A SEAL's Honor

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By JM Stewart

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Rules are made to be broken . . .

When it comes to dating, ex-Navy SEAL Marcus Denali has a few simple rules. Never date a coworker. Never date a friend’s sister. And never ever date a girl whose brother is a coworker, a friend, and a fellow SEAL. So why would Marcus dance so closely — and flirt so shamelessly — with Mandy Lawson? Simple. It’s a Fourth of July masquerade ball. He doesn’t know she’s his buddy’s little sister. And once the masks come off, the real fireworks begin . . .

Mandy doesn’t care about the rules. She’s been crushing on Marcus for years, and she’s not giving up now that she has proof he wants her too. She has a plan to show this military man some moves he never learned in basic training. And Marcus is going to learn that some rules-the rules of attraction — are just too strong to fight.

Excerpt

Chapter One

Of all the places Marcus Denali expected to find himself on the Fourth of July, a singles masquerade ball at the Four Seasons Hotel wasn’t one of them.

He poked a finger into his tuxedo collar, trying to loosen the noose as he scanned the ballroom. The entire place looked like the Fourth of July section at Walmart had exploded. Red, white, and blue covered every available surface. Streamers were strung from the ceiling. US flags adorned every table. Hell, they’d even scattered balloons on the floor. To top it off, a live band played on a stage on the far-right end, the music just loud enough to scrape his already shaky nerves.

Gabe, his business partner and one of his best friends, was probably laughing his ass off right about now. For the first time in months, Marcus had a date. An actual date, not his usual weekend excursion, and from a matchmaking service no less. Gabe had met his girlfriend, Steph, through Military Match and had recommended the service. Gabe had gotten lucky, though; the son of a bitch had met Steph in the park for their date. Somewhere neutral that didn’t require a damn monkey suit.

Military Match hadn’t been cheap, but the woman he’d spoken with had assured him she had the highest standards for her clients. Which was the reason he’d signed up. He needed a girlfriend. Or at least someone who could play the part. A nice girl he could see for a while who’d pass Gram’s muster. He hated lying to her. It went against everything she’d ever taught him. But he wanted her to relax and stop worrying about when he was going to get married. Her complaints were always the same. He worked too much. Why wasn’t he seeing anybody? When would he finally settle down? The latest argument had started because she’d called him on a Friday night and he was actually home.

Though he had to admit, he’d come tonight because he wanted someone to lose himself in for a while. Something a bit more than a one-night stand, but with someone who wouldn’t want to tie him down.

So here he was, being strangled by a bow tie, waiting for a date he wouldn’t know if she knocked him over. He’d been instructed to meet her at the entrance, but how the hell would he know her? Every woman in the room wore a mask. Was hers dark blue like his? Were the masks identical? Hell. He should’ve asked, but he hadn’t been on an actual date in…years.

He straightened off the wall, resisting the urge to undo his tie and the top few buttons of his blasted shirt, and scanned in another direction. Five more minutes. If his date didn’t show by then, he was getting the hell out of here.

A small brunette breezed through the doorway, coming to a stop beside him. “Kind of pretentious, huh?”

He ought to turn and greet her. Smile. Introduce himself. Be friendly. He couldn’t muster the energy. The whole night set out before him exhausted him. The thought of the fireworks display later set his nerves on edge. Since he’d retired from the SEALs two years ago, he’d always stayed home on the Fourth. Tonight’s masquerade was barely a mile from where they’d set the damn things off. He’d definitely need his veterans support group after this. Hell, half the damn room would likely need some sort of therapy after tonight.

He shrugged, aiming for friendly but aloof. “This isn’t normally my kind of scene.”

“I can tell. You’ve tugged on your collar four times in the last minute alone.”

Marcus finally forced himself to glance at his companion. Her mask caught his attention. Cobalt blue, matching her eyes, with silver lace trim that ran down the right half of her face. Something about those eyes and the dark curls bouncing around her chin nagged at him as being familiar, but with the lights turned low, he couldn’t see her well enough to figure out why. Was she the date he’d been waiting for?

