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Hot SEAL, New Orleans Nights

Hot SEAL, New Orleans Nights

Navy SEAL, Thibaut “T-Bone” Cyr, has a lot on his mind. The time is approaching when he’ll either have to re-up with the Navy or leave. He’s come home to New Orleans to spend time in his old stomping grounds while he mulls over his decision. New Orleans is where his roots are, where his family lives, but he wants to stay on the downlow while he considers his future. He’s also hoping the past he left behind doesn’t still haunt him. Fourteen years ago, he fled the city when the woman he loved dumped him.

Amelie Rivette is back in New Orleans, ready to start again. She’s helping her blind aunt run a voodoo shop in the French Quarter, but her aunt’s troubles are getting complicated. After a string of bad luck, which includes a robbery and threatening calls, Amelie finds herself trapped inside the shop when a fire is set, and she’s attacked by an assailant.

Coming to the rescue of his ex-girlfriend, Thibaut finds himself torn. The last thing he wants is to relive the pain of their breakup, but Amelie needs the kind of protection he can provide. Soon, neither of them can resist their attraction, but while they reconnect physically, he holds back his heart, not trusting that what he feels is real and not some remnant of their shared past. Complicating matters is that their families are conspiring to give him a reason to stay in New Orleans.

When Amelie is kidnapped, Thibaut realizes he’s still in love with her. Hoping he’s not too late, he sets out to save her.

Read an Excerpt

Thibaut T-Bone Cyr braced himself, knowing he’d be overwhelmed the second he stepped outside into old, familiar territory. For him, the Orleans Bourbon Hotel wasn’t a place brimming with memories. He’d only passed the exterior in his youth, which was why he’d elected to stay there while he contemplated his options. However, leaving the hotel’s confines was like stepping straight into his past. He’d roamed the French Quarter of New Orleans as a teenager, looking for trouble, and had many hazy memories of Mardi Gras celebrations and pub crawls, as well as clearer ones that still filled him with a stinging regret over what might have been.

Squinting at the waning daylight, Thibaut exited the hotel only to be instantly jostled on the sidewalk by a group of sweaty, sunburned tourists. The women were dressed in skimpy tops and shorts with fanny packs encircling their waists, where no doubt they’d hidden away cell phones, cameras, and city maps. After giving him brazen up-and-down glances, they giggled and moved away. Again, he wondered why he’d opted to stay in the center of the French Quarter when he could have called any of his family for a bed.

But he knew the answer to that. He’d wanted to remain under the radar. This trip wasn’t about a kid’s graduation or a cousin’s wedding. For the first time since he’d entered the Navy, he was seriously considering his future beyond the SEALs, and he knew if his family got a whiff of that notion, the pressure would be on to convince him New Orleans was in his blood. That he belonged back among his own people. These few days of quiet, before he announced his presence, were about him seeing whether he still felt a connection to the place he’d yearned for all these years.

His cell phone vibrated, and he slipped it out of his jeans pocket. Sliding his thumb across the screen, he read the message from Tony Nitro Gallo, one of his SEAL teammates.

Nitro: Hey, T-Bone. Team’s all here. Or at least what’s left of us. Where are you?

His cheeks billowed around a deep exhale then he quickly responded.

T-Bone: Won’t make it. Not in San Diego.

There was a long pause, and then the opening notes of Offspring’s “Nitro” played.

Grunting, Thibaut tapped his screen and put the phone to his ear. “Yeah.”

“What the hell do you mean you’re not in San Diego?” came Nitro’s gruff voice.

Music played in the background, and Thibaut could see his friends in his mind’s eye, seated around their usual table at McP’s. He might never have that with them again. He squinted against the bright sun—that was the reason his eyes burned. “I decided to take some leave.”

“Someone die?”

Fair question. The last time he’d been in New Orleans had been to attend his TanteRosalie’s funeral two years ago. “No one’s dead.” So far as I know.He wasn’t exactly on everyone’s speed dial these days. He’d gotten tired of everyone asking when he was coming back “where he belonged” and had let too many months pass without reaching out.

He started walking toward Jackson Square, the back of St. Louis Cathedral looming straight ahead.

“So, when are you coming back?” Nitro shouted unnecessarily. He probably couldn’t hear Thibaut’s responses over the noise inside the bar.

Thibaut held out his phone away from his ear. “I’ve got a month to make some decisions.”

“Told you he was gettin’ itchy,” Justus Kirkland muttered in the background.

“You weren’t gonna mention the fact you were about to ghost out of here?”

While Nitro kept complaining in his ear about the fact T-Bone hadn’t clued in anyone on the team about his departure, he hooked a left on Royal, passing high-end art galleries and windows displaying fancy party masks, not really seeing what he was passing. One by one, his team was dwindling, shedding the SEALs he’d fought beside, who’d become his brothers. First, Compass and Hawk, and then Dutch. It felt inevitable that more would leave—through death or injury, or because their women wanted them safe. He wasn’t sure he was ready to embrace the changes within his team. New SEALs had backfilled the empty spots, and they’d just finished a week’s training to break them in, but the new guys would have to find their place in the tight-knit unit. They’d have to earn their trust. Thibaut wasn’t sure he was ready to open his heart to new teammates he might lose along the way. Hell, if he lost any of his closest friends in an op, he wasn’t sure he’d come back whole.

As well, he’d begun to feel like the last man standing on his team—the only one who hadn’t paired off with some new honey. Yeah, maybe he was ready to go.

He heard shuffling in the background.

“Hey, I’m putting you on speakerphone,” Nitro said.

