Book 1 in the Santinis Series
Part of the Santini World
Features Leo Santini and Maryanne Johnson
I’ve always been the brother with a plan.
It’s not that I stood out that much. Raised by a Marine father and a kick ass Marine wife, our life has always had a sense of order to it. I like that. Plans don’t fail. You fail to plan.
Only, I didn’t plan for MJ. She’s a hard-headed physical therapist who’s taking care of one of my buddies, and she rubs me the wrong way. And by rubs me the wrong way, I mean, I can’t get her out of my mind. I always knew about the Santini Curse, I just didn’t know it would drive me to chase a woman.
She tells me she doesn’t have time for romance, and definitely not with a man who wears a uniform. She agrees to a simple affair, but nothing beyond that. But she’s never dealt with a Santini man in love, and remember I’m the one who plans everything.
And the only plan on my schedule is proving to MJ that loving a Santini might not be easy, but we are definitely worth the fight.
Reader Interests in
The bright sunlight almost blinded Leo Santini the moment he walked into Jeff’s hospital room.
“Dammit to hell,” he muttered.
“Still a vampire, I see,” Jeff said with a chuckle.
Leo squinted at him. “And you’re still a sun loving freak from Florida.”
As Leo approached the bed, he felt some of his anxiety dissipate. His old boot camp buddy looked better than he expected. After the report he read on Jeff’s injuries, Leo hadn’t been sure what to expect. Just the fact he wasn’t completely medicated meant he was making strides.
“Freak? Please. You’re the one who moved to Texas.”
He settled in the chair beside the bed. “Please. Not like teaching at Ft Sam was my first choice. Of course, it allows me to see your sorry ass.”
Leo glanced around the room. There were four beds but at the moment, only two of them were occupied.
“Smith, this is Leo Santini, an old buddy of mine who is teaching here as a medic. Leo this is Roy Smith.”
“Nice to meet you, sir,” he said.
“Don’t call me sir, I work for a living,” Leo said good-naturedly.
“I wonder what Vince would say about that.”
Leo stretched out his legs as he thought about his brother who was a Marine Lt Col select.
“Last time I said it to him, he suggested I do something that was anatomically impossible.”
Jeff chuckled and closed his eyes. “Santinis never mince words.”
“That’s definitely true. My mother is ashamed of our manners.”
He looked good, almost healthy considering that an IED tried to blow him to hell and back. There were still dark circles under his eyes, but Leo understood that probably had more to do with memories than anything else. “Need me to leave?”
Jeff shook his head and opened his eyes. “I’m resting up for my physical therapy.”
Jeff frowned in his direction. “That’s right. Laugh it up. Me, I have to deal with her today.”
“Her?” Leo asked.
“The physical therapist. Johnson. She’s…scary.”
“That’s putting it mildly,” Smith said. Leo got a better look at him and realized the soldier was much younger, probably a year or two younger than Leo’s youngest brother, Gianni. His red hair and freckles along with the baby face that probably made people think he was younger than he actually was.
“Are you telling me you two are afraid of a woman?”
Jeff laughed. “Spoken like a man who has never been married. But yes, I’m afraid of her. She’s tiny, but she’s a terror.”
“Can’t you ask for someone else? It would mean just talking to her commander…”
Leo broke off when the two men started laughing again. They were so loud he doubted either of them would have heard him anyway.
“Yeah, no. That’s not going to happen. First of all, she’s a civilian. Most of the therapists here are. And, truthfully, I was lucky to get her. She’s a battleax but she’s the best from what I understand. I just wish she wasn’t so mean.”
He was going to ask more about the woman, but she’d obviously been eavesdropping.
“So, you brought in someone to bitch to, soldier?”
The voice was strong, southern, and—as the men had said—scary.
He turned expecting to see an older woman built like a Mac truck. Instead, he found a woman who would have been blown away from a hard wind. She was lucky if she hit five-foot-three and she was as tiny as Jeff had said. Small-boned, with long dark hair that she had up in a ponytail, she looked so…well not sweet. Her aquamarine eyes narrowed as she studied Jeff. Her scrubs had some kind of cartoon character on them, but she wasn’t smiling. Instead, she settled her petite fists on her waist and frowned.
“Well, are you going to answer me, soldier? Or are you Army guys just too wussy to actually answer a little bitty woman like me.”
“You didn’t give me a chance,” Jeff said.
“Oh, sorry. Forgot what branch of the military you’re in. I will allow time for you being slow.”
Irritated, Leo rose out of the chair. She looked at him, her gaze traveling the length of him. He ignored the flicker of sensual awareness as she studied him. She had to tip her head back to see his face.
“I think you need to settle down there.”
She looked past him to Jeff. “Is he your bodyguard?”
“No, ma’am.” Leo heard the amusement in Jeff’s voice, but he ignored it.
She looked back at Leo. “I would suggest you take a seat and shut it, soldier. I’m here for Markinson not some overgrown idiot.”
