UPDATE: The winner is…Debra!
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On Wednesday—tomorrow, folks—the last of our Texas Billionaire Club romances hits the stores! And even though I only list the Amazon link below, it’s EVERYWHERE. Sis (Elle James) and I are super-excited to share it. Because, #1 – this is a story we co-wrote; #2 – it’s funny; #3 – many of the funny Army situations we write about are things that actually happened to us; and #4 – it’s the first story we EVER wrote. Of course, the original version was full of all our newbie mistakes, so it took some time for us to revise the heck out of it. Still, the story at the core of this romance was always one we loved.
So, if you love those Alpha Texas guys, love funny situations, love dogs & cats, and love to sink into a series with a group of guys who fall hard for Ms. Right, you will love Love & War. It’s a nice, long, feel-good read. And it’s sexy, have no fear!
Enjoy the excerpt below and if you haven’t already pre-ordered your copy, do so today! You’ll want to sink deep into this one!
If you leave a comment below, you’ll be entered to win one of the three prequel stories below. Happy reading! ~DD
Love & War
Sophie Keaton’s love life is a disaster. Too busy with her art gallery and weekends spent with the Army National Guard, she rarely has time for a date. Her orderly existence takes a twist when her Army National Guard unit gets a new Company Commander, Captain Gage Jenkins, who dislikes the idea of women in the Army, particularly her, and proceeds to make her weekend drill miserable. To bolster her self-esteem, Sophie finally takes her love life in hand and goes out on a date. Unfortunately, her date ends up in the emergency room with an allergic reaction to her cat. Her mooch of a brother, Bryce, feels sorry for her and offers to take her out to pick the “perfect man”. When she finds Mr. Perfect, she spends a passionate night with him, but awakens to discover that Mr. Perfect is none other than her new commanding officer!
As a member of the Texas Billionaire’s club, Gage has watched every one of his college buddies tie the knot. Although he’d met every challenge the group set in the early days, he resisted the last one—finding the perfect wife. Now, with his hands full expanding his construction business and whipping his new Army Guard command into shape, he has plenty of excuses to avoid that particular commitment. However, when he moves next door to one very attractive, very sexy woman, he finds himself deliciously distracted. When he discovers that woman is the same klutzy lieutenant he’s been dogging from day one, he’s not angry. He’s amused. And intrigued.
When the pair are challenged by their warring pets and matchmaking sergeants, the rules of Love and War get complicated…
Read an excerpt!
It’s all his fault!
Sophie Keaton’s boots slurped in the mud as she trudged onward, while mentally listing the numerous reasons she resented the new captain. He was autocratic, judgmental, unfeeling, overbearing… The list continued as she concentrated on putting one sore foot in front of the other to keep up with the long column of shadowy figures in front of her. Her head hurt from the weight of her helmet, and her shoulders ached from carrying the fifty-pound rucksack she had slung across her back. With her hands fully occupied carrying an M4A1 rifle, she couldn’t satisfy an itch that was beginning to grow under the elastic bands of her underwear. With each step she silently repeated her mantra, It’s all his fault!
The rain had fallen hard enough before the sun set to wash away the last trace of mosquito repellent she’d used, and a scourge of the winged creatures hovered around her, feasting on her exposed skin. The weather was unseasonably warm—even for springtime in Texas. She could feel the steam rise from the rain-soaked grass, plastering the heavy layers of her uniform to her body, and adding to her ever-increasing misery.
Her platoon’s training schedule specified an afternoon road march between the rifle range and their camp. That wouldn’t have been so bad, but the morning’s weapons qualification firing had taken longer than expected, stretching late into the afternoon.
Sophie was reaching for the field radio to request transportation to take her soldiers back to camp, when the new Company Commander, Captain Jenkins, arrived in his government-issue, desert-camouflaged HUMMV. The vehicle had the top and doors removed in deference to the heat, which made it an easy task for him to climb out in a hurry. He leaned over to say something to his driver then strode in Sophie’s direction.
She snapped to attention and executed a sharp salute, returning her arm to her side when he returned it with his more masculine, and muscular, version.
“Lieutenant Keaton, what’s the hold up? You’re an hour behind schedule.”
What did you expect, Keaton? Sophie mentally groused. How’s the weather? What’s your favorite color?
“Thirty-three qualified today, Sir. We had four fail to qualify. They required retraining and retesting. We now have one hundred percent of the platoon qualified, Sir.”
Sophie lifted her chin and squared her shoulders, preparing for the inevitable finding of fault. When he didn’t respond immediately, she studied him from beneath the rim of her helmet.
The captain wore those infernal sunglasses, which made it impossible for Sophie to read his expression. All she could see of his eyes were the crinkles beside them as he watched the soldiers chuck their gear for a break in place.
