CPO Eugene “Deli” Rubenovich has hit his limit. After his friend is gravely injured on a mission, Deli takes leave to clear his head. He wants the great outdoors, fresh air, hiking, and maybe a beer or two. What he gets is a 5-on-1 bar fight and cartel thugs trying to forcibly take a woman’s home. And then there’s the bear.
Caroline Atherton has a quiet life she loves as the owner of Last Chance Dog Sanctuary, where she rehabilitates dogs like Sergeant Trace to return to civilian life. When a simple shopping trip goes awry, a handsome Navy Chief winds up nursing a concussion after defending her from a pack of idiot males.
Deli’s not used to being rescued, but the beautiful woman who heals dogs makes it an experience worth repeating. She’s says she’s got no room in her life for pushy men, but the cartel gets nasty, and Caroline needs help defending her home and her dogs.
Enlisting assistance from the Ultimate Recon crew to take out the enemy is just another day for Deli, but to win Caroline’s heart? He’ll need every skill in his arsenal for that mission.
So much for taking a vacation.
Caroline tightened her lips in concern as CPO Rubenovich’s head nodded, his eyes closed. Dammit, is he asleep? She had to keep him conscious at least until she got home. She almost reached over to tap him when his head came up and his eyes opened. They didn’t appear to focus on much, but at least they stayed open.
She’d make sure he survived the night and tomorrow he could go on his merry way, leaving her and Daphne in peace.
Oh, hell, Daphne.
She pulled over to the side of the road and parked, scrounging for her phone. She hadn’t thought about her niece when she offered to take care of Rubenovich. The younger woman didn’t deal well with men after her time in South America, and here Caroline was bringing one home. She shook her head. Smart move, Atherton.
She dialed the house line and waited for the answering machine to pick up. “Hey, Daphne. I wanted to let you know we’ll be having a guest tonight. Long story and I’ll tell you when I get home. Should be there in about fifteen minutes.”
She stowed the phone and got back on the road. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be a big deal and she could get him into her room without too much fuss. Daphne wouldn’t even have to interact with him.
Caroline sighed. She’d have to watch him all night long, waking him every few hours to make sure he recovered. Damn, it’s gonna be a long night. Why the hell did she do this to herself, taking in every hard case and sob story thrown at her? For some reason, she couldn’t dismiss Rubenovich. He reminded her a little of her dogs, never giving up even when they’d taken a beating, but still needing care and rehabilitation.
Not that he wasn’t in fine condition, physically. His body looked toned and fit, despite the bruising caused by the fight. But something about him suggested his mind needed a respite from something dogging him. Yeah, nice pun there. She couldn’t shake the feeling he needed as much recuperation as the MWDs. I’ll do what I can, Chief. She just hoped it would be enough before he had to return to active duty.
She kept her attention on him for the whole drive home, but the usual drive sped by. By the time she reached her place, she was more stressed about what Daphne would say than by taking care of a man she barely knew. Even if he is a hot one.
As soon as she parked, Daphne appeared on the porch with Beryl, her lips tight. “What the hell happened, Caroline?”
Caroline blinked. “Bar fight, kinda. Unless you’re talking about something else. Did someone come back while I was gone?”
“No, but Sheriff Tanner called and said you were having trouble with someone at the feed store. Are you okay?” Daphne usually didn’t go all mama-bear unless pushed to the limit and she didn’t like folks hurting her loved ones.
“Yeah, I’m okay. Did you get the message on the machine?”
Daphne shook her head.
“Oh, well, we’re going to have a guest tonight. Can you come get the dog food while I help Chief Rubenovich out of the truck?”
“Sure.” Daphne paused at the bottom of the step. “Wait. Who?”
“Chief Rubenovich, U.S. Navy. He decided to take on all five of the assholes who wouldn’t take no for an answer.” She shook her head as she opened the passenger door. “Can you walk under your own power, Chief?”
Rubenovich opened his molten fudge-brown eyes and she tried not to get sucked into them. He’s a guy who’s probably like all the others. Don’t get hooked.
“Yeah, I’m good. Where are we?” He turned his gaze to take in her home.
“My place. The Last Chance Dog Sanctuary I told you about. Looks like tonight I won’t be taking care of just dogs.” She was too tall to shove her shoulder under his armpit, but she locked an arm around his ribs, trying to ignore the hard body she grasped. “Come on, let’s get you inside and into bed.” Glory, he smells good.
“Moving kinda fast, aren’t you?” He smirked as he leaned his weight on her.
She rolled her eyes, but kept him moving toward the house. “Funny. You’ll be sleeping in the extra bedroom.”
He laughed anyway before he winced and some of her frustration faded. He’d gone into battle for her and sustained enough of an injury to deserve some compassion. She helped him up the steps to the porch while Daphne watched with wariness until she got a good look at Rubenovich’s face. She gasped and jerked upright, her hand coming to her mouth in surprise. When Caroline raised her eyebrows, the younger woman shook her head, but continued to watch them as Caroline helped him inside.
“The bedroom’s down the hall, second door on the right.”
“Second star on the right, and straight on till morning.” His mumbled words made her smile. Who knew the badass Navy man read classical literature?