Sworn Navy SEALs, Book 3
Release Date:

Jul 30, 2024



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Sworn to Defend


Charlee James

Shot during a mission and falling to what he thinks is his death, Branch has one regret….

Navy SEAL Hunter “Branch” Green has one goal when he leaves the military hospital—finally tell the pretty flight medic how he feels about her and her autistic teenage son. He’s played it safe for too long, but the mission to win her trust and her heart might be his most challenging yet.

After a lifetime of being criticized and disappointed by her family who should have loved her, single mom Hannah Day is fiercely independent. Her walls have walls, and if her son needs anything or something needs doing, she relies only on herself. But the protective, handsome SEAL with a dimpled smile, who has a soft streak for her son a mile wide and a need to help others, is difficult to resist.

Hannah wants to stay strong, but when she’s summoned home to Texas for her youngest sister’s speedy, high society wedding, something feels off, even dangerous. Can she rely on Hunter’s help or will this be one more disappointment for Hannah and her son?

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Chapter One

Hannah Day thanked the administrative assistant at the hospital desk and took purposeful strides toward the elevator. Knowing that Hunter, or Branch, as many of his friends called him, was back in the United States after spending over two weeks recovering overseas had made for a long twenty-four-hour shift. In between every callout, her mind was on Hunter. She punched the button for the third floor and dug some sanitizer out of her purse. Okay, not a purse. A fanny pack. It wasn’t exactly the height of fashion, but it was practical, as was the sanitizer. As a single mom, getting sick wasn’t an option, and she worked with critically ill patients who needed air transport, not additional germs.

She drew in a deep breath when she arrived at the unit that would be Hunter’s home away from home until the hospital staff deemed him ready to leave. Antiseptic mingled with the scent of bleach and the boiled contents of dinner trays. She scanned the room numbers on the wall. B103. Her heart clutched. She hadn’t known Hunter for long, had met him through her son Collin’s best friend, Jacob, whose brother happened to be a SEAL, and her friend Brynn’s fiancé. Through Collin, she had met a group of genuine people who were the closest thing she had to friends in a long time.

She lifted her hand and knocked softly. If he was awake, it would alert him to her presence; if not, the slight sound wouldn’t disturb him. For some inexplicable reason, she needed to lay eyes on the man who had made her stop and take pause. Reassess how she lived her life and realize how closed off she’d become. She had her reasons, of course, but for the first time, she’d let herself lean on someone just a bit. Now, it was time to offer him support.

“Come in.” His voice sounded hoarse through the door, but it was unmistakably his. Such an intoxicating combination of gruff masculinity and lightness. She hadn’t realized how much she needed to hear his voice or how struck she’d been by his accident.

“Forget something, or did you miss me already?” He chuckled, a gravelly sound that emanated through the tiny crack in the door. Someone else must’ve just left his room. She’d never heard the guys, her girlfriends, or Hunter himself mention a woman in his life, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t one. There was an uncomfortable twinge in her chest, and she absently bit her bottom lip. This was stupid. She was here for Hunter to make sure he was okay, not because of the weird crush she harbored. One she didn’t have time to do anything about. The door to his room squeaked as she pushed it open. She stood on the threshold, heart pounding, taking him in. Hunter was propped up against a pillow, gauze wraps binding wounds on his head. He glanced over, and his eyes widened.

“Hannah.” The lightness in his tone was gone, replaced by something more profound, more intimate.

“You’re okay.” She didn’t recognize the tight squeak of her voice, but her throat had constricted. This strong SEAL, a born protector who spent his free time helping to host a Halloween party for teens who had disabilities, who made a sensory room in the basement of the house for her son and his friends, had no business being harmed. He was good to his core—he didn’t deserve the long recovery ahead.

“I’m okay,” he confirmed and lifted his hand, ushering her closer. The metal feet of the chair scraped over the tile as she pulled it to his bedside. “More so now.”

