SS2

Christmas with a SEAL coverA Sexy SEAL home for the holidays and a heroine who wants him to stay there. Their secrets could bring them closer together, or rip them apart forever.

Subject: Navy SEAL Lieutenant Phillip Banks

Mission: Resist one saucy redhead’s attempts to de-Scrooge him…and seduce him!

Silversmith Frankie Silvera has lost her creative mojo. And she knows how to get it back—by getting her sexy on with a certain hot sailor. Just the thought of Phillip’s hard, Navy-trained body against her, and everything goes molten. He’s the “inspiration” Frankie needs for the holidays!

Navy SEAL Phillip Banks is the prince of protocol. But after his last mission went horribly off-course, all of that control has dissipated. Now he’s at the mercy of one very determined female who is pulling out all the stops on Operation Christmas—including red-hot lingerie and the promise of oh-so-wicked delights… But does giving in mean giving up everything he’s worked for?

ISBN10: 0373798237 | ISBN13: 978-0373798230

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Chapter One

If she had a fairy godmother, Frankie Silvera would be sending her a big ole thank you bouquet for giving her the perfect opportunity to make some of her naughtiest dreams come true.

Or maybe it was her creative muse.

This was the kind of place that definitely inspired creativity. The Las Vegas penthouse was a kaleidoscope of sensations. Neon lights glinted off sparkling chandeliers, sending colorful sparkles off the crowd of partiers. Dressed in everything from sequins to plastic, denim to silk, bodies filled the room, covering the leather couches, perched on chrome stools around the horseshoe bar and flowing onto the dance floor.

Accenting it all were intense music, free flowing booze and men. So, so many men.

And oh, baby, they were gorgeous.

It wasn’t just knowing that most of these muscular, sexy men were Navy SEALs that made Frankie’s insides dance. It was knowing that somewhere among them was her dream hottie and the answer to all of her problems.

She just had to find him.

“Frankie!”

Frankie barely turned around before a pair of arms engulfed her.

“Lara, this is so fabulous.” Frankie leaned back to take a good look at the other woman. “Not as fabulous as you, though. Wow, you look great.”

Not a lie. Lara Banks had always been gorgeous. Tall and exotic with big green eyes and a body that made men drool. But today, she actually glowed. Her white satin dress was short and sassy, her auburn hair cut at a wicked angle and her Jimmy Choos put her a couple inches over six foot.

“You look good, too. Thank you for being here,” Lara said, looking as if she really meant it.

Not that Frankie would blame her for just being polite. Despite having practically grown up in Lara’s back yard, it wasn’t as if the two women had been close. Lara’s parents had been high society snobs with very specific ideas of whom their children could associate with, and the granddaughter of their housekeeper wasn’t on their list. Not that that would have mattered to Lara. But she’d been totally absorbed in dance, running away at seventeen to dance on Broadway.

It wasn’t until Lara has paid her first visit in eight years to her family’s estate a few months back that the two women had gotten past that awkward, I know you but don’t remember your name, stage.

“Thanks for inviting me to the wedding,” Frankie said. “I have to say, when you do things, you definitely do them your way. This is amazing.”

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you,” Lara murmured, pulling Frankie close for another hug.

“Sure you would. I just got you drunk and let you talk,” Frankie said with a laugh. All it’d taken was a bottle of Patron and a tray of Nana’s brownies to finally break through Lara’s defensive shell.

Frankie envied the woman, blown away at how much in love she was with her SEAL. She liked to think she’d be able to pull that off some day. True love, happy ever after, lifelong sex. Maybe in a few years, after she’d reestablished her business, rebuilt her credit and lost five pounds.

Maybe.

“You were wonderful. A friend when I needed one.” Lara squeezed Frankie’s arms before stepping back and fingering her necklace. “And thank you for the early gift. It’s my something new, but I’ll be wearing it all the time.”

