Mason “Riptide” Ryan jumped and shot the basketball from the three-point line, listening to the “swoosh” of the ball as it sunk into the net after sailing through the air. He smoothly landed back on the blacktop and swiped his brow with his forearm.
Nothing like an outside game of hoops on a gorgeous evening, the salty ocean air from a few blocks away blowing around them.
“Whoo-hoo, sailor!” a woman from a group hanging outside the fence of the basketball court shouted. “You can sink into me anytime!”
“Becky!” her friend admonished, shushing her.
Mason smirked as the two women walked away, sashaying in their skimpy shorts and tank tops. He and his teammates were playing on a court at the edge of base, where some of the local women were known to congregate in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Navy SEALs.
And vice versa.
Nothing wrong with playing ball with his buddies while he had a few attractive women cheering them on.
He watched the hips of the woman who’d shouted at him temptingly sway back and forth as she and her friend moved toward a row of men jogging around the perimeter, pausing to smile and wave at the young recruits.
Her short shorts barely covered her ass.
Those type of women didn’t seem to care whose bed they ended up in—as long as it was the bed of a military man.
He’d been all about those types in his younger days but just didn’t find them as tempting lately.
Didn’t mean the younger guys weren’t happy to take them home for the night though.
“Three points!” his team member Noah “Viper” Miller shouted, clapping him on the back. “You boys owe us a round of beers.”
Mason chuckled, glancing over at the two other members of their Navy SEAL team across the blacktop. “Anytime you guys wanna pay up works for me,” he said with a grin. “I could go for a couple of beers.”
“Hell, you just want to see Taylor again,” Jacob “Joker” Olson said, bending down to grab the basketball that had rolled to the edge of the court. He easily palmed it with one large hand, glancing up as the roar of twin jet engines temporarily drowned them out, two F-15s from the nearby naval air station flying across the sky.
“Affirmative,” Mason said. “Not that I’ve convinced her to go out with me yet.”
“She got any friends?” Jacob asked.
“The hell if I know,” Mason replied, sauntering toward one of the buildings on base as the rest of the men followed behind him. “She barely said a word the last time we were at Anchors. Usually she’ll hang out for a bit even if she’s working. Take her time passing out drinks and grub so we can flirt a little.”
Anchors, a popular bar on the Virginia Beach oceanfront, wasn’t far from their Navy base at Little Creek. It was always filled with single military men and local women, both looking for a good time, but Mason had taken interest in one of the waitresses there in particular.
And his teammates had clearly noticed.
He imagined the flush that always spread across Taylor’s face as he teased her when he was there with his buddies, that dark brown ponytail swinging back and forth as she moved around the bar, and those chocolate brown eyes warming up every time she looked at him.
Ryker “Bulls Eye” Fletcher raised his eyebrows, his gray eyes flashing. “Think everything’s okay?”
“Dunno,” Mason grunted, stalking toward the door. “She gave me her number a few weeks ago but has been busy every time I’ve asked her out.”
“Crash and burn,” Jacob said with a howl of laughter. “Guess she wasn’t interested after all.”
“Hell, it feels like it,” Mason said, pulling open the door and flashing his ID. “I haven’t seen much of her since we got back from Bogota. Maybe she thought I was blowing her off by not showing up at the bar like usual.”
“She knows you’re a SEAL,” Ryker said. “Taylor knows the drill. We disappear for a while and then come back. Same with half of the other guys in Anchors. No harm, no foul.”
Mason shrugged as they moved toward the locker room. “Something still feels off. She was always flirty in her texts before—flirty yet unavailable, I might add.”
“Shit, you’ve been texting her? Was she sending you fucking heart emojis or something?” Ryker asked with a chuckle.
“Very funny, jackass,” Mason said as he opened his locker. He pulled his sweaty tee shirt up over his head, ready to hit the showers.
“Man,” Jacob muttered beside him. “First Hunter and Colton find women of their own, and now you, too? Maybe the Delta team can have a triple wedding or something.”
Their SEAL team leader Hunter “Hook” Murdock had met his girlfriend Emma in London while on the run from terrorists. Colton “C-4” Ferguson had met Camila as part of their op to take down her father, a notorious drug lord in Bogota. Neither of the SEALs had expected to fall for the women they’d rescued, but both Emma and Camila had moved to Virginia Beach and seemed happy as hell to be with their men.
