You never forget your first…and that’s especially true for your first military hero.
My first SEAL book was Coyote Heat, which takes place in Key West. Miguel Cruz, code name Coyote, is trying to take a vacation and, in the midst of a heated clinch, gets called away on a mission. Does he get his woman and tropical sunset?
Start with Chapter One…
Miguel Cruz, code name Coyote, stared through the wall of windows of the beach house to the azure waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The sun, beginning its descent, was a shimmering ball of fire.
What a great place for a vacation.
It was a stroke of luck that Dagger was such good friends with movie star Brice Benson and they’d scored the use of this Key West beach house for a few days. Or at least until their pagers went off, recalling them to base.
SEAL Team Arapaho had just been shifted to standby after a tiring and bloody mission in Afghanistan, and they were ready for some cold beer and hot women. They could be recalled to their base at Dam Neck at any moment so they’d better get their asses in gear if they wanted to have any fun at all. He and the other team members had talked about taking the jeeps into Key West and scout the action for the evening. He glanced at his watch. Friday, five o’clock and he was ready for the weekend of sun and fun to get started.
“Who’s still here?” he called, looking up the stairs to the second floor. “Anyone need a ride to town, or did y’all run off and leave me?”
“Zeus and I are here.” Ren “Ghost” Ramsey walked into the living room from the kitchen. “The others took off earlier and left the second SUV for us. I definitely need a ride into town. I’m meeting my best friend from back home in Oklahoma.”
“Yeah? What’s his name?”
The tall, broad-shouldered man grinned. “Her name is Sadie. She’s a doctor and she’s taking a couple of days off so we can hang together.”
Coyote grinned. “Best friend, huh? How come I’ve never heard you talk about her? You been best friends for a long time?”
Ghost’s skin flushed beneath his dark tan. “Since we were kids. And that’s all it is. We’re just…reconnecting.”
“Is that what you call it? Okay, okay.” He held up his hands when Ghost started toward him. “I’ll deliver you to your friend.”
“Let’s get it together, then.” Coyote grabbed the set of keys left on the hall table for him. “Hey, Zeus,” he called, then laughed. Jesus Calderon had taken the code name of Zeus, and the team members loved to tease him by calling out Hey, Zeus, a play on the pronunciation of his name. “Move it. This is the best time to hit Sunset Pier.”
And find himself a warm body for the next couple of days.
That’s all it would be. He’d long ago decided the single status suited him best. Team Arapaho often teased him that he planned to notch the name of every female he met on his bedpost. That was fine with him. If you didn’t give away a piece of yourself, you didn’t get it shredded and stomped on. He’d seen too many marriages break up because of the kind of life men like him and his teammates had to live. There just weren’t that many special women any more.
This last mission had nearly gone south so they were all glad to have a place to let it all hang out for a few days. A place with luxurious guest rooms, every amenity that a true Hollywood star could fit into a vacation home, and—courtesy of the same star—a well-stocked refrigerator and bar. Being able to shower and not worry about the hot water running out was also a big plus.
Now he was ready for cold drink, a warm body, and hot sex. The hotter the better. And in the tourist town of Key West, he expected to find a veritable banquet of females from which to choose. He was already salivating at the thought.
“We’re burning daylight, guys,” he called as he cranked the ignition. He glanced at the house next door, knowing the current tenant would make Zeus’s stay in Key West one to remember. He hoped he got to see the look of surprise on his teammate’s face when he got a look at her.
“We’re coming, we’re coming,” Ghost huffed as he and Zeus climbed into the vehicle. “Jesus, keep your pants on.”
“Yeah.” Zeus laughed. “At least until later tonight.”
“I’m heading to Sunset Pier,” he said, pulling away from the house. “Ghost, I know you’re meeting your best friend there. Zeus, you good with that place, too?”
“Give me a cold beer and a hot woman, and I’m in heaven.”
