New Release Excerpt! Rescued by a Hot SEAL #HotSEALs

Rescued by a Hot SEALHe’s a SEAL. She’s the woman his team is sent to rescue.

Navy commander Grant Milton was well prepared to fight Somali kidnappers to save American aid worker Jennifer Anderson. What he wasn’t ready for were his feelings for her.


Noise, unfamiliar, distinguishable from the usual sounds, caught Jen’s attention and had her wondering what it could be. It did not, however, make her wonder enough to lift her head to try and look.

It was too dark to see what was making that strange scratching anyway.

Besides, her captors would protect her from being mauled by wild animals. Even though negotiations hadn’t been going their way, the potential of a big payday meant she was too valuable for them to let die.

They’d starve her, let her wallow with fever, dehydrate her until she was near death, but no, they wouldn’t let her die because that would cost them their ransom.

That the kidnappers still had hope of a payout after all this time was pretty amazing since she’d given up on the idea long ago.

A twig snapped. That noise joined the rustling she still couldn’t pin down the source of.

It had to be an animal. The bugs here were big, but not big enough to make that much noise.

None of it mattered anyway. On her sleeping mat, under the one filthy blanket she was allowed, and ringed by nine guards to make sure she didn’t escape in the night—as if she had anywhere to go or the strength to walk there—no animal or bug would be able to get to her easily.

Her thoughts on the mysterious noise would have ended there if one of the men guarding her hadn’t reacted to it so strongly.

The guard closest to where she and Adam were sat up and grabbed his gun.

She heard others moving and one shout.

Jen opened her mouth to whisper to Adam to ask if he had heard the sound too when the world exploded around her.

Her question was replaced by her own screams as rapid gunfire seemed to come from all sides with her trapped in the middle.

She pulled the blanket up and shielded her head with her arms.

This was it. She’d wished for death and here it was.

Surprisingly death would not come at the hands of her kidnappers, or from the elements she’d been ravaged by, or the infection she’d fallen victim to.

This was worse.

Now she’d be taken by whatever opposing group was attacking their camp. Some warring faction who would kill her captors, take her and then pass her around to be used by the fighters. A war prize.

If she were lucky she’d die in the firefight before being taken, but she couldn’t count on that. So far, her luck had been severely lacking.

As she prayed for God to put an end to her misery, the gunfire stopped as suddenly as it had begun.

As loud and horrifying as the firefight had been, the silence was worse. It allowed her to hear the footsteps pounding toward her.

Still cradling her head she struggled to not breathe, to not make a sound.

It was dark. Maybe they wouldn’t see her. Or they could think she was one of the dead.

Strong hands gripped her through the blanket, searching until they finally located her arm. They pulled her upright as she screamed, struggling and fighting for her life.

Maybe she wasn’t ready to die just yet. Her mind might have given up on her, but her fight or flight instinct was still strong.

“Jennifer! Jennifer Anderson.” Whoever had her knew her name. He said it as he continued to hold her in an unbreakable grip.

She stopped struggling. As the panic resided enough for her brain to process things, she realized the deep male voice had sounded distinctly American.

Why were there other Americans here?

Not to get her, surely. She was a nobody. A teacher. A volunteer who didn’t even get paid. Not some politician or world leader.

Her fuzzy reasoning couldn’t comprehend any of it. “You’re American?”

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Hot SEALs Series


October 2016 Hot SEAL Desktop Wallpaper

This month’s free desktop wallpaper download features not only a seasonal autumnal scene but also Hot SEALs’ Grant Milton in honor of the new release of RESCUED BY A HOT SEAL (Hot SEALs Series) in eBook and paperback on Tuesday, October 11th. As usual, the wallpaper is available with and without a calendar page. Feel free to grab it for yourself or a friend. Enjoy! ~Cat JohnsonOct 2016 Calendar


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New Release Excerpt from That Mistletoe Moment

That Mistletoe MomentTHAT MISTLETOE MOMENT (a multi-author anthology from Kensington featuring my story, “A Boyfriend by Christmas”, as well as two other great new stories by two fabulous authors Kate Angell and Allyson Charles) is available today in eBook and print. Read an excerpt from my story below. Enjoy! Cat


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“In Johnson’s charismatic ‘A Boyfriend by Christmas’, a chance meeting on Thanksgiving and a text sent to the wrong contact lead to alluring romantic possibilities…” ~ Publishers Weekly



Nikki sat perched on one of the bar stools at the kitchen island, focusing on her cell phone. “So, I downloaded this app . . .”