Frankie tilted her head and tried to smile. A couple years ago, she’d been celebrated in various circles, written up in magazines and on her way to building a stellar reputation as a gifted silversmith who specialized in quirky elegance. People were lining up for her jewelry, and she’d been doing great. She’d had a fat contract from two national jewelers and more orders than she could handle. She’d invested in new equipment, leased a studio so she wasn’t working out of her apartment. She’d even treated herself to a hot-off-the-showroom-floor Mini Cooper S convertible.

She’d had the dream. Then she’d blown it.

Nine months ago, she’d got the dreaded block.

All of her creative juices dried up. Everything she made turned out hideous. She’d lost clients, she’d lost contracts, she’d lost her lease.

Six months ago she’d had move in with her grandmother.

Now she was making quirky customized Christmas ornaments to pay the bills.   She’d told everyone she was exploring a new phase of art, when in reality all she wanted was what she had before.

She eyed the necklace, seriously proud of how it had turned out. Edgy geometric shapes of copper, silver and bronze, it was perfect for Lara. Apparently she could only create great jewelry if she wasn’t getting paid for it.

“Three of my dancer friends have already asked if you’d be here,” Lara said with a grin. “They all want you to design special pieces for them, too.”

“I’m not doing jewelry anymore,” Frankie demurred, trying not to sound bitter. For awhile she’d hoped that her creativity would be like a feral cat, and if she pretended she wasn’t interested it’d sneak up behind her.

It hadn’t worked.

But Frankie was sure her plan tonight wold.

“I told the girls you’d say that but they’re stubborn. Be prepared to fend off requests.” Lara looked around, then gave Frankie a wicked look. “And not just for jewelry. You’re catching a lot of looks, girly.”

Frankie offered her trademark mischievous smile back and twisted one red curl around her finger. She didn’t need to look around to confirm that. A girl always knew when guys were checking out her ass.

“See anything you like?” Lara asked.

A room full of sexy guys with smoking hot bodies?

What wasn’t to like.

They were enticing as hell, but if she was going to get wild, she only wanted one guy.

“I’m here to celebrate,” Frankie dismissed. “Not to hook up.”

“You’re in Las Vegas, Frankie. Go wild. Have fun.” Lara laughed. “Don’t forget, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

“Tempting, but I’m not the wild Vegas type,” Frankie demurred, keeping her secret dream just that, secret. After all, she and Lara might have grown up together, after a fashion. But they weren’t close enough for Frankie to share her hope of finding a guy she only seen from a distance a handful of times over the last ten years and seducing him.

Especially not when the guy was Lara’s brother.

“You are so the wild type,” Lara claimed, grabbing two glasses of champagne off a passing waiter’s tray.

“Me? Wild?” Frankie pressed her hand to her chest and laughed before taking one of the glasses with nod of thanks.

“Wasn’t it you who was caught skinny-dipping in the high school swimming pool?” Lara sipped her bubbly, then arched her brow. “For almost a year you had blue hair and went to raves, right?”

“I just went for the dancing. And the blue seriously clashed with my freckles,” Frankie grimaced. “But that’s not wild. It just proves that I had questionable taste in hairstyles.”

“Okay,” Lara murmured. “So it wasn’t you who constructed a metal elephant in the principal’s office your senior year, led a protest against the school lunches in sixth grade, and had a childhood reputation of streaking.”

Frankie pressed her lips together to hold back her giggle.

“Well, that streaking does show a wild side,” she acknowledged. “Of course, I was three at the time.”

She looked around the room, wondering if she could still pull it off. Granted, she wasn’t three anymore, but she still had dimples on her butt. That had to be worth something.

“You work way too hard,” Lara murmured, rubbing her hand over Frankie’s shoulder. “Give yourself a break. Give yourself this weekend.”

Frankie shook her head, forcing her smile to stay bright despite the tension spiking through her system. She’d spent the last six months feeling like she was drowning and one day short of six months pretending she wasn’t. So any acknowledgement of working too hard would ruin all of her well-developed pretending.

But the invitation to take the weekend?

That she’d be happy to take.

“Lara!”

Both women turned toward the makeshift stage at one end of the penthouse to see a gorgeous guy gesturing.

“Looks like Dominic wants to dance,” Frankie said.

“You wanna come dance with us?” Lara invited, her eyes not leaving her man.

