Once a Marine
BD James is on an upward career path. She works for a tyrant who has already cost her one fiancé, so the last thing she needs is another manipulatiing man. She’s tired, angry, and ready for a meltdown. What she isn’t ready for is Rafael Cruz – a retired Marine who lives a secret and dangerous double life.
Rafi Cruz is a man who makes things happen, but his timing couldn’t be worse. He’s leaving on a hostage rescue mission in two days, which means he won’t have time for a long, slow seduction. He’ll have to work fast, or hot little BD will slip right through his fingers. She’s the only woman in a long time who’s been strong enough to challenge him – a quality he values highly. He’s reluctant to change his footloose life, but he’ll do whatever it takes not to lose her. She’ll understand. Eventually...
But when BD learns Rafi has deliberately kept her in the dark about his black ops missions, she questions whether he’s a man she can trust, and if he can be as faithful to her as he is to the Corps...
Release Date: August 9, 2022
A PINK SATIN ROMANCE
Beverly Wilshire Hotel Ballroom, 4:00 P.M.
Shari Grayson’s exaggerated, hip-switching, model’s prance around the end of the runway was flawless, but no, BD James sensed a looming disaster. Not tonight, Shari. Every other night, but not tonight, please. BD had only tonight to make things right with Nick.
When she’d signed on as Shari’s personal assistant, negotiating a lucrative employment contract with upward mobility, she’d given up control of her life. Was it worth what she now had to put up with from both Nick and Shari? Why had she allowed them to make her decisions, to issue ultimatums?
The grand finale soared from the orchestra pit, signaling the conclusion of the show. Shari and the other two Grayson Design models, tall, slender, haughty and blonde like Shari, did their fast walk around the horseshoe and accepted the thunderous ovation.
The roar of continuous applause filled the cavernous, glitzy old ballroom. For over four decades, the Grayson collection was eagerly awaited and enthusiastically received.
The two other models, Jaycie and Delphi, brushed past BD. “I’ve had it with Shari,” one of them said. “She can take this job and shove it,” said the second.
Shari’s approaching footsteps were now as different from The Shari Slink as the moon from the sun. She pointed her finger at BD. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Okay. Sure. I have a change of clothes for you in the dressing room. The ones you selected for the reception.”
“Forget those. Get my car.”
Shari spun around. Fire burned in her eyes as her lips took on an ugly twist. “I said get the car. Is there something you don’t understand about ‘the car’?”
“No. I’ll call the driver.” God, I’d like to smack her. BD pulled the cell phone from her pocket and punched two digits. “Karl? Bring the car, please.” She shielded the mouthpiece as she trotted behind Shari. “Yes, now. Shari has a change of plans. Hurry, okay?”
At the elevator bank, Shari turned. She stared at BD. “Why are you following me? Get my purse and coat. Meet me at the limo dock. Go!”
BD headed for the dressing room at a fast trot. Yes, Shari, of course, Shari, anything you want, Shari. Exactly which spot on your bum would you prefer me to place my lips, Shari?
The dressing room went quiet when she opened the door. Jaycie and Delphi were morphing back into themselves, blond wigs off, Blahnik to Teva, Grayson silks to Lee Riders.
They peeked beyond BD, into the quiet hallway.
“Where’s Her Royal Hindend?” Delphi drawled in a deep Texas accent.
Jaycie smacked Delphi on the shoulder. “Careful, Del. You won’t have to quit. You’ll be out the door on your butt. BD is Shari’s little bitty lap dog. Aren’t you, honey?”
BD grabbed Shari’s silver and mocha Grayson custom designed coat and her own jacket, purchased at Nordstom’s Rack.
“You know I’d never say anything, Jaycie.” She rummaged under a pile of newspapers in the bottom drawer and pulled out the two purses. “She’s got some kind of rod up her backside tonight. She told me to get the car.”
Jaycie’s eyes were huge in her narrow face. “She’s not attending the sacred reception? What about all the supplicants who’ve come so far to fawn over her?”
Delphi pulled a Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt over her head and fluffed up her short, red hair. “That’ll be a first. Where’s she goin’?”
“I wish I knew.” BD waved as she jogged to the service elevators.
If she could get Shari into her limo with as little fuss as possible, she might make it to Nick’s on time.
* * *
Shari leaned out the rear door of the limo. “What took so long?” She slid over. “Get in.”
Stopping as if she’d run into a solid wall, BD’s brain whirled as she searched for words. She flashed a quizzical glance to Karl who stoically held the door. His eyes rolled heavenward, his nod barely perceptible.
Finding her resolve, BD blurted, “Shari, I’m not going with you. Nick is waiting for me.”
Shari moved forward, her elegant long legs extended. If she’d been a reigning monarch, her gaze couldn’t have been more imperial. “You’d like to keep your job, wouldn’t you?”