“Mmm-hmm.” Noelle sat too, reached for a second cookie, and took a good-sized bite out of it.

“I signed you up.”

Her sister was always doing stuff like that. Signing her up for mailing lists and websites without her permission. Noelle pulled her mouth to one side. “Great. Now I’ll get a bunch of e-mails because they have my address. What’s it for, some store?”

“Uh, no, not a store.” Nikki put her own cell down just as Noelle’s phone vibrated with a text alert. Nikki eyed the phone on the countertop, where Noelle had tossed it. “You gonna check that?”

Suspicious, Noelle put down her mug and picked up the phone. There was a new text from a number she didn’t recognize, but it was from her local area code. She frowned at the screen as she hit the button to read it.

Hello, beautiful! Reply to this number to start chatting with your new boyfriend.

“What is this? What did you do?” Noelle glared at her sister.

Nikki’s face lit up with a grin. “I got you a boyfriend.”

“A what?” Noelle’s voice rose high.

“Not a real one. Relax. It’s the Build-A-Boyfriend app.” Nikki held up her phone as if that would explain it all. “Remember, I told you about it at Thanksgiving?”

Noelle grabbed her sister’s phone and glanced at the screen. “But I don’t understand. Who is this text from?”

“Actually, I’m not really sure. That’s kind of proprietary information. I read an article about the app in the Wall Street Journal before I signed you up, and the owners of the company were pretty secretive about how they actually generate the texts.”

“Oh, well, that’s comforting.” Noelle rolled her eyes.

Ignoring the sarcasm, Nikki continued, “The exact process and technology is kept under wraps, but there’s speculation it might be a combination of computer technology and real-life human interaction.”

“So basically the nicest compliment I’ve gotten in recent memory is from either a computer or someone being paid to text me.” Noelle twisted her mouth unhappily.

“Yes. But that’s the beauty of it. You get to pretend you have the perfect boyfriend for the family at Christmas without dealing with any of the problems of a real man.”

“None of the problems but also none of the fun,” Noelle reminded her overly jubilant sister.

Nikki dismissed that complaint with one flick of a wrist. “Oh, seriously. When was the last time you had fun with George? I mean real fun, where he didn’t criticize you or act like a stick in the mud?”

It was a knee-jerk reaction to defend George to Nikki, but just the mention of his name raised a horrible realization that had Noelle gasping. “George’s parents will be at the Christmas party.”

Nikki nodded. “I’m sure they will. And I think you’d better prepare yourself that George could very well come, too.”

Noelle widened her eyes. “You think he would?”

How could she face him? And what if he came with a date? He wouldn’t have the nerve—would he? She had the bad feeling he might.

“Yes, I do. And I think you need to be ready. Which is why we’re setting you up with a new boyfriend.”

“I don’t think a couple of possibly computer-generated texts are going to convince anyone I have a boyfriend.”

“The app does more than just text. You can get e-mails. Even a real handwritten letter. And you can set up for flower and gift deliveries, too, but that’s an extra charge.”

All of that sounded expensive. “How much is this thing going to cost me?”

“Nothing. There’s a free trial. For the basic membership during the trial period you get a limited number of texts, and we can design a complete boyfriend. We name him. Give him an occupation. We can even download photos from their database.” When Noelle continued to look skeptical, Nikki continued. “I’m telling you, this will work. We post a couple of status updates and pictures online, and you’ll have what looks like a completely convincing relationship.”

“No. I’m not posting pictures of a made-up boyfriend. That’s too much. Then what happens when I meet a real guy and there are these pictures of my fake boyfriend all over the web?”

“Fine. No guy pics right away, but we’re going to revisit that idea before the party. Okay?”

Noelle sighed, too beaten down to fight her sister. “Okay.”

“Even without pictures of a guy, we can fabricate a complete relationship online starting right away.”

“How in the world are you going to do that?”

“Easy. A close-up shot of two glasses of champagne with a status update that reads something like, Enjoying some bubbly at Sunday brunch with my new man. A pic of a Christmas tree lot with the post, Good thing my boyfriend is strong since I chose the biggest tree here. A few posts like that and George and the relatives will think you have the most active social life of anyone we know.”

