Book 1 in the Semper Fi Marines Series
Part of the Santini World
A man who thinks he has what he wants.
Bran Johnson always knew he wanted to be a Marine. What makes it even better is longtime gal pal TK is now stationed at the same base. Unfortunately, Bran is having a hard time dealing with his feelings when he realizes that TK is considered a hot commodity on base. Worse, he finds himself taking a backseat to her admirers.
A woman who always wished for more.
Tess Keller has loved Bran since they were in high school. The former football captain always treated her like a friend so she tried to move on. Unfortunately, he’s in her business constantly now. One passionate argument leads to more than either of them expected. Tess knows it isn’t going to last because Bran is never going to settle down. So, to save face, she suggests they stay friends, only with the side benefit of being sometime lovers.
A Marine determined to win at all costs.
Bran agrees to the friends with benefits idea just to keep himself close to Tess. She might think he’s not around for the long haul, but this is one Johnson brother who knows exactly what he wants…and just how to get it. And what he wants is Tess in his bed and in his life forever. Nothing will stop him, not even Tess herself.
Reader Interests in
Bran Johnson spotted the golden halo of short curls first. It was always easy to find his best friend from high school by her hair. Not many people had that shade of blonde—not naturally. She was walking down the path in front of the Camp Lejune Naval Hospital heading to the parking lot and she was wearing scrubs.
He slowed his Camaro and wound down the window. “Hey, there, good looking.”
As she glanced at him, Bran had the pleasure of watching her expression change from irritation to complete happiness. Her dimples appeared and happiness lit her green eyes.
She jogged over to him. She still had the sprinkle of freckles dancing over the bridge of her nose. “Hey, yourself. When did you get here? I thought you weren’t due in for another week.”
He shrugged. “I had enough of family life in DC for awhile.”
She nodded. If there was one person in the world who knew about how his family worked, it was Tess. Time with the Johnsons was fun but it was exhausting, especially when spending time with The General.
She leaned back and looked at his convertible. The little humming noise she made him itch from the inside out. It was…well it wasn’t a noise he ever expected to hear from her.
“So, this is the new car?”
In high school, she’d been one of the few girls who had an appreciation for cars. Of course, her father’s hobby had been rebuilding old cars, and she had been his constant companion.
“Come on, I’ll take you for a ride.”
She didn’t hesitate and jumped right in.
“Nice to see you pilots still know how to waste money.”
He sighed as he shifted the car into gear. “You always give me shit about my cars and I know it’s because you secretly envy them.”
“No. I wouldn’t be able to deal with something like this so low to the ground. Give me my Silverado any day.”
“So where were you off to so fast?”
“Lunch. I thought I would run over to the exchange and grab a bite to eat. Needed to get out of the hospital for a bit.”
“Sounds good,” he said.
“Excuse me, but I don’t think I invited you.”
He laughed. “Okay, Tess. Can I please come to the exchange with you to partake in lunch?”
She chuckled and he felt a funny shift in his chest. It had been like that the last few weeks as he’d PCS’d from one base to the other. Any time he talked to Tess on the phone, he’d had odd feelings. He’d written it off as nerves about the new job but it didn’t explain why his palms were sweating.
“Okay, since you are new in town and well, I know you can’t get a woman. Plus, I’ll be happy to let you pay.”
“Did anyone ever tell you, you’re rude?”
“Yep. But I ignored him. He doesn’t count.”
“Who called you rude?”
“Your brother, Jack. He said, ‘You don’t act like a girl. You’re rude.’ Then I told him to suck it.”
“When was this?” he asked.
She motioned with her hand and said, “Take the next right. This was in high school. None of you knew how to handle a girl who didn’t faint at the sight of your pretty faces. Well, Jesse could to a point, but you and Jack couldn’t.”
He pulled into a parking space then turned the car off. “We became best friends.”
“Yes, but not before I gave you a bloody nose.”
“That is another example of being rude.”
