Sleeper SEALs Series Book 9
The Sleeper SEALs are former U.S. Navy SEALs recruited by a new CIA counter-terror division to handle solo dark ops missions to combat terrorism on U.S. soil.
Mission Assignment: Luke Reynolds
When a SEAL is in, he’s all in
When hardened Navy SEAL Luke Reynolds sacrificed his career eight years ago to raise his sister’s child, he never looked back. Raising Naomi was the best thing he ever did with his life. But, she’s off to college and he’s left wondering what comes next.
Returning to the teams isn’t an option, but when his former commander taps him, it isn’t hard to say yes to a covert mission tracking the masterminds behind a frightening new online threat to the safety of the United States and its allies.
At least, not until single mom Lyra Grant ends up on his prime suspect list. When the people he loves the most end up at the mercy of forces with no conscience and nothing to lose, Luke is faced with a choice he never thought he’d have to make.
Each book in this multi-author branded series is a standalone novel, and the series does not have to be read in order.
Retired Navy Commander Greg Lambert leaned back in his chair and swallowed down the last of the one glass of bourbon he’d allowed himself that evening. He’d started to cut back lately. Vice President Warren Angelo’s words echoed in his ears as he glanced at the clock on his office wall. It was time to make his next call.
“A sleeper cell of SEALs,” Warren had said nearly eight months back, “to help us combat terrorist sleeper cells in the US…and whatever the hell else might pop up later.”READ MORE
Lambert rubbed at the spot in his gut that seemed to burn nearly all the time now. Warren had never had to tell him this would be black ops, the kind of thing that would never be documented on paper and would be denied if anyone ever got wind of what they were doing. Taking this on had its rewards. It had given Lambert a sense of purpose again. He’d tapped a number of former Navy SEALS to thwart terrorist threats around the nation, and each had been successful in heading off untold danger and destruction. On the whole, the mission he’d been tasked with could only be deemed a success.
But the stress of racing against the clock in a near constant state of high alert was taking its toll. Hell, between that and living his days out with his dead wife’s Chihuahua who hated his guts, hell, Lambert’s quality of life was downright peachy. He ran his hand around the rim of the empty glass before turning it upside down next to the single sheet of paper on his desk. At least the bourbon was some of the best small batch money could buy. He wasn’t a wealthy man, but he believed if you were going to put poison into your body, you might as well spring for the best damned poison you could get.
He had a SEAL in mind to take on this latest mission. He just hoped he would take it on. Luke Reynolds had been out of the teams for eight years. But the timing might be right to pull him back in. Not back into the SEALs, of course, but into the life.
Lambert hoped like hell Luke agreed. This mission bothered him more than most. Not because it was more heinous or had the potential to do more harm than others. They all had the potential to take lives, to destroy. This one was no different in that sense.
This one, though, had a level of greed to it that bothered him. Most of the time, the nut jobs they dealt with believed in what they were doing. They believed in a cause or a religion, something, other than the all mighty color green. The assholes who had thought up this scheme couldn’t care less who they hurt. They wanted money and they’d do anything to get it. Twist anything and destroy anyone to get what they wanted.
The intel they had collected showed they were likely looking at a team of three people, possibly four. Greg opened his desk drawer and took out a bottle of Mylanta, looking at it before putting it back in the drawer. Who wanted to screw up the aftertaste of a good glass of bourbon with that chalky shit, even if he did need it?
He tossed a treat at the growling Chihuahua, hoping it would shut its yap long enough for a conversation. A friend had said the dog would learn to love him if he gave it treats more often. He had a feeling nothing could make it love him, but he’d never give him away. Karen had loved the little purse demon.
Greg placed the call that would get the ball rolling. It looked like this group would be holding their auction soon, and this was one sale that couldn’t go through. Not on his watch.
“Have you heard from Naomi?”
Luke Reynolds looked at his brother as they crossed the road to the sandwich shop. They didn’t have a lot of time for lunch since Zach was on the job, but they needed to talk. “Yeah. I talked to her a couple of days ago. She’s still not thrilled with either of us.”
Zach had the decency to look chagrined. “We probably went a little overboard,” he finally said, as he held the door open for Luke.
Luke ordered their usual sandwiches while Zach grabbed them two bottles of iced tea apiece and a family-sized bag of chips for them to split.
Luke answered as he paid the cashier and the two moved down the counter to wait for their lunch. “Yeah.” He scrubbed at the bristle covering his jaw. He needed to shave. “Maybe. I don’t know.”
