Protected by a SEAL (Hot SEALs) Cat Johnson
Some days former SEAL Rick Mann doesn’t know who he hates more, spoiled actress Sierra Cox who he’s tasked with protecting, or the man trying to kill her. But there’s only one of the two he wants to take to bed.
CHAPTER ONE EXCERPT
As he raised the beer bottle to his lips, Rick Mann heard it, but he didn’t believe it. At least, he didn’t want to believe it.
The sound invading his peace and quiet was enough to ruin his enjoyment of even his favorite brand of icy cold brew. He lowered the bottle without taking a sip and smothered a cuss.
Nope. That was not the banging of the headboard against the wall of his sister’s bedroom. Again. For the second time in as many hours. Definitely. Not.
Rick closed his eyes and did his best to believe his own lie, but it wasn’t going to work.
No matter how hard he tried and willed it to be so, the fact remained he was hearing something no brother should be forced to listen to—his best friend in bed with his sister.
It was his own fault, he supposed. Rick did share a house with Darci. And Rick had sent her away on an assignment with his buddy and former SEAL teammate Chris. With his blessing, no less.
But damn, he’d never expected this to be the result.
Almost a month after they’d announced they were dating, Darci and Chris were obviously still in the honeymoon period of the relationship.
It was enough to make Rick want to rip his own ears off.
Drawing in a deep breath, he set his jaw and reached for the television remote control.
He mashed the button with his thumb until the sound of the show airing rose enough he could no longer hear the incredibly disturbing and damn rude noise coming from the vicinity of Darci’s bedroom.
Couldn’t they do this shit while he was at work?
Rick raised the bottle to his lips again and drew in a big swallow. He needed it to dull the horror.
The combination of noise, beer and the History Channel actually worked. Thank God. Rick made it through two commercial breaks without hearing another sound from the bedroom region of the house. Excellent.
“Hey.” The sound of Chris’s voice behind him had Rick jumping.
Happy inside his bubble of beer and the program commemorating the 90th anniversary of Czar Nicholas II abdicating his throne in the midst of World War I, Rick hadn’t heard Darci’s door open.
Rick aimed the remote at the television and lowered the volume. “Hey.”
Chris frowned. “What’s wrong?”
Rick supposed his greeting hadn’t sounded all that warm and cozy and Chris had noticed. He scowled. “What could be wrong?”
Chris lifted one shoulder. “I don’t know. That’s why I asked.”
It wasn’t worth bringing it up. It’s not like Rick’s complaining would change anything. These two were like dogs in heat. Rick realized Chris was still standing, waiting for an answer.
At least his friend was dressed. Only in shorts and a tank top but it could have been worse. He hadn’t gotten comfortable enough to start walking around the house in his underwear yet. Or worse, naked.
Hoping that day never came. Rick focused on the television. “It’s nothing.”
Chris moving in front of Rick and directly in front of the screen ruined his plan to lose himself again in the program. It was a widescreen television, but Chris was pretty wide himself.
Arms crossed, legs planted firm, the man obviously wasn’t moving.
Rick sighed and relented. “The walls are thin here. Okay?”
Realization must have hit Chris. He closed his eyes for a second. “Oh. Sorry about that. We didn’t realize you could hear.”
Rick let out a snort. “Oh, I can. Believe me.”
“I can ask Darci to come over to my place when you’re home.”
Perfect. Then Rick could be a real loser, alone in the house instead of just feeling lonely around the happy couple. At least now, he had company when they did emerge from the bedroom.
The solution didn’t seem all that much better than the problem.
“Don’t worry about it.” Rick took another swallow. “You hungry?”
“Starving. Darci and I are fixin’ to order something. You in?”
“Yeah, sure. What are you gonna get?”
“Darci wants Indian food. You okay with that?”
Rick shot Chris a look. “She’s always trying to get us to order that.” And Rick always said no, but apparently she’d gotten one over on Chris. She’d convinced him to get Indian food while she had him in a sex haze.
“So, that’s a no then?” Chris looked a little torn. Friend versus girlfriend.
After hearing that bed banging, Rick knew exactly which side Chris would land on the choice of take-out. “No, it’s fine. Go ahead. I’ll give it a try.”
Who knows? Maybe Rick might actually like the shit.
“A’ight.” Chris flopped backward into the easy chair.
“Aren’t you ordering it?”
“Oh, hell no. Darci’s doing it. I wouldn’t know what to order anyway. You know what you’d want?”
Rick leveled his gaze on Chris. “What do you think?”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Chris shook his head. “You’d never know there was once a time we were both eating goat meat and pretending to like it.”
“That is exactly why I don’t feel the need to try any of this weird shit now.”
“It’s not weird.” Darci’s voice came from down the hall before she appeared in the living room. “It’s good and you two are going to like it and I’m going to say I told you so when you do.”
Rick craned his head to see her, dressed in her yoga pants and a sweatshirt. “You wish.”
She lifted one brow. “We’ll see.”
