Down and Dirty
SEAL EXtreme Team Short Story
By: Kimberley Troutte
SEAL Lieutenant Commander Nick Talley keeps promises, but taking care of a teammate’s sister is a vow he should’ve made. How can a man tortured by the past, help a woman fight her tough future?
Ironman qualifier, Jill Connors, is counting the days until her brother brings handsome Nick home with him. But a buried IED takes her brother’s life and a drunk driver steals her competition hopes. Will Nick want a woman with only one foot?
Love has a way of healing the wounded…one muddy step at a time.
Jill awoke to see a figure sleeping in the chair next to her bed. Wide shoulders, short dark hair, naval dress…“Billy!”
The man lifted his head and pierced her with amber eyes. Not green. Not Billy’s.
No, this was the courageous, hard-headed lieutenant commander her brother adored. He was also the man who had starred in quite a few of her steamy fantasies. Nick’s here? I’m not dreaming?
Nick Talley was the only man Billy respected enough to call brother. One of the few he’d die for. If he was really here, not a figment of her overactive imagination, then…
She remembered everything. It was as if her insides were suddenly shredded. “I was driving to his funeral when this car slammed into me.” She studied a face that was rugged and strong, but old too, like he’d lived through centuries of pain and barely survived. “Billy’s dead?”
“Yes.” The muscles in his jaw worked to ground down his feelings, but his eyes filled with grief. He was suffering, maybe as much as she was.
“You were there?” Her voice ripped out of her. It was too screechy. She couldn’t control it.
“He died in my arms.”
“Thank you.” She opened her arms and welcomed him. He lurched forward, pressing his head into her chest. Tears flooded out of them both. Together they mourned. She’d missed her brother’s funeral, but somehow she knew Billy was okay with that. This personal moment from the two people who loved him the most would’ve been enough. Somewhere, Billy was smiling.
When she finally caught her breath, she scooted over as best she could. “Lay down beside me.”
“You sure? I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I’m already hurting. It’s a nightmare I can’t wake from.” The way he winced, she suspected he had nightmares of his own. “Please. I want to touch something real.”
He eased down beside her.
Tentatively, she laid her head on his shoulder. He was all muscle and warmth. She placed her arm over his chest and felt his heart beating strong under her palm. Just what she needed.
Lifting her hair, he pulled it back out of the way and wrapped his arm around her. “I’ve got you, sweetheart.”
A sweeter truth was never spoken. Nick had her, all right, since the first day she’d seen him.
She had been Skyping with her brother when a tall, dark-haired man of steel peeked around Billy’s shoulder and came into view on her computer.
“Hey gorgeous, why are you talking to Worm when you could be talking to me?”
She laughed. “You must be Nick.”
“He mentioned me, huh? Whatever he said was a lie.” He looked into the screen, melting her with his intense stare. “You’re beautiful.” He glanced at Billy. “Shit, Connor, what happened to you? Did they drop you on your face when you were a baby?”
“I have no problem with the ladies, wise-ass.” Billy elbowed Nick in the gut so hard he doubled over.
“Is that my not-too-subtle cue to step away from the Skype?” Nick asked, never taking his eyes off her.
Holy mackerel, he was gorgeous. “No, you don’t have to leave yet. Stay.” She was a thin line away from begging.
“No way! Nu-uh. It’s my brother-sister bonding time. Go away, Nick,” Billy complained, but Jill couldn’t help but notice he was grinning.
“All right. I’ll go.” Nick moved closer, and his face filled her screen. And what a face! All chiseled and rough, except those full lips. A girl could spend a lifetime getting to know that mouth. “Nice meeting you, Jill. I hope to talk to you again. Soon. Real soon.”
Wowza, she hoped so too.
Billy had said that Nick was tough, loyal, and damned good at his job. He’d saved Billy’s ass more times than he could count. Her brother had neglected to say that his buddy was hot.
And now she was lying in bed with Nick Talley. Her head was on his amazing shoulder. It was the one great moment in a terrible day.
“Go to sleep, Jilly-girl. I’m right here.” His deep voice rumbled in her ear.
And he was there. God, he really was. How had he come to her at the exact moment she needed him the most? His heartbeat soothed her, and she let herself drift.
They both went to sleep.
“Not exactly what I meant by not waking her.” The nurse lifted Jill’s arm and took her blood pressure.
“Sorry.” Nick started to move.
