Pleasing Her Seal

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Chapter Two

When they reached the base of the hill, Mason called squad halt on the operation. Maddie had given him permission to lead her down the hill and down the hill only, so he handed over the tripod and flashed her a quick salute.

 She blinked at him, taking the tripod automatically. “Uh. Thanks.” Her gaze dipped to the coffee stain on his shirt, her face radiating embarrassment. “Sorry about that. And about scalding you.”

 She turned pink as if he were actually bothered by a few ounces of hot coffee. He’d been shot at, pinned down, and ambushed more times than he could count. Coffee was the least of his worries, although her blush was cute.

 “No worries, sweetheart. See you around?”

 “Pancakes,” she answered, sounding slightly breathless and he couldn’t hold back his grin. God, she was fun. When she went left, he hung back. Partly just to watch her go because, hell yeah, he enjoyed the sassy swing of her hips. Maybe she was trying to drive him crazy. It was a possibility.

 Mr. Guzman, his ass.

 The groom-to-be in Maddie’s photo was Diego Marcos and he would be arriving precisely never. His reservation had been canceled, courtesy of Seal Team Sigma. The possibility of Marcos’s brother showing up on Fantasy Island, however, was an unpleasant wrinkle that he’d need to alert the rest of the SEAL team to. If they didn’t have intel on where the brother was, they needed to get it stat.

 And added bonus… If Maddie ever found out what Mason had done, he’d be on her shit list for more reasons than scaring the bejesus out of her.

 He opened his hand and looked down. He’d taken advantage of her panic to pop the memory card out of her very expensive camera. He’d always used an inexpensive point-and-shoot himself, but then his usual model was a dead enemy target that needed documenting. Sunrises clearly required better technology.

 Unfortunately, boosting her memory card might not have been enough. If she’d transferred pictures via the resort’s Wi-Fi, he had a bigger problem than the square of plastic in his hand.

 By the time he’d made it back to their base camp, the prisoners were long gone on the Zodiacs, and the rest of the SEAL team was waiting for him. He’d take camping over five-star luxury resorts any day. The entire team, minus Remy, who was now somewhere between here and Belize, was present.

 Gray nodded acknowledgment when Mason stepped into the campsite. Gray was one of the biggest SEALs Mason had ever met. The team’s standing joke was that Gray didn’t parachute out of the plane so much as he plummeted. Like a rock. Although he sprawled at ease on a pile of backpacks, there was nothing casual about the glance he raked over Mason. Blood stained his camo. He’d stayed with the injured Remy until the medevac lifted off.

 Mason was last to arrive at the debriefing about to start. It was standard operating protocol to review every mission, identifying areas of concern where they could improve next time. The team sat in a semicircle, their attention focused on Gray. As soon as Mason dropped to the ground next to Levi, Gray reviewed the mission that they had just completed, beginning with their target’s arrival on Fantasy Island and ending with Remy’s medevac to Belize for emergency surgery. Since Gray’s maybe-girlfriend Laney Parker was a surgeon and she’d accompanied Remy on the flight, Mason figured his teammate had a fighting chance.

 When Gray finished the medical update and Levi had confirmed Marcos’s handoff to the US Navy, Gray dropped a new bombshell. “We’re not done here,” he said.

 “We get to vacation for real? Hooyah.” Levi leaned forward. “I’m borrowing your black AmEx, Mason.”

 “Dumbass,” Sam said. Their field medic was a laidback Alabama boy, but his lean build and easy smile were deceptively mellow. He could kick butt with the best of them, and no one on the team swam faster or blew more stuff up. “He means you get to work overtime.”

 Gray shook his head. “Real mature, Sam. And accurate. Our mission parameters have changed. We were charged with bringing in Diego Marcos, but now we’ve got a second target. Marcos has a brother, who operates as his right hand man.”

 “Would that be Santiago Marcos?” Maybe Maddie had it wrong. Maybe she wasn’t planning to shoot the wedding of a notorious drug dealer who, according to her, had invited his equally notorious younger brother to the celebration.

