Nov 9 2012 2:30pm
Being a SEAL means everything to Petty Officer First Class John Roaker. So when a head injury coupled with a bout of amnesia takes him out of the action, he has to find a way to heal his wounds and recover his lost memories. Enlisting the help of beautiful physical therapist Laurie Smith, he heals his body and discovers that his unlocked memories hold a dangerous secret about his last mission that threatens his life, his country, and the woman he's starting to fall in love with.
Get a sneak peek at Anne Elizabeth’s A SEAL at Heart (available December 4, 2012), with an exclusive excerpt.
A dozen peach-colored roses wrapped in white paper were sitting on the table. Their reflection in the antique glass made them look like part of the Coronado Boathouse’s design.
He checked his watch for the tenth time. She was late. Point Loma to Coronado was not very far, though the I-5 freeway and bridge traffic could be terrible if the Naval Air Station North Island base was changing shifts. A ten-minute drive could turn into an hour in a blink of the eye. She’s a local. She would have compensated for that.
A 1967 Mustang pulled into the parking lot with a screech, and Laurie waved at him from behind the wheel. She was wearing a skin-tight red dress, he noticed right away.
God, she’s gorgeous. He had an urge to kiss her immediately.
Laurie moved toward him, all sensual movements and curves. The spiked heels made her legs look even longer and that hearty appetite he had for steak began to morph into another kind of primal hunger.
She obviously knew the layout, because she took the side path that brought her directly to his table on the outside deck.
“You look amazing. I’d stand, but, uh, it might embarrass us both,” he said with a hint of discomfort in his voice. “Crap! I feel like a schoolkid who’s just gotten his first boner.”
Laurie laughed and seated herself across from him. “Do we play spin the bottle first or go hide in your parents’ game room and neck?”
“I’ll vote for the necking, but after we eat. I need refueling.” He took a sip of water. “After dinner, I’d like to stop by my place, before we go to yours.”
“What’s wrong with staying at yours? Is there a live-in girlfriend you don’t want me to meet?” She poked at him and her expression said she enjoyed the banter. “Of course, if there’s a wife, then I completely understand. There isn’t, is there?” Worry crossed her eyes. “You’re not that type are you?”
“What type?” he inquired angelically.
“All cock and no depth,” she mouthed in a whisper so the neighboring tables wouldn’t hear.
He smiled at her. “I’m not married. When I give my word in terms of loyalty and fidelity, I keep it.”
“Yes, I believe you would. I’ve been the recipient of your undivided attention, and I can happily say I like it.” She took a sip of water.
“Damn, you only like it! I need to do better.” Leaning over the table, he whispered back, “I’ll make it my mission to knock your panties off.”
“I’m not wearing any,” she confessed, with a blush rising up her neck to cover her cheeks.
“I need some ice water.” Jack gestured for the waiter.
They both ordered steak, potatoes, and broccoli. Foregoing dessert, they lingered over coffee and threw chunks of bread to the ducks and birds hanging out on the railing and in the water just a few feet from the boathouse.
Laurie had been quiet during dinner, listening to him. She seemed preoccupied by something.
“Is there something bothering you?” he asked.
She nodded. Putting her hands on the table, palm up, she said, “I owe you an apology. When you woke up and were standing at the door, I realized how little I am equipped to deal with your PTSD. I think you should talk to the specialists about it.” The tension drained from her face as she spoke. “I hope you can forgive me for saying this. I just, uh, don’t want to be the person who misses an important sign or lets you down.”
“Laurie, you’re better than you give yourself credit for. Now, if you’re ditching me, I won’t forgive you.”
He leaned forward. “But if you really feel you’re in over your head, I honor the courage it took to speak up. Just know, Laurie, I have retained everything we talked about, and more details have fallen into place. What we’re doing is working. Please. I need you to keep helping me. Be with me.”
“It’s working because you’re relaxed, Jack. Getting laid and doing extra nice things for your mind and body opened those floodgates. I didn’t do anything special.” She toyed with her napkin.
“Look at me.” Their eyes locked together. “You’re important, Laurie. I couldn’t have done this without you. Sex with just anyone wouldn’t have brought me happiness or given me my memories back. It’s you, Laurie. You’re walking next to me, taking this journey alongside me, and you and your dedication are making all the difference.
