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Redeeming the Billionaire SEAL

By:Lauren Canan

One

Watching a newborn foal rise to its feet for the first time was a sight Holly Anderson would never tire of seeing. With a few staggered steps and some encouragement from its mother, the foal located its dinner bucket and didn’t have to be shown how to latch on to her first meal. The fluffy little tail flipped and turned as the warm nourishment filled her tummy.

“I thought we were going to lose this one,” said Don Jefferies, owner of the mare that had just given birth with considerable help from Holly. “I’ve been raising quarter horses most of my life and I guess I’ve been lucky. I’ve never had to deal with a breech birth.”

“They don’t happen that often,” Holly agreed. “Thank goodness.”

“I can’t say how much I appreciate you, Doc.”

“Glad I could help.” Holly took one last glimpse at the foal before stepping out into the hallway as Don closed the stall door behind her. She began gathering her implements, then walked to the truck and dumped them into a white bucket filled with a special cleaning solution. “I should come back out and check them both in two or three days. I’ll need someone here to contain Mother. She’s probably not going to like having her baby kidnapped for a few minutes.”

“No worries. I’ll call your office tomorrow, schedule a time and make sure someone is around to help if I can’t be here myself.”

With a final handshake, Holly tossed the last of her gear in the holding compartment in the back of her truck, climbed in behind the wheel and headed back to the clinic. The sun had set and twilight was quickly folding into night.

She’d finished scouring the equipment and was rinsing her hands when the little bell over the front door chimed. Someone had entered the building. She must have forgotten to put up the closed sign again. It had been a twelve-hour day with an emergency wake-up call at seven thirty this morning, and her body was screaming for a long hot soak in the old claw-foot tub.

Drying her hands on a paper towel, she made her way through the back of the clinic, rounded the corner and stopped at the edge of the front counter. She had already turned off the overhead lights but the glow from the lab area provided some illumination. Two men stood just inside the door of the small waiting room. She immediately recognized Cole Masters, one of the three owners of the ninety-two-thousand-acre beef operation across the road. She’d grown up with the three Masters sons; her aunt’s small house, where she lived now, was just across the road from their mansion on the hill. Although they were several years older, that hadn’t stopped any of them from forming a lifelong bond of friendship that was more like extended family.

As to the identity of the man who stood next to Cole, she had no clue. He must be a business associate out for the weekend. Cole and his brother Wade randomly brought people to the Circle M for a leisurely weekend in the country with horseback rides and cookouts over a campfire—by an accredited chef. Why anyone would need a professional chef to cook a hot dog over a grill was beyond her realm of understanding. To each his own, she supposed.

She didn’t sense any type of tension indicating an emergency. Cole just stood there with a stupid grin on his face. It was late. She was tired. And she needed to get home to the baby so Amanda, her friend and temporary babysitter, could go home. Whatever he was up to, she needed him to pull the prank and be done with it.

“Hey, Cole,” she said. He nodded. “Did you forget your way home again?”

“Ha. Ha.”

“How can I help you?”

“I wanted to pick up the antibiotics for the sorrel mare that cut her foot. Caleb intended to get them but something else came up. I told him I would stop by if you were still open.”

“Right. I’d forgotten. They’re in the fridge. Be right back.”

She slipped into the main room of the clinic, grabbed the drugs out of the refrigerator along with a few syringes, dropped them all in a plastic ziplock and returned to the front. “Here you go. Caleb knows what to do but if he has any questions, tell him to call.”

“Sure thing.”

Cole stood in the same place, making no effort to move.

“Was there something else?”

Cole glanced over to the other man next to him, then back to Holly.

Holly bent slightly forward and held out her hands, palms up, a silent way of asking, What do you want? “It’s a little late for charades. I’m sorry, but I’ve had a really long day. How about you skip the theatrics and just tell me what you need?” She glanced at the other man. “I apologize. He gets this way sometimes.”

The man shrugged, pursing his lips as though finding the situation funny. Cole’s grin grew wider. “Ah, man...this is too good,” Cole muttered to his friend. “We should have brought Wade.”