And Colton and Hunter were now very much absent from their evening games of basketball and nights out at Anchors.
“I’m not with Taylor,” Mason said. “I like her—so shoot me. She’s gorgeous, and it’s cute as hell the way she always blushes around me. That doesn’t mean I’m going to marry the woman or something. Hell, I haven’t even taken her out yet.”
Ryker snickered, stripping off his own shirt. He balled it up and tossed it aside. “Bang her first, bro. No need to rush into marriage.”
Mason muttered to himself, slamming his locker shut. The rest of his SEAL team was single and more than happy to play the field. To take home a different woman every week. What the hell did he expect? If a woman they were interested in wasn’t readily available, they moved on to the next good-looking chick to come by.
No harm, no foul.
Why was he so hung up on Taylor anyway?
If she’d thrown herself at him and begged him to take her home for the night, would the thrill of the chase be gone?
It wasn’t that though, he rationalized. She was different than the type of women he usually went after. More reserved. Quieter. Shy.
But something about the way she always looked at him thrilled him to no end.
If she blushed that much just from being near him, he’d love to see how she reacted if he bent over and stole a kiss. Pulled her down on the sofa at his place and made out with her.
Took her to bed and enjoyed her for hours.
“Hell,” Noah said, stopping beside him, gripping his towel around his waist as he headed for the showers. “Just ask her if everything’s okay. Women like that shit.”
“And suddenly you’re an expert on women,” Mason chuckled.
“The last woman I took home didn’t have any complaints,” Noah quipped.
Mason smirked as his buddy walked off. Damn it all to hell. It wasn’t his place to worry about Taylor, a woman he for all intents and purposes barely knew.
They were acquaintances, barely. Not friends. Not dating. Not lovers.
He had a nagging feeling something wasn’t exactly right though. And as a Navy SEAL, he’d been trained to follow his instincts. To be aware and observant at all times.
The question was, even if something was going on in Taylor’s life, they were practically strangers. A few texts and flirty dinners where she waited on their table weren’t exactly the start of a relationship.
Would she even want his help?
Thirty minutes later, Mason was driving down the highway from Little Creek toward Virginia Beach. His stereo blasted through his SUV, and the ocean breeze blew in through his open windows.
He passed a couple of large high-rise hotels, aiming for the parking garage close to Anchors.
They were at Uncle Sam’s beck and call 24/7. Getting called on a mission meant they were wheels up within hours. Most of his team was still single, and they enjoyed nights out when they were all stateside. Hell, the other SEAL team stationed at Little Creek, the Alpha SEALs, were all married or in a serious relationship. A couple of them had kids already.
Mason pulled into a parking garage along Atlantic Avenue, the long stretch of road that ran along the busy section of Virginia Beach. He hopped out of his SUV, setting the alarm before crossing the dimly lit garage and walking down the block toward Anchors.
A gentle breeze blew in from the ocean. His gaze swept the area on the boardwalk—although there were a few people strolling along the water, it was nothing like the summer months when tourists flocked to the area.
He pulled open the door to the popular bar, the sounds of music and laughter and scent of fries and burgers hitting him. A long bar stretched across one side of the restaurant, but his gaze landed on their usual spot.
Hunter and Emma were already nestled at a table at the back, Emma sitting comfortably on Hunter’s lap. Hunter lifted his chin in greeting as he saw Mason, his arms wrapped around his woman.
His tattoo peeked out beneath his shirt sleeve, the scruff of his beard just beginning to look shaggy, and Mason smirked at how different Hunter and his Ph.D. girlfriend were. If they weren’t an example of opposites attracting, he didn’t know what was.
“Where’s everyone else?” Hunter asked.
“Must be busy doing their make-up or something,” Mason quipped, sinking into a seat.
Emma burst into laughter, brushing her red hair off of her face. “Brilliant,” she said in her British accent. “I’d love to see them in some lipstick and rouge.”
“Rouge?” Mason asked, wrinkling his brow.
“The hell if I know,” Hunter said, taking a pull of his beer. “Apparently it’s all the rage in London.”
“I’d look as white as a ghost without any makeup on,” Emma chided him. “I’ve got fair skin that needs all the help it can get.”
“You look perfect,” Hunter corrected her, taking her smaller hand in his and kissing the back of it. “Gorgeous.”
“Keep it in your pants, Hook,” Mason said, calling him by his nickname.
