Jill Monroe.

SEALed with a Kiss






She looked like the best thing hed ever seen

Riley found himself wanting to lose himself in those green eyes of hers. Beautiful green eyes that were, for the first time, warm and inviting. The coldly reserved Rachel Sutherland who ran the speed-dating parties with a watch and a whistle was gone.

Something deep and elemental punched him in the gut. This was what it was like to have someone waiting for him. His return.

His feet ate those last steps that separated them.

Hi, she said, her voice a little breathless. She thrust something towards him. I brought you cookies. Riley had never seen Rachel more gorgeous. And the woman always looked hot. Her gaze lowered to his lips, and he was lost.

His duffel bag hit the pavement and his fingers sunk into her hair. Riley saw the desire in her eyes before her lids lowered. She rose on tiptoe to meet him halfway. Rachels mouth was everything hed fantasized about. Her lips parted with a soft moan that sent a shaft of heat straight through his body.

Rachel wrapped her arms around his neck, her elbow snagging on the pins of his uniform. There were kisses and then there were kisses, and this was a kiss to remember.

Welcome home, Riley, Rachel whispered.

They were the best damn words hed ever heard

Dear Reader,

I admit Im a news junkie. Where other people play music in the background, I prefer the twenty-four-hour news channel. So when a heart-wrenching story of sailors coming home from a long deployment flashed on the screen, I had to stop what I was doing and watch. I was touched by these incredible scenes of men and women being reunited with their loved ones, while the newscaster explained the protocol of how each sailor left the shipnew parents first, newly married, etc. Of course there were tears of joy, hugs and lots and lots of kissingeverything to make a romantic like me sigh dreamily.

But I couldnt help wondering about the men and women on board who didnt have anyone waiting for them on the pier below, and it made me a little sad. I wanted to rewrite their stories and give them somebody anxiously waiting for them.

And thats how Riley Wilkes came to be!

It was so much fun revisiting the world of navy SEALs. This is the first time Ive ever written about characters from a previous book, but Ive had a lot of requests from those whove read SEALed and Delivered to write Rachel Sutherlands story, and I couldnt think of a better man to pair her with than sexy Riley.

I love to hear from readers. You can visit me on the web at www.jillmonroe.com.

Happy reading!

Jill

About the Author

JILL MONROE makes her home in Oklahoma with her family. When not writing, she spends way too much time on the internet completing research or updating her blog. Even when writing, shes thinking of ways to avoid cooking.

SEALed with a Kiss

Jill Monroe


www.millsandboon.co.uk

This book is dedicated to Donnell Epperson

I will miss you forever.

Special thanks to Pink, my awesome daughters and my family, whose support is immeasurable.

A book dedication cannot be written without mentioning Gena Showalter.

Wind beneath wings does not begin to describe her.

Again thanks to HelenKay Dimon and James Miyazawa who helped with the geography of San Diego and other details.

Kassia Krozser, Shelia Fields and Betty Sanders all gave me invaluable feedback and I thank you.

A shout out to every amazing lady of the Day Camp Team but especially Scout, Taxi and Misty, and to my wonderful friends Jennifer, Karen, Maggie and Traci.

And thanks to Kathryn Lye who suggested SEALs, titles and loads of sage editorial wisdom, and Deidre Knight, who makes it all happen.

1

RACHEL SUTHERLAND imagined the six inches of air between her sisters feet and the ground and realized she would always be miserable. Okay, the new Mrs. Nathaniel Peterson wasnt really floating above the floor, but she might as well be.

Do you have to flaunt your happiness? Rachel asked, teasing.

Her sister, Hailey, practically glowed, and it wasnt from the heat of the oven where shed spent the morning baking her mans favorite kind of cookies. All six batches of them.

Hailey just smiled and tugged the lacy apron over her head and hung it on a hook in the kitchen of their family bed & breakfast, uniquely named, The Sutherland. She draped an arm around Rachels shoulders and kissed her on the cheek. As delightful as your sour mood is, you wont be bringing me down today.

Rachel gave her sister a light hug. I wouldnt want to.

Haileys Navy SEAL husband was returning to San Diego this afternoon after a six-month deployment. In fact, Rachel should probably take advantage of these last few hours alone with her sister. After Nates ship landed, or docked, or whatever it was a ship did, she doubted shed see Hailey for days. Newlyweds were bad enough. Separated newlyweds had to be even worse. And shed gotten used to having her sister all to herself.