He stepped in front of her to stop her. That was a mistake. This close he could see the sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of her cute nose. Her skin wasn’t ivory, but golden, as if she spent a lot of time in the sun. Worse, her scent teased his senses. It wasn’t anything like perfume, though, just sexy, musky woman.
He shook his head and tried to keep his mind on the problem at hand. “Your attitude needs an adjustment.”
She looked up at him. He expected something different than the annoyance he read in her eyes. One perfectly sculpted eyebrow rose.
“Oh, really? Listen, I have two more people to work with today and Markinson here takes the longest because he whines. A lot.”
“Aw, come on, Johnson, I don’t.” Jeff did sound like he was whining but he wasn’t about to take the nurse’s side in the argument.
“Pftt. You cry more than a cheerleader with a broken fingernail.”
Leo was ready to give the woman a piece of his mind but he heard Jeff chuckle. “Santini, you can cool it. Johnson is all bark and no bite.”
She looked past Leo again, her attention focusing on Jeff. He could see the slight softening of her gaze. If he hadn’t been watching so closely, he would have missed it.
“Don’t be lying to these people here or I will make you regret it.”
She had lowered her voice, but he heard the change in her tone. It hit him that she was handling Jeff the same way his mother handled him and his brothers.
When she looked back at Leo, her gaze hardened. “Are you going to move, Santini, or do I need to make you cry like a girl, too?”
He wanted to argue with her. She was mean as they said but he realized it might be part of her job. As a medic himself, he understood the position she was in. Sometimes patients needed to be pushed. He nodded and stepped aside.
“Now that the bulldog is going to let me near you I have to say I am ashamed of you. Talking about me behind my back. That’s just not right, Markinson.”
She motioned behind her and that’s when Leo saw the orderly. Leo stepped out of the way and she pulled the curtain closed.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Jeff said.
“Yeah? What if some sweet little old lady walked by and got a shot of you moving and you showed her some skin. She’d pass out. Can’t cause that kind of ruckus.”
Leo could tell from her voice she was joking but he knew that she had done it to save his friend the embarrassment of being lifted in front of Leo. His opinion of her went up a notch.
The curtain opened quickly and he found himself face to face with her again. Well, face to chest because she was so much shorter than he was. And in that short minute, he couldn’t think. She was looking up at him with those amazing eyes and his brain just stopped functioning. Her mouth opened slightly in surprise and all he could think was that he wanted a taste.
She recovered faster than he did. “Make a hole, Santini.”
She barked the order like a drill sergeant. Years of being raised by a Marine and years in the military came raring up and he acted immediately. Once he did, he noticed she let out a slow breath.
“Markinson will be back in about forty five minutes if he isn’t too much of a wimp today. Come on,” she said and marched out the door.
“You don’t have to wait around, Santini,” Jeff said. “I’m not that much on company when I get back.”
“Do you have any physical therapy tomorrow?”
Jeff chuckled and looked up at the orderly who answered. “No, you can avoid Maryanne tomorrow.”
Then, he wheeled Jeff out the door.
“She’s not as bad as she seems,” Smith said.
Leo nodded, his brain still clouded with the scent of her. What the hell had that been about?
“You need anything?”
Smith smiled and shook his head. “Naw, my mamma lives just outside of San Antonio. She makes sure I have everything I need.”
Leo still gave him his cell number and told him to call if there was anything he or Jeff needed. Then, he decided it was time to get back to work. As Leo walked down the hall, his mind went back to the physical therapist. It might seem silly, but he wanted to make sure that she was as good as they said she was. He owed Jeff a lot and he wanted to make sure that he was taken care of. And while his body might be attracted, he couldn’t let that get in the way. Jeff was on his own since his divorce. Both his parents were gone and he had been an only child. Someone had to look out for him.
Leo knew he owed the man at least that much for saving his life.
“I know you said he’s okay, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t push him too hard,” Maryanne said into her cell phone as she tried to pull a basket free. The little plastic seat was stuck between two buggies. She jiggled it a few times before giving up and moving onto another one.
“He’s fine, MJ,” Freddy, her supervisor said. “He’s tired, but you did right by him today. He needed to be pushed. He’s getting a little lazy. I have a feeling someone has conflicted feelings about going back in the field.”
She had seen it too many times to count these past few years—even with her own brothers. She didn’t blame any of them for questioning if they wanted to go back in the field, but the truth was, she couldn’t have Markinson get too lazy. He wouldn’t be able to recover properly from his surgery if he didn’t continue to move forward.
“Okay. Well, I’m going to pick up something for dinner here at HEB and then I am going to head home.”
“You need a life, girl,” Freddy said. “And a social life.”
“Don’t I know it, but I work for some pain in the ass at BAMC.”
“I will ignore that because I love you. I know a great guy I could set you up with.”
“I doubt you know a man who would be interested in me, Freddy.”
“No, I promise, I have it on good authority that this one is heterosexual.”
Freddy was the sweetest gay man with the worst gaydar. The last setup had been with a man who was more flamboyant than Liberace.
