Book 1 in the Bad Boys of SEAL Team 3 Series
Special Operator T.J. Talbot had watched from afar as his best friend married the love of his life. Raised in and out of the foster care system and nearly ruining his chance to become a SEAL, he figured his Happily Ever After would never be. But Dr. Death plays a heartbreaking trick on him and he winds up being the man’s father confessor, where he makes a promise to the dying SEAL to look after his friend’s wife and baby.
Back in the states, Shannon Moore is grateful for the baby she is carrying, though she is a constant reminder of the man who no longer lives at her side. She is not ready for the attention from the community she receives, especially from T.J. She’s decided to honor her fallen husband by giving her whole life to the child he left behind.
Recovering from his wounds, Talbot is plagued by the depth of the wounds he still carries inside him, as he tries to perform a mission he wishes he was not given. Rebuffed at every turn, he struggles but understands his promise might not be able to be fulfilled. He does not want to take what was never given to him in the first place.
But what starts out as an improbable love story begins to bloom and grow. When Shannon and the child are endangered, he will not quit fighting for the family he now knows he was meant to love forever.
READ AN EXCERPT
(Warning: this is a sad one)
The doorbell rang and she put down her light pink roller of paint, wiped her hands on an old paint-smudged hand towel and barefooted it over to the front door. Standing with the backdrop of a sunny, blue-sky San Diego day were a man and a woman in white Naval uniforms. The officer removed his hat and tucked it under his arm.
With the lump in her throat she was given the news, delivered with unwavering eyes filled with compassion. It was a difficult job for them, she could see. It wasn’t a job she’d want, or be able to do as well as they did. But she was thankful they were so kind and respectful.
She inhaled and asked if they’d like to come in for a glass of water. Exhibiting impeccable manners, they accepted and entered her little bungalow. She puttered around in her bare feet, getting three tall glasses of ice water, filled to the brim with ice, as she was lately fond of doing, mostly so she could crunch the tension of Frankie’s deployment between her molars.
They did look a little uncomfortable. They answered questions, but didn’t volunteer anything. She knew they’d done this many times before. The questions were probably the same, How did he die? Did he suffer? Was he alone when he died? Who was with him?
The answer to that last one was like a slap across the face.
“We understand your husband’s best friend, Special Operator T.J. Talbot, was with him when he died.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m Frankie’s best friend. No one loves him as much as I do.”
She wasn’t going to start using the past tense until she had to.
“Yes, ma’am,” the gentleman said. “We understand that to be the case. However, SO Talbot was with him at the end. He did not die alone, ma’am.”
The baby started kicking again and she worried that her emotions had pumped adrenaline into her daughter’s system. She took a long drink of water and closed her eyes, willing calm. If she weren’t pregnant she’d be moaning and huddled in a heap on the ground, pouring her heart out. But with little Courtney in her belly, she wasn’t going to take that chance. And somehow, it wasn’t what she wanted to keep doing, anyway. Her daughter was a strong reminder that life went on. Sucked, but it went on.
Just not with Frankie.
(Warning: this has swearing in it, hero’s POV)
Four other SEALs were in the wedding party, and he had to admit they’d make a wedding portrait which would look good on the cover of any bridal magazine, except for their dark glasses. Only Frankie, the groom, posed without shades. Shannon had wanted them all without the shades, but T.J. smiled at her and put his back on in open defiance, and the others followed his lead.
She’d flounced off in a huff, a flurry of white organza and chiffon, and her perfume that made him sneeze. He’d watched that hellcat streak she had, angled his head to the side and watched her march off to some mythical place brides hide when they go crazy. Lovely, though. Even he had to admit that.
Frankie was white as a sheet as they gathered. “I wanna pray first,” he’d said to his best buddies. Tyler was there, of course, and Kyle, Ollie and Rory were as well. But T.J. was Frankie’s best friend, and that meant he had to be best man.
“Fuckin’ going to need a lot more than fuckin’ prayin’. Gonna need a miracle, Frankie. Shannon’s had the evil eye on me all morning…yesterday, too, and that means I don’t think you’re getting any tonight, not that you haven’t—”
“Fuck sake, T.J. It’s my fuckin’ wedding and has nothing to do with how my bride looks at you. Get that fuckin’ thought out of your head.”