Shocked, and admittedly a bit impressed, Noelle stared at her sister. “You do realize that if you put this much creativity and effort into your dissertation and building a career, you’d be making enough money to move out of Mom and Dad’s place, right?”

“Ugh. Work and school are no fun. This is fun. I can’t wait to create all sorts of dates for you and—wait—what are we calling him?” Nikki picked up her phone again. “There’s a place for all that info in the dashboard of the app. So, what do you want to call your new fake boyfriend?”

“First of all, can we stop referring to him as my fake boyfriend?” Noelle sighed with self-pity. “Other than that, I don’t know what to call him.”

“Just choose a guy’s name. Make it something strong and sexy.” Nikki waited, phone in hand as Noelle glanced around the room, looking for inspiration and not finding much that would work for a good name.

“Strong and sexy . . . Hmm. Ooh, wait. I got it.” She smiled in triumph as an idea struck. “Type in that his name is Nathan.”

“Nathan. Okay. Sounds good to me.” Nikki typed in a few things. “Where’d you get that name from?”

“He was this guy I met at the store when I ran out to buy more cranberries on Thanksgiving.” Back when she’d been happy and hopeful for a future with George. Apparently, also back when she’d been delusional that she and he were in the same place in their relationship. “Anyway, there were only two bags left and he was going to buy them both but he gave one to me.”

“That was nice of him.”

“Yeah. It was. I gave him my cranberry recipe as a thank-you.”

Nikki sucked in a breath. “You gave it to him and you won’t even give it to me?”

“Fine. I’ll text it to you.” Noelle scrolled to the outgoing text with the recipe and sent a copy to her sister. Nikki’s phone chimed a few seconds later and Noelle said, “There. You have it now. Happy?”

“Yes. Thank you.” Nikki continued to tap away on her phone before raising her eyes to Noelle. “Okay. I’ve put everything in your app dashboard. You’re all set up, or rather he’s all set up. Remember to save that Build-A-Boyfriend number into your contacts under Nathan. It will be good proof.”

“Proof for whom? Who’s going to see the texts on my phone?”

“Everyone you show them to at the Christmas party when you’re telling them about how great your new boyfriend, Nathan, is and reading them what sweet things he is going to text to you.”

Picking up her phone again, Noelle sighed deeply. She spotted the number with the local area code and hit the button to create a new contact. She narrated her actions aloud for her bossy sister. “Create new contact. N-A-T-H-A-N. Save. Anything else, boss?”

“Well, you’re going to have to text him back so he can respond. That’s how it works.”

“Stop saying ‘him’ likes it’s a real guy.” Noelle tried not to think that at best her texts would be from some bored Build-A-Boyfriend employee, and at worst from a computer.

“If you don’t start acting like he’s real, how do you expect anyone else to believe it?” Nikki cocked a brow and ignored Noelle’s pout. “Now, go put on something cute and festive. We need to go out and start faking some dates.”

Noelle wasn’t sure she had the ability to be cute or festive right now. “Why?”

“For the pictures. We’ll take some of you getting your Christmas tree. Oh, and bring an extra sweater and a scarf or hat with you so we can fake a few different dates to post all throughout the week.” Nikki stopped her planning long enough to shoot Noelle a glare. “What are you waiting for? Go.”

“Fine.” Rolling her eyes, Noelle slid off the stool and turned toward the hall.

“And put on some makeup. You look like death.”

“Thanks.” She shot her sister a glare over her shoulder.

Nikki responded with a broad grin. “You’re welcome. Ooh and mistletoe. We definitely have to buy some mistletoe. We can take a picture of it hanging up. It’ll be perfect.”

Nikki continued talking as Noelle walked away. Her only concession was to raise her voice louder.

In her bedroom, Noelle shook her head at this whole thing. Faking a relationship was a lot of work. It might be easier just to find a real man.


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New Release! Romanced by a SEAL (Hot SEALs)

Jon and Ali have been together since I started the Hot SEALs series in 2014. They met in Book 1 Night with a SEAL and, as readers and reviewers have so lovingly pointed out, Jon never proposed . . . until now! But you know the course of true love never did run smooth and that’s true here as well. Ali is making Jon work for it! Please enjoy the below excerpt from ROMANCED BY A SEAL, available now in eBook and paperback.