He replayed the scene from a week back in his head. As soon as he’d seen the way those college assholes had looked at Naomi, he’d known they should have insisted she attend an all-girls school. Or stayed home and attended school locally. Or stayed locked in her room forever.
He looked at Zach. “We’ve been that age. You know as well as I do what those assholes were thinking as soon as they saw her. Hell, they were practically lined up along the sidewalks watching for fresh meat, and drooling while they did it. It didn’t hurt anything for them to know she’s got some muscle at home ready to defend her.”
Zach hadn’t raised Naomi the way Luke had, but he was almost as defensive of her. Sadly, raising his niece from the age of ten had taught Luke his gut instinct where she was concerned wasn’t usually the right one. He’d gotten a lot of things wrong where she was concerned. She was usually more patient with him than any parent had a right to expect. But judging by the look on her face when she’d heard Zach and Luke growling at the male students when they’d dropped her off for her freshman year of school at Dartmouth College, he probably should have curbed his gut instincts.
“But she’s okay, otherwise?” Zach asked, grabbing the bag offered by the woman behind the deli counter with a nod. They walked outdoors and sat at one of the few small tables lining the sidewalk outside the deli, taking a few minutes to open their food and dig in.
“Yeah.” Luke spoke around a large bite of turkey and cheese on whole grain bread. “Says she got into the classes she wanted and she likes her roommate so far. How’s Shauna?”
Shauna and Zach had been dating for several months and Luke had to admit, he liked her for Zach. She was strong and sharp and just what his brother needed.
The goofy look on Zach’s face could have answered for him. “She’s good.”
“She move in yet?” It seemed the next logical step for the pair, but Luke wasn’t sure if Zach reallized just how far gone he was for the woman.
Zach shrugged. “Soon. So, you gonna make it a habit to show up here for lunches?” He leveled Luke with a look. It wasn’t every day that Luke showed up at the New Haven Police Department where Zach was a detective to drag him out for lunch.
“You know you’re like a housewife suffering from that empty nest shit, right? I mean you get how pitiful you are, right?”
Luke bounced a pickle off Zach’s forehead, but it only earned him a laugh from his brother. He wasn’t going to tell Zach he’d caught himself singing House at Pooh Corner the other day. That had been Naomi’s bedtime song when she was younger.
Hell, he still sang it to her on occasion, but it was better Zach not know that he’d started singing it to himself since she moved out. That would give Zach fodder for taunting him for decades.
Zach was right about one thing, though. Luke didn’t have a clue what to do with his life now that Naomi wasn’t at home. Now that she didn’t need him the same way she had.
Leaving the SEAL teams hadn’t been easy for Luke, but it had been the right move for Naomi, who’d lost everything in one split second of stupidity.
Luke saw Zach’s movements slow until his brother was staring at him, no longer eating.
Zach’s voice was low when he spoke. “What’s up?”
Luke chugged his first iced tea before opening his second. “I might be out-of-pocket for a little while. Just didn’t want you to worry if I’m not around much.” He and his brother had gotten used to seeing each other often since Zach made it a point to visit Naomi at least once a week, if not more. With the job he’d just taken on, that wouldn’t be as likely. Luke would be keeping a low profile, and stopping by the precinct to see his detective brother wouldn’t really fit with his assignment.
Zach tried to play the moment off as a joke. “I know you’re not heading back to the teams. You’re too damned old for that shit.”
Luke grinned, giving Zach the levity he’d been looking for. “I can still swim circles around your tired ass, little brother.” They both knew as a former SEAL, Luke could beat Zach in anything having to do with water.
They continued eating in silence for several minutes before Zach spoke again. “Anything you can tell me about?”
He had to know the answer, but Luke gave it to him anyway. “No.”
“You got anyone watching your back?”
Luke shook his head, no, and rolled up the paper his sandwich had come in, ignoring the curse from Zach.
Zach looked around. There were plenty of people walking by their table, but none were paying attention to their conversation. “So, you’re pulling a one-eighty? Going from safe and sound and no risk to throwing yourself into . . . into what?”
Luke didn’t answer. Since their mother, sister, and brother-in-law had died in a car accident that stole everything from Naomi, Luke had taken the safest path he could find in life. He’d chosen to work running background checks instead of accepting any number of offers to do private security work or attend the police academy the way Zach had after his own separation from the military.
Zach continued. “She went off to college, but she still needs you. She still needs to know you’re not putting yourself in the line of fire.”
