UPDATE: The winner is…Jackie Wisherd!
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I’m ready for this, aren’t you? ➡
The weather’s been oddly warm the past couple of weeks, which means I can bear putting my hands on the pool’s metal-poled skimmers and into the water to clean the traps. Already my thoughts are turning toward summer. Maybe we’ll have an early Spring? *fingers crossed*
In the meantime, would you like to dream about a vacation in the Caribbean? Well, I have just the series for you. Just three stories, all about women who get more adventure than they counted on during their “adventure vacations”—and all featuring those awesome, ex-military men. Want a Marine? Sexy SEALs?
Comment for a chance to win one of these stories!
Interested only in experiencing an adrenaline-packed adventure first-hand to give her credo when she books her clients’ adventure vacations, Lace McElhannon finds more excitement than she can handle when she meets and falls into bed with ex-SEAL Dex Haygood.
Fresh from protecting transport ships from Somali pirates, Dex figures his latest job will be a cakewalk, until he finds himself in deep water, swimming with sharks and trying to protect Lace when the yacht they’re sailing on is taken.
“Sweetheart, the sharks are down there.” Ice blue eyes wrinkled at the corners as the man bending over the side of the olive-green skiff pointed a finger into the clear blue depths beneath her.
Did he think she’d missed seeing the swarm, or flock, or whatever the hell you called a group of freaking sharks? They were busy ripping into the grisly bundle of fish parts and guts the dive crew had dropped to the sea floor in a wire basket—which was why she’d hurried over here.
“Exactly! Like any sane person would purposely swim with sharks?” She let her voice frag, then crimped her lips to keep from saying anything else that made her sound like she was twelve. Lace McElhannon was glad she hadn’t given him a snarky wag of her head while she’d said it. But seriously, who would blame her for being snotty? Great White sharks were swimming thirty feet beneath her toes and he wasn’t doing anything about it!
When her yacht-mates had blithely donned their snorkels and goggles then fell backward into the water without a care, she’d only hesitated for a moment. How scary could it be? And the dive team had seemed professional, assuring them the spotters’ job was to watch for any trouble, and they would swoop in to the rescue or drop fresh bait to distract the sharks.
Not until she’d glanced down and seen a dozen huge, sleek bodies—with rows and rows of jagged teeth—circling had she’d freaked out, leaving her ship-mates bobbing on the surface like live bait while she’d struck out toward the skiff.
Fighting for breath, Lace dog-paddled, then swam faster against a rising wave that sent her closer to the skiff’s hull. Salty water splashed into her mouth and she gulped without thinking, coughing and spitting, knowing she looked like an idiot, but her poor swimming skills didn’t have a thing to do with her breathless state. Fear froze her body, making expanding her lungs impossible.
Yes, she’d paid to swim with sharks. Or at least she’d paid for the plane ticket to get here to the Bahamas. But maybe she shouldn’t have watched Susan’s Shark Week DVDs beforehand. Her friend, and partner at the travel agency, had tried to dissuade her from choosing this particular adventure vacation, knowing she’d only ever swum in a heated pool. But who could pass up a week in the Bahamas? She’d had visions of watching the excitement through the window of a glass-bottom boat. But now was not the time to wonder why she hadn’t paid closer attention to Jake Halloran’s description of his “little ocean jaunt.”
“You have to help me up,” she said, sliding up her goggles to let the smirking hunk see her terror-stricken eyes. “I have a cramp.”
His eyes narrowed as he stared down at her. “We’re not here to rescue clients from their own bad decisions.”
“Make an exception.” She pushed the mouthpiece of her snorkel to the side so he could see the determination thinning her lips.
“Better pull her up, Dex,” another voice above her drawled. “The way she’s splashing, those whites’ll think she’s a fish in distress.”
Dex. So that was his name. But she didn’t have time to savor the mystery that had taunted her since she’d boarded the Clementine three days ago for one of Halloran’s daily jaunts. Despite the amenities aboard the 160-foot motorized luxury yacht behind her, she’d been much more interested in this man than the rock-climbing wall near the upper deck. On their first day aboard the yacht, he’d been introduced as the commander of the guard team providing security for the high-end adventure vacation. Unfortunately, he spent most of his time on the much smaller and faster escort boat which accompanied them while they sailed. She’d really hoped for a chance to get to know him. Everything about him had attracted her—his size, his muscled frame, his icy-cool gaze that landed like a hot laser, making her melt.
Funny how that calculating stare didn’t have the same effect when she was scared.
A rope ladder rolled over the side of the skiff and she swam for it, reaching out and gripping the first rung, doing her best to haul herself up. But she’d been swimming for a good while and her limbs felt like lead weights. She dangled on the rope, half in-half out of the water, catching her breath and staring down to make sure her toes were curled in case the big fishes thought they were sausages. But she’d also watched Jaws. Sharks could lunge upward. Her breath caught in her throat, and she cast a wild glance above her.
