Brantley Walker has dedicated his life to fighting for his country. Having given seventeen years to the US Navy, the last ten as a SEAL, the mission was the only thing he knew, the only thing that mattered. He never even considered what life would look like after the mission was over.
Until he’s forced to.
After spending months recovering from career-ending injuries, Brantley finds himself back in his hometown of Coyote Ridge, Texas. Now a permanent resident once again, with the full support of his family and friends, he sets forth to start over, forced to figure out what to do with the rest of his life, which, as it turns out, is far easier said than done.
Then the unthinkable happens.
When his cousin Travis’s daughter is kidnapped, Brantley puts himself right back in the action, partnering up with Reese Tavoularis to find the little girl and bring her back home where she belongs.
Along the way, Brantley and Reese end up immersed in another mission. Only this one results in a journey that takes them in a direction neither of them expected to go.
This book captivated from the first line to the last word, it’s exciting, it’s great writing and it’s has wonderful characters old and new.
All In (Brantley Walker: Off the Books, 1) - Chapter One
“Sun, sand, and surf. What more can you ask for?”
Brantley Walker glanced over at his sister, frowned. “Heat, dirt, and salt. Damn sure don’t see the appeal.”
“Says the man who’s spent most of his adult years in Afghanistan.”
More like all over southern Asia, but he didn’t bother to correct her. “Exactly.”
“Good news, there’s water,” Bryn tacked on.
“Saltwater. Not exactly refreshing.”
“The eternal pessimist, you are, Brantley. You know that?”
“I prefer realist,” he countered, ambling along the water crashing gently against the shore. He did his best to ignore the throbbing in his left thigh and paid attention to his gait. It had taken endless months of therapy, but the limp was finally gone. Mostly. Only when he was exhausted did it make an appearance.
“You wanna take a break?” Bryn asked, her tone chock full of sympathy. “We can sit and watch the sunrise?”
Evidently he wasn’t as good at hiding it as he’d thought.
Brantley glared over at her, the words coming out a bit harder than he’d intended. “No, I don’t wanna take a break.”
“Okay. Be a stubborn ass, see if I care.”
“Sorry,” he muttered.
“Then tell me this,” Bryn prompted as though the break in their conversation hadn’t happened, “where would you rather be?”
“Anywhere but here,” he grumbled.
“Liar. One more. That’s all you’ve got. One more day, one more night where you’re subjected to the ultimate in torture techniques.”
And by torture techniques, Brantley knew Bryn was referring to the Walkers’ yearly retreat to the beaches of Galveston. And, fine, maybe he hadn’t attended these annual get-togethers for a good portion of his adult life. In his defense, before now, he’d usually been otherwise engaged. Being a SEAL in the United States Navy wasn’t conducive to a whole lot of family time, no matter how well-planned.
Of course, that was no longer a problem for him. Due to that unfortunate event—namely the ill-fated op that went sideways, resulting in his medical retirement from the Navy—Brantley had found himself with quite a bit of time on his hands. Hence the reason he was walking the Texas shoreline at the ass crack of dawn with the youngest of his three sisters while the rest of the Walker clan were still snoozing in the beachside house.
“Six and a half days too long,” he said, grimacing when he stepped on a broken shell.
This was Frank and Iris Walker’s annual vacation, the time set aside when they would all get together for one week out of the year. Why they chose mid-July to make the trip to the overcrowded, not to mention, ridiculously hot beach on Galveston Island, he would never know. Yet they’d been doing it for as long as he could remember and years before that. According to Mom, they’d started this tradition when Sadie was two. In an effort to create memories, they’d toted his oldest sister and every kid who came along after down here once a year.
They called it fun. Brantley compared it to Hell Week. One mom, one dad, seven kids. All cooped up for a week except for those brief few hours they would traipse down to the water, sit in the sand, and let the brutal sun beat down on them. He remembered a lot of aloe and pain relievers involved, not to mention yelling. So much fucking yelling. Didn’t matter that it came from the younger set, one of his brothers or sisters always attempting to have the last word.
And fine, maybe Bryn was right. He was a pessimist.
Granted, the family had grown up, expanded in the past decade. What had once been a trip for nine had nearly doubled. To accommodate and keep everyone under the same roof, his parents had traded in their tiny two-bedroom condo for a six-bedroom house right on the beach. Even then it was cramped, filled to capacity with Mom and Dad, three brothers, three sisters, one future sister-in-law (potentially), two brothers-in-law, plus two nieces and a nephew. Pretty soon, the folks would need to invest in a hotel just to house them all.
“How’s school?” he asked, hoping to keep his sister from harping on him for his inability to relax.
“Good.” Bryn smiled brightly. “Only five semesters away from graduation.”
“The eternal optimist,” he quipped.
“I know, right? Sometimes I think I’m adopted. There’s no other way to explain how I ended up in this family.”
“You’re tellin’ me. What I don’t get is what prompted you to want to go back to school now.”
“Are you sayin’ I’m old, little brother?”
He pretended to think on that. “Thirty-six isn’t exactly young, sis.”
Bryn huffed a laugh. “Careful what you say, kid. You’re not all that far behind.”
