Excerpt from Hard Landing

     Brantley Adams stepped out of his 1986 Ford Bronco, clutching his contribution to the party—a twelve pack of his favorite beer. Checking that he'd cracked the windows of his old truck to counteract the sweltering Virginia Beach heat, he locked it up and plodded toward the sprawling white brick ranch-style house where his commander lived.
     Commander MacDougal—Mad Max, as all the Team-guys called him behind his back—headed up Brant's task unit. He didn't command all of SEAL Team 12, just Brant's unit, but he carried a great deal of influence and enjoyed throwing his weight around. Hosting parties on every national holiday was just one of the ways he did that. Brant grumbled under his breath. Here he was, forced to make an appearance at another of the CO's parties when he was supposed to be enjoying his day off.
     Approaching the man's whitewashed house, Brant had to admit Mad Max owned a lovely piece of property, about an acre in size and situated on Rudee Lake, surrounded by other million dollar homes. He had a custom pool shaped like a seashell in his back yard, his own fishing pier, and a three-car garage that housed his Tahoe and his kit car. Mad Max loved his toys. He also laid claim to the prettiest, most pleasant wife on planet Earth, who happened to be Brant's good friend. Unfortunately, the way he saw it, the CO treated his wife as just another of his possessions.
     Brant had considered playing hooky today. These social functions weren't mandatory, just suggested. But if you wanted to stay on Mad Max's good side, you showed your face—and no one wanted to get on the CO's bad side. Not that it really mattered in Brant's case. He'd achieved the status of chief petty officer in the eight years that he'd been a SEAL. He didn't particularly care whether he made senior chief one day, or not. But he did want to see Rebecca, Max's wife.
     As usual, he would have to be careful not to spend too much time alone with her. Max watched her like a hawk—not that he needed to. She seemed as true blue as apple pie, and Brant had no intention of making any moves on his commander's wife. Who would be that stupid? He just wanted to hang out with her—period, the end. Was that asking too much?
     Blowing out a frustrated breath, he coursed the paving stones that bisected the lush front lawn and brought him to the wide stoop. Framed in pretty flower beds, the entire front area showed evidence of Rebacca's caring touch.
     He didn't bother knocking. The inner door had been left ajar, and through the storm door, he could see straight through the great room and out the wall of windows to the throng gathered around the pool out back. The interior of the house looked deserted, with the exception of the one dark haired woman he was hoping to see, standing behind a counter in the kitchen—Rebecca. His spirits abruptly lifted.
     He slipped into the air-conditioned foyer and cut through the formal dining room to keep himself out of sight for the time being. Pausing at the back of the kitchen, he leaned against the door frame to watch her slicing celery for the veggie plate.
     What was it about Rebecca MacDougal that made him smile inside? He wasn't attracted to her sexually—not much anyway. She wasn't his type, which tended toward blondes with big knockers. Rebecca projected femininity, but she didn't ooze sexuality. She represented everything that was honest and considerate and well-thought-out. He liked the way her glossy brown hair, caught up in a ponytail, brushed her shoulders when she moved. The angle of her jaw and the slight scoop of her nose made her profile so interesting to look at.
     "Hey," he said unwilling to waste another minute just staring at her.
     To his astonishment, she jumped like a startled cat. The knife in her right hand came close to slicing her cheek open as she whirled to face him, lifting up her hands simultaneously as if to ward him off. Whoa, sister.
     "Brant," she breathed, visibly relaxing. "God, you scared me."
     "Sorry." He stepped closer taking in her strained smile and the way she broke eye contact almost right away. She looked stressed, he decided. Hosting these enormous parties couldn't be easy. The skin of her face, usually soft and incandescent, looked like it was pulled taut over her forehead and especially around her mouth. "How are you?" he asked.
     "Good." She glanced at him again, her dimples flashing, but they promptly disappeared as she looked down at the box of beer hanging from his left hand. "The cooler's out back, if you just want to stick those in there." She turned her back to him them and started slicing another stalk of celery.
     Brant didn't move. Everything about her greeting struck him as off. She hadn't asked him how he was doing, for one thing. She'd never once not shown an interest in what was going on in his life. But then she asked a question.
     "Where's your date?"
     "Couldn't find one," he replied, lying through his teeth. Truth was, he was dating two women at once, both of them SEAL groupies, and the probability that one would find out about the other if he brought either to the party wasn't worth the inevitable drama. Besides, he'd come here to see Rebecca, which neither of his playmates would understand.
     "Oh, please," she scoffed. The blade of her knife struck the cutting board at regular intervals. Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.
     "No, I'm serious." He hoisted the box onto the countertop so he could lean a hip against it and watch her work. "I'm going through a dry spell right now. In fact, I'm going to try celibacy for a while."
     She slanted him wry look and snorted at the gross fabrication. "Sure you are."
     "You don't believe me?" Her lack of faith wounded him. "You think I can't handle celibacy?"
     "Maybe for a day," she said, "but I bet you couldn't last a week."
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