“You go,” Frankie said. “Have fun.”

“Stick around for cake,” Lara said, not needing to be told twice. In a blink the other woman was halfway across the room, making Frankie laugh.

Finishing her champagne, Frankie watched the happy couple get down and boogie with some impressive moves. She wanted that.

Not someone to dance with, although a guy who could match her moves would be so sweet.

What did it feel like to be in that kind of relationship. One where two people could block out a huge roomful of partying people just by looking into each other’s eyes.

Frankie watched Dominic pull Lara into his arms, their bodies keeping perfect rhythm even as he lifted her hand to his lips to brush a kiss over her knuckles.

Le sigh.

Pure romance.

And not why she was here, Frankie reminded herself.

She wasn’t looking for romance or forever, like Lara had.

She was looking for a very specific guy. The one she’d been crushed as a pre-teen, the one who’d inspired all of her teenage fantasies and quite a few of her sexier adult ones.

The one who, she was positive if she could get him, would turn everything around. Unlock her creativity, and with it, her confidence. Because lying to herself was only going to keep working for so long.

Taking a second glass liquid courage that tasted like champagne, she decided it was time to get to work on the best weekend of her life.

Not an easy task. She gave a soundless whistle, looking around. There were at least two hundred people here. Figuring it was a gift that all the guys were hot and sexy and made searching fun, she moved through the bodies to cross the room.

Whoa. Frankie narrowed her eyes, her heart picking up a couple extra beats and excitement danced in her stomach.

Was that him? Her dream hottie?

She shifted to the right, trying to see around the crush of dancing bodies to the booths on the far end of the penthouse.

Oh…

Sitting alone in one booth and looking like he wanted to be anywhere else, the man was nursing a drink. Mahogany hair, shorn with military precision. A navy blue sweater covered his broad shoulders, emphasizing his perfect posture and from what she could see, a gorgeous chest.

Phillip Banks.

He was even better looking now.

She didn’t think they’d exchanged more than ten words her entire life. But she’d watched him. As a kid, because he looked like the heroes she read about in school. As a teen because he looked like a dream hunk straight out of her favorite TV show. And as an adult because he looked like a hottie who’d burn up the sheets. Most of her watching had been from afar whenever he visited his parents’ house in Maryland.

But now, here he was. Up close and about to get personal.

And, oh, my, he was hot.

Nerves danced in her stomach. It was one thing to dream about seducing her fantasy guy. She’d spent untold hours playing out the scenarios. She credited her artistic mind for the diverse variety of those scenarios—everything from Phillip staring at her blankly or laughing in her face to a look of intrigued desire in his eyes or, every once in awhile—if she’d had an extra glass of wine—his confession that he’d been lusting after her for years.

She knew that last one was far-reaching given that the last time he’d seen her she was fifteen and going through the bohemian stage of her search for her personal art style. She’d spent months wearing burlap, shunning shampoo and usually covered in burns from the soldering iron.

But hey, maybe she’d get lucky.

In one form or another.

Frankie bounced in her beribboned Lucite heels, wondering if this was what Cinderella felt like when she’d spotted the prince at the ball.

Half delighted, half terrified.

And totally turned on.

Strippers, body shots, flashing lights and wild dancing.

Las Vegas at its finest.

Otherwise known as one of Lieutenant Phillip Banks’ many versions of hell. Right there with email spam, traffic jams and drug kingpins with a taste for exotic torture.

A man who believed in discipline, he made a point to do everything in his power to avoid the first two and take down the latter.

Especially the latter.

Phillip stared at his drink, slowly twisting the glass this way, then that, while memories of his time as Valdero’s unwilling guest flashed through his mind.

Captured on a mission gone wrong, it’d taken his team three days to effect a rescue. In those three days, Phillip had learned new levels of pain, had discovered rage and had learned to rethink his beliefs about revenge.

For most of his life, his goal had been to be the best. To excel in all things—school, the military and the SEALs.

Now?

Now, all he wanted was revenge on the sadistic sonofabitch, Valdero. And he planned to get it. He had the operation mapped out, he had a good idea who had sold out the team and he was ready to lead the mission to take Valdero down.