She hated the way he spoke to her without looking at her. But she supposed she was a bit of an eyesore in her rumpled camouflaged uniform and thick black, army-issue glasses—not that she wanted to appeal to him, or could for that matter.
Perspiration ran down the side of her face, and she knew her blond hair was probably frizzy and falling from its once neat coil at the nape of her neck.
Captain Jenkins, on the other hand, looked immaculate. His uniform still appeared like it had just come freshly fluffed from the drier, despite the humidity. His hair was completely covered by his helmet, but he had the beginning of a five-o’clock shadow sprouting dark and thick. The rim of his helmet cast a shadow over his eyes, but Sophie could see a somewhat broad nose and a full bottom lip that was…interesting. Other than the fact he needed a shave, he looked as sharp as the day they’d left for the field. He didn’t even have the decency to break a sweat. Life wasn’t fair.
Sophia sucked in a deep breath and dared to break the silence. “Since we finished up late, may I have your permission to call the First Sergeant to arrange for transportation to take the platoon the rest of the way back to camp?”
He turned to look her full in the face, lifting one eyebrow over the top of his sunglasses, a corner of his mouth slanting in a poor excuse for a smile. “The training plan specified a road march, Lieutenant. Are you or your soldiers afraid of the dark?”
She could learn to hate that smirk. It made her blood boil, and her hand itch to wipe it off his face, the arrogant so-and-so. He stood so near she had to tilt back her head to look into his face. “Of course not, Sir. I just thought since we’d finished so late…”
“You’ll continue with your training schedule, Lieutenant. You need to learn to take advantage of unexpected opportunities to train. We can include a lesson in light and noise discipline during night movement, while we march back to camp.”
Oh no, what did he mean by we? She didn’t want him joining her platoon for the march. Things happened whenever he was near her. Her normally poised and collected body seemed to grow two left feet, and she always managed to say the stupidest things. Her mouth seemed to disconnect from her brain in his presence—she couldn’t seem to help herself.
Captain Jenkins pulled a map of the training area from a pocket in his uniform and spread it over the hood of his vehicle. “We’ll follow the road until we reach this hill,” he said, pointing at the map. “Then we’ll leave the road to go cross-country for the rest of the march.”
“But Captain, it’s rained every day since we arrived. The ground’s pretty muddy. Shouldn’t we stick to the road?”
That eyebrow shot up, and the smirk started again at the corner of his lip. Her stupid mouth had just earned Captain Jenkin’s sarcasm. Instead of showing her concern for her troops, she managed to sound like she was whining. Sophie knew what was coming next.
“Why, Lieutenant, are you afraid you’ll melt?”
“No, Sir. I just thought it would be nice to get a transport for the men…”
She realized her mistake as soon as the words left her lips. Too late, she’d done it again.
Those eyebrows shot up over the top of the damned sunglasses. “Nice? Nice? Lieutenant, maybe you haven’t noticed, but this is the Army not a tea party. Next thing you know, you’ll have the men knitting socks.”
The blood rushed up Sophie’s neck, creeping across her face and into her eyes until she saw red. “Captain Jenkins, Sir, you may be my superior officer, but that remark was uncalled for, and I resent it. My job is to look out for the welfare of the men under my command.”
“Lieutenant, you need to remember that these are soldiers, and you’re supposed to be their leader not their mother.”
“Oooooo!” Sophie stomped her booted foot. “And you are not my father, or step-father, for that matter, although you’re just as opinionated. I’ve been in charge of this unit for over three years, and these are my soldiers. I look out for them as would any officer worth his, or her, salt. You’ve only been in charge for two days, most of which you’ve only shown up two times for a few minutes. You don’t know my platoon like I know them. They work hard, are dedicated and know their shit.”
She stopped short of saying she loved them like brothers. That would have set off the captain, yet again. Without waiting for a response, Sophie pivoted on her heel and marched toward the soldiers. “Platoon, fall in!”
The rain started again when they were twenty minutes further into the ruck march. The soldiers took it in stride, unfurling their waterproof ponchos to cover themselves from head to knee. Unfortunately, Sophie’s hung past her feet, dipping into the mud as she slogged along, causing her to stumble. Forced to choose her steps cautiously, she fell behind.
The terrain was every bit as sodden as she’d warned the captain, but it didn’t seem to faze him. And to her chagrin, the soldiers seemed to enjoy the challenge of marching through the muck. Sophie angrily berated herself for her earlier outburst with the captain, recognizing how unprofessional and childish it must have sounded. Not exactly the image she had worked so hard to build in front of her troops.
A stinging sensation assailed her cheek, and her hand automatically swung up to smack the pesky mosquito. The sound echoed loudly in the dark. The column in front of her halted, and one shadow separated from the rest of the men to draw close to her.