 Gray eyed him. “Are you psychic? Or is there something else we need to know about? Levi already mentioned that you hit a snag earlier today.”

 Maddie was definitely a complication. A beautiful, very alluring complication.

 “We had a resort guest up on the hillside lookout spot.” The place had some froufrou name like Lovers Lookout. He didn’t think Gray needed to know that, or that the spot apparently starred front and center in Maddie’s bridal portfolio. “She had a camera.”

 Gray scrubbed a hand over his head. “How long was she up there? Did she shoot the Zodiacs coming in?”

 Yeah, but that was only the first problem in a long list. “The guest is Madeline Holmes. She’s a blogger, one of those girls who hangs with Ashley.”

 Ashley waved a hand. “Maddie runs Kiss and Tulle. She covers destination weddings, wedding favors, wedding cakes, wedding dresses. Last month her blog had over two hundred thousand unique visitors.”

 “In other words, any noun that can be modified by the adjective wedding,” Levi interrupted. Mason was willing to bet that Levi wouldn’t recognize a wedding blog—or a wedding anything—if it bit him on the ass.

 Ashley made a face. “Pretty much.”

 “Well today she was covering sunrises.” He had no idea why a bride would want to hike up a hill at dawn in her dress for a few photos, but far be it from him to judge. “And she set up her camera yesterday to do time-lapse photography.”

 “She likes to vlog,” Ashley said with a sigh. “And live post.”

 Whatever vlogging was, he’d bet it was a security risk because Ashley made another face.

 Gray cursed. “Give me options.”

 “I snagged her media card, but she claimed she’d already transferred her pictures over the resort’s Wi-Fi.”

 Ashley leaned forward. “I’ve been monitoring traffic in and out, but she’ll likely keep copies on her laptop. Unfortunately, our resident wedding blogger has been experimenting with time-lapse photography. Even more unfortunately for us, her photos got picked up by a national travel site.”

 Ashley flipped her tablet around, exhibiting a series of sunrise photographs shot over the pier. The first half dozen shots were harmless unless you had a thing against waves and pretty colors. The next-to-last picture, however, was a problem. It showed a Zodiac shooting through the opening in the reef and heading toward the dock. Mason had a bad feeling that if he zoomed in, he’d see Marcos’s bodyguards bouncing over the water in that Zodiac. Worse, there was no sign of the Zodiac tied up to the dock in the next and final frame. The boat had disappeared in the thirty minutes between shots.

 Gray nodded slowly. “We need to see what else she got.”

 “There’s more,” Mason said. “Maddie mentioned she was planning on shooting a wedding later this week and the bride-and-groom pictures are a match for Diego Marcos and Julieta Ortiz. She’s been emailing Julieta and she expected them to show up yesterday. She doesn’t know their real names, but she knows their faces.”

 Gray pointed to Ashley. “Have the resort notify Maddie that the wedding has been canceled.”

 Ashley nodded. “Got it.”

“She also mentioned Santiago,” Mason divulged. He relayed what she’d told him about Santiago coming to the island to attend his brother’s wedding. “What do we know about him and do we have confirmation on his current whereabouts?”

 “He could have been part of the advance team we took out. I’ll reach out to command and see what they’ve got for us. In the meantime, no one breaks cover until we’ve got a bead on where Santiago is currently. Mason, you stick by Maddie’s side. Use the time to find out exactly what she has—or doesn’t have—on her laptop and to re-verify the identities of the other guests on the island. Make sure no one slipped past us, because if Santiago is here, he knows that Diego isn’t and that’s a problem.”

 “Smash-and-grab on the laptop?” Levi stepped up like he was ready to volunteer.

 “Do I need to define undercover for you?” Gray crossed his arms over his chest. “You steal or break her laptop, and she’s got a problem that becomes our problem. How much crime do you think there is on a luxury private island? The first folks she’s going to point a finger at will be staff.”

