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Was he too late? Navy SEAL Chief Gabe Griffin jogged through Lindbergh International Airport in San Diego, California. He was hurrying to meet his fiancée, Baylee-Ann Thorn, who was supposed to have just landed. Dressed in his desert cammies, dirty and sweaty, he'd just barely made it onto a Black Hawk helicopter to catch a lift directly to the airport. His platoon, part of SEAL Team 3, had been up in the scrub brush of southern California mountains undergoing compass and map training. Lucky for him, Chief Doug Hampton had given him the next seven days off.
Focused and weaving through the crowds, he took the escalator two steps at a time, barely breathing hard. He knew people, civilians, were looking at him, startled as he swiftly and silently moved past them. As a SEAL, he prided himself on the fact that no one, especially not his enemy, would ever hear him coming until it was too late.
His green eyes narrowed as he hit the top of the escalator. He knew which security area Bay would be coming out of, and he slowed his pace, circling to the left of the security departure exit. This was the same one he'd met her at six months earlier when she was coming out of Afghanistan. Bay had been in a firefight three days earlier, taken a bullet to her Kevlar vest and had been injured. As he thought back to last Christmas, he remembered how the airport had been flooded with holiday travelers. Gabe had found an empty wall near the outlet where all departing passengers would walk past. He chose the same spot once again.
Today, June first, the crowds were a lot lighter, less noisy, with less bumping and jostling. Glancing down at his Rolex, he saw her plane should have already landed. It was five in the evening. He took off his black baseball cap and distractedly ran his long fingers though his short, dark hair. His gaze never left the opening.
There were floor to ceiling windows through which he could easily spot Bay. God, had it been three months since he'd seen her. Their last time together, he'd managed a three-day weekend break from his platoon training, hopped a flight out of NAS Coronado to Washington, D.C., where Bay had been anxiously waiting for him.
Now, swallowing hard, Gabe leaned against the wall, his hands resting on his hips, waiting. Just waiting. He was anxious to see Bay, hold her, kiss her, love her until they were both senselessly wrapped in euphoria. It would be heaven and hell. Heaven that she'd be once more in his arms and he could love her. Hell because in ten days he would be saying goodbye to her as she deployed one last time to Afghanistan for six long, dangerous months. There, she'd get ordered into one of the black ops groups.
Gabe was praying it would be a SEAL team, which is where he had met her almost sixteen months earlier. SEALs always took the fight to the enemy. They weren't like the Army Special Forces guys, who had a very different strategy agenda. Bay would be safer with the SEAL teams. Plus, Gabe would make their engagement known to the platoon over at Camp Bravo, an FOB, forward operating base, so brother SEALs would watch and protect her.
Sweat dribbled down his temples, and he wiped it away with his long, large-knuckled fingers. Where was Bay? Damn, he ached to see her. There was no question their love was strong and steady. It had only gotten better with time.
Gabe anxiously watched the security area. People were starting to filter out from another flight that had just arrived. He felt his cell phone vibrate. His heart leaped as he dug into his cammie pocket for it. Lifting up his iPhone, he saw a text message from Bay. His heart galloped in his chest, and his fingers trembled as he read the words:
God, did Bay realize she was his home? Gabe couldn't conceive of life without her being in it.
In the thirty years of his life, she was the best thing that had ever happened to him. And in the dark recesses of his mind, Gabe pushed away his fear. After all, Bay was a vaunted 18 Delta medic, the only woman in the military to be given access to that world-class course and who had passed it with flying colors. Bay would give her life for another in a heartbeat. And that worried Gabe.
Wiping his sweaty hands down the sides of his dusty cammies, Gabe felt as if he was going to burst with impatience. The joke was, he was a respected SEAL sniper, who had patience to burn. Not today. Not now.
Where was Bay? He loved her so damned much, it hurt. Gabe had never known what real love was until he'd met Bay. She was so damned unassuming and down-to-earth humble. She never spoke about herself or her many accomplishments. All she wanted to do was serve and stop people from suffering. In the four months she'd been with his SEAL team at Camp Bravo, he'd seen her unselfishly devote herself sixteen hours a day to helping others at the medical dispensary. If she wasn't with the SEALs on a patrol or a mission, she was at the dispensary at Bravo, helping the beleaguered doctors and nurses with shot-up Special Forces, Marines or Rangers being choppered in to be stabilized by them. At Shinwari Afghan villages, Bay worked from dawn to dusk, holding medical clinics for girls and women. How many lives had she saved? Improved? Gabe knew it was a high, unaccounted number.