“Of course, Shari, but—”
She gestured impatiently. “Then get in. Nick will wait. He always does.”
Yes, BD thought, Nick always waits, but no more. He’d given her an ultimatum when they’d set the time for dinner. She had a couple of hours yet. Nick made allowances for the reception following the Spring Collection, because BD absolutely had to be there. She’d promised him she would be at his condo no later than ten. His sister and brother-in-law were joining them for a late supper.
Karl was about to close the door behind BD when Shari’s current fiancé, Mark Best, ran toward the car from the elevator. Resplendent in white tie and tux, he oozed wealth, elegance and worldly sophistication.
“Shari, darling, where are you going? Everyone is looking for you. Whitney and Norah sent me to find you.”
“I’m on my way to the villa on Oahu, Mark. I’ve ordered the plane, and BD has to help me close up the house.”
Mark straightened to his full six-foot-four, hands on hips, a puzzled look on his impossibly handsome face. “Oahu? But, darling, what about the reception?”
“You may inform my parents that I have no intention of attending their reception tonight. I’ll be away for about two weeks.” She crossed her arms and legs in a huff of angry breath. “They’ll know why. Close the door, Karl. We’re leaving.”
BD glanced back when they pulled away from the loading dock. The disgusted expression on Mark’s face, the little shake of his head, and finally his hands thrown in the air, told BD that he really didn’t care where Shari went or how long she stayed, their engagement was no more than a mere convenience for him. Shari meant little beyond the flashy, glamorous and beautiful ornament he proudly wore on his arm. He’d be taking another woman home tonight without giving Shari a second thought. And not for the first time, either.
BD knew in her heart Nick loved her. He’d never cheat. They planned a future and family together. Nick’s patience with the long hours and demands of her job had worn thin, very thin.
She’d need to make some serious career decisions, and soon. But she wasn’t ready to give up her job. She was going places in the trade. She made a very good living. BD resented Nick for constantly belittling her career choice, and his endless attempts to control her. Three years. Three years she’d invested in her relationship with him. Her stomach churned.
* * *
Karl pulled the limo into the circular drive-in front of Shari’s Tudor style mini-mansion on Los Feliz Drive.
Shari fidgeted impatiently until he rounded the car and opened her door.
“Don’t move the car, Karl. We’ll be packed in a few minutes.” She turned as she entered the door. “Come in. I’ll call you when I need you to carry the bags out.”
Karl’s military stance barely shifted when he briefly bent his head. “Yes, ma’am.”
BD rolled her eyes, and Karl winked in return.
Shari stormed up the long, curving staircase. “Get a move on, BD. I want to get out of here.”
“If I went any faster, I’d knock you over on the way to your bedroom,” BD said. “Where’s the fire?”
Ignoring the question, Shari kicked off her shoes as she went through the door to her bedroom suite, pulling her sequin spangled knit top over her head at the same time. “Get the red suitcases.”
Nodding her head in disgust, BD bit back an angry response as she entered Shari’s room-sized, walk-in closet and looked for the cases. “How many do you need?” She found the luggage stacked at the end of the custom shelves. Shari had at least three hundred pairs of shoes lined up in the huge closet.
Shari’s impatient shout pierced the quiet order of the wardrobe. “Bring all of them. I’ll be over there a month.”
BD raised her head. “A month? But you told Mark...”
“Never mind what I told Mark. Get a move on.”
With the overnight case tucked under one arm, BD struggled out of the closet, holding the large bag in one hand and the folding wardrobe bag in the other. “For crying out loud, Shari, you have enough clothes at the villa to last for weeks—even if you changed twice a day. Why are you taking so much?”
“I’m tired of those rags, if it’s any of your business, which it isn’t.” She pulled on a pair of rust colored, silk slacks. “I need to have something to wear until I go shopping.” A filmy apricot hued tank top slid over her blond hair. “Zip this up.”
BD sighed. Shari would look stunning in a grocery sack. She felt drab by comparison. She pulled up the zipper. “Okay, show me what you want me to pack.”
Maria, Shari’s housekeeper, entered the room. “I called the gardener to move the potted palms, Miss Shari. Is there anything else you’d like me to do?”
Little Maria, as wide as she was tall, ran the household like a Prussian general, doing everything from cooking for one or one hundred, to supervising the gardening crew and the maids.
Shari couldn’t have survived without her.
Shari’s voice took on a soft, respectful sweetness. Maria never took any guff from her. “No thanks, Maria. You can take a couple of weeks paid vacation after you close up the house.” Shari smiled her dismissal, and the little woman turned to leave.
“Oh, Miss Shari, do you want me to reschedule the painters? They were to begin downstairs day after tomorrow.”