 “We could bring her in,” Mason suggested reluctantly. “Interview her. Or ask US Customs to intercept her on her return trip.”

 If Maddie had had her camera trained on the lagoon overnight, there was a very good chance she’d captured faces. Given what even amateur photo editing software could do these days, leaving any images in Maddie’s hands was a security risk. Put it together with the rest of her vlogging and…Diegos’s brother could connect the dots. Plus, if Santiago was here, Maddie could ID him and he’d bet Santiago had come undercover if he’d come at all.

 Gray nodded, apparently coming to the same conclusion. “Worst-case scenario, that works. The Customs boys can seize her laptop and go over it, although she’ll be asking questions.”

“Okay, then let’s go with plan A. I’ll find out what she’s got. If she’s got anything.” For some reason, he wanted to play nice. After all, he’d already scared her once, and she’d almost hyperventilated on the spot. She was a civilian, not collateral damage.

 Ashley examined her fingernails. “She’s here for another week.”

Good to know the timeline.

 “I’ll make sure she didn’t record anything.” If she had, Mason would wipe whatever device it was.

 Gray frowned. “Be discreet, okay? Scrub her media and shadow her in case there’s any blowback from Diegos’s people or Santiago.”

Levi whistled as the meeting broke up. “You just scored bodyguard duty. Enjoy.”

 Playing bodyguard wasn’t exactly the worst job in the world. He was all for sticking as close as possible to Maddie—up to and including getting naked. No. Wait. Resist that thought, sailor.

 Ashley rummaged in her bag. “I’m helping, too.”

 “Really?” Levi smirked, and even Mason recognized condescension when it stared at him. “How are you going to do that?”

 Ashley pointed to Mason. “Penis angle.” And then she pointed to herself. “Girlfriend angle.”

 “You think Maddie’s going to make Mason her new boy toy?”

 Mason punched Levi in the shoulder when his teammate snorted. Sure, he was an introvert and no flirt, but he’d dated as recently as this year. He didn’t need Levi’s lousy dating advice. The guy had a different woman for each day of the week, and he seemed perfectly happy that way. But that wasn’t the way Mason planned on living his life.

 “Read this.” Ashley shoved a magazine into his hands. The cover was one of those bright pink numbers with a too-perfect model. A brunette with spectacular boobs, her hair flying in an artificial breeze while she gave the camera a come-hither face.

 No thank you. “This is waiting room material.”

 Ashley grinned at him. “Maddie has a serious magazine addiction. She loves the quizzes, so think of this as enemy intel. X marks the spot, big guy.”

 He paged through the magazine. He’d been on the receiving end of intel more than once and it had never smelled like perfume before, or—he paused—scratch-and-sniff ads for tropical air fresheners. When he hit Ashley’s Post-it note, he stopped reading.

 “You think I should take a quiz on how to be the perfect guy?”

 Mason had four sisters. Surely that ought to qualify him as something of a girl expert? His jaw tightened. On the other hand, he’d also been married and divorced, so his credentials were rocky.

 Ashley slapped his shoulder. “Read it. Then ask questions.”

 Since Ashley had to be one of the most tenacious people Mason knew, he read. It was quicker that way. And she was right—it wouldn’t hurt to find out what it took to be a keeper guy. Mason’s sisters loved that crap. So did his cousins. A road map couldn’t hurt. He read the first quiz question.

 You kiss her for the first time. After you break your lip-lock, you:

 A) Tell her you’ve been fantasizing about kissing her for days—and that the reality is even better than the fantasy.

B) Whisper that she’s the hottest kisser ever—and you’ve got a list of other places you’d like to kiss her.

 C) Praise her kissing skills and beg her to do it again just so you can be sure.

 Jesus. What had happened to just kissing? “This stuff works?”

 Levi ripped the quiz out and tucked it into the pocket of Mason’s pants. “Take notes and have fun, sailor.”

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~ by Anne Marsh on January 11, 2016.

 
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