She was gorgeous, whoever she was. The heart-shaped neckline of her black dress showed off enough cleavage to tease, filling his head with the luscious fantasy of getting to peel it off her. The sheer, wispy fabric of the skirt floated around shapely thighs he could easily envision wrapped around his hips. Someone like her was exactly what he needed. Cute but wholesome.

He straightened off the wall, tossing her a playful smile as he narrowed his gaze on her. “You’ve been watching me.”

Amusement glinted in her eyes as she tipped her head back to look up at him. “Guilty as charged. I was told to meet my date in this spot, and I wondered if you might be him.” She turned back to the room at large, scanning the crowd. “So, what exactly is your scene?”

Okay. He’d play her game. For now. He copied her stance and turned to the watch the dancers in front of the stage.

“Somewhere quiet. To be honest, there are too many people in here for my comfort.” He jabbed a finger at the flashing ball of death in the ceiling. “And that damn disco ball is giving me a migraine. The funny part is, I used to be the party guy.”

At least, he had been before his sister, Ava, died. And before his time in Afghanistan. Things like binge drinking gained a whole other appeal when you’d watched good men get ripped apart by an IED. When you had to watch friends die. He couldn’t forget, either, sitting in that damn hospital, staring at Ava’s lifeless body, praying somehow she’d wake up.

His date stood quiet a moment. “When’d you get out?”

The soft tone of her voice told him she understood, and he breathed a sigh of relief. This was the main reason he’d opted to go with Military Match. So he wouldn’t have to explain to yet another woman why a small dive bar was ten times more comfortable than a crowded nightclub. Or why loud music was akin to sandpaper to his nerves.

“Retired two years ago.” He darted a sidelong glance at her. “Why Military Match? Did you serve?”

As she looked over at him, her chin lifted and pride filled her eyes. “No. My father and my brother did. Navy.”

“Hooyah.” He straightened off the wall and turned fully to face her. “Inquiring minds want to know. Who were you told to meet?”

“Tall, dark, and handsome and…” A slow, cheeky grin spread across her face as she tugged on the corner of his bow tie. “Wearing a blue tie.”

“In that case, looks like I’m your man.” He gave her a two-fingered salute, then stuck out his hand. “I’m—”

She pressed a finger to his lips, halting the word before he could tell her his name, and shook her head.

“No names yet. Part of the fun of this ball is the anonymity the masks give us, right? I could be anybody. So, pretend I’m your dream girl and dance with me.” She didn’t give him time to approve or deny the request, but grabbed his hand, tugging him behind her. At the edge of the crowd in front of the stage, she turned to him. “This is a salsa. Do you know how?”

His grandmother had spent hours teaching him and Ava to dance. He knew the salsa…along with the mambo, the waltz, and the foxtrot. Not something he’d normally brag about, but the knowledge came in handy every once in a while. Like now.

He listened for a moment, then stepped into the beat, added a few flourishes, including a turn, then winked and held out his hand. “The question is, do you?”

“Impressive.” Her grin widening, she took his hand, stepping into the dance with him.

The quick tempo meant he had to concentrate on his steps, on her movements, so that the crowd around him, the music, ceased to exist. There were only those flirty blue eyes and the sway of her hips. He had to hand it to her. She wasn’t a beginner by any stretch of the imagination. Her movements weren’t stiff, like she followed some remembered set of steps, but fluid, her hips swaying to the natural rhythm of the music like she’d done it her whole life.

The sway of those hips filled his head with more fantasies. What expression would cross those features when her orgasm took hold of her? He had the sudden, overwhelming desire to watch the heat flare in her eyes as her body rose to his…

The song ended far too soon, the tempo slowing to the steady pulse of a heartbeat. The couples around them all shifted, tugging each other closer. Marcus and his mysterious companion stopped moving. She stared up at him, eyes soft, chest heaving with her breathlessness. The need to feel her body against his hit him hard. It had been too damn long since he’d last indulged in the pleasures of the flesh, in the feminine form.

