.
And to those who never stop loving their soul mate, no matter what.
Thank you, Mark, for loving me.
Culver’s Marina, Chula Vista
Cal Reese’s boat rocked hard, waking him. Heart hammering, he reached for his gun.
Waves crashed topside. Maggie, the black Lab lying beside his bunk, whined.
Remnants of a nasty nightmare filled his head, lingering snapshots of his last mission. He rubbed his eyes and blinked them away. He was back in the States. No firefights, no shouting, no exploding RPGs. Drawing a deep breath, he let it out slowly as he forced himself upright. Dull pain throbbed at his temples.
Maggie’s cold nose nudged his arm. He reached over and patted her head. She was the only one who had his back these days. If not for her, well…he’d probably be six feet under like the rest of the men in his unit.
The feel of her warm breath on his face, and the happy lap of her tongue, made the blood and screams of the nightmare recede. Setting his gun next to the whiskey bottle on the shelf above his bunk, he scratched her ears. Soft thunder echoed in the distance. “Storm moving in, girl. Nothing to worry about.”
Except for the fact that he wouldn’t be working today. Another day of twiddling his damn thumbs. Maybe that was good considering he’d already overslept, lost in the nightmare of the past.
Night terrors, the doctor called them. Usually followed by sleepwalking.
He glanced around. Nothing seemed out of place. He didn’t have much in the run-down boat, but everything he did have was right where he’d left it.
Oversleeping was unacceptable, but mostly surprising. Since Afghanistan, his internal clock was as much of a fucked-up disaster as his head, although he’d never had a chance to set a normal work/sleep routine until now anyway. In high school, he’d always stayed up too late, got up too early, working his ass off to get the grades, the girl, and some hope for a future. The day he graduated—twenty-four hours
his high school sweetheart tore his world apart—he walked into the Navy recruitment center and signed on. Three years later, he was in BUDs, and up until thirteen days ago, he’d headed a special SEAL commando team hot on the trail of terrorism sponsor Otto Grimes.
The only “normal” in his world had been coffee—black—and his deep-seated love for water.
Now all he had was time to kill and memories to drown. And for the first time in his life, he had a dog.
Rising, Cal ignored the bottle of Jack and the pain in his temples thanks to the brown liquid. He went through the uncomplicated act of filling the coffee pot, scooping grounds, and searching for his single coffee cup.
Normal was…okay. Even good some days. He’d learned to appreciate simple things again. If only the flashbacks would leave him the fuck alone. The goddamn nightmares, yeah, they could go AWOL and he wouldn’t miss them a bit.
Stay in the present.
He breathed in the aroma of grounds and hot water and listened to the waves hitting the hull. A glance out the starboard window told him there was no rain yet, but the dark clouds over the ocean were ushering in a doozy.
The incoming storm had just freed up his calendar. No scraping barnacles off yachts or fixing motors for Chewy at the boatyard. Maybe the storm would blow itself out by noon and the Southern Cali tourists would keep him busy at the marina’s rental shop wanting their jet skis.
Maggie whined and Cal set down his cup. Time to take care of the love of his life, then hit the shower.
. His life had dwindled down to the barest of needs, the loneliest of lives. Thirteen days ago, he’d been in nonstop action. His team had been seconds away from taking down that bastard Otto…
Now Butcher, Avery, and Tank were dead, and he’d been put out to pasture by his country. Worse, he couldn’t remember the details of what had happened in those moments after gunfire broke out.
Welcome to PT-fucking-SD
Snagging a ratty T-shirt and a pair of shorts, he dressed, tossed on a windbreaker, and hooked Maggie to her leash.
Bring on the wind and the rain
. He and Maggie loved water. A run would do them both good. Clear the lingering images of the nightmare and that horrific last mission from his brain.
Maggie’s tail wagged furiously as they climbed the four short stairs to the top deck. The dog froze, and Cal looked up.
His heart lurched and so did his cock.
