He shook his head at himself. To even consider a relationship with her was beyond foolish. While he no longer wanted the short, meaningless flings with women he had experienced in his younger years, he didn’t know how to be in a serious relationship with a woman. He didn’t even know how to begin such a thing. And he didn’t know why he entertained the idea of something different with Elena.
Because she’s different. She is strong and independent and could be the partner to welcome you home from missions. She makes you smile–and laugh–and is giving you her trust after going through a terrible experience. You do have something to offer her. You can offer her a partner to lean on, someone who could care for her. . .
Gritting his teeth, he picked up a heavier set of weights. He needed to work her out of his mind. He had to stop thinking about her as anyone other than someone who could help him move his assignment forward.
He had just finished with one exercise when his cell phone rang. He grabbed a towel and wiped at his sweaty forehead before glancing at his phone, surprised to see the admiral’s ID on the screen. “Yes, sir?” he answered.
“You stumbled upon some important information,” Admiral Haslett said. “Are you in a place where you’re able to talk?”
“Yes, sir. To get a phone call from you this early in the morning, I know the information isn’t good.”
“I wish it was. I made a few phone calls yesterday and discovered there is a human trafficking ring operating somewhere near the Texas–Mexico border, but they constantly move, making it hard to pin them down. The authorities in Mexico have been working the case for months and haven’t been successful in stopping the traffickers yet.”
“I assume the agencies on our side are involved as well, if it’s been going on for so long.”
“They are. But they, too, keep hitting a brick wall. Last week, a shipment of at least thirty victims made it all the way to Austin. They were gone by the time U.S. agencies had enough intel to move in. This group works with deadly precision and speed.”
“I suppose since there are already agencies working on it, we can’t touch it.” Phantom sighed.
“No. We’ve been asked to go into a black op on this one. It’s going to be blind. We’re not going to know who we’re working with in Mexico until we get there. But we’re running point on the American side.”
“Good. Do we know where we need to target in Mexico?”
“No. We’re going to have to wait for the traffickers to gather up victims for another shipment. It’s a crappy way to do it, but we have to catch these bastards trafficking people. Otherwise they could get off on a technicality.”
Phantom frowned at the phone. “We’ll continue doing our research on our end.”
“Speaking of that, have Buzz start combing the dark web. Specifically have him look for anything that looks like the communication he saw from the drug deal.”
Unease slipped down Phantom’s spine. “I already have Buzz checking for any discussions about human trafficking. Is there something else you’ve come across?”
“The files were sent to me electronically late last night. There were several pages of coded communication. I hate to tell you this, Phantom, but the code looks identical to the code the drug ring was using.”
Phantom’s mind raced with possibilities. “Do you think the two cases are tied? Do you think this could be someone who also worked with the drug lord?”
“I think there are too many similarities for us to ignore. I’ve sent the files over to you for review. Show Buzz the coded pages and see what he thinks. We could be going up against a much bigger organization than we originally thought.”
Phantom ended the call and headed back to his room to take a shower. The team would be up soon. He needed to be ready to sit down with them and have a difficult conversation. The nightmare they thought had ended when the drug lord had been killed could just be beginning.
Thirty minutes later, he joined the team in the dining room, grabbing a large mug of coffee. He had struggled to sleep, and after his early-morning phone call, he needed anything to help him stay alert for the long day ahead.
“What’s the matter, bro?” Santo smirked at him. “Some curly-headed beauty haunt your dreams all night?”
Phantom narrowed his eyes at his friend. “I slept just fine, thanks.”
“Sure. It’s written all over your face. Why don’t you just admit that you like her? Hell, I know I do.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Phantom nearly growled.
Santo raised an eyebrow. “It means I think she’s a great gal and I enjoyed having her around. Jealous much?”
Phantom schooled his features and forced his emotions to go into hiding. “There’s nothing to be jealous about. I’m glad you like her. The two of you seemed to really hit it off yesterday.” It had irritated him how easily Elena interacted with Santo, and how animated and engaged Santo had been with her. It didn’t make sense for him to feel such things if he didn’t have feelings for Elena, and he had already convinced himself that was a bad idea for both Elena and himself.
“So you wouldn’t mind if I asked her out?” Santo asked, a teasing quality to his voice. Phantom knew his friend wanted to get a rise out of him.
He shrugged. “Do what you want.”
“You aren’t fooling any of us, you know.” Snap joined in. “We can all tell the two of you have chemistry off the charts.”
“Don’t go ruining things for me,” Santo said, elbowing Snap hard in the side. “I might have a chance with her.”
“Yeah, right.” Snap laughed. “There was only one person she was interested in yesterday morning. Phantom.”
Phantom wanted to smile at the comment, but knew he couldn’t–shouldn’t–feel good about such a thing. He cleared his throat. “There’s something I need to talk to all of you about.” The seriousness of his tone drew everyone’s attention, and they moved to join him at the dining room table. “I got a call from Haslett this morning. Things have gotten considerably more interesting since Saturday night.”
(C) Holly Castillo, Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2020. Printed with permission of the publisher
COMMENT TO WIN: What do you love about a hero (Or heroine!) in uniform? Tell us below and you’ll be entered to win a copy of A SEAL ALWAYS WINS. US/Canada only – Good luck!
Texas Navy SEALs #2
She manages to surprise him in every way that matters. . .
Elite Navy SEAL Enrique “Phantom” Ramirez is trained to expect the unexpected, but his growing feelings for brilliant horse trainer Elena Garcia catch him completely off guard. Phantom needs Elena’s help to maintain his SEAL team’s cover–more critical than ever now that they’ve identified a conspiracy of mysterious power brokers in both Mexico and the U.S. But how can he get her to train the ranch’s quarter horses without revealing who he really is? And without revealing his need for this woman whose indomitable spirit has captured his heart. . .
About Holly Castillo
Holly grew up spending many lazy summer days racing her horses bareback in the Texas sun. But whenever Holly wasn’t riding her horses or competing in horse shows, she was found with pen and paper in hand, writing out romantic love stories of the wild west. Later, in her professional life, Holly worked just blocks from the Alamo in a unique setting where the buildings were connected with basements and tunnels. The exciting history of Texas, the Alamo, and working in a historic building dating back to the 1800’s inspired Holly to write about the Texas Revolution, and has evolved into a series all about Texas becoming the great State it is.
Today, Holly lives in a small community just south of San Antonio, with her husband and two children. On the family’s 80 acre ranch, surrounded by cattle during the day and hearing the howl of coyotes by night, Holly has endless inspiration for her writing.