Saturday Excerpt: Navy SEAL Survival by Elle James
In Navy SEAL Survival, New York Times bestselling author Elle James introduces a brand-new series about rugged, focused Navy SEALs in her new Harlequin Intrigue series SEAL of My Own. Read an excerpt below, and look for book two, Navy SEAL Captive, in April. Plus, there is a free bonus story story by Delores Fossen in every March Harlequin Intrigue book!
About Navy SEAL Survival:
After feeling the heat in Honduras cleaning up a terrorist training camp, Duff Callaway is ready for some serious chilling in Cancun. Fun in the sun becomes a perilous rescue mission when the navy SEAL saves his beautiful diving partner from an underwater attack. Except Natalie Layne wasn’t chosen at random.
Setting herself up as bait is the only way Natalie can find her abducted sister. But all her survival training can’t prepare the former SOS agent for the irresistible stranger she has to trust with her life. Giving up isn’t an option. Neither is giving into the powerful desire smoldering between them…
Plus a bonus short story by USA TODAY bestselling author Delores Fossen
“This is the life.” Dutton “Duff” Calloway stretched out on the lounge chair beside the pool and closed his eyes.
Sawyer handed Duff a chilled and fruity Pain Killer drink before easing into the chair beside him. “I’m surprised all four of us were granted leave at the same time.” He pulled the colorful miniature umbrella out of a chunk of pineapple and dropped it on the end table between them.
Duff downed a third of the drink. Normally he preferred an ice-cold beer. But the combination of orange juice, pineapple and whatever else went into the icy concoction was refreshing and helped add to the sense of relaxation he’d hoped to find in Cancun, Mexico. “I didn’t look that gift horse in the mouth. I took the leave and ran.”
“Flew,” Sawyer corrected. “Yeah, I wasn’t questioning our luck, either.”
Duff shaded his eyes and stared past the palm trees to the beach beyond. “Where do you suppose Quentin and Montana got off to?”
“They said something about reserving a diving excursion for tomorrow. I told them to sign us up while they were at it.”
Duff closed his eyes and soaked in the warm rays of sunshine. “Sounds good. After our last mission to clean up that terrorist training camp in Honduras, I’m satisfied to just be a bum and let the hotel staff and excursion coordinators do all the work.”
Sawyer crossed his hands behind his head and leaned back, grinning. “Yeah. This is the life.”
Duff’s grin matched Sawyer’s. “No boss, no guns, no terrorists. Just me, my friends and this… ” He lifted the Pain Killer. “Now all we need is a good beer.”
“And women,” Sawyer added.
Silently, Duff agreed. How many months had it been since he’d been with one? He sighed. Too many to count.
A giggle sounded at the opposite end of the pool and the tittering of female voices drifted through the balmy air.
Sawyer leaned his head up. “Speak of the devils.”
Life couldn’t get more perfect. Duff swallowed more of the fruity drink.
The gaggle of young ladies appeared to be college-aged, all wearing bikinis and makeup, and carrying beach bags filled with towels and sunscreen.
Duff sighed. “Too young.”
“Hey. We’re not old men, yet.” Sawyer sat up and studied the women as they strolled past their lounge chairs, headed for the beach. “Oh, wait. You are an old man at the ripe old age of thirty.”
“That’s right. And twenty-year-old, vapor-headed women don’t do it for me. I like mine more mature.”
“Here you go.” Sawyer chuckled. “Mature women, three o’clock.”
Two women who couldn’t be a day under fifty strolled by.
Duff nodded. “I bet they know a lot more about passion than the girls headed for the beach.”
“What about her?” Sawyer tipped his head toward the woman who’d just stepped out of the resort building. She wore a one-piece black swimsuit, the front cut in a sharp V down past her navel, her blond hair loose around her shoulders. Pausing for a moment at the door, she slipped sunglasses onto her nose. Then she strode across the concrete, her bare feet tipped in bright red polish.
His pulse quickening, Duff couldn’t take his gaze off her. Now, this was a woman. She couldn’t be much older than the college girls, but she carried herself like a model, placing one foot in front of the other, emphasizing the sway of well-rounded hips. As she passed in front of Duff and Sawyer, Duff’s jaw dropped.
A low whistle from the lounge at his side said it all.
The woman’s one-piece dipped low in the back and wasn’t much more than a G-string, exposing a lush bottom with tight glutes.
Another chuckle sounded beside him. “I’ll take that as a yes. And if you don’t go after that one, I will,” Sawyer said.
“Who said anything about going after her?”
