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Copyright © Desiree Holt 2017. All Rights Reserved, Totally Entwined Group Limited, T/A Totally Bound Publishing.
Slade Donovan, code name Shadow, moved silently into the room where the men on his Delta Force team waited. Tall and muscular, he was the essence of a warrior, his dark brown hair slightly shaggy with a gray thread or two showing here and there, and the expression on his chiseled face said Bring it on.
Lowering his gear bag to the floor, he dropped himself into an oversized armchair and pulled out his laptop. First things first, he told himself. Mission completed. Men all accounted for. Time to reconnect with the outside world. He turned on the machine and waited for everything to load.
He was more than grateful for the satellite setup at their base camp that allowed them all to communicate with the rest of the world. It was a great way to maintain contact with his ‘brothers’ in the many Spec Ops groups, not just on newsy items but on ways to do things better. He also kept in touch with the foreman of his ranch back in Texas and with the few friends he’d been close with for years.
While he waited for the computer to boot up, he glanced around the room at his men, the members of Team Charlie, sprawled out on the battered furniture, weary and battle-hardened. They still looked rode hard and put away wet, as the saying went in Texas. This last mission had sucked a lot out of them.
Just yesterday they had come down out of the Hindu Kush, the mountain chain that stretched from Afghanistan to Pakistan, tired, dirty and spent, although eminently satisfied. Despite the intel fuckup, the mission had been a success. One more terrorist cell destroyed, one more maniac blown to hell. And the troops fighting for the people of Afghanistan had one less bad guy—and his followers—to worry about.
Delta Force, the Army’s top covert combat unit, had counterterrorism as its main focus and they performed their missions with cold single-mindedness. Like the one they had just completed.
Once they’d landed, they’d gone through debriefing, badly needed showers, a hot meal and fourteen hours of sleep. Now they were just hanging out, guzzling water and making plans for their imminent leave. They were facing ten days to let it all hang out, battle their demons and refresh.
“Damn, Shadow.” Trey McIntyre, code name Storm and the team’s demolitions and firearms expert, flopped onto the beat-up couch and looked over at him. “That last mission was a stone bitch.”
Slade nodded agreement at Trey’s comment. It had definitely been a shitstorm of epic proportions. Angry at the poor intel, at the danger it had put them all in, at the possibility the mission would fail, Slade had kept it all together. They’d regrouped, adjusted their plans and completed the assignment. But hellfire. He wanted to throttle everyone who had put this together.
“Fucking A,” he agreed. “I told the captain the intel on this one sucked. You all pulled off a miracle and I’m damn proud of you all.”
“No shit.” Beau Williams made a rude noise.
With his sun-streaked light brown hair and green eyes, he looked like a typical surfer, fitting his code name. Surfer. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. Beau was their sniper, a job that required incredible focus and discipline.
The ding of a bell let Slade know his computer was now up and running.
When he clicked on the email icon, a flood of messages rolled into his inbox. As he scrolled through them, the subject of one caught his eye. He’d been searching for something he and his team could do together on their current downtime, something to work off the residual tension. Maybe this was it. Last time he’d talked them into it, they’d blown away the competition. Maybe he could coax them out to the ranch and get them to do it again. They might have plans or not, but they were all so drained after the last few ops he wanted them to recharge as a team where he could watch over them.
“Okay, you guys.” The others looked over at him. “I’ve got something here that might interest you.”
“What’s up?” Beau stretched and yawned.
“Remember that shooting competition we took part in two years ago?” Slade glanced at his screen again. “The one held just south of my ranch?”
“Yeah.” Marc Blanchard—code name Eagle—grunted. “We cleaned their clocks.”
Beau grinned. “No shit. What about it?”
“There’s another one scheduled for next week, right at the end of our leave. Handguns and long guns. Just like the last one.” He paused. “I don’t know what plans y’all might have, but how about hanging out at my ranch again and we’ll go win a few more prizes?”
His spread was south of San Antonio, where he ran a small herd of cattle and kept horses he could ride fast enough and far enough to clear his mind. It had become his refuge, a place to heal after each mission and reconnect with humanity. He’d taken his team there a couple of times when they’d really needed to switch off from everything to pull themselves together again.
Beau sat forward, interest sparking in his eyes. “I can always use a chance to dazzle people with my skills. But, uh, Shadow? Besides the competition, will there also be women while we’re there? That’s my top priority.”
Of course. Beau didn’t care where or what as long as there were women.
“Did you notice a lack of them the last couple of times?” Slade grinned. “Yes, there will be women.”
“Then count me in.”
“Me too,” Trey echoed.
Marc was suspiciously silent. Still recovering from the disastrous end of an even more catastrophic marriage, bitterness had etched deep lines on his face and colored his entire personality.
Slade focused his gaze on him. “Marc? You in?”
The man was silent for so long Slade wasn’t sure he planned to give him an answer. Then he gave a short, quick nod. “I’m in for the shooting. We’ll see about the women.”