Hot SEAL s Book 9

Romanced by a SEAL (Hot SEALs)

As a SEAL, Jon Rudnick dodged copper and lead without flinching, but just the thought of one tiny gold band around his ring finger has always sent him into a cold sweat. Love is one thing, but marriage is another. He’s not sure he’s ready for that just yet . . . until a near miss serves as a wake-up call he can’t ignore.

Now he’s ready, but his girlfriend Ali has gone from rushing him toward the altar, to running in the opposite direction at full speed. Hell if Jon can figure out why, but he knows one thing. All’s fair in love and war and he’s not going to rest until he makes Ali his again. This time for good.

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Romanced by a SEAL Hot SEALs #9

Romanced by a SEAL Excerpt

Jon drove faster than he should have given the conditions and it wasn’t long before he stood at the door of his condo.

He drew in a big breath as the emotions he’d kept on lockdown while he’d been gone started to surface, unlocked the door and swung it open.

The first sight to greet him was Ali, curled up on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket.

At the sound of his entering, she spun around. Her eyes flew wide when she saw him in the doorway . . . before they narrowed beneath her frown.

“Nice to see you made it home alive. And nice to see that you finally shaved.” She’d obviously gotten over her shock of seeing him home and had moved right on to her anger over him being gone.

It didn’t take a genius to see she was good and pissed at him, but he didn’t care. He’d been to hell, danced with the devil and made it back to her and he’d be damned if he wasn’t going to at least kiss her now.

Determined, he strode across the room, pulled her off the sofa and drew her to him in an embrace that was as much for his benefit as hers.

She let him hold her, but she remained stiff in his arms. He decided to take what he could get and be grateful.

“I know you’re mad but it’s so good to hold you.” The words were muffled as he clasped her tight and buried his face against her hair. She smelled familiar and felt like home.

He’d missed her. He didn’t realize how much until now while she was in his arms. He pulled back and tipped her face up. There was no controlling the urge to take her mouth.

The danger of posing as an ISIS fighter hadn’t scared him as much as knowing that just days away from being safely home and with Ali he’d nearly died.

It only proved what he knew already. No one could predict what could happen or when. He could live to a hundred or he could die tomorrow. It was about time he started really living.

“God, I missed you.” The words were barely out before he crushed his mouth against hers.

Overwhelmed by the need to feel safe and alive, he kissed her hard and thoroughly. The long list of miracles that had brought him home mostly unscathed grew by one more when Ali didn’t push him away.

She sank into his kiss, clinging to him through the jacket he’d never taken the time to remove.

He wanted to get her to the bedroom. Wanted the clothes separating them—his damp ones and her warm ones—gone.

But he wanted something else more.

Breaking the kiss, he blurted out the words that would make her his for the rest of his life. “Marry me.”

She pulled back from him. “What?”

“Marry me.” Now that he’d said it once, the words spilled out even easier.

Her eyes narrowed. “Why are you asking me that now?”

“What?” He was too confused to comprehend her frown or the suspicion in her tone. Wasn’t this what she’d wanted?

“Did you come right here or stop somewhere first?”

Further confused by that question, he said, “I stopped at the office.”

Her nostrils flared. She was mad he went to the office?

He continued, trying to diffuse this bomb while blind. “I had to. My truck was parked in the lot. And my house keys were there too. Ali, I don’t know what’s happening here. All I know is I want to marry you.”

“You didn’t before you left.”

“I did. I just—”

“I can’t be here with you right now.” After cutting him off she moved toward the door.

What the fuck had just happened?

How could things have gone to shit so fast? All he’d done was try to give her what she wanted. What he now realized he wanted too.

He knew one thing, as the tears streamed down her face and she struggled to get her shoes on by the door, he wasn’t going to be able to reason with her now.

“Ali. You stay. I’ll go.” Confused at why she refused to be under the same roof as him, Jon still wasn’t going to make her go out in the rain just to get away from him.

He knew he could crash at Chris and Brody’s apartment for the night. The office was probably a better bet. He really didn’t want to deal with any questions. This was his mess and he’d deal with it on his own in private.

“No. You stay. This is your place. It was never mine. I can sleep at Darci’s. She already offered me Rick’s bedroom.”

