Hot Seal, Sweet and Spicy

Ex-Navy SEAL Eli Miller is headed back to the family ranch after seventeen years of service. Starting over is tough, especially when he doesn’t know if he wants to be a cowboy again.

No one deserves a year like Addison Treadway has experienced. She’s faced an unfaithful husband, divorce, breast cancer, and major surgery. She needs time to regroup and heal. When her friend offers her a no-strings apartment on a horse ranch in Montana, it’s impossible to say no.

A year ago, Eli Miller and Addison Treadway had a one-night fling that left both of them with regret and unresolved conflicts. Neither expected to see the other again. Fate had other plans.

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Hot SEAL, Sweet and Spicy

Copyright © 2021 Cynthia D’Alba and Riante, Inc.

 

Chapter One

The thrum and vibrations from the cargo plane had almost lulled Navy SEAL Eli Miller to sleep. Or maybe it was the fourteen days of getting a maximum of two hours of sleep each night. Either way, he was drifting off when someone tapped the toe of his shoe.

“Wolf. You asleep?”

Eli, aka Wolf, opened his eyes and watched Romeo team leader Ted Brown, aka Bear, drop onto the seat beside him. “Nope. Just resting my eyes,” he said, his tone dry.

Bear handed him a beer. They popped open the cans and took long swallows.

“You sure about your decision, Wolf?” Bear asked. “The Lieutenant can swear you in for another hitch right here, right now.”

Eli chuckled. “Bear, you are without a doubt the best team leader I’ve had the pleasure to serve under. Romeo team is the strongest SEAL team of the bunch because of you. However, I’ve been at this, man, for twelve years—seventeen, if you count the years in the Navy before I joined the SEALs, and I’ve loved every minute. But you know when the time comes to move on, and my time is now.”

“You’ll be hard to replace,” his team leader said with a frown.

Eli chuckled. “I’ve heard through the grapevine that command has lined up Nomad to take my place until you find my replacement.”

Nomad, aka Sawyer Becket, was a SEAL floater who moved from team to team as help was needed. Rumor had it that every team asked him to stay, but floating was his choice. Eli had heard the man could shoot the wings off a butterfly from hundreds of yards away.

“True,” Bear said and took a long gulp of beer. “However, he won’t be you.”

Eli laughed. “You mean, he won’t have a house with a big yard for all the parties?”

“Yeah, and I’d be willing to wager he won’t know the first thing about bacon-wrapped-cheese-mashed-potato-stuffed-meatloaf.”

Eli snorted. “Are you going to miss my SEAL expertise or my cooking more?”

Mars, aka Jack Marsten, dropped onto the bench on the other side of Eli. “Both, but man, I’m going to really miss those cookouts. I will not miss the extra miles I have to run to use up the calories.”

“What about staying in the area and opening up a SEAL-focused bar and diner?” Brian Anderson, aka Heartbreaker, said as he joined the group.

“Interesting, but there’s already McP’s, Danny’s, and the Little Club. Can’t see taking on that competition. Besides, I’m headed home to the ranch. Now that my brother Zane is married and my parents are spending winters in Florida, I feel like I’m needed there.” He shrugged. “It won’t be the same as living on the coast, running in the wet sand—”

“Doing HALOs,” Mars added.

“And holding your breath underwater as the minutes tick slowly by,” Heartbreaker said.

“And don’t forget getting your ass chewed by command when you fuck up,” Bear said. “Never mind. That’s just me.”

The guys laughed.

Eli studied his SEAL team. Bear, Mars, Heartbreaker, Joker, Zig, Gator, and Cash. Zane was his biological brother, but these guys were the brothers of the heart. He trusted them with his life, and they trusted him. He doubted he’d ever have a group of men around him again like these guys. Strong. Trustworthy. Honest. And he knew, if he called anytime to come anywhere and meet him, every one of them would make that happened.

He hadn’t been around Zane for more than a few days at a time in years. Zane had left for college in Chicago when Eli had still been in high school, and he hadn’t come back from Chicago until a little over a year ago. Zane had committed to staying in Gardiner, Montana and running the family horse ranch.

Last winter, his parents took off for Florida for five months, leaving Zane in charge. His mother was so thrilled with the Florida weather and all the new friends they made, they’d bought a place in Titusville at a gated community named The Great Outdoors, and were planning to establish residency there, meaning they’d be gone at least six months from the Grizzly Bitterroot Ranch. That also meant Zane had a lot on his plate, including having a new wife. In fact, seeing his brother and his parents at Zane’s wedding almost a year ago was the last time Eli had been with family…or at least his biological family. The men sitting around had been family for so long, he worried he’d be lost without them.