“I was just sayin’—”
“Not what you’re sayin’ I have a problem with. It’s what you’re thinking.” Frankie was so nervous he was seeing conspiracies behind every plant, guest and bouquet.
“Just be glad we didn’t send you to Alaska,” Tyler said, making it worse. Last year one of the young recruits had gotten time off from BUD/S to get married—a request which was almost never granted, and then the boys thought it necessary to save him from that quickie wedding in Las Vegas, and so got him stinking drunk and put him on a plane to Alaska so he missed his own wedding. They incurred extra wet and sandy for that one, and had the toilets cleaned so many times you could eat out of them.
This had worried Shannon, and her mother even more. Mrs. “I Want Moore” was one of the hottest women T.J. had ever seen, all toned and a marathon runner in her fifties. He had never before had fantasies about the mother of the bride. Mrs. Moore was twenty-five years his senior, but he knew she could clean his clock. He’d enjoy chasing her around a few places.
Turning to face Frankie again, he felt a tad sheepish about his lusty thoughts. He wiped his mind clean and decided to concentrate harder on Frankie’s day. His buddy was so crazy in love with Shannon, he needed extra protection to keep him from stepping out in front of traffic, or bumping into caterers, which he’d already managed to do several times today.
“Come on, Frankie. Lighten up.” T.J. slapped his cheeks to redden them up. “You need to stop looking like a dead man if you’re really gonna do this.”
“Yup. I’m doing this,” Frankie said to the auditorium full of people, the organ music now swelling up to the rafters. “I’m fuckin’ doing this.”
T.J. had a hunch he was looking for his courage and had come up short. He glanced down the hallway. Cindy was leaning against the wall right outside the bride’s dressing room, keeping sentry, but also giving him the long vacant look he knew only too well. He unabashedly scanned her entire body and let her see he couldn’t wait to get her naked.
She abruptly turned after blushing.
* * *
Several minutes later T.J. thought he might have to prop Frankie up he was so pale. “You okay?”
“Fuck you,” Frankie whispered a little too loudly. Mrs. Moore in the front pew frowned. Her eyes swept over the row of SEALs, but zeroed back in on T.J.’s face with an admonition he couldn’t mistake. Merely the little tilt of her chin down and the knotted brow told him he was on probation. Didn’t help he’d given Frankie more Tequila than he usually drank in a whole month. Right now Frankie was spacing out and losing track of where they were and what they had to do next. T.J. had never seen him so fuckin’ scared. Even in firefights overseas.
So he’d screwed up, been a bad influence on the groom. So what else is new? With a past of foster care home rejections and “repositioning” he was used to being on probation. It felt normal. Not until he got into BUD/S did he feel like he’d found home. A real home. Guys who finally shared his intensity for life and irreverence for batshit rules that everyone else thought applied to him. The SEALs ethos were the only rules he wanted to live by. And the beginning pretty much said it all:
In times of war or uncertainty there is a special breed of warrior ready to answer our Nation’s call. A common man with uncommon desire to succeed.
…I am that man.
He thought about it while he watched Shannon’s white dress fill the aisle as she began her stately walk along the burgundy carpet to her willing but completely shitfaced groom. Her father was proud, as any father would be, to have such a radiant daughter, pink and soft in all the right places, and strong in the way she walked, her steady gait of a fearless warrior, full of a plan she was going to fully execute, just like any SEAL, her eyes fixed on Frankie, who didn’t have a clue what he was getting himself into.
That made T.J. smile and check out his shoes. She was the kind of woman who would call the shots, run the household, run Frankie, manage the hell out of his schedule and get her future soccer players up on time and off to everything moms did with a house full of hellions. He saw lots of them in their future for some reason. Kids with snotty noses and hair a bit too long. Band-Aids and skinned knees. All the things he never had as a child.
But he’d watched those kids play through chain-link fences. Watched their parents cheer. Watched the juice breaks and the encouragement he never got from a single coach or foster mom. He was never noticed. Never special.
And that was just fine.