As usual on a Friday night Key West streets were jammed with a mix of residents and tourists. Coyote had been here a couple of times on his own, and he loved the excitement and color of the city. If ever there was a place to forget his troubles and get happy, this was it. They moved slowly through the traffic on crowded Duval Street until they reached Sunset Pier at the very foot. Built where the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean met, the restaurant and bar jutted into the water.
Coyote considered himself lucky to snag a rare parking space just as someone was leaving.
“I’ll see you guys later,” Ghost said as he moved off toward the bar.
“Yeah, say hi to your friend for us,” Coyote teased.
Ghost grinned and flipped him the bird.
“What was that all about?” Zeus wanted to know.
Coyote explained it to him, and Zeus just laughed. “Yeah, we’ll have to get all the details on his friend. Okay, I’m heading straight for the bar.”
“Right behind you.”
The pier was jammed, both the covered area and the pier where tables were shaded with colorful umbrellas.
“I’ll get us a couple of beers,” Zeus volunteered. “You see if you can find us some pretty ladies to sit with.”
Coyote nodded his head and turned, smacking his elbow into something soft but solid.
“Watch it, you troglodyte,” a sharp female voice spit at him.
He would have laughed if the woman standing next to him hadn’t looked so mad. He guessed her height at five-foot-four. Her heart-shaped face was framed by a tumble of rich brown curls streaked with gold. Her eyes were the color of the Atlantic, but right now they looked like they were spitting electric blue fire.
His gaze dropped lower, taking in her navy and white dress, a simple thing with narrow straps with a bodice that hugged her lovingly. It hugged her even more since he’d apparently knocked into her and made her spill her drink all over herself. Holy shit! This was better than a wet T-shirt contest. He couldn’t take his eyes from the way the material clung to her breasts, nipples outlined in detail. Nor could he do anything about his cock, which immediately stood at attention and begged to salute. He could only hope she was too distracted to catch the bulge at his crotch.
“Well?” she demanded. “What are you going to do about it?”
“Apologize? Help?” He reached between two bodies at the bar, grabbed a handful of small paper napkins, and started blotting her dress.
“Not that, you jackass.” She used her free hand to smack his away. “Keep your paws off of me.”
Coyote stepped back an inch, all the space allowed, and held his hands up in front of him. “Okay, okay. I said I’m sorry.” He flashed her what he thought of as his unbeatable smile. “How about if I buy you a drink?”
If she was outraged before, she looked to be at the screaming stage now.
“A drink? A drink? Are you crazy? Look at what you did to me.” She dumped what was left in the glass over his head. “Maybe that will teach you some manners.” She turned to the girl standing beside her taking it all in with unconcealed humor. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Leave? But Cori, we just got here.”
“So? Big deal. If all we’re going to find are jerks like that, then it isn’t worth staying. Besides, I’ve got to get out of these wet clothes. Damn.” She groaned. “And I was really looking forward to tonight, too.”
She turned on her heel and shoved her way through the crowd, leaving her friend to hustle to keep up with her.
“Here.” Zeus shoved a handful of material at him.
Coyote looked down at it. “What’s this?”
“Sunset Pier T-shirt. I figured you’d need something to wipe that egg off your face.” He slapped Coyote on the back. “Go change. It was worth the price of the shirt just to watch. I think I’m going to head home, if it’s all the same to you. I’m just not in the mood tonight.”
“You want the keys to the car?”
Zeus shook his head. “No, I think a walk will be good for me.”
“Don’t dump any more drinks.” Zeus grinned and walked away.
Grumbling to himself, Coyote pushed and shoved his way to the men’s room, stripped off the soaked shirt, and exchanged it for the dry one. In a spurt of anger, he tossed the wet garment into the trash and dusted his hands, as if erasing any trace of the spitfire who’d doused him. What was with her, anyway? It wasn’t as if he’d done it on purpose.
And what was up with his cock? Up being the operative word. It acted as if he hadn’t had any in weeks. Oh, wait. He hadn’t. He’d been fighting the grit of the sands in Afghanistan and the brutal winds of the Hindu Kush Mountains. Usually his body didn’t react so instantly to a female, but damn! This one had electrified him from the git-go. And not just because she was wearing her wet dress like a second skin. There was just…something about her that struck at his core.
