Book 3 of West Coast Navy SEALs
From beloved romance author Anne Elizabeth comes a hot contemporary romance trilogy featuring hunky Navy SEALs and the strong-minded, sexy women who capture their hearts.
Even a hero needs someone to believe in him...
Parkour instructor Maura Maxwell has always denied her attraction for her bachelor neighbor because she's seen his revolving door of women and doesn't want to become another notch on his belt. But the man who rescues her from a sudden storm isn't the one she thinks she knows-he's Master Chief Declan Swifton of SEAL Team Five, and he literally sweeps Maura off her feet.
Just as his teasing and tenderness start to work their way into Maura's heart, Declan and his team are called in for a dangerous op in the Middle East. The man who returns is facing the toughest fight of his life, and he needs Maura by his side more than ever...
West Coast Navy SEALs Series:
A SEAL at Heart (Book 1)
Once a SEAL (Book 2)
A SEAL Forever (Book 3)
Praise for Once a SEAL:
"Anne Elizabeth writes Navy SEALs from the heart, action-packed, intense and sexy." -New York Times bestselling author Christine Feehan
"If hunky and sweet military men make you swoon this is the book for you!" -RT Book Reviews
About the Author
New York Times bestselling author Anne Elizabeth is a romance author, comic creator, and a monthly columnist for RT Book Reviews magazine. With a BS in business and MS in communications from Boston University, she is a regular presenter at conventions as well as a member of The Author's Guild and Romance Writers of America. Anne lives with her husband, a retired Navy SEAL, in the mountains above San Diego.
Read an Excerpt
A SEAL Forever
By ANNE ELIZABETH
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Anne Elizabeth
All rights reserved.
Master Chief Declan Swifton of SEAL Team FIVE rolled over the side of the Rigid-hulled Inflatable Boat and slid soundlessly into the Pacific Ocean. The RIB took off without even a comment from the operator, leaving Declan to sink farther into the drink.
The temperature cooled as he swam away from the surface. Fish skirted the edges of his thighs, small shimmers of movement against his skin. He scissor-kicked his way forward. The ocean currents caught him, dragging him in the direction they wanted to go, toward shore. He lay with his arms at his sides, frog-kicking only. Above him, he could see the afternoon sunlight glistening and frothy foam chasing away the glassy surface. Down here, things were different ... calmer. Peaceful, in a way few souls would understand, and yet he knew that even he would have to surface soon.
His lungs would start to ache and burn, his gut would begin to feel as if it would cave in, and that would force him to either head topside or drink in the salt water. But there was still time. This was the water in front of Imperial Beach and the apartment he lived in. He knew it very well.
Scanning the ocean floor, he gauged it would be about thirty seconds until he reached one of the many rocky breakers out here. He'd have to pull up before then, or the force of the current would smack him against the side of it.
As his body began to complain, he used both arms and legs to draw himself upward. Breaking the surface, he opened his mouth and drew in air like a thirsty man would gulp water.
The waves bounced him like a buoy. The tide was coming in and the wind was picking up momentum. Looking at the sky, he could see that there would most likely be a storm today. Over his shoulder, he spied a wave coming his way large enough to take him to shore. It would reach him in about thirty seconds.
Dec took a long, slow breath and appreciated the sun dropping into the horizon. The colors were extraordinary; orange and gold dappled the horizon as the blazing ball of light attempted to sink before the moon lifted higher in the sky.
His hands flexed, cupping the water. It had been a hot day, and the sun's rays had heated the top of the ocean, making the surface feel like a warm bath, loosening his muscles. Three months ago, he'd been in waters so frigid, with actual ice caps — the memory still made him cold. But here, the Pacific Ocean off California's Imperial Beach, was a slice of heaven.
Some nasty-looking cumulonimbus clouds were coming in. Seeing the lightning arc way off toward the distant desert, he decided it was time to go in, and right on cue, here came a perfect wave.
