Damsel in Distress…
Alpha Squad Lieutenant Maksim “Mad Max” Vasiliev lost his sister to the Russian Brotherhood. She was killed in prison while he was overseas on maneuvers, and there was nothing he could do about it.
When beautiful Gabrielle crosses his path, with two Russian enforcers on her tail, Max is determined that the Bratva isn’t going to score another one.
But as the case unfolds, from lofty political circles in Washington, DC, to the attempted murder of a federal judge in Idaho, it’s all Max can do to try to keep himself and Gabrielle alive.
And hope that when it’s all over, Gabrielle will consent to stay in Virginia Beach with a lowly Navy SEAL, instead of going back to her life in DC.
Max noticed the new waitress the second he walked into the FUBAR.
She was the kind of woman one noticed. Especially in a place like the FUBAR, which was loaded to the rafters with testosterone. Located within a couple miles of the Joint Expeditionary Base, not to mention the Naval Base Oceana, the Naval Shipyards, and the Dam Neck Training Center, the FUBAR did a brisk business in beer and sometimes stronger stuff for tired Marines and sailors, and those with something to forget or celebrate.
Most of the waitresses hired on to get close to the men. The few female guests were there for the same reason. When Max walked in, followed by three other members of SEAL Team Sixteen’s Alpha Squad, they got quite a few appreciative looks from the women.
Not from the redhead, though. She took one look at him, turned pale, and ran in the other direction.
Or if she didn’t exactly run, she moved like a blur, like she couldn’t get away from him fast enough.
It was weird, because Max could have sworn he’d never seen her before. He would have remembered. She was memorable, even though she’d obviously done her best to look as plain as possible.
She was tall, and he liked that. He was over six-and-a-half feet, and some little five-foot armful just made him worry he’d hurt her without meaning to.
She had red hair, and that was memorable, too. Blondes and brunettes came and went, but he didn’t see that many redheads. She’s scraped hers off her face into a braid that was tight enough to pull her eyebrows back, but he could tell it was long and thick, and—judging from the ends—probably curly, or at least had a nice wave to it.
Her face was perfect, even without any makeup. He wouldn’t say she didn’t need it, because outlining those eyes and painting the lips fire engine red would have made her into a knockout, but she was pretty damn gorgeous without a speck of paint, too.
And she had a body that just wouldn’t quit. Long legs in tight jeans, a slightly too-large T-shirt that she probably hoped would hide her assets, and a sway of her hips, even in sneakers, that made it look like she moved to the beat of some music no one else could hear. Something with a lot of bounce.
No, he’d never seen her before. Even dead drunk, he’d have remembered her.
So maybe it wasn’t him she was running from.
He turned to his crew. “Anyone else know the redhead?”
“What redhead?” JB said, predictably. JB was so hung up on the railroad heiress they’d left in Pennsylvania that he couldn’t see straight. Poor guy probably hadn’t even noticed the most gorgeous woman Max had seen in a while.
“Never mind.” He looked at Rusty and Andy Lee.
“Doesn’t look familiar,” Andy said. Rusty shook his head. A man of few words, Rusty.
So maybe Max had been wrong and she wasn’t running from anyone in particular. Maybe she just didn’t like the looks of them. The SEALs did have a look all their own. They were exempt from the flattop haircuts of the regular sailors, and you’d never mistake one of them for a jarhead.
So maybe she thought they were civilians, and she wasn’t interested.
“Are we gonna stand here,” JB wanted to know, “or are we gonna drink?”
Trying to drown his sorrows, probably. He hadn’t been happy to leave the heiress behind, but it wasn’t like he could have taken her with him. If she wanted to come to Little Creek and take up with an enlisted man, that was going to have to be her choice.
“We’re gonna drink,” Max said, and led the way to the bar.
Up on a barstool, with a beer in front of him, he nodded to the bartender. “Who’s the new waitress?”
She’d come out of hiding, and was circling the room. Keeping a wide berth to the bar, though. She’d glanced at him once—he was pretty sure of it—and had looked away quickly when she caught him looking back.
Not the kind of coy look a woman gave a man she was interested in. More the kind of look a woman gave a man she was afraid of.
“Bree?” Jim said. “She came in yesterday looking for a job.” He followed the redhead with his eyes as she moved around the room. “So far she’s doing all right. The guys seem to like her.”
“What’s not to like?” Max took a sip of his beer.
She didn’t look anything like a Bree. Brianna, maybe. She might be Irish, with that red hair. Although the complexion—milky white and perfect—didn’t look anything like the freckled, transparent skin he usually associated with the nationality.
Just because he didn’t think her name fit, didn’t mean she’d made it up, though. If she said her name was Bree, it probably was.
The front door opened, and a gorgeous blonde walked in. She’d tried to dress down, too, but she still looked like several million bucks, and she was worth at least that much. Jim’s jaw dropped. “Holy shit. Is that…?”
Max nudged Rusty. Rusty looked up into the mirror behind the bar, and nudged Andy. Andy looked up into the mirror, and glanced at Max.
“How about some pool?” Max said, and took his beer with him while JB leapt off his stool to meet the heiress in the middle of the floor, where he picked her up and swung her around. They damn near knocked Bree off her feet as the new waitress tried to squeeze by with a tray full of drinks.
In the back, the three of them tossed a coin to see who would play first, and Rusty and Andy got busy racking up balls while Max leaned against the wall and looked around. JB and Tansy finished their tonsil examination in the middle of the floor, to a round of applause, and went back to the bar, where Tansy climbed up on the chair Andy had vacated. Jim poured her a glass of white wine. Max could have told her that wasn’t a good idea—it wasn’t likely to be the kind of wine she was used to—but she must have figured that out for herself after the first sip, because she pushed the glass away. She and JB went off into conversation. He looked happy, which was nice.
Max lifted his empty bottle at the barman for a refill, and Jim nodded. Behind him, Max heard the crack of the break, and the sound of balls rolling. He turned his back to the room to watch the game.
It was a couple of minutes later that he felt a presence at his left shoulder. When he turned, the new waitress was standing there.
She was even prettier up close, and for a second he couldn’t get his voice to cooperate. All he could do was stare at what had to be the most gorgeous face he’d ever seen.
What was she doing serving drinks in a place like this? She should be on a magazine cover, or on television, or up on a billboard in Times Square, wearing Victoria’s Secret lingerie and not much else.
Or in his bed, wearing nothing at all.
The image made him light-headed for a second, and by the time he came back to himself, she’d gotten impatient. “Jim said you wanted another beer.”
Her voice was nice, too. Low and sort of smoky. Even when it sounded annoyed.
Max reached for the beer without taking his eyes off her. “Where have you been all my life?”
She rolled her eyes. They were gorgeous, too. Big and light brown, sort of like toffee. Or good whiskey. Or beer.
All things he liked a lot.
And yeah, it wasn’t the smoothest line. Although it was how he felt. He was thirty-two. Where had she been until now?
Certainly not anywhere around here.
She didn’t answer, of course. So he dug a bill out of his pocket and put it on the tray to cover the beer. “Keep the change.”
Her eyes flickered to it, and back to his. It was a big tip, and it looked like she was worried about that. Hopefully she wasn’t thinking he was trying to buy her.
Since that was the last thing he wanted, he gave her a nod and turned away, back to where Rusty and Andy were playing. But he was aware of every second she stood there, and knew just when she turned and walked away.
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