Phillip gulped his scotch with a grimace.

Hell, he’d even gone above and beyond the mandatory psych eval to ensure—and prove to those in command—that he was mentally capable of handling it.

He was ready.

Unfortunately, he was also in Las Vegas.

Phillip looked around with a grimace. He’d rather be in Coronado, studying strategy and perfecting his plan.

Under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t think twice about doing an about face and making for the nearest exit.

But this wasn’t a normal circumstance.

This, God help him, was his sister’s wedding.

A headache throbbing in his left eye, he leaned his head against the back of the booth, watching the dancers wriggling all over the modified stage. He winced when the leggy brunette in the middle did a wicked bump and grind.

“Helluva party,” someone said, forcing Phillip to quit glaring at his dancing sister.

When he saw who was speaking, he automatically came to attention.

“Sir?”

“The party, it’s the wildest wedding I’ve ever attended.” Lieutenant Commander Blake Landon winced as the groom got up on stage, too, showing an impressive bump and grind of his own. “Although I’m pretty sure I didn’t need to see that.”

Wondering where he could get his eyeballs sandblasted, Phillip could only grunt his agreement.

“You’re not celebrating?” Landon asked, dropping into the chair opposite Phillip so his back was turned toward the stage. A move Phillip would have preferred if not for his policy to always sit with his back against a wall.

“I’m sure Lara considers my being here celebration enough,” Phillip responded, figuring that and an appropriate wedding gift were really all anyone could ask of him.

“That was a good thing you did, giving the bride away.”

Swirling the ice melting in his second scotch of the night, Phillip could only grimace. A year ago, hell, six months ago, he’d been in what he considered peak efficiency for a military officer. He trained hard, he was at the top of his game physically and mentally, and he was completely unencumbered. He’d had no family to answer to, his relationships with his fellow SEALs were distant enough for him to do his job without any emotional baggage. And he’d been absolutely positive that he was on the right track.

Now?

He was reluctantly attending a tacky Las Vegas wedding with half the SEAL platoon, his entire team and a sister he’d spent most of his life comfortably estranged from. And his right track? That’d taken a sharp turn left.

“Sir?” he asked, leaning forward so his words were easily drowned out by the loud music. “Any word on Candy Man?”

Landon’s easy look faded at the mention of Valdero’s code name. His eyes went military hard and his demeanor shifted automatically into command.

“This isn’t the time, nor the place,” Landon said. “And you haven’t been cleared for the mission. So until we’re back on base, why don’t you relax and enjoy your sister’s happiness.”

Phillip clenched his teeth to keep his argument at bay, baffled at the unfamiliar fury surging through him. Apparently the extra therapy he’d gotten after the clear psych eval hadn’t helped much. Before, he’d never gotten angry, never questioned orders. Yet here he was, ready to leap across the table, grab a superior officer and demand that he be allowed revenge.

Phillip tossed back the last of his scotch, wishing the alcohol would dull the hold those strange emotions had over him. He’d been called uptight most of his life, and had embraced that label. Reckless emotions were something he’d never indulged in.

Landon glanced over his shoulder where the bride and groom were now slow dancing, despite the heavy bass ricocheting off the walls. “Give yourself a pat on the back for your part in bringing them together.”

“That’s all on them,” Phillip denied, wincing as the groom’s hands slipped down to cup the bride’s ass.

“Blake?”

Both men looked over and smiled. Phillips the polite society smile he’d been trained from birth to offer. Landon with a much sappier smile, the kind that said the guy was seriously crazy over his wife.

“Dance?” Alexia Landon asked, trailing her fingers over her husband’s shoulder.

Landon nodded, then gave Phillip a long look.

“Whether you want credit or not, from what I hear, the bride and groom are giving it to you,” he said as he got to his feet. With that and a grin, he followed the leggy redhead onto the dance floor.

“Don’t forget you have to stay until they cut the cake,” the Lieutenant Commander threw over his shoulder.

Seriously?

Phillip eyed the clearly-not-ready-for-cake couple on the stage, looked at his watch, grimaced, then raised one hand.