Slade had discussed Marc’s situation many times with Beau and Trey. They all worried that, when he had leave, the man just crawled into a hole for ten days and drank himself into oblivion. Still, he always showed up on time sober and sharp so Slade really had no cause to say anything to him. Yet. But he could still worry about him.
“And speaking of meeting women,” Slade went on, “remember the JAG lawyer I introduced you to when you were at the ranch two years ago? Paul Hutton? Old friend of mine? We had dinner one night with him and his wife?”
“Is he providing the women?” Beau joked.
Slade chuckled. “Maybe. In a way, that is. He and his wife are having a party. If you all promise to clean up good and not pick your teeth in public, we’re all invited.”
“I’m guessing it will be a little different than the entertainment last time, right?” Trey winked.
Beau laughed. “I’d say that’s a big Ten-Four.”
Slade nodded. “No private sex club this time. We tried it at The Edge and you all passed on doing it again.”
Beau nodded. “Not our cup of tea.”
“I like my sex with no holds barred,” Trey added, “but not with a lot of other people around. Call me simple, but I like my privacy.”
“Is that so the rest of us can’t see how inept a lover you are?” Beau teased. “Afraid your women will take a gander at us and leave you in the dust?”
“Ha ha ha. Very funny. As a matter of fact, I don’t want your women to get jealous of my style.”
“Whatever.” Beau flapped a hand at him.
“But I think we’re all agreed the club scene isn’t for us, right?” Slade looked at each of them. “Speak up now and forever.”
“Yes.” Beau nodded. “Right.”
Trey nodded his assent. Slade glanced at Marc Blanchard, who hadn’t spoken a word. The man was in a very dark place and had been since the implosion of his marriage. Slade worried about him, a lot. He’d thought the visit to The Edge might have lit a spark in him, but Marc had disappeared into a private room with one of the subs and hadn’t said a word about it afterward.
“Marc? You agree too?”
Marc just nodded.
“Okay, then. We’ll head back to my ranch and make plans from there. Let me dig through my email and see if there’s anything else on that might interest us.”
Slade liked sex as much as the next man and had a healthy appetite for it. He lived by the motto—We go abroad to vanquish and conquer for country. We come home and vanquish and conquer for us. And why not? Tomorrow could be their last day on Earth.
Sometimes he wondered, though, if that would be the pattern forever. He was totally committed to Delta. It was his life. He had nothing left over to give to a relationship. Something he’d learned to live with. Sure, he’d seen others do it, but it required a mindset he didn’t think he had. There were those who had retired from Delta Force, at least from active missions. They taught, trained others—any number of things. But could he do it? He was a warrior, after all. The leader of Delta Force Team Charlie. Up until now there hadn’t been room for anything else. Could he ever adjust to a change?
But then, as he stared unseeing at the computer screen, bam! A memory popped into his mind. One that had been haunting him for five years. No matter how he tried, he couldn’t get rid of it. He wasn’t a man given to dreaming about women—except maybe for the occasional wet dream. But a trip to Chicago and a party with friends had ended in a night of the most spectacular sex with the most incredible woman he’d ever met. She had stunned him. Sucker-punched might be a better word. Blindsided him. Silky auburn hair, emerald green eyes and a body that had made his mouth water. Perfume that had tickled his senses, a low musical laugh and the satiny feel of her skin completed the package. She had been so put together on the outside, but wildness had sparkled in her eyes.
They’d come together as two strangers, looking for nothing more than the moment. A brief but explosively intense encounter. He’d wanted to wash away the devastation of his most recent mission and she had wanted—whatever she’d wanted. They hadn’t spent a lot of time discussing it. In his hotel room they’d torn each other’s clothes off in their haste to get naked. That first coming together had been hot and frantic and had blown his mind. He’d felt like a teenager on his first hot date.
Every moment of that night still haunted him, indelibly etched on his brain, on his senses. He couldn’t forget her plump breasts tipped with rosy nipples, or the wet heat of her sex and the way it had clenched around him when she’d come. He swore he could still feel the satiny caress of her skin as she lay pressed against him, or the silken fall of her hair brushing his chest—and other parts of his body.
Underneath her proper exterior she’d been a hot, sensuous woman who’d liked her sex as rough as he did. It had been the best sex of his life, ever, hands down. He had definitely been up for more of it the next day. Worn out and replete, he’d vaguely remembered falling asleep with her in his arms, but when he’d awoken in the morning, she had been gone, leaving him with an unaccustomed emptiness. He’d asked his friends about her, but all they’d known was she’d come with some other people they’d invited. They hadn’t recognized the name and apparently nobody else had known who Mandy Wheeler Baker was. Maybe she’d given him a fake name, just as he’d done to her. Women came and went in his life, and that was fine with him. The way he wanted it. He was married to Delta and had no plans to change that any time soon. But not even calling on all his personal discipline could get one time with that woman out of his mind. One night, for fuck’s sake.