Hot SEALs series Book 1
Ten years of dedication to the Navy taught SEAL Jon Rudnick one thing—he’s not afraid to risk life and limb for his country. But when navigating military red tape begins to present more challenges than the enemy it makes Jon question his future. So does Alison Cressly, the woman who doesn’t do one-night stands or SEALs but who broke both rules with Jon the eve of his deployment to Afghanistan. He can’t get her out of his head—not while away and not now that he’s back.
When Ali’s life is threatened and military rules won’t allow him to intervene, Jon decides it’s time to take back control. The question is what would a SEAL do as a civilian? Jon’s got skills, drive and an idea, as well as a few teammates willing to cover his six. And he’s got the hope of more with Ali.
A team of sexy SEALs, a terrorist threat, and an attraction that can’t be denied . . . it all comes together in this launch of the Hot SEALs romantic suspense series from New York Times and USA Today bestselling contemporary romance author Cat Johnson.
The glare of the sun bounced off the hood as Jon steered his truck to the curb and parallel parked in front of his buddy’s place. Cutting the engine, he evaluated the house through the dark lenses of his sunglasses. It was nice for a rental. He’d definitely lived in worse. They all had.
He stepped out of the air-conditioned cab of the vehicle and pocketed the keys. It was hot outside, but not unbearable considering it was summer in Virginia. He’d take sunny and high eighties any day rather than the hundred-and-twenty degrees Fahrenheit that would be waiting for him in Afghanistan.
Jon moved around to open the passenger door and grab the cold eighteen-pack from the floor. It was going to be a good day. He had cold beer, good friends and Rick had promised them some tasty barbecue.
Best of all, he was actually stateside for a holiday. It was only Fourth of July—not one of the big days like Thanksgiving or Christmas, both of which he’d spent deployed last year—but it was a federal holiday so officially it counted.
He made his way up the short path to the front door and, case of beer in his hands, hit the doorbell with his elbow.
It was a nice change, walking up to a door in daylight and ringing the bell rather than creeping through the dark wearing night vision goggles and blowing the lock. It was the little things such as being able to approach a door and not have to dodge automatic gunfire that a man grew to appreciate after a decade of combat deployments.
The door swung wide and all six-foot-five of Rick Mann’s hulking frame filled the opening. Built like a linebacker, Rick always had made Jon—whose six-foot-two-inch frame was lean muscle rather than bulk—feel small.
“Dude, good to see you.” Jon held the beer with his left arm and clasped right hands with his former teammate.
“You too. I never thought I’d say this, but I actually miss seeing that smartass face of yours all hours of the day and night.” Rick grinned and stepped back to let Jon inside the front door of the house. “Come on in. The party’s going to be around back on the deck.”
As Rick led the way through the house, Jon glanced around him. It wasn’t huge, but it was neat and comfortable. A big flat-screen TV hung on one wall of the living room. Just past the living room furniture was an island lined with stools and a decent sized kitchen with appliances that looked to be fairly new.
Except for an overabundance of floral throw pillows covering the sectional sofa and the room’s two upholstered chairs—a clear sign Rick lived with a female—a man could be very happy kicking back here.
Jon tipped up his chin and called a greeting to Rick’s sister Darci in the kitchen. With a phone pressed to her ear, she smiled and wiggled her fingers in a wave.
“Nice digs,” Jon said as he skirted around a dining table and chair on his way to the sliding glass doors.
Rick let out a huff. “Thanks.”
He’d sounded less than enthusiastic and as Rick glanced over his shoulder, Jon saw his scowl. “What’s the face for? I meant it.”
Rick made a face again. “You know this is Darci’s place.”
“Yeah. So?” Jon asked. “It’s still nice.”
“I just never thought I’d be living with family at this point in my life. Moving in with my little sister is barely a step up from moving back home with my parents.”
“Hey, it’s not a big deal.” Jon shrugged. “You only got out a couple of months ago. And it didn’t make sense to buy your own place while you were active duty.”
Rick’s brow rose. “You bought yours.”
“Yup.” Jon nodded. “And I’m there less than half the months of the year, but even so, the bills still keep coming every damn month, so who’s the smart one here? You are.”
It had made sense for Rick to live in the bachelor quarters on base for the months their squad was stateside, and then just move his stuff into storage for the months they were deployed. It would be logical for Jon to do the same, except that he rarely did what was logical.
Besides, Jon liked coming home to a turnkey condo that was all his. It was far better than being at the mercy of base housing, which had left more than a few guys without a room after returning home from deployment. Real nice welcome home, that.
Team members without family in the area usually crashed on Jon’s sofa until a room became available for them. Sometimes it took a few days, sometimes a couple of weeks, but Jon didn’t mind the company. At this point, he and the guys spent so much time together he was more comfortable being with them than apart.
“I guess.” Rick continued to look miserable as he yanked open the sliding glass door leading onto the back deck.
Rick was obviously experiencing the grass-is-always-greener syndrome. Jon had seen it before. Guys who were in the military dreamed about getting out, while at the same time guys who’d gotten out lamented about how much better things were when they’d been in.
SEALs were no different than any regular Joe in that respect.
“I’ve got a cooler full of ice in the shade under the tree. You can put the beer in there.” Rick tipped his head toward the cooler and then reached to raise the cover on a stainless steel barbecue grill. “I gotta check the ribs real quick.”
