I can’t believe it’s mid-August! Where did the summer go? Yesterday was the first time the pool felt cool. 🙁 I’ll be lucky to get a full month more of swimming. And, tomorrow the kids go back to school—including the almost-5-year-old. Her mom and I are feeling a little sad about that. The baby’s growing up. Double- 🙁
In the meantime, I have plenty on my plate to keep me too busy to cry, and I’d better get to it. Hope you enjoy the excerpt and the contest!
For a chance to win one of my Uncharted SEALs stories,
winner’s choice, answer me this…
If you were dating a SEAL, where would you prefer to vacation?
Mexico? Destin? Fiji?
Through Her Eyes
Ex-SEAL and expert sniper, Wolf Kinkaid, is taking a little downtime while he considers his options. Being wooed by two elite spec ops groups, he’s enjoying Charter Group’s beach house in Cancun while he considers his options. A loner by nature and occupation, he wonders if he’ll ever really be able to connect to people around him. Afraid his loner nature will sentence him to spending his life alone, he’s not even sure he wants to continue looking down a scope, even if the pay’s good.
Bounty hunter Piper Ames loves the adrenaline rush she gets from her high-stakes hunts, but, now, she has time on her hands as she waits for her collar to pop up his head, so she can take him down. While she’s waiting, it doesn’t hurt that a big, buff, ex-military type is staying right next door. Not the least shy about going after what she wants, she’s surprised when he’s equally as aggressive. Their chemistry is off the charts, and the sex is the hottest she’s ever had.
While Wolf and Piper connect in the only ways their independent natures allow, danger lurks. When, at last, her target arrives, guns blazing, Wolf and Piper have to pull together to make it out alive.
Wolf hated the wait. Especially in the white-hot heat. Even at this elevation, the sun was merciless. Hot wind gusting through the pass provided no relief.
Sweat dripped from his hair down the side of his cheek, but he ignored it. His muscles cramped. His eyes grew dry. And still, he kept staring through the scope of his Macmillan Tac-50, watching the long line of insurgents trudge along the goat trail of a road below his position. Waiting for them to get close enough…
“A thousand yards. They’re coming within range,” came the voice of the mission commander through the comm in his ear.
Wolf reached for his box magazine, sitting on a rock beside him. He’d been heating the rounds in the sun to increase their range, but now, the time had come to lock and load.
Below were a couple dozen of the enemy, seemingly unaware of the weapons trained on them from above. All fresh from a battle in Ghazni. Intel said his target, Khalil Alam, would be among the group. So far, he’d searched every face but hadn’t found one that perfectly matched the grainy photo lying beside his mat.
The soldiers were all dark-haired. All wore beards or had the lower halves of their faces covered by cloths. His mark should be a little taller and gaunt. He’d spent months hiding in the mountains, orchestrating attacks from afar—a high-ranking Taliban commander who’d stepped out of the shadows to lead their latest attack, which left half a dozen Marines dead and fifteen more wounded, some maimed for life.
Again, the silence was broken. “Crosswind from the east.”
Wolf didn’t have the luxury of waiting for the wind to die down. He might have only one shot. One kill. If he was lucky.
Beside him, his spotter shifted, crunching the sand. “I see him,” he whispered, although they were nearly a mile away from the rag-tag army ambling through the mountain pass. “He’ll be coming over the hill, facing you. Best time to clip him. Nine hundred twenty yards.”
Quickly, Wolf rechecked the data he’d entered in his scope. He’d maxed out the windage. Maxed out the elevation drum. He’d need a one mil lead—aiming just ahead of the target for the four seconds the .50 Cal round took to travel.
Five seconds later, a tall angular figure climbed the trail. A weapon was slung over his bony shoulders. His robe billowed outward, caught by a sudden breeze.
Wolf kept his sight trained on the enemy’s center of mass—he’d aim for his heart. The distance was too far to even attempt a head shot. But he wasn’t the only sniper on this mission, although his was the most important target.
“Snipers, everyone found their mark?” their commander’s voice sounded. “Chime in when you have your target.”
In quick succession, the snipers called out.
“Sniper One, ready.”
“Sniper Two, ready.”
Wolf squinted down his scope at the tall Afghan he was about to take out. “Sniper Three, ready.”
