Here’s a preview of Sophia’s Courage as promised!
As Sullivan walked across the parking lot, he went over his assignment again. Einstein, his friend and business partner, told him to look for a woman with fair skin, hazel eyes, and long brown hair. Elegant and feminine, he said. Pretty. Sullivan scanned the diners in the outdoor café and knew the moment he’d found her. Sophia Campbell sat alone, head bent to her work, temporarily oblivious to her surroundings. Even as he watched, she checked the time before quickly clearing the table. Tucking everything away into a case at her feet, she leaned back in her chair and tuned back in.
“Excuse me, sir,” said the maître d. “Table for two?”
“Actually, I’m meeting someone,” Sullivan explained. “And I see her. Just over there.” He gestured to where Sophia sat in the sunshine.
“Very good, sir.” The gentleman stood aside to let him pass.
It had been two years since Sullivan had resigned his commission as a Navy SEAL and entered the field of private security but he still looked like the soldier he’d once been. Every inch of his six feet two inch frame was bulging muscle, his skin a deep rich mahogany. In jeans and a dark blue button down shirt, he looked strong and confident.
“Sophia?” He smiled reassuringly. “My name is Sullivan Price. I’m here on behalf of Einstein and Bronwyn.”
“Has something happened? Is something wrong?”
“Oh no. Everything’s fine.” Gesturing to the seat beside her, he added, “May I?”
He sat quickly and began to explain. “There was a little… situation at the construction site of their new bookstore, Dénouement. Einstein and Bronwyn couldn’t get away.”
“Nothing serious I hope.”
“Nothing they can’t handle,” Sullivan corrected.
With a nod, she held out her hand. “Sophia Campbell – wedding planner.”
Sullivan could feel the warmth of her smile as he took her hand gently in his. He couldn’t help but notice how small and fragile it was in comparison to his own. How smooth and soft her skin. As he returned the smile, he felt the jolt of attraction. “Nice to meet you.”
“You’re Einstein’s friend. You served together. Right?”
“Yes, ma’am. The guys call me Caveman,” he volunteered proudly.
“And what am I to call you?”
He hesitated, cocking his head at her. “I think I’ll just leave that up to you.”
Sophia considered him thoughtfully, the way he sat, his powerful body still and quiet. She remembered what Einstein had said about his friends. Before they’d opened Trident Security, a firm that provided security systems for private and commercial spaces, they’d been part of an elite Navy SEAL team. Sullivan’s body was a honed weapon used to intimidate his enemies, yet his eyes were kind and friendly. Sophia concentrated on his eyes. “I think I’ll stick with Sullivan. If you don’t mind.”
“Not at all,” he smiled. Christ. She was lovely. Long dark hair, red full lips, and eyes the color of Tennessee whiskey. Petite. Delicate. The kind of woman a man wanted to take care of. Protect. Cherish. Sullivan was instantly intrigued. With a glance he hoped was subtle, he searched Sophia’s left hand. Nothing. No wedding band. No diamond. He was smiling when he looked up to find her watching him. Sullivan reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out an envelope.
“Einstein and Bronwyn wanted me to make sure that you got their deposit today.”
“Well, that was very nice of them. And you.” She took the envelope and slipped it into her case. “But, considering the circumstances, it could have waited until our next appointment.”
“They agreed to pay the deposit today. It was important to them to keep their word,” Sullivan explained.
Just then, they were approached by a waiter, menus in hand. Sophia started to explain the situation, when Sullivan interrupted.
“I’d be honored if you would join me for lunch.”
“Oh, that’s not necessary. You don’t need to…”
“You’re right,” he interrupted a second time. “I don’t need to. I want to.” His hand reached out to cover hers. “Please, join me for lunch.”
Sophia hesitated for only a moment, before agreeing. “I’d love to.”
Hours later, Sophia checked her watch, startled by the time. “Oh my goodness. I didn’t realize it was so late. I didn’t mean to keep you,” she apologized. “You must have had plans for the afternoon.”
