Saturday

Spotlight: The SEAL's Ward by Leslie North and Katie Knight




Book Blurb & Info


Former Navy SEAL Jed Tremayne knows discipline, hard work, and how to carry a rifle. So when his two best friends die suddenly and leave their daughter, Nala, in his care, Jed’s a little out of his element. Though he wants desperately to connect with her, Nala has withdrawn further and further into her books. Jed just needs a little help, and decides to hire a nanny, and who better than someone who loves to read as much as Nala does? Sure, Tess Frederick is a bit too intriguing, a little too sexy in an adorably unconscious way, but she instantly connects with Nala so Jeb gives her the job.

Tess likes things ordered. But lately, her well-planned life has descended into a bit of chaos. Haunted by the suicide death of her former lover, and recovering from her bookstore going out of business, an open position for a private tutor seems like the perfect job to take while she figures out the rest of her life. Nala is an adorable and intelligent little girl and the two have an instant connection. Her guardian, Jed, is another matter altogether. Too good-looking. Too intense. And too sexy by far. If Tess can just get through the next few weeks with her heart intact, all will be well. The thing with hearts, though, no matter how hard she tries, she can’t seem to turn hers off.

But as Jed and Tess begin to fall for each other, an unknown danger threatens their burgeoning love, a danger that blindsides them both and threatens their very lives—and the life of the little girl they both love. Can two broken souls find the strength to conquer this dark menace or will they be lost in the fight to survive?