(Heroine’s POV and yes, some swearing)
Frankie was listing to one side. T.J.’s strong arm propped him up, which was the biggest fuckbomb of all time.
Stoppit, Shannon. She’d picked up their language, their mannerisms, as if they’d been wet paint and she was rolling through them naked. Now she not only thought in swear words, she was starting to say them. They rolled off her tongue as though she’d always talked and thought that way.
Yeah, and that was T.J.’s fault, too.
She could see the little Cheshire Cat smile he was giving her, not that she would give him the satisfaction of knowing he was even a piece of cat litter stuck on the bottom of her shoe. Frankie was going to be all hers. She’d extricate him from his Brotherhood and give him back to them when she was good and ready. Screw the wives who told her she would always come second when it came to the Brotherhood. They didn’t know their men. She didn’t want a normal plain vanilla relationship with Frankie. He was fuckin’ addicted to her, and that was exactly the way she liked it.
There you go again. On your wedding day, and before you get to the altar and kiss your betrothed, you’ve sworn—what? Maybe three or four times? And had unclean thoughts?
Yeah, even ladies in white wedding dresses had dirty thoughts.
She knew that was normal.
Come on, Frankie. Stand up straight. She saw the glassy eyes and knew T.J. had caused it. Her Frankie was drunker than he had a right to be. From the unearthly glow in his blue eyes it was probably Tequila, which he couldn’t hold well at all.
Not like she could. Oh yes, there was that song about dropping your clothes for margaritas. That was her. But Frankie was having a hard enough time standing up right now, let alone being conscious for the wedding. And it wasn’t because all the blood had rushed to his groin, either. That would have been funny. She’d have been happy about that one.
She shot a quick fuck-why-did-you-do-that?-look at T.J., and his smile broadened, and she saw him move his arm when she stood about a foot away from the man she’d chosen for the rest of her life.
The moment T.J. released his hold on Frankie, the groom fell, almost toppling her as well. Her veil was ripped from her hair, her bodice pulled down—maybe too far down for a second or two—and accompanied by the screams of everyone, especially Frankie’s parents in the front pew of the church, Frankie did a face-plant onto what was luckily well-padded carpeting.
She adjusted the detachable beaded bodice to make sure she was decent first, and then had difficulty turning in Frankie’s direction, thanks to her long dress of chiffon and layers of voile. Like her feet were stuck in mud, she turned slowly. T.J. was leaning down to get Frankie, and she caught a hint of his aftershave, nearly brushing her lips across his cheekbone as he stood.
Three big SEALs helped Frankie up. His face bright red, sweat pouring down his forehead, and his shame preceded what Shannon knew would be a huge bender, perhaps one which would eclipse their wedding night. He’d messed up her wedding. He’d tried so hard not to. He’d told her every day he hoped everything came off the way she wanted. Perfect. Like she was perfect, he’d said. Did he suffer from premonitions?
So…there was her fifth swear word and unclean thought. She had another one as she grabbed his arm and hoisted him to her side, which made a few people in the audience titter. T.J. was chucking just loud enough for her to hear that, too.
This is not happening. She knew she would wake up any minute. This must be the nightmare wedding from a bad movie. This wasn’t her wedding day. The day she’d dreamt about her whole life. The one where she’d be the star of the show.
After the vows were said and the rings exchanged, the two of them walked down the aisle, both relieved to have survived the ceremony without further bloodshed. Frankie led her straight to the bar, which she thought was a great idea.
He’d stopped to tell someone in the last row he wasn’t even drunk, which was such an obvious lie. It was a classless further slight to her not-so-perfect wedding. Like maybe God was responsible for all this.
It couldn’t have been Shannon’s fault, scaring the shit out of him and making him so drunk he passed out. It would be a cold day in Hell before she’d admit it publically, but in her heart of hearts she knew she was fully responsible. But no one would ever know.
No one. Ever.
Except the guy who stood behind her. She could smell him before he put his palm on her shoulder, matching the other palm on Frankie’s shoulder while they stood waiting to get poison into their systems quick. The bartender had dropped the first glass he’d filled with ice for her Tom Collins, so the jitters were spreading. But not to T.J. He was rock-solid, and she hated every muscle and sinew of his body. Every drop of his blood. Every cell. She hated all of him for being so calm and light-hearted about her disaster of a wedding.
