Thursday, August 18, 2022

Read Chapter 1 of Undercover Boyfriend by Regan Black

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During his Army career, Jake Welch had his head on straight until three of his closest friends died when a mission went sideways. Returning home, his relentless quest for any kind of justice nearly landed him in jail. The Guardian Agency rescued him, gave him a new focus, and just assigned him to protect a woman he hasn’t seen since high school.

After her fiancĂ© was killed in action, Sloan Mathison gave up on dating. Especially the bold, heroic type. But when an interested coworker begins stalking her, she must find help. Fortunately, her brother’s friend Jake is back in town. Even better, he’s willing to pretend to be her boyfriend to keep her safe.

Sloan and Jake didn’t count on one fake kiss igniting an undeniable, red-hot chemistry between them. And neither of them anticipated her stalker resorting to deadly measures. Although Jake will gladly give up his life for the woman he’s fallen in love with, Sloan will not sit idly by, waiting to grieve the man who healed her broken heart and rekindled her faith in love.


Chapter 1

Sloan Mathison sipped on a tall mug of piping hot coffee and admired the stunning view. A wispy fog drifted across the deep blue water of the still lake. By noon, the surface, as smooth as glass, would offer a perfect reflection of the sky above. Over the peaks of the mountains in the east, the sun was still only a hint of hopeful color on the horizon.

“This makes it easier to understand what you were thinking when you made this move,” she said to her brother, Seth.

“Hush. You’ll scare off the fish,” he scolded with a smile.

It was an argument they’d been having since their first fishing trip over two decades ago. At thirty, Seth was the oldest, but she liked to think she’d done almost as much living in her twenty-seven years. He’d followed the family expectations and joined the Navy, eventually becoming a decorated SEAL. To her father’s lingering disappointment, Sloan had chosen a different path, taking a civilian approach to a career of serving others. He’d been so convinced she would be an asset to the Navy as an officer. That wasn’t her idea of a good time. Five years into her career as a physical therapist at the VA clinic, her father had almost come to terms with it.

One of the fishing poles arched and Seth stood up to reel in the catch. “Feels big enough,” he said, working the line. The short fight was over quickly and he grumbled. “Gone.”

Smothering a laugh, she made sympathetic noises. She watched him closely as he baited the hook and cast it back into the lake. Seth had struggled for a year to rehab a shoulder injury. To her expert eye, he was back to one hundred percent, with full range of motion and balanced strength. The Navy disagreed, insisting Seth was no longer fit for duty with the SEAL teams.

Seth wasn’t ready to hang up his skills in favor of a desk job. He’d reviewed his options and made a decision in record time. When he’d told Sloan about being recruited to a private security group, she’d only been surprised by the Montana location. They’d been raised on one coast or another through the years. Personally, she couldn’t imagine living this far inland. The lakes and rivers were gorgeous, but she needed the ocean waves as much as oxygen.

Over the past several days, she’d met Hank Patterson and many of the men and women Seth would work with as part of the Brotherhood Protectors team. So far, she liked them all. Everyone involved demonstrated integrity, loyalty, kindness, and sincere camaraderie. She was certain Seth would fit right in.

A former SEAL himself, Hank understood the transitions her brother was going through. If and when Seth hit any speedbumps on the road between military and civilian life, he’d have support. It made her feel better about being so far away from him.

“You know, I assumed you’d find your new career in California,” she mused.

“Aww, will you miss me?”

She rolled her eyes. “No.” They both knew she meant yes. That was both the problem and the perk of being close siblings. “Your new boss is really generous,” she said, changing the subject with zero finesse. When Hank had heard the two of them sharing stories about their fishing trips as kids, he suggested they come out to this lakeside cabin for the last two days of her vacation.

Seth chuckled. “Everyone says he’s the best.”

The sun cast a soft, golden glow over the trees and water. Filling her lungs with the bracing morning air, Sloan deliberately steered her mind away from anything beyond this lake, this moment.

Any trouble waiting for her back home in Oceanside, California wouldn’t be solved by worrying away the last of this special time with her brother. She hadn’t seen him, hadn’t spent any real time with him in nearly two years. His service and her career had kept them apart. She intended to savor every minute of this break.

He rolled his shoulders and checked the poles. Apparently, they hadn’t found the most appetizing bait for the fish this morning. “I’m hungry.” He stretched his arms overhead. Dropping them, he patted his flat stomach.

“That’s not news.” She poked him in the chest. “You can solve that problem since you’re on breakfast duty.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He glanced back at the water. “Don’t let anything worth keeping get away.”

“In other words, don’t follow your example.”

With a snort, he moved past her and headed up the path to the cabin. “I’ll be back.”

Of course he would. The Mathison family were imminently reliable. It was part of the genetic code, according to their mother.

Alone, Sloan soaked up the peacefulness of the quiet morning. With the stillness came the deep sense of calm she usually only found when she was out in the ocean waiting for the next good wave.

This complete relaxation was such a treat for her mind and body. Now that Seth lived here, she should make a point of visiting more often. She hadn’t realized all the raw beauty and natural treasures Montana had to offer.

Her phone hummed in her pocket, startling her. She thought this pocket of heaven was out of range. Had been counting on the respite of being out of contact for a bit longer.

The text message from a coworker scrolling across her screen made her groan.

Making sure you haven’t been eaten by a bear.

As if she couldn’t take care of herself. The guy would not quit pressing her to be more than professional associates. Montana was an hour ahead of California and it seemed ridiculously early for an attempt at banter.

Another message came through before she could delete the first one. This text offered a ride home from the airport. Why wouldn’t he give up already? She’d been clear that she wasn’t interested in dating. Not him or anyone else.

