Distraction is make or break in the hypercompetitive world of Navy SEAL training. Matt Kyntych came to training determined to come out the other side a SEAL, but just the sight of former Marine Shane Hovland is enough to shake his concentration. But his commitment to becoming a SEAL has to come first, no matter how drawn he is to Shane.
Shane came to SEAL training ready to prove himself--again. Semper Fi is forever, but he needs a new start. Not this dangerous heat with a man he barely knows. Training is tough, but keeping his eyes—and hands—off Matt might be tougher.
Everything they’ve ever wanted is riding a thin line. Training pushes their bodies to the limit, but the growing strain on their hearts can’t be ignored. And they’ll have to fight for more than just each other if they want to make it through intact.
Loving a Warrior:
Book 1: Loving a Warrior
Book 2: Keeping a Warrior
Book 3: Trusting a Warrior
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Embrace the suck, motherfucker.
His boots squelching in the thick sand, the soaking wet fabric of his uniform pants clinging to him, Matt Knytych gritted his teeth against the burn in his thighs and calves.
Mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter. Right? Right.
"Hooyah!" A man sitting under a beach umbrella nearby hoisted his beer can in Matt's direction. "Good luck, sailor!"
After flashing him a "hang loose" sign, Matt refocused on his rhythm and breathing. Toward the end of his seven-mile route, instead of resting, he dropped immediately into push-up position and powered out a set of twenty-five before rolling to his back for some punishing flutter kicks.
He groaned, sweat pouring off him, abs on fire.
"C'mon, boy." His uncle's voice echoed in his mind. "They're gonna push you past what you can endure, and then push you some more. Dig deep. Don't quit."
He didn't quit. Flutter kicks, leg lifts, combat crawls in and out of the surf, Matt kept going, driving himself on, until he was covered head to toe in sand and grit. Finally he surged to his feet and ran full tilt over to a nearby lifeguard tower. With a giant leap, he grabbed on to the cement ledge and went right into a series of pull-ups.
The lifeguard peered down at him. "Hardcore, dude." He jumped off his high perch and propped his elbows against the railing. "You here for SEAL training?" When Matt nodded, the guy's expression morphed into one of admiration tinged with envy. "I thought about trying out someday. I'm a really good swimmer."
Matt dropped back to the sand and fought not to roll his eyes. He heard that every time he told someone about BUD/S. I'm a good swimmer. I'm a long-distance runner. I can bench-press blah, blah, blah. I should try out, too!
"You should" was all Matt said, mainly because the guy was cute and he was hoping for a smile. Sure enough, he flashed Matt some even white teeth and a set of dimples to die for.
"Maybe I will. When do you start?"
"Well, good luck, man."
The lifeguard offered his knuckles for a bump before climbing back into his tower. As he did, Matt took the opportunity to appreciate one very nice ass.
If only he had more time ...
With a regretful sigh, he trudged his way over to the asphalt path that ran next to the beach, grimacing at the sand caking his sodden boots and pants, which had taken on the consistency of cement. Not only that, it was in his nose, his ears, and up the crack of his butt. He snorted. Better get used to it.
After a futile attempt to stomp off the mud, Matt turned to gaze at the Pacific, a thrill of excitement mixed with dread slicing through him. In just a few days, he'd be spending a lot of time in that frigid surf.
Well, bring it on. I'm ready.
He started a slow jog along the road toward the main gate of the base. The path was crowded with people out for their early evening runs and walks, and several times Matt had to dodge groups of women chattering together while they pushed their kids in exercise strollers.
One such group was ahead of him now, being led by a little boy wobbling to and fro on his bike. Concentration scrunched up his face, and his fingers gripped the handlebars. Despite his best efforts, the wobbles were only getting worse.
As he drew alongside him, Matt called out, "Pedal a little faster, buddy! You can't keep your balance going so slow."
Whatever the cause — the sound of the strange male voice, or maybe a desire to check on where his mom was — the boy turned his head to look over his shoulder and that's when disaster struck. Wide-eyed with terror, he careened directly into Matt's path, lost control and crashed.
With a yelp, Matt leapt to the side, almost instantly colliding with a wall of something hard and sweaty that knocked him clear off his feet.
"Oof!" Matt smashed to the ground, starbursts of light exploding behind his eyes. He sprawled out, struggling for air, high-pitched exclamations from the women ringing in his ears.
"You okay?" This voice was deep, and anxious. "Can you breathe? Here, lemme help you —" An arm slid under his shoulders, but Matt shoved it away.
"Get ... off ... me," he gasped. "Clumsy asshole."
"I'm really sorry, dude. It all happened so fast."
Matt blinked as his vision finally cleared and the man's face swam into view.
With his close-cropped blond hair, vivid blue eyes and chiseled jaw, the dude could've walked straight out of a California surfing magazine. His thick brows were dusted with sand and currently drawn together in a worried point. His lips were parted from exertion, the lower one plump and full, the upper one dotted with beads of sweat that Matt had a sudden, insane urge to lick off ...
