Jane Hamilton did her best not to get her hopes up. It was almost sad how excited she was for the morning mail run. After all, it was her normal routine, and she’d been working on the naval base for eighteen years now, ever since her ex-husband came home one day and told her he’d met someone else and was filing for divorce.
It had cut deep. Jane had thought she’d be with Jake forever. They’d been high school sweethearts, and she’d done everything in her power to support him when he’d joined the Navy at age eighteen. But just like that, after over a decade of marriage, he’d up and left her to raise their eight-year-old daughter by herself. He’d grudgingly sent money every month (only because the courts said he had to) until she’d turned eighteen, and Jane hadn’t heard from him since.
She’d gotten a contractor job on the base in the mail room, and had worked her way up over the last two decades to where she was now. She managed about ten employees and was responsible for distributing the mail throughout the base. But even though she was the boss now, she always, without fail, walked through her building, hand-delivering mail each morning. For one, it got her out of her office. She enjoyed talking to the other contractors who worked in the building and getting to know the sailors as well.
But for the last year and a half, she’d also kept up her routine because of him.
She’d literally stopped in her tracks the first time she’d seen him. He’d apparently been working at the base for a while, but had just been given an office in the same building where Jane worked. And just his name was enough to make her sigh.
It was so masculine, the perfect name for one of the heroes in the romance books she loved to read.
She had the worst crush on the man, which felt a little ridiculous at her age. She was fifty-one, way past the age of mindless hookups. But that didn’t mean her libido was dead, and that fateful day, it had roared to life at just the sight of him. Storm was a few inches taller than her own five foot seven, but his commanding presence made his trim body seem larger than life. His close-cropped chestnut hair, distinguished silver at the temples, made his watchful hazel eyes stand out even more than they did already. Everything about him radiated strength and vitality.
He was serious most of the time, which didn’t surprise her because he had a lot of responsibility. He was in charge of several SEAL teams and took his job very seriously, which she admired.
But Jane loved being able to make him smile, even if was for just a moment as she said good morning, handed him a package, or joked about this or that.
She lived for those morning mail runs when she could see Storm.
Her daughter, Rose—whose relationship with Jane was tenuous at best—would say she was being ridiculous. That someone as important as Storm would never look twice at a lowly mail clerk such as her. Still, Jane couldn’t help but fantasize about him. Fantasize that one day he’d see her, truly see her, and wonder why he hadn’t asked her out.
But Jane didn’t actually think that would ever happen. She just wasn’t his type. Not that she really knew him at all, except that he used to be a SEAL himself. But she assumed he’d prefer someone beautiful, slender. He was so good-looking and in shape, and she…wasn’t. Jane didn’t make a habit of putting herself down, but she didn’t like to work out, and she enjoyed a good glass of wine and slice of pecan pie a bit too much.
Jane had also had an extremely tough time after her divorce and was leery about getting too close to anyone again. She could be friendly and outgoing at work, but put her in a social situation and she clammed up. Storm was probably the life of the party, with no problem talking to anyone and everyone. He was genuinely nice…despite his seemingly gruff exterior.
She was sure Storm had to have a girlfriend, though he wasn’t married, as far as Jane knew. She constantly checked out his left hand for a ring.
On the outside looking in, Storm North was the perfect catch, and she was…simply Jane. Plain Jane, as her ex used to call her. It was a nickname their daughter had picked up and taunted her with for most of her mean teenage years.
Raising Rose by herself hadn’t been a walk in the park. At first, Jake had wanted to co-raise their daughter, but as the years went by, and he moved from one base to another, his trips to see her had become fewer and fewer. It affected Rose greatly. She’d felt abandoned, blaming her mom for the fact that her dad wasn’t around. She’d snuck out of their apartment all the time in high school and graduated by the skin of her teeth.
Jane hadn’t been surprised when she’d moved out on her eighteenth birthday. There were even a few years when Jane thought she’d wake up to a knock on the door from the police, letting her know that Rose was dead of an overdose or because she’d hooked up with the wrong man. But finally, after several painful years for them both, things had at least leveled out when it came to their relationship. She was twenty-six, had a steady boyfriend—who Jane didn’t know at all—and was at least making an effort to be a little nicer. She wasn’t sure what her daughter was doing for a living, but when Rose did reach out, she was no longer begging for money.
It was kind of pathetic that Jane was taking that as a good sign.
In the near decade that she’d been living on her own, Jane had felt as if she’d been learning who she was as a woman.
At first she’d been Jake’s girlfriend. Then his Navy wife. Then she was the woman who’d been dumped and a single mother. She’d struggled for so long and so hard that she still felt as if she was finding herself. Which was somewhat silly after half a century, but there it was. And she wanted to find love again. Find a man who would support her as much as she supported him. Wanted someone to laugh with…and do all the naughty things she’d been fantasizing about for years and years.
But Storm North wasn’t that man.
Jane knew it, but that didn’t mean she could stop fantasizing about him.
Pushing the mail cart down the hallway, Jane felt her heart rate increase as she got closer to Storm’s office. It was silly. Ridiculous. But she felt as if she was in middle school again, about to see the boy she had a massive crush on.