Those last three words had nerves sparking in her stomach. God, she was terrible at this. Interacting with a man she liked far more than she should. She’d always been a duck out of water, especially among the swans that were her mother and sisters. “It took me longer to get here than I wanted. I’m sorry. I know I’m probably the last to visit, but everyone’s kept me posted, and I—”

“Have two important jobs—mom, medic, and everything in between.” She might’ve thought she was being mocked if anyone else said it, but not Hunter. Sincerity rode along the timbre of his words, just as his deep chocolate eyes held just the right mix of concern and respect. She could absolutely get lost in the warm, melted depths. “I only got here last night. I never imagined you’d be able to come as soon as you did. It’s good to see you, Hannah.”

She’d never get used to the shiver of pleasure that rolled through her when he spoke her name. “Not as good as it is to see you. You scared us.” Scared her. Made her face the fact that she’d developed feelings for the sweet and sincere SEAL, even if it couldn’t go anywhere. Her life wasn’t exactly conducive to relationships.

“How’s Collin doing?”

Hearing her son’s name made her smile until she remembered how his eyes filled when she told him about Hunter. She glanced down at her hands, trying to compose herself before meeting his gaze. “I told him you’d been hurt. That the doctors were doing their very best to help you get better. He was devastated when he heard.” She released a shuddery breath and unzipped the pack around her waist. When her friend Brynn told her about the accident, she hadn’t been able to suck in a breath. Realizing she’d have to tell Collin the man he idolized was hurt was even worse. She fumbled with the folded piece of paper and presented it to Hunter. “He’s been drawing pictures for you.”

Hunter’s fingertips brushed against hers as they exchanged the drawing, sending a current flickering over her skin. He took the paper and began unfolding it. Hands so huge shouldn’t be able to open something with such delicacy or care. How many times had she marveled over their differences in size? She was shorter than most at an inch over five feet. She had strong arms and muscled calves honed by the demands of her job and not a gym. She’d always been stocky but Hunter stood about a foot taller than her, making her feel almost delicate.

“Please tell him as soon as I’m out of the hospital, I’m framing this for my wall.” A myriad of emotions played over his face, but the one that shone brighter than the rest was love. Collin had formed an instant bond with Hunter, and until today, seeing with her own eyes he was going to be okay, she was terrified that link would be severed. “His memory is nothing short of amazing,” Hunter said, shaking his head in disbelief. He angled the drawing toward her, and she leaned in to get a better look. They were making pizzas together. An activity they’d shared on several occasions. “Remembered all my favorite toppings and colors.” His voice was closer now, even though his tone had dropped. Her breathing spiked. She wanted to do nothing more than lift her chin and find his lips hovering over hers. Instead, she kept talking.

“I’m not surprised. He remembers everything about you.”

“Well, seems like I’ve got a few lives left. I’ll be in the kitchen making pizza with him in no time.” His low chuckle brought the pent-up fear and anxiety of the last weeks rushing to the surface.

“You’re not a freaking cat, Hunter. You’re a man who can bleed and die. A man we’ve gotten to know over the past six months. One that means a great deal to my son.” And to me. She couldn’t speak the words. She’d been on her own so long now she didn’t have the first clue how to open up. And if she did and Hunter didn’t feel the same? That would spell disaster for her in their circle of friends. Truly belonging was a heady feeling, especially growing up as an outcast in an affluent family.

He sobered instantly. “You’re right. I shouldn’t joke.” He stroked his palm over her hair, so light, just the barest weight, yet the feelings the simple touch evoked were heavy and fast.

“You could’ve died.” Her voice was barely a whisper over the beeping monitors.

Hunter leaned back against the pillow. “The team had my back.”

Thank God for that. The strength of his team was unquestionable, and still, what they did day in and day out held extreme risk. “Do you remember what happened?” she asked. Bruises ran down his arms and over his face. There were various cuts along his cheeks and over his left brow. A sick sensation made her stomach roll. How did her two friends, who were engaged to Hunter’s teammates, handle the stress when they got called out on a mission?

“We were fast-roping to the ground. I was about twenty feet from having my boots hit the dirt when the shooting started. I felt a few grazes and made the mistake of trying to move faster. Lost my footing and fell the rest of the way. Joker hauled me back up. That’s who I thought was at the door when you knocked. He’s been complaining about my poor balance multiple times a day. I don’t remember anything after hitting the ground, but I know who I was thinking of after the first bullet hit. When I didn’t think I had a prayer.”