On Sale January 24th, 2019 - follow the author for pre-order news

Book Excerpt

Chapter One

“I’m sorry. Could you repeat that, please?”
Jed Tremayne, retired Navy SEAL and current private security for hire, had faced down enemy snipers and charged directly in the line of fire to defend life, liberty, and honor. Yet, at this moment, he’d never felt more incompetent in his life—all because of the eleven-year-old girl currently sitting at his kitchen table with her nose stuck in a book, as usual.
The snooty administrator from the private school gave an aggrieved sigh. “I’m sorry, sir, but your daughter is just not making adequate progress in her classes, nor does she socialize with the other children. She is not assimilating into the student body sufficiently to meet her needs or ours.”
Nose wrinkled, Jed held his phone away from his ear and scowled down at it, taking a calming breath before responding. “First of all, she’s not my daughter.” He flinched slightly at the words. The girl glanced over at him before returning to her story. Cursing under his breath, Jed walked from the kitchen into a little alcove near the pantry for privacy. “I mean, she is my daughter, sort of. She’s my ward and she lives with me.” He left unsaid that their living situation was because Nala’s parents were killed in a car accident not long ago. Surely, the administrator already knew—and he didn’t want to say it aloud so that Nala might overhear. Her parents’ deaths had hit her incredibly hard. She didn’t need additional reminders. “All of this should be in your files.” He exhaled slow and scrubbed a hand over his close-cropped brown hair. “Listen, we’re both doing the best we can here. Can’t you give us a break?”
Asking for help wasn’t a skill Jed excelled at. It wasn’t in his nature. He’d been raised to prize independence, to trust only himself, to live by a strict moral compass and remain in control at all times. All things that had made him a huge success as a Navy SEAL.
All things that were causing him to be an enormous failure in the parenting department.
None of this was a surprise—even the phone call he was currently enduring. In truth, he’d realized that he needed help about two weeks after Nala had come to live with him. Between the crazy hours and danger associated with his security jobs, and Nala’s issues with socializing and adjusting to her new life, their road to resettlement had been bumpy, to say the least. Their mutual grief over the loss of her parents only made things worse.
Nala’s father, Martin Jackson, had been a member of Jed’s SEAL team. They’d been good friends. Hell, Jed had even served as best man at Martin’s wedding to Nala’s mother, Ayesha. He’d known Ayesha too, both of them having grown up in the same rough neighborhood here in Baltimore. He’d been the one to introduce Martin to her. The three of them had been tight. When the call had come in six months ago about the car accident that had killed them, he’d been devastated. Even more so when he’d gone to collect Nala from her home and bring her here. Neither Martin nor Ayesha had any other family to speak of, and they’d chosen Jed as Nala’s godfather, never imagining he’d be called on to step into the role of parent.
It all seemed like a horrible dream, except the reality of this nightmare was all too real.
He shook off the past and did his best to focus on what the administrator was droning on about now. “…follow my suggestion, it would work out best for all of us.”
“I’m sorry.” Jed rubbed his hand over his face. “I didn’t catch that.”
He could imagine the administrator’s pinched expression and sour frown at the other end of the line. Like that old Saturday Night Live sketch of the Church Lady, but on steroids. “I said that we believe it’s in everyone’s best interests to remove Nala from classes at the present time. We would suggest hiring a private tutor for her until such time as her social anxiety issues can be dealt with properly.”
Perfect. Jed managed to resist his impulse to slam his fist through the nearest wall in frustration and instead gripped his phone tighter. The plastic case cracked under the pressure. “Homeschooling? Seriously? Don’t you think she’d do better being around other kids right now instead of isolating her at home? How is she supposed to hone her social skills with no one to talk to?”
“She can talk with you and with her instructor, Mr. Tremayne,” the administrator said with a derisive sniff. “And please don’t raise your voice to me. I’m trying to help you with this situation.”
Then why does it feel like another kick in the teeth?
Jed swallowed those words and inhaled deep to slow his pounding pulse. With his background, he’d dealt with plenty of people like her—thinking they were so much better than him, thinking they were above it all in life, above all the petty problems and dirty deeds everyone else in the world had to deal with. Still, he’d hoped things would work out for Nala at the school. It had one of the best ratings in Maryland for helping kids with special needs. Apparently, those needs didn’t extend to stutters. Or bereavement. Or being one of the few black kids in an otherwise all white school.
Dammit. Jed let his head fall back, and he stared at the ceiling. It wasn’t like he hadn’t tried to find help for Nala. Lord knew he’d been interviewing nannies since the day after she’d moved into his restored Victorian house. Many had applied for the job, none—so far, at least—had passed muster. Too old, too young, too judgmental, too lax. It was getting to the point he feared there wasn’t a person alive who could help him or Nala.
