Sweeping my gaze across the glitzy casino, I absently ran my finger under the collar of my shirt. Damn bow tie felt like it was strangling me. I couldn’t help but wonder how the hell I’d managed to find myself here, living in the lap of luxury with such a cushy job. Even though this had been my life for the past year, it was so far removed from my childhood, I felt like I would never belong. When my phone buzzed, I yanked it out of my pocket — relieved by the distraction and hoping like hell it would help me pull my head out of my ass.
When I glanced down at the notification, I was surprised to see a text from Serena Taylor. Talk about a blast from the past. The last time I saw her was before my first deployment overseas. We’d met for dinner at my hotel when I went to Atlanta to see her and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been hoping for more than just dinner. Training and the pre-deployment workup that followed were grueling and the idea of hooking back up with the girl next door, one who’d fueled most of my high school fantasies, was more appealing than hitting a bar and picking up some random chick wanting to bang a SEAL. It didn’t take long for me to feel like I’d been there and done that.
I was surprised when things didn’t work out as planned. We had a nice dinner and Serena caught me up on all the news from back home, but the spark wasn’t there anymore. She wasn’t the same girl I’d known growing up, and it wasn’t just the move to a big city far from home. Gone was the girl who had been soft and vulnerable, in her place was a sleek and sophisticated stranger. I’d been looking for a piece of home to hold onto while I was overseas and it didn’t take long to realize Serena wasn’t it.
I wasn’t an idiot, though. I still would have banged her, except, it turned out, she had a boyfriend. When she talked about the new man in her life, the reason for the change became immediately clear. She’d hooked up with some rich guy who wanted her as his arm candy. I was disappointed to realize the girl I’d cared for had turned into a woman who wanted nice things more than she wanted a good man in her life.
But it didn’t stop me from worrying about her. She was still the girl I grew up with, the first one I’d ever kissed. Hell, she let me pop her cherry when we were sophomores.
Before she left, I made sure she had my contact information and I told her she better use it if she ever needed anything. Time had passed and I hadn’t heard from her again—until now.
Serena: I’m in trouble. Need help.
Me: What kind of trouble?
Serena: The kind where I’m on the run and looking for a place to hide out.
Me: Still in Atlanta?
The only time I’d ever been there was my quick trip to see her, so I didn’t have any contacts available to help with something like this. But I knew someone who could find some quickly.
Me: Hold on.
With the nine-hour time difference, odds were high Brody was sound asleep. He’d become a night owl ever since we made it home. I pulled up his name in my contacts and listened as the call rolled to voicemail, redialing two more times before he finally picked up.
“You better be calling me to bail your asses out of jail,” he rasped in a low tone.
“Like your brother wouldn’t be able to get his hands on as much cash as we needed at the drop of a hat,” I reminded him.
His snort of laughter made it clear he was just yanking my chain. “Then why the fuck are you calling me this early in the morning?”
“Do you know anyone in Atlanta who can help someone lay low for a couple days?”
“Serena,” I sighed, knowing an interrogation would soon follow. Not only did Brody know me better than any other person alive, including my past with Serena, he was the reason my life had changed so much in the last year.
As someone who saw their mom poorly treated by wealthy people, I used to despise them. My father died when I was five, leaving her to raise me on her own. They’d been high school sweethearts and married young. With no education or job experience, she ended up cleaning houses to make a living.
She was damn good at her job, but that didn’t mean the families who hired her ever saw her as a real person. In their eyes, she was a convenience—a disposable one, at that. If something was broken, blame the maid. Can’t find a piece of jewelry? Blame the maid. It didn’t matter whether she had done anything wrong, or that it was usually their spoiled kid at fault. The bottom line was: she was replaceable and her wealthy employers never had a problem letting her go. Watching her accept their mistreatment, year after year, left me with a chip on my shoulder the size of a boulder.
Needless to say, I wanted better for my mom, and myself. My grades in high school were good, but not great since I’d juggled school, sports, and a part-time job to help lessen the load. With a full ride scholarship out of the question, college wasn’t an option for me. I finally found my way out when I joined the Navy. It broke my mom’s heart when I enlisted. She was scared to death of losing me too, but she accepted it like she did everything else in her life: with grace. I comforted myself with the knowledge that I didn’t need much to maintain my bachelor lifestyle and would be able to send money to her every month.