Where was Bay?
Even his sniper patience was failing him as he searched for the woman he loved with a quiet desperation.
Gabe instantly straightened, hands dropping to his sides, his heart a staccato beat. He watched her coming up the slight incline, her medical rucksack, probably weighing close to sixty-five pounds, on her back. Bay was tall, five feet ten inches, with a sturdy frame. Lean and moving gracefully, she had her softly curled light brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. She wore Navy cammies of blue, gray and brown. He took the precious seconds to simply absorb her into his wildly beating heart. This woman loved him. She couldn't wait to see him.
A crowd began to gather around the opening to security that spilled out into the escalator area. Gabe hung back, not wishing to push and shove to meet her. He instantly became worried as he saw purple shadows beneath Bay's large, beautiful blue eyes. There was strain at the corners of her full lips, too. The final test on her medical training had been a son of a bitch. You didn't get to become an 18 Delta medic unless you could save lives out in the middle of combat. Had she passed? Gabe was sure she had. But the look of exhaustion was clearly etched in Bay's face. Even her cheeks, which usually had a soft pink color to them, were pale. Damn.
Moving to the side of the plastic window, near the security opening, Gabe watched her turn and look straight at him, as if she sensed his presence. His mouth pulled into a wide grin of hello. Bay's face lit up, as if suddenly consumed by sunshine. Every cell in his tense body clamored for her. His arms ached to hold this courageous and very brave woman once again. The tiredness disappeared, and a flush appeared across her high cheekbones. She picked up her stride.
Within seconds, Bay was beyond the security area, and he opened his arms to her.
In seconds, Bay dropped her ruck and threw herself into his welcoming arms. She fell against him, her arms sliding around his broad shoulders, her face pressed against his. Gabe took her full weight. At six foot tall, lean and toughened by continued training, he laughed, his face tickled by her curly hair. "God, it's good to see you again, baby." He felt her turn her head toward him, her lips hungrily seeking his.
All sounds disappeared around Gabe as he curved his mouth hotly over Bay's smiling lips. He tasted coffee and chocolate on them, inhaled her feminine, womanly scent along with the jasmine soap that she loved to wash her body with. He felt her breasts pressed solidly against his chest, felt her sharp, shallow breath as they clung to one another. Their kiss so deep, so needy, that he didn't care if he ever came up for air.
"I love you," she whispered in a trembling voice, her throat tight with unshed tears of joy.
Seeing tears glistening in her eyes, Gabe cupped Bay's face, staring down at her, inhaling her, absorbing her as if he was the thirstiest sponge in the world. "Now, you're not going to cry on me, are you, baby?" Gabe couldn't stand to see a woman or child cry. It tore him up, and he felt so damned helpless to fix it or stop it. A woman's weeping actually cut his heart in two. Gabe didn't know why, but it had always been that way with him. Maybe the day his alcoholic father had swung at his mother, her terror-filled scream hurting his ears, had triggered that reaction in him.
Bay gulped several times, trying not to cry. But dammit, he felt his own eyes grow hot with tears, too.
Laughing through the tears streaming down her face, Bay shook her head. "Fool. You think I can't cry because I missed you so darned much? And look at you! What's that I see in your eyes, Griffin?"
It wasn't good to see a SEAL crying. Gabe couldn't help himself as he fought against the tears. He took a couple of deep breaths, using the sniper control he had over his body to push them down deep inside himself. "Mine are gone," he noted, a slow grin crawling across his mouth. "Yours aren't."
"I'll darn well cry if I want to, Griffin. I missed you so much!" Bay leaned up, taking his mouth, tasting him fully, her tongue moving boldly, teasingly against his.
