One of my series—Black Eagle Ops—has a former SEAL as its commander. Zane Quinlan’s ranch in the Hill Country of Texas is the team’s headquarters. In former books, ZQ was a bit of a matchmaker for his former servicemen and women who came to Black Eagle Ranch. Most brought along their snarly attitudes and PTSD. Some their new limbs. All packed their enduring patriotic spirits.
I took a chance writing these books in three point-of-views: the heroine’s, the hero’s, and ZQ’s. Soon I started getting emails from readers. “When would ZQ get his romance and his mother, known as Junebug, the grandchildren she wanted so badly?”
ZQ’s story would have to be special. He’d been married to the military, retired and returned to the ranch when he learned his dad had cancer, and continued running the spread as his former team slowly trickled in for a quiet place to heal.
Desiree Holt was gathering authors for her next twelve Omega Team release for Kindle Worlds. I asked if I could bring my Black Eagle Ops men along. She agreed.
Running boots sounded behind him. “ZQ! Wait up.”
Dammit! Can’t I have a few effingg minutes to myself to process?
JJ grabbed his other hand and took his pulse. “Are you feeling okay? You’re so pale? Athena yelled for me, said you stumbled around and seemed disoriented. That’s not like you. Pulse is rapid. Skin clammy.” He passed ZQ a bottle of water. “Drink.” He glanced around and pointed to the park across the street. “Let’s grab a bench.”
He shook his head and walked on. “Nah. I’m good. Just need some fresh air.”
JJ matched him stride for stride. “You know, ZQ, you can’t bullshit an old bullshitter. Do you know how many times I’ve told people I was fine when I was a heartbeat away from ripping things apart? I’m getting a strong vibe you’re hanging on by a thread. What’s wrong?” JJ grabbed his commander’s elbow and marched him across the street to the quiet park.
“I’ve just been hit with some unexpected news and need a break from everyone to think.” Maybe JJ would take the hint and go away.
“Good thing I’m not everyone, ZQ. I have secrets only you know. So I’m willing to listen to yours and keep them to myself. That’s the kind of brothers we are, man. Salt and pepper.”
“Not in the mood for sharing. Not yet.” Why would Rose name her kid after the name I used with her? Is her child mine? He did some quick math calculations. “Did you hear me? Go back to Grey’s place.”
“Not happening. You need someone to talk to. What made you go pale? Athena said you scared the crap outta her. I get the feeling it takes a lot to rattle that woman.”
What the hell. He and JJ had talked about a lot of stuff during the time he’d been at the ranch. After gulping a long drink of water, he leaned back on the bench and took a deep breath. “I’m a sexual Dominant.”
“Yeah, the team’s already figured that much out.”
“My enjoyment of a little kink is none of the team’s business. Once I was assigned to SEAL Team Five, based out of Coronado, I joined a BDSM club there. I mostly did scenes, always keeping my eye out for a favorite. You know, someone whose kink matched mine.” ZQ smiled and hitched a shoulder.
“Then one night, I met Rose. We meshed like ice cream and chocolate syrup. Because of my rank and level of security I held, I’d bastardized my last name. Everyone at the club knew me simply as Quinn. Looks like Rose did the same with her last name.”
JJ placed his elbows on his spread thighs and hung his head. “Don’t tell me. Ivy Rosemoor is your Rose? Hell, man, are you gonna be able to keep your mind focused on the mission?”
“I’ll have to to bring her back.” He tipped the bottle to his mouth and guzzled some more.
“Let me check your pulse again.” JJ pressed two fingers against ZQ’s neck. “It’s not as rapid. What broke you two up?”
“She knew I was a SEAL. I’d told her that much, but not that I was a team commander. You know how that shit works, the higher I rose in rank, the more confidential information I was privy to. I didn’t want to leave my security clearance open or vulnerable. Initially she told me she was a college student, but I thought she was a little old for that.” He shrugged. “I just figured we both had details we needed to keep private.
“Later she told me she was a law student, preparing to take her bar exams. She told me in confidence. Some people worry about being blackmailed because of their sexual lifestyle. Don’t know if it’s ever happenes, but—”
ZQ glanced away and exhaled a long breath. “Everything was great between us. Then orders came for Team Five to go to Afghanistan to take out a group of Taliban hiding in the mountains of Hindu Kush. I had a separate phone I used only for Rose. I gave her one for me. This kept our relationship totally separate from our public lives. We liked being in our own private cocoon.
“I texted her that my job was taking me away for a while and I didn’t know when I’d be back. I told her to always remember how much she meant to me. Then I texted her after our arrival and told her we were in the back half-acre of hell, setting up camp. I asked her if she missed me and to send me a selfie.”
ZQ stretched his long legs and took a deep breath. “Eager for her reply, I put the phone on a pile of rocks near our command tent where we had intermittent wireless Internet. I turned and saw Two Packs needed help digging a hole for the latrine.” He closed his eyes hoping to block out the memory. A futile exercise. ZQ had run to help because having a shitter was a necessity. A volley of gunfire had gone off. He dove into the hole and his buddy’s lifeless body had fallen on top of him.
“We used to tell Two Packs his smoking would kill him,” JJ spoke with reverence. “Instead it was a group of Taliban snipers.”
ZQ shook off the memory of lifting his man’s body out of the way so he could return fire. It was a tense ten minutes that seemed short in one way and eternal in another. He and two of his men had received minor wounds.
“Yeah, the bastards shot up my phone, too. The trouble with speed dial is you never memorize the person’s phone number. My connection to Rose was gone.”
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