JD Teller leaned against the yacht’s railing and watched as the French coast drew closer. The crossing from Corsica had been smooth, and he’d spent most of the journey chilling with the crew and practicing his French. Anything to distract him from the mess he’d left behind.
There was no prettifying the situation. Fact was, the operation in Corsica had been a total bust. The dude he’d hoped to apprehend had proven elusive, and the man’s diamond smuggling pals were as slippery as eels. All JD had to show for six months of undercover work were a few names of low-hanging fruit—minor players in a major diamond smuggling and counterfeit diamonds operation—and a new scar to add to his growing collection. In short, his first big job for Trident Securities had ended in a clusterfuck. Not JD’s fault. However, his failure to meet his target stung way more than the gash on his forehead.
His whole life, JD had reached whatever goal he’d set out to achieve. As a kid, he’d soon figured out he’d never be the smartest, strongest, or quickest of the bunch. What he had going for him was a willingness to work harder than everybody else. If that meant getting up a couple of hours before school to make sure his grades didn’t dip below a B average, then that was what he’d done. When he’d needed to put in more hours at the gym to reach the level of fitness necessary to qualify for BUD/S, he’d done so without complaint. And when his former commanding officer, Cash Kincaid, had offered JD the opportunity to work for his newly formed private military firm, JD had been determined to be the best operative at Trident Securities. So much for that dream.
Paul, one of the yacht’s crew members, joined JD at the railing and pointed at the ever-growing coastline. “Not far now. We’re going to drop you off at the marina. You shouldn’t have trouble finding your hotel from there.”
“If you were staying in Nice, I’d invite you all out for a drink.”
Paul’s grin lit up his otherwise plain face. “If the boss didn’t want us to travel on to Cannes today, I’d take you up on the offer.”
“The boss” was Darko Dunne, an Irish rock star who owed Trident Securities a favor. After JD had been forced to pull out of Corsica, Cash had arranged for him to hitch a ride with the yacht’s crew from Ajaccio to Nice.
“Another time, maybe,” JD said. “Thanks for making a detour for me. I appreciate it.”
“It was no problem. We were due to sail to the mainland anyway. Darko and his family want to use the boat for their spring vacation.”
When the yacht entered the harbor, JD stuffed the last of his belongings into his backpack and adjusted his shades. Under the glare of the midday sun, the sky was a bright blue speckled with an occasional wispy cloud. Had the circumstances been different, JD would have been thrilled at the idea of visiting mainland France for the first time. He’d seen pictures of the French Riviera, but none had done justice to the spectacular view he’d enjoyed on the trip over from Corsica.
After they’d docked in the marina, Jean-Pierre, the yacht’s skipper, shook JD’s hand. “Bienvenue à Nice.”
“Merci et au revoir,” JD replied, glad he could finally ditch the terrible French he’d pretended to speak during his undercover operation, and said his goodbyes to the rest of the crew. Then he slung his backpack over his shoulder and strode down the gangplank of the Poseidon. Outside the marina, he followed the signs to the Promenade des Anglais, the famous walkway along the beachfront. Despite it still being low season, Nice teemed with tourists. Thanks to the warm climate, even late April was warm enough to hit the beach. A pang of envy burned through JD’s chest when he glimpsed the carefree sunbathers and paddle boarders. What he wouldn’t give right at this moment to be a tourist—just a regular guy checking out the highlights of one of Europe’s most vibrant cities.
He glanced at the map on his phone and hung a left. Trident Securities had booked JD into a little hotel on one of the side streets off the Promenade. He was to wait there for further instructions, whatever they might be. With a bit of luck, they’d include an airline reservation straight back to the States. The closer the time got to the eighth of May, the antsier JD got.
His heart skipped a beat. I’m going to be a daddy.
On the rare occasions JD had entertained the idea of his future self becoming a father, he’d envisioned raising his kid in a house enclosed by a white-picket fence and sandwiched by neighbors who gave a damn. He’d be married to the woman of his dreams—her face was always a blur in these imaginings, but that part had never bothered JD; he reckoned he wouldn’t be getting married for at least another five years. In the meantime, he’d have retired from black ops work and taken over his uncle’s car repair shop in downtown Austin.
Reality painted a different picture. Knocking up a one-night stand and marrying her in Vegas the day before he was due to leave for Corsica on an undercover operation that would last several months hadn’t featured in any of his daydreams.
JD’s phone vibrated in his hand, and he held the device to his ear. “Hey, Liam. What’s up?”