Hunter guffawed as Emma’s cheeks turned a rosy shade.
“Easy, princess. Mason just hasn’t gotten laid in a while.”
Mason chuckled as Emma shushed her boyfriend.
Mason had been there at the London pub when Emma and Hunter had first met. The chemistry between them had sizzled right from the start. From the looks of things, it hadn’t fizzled out at all since she’d moved here. If anything, Hunter was even more sickeningly sweet toward her.
One of the biggest, baddest dudes on their SEAL team, brought to his knees by a British chick.
“What’s so funny?” Hunter asked.
“I see who wears the pants in your relationship. Emma looks like she calls all the shots. She’s got you wrapped around her finger.”
“Thank you,” Emma said. “I always knew I liked you, Mason. Handsome and intelligent.”
“Hey,” Hunter said in a low voice, nuzzling her neck as she squirmed. “Don’t make me jealous over here.”
“Over here?” Emma asked with a laugh. “I’m literally on top of you. How could you be jealous?”
Hunter raised his eyebrows. “On top of me? Hell, I like the sound of that.”
Emma blushed furiously as Mason guffawed.
Noah, Jacob, and Ryker walked in together just then, sauntering toward the back. Emma’s gaze fell on Noah, her lips quirking in amusement. “I think your aviators are glued to your head. I’ve never seen you without them.”
The men all chuckled as Noah grinned. “They do seem to attract the ladies. And don’t worry—I make sure to take them off when I have a woman in my bed. Can’t have them falling off during sex.”
Hunter growled from his seat. “She wasn’t worried—and she sure as hell wasn’t thinking about you having sex.”
Noah smirked. “That makes one of us. I’m already hoping to find a beautiful woman to bring home with me for the night. Just have to decide who the lucky lady is.”
“Well, it sure as hell isn’t your looks that draws the ladies in,” Ryker said, grabbing a chair and sinking backwards onto it. “Hunter, Emma,” he said, nodding at the couple.
“Where’s the waitress?” Jacob asked, glancing around. “Is Taylor here tonight?”
Hunter shook his head, his eyes sweeping toward Mason. “I haven’t seen her the last couple of times we’ve been here.”
Mason frowned. “Me either. I was just saying earlier that something seems off with her. She used to be working practically every night, and she’s hardly around anymore.”
A young, blonde waitress walked over to their table, notepad in hand. “What can I get you boys tonight?” she asked, her pink lips shining with some type of lip gloss. Her gaze raked over Ryker, and Mason smirked.
“How about your phone number?” Noah teased.
She batted her heavily made-up eyes at him. “I’m not sure if you’re my type,” she teased him.
“Well, you’re certainly mine,” he quipped.
Hunter’s gaze swept from Noah to their waitress. “A round of beers for everyone. On me. We’re celebrating tonight.”
“Hoorah!” Noah said with a grin.
“Hell,” Ryker said as the blonde waitress walked away. “Colton and Camila aren’t even here yet.”
“So we’ll order them a round when they get here,” Hunter said. “No reason we can’t get started.”
“Hey fellas,” a voice drawled, and Mason glanced over to see Matthew “Gator” Murphy walking over with Brent “Cobra” Rollins. The two men were on the Alpha SEAL team at Little Creek. Both the Alpha and Delta teams worked together at times, deploying jointly on missions. The Delta team had just gotten back from Colombia though while the Alpha team had been in the Middle East.
“Where’s your better halves?” Jacob asked.
Brent smirked at them. “Ella’s busy taking a class. She’s actually going to graduate early in December but wants to get her Master’s Degree after that. She was accepted to a graduate program here.”
“Hell, that’s awesome, man,” Mason said, nodding at the other SEAL. “To transfer schools and finish early is pretty sweet. And grad school, too? Fantastic.”
Brent had met Ella down in Florida. He’d come to her rescue when her sleazy boss at the cocktail lounge where she worked had pawned her off on some men he owed money to. Ella had ended up moving to Virginia Beach to finish college here.
Such was the life of a SEAL. They went where the U.S. Navy sent them—and their wives or girlfriends had to come along, for better or worse.
“Yep. I was looking forward to seeing more of her,” Brent said. “She was planning to get a job after graduating, but it looks like now she’ll be spending more of her nights studying and writing papers. She’s more serious about school than I ever was,” he added with a chuckle.