Thibaut grimaced. As irritating as this conversation was likely to become, he still felt warmed by his teammate’s concern. He’d been a douche, disappearing like he had without an explanation.

“You’re in New Orleans?” Justus said. “Need some company? I think we all have some leave to burn. We could bring that new guy, the one straight out of BUD/s. You got a cousin you can introduce him to?”

“Got one with most of her teeth,” he teased. His cousin Laure was a damn knock-out, but there was no way in hell he’d let any SEAL sniff around her skirts.

Justus groaned. “Hell, I’d settle for some of your mama’s cooking you’re always bragging about. Think about it. We could be there tomorrow. We’ve all got leave.”

“Nah. Think I need you clowns hanging around? Besides, what would your ladies say?”

“This about some girl?” Zach Browne said slyly.

Thibaut grunted. “It’s not about a girl. I haven’t been back in two years.”

“Don’t they do arranged marriages in that back-assward swamp you came from? Did your mama make you a match?”

Thibaut chuckled. “You’re an idiot, Zach. My mama’s not holding her breath on me gettin’ married. She’s certainly not gonna pick me out a wife.” Although she had mentioned the return of one female Thibaut had never expected to hear about again in her last letter…

The corner of St. Anne was just up ahead, and he realized his subconscious had led him in one particular direction. Maybe his being here was all about a girl… “Look, you guys done bustin’ my chops?”

“When can we expect to see your sorry ass back here?” Zach asked, his tone softer now.

“I have a couple weeks. Not sure how much of that time I’ll actually be here…”

“You need us, for anything…”

“I know, Zach. Got you on speed dial, bro.”

He ended the call and halted at the corner. Glancing down St. Anne’s, he saw a row of bricked buildings, small shops with their quaint painted signs hanging on hinges. So, she was back. Didn’t mean she was here to stay. Also, her return didn’t have a thing to do with him. His mother had mentioned some trouble her TanteJosette was having with the shop—a robbery, a smashed window, anonymous threats left on her answering machine…

For all that he’d told himself he’d come to New Orleans to play with the idea of seeing what work he might find here, he’d been bothered about the troubles Josette was having. A deep simmering anger blew through him again. What kind of garbage picked on an old, nearly blind woman?

Even after hearing about the troubles, he hadn’t let himself think about Josette’s niece. Going therewas pointless.

Drawing a deep breath, he noted the unique aroma that was New Orleans in the summertime—the sewage from the storm drains, booze, puke. None of the scents overpowering, but constantly there despite the early morning scrubs most shop owners gave the streets and pavements.

He continued toward the sign that read Madame Josette’s House of Voodoo. He stood with his hand on the doorknob, looking through the crowded shop window, past the voodoo dolls, candles, beaded necklaces, and Mardi Gras masks, through to the wooden counter painted in a glossy Chinese red with its old-fashioned apothecary shelving behind it, filled with organic mysteries. Josette wasn’t seated in her tall chair behind the counter. No one appeared to be inside the shop. Didn’t she know when she gave tarot readings in the back that someone needed to keep watch over the cash register?

But then he remembered the bell above the door, which she didn’t really need because of her uncanny knack for sensing her surroundings. The woman couldn’t see her old deck of cards but knew instinctively which she placed on her table, something that had fascinated him as a child.

He turned the knob, listened to the light tinkling of the bell, and stepped inside, inhaling the scent of whatever incense Josette had set to burn that morning.

Shuffling sounded from the stockroom beyond a beaded curtain. “Be right with you,” came a musical voice. Not Josette’s.

He swallowed hard and held his breath as a slim hand parted the curtain, and Amelie Rivette stepped out. His reaction told him that he’d been lying to himself. That she was the reason he was here. Fourteen years hadn’t blunted her effect, not according to the familiar tightening of his chest and his frozen thoughts.

The years had been kind to Amelie. Her curly hair came to her jaw rather than cascading down her back but was still a glossy, dark brown. Fine lines framed her hazel-green eyes, and her cheekbones were a little more defined, but her skin was smooth, and still that lovely dark cream that denoted her mixed heritage. His glance touched on her mouth for only a moment, but that millisecond was just long enough to cause his blood to heat. Her lips were still full and soft-looking, and partly opened as though she was just as shocked to see him.

“Amelie,” he said, the word sandpaper-coarse because he had to force it past his tightened throat.

“Thibaut,” she said, and then her lips twitched, and she gave him a polite smile.

His back stiffened at that smile. Like he was a stranger, or worse, someone she’d hoped never to see again. A bitter taste entered his mouth because they’d parted, promising to remain “friends.”

“You’re back…” she said, a tiny frown forming between her brows.

“No,” he answered automatically, because damn if he didn’t want to disagree with even the simplest comment she might make. “I’m only here for a little while.”

“Visiting, then…” Her shoulders relaxed.

“You back?” He arched a brow then parroted, “Visiting?”

Her lips closed around a tight smile. “Actually, I moved back to help my aunt. If you stopped in to see her, you just missed her. She’s gone home already.”

He nodded. “Tell her I stopped by.”

“I will. I’ll let her know you’ll see her…another time,” she said, sounding a little breathless.

That was his cue to leave, but he hesitated to turn away. He wanted to keep looking at her. Committing everything to memory. Wiping clean the image he’d carried in his head for years of the way she’d looked before she’d turned to descend the steps of his family’s home and exited the wrought iron gate with the sun gleaming on her long hair, her cheeks pale and her eyes sparkling with tears—and her lips swelling slightly from the hard kiss he’d given her when she’d bid him goodbye.

Firming his mouth, he gave her a nod. “Good to see you, Amelie.”