“Keaton, you’re supposed to lead by example. Some example. At least try to keep the noise down,” the voice whispered harshly.
Sophie recognized the source of the sharply-issued command as her nemesis, Captain Jenkins.
“Sorry, Sir,” she muttered, resigning herself to the fact she just couldn’t do anything right in his eyes.
The soldiers turned to continue their march.
Adjusting the straps of her rucksack, Sophie shifted the weight to a slightly less agonizing position. She was beginning to think the captain had an exceedingly poor sense of direction. She felt as if they’d been walking for hours.
With little else to keep her mind busy, Sophie thought back over the past three years she’d been a part of the unit. Admittedly, she’d joined the Army National Guard partly to rebel against her stepfather’s autocratic ways. He was dead set against her going into the Guard. Which had made joining all the more attractive. The poster of men in uniform went a long way toward her decision as well. Sophie loved a man in uniform. There was something sexy about a man standing at attention, with every line of his body reeking patriotism and discipline.
Her first day drilling with her unit burst the man-in-uniform bubble. Most of the men in her unit were good-old-boys. A large portion of them were overweight, tobacco-spitting red-necks. After the initial shock, she’d come to realize they were a great bunch of guys, who, despite their slovenly appearance, knew their jobs. The best part about the group of soldiers under her command was their marvelous, if somewhat raunchy, sense of humor. Never a drill went by without some memorable practical joke.
Sophie had busted her butt trying to earn the respect of her troops through her intelligence and willingness to learn. She overlooked some of their shenanigans, and they helped her to learn the job of leadership. Yet, in the space of just two days, all that work seemed to be inexorably sliding down the drain. Why should the advent of a new company commander have such a negative effect on her?
Captain Jenkins had been introduced as the new commander in front of formation on Friday evening, before they’d left for their weekend bivouac on the nearby military reservation. And to think, Sophie had actually admired him at that point.
Jenkins had stood straight and tall, all his creases lining up perfectly. He could have been the poster boy for an Army National Guard advertisement. His military bearing was enough to make her catch her breath, but it was the way his rolled sleeves strained against his muscular biceps that set her heart racing. She loved to see a man who went to the trouble of keeping in good shape.
The lenses of her glasses steamed at the memory. Since she could barely see her hand in front of her face anyway, she pulled them off and stuffed them into the pocket of her uniform.
Her only regret at the moment he’d been introduced was that his eyes had been shaded by the brim of his hat. She’d imagined him with soft brown eyes that could melt her to her soul. Now that she’d experienced his derision, Sophie figured he probably had ice-blue eyes that matched the color of his heart.
Sadly, his first impression on her had been a far cry better than her first impression on him. Everywhere she’d gone that evening in preparation for their field training, Captain Jenkins had been two steps ahead of her, issuing the commands she should have given. Her initial admiration had quickly turned into irritation.
“Kinda like our new captain. Do you, L.T.?” asked her crusty old platoon sergeant, Sergeant First Class Schott.
He chuckled at her discomfort, and she muttered beneath her breath, glaring daggers into the new captain’s departing back.
“You know the type, L.T,. fresh off active duty and new to commanding a National Guard company. He’s trying to make a good first impression. Hang in there. We’ll break him in right, you’ll see. Just leave it to us Non-Coms.”
So far, she hadn’t seen any breaking on Captain Jenkins part, but she, on the other hand, was getting ready to run screaming through the woods with his arrogant macho bullshit.
The night was dark as pitch, but she could hear the faint sounds of the soldiers moving down a ravine. Deciding she might as well get as comfortable as possible, she stopped to remove her helmet, placed the strap of her rifle over her head, and heaved the weapon around her back. Replacing her helmet, she turned to follow the sounds of the soldiers as they made their way into the pitch-black gully.
At the top of the ravine, she paused, squinted and searched for the path the others had taken. With a deep breath, she stepped off the edge and landed in a muddy hole that sucked her foot downward until she stood ankle deep, the muck covering the top of her boot. “Damn!”
All she needed was to call attention to herself once more. The captain already thought she was hopelessly inept. With the suction of the mud pulling her down, she attempted to pull her foot free, then gasped as the weight of her rucksack carried her backwards to land with a whomp in the deep mud.
Sophie flailed helplessly, like a turtle on its back, her hands searching for something to hold on to so she could pull herself back up. At least her trapped foot was free of the sinkhole filled with mud. Then suddenly, her other foot lost traction and slipped out from under her. She let out a long screech as she slid down the rain-soaked hillside. The rifle beneath her acted as a sled, the added weight of the rucksack giving her momentum to catapult her toward the group of soldiers walking single-file near the bottom of the ravine.