But Storm was no boy, that was for sure.
She entered his administrative assistant’s office and smiled at the man sitting behind the desk.
“Good morning,” she said cheerily.
“Hi, Jane,” the young man replied with a smile. “Go on in. He’s not in a meeting.”
“Thanks,” Jane told him, hoping she didn’t look as excited as she felt. She didn’t get to see Storm every day, since he was a very busy man, and whenever she did, it made her morning.
She picked up the small packet and three letters that had arrived for him and headed into his office. She knocked briefly and when she heard him call, “Come in,” pushed open the door.
Storm was sitting behind his desk in his digitized blue battle dress uniform. She could see a bit of gray at his temples, but otherwise she’d have no idea he was in his late forties. He looked as if he could take on the young Navy SEALs he commanded any day of the week…and win.
“Good morning,” Jane said softly.
Storm looked up. “Hi, Jane. How are you today?”
“I’m good. You?”
“Not so bad, now that the Admiral’s Mast for one of my best SEALs is over and done with.”
Jane knew what he was referring to. They might work on a huge naval base, but people talked, and word got around quickly. A SEAL named Phantom had disobeyed orders to go on leave and instead had gone to Timor-Leste to rescue a young woman. She wasn’t completely sure of all the details, but what she did know made her romantic heart go pitter-patter.
“I’m sure that was difficult,” she said diplomatically.
Storm smiled, and Jane’s knees went a little weak.
“That’s one word for it. So…are you doing okay? I didn’t see you yesterday.”
She wanted to read into that statement, feeling giddy that he’d even noticed that she wasn’t there but instead shrugged nonchalantly. “I’m fine. I woke up with a migraine and took a sick day. I’ve got a ton of time saved up and figured I might as well use it.”
“Good for you,” Storm said. “I mean, being a hard worker is one thing, but never taking leave, sick, or vacation isn’t healthy.”
“When’s the last time you took leave?” The question popped out before Jane could call it back.
“Touché,” Storm said with an even wider smile. “I swear anytime I think about taking some time off, the shit hits the fan around here… Oh, sorry. I sometimes forget how to talk in polite company.”
Jane chuckled. “Nothing you can say will surprise or offend me,” she told him. “I’ve worked around here long enough to hear just about every swear word invented. Not to mention hearing them from my daughter when she was a teenager.”
“You have a daughter?” Storm asked with a tilt of his head. “You don’t look old enough to be the mother of a teenager.”
Jane rolled her eyes. “Oh, please. I’m plenty old. She’s twenty-six, and she gave me every one of these wrinkles on my face.”
“Seriously…you look amazing. Your husband’s a lucky man.”
Was Storm flirting with her? Trying to figure out if she was married or not? Jane barely stopped herself from doing a stupid little girly dance right there in front of him. “He was lucky,” she told him. Then added, “But he decided twenty years ago to throw me away for some young flunky. His mistake.”
Storm’s hazel eyes were fixed on her face, and Jane suddenly felt flustered. She’d dreamed of having his undivided attention for years, but now that she had it, she wasn’t sure what to do.
“How long have you been working here?” he asked.
“Twenty years. I got the job right after he walked out.”
Storm nodded. “I, for one, am grateful. I appreciate what you do. I’ve never had to worry about my mail getting lost, and anytime I’ve had an issue, it’s been resolved quickly. You’ve trained your employees well.”
That was one of the best compliments Jane had ever gotten. She wished he’d complimented her on something more personal, but she’d settle for him noticing that she was a good employee. She took great pride in running a tight ship. A lot of people didn’t realize how intricate and complicated dealing with the mail could be. From packages with incomplete addresses that they had to figure out, misdelivered items, postage due…and then there was all the internal correspondence that went back and forth across the base. She and her employees were kept very busy. “Thanks,” she replied with a small smile.
“That all for me this morning?” he asked with a nod toward the mail in her hand.
“Oh! Yes, sorry,” Jane said, stepping forward and putting the envelopes and packet on his desk.
“No problem,” Storm said. “So your head’s feeling better today?” he asked.
For a second, Jane was so flustered she had no idea what he was talking about, then remembered. “Oh, yeah. Thanks. I don’t get migraines a lot, but when I do, they tend to knock me off my feet. But other than a slight twinge today, I feel fine.”
“Good. Then I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”
Beaming, Jane nodded. “Right. Have a good day, Sir, and try not to scare newbie sailors too badly.”
“It’s Storm…and I’m making no promises.”
Jane knew she probably looked like a big dork with the huge smile on her face, but she couldn’t help it. She gave him a little finger wave and backed out of his office. When she’d cleared his door, she spun, said goodbye to his admin, and pushed her mail cart out into the hallway. She stopped outside the door and leaned against the wall, closing her eyes and sighing in contentment.
Every time she talked to Storm, she felt happy, but today was markedly different. He’d seemed more…engaged. He’d asked her about her personal life, asked for her to call him by his first name…and when he’d smiled at her, she’d gone weak in the knees.
Taking a deep breath, she continued down the hall to the next office, feeling happier than she’d felt in a very long time.
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