Unable to resist, he lifted a brow. When in Rome… “Shall we?”

When she smiled and nodded, he tugged her close, settling one hand against her lower back. They swayed to the soft strains of the music in silence, movements stiff and awkward, but those blue eyes never left his. Despite the crowd and the overwhelming buzz in his head, the knot that had formed in his gut when he arrived finally loosened.

He released her hand, wrapped both arms around her instead, and pulled her closer. Her small, curvy body swayed against him, her soft belly brushing his with every subtle movement. So close he could feel the hammering of her heart against his chest.

He ducked down, leaning his cheek against the top of her head so she’d hear him over the music. “If you won’t tell me your name, at least give me something. What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”

She leaned back enough to peer at him. “I wanted a nice guy. This place has an excellent reputation for the kind of people they accept.”

Also why he’d used the service. Not that he’d tell her that. No, he wanted to hear that addicting laugh again. So he tossed her a smile. “How do you know I’m one of the nice guys?”

“Because you served. I’ve found enough playboys to be able to recognize the good guys when I see them. And most guys who served are the good ones.” She averted her gaze to the right. “Just do me a favor, huh? Don’t tell me I remind you of your sister. At least not yet. Give me a running start first.”

Despite the voice in his head telling him not to say the words, he couldn’t resist leaning his mouth beside her ear. “Trust me, angel. What I’m thinking right now has very little to do with my sister.”

The tremor that moved through her set his libido thrumming. Marcus stifled a groan. Five minutes with her and already she had his cock swelling against his fly.

It didn’t help that when she met his gaze again, those blue eyes filled with an intoxicating combination of heat and challenge. “What are you thinking?”

He really shouldn’t toy with her, but this was the most fun he’d had in…hell, he couldn’t remember. “Oh, I definitely can’t tell you that. I’m supposed to be playing the gentleman tonight, remember?”

She let out a quiet laugh. “Well, at least you’re honest.”

Triumph surged in his chest. It would probably get him into trouble at some point, but he had a feeling he’d make an ass out of himself in order to hear that laugh again. It ought to scare the hell out of him. He’d spent his life determined to keep people at a distance. You couldn’t get hurt if you didn’t expect anybody to actually stick around. Something about her, though, relaxed his nerves.  

He shook his head and chuckled. “Suddenly I’m not sorry I put on this damn monkey suit.”

“Me either.” She averted her gaze to her right again, but the corners of her mouth twitched. “You look pretty hot in that tux.”

He ducked his head, leaning his mouth beside her ear again. It was pushing his luck to say this, but hell, he was going for broke. Just to hear her laugh again would be reward enough. “You’re inspiring some very naughty thoughts yourself in that dress.”

“Oh, now you’re just laying it on thick.” Her eyes glinted with playful impishness as she arched a brow. “You didn’t actually think it would get you anywhere, did you?”

He let out a dramatic sigh. “A guy can hope.”

She laughed again, light and airy, and damned if he could stop from smiling along with her. They spent the rest of the song in silence, somewhere between oddly comfortable and a fine sweet tension that arced between them. It was subtle. More in the shift of her body. She leaned into him and rested her forehead against his chin. He was hard as steel, but if she noticed she didn’t say anything or even push away.

“Tell me your name, angel.” He wanted to roll it around on his tongue and taste the flavor of it. She intrigued the hell out of him, and he wanted more. A feeling he hadn’t had in…shit. Practically forever. Most of the women he dated were temporary, women who didn’t want to be tied down any more than he did.

Tonight, though, he’d give himself permission to go with it. Today was the anniversary of Ava’s suicide. Finding a weekend hookup had long since lost its appeal, but tonight he needed the company.

Instead of the quiet murmur he’d expected, his companion stopped moving. She stood so still the back of his neck prickled, heat moving over the surface of his skin. Her awareness of him sparked in the air like a living, breathing entity.