“Says the man who came home from the military to work as a cop.” Luke couldn’t help but feel some resentment. He’d never in a million years go back and change what he did when his sister and mom died. He’d never regret taking Naomi. Family was family, and you gave everything to family.
But that didn’t change the fact that Zach had been able to do things Luke had felt he couldn’t do. Zach hadn’t played things safe the way Luke had. He’d been there for Naomi, same as Luke, but not in the quite the same way. He wasn’t the one Naomi woke up to when she had a nightmare or relied on when she was sick or scared. Zach hadn’t taken on being mother and father, as well as uncle.
“Look, Naomi will always be my top priority. Always. That doesn’t mean I can keep sitting at home while she’s . . . ” He let that die out. If he finished the sentence with while she’s off living life like he wanted to, he’d sound like a royal wuss. But it was the truth. She was starting to build her own life independent of him.
Zach had his own life. He had a career. He had purpose.
Luke had a business, but it was a business he’d been doing as a placeholder and it had always felt that way to him. He’d been running online background checks for people. Things couldn’t get any safer—or more boring—than that.
He wasn’t going to run off to fight a war, but the job he’d been tapped for wasn’t one he could turn his back on. Too much was at stake for that.
Zach must have read the look on Luke’s. Luke wasn’t willing to discuss the issue further. Zach sighed. “Just know I’ve got your back if you need me. You might think you’re working this one on your own, but that won’t ever be the case, you got me?”
Luke grunted and tossed another pickle, hitting Zach square between the eyes and earning a grin.
Lyra Hill hugged her brother as they stood on the front steps of her apartment building. With her on the step above him, they were almost the same height. “You’re a lifesaver.”
He shrugged but the accompanying grin was cocky. “Eh, no biggie. I love hanging with my girls.” He turned to the four-year-old twins currently hawking the front door of the building waiting for someone to open the heavy glass and let them in.
When her boss had called her in on a day she should have been working at home, her brother had saved her by taking Alyssa and Prentiss for the day. They were likely sugared up, but she’d been able to get to the office for a few hours. According to the rundown Alyssa had given Lyra at warp speed upon their return, they’d convinced him to take them to the park followed by a trip for ice cream. Not just ice cream in a cup or a cone the way she would have. Real ice cream sundaes with double cherries and hot fudge. And, as Prentiss had put it with her nose all crinkled in the look she usually reserved for spinach, “no nuts.”
The girls got their wish for the umpteenth time that day when Mrs. Lawson from 1C came out and held the door for the girls so they could scoot in ahead of Lyra.
Lyra rolled her eyes at Billy as the girls raced into the building and around the corner out of sight. She normally had a rule they had to stay in her line of vison, but they knew that rule wasn’t applied very stringently in the apartment building. The neighbors kept an eye out on the girls.
“I better catch up to them.” She waved as he walked away and turned to follow the twins.
Mrs. Lawson fanned her face. “Prepare yourself, honey. Hot and steamy hunk in there. I think he might have melted my glasses.”
Lyra’s feet slowed. “Huh?”
“You’ll see.” Mrs. Lawson gave Lyra a look as she continued to fan herself. “I’ve always hoped maybe you and my Murphy would get together, but even I have to admit he can’t compete with this.”
Mrs. Lawson walked away before Lyra could formulate an answer. She was a little stuck on the idea of her and Mrs. Lawson’s grandson, Murphy, together. Mrs. Lawson had never mentioned that, and Lyra could honestly say she’d never once gone there in her own head. Not that there was anything wrong with Mrs. Lawson’s grandson. He was just so . . . well, so . . . nice. And tame. And, well, boring, if Lyra really thought about it.
Not to mention, he hadn’t once seemed interested in her. In fact, she thought he might be gay, but they’d never talked enough for her to know for sure.
“Huh,” Lyra said, again, this time a statement instead of a question and very much to herself as she followed the girls inside since Mrs. Lawson hadn’t bothered to stick around long enough to explain anything.
Holy Mary Mother of . . . The thought plain petered out in Lyra’s head as her brain melted. At least only Mrs. Lawson’ glasses had fallen victim. For Lyra, it seemed her whole damned head had suffered the damage.
The man in front of her was not tame in the least. He was nothing short of a god. The kind of chiseled jaw you read about, dark brown hair that somehow screamed for a girl to paw at it, and five o’clock shadow to die for. That was to say nothing of his body. He was currently kneeling before her girls.