Not that he’d ever know. She did her best to give him a triumphant, gushing smile. And then she took Frankie’s double Scotch and downed it before he could get his hands on it. With the liquor on her lips and a glow spreading down her chest, she didn’t care how they looked at her. She was a bride on a mission. Her day. Her time, and they better fucking play her game or she’d take them both on.
T.J. gave her an appreciative return glance. Frankie was still trying to figure out what had happened as he told the confused bartender to give him the Scotch he didn’t get the first time.
“Okay. I’m good. Good now. Time to face my audience,” she said and wafted off like she was wearing a dress of white potato chips. She’d deal with Frankie after he found his courage to look at her. Until then, she didn’t want to be anywhere near him, or his fuckin’ devil of a best friend.
Okay, so that was number six.
(Almost G rated)
In the silence of the truck cab, he thought he heard Frankie laughing at him. Big, tough SEAL, afraid to talk to a woman. But she was Frankie’s woman, and she was six months pregnant. The facts were stacked against him. She was fragile, so he couldn’t tell her off if she got too inappropriate, which he was sure she would. She’d lost her husband, so she didn’t deserve to be treated in any way other than like the lady she most certainly was, and she hated him with everything in her soul because of all the shit T.J. had caused her and her dead husband.
Maybe he should get Lansdowne to have one of the other Team guys return Frankie’s belongings. Would it have been any easier to give it to his parents? That he could probably have done without any trouble at all, but Shannon. Shannon didn’t deserve this.
He dialed her number and hoped like hell she wasn’t home.
But he wasn’t that lucky.
“Hey, Shannon. How’re you holding up?” His voice was raspy and it cracked like a boy of seventeen.
“How do you suppose I’m holding up, T.J.? You calling to say you’re sorry or to give me a hard time?”
Her abruptness was her method, he realized, of keeping her distance, from everyone. He’d heard the other wives talk about how they had trouble getting close to her.
“No, even I wouldn’t do that.”
“Well, the day is young. Give it time. I’m sure you’ll figure out a way to be an asshole before you go to bed.”
That unfair statement pulled the plug on his anger. It was like the girls in grammar school who would call him names because they knew he wasn’t allowed to push them back. Why was it was okay for a girl to use verbal violence, but he wasn’t allowed to protect himself by making them hurt in return? Some therapist’s idea of the right order of the world. Probably a jerk who didn’t know his ass from an anthill.
“You’re entitled to your opinion. I might add that Frankie didn’t share that opinion, not that it should make a fuck’s difference to you.” He was satisfied he’d delivered a slap and not a full on blow to the chops.
“It doesn’t mean shit to me, T.J.” She breathed heavily into the phone. “Okay, look, I’m not at my best, so what is it you called about? You must have had something in mind.”
“I have his things, and the Navy wants me to deliver them to you.”
“I’ll be gone tomorrow after noon. Why don’t you drop it by the house then, anytime after twelve. It should be safe on the porch for a couple of hours until I get home.”
“I could meet you where you’re going.”
“Seriously, T.J. I don’t want you anywhere near my OB. I don’t want to be reminded that all my husband’s things are being handed over to me for their safekeeping or whatever. I’d like not to burst into tears in front of a waiting room filled with a bunch of emotional mothers-to-be and their scared-shitless husbands.”
“I get your drift.”
“You can leave it on the rocking chair on the front porch.”
“I’ll do that, then.”
“Okay, we’re done?”
“I think so.”
“Good. Thanks for dropping the stuff off. Should I leave anything for you? Anything in there you want for yourself?”
“God, Shannon, I haven’t even looked at anything much. I know about a few letters of yours in there. That’s about it.”
“No selfies in there?”
“Um, Frankie never took pictures of himself.”
“No, asshole. I sent him a few naked selfies. I want those back.”