“Nothing more important than lunch with you.”
“And you’re gallant too,” she added as Sullivan signaled for the check. When it arrived, Sophia reached for it. “Please, allow me. We’ll consider it a business lunch.”
His hand holding tight to the check, Sullivan waited for her eyes to meet his. “I’d rather think of it as lunch with a new friend.”
Sophia smiled softly and with a nod, acquiesced. “That’s very sweet. Thank you. “
Once the check was paid, they stood, Sullivan taking his place beside Sophia as he guided her out of the restaurant. His mind was racing, trying to come up with a way, any way, to extend their time together. Unfortunately, everything he thought of sounded far too contrived and far too desperate.
“Well, thank you again for a lovely lunch,” Sophia was saying as they reached her car.
Sullivan took the hand she offered, breathing in sharply as he felt the strong punch of desire.
Unprepared, Sophia’s eyes widened in surprise. She gave him one last measured look, climbed into the relative safety of her car, and closed the door between them.
Sullivan let her go, heading across the parking lot. After all, he’d be able to find her again easily enough. All it would take is one call to Einstein. As he settled into his truck and put his key in the ignition, he turned to look back. Sophia’s car hadn’t moved. Concerned, Sullivan paused, debating if he should check on her. Going with his instincts, he pocketed his keys, climbed out of his truck, and started walking back. When he reached the halfway point, he could just make out Sophia in the driver’s seat, her head resting on the steering wheel. Shit. Sullivan broke into a run, calling her name loudly. When Sophia lifted her head at the sound of his voice, relief overwhelmed him. He yanked open the car door, kneeling down next to her. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Why? Is something wrong?” Sophia reached out to lay her hand on his chest, right over his racing heart. “Are you okay?”
Shaking his head as he struggled to level his system, Sullivan reassured her he was fine. “When you didn’t leave, I thought something might be wrong. And then I saw you slumped over the wheel…”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you,” she apologized. “I’m frustrated, that’s all. My car won’t start.”
Relieved that she was okay and more than a little embarrassed that he’d overreacted, he stood. “Why don’t I take a look? Pop the hood.”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that. You’ve done enough today. I can just call my service.”
“But I’m already here. At your service,” Sullivan joked. When she hesitated, he continued. “How’s this? I’ll take a look. See if I can figure it out. If I can’t, you can still make that call.”
Sophia took a moment to think. “That sounds reasonable. Thank you.” She bent low and pulled the hood release.
Sullivan ducked under it, disappearing from view. “Okay. Try it.”
She turned the key. They both heard a disappointing click and then silence.
“Okay. Give me a few minutes.”
Never one to waste time, Sophia pulled out her phone and began to check her messages, answering those that couldn’t wait. The first was to the florist approving table centerpieces. The second to Bronwyn thanking her for the deposit. The last text was to Josh – Having a little car trouble. Be there in twenty. Maybe less.
“Try it again.”
Hopeful, she turned the key. Nothing.
“I think all we need to do is give it a jump. I’ll drive my truck over. You just stay put.”
“Great,” Sophia smiled, trying hard not to show her irritation. It wasn’t Sullivan’s fault that her car picked today of all days to act up. She climbed out to wait for him, peering under the car’s hood as he had earlier.
“Excuse me, miss? Can I help you?”
Sophia turned to see a man walking toward her. It only took a glance to recognize the type – a mirror whore. With his bleached blond hair, perfectly capped teeth and spray on tan, he looked like a Ken doll gone wrong. Sophia forced a smile. “No thanks. I’m good.”
“A woman as pretty as you shouldn’t be left stranded all alone in a parking lot. Why don’t you let me take a look at your car?”
Sophia turned to face him as he stepped forward. “Thank you. I appreciate the offer but I’m neither stranded nor alone.”
Ken turned a quick three sixty. “You sure look like you’re alone to me, sweetheart.” He moved in a little closer.