Muffled curses accompanied scrambling soldiers as they tripped over each other, trying to scatter out of the way. Too late. Her hurtling form collided with the tall man standing at the rear of the column of soldiers, looking up the hill toward her speeding form.
She swept his legs out from under him, and he landed with a whoosh on top of her, knocking the wind out of both of them. Together, they continued to slide, plowing into the group of soldiers causing a domino effect, and toppling one soldier after the other. Finally, they bumped to a halt amid the chaos of strewn soldiers and equipment.
Sophie remained still for a moment, winded, certain the rock on top of her had crushed the life out of her. The instinct to survive spurred her into action. She struggled to suck the breath back into her lungs and wriggled her arms up her sides, inserting her hands between herself and the rock. With all the strength she could muster, she pushed to dislodge the heavy weight from her chest, barely budging the massive frame.
The rock moved, slowly raising its head. Even in the dark, Sophie could feel his glare burn into her eyes. Her heart stilled, and she groaned inwardly as she realized the hunk of granite on top of her was none other than Captain Jenkins.
“Lieutenant Keaton, you are a boil under my skin.” He shifted his weight, pushing Sophie deeper into the mud.
Slime oozed beneath her clothing, and she wondered whether he might decide to lie there long enough to make sure she sank all the way to China. The weapon and rucksack underneath her back pushed her breasts against his chest, and she limply gave up any further attempt to dislodge him. Her breath came in shallow gasps, and she grew light-headed. “Captain…Sir,” she wheezed. “Just…get…off!”
He placed his hands in the mud on either side of her and lifted his chest from hers, which left the lower half of his body resting heavily between her legs. His nostrils flared, and his lips tightened. Sophie felt him pause for a moment before he abruptly lifted the rest of his body, until only his feet and hands rested on the muddy ground. Crab-stepping over her, he jumped to his feet, adjusted his uniform and donned his military bearing like a cloak. “With soldiers like you, who needs enemies,” he growled. And with one last look of disgust, he turned and walked away.
The other soldiers rose to their feet, grumbling and swiping at the mud clinging to their backsides. After retrieving their rucksacks and weapons from the mud, they trailed after the captain.
Sophie sat up slowly. I guess that pretty much sums up his opinion of me. It wasn’t as though she’d crashed into him on purpose. Tears stung her eyes, but she refused to let them fall. Soldiers didn’t cry. She pushed her loosened hair from her eyes and looked around for her helmet. When she found it, she plunked it on her matted hair and hurried to catch up to the column of men.
Flashlights glowed in the thick darkness. Because of her, it was a little too late to worry about light and noise discipline now.
When Sophie finally caught up with the formation at the road bordering the training area, Captain Jenkins was just replacing the mike of the radio carried on a soldier’s back.
Within minutes, a large, smoke-spewing truck lumbered down the road toward them, and Sophie heaved a sigh of relief. The captain had abandoned the idea of completing the ruck march. A spit bath and a sleeping bag weren’t too far away, and she was exhausted.
The vehicle pulled to a halt beside them, but Sophie hung back, waiting for the last soldier to climb aboard. Struggling to get her foot high enough to reach the metal step on the tailgate of the truck, she was suddenly lifted by a large hand placed strategically against her derriere. She didn’t need to look around to know the impertinent hand belonged to Captain “Jerk.” She flew up into the back of the truck and landed on her hands and knees.
Sophie scrambled to find a seat on the bench and tried to be invisible as she watched his dark frame walk around the side of the vehicle and slide into the cab next to the driver.
Being invisible was impossible with her platoon of soldiers. No sooner had she settled on the bench and the truck started rolling, then the comments started flying.
“Seems you’re a hit with the new commander, Lieutenant,” a soldier commented in the darkness.
“Him and a few others,” agreed another, rubbing his arm.
“Have to give you a ten for first impressions on your commanding officer.”
“I think he likes you.”
“Yeah, and what’s with him helping you into the truck?” said a voice Sophie recognized as SFC Schott’s. “Would’ve been last in had I known you needed a hand. I guess rank really does have its privileges.”
“He didn’t help me into the truck,” boomed a deep male voice.
“’Cause you’re too damned ugly, Luckadoo!”
Loud guffaws of laughter broke out among the soldiers as Sophie slumped further down on the wooden bench, praying the captain couldn’t hear the jokes made at her expense. Keeping a quiet and professional facade, she did her best to pretend not to be thoroughly mortified.
She wondered what had made her think the Army National Guard might be a great place to build her confidence. Right now, her confidence level had hit rock bottom.
She calmed herself with the knowledge that tomorrow marked the end of this disastrous weekend and a return to her sane, dry civilian life, where others appreciated and respected her abilities and judgment. She wouldn’t be in a constant struggle to earn the respect of the men with whom she worked, namely, one Captain Gage Jenkins. Thankfully, she only had to put up with him once a month.