No, he wasn’t, but age was just a number as far as Brantley was concerned. At thirty-five, fresh out of a seventeen-year stint in the Navy, Brantley felt as though he was starting over. A kid, right out of high school, without a clue what he was going to do with the rest of his life. Only, he was equipped with knowledge most people couldn’t fathom, a skill set that wouldn’t do much for him as a civilian but could likely make him a good living if he wanted to go the mercenary route. Plus a leg that ached when it rained and recurring headaches that ranged from irritating to debilitating.
At least his family had stopped asking him if he was all right.
“Why a teacher?” he inquired, wanting to keep them talking about her.
“Molding young minds,” she said simply, flashing another bright smile. “Imagine if there’d been some decent teachers around when you were in school. Maybe you wouldn’t be such a dummy.”
Brantley stopped, pinned her with a look. “A dummy? Really, sis?”
Bryn’s blue eyes flashed with amusement. “Yeah. Dummy. What’re you gonna do about it?”
Before he could grab her and toss her into the water, Bryn took off at a run. Brantley chuckled, then pursued, his bare feet sinking in the wet sand as he jogged behind her. Didn’t take long before he swept her off her feet and charged into the water, dumping her unceremoniously before he dove into the next wave. When he came up, Bryn was sputtering, tossing her hair out of her face, the long dark strands plastered to her head.
“I’m gonna kick your ass for that, Brantley Walker!”
“How many times have I heard that one?” he countered, wandering over and escorting her back to the beach, arm in arm.
“You just wait. When you least expect it”—she clapped her hands together, jerking on his arm—“bam! I’m gonna take you out.”
As usual, Bryn was laughing. Otherwise he would’ve been apologizing. Brantley couldn’t count how many times he’d said he was sorry over the years. To all of his sisters. Didn’t matter that Sadie, Tori, and Bryn were the oldest of the seven, there was no doubt they’d been harassed plenty by their younger brothers. Sometimes more than they deserved.
Redirecting them back to the house, Brantley threw an arm around Bryn’s shoulders, tugged her against his side, and planted a kiss on her head. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to get some coffee in me.”
“Fine. But you’re not goin’ back to bed.”
Nearly twelve hours later, the blazing Texas sun having finally taken a hiatus, Brantley was sitting on the third-floor deck, staring out over the water, wishing like hell he’d ignored Bryn’s order and caught a few hours of sleep. After an eventful day spent entirely down by the water, he had that rode-hard, put-up-wet feeling. Good thing he only had a few feet to wander before he could be facedown in a bed.
He had his nephew and nieces to thank for the endless hours near the water, and his brothers for the overindulgence tonight. It had been Trey’s idea, the fucker. His oldest brother had thought it would be wise to crack open a bottle of Jameson and play Who’s the idiot, a game they’d made up, where they recalled each other’s most asinine feats to date.
For whatever reason, they’d all ganged up on Brantley, proving with one story after another that he was the reigning champ of idiocy. Better yet, it wasn’t over. Trey was currently choking on a laugh as he attempted to retell their favorite story of them all.
“What was that guy’s name?” Trey clanked the ice in his glass, eyes bouncing to each of them.
“Danny,” Griffin offered. “Danny Musket.”
Brantley groaned. Never failed they’d bring this one up.
Trey snapped his fingers and pointed at Griff. “Yes! Danny Musket. What a loser. I was on duty at the time—”
“Off duty,” Brantley corrected. “And mall security doesn’t exactly make you a cop.”
“Yeah, well, Danny didn’t know that.”
No, he hadn’t. And Brantley remembered the look on the guy’s face when Trey’s mug had appeared in the driver’s-side window. Might as well have been the chief of police for as panicked as Danny got.
“Anyway,” Trey continued. “That night, I was headin’ home. Stopped in at E-Zs for a cup of coffee—“
“Pork rinds and Dr. Pepper,” Brantley corrected.
“—when what did I stumble upon?” Trey chuckled, clearly enjoying the memory. “There I was, minding my own business, strolling through the parking lot—”
“Checking out the beer delivery guy,” Brantley offered because it was the truth.
“—when something caught my attention. Rocking.” Another rumbling laugh. “That shitty old Ford of Danny’s was rocking on its axles.”
“It was a Toyota,” Brantley said with a huff. “And it was only a couple of years old.”
“Whatever. My story, my details.”
Brantley smiled, couldn’t help it. That was Trey for you.
“Didn’t Danny work there part-time?” Cal inquired.
“Yep,” Trey answered. “And he was on his break. Just gettin’ some action, he said.”
“He did not say that,” Brantley huffed.
“Right up until you put an end to their fun,” Griffin noted.
Trey smirked. “What are big brothers for?”
Brantley rolled his eyes, didn’t bother looking at Trey. “Regardless of how you tell it, the crime certainly didn’t fit the punishment.”
That got his brothers laughing.
“Maybe not, but it was fun as shit,” Trey countered. “Dragged both of you morons outta that truck, had you assume the position.”
“Because he hadn’t been assumin’ it before you got there?” Griffin snorted.
“Not helpin’,” Brantley said with a glare.