“I’ve already called for help.”
Not to be discouraged so easily, he smiled. “That’s great. Why don’t we go inside then? We can share a glass of wine while we wait.”
Before she could answer him, Sullivan pulled up in his truck. As he got out, Sophia had the delight of watching Ken pale at the sight of him.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
“I’m with her,” Sullivan answered without missing a beat. He stared hard at the man. “So you’re going to want to step back. Way back,” he clarified, waiting for Ken to comply. “I’m afraid I’m a little…” Sullivan turned to her. “What’d you called it, baby?”
Sophia smiled as she slid up next to him, her body pressed into his. “Possessive. I said you’re a little possessive.”
He smiled down into her upturned face. “That’s right. Possessive.” He whispered the last word lovingly, intimately.
Ken watched as the man’s arm came around the woman; the way her hand rested on his chest. Lucky SOB, he thought. “Well, I can see you’ve got everything under control here,” he mumbled as he turned to go. “I’ll just… leave you to it.”
Sophia breathed a sigh of relief as she watched him walk away. “He’s the kind of guy that’s convinced every woman in the world is ready to fall at his feet. Your appearance however, made him see otherwise. Thanks.”
Sullivan smiled down at her, enjoying the way it felt to have her close. “At your service, ma’am.”
She giggled at that, giving him a quick hug, before pulling away. “You really think you can get my car started?”
“Sure. Just let me get the cables from the back.” Sullivan moved to the toolbox in the bed of his truck. Jesus! He had to get a grip on his emotions before he did something stupid. When he’d driven over and seen that shake and bake Casanova talking to Sophia, he’d felt a brutal stab of jealousy. But then Sophia had moved in, wrapping her body around his. And, in the time it took him to draw a breath, jealousy gave way to gut wrenching desire. He’d actually had to force himself to let her go. And now, unless he could get it together, he was dangerously close to throwing her over his shoulder and stealing away with her.
“Did you find them?” Sophia called out.
Sullivan took a deep breath, counted to three, and then let it out with a shudder.
He pulled the cables from his toolbox, let the lid fall shut, and finally answered. “Got ’em!”
For the next few minutes, he concentrated on the task at hand. Unwinding the cables, he began to form a connection between the battery in Sophia’s car and the one in his truck. Positive to positive. Negative to ground. Once the cables were in place, he started his truck and asked Sophia to try her car again.
She smiled gratefully when it started right up. Leaving her car running, she climbed out to watch Sullivan disconnect the cables. “I don’t even begin to know how to thank you. You saved me so much time and trouble. If I’d called my road side service, I’d still be waiting.”
“No problem,” Sullivan smiled. “It wasn’t any trouble at all.” He returned the cables to his toolbox. “You’re going to want to keep your car running for the next thirty minutes or so to recharge the battery.”
Sophia glanced at her watch and her face fell. “I don’t have thirty minutes. My son’s baseball game starts in fifteen.”
Sullivan’s look was curious. “Your son?”
“Yeah. And I absolutely cannot be late to his game.” She took a moment to think before shrugging her shoulders. “I’ll just have to take my chances. If the car doesn’t start after the game, I’ll deal with it. Right now, I have to go.”
“Why don’t I go with you?”
“Why don’t I go with you?” Sullivan suggested quickly. “I can follow in my truck. That way, if your car doesn’t start after the game, I’ll be there to help.”
“I appreciate the offer, Sullivan, but you don’t have to do that.”
“I want to.”
“You want to go to my son’s baseball game?” Sophia asked doubtfully.
“I happen to like baseball,” Sullivan insisted. “I even played when I was a kid. All the way through high school.” He smiled reassuringly. “But I haven’t had a chance to go to a game in ages.” Sullivan could see that Sophia was tempted. Nothing could have pleased him more. He glanced at his watch. “We really should get going though. You don’t want to be late.”
With a final look of exasperation, Sophia gave in. “Okay, but I don’t want any whining later if you get bored.”