“Not interested?” Sawyer swung his legs over the side of the lounge and stood. “You might want to lie in the sun all day, drinking Pain Killers.” He raised his hands. “And there’s nothing wrong with that. But I want to feel a woman beneath me, calling out my name in the night. And I believe she’s the one.” Sawyer touched two fingers to his temple in mock salute. “See ya later.”
“Good luck.” Duff leaned back and closed his eyes. Yes, she was gorgeous and made his blood hum through his veins. He wouldn’t mind seducing her into his bed. If he wasn’t so darned tired, he’d follow her out to the beach with Sawyer and give the poor boy a little competition.
A yawn crept over him and he set his cool drink on the table beside him. Later.
Besides, he was on vacation and had no intention of working too hard. Women tended to be high-maintenance and time-intensive. After he got a satisfying nap, he might consider striking up a conversation with the sexy blonde. Until then…
He yawned and stretched. The sun warmed his skin and soothed his soul. Duff fully appreciated this nice place free of gunfire and explosions.
Yeah, this was the life.
As soon as he settled his body against the lounge chair, something bounced off his head.
Duff jackknifed to a sitting position and faced a small child, her big brown eyes round and frightened. “I’m sorry, mister.” Her gaze darted to the beach ball rolling beneath his chair.
Duff reached down and extracted the ball, handing it to the child.
“Thank you.” She smiled and ran back to the pool where what appeared to be her sister and two brothers stood near the edge, all under the age of ten.
“Last one in is a rotten egg,” the tallest brother called out. The girls squealed and all four children launched themselves into the water, splashing Duff.
They came up talking and squealing.
So much for peace and quiet. Duff couldn’t blame the kids. They were having a great time. He would have done the same.
Instead of grousing over a missed nap, he rose and followed Sawyer out to the beach. If he had to be awake, he might as well enjoy the scenery on the beach. Sawyer was sure to strike out with the blonde, and Duff would ask her if she’d like to have drinks later.
The worst she could do was say no.
Natalie Layne stepped onto the Cancun beach, her toes curling into the warm, white sand. She’d followed her sister’s footsteps as closely as possible without having her sister there to guide her. A week ago Melody had come to the resort with her Kappa Delta sorority sisters. Six young women with nothing but fun in the sun on their minds.
As Melody’s only living relative, Natalie had asked her younger sister to report in each day. Melody had happily complied, texting each evening, letting Natalie know she was okay and having a great time. Until the fourth day.
Natalie’s chest tightened. She hadn’t received the call until late that night when a heavily accented voice came over the line announcing, “We are most sorry to report that your sister, Melody Layne, disappeared on a dive this afternoon at approximately three o’clock.”
Having lost their parents two years before to a ten-car pileup on Interstate 10, Natalie hadn’t been able to grasp what the man was saying.
Her sister? Disappeared? “What do you mean disappeared?”’
“She was diving with a boat operated by Scuba Cancun. When she didn’t come up with the others, the dive boat operator searched but could not find her.”
A hundred questions had raced through her head as she’d held the phone to her ear. “What else has been done to find my sister?” she’d asked, her voice sounding as if it came from someone else down a long tunnel. Her sister. Gone.
Natalie had given up the highly volatile and extremely rewarding career she loved as a special agent to return to New Orleans to see her sister through high school graduation and the start of college. Someone had to be there for her after their parents died.
Natalie had taken the information from the Cancun police officer and hung up. Stunned and numb, she’d turned to her computer. She’d been leery of her sister traveling to Mexico. The endless reports of corruption in the Mexican government and law enforcement had been enough to convince Natalie it had been a bad idea.
Melody had insisted Cancun was insulated from the corruption and had its own security to protect the thriving tourist industry.
At the time Melody was making arrangements to go, Natalie should have put her foot down. Not that it would have done any good.
Melody had a mind of her own and the money their parents had left. She had reached the age of majority and could make reservations without her sister’s consent. And she had.
That gut feeling had proved right.
Within minutes of receiving the call, Natalie had hit the number for her former employer, Royce Fontaine, and asked for help.
As the head of the Stealth Operations Specialists, he could help her as no one else could.
“Natalie, are you ready to come back to work for us?” He’d chuckled. “Travel journalism too tame?”
“Royce, I need your help.”
The laughter ceased. “Name it. We’re here for you.”
She’d explained the situation and paused for him to digest the information.
“I’ll run a scan on the area to see if there are any other occurrences of missing women,” Royce told her. “You’re right to be suspicious.”
“Let me know what you find. In the meantime, I’m headed to Cancun.”
