Sworn Navy SEALs, Book 2
Release Date:

May 28, 2024

ISBN:

978-1-962707-21-3

More From Charlee →

Sworn to Honor

by

Charlee James

She wakes his war-weary soul with a song, but can she trust him

Navy SEAL Julian “Joker” Desmond didn’t get his nickname from cracking jokes. He’s tough, suspicious and honed by battle, but when he hears a woman singing in a local bar after his recent deployment, he lets down his guard for a taste of heaven. In the morning, she’s gone, leaving him bitterly disappointed.

Music therapist Sam Campbell knows better than to let a man get close. Her family is dangerous, and she deliberately keeps a low profile. When she runs into Julian again at her teen client’s house, she’s both thrilled and dismayed. She’s been unable to forget their night of fireworks and connection, but she’s determined to keep them both safe.

When he discovers Sam’s dark past and why she ran after their night of passion, Julian vows to protect her…or die trying.

Enjoy an Excerpt →

Other Tule AuthorsYou'll Also Love:

More Tule TitlesYou Might Enjoy:

Start reading this book:

Chapter One

Julian “Joker” Desmond sat in a shadowy corner of the bar and nursed his second beer. He’d been back in the United States, in Virginia Beach, for less than twenty-four hours. The aura of desperation in Al Hudaydah, Yemen, still clung to him. On paper, the mission was a success. The team had taken out the high-level target near the city’s main port, but not before the man had taken out several civilians in the building he was hiding in. A young mother and two children. The waste of those lives sat heavy in his gut, and although he didn’t want to interact with anyone, he was restless to get out of his apartment.

He wasn’t looking to get laid. Picking up women had long ago lost its appeal, and since his friend Ransom had found love Joker felt…adrift. He was happy for Brynn and Ransom. Thrilled even. He loved the woman like a sister now, and she’d brought Ransom’s brother, Jacob, into their lives, which was a blessing in itself. Maybe it was the mission or perhaps the realization that he couldn’t save everyone, but a numbness had permeated his soul, and he couldn’t seem to shake it. He took a sip of his now-room-temperature beer and narrowed his eyes at the petite blonde stepping on the small stage at the back of the bar. She sat on a high stool, guitar in her lap, and strummed a few chords, tuning the instrument. The crowd didn’t seem to bother her, nor did the suggestive calls from some rowdy locals in the back of the room. The bar manager brought a microphone onto the stage and positioned it on a stand in front of her.

“Happy to introduce Sam. She’ll be taking requests until ten.”

The woman smiled at the room, casting a warm glow in the otherwise dingy setting. Guitar chords filled the room, confident and warm, just like her grin. And then she began to sing. A lump formed in his throat as he lost himself in the music. She poured her heart into every note. She was so beautiful, a little angel perched on a pedestal, singing away the worries of the world. He wished the woman and two small children had been able to hear the sweet sounds before their deaths, to give them some comfort.

Julian was a stark contrast to the woman in front of him, and still, he found himself grabbing a seat closer to the stage, as many of the bar patrons had done. He dealt death and darkness for America’s foes, while the woman crooning before him seemed to breathe new life into every person enraptured by her song. She was light, beauty, and life. The world was a better place because of the lives he’d taken, but that didn’t mean the civilian deaths he’d witnessed, the aftermath of violence he was accustomed to, didn’t mark him.

He’d never have something so refreshing and pure for himself. He didn’t deserve the attention of a woman like her, but that didn’t keep him from wanting some of her light, if only for a moment, all to himself. Her voice washed over him and steeped beneath his skin, touching a place deep inside. Focusing on anything but the rich, pure candor of her voice was impossible so he let himself be swallowed up in the chords, and for the first time since finding the bodies, still huddled together even in death, on the floor in Yemen, he found reprieve. Peace.

His muscles clenched in irritation as a group of men dragged their chairs across the worn floorboards, the scrape of wood on wood cutting through Sam’s song. He glanced at the stage, but she was oblivious to the people surrounding her, lost in her music. His jaw hardened when the three men sat and began talking in raucous tones. They were drunk, and by the looks of it not the typical patrons that frequented this bar. These were businessmen. Collared button-downs, dress pants, polished shoes, and an air of arrogance. Too much pomp for a dive bar.

He focused his attention back to Sam. The light over the stage caught the pale strands of her hair, reflecting off the gold and wheat colors with every chord stroke, every movement. The tips of it swung around her shoulders, a sharp contrast to the modest black top she wore. The neckline was high, the sleeves a fluttery mix of material that capped her shoulders. Distressed blue jeans hugged her hips and legs, and heeled boots that stopped at her ankles were resting on the rung of the chair. Christ, how could she safely walk in those boots without tripping? She’d probably come up to his chest without them on.

Her casual clothing appealed to him, he just hoped she didn’t feel the need to hide her body because she was accustomed to creeps leering at her. Didn’t matter anyway, as every male eye in the place was glued to her. His hand twitched and tightened around the bottle in his hand. He had no claim to her, but a wave of protectiveness surged through him, raising his temperature. The trio of businessmen weren’t tempering the volume of their voices, which he found rude as hell, but they didn’t seem to be bothering her.

