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Man Beneath The Uniform
By Maureen Child
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneZack Sheridan scowled at the streetlights shining through the wide window, then glared at the man sitting opposite him in the booth.
"She studies fish?" Danny Akiona, a fullblooded Hawaiian and a Navy SEAL, looked at his friend and laughed.
Irritating as hell, Zack told himself. Especially since, if the shoe had been on the other foot and it was Danny facing this assignment, Zack would be the one laughing.
Zack took another long swallow of his beer. But even the crisp bite of the alcohol couldn't quite take the sting out of his friend's laughter. Leaning back in the red leather booth, he turned to look at the crowd filling the waterfront bar.
Couples sat in booths and singles prowled the edges of the mob, looking to catch someone's - anyone's - eye. Music blared from an ancient jukebox loaded with everything from golden oldies to hip-hop. The waitresses, decked out in skintight, black leather miniskirts, red, belly-baring halter tops and red spike heels, dipped and swayed through the crowd, balancing trays full of drinks.
Zack sighed as he checked out an especially appealing blond barmaid with a size forty chest packed into a size thirty-four top. If he'd been a free man, he'd have made a play for her and enjoyed his first night of leave. But since he was facing thirty days of pure hell, he just didn't have the heart for it.
"Oh, man." Danny chuckled and shook his head. "This is just too funny."
Zack shot him a look hot enough to cook bacon. "I'm glad somebody's getting a laugh out of this."
"It's perfect, man." Danny's dark brown eyes glittered with humor and his perpetually tanned face split into a wide grin. "We get a month's R and R and you get sentenced to baby-sit a scientist." He lifted his beer in a toast. "Here's to the women I'll get now that you're out of action for a while."
He'd be out of action, all right, Zack thought miserably. Thirty long days of riding herd on some babe born with a silver spoon in her mouth and a yen to play with fish.
"Gonna be a long month." Zack shifted a glance out the front window of the bar to the bustling street beyond the glass.
Even on a chilly February evening, Savannah was crawling with tourists. With cameras slung around their necks and guidebooks clutched like the Bible, visitors wandered narrow streets and the waterfront. Gift shops did a bumper business year round and the locals tidily counted their pennies and waited for summer, when even bigger crowds would show up.
Savannah was a small Southern town disguised as a bustling city. It had a great harbor, beautiful old homes and a couple of really terrific bars. Ordinarily, Zack would be looking forward to a little down time here. He'd be wandering the town looking to pick up a couple of Southern belles. But this trip was all business.
Or punishment, rather.
"It's no surprise, man," Danny said, bringing Zack's attention back to the matter at hand. "Hell, you knew you'd have your ass kicked the minute we got back home."
Zack moved his glass through the water rings it had left on the highly varnished wood table. Glancing at his friend, he asked, "So, do you think I should have done it differently?"
"Hell, no." Danny straightened up in the red leather seat and leaned both forearms on the tabletop. "If you hadn't gone back for Hunter ..." His voice trailed off and he shook his head. "Unacceptable. No way. We had to go back for him. Orders or not."
"Hoo-yah." They lifted their glasses and clinked them together.
Zack nodded to himself. He knew he'd done the right thing - the only thing he could have done. But it was good to hear his friend back him up on it. The rules were simple and he lived by them. A Navy SEAL didn't leave a man behind. If a team of six men went in, then six men had better damn well come back out. Dead or alive, every SEAL always came home.
Memories rushed through his brain. Instants, moments, rose up, were recognized and then faded into the next. He remembered it all clearly. That mission two weeks before had gone bad from the beginning. His team had been sent in to infiltrate, rescue, then exit, fast.
But someone had screwed up the intel. The hostage wasn't where he was supposed to be. By the time Zack and the others had found their man, time was short. With only a couple of hours left before extraction, their cover was blown and Hunter Cabot had been shot. Zack and the rest of the team had made it back to the Zodiac boat with the hostage before they'd realized Hunter was missing.
Zack had reported in and had been given the order to cut Hunter loose and get the hell out of Dodge. Just remembering the easy dismissal of a SEAL's life made him furious all over again. Zack's hand tightened around his beer. No way in hell would he agree to leaving one of his team behind. So he'd disregarded orders, left the team to guard the hostage and went back in himself to drag Hunter's ass out.
Now Hunter was recovering in the hospital, surrounded by gorgeous nurses and Zack had been sentenced to serve as nursemaid to a geek.
Yeah, life was fair.
"What kind of fish, you think?"
"Huh?" Frowning, Zack looked at Danny.
"I mean," his friend said, "maybe its something interesting like sharks. Back home I saw a shark once, big enough to -"
"Please." Zack held up a hand and winced.
"No Hawaiian folk tales today, okay?"
Excerpted from Man Beneath The Uniform by Maureen Child Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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