Oh, those. He’d completely forgotten what fun they’d had with Shannon’s selfies. Truth was, some of the guys would sneak them from under Frankie’s bed and pass them around quarters while he was taking a shower. The last round had happened so fast, and then they were traveling, so T.J. still had the picture of Shannon in his shaving kit and hadn’t had the heart to tell Frankie.
He certainly wasn’t going to tell Shannon now.
(This one is G-rated, only one swear word)
He pulled out the partially opened carton, taking what he could manage without dropping pieces. A bag of screws fell at his feet, and he cursed but picked them up without dropping the wooden panels of the playhouse.
Shannon had already opened the front door when he got there. Her eyebrows were knitted into a frown. She inspected the pieces of wood under his arm and then looked up at him with questions she seemed unable to verbalize.
“Every princess deserves her own house. A play house,” T.J. said as he lifted his shoulder to draw attention to the playhouse pieces.
“This is a play house or a doll house?”
“I think it’s a play house.”
“You are aware she won’t be able to play with dolls for probably at least two years.”
“So, it will wait for her, then. Maybe in the meantime you can use it.” He tried to smile, but the blush on her face and the fullness of her belly was too powerfully distracting. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was the first pregnant woman he’d been within ten feet of.
Ribbons of jazz came from the house.
“I can just put this in the back yard, if today isn’t a good day. I can come back another time to put this together, but I have time to get it done today, if you’re willing.”
“I hadn’t even gotten to thinking about what she would play with once she’s walking. You do know they have to be born first, start crawling, and then walk, in order to use an outside playhouse?” Her frown marks were easing, and a small, a very tiny smile formed on her lips as she told him non-verbally she appreciated that he’d thought of the baby. He liked that he’d been able think of something she hadn’t yet.
So far so good.
She opened the door, gesturing him inside. He knew where the door to the back yard was, through the master bedroom at the back of the house. Once inside, he saw her unmade bed, the glass of water by the nightstand. A book was lying facedown on the table.
“Did I wake you from a nap?” he asked as he walked past the bed.
“No. I was up getting a snack and heard your truck pull up.” She opened the sliding glass door and allowed him to walk in front of her into the yard.
She’d planted flowers along the edge of the lawn, ones which had not been there when he visited Frankie before their last deployment. The day of the funeral, he hadn’t followed the others to her house for the reception, preferring to linger a little longer at the cemetery. He’d had private thoughts he wanted to share with his Team buddy.
The yard looked happier than he remembered. He was glad to see Shannon had maintained everything like before Frankie was gone. He’d seen a number of wives fall to pieces, not that he blamed them. But Shannon had moved forward, and seemed steady.
He knew she was still hurting inside, but she didn’t let one ounce of it show. He figured it was probably since she had made no secret of her dislike for him. Well, maybe he could change that a bit. Maybe it could bring her a bit of relief
He laid out the pieces, putting the screws and washers on a corner of the box it came in. He was crosschecking the parts to the manifest. He discovered there were several bags of screws missing.
He began tracing his footsteps across the lawn.
“What are you looking for?”
“I think I may have dropped a few things. Any tiny bags of screws or wooden dowels?”
“I’ll go look, but didn’t notice any.” She disappeared from the screen door, returning a few minutes later carrying a glass of ice water. “Nope. Not a thing.” She slipped out through the slider and stepped down onto the concrete patio in her bare feet…with those hot pink toes he was having such a hard time ignoring.
“Here,” she said holding out the glass.
“Thanks.” He drank the whole thing, a bit of the cooling water sluicing down his neck and into the ribbing at the top of his T-shirt. He took a mouthful of ice and began crunching it as he handed the glass back to her.
Shannon watched him, expressionless, and said nothing.
He put together what he could, and figured he’d find the fasteners for the rest later. A couple of times he’d put the wrong side out. He cursed at the instructions, and decided they’d probably been translated from Chinese. At one point he discovered there was an important triangular-shaped piece missing, one supposed to hold up parts of the roof. Just gone. He had one side, but not the other.
A couple of times the angle of two panels he’d screwed together was compromised, and collapsed. If he’d been home, he’d had destroyed the whole thing, kicked it around, bent and broken it further, and tossed it in the garbage. But this was Shannon and Frankie’s house, and this was for their baby, and dammit, he was going to get this done.