“Tell ’em what happened next,” Trey insisted with a smirk.
Brantley exhaled, knowing this would never end if he didn’t tie up the story in a neat little bow. “You dragged us out, frisked us both, then told Danny you’d bring him up on charges of seducing a minor if he put his hands on me again.”
“Damn straight I did. And the look on that kid’s face,” Trey guffawed. “Priceless.”
Never mind the fact that they’d both been seventeen, Danny had honestly believed he was in trouble. Then again, the guy hadn’t been the brightest bulb. But he’d been hot as fuck, the only thing that had really mattered to seventeen-year-old Brantley.
To add to the humiliation, Trey had snapped a picture of Danny with his wild red hair and haphazardly buttoned shirt using his prized Nokia camera phone, printed it out, then spent the next two months pinning that picture up in various places in the house just to piss Brantley off. Not that he would remind Trey of that part.
His brothers were good at that. Pissing him off. But Brantley had gotten in a few good ones over the years. Too bad he was too drunk to remember them now.
“Whatever happened to that one guy you dated?” Griffin asked, lifting his glass and pointing at Brantley. “Marvin? Martin? What the fuck was his name?”
“Markus,” Cal supplied. “The doctor.”
“He wasn’t a doctor,” Trey corrected. “He was a medical examiner.”
“A medical degree, Trey,” Brantley grumbled. “Makes him a doctor.”
“He worked on dead people.” Trey’s smile was slow. “But I suppose he put the degree to good use? You two play doctor and patient?”
Oh, they most definitely had, but rather than share the details, he rattled off a “Fuck. Off.”
“Didn’t last long, that one,” Cal recalled. “Then again, none of them did.”
“I have to say, though, you do know how to nail the hot ones,” Trey added.
“Hey, I tried to pass that one guy off to you, but you were too good for him,” Brantley reminded him.
“Dude was an insurance salesman,” Trey said, his tone making it sound like the guy had been a convicted felon.
“You didn’t have to marry him,” Cal teased.
“Whatever. This is not about me,” Trey stated. “This is about you, little brother. When are you gonna settle down?”
Brantley shook his head, resting it against the headrest and staring up at the sky. The last thing he intended to do was discuss his personal business. Privacy was something to be coveted in the Walker family. Not only did he have nosy brothers and sisters, there were dozens of cousins, many of them having grown up in Coyote Ridge with Brantley. Everyone knew everyone’s business, no matter how hard they tried to keep it on the DL.
“He likes playin’ the field,” Cal said, his smile still firmly in place.
“No time to date,” he grumbled, realizing they weren’t going to drop it. “What about you?” He glanced at Cal. “When’re you gonna tie the knot?”
“One of these days,” his youngest brother said with a wide grin.
Whether it was the cheery admission or the blush that brightened Cal’s face, the words captured everyone’s attention, taking the heat off Brantley. Finally.
Trey sat up straight, narrowed his eyes. “Seriously?”
Cal’s face was beaming. “Yeah. Seriously. I was thinkin’ about askin’ her while we’re here.”
“You’re runnin’ outta time,” Trey supplied.
“Holy shit, man.” Griffin slapped Cal on the back. “Congrats.”
“Don’t congratulate him yet,” Brantley interrupted. “She hasn’t said yes. Maybe I should sit April down, make sure she knows what she’s gettin’ herself into.”
Cal laughed. “Like she’d believe a word you said.”
Brantley smiled, maintaining eye contact with Cal, ensuring his brother saw he was happy for him. Although they did enjoy dogging one another whenever the situation warranted, they were a tight bunch. And that meant they celebrated the highs and mourned the lows. Together.
“Well, on that note, I think I’m gonna hit the hay,” Trey announced, getting to his feet. “See y’all bright and early.”
“You might be early, but you damn sure ain’t bright,” Griffin quipped, dragging himself to his feet.
“What he said,” Brantley agreed as his brothers filed past him, offering fist bumps on their way.
“You headin’ in?” Cal asked, standing tall and stretching.
“Yeah. In a minute.”
“Cool. See you in the mornin’.”
“Yep. You will.”
Finally alone for the first time since he woke that morning, Brantley stared out into the night, beyond the pitch-black water to the flashing lights in the distance. The lapping of the waves down below lulled him toward sleep. His ass was numb, his mouth dry, and he knew he needed to locate that soft mattress if he was hoping for any chance of avoiding a massive hangover in the morning. He wasn’t exactly eager to make the three-hour drive back to Coyote Ridge, but he damn sure didn’t need a pounding head to accompany him.
He debated on going inside but thought better of it. He wasn’t willing to take a header over the rail if and when he stumbled. And with his luck as of late…
Brantley found himself smiling, recalling all the stories his brothers had told tonight, all the idiot things he’d done. The one thing he hadn’t done was settle down, but that seemed to be in the cards for his brothers and sisters, not him. First Sadie, then Tori, now Cal. Wouldn’t be long before the rest of them were getting hitched. If all went well for Cal, one day soon, Brantley’d be donning another tuxedo, this time standing up for one of his brothers who pledged to spend the rest of his days with one person.
“And they call me the idiot,” he chuckled.