Dragging his eyes away, Matt struggled to sit up. His temples throbbed, the little boy's wails piercing straight into his skull.
"I am so sorry." The man put his hand on Matt's shoulder and squeezed. "I just didn't see you."
A bolt of awareness skittered down Matt's spine at the touch.
"No harm done," he rasped. "I'm okay." Wanting nothing more than to get away from the crying kid and the man fucking with all his senses, Matt lurched to standing.
The ground gave a sickening tilt. With a grunt of alarm, the man leapt to wrap one strong arm around his waist. Helplessly, Matt leaned against his bare chest, biting back another groan at the arousing scent of his warm, damp skin. As Matt stared, sweat droplets slowly, lovingly, slid down ridged, hair-dusted abs to disappear beneath the waistband of some brief running shorts.
Very thin shorts that were clinging to ...
"Sure you're okay? I landed on you really hard." The man's voice was filled with concern. "Are you dizzy?" He tightened his arm around Matt's waist, jolting him back to reality.
Matt wrenched away as a hot tide of embarrassment washed over him. "I'm fine," he said gruffly. "Just knocked the breath out of me for a sec, but I'm good."
"If you're sure ..."
Please go away. Please.
After receiving the same assurance from the kid's mom that her son was fine, the man cast one last glance over at Matt before waving at everyone and resuming his run. Matt didn't want to look, but he couldn't help himself, sighing inwardly at the perfect V of his shoulders and back, the round buttocks that flexed with every stride of those long legs.
Yeah, that's it. Run right on out of my life there, pal.
As the man disappeared into the distance, Matt busied himself getting the kid's bike upright again. He made sure nothing was bent or damaged before presenting it back to him with a flourish.
"Thanks, Mister Soldier." The boy scuffed his toe. "Sorry I hurt you."
"Aww, buddy." Matt crouched down to his level. "I'm not hurt at all. I'm just glad you're okay." He offered his hand to shake and the boy touched it shyly with his fingers.
Standing, Matt smiled reassuringly at the ladies, then took off at a slow jog, the sand in his crotch now itching like a motherfucker. By the time he finally reached the main gate of the base, he was chafed, sore and exhausted, thoughts of the gorgeous man all but purged from his mind.
The Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado, California, was located on a beautiful stretch of beach only three hundred yards from high-rise condos that cost more than Matt would ever see in a lifetime. In several lifetimes.
He stood at his barracks room window, gazing out at his own million-dollar view. For the next six months, he'd get to enjoy one of the most desirable pieces of real estate in the country, all on the government's dime. Well, as long as he didn't fuck it up.
He had no intention of fucking it up.
"A bunch of us are gonna go hang out in the commons, maybe do a little workin' out. Wanna come?"
Matt glanced at his roommate, Jerrold, a short, extremely muscular man with tattoo sleeves decorating both arms. "Sure."
After changing into PT gear, he and Jerrold made their way out of the barracks and down to the large courtyard in front, which boasted a cabana with a couple of picnic tables, and a nearby sandpit with some pull-up bars. A concrete pad was next to that, where knots of guys were currently doing sit-ups and pushups, or simply sprawled out doing nothing at all.
Those were the guys talking shit.
"When I did the Ironman last year, I finished in the top ten in my age division."
"Dude, on mile fifty of that ultramarathon in the desert ..."
"I qualified for the Olympic swimming team, but ..."
On and on and on. Matt rolled his eyes.
"Hey, I think you have the room next to mine. Elias Medina."
Matt turned to see a tall guy with jet-black hair and golden brown skin smiling at him, his hand out.
As they shook, Elias said, "This is my second run at BUD/S. You?"
Smirking, Elias lifted his chin toward the group of men still trying to top each other's athletic achievements. "Lemme tell you, I cried like a baby during Hell Week. I ended up ringing out halfway through, and some scrawny-ass motherfucker made it and is now in the teams. Ultramarathons don't mean shit."
"Yeah, I think those guys have seen one too many movies." Matt hesitated, then said, "My uncle was actually in the teams back in the day. Team Four out of Little Creek."
"What the fuck? Really?" Elias's eyes widened with excitement. "What's the secret to getting through Hell Week?" He grabbed Matt's arm. "You gotta tell me!"
Matt laughed. "Sorry, but there's no 'secret' to getting through Hell Week. You just do it."
Elias's face fell as he let go. "Figured as much."
"And I hate to break it to those assholes," Matt went on, "but Ironman scores aren't gonna mean much here. My uncle says this training is ninety percent mental."
"Hell yeah, it is. I'm proof. Started feeling sorry for myself, and once I did, that was it. Couldn't get it together after that."
Matt gave him a commiserating wince, and Elias socked him lightly on the shoulder, his attention caught by something off in the distance.
"Hey, there's my roommate." Elias gestured toward a red compact car in the parking lot and a man and woman standing next to it. "Whoa, his girl's fine. Lucky fuck."
Matt barely noticed the woman or the baby she was holding, since his eyes were fixed on the back of the dude's blond head. He was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, but those shoulders, that muscular back, those long legs ...