“You’ve been around the Teams long enough to know each member is only as strong as their Teammate.” He took a long drink of water, leaving fingerprints in the condensation to decorate the glass. “If there had been problems, I would have let you know immediately. With you, I don’t hold stuff in. I say it exactly as I see it. Might not be a popular way to handle life, but I like honesty and a challenge.”
“Me, too,” she replied, heat flushing her face. Pleasure lingered in her eyes. “And I want to get to know you better. Can we talk like two people on a regular date?”
Jack nodded. “I’d like that. Let’s forget about missions and memory loss for a night.”
“You really like the movie Evolution? Me, too!” They both laughed. Jack liked learning that they had more in common, and it felt good spending time together.
He wiped his mouth with his napkin. The dinner had been outstanding. The food melted in his mouth and the company was great. Later on, this luscious lady was going to be his dessert.
“Are you ready to leave?” he asked.
She smiled. “Yes…well, no. One more question. The minute I saw you I was drawn to you.” Laurie laughed. She lowered her gaze to the table where she fiddled with a fork, then finally placed it aside. She raised her head, locked her wandering fingers in her lap, and looked him in the eye. “What changed for you? What made you take that leap to get know me better?”
Her vulnerability was clear in her gaze.
Oh, crap! That was something he definitely did not have an easy answer for. He sighed. “I felt you could help me, and my instincts told me that you were special, besides being killer in the sack.”
The horror on her face was instantaneous and intense. God, he was terrible at fancy talk! His lady had gone from charming and happy to downright furious in the space of a heartbeat. He guessed most women had that button somewhere in them. This was one of the reasons he didn’t date and relationships didn’t last for him. He sucked at the male/female social etiquette interaction.
Laurie’s tone was frosty. “Gee, should I thank you for calling me the ‘Fuck of the Day’ or be excited that you want to ‘use’ me to get better?”
Help! Why can’t women come with instructions? Why isn’t there a speed-dial service for this eventuality? He sighed; he really did not want to screw this up! “I really like you, Laurie. In every way…” Shit! “I don’t know how to say the right words to fix this.”
“I didn’t know it was that hard to be with me. That you had to find the ‘right’ phrase to get me back into your bed and fixing your shit.” She pushed away from the table and stood. “Thank you for dinner, though I guess that’s my pay for all the good work I’ve done.” Shaking her head at him, she looked so disillusioned.
“Laurie.” He couldn’t let her leave this way. Grabbing her wrist as she passed, he tugged her to a halt. “C’mon. Give me a chance. Don’t fly off the handle because I’m not a sweet-talker. Wouldn’t you rather have a man who’s honest, even if he isn’t smooth and full of it?”
“Yes,” she said softly. “I know the difference between those two types. I’m listening.”
“I’m an idiot, miserable at explaining myself. I want to be completely honest with you. I’ve never… You make me feel like no one else has. I have strong feelings for you. Emotions I’ve never had with anyone else. Shit! I don’t play games—just give me a break here.” He mustered his best sense of apology.
She didn’t break his hold and run away. Of course, she didn’t sit either. The fact she was still standing there was a good sign. Her voice sounded more neutral. “Go on.”
He took a deep breath and gave it his best shot. “My relationships have always been miserable from the second date on, so I don’t have them. The night I saw you, that first moment, something about you… your energy drew me to you. The chemistry was electric. Again, no female has ever captivated me like that. Then when I went to you for help, you listened to me—gave my apology a fair hearing—and did it with kindness and generosity. You’re special, Laurie. There is a readiness and easiness about you. I mean, there is something amazing about being with you… that I respect and enjoy. Shit! Why isn’t this talking stuff hard for you, too?”
Her lips turned up gently at the corners. “It is. I get it.” Her hand touched his cheek. “Thank you.”
She sat back down at the table. She still clutched her purse tightly as if she was ready to escape at a second’s notice if need be, though her features had softened. He supposed the male equivalent was a guy holding his car keys. If he’s flicking them or jingling them, get out of his way. If he’s grasping them loosely, it means the chances of his staying are sixty-forty.
“Yes, it’s hard for me, too. I’m glad you bought me peach roses instead of the don’t-divorce-me special. Though, it is a pretty bouquet.” Laurie laughed. He couldn’t believe the woman had the audacity to speak those words and chuckle. Where the hell were his keys?