Even the therapist had tried to assist with the search, sending over several people for him to talk with about the job. But there’d been no good match. All he wanted was someone kind and caring and truly concerned about the little girl who’d lost so much already, someone who connected with Nala in a way that no one so far had, not even Jed.
He’d tried, God knew he had. Making her dinners, watching movies on Netflix, even buying her a special, limited-edition Harry Potter series box set because he remembered Martin telling him one time it was her favorite. So far, all his efforts had netted him was a greater understanding of Moana than any thirty-six-year-old man should have, and Nala withdrawing even more because she constantly walked around with her nose stuck in a Potter book.
There was one interview left today and if this one didn’t work out, Jed wasn’t sure what he was going to do. He’d talked to a new potential client a few days prior and if things worked out, it could mean he’d have steady hours and income for the foreseeable future. But only if he had the situation with Nala squared away.
“Mr. Tremayne? Are you still there?” the administrator asked. “Hello?”
“Yes. I’m still here,” he said, his flat tone betraying none of the tension roiling inside him. Marvelous. So now he needed not only a nanny, he needed a tutor capable of homeschooling his kid. Jed leaned back slightly to view Nala, still sitting at the table reading. She looked so small and vulnerable it made his chest ache. All alone in the world and so, so young. His battered heart yearned to make things better for her, and he said a silent prayer for help doing just that. She reminded him of himself as a young boy in so many ways. Granted, his parents were still alive, though he’d not talked to them since the day he’d left to join the Navy. They might as well have been dead for all he cared. For all they’d made him suffer growing up.
Whatever happened, he refused to put Nala through the same tortures he’d faced simply for being different from what others expected. The snooty administrator and her snooty school could both go hang. He and Nala would find their way together, no matter what it took. Jed saw this as a new mission, a new op, and he would not, could not, fail at this. “Fine. Consider Nala no longer a student at Rucks Academy. I’ll find a suitable tutor and homeschool her until we find a better facility for her needs. Your academy is woefully inadequate for a special girl like my Nala. Perhaps you should take a good look at your own values and prejudices before inflicting them on an innocent child. You don’t deserve her as a student, and you could do with a bit more diversity and inclusion at Rucks.”
“Sir, I hope you’re not implying—”
“I’m not implying anything. Goodbye.” He ended the call abruptly.
Feeling an odd mix of vindication and apprehension, Jed slowly walked back into the kitchen.
Nala didn’t look up at him as she spoke softly. “W-was t-that Ms. B-borchelt?”
Jed grabbed a pale ale out of the fridge and twisted off the cap. He wasn’t usually much of a drinker, especially this early in the afternoon, but he needed something to take the edge off, and one ale would hardly do him any harm. At six-two and two-hundred pounds, he could’ve drunk a whole case with minimal side effects. Another skill from the SEALs—he could hold his liquor.
After a few long swallows, he set the bottle aside on the counter and leaned his hips back against the edge of the granite. “How would you feel about taking your classes here for a while?”
She shrugged and turned a page in her book.
“I’ll hire a tutor, someone you like, and they can teach you right here at home,” Jed continued, used to one-sided conversations lately. “Maybe someone who likes to read the same books you do. I’ve got a new lady coming for an interview today, in fact. A friend of mine recommended her.”
He glanced at the clock. His latest interviewee should be here any time.
“I-I d-don’t c-care,” Nala stammered, a slight frown creasing her brow. “She w-won’t l-like me anyw-way.”
The sound of the doorbell cut through the kitchen like a knife and Jed sighed. He wanted to counter Nala’s pessimism with some optimism, but the truth was that his luck with finding a nanny had not been good. He had no reason to suspect his odds of finding a suitable tutor would be any better.
“I’ll just get that,” he said, picking up his bottle and taking another swig as he strode out of the kitchen and down the hall to the front door. His friend at Walter Reed who’d recommended Tessa Frederick to him had described the woman as smart, efficient, and conscientious—all traits Jed would need to see demonstrated for himself before even considering hiring the woman. She had apparently worked as a speech therapist and once owned a bookstore, which he guessed were decent qualifications, though he’d prefer someone with more direct child care experience. He’d reserve judgment until he’d seen her for himself.
Forcing a smile he didn’t feel, he yanked open the door to find the exact opposite of what he expected. The female standing on his stoop looked flustered and rumpled and far younger than he’d expected. Wind whistled around her as she brushed a few strands of honey blonde hair from her eyes and flashed him a tentative grin. “Uh, hello. Tess Frederick. I’m here to interview for the nanny position.”
Jed battled an unexpected intrigue over her slight lisp and her hesitant expression and stepped aside to allow her entry. He didn’t miss the way her gaze dropped to the bottle in his hand and he resisted the urge to tuck the bottle behind his back. He was not going to defend drinking a beer.  He cocked his head to the side. “Right. Please come in.”