Why the hell would Darci be offering her a place to sleep when Ali was living with him? What had happened while he’d been gone? Had Ali been confiding in Darci about wanting to leave him?

He had a feeling he wouldn’t like the answer.

Meanwhile, Ali continued to ramble as she reached for her jacket. “Sierra’s in LA filming a movie and Rick will be out there with her for the next few weeks. It’s been all over the television . . . but you wouldn’t know that since you haven’t been around.”

He didn’t argue that he probably wouldn’t have known about Sierra and her movie even if he had been around. If Rick wasn’t Darci’s brother, and Darci wasn’t Ali’s best friend, Sierra Cox wouldn’t even be on Jon’s radar.

He honestly couldn’t give a shit where Rick was at the moment. All he could focus on was that she was leaving for some reason he couldn’t even begin to guess. “Ali, I don’t want you to go. Can’t we talk about this?”

Dry-eyed now, she just shook her head. “I’m not sure you know what you want, Jon.”

There was no anger in the statement. Just resignation.

Jon would rather she yell at him. Rant. Throw things.

At least that would show some passion and make him feel as if she cared. Not like this new freakish calm that had settled over her as she grabbed her purse and walked out the door and out of his life.

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Did you miss Jon & Ali’s backstory? Read it in NIGHT WITH A SEAL

Night with a SEAL Hot SEALs series

Romanced by a SEAL Excerpt

Hot SEAL s 9 Ali Quote

Romanced by a SEAL (Hot SEALs 9)


As a SEAL, Jon Rudnick dodged copper and lead without flinching, but just the thought of one tiny gold band around his ring finger sends him into a cold sweat. Love is one thing, but marriage is another. He’s not sure he’s ready for that just yet. . . until a near miss serves as a wake-up call he can’t ignore.

Now he’s ready, but his girlfriend Ali has gone from rushing him toward the altar, to running in the opposite direction at full speed. Hell if Jon can figure out why, but he knows one thing. All’s fair in love and war and he’s not going to rest until he makes Ali his again. This time for good.

Romanced by a SEAL in eBook and Paperback Tues, July 12

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Too angry to eat the dinner she’d spent hours shopping for and preparing, Ali yanked hard on the kitchen drawer.

Just like everything else in Jon’s life, even the drawers in his condo were neatly organized. Rolls of plastic wrap lined up in precision formation amid aluminum foil and boxes of plastic bags in every size.

The sight only ramped up her anger.

Everything in Jon’s existence was in perfect order except for his relationship with her.

She was the messy junk drawer of his life.

That realization had her pausing, hand on the plastic wrap. No wonder he avoided spending time at home with her. Running out at every opportunity. Each excuse plausible but seeming more flimsy than the last.

It had been a mistake moving in together. Just because something made financial sense didn’t mean it was right.

Things between them had started to go downhill shortly after she’d moved in so it was pretty obvious to her that this decision, though practical, had been very, very wrong.

Hot angry tears pricked behind her eyes as she grabbed the wrap and yanked to tear off a piece.

The clingy plastic got tangled on the sharp serrated edge. She pawed at it but only ended up cutting her finger instead of the clear wrap.

“Shit.” Tossing the whole mess onto the counter, she shoved the stinging finger in her mouth and sucked at the thin stripe of red that appeared.

One handed as she nursed her wound, she grabbed her food-laden plate from the counter, intent on shoving it onto the fridge shelf uncovered.

Unwrapped food in the refrigerator—that would drive Jon crazy. Perfect. It would teach him for walking out—

again—this time after she’d gone to so much trouble to make a nice meal for him.

The spiteful thought had her feeling quite satisfied as she spun toward the fridge . . . and jumped as a scream tore from her throat.

That was followed directly by a huff of frustration. “Dammit, Jon. Will you please make some noise when you come in? You scared the hell out of me.”

“Sorry.” He tracked her with his eyes from where he stood in the kitchen doorway as she moved to the refrigerator.

Judging by the one brow he cocked up as he watched her, he definitely took notice of the unwrapped dish she shoved inside.

She closed the door and leveled a gaze on him, silently daring him to say a word. That he didn’t comment surprised her.

“What happened to your finger?” He lifted a chin toward the finger she held up in the air so she didn’t get blood on her clothes.

“I cut it on the plastic wrap box.”

He moved forward and took her hand in his, inspecting the wound. “You should clean it and put on a bandage.”