If I was going to dedicate my life to the military, I was determined to be the best of the best. Before I joined, I told the Navy recruiter I wanted to take the SEAL Challenge. It guaranteed me the opportunity to become a candidate and I wasn’t about to waste my chance when my time came.
Oddly enough, it was during BUD/S when I moved past my prejudice against the wealthy. I didn’t have a choice when Brody Slater blew all my preconceived notions out of the water.
Everyone knew his story since the exploits landing him in the military were in the newspapers. He was the spoiled rich kid whose older brother used their wealth to bail him out of yet another mess when he was a junior in college. Except, that time, he’d royally screwed up by hacking into a government computer system and the prosecutor wanted to make an example out of him. The best his brother’s lawyers could do was get them to agree to military enlistment instead of prison. How he managed to qualify for SEAL training was a mystery to me since one of the requirements was having a clean record. Sometimes they granted a waiver, which I assumed meant his brother pulled strings for him—again. Though, it didn’t really matter. No one could help him through the training and I didn’t think he had the mental toughness to make it.
When we were paired together as swim buddies on day one, I was pissed right the hell off. I knew I had what it took to be a damn good SEAL, but that didn’t mean I wanted to be saddled with Brody.
The number one rule was to never leave your buddy behind and having him as my buddy was bound to be a major liability. When I first saw him, there was no doubt in my mind he would be one of many to ring the bell and signal their defeat. Not only was I going to have to make sure I never rang that damn bell, I would need to stand between him and it anytime he was ready to call it quits.
Quickly, I realized he wanted this as badly as I did and I was never so happy to be proved wrong in my life. Brody was the one who figured out the trick that helped us both survive. We got four meals a day, one every six hours. After our first day, Brody started to measure our time in meals. We pushed hard with one goal in mind: making it to the next meal. After a couple days, we were both operating on auto-pilot, focused on each six-hour block of time, pushing hard until we made it through the final day. He more than earned my respect and blew my misconceptions out of the water.
His skills on the keyboard had saved our asses on more than one mission—something I later realized the Navy had counted on when they gave him the chance to become a SEAL. I could ask Brody for anything and there was no doubt in my mind he’d either get me what I needed or die trying.
“You know you’re going to owe me an explanation later, right?” Brody asked, drawing my attention back to the problem at hand.
I heard the sound of typing in the background. “Found someone. I’m sending you contact information now.”
“You need me to meet you in Atlanta?” he asked.
I had no idea what was going on with Serena, but I knew what it took for Brody to make that offer. I didn’t want him to leave Vegas unless it was absolutely necessary. “Hold tight for now. I’ll let you know once I get there.”
“Does Damian know you’re heading out?”
“Not yet,” I answered. “I’ll talk to him after Serena has what she needs. I’ll let you know more once I know the plan.”
As soon as I hung up, Brody’s text was waiting for me. I forwarded it to Serena.
Me: Call this guy ASAP. He’ll help you until I can get there.
Serena: Got it.
Me: WTF is going on?
Serena: Not sure it’s safe to text. Tell you when I see you.
Me: I’m overseas. It will take me about 24 hours to get there.
I waited a few minutes, but there was no reply. I figured she had either turned her phone off or was giving the guy a call. With that taken care of, I needed to talk to my boss—Brody’s big brother, Damian.
Even though Brody and I were as close as brothers, six years passed before I met Damian. At the time, I was flat on my back in a naval hospital with Brody in the bed next to me. Our last mission had been fucked up beyond belief. Brody had been riding shotgun when we were hit by an IED. I’d been in the back of the humvee and was thrown clear of the wreckage. By the time I made it back to my team, three of our teammates were dead and Brody was hanging on by a thread. We were less than half a mile from our extraction point and I managed to carry him to the helo before taking a round to the knee as I was climbing on board.
When I awoke in the hospital, my injuries weren’t as bad as Brody’s, but we both knew we were going to be found unfit for duty. Brody’s doctors had already sent a summary of his condition and records over to the nearest designated medical treatment facility. Mine were on their way since I was going to undergo knee replacement surgery. Damn bullet to the knee completely fucked it up and blew my chances to stay with the teams.