Chapter Two

Breathe. Just breathe.
Tessa Franklin took a deep breath and flashed what she hoped was a confident smile. Unfortunately, at the moment, she felt anything but. “Thank you.”
She stepped through the door, careful to avoid any physical contact with her potential new employer. Her friend had mentioned the guy had been a Navy SEAL, but she hadn’t expected someone so… imposing. He continued to watch her closely as she moved into a tidy, if somewhat blandly decorated, living room. His icy blue eyes seemed far too perceptive for her comfort as if they were picking out every flaw she possessed. He needn’t have bothered. Her mistakes were there for all to see in blazing Technicolor glory. A failed business, a failed career, a failed relationship that had cost the man she’d loved his life….
Giving herself a firm mental shake, Tess slipped off her jacket then took a seat on the sofa, not missing the frown on his face or the half empty bottle of beer in his hand. Warning bells went off in her head. It wasn’t even two o’clock yet.
As if reading her thoughts, he glanced down at the bottle then set it aside quickly, smoothing his hand down the front of his dark teal T-shirt before taking a seat in an armchair across from her.
“So, Ms. Franklin,” he said, extending a hand. “Jed Tremayne.”
“Please, call me Tess.”
He blinked at her and released her hand, giving only a slight nod. “John spoke highly of you.”
“John’s great,” Tess said, wishing she’d taken a moment to straighten her hair and clothes on the porch before he’d answered the door. His continued assessment of her made her want to fidget and fuss with her appearance. Which was silly. She was here for a job interview, not a fashion shoot. Besides, this guy was far too handsome for his own good—all sleek muscle and tanned, toned skin. He was probably used to women falling all over themselves around him. She crossed her legs and clasped her hands in her lap, closing herself off from him as much as possible. This job was too important for her to feel any sort of unwanted attraction to her potential new boss. She had exactly enough money left in the bank to last her a month. Without new income on the horizon, she’d be living in her car. “John tells me you have a little girl. How old is she?”
“Nala’s eleven,” Jed said, sitting back slightly in his seat, though his posture was still rigid. “She’s been through a lot.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Tess relaxed slightly as his gaze flickered toward the kitchen door and away from her. “John mentioned the car accident that killed her family. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been on her. You as well. They were good friends of yours, right?  I’m sorry for your loss too.”
“Thanks.” His attention snapped back to her. “Listen, I appreciate you coming here today, but I’m afraid this isn’t going to work out. I looked over the resume you emailed yesterday, and you don’t have any child care experience. With everything going on with Nala now, I really need someone who knows what they’re doing.”
Ouch. The words hit Tess harder than she’d expected. She was qualified for this job. Wasn’t she? During her years as a speech therapist, she’d spent countless hours helping people of all ages regain or improve their ability to communicate. She’d been good at it too, or at least she’d thought she’d been. Until the day she’d gotten word that Theo had killed himself over his lack of progress with his stutter. Depression had been a factor. Now, her doubt demons snarled every time she even considered coaching another person, let alone returning to speech therapy. It was part of the reason why she’d started the book shop. The other part was obviously because she’d needed the income. But reading had always been her first love, her escape when the world became too overwhelming. Then her bookstore had gone under when a big box store opened nearby, and she’d been back on the job market again.
  Jed stood and exhaled slow. “I should have tried to reach you to go over your qualifications before you got here, but this morning was pretty hectic, and this afternoon’s shaping up to be the same. Once again, I’m sorry. I’ll show you out.”
Tess blinked up at him, stunned. “That’s it?”
“That’s it.”
Her heart sank to her toes at the finality in this tone. “But I really need this job. Please. At least give me a try. I can—” She stood, clutching her purse in front of her like a shield, ready to stand her ground even though her knees where wobbling. Seemed bravery was growing on her. It was about time. “Please?”
“J-Jed?” a small voice said from the doorway leading into the kitchen. “C-can you h-help me with s-s-something real q-quick?”
Glancing over, Tess saw a small African-American girl with glasses and her hair in pigtails, a hardbound edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in her hands. Jed’s gaze darted from the little girl to Tess then back again.