How could he find her again? Would the bartender know who she was? Was she a tourist or a local? Shaking his head, he yanked open the door of the men’s room and headed back to the bar. The place was even more crowded than before, a feat he hadn’t thought possible. Now if Coyote could just find Miss Hot Body again, his night would be off to a better start. He inched his way through the tight jam of people, scanning the crowd for a glimpse of her.
He spotted her off to the side of the bar, leaning against the railing with her friend. She held a fresh drink in her hand, but she’d apparently gone home to change or done a quick shopping trip on Duval Street. She wore white shorts and a blue tank top that matched the color of her eyes. She stood chatting with her friend, but a muscular blond surfer type was hanging over her shoulder, making Coyote’s anger bubble up.
I found her first.
Well, he didn’t know that for sure, but he wasn’t about to let someone bump him off her radar. Ignoring the rude comments as he shoved past people, he worked his way to where she was standing and planted himself next to her, elbowing surfer dude aside. What was her name? Cori. Right. That was what her friend had called her.
“Hey, Cori. You came back. Good.” He took in every bit of her body. “And I like your outfit.”
“Like I care.” She looked at him and moved her drink to the opposite hand, away from him. “You aren’t going to douse me twice,” she warned. “Why don’t you go bother someone else?”
“Please. I’m glad to see you here again so I can apologize once more. Really. I’m not usually that clumsy.”
“Okay. Apology accepted.” She waved her free hand. “Now go away.”
“This guy bothering you, Cori?” Surfer dude had moved closer in a protective stance.
“Yes,” she said.
“No,” Coyote said at the same time.
“And she’s already got a new drink,” surfer dude growled.
“Chill, Deacon,” Cori’s friend said. “The woman can speak for herself.” She smiled at Coyote. “If Cori’s not interested, you can buy me a drink.”
But he was focused on Cori. “I’m hoping we can start over. My teammates and I are staying at a buddy’s house here in Key West. I’m on a few days leave, and I’d like to spend at least an hour or two of it with you.”
He always got that out there first, to let whatever woman he was with know this was definitely short term.
Cori’s expression softened just a little. “You’re in the military?”
“Uh, huh. Navy.”
He saw interest flame in her friend’s eyes. “Really? Are you guys SEALs?”
But before he could deflect the question, Cori turned toward him, studying his face. “Military? Never mind, then. Go bother someone else.”
Coyote frowned. What was going on here? “You got something against the military?”
“You could say we don’t see eye to eye,” she told him.
“Look.” He started to reach for her elbow then stopped himself. “I’m just here for a few days, trying to get rid of the stress from our last mission. I’m sorry I spilled the drink on you, and I’m even more sorry if someone in uniform treated you badly. But that wasn’t me and I’d really like you to let me apologize to you.”
“Do it, Cori,” her friend urged, then grinned. “He’s cute. If you don’t want him I’ll take him.”
Cori shot a glare at the other woman before she turned back to him. “Okay. You can apologize.”
“Then you’ll let me buy you that drink?”
She nodded. “One drink. But let’s see if we can grab a couple of seats right out at the end of the pier. That’s the best place to catch the sunset. You get the drinks, I’ll steal two chairs.”
“What are you drinking?”
“A margarita.” She seemed to relax just a hair. “What else. We’re in Margaritaville, right?”
“Hey, what about me?” her friend teased.
Cori just grinned at her as she moved away from the rail. “You can entertain Deacon.”
Deacon didn’t seem too pleased with the arrangement, but Coyote didn’t care.
It took a few minutes for him to get the attention of one of the bartenders, neither of whom seemed the least bit phased about the crowd of people shouting at them. Holding Cori’s drink and a beer for himself up high, he managed to reach the end of the pier without spilling anything. Sure enough, somehow Cori had managed to steal two folding chairs from someplace.