“Remind me never to date a military brat again. I won’t be able to slip anything past you, will I?” He drank more of his water. “Come on, share your experience.”
Sighing, she said, “Yep, I’m aware. My dad used the flower trick on many live-in type girlfriends. Also, it’s hard being the person waiting for a military family member to come home. Add in the fact my former boyfriends have not treated me well and the cards are greatly stacked against the next man I choose. Sorry to admit it, but it’s the truth.” Her eyes held his in a steady gaze.
“I’m not one of those idiots.” He rushed to say the words he knew she needed to hear. The good part was, it was the truth. “I respect you, Laurie, and I like you… a lot.”
“Thanks.” She fingered the stem of her wineglass. “I like you, too.” She couldn’t seem to get the words out and then finally they fell off her tongue. “The problem is, I should treat you and not have sex with you.”
“The fact you can’t keep your hands off me, and vice versa, sounds like a hard problem.” He winked at her and then finished with a grin of pure male satisfaction.
“Yeah, yeah, thanks for teasing me on such a sensitive topic.” She grinned back at him and placed her purse on the table next to her empty dinner plate. Her shoulders relaxed as she sat back in the chair. Was it greedy of him to want both her body and her mind? Those were two of the assets that made the duet of a perfect woman.
“Okay, you’re fired! Now, would you like to order some dessert?” he asked.
She laughed. “Gee, thanks, that helps a lot. No on dessert; I’d rather enjoy a walk.” He took her hand and held it, his fingers toying with her fingers. Her smooth hand laced into his. Both of them squeezed tight. God, he had to have her.
“Do you think I’d let you go that easily?”
“Unlikely. But I’m not forgiving you that quickly, either. At the bar you jumped to conclusions, and just now, too, with this whole ‘lack of communication’ business. You have to speak to me, make everything crystal clear and clean. Got it?” Her tone brooked no argument. Either he agreed or they parted ways. “I won’t sit here and keep track of fuckups, because I don’t believe in that, but I will call you on your crap.”
He laughed as she gave him a glare. “I’m not laughing at you. I’m chuckling over something my swim buddy said about women—the right one will have you toeing the line so tight it feels good, and the experience will be mutual.” He knew there was fire dancing in his eyes. He’d put all of his emotion and desire into that one look. For better or worse, this was who he was—a passionate guy with a dedication to duty.
She bit her lip for a few seconds and then finally admitted, “Unfortunately, it is. You’ve been yanking my strings as much as I yank yours. I guess we’re evenly matched. But what are we supposed to do about the double-edged sword—your quest for answers and my need to rip your clothes off?”
“Ms. Smith, let’s go tour my apartment. I’ll show you my stellar dedication to making sure that no pleasure goes unexplored.” He smiled, allowing the wickedness of the promise to tease her. “What’s your answer for Red Jack?”
“Why, Petty Officer First Class Roaker, I do believe I’m owed some pay. Maybe I’ll allow you to, uh, take it out in trade.” She winked at him.
“What I’d like to know is—”
A bellow shattered their calm. “What the hell is going on here?”
“Gich!” Laurie squeaked. Gich towered over both of them, blocking the light. His shadow threw jagged lines on the table, and he was definitely angry.
For the first time in her life, Laurie felt like she’d gotten caught doing something naughty in front of Daddy. But he wasn’t really her biological father. He was better—they had adopted each other.
Of course, his being a SEAL made it tough to get away with things, and she had been known to keep a secret or two. In many ways, though, this meant he was even more protective of her. “I, uh… This is Jack.”
“I know who the hell he is! What I want to know is what you are doing together?” Gich bit out the final word so loudly that several waiters and the hostess came over to the table.
“Commander, if you’ll let me explain…” Jack began. Laurie nearly smiled at Jack’s expression.
“You shut up!” Gich pointed his finger at Jack. He paused and then looked at Laurie. “You speak. Now.”
Jack was digging bills out of his pocket and placing them on the table on top of the check. Then he was standing and facing Gich. “If there is a problem, talk to me, Gich. I was the one who seduced her.”