Youre welcome to come with me. From what I understand the Navy does it big with banners and music. Families carry signs. The works.

Nate was a good guy, and Rachel really liked him. But she doubted even his good nature would extend to his sister-in-law butting in on the much-anticipated reunion with his wife. That had been a long stretch at sea.

Ill do you a favor and pass. Although you could leave a few cookies in the kitchen for me. I think the seventy or so youre taking is more than enough.

Some of them are for Riley, and the other soldiers who dont have families to come home to.

A little thrill landed straight in the middle of her stomach. Just as it always did at the mention of that mans name. Riley. The image of the tall, handsome SEAL with the cocky lopsided grin filled her mind. Which she immediately tried to erase. Only where Riley was concerned, it didnt always work. Usually Rachel was quite good at avoiding the little things in life she didnt want to think about, like bills or a dead-end job. But Rileys image was persistent.

She would however lay money on the fact that shed never registered on his radar. The man hadnt even so much as flirted with her. It was all the more insulting because he seemed to have a more-than-easy smile for every other woman whod attended SEAL Nighta speed dating event arranged to bring extra revenue to the B&B and hopefully introduce their single female friends to these seriously hot military men. Riley was the most popular SEAL, with the highest level of follow-up date requests on the sheets the women returned at the end of the night.

Why she was so intrigued by the man was anyones guess. Although a rugged, sexy male with a stomach so solid that the term six-pack didnt describe it properly was worth a second, third and even a fourth look from any woman with a hint of estrogen in her body. But Riley was not Rachels type. Shed seen him in action with the ladies, and knew what lay behind those amazing gray eyes, and that was a man looking for his next good time.

She liked having a good time as much as the next person, but she wanted more with a man than just a little fun between the sheets. Rachel wanted a connection outside as well as inside the bedroom. Something meaningful. Which easily explained why she was dateless. For the past six months.

Actually, Riley was the reason I asked you to come along, Hailey said, as she began sliding cookies into the boxes shed take with her to the homecoming.

Rachels throat tightened. Did he, uh, ask about me? she questioned, trying to sound casual while feeling something that resembled hope. She knew Hailey and Nate emailed each other when they could. Maybe he had mentioned that Riley had mentioned her and what was she, in seventh grade?

Her sister shook her head, not looking up. No, I just thought it would be a good idea. Seeing a familiar face.

Pathetic. Man, she was pathetic. When had she picked up this fascination with a man whod never glanced her way?

I think Ill pass, she told her sister, as she busied herself returning the butter and eggs to the commercial refrigerator. Rachel loved this kitchen, had spent great nights here talking with her mom and sister about everything from future careers to boys.

Although she and her sister didnt have the same longing to run the family B&B that had spanned several Sutherland generations, they werent able to give up the place either after their parents death. Hiring a management company to take over the running of the business freed them up to finish college and pursue their careers.

Two years ago though, falling revenues and several poor reviews online had Rachel booking a quick flight to her hometown. As a marketing exec, she understood reviews were the lifeblood of the small business. Shed found her childhood home in hopeless disrepair. Seeing the upholsterychosen specially by her mothernow stained and ripped, sent Rachel back to Missouri to make the riskiest move of her life. Riskiest? Who was she kidding? Her actions were the only true chance shed ever taken in her life.

She quit her job, cashed out her 401k and liquidated the CDs covering six months salary just in case. Rachel Sutherland was a woman who believed in saving for just in case moments in life. A lot of them. Then she blew it all on upgrading the kitchen. Merely the first step in their goal to return The Sutherland Bed & Breakfast to its former glory.

Her sister glanced up from the red, white and blue bow she was tying to the box. Just think about how sad it is to come home after six months and not have anyone waiting for your return. Hes got to be lonely.

Ha, Rachel said with a scoffing little laugh. That man is a dog. You remember those SEAL Night speed dating parties we hosted? Riley never missed one. I personally witnessed him score phone numbers with at least three women per night. Trust me, he will not be lonely this evening. In fact, there might be half a dozen women waiting for him to debark. Talk about awkward.

Disembark, Hailey corrected. And what if youre wrong? Its dinner. Whats one dinner out of your life to make a man feel hes glad to be back home?

When did this become dinner? I thought Id simply be meeting him and handing over a box of cookies.

Hailey smiled. Sweetly.

And Rachel felt herself cave. Although she didnt have far to fall into the cavern of curiosity she had where that man was concerned.