“It’s not that deep.” She hated that she couldn’t control how her heartbeat sped when he touched her.

“It could still get infected.” Standing close, he didn’t drop his hold on her hand.

She raised her gaze and found he was focused solely on her.

Those piercing blue eyes of his had gotten to her starting the first day she saw him on Rick and Darci’s front doorstep. When he looked at her like this, the depth of the feelings hidden within Jon’s eyes could still make her weak in the knees.

“Okay.” She felt breathless as she only vaguely remembered what she was agreeing to.

She reminded herself how often lately she’d seen those eyes go hard and cold as Jon slammed the wall down between them.

Drawing in a shaky breath she pulled her hand from his grasp.

He let her, but it was only to reach out and pull her body close. Holding her tight against him with the hands he clamped on her hips, Jon dropped his head and took possession of her mouth with a demanding kiss.

She wanted to stay angry.

Wanted to pull away and punish him, not give him what he wanted, but it seemed so long since he’d touched her. And it felt so good to know he still wanted her. She’d begun to doubt that as he became more distant and obsessed with work.

At least she’d hoped it was work and not something or someone else. She’d begun to doubt that too.

But right now there was no doubt what he wanted as he plunged his tongue against hers while backing her against the cabinets.

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July’s desktop calendar wallpaper features July’s new Hot SEALs release, Romanced by a SEAL. Readers with a sharp eye will notice that Jon romances Ali with her favorite flower, also featured in this picture, peonies.

Romanced by a SEAL releases July 12th in eBook & paperback
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Countdown to Release Day Excerpt

Romanced by a SEAL releases July 12th. That’s one reason that makes this the perfect time to reread the story of how Jon and Ali met in NIGHT WITH A SEAL if you already own it or to grab Night with a SEAL now if you haven’t read it yet, because the new release is the story readers have been asking for. Jon is finally proposing to Ali! Coincidentally, the 4th of July holiday is coming up and Jon and Ali meet at a barbecue on the fourth in Night with a SEAL! I love a theme. Enjoy the 4th of July excerpt below.

Night with a SEAL in eBook, paperback & audio~



Hot SEALs 1


“So how far away are you?” Darci asked.

“I don’t know. Not too far. What’s the big hurry?” Ali was on her way to a Fourth of July barbecue, not trying to catch a flight at the airport.

“A bunch of Rick’s friends are here already.”

Ali glanced at the clock on the dashboard. “It’s barely even two yet. I thought that’s when you said to come over.”

“I know, but from what I’ve seen, SEALs are never late. Not even the retired ones.”

Ali still didn’t see the need to rush. It wasn’t like she was the one bringing the appetizers, or more importantly the beer. Then Darci might have reason to panic. Ali could imagine that Darci’s brother could easily freak out if he’d invited all his Navy buddies over and there wasn’t any beer when they arrived.

To appease her friend, Ali said, “I’ll be there in a couple of minutes.”

“Good. There’s someone I want you to meet.”

The reason for Darci’s persistence was suddenly very apparent to Ali. “Um, no.”

“Why not?”

“Because I told you I don’t want to be fixed up with anybody.” Ali scowled at the mere thought.

“I think you’ll change your mind once you meet him. Dark hair. Cut muscles. Six-foot-two and eyes of blue.”

“So now we’re rhyming? Stop. It’s creepy. You’re like some weird cross between Dr. Seuss and the Millionaire Matchmaker.”

Darci let out a laugh. “Well, Rick and his friends certainly aren’t millionaires, but they are hot. I can promise you that. The US Navy churns out men with some of the hardest bodies you’ve ever seen. And I don’t mean like those pumped up steroid-filled monsters you find at the gym. These guys are in seriously good shape. They work them until they’re completely exhausted to simulate the stress of combat.”

“How do you know all this?” Ali frowned. “I thought all this SEAL stuff was top secret.”

“Pfft. Thanks to the media, there’s not much that stays secret for long nowadays. Besides, that Rick had to do hundreds of sit-ups and push-ups and stuff like that when he was active isn’t exactly classified information. I mean who cares if the enemy knows our guys are in tip-top condition? That should only make them think twice about trying anything. Right?”

“I guess.” What did Ali know about national security? Not much, that’s what. But she did know her friend was as single as she was, which raised a good question. “So if they’re so hot, why aren’t you dating one of them?”