“I was a SEAL, sweetheart. We never whine.”
Ten minutes later, they pulled into the parking lot together, and Sullivan rushed to join her.
“I wish I’d taken the time to change,” Sophia frowned. “I’m not exactly dressed for climbing bleachers.”
His eyes skimmed over her sleeveless, summer dress and wedge sandals. The light fabric hinted at curves while the heels showed off very shapely legs. “I think you look lovely,” he murmured.
Before Sophia could respond, a teenage boy rushed over.
“Mom! I was getting worried that you weren’t going to make it,” he said as he hugged her.
“Are you kidding me? I’ve never missed a single game. I’m not about to start now!” She turned to make introductions. “Sullivan, this is my son, Joshua Campbell. Josh, this is Sullivan Price. He works with Einstein.”
Sullivan smiled to mask his confusion and held out his hand to shake. There was no well in hell Sophia was old enough to be this boy’s mother. He had to be sixteen, maybe even seventeen years old.
“You served with Einstein?” Josh was asking. “As a SEAL?”
Assuming it was meant as a compliment, Sullivan nodded.
“You should go,” Sophia said to her son. “Good luck. And remember. No matter what happens out there, I’m proud of you.”
Josh smiled. “I know.” With that said, he headed toward the field.
Sophia looked up at Sullivan. “Last chance to change your mind.”
She studied him for a moment, measuring his sincerity. Finally, she nodded. “Alright then. Let’s go find a seat before the game starts.”
They worked their way across the grass to the bleachers, Sullivan steadying her with his hand on the small of her back.
“I think maybe over there,” she suggested, pointing to a spot midway up.
Sullivan couldn’t help but notice that they earned more than a few stares as they made their way to their seats. He supposed they did make an unusual pair. Sophia was the epitome of all things feminine and delicate while he was unapologetically masculine. Together they were a study of physical contradiction.
As they settled in, pressed companionably together hip to knee, Sullivan leaned in to whisper, “Is it rude of me to ask? About Josh?”
When he felt Sophia stiffen beside him, he rushed to apologize. “I’m sorry. It’s none of my business. Please, forget I said anything.”
“No,” she whispered. “I just forget sometimes. How we must look to outsiders.” She stopped to cheer as the players were introduced to the crowd. “Joshua was my brother Ian’s son. When Ian and his wife Emily were killed in an accident, I took Josh in, adopted him as my own.”
“That’s remarkable,” Sullivan answered honestly. “You two seem really close. How long have you been together, as a family?”
“Seven years. I adopted Josh when he was ten years old. I was nineteen.”
“You became a mother at nineteen? To a ten-year-old?” Sullivan was stunned and impressed. “That must have been difficult.”
Sophia nodded in agreement. “It was, in the beginning.”
Sullivan waited silently as she shifted in her seat, considering how much to tell him. Fifteen agonizing seconds later, she bent over at the waist and rested her elbows on her thighs with her feet on the empty bench in front of them. He mirrored her movements, keeping his head down and moving in close.
“I was only in my second year of college when Ian died. I didn’t know the first thing about raising a child.” She spared a quick glance for him, caught his reassuring smile and the warmth in his eyes. “I transferred to the local state college, thankfully on full scholarship, and we moved in with my parents. Most of my classes were during the day, like Josh’s, so that wasn’t so bad. For the few I took after hours, my mom watched him. That was good for everyone. My parents needed to be near him. And Josh needed the extra attention.”
“Do you still live with your parents?”
“No, not for years now. My business provides us with everything we need.”
“That’s wonderful.” Sullivan looked out at the field. “He seems like a great kid.”
“I think so,” Sophia smiled. “But I might be a little biased.”
“You’re his mom. I think you’re entitled.” His eyes met hers, held. “Thank you, for trusting me enough to tell me.”
Her voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “Well, if I can’t trust a Navy SEAL, who can I trust?”