Shari paused. “I forgot about that. Have them do the pool house first, and then the garage. I’ll be back by the time they’re ready to start inside.”
Maria nodded. “As you wish, Miss Shari. I’ll be in the kitchen clearing out the refrigerator if you need me.”
BD cocked her head. “Didn’t you have the whole place painted a few months ago?”
“And your point would be?”
BD shrugged. “Never mind. Tell me what you want me to pack,” she repeated.
* * *
Twenty minutes later, BD went downstairs to have Karl fetch the luggage. He was nowhere to be seen. A strange car parked just outside the front doors. “Oh, God.” She turned in a circle. “Where has Karl gone?” She stared at the car and took a couple of steps toward it.
A dark, muscular man leaned against the back fender of a sedan. His black hair gleamed in the setting sunlight. On BD’s approach, he stepped forward. “Miss Grayson?”
“No. Who are you? Where’s Karl? She’s going to have a total meltdown if he left.” Hands on her hips, she peered the length of the driveway.
“I took over for him.”
“You took—who are you?”
“I’m Rafael Cruz. I came to pick up Miss Grayson. I’ll be driving her to the airport this evening.” He popped open the trunk. “Where’s the luggage?” His muscled arms and shoulders fairly bulged from his black T-shirt.
BD drew a breath, her heart pounding. “Look, I don’t know you. Miss Grayson told Karl to wait. She’s not going to be happy about this.” And somehow it will be my fault.
Shari’s voice echoed around the large foyer and out the door. “BD, where’s Karl? He needs to haul those bags down.” Flying through the door, she stopped short when she saw Rafael. “It’s about time you got here. I’m practically ready to leave. Come in here, and I’ll show you where to move those palms. Be quick about it.” She turned on her heel and disappeared inside.
Rafael raised his eyebrows and followed Shari through the doors, BD close behind. And what a behind it was.
Shari pointed to two large potted palms. “I want those moved through the back doors onto the deck overlooking the pool. Make sure they’re in the shade. Don’t take long. I’m in a hurry.”
Rafael appeared perplexed for a moment. His dark eyes flashed with humor as a smile flitted across his lips. “Yes, ma’am. At your service.” He hefted one of the heavy pots, seemingly without effort, and carried it to the back doors of the foyer.
BD ran ahead and opened the French doors for him. “Over there.” She pointed to a shady corner.
The muscles in his thighs bulged when he set the pot down and returned for the second palm as Shari trotted up the stairs, shouting, “Get Karl up here. I’m ready to leave!”
Rafael brushed his hands on his pants and grinned at BD. “Where are those suitcases? I don’t want her to blow a gasket.” His white teeth gleamed above a strong cleft chin.
Speechless, BD pointed up the stairs. She stared at his broad back as he took the steps two at a time, grabbed all three bags and came back down. Before she knew it he had them out the front door.
A split-second later Shari hurried down the stairs with a short mink jacket thrown over one shoulder. Where she would wear that in Hawaii, BD had no idea. Shari blew past her and out the door.
“What the hell are you doing? Where’s Karl? Get those bags out of there right now, buster!”
BD ran out the door just in time to see Shari blast Cruz with one of her world class glares.
Rafael merely smiled. “I’m taking you to the airport, Miss Grayson. Your housekeeper called and said you were in a hurry.”
“Why in the world would I want a gardener’s helper to drive me to the airport? I have my own car and driver.” She turned the same glare on to BD. “Where is Karl? I told him to wait right here.”
BD threw up her hands in a helpless gesture. “I don’t know where he is. This is Rafael Cruz. He’s driving you to the airport.”
Shari pinched up her lips in a furious frown. “Rafael Cruz? Where have I heard that name? Why are you masquerading as a gardener’s helper?”
Rafael flashed a dazzling smile. “I’m not. You assumed I was the helper. You were in such a NASCAR rush to the finish line, I moved your trees. Shall we get on our way?”
Shari stood her ground. “I asked you where I’d heard your name.”
“I’m your pilot. Rafi?” He placed one hand over the other and made a flapping wings motion with his thumbs.
Reacting as if she’d been slapped, Shari’s head jerked. “If you’re my pilot why are you here and not at the airstrip?”
Rafael closed the trunk on the shiny Mercedes sedan. “There wasn’t time to get anyone else. You called less than an hour ago. Shall we go?” He opened the back door and invited them into the car.
Shari put one foot inside, turned and grabbed BD by the hand. “Come on.”
“No, Shari, I have to—”
Shari tugged. “You have to get in the car. That’s what you have to do. Come on.”
Wondering how she would get from the airport back to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel to pick up her car, BD sighed and plopped down on the back seat next to Shari. She’d be glad to see that plane take off.