Swimming at top speed, Declan pushed his way through another changing current, one that sought to drag him into faster-moving waters. He went over a higher sandbar, having no intention of going to Mexico today, and increased the reach of his stroke. With single-mindedness he worked his way into the more placid surf as he homed in on a large stretch of beach.
The SEAL felt a few sea lions swimming around him, and one nosed him in the gut and another in his back a few times, assessing whether or not he'd play. Not this time, my friends. He continued swimming without engaging. If he stopped to play, he'd be out there for hours.
Switching to the breaststroke, his arms protested. His platoon had switched their training this month to desert-warfare techniques, and he'd been sweating his balls off in the heat. He managed to learn a thing or two, even now, after all of his years in the Teams. But it felt good to be back in the ocean, his element. He'd live in the deep blue like a Jules Verne character if he could.
Taking in a mouthful of water, he swished it around and spat it out. Salt water, nature's peroxide.
Pausing to focus in on the beach for a second, he saw two sunbathers to the left, occupied in a rather heavy-looking discussion, and a handful of children all the way at the end of the sand section, packing up their sand castle gear. The area abutted some rough terrain that even the tweakers and druggies didn't venture onto.
Dec bodysurfed the rest of the way into shore. With the cool sandy bottom beneath his feet, he walked up onto the beach, leaving behind the water's warmth. The wind ruffled the tops of the waves, blowing even harder from east to west.
He exited the ocean north of the arguing couple. Jogging down the beach behind them, he headed for the last building on the wide stretch of beach. It was a rather outdated seventies-style apartment complex with balconies on the top floor and a rock wall circling the entire structure. This was a fast climb topside.
His skin prickled with gooseflesh; a breeze was kicking up, typical for February. It didn't really faze him, it was just interesting to note how fast things change. That storm should be over the apartment complex in less than ten minutes. Who knew whether or not it would stick or be blown out to sea; but this area was in for a good drenching.
Taking one more glance at the sunset, he noted the time. He needed to keep moving to stay on schedule for tonight. A certain lovely lady would be having his undivided attention later this evening.
Dec found the proximity to base was workable. He could run or bike down the Strand to work, take a swift motorcycle ride, or like today, get a lift from one of the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (otherwise known as BUD/S) instructors as they were going out to torture the tadpoles, or rather, teach a class.
Closing in on his apartment, he lengthened his stride. Two apartments sharing a common balcony did not make for an ideal situation, but he liked his place and the building overall. Being able to slip into his apartment via his own glass door was a serious advantage too; it helped him avoid keys jingling in his shorts or stashing a key somewhere.
Right now, between him and the one place he needed to access was a single, solitary person: his hermit of a neighbor, Maura Maxwell. The softly pretty but buttoned-up lady had moved in and barely said a single word to him, and right now she was sitting on the far end of their shared balcony with her eyes glued to him.
* * *
Maura watched her neighbor climb the rock wall. She slipped back into her apartment before he could engage her in conversation.
Closing the glass door behind her, she slid the lock into place. It wasn't that she was antisocial; no, that wasn't it. She was just shy. At least, that's what she told herself when it came to her neighbor. She rubbed the scars on her arm; they tended to ache when she was nervous. She wished she could reach the ones on her back and rub those too.
Her neighbor stretched and his ab muscles moved. Such a perfect six-pack! He was an Adonis.
Besides, what would she have to say to a Navy SEAL? Especially a giant man as tall as Hercules, with the shoulders of an Olympian and abs and buns that you could bounce quarters off of. That wasn't intimidating at all.
Hugging her highly prized work journal to her chest, she pulled the vertical blinds almost closed and then took a position at the very far corner so she could watch him covertly. That was a not-so-subtle hint to herself that as much as she wanted to ignore him, he captured her attention as no other man ever had. Declan Swifton made her feel like a gawky teenager.