“Are you a real superhero?” Alyssa was asking. Lyra had noticed the shirt the man was wearing as well, though likely not for the same reasons her daughter had.
Lyra was looking at the way it pulled taught over broad muscled shoulders and a chest that made her breath catch. Alyssa was likely referring to the Captain America logo on the front of it.
The man raised soul-searing eyes and winked at Lyra before lowering his voice to answer Alyssa with a conspirator’s whisper. “I’m not supposed to give away my secret identity. That’s lesson number one of being a good superhero.” He assumed a more bashful look. “Honestly, though, I’m still working on my superhero identity. I’m a little new at it and I haven’t ironed out all the kinks.”
Kink. Lyra shook her head at her reaction to the man. This was not at all like her. Then again, it wasn’t like she dated a whole lot. Being a single mom of four-year-old twins could take a toll on a girl’s social life. She stepped closer and put her hand on Alyssa’s shoulder. Not that it would slow down her little girl’s questions. Alyssa wasn’t shy about going after what she wanted, and answers were no exception. Prentiss, on the other hand, was happy to stand silently by and listen as Alyssa did all the work.
Lyra couldn’t help but notice she was listening avidly, though. She was as interested in the answers as Alyssa was.
“Can you introduce us to Wonder Woman?”
The man let out a big laugh at Alyssa’s question and tugged at one of the twisty pigtails framing her face. “Sorry. Like I said, I’m new at this. I have no clout with Wonder Woman yet. She’s a little high up in the ranks, you know?”
He stood to his full height and thrust a hand toward Lyra. “I’m Luke Reynolds. I’ll be your super for the next month.”
Lyra took his hand and mentally swatted at the swoon happening in her head as his warm hand engulfed hers. She could practically hear her girlfriends giggling and telling her to enjoy the moment.
She shook the voices right out of her head and smiled. “What happened to Kyle?” Kyle was the young doctorate student who normally served, for better or worse, as the building’s super.
Alyssa answered for him, so they must have already covered this territory. Leave it to Alyssa to challenge anyone new in the building. “He’s counting testicles.”
Lyra could feel the heat race to her face as her eyes shot to the man in front of her, but her new super took it in stride. He looked down at Alyssa, the edges of his lips twitching as a smile tried to break free. “Tentacles. He’s counting tentacles.” Now he turned to Lyra. “Kyle is going to be on board a marine biology vessel tracking a mutation in the number of legs in some kind of octopus for the next month. From what I’m told, it’s a dream internship for someone in his field.”
“Ah.” Lyra nodded.
Kyle was a nice enough kid, but he wasn’t the greatest super in the world. He tried, but his skill level at fixing things left something to be desired. She could put up with looking at this guy for the next month for sure, and who knew, maybe he’d turn out to be good at fixing things as a bonus.
Her friends’ voices were back in her head with all kinds of comments about fixing things, complete with Joey Tribbiani-style grins and nods.
“Anyway, you’re stuck with me.” Luke smiled again and damn if her panties didn’t start trying to wriggle right off. This had to end. Had to.
Prentiss tugged on her sleeve, drawing Lyra’s attention back to the girls.
“Uncle Billy says I can take apart his old clock.” Prentiss pulled a digital alarm clock from her backpack and looked up at Lyra patiently, wide brown eyes waiting.
“Oh goodie.” Lyra pulled her keys from her bag and moved toward their door, marked 1B. “Sorry,” she said over her shoulder to her new across-the-hall neighbor and temporary eye candy, “apparently, we’ve got technology to reverse engineer.”
Alyssa rolled her eyes. Unlike her twin, she was much more into fashion than engineering. “I have to plan our outfits for tomorrow.” She said this to Luke as though he should understand it, and he nodded with equal solemnity, not missing a beat.
Lyra wondered if he had kids.
“Hey, let me know if you come up with any ideas on that superhero identity thing. I can use all the help I can get.” His expression was completely serious and Lyra was now sure he must have kids, or maybe nieces and nephews at the very least. Some small part of her hoped it was nieces and nephews and not a wife and kids.
It sucked when he caught her looking for a ring on his finger a heartbeat later. She blushed and turned away. “Okay, girls, let’s get out of Luke’s hair.”
And get him out of mommy’s head. She must be tired. The man was criminally good looking, but still, he shouldn’t be such a distraction. She had dinner to prep and lunch boxes to wash and reload for the morning. She didn’t have time to fantasize about things like the Incredible Hunk or Handsome Man or any number of just-right superhero names she could come up with for her new neighbor.