Blake “Rocco” Wise never expected his routine mission to go sideways, but he was even more surprised to find himself and his teammates rescued by the adorably shy woman he met in a stalled elevator. Caite’s selfless act saved his life, but when attempts on her own make it clear someone wants her gone, it’s Rocco’s turn to protect the brave, sweet, sexy woman. The longer he knows her, the more he wants her…but keeping Caite close could bring her nearer to the enemy than ever before.
** Securing Caite is the 1st book in the SEAL of Protection: Legacy Series. Each book is a stand-alone, with no cliffhanger endings.
Release date: January 15, 2019
Publisher: Susan Stoker
Print pages: 356
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
“Hot enough for ya?” the naval officer asked as he held open the door for her.
Caite McCallan gave him a friendly smile but internally rolled her eyes. Intellectually, she knew the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain was going to be a lot warmer than she was used to feeling back in San Diego, but she hadn’t been prepared for exactly how hot it was.
“Thank you,” she told him after she quickly walked through the door and headed for the elevator. She was running late this morning, otherwise she would’ve taken the stairs. She wasn’t an exerciser. She’d rather be sitting in a chair on the beach with her toes in the water, drinking a margarita, than going to the gym, taking a jog, or playing volleyball for “fun.”
But since she’d been in Bahrain, she’d started taking the stairs to her third-floor office because her lack of movement was almost embarrassing. There was no way she was going to take a run out in the heat, and she very rarely left the safety of her apartment, except when on the American naval base southeast of the city of Manama.
She impatiently hit the button and sighed in relief when the doors opened almost immediately. Caite slipped into the elevator and hit the button for the third floor.
Just as the doors were closing, a large hand caught them and they reopened. Resisting the urge to sigh in irritation, Caite moved to the back of the small space, giving the three men room to enter.
She looked up at them with wide eyes. She’d been working in the country for four months now, and had seen her share of good-looking men in uniform, but these men, who seemed to take up every inch of space in the small elevator, were hands down the hottest men she’d seen yet.
All three had dark beards covering the bottom half of their faces, but it was the first man who’d entered who Caite couldn’t take her eyes off of. “Lush” was the only way she could describe his dark hair. It was longer than his friends’ hair, and she had the sudden urge to run her fingers through it to see if it was as soft as it looked. All three men were taller than she was, but that wasn’t saying much, as she was only five-five.
He had dark eyes that seemed to latch on to hers when he entered the elevator. His nose was a bit crooked, but it gave his face character. He was muscular, and had a larger build than the other two men with him. He wasn’t only taller than them, he was bigger in every sense of the word. He made her think of late nights and cuddling on the couch.
“Morning,” the man said in a deep voice. His lips were quirked upward, as if he found something amusing, and Caite knew she was blushing.
“Hi,” she mumbled and looked down at the briefcase in her hands. The elevator lurched as it began its upward trajectory, and Caite held her breath as she pressed her lips together. She wanted to flirt with the man. Wanted to have the confidence to look him in the eye and smile. But that wasn’t who she was.
She wasn’t exactly shy, but she didn’t have confidence when it came to men. She was much more comfortable fading into the background and observing people. She found out a ton of information that way. Like the time she’d learned that her supposed best friend in high school secretly asked out the boy Caite had a crush on. Or when she’d overheard one of her TAs in college telling a girl in the class, who he’d been dating, what was going to be on the final exam…which subsequently helped Caite pass the class.
And when she’d heard a naval officer back in San Diego bitching to a coworker about how much contractors made when they volunteered to work overseas, when stateside employees didn’t get the same bump in pay.
Hence, why she was in Bahrain at the moment. “I swear this place gets hotter with every trip,” one of the men grumbled.
“Global warming and all that,” another said, more to himself than his friends. The third man didn’t comment. Caite kept her eyes on her fingers and willed the elevator to move faster.
“Is it always this hot in here?” the first man asked. Knowing she couldn’t exactly pretend she hadn’t heard him, Caite finally looked up. The man who’d asked had a closely cut beard and his hair was almost shaved on the sides, while longer on top. He should’ve looked silly, but somehow, with his brown camouflage uniform, the style made him look handsome.
He was much leaner than the man who’d immediately caught Caite’s eye, and it was easier to see his lips as his beard was cut much closer. He was the shortest of the bunch, probably only a few inches above her height, but somehow she still felt as if he towered over her. Maybe because of the air of confidence surrounding him.
She nodded. “The AC doesn’t seem to work much in the elevators so it’s always hotter in here.”
“It could be worse, Ace,” the man she’d been secretly admiring said. “We could be doing PT out in the sun.”
“True,” Ace said and shrugged. Just then the elevator made a loud clanging noise and shuddered.
Caite put out a hand to brace herself on the wall next to her and sighed in frustration. “What the hell?” Ace exclaimed.