So much for playing hero. The pieces were so messed up he didn’t know where to start. He sat down and concentrated on them, hoping a solution would present itself, like magic.
When he was about to give up, he heard the sliding glass door pull open again, and this time out walked Frankie’s dad, with his tool belt on, and a red canvas hand tools caddy in his left hand.
“Shannon said I should come and do a rescue on this mission,” Joe Benson said flatly.
T.J. winced, but it was the truth. “Yup. I do believe we have a problem, Houston.”
“Well I’m good at fixin’ problems. Let’s see what you got there,” Benson said as he squatted down to peer at the roof and corners.
T.J. turned his back to the house and began showing Joe what he’d figured out, but he felt Shannon’s eyes on him.
He kind of liked it.
You’re careful, T.J. You’re the most tender lover I’ve ever had.” She looked up at him again and he was nearly hard already.
He chuckled. No one had ever told him that.
“What’s so funny?”
“I’m not normally known for my tenderness, honey, but with you, it’s just the way I love to be.”
“Because I’m carrying a baby, T.J. Our baby, little Charlotte. We’ll love her together. And then maybe later, you can show me some of your other side.”
Her eyes called to him again, daring him to summon his strength. He couldn’t wait until after the baby, when he could exhaust her and make her bones turn to rubber.
* * *
Shannon wanted him to move in right away. She got dressed, wore one of Frankie’s big shirts and her drawstring pants and announced she was going to help him move. That day.
“No hurry on all this, Shannon. I can get it. Not like there’s a ton of stuff.”
“All the better to do it now. And besides, I’m big, or haven’t you noticed?” She pulled her shirt up, and damn, every time she showed him her bare tummy with the belly button that had started becoming an “outie” he got hard. He silently cursed himself, but she had such an enormous effect on him, he could hardly be in the same room with her without getting hard.
T.J. promised he’d get things moved over in the afternoon.
“No. We. Do. It. Now.”
“Shannon, honey, my place is—”
“I know. A bachelor pad. You probably never anticipated having to entertain me there.”
“I never entertain there period.” Even before Frankie had married Shannon, the two of them had little in the way of furniture, using cardboard boxes for tables they used to clean their weapons while watching TV set above some fruit crates. They hadn’t bothered to buy a couch, chairs, or even a dinette set. But they did have the biggest TV they could afford, and a gas-fired barbeque. Frankie’s room was bare, since T.J. hadn’t had time to get another roommate.
When they got to the complex, T.J. tried one more time to ask her to stay in the truck while he went inside and got his things. The answer was the same.
First thing he noticed was the smell, coming from the brown bag left by the front door, since he hadn’t invested in a garbage can. He’d left remnants of a sandwich, a sour half quart of milk and some wrappers that had gotten heated up in the two days since he’d been home. He’d not turned on the AC because he had to pay the electric bill was not part of the lease. He never left it on because he never knew when he’d be back home.
Shannon went over to the sliding glass door and opened it, looking for a screen that was non-existent. She gave him a quirky look.
“Football accident. Screen is downstairs in the carport, a little bent.”
She walked to his efficiency kitchen. T.J. tried to place his body between her vision and the sink full of dishes.
“Shannon, stop checking me out.”
She glanced down at his package. “I wasn’t checking you out, but, come to think of it, that might not be a very bad idea.” She slid over to him and placed her palm warmly against him and gave him a smile. “Nice, T.J. I can see all this turns you on too. Like playing house?”
“Seriously, Shannon, let’s just get this stuff out of here and get out. You don’t have to look over everything, do you?”
She stepped as close as she could to him, her belly being the obvious impediment. As she squeezed and pressed her palm against the hardened ridge of his shaft. “What are you worried about, T.J. We’re all friends here, very good friends.”
He was having a hard time liking it, but his groin was loving the massage her strong little hand was giving him. Damn, he was filled with such confusing thoughts and feelings. A real mixture of dread and lust. Like a pebble skirting on the edge, he allowed himself to be lead around by the nose of her psyche while she had her way with him. He was powerless to stop it.
“Show me your bedroom. Now.” She demanded.
© Sharon Hamilton