A thickly muscled arm shot downward. A steel grip wrapped around one wrist and pulled her up, not releasing until she lay draped over the side of the boat.
She tried to get a leg up and over the side, not caring her ass was on display, but didn’t finish the motion because strong hands gripped her waist and lifted her, setting her on her feet.
She swayed, not having to exaggerate her sigh of relief or the weakness in her knees to get a chance to lean against the firm, hard body she’d been ogling for days. “You saved me,” she said, her voice a breathy whisper.
His head shook side to side, his chin rubbing her hair. “You weren’t in any danger. Or wouldn’t have been if you’d managed to remain calm. The sharks really are more interested in chum than you.”
Lace shivered and snuggled closer, reminded she wore the teensiest bikini in her bikini wardrobe and she was getting him soaking wet. She’d hoped for a moment like this when she’d seen him in the powerful little skiff, his dark tee hugging well-muscled arms and a lean torso, lightweight black cargo pants doing nothing to hide the thickness of his sturdy thighs, dark sunglasses giving him an added, irresistible air of danger. And he wore combat boots in a boat. How sexy was that?
Her friend Maya had just such a man, someone who’d put himself in the line of fire to keep her friend safe. And why couldn’t she find a hero of her own? Maybe because she was on vacation and only had three days left in the Bahamas? But a lot could happen in three days if a girl wasn’t too fussy about appearing a little desperate, and she and her fellow passengers were heading back to the villa that night for a cozy dinner party.
A throat cleared.
The boat really was small, and three other hotties sat nearby with their gazes trained on her and Dex. But the one who’d dared interrupt them wore a dazzling smile and gave her a wicked waggle of his blond eyebrows.
“Ma’am, you might enjoy watching the sharks from the swimming platform. Stand in the spotter’s cage and look down. The water’s so clear you’ll feel like they’re closer than they are, but you’ll be safe.”
Lace wasn’t interested in the sharks swarming in the water. She liked the one standing so close the heat from his body warmed her head to toe.
But Dex only cupped her elbows, and she’d given him ample opportunity and implicit permission to touch so much more.
Now that the quaking had stopped, she felt her face grow hot. Lace drew away and began to offer him a small smile of apology, but his slitted gaze made a quick trip down her body. Oh. Maybe she hadn’t blown this first encounter after all. Could she use that hint of attraction to wrangle an invitation for drinks after they reached the villa’s dock?
She licked her lips and pouted them. “I guess I should be getting back to my boat…”
“No more shivers?” His voice was deep and slightly husky.
“Only where it counts,” she whispered, arching a brow.
His mouth twitched, but he set her back, his hand trailing from her arms ever so subtly.
Her breath hitched, and she was glad she was already soaking wet because her body was warming, and the evidence of her desire could have been embarrassing.
Dex shot a glance over his shoulder. “Bring the boat around to the platform.”
The engine fired. The escort boat made a slow circle of the yacht, Dex’s large hand at the small of her back to keep her steady. When they bumped softly against the rubberized edge of the platform, he held her hand, not letting it go until she’d stepped safely up onto the lower deck platform. He dropped his hand and began to turn.
Lace reached across and tapped his shoulder.
His face slowly turned, his jaw jutting to reveal a stern, hard line.
Good Lord, that mean look made her hot. “Can I offer you a drink…later…seeing as you saved my life?”
Soft laughter came from his equally well-built friend. Blond brows rose over dreamy brown eyes, and he gave her a slight shake of his head.
She wasn’t deterred. Instead, she steadied her gaze on the dark-haired man with the glacier eyes. “I promise I don’t bite.”
“We’ll see,” he said, then turned away from the platform.
His firm voice didn’t give her an ounce of hope he was serious. Sighing, she turned, giving him a look that conveyed her disappointment, and then walked away. So maybe the sway of her bottom was anything but natural, but since she was wearing a thong, she knew exactly where his gaze went.
Lace wasn’t giving up. That attitude wasn’t in her DNA. When she wanted something, she went after it. And she wanted him. Yes, every one of his security team members was equally lovely, but he’d challenged her. She flipped back her red hair, but the effect was spoiled as water-soaked tendrils slapped her shoulder.
The sound of the skiff’s motor roaring into life again gave her Dex’s direction. A plan began to form.
One of the crisply uniformed crewmen stepped forward with a towel. “Is there anything else I can bring you, miss?”
Grateful for the distraction, she gave the crewman a smile. “A martini. Very dry. And I want a chaise moved to the high deck.” The skiff was currently bobbing beside the starboard side of the yacht. She’d drink her favorite cocktail atop the upper deck platform—very slowly—and make sure Dex knew she was watching him. And maybe she’d take off her top—to catch the late afternoon rays. None of the wives or girlfriends of the wealthy men who’d actually paid for the trip—she’d been given hers gratis—had been the least bit shy about stripping. So, she wouldn’t be breaching any of the boat’s rules.
The potent drink would give her a little Dutch courage. And maybe he’d think the blush that washed over her skin was solely due to too much sun.