She sighed. Since she had moved in here six weeks ago, she had managed to barely speak with him. A grunt on the landing as a greeting didn't count. His constant parade of gorgeous, bikini-clad female companions had put her off of ever wanting to "chat," and yet, at night before she fell asleep, she fantasized about what she would say to him if he were in her bed and how his body would feel against hers.
She'd probably end up babbling mathematical nonsense at him until he rolled his eyes in boredom. No one thought equations were sexy. She didn't need two undergraduate degrees to tell her that. But the math was for new parkour techniques, and he seemed like the type to appreciate, um, physical activities.
Speaking of which, she needed to get moving before all the daylight was gone. Placing one of her many journals on the coffee table, she marched herself to the side closet near her bathroom and pulled out her wet suit. Stripping off her clothes and folding them carefully onto a chair, she then wiggled into the black neoprene. She tried not to imagine herself being squished into a sausage casing, because that rarely made a woman feel stellar about herself. She was a gymnastics and parkour instructor, but even so, the wet suit was just about the most unflattering garment ever made.
Reaching around back, she located the zipper, pulled it upward, and then secured her hair into a ponytail before stopping at the mirror. She assessed herself, deciding she looked ... good enough. Not perfect, but she wasn't giving up chocolate or lattes anytime soon. A girl needed her vices.
She was eager to have a calm evening paddle beneath the stars. Four nights ago, she'd stood on the board and enjoyed an hour of blissful relaxation. Even if it was a serious exercise and core workout, there was nothing like it in the world.
Practically running back into the living room, she grabbed her newish paddleboard and paddle — she'd bought them off Craigslist two weeks ago — and headed outside. It had only taken her a day on the glassy ocean to master the trick of centering her weight and using her muscles to help balance her. It had been the most enjoyment she'd known for a long time.
Peeking her head out of the door, she let go of the breath she hadn't realized she was holding. Luckily her neighbor wasn't outside on his half of the balcony. She could make her escape without confrontation.
She hurriedly lowered both items over the railing and climbed down after them. It was awkward, and she had to be careful not to cut her feet or rip her wet suit on the rocks.
Once she was on the ground, the sand was loose under her feet. She was grateful for her gymnastics and parkour training, because every step made her feet sink. Without her balance and ability to move with the flow, she'd be sprawled on the beach.
As she finally reached the water's edge and was on firmer ground, she didn't even pause, just barreled into the frothy surf without hesitation, laid her board on top of the water, wedged her paddle against her body, and pushed off.
Climbing onto her board, she settled onto her knees and paddled out to a hopefully more manageable part of the ocean. Fighting the current was tough going as she kept rolling off the board and having to right herself again. At this rate, there was no way she was going to be able to stand and have that calm, star-filled moment.
Taking a chance, she pushed her way onto her feet and stood amid the churning waves for a few blissful moments until she lost her balance again.
By the time she realized that she was in a tricky part of the water where the currents changed quickly, lightning cracked above and the sky opened up, releasing a deluge.
Holding on to her board for dear life, Maura chastised herself. "If you hadn't been so bullheaded, none of this would have happened. All you had to do was talk to the man, and then you wouldn't be so mad at yourself."
Water splashed into her mouth and down her throat. She choked and sputtered.
Trying to get back onto her knees, she attempted to turn toward shore, but a wave bowled her over and she lost her grasp. The paddle was spirited away by the water, but she could see her board.
Swimming for it, she reached the side and pulled herself back onto it. Panic surged through her as she searched for the shore.
With the rain and the increasing height of the waves, it was impossible to get her bearings, and she could feel hot tears streaming down her face. Laying her head on the board, she didn't know what to do, other than hold on.
If only I had looked at the sky before I started ... The chastisement only made her feel worse.
As the rain pounded her skin, she promised herself, "If I survive this, from here on out, I will be bolder and smarter."
