Last week we announced that Melissa Schroeder’s Tease Me (Semper Fi Marines) is our Romance of the Week and the sponsor of thousands of great bargains in the Romance category: over 200 free titles, over 600 quality 99-centers, and thousands more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!
Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Romance excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded Tease Me (Semper Fi Marines), you’re in for a real treat:
4.6 stars – 50 Reviews
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
Here’s the set-up:
USA TODAY Bestselling author Melissa Schroeder returns with the much anticipated Santini spin off series: Semper Fi Marines
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.
And don’t miss out on the series that started it all:
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And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free romance excerpt:
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 Lejeune Naval Hospital heading to the parking lot and she wore 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 joy lit her green eyes.
She jogged over to him. Bran was delighted that 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 exhausting—especially when spending time with The General.
She leaned back and looked at his convertible. The little humming noise she made caused him to itch from the inside out.
“So, this is the new car?”
In high school, she’d been one of the few girls who appreciated cars. Of course, her father’s hobby had been rebuilding old cars, and she’d 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 so low to the ground. Give me my Silverado any day.”
“So where were you off to so fast?”
“Lunch. I thought I’d 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. “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 and 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 laughter filtering 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, Dislocation Allowance and per diem.” 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’d 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.
Tess noticed 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 and waved at the guys.
“Still on for six tonight?”
“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 had very few knick-knacks around the house. Mostly there were pictures of her, her family, along with 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 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 difficult to keep in touch these days. He’d been deployed, as she had, and they both had demanding jobs when they were stateside. 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. Jesse.
“Hey, bro, checking up on me?”
Jesse chuckled. “Well, you did say you would call when you got there.”
He had, then he’d seen Tess and 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.”
His tone rubbed on a nerve Bran didn’t know he had. “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.”
The nerve was now beyond irritated. “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 wore a pair of jeans, the type that hugged a woman’s hips, and 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 wouldn’t work. In fact, he was feeling a little lightheaded but it might have to do with the lack of sleep. It definitely had nothing to do with that belly ring, or his need to see what other interesting things he could uncover on her body.
“You’re wearing makeup.” It came out as an accusation, but he couldn’t help it. He wasn’t used to seeing Tess Keller all made up. She wasn’t wearing much, but even as he said it, she slathered 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.”
“Uh, yeah among other things.” She rolled her eyes, a sure sign of irritation.
He frowned and 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 pat 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.”
She left him standing there in the middle of the room, mildly frustrated and trying to figure out what the hell just happened.
Tess looked out over the water, enjoying the way the lights reflected off the waves. Out of all the places she lived in her life, she really liked Surf City. The water drew her more than she thought possible. Not odd for a woman in the Navy or a Marine brat, but she knew when her career was over she would end up near the water. Still, that was years off.
“You seem preoccupied,” Jed said, breaking into her thoughts.
She glanced at him. “Sorry. You know how I am about my schedule, but Dillard needed someone to cover today and then Bran showing up…I don’t like that many changes in one day.”
He smiled and she waited for her heart to kick in. It had before. Before Bran had gotten there. Okay, not that much. Not the way it did when she’d heard Bran laugh at some stupid joke he’d made. She thought she had moved on from her high school crush, but now here she was comparing Jed to Bran, and that just wasn’t fair.
“Plus, I always space out when I watch the water. It’s so calming,” she said.
His face cleared and his smile widened. “So, Johnson, not competition, then?”
She blinked. It was odd that he would get worried about her attention. Less than three years before she’d still considered herself an ugly duckling. Okay, maybe not that, but odd to say the least. She’d been too skinny and too geeky for most boys to pay her any attention. Now though, she rarely had a weekend without a date unless she didn’t want one.
“Uh, no. Bran and I went to high school together. My father worked for his…that kind of thing. I don’t think Bran sees me as date material anyway, but then, he’s a pilot.”
Jed rolled his eyes. No matter what service, all pilots had horrible reputations. Jed knew she refused to date them for that reason. It was acceptable to be friends, but when a pilot pushed for more, she usually pulled away.
“Ah, okay. I just wanted to be sure with him staying at your house.”
She snorted. “That’s not going to last long.”
He opened his mouth to respond, but the waiter bringing their drinks and taking their food orders interrupted. When they were alone again, he apparently wasn’t done with the subject of Bran.
“Why do you say that?”
“Say what?” she asked.
“Say that Johnson won’t be around that long.”
“Well, Bran doesn’t understand that I’m not going to clean up after him. Also, not cooking for him. He’s not used to women acting that way around him. You know what that’s like.”
It was his turn to blink at her. The long silence told her she’d said something goofy again. Dammit. Bran was back in her life for less than twenty-four hours and she was losing control of her mouth.