Liam Ryan, the second in command at Trident Securities, was the operations coordinator for JD’s latest assignment. He was also JD’s reluctant brother-in-law. This latter fact was the defining one in their relationship.
“You in Nice?” Liam’s tone was brusque, but JD didn’t hold it against him. He could picture the big guy at his desk in Manhattan, bleary-eyed and armed with his first double espresso of the day. With the time zone difference, it was the start of Liam’s working day. Within a couple of days of starting work for Trident Securities, JD had figured out that Liam Ryan and mornings weren’t a good mix.
“I just got off the boat, and I’m walking toward my hotel now. Any idea why Cash wants me to stay overnight? Have you guys booked my return flight?”
A silence taut with tension descended before Liam finally replied. “You’ll be staying in Nice for more than one night.”
JD’s stomach performed a flip and roll, and his grip on the phone tightened. Surely Liam, of all people, had to understand? He had a kid of his own, after all. No way would JD miss the birth of his first child. “I have to be home before the eighth. We had a deal, remember?”
“About that deal…I’m guessing you haven’t spoken to Naomi in a while.”
An icy trickle of fear slithered down JD’s back. “Is she okay? The baby—”
“They’re both fine, and Naomi is still pregnant.”
JD released his breath in a whoosh. “Thank God. You had me worried.”
“Sorry, man. I’m not awake. I was trying to tell you that Naomi left Manhattan.”
“Where is she?” JD asked in a strained voice. “Did she go home to Ireland?” Naomi had stopped taking his calls before Christmas, reducing their contact to perfunctory emails in which she updated him on the progress of her pregnancy. Being stuck on another continent and deep undercover, JD had felt powerless to rectify the situation. Whatever it took, he’d make it up to Naomi, show her that he was the husband of her dreams. “I know she’s upset, but I didn’t choose to be away for so long.”
“Yeah, but having her new husband leave her in the dust the day after the wedding had to bite.”
Liam’s words were like a punch to the gut. “You think I don’t know that? Haven’t you ever been deployed or on a mission for months at a time?”
“Sure I have,” Liam said. “Why do you think my first marriage broke up?”
JD dodged a cyclist and shifted the phone to his other ear. “Did you call me to piss me off or to give me instructions? Naomi knew I was leaving for Europe when she agreed to marry me. I laid it all out. I told her I had to take the job for the money. Heck, you know I had to go. You assigned me.”
“Yeah, and my wife has been chewing me out about it ever since,” Liam grumbled. “No one told me Naomi was pregnant.”
“Would it have made a difference if you’d known?”
The other man grunted. “Probably not. We needed a guy in Corsica, preferably someone who spoke good French, and you were available. The plans were in place long before you knocked up my sister-in-law at my wedding reception.”
JD winced. “That wasn’t planned.”
“I got that impression,” Liam said dryly. “For what it’s worth, the months overseas and hardly getting to see my daughter is why I slotted myself into an admin position. You might want to think about a new career after the baby comes. Juggling fatherhood and private ops work is no joke.”
“Trust me, I’ve thought of little else these last few months, but I wasn’t exactly in a position to mail résumés to potential employers while working undercover.” JD stepped onto the pedestrian crossing and crossed over to the side street where his hotel was located. “Whatever you need me to stay in France for, forget it. I’m not missing the birth of my first child.”
“I’m not expecting you to. I called you to give you Naomi’s address…in France.”
JD came to an abrupt stop, causing the person walking behind him to crash into him. JD ignored the man’s irritated outburst. “Naomi is here? When did she arrive? She shouldn’t be traveling in her condition. How did she get permission to fly this late in the pregnancy?”
“She moved to a village near Nice back in December,” Liam said flatly. “She got a job with a jewelry designer she’d worked with in Spain a couple of years ago.”
“Naomi was a seven-hour journey away from me all these months? Why the fuck didn’t someone tell me?”
“I’m married to her sister, remember?” Liam replied. “Naomi didn’t want you informed, and Jill and I respected her decision. Besides, you were deep undercover. You couldn’t have hopped on a boat and sailed over to Nice for a quick visit.”
A painful lump formed in JD’s throat. Why had Naomi not told him she was moving to France? Did the move mean their marriage was over? A sick feeling formed in his stomach, making him feel queasy. All these months, he’d dreamed about her every night, reliving her gentle touch and sweet smile. The one beacon of hope that had kept him going through the long and dangerous months of his assignment was the knowledge that they’d be together again soon, and in plenty of time to welcome their first child into the world. “If Naomi didn’t want me to know where she was, why are you telling me now?”