Shy or bashful wasn’t something she’d ever list as a character trait. Still, the seriousness of Hunter’s tone had her momentarily fixed on the screen displaying his vitals rather than him. “Hannah. Please look at me.”

Nerves tingled in her chest, but she did as he asked. His eyes locked on hers, and the heat and determination in his gaze nearly knocked her back. He reached out and covered her hand, resting on the bedside rail, warming her skin and pushing a rush of pleasure through her.

“I made myself a promise during that fall. I told myself I would stop pretending you weren’t on my mind every second of the day. That started the first time we met, and I’ve just gotten deeper since. I want to spend more time with you. Alone and with Collin.”

Her heart slowed to a dull thud. Logically, she knew Hunter’s affection for Collin couldn’t be faked. The love she’d seen reflected in his eyes minutes ago when he opened the drawing was genuine. Whether or not he originally formed that bond with Collin to get closer to her wasn’t something she was ready to ask. Because asking might shatter the wholesome illusion she’d built in her mind. Where Hunter’s bond with Collin was his and his alone. Something pure. Something that lacked contingencies or strings.

Her son was loving, trusting, and open. As Collin’s only parent, her sole ambition for the past fourteen years was to protect and provide for him. If she died or was no longer able to care for Collin, of course her family would financially support her son. Hunter was someone who actually got him, though. Who could intuitively understand what her son was thinking and feeling—something that was difficult for many. Not that people, in general, were unkind or closed-minded, but when Collin missed specific social cues or had to be reminded to give others space because he was just so damn excited to interact with them or clapped his hands and paced in circles, people didn’t always know how to react. Not Hunter, though. Without even recognizing it, she’d put Hunter on a pedestal as the perfect male role model for her son.

“What was that thought?” Hunter’s look of confusion turned to concern when she slowly pulled her hand out from under his.

She gripped the edges of the seat. “I’m happy you’re back and safe, but I need time to think.” Guilt slammed into her when he masked his features, but she hadn’t lied. She did need time to process his words. To analyze what it meant for Hunter and Collin’s relationship if she said no…or if she said yes. Space and time were the only things that would give her clarity. “I’m sorry. I know that’s not what you want to hear.”

“I never want you to tell me something that’s not true because you think it’s what I want to hear.”

The truth was, she was interested. Had been for a long time. She wasn’t just living for herself, though. “I should get going. It’s already pretty late.”

“Drive safe, and please tell Collin I can’t wait to see him.”

She pushed to her feet, crossed over the tiled floor, and paused by the door. “Feel better soon,” she said before slipping into the hallway. The words were lame and insufficient for the situation. He’d almost died. Her throat constricted as she skirted around gurneys and linen carts lining the corridors. The day had been a series of highs and lows. Desperation to get to the hospital, the breathless excitement of learning Hunter was interested in her, and the concern of a mother who just wanted to do what was right. If only she could cut herself some slack like she’d give the rest of the world.

Her phone vibrated in her back pocket, and she drew it out. Only two numbers called her—work or Collin’s school. It was far too late for a call from her son’s school, so it had to be the former. She paused when the name on the screen registered. Vivienne. Pageant princess. Social media influencer. Little sister. They’d never been particularly close. Even as a baby, Vivienne was striking, with big blue eyes and their mother’s pale hair. From birth, she was primped and paraded around her parents’ social circles, much like her eldest sister, Regina, had been. She hadn’t spoken to her sister in months, and the last time she called was to tell Hannah she was the new brand ambassador for some handbag designer. Not that she wasn’t happy for her, but she could be doing so much more with her life.

She started to tuck her phone away but was stopped by a twinge of guilt. Her baby sister was the least obnoxious member of the Day family. She blew out a quick breath, punched the elevator button, and swiped her screen.

“Hey, Vivi.”

“Hannah.” There was a breathless note to her sister’s voice. “Scott proposed. I’m engaged.”

She caught her reflection in the metal. Her lips were downturned, her hair in disarray from coming straight to the hospital after her shift. It wasn’t that she wasn’t happy for Vivienne, but something in her tone didn’t sound right. Not like an ecstatic bride-to-be. “Congratulations,” she ventured carefully.

“Yeah. Thank you.” The click of heels was audible on the other end of the receiver.

