The SEAL's Second Chance:An Alpha Ops NovellaBy: Anne Calhoun
For Eileen Rothschild, and as always, for Mark.
Jamie Hawthorn reached deep inside and found an extra burst of speed, putting a couple of feet between himself and his brother, Ian, as they raced up the road that wound toward their childhood home on the Hill. Ian didn’t give up without a fight, heaving air into his lungs and closing the gap between them to a couple of inches before Jamie hit the designated finish line first, the lilac bush bowing over the mailbox at the end of their driveway. He slowed to a stop, slapped the pole holding up their basketball hoop, and turned to walk back down the driveway and cool off.
“Not bad,” he said to Ian, who was hunched over and all but hyperventilating. “I want barbeque from that place across the river,” he added, because over the years the penalty for losing had jumped from a candy bar to lunch.
Ian cut him a glance. “Do me a favor and ignore the way I’ll be limping tomorrow,” he said.
“It’s all the running in the sand,” Jamie said, hands linked behind his head as they walked the big cul-de-sac. “A solid surface is easy after that.”
“Not much sand in Lancaster,” Ian quipped. “Or much reason to run full out carrying the kind of gear SEALs do.”
“Sometimes departments send SWAT teams to work out with SEALs,” Jamie said.
“No funding for that,” Ian said. “But I’ll take you up on any workout ideas I can pass on to the officers on the emergency response team. We’ve got a couple of ex-military on the team. They’re always pushing the other guys to stay in shape.”
“They see action?”
“One was an MP and another guy did two infantry tours in Iraq,” Ian said, breathing more normally. “He’s working undercover for me now.”
“No problem,” Jamie said. “You can find the basic workout online, but I’ll put something together for you that’s more relevant to typical cop situations.”
“Sounds good,” Ian said, completely in character. He was more collaborative than competitive, focused on relationship-building. Jamie was the competitive one, wanting the win, the record, the championship, the SEAL’s trident badge, the successful mission.
He huffed out a little laugh as the thought of championships reminded him of the real reason he was running races with his brother during his thirty-day leave in Lancaster. His foundation in competitiveness and endurance training happened here. To a certain extent, his coach laid the groundwork, but deep in his heart, he knew playing one-on-one with Charlie Stannard provided the real education in toughness, drive, and intensity.
On the surface he was back for a banquet honoring the coach and the members of the championship teams. Really, he was back for Charlie. Twenty-six days left in his leave. Twenty-six days left of Operation Buzzer Beater, in which he would convince the notoriously prickly, determined, wary Charlie that they were meant to be together forever.
They reached the driveway again and walked up the brick path, into the house. “Where’s Mom?” Ian asked, elbows braced on the island in the kitchen, dripping sweat onto the granite.
“Garden Club meeting,” Jamie said, running water into a glass and handing it to his brother. “Last-minute planning for the reception the day before the banquet. You gonna puke?”
“Even odds,” Ian said with a grimace that was probably supposed to be a smile.
“You’re in good shape,” Jamie said. “Just not SEAL-shape.”
“Fuck you,” Ian said good-naturedly, and straightened. But he took a tentative sip of the water, knowing not to gulp it so soon after the workout. Jamie followed suit, looking out the big picture window at his mother’s pride and joy, the winding paths and cultivated beds of her English garden. The house occupied a prime position at the top of the Hill, nothing behind it but sky and the long, steep drop to the tracks, and the basketball court that was the site of his crazy, magical, frustrating nights with Charlie.
Would the passion still be there? He’d spent hours with her back to the tree, her long, lean, muscled body arching wantonly into his, held all of the yearning of an adolescent hormones and all of the explosiveness of an adult’s desire. So many variables might have changed: Maybe she didn’t shoot hoops to relieve stress anymore. Maybe she used her key to the high school gym, rather than the rundown court next to the railroad tracks. But the rainy spring weather had cleared, and he was counting on the spring night sky and the fact that she’d have to know he was back in town to tempt her down to the court tonight.