“Shit!” the second man said, as Ace let out another low curse. Without fanfare, Caite placed her briefcase on the floor. She then leaned against the wall and lowered herself to sit. She was grateful she’d worn a comfortable pair of loose black pants today. She brought her knees up, clasped her hands around them, and settled in to wait.
She knew all three men were looking down at her in surprise. Before they could ask what was going on, she said, “This happens at least twice a week. You might as well get comfortable. The last time, I heard it was an hour and a half before they were able to get it running again.”
“Are you kidding?”
Caite looked up at the man she’d been ogling. “No.”
Sighing, he eased himself to the floor near her. With one leg stretched out in front of him and the other bent at the knee, he smiled and held out a hand. “I’m Blake. Blake Wise. Rocco to my friends.”
Caite stared at his calloused hand for a beat before reaching out. “Caite McCallan.”
“Hi, Caite,” Rocco said in a husky voice that made goose bumps race up and down her arms.
“Rocco, you can’t seriously be thinking about sitting here and waiting for them to get us out? We can just—”
“Sit, Gumby,” Rocco interrupted. He was still holding her hand, and Caite knew she was blushing once again.
“We’ll just hang out here with Caite until help gets to us.” Rocco turned to her. “Do they know the elevator is stuck? I don’t see an emergency phone or anything in here.”
Caite swallowed and nodded. “I’m pretty sure they know. The last time, one of the people I work with was in here. He said within a few minutes, someone called down—or up, I don’t remember which—to him and the others stuck inside, and told them maintenance was working on it.”
Why was he still holding her hand? Caite had no idea. It felt good, but awkward.
Finally, he ran his thumb over the back of her hand and slowly let go. She clasped her hands together in her lap nervously.
Ace and Gumby finally sat on the other side of the small space.
“Not the way I thought we’d start our tropical vacation,” Ace quipped.
Caite’s lips twitched. Bahrain wasn’t her idea of either tropical or a vacation.
Obviously having seen her amusement, Ace said, “Hey, it’s warm, by the ocean, and we didn’t have to run five miles in the sand this morning. Sounds like a vacation to me.”
She looked at him and said, “But there aren’t any alcoholic drinks. How can it be a vacation without sipping a blue drink with ice cubes, sliced fruit, and a cute little umbrella?”
“I’ll never understand why chicks like that crap. I mean, what’s wrong with an ice-cold beer?” Gumby muttered.
“It’s gross,” Caite said without thought, then mentally smacked her forehead in exasperation. “I mean…it’s fine…if you like that sort of thing.”
The man next to her chuckled. “I take it you’re not a beer drinker.”
She glanced at Rocco and shook her head. “No.”
“It’s an acquired taste,” Ace said.
Caite nodded, but couldn’t take her eyes from Rocco. His dark brown gaze hadn’t left her face, and it felt weird to have a man pay such close attention to her. She’d gotten somewhat used to having guys stare at her since she’d arrived in the Arabic country, but the way Rocco was looking at her was different than how the locals stared. She always felt as if they were judging her, and finding her lacking in some way, but that wasn’t the vibe she got from Rocco.
It was as if he could read her mind. Could somehow sense how attracted she was to him.
The thought flustered her, and Caite looked back down at her hands in her lap.
“Hey! Anyone in there?” a muffled voice called out from below.
“Yes! There’s four of us!” Ace yelled back.
“They’re working on getting you guys out of there. Just hang on!” the voice said.
“Will do!” Ace bellowed back.
After a long silence, Gumby said, “So, we might as well get to know each other. And I know these yahoos, but I don’t know you…” His voice trailed off.
Caite shrugged. “I’m Caite.”
“You said that,” Rocco replied, clearly amused. “Where are you from? What do you do here? How long have you been here and how long are you planning on staying? Got any plans for dinner?”
At his last question, her eyes swung up once more and met his. She expected to see him smiling at her, letting her know he was teasing, but she saw absolutely no humor in his gaze. She looked over at Ace and Gumby. They were smiling, but their amusement seemed to be aimed at the man at her side, rather than her.
“Um…I had an apartment in the San Diego area. I’ve been here a few months and my contract is for a year, with the option to renew for a second if I want. I haven’t decided yet whether I will or not.” She purposely ignored his last question.
“What do you do?” Ace asked.
Now that, she could answer. “I’m a secretary. An administrative assistant.”
“How did you end up all the way out here?” Gumby asked.
Caite shrugged. “I needed the money.”
Silence met her response. It felt awkward, so she hurried to explain. “I majored in French in college. My mom told me I was making a mistake, but I ignored her. I fell in love with Paris in high school, and wanted to go there to live and work more than anything. I took French as my foreign language requirement in high school and decided to continue it in college. I loved every second of it, but after I graduated, I realized Mom was right. It wasn’t like there were that many jobs for a French speaker in the San Diego area. Spanish, yes, but not French.