“Are you…pacing?” Hannah asked. The elevator jolted to a stop, and the door slid open to the first-floor lobby. The sound of footsteps abruptly stopped.

“No,” she said a bit too quickly. “I’m calling because I want you to be at the wedding. A bridesmaid. I want Collin there, too. Please say yes.”

She could picture Vivi biting her top lip with her eyes wide and pleading. An expression their mother hated because it wasn’t poised.

Her yearly visit to the Day estate was quite enough. The last thing she wanted to do was attend a stuffy, elaborate wedding, let alone have to participate in it. Her day kept spiraling. “Of course.”

“Thank you.” Relief was palpable in her sister’s voice.

“Are you okay? You don’t sound like yourself.”

The clip of heels resumed. “It’s all so sudden.”

“You and Scott have been together around a year now?”


“And do you love him?”

“He’s perfect. A complete gentleman. It’s the ideal union between two powerful families.”

“Vivi, that’s not what I asked.” The words coming out of her sister’s mouth were so practiced there was a pang in her heart. She’d never lived by the Day rules. In a way, she’d been lucky. Allowed far more leniency because no matter how her mother tried to shape her into the perfect lady, she never fit the mold. While it hurt to overhear her mother’s friends whispering about how tragic it was for Hannah not to be blessed with the beautiful Day family genes, it also afforded her more freedoms than Regina and Vivienne. The two were constantly thrust into the spotlight. Always perfectly polished and well-mannered. Both were prized for their beauty and the inevitably lucrative families high in the social circle they’d someday marry into.

“He’s an ideal match,” Vivienne repeated. “The timing just has me out of sorts. There’s so much to do in two weeks. The dresses, the cake, a venue—”

“Two weeks? Did you just say two weeks?” Hannah sputtered. Her heart rate started to pick up as she made her way to the parking garage.

“After Scott proposed, our parents were discussing the plans over dinner. They both agreed a quick union would be preferable, especially so the event wouldn’t overshadow Scott’s father’s campaign for Senate. If he’s elected, Scott will need to take his place as CEO of their company. The board would all feel better if he was settled down. And with Regina’s husband running again for mayor, it would be selfish to wait.”

Hannah rolled her eyes and quickly walked through the darkened lot, clicking her key fob to unlock her car doors as she approached her simple sedan. Brainwashed was the only word that came to mind. Vivienne had been fed all the proper information since birth, and now her sister didn’t even realize that her words weren’t her own. “You have a say in your life. You know that, right?”

“This is what I want,” Vivienne said. Did that unquestionable tone actually help her believe it? “I want you to be a bridesmaid. I want Collin to be the ring bearer. Please, Hanni Banani. I…I need you right now.”

She gripped the car door. The childhood nickname, before their mother had deemed it ridiculous, made her pause in her tracks. For what it was worth, she and Vivienne had been playmates once. Friends. They might be close still if they hadn’t been dragged in such different directions.

“Text me the dates. I’ll do my best to get the time off.” Hannah slid into her car and locked the doors.

“Thank you. Thank you so much.”

They said their goodbyes and ended the call. Hannah plugged her phone into the charger, twisted over the center console, and rested her forehead against the steering wheel. Sometimes, she allowed herself a stolen moment here and there to just close her eyes and think of nothing for a few seconds. She breathed in through her nose, out through her mouth, then lifted her head and started the car. She couldn’t wait to get one of her son’s big, all-consuming bear hugs. Sure, Vivienne’s wedding was an unexpected inconvenience, but it also reminded her of how lucky she was to have gotten away from the stifling clutches of her family. If it weren’t for the scandal of her unwed pregnancy, her parents never would’ve let her leave so quickly. Casting her aside in a hushed fashion prevented the rumor mill from churning—at least a little bit. Especially seeing as her baby’s father had been so far outside her family’s social circle, one of the things she’d coveted about their relationship. The normalcy of it all. They hadn’t been in love, but their friendship was solid and special.

When Russell died so suddenly, she’d never felt more alone. She’d never forget him, though. Not after he’d given her life’s most precious gift—Collin.

End of Excerpt

This book will begin shipping July 30, 2024

Sworn to Defend is available in the following formats:

ISBN: 978-1-962707-31-2

July 30, 2024


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