Okay, but the first hint of another woman, I bolt.

RILEY SPOTTED the Welcome Home signs from deck. The music and cheers would be next. Hed done this drill before. Dress uniforms, manning the rails.

The pier below was dotted with families; excited children, women holding up babies, anxious girlfriends. Riley turned away.

No one would be waiting for him with a warm smile, a hug or promise in her eyes for an all-night welcome reception. He believed in clean breaks and no loose ends, and thats how hed left San Diego six months ago.

Hed volunteered to disembark last. Men with wives, new babies they should have first shot at their women. As they approached the pier, the anticipatory mood on board was growing. None more ready to get on that pier and into the arms of the woman hed left behind than his best friend, Nate Peterson. Riley watched as Nate scanned the crowd, saw the tension evaporate and a smile spread across his face when the man obviously spotted his wife.

A year ago, Nate would be the first at the party. Hell, Nate was the party. Now the man was a homebody.

And for a moment Riley almost envied him.

Then thankfully that moment passed. The world was a buffet filled with beautiful women. Why would he limit himself to one?

See you, buddy, Nate called, as he hoisted his duffel bag over his shoulder.

And thats the last hed see of his friend for at least a week, hed bet.

Riley watched as each Team Member left. Some left with salutes, others with pats on the back.

Bunch of us are heading to The Bowery tonight, Ethan Morales, another single man from his Team, said. But as a second generation Navy man, Ethan still had a family eagerly waiting for him on the pier.

Sounds good, he replied to Moraless back. The Bowery was known for its locally brewed beer, loud music and the women looking for fun. It was the first place Riley hit after a long training run or a deployment. Guess tonight would be no exception.

Riley picked up his duffel bag. Hed delayed his departure long enough. Most of the happy families and reunited couples should have moved on by now. Good. He hated the feeling of being an intruder into those private moments. In the past, a few of the men had even felt obligated to invite him to their homes. He hated putting his fellow officers and friends in that position, especially since he knew it was the last thing they wanted to do. Now he regretted accepting Nates offer of a ride home.

Overhead the sky was blue. The day perfect for a return from duty. Hopefully hed given Nate and Hailey enough time alone on the pier. Riley took a few steps, and stopped.

His throat dried.

There, not ten feet away from him, stood Rachel Sutherland, looking hot, tired and like someone whod been waiting a while. A discarded ribbon was wrapped around her wrist and she snacked on a cookie?

She also looked like the best thing hed seen in about a hundred and eighty-five days, but then what else was new? Rachel always looked like the best thing hed ever seen.

He loosened the tight grip of the handle on his duffel bag and aimed in her direction. Riley watched as her eyes widened when she spotted him. Rachel brushed the crumbs from her hand then angled her head, checking left and right.

What an ass he was. Had he just assumed she was here for him? When had the woman ever regarded at him with anything other than distaste? Clearly she was searching the crowd and waiting for someone else. Maybe one of the SEALs that hung around The Sutherland after their Meet A SEAL nights? Something a lot like irritation mixed with envy hit him in the chest. Who the hell had been making a play for Rachel when he wasnt watching?

Too late to change course now. He continued forward. Riley would be polite and move on so she could greet the man she was here for. Strange, hed never thought of her as a Navy woman. Shed never given any of the SEALs whod been at The Sutherland anything other than that polite smile. Not one of her smiles had ever broken into something more warm, more genuine. At least not for him.

He found himself almost wanting to hang around to meet and shake the hand of the man whod managed to get something other than a no from Rachel Sutherland.

Shed stopped scanning the quickly clearing pier and stood straighter, meeting his gaze. His breath hitched, and he realized he wanted to lose himself in those green eyes of hers. Beautiful green eyes that were, for the first time, truly inviting. The coldly reserved Rachel Sutherland who ran the speed dating parties with a watch and a whistle was gone. She even flashed him a tentative smile.

Rachel wasnt here waiting on some other guy. No, she had stood there for over an hour waiting for him.

Something deep and elemental punched him in the gut. This was what it was like to have someone waiting for him. His return.

His feet ate those last steps that separated them.

Hi, she said, her voice breathless, her skin turning rosy-red. She thrust something toward him. I brought you cookies.

Riley had never seen Haileys prickly younger sister look more beautiful. And the woman always looked hot. Today, the breeze caught her hair, ruffling the long, blond strands into her eyes. He reached, feeling the silky glide of her hair between his fingers as he gently tucked the soft strands behind her ear. He smelled the light honeysuckle scent of her. Her gaze lowered to his lips, and he was lost.