He pulled back and winked at her in a vain attempt to set her at ease. “I have to know whose name I’m going to be calling out later.”

If she slapped him for that, he’d deserve it, but he hoped she’d laugh and then finally relax. When she didn’t, when she leaned back instead, her eyes studying his face as if searching for the clues to life, his gut knotted.

He shrugged. “Sorry. Bad joke. You were supposed to call me out for being cocky, tell me how full of myself I am…”

Nothing.

He let out an uncomfortable laugh and stroked her back. “Angel, if you don’t say something I’m just going to keep babbling. Do me a favor and save me from myself, huh?”

Finally, she drew her shoulders back. “Mandy.”

The name rolled around in his brain. Lodged there. Another small brunette inserted herself into his thoughts. With similar blue eyes, big and wide in her face, and the softest mouth this side of the Mississippi. He studied his companion’s face. The similarities were there, but surely she couldn’t be that Mandy.

His heart now hammering from the vicinity of his throat, he drew a deep breath and forced a calm that came from experience. He was a SEAL, damn it. One little brunette would not throw him off his game.

He smiled and prayed she didn’t notice the way his hands shook. “Mandy’s a very pretty name. Got a last name to go with that?”

Again, she stared. Her throat bobbed. Her mask trembled as she reached up and pulled it off her head, revealing her full face.

His heart stuttered to a stop. Son of a bitch. So that’s why she’d looked familiar—he’d been seeing her in his dreams.

Of all the women in Seattle, they’d fixed him up with the one woman he wanted more than he wanted to breathe…and the only woman he couldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole: his buddy’s kid sister.




Chapter Two

Mandy Lawson fisted her hands at her sides, her body trembling like she stood on the fault line of an earthquake, as she waited for Marcus to say something. Anything. When she’d approached the ballroom ten minutes ago, the sight of him had stopped her in her tracks. He’d seemed familiar. The dark, almost black hair, cropped short. The day’s worth of scruff covering his jaw. The width and strength of his chest and shoulders, narrowing down to lean hips and a tight, firm ass even his tailored slacks couldn’t hide.

If that fine specimen of male ass wasn’t enough to confirm her suspicions, the color of his eyes had blown his cover. Marcus Denali’s eyes were as blue as a cloudless sky, yet contained large splotches of golden brown. She’d never seen anything like them before or since.

Marcus pulled off his mask and cocked his head to the side, his brow furrowing. He scanned her face as if seeing her for the first time. Or perhaps like she’d grown another head right in front of him.

Finally, he released her and folded his arms. “Why do I get the feeling you knew it was me?”

The accusation in his tone sank deep, setting her knees knocking together and her stomach churning. Damn it. She wasn’t afraid of anything. Not even spiders. Marcus Denali? The guy made her nerves quake.

Mandy squashed it all and squared her shoulders. “Your eyes gave you away.”

Marcus scanned her face again and took a step back. “Why didn’t you tell me it was you?”

Mandy scratched a nonexistent itch on the side of her head. He had her on this one, but what the hell could she tell him? Not once in all the time she’d known him—and their group of mutual friends got together every chance they could—had Marcus ever looked at her with anything more than impassive regard. What harm would it do to play out the fantasy for a few hours?

She sighed. She had lied to him, though. A lie by omission, maybe, but still a lie. “I wanted one dance before you realized who I was and that look crossed your face.”

Marcus’s mouth formed a thin line. “What look?”

She nodded in his direction, her heart sinking into her toes. “That one. Like I’m that annoying little kid you tolerate because you have to. When I first realized it was you, I thought maybe Lauren and Steph had set me up. I figured one dance wouldn’t hurt before I let you off the hook.”

She and Lauren had known each other since junior high. Steph she’d met five years ago, ironically when Steph hired her to plan her wedding. Unfortunately, Steph had gotten stood up at the altar, and Mandy had made a friend that night. They’d been the Three Musketeers since. It would be just like one of them to give the woman at Military Match a little hint as to who to fix her up with.

