By: Brenda Jackson

His phone rang and a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth when he recognized the ringtone. It was Thurston McRoy, better known to the team as Mac. All Bane’s team members’ names had been shortened for easy identification during deployment. Cooper was Coop. McRoy was Mac. And because his name was Brisbane, the nickname his family had given him was already a shortened version, so his team members called him Bane like everyone else.

“What’s up, Mac?”

“Have you seen her yet?”

He had spoken to Mac on his way to the airport to let him know his whereabouts, just in case the team was needed somewhere. “No, not yet. I’m parked outside her place. She’s late getting off work.”

“When she gets there, don’t ask a lot of questions and please don’t go off on her as if you’ve been there for the past five years. You may think she’s late but it might be her usual MO to get delayed every once in a while. Women do have days they like to get prettied up. Get their hair and nails done and stuff.”

Bane chuckled. He figured Mac would know since he was one of the married team members. And Mac would tell them that after every extended mission, he would go home to an adjustment period, where he would have to get to know his wife all over again and reclaim his position as head of the house.

When Bane saw car lights headed toward where he was parked, he said, “I think this is her pulling up now.”

“Great. Just remember the advice I gave you.”

Yours and everybody else’s, Bane thought. “Whatever. I know how to handle my business.”

“See that you do.” Then without saying anything else, Mac clicked off the phone.

As Bane watched the headlights get closer, he couldn’t stop the deep pounding of his heart. He wondered what changes to expect. Did Crystal wear her hair down to her shoulders like she had years ago? Did she nibble her bottom lip when she was nervous about something? And did she still have those sexy legs?

It didn’t matter. He intended to finally claim her as his. His wife.

Bane watched as she pulled into her yard and got out of the car. The moment his gaze latched on to her all the emotion he hadn’t been able to contain over the years washed over him, putting an ache in his gut.

The streetlight shone on her features. Even from the distance, he could see she was beautiful. She’d grown taller and her youthful figure had blossomed into that of a woman. His pulse raced as he studied how well her curves filled out her dark slacks and how her breasts appeared to be shaped perfectly beneath her jacket.

As he watched her, the navy SEAL in him went on alert. Something wasn’t right. He had been trained to be vigilant not just to his surroundings but also to people. Recognizing signs of trouble had kept him alive on more than one mission. Maybe it was the quickness of her steps to her front door, the number of times she looked back over her shoulder or the way she kept checking the street as if to make certain she hadn’t been followed.

When she went inside and closed the door he released the breath he only realized now that he’d been holding. Who or what had her so antsy? She had no knowledge that he was coming, so it couldn’t be him. She seemed more than just rattled. Terrified was more like it. Why? Even if she’d somehow found out he was coming, she had no reason of be afraid of him. Unless...

He scowled. What if she assumed he wasn’t coming back for her and she’d taken a lover? What if she was the mother of another man’s child? What if...

He cleared his mind. Each of those thoughts was like a quick punch to his gut, and he refused to go there. Besides, the private investigator’s report had been clear. She lived alone and was not involved with anyone.

Still, something had her frightened.

After waiting for several minutes to give her time to get settled after a day at work, he opened the door to the SUV. It was time to find out what the hell was going on.

* * *

With her heart thundering hard in her chest, Crystal began throwing items in the suitcase open on her bed. Had she imagined it or had she been watched when she’d entered her home tonight? She had glanced around several times and hadn’t noticed anything or anyone. But still...