“It’s just that…okay, Jed you know you’re good looking, so we don’t have to pretend here.”
He said nothing for a second or two, then slowly, his lips curved. There was that little ping and instead of making her nervous, it comforted her. “So…you think I’m good looking.”
Tess knew she could play this one of two ways. Being cool probably wasn’t going to work so she settled back against her chair and laughed.
“Yeah, Jed, I think you’re good looking.”
“Good. Because I think you’re hot.” Then he wiggled his eyebrows, pulling a giggle out of her.
“Now that we have that out of the way…why don’t you tell me all about your day?”
She settled back, happy to be on a subject that didn’t make her nervous.
* * * *
Bran was frowning at his cereal the next morning when Tess finally ambled out of her room. She wore a t-shirt and shorts. Damn, when did her legs get so long? She had always been a tall woman, but now, those legs were no longer the toothpicks they’d been in high school. Lean with just enough muscle to make them shapely, he could just imagine how it would feel to have them wrapped…
Whoa, Johnson. What the hell is wrong with you? He shook his head trying to forget what he’d just been thinking. It was way out of line. Instead, he frowned harder at Tess.
“So, I see you finally got out of bed.”
She looked at him, then down at his cereal. “You just got up yourself, Bran. I know you can’t wait to eat in the morning.”
Dammit. Having a woman who knew him so well wasn’t advantageous for him. Bran knew it was horrible, but he usually liked to keep things on the surface with women. He wasn’t around for the long haul…and it also gave him a little edge. With Tess, he didn’t have that.
“Okay, I did, but I drove a long ways yesterday.”
She rolled her eyes and walked into the kitchen. “And I stayed out late last night with Jed. Suck it up, Marine.”
“Yeah, about that.”
“Yes?” she asked as she started her k-cup to brew.
“I didn’t know you dated so much.”
She looked at him. “Not that I date a lot, but I guess…compared to high school and the academy, I do date more. Probably not much more than anyone else our age, though.”
He grunted and decided it was better not to touch on the topics of high school and Annapolis. Those seemed to be some kind of sore subjects with her.
She pulled out some creamer and poured it into her coffee.
“So, what are your plans today?” She slipped onto the stool next to his. Their shoulders brushed as he drew in the just-showered scent of her. He could smell the herbal soap on her skin…and it made him sweat.
“Bran?” she asked when he didn’t answer.
He released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding and rolled his shoulders. “Not sure.”
“Shouldn’t your answer have something to do with looking for a house?”
“Kicking me out, Keller?”
She shrugged. “I like my space.”
He didn’t like the sound of that. It irritated him that she seemed to have this whole other life now. At one time, they had been thick as thieves. Now, they seemed a bit awkward and it felt like she didn’t want to spend time with him.
And the fact that this felt a little bit like jealousy didn’t sit well with him either.
“You’re off today?”
“Yep. One of the joys of swapping shifts. I get three days off. I had planned on hitting the beach.”
“It’s supposed to rain. So you can help me find a place.”
“Yeah, exactly what I need. Traipsing around in the rain with you sounds like a lovely day.”
He frowned. Bran normally liked her sarcastic tone, but for some reason, it rubbed him the wrong way this time. He was sure it had anything to do with the fact that he was still tired from the trip and hadn’t slept the night before.
“I’ll spring for lunch.”
She slanted him a look. “No fast food burgers.”
“You used to live off those.”
“I haven’t been in a fast food restaurant for three years, except the food court at the exchange.”
“Okay. But, no lobster.”
She patted him on the cheek. It was totally normal that when she looked at him with her hand on his face, his heart jerked a little bit, right?
“You pilots are always so cheap.”
She slipped off her stool and turned to head back to her room.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked.
“Every time I go out with a pilot, they are so cheap. Not that I go out with a lot of them, I have pretty much sworn off them. Maybe it’s just me that brings it out in them. Although, most guys aren’t like that when I go on a date with them, so I am just assuming all of you are cheap.”
“How many pilots have you dated?” And how many of them would he have to beat over the head?
“Ahhh, I think three. No, wait; there was the Air Force Major last year. I went out on a few dates with him while he was on vacation.” The way her voice rolled over the words, along with the secret little smile she was sporting, almost had him losing his temper.
Why was he so pissed? He didn’t understand it. “Well, he was Air Force, so he doesn’t count.”
She laughed as she walked back to her room. “You keep telling yourself that, Bran.”
Then she disappeared, leaving him alone with his thoughts. That wasn’t exactly a good thing. Why was he acting like an ass? She might not realize it, but his thoughts were…well, weird. This was Tess Keller. Best buddy a guy could have of the female variety.
Maybe it was the long drive coupled with the sleep deprivation caused by wondering where she had been the night before. He just had to get back to being her friend and all these weird feelings would go away.