She looked at him, her eyes dancing with humor. “Well, Johnson, don’t ever tell a girl she can’t punch like a guy. There’s a good chance she’ll have to prove you wrong.”
With that, she slipped out of the car, her laughed dancing back to him. He smiled. Yep, it was good to be stationed there with Tess.
They were eating lunch when Tess asked, “So, did you find a place to live?”
He shook his head. She curled her fingers into the palm of her hands to resist brushing back the small lock of hair that fell forward. It was a sure sign he was in need of a haircut.
“I’ve got a few leads from that realtor you put me in contact with.”
Then he smiled at her. Even ignoring the way her pulse skipped, she knew what was coming. He’d used that smile on every girl in school when he wanted something—and not just sex. The boy could charm a nun into participating in an armed robbery. She couldn’t handle him in her house. That was too much to ask of her. Plus, she couldn’t afford the amount of food he ate.
He tilted his head. “Come on, Tessy. You have a three bedroom house.”
“And you have a pilot’s pay and TLA.” Every time someone PCS’d, they were given extra money to help with the move and for a single guy, it was more than enough to pay for things. “I don’t need you in my way.”
He opened his mouth to say something when Jed Sawyer stopped by the table.
“Hey, Tess. I didn’t know you were working today.”
Jed was a nice guy and she had gone out with him several times in the last couple of months. He was infantry and it showed in his build. He was just at six feet tall and Tess was sure he would top the scales at two-thirty—most of it muscle. He had chocolate brown eyes, wavy blond hair and a very talented mouth. Lord, the man could kiss and it had been one of the reasons she had agreed to another date. In fact, they had a date that night.
She smiled at him. “Jed. Yeah, I wasn’t supposed to work, but I traded shifts with someone. Her little boy has the stomach flu and her husband’s deployed.”
He glanced in Bran’s direction then back at her. “Oh, Bran, this is Jed Sawyer. Jed, this is that old friend I told you about, Brandon Johnson.”
Something close to relief moved over Jed’s face. “Ah, nice to meet you.”
Bran nodded but said nothing. Very strange for him especially since they were going to be in the same battalion.
Jed was holding a tray filled with food.
“Why don’t you join us?” she asked.
Jed shook his head. “I’m eating with Reynolds and Gonzales,” he said, motioning to a table. She turned around, smiled at the guys and waved at them.
“Still on for six tonight?”
She smiled. “Of course.”
When he left, Tess turned around to find Bran frowning at her. “What?”
“I just thought we could do something tonight,” he said, sounding a little put out.
Oh, and Prince Brandon didn’t like having his plans ruined. “Sorry. I made that date last week, not breaking it.”
And because they had been friends for almost ten years, she gave in. “Okay. You can stay with me, on the condition you mind your own business. Oh, and you have to buy food. I can’t afford to feed you. And, no women. You want sex, you go somewhere else.”
“Do you think all I do is eat and have sex?”
She laughed. “Brandon Johnson, I was your best friend in high school. I know that’s all you think about.” She took another sip of her tea. “Oh, and you are in charge of cleaning up your bathroom. I am not going to do it. Men are disgusting.”
“So, that’s the tour of the place.”
Bran looked around thinking he would have been able to tell anyone this was Tess’ house. Mainly because it was in order. She liked everything in its place, and that was something he understood. It wasn’t part of being in the military. It was more about being a military brat.
Both of them had been born and bred into the military. Government issue. And for a woman, she did have very few knick-knacks around the house. Mostly there were pictures of her, her family, some with his family.
“I need to get cleaned up and ready for tonight. I would say make yourself at home, but I know you will without the invitation.”
He smiled at her. “Sure thing. I guess I can survive.”
She rolled her eyes and then left him to get ready. It was nice to be back with Tess again. They had been thick as thieves through high school and most of their time at Annapolis. It had been hard to keep in touch these days. He’d been deployed, as she had, and they both had demanding jobs when they were state side. Now though, it seemed they were going to have time together and that would be fun.