Before long, she leaned into the microphone. “Thanks, everyone. I’ll be back in just a few minutes.” She slid off the stool, her heeled boots hitting the ground, and walked off the platform and over to the bar. The moment she was off the stage, the confidence that seemed to radiate through her dimmed. She seemed more vulnerable. Unsure. And what the hell was that about? The mystery of it piqued his interest about the woman even more.

“Got quite an ass for a little thing.”

He swung his glare to the group of businessmen, hackles raised. His pulse quickened as they continued to make lewd comments. He put down his bottle, stood, and crossed the worn floor toward the group of men. When his shadow fell over them, they quieted and looked up. At six feet two inches, he was the shortest of his team but he’d still been told more than once that his size was imposing.

“I have a sister. A twin.” His voice sounded more like a growl to his own ears, his body vibrating with anger. “I don’t like men who think they have a right to comment on a woman’s body.”

“She yours?”

“If she was you’d be on your ass in the parking lot.” With a feral glare he strode to the bar for another drink.

The bartender was standing across from the singer—Sam. “Need to see your license, love. Beautiful voice, but you don’t look a day over eighteen to me.”

Sam removed her license from the back pocket of her jeans and handed it to the woman working the bar. Long purple and black bangs hung in the bartender’s face as she checked the dates. “You’re going to appreciate that youthful look when you get to be my age.” The bartender smiled and returned the license. “And by the way, happy birthday.”

“Thanks,” the singer chirped as bartender slid a bottle of Blue Moon across the aged wood.

What was a young woman doing working on her birthday, especially without friends hanging out at the bar, waiting to spend time with her when she stepped off of the stage?

“I can think of a few ways to help you celebrate.” One of the men in suits had snuck up to the bar, further proving his stupidity, and gripped Sam’s hips.

She stiffened in shock, then turned and narrowed her eyes. “Move your hands.”

“Oh, come on—” The asshole didn’t get to finish his statement, because Joker was up out of his seat in a flash, hands digging into the guy’s starched shirt. The man’s eyes widened in surprise.

“Thought I told you to leave her be,” he said through gritted teeth.

The prick’s friends had come to the bar. “Whoa. We don’t want a fight. Keith, let’s get out of here. We have a board meeting early, anyway.” Clearly the most intelligent one of the bunch spoke, while the other glared at him.

“I suggest you listen to your buddy.” He released his hold on the man’s shirt, but seeing as this Keith fellow wasn’t very smart as previously noted, he took a sloppy swing at him. Julian easily dodged it, grabbed a pressure point in the man’s arm and brought him whimpering to his knees. He knew a dozen ways to kill without a weapon and had employed most of the techniques a time or two. This was merely a warning, and the man was cowering on the floor.

“Jesus! What the hell did you do to him?” Keith’s buddies helped him stand. There was a sheen of sweat coating his face as they helped him out of the bar on unsteady feet. He didn’t turn his back until the door had closed behind the trio.

“This one’s on the house, handsome.” A bottle clanked down on the bar top. “Thanks for handling them.” The bartender gave him a wink and went back to serving guests.

“Ah, thanks for the assist.” The shy voice was nothing like the one she’d used on stage.

“You okay?” He took a step forward. Scientists reported that planets with the largest mass had the most pull. Though Sam was small, her presence carried the force of a gravitational field dragging him nearer. Yep, that was him to a T—space nerd, SEAL, surly SOB.

“Yeah.” She let out a breath, shoulders sloping with relief. “What a jerk. That was quite a takedown.”

“Had it coming.” He never was much of a conversationalist, and it never bothered him until this moment.

“Right. Where’d you learn it? Are you some sort of secret agent? No, scratch that. I’m thinking super soldier or CIA operative. Am I close?”

He liked her nervous babbling, liked the pinkish hue tinging her cheeks. She had no idea how close her guesses were to his actual job, not that he went around bragging that he was a SEAL. The confident-on-stage siren was someone else entirely, but he found he was even more intrigued with the cute, quirky woman in front of him.

“Something like that.” He took a sip of his beer and she chuckled. Better she assumed he was trying to be funny. “I’m Julian. Heard the bartender wish you a happy birthday.”

“Sam,” she said, holding out her hand to him. Her grip was delicate but not weak, and his own hand seemed far too big, like a baseball mitt swallowing up her soft skin. “And yeah, twenty-five. Feels kind of crazy.” Her voice had dropped as a current passed through their connected hands. He couldn’t be the only one who felt this electric charge humming between them. She quickly released her hold, and gripped the glass bottle between both palms.

The bartender was right—she did look several years younger than her current age. “Why is that?”

“Well, you know, sometimes life doesn’t work out the way you plan.” A look passed over her features, one filled with such agony, he was sure her knees were going to buckle. She didn’t fall, though. Quite the opposite, actually. She took a breath and stood a little taller.