Laurie watched Gich’s temper ratchet up from a six to a ten-plus. She had to head this off. Jack was trying, but he had definitely said the wrong thing to her adoptive daddy. “Uh, Jack, why don’t you wait in the parking lot. I’ll be there in just a few minutes.” Heaven bless the man, he hesitated. “Please, Jack. Go.” He looked even more reluctant now. She knew she was right to take some of the wind out of Gich’s sails before they faced off.
“I will be within eyesight,” he said as he slowly walked away. It was obvious that he was not happy about leaving.
Laurie and Gich watched Jack depart. He didn’t go far, though, standing about fifty feet away with his arms crossed over his chest and staring at them from the parking lot.
Gich turned his back to the man as he took Jack’s seat. She knew his habits and watched Gich deliberately pluck the unlit, well-chewed cigar stump from his mouth and stare at it. Damn, that was one helluva pacifier Gich had, and it wasn’t working either. Finally, he pulled out his lighter and held a flame under it until the top glowed. Only at the Boathouse could he get away with it, because familiarity breeds favoritism and the original owners had been SEALs.
Blowing out a smoke ring, Gich finally spoke in a steady voice. “Laurie, what did I say about getting involved with a SEAL? Haven’t you listened to enough of our stories, your dad’s and mine? What the hell are you thinking?”
Ah, crap, maybe that I needed to learn my own life lessons. She pursed her lips, thinking about how to begin. In truth, it was terribly sweet that he watched out for her. Honestly, she liked it, for the most part, but she also wanted to make it clear that she was an adult and the person who made choices in her world, especially with relationships.
“Bastard! If he dishonored you, I’ll…” Gich was winding up for a helluva lecture. Laurie had to cut him off at the pass. If she didn’t, he’d be railroading her into what he wanted.
“This isn’t second grade and me wanting to wear a bikini to school. I’m a grown woman.” Placing her hand on his, she said firmly and gently, “Gich, it means a lot having you in my life as a dad and a friend, but—”
“I can’t help it, Laurie. I’ve been watching out for you most of your life. When your dad died and I adopted you, I took and still take being your dad seriously. I never married and never will. You’re the only kid I will have, and I won’t fuck this up.”
Her heart melted like butter at those words. He really cared. “I love you, too, Daddy G.” She hadn’t called him that since she was a little girl. “I am old enough to know what I want and need, Papa Gich. Why would it surprise you that I’m with a man like you?”
His eyebrows shot toward his hairline. “Me! Fucking A, you can do better, Laurie!”
She smiled despite his comment. “Gich, you need to let me make my own choices.”
He sighed, then signaled the waiter who was hiding behind the doorway. “Give me a Stella, young man, and put some snap into it.”
Laurie nodded at the waiter, and then she said, “I want you in my life, always. Please get on board with me dating Jack—I really like him.”
“He’s a mess, that’s why you like him,” Gich stated firmly. The beer was placed in front of him and he gulped the entire bottle down in several swallows. When the bottle was empty, he placed it gently on the table and tucked a ten-dollar bill underneath it. “Listen, his life is in flux and I don’t want you to get hurt. SEALs will do whatever is necessary to be operational. I don’t want you to be just the springboard that rockets him back into the world and have you get crushed when it happens.”
“I’ll be fine, Gich. I’m walking into this relationship with my eyes open. I grew up in this stuff. I know the pitfalls. This is the first time I’ve ever fallen for a SEAL, besides you, that is, and I want this experience with Jack regardless of the fact he’s a Team guy.” Saying the words aloud made her realize that she really did want to explore the relationship with Jack further. She still had reservations about the whole thing, but she already had feelings for him.
She scanned the tabletop and then she sought Gich’s eyes. She knew her own mind very well. “Shit! I really want to do this, don’t I?”
“Guess so, Laurie. Be careful. And I’m here if you need me. Okay?” He picked up her hand and laid a loud smacking kiss on the back of it. “I love you! Damn, stubborn kid. I just wish you had adopted at least one of my qualities when you became my daughter, like taste.” His words were gruff.
Laurie stood up, and so did he. They hugged. The bearlike warmth was very comforting and for what seemed like the zillionth time she said, “I love you, too, Daddy G.” And she truly did. “My papa.”
As they pulled back, he gripped her arms. “Promise you won’t keep stuff from me like this again. It’s not good for my heart.”