No fucking way
Standing on the dock, hands on her curvy hips, was the one woman he thought he’d never see again. Never
to see again.
Talk about a storm blowing in. “What are you doing here, Bianca?”
She pointed to the name written in flowing script on the boat’s side. “
The Love Boat
Maggie danced on her feet, straining at the leash and wagging her tail like Bianca was the best thing she’d seen in days.
B still looked as young, fresh, and innocent as the day she’d broken his heart in high school. But she wasn’t innocent. Not by a long shot. She’d ripped his heart to shreds again six months ago.
The NSA agent working on the Southern California Violent Crimes Taskforce never rested in her quest for information. “You’re still wearing your ring.”
The damn gold band around his finger was an exact match to hers. “You didn’t need to bring the divorce papers in person. The post office delivers bad news every day.”
The wind toyed with strands of her hair, making his fingers itch to do the same. Her mouth quirked. “Do you even get mail here? On a boat?”
The headache in his temples pounded as hard as his heart. “What do you want?”
The smirk left her mouth and she looked around as if she were worried about the approaching storm. Or maybe she was worried someone would see her talking to him. She stepped forward, lowered her voice, and her pretty blue eyes met his head-on from behind her sexy librarian glasses. “I’m in trouble, Cal. Big trouble.”
“Trouble’s always been your middle name, B. What’s new?”
“If I’m going to live through the next twenty-four hours…” She hesitated a moment, then said the words he’d never thought he’d hear. Ever. “I want—I
—you. After what I’ve stumbled across, you’re the only man who can protect me.”
What angle was she working to save their marriage now? He climbed the steps and brushed past her. “Drama queen doesn’t quite suit you.”
Her hand landed on his forearm, stopping him. “I’m serious. I know what happened with Operation Warfighter. At least, I think I do.” She looked over her shoulder, back to him. “Something you should know. You’re not going to like it.”
He couldn’t do this today. Not right now. His head hurt and hearing the words
made his heart kick like a jackrabbit inside his chest.
Her paranoia—faked for dramatic effect or otherwise—immediately set his nerves on edge.
. He scanned the boat dock. Was she telling the truth? Did she have details on the operation? Why did that put her in danger?
. His fingers itched for his gun, even though he saw nothing out of the ordinary in the marina.
Regardless, he’d never been able to deny Bianca anything. His love, his protection, his goddamn loyalty…
She shifted her weight from her right to left foot, watching him—no,
with him with those big baby blues. Her reach was long and deep inside the NSA, although his instincts told him he didn’t know everything about what she did. No telling what dirt she might have dug up.
But dirt that had sent her to him in his current state on the country’s blacklist? She must be desperate. The last time she’d made contact was to tell him to pack his things and get out. She wanted a divorce.
Cal glanced past her petite shoulders. A few of the local hardcore boaters were out fastening down their boats in preparation for the storm. Otherwise, the marina was quiet.
Regardless, Cal’s instincts were on high alert. He wanted nothing more than to protect the woman in front of him.
. “Go inside and stay there. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
He didn’t wait to see if Bianca followed orders, giving Maggie her freedom and running with her for the boardwalk.
Bianca watched Cal take off, his muscular legs flexing as he ran with the dog. The wind blew the windbreaker tight against his back, outlining his broad shoulders and V-shaped waist.
Every time she saw him, it was a blow to her senses. He topped six-one, weighed a lean two-ten, and looked like a fighter straight out of an MMA ring.
But it wasn’t his gorgeous body or his chiseled jaw and bristling attitude that knocked the air from her lungs every time she saw him. It was his eyes. The chocolate-brown peepers were nearly black thanks to his Spanish lineage.
Gypsy eyes, her mother had called them. Haunted was more like it.
Cal and the dog hit the marina’s parking lot, and a few seconds later, disappeared from view.
? During their long and rocky relationship, she’d always been the one staying put while Cal took off for parts unknown. She loved him fiercely, but he was never around.