He walked over to crouch in front of her and placed his hands on her small, skinny forearms. “I’m kind of in the middle of something right now, sweetie. Why don’t you go make yourself a snack in the kitchen and as soon as I’m done with this nice lady, I’ll be in to help you. Okay, Nala?”
Nala looked at Tess again, giving her a skeptical once-over, a hint of wariness in her big brown eyes. “O-okay. C-can I have toast and Nutella?”
Jed snorted. “One piece. I’m making dinner later.”
The little girl turned and walked away, leaving both Jed and Tess to stare after her.
“She must be your daughter,” Tess said a few moments later to fill the awkward silence. “She’s lovely.”
“She’s my ward,” he said, still crouched before the doorway, his head lowered now. “And she’s beautiful. And I’d do anything in the world to help her through this, if only I could figure out what she needs.”
A yearning ache squeezed tight in Tess’s chest at the pain in his voice. She knew that kind of grief and helplessness all too well. They were the same emotions she’d felt the day she’d heard about Theo’s suicide. He’d been doing so well, she’d thought, had his whole future ahead of him, then boom. All gone in an instant. Wounds like that left scars, and those feelings took a long time to process. Sometimes years. Or lifetimes. The sorrow still hit Tess like a sledgehammer at times even though Theo had been gone for nearly a year now. She’d been his speech therapist, his friend, his confidant.
She’d not been enough.
What in the world made her think she’d be enough now?
Shoulders sagging, she tugged her jacket back on and grabbed her purse. Jed was right. She had no business applying for this job, no matter how badly she needed it. She had no formal experience. She had no expert qualifications. She had no confidence in herself.
“Right. Well, I’ll go then.” She sidled toward the door, wanting to leave without a fuss so these two grieving people could get back to their lives. “Thank you for seeing me.”
Her hand was on the door knob when his phone rang. She hesitated on the threshold as the sound of him straightening, then cursing softly behind her cut through the sounds of Nala in the kitchen, using the toaster and searching through the cabinets.
“Damn. I need to take this,” Jed said. Tess turned slightly to glance at him over her shoulder, her hand still on the cold metal of the knob, ready to leave.
Taking a deep breath, Tess started to turn the knob, then hesitated. Maybe it was because of her curiosity about the little girl in the kitchen. Maybe it was the flicker of desperation in Jed’s icy stare as he’d confessed not knowing how to help Nala. Whatever it was, she remained in the living room while Jed walked away, phone to his ear.
“Mr. Steenman, yes,” he said as he walked down a hallway and disappeared into a room at the end, the door closing behind him.
Tess looked around at the room again. It was bachelor basic d├ęcor with bland beige, functional furniture and no pictures or paintings or traces of anything that made it feel like a real home. Nothing welcoming to make a young girl feel comfortable.
From the kitchen drifted the sound of bread popping out of the toaster, followed by the yummy smell of warm yeasty goodness. Tess’s stomach growled, and she found herself wandering toward the doorway. She’d been so busy rushing around prior to this appointment that she’d forgotten to eat lunch.
Not wanting to intrude, she watched Nala from the doorway as the girl spread a thick layer of Nutella on a slice of toast then licked the knife clean before shoving the utensil in the nearby dishwasher. She put the lid back on the container of spread then stood on tiptoe to reach the shelf of the cabinet above. Tess cringed as she watched the cereal box wobble ready to come down on top of the girl along with whatever else was on that too high shelf. Another push of the Nutella jar onto the shelf and the box sprang free tipping forward.



Author Info

It isn’t a big surprise Katie Knight ended up writing romances about the stellar, studdly men of the Navy SEALs; after all, she was a K-9 trainer for the SEALs and met her own Navy SEAL hero husband while preparing one of their K-9 partners for combat. A few years after their marriage, her and hubby decided to retire with their K-9 partner, Sam, to raise their children in the Midwest. It wasn’t long after that before Katie decided to write her own stories featuring the men of the SEAL teams and the women who love them.

When not imagining dangerously romantic scenarios for her heroes and their feisty heroines, Katie enjoys hikes with her husband and Sam, spending time with her children, and long runs (on and off the beach).

Author Links
Visit Katie Knight at: http://leslienorthbooks.com/katie-knight/.

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