“Bri’s at home with the baby,” Matthew said. “I did daddy duty the other night while some of the women went out. Now it’s my turn to have a breather. Man, that little fella can scream.”
“Shit,” Hunter said as Emma stood and headed off to the ladies’ room. “You boys could open a goddamn daycare with all the kids you have.”
“Not me,” Brent said. “I don’t know a damn thing about babies. Nor do I want to.”
Hunter chuckled. “And what does Ella say about that?” he asked, crossing his arms as he leaned back in the chair, his mouth quirked up in a smile.
Brent shrugged. “She’s busy with school now—no time for a kid.”
“But grad school won’t last forever,” Mason needlessly pointed out. “Give it a few years, bro.”
“We’re meeting some of the other guys here,” Matthew drawled.
“Well hell, pull up a chair and join us,” Hunter said. “We’re celebrating our latest successful op.”
“Another time,” Matthew promised. He and Brent headed off to the bar area to wait for the rest of their team, and the blonde waitress sashayed back over, holding a heavy tray of drinks.
Mason’s gaze landed on her name tag. “Emily,” he said, watching as her eyes flicked over to him. “Have you seen Taylor around?”
“She called out again,” Emily said with a wry smile, handing out the bottles of beer to the guys.
“Called out as in she’s sick?” Mason asked, his eyes narrowing.
“I’m not sure,” Emily said. “She’s missed several of her shifts. She was sick a couple of weeks ago, but I’m not sure why she hasn’t been around lately.”
“Is she having car trouble again?” Mason asked. The last time the team had been in here, she’d told him how she’d paid $400 for a tow. Mason had wanted to wring the neck of the tow truck driver who’d taken advantage of a single woman. Hell, he’d have changed her damn tire himself. Now that he had her number, and vice versa, he’d hoped she’d be in contact with him more. After a string of flirty texts though, he’d disappeared with his team to Bogota a couple of weeks ago.
And he’d barely gotten a response back from her since.
Emma walked back over, her red hair swishing around her. “Camila just texted me—she and Colton are on their way.”
“About damn time,” Jacob said with a grin. “Why do you think they were running late? Maybe they needed some extra time between the sheets?” he asked, waggling his eyebrows.
“Hush,” Emma chided him. “She just moved here. Of course they’re going to be enjoying their time alone.”
“Poor old Colt is pussy-whipped,” Noah said, taking a swig of his beer.
Emma reached over and lightly smacked him on the arm as Hunter guffawed in amusement.
“He’s pretty damn happy,” Mason said, taking a pull of his beer.
“Says the guy who’s been hung up on a woman for months,” Noah said.
Mason shrugged. “She knows I’m interested in her. Hell, how many times have I asked her out now? It’s not exactly a state secret. First she said she didn’t date customers, then that she wanted to take it slow. She gave me her number though.”
“You should ring her up,” Emma said in her British accent. “You have her mobile—why keep texting when you could just ask her out on a proper date?”
“I have asked her out,” Mason said. “A couple of times. But you’re right. I’ll give her a call this weekend now that we’re back in town. If she’s not interested, I can take it,” he said with a shrug. “But then I’ll at least have an answer.”
“Bravo,” Emma said, as the men chuckled.
Mason scanned the restaurant out of habit, hoping Taylor would somehow appear out of thin air. The waitresses working tonight were busy, carrying full trays between tables. But as their own waitress had already said, Taylor wasn’t there.
Again.Mason clenched his jaw, reaching for his cell phone.
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He’ll stand up to her ex and steal her heart…
Navy SEAL Mason “Riptide” Ryan has been flirting with the gorgeous waitress he met at Anchors for months. The petite brunette is shy, sweet, and sexy-as-hell—exactly the type of woman he wants. Mason’s ready to convince her he’s playing for keeps if she’ll take a risk and give him her heart.
Taylor Reynolds knows a good thing when she sees it—and the handsome, sexy, and flirty Navy SEAL meets all the marks. His strength and confidence leave her flushing every time he’s near, and she’d be willing to give him a shot if her controlling ex-boyfriend didn’t keep showing up at her door.
When her ex decides he’s not willing to let Taylor go without a fight, Mason is the only man who can rescue her. But will the assertive Navy SEAL be able to convince Taylor that their relationship is worth fighting for, too?
RESCUED BY A SEAL, a standalone novel, is book eleven in the sizzling Alpha SEALs series.