He kept his breathing even, readying for the command to kill. All shots had to break at the same time, or the group below would scramble for cover and the opportunity would be lost.
“This is Foxtrot One. I have control. Shoot on my command.”
Wolf expelled a quick breath then drew in a long one and held it.
He pulled the trigger and stared down his scope.
Beside him, his spotter cursed. He’d followed the vapor trail of the round Wolf fired and watched it splash in the dirt. He called out adjustments, which Wolf made in a second.
Still staring down the scope, he watched as everyone around Khalil Alam dove for cover. Not his target. The Afghan insurgent stood still, his head raised, his gaze narrowing as though he could see Wolf where he lay with his rifle, hidden in the shadows of a large rock. And then he did a strange thing.
Khalil Alam raised his arms out to his sides and bared his teeth.
Again, Wolf took aim and fired.
This time, his target dropped.
But so did the much-smaller figure behind him. One with a beardless, bloodied face…
Wyatt “Wolf” Kinkaid awoke and threw off the covers tangled around his legs. Sitting on the edge of the mattress, he set his elbows on his knees as he drew in deep, cleansing breaths.
He didn’t know why that particular kill haunted him. He’d killed kids before. Some intentionally. But that one…
Maybe because of the shock frozen in the young boy’s eyes. Khalil Alam’s son, he’d been told later. No blame, no censure came from his team. The boy was a terrorist in the making, following in his father’s footsteps. A “preemptory kill” someone who’d been trying to be helpful said. And yet, the memory still sickened him.
He wiped a hand over his face. Sleep-time was over. Daylight was burning. Not that he was on any kind of schedule. The sound of surf washing against sand in the distance reminded him he was as far from Afghanistan as a man could be. Rising, he strode to the window overlooking the beach. The large sea-side villa hadn’t impressed him nearly as much as the sight of the strip of pristine white sand. By the placement of the sun, he’d guess the time was around nine AM. He’d slept a full nine hours. And he wasn’t dead.
The peaceful view didn’t do a thing to slow his heart rate. To shake off the last sticky spider webs of his nightmare, he turned, rifled through the duffel sitting on the floor beside him, and pulled out his spotting scope. Cupping the compact Hensoldt in his hand, he stared through the lens.
If he’d needed confirmation before, he knew he was losing it when a few adjustments brought the surf closer, and, at last, he stopped hearing his pulse pound against his temples. Maybe he wasn’t meant to be up close and personal with anything. Ever.
The name he’d been given by the Team—Lone Wolf, which had been shortened over time—had never felt truer.
He drew a deep breath, and then held it. Then he drew another as calm settled inside him. His gaze snagged on a figure running beside the waves. The woman was dressed in dark, thigh-hugging Lycra shorts and a bright pink sports bra. The bra’s engineering was certainly being tested because the redhead was built. She was slim with long legs, but as nice as her length was, her large breasts drew his attention.
And just like that, he’d become a creepy stalker. Wolf blew out a breath, ready to set aside the scope, but she turned from her parallel path beside the waves and headed toward his villa. No, toward the one next door.
Wolf held still behind the curtain, adjusting the spotter to sharpen the view and bring her features into better focus. Her long hair was pulled back into a ponytail and was a mixture of brown and sparkling copper strands. A light tan colored her skin. Her jaw was a little square, hinting at a stubborn nature. Large black sunglasses hid her eyes. But from everything he could see, she was stunning.
And completely out of his league.
He liked her looks, but he liked even better the way she moved—her long stride being economical, rather than sensual. No fuss. No extra sway. The angle of her chin reflected an inner confidence he found oddly…endearing. A word he hadn’t thought was in his vocabulary.
When she unlocked her front door and left his view, he felt loss. Maybe he was just lonely and horny. Maybe she wasn’t any of the things he imagined—quick witted, quick to smile, someone a guy didn’t have to entertain, but who could take long silences without wondering if he wasn’t that into her.
A knock sounded on his bedroom door. “Hey, you up?”
Wolf tensed and whipped his gaze to the door. Three weeks since he’d been wheels up at Bagram Airfield wasn’t long enough to throw off old habits. When he’d come in from a lonely mission in the field, he’d worn noise-suppressing headphones to keep from reacting to every sound the men surrounding him made. Always a loner, working as a sniper had suited him just fine.