She was giving serious thought to tossing the device into the lake. Not much of a solution unless she opted for a new cell phone number. She pushed a hand through her hair. Dwelling on the inconvenience of that would wreck the morning.

“Trouble?” Seth asked from behind her.

Crap. She hadn’t even heard her brother on the path. Turning around, she gave him a bright smile and focused on the platter in his hand. “Breakfast burritos? They smell amazing.”

“Good.” He set the tray on the table between two Adirondack chairs. “Come here and eat up. Then you can tell me who the troublemaker is.”

She took a seat and ate slowly. Refilling her coffee mug from the thermos, she stalled for as long as possible. Involving Seth wouldn’t fix anything. Peter Driscoll was a decent guy. Just because he was wrong for her didn’t mean she wanted or needed her brother to intervene.

“Come on, Sloan,” Seth began. “Talk to me.”

“It’s nothing.”

Seth’s eyebrows shot up. “Agree to disagree. Whoever it is has been pestering you the entire week.”

“Pestering is a strong word,” she argued.

“It’s also the right word.”

“I appreciate the support,” she said, treading carefully. “This isn’t a big deal.” When she got back, she’d remind Peter, again, that she wasn’t ready to dive back into the dating scene. One heartbreak was more than enough for her lifetime, thank you very much. Although her family believed her lingering heartbreak would heal, Sloan had decided love wasn’t in the cards for her. Last year she’d made a deliberate choice that her family, her close circle of good friends, and her work made for a full, satisfying life.

She had zero desire to let love crush her all over again.

Her phone buzzed again and Seth scowled. “Let me talk to him.”

“Stop.” She jerked the phone out of his reach. “This is the clinic.”

Though it was odd for them to call at this hour. As a physical therapist, her patient schedule was firmly set within regular business hours Monday through Friday.

“You’re on vacation,” her brother grumbled the reminder as she answered the call.

“Hello.” No one replied. “Hello?” She repeated herself twice more, to no avail.

“Give me that.” Seth made another grab for her phone.

She dodged him easily, then noticed the call ended. “Must’ve been some fluke technology deal.”

“Right.” Seth’s expression turned stormy. “Basic logic says the pest works with you.”

She rolled her eyes. “You’ve got that whole mission-ready look on your face, but this isn’t a crisis.”

“It’s more than nothing.”

Her phone chimed with another incoming text and she powered it off without even looking at the message. “There. Vacation mode activated. Let’s check the fishing poles.”

“The Brotherhood Protectors have resources,” Seth said. “Let me help.”

“No,” she said firmly. “Thank you.”


“I mean it, Seth. There’s nothing to help with. You’re reading too much into this.”

“Fine.” He held up his hands in surrender. “I’ll back off on one condition.”

“Just one?”

He ignored the jab. “If it escalates, promise me you’ll ask for help.”

She relented. His heart was in the right place and he only wanted what was best for her. “I promise.” And she meant it. If this situation with Peter became a true problem, she would seek out help. Being independent didn’t mean being foolish. Still, asking for help didn’t necessarily equate to calling in a team of former elite warriors. They were way overqualified for a simple case of pest control.

She’d always valued being raised in a Navy family. She loved her parents and brother, was grateful the four of them remained close. Their concern for her was rooted in love.

But there were times when she wondered why they couldn’t seem to reconcile that she was an adult. An independent, capable woman utilizing all she’d been taught and building a good life on her own. That included her ability to deal with a persistent man who wanted more than friendship. True, Peter made her uncomfortable, but that didn’t mean she’d give in to his doggedness or give him hope when there wasn’t any reason for it.

She’d be a broken record and tell him no as many times as it took for him to get the message.

As the sun climbed overhead, Sloan focused on the fishing, changing the conversation toward more comfortable topics, namely how he planned to adapt to the area and which of his friends would come up for a visit first. Though they were used to going months between visits, it was hard knowing his home would be over a thousand miles away from hers.

Her line started running and she worked with the fish, following Seth’s tips and eventually landing it. After checking the size and taking a picture, she freed the hook and released the fish again. First fish honors went to her, but by the time they packed up for the day, he’d caught three more than she had.

“I could go back with you,” Seth offered a few hours later. “Hank would give me the time off and whoever this pest is, he’d definitely get the message.”

They were sitting together at the fire pit making s’mores for dessert. She pulled her marshmallow away from the heat before it could scorch and sandwiched it between the graham crackers and chocolate.

“No need,” she assured him. “Just focus on you and the new gig for a while. You deserve to take the time and settle in. Maybe find someone special.”

He choked on his s’more and she smiled to herself.

Going the day with her phone off had given her time to process the situation in the back of her mind. She’d go back home, clearly state her position one last time and then block Peter’s number. That way she’d never even see the texts or voicemails begging her to meet for coffee or anything else.

“I know you can handle yourself,” Seth said, circling back to the topic she thought was closed. “Just like you know how big brothers work.”

Mm-hm. At this point, doesn’t that just make you old?” she teased. “I mean, I’m all grown up and you’re older than me. It’s simple math.”

“You’re a smart ass.”

“Lessons I also learned from you.” She gave his shoulder a soft shove. “I can take care of myself.” She ignored the tiny voice in the back of her head questioning her assertion. One way or another, Peter would not continue to be a problem. If she absolutely had to do it, she’d report his unwelcome tenacity to the Human Resources department.

“You know who it is, don’t you?” Seth asked.

No sense lying. “Sure. He’s harmless, just supremely annoying.”

“If that changes, you’ll call me?” Seth pressed.

“I already promised I would. Please stop worrying. You’ll wreck my sugar high.” She stuffed a big bite of the treat into her mouth.

“Okay, okay.”

He mimicked her, somehow fitting an entire square into his mouth. Some things never changed. They laughed like a couple of loons and her world seemed to click back into place.


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