His duffel bag hit the pavement, and his fingers sank into her hair. Riley saw the heat in her eyes before her lids lowered. She raised on tiptoe meeting his lips halfway. Warm and soft, Rachels mouth was everything hed fantasized about. Her lips parted with a quiet moan that sent a shaft of desire straight through his body.

Rachel wrapped her arms around his neck, one elbow snagging on the pins of his uniform. There were kisses and then there were kisses, and this one was becoming X-rated pretty quickly. Of course it wasnt every day that the woman hed thought unattainable yet still starred in several of his late-night fantasies was in his arms, kissing him with a carnal passion that nearly met his own.

He was forgetting where he was, what he was doing. Riley reached for her hands, pulling them from around his neck, reluctance in his every move. With one last run of his tongue along her bottom lip, he broke the kiss. Riley settled his forehead on hers, his breath ragged and heavy.

Welcome home, Riley, she whispered.

They were the best damn words hed ever heard.

WHAT WAS IT SHE WAS JUST saying to herself earlier today about avoiding the men who were only around for a bit of fun in bed? How she preferred a connection? Well, the pounding of her heart sure told her she was wrong.

Rachel always suspected Riley could be her downfall. She understood that now. It was probably the reason shed always avoided him. Some hidden, elemental female part of her must have known he was the kind of bad-for-her boy she couldnt resist. Downfall? Heck, she hadnt even put up much of a fight. Shed met her ruin while offering cookies.

Riley could destroy a womans sense of self-preservation with one kiss.

Nate was going to give me a lift home.

She cocked her head toward the exit. I think those two wanted to be alone. I offered and they left.

Riley didnt seem disappointed at his friends desertion.

Hope you dont mind, she said, needing to hear him say the words. That he wanted to be with her.

Riley laughed. After that greeting? Im just sorry I made you wait. Hope it wasnt too bad.

Shed been hot, sticky and growing more and more uncomfortable as the minutes ticked past. But nowit was totally worth it. Rachel lifted the box that was to be his welcome home gift from Hailey. I did eat most of your cookies.

And here I was really counting on eating those tonight, he said, his voice teasing, and she laughed. Riley was pure charm.

Shed never spent any real time talking with the man, but she could see why he did so well with the ladies. In mere moments hed managed to make her laugh, show his concern for her comfort and let her know that he could rock her world.

Emotional connections were overrated, right?

Then I guess I owe you dinner, she told him.

At The Sutherland? he asked, hope lacing his words.

Nates single SEAL friends had made no secret of their love of the good food served at her familys bed & breakfast.

Rachel shook her head. No, we made sure we booked no guests tonight so Nate and Hailey could be alone together. I was planning on making myself scarce. I could take you to a restaurant, she suggested.

Some of the enthusiasm faded from his eyes, and for the first time Rachel noticed the tiny lines of fatigue on either side of his mouth and around his eyes. He was tired and from what little she had gleaned from Nate of Navy life on a boat, the last place a newly returning soldier wanted to be was in a crowded, noisy eatery.

Riley might be one of those always-out-for-a-good-

time kind of guys, but tonight he was a man recently arrived from a faraway war who probably just wanted to sit down someplace comfortable and relax with a beer.

How about if I stop by a grocery store and pick up a few steaks? Do you have a grill at your place?

If I didnt, Id buy one. But yes, I have a grill on my patio, he told her with a smile. His big body already seemed less tense.

He stooped and reached for his forgotten duffel bag. The one hed dropped before he drew her into his arms and gave her hormones a sample of what theyd been missing. The material of his uniform pulled taut as his biceps bulged under the weight of his luggage. A ripple of desire instantly reminded her how dangerous this man could be to her. Shed known it, and avoided him. But not any longer. Today shed indulge temptation.

They began to walk toward her car, but Riley paused to twine his fingers through hers. The move caught her off guard, was so unexpected she automatically gripped his hand tightly. Her thumb began a dangerous exploration all on its own. His hand, like the rest of him, was large, the skin rough and his fingers calloused. A mans hands. Rachel imagined his fingers stroking along her bare skin. Those big hands of his cupping her breasts. Caressing her nipples.

Everything about Riley promised a woman hed satisfy her like no other.

Tonight shed put him to the test.





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