“I can’t date one of Rick’s teammates. I know them too well. They’re like brothers to me. Before he got out, Rick was with these guys practically twenty-four-seven.”

That brought up another question—or more an objection disguised in the form of a question. Alison remembered just last year when Rick was still in the military and he disappeared. He not only hadn’t told Darci where he was or what he was doing, he also didn’t respond to any of her attempts to contact him. For weeks. Darci had absolutely flipped out, convinced he was dead and the Navy just hadn’t told her and their parents yet.

To this day Darci didn’t know where he’d been. Security was that tight. Ali wasn’t sure she was up for that kind of stress in a relationship. Dating a nice boring normal guy was hard enough without the challenges of operational security thrown in.

“This guy you’re so hot to set me up with, is he still in the military or is he out like your brother?”

Not having come from a military background, it was very odd for her to be talking about guys just a few years older than herself as having retired from their Navy career, even if Rick had been forced to get out because of his knee issues. But like Darci said, the life of a SEAL was rough, which she supposed made it a younger man’s game. No different than being a top professional athlete, she guessed.

“He’s still active duty,” Darci answered.

Ali let out a frustrated huff. “Forget about it. Now I’m really not interested. I’m not about to get seriously involved with a guy who’s away all the time on secret missions. I have a bad enough track record with men who actually stay put.”

“Fine, then don’t start anything long term. Have a fling instead.”

“I can’t do that.” Ali’s voice squeaked over Darci’s suggestion.

“Why not? I sure as hell won’t judge you.”

Darci better not judge. In the two years they’d worked together at the bank, Ali had acted as Darci’s wingman for more than a few of her friend’s hook-ups.

Alison didn’t mention that and moved right on to answering the question. “I’m not going to have a fling with him because I’m sure Navy SEALs have so many women who want to sleep with them, they have to beat them all off with a stick. I am not going to get in that line just so I can be another notch in one of their belts.”

Thanks to the military installations at Dam Neck and Little Creek, being anywhere in this part of Virginia meant that the bars were always full of women looking for SEALs and men, both Navy and civilian, taking advantage of that fact.

“Just please, Ali. Keep an open mind until you meet Jon. Okay?”

“Okay.” At least Ali knew his name now. She’d know to avoid this Jon during the barbecue before Darci embarrassed them both by blatantly throwing them together.

“So how close are you now?” Darci asked, still sounding a bit too enthusiastic for Ali’s arrival.

God, save her from well meaning friends. Ali sighed. “Relax. I’m on your street, and if you let me get off the phone so I can park the car, I’ll get there even faster.”

“Good. Hurry up.” Darci disconnected the call while Ali drew in a bracing breath and prepared for what would greet her at this party.

Sometimes being single was too much work, especially amid do-gooder friends trying to play matchmaker.

Ali pulled up to park behind a truck so large her fuel-efficient economy car almost fit beneath it. No doubt it belonged to one of these SEALs Darci was so hot for Ali to meet. While these guys were off saving the world, they should probably also consider the environment and the impact their gas-guzzlers had on it.

As Ali flipped down the visor she shook her head, mad first at Darci and then at herself for feeling the need to check her hair and make up before she went inside.

This barbecue had gone from low key to stressful in the span of one phone call. She even began to second-guess her outfit. The sundress showed enough skin to make her look like she was inviting male attention, when in reality she’d worn it because of the heat. The same reason she’d put her hair up instead of leaving it down for the day.

Too late to change anything now. She slid her sunglasses on—they’d be a good shield so she could unobtrusively observe the others and avoid eye contact—and opened the door. Time to face the music . . . or at least her interfering friend and some SEALs.

Ali walked around the car and was almost to the path before she remembered to grab the potato salad out of the trunk. Darci’s phone call had her all distracted, and for nothing too because there was no way she was going to fall for or have a fling with one of the guys here today.

That resolve firmly in place, she strode to the front doorstep, where she had to work to balance the plastic container filled with potato salad between her arm and hip so she could hit the doorbell.

“Need a hand?” The deep, masculine voice startled her.

Ali jumped and nearly fumbled the very container she’d been struggling not to drop. She hadn’t seen the guy come around the corner of the house. He’d stalked silently across the grass like a ninja or, she supposed, a SEAL.