She sat with her legs stretched out, head leaned back, and eyes closed, the sun kissing her face. Coyote wanted to caress all that soft skin and run his fingers through the rich brown hair, highlights glinting in the sun. The tank top was cut just low enough to see the upper swell of her breasts and the beginning of her cleavage. His palms itched to cup those mouth-watering mounds.
Below the cuffs of her shorts, her legs were as smooth and tan as the rest of her. Toned calves ended in slender ankles and graceful feet. Strappy sandals exposed her toes painted hot pink. Coyote wanted to take every one of them into his mouth and suck. And her scent, a combination of vanilla and lilacs, drifted across his nostrils on the early evening breeze, tantalizing him. His cock was sending him messages again, messages he was in no position to act on.
And yet, for all her unconscious sexuality—because there was no other way to explain it—there was something so erotic about her. A freshness to her sensuality. For all the women he’d had, and there had been more than he wanted to count, none of them had made his body react so quickly. But more than that, even in the brief moments they had together, so far—at least half of which could be called antagonistic—she stirred something deep inside him that he wasn’t sure he wanted to acknowledge.
When he leaned down to hand her the drink, he caught a whiff of her scent again, the clean fragrance of vanilla with that hint of lilac, and his aching cock began to silently beg. Jesus, this woman was just doing it to him, and she didn’t even realize it. Easing himself into the chair next to her, he stretched out his legs to rest his feet on the rail.
“So, can we start here with a clean slate?” he asked.
“As long as it’s just for one drink,” she reminded him.
Yeah, he’d see about that.
“Mmm.” She took a sip of the frosty drink. “Yum.”
“To Margaritaville.” He raised his bottle to her.
“Margaritaville,” she agreed, clinking her glass with his beer.
“And maybe to another drink,” he said softly. “I hope.”
“Who knows?” Her voice held a touch of mischief. “You may be right.”
Coyote took another long swallow of his cold beer, hoping it would take the edge off the heat surging through his body. They sat there for a long moment, listening to the music behind them and watching the reflection of the sun on the water as it slid slowly from the sky.
“So,” he said, “local or tourist?”
“I wasn’t sure there actually was such a thing in Key West?”
“Someone has to take care of all you crazy tourists, right?” She laughed, a soft musical sound.
“And you take care of the tourists how?”
“Actually, I don’t take care of them at all. I work from home, testing software programs for a company in Tampa that makes computer games.”
He looked at her, surprised. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who actually does that.” He laughed. “Although my friends and I are kind of addicts, like half the male population. It’s a good stress reliever when we’re between missions.”
“I’m guessing your home base is in Virginia rather than California?”
“Yeah, but home is really in Texas.”
She slid a glance at him. “How’d you end up here for the weekend? Or however long you’re here.”
“One of the guys has a friend who owns a house here. We don’t know how long this leave will last and this seemed like a good place to hang out.”
She nodded at the pager clipped to his belt. “You have to take that with you everywhere?”
“Orders are orders. We get paged if we’re being called back to base.
“Doesn’t that kind of put a crimp in your social life?”
He shrugged. “You get used to it. Try to make the best of whatever time you have.” He draped his arm casually along the back of her chair, his fingers idly fiddling with her hair. “I hope that’s what I’m doing now.”
“Making the best of it?”
“Uh, huh.” He studied her face. “It’s hard to make promises to people when you don’t know if you can keep them.”
“Promises?” She laughed, a musical sound. “You realize I don’t even know your name.”
“Sorry. Doesn’t say much for my manners. Miguel Cruz. But my friends call me Coyote so everyone else does, too.”
“Coyote.” He loved the sound of it on her tongue. “It suits you.”
“Your friend called you Cori, but there’s got to be a last name, right?”
She nodded. “Sutherland.”
“Cori Sutherland. Beautiful name.”
For a beautiful woman.
He said the words like a caress then found himself unusually tongue-tied. Normally by now, they’d be on their second round of drinks, he’d have sent a few signals, received some back, and he’d be working toward getting her up to his hotel room. But tonight the chemistry was different. He had an unfamiliar urge to put this in a different framework, to talk to this woman rather than just get her in a room, rip her clothes off, and go at it like monkeys.