“You have the heart of a bull. You’re fine! A girl has to have her secrets, Gich.” Laurie was teasing him.
“Love me less, girl. And remember you promised me once that you’d try to let me know about the important decisions. This is a big one, got it?” He pointed a finger at her and she batted it away before she kissed him on the cheek.
“I’m telling you now. Are we square?” she asked, hoping he let her have this one. Over the years, there had been moments she and Gich had gone toe-to-toe. Maybe that was the reason Jack didn’t faze her. She could dish back whatever he gave her, and drawing a firm line was easy to do. Having Gich as a dad had forced Laurie to become her own woman, know her mind. Those were awesome gifts, whether he knew he’d given them or not.
“We’re round, or maybe triangular,” he laughed as he backed away. “Now, give me five minutes with your boyfriend before you come out.” With that, Gich was hauling ass down the narrow passage that took him off the boat and to the parking lot. The boat reverberated with the force of his running.
“Oh, shit!” Laurie, seeing the expressions on the people around her, said, “Sorry. A family tiff.”
An older woman in her eighties said, “Not a problem dear. Most of us in this restaurant are Navy, and we know love when we see it.” She glanced in the direction of the parking lot and her eyes widened. “Heavens, dear! You’d better go save your beau. I think he’s getting beaten to a pulp in the parking lot.”
Sure enough, when Laurie looked up, she could see Gich landing some solid punches in Jack’s gut. “Dammit!” She grabbed her purse off the table.
“Thanks! It was a great meal.” She yelled back to the waiter, or whoever was listening, and then she was running down the passage as best she could in stilettos. It was doubtful they would be welcome at the Coronado Boathouse again.
The sound of traffic grew louder as she neared the fight. A few people honked horns and shouted as they passed by. She prayed no one stopped his or her car to join in. This was a military town and people pulled that stunt here.
“Stop!” she yelled at the two men. She knew that physically getting between them would be a bad idea. Of course, she was going to do it anyway. No part of her could let her papa or the man she cared about get hurt.
Running full force into the fray, she grabbed Gich’s arm and was the recipient of two punches coming together, one from Gich and one from Jack. Only one landed. She wasn’t sure which one, because all she remembered was the pain and the world going black.
Ow! Ow! Ow! Ah, there is nothing more horrific than waking up to the glare of red and blue lights shining in the eyes.
Laurie groaned. What hit me? Ow!
A police officer leaned over her. “Are you all right?”
Her jaw hurt like a ten-ton weight had landed on it. She blinked her eyes quickly, trying to make the haziness go away. The world had fuzzy edges and there were bright lights hurting her eyes, too.
“Shit! Laurie, are you okay?” Jack was yelling at her. She wanted to tell him to take it down a notch but she was scared to move her jaw.
“It’s your fucking fault, Jack,” accused Gich. “Why didn’t you man up and ask me for permission to take her out? That’s what an honorable guy would do.”
The blaring of ambulance sirens drowned them out briefly.
How did I get into this mess?
“Laurie’s her own person, above the age of consent,” shouted Jack. “Besides, I didn’t know she was yours, Commander.”
“For good reason! I don’t want anyone sniffing around her.” Gich said through clenched teeth. The gleam in his eyes had Laurie worried. She had seen that look right before he laid her father out flat after a drinking binge.
“What is she supposed to be, a nun? Laurie doesn’t look like she’s ready to be fitted for a habit.” Jack took an aggressive step toward Gich.
“You’re not under eighteen, ma’am?” asked a police officer with a tag that read Officer J. T. Lightmore.
Slowly, she shook her head in the negative. Ouch! Was her jaw broken? She’d kill both men if she had to get her jaw wired and drink through a straw for months on end. But as her eyes focused, she knew she’d need to put her powers of persuasion into effect because her two favorite guys were in handcuffs, leaned up against a police car, yelling at each other. Posturing was probably the better description, as they pecked at each other like two peacocks.
EMTs started fussing over her, taking her blood pressure and demanding her attention.
Refusing the chem pack for her jaw by force of sheer will, she slowly moved her jaw and found it was still happily hinged together. There was no doubt in her mind that this was going to leave a serious bruise.
Watching them all hover, the need to speak outweighed her pain, but rest assured, the guys would pay for the frustration. She’d make sure of it!