After his last deployment, he’d realized he had to make some changes—and soon—or he might never assimilate back into society. His social skills sucked. His senses were constantly over-stimulated in the company of other people. Fellow SEAL team members knew him well enough to give him space when he came out of the field. But how the hell would he ever function in the real world when his instincts kept him edgy, and he was constantly searching rooftops, alleys, and doorways for threats?
Could he ever form deep and lasting friendships? Sure, his team respected his skill with a rifle. He’d saved their asses often enough, but he could hardly call any of them close friends. Although they did try to include him in their off-base activities. How many times had he refused invitations to parties or trips to the beach when the team was back in Little Creek?
Rather than stay in quarters on base, he’d elected to rent an apartment, far enough away no one would just drop in. Not that he’d made any effort to make the place homey. Four bare walls, a kitchen, and bathroom. Heavy curtains to reduce the light coming in or to reveal any light inside. He might as well have chosen a cave.
“Deke’s got breakfast ready, Wolf. Come on down when you’re ready.”
He could hear the question in Jax’s voice. He supposed Jackson Keller was as close to a friend as he had. He’d arranged the little meet ’n’ greet in Texas. As soon as he’d heard through the grapevine Wolf had submitted his separation papers, he’d called, wondering if he was interested in putting his skills to good use for much better pay.
Not that Jax’s invitation to come meet the folks at Charter Group in their Dallas headquarters was his only option. Another spec ops group out of D.C. was wooing him, too. But they hadn’t offered him the use of a house on a Cancun beach. Charter had even thrown in the flight on one of the company’s private jets.
Wolf returned the scope to his duffel and pulled out a pair of swimming trunks and a plain navy tee. After he ate, he’d swim. And then maybe he could get his head around the choice he had to make.
He found Deke and Jax in the kitchen. Suri, Jax’s girlfriend, was behind the kitchen island, flipping pancakes.
She looked up and gave him a brilliant smile when he entered the room. “Mornin’, sleepyhead.”
He gave her a faint smile, but she didn’t expect him to say more. She’d already figured out he was a “man of few words” or so she’d told him last night over dinner, chiding Jax when he kept peppering him with questions about his last tour in the desert.
Wolf couldn’t help letting his gaze slide over Suri’s lush curves. How Jax had landed a bombshell like that… He shook his head. Jax had met her on his first mission with the Charter Group. He’d rescued her from a drug lord’s compound. A school teacher, she’d been reluctant to set foot in Mexico again, but Jax had been persuasive, waving the carrot of this prime piece of real estate to tempt her back south of the border, if only just long enough to settle his pal Wolf into the beach house.
Besides, the drug lord who’d threatened her was dead. His son was in protective custody, having turned snitch to save his own hide from a long prison sentence. He’d revealed enough about his father’s organization that the DEA, with contracted help from the Charter Group, had managed to dismantle his organization piece by piece. Now that the job was nearly complete, Jax and Suri were planning to marry in Austin in the fall.
Wolf watched as Jax moved toward her, sliding an arm low on her back as he bent to kiss her cheek. He envied the other man’s ease with the woman. Envied the fact he had someone. While Wolf had never had much trouble finding partners for one-night-stands, he’d never made a real connection with a woman.
Suri pointed her spatula toward the kitchen table. “Help yourself. Eat as much as you want. Charter keeps the kitchen well-stocked.”
Wolf gave her another faint smile, filled a plate, and joined Deke at the table.
“You have a chance to look over the packet?” Deke asked as he crunched on a piece of bacon.
“Read it before I went to bed. Benefits look good.” He looked up to meet Deke’s gaze. “Just as good as what that other outfit is offering.”
Deke gave him a wry smile. “They’re a solid organization. I know their head of operations well. Served a tour or two with him in the sandbox. He’s good people. It’s your choice. But we’d love to have you come onto our team.”
Wolf picked up the bottle of maple syrup and began streaming it over his tall stack of flapjacks. “Would I be working with you?”
“Every mission,” Deke said, nodding. “Depending on the scale of the op, we might not scramble everyone on the team. But you will train with all the people you’ll work with on the ground.”
“You’re in charge?” He hoped so. He hated the thought of joining a special ops team and not knowing or trusting a soul.