“No.” Jill pressed her free hand to his abs. “Don’t go.”
“You’re fine there.” The nurse smiled at him. “Our patient is much better this morning.”
“That’s great news. When can I leave? I’ve got to get back to my training. I qualified for the Ironman in Hawaii. I’ve only got three months to sort out my running splits. My legs will be better by then, right?”
The nurse’s mouth fell open. Nick shot her a look to shut it.
Jill must have known that her leg was injured badly, but she couldn’t feel the pain. The meds they were giving her were good and wicked strong. The tent of pillows and blankets around her leg blocked the heartbreaking view. Jill couldn’t see that her foot was missing. Yet. He desperately wanted to keep the bad news away from her as long as he could. She was still processing Billy’s death. She didn’t have to know about the amputation this minute, did she?
“I’ll, ah, tell the doctor to come see you.” The nurse left quickly.
“Let’s wait and see what the doctor says. You’re not feeling any pain now, but once that medication wears off, things will be different.” He didn’t want to tell her that phantom pain could be a bitch. “Give yourself time. If you can’t make this Ironman because of the accident, they’ll let you compete next year, right?”
She cut her eyes up to him. “I’ve been dreaming about this for years! I’m better on the bike than I’ve ever been, and my swimming skills are awesome. You should come watch me.”
“I’d like that.”
“Running’s my favorite, though. God, I love to run! It’s so freeing. Maybe we can work out together. I need someone to run with to get my mile-splits up. Billy was too slow.”
“And he cheated.”
“Yeah. He did.” She let out half a chuckle and then fell quiet.
Nick wrapped his arms around her and gave her a squeeze. “Nothing can stop you from success. Don’t give up. No matter what people tell you. Don’t stop.”
“Okay…” Her forehead crinkled in confusion. “I don’t know what Billy told you about me, but I’m not a quitter.”
“I know.” But she was about to be faced with a new reality.
“Miss Connors? May I have a word with you?” The doctor stood at the foot of her bed, clipboard in hand. His face was grave.
Truth time. Dammit! Nick would do anything to stay right here and shield her from what was to come. But she’d figure it out on her own soon enough.
“I’ll be right outside the door if you need me,” Nick said.
“No. Don’t go.” She reached for him.
His instincts were to stick close and deflect as much pain as possible. But he couldn’t stay. She may not want him to witness her world exploding. She’d need time. “You’re tough, sweetheart. Don’t forget it.”
Her strength was what had attracted him in the first place. Jill was bad-ass. When they’d had downtime, he’d sat with Billy in their quarters and viewed her competitions online. He’d also studied her when he was alone. Jill captivated him. Hunger, aggression, and fearlessness radiated from the woman. She’d been breathtaking.
Stroke after stroke, her sleek body had moved through the waves better than most SEALs. Her bike-handling skills were impressive, especially on the downhill curves. But when she ran? It had been hard to peel his eyes away from the computer. He ran because he was ordered to do it. Jill ran for pure unadulterated joy. It was sexy as hell and made him hard every time she picked up those tanned knees and flew. He’d stayed up many nights thinking about the way her sweet body moved.
Would she ever run like that again?
It was a long, hard walk out of her room. Everything in him wanted to turn around, snatch her up, and take her away. He barely made it to the hallway when she started screaming.
Nick ran into the room, passing the nurse and doctor who suddenly had better places to be.
“Damn you, Nick. You knew!” She reached for the pitcher, determined to throw it at his head, but she was too shaky and it tipped off the table instead. He moved quickly and caught it before it hit the floor. Water sloshed out all over his fancy uniform. Too bad. He deserved worse.
“Yes. I knew.” He put the pitcher back on the nightstand.
“You let me talk about the Ironman.” She heaved to catch a breath. “My, my dreams. I thought you’d run with me. That’s over now. My life is over.”
He crossed his arms over that impressive chest of his. “Aren’t you being a little melodramatic? Life isn’t over. It’s just different now.”
“My life will be more than different. I’m a runner. With one foot. How’s that going to work?”
He ran his hand over his short hair. “It’ll take a little effort, learning new skills and techniques, but it’s not impossible.”
“How would you know? You have two feet!” She fumed, wanting to lash out at the world, and Nick was the only one around.
But he wouldn’t stay for long. He was there out of duty or some misplaced heroism, but tomorrow he’d be gone. Maybe it was better if she scared him away right now and put an end to this relationship before it was too late. Before she couldn’t let him go.
