Authors: Elle James
Tags: #Romance, #Military, #Suspense, #SEALs
Copyright © 2014 Elle James
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
As a member of the armed forces, we were required to attend an annual briefing on human trafficking. Most people don’t realize what a huge issue this is. Every day men, women and children are stolen from their homes and sold into slavery, held captive, tortured, raped and murdered in the business of selling human flesh.
As a concerned citizen and a human being, be aware of your surroundings so that you do not fall victim to these atrocities, and report suspicious behavior. You might save a life.
I’d like to dedicate this book to those people who ferret out the truth and bring the monsters who commit these crimes to justice.
If you’ve enjoyed this story, please consider taking the time to leave a review on your favorite retail or reader review site. Authors appreciate your thoughts about the books you read and love it when you share them with others.
aka Myla Jackson
emy LaDue stuck
his key in the lock and twisted, pushing open the door to the apartment he hadn’t see in four months. As he stepped inside, half of SEAL Team 10 2nd Platoon followed. Much as he loved his teammates, he had been hoping for a few quiet moments to himself. Having just completed a mission in the hills of Afghanistan, he was ready for some quiet time to gather his thoughts and plan his next operation: a Valentine’s Day date with Mitchell Sanders, the one woman he’d never been able to forget.
“So, what’s it going to be tonight? Steak, beer and football? Or are we just going to hit the rack and sleep away the jetlag?” Big Bird flopped his long lanky frame onto the couch in Remy’s apartment. Though his own apartment was two doors down, he and most of the team hung out at Remy’s, the usual gathering place for 2nd Platoon when they were on leave in Little Creek, Virginia.
“Man, we can’t sleep or piss away the night.” Dustman crossed his arms over his broad chest, the tattoos on his bulging biceps. “Tomorrow is fuckin’ Valentine’s Day. We didn’t fly halfway around the world to sit at home. Let’s go out and find us some women or we’ll be dateless on V’Day.”
Dustin Ford, aka Dustman, didn’t know a stranger. No matter where he went, he always found a willing woman. Partly due to his masculine physique, but more due to his open, outgoing personality. The man could talk a virgin out of her underwear in public. He was truly gifted.
Remy held up a hand. “You guys will have to do without me on this one.” He dumped his duffle bag on the floor and shrugged out of his jacket. After the long flight and little sleep, all he wanted at that moment was a hot shower.
“That’s right, all you talked about in the hills was getting back here to implement your Valentine’s Day backup plan.” Irish backhanded him in the belly and turned to the others. “Our man Gator is going after Mitchell.”
after Mitchell. She and I made a promise that if neither of us had a date come Valentine’s Day, we’d go out together. As a favor to Brewsky.”
Every man in the room grew still for a moment, a silent tribute to their fallen comrade.
“Amigo, you’ll only be disappointed.” Nacho broke the spell. “Brewsky’s been gone a year. Mitchell’s got her another man. With her blond hair and blue eyes, and…” he waved his hands in the shape of a woman’s curves. “She’s bound to be taken. You might as well throw your towel in the ring.”
“Wrong,” Remy argued, though he’d been worried about the same thing. She was gorgeous, smart and tough. Any man would be lucky to have her. “We’ve been in touch by Skype and email. I told her I’d call when I got back. You guys can go without me. I’ll join you if things fall through.”
“Come on, Big Bird.” Swede offered his hand and jerked the big SEAL from his comfortable position on the couch. “Let the man suffer his humiliation in private.”
“We’ll be at the Naughty Ladies Lounge around ten o’clock tonight.” Dustman rubbed his hands together. “Of course, after a thoroughly satisfying meal of steak and baked potatoes slathered in butter, sour cream and bacon bits, chased with a pitcher of beer each.”
Irish groaned. “Can a guy have a foodgasm?”
“Beats the hell out of MREs,” Fish noted.
“If I never eat another meal ready to eject, it’ll be too soon.” Nacho hung back as the others trailed out the door. Once everyone had gone, he turned back. “Really, if Mitchell’s not available, you should meet up with us. Sucks to be alone on Valentine’s Day. If you don’t give yourself at least a day of hunting, you won’t have a date for the big day.”
“Thanks, Sanchez. I’ll keep that in mind. Now…” He gave the man a pointed look.
“I get it. You’d like to call in private.” Cesar Sanchez, the compact Hispanic member of their team with dark hair and broad shoulders, backed out the doorway and closed it quietly behind him.
Remy sighed. This moment was the first time that day he’d been alone. Hell, it felt like the first time in months he’d been by himself. His pulse picked up and he grabbed his cell phone, hitting the saved number for Mitchell Sanders. His best friend, Derek Brewer’s girl. A stab of sadness with a chaser of guilt always accompanied any contact with Mitchell.
While Derek had been dating Mitchell, Remy had fallen for the strong-willed, beautiful NCIS agent. Had she been dating anyone else in the world besides one of his teammates, he’d have gone after her and to hell with the guy.