“As you said, the eighth of May is only a week away. She shouldn’t be alone. If Jill wasn’t also heavily pregnant, she’d be with her sister for the birth, and their mom can’t travel so soon after her surgery.”
JD had only met his mother-in-law once—at his and Naomi’s shotgun Vegas wedding last October—but what he recalled of the woman was positive. She’d flown in at the last minute to attend the wedding, and he’d left for Corsica the following day. “I didn’t know Doris was sick. Is it serious?”
“Burst appendix,” Liam said. “She’ll be fine, but she’ll have to stay in the hospital for at least another week. She’ll be on a flight to France the instant the doctors let her.”
“And then on a plane to the US to meet her next grandchild when he or she arrives in June.”
Liam gave a grudging laugh. “Yeah.”
“Does Cash know you’re allowing me to stay on in Nice?”
“Yes, and he’s good with it. You were due to take an extended vacation anyway. Totally up to you if you want to return to work for us at the end of it.”
Although Liam’s suggestion that JD find a new career stemmed from his own experience of struggling to balance fatherhood with long stints overseas, JD couldn’t help feeling he’d failed Trident Securities, especially after the Corsica situation. “I wish the Demarchelier job had ended better.”
“We all do, but don’t beat yourself up about it. You couldn’t have known Demarchelier was double-crossing his own gang. We’ll get him eventually. But for now, concentrate on Naomi and the baby.”
JD wanted nothing more than to concentrate on his new family, but whether or not he got the opportunity was up to Naomi. How would he cope if she rejected him? What if she decided he had no place in their baby’s life? The queasy sensation grew worse, making him regret the sandwich he’d eaten on the boat. “Can you give me her address? I’ll look her up before I check in to my hotel.”
Liam rattled off an address in the nearby village of Èze. “Jill says Naomi is in Nice today, working at the jewelry store. It’s called Martine’s and it’s on Rue Massenet, just past the Hard Rock Café on the corner.”
JD frowned. “Naomi shouldn’t be working this close to the birth. She should be taking it easy.”
“Tell her that, not me,” his brother-in-law said with a chuckle, “but you might want to put on body armor first. In my experience, pregnant ladies don’t respond well to being told what to do.”
“I’ll bear that in mind,” JD said dryly.
“Well…” Liam paused. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” JD said with a grimace. “I think I’m going to need it.” He disconnected and slipped the phone back into his pocket. The Hard Rock Café loomed ahead. He passed it and turned onto Rue Massenet. In contrast to the Promenade, this street was quiet and dotted with a mixture of cafés, shops, and residential buildings. Martine’s was located in a narrow building and wedged between a pharmacy and a shoe store. JD’s pace slowed as he approached, thoughts of what he was going to say tumbling through his mind. He wiped sweaty palms on his cargo pants and took a deep breath. Just a few more steps and he’d finally see Naomi again.
The display window of Martine’s featured artfully draped jewelry against an African-themed background. JD peered through the window and scanned the interior. A burly security guard stood by the entrance of the store. The walls were lined with fancy display stands interspersed with large and leafy plants.
And then he saw her and his heart skipped a beat. She stood at the back of the store, hugely pregnant and stunningly beautiful. Her large belly strained against the confines of her maternity dress while she showed a customer their wares. The Riviera sun had darkened her skin to a smooth, rich brown, but the freckles she’d inherited from her Irish mother were still visible across the bridge of her nose.
JD’s mouth turned dry. Man, she was gorgeous. After all these months, Naomi’s powerful effect on him hadn’t diminished. Not one iota. He still needed her with every atom of his being, and wanted to cherish her and to keep her safe from harm.
The hairs on the nape of his neck stood on end. Why had that last thought occurred to him? Naomi wasn’t in any danger, was she? And yet… The gut instinct that had saved his butt more than once as a Navy SEAL shifted from neutral to high alert. JD never ignored his instinct. He shoved his sunglasses into his shirt pocket, pushed open the door, and stepped inside.
The customer and Naomi shook hands, and the man turned to walk toward the exit. When he drew closer, JD sucked in a breath. Fuck me. Patric Demarchelier, the diamond smuggler he’d spent the last six months trying to trace, waltzed past him and out of the store.
From The Navy SEAL’s Accidental Wife by Zara Keane, Copyright 2016