“Yes, we will.” Rick let out a humph. Chris’s soft chuckle caught Rick’s attention. “And what’re you laughing at?”
“Nothing. Just missing my little brother about now, is all.”
“Where is he?” Rick asked.
Chris cocked a brow and didn’t answer and Rick remembered the important detail he’d forgotten. That Brody was still active duty in the teams. Actually, that fact was easy to remember. It was that Rick no longer was, and therefore no longer had security clearance, that he’d like to forget.
He scowled. “Never mind. Forget I asked.”
Rick and Chris were both retired now and technically civilians so chances were good that Chris wouldn’t know where his brother was anyway. And if he did know, he wouldn’t repeat it with Darci around.
Besides her being a civilian, if his sister ever knew half of the shit he’d done in the teams she’d freak the hell out. Rick didn’t need that kind of drama.
Chris didn’t either now that he was dating Darci.
Of course, after what Chris had subjected Rick to today, maybe he deserved a little torture as payback.
Darci came back from the kitchen, phone in hand. “The restaurant won’t deliver this far. I’ll have to go pick it up.”
Chris planted his two hands on the arms of the chair he’d looked pretty comfortable in before Darci’s announcement and hoisted himself to his feet. “I’ll drive you.”
“You don’t have to do that.” In a tone Rick recognized well, Darci had said one thing while obviously meaning another.
Rick waited to see if Chris would get caught in the trap.
“Nope. I insist. Just let me throw on my socks and sneakers.” Chris hadn’t fallen for it, proving he was smarter when it came to women than Rick gave him credit for.
That was for the better anyway. Rick didn’t need to listen to them fighting all night. That might be worse than hearing them in bed.
“Okay. Thank you.” She smiled sweetly and accepted the kiss Chris pressed to her head on his way past her.
Rick watched the whole thing unfold, not feeling at all guilty that he got to stay home while Chris had to go out. If Chris wanted to be with Darci, then he’d have to do her bidding.
All Rick knew was that he wasn’t the one who had to drive her, and that was good enough for him.
Darci came over and scowled at the television set. “War stuff?”
“Yes. It’s educational. More than those shows about the housewives of wherever that you like to watch.”
She frowned at him. “You know I haven’t watched the Real Housewives since the first season. It went downhill after that.”
The show started out so badly, it didn’t have all that far to fall, in Rick’s opinion. Not in the mood to debate the point, he kept that to himself.
“A’ight. We can head on out as soon as I find the keys to my truck.” Brows drawn low, Chris glanced at the kitchen counter. “You see them?”
“Yup, I know where they are. They were in the pocket of your jeans when I was doing laundry. I put them on my dresser in the bedroom.” Darci scampered off, down the hall to retrieve Chris’s keys, while Rick took that opportunity to shoot Chris a glance.
“She’s doing your laundry now?”
Chris lifted one shoulder and grinned. “What can I say? I’m not gonna tell her no.”
Rick shook his head at the domestic bliss surrounding him. It was enough to make a man barf.
“You know . . . “ Chris began the sentence in a tone Rick recognized well. A lecture was coming and he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear it. Unfortunately, there was usually no way to stop the southern ramblings of Chris Cassidy once they began.
Rick sighed and angled himself to face Chris better. “Yes?”
“I know what’s eating you.”
“Oh, do you? And what’s that?” Rick asked, interested to hear the answer.
“You’re missing the action.”
Rick let out a huff. “You think? You mean you don’t believe sitting in front of a bank of security monitors day and night is stimulating enough for me?”
“Unless there’s some terrorists sneaking around that job of yours, looking to blow up the nuclear reactor and half the state with it, no. There’s not. It’s getting to you. Believe me, I know what it’s like to be running on adrenaline and energy drinks one day and sunk into the sofa looking for something that won’t make you want to blow your brains out on TV the next.”
“There’s one big difference though.”
“What’s that?” Chris asked.
“You chose to retire. Getting out wasn’t exactly my choice.”
His knee blowing out during a training exercise, the realization that he’d have compromised the safety of the team if it had happened on an op, and the Navy medically retiring him had all led to Rick’s current situation.
Chris drew in a breath, clearly about to say something when Darci came back down the hall. “Sorry I took so long. I decided to change clothes quick.”
Like the gentleman he always was, Chris turned his full attention away from Rick and on to Darci. “And you look real pretty, darlin’.” He took the keys she held out and glanced at Rick. “We’ll be back in a few.”
As he grabbed Darci’s hand to lead the way to the front door, she glanced back. “Get the plates and forks out of the dishwasher? They’re all clean.”
This was his life now. He’d gone from cleansing the world of terrorism, to unloading the clean dishes. His biggest battle nowadays was against his sister for control of the television remote.
Chris was right. Rick missed the action. More than he’d ever imagined.
He had some thinking to do. As he stood and felt the twinge in his left knee, he wondered if that life was even possible for him anymore.
PROTECTED BY A SEAL eBook/Print July 21