"He used to be a Marine," Elias was saying. "Hey, Shane!" He waved his arms. The guy — Shane — glanced over and held his finger up in a wait a minute motion before leaning down to kiss the woman on the cheek.
The delay was all Matt needed, so he swiftly took the coward's way out.
"I'll just meet him later," he called to Elias as he took off in the direction of the main gate and the jogging path. "Need to get some miles in. See ya!"
As he ran, the same word skittered through his mind over and over.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Here he was, about to start some of the toughest military training in the world, and he needed to have his head one hundred percent in the game. Instead, he was already letting himself get distracted. By a hot guy. In a world full of hot guys.
What 're you, fourteen? Get it together!
Veering off the path, Matt barreled toward the surf and dove into it, fully clothed. The frigid water punched the breath from his lungs, and he gasped for air as he floated, letting the cold seep into his very bones.
Could that Shane guy handle this? Or was he one of those gym rats who thought his bench-press numbers equaled toughness?
Matt grinned to himself. Yeah, the odds were real good Shane would wash out early, just like three-fourths of the men out in that commons would. The attrition rate in the SEAL program was, and always would be, brutal.
All Matt had to do was avoid Shane while he waited around for him to fail. It wouldn't take long, maybe it'd even happen the first day. Hell Week for sure.
Nothing to worry about.
Sloshing up on shore, Matt flopped in the sand, teeth chattering, jackhammer-shivering so hard he thought his heart might stop. Hell fuckin' yeah, this was what he was here for.
He'd keep his eyes on the goal and off that hot ass.
"I need some volunteers!"
"Hooyah, sir." Matt raised his hand and the class leader nodded at him.
"Good. Muster 0430 tomorrow morning at the training tank." He raised his voice to shout, "Uniform inspection! Fall out!"
The class ran in formation toward the entrance to the grinder, the infamous patch of asphalt where hundreds of men before them had discovered — the hard way — what they were made of. Adrenaline heated Matt's blood and he roared along with the others at the sight of the instructors lined up silently at the edge of the grinder, clipboards in hand.
Here we go. The only easy day was yesterday.
"Welcome to Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, gentlemen." One of the instructors started strolling up and down in front of the group. "My name's Chief Toshi. The festivities officially begin tomorrow morning, but today we're gonna inspect your uniforms. They'd better be in tip-top shape, people." He stopped in front of a guy not far from Matt. "Tell me, why do we do this?"
The guy could only gape at Toshi, thoroughly intimidated.
"Too slow. Drop."
The hapless trainee dropped for push-ups.
"When you're here to become one of the deadliest warriors the U.S. military has to offer, when you're here to become part of an elite community like no other, tell me: Why do we care about your fucking uniforms?"
He stopped in front of someone else.
"B-because it's protocol, Chief?" the guy stammered out.
Another helmet disappeared toward the ground.
"Why. Do. We. Do. This?" Toshi was pissed now.
"Attention to detail, Chief."
Matt's jaw tightened as the deep, husky voice sent a quiver through him. Shane.
"Correct. And why is attention to detail so important?"
"Because if you can't trust me with my uniform, Chief, how're you going to trust me with a weapon?"
"Exactly!" Toshi addressed the group. "How am I gonna trust you with my life out on the battlefield if I can't even trust you to have some fucking clothes squared away?"
He paused to let that sink in before turning his attention back to Shane.
"You know a lot about clothes, do you?"
"No, Chief," Shane said evenly.
"I bet you do. I bet you have a fashion degree."
Derisive laughter from the instructor ranks.
Matt winced. Oh, crap.
"By the way, anyone ever tell you you look like a fuckin' Ken doll?"
"No, Chief." Shane's voice rang out loud and clear. "Because I don't look like a Ken doll."
Matt looked down at the ground. Just shut up, idiot. Or you're gonna catch it.
Toshi propped his hands on his hips. "So tell me, Ken, how'd you know 'attention to detail' was the answer I was looking for?"
"The Marines, Chief." Shane drew in a deep breath. "Second Battalion, First Marines. Best unit on the planet."
"Is that so?" Toshi made a big show of looking around, like he was surprised to see where they were. "Well, you know you ain't a Marine anymore, right, son? You're in the Navy now!"
For some reason the Village People's song "In the Navy" popped into Matt's head, and he dug his fingernails into his palms, trying not to break into nervous laughter.
"Once a Marine, always a Marine," Shane shouted defiantly. "Semper Fi!"
At that, a murmur ran through the group. Although Marines were technically part of the Department of the Navy, the rivalry between the two branches was intense.
Toshi's voice dropped to a growl. "Do you know what 'Marine' stands for, Ken?"
Wisely, no response from Shane.
"Let me tell you what it means: Muscles Are Required, Intelligence Not Essential." Toshi paused, then said softly, "A fact which I think you've just demonstrated firsthand to all your classmates. Instructor Salazar!"
"A little remediation for the smart-ass Marine here, please."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Loving a Warrior"
Copyright © 2018 Melanie Hansen.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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