But among his teammates, there was a code of honor. SEALs didn’t poach on another SEAL’s girl. The last mission Gator and Brewsky had been on together went south. The intel they’d gotten had been faulty to the point Gator suspected it was a ruse to gain their trust long enough to blow them away.
That ruse had cost the lives of three of their platoon. Brewsky, when he threw himself over a grenade during a village sweep. Two other men from their team had been gunned down by the reported “unarmed” villagers. The rest of the team had to pull out and regroup before they could return and mop up the insurgent mess.
Remy waited for the phone to ring on the other end, his mind going back to Brewer’s funeral. Mitchell had been there, dressed in a black dress, something she rarely wore, and carrying a single red rose. After the eulogy was given and the coffin lowered into the ground, she tossed in the red rose. At that moment, the tears she’d held back released.
Remy had gathered her in his arms, never able to stand the sight of a woman in tears. Especially when that woman was Mitchell. She’d always been more of a tomboy. Her career with NCIS had been her focus, and she’d told them both that she had a lot she wished to accomplish before she settled down. Maybe she never would.
As SEALs, they understood the sacrifices people made to the greater good of others. Remy also knew that if you didn’t take the time to grieve, the raw emotion would come out in other ways. So he let her cry on his shoulder.
That night she’d asked him to stay with her. She hadn’t wanted to be alone. In love with her and hurting for the loss of his friend, he couldn’t have left had he wanted to. What started out as holding her while she cried changed. Soon, they were tearing at each other’s clothing in a desperate attempt to assuage their mutual loss.
He’d made love with Mitchell. God, it was the most beautiful experience of his life. When the passion ebbed, he’d lain with her in his arms for a long time. At first, he’d thought she was asleep. When she finally spoke, she’d voiced his own thoughts.
“That wasn’t right.” She pushed to a sitting position, wrapping the sheet around her body. “We shouldn’t have done it.”
He’d sat up beside her and reached out to take her into his arms and tell her everything would be all right. But he couldn’t. The guilt crushed him. “What do we do, now?” he’d asked.
Her eyes awash with tears, she said, “You have to go.”
He’d nodded, got out of bed, dressed and grabbed his keys. Still, he couldn’t leave her like that. “Just so you know, I don’t regret making love to you.”
Shaking her head, she pressed her hands over her ears. “It was wrong, so wrong. Derek’s dead. We were just at his goddamn funeral.”
Remy pulled her hands away from her ears. “Look at me,” he said in a quiet but stern tone. “I don’t regret what we did, just the timing. You’re right. The timing was wrong. We both loved Derek. We were both hurting. Don’t hate me for needing comfort.”
She’d stared up at him, tears clouding her blue eyes. “I don’t hate you.” Her bottom lip trembled. “I hate myself for letting this happen.”
“No, baby.” He sat beside her and pulled her into his arms, running a hand over her smooth back. “Don’t beat yourself up. Give yourself time.”
Over a year had passed. He’d kept in touch with Mitchell through email, texting and Skype, depending on where he was in the world. He’d been deployed several times and she’d been busy with her work with the NCIS at the Norfolk, Virginia, field office.
They’d grown closer in some ways by talking through their texts and emails. But they hadn’t actually seen each other since the night of Derek’s funeral. But that was all about to change.
In their last email, they’d agreed that if neither had a date on Valentine’s Day, they would not spend it alone.
Remy’s gut had been in knots since that message over two weeks ago. They’d been apart long enough for the grief of losing Derek to subside, and the guilt of having made love the night of his funeral had faded.
To Remy, a lot rode on this “date”. He’d been in love with Mitchell since before Brewsky died. That love had only grown stronger over the past year of separation.
His heart twisted as the phone rang on the other end. He counted five rings before voicemail picked up.
“Hi, this is Mitchell. I’m not available right now. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”
“Mitchell, it’s Remy.” He had to clear his throat, it was so tight. “I just got back in town. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and I don’t have a date. Call me.”
As he hung up, he worried his message sounded too pathetic. Too late to change it. The message was on her voicemail whether he liked it or not. Now all he had to do was wait for her call.
For the next five minutes, he jumped at every sound, finally realizing he was being ridiculous. She probably had to work late at the office and she’d call him as soon as she could.
Rather than hover over his cell phone, he’d be better off grabbing a shower. If she wanted to meet that night, he wanted to be available.
Setting his cell phone on the counter in the bathroom, he turned the faucet handle to warm, stripped and climbed into the shower. Heaven was warm water and water pressure. After a good fifteen-minute soak under the pulsing showerhead, he turned off the water and stepped out onto the bathmat to check his phone.
Afraid she might leave her office and eat on her way home, he dialed her office number. Her phone rang seven times, before it rolled over to the operator.
“How may I direct your call?”
“This is Navy SEAL Lieutenant Remy LaDue. I’m trying to reach Mitchell Sanders, but she’s not answering. Could you connect me to her supervisor, Barry White?”
Her supervisor answered on the first ring. “White speaking.”