Eventually, Damian wanted to take his brother home and get him the best medical care possible, but Brody wasn’t willing to leave without me. Once he told his brother I’d saved his life, Damian was more than willing to smooth the way for me to be discharged at the same time. The next few months were eye-opening for me. I had an up close and personal view into the lives of the rich and famous.
Damian attracted attention wherever he went. He liked to take chances and risked a decent amount of the family fortune to build a casino on the strip in Las Vegas a few years back. The gamble paid off when the resort became wildly popular, but it put them in the public eye more than Brody wanted. It wasn’t a problem when he was rarely home, but now he just wanted to be left alone while he struggled with his rehabilitation and learned how to deal with people’s reactions to the scars on his face.
People wanted what the Slaters had and being accessible meant Damian was the one in the crosshairs. It didn’t help that Brody had become a paranoid motherfucker. The security around Damian was good—the best money could buy. But Brody knew there were men who were trained better, those who would put his life before theirs. Men who had served their country with a blind loyalty that was hard to find. And he wanted the best for his brother.
When my recovery was complete and I started looking for a job, Brody asked his brother to hire me as the head of his personal security. He didn’t have to push hard to get him to say yes and with the salary Damian offered, it was a no-brainer for me to accept. A strange path brought me to where I was today: a casino in Monte Carlo, dressed in a tux, while Damian played a high-stakes game of poker for more money than I made in a year—which was a hell of a lot of money.
Heading over to the table, I turned my attention to each of the players before focusing on my boss. His pile of chips had steadily grown over the last couple hours. I had enough experience watching him play over the last year to know it wasn’t going to be much longer before he’d walk away from the game victorious. I motioned to the two guards traveling with us, preparing them to be ready to leave soon, before moving to stand silently behind him. I waited until the current hand was finished before tapping him on the shoulder—our signal there was a problem that couldn’t wait.
Damian leaned back in his chair, tilting his head so I could whisper in his ear. “I have a personal emergency and need to head back to the States.”
Surprised by my words, he swiveled in his seat to stare at me silently for a moment. “I was beginning to think you didn’t have a personal life,” he murmured.
“Fuck off,” I grumbled.
“Is that any way to talk to the man who’s going to let you borrow his private jet?” he joked before raising a finger, gesturing ‘one minute’. Turning back to the table, he focused on cards he was dealt and the other players as the round proceeded. After a few minutes, he pushed his pile of chips into the center. “All in.”
Every player folded but one. When Damian turned over his cards to reveal a full house with kings and nines, the last remaining player swore before shoving back from the table to storm away. I couldn’t help but hope Damian’s streak of good luck held true for me—and Serena.
Typing those two little words always left me feeling bittersweet. A mixture of relief for finishing on schedule—although it was quite often in the nick of time—sadness for feeling like I was saying goodbye to close friends, and a hint of guilt since I had no right being upset. As impossible as it was for me to believe sometimes, I had the best job in the world, the one I’d dreamed about since I was a little girl.
All those years of imagining tall tales and having my nose stuck in a book paid off when I finally sat down at my laptop to write my own. Now I spent my days creating romantic stories filled with alpha males and happily-ever-afters. As if that wasn’t enough, I spent my nights reading them, too. My life revolved around the written word and I couldn’t be happier—except when it came to meeting men.
Not the fictitious ones who lived in my head—I had plenty of those—it was meeting real life guys that presented a problem. Apparently, you needed to leave the house to find them, preferably not looking like you’ve just spent a week living under a rock—which is exactly what happened when I disappeared into my writing cave. The bottom line was, I had been too focused on my writing career and hadn’t made time for dating lately.
Even if I had, once you factored in my impossibly high standards, you had the perfect recipe for a lengthy dry spell. I blamed it on reading so many romance novels growing up. I wanted a man my body craved, someone who made my heart beat faster with just one look, a look that said I was the only woman in the world. Fidelity, passion, and love…was I really asking for too much?
