Royals & Rogues

By: Heather Long



“Confident she’ll give up that easily?” At sixty, very little surprised the retired Marine.

“You’re not?” Hugh studied him. “You haven’t even met her.”

“But you have, and you’re thoughtful and distracted.” Dammit. The man really didn’t miss much.

“She’s cute and she’s feisty.” Beautiful, too. Smart, or so she seemed like it on the surface. “I’ll know more after tomorrow.”

Cookie squinted at him. “What’s tomorrow?”

“I’m going to help her ditch her security and see how she handles a gun.”

You could tell a lot about a person when they had a gun in their hand.

“You’re a brave man, Hugh.” The older man released a barking laugh.

“Nah. I’m a Marine. I have a hard head, and she wants to be a Marine. I just want to know if it’s a princess who wants to play or if she’s got real grit.” Favors to father’s aside, he liked her.

“Like I said—” He chopped another chicken breast in half. “Brave man.”

Digging into the chili, Hugh watched the lights go on in the back half of the cabin. She was still awake. Maybe she took a shower or ate a sandwich from those prepared and left in the fridge. They stocked the cabins with high protein and healthy filler because some of the workouts would leave them too exhausted to join the chow lines.

“Don’t keep her fridge stocked,” he said after finishing his meal.

The cook laughed. “You want to tell me again that you’re not a brave man?”

Shaking his head, Hugh ignored the teasing and rose to refill his bowl. “Determination isn’t brave.”

“Uh huh.”

The light in the back of the cabin was still on. A shadow passed in front of the window and Hugh met Anders’ amused gaze. Yes, he definitely wanted to get her away from her security so he could see what happened next.





Chapter Three





Despite some reservations meeting Hugh Dillon aroused within her, Frankie dove into training at Camp Grunt. He hadn’t been kidding about her being the only woman. Though her cabin possessed a small fridge, and it had been stocked on her first night in, they hadn’t restocked it. Three days into training, and she had to make it to what they called the chow line with the others. Whether intentional or not on Hugh’s part, Frankie liked eating breakfast with the men. Her bodyguards weren’t hovering, and although she’d noticed Anders or Ford was always with her training section, they’d backed off.

Among her campmates were a retired airman, someone who’d served as PJ or pararescue, and a cop on leave from his current job who saw the camp as a great way to get over the bust up of his marriage—a fact he took full responsibility for. She felt kind of bad for him, but he admitted that he loved his job and put it ahead of his marriage one time too often.

While she had very little in common with most of them, no one made her feel out of place. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, pork sausage, and thin strips of what they laughably called overcooked bacon, doughy bread and thick gravy. Not her idea of biscuits at all, but she tried them anyway. It was heavy food, all of it, and high in proteins. Considering they’d been running two and half miles every morning an hour before breakfast and another two miles in the afternoon, she tucked into the food.

“Calisthenics today,” Broderick, the cop said in between mouthfuls. “We’re also going into some standard self-defense, and grappling.”

Excitement threaded through her sore muscles. After seventy-two hours of hard pushing, she’d actually woken up aching that morning. Yoga stretches had loosened her up before the run, but she still could feel her bones complaining.

“Nice.”

So far, the camp was everything her father promised and more. Grueling physical workouts, pushing her to her limits. If she could survive and thrive, he’d help her approach Armand and her mother about enlisting. So much better than salon appointments and charity functions.

“Stick with me, kid.” Broderick grinned, tearing off another biscuit and plunging into the gravy on his plate. “We’ll make it through.” In his late thirties or early forties, Broderick already had a hint of gray around his temples. She’d thought him out of shape, but he kept up with all of them, including Jenson with his washboard abs and lean muscle build. The PJ shook his head and tossed the biscuit on his plate to Broderick. The man barely ate a carb—protein, protein, protein.

“She can run circles around you, old man. What you mean is you want her to stick close to you so you can make it through.”

Fresh laughter rippled through the men. Billy Sommers, a former Marine who currently worked as a volunteer fireman, snorted. “It’s ‘cause your pretty. You inspire all of us to work harder.” Like Hugh, he had a thick southern accent, and it rolled through his words like sweet syrup.

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