“One dance? I’m pretty sure that was two, and unless I’m mistaken, you originally suggested we not tell each other who we were at all. Besides…” Marcus lifted a dark brow, those intense eyes pinning her to spot. “Why would they set you up?”

Heat flooded her cheeks. Mandy diverted her gaze to the floor, staring at anything but him. She had no desire to know what would cross his face when she said the words. “I should think that’s pretty obvious by now.”

Four months ago, Lauren and Mandy’s brother Trent had gotten engaged. Ironically, the two had gotten fixed up through Military Match. They’d celebrated their engagement by throwing a party, friends and family only. One thing had led to another that night, as things often did where alcohol was concerned, and Steph dared her to make a move on Marcus. She’d taken Steph’s dare and planted one on him, in front of everybody. Surely a guy like Marcus had enough experience to realize that meant she was into him?

Marcus gave a slow shake of his head, muttering something under his breath she didn’t catch. Several seconds ticked by before he finally turned his head and met her gaze again with that infuriating impassive facade. “You’re going to have to fill me in, angel, because I’m afraid I’m not following you.”

He stared, expectation in his gaze, but her mind had gotten stuck on the nickname. Angel. He’d called her that before he knew who she was. Hearing it now had hope rising from the dead, fluttering in her chest like a hummingbird’s wings.

She shouldn’t ask, but damn it, she had to know. “Angel?”

His eyes searched hers for the span of a heartbeat. Then his gaze flicked over her, to her feet and back up. “I’ve never seen you in a dress. You’re usually in jeans. You look pretty incredible.”

For a moment, Mandy could only stare. Holy shit. He’d actually given her a compliment. Giddy awareness shivered down her spine, settling in the expensive silk panties she’d bought for this date. Nobody ever complimented her appearance. She was short, wide bottomed, and small breasted. Not exactly the kind of woman who turned heads. Never mind her frizzy hair.

It didn’t help her sexiness factor any, either, that she’d been a tomboy growing up. Her father had been an engineman in the navy, servicing and repairing the ships’ big engines. The only way to get some one-on-one time with him when he was home from deployments was to let him teach her. Turned out, she’d enjoyed it. It meant she could guzzle a beer with the best of them and she could do her own repairs on her car. One of the guys, wasn’t that what most of them usually called her?

She longed for one man who didn’t. Who saw beneath the exterior. Who looked at her the way Gabe looked at Steph—with adoration and desire in his eyes.

The way Marcus had looked at her before she’d taken off her mask.

“Say that again.” The words came out this side of breathless, like she was back in high school, face-to-face with Dylan Pembroke, the guy she’d had a huge crush on all of junior and senior year.

One corner of Marcus’s mouth hitched upward. He narrowed his gaze, his eyes dancing at her. “Answer the question. What ought to be obvious?”

Her stomach fluttered, along with her knees. She’d been waiting for this moment since Trent and Lauren’s engagement. The fallout of that kiss. You can do this.

She squared her shoulders and stuck out her chin. No way would she back down from this. “I kissed you, Marcus. I would think the what should be pretty obvious.”

He folded his arms. “So call me slow and explain it to me.”  

She shrugged. “Steph dared me.”

Marcus chuckled. “A dare? That’s very high school, angel. Why would she do that?”

Mandy’s shoulders slumped, dejection sinking over her and pulling at her limbs. Of course he’d laugh. Because she was the tomboy, the woman men liked to hang out with but nobody wanted to date. At least, not seriously. Should she have expected anything less from Marcus? Like most of the men she’d dated, he was delicious and one hundred and twenty percent out of her league.

She heaved a sigh and waved a tired hand in his direction. “I wanted to convince Steph to see Gabe, and she needed a little shove, so I made her a bet. Steph’s competitive. It was just a joke between friends. I’m sorry if I offended you or crossed a boundary. I’m also sorry I didn’t immediately tell you who I was. I had a feeling you’d do exactly what you’re doing now. I’m sorry I’m not who you hoped for. Consider me saving you from having to spend the evening with someone who reminds you of your sister.”