Ribs. That explained the tantalizing scent he’d smelled wafting from the closed grill when they’d stepped outside. Jon sniffed the meat-laden air as he made his way down the steps and across the lawn.
The yard was nice. Small enough to be easy to keep up, but private thanks to a fence and some well-placed landscaping. So far, Jon saw nothing for Rick to be complaining about. Living here, Rick should be a lot happier than he appeared to be. But to each his own.
Kneeling in the grass, Jon paused while tearing open the cardboard case. He breathed in the scent of freshly mowed lawn that hit him now that he was away from the smoke of the grill.
Never mind taking time to smell the roses, after spending so much time in the desert even just the sight of a patch of lush green grass could stop Jon in his tracks. He ran his hands over the shorn blades and felt them tickle his palm. It might be one of the last opportunities he’d have to appreciate things like backyard grass.
The squad couldn’t tell anyone the exact timing, but barring any last minute changes Jon’s unit would be heading back to the sandbox next week to spend the remainder of the year in the war zone.
Summer in Afghanistan sucked. But then again, so did winter . . . and the rainy season . . . and fighting season.
Jon had to think that Rick didn’t know how good he had it.
Catching himself in a grass-is-always-greener moment, he focused back on his task—stowing the beer in the ice.
Jon’s stare caught hers. Ali held it for longer than was proper for accidental eye contact. Feeling her cheeks heat, she yanked her gaze away.
“Holy shit. Look at the time. It’s almost midnight.” Rick’s announcement pulled Ali out of wallowing in her embarrassment.
She glanced at the screen on the muted television and saw the countdown had begun. The numbers on the screen said it was thirty seconds to midnight.
“I’m ready to toast to the end of this shitty year.” Thom raised his glass.
“Your divorce. My knee surgery. I’m right there with you, man. It was a shit year.” Rick held up his own short glass of liquor and Ali realized all the guys had abandoned drinking beer and settled on just the hard stuff.
“We’re all on the right side of the dirt, aren’t we?” Chris asked. He raised his glass to Thom and then to Rick. “Divorce and knee surgery aside, we’re all standing here together, safe and whole. If this was a shit year, I hope next year is just as shitty.”
“Amen to that.” Darci’s soft declaration came from closer to Ali than she’d expected.
Unexpectedly choked up at the words and the meaning behind them, Ali turned and clinked her glass to Darci’s. “Amen.”
The giant numbers had continued flashing on the television during Chris’s speech until the guests echoed the countdown aloud.
“. . . three, two, one.” The room resonated with a deep, loud, “Happy New Year” that could only be produced by a team of men used to working together. She laughed when she got a look at the coordinated toast made by the circle of guys, shoulder to shoulder, glasses raised high as they all met in the middle.
Then the moment passed. The circle broke and there was back slapping and hand shakes for everyone.
Chris broke off from the revelry and made a beeline for Darci.
“I’m not getting screwed out of a New Year’s kiss.” He tipped his head toward the guys. “They’re all too ugly, so it’s gotta be you, darlin’.”
Grinning wide, Chris reeled in Darci with one arm, dipped her deep and gave her a kiss worthy of one of those corny old black and white movies.
Ali watched, wide-eyed, from not a foot away. There was quite a lot of intrigue surrounding her. If she wasn’t mistaken, Chris liked Darci, while Darci was interested in Zane. And Zane apparently wanted any girl in his phone willing to text him back for a booty call. It all felt very high school, especially when Ali’s own crush stepped into her line of vision and her heart began to pound like she was a teenager again.
Jon put his glass down on the counter. “Happy New Year.”
She turned to fully face him. “Happy New Year.”
Not sure exactly what to do—shake his hand, kiss him on the cheek, kiss him on the lips—she waited for him to make the first move. And oh, boy, did he make one hell of a move as he palmed her face, leaned in and crashed his lips against hers.
Jon planted one hell of a kiss, dead on her mouth, while she stood there with a glass in one hand and uncertain what to do with the other. As the kiss went on for far longer than a peck, she reached blindly for him and looped the fingers of her free hand into his waistband.
Drawing in a breath through his nose, Jon moved one leg forward to nestle his thigh between hers. Pressing closer, he thrust his tongue between her lips.
She felt ridiculous still holding her glass, but couldn’t see to put it down. It didn’t matter anyway. The sounds in the room permeated the private bubble Jon’s kiss put her in and reminded her they were by no means alone. Feeling the erection pressing against her, she wished they were alone. But the taste of the scotch he’d been drinking was a reminder that unlike in July, tonight Jon wasn’t sober.
He’d been polite and pleasant but definitely aloof all night, but now, many drinks later, he was all over her. There was nothing like some straight alcohol to make a man horny.
Ali pulled back, breaking the kiss as her mind spun for something to say.
Jon took a step back and dropped his hold on her. “I’m sorry. That was . . .”
“The holiday? The scotch? The fact you’re happy to be home and alive.” She smiled. “Really, Jon, it’s all right.”
He laughed and shook his head. “Inappropriate was the word I was going for, but yeah, the rest of those all apply too.”
She waited. For him to ask her out. For him to suggest they go somewhere more private. For basically anything.
Jon hooked a thumb toward Rick’s bedroom door. “I’m gonna go hit the head.”
That was the last thing she’d expected, but she nodded. “Okay.”