“Will do,” Royce said. “I’ll send Lance Johnson out on the private jet with the equipment you’ll need to keep you wired so that we can find you if you run into difficulty.”
“Thanks, Royce. I knew I could count on you.”
“Anytime. I had Lance lined up to take on another mission tomorrow, but I can take it myself.”
“I hate to pull you from other important assignments—”
“Nat, we’re talking about your sister. Family comes first. That’s why I’m sending Lance. Technically he’s as good as Geek and a better shot if you need backup.”
“Good.” Natalie’s mind had already been five steps ahead, working through everything she had to accomplish before leaving for Mexico. “I don’t expect any cooperation from the Mexican government or police.”
“Look, why don’t you fly in the corporate jet with Lance? It’ll save you time and money.”
“I don’t know. I’m thinking I need to perform this mission undercover. I might get more answers that way.”
“Fair enough. But you’ll get there faster on the SOS plane than flying commercial. I can have Lance dropped at a different airport. He’ll meet up with you later. That way you arrive separately.”
“Agreed. As long as I’m in Cancun by tomorrow.”
“You will be.”
While Natalie packed for Cancun, she went through her text messages and photos from Melody, searching for clues. Her mind played through many scenarios for what might have happened to her sister, each one worse than the last.
When her cell phone rang she was so deep into her thoughts, she jumped.
“It’s not good, I’m afraid,” Royce said without a greeting.
Natalie’s heart plummeted into her belly. “What did you find?”
“In the past two days three young women under the age of twenty-five have disappeared from the Cancun resort area and Riviera Cancun.”
“Why hasn’t it been in the news?”
“All three were from different countries—Sweden, Australia and now the U.S. To each country, it was a solitary incident. The Mexican government isn’t advertising this as a serial event. Contacts in Cancun say they’re treating two of them as individual unfortunate incidents.”
Rage shot through Natalie. “Bull! Three women? Did they all disappear diving?”
“Two diving. The third? They claim the young woman wandered off and probably fell into an abandoned underground tunnel associated with the Mayan ruins located at Chichen Itza, a little over an hour outside Cancun.”
Natalie couldn’t believe in this day and age any country would give up that soon. But then Mexico had its share of internal issues. The police force could be run by the local drug cartel. They might not have an interest in finding the women. “Did the authorities even try to find the women?”
“My contact said they gave it a perfunctory look and abandoned the search when it grew dark. If you go—”
“There’s no if” Natalie said. “I’m going.”
“Of course.” Royce continued. “You have your extra passports, yes?”
“Pick one that’s foreign, but not Australia or Sweden. And stay blonde. The three women thus far were all blonde.”
“Nice to know.”
“I had Geek run a background check on their families. They were from rather small families who have little money to pay ransom, much less to pursue lengthy litigation or to hire private investigators to search for their daughters.”
Natalie’s jaw hardened. The women were targeted for their blond hair, youth and their family’s lack of financial backing.
“So what you’re telling me is that you don’t think they were snatched for ransom.”
“No.” Royce’s single word in that flat tone said it all.
If the women had been kidnapped, their captors weren’t going to bargain to give them back. They would be sold or drugged and forced into the sex trade.
Forcing the emotion out of her heart, Natalie said, “The sooner we find them the better off they’ll be.”
“Right.” Royce gave her the details about meeting Lance at the New Orleans airport the following morning.
Once she ended the call, she sat back, tapping her bare toe, while she sifted through her passports. Part of her old life as an agent, the passports were vital to getting around the world without raising suspicion. Though she’d given up her job as an agent, Natalie had been hesitant to destroy the passports. Now she was glad she hadn’t.
Picking the United Kingdom passport, she stared at the image inside. The likeness was still valid: blond hair, blue eyes. And the woman in the photo looked like her with shorter hair. Hell, it was her, three years ago when she’d been active as an agent, sent all over the U.S. and other countries to do what the CIA, FBI or Interpol either couldn’t do or hadn’t successfully managed to accomplish.
The passport would serve its purpose to get her past authorities and establish her as a young, single woman of limited assets and family connections on vacation in Cancun.
With the backing of her old team, she made hotel reservations for the same resort where Melody and her friends had stayed, using her UK alias, Natalia Scranton, age twenty-three.
Sleep had been impossible, but she’d tried anyway, keeping her cell phone on the pillow beside her in case, by some miracle, Melody was able to text her.
The next day she’d met Lance at the airport and climbed aboard the SOS private plane. Once the plane took off, Lance came at her with a loaded syringe.
* * *
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