Groaning, Gabe pulled her away, feeling himself going hard. This wasn't the time or place for this kind of obvious affectionate display. Not in the middle of a civilian airport, of all things. "Let's get your duffel bag down at Baggage?" he suggested, helping her pull the ruck off the deck and slinging it over his shoulder. Gabe saw the gleam in her eyes, knowing how happy and relieved Bay was to see him.
"Okay, let's rock it out, Frogman." She flashed him a wickedly playful look, her arm curving around his waist.
He grinned and slid his arm around her shoulders, holding her close, and he teased, "Is that my new pet nickname you've given me?" All SEALs were frogmen. Gabe loved it when she was playful. He didn't see that side of Bay very often because of the deadly business they were in.
"It is when you've clearly got teenage hormones out of control down below." She gave a significant but quick look down toward his crotch. Luckily, cammies were bulky and hid everything about a person's body. No one could actually see he had an erection. But she knew his body intimately. No doubt, she could feel it when he'd kissed her earlier.
Her smile widened as she saw his cheeks grow a dusky red. "Why, you're blushing, Gabe. First time I've ever seen you do that. What a bad boy you are. Good thing your team isn't here. They'd railroad you into the ground on this one." She laughed heartily. SEALs took no prisoners when they teased one another. It was a merciless blood sport.
"Woman, you need to be tamed down a little," he growled, taking the escalator with her at his side.
"Mmm, I'm more than ready, Frogman. I like swimming with the sharks."
She was testy, flippant and God he loved her. Those lips of hers could crack rocks open, they were so lush and hot. They sure as hell cracked him wide open down to his soul in the best of ways. "Well, we'll do a little swimming all right," he challenged her, a warning glint in his eyes. "We'll see who comes up for air first." SEALs could easily hold their breath under water for three minutes or longer.
As he tipped her head back, giving her a swift kiss, Bay's husky laughter filled his heart. Still, those purple shadows beneath her eyes bothered him. She had to be exhausted. Tonight, he'd be gentle and tender with her, hugging her, loving her, welcoming her home. And then, he'd hold her in his arms throughout the night. There was nothing better than that in his world.
He became somber as they made their way into the baggage area on the first floor of the airport. "Have you gotten your orders yet?"
"Yes." Bay shrugged and frowned. "I'm being assigned to an Army Special Forces team out of Camp Bravo."
"I tried to change it, Gabe. I even put in a personal call to General Maya Stevenson who runs Operation Shadow Warriors at the Pentagon. I told her I'd really like to continue working with the SEAL team at Bravo." She noticed how his green eyes were filled with worry. For her. His mouth was thinned, telling her he was holding back his emotions. They halted at the carousel, waiting for her duffel bag to be spit out by the system.
"Why couldn't she change them? Is it politics?"
"Not this time around. The SF team just lost their 18 Delta medic. He was badly injured in a firefight outside the village a week ago. You know every SF team needs two medics, and they're down to one. I'll fill in for a while." Bay looked up at him, feeling his powerful sense of protection surrounding her. He was definitely fighting his anger and frustration over her assignment. She lowered her voice, and it was filled with regret. "I'm sorry, Gabe. I really am. I tried
He leaned down and pressed a kiss to her temple. "It's all right. You'll be okay with them." He didn't believe it himself, but he wasn't going to make her worry over something she couldn't control. SF was black ops, but not on the same level as SEALs. Their priorities and objectives were very different.
Bay could tell Gabe was lying through his teeth to her, saw it in his eyes. No SEAL in his right mind would ever think someone was okay in any other black ops team except theirs. Even though Gabe was a SEAL and they were experts at hiding how they felt, he couldn't hide his emotional reactions from her. Maybe their love opened doors between them that gave them deep, private access to one another. Bay was intuitive enough to feel his controlled anger and worry.
But Gabe wasn't angry at her. He was angry at the system. In his eyes, no one was better than Navy SEALs when it came to a gunfight. They always took the fight to the enemy, no holds barred.
"Well," he growled, "I'll contact the chief who's with that SEAL team at Bravo, then. I'll make sure they know you're my fiancée, and they will have your back." He looked down at her, his eyes hard. "They will help you, Bay. If you need anything, I want you to go to that chief of the SEAL platoon. I'll find out his name and call him myself. We won't leave you hanging out to dry if it comes down to a gunfight."