“No. No more setups. Call me if you have any issues with Markinson.”
She clicked off the phone before Freddy could retaliate with guilt and pushed her way into the grocery store. It was already dark outside and she wanted to get home. She had stayed late to keep an eye on Markinson. Plus, she’d had a lot of paperwork to do. Before she knew it was after eight on a Friday night. Freddy was right, she thought as she looked around the produce section. She needed a life. She couldn’t remember the last time she had a real date, let alone any kind of sex. Maybe that should be her mission for the summer. The mission for booty.
She chuckled to herself. She would settle for a nice night out with an attractive man. If she could find that, Maryanne was pretty sure Freddy would get off her back.
She started going through the oranges and her mind went back to Markinson. He seemed like the perfect soldier but she knew there was something holding him back. If she could figure it out, then she might be able to help him more.
Normally, the first person she would ask would be Santini, but that wasn’t an option. The moment she had seen him, her body had reacted. Those wide shoulders, the buzz cut, the bigger than life presence.
From the time she was a teen she had a thing for military men. Military brats often went one way or another. They wanted nothing to do with the military or they were enamored with every sexy military man they could find. She wished she hadn’t been in the latter category.
She was not going down that path again. Military men were not for her. Still, when he’d focused those golden brown eyes on her, she had lost all ability to think for a second or two. And that was saying a lot. Hell, she had to fight the urge to fan herself right now thinking about him. All those muscles, that bright smile, and he was tall—at least six feet.
He was in good shape thanks to his job. Markinson had told her Santini was a medic he had served with in Iraq, and that definitely showed in those massive arms. She shivered. They were the kinds of arms that made a woman feel safe.
No. No. No!
She had too many military men in her life. Her father was a marine, her brothers were all marines, and she worked daily with military men. She knew the only thing that would come out of any kind of attraction was heartbreak. It wasn’t like he was going to ask her out. From his reaction to her, he probably would have some kind of background check done on her. Not that he would find anything.
She put the bag of oranges in her cart, turning she ran smack dab into a man.
“Whoa, there, Ms. Johnson.”
Dammit, she knew that voice. She would probably think about it when she was…never mind thinking about that.
She tipped her head back and found Santini smiling down at her.
“Do you always run around like you’re hell bent for leather?” His lips curved into a lopsided smile that had her brain shutting down. “Cat got your tongue?”
She shook her head and tried to step back. It was then that she realized he had those massive hands wrapped around her forearms. His thumbs were caressing her skin ever so slightly. This close she could smell the fresh clean scent of him. All soap and hard, sexy man.
Mother help me.
He looked down at his hands then back up at her. “Oh, sorry. Wanted to make sure you didn’t fall down.”
He hesitated then released her.
She studied him realizing that he hadn’t changed out of his BDUs.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Shopping?” he said with amusement as he tipped his head toward his buggy. She eyed all the fruits and vegetables.
“That’s a lot of food for one guy.”
He crossed his arms over his chest and she tried to ignore the way his pecs flexed—but she failed. She swallowed—hard—and forced her attention from them to his face.
“I like to eat.”
She rolled her eyes and turned to leave. She needed to get away—far away—from the temptation of Santini. If she were lucky he would leave her alone. His footsteps behind her told her she wasn’t so lucky.
She stopped and he almost ran his cart into her. With a sigh she turned to face him.
His eyes widened and she realized that she had raised her voice. A glance around the department told her she had gained the attention of the few people shopping that late at night.
Maryanne slipped around his buggy. “I thought guys like you only shopped on post.”
Something that looked like guilt moved over his face before he hid it. Great, now he was coming up with a lie and they weren’t even involved. What the hell was wrong with her? This is what she found attractive. The perfectly nice accountant she had dated a few months earlier never lied to her but she just lost interest, mainly because he was perfectly boring.
“I had some work, which I’m sure you did too?” he said, his smile returning.
She did not want him smiling at her. She needed him pissed at her, being mean to her, and staying away from her. When he was smiling like that it just made her want to scream. And kiss him. She really, really wanted to kiss him.
“And you decided to drive all the way over here to Universal City to shop at the HEB? Isn’t there one closer to post?”
He nodded. “This one is closer to my apartment.”
Oh, so not good.
“Don’t tell me you live at the Live Oak Apartments.”
“I sure do. Just moved in two weeks ago.”
She narrowed her eyes as she studied him. Growing up as the only sister of three older brothers made her very good at detecting bullshit.
He seemed to be telling the truth, but there was that moment before that made her nervous. Worse, she wanted to believe him. Wanted to have him living near her so she could flirt with him, maybe kiss him…
She had no other choice than to chase him away.
“Listen, this might work with a lot of other women, but I don’t like stalkers.” She practically yelled it. He wore no expression on his face so she decided to get out before he could retort. Grabbing her cart, she hurried away.
Damn, she really did need to get a life.
End of Excerpt
Aug 11, 2022
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