I also needed to add another feeling to the list: lonely. Most people wouldn’t understand how I could miss people who only lived in my head, but saying goodbye to them wasn’t easy. Doing it after spending two weeks completely by myself didn’t help the situation at all. Logically, I knew coming up to the cabin to submerse myself into writing was my choice, but I wasn’t thinking with my head right now—I was thinking with my heart. And my heart felt the pang of loneliness more than usual due to so many days of solitude.
Writing was a solitary profession and in my case, that probably wasn’t a good thing since I tended to be an introvert. Usually, I needed time alone to recharge my batteries, but after locking myself away from society to get this book done, what I really needed was to talk to my best friend. I knew she’d be able to pull me out of my funk and help me get my head straight before I hit the road in the morning. She’d been doing it practically our whole lives. Walking over to the table in the entryway where I’d left my purse the day I arrived, I dug through it, looking for my cell phone.
“Crap,” I swore under my breath, even though there wasn’t anyone around to hear my bad language. I had thrown my phone in there at my last stop for gas on the way up, thinking I’d powered it off. It was right after I posted to all my social media profiles, letting everyone know I was going to be out of reach for a couple weeks. It had been crunch time and I needed to get away from any and all distractions if I was going to finish before my deadline. The cabin was the perfect getaway spot since it didn’t have internet access and cell service was spotty in the mountains. Only…it was a little too perfect in this instance. There wasn’t a landline and I hadn’t bothered to pack my charger since I knew I wasn’t going to be using my phone.
A quick glance out the window told me it was too late to leave for home. It wasn’t a good idea to traverse the mountain roads at night, especially without a functioning phone. Now I felt especially dumb for not going into the Volkswagen dealership to have them look at the built-in phone charger that broke a couple months ago. The car wasn’t due for an oil change for another couple months; I figured it could wait until then. This was yet another example of how my procrastination almost always came back to bite me in the butt at the worst time possible.
But it wasn’t like there was anything I could do about it now. I had never been one to believe in pity parties and refused to sit and pout. There was a bottle of wine in the fridge with my name on it, some cream puffs in the freezer I could defrost as a treat, and several books waiting for me on my kindle. It looked like I needed to pull up my big girl panties and make the best of a bad situation.
One quick glance around the room made me realize my plans to unwind needed to wait. I was always a bit of a slob, but the cabin looked like a tornado had come through since I arrived. Or maybe I should just chalk it up to Hurricane Delia since I was the one responsible for the empty wrappers, paper plates, and plastic cups piled onto just about every available surface. Cleaning was the last thing I wanted to do, but I made myself do it anyway. It kept me busy for a little while and took my mind off being alone. Plus, it needed to be done before I left.
After taking a long shower and starting a fire in the fireplace in my bedroom, I climbed into bed. I wouldn’t be ready to fall asleep for a few hours yet, but I had my wine and cream puffs waiting on the nightstand and my kindle on the bed. Thumbing through the books I downloaded before leaving home, I had a difficult time choosing which to read first. My eyes kept going back to a romantic suspense with a shy heroine and the military man who swept her off her feet and out of danger. The story called to me on a deeper level and I decided to start with it.
A few hours later, I found myself wiping tears from my cheeks after reading a touching proposal in the epilogue. As I turned off the light and rolled over to hug my pillow, I couldn’t stop myself from wishing I had someone to hug instead. It would be nice if the stories I wrote and read came true in real life. I would give just about anything to have an alpha hero of my own.
As seen in the July 2015 issue of Glamour Magazine UK!
A reclusive author...
Delia Sinclair is desperate to hit a looming deadline. With only two weeks to go before her manuscript is due, she heads to a remote cabin in the Smoky Mountains with no internet or cell service.
An ex-military security specialist...
Blaine West is halfway around the world when he gets a frantic message from his childhood sweetheart. She needs to lay low for awhile so he puts her in touch with someone who can help her until he can get back to town.
A dead body...
When Blaine arrives at the hotel where they were supposed to meet, he learns the body of a local author was discovered that morning but there's no sign of his old flame.
And a case of mistaken identity...
Delia returns home completely unaware that the police believe she's been murdered. With Delia alive and his ex still missing, Blaine has the skills and connections to find out exactly what happened and keep Delia safe.
Lead to a passion that burns out of control.