Wolf glanced across at Jax who gave him another nod, and then took a bite of fluffy pancakes.
“Think about it,” Jax said, tapping his forefinger on the table. “These are the kinds of missions we’re trained to do. Quick and surgical. But without all the freaking red tape and dumb-ass rules of engagement that change at the whim of a desk jockey.”
Wolf kept his gaze on his plate but watched both men from under his eyelashes. He didn’t like giving away what he was thinking with a look.
“You’ve been doing a lot of work south of the border.”
“Only some mop-ups are left,” Jax said. “Can’t tell you what’s coming next. Could be a hostage rescue, security for a political event, or covering a transport ship in the Gulf of Aden. But we will be leaving Mexico.”
Suri set a stack of pancakes in the middle of Jax’s nearly empty plate. “Oh, I don’t know. I’m feeling a little nostalgic. I kind of miss our hut in the compound…”
Jax smiled and pulled her across his lap.
She laughed and held the pan high. “Stop. The pan’s hot.”
“So are you, beautiful.” Then he gave her a noisy kiss, before pushing her off his lap and smacking her ass. “Behave. This is man-talk. Go flip some more pancakes.”
Suri wrinkled her nose. “You are in so much trouble.”
Wolf felt a real smile tug at his lips. He was happy for Jax. Really, he was. The twinge of envy in his chest was something he’d have to deal with.
Deke cleared his throat, which brought everyone’s gaze back to his. “Point is, Wolf, you know what’s on the table. This place is yours for the week. The kitchen and the bar are stocked. But don’t feel like we’re piling on the pressure. Sure, we need a man with your skills, but you have to do what’s right for you.”
“I’ll think about it,” Wolf said, his gaze going out the window to the beach. Already, his thoughts were drifting from the life decision he had to make to the woman he’d observed.
He wondered what he’d say if ever his path crossed hers. Hell, he’d figure it out. He worked best when he went with his gut anyway. “I appreciate the offer,” he said, his glance going from Deke to Jax. “I really do. But I’m not a hundred percent sure what’s next.” He took a deep breath, and then shrugged. “I’ve spent the last twelve years staring down a sniper’s scope, making life-or-death decisions—and no matter what the brass said, I didn’t always feel right about my choices. This time, I want to be sure.”
“Understood,” Deke said. “Just know, whatever your decision, we’ll always have your six.” He turned in his seat to glance out at the ocean.
“Jet skis are tethered to the dock…”
At last, a full smile stretched across his face, and he pointed at Jax’s plate. “Quick! Finish before Suri gives you more to eat.”
“I heard that,” she said from across the room. “That’s okay. My feelings won’t be hurt. I might ask Piper next door to join me for a swim.”
“Piper?” So maybe he’d said that with a little too much excitement in his voice.
His buddies both raised their eyebrows.
Guess there’s no way to pretend I’m not interested. He cleared his throat. “You mean the redhead next door?”
Suri grinned. “Maybe. You want me to introduce you?”
“Fuck no!” he blurted. “Sorry about my French.”
Jax and Deke began to chuckle and exchanged looks.
“You don’t have to apologize. You all swear like sailors.” She grinned as she placed plastic wrap over the top of the mixing bowl with the remaining pancake batter. “But why not? She seems nice. And, remember, we leave in the morning. A week’s a long time.”
Her heavy hints weren’t lost on anyone. From what he’d heard, only a couple of days were needed for her and Jax to hook up, and then only a couple more before they were firmly a couple. But he wasn’t looking for a love connection, and he suspected the beautiful woman next door wouldn’t consider an out-of-work SEAL a viable partner. “All right. Introduce us. But, I have to warn you now, I’m not good with women.”
Suri gave him a long onceover that sent his nerves tingling. “I think you underestimate your appeal, frogman.”
Jax shifted in his chair. “You really are asking for a spanking now.”
“We don’t need special occasions,” she said, her voice dipping low.
Jax jumped up from his chair and dashed toward Suri, who threw a dishtowel at his head and ran squealing for the stairs.
“Guess she won’t be introducing us any time soon…” So, maybe a little twinge of disappointment stabbed his chest at that thought. It was for the best, though. The last thing Piper needed was him.