“Yep. That’s true. Although, sometimes the universe drops something beautiful in your path. Might not be what you planned, but it’s better. Much goddamn better.” Could he sound any more like a monumental prick? Christ, he was as bad as the man he’d just rid her of.

Her lips parted slightly, and her pupils expanded, the inky black eclipsing the warmed-over honey of her irises. Damn. “Has anyone told you how beautiful you are? Shoot. I didn’t mean that. I mean, I meant it, but I wasn’t assuming you were saying I was—” She cringed and shook her head. “Okay. Foot in my mouth. I’m so sorry. Goodnight.”

He was about to belt out a laugh, but Sam began to turn and tripped on one of those sky-high boots. He stretched out an arm and stopped her from face-planting into the sticky wood floor. It was when he righted her that he noticed the silvery glint of her earrings. Dangling starbursts and celestial moons separated by tiny crystals. They suited her. She was dazzling on stage, and off it she carried an ethereal glow that was no less stunning. The woman in front of him had piqued his interest like no one had in a long time—maybe ever. “Starburst,” he murmured to himself. She was exactly that.

“Huh?”

“Your earrings.” He couldn’t stop his fingers from gently grazing the jewelry. “They’re starbursts.” His hand was still around her waist, where he’d looped his arm so she didn’t fall. “They suit you. And I was calling you beautiful.”

“Oh.” Her big eyes widened. “Thank you. I’m steady now. You don’t have to be my personal grab bar.” Despite the words she made no effort to move. Not that he did, either. He liked her compact body pressed against him, her scent in his nostrils—something like ripe berries swirled in cream. When she was leaning against him, he could think of nothing else. Not the mission he’d just gotten back from. Not the death or pain or nightmares that came before. He wasn’t used to the sense of peace that cloaked him. Sure as hell wasn’t ready to think about what that meant.

He reluctantly let his arm drop to his side. “Those heels are a hazard.”

“Actually, I think it’s me that’s the hazard. I’ve always been clumsy. And it’s my birthday.”

“And that means?” He lifted his hand, gently edging her closer to the bar when a group of intoxicated men and woman walked past.

“That my birthday is usually a catastrophic disaster resulting in bodily harm, or a devastating life event. So when this day does come each year, my only wish is coming out intact.”

“I want to hear more about this birthday curse, but I’m guessing it would take a lot longer than the time you have between sets. You know, if you wished for a bodyguard, you could enjoy your birthday sans bodily harm. Couldn’t do much about other tragedies happening but at least you’d have that.” What the hell was he even saying? This little starburst was short-circuiting his brain.

A smile lit her whole face and took his breath. Then her eyes fluttered shut.

“What’s happening right now?” He couldn’t stop the smile from forming on his face.

“Shh. I’m making a wish.” Her head was tilted back, exposing the pale column of her neck. “A birthday bodyguard wish.”

Shit, she was cute. As a rule, he didn’t do cute. Beautiful was one thing, but toss cute into the mix and he was royally fucked. Beauty could be cold and selfish, but once you add in the cuteness factor, it changed everything. That type of woman radiated warmth and sweetness. A woman who didn’t take life too seriously, could make her man bust a gut laughing, and be goofy had long-term commitment stamped all over her. He’d earned his nickname, Joker, for being the exact opposite. His teammates Neo “Ransom” Godfrey, Hunter “Branch” Green, and Archer “Silver” Ross loved to rib him for his serious, distrustful nature. The hell of it was, he was enjoying himself for the first time in a long time and he wasn’t ready to say goodbye. But he knew damn well he should.

The bar had gotten more crowded, and he leaned his head closer to hers to be heard above the raucous chatter. She smelled so damn sweet that he wanted to coat his lungs in the fragrance. “Where do I apply?”

Her eyes popped open. “I don’t leave here until ten o’clock. I’m sure you have better things to do than to save me from myself.”

“There’s a twenty-four-hour diner down the street. Grab something to eat with me when you get off. I’ll see that you make it safely home.”

“That’s the first time it’s ever worked.” Her lively gold eyes sparkled, and his pulse kicked up a notch.

“What’s that?” His voice turned gruff.

“That I had a birthday wish come true.”

She placed her drink on the bar top and gave him a little wave. “Gotta get back up there. If you’re still here when I’m done, I’ll take you up on that offer. But no pressure.”

She stepped back up on the small stage and perched on the stool, the air of confidence slipping over her like second skin. Something about her words bothered him.

But no pressure.

He could read between the lines—someone had let her down. Enough that she didn’t expect much from anyone. There was no way in hell his ass wouldn’t be here at ten o’clock. He was going to give her a birthday to remember. This could be only one night, but she’d have some happy memories to hang on to.

End of Excerpt

This book will begin shipping May 28, 2024

Sworn to Honor is available in the following formats:

ISBN: 978-1-962707-21-3

May 28, 2024

Print:

→ As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. We also may use affiliate links elsewhere in our site.