“I’m fine. Give me whatever paperwork I have to sign, and let me go.”
“Are you sure we can’t change your mind?” asked the shorter EMT, who looked slightly annoyed to have already pulled the gear out.
“Yes,” she said in a flat voice.
“Ma’am, is there anything we can do?” The other police officer, Henrix, had hair that was buzzed tight and he had the air of man who had just come out of the Marine Corps. Jarheads and Squids—the terrible slurs the Marines and Navy had for each other—did not get along very well. “Help me to my feet, please.” To her own ears, her words sounded like she had cotton in her mouth. Perfect!
Laurie put her hand out and the officer hauled her to her feet. She staggered for a minute before she steadied herself. “I’m okay, I just got my bell rung. Give me a minute.” She took a few shallow breaths and when she was sure she could handle it, faced the wrath. “Officer, can you please let them go? That’s my adoptive dad and my boyfriend. I will not be pressing charges. Let’s just call this a misunderstanding, if possible. Please.”
“The older guy smells like beer. We could have him booked on a drunk and disorderly. That would hold him overnight and sober him up,” said Officer Henrix.
Gich said, “Young man, I am completely sober.”
“I’m a therapist,” said Laurie. “And the daughter of a SEAL. They are both SEALs, and I can take care of this. I’m sorry you were brought out here. Please, could we wrap this up? I’d like to get some ice on my jaw.”
The police officers studied her carefully. If she had been drunk, they would never have agreed. Something in her demeanor must have given them confidence because they agreed to abide by her wishes.
When the cuffs were off him, Gich put his hands on the ground and did a walking handstand for five minutes.
Everybody watched, while Laurie wondered if she could die of embarrassment. When she was a little girl, that move had delighted her, now it was just pissing her off. Mentally, she was adding to the list of things she needed to talk about with “Papa Gich.”
But Laurie was relieved the cops had let them go. It wouldn’t help Jack’s situation if he were thrown into the slammer on a domestic-disturbance charge. The legal system was tough on military personnel. SEALs were in essence living, breathing, walking, and talking weapons. She’d been through it all before with her dad. No, Jack didn’t need anything bad hanging over his head, and neither did Gich.
“Just take them both home,” the cop said when Gich was done making a fool of himself. “I don’t want to see either of them driving,” he said as he and his partner got back in their car.
“Understood,” she said. “Thank you, Officers.” As she turned to the two men, she rubbed her jaw. Damn, it hurt! Her voice boomed out as she barked out her orders. “You two. Get. In. The. Car. Move!”
Oddly enough, both men trotted obediently to her vehicle and got inside. She smiled to herself. Wow, she didn’t think the order would work, but even if it was temporary compliance, she would take it. “Well, gentlemen. Where do we go from here?”
Both men had crawled into the backseat and it looked like they were going to brawl again. “Don’t even think about it!” she warned. Laurie turned on the ignition and pulled out, then turned onto Orange Avenue and headed into the main part of Coronado.
Stopping at a traffic light, she stared at the two men in her rearview mirror. What was she going to do with them? What should she say?
The cops went the other way, and as their lights revolved, shining blue and red, and their siren sounded for another call, Gich popped out of the vehicle.
“Gich!” Laurie yelled, incredulous. “What the hell are you doing?”
“I know where you live,” Gich said to Jack pointing his index finger. “Be good to her.” That was such a Gich action. To her he said, “Call you later, Laurie girl.” Then he was trotting down the street toward his car. Nobody told Gich how to live. He had his own rule book and every rule related to his protection and pleasure, except perhaps when it came to her.
“Well, that went better than I thought,” said Jack as he hopped into the front passenger seat.
Openmouthed, she stared at him. “Are you kidding me?”
“Nope,” he said with blood running down one side of his mouth and obviously nursing the right side of his ribs. “You better close that mouth, before I take it as an invitation.”
Copyright © 2012 by Anne Elizabeth
To learn more or to purchase a copy of Anne Elizabeth's A SEAL at Heart:
Anne Elizabeth is a published author, comic creator, and the monthly columnist for RT BOOK REVIEWS on the topic of comics, manga, and graphic novels. She has a BS in Business and a MS in Communications from Boston University and is a member of the Author's Guild; Romance Writers of America; and a regular presenter at the RT BOOK LOVERS Convention.