Dexter Haygood didn’t have long to wait before he caught flak.
“Mmm-mm. Don’t know how you passed that up,” Justin Walsh, the team’s combat medic, said, his face reflecting disappointment in his friend.
Seated at the side of the skiff, Hank Jones, their machine-gunner, shook his head. Always silent, the big man’s expression spoke his disgust. His dark face was screwed up in a frown.
Dex snorted. “I’m not part of the amenities.”
“Halloran gives us free rein of the villa. And he didn’t say a thing about keeping away from the passengers. I think he likes giving them the thrill of rubbing elbows with ex-SEALs. And…we have our own cabanas.” Justin gave another irascible waggle of his brows. “You could invite her for a little some-some and no one would bat an eye.”
“We’re here to do a job,” Dex said, feeling annoyed that he hadn’t managed to hide his attraction to the redhead from his team. Now he’d never hear the end of their teasing. Not something he was accustomed to, as he rarely protected beautiful women in his line of work.
Which made him wonder again what the hell he was doing on this assignment. Protecting the Clementine’s passengers shouldn’t have required more than a couple of onboard guards, which Halloran employed regularly, not a four-man combat-ready rapid response team in an armed escort boat, and a second on-the-ground team patrolling the estate. And the machine gun stowed under a bench in the boat rather than secured in the gun turret underscored the fact this wasn’t their usual mission.
“Why look a gift horse in the mouth?” Justin gave him another cheeky grin. “This job is a vacation. We’re in the Caribbean, not the Indian Ocean. Maybe the powers that be thought we could use a little R&R.”
From his position behind the wheel of the powerful boat, Johnny Turtoro gave Dex a pointed glance. “Yeah, boss. You’d think you’d be happy we aren’t taking fire from Somali pirates.”
Dex frowned. When had his team gotten so chummy they thought they could chime in on his love life? “There’s more money on that boat than on any transport barge traveling the Strait of Malacca. It’s target rich. Halloran is right to be cautious.”
“Whatever. I think you’re smitten.” Justin lifted his head, staring at the raised upper deck of the Clementine. His jaw sagged for a second, and then his grin stretched, white teeth flashing. “Yo, Dex. Think she could wear any less?”
Dex shot a glance upward and sucked in sharp breath.
The redhead sat on the edge of a chaise next to the low rail of the boat, a martini glass in one hand, dark glasses shading her gorgeous green eyes. However, her cat-like smile wasn’t what held his attention.
He cursed under his breath, knowing he was going to cave and do the one thing he’d promised himself he wouldn’t—get tangled up with a rich girl, someone whose expectations he’d never meet no matter how hard he tried.
But the expanse of ivory skin, too pale to ever tan, angered him. Not because the minx was giving his buddies a show, but because she was risking a sunburn on the prettiest set of breasts he’d ever seen. Nicely rounded. Firm. Nipples a pale, rosy pink.
And he’d already had an eyeful of her long legs and firm ass. His fingers still tingled from the lingering urge to fill his hands with those sexy curves. “Dammit,” he said under his breath, but not softly enough.
The team erupted in soft chuckles.
He swiveled his head to give them all a hot glare. “That’ll be enough. Tuturo,” he bit off the word, “take the boat around the other side.”
With his crew’s light-hearted complaints ringing in his ears, Dex turned, fighting a smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth. Her unsubtle efforts to get under his skin had worked. She’d gotten to him.
Red hair, eyes as green as soft Kentucky grass. A body made for hot loving.
She wasn’t Lenore, the general’s daughter he’d dated on the sly who’d liked to run her hands over muscles newly honed by weeks of BUD/S training, but who’d been engaged all the while to her daddy’s Aide-de-Camp. And he wasn’t in his twenties and lovesick for a pretty girl.
After one last glance at the nearly nude beauty giving him a wave, he made himself a promise. He’d have her once. Then he’d walk away. One night ought to be enough to smooth his rough edges and prove to her the last thing she wanted was some ex-SEAL who didn’t have the time or inclination to be anyone’s play-date. This didn’t have to be a big thing. Just a hook-up with a bored beauty.
So why in hell was his body tightening with excitement? Why was his chest expanding, dragging in sea air that somehow felt fresher than it had minutes ago? The sun beat down, but its merciless heat wasn’t what warmed him. The thought of plundering her long, lithe, pale body made him feel like a pirate. A marauder. And he didn’t like the satisfaction that fanciful vision gave him. Dex liked to be in control. Liked to take the lead, be the one to initiate contact and the one to fade away when things got sticky. Instinct told him the redhead might harbor those same inclinations . And he didn’t like the thought she believed she was leading him in this dance.
As the skiff cut a path through the waves to the other side, away from the tempting view of the woman he’d fished from the sea, he rocked his head side-to-side, easing the tension knotting his neck. He’d have her, then he’d concentrate on his mission, the job he was being paid the big bucks to do—however unlikely it was that danger might find them here in paradise.