“So, you’re gonna cowboy up?” Joker asked. “Yee haw and all that shit?”

Eli laughed with the rest of the Romeo team. “I don’t know about the yee haw, but that’s the plan.”

“Can you even still ride a horse?” Zig asked, his face furrowed with concern. Ever since Zig had married the widow of a fallen SEAL hero and taken on the role as stepdad to her son, his father gene had taken over.

“Yes, Dad. I can still ride,” Eli answered with a grin. “But thanks for being worried about me.”

Zig snorted. “Hell, Son. Not worried about you, but if you fall off and break somethin’, it’ll be inconvenient for the rest of us havin’ to come check on you way up there in Montana.”

The team laughed as Mars slapped Zig on the back. “Spoken like a true dad.”

“Listen up, men,” the commanding officer shouted over the roar of the plane.

The men straightened on the bench and turned their attention to the Lieutenant addressing them.

“Good work over there, men. Not only did you find Adeel Saade, you brought him in alive and with his laptop. The brass is extremely pleased with your hard work and wanted me to pass that along to you, and you know me…if the brass is happy, I’m happy. I know the hours were long and the work was stressful. You’ve definitely earned some time off, so the team is approved for ten days leave, starting tomorrow.”

Loud cheers and whistles filled the belly of the cargo plane as the guys high-fived each other.

Their commanding officer waited until the celebration died down to add, “Go only far enough away that you can be back on base within twelve hours should the team be needed. But you have my word, you’ll only be called back if all hell breaks loose.”

The team chuckled and clinked cans of beer.

“Okay, we’ll be landing shortly,” the Lieutenant said. “One more item of business. I’m going home to be with my family. I do not want to have to bail any of you out of jail, so bear in mind that you do not want to pull me away from my wife. Got it?”

“Yes, sir,” came the replies.

“Miller,” their commanding officer said. “A minute of your time.”

“Yes, sir.” Eli pushed up from his seat and the two men stepped away from the team into an empty area.

“You sure you want to leave us, Miller? You’re a hell of a SEAL. An integral part of this team.”

“Yes, sir. It’s time.”

“You have some leave accrued. I checked before we boarded. Go ahead and go to personnel for termination. They’ll walk you through all the various offices you have to visit to officially leave us. You’re shy twenty, right? You could still earn that retirement. Transfer off teams if you feel you can’t keep up and the Navy can find other ways to use your skills.”

Eli wanted to laugh. He knew the Lieutenant was busting his balls with the “can’t keep up” dig, hoping to push buttons to make Eli want to reenlist. He fought back a grin as he replied, “Thank you. It’s a kind offer. I do have three more years, but Air Force Reserves will let me complete my commitment in Montana.”

“Chair Force. Cushy, Miller.”

This time Eli chuckled, knowing what the other branches of the military thought of the Air Force.

“Thank you for your leadership,” Eli said. “I’ll get with personnel today.”

“Damn. I hate to lose a good SEAL. Best of luck.”

“Thank you.”

Eli rejoined his team.

“A little subtle pressure to stay?” Joker asked.

“Nothing subtle about it,” Eli said as he pulled out another beer from the cooler.

It was close to seven in the evening by the time Eli reach McP’s to join his team for his official going away party. He parked his truck loaded with items he wanted to keep in the back lot and walked around to the entrance. He paused on the sidewalk and studied the building. The American and Irish flags on either side of the McP’s sign whipped in the breeze. The green evening lights were on even though the sun had yet to set. The flowers in the window boxes nodded toward him, bent by the wind.

He’d lived at McP’s for what seemed like forever. There probably wasn’t anything on the menu he hadn’t ordered at one time or another. He’d learned to cook the ones he enjoyed, although, in his opinion, his version of shepherd’s pie beat theirs hands down. Over the last couple of years, he’d also dabbled in making his own microbrews. The ones he’d produced had been good, but not great. Maybe he would perfect his craft once he was home in Montana.

His team waited inside for him, and yet, he stood frozen in place. He didn’t want a party. Didn’t want to say goodbye to the men he’d been closer to than his own biological brother. For a minute, he contemplated turning around, getting in his truck, and leaving.

He had a couple of weeks of vacation coming, and he could have hung around Coronado with the team, but that felt like putting off the inevitable. Good-byes sucked whether he left today, tomorrow or next month. The next phase of his life was waiting, and he decided he might as well get to it.

“You better not be thinking of walking out on your own party,” his team leader said from behind him.

End of Excerpt

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