Maura and her board smashed into a buoy anchored two miles out, off of Imperial Beach. Her hands grabbed onto the edges as she tried with all her might to pull herself up and anchor herself to the bouncy yet somewhat stable marker. The good news was that she attained a foothold on the larger structure; the bad news, that her board slipped out of her grasp and bounced out of her reach, leaving her with no escape other than to swim back through the choppy and turbulent waves.CHAPTER 2
Wrapping a towel around his waist to cover his nakedness before he stepped outside — heaven forbid he shock his neighbor — Declan walked out onto the balcony to bring in his beer cooler before it filled with water from the incoming storm.
He'd long since lost the top and he didn't want it to overflow and flood the balcony. If his neighbor's apartment got even a drop of water from something he did, she might be the type to complain. The woman was an enigma to him. He'd been as friendly as he knew how, and still she had barely said a word to him.
As he picked up the battered cooler, something on the horizon caught his attention. He put the plastic down and walked to the railing. Was that some fool out on the water? Did that person know what he or she was in for?
He went back inside, located his binoculars, and hurried back to the railing. Zeroing in on the form, he could barely believe his eyes. It was his neighbor. Maura Maxwell. Her paddle was heading for Mexico, her board was on its way to Japan with a possible stop-off in Hawaii, and she was holding on to a buoy that wasn't meant as a flotation device.
Pulling off his towel, he grabbed a pair of swim trunks from the drying line by his balcony door and slid into them in record speed. He hopped the railing, landing with a roll on the sand, and ran at top speed toward the ocean.
His feet splashed into the foamy surf as he ran. Diving into the first high wave, he headed for the buoy. Adrenaline surged through his body, drowning out the grousing of his aching limbs. His arms dug into the water as he dove under a high, white-peaked wave and avoided the trap of the rolling undertow. Surfacing, he continued his quest, skirting the sand dune and finally reaching his quarry: a very waterlogged and frightened Maura Maxwell.
The big question was, would she follow his instructions or did he have to knock her out? Lightning crashed above as the storm kicked it up a notch.
Well, she'd better listen, or he wasn't going to be responsible for giving her an aching jaw.
He swam closer to her. "Maura?"
She peered at him warily. "D-D-Declan?"
She looked like a cold, wet cat, and he hoped she didn't scratch. "I'm going to reach for you. When I do, you need to let go and not fight me. Do you understand?"
She nodded her head.
He put out his arm. The woman grabbed it and pulled herself to him, wrapping her arms around his neck tightly, choking him. At this rate, she was so panicked, she was going to sink them both if she didn't listen.
Pushing her away from him, he held her at arm's length. "Don't grab me. Let me hold you. If you need to, wrap yourself around one arm, and nothing else. Got it?"
His message appeared to penetrate her brain, because she let him maneuver her into position: belly up, her back to him.
As he secured her against him, he kicked out with a sidestroke — best way to bring her in, given the circumstances. Quite frankly, though, he knew he was probably going to regret not knocking her out. The ride to shore had the potential to be rocky.
As waves pummeled them, he could feel her claws sinking into his skin. He didn't change his hold or his pace. It was slow going, but it would be successful. He'd done this particular drill at least a hundred times before.
Ouch! Did she just bite his arm? Her movements were growing frantic.
He paused, treading water. "Calm down," he ordered.
She stilled against him.
With his lips next to her ear, he said, "We're almost at the sandbar. You need to relax."
He felt her nod. That was his cue to keep moving. Slow and steady, he pulled her through the strong currents and toward the shore.
As his feet slid over the sandbar, a wave lifted them high enough that he could see the beach clearly. The tide was coming in quickly.
Rain continued to fall and its steady rhythm helped wash the sea salt from his eyes. Catching sight of another large wave, one that would be big enough to bodysurf to shore, he pulled her onto his body and spun them around.
Excerpted from A SEAL Forever by ANNE ELIZABETH. Copyright © 2015 Anne Elizabeth. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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