Not that he didn’t have that in mind, too. But again, everything about this was different. He might only have this weekend with her, but he had a sudden urge to create a weekend of memories. Something he could take out and relive when he was hunkered down in Afghanistan or wherever they sent him next.
And maybe even hope to recreate if he had the opportunity.
But he had to be honest with her. “Cori, I want to be very honest with you. I need you to understand that I’m just here for a few days. I’m not looking to start a long-term relationship or anything. I just want to enjoy the weekend, and I want it to be with you.”
He didn’t expect the look of frank approval she turned on him. “I always appreciate a man’s honesty. That gets you a lot of points. So let’s drink to a fun weekend.”
“Does that mean we’re okay for a second round? Your glass is empty and my beer’s gone.”
“Sure. That’ll work.”
He stood up and reached for her glass. “Or would you rather take a walk?”
Take a walk? The words had rolled out of his mouth before his brain could catch up with them. No, no, no. The object was to ply her with alcohol and…
No. This is different.
Cori stared at him, startled. “A walk? You want to take a walk?”
He shook his head. “Never mind. It was probably a stupid idea. Let’s just sit here and enjoy the sunset.”
“No. Not at all.” She stood up. “We can walk on the beach and watch the sunset from there.” She pointed to a tray on a stand where the railing curved. “Just leave my glass and the bottle there. Someone will pick them up.” She smiled shyly when he reached for her hand.
It felt so small and soft in his. Heat that had nothing to do with the sun blasted him, and his heart did a somersault. What was he getting himself into?
“Come on. Let’s get away from this mob.”
For a moment, he thought she’d had second thoughts, was about to change her mind, then she smiled. “All right.”
“Then show me the way.”
The bar seemed even more crowded now than before, no surprise since this was Friday night. Coyote held Cori’s hand tightly as she led him out of the mob, back onto Duval Street and with a few twists and turns, they were on a beach with some of the finest sand he’d ever seen. Here he could feel the breeze coming in off the water, slightly diminishing the heat of the sun.
“Take off your shoes.” She stopped, pulled off her sandals, and hooked one finger through the straps.
Coyote let go of her hand only long enough to step out of his deck shoes and grab them with his left hand. Then he laced his fingers with hers and they walked slowly toward the water’s edge. He loved the feel of her hand locked with his, the consciousness of her next to him.
“A beach is probably nothing new to you, being a SEAL and all.”
“No comparison,” he said. “When we hit a beach, it’s in full gear and we are mission focused.” He took in a full breath and let it out slowly. “This is…nice.”
They walked in silence for a while, swallowed up in the quiet. But then Coyote couldn’t stand it anymore. He stopped, pulled her around to face him and dropped their shoes on the sand.
The rest of her question disappeared as he cupped her face and lowered his mouth to hers. Jesus, she tasted so sweet. Her lips were full and soft with the feel of velvet and tasted slightly from the margarita. Just touching them sent a bolt of lust shooting through him. He licked the surface then drew a line along the closed seam.
“Open for me,” he whispered.
And she did, allowing his tongue to sweep inside where it was hot and wet and delicious. He felt her shiver against him and hoped it was from the same electric sensation surging through him. He ate at her mouth, angling his head this way and that, coaxing her tongue to dance with his, mimicking sex with a thrust and retreat.
Her hands crept up between them until they reached his shoulders, and she gripped them as if they anchored her. She was on her tiptoes, and he banded one arm around her to hold her steady, threading the fingers of the other hand through her soft-as-silk hair. He couldn’t seem to stop kissing her and only lifted his head when his lungs cried for air.
They stared at each other in the ambient light from the hotels along the beach. Cori looked as stunned as he felt. He brushed his knuckle lightly against her cheek. He had to clear his throat twice before he could speak. “I think we need to take this someplace besides the beach.”
“I agree.” She swallowed and let out a slow breath. “Come home with me?”
“Yes. How about right now?”
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