“I started working as a secretary for a friend of my dad, and he suggested I apply for a Department of Defense contract position. So I did. I got hired and worked there for several years, but I was buried in debt. From college expenses, my car, my credit cards…I couldn’t seem to get ahead, and living in San Diego isn’t exactly cheap. Overseas positions pay more, and when the job out here came up, I applied.” She shrugged. “I got it and…here I am.”
“Do you like what you’re doing?” Rocco asked.
Caite shrugged again. “I don’t hate it,” she said after a beat. “But who loves their job? We work because we have to eat.”
“I love my job,” Rocco told her.
“Me too,” Ace echoed.
Gumby nodded. “Me three.”
Now Caite was embarrassed. “Right. Of course. Join the military and see the world and all that,” she said. “Well, it’s too scary to wander around Manama by myself. Women aren’t as persecuted around here as they used to be, but I’m just not the risk-taking type. And it’s hot. I hate the heat.”
Rocco grinned. “But you live in San Diego. It isn’t really cold there.”
“I know, but it’s also not a hundred and ten degrees either. If I wanted to be that warm, I’d move to Phoenix.”
“It’s good that you don’t wander around. It’s not safe,” Rocco said, getting serious.
“The crime rate isn’t exactly low here,” Gumby added.
“Bahrain is one of the most tolerant countries in the Middle East when it comes to dress code, and women finally got the right to vote in the last twenty years or so, but there are still no laws to protect them against domestic violence,” Ace informed her.
Caite nodded. “I know. I did my research before I accepted the job, and it was also part of the orientation. Why do you think I don’t get out much? I mean, besides the heat. I’m not willing to go alone. Everyone around here is busy, and the younger naval guys are too interested in partying than hanging out with me or showing me the sights. Besides, it’s frowned upon to fraternize with the military employees.”
Rocco grimaced. “It doesn’t sound like much fun working here,” he observed.
Caite shrugged. “I’m making it sound worse than it is. I like most of my coworkers and there are always interesting people coming in and out of the office. I’ve met a ton of people from around the world. For instance, this week, my boss is meeting with some men from Gabon.”
Her smile dimmed. He didn’t sound all that impressed. “What about you guys? Where are you from?”
“Interestingly enough, we’re also from San Diego,” Rocco told her.
“Really? Cool! How long will you be here?”
The three men exchanged glances that Caite couldn’t interpret before Gumby said, “We’re not sure. It depends on how long our mission takes.”
“Ah. Well…I hope you’ll be able to get out and see some of the country between your official stuff,” she said, somewhat lamely.
Silence fell over the group once more and Caite searched her mind for something else to say. “So…Gumby and Ace? Those aren’t…those aren’t your real names, are they?”
All three chuckled.
“No, darlin’. I’m Decker,” Gumby said.
“And I’m Beckett,” Ace told her.
“Is Caite short for Katherine?” Rocco asked.
Caite could’ve sworn he’d moved closer to her when she was looking at his friends, but it was hard to tell. She shook her head. “No. It’s just Caite. Spelled C-a-i-t-e. I guess my mom wanted my name to be different, but not impossible to pronounce or weird.”
“It’s beautiful,” Rocco replied.
Caite knew she was blushing again, damn it, but she hoped they would misinterpret her flushed cheeks as a result of the heat. The air in the elevator wasn’t exactly cool, and she knew it would only continue to get warmer until they were rescued.
“Where are you staying?” she asked, simply for something to talk about.
“Housing on the base,” Ace told her. “Where do you live?”
Not even thinking that it wasn’t smart to tell strangers where she lived, Caite said, “There’s an apartment complex right outside the gate. I was too chicken to get a place too far away from here. I don’t have to drive to work, I can just go right out my apartment building and walk here. I’ve only gone into Manama once, and I was with three other DOD employees.”
“Maybe if we’re here long enough, we can show you some of the city,” Ace said.
Caite blinked. She hadn’t been fishing for them to escort her anywhere, but it probably had sounded like she was. “That’s okay.”
“How about dinner?” Rocco asked. “I was serious about that.”
He was staring at her so intently, she shivered. He couldn’t be asking her out, could he? She’d never, in her entire life, been asked out. She’d gone on dates, and had even had one long-term boyfriend, but they’d all been set up by friends.
Caite had long since come to terms with who she was and how she looked. She’d never be called beautiful. Her nose was a bit too big and her features were simply too plain. She liked her hair, but it didn’t stand out in any way. The light brown locks were thin and if she tried to grow them out too long, they broke off at the ends and looked straggly. She’d never been the kind of woman that anyone took a second look at. She wasn’t hideous, but she wasn’t model beautiful either.
It had been her experience that men simply overlooked her. She wasn’t pretty enough, interesting enough, or skinny enough to deserve a second glance. Especially since she tended to keep to herself in social situations. There were always women around who were more interesting, outgoing, and pleasing to the eye.
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