“Bartender?”

Thirty minutes and one scotch on the rocks over his two-drink limit later, his headache had spread to both eyes and was eeking its way down the back of his neck. As he did with anything that didn’t suit him, Phillip ignored it.

All he had to do was focus on his goal and push everything else from his mind. In this case, his goal was to get out of here. Less than a minute later, halfway through planning out the details of his escape, a woman dropped into the chair next to him.

Phillip blinked. Not in surprise, but in defense of his corneas. Was her dress made of mirrors? He squinted, realizing the tiny round tiles glittering their way over her curves were metal, not glass.

Did everything glitter and glow in Las Vegas?

“Wow, this is wild,” she said, waving her hand in front of her face to cool off. “Can you believe the place? I’ve never been in a penthouse before. Talk about doing it right.”

She glanced over his shoulder as she said it, her gaze taking in the neon landscape. Then, with a soft whistle, she gave him a wide-eyed look as if to say wow. Then she shifted, narrowing his gaze to focus on his face.

“You don’t look like you’re having fun,” she observed, leaning closer. Close enough that her scent wrapped around him like a spicy hug.

“You look like you’re having enough fun for both of us,” he countered. He might be hating this, but that was his problem. Still, there was something about the woman that made him want to smile, but he didn’t know why.

“And guy’s like you don’t like to have fun, is that it?” she asked, looking saucy.

“Guys like me?” Phillip dismissed with a laugh. “You don’t know me, though, do you?”

“Sure I do.” She leaned close enough that he could count the freckles sprinkled across her nose and blink at how lush the lashes surrounding her deep brown eyes were.

“I hear you’re cupid.”

Phillip grimaced.

“Not quite. Phillip Banks,” he corrected automatically. As soon as the words were out he regretted it. Introductions led to conversation. Conversation led to connections, something he was anxious to eliminate.

“Hi, Phillip,” she greeted with a laugh.

Phillip offered a distant nod, hoping she’d get the hint.

“This really is a great party, isn’t it?” she said, not waiting for a response as she turned to check the crowd. As she did, she twisted her riot of cinnamon curls around her fist and lifted her hair to cool the back of her neck.

Phillip’s eyes narrowed, then not sure why he had to know, he leaned forward to get a better look.

“Is that a bird?” he asked squinting at the pale grey image on the back of her neck.

“Hmm?” she murmured, turning back with a smile. She hadn’t released her hair, so he could see the open-door cage, just a shade darker than the bird, tucked in the curve of her neck and shoulder. “It’s freedom.”

“What’s freedom?”

“My bird,” she explained. “It’s symbolic for flying free. You know, like some of these guys probably have the bald eagle or something to signify freedom, I have the sparrow.”

“They don’t,” he said without thinking.

She tilted her head to the side so her curls slid along her shoulders again, hiding her freedom. “Don’t what?”

“Most of them don’t have tattoos,” he explained reluctantly. He didn’t like discussing the military with anyone who wasn’t in it. But he’d brought it up, and it’d be rude to ignore her question. “Most of the guys here are SEALs. Identifying marks can be detrimental to their career.”

“They’re against the rules?”

“No. Just not smart.” Phillip knew there were plenty of tattooed SEALs. He’d served with a few. But every member of the team went on a mission with no ID, no tags, no personal effects, for a reason. Phillip had seen what a mission-gone-wrong could do when a member was captured. Hell, the images of it still played out in Technicolor every night when he closed his eyes.

“I’ll bet you are,” the redhead said, pulling his attention off the past. When she leaned forward on her elbows to give him a thorough look, the move sent her tiles swinging.

“You bet I’m what?”

“Smart.”

Phillip blinked. He’d used to think he was. Now? He had no idea.

“I’m Frankie.” She thrust out her hand, her smile widening. “It’s great to see you.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Phillip said automatically, taking her hand. He was surprised at how small and delicate it was for a woman who packed so much energy.

Her lips pursed, the move making him uncomfortably aware of how full her mouth was with its heavy upper lip.