Holly didn’t know what to make of that statement. What was too good?

“Okay.” She patted the counter. “You both have a good evening. If you don’t mind, lock the door on your way out.” She turned to leave, headed for the rear entrance and made it all of three steps.

“Why do you have to leave so soon, Muppet?”

Holly froze. Her heart did a tiny dance in her chest. That voice, deep and raspy. That name. Only one person called her Muppet. But it couldn’t be. Could it? Holly turned as the big man with wide shoulders walked toward her, removing the Western hat that had been pulled low over his eyes. In one blinding flash the past twelve years vanished and she was looking into the eyes of her best friend.

She should have known him even if she hadn’t seen his face. It was the way he moved, silently, with the grace of a cougar. It was how he held himself, feet apart, broad shoulders back, big hands at his side, ready to handle any potential threat that came his way by any means necessary.

He had a ruggedly handsome face, with high cheekbones and a sharp jaw that stood out despite a five-o’clock shadow. His hair was the same dark saddle-brown color as his brothers’ but instead of a suave businessman’s cut, it was shaggy, disheveled—which capped off his devilish, sexy looks. His appearance had once driven most of the county’s female population crazy. The Roman nose would have given him the distinction of royalty had it not been broken due to his preference of football in his youth and no doubt some hard-fought battles on enemy lines. The cleft in his chin completed the image.

Holly knew those full lips were punctuated by dimples on either side and hid strong white teeth. It was the kind of smile you waited for. Hoped for. And when it finally came it was more than worth the wait. But it was the crystal blue of his eyes that conveyed the true power of his persona. It was as though they were lit from inside. His gaze could be as daunting as a thief at your window on a moonless night, as hypnotizing as a cobra, as erotic as two lovers in the throes of passion or, like now, it could sparkle with humor. She’d once wondered if he even noticed the second glances from people he passed on the street. Or was he so accustomed to people taking another look that he no longer paid any attention?

He was dressed in desert fatigues and a light brown T-shirt, which showed the chiseled muscles of his arms and chest to full effect. There was a black-banded watch that had more dials than an Apollo spacecraft on his tanned wrist.

In front of her stood a warrior. A US Navy SEAL.

Chance Masters had come home.

“Chance,” she whispered. She reached her hand out to him, needing to prove to herself he was really here. He caught her smaller hand in his, placed it firmly against his chest and held it there. She felt his heartbeat, steady and sure, beneath the thin material of his shirt.

Tears stung her eyes and she blinked rapidly, trying to prevent them from falling while she scrambled to gain control of her emotions. He’d been her best friend, her first crush and her first heartbreak when he’d left for the navy. The entire community had felt his absence. Some, mostly the women, had been saddened by the void his leaving created, while others, primarily the parents, had breathed a sigh of relief that he was gone. But his leaving had affected everyone in one way or another for three counties around. Her older brother had once told her he wished he had a nickel for every woman Chance turned down.

She stepped into his arms, her hands encircling his lean body while he held her close and let her cry. Hot, raw vitality surrounded her, causing her senses to ignite in a fire that swept through her. After a few moments, she stepped back and wiped the tears from her cheeks. She sniffed and with a quick movement tossed the strands of hair that had come loose from her braid away from her face, determined to regain some measure of control. She pulled in one shaky cleansing breath, placed her hands on her hips and jutted out her chin with purpose. “Commander? It’s about damn time you came home.”

That earned her a smile. He looked down, shaking his head.

“I was about to say you’ve changed, Muppet. But maybe not,” he said teasingly, his voice deeper than she remembered. “But no braces. No pigtails. And you seem a bit taller.”

Holly smiled. “You think?”

She’d been barely twelve when he’d joined the military immediately after graduating high school, so yeah, in twelve years there had been changes. But all the change wasn’t on her side. She was intensely aware of the pure animal magnetism oozing from every pore in his body; he was an alpha male in every sense of the phrase. A jolt of awareness shot through her veins, pooling in her belly, making the temperature of the room rise fifteen degrees. At least.

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