As he wandered around the living room, his phone rang.
“Hey, bro, checking up on me?”
Jesse chuckled. “Well, you did say you would call when you got there.”
He had, then he had seen Tess and had forgotten all about calling his family.
“I had to secure quarters.”
There was a beat of silence. “Don’t tell me you’re mooching off Tess.”
“I am, although she seems too busy to care.” And it still pissed him off. It irritated him more that he didn’t have a right to be angry about the date. He wouldn’t have expected a male friend to break a date to spend time with him, but for some reason, he felt betrayed that she wouldn’t dump a guy for him. It wasn’t like she was going to marry the guy.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“She has a date tonight she refused to break.”
Another beat of silence. “You expected her to drop a date because you showed up? Did you give her any advanced notice?”
And Bran knew he was being an ass about it, but he was kind of disappointed that Tess was busy. They hadn’t spent any time together since…well since they both graduated from Annapolis.
“I can see where she would have her hands full there.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Come on, Bran. There aren’t that many women on base like her, you know that. She’s hot.”
“And just when did you see her last?”
Now that he thought about it, the girl with the huge green eyes had grown into her long legs. Those sharp angles had turned into subtle curves and with her hair somewhat tamed, she sort of…well, any other guy would say she stole his breath away.
“I was down there…well, about six months ago. I knew she was stationed there so I called her up and we had lunch.”
Bran pulled the phone away from his ear to look at it, then set it against his ear again.
“You had a date with Tess?”
“Good God, no. I can’t because, well, she’s like a little sister.”
Bran snorted. “A little sister you find hot?”
“Couldn’t help noticing.”
“At least she made time for you.”
“I called her ahead of time because I didn’t presume. I know she’s a single woman on a military base. The fact that she’s sweet and good looking, well that adds to the package.”
“Sweet?” he asked as he heard a sound behind him. He turned and every drop of moisture in his mouth dried up. Lord. Tess was wearing a pair of jeans, the type that hugged a woman’s hips and was wearing a t-shirt that just barely touched the waistband. When she moved, he could see her belly button and good God, a belly ring. Her hair was a sexy mess of curls as if she had just gotten out of bed.
“Bran? Are you there?”
Bran shook his head trying to get his brain to work again. “Uh, yeah. Just tired from the drive down.”
“Okay. Well, I’ll tell the old man you’re there and MJ, before she calls again.”
“She didn’t call me.”
“She texted you. So you better text her back or the soon-to-be momma to be is going to be upset with you.”
He nodded and hung up without saying goodbye.
Tess smiled at him making his pulse dance. “Let me guess, that was Jesse.”
She knew his family well. “Yeah. I forgot to call.”
She shook her head. “You know, I’m amazed they let you fly a Raptor. I would think you might forget where you parked it.”
He knew she was trying to lighten the mood. That was what he would have done in the situation, but his brain wasn’t working. In fact, he was feeling a little light headed but it might have to do with the lack of sleep.
“You’re wearing makeup.” It came out as an accusation, but he couldn’t help it. He wasn’t used to seeing Tess Keller with makeup on. She wasn’t wearing much, but even as he said it, she was slathering on lip gloss. How did he not notice her lips were so full and sexy before now?
She smirked at him. “Yes, I do that sometimes. It’s kind of something I do on dates.”
“You wear makeup.”
She rolled her eyes a sure sign she was irritated. “Uh, yeah among other things.”
He frowned. He opened his mouth to ask her just what those other things were but the doorbell rang.
“There’s Jed.” She walked to him and gave him a patted his cheek. “Don’t wait up.”
“Don’t you have duty in the morning?”
She stopped with her hand on the doorknob. “First of all, I’m an adult and a lieutenant in the Navy, so I can decide for myself. But, to ease your mind, I’m off tomorrow.”
Then she left him standing there in the middle of the room, feeling mildly frustrated and trying to figure out what the hell just happened.