“You don’t know me, do you,” she stated, those brown eyes dancing with mirth.

“Should I?” Yes, his tone was stiff. He didn’t like people laughing at him and he was sure that’s exactly what the redheaded sprite was doing.

“I’m a friend of Lara’s.”

Of course she was.

Phillip was sure the room could be divided into two camps.

The wild, gyrating, tattooed camp his sister belonged to.

And the protocol-loving, rule living camp of the Navy that he thrived in.

Why, oh, why did the two have to converge?

The pretty redhead shifted a little closer, the dress shifting to show off her golden shoulders and deep cleavage. The table didn’t block the length of her long, silky legs beneath that short skirt.

Sexual awareness hit, hard, fast and very unwelcome.

In defense against it, Phillip looked away. His gaze landed on the stage, where his sister and Castillo were wrapped around each other like vines. It was Lara’s hand on her husband’s ass this time.

“Good God.” Phillip gratefully exchanged his empty glass for a full one, giving the waiter a smile and a signal to keep them coming. If this kept up, he was going to need a few more.

He fought the desire to simply get up and leave.   To get the hell out of here. But he was trapped. Trapped by his emotions, by the sudden demands of family, by his memories.

Desperate for distraction, a part of him screaming for reprieve, Phillip focused all of his considerable attention on Frankie. The name chimed faintly in his memory, but the sound was easily drowned out by his third scotch.

“C’mon,” Frankie said, getting to her feet and reaching out to grab his hand.

“Where?” Phillip didn’t get up, but he didn’t shake off her hand, either. There was something oddly compelling about her touch. That, and seeing her standing there, her short dress glistening and her hair swirling around her face, was a serious turn on.

“The dance floor, of course,” she laughed. “You can’t tell me you’re Lara’s brother and you don’t dance.”

The waltz, a foxtrot if forced and, although he’d only admit it at gunpoint, the tango—all thanks to lessons mandated by his mother, the queen of high society. Phillip glanced at the dancers and shook his head. Not one lesson from Madame Lenore’s had included a bump or a grind. He’d be lost out there.

“C’mon,” Frankie said, tugging.

Curious, and yes, just a little bit fascinated, Phillip let her drag him to his feet. Her tiny hand wrapped around his, she pulled him through the dancers. She was so small he felt like he should be the one in front, protecting her. But she moved like a friendly bulldozer, her smile parting the crowd all the way to the sliding glass door that led to the patio. And, he knew from his initial inspection, a private elevator.

Escape.

“I’m staying until cake,” he grimaced, remembering Landon’s orders.

She grabbed a bottle of champagne from the passing waiter, handed it to him before taking two empty glasses with a murmured thanks.

“Cake isn’t for a half hour,” she said with a wink, pushing the door open and leading him through. It silently slid shut behind them and then, blessed quiet.

Phillip closed his eyes for a second, letting the lack of wailing guitars wash over him. It wasn’t until his ears stopped ringing that he realized there actually was music out here, too. Softer music. A medley of strings, it wove a gentle invitation.

“Dance?” Frankie asked again, setting the glasses on an empty table.

Phillip hesitated.

Not because he didn’t want to dance with her.

But because he did.

This was the wrong time to be attracted to a woman.

His head as all kinds of messed up. He had personal mission of vengeance.

He didn’t do relationships. And despite her party-girl appearance, there was something about the freckles that told him that Frankie was a relationship girl at heart.

Which made her off limits.

Relationships and a career as a Navy SEAL? Despite the celebrating going on in the other room, Phillip knew they were a bad idea.   He didn’t believe in splitting his focus, and had long ago vowed that his only commitment was to his career.

He’d be better off making his excuse and facing the noisy assault with painful visuals.

Ready to do just that, he gave Frankie a polite smile.

And wished those huge brown eyes weren’t so appealing. Or that body so temptingly hot.

But those huge brown eyes were so appealing, and that body so temptingly hot. Her personality was so damned engaging that for the first time since he’d been taken captive, he didn’t feel so lost.   The vicious fury that’d become his constant companion, that no therapy could erase, was shoved aside.

Instead, lust took over.