“You should go, Nick.”
Instead of leaving, he sat on the edge of her bed and rubbed her shoulder. She hated herself for leaning into that hand, relishing his touch.
“Listen to me, sweetheart. I know guys who’ve screwed up their legs, feet, or even arms during battle. They get prosthetics and return to duty. Their lives aren’t over. Yours isn’t, either. Change your attitude and start dreaming for next year’s Ironman.”
Her lip quivered. “It’s impossible.”
“Anything’s possible if you believe it. I know you can do it, Jill. You Connors are tough. I’ll help any way I can.”
But he was wrong. She wasn’t tough enough, and she didn’t need him hanging around feeling sorry for the poor crippled girl. She shook her head. “You should leave now.”
He exhaled. “All right. I’ll come tomorrow to check in on you.”
She should’ve told him to stay away forever, but she was weak and alone. Nick was the only person who seemed to care about her, even if it was a pity call. How could he possibly be attracted to her now?
“Give me a couple of days to process. Figure things out. If you don’t come back, I’ll understand.”
“I’ll be back.” He put his hat on.
She blinked tears as she watched him walk out her door. He wasn’t coming back. Why should he? It wasn’t like they were a couple or anything. He wasn’t obligated to stick around. Sure, she’d had high hopes they would be the real thing once he finished his tour of duty. Super high hopes.
She’d never met anyone like Nick. So strong, capable, and funny. He seemed to be attracted to her too. Somehow he’d always found a way to show up when she’d Skyped with Billy.
It didn’t get past her brother that she was Skyping with him more often than usual. They’d gone from talking once a week to three and four times a week. “Come on, Jilly-girl. Skype him already. You two are perfect for each other. Both as stubborn as hell.”
“Who?” She had played coy, but her pulse thundered in her ears.
“Who?” He’d snorted. “The guy you make foreplay faces at right in front of me. It’s revolting. Do it so I don’t have to watch you two Skype-sexing.” He shivered in mock disgust.
She’d scraped up her courage and clicked Nick’s user name. When his handsome face popped up on her monitor, her heart did a happy dance.
“Jill!” He ran his hand over his hair as if he could comb out the short cut. “What a surprise. Should I get Billy?”
“No. I want you.” Oops, did she say that outloud?
He grinned. “Cool. I saw you took second in your age group in the Ironman Florida. Congratulations.”
He followed her races? “Thanks.” She took a deep breath. “Listen, Nick, um, I heard you’re going to have time off in a few months.”
He shifted his weight and came closer to the screen. “I can neither confirm nor deny my schedule, but it’s possible. Why?”
She swallowed hard. “It’s just, I mean, I’ve been thinking about you. A lot. Really, really a lot. What are you going to do with all that time off?”
He crossed his arms. Wow, he had big guns, even bigger than Billy’s enormous biceps. “You asking me out, sweetheart? As in a date?”
She lifted her chin. “What would you say if I was?”
“I’d say, hell, yes! I’ve been thinking about you a lot too.”
She couldn’t stop smiling. “So… You’ll call me when you get home?”
“I’ll call you before then.”
“How about in an hour?”
She leaned back in her desk chair and hitched an eyebrow. “That long?”
He laughed. If she lived to be a hundred, she’d never forget that deep, rolling sound. “Ten minutes?”
“Why do we have to hang up?”
“I like the way you think, sweetheart. But you have to train, and I have to do…stuff.”
“Navy SEAL stuff you can’t confirm or deny.”
They’d talked for two hours that night and nearly every night after that. Billy complained that he’d lost his sister to the ugliest guy on the SEAL team, but he said it with a smile. For months Jill longed for the moment when she’d wrap her arms around both of her favorite SEALs and maybe, just maybe, keep them home for good.
But that all ended the day a buried IED killed Billy. She’d never hold him again and soon Nick would be gone too.
Kimberley Troutte is a Southern California girl, born and raised. She lives with her amazing hubby, two awesome sons, one old dog, a wild cat, four very large snakes and various other creatures the man/kids/dog inevitably drag in.
Kimberley has been an accountant, substitute teacher, caterer, financial analyst for a major defense contractor, real-estate broker, aerobics instructor and a freelance writer. With a B.A in Business Economics and a M.S. in Systems Management, she was destined to write romance.
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