Heart in her shoes, she didn’t bother to wait for his reaction, but turned and strode away from him, heading for the ballroom entrance.

Apparently, she could count tonight’s date as another failure. Signing up with Military Match had been her idea. Jennifer Dillon, an old friend from high school, had hired her to plan her wedding and had recommended the service. So far Mandy had had ten dates. Ten. Five of whom she’d gone out with more than once. Who still called to invite her out for a beer…because they now considered her a friend. A freaking friend! That was her, just another one of the guys.

When she reached the elevator at the end of the hallway, Mandy jabbed the down button and folded her arms to wait. She wanted a good stiff drink, something strong, which would warm her belly and leave her delirious by morning.

“Hey!”

Mandy darted a glance down the hallway. Marcus jogged in her direction. Disappointment sank in her stomach. Great. That’s what she needed, him to want to continue her humiliation. She punched the button several more times in rapid succession, hoping, somehow, it would speed up the elevator.

When he came to a stop beside her, he leaned sideways, bumping her shoulder. “I offended you. I’m sorry. I’m kind of out of my element tonight. Of all the women I expected to end up with, I sure as hell didn’t expect it to be you.”

“Yeah, I got that part. Don’t worry about it. It doesn’t matter.” The elevator dinged open. Mandy took the opportunity to get away from him and stepped on, punching the button for the ground floor.

Before the door could close, Marcus stepped in beside her. As the elevator lurched into movement, he tucked his hands in his pockets and looked over at her. “It matters to me.”

Heat rose up her neck and into her cheeks. “You’re not going to let this go, are you?”

“Nope.” He had the nerve to smile at her, all pleasant and sexy as hell. His eyes crinkled at the corners, and her knees melted.

Dragging her courage up from the pit of her stomach, she forced herself to face him. When you hit bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up. So she cocked a brow at him. “You want the truth or the sugarcoated version?”

He smirked. “The truth might be nice.”

Genre:

  • "A tale of enduing love!...The trysts between Cassie and Ty are red- hot and explosive, but they are always crackling with sexual tension because of the deep emotional bond they have."—FreshFiction on Claiming the Billionaire
  • "Timely and filled with hot, sexual chemistry...For readers who want a happy ever after, Stewart delivers."—Library Journal on Claiming the Billionaire
  • "There is a wonderful sensuality in BARGAINING FOR THE BILLIONAIRE for the reader to get deliciously lost in. The scenes of sizzling passion pack extra intensity because of the depth of the feelings Maddie and Grayson have for each other and the history that they share. Grayson makes a determined and caring suitor."—FreshFiction.com on Bargaining for the Billionaire
  • "Top pick! 5 stars! While this story is steamy, it's also filled with vulnerable moments and angst, that make this book hard to put down...For those who enjoy a great second chance love story, this needs to be your next read!"—HarlequinJunkie.com on Bargaining for the Billionaire
  • "There is so much raw emotion and a delicious sense of longing...Winning the Billionaire has a winning combination of love, lust, and great storytelling."—FreshFiction.com on Winning the Billionaire
  • "What starts out as a strictly physical bit of great erotica morphs into something much more as the emotional intimacy between Hannah and Cade grows...Bidding on the Billionaire is an exceptionally sensual romance with emotional punch, and characters you care about."
    FreshFiction.com on Bidding on the Billionaire

On Sale
Jan 16, 2018
Page Count
240 pages
Publisher
Forever Yours
ISBN-13
9781538728864

JM Stewart

About the Author

J.M. Stewart is a coffee and chocolate addict who lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, two sons, and two very spoiled dogs. She’s a hopeless romantic who believes everybody should have their happily ever after and has been devouring romance novels for as long as she can remember. Writing them has become her obsession.

Learn more at:
AuthorJMStewart.com
Facebook.com/AuthorJMStewart
Twitter: @JMStewartWriter

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