Tuff Enough

Blackhawk Security #1
November 11, 2018
Suspenseful Seduction Publishing
Available in: e-Book, Trade Size

Tuff Enough

While security operative Jason “Tuff” Tanner lives for dangerous assignments, he likes his downtime in his quiet neighborhood too. But that peacefulness is suddenly interrupted when his new next-door neighbor becomes a target for someone with nefarious intentions. Canine rescuer Concetta “Chet” Suarez brings all his protective instincts to the surface, along with feelings he’s never experienced with any other woman. Will he lose her before he ever gets a chance to make her his?

The Blackhawk Security series is a spinoff of the popular Trident Security series.

***Tuff Enough was previously published September 2018 in the USA Today Bestselling anthology, Love Under Siege. New chapters have been added to this edition.

Jason “Tuff” Tanner followed five operatives from Trident Security and his boss, Chase Dixon, as they descended the steps of the private jet to the tarmac of the small Albert Whitted Airport, in St. Petersburg, Florida. They were returning from St. Lucia where they’d been helping Ian Sawyer and another TS operative rescue their women and several others from a white-slavery syndicate. One of these days, Tuff was going to have to take a vacation down in the Caribbean. So far, the only times in his life he’d been to any of the islands had been work related, so he’d never had a chance to do anything fun. Well, what other people would call fun. People who didn’t get an adrenaline rush from their job or who weren’t retired from any of the elite special-ops teams in the military like Tuff and the men he was currently with were. He’d done twelve years in the Army, with six of them in the 7th Special Forces Group, which was headquartered at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle. He lived for the missions that required him to use his training, instincts, prowess, and intelligence.

When they reached the parking lot, Tuff and Chase, the owner of Blackhawk security, said goodbye to Marco DeAngelis, Logan Reese, Kip Morrison, Jake Donovan, and Nick Sawyer, Ian’s youngest brother. Tuff then turned to his boss. “Anything on the agenda tomorrow?”

Forty-two-year-old Chase Dixon was a retired Marine Raider. After leaving his military career behind, he’d started up the private security company. Using his connections, experience, and business sense, he’d built Blackhawk into a thriving enterprise. His reputation was held in high regard throughout the United States and even beyond its borders. The good guys admired him, and the bad guys feared him.

Tuff had been working for Chase long enough to no longer be surprised when the man managed to come up with resources no one else seemed to be able to. Personnel, weapons, technology, transportation, etc.—whatever his associates and clients needed, Chase was able to provide. He’d made a fortune in government and private contracts and had dozens of operatives working for him, but there were still times the boss insisted on being on the front lines. Case in point, this last op. When he’d gotten the call for help from Ian, whom he considered a good friend, Chase had grabbed the first person he’d seen at the Blackhawk offices—Tuff, who’d been filling out a report on his latest case—and they’d hightailed it down to St. Lucia.

Now that the mission was over, the women were safe, a few perverted dirtbags were dead, and a chink in the sex-slave ring had been made. Unfortunately, there were more out there. But men like Tuff, Chase, the Sawyer brothers, and all their teammates would continue chipping away at organizations who preyed on the innocent until their dying day.

Chase ran a hand through his graying, short hair. “Nope. You’ve earned a few days off. You’ve been going nonstop for the past three months. Rest up. Find a soft, willing woman and have some wild, monkey sex. I don’t want to see you at the office until next Monday’s morning debriefing. Understood?”

“My momma didn’t raise no fool. Monday it is. Thanks, Boss.”

Without another word, Chase slapped Tuff on the shoulder and headed across the lot to his own vehicle. After tossing his duffel bag full of clothes, weapons, and gear into the narrow back seat of his F-150 pickup, Tuff climbed in behind the steering wheel. Starting it up, he cranked the AC up and lowered the windows to let out some of the stifling, hot air until it could be replaced. He wanted nothing more than to get home and into a refreshing shower, before having a quick dinner and then sleeping for the next twenty-four hours.

Within twenty minutes, he’d navigated the last of the rush-hour traffic and pulled into his half of the driveway, next to a navy SUV, in front of the South Tampa duplex he lived in. Cutting off the engine, he climbed out of the truck and glanced around as he stretched out a few kinks that’d settled into his neck and back. It was a quiet neighborhood, just as he liked it. While he loved the excitement of his job, when he was home he craved tranquility. There were a few kids living on the cul-de-sac, but it was rare for them, or anyone else, to create a disturbance loud enough to bother him. Most kept their activities to their backyards, which reduced the chances of Tuff hearing them if he was trying to sleep during the day after an overnight or long mission.

He eyed the SUV. It belonged to his new next-door neighbor who’d moved in a few weeks ago. Due to his nonstop schedule over the past three months, Tuff had only met the woman a few times, and mostly in passing. All he knew about the pretty thirty-something was her name was Concetta Suarez, but everyone called her “Chet,” and she had curves that could knock a guy’s eyes out of their sockets. She stood about five-foot-three, seven inches shorter than his own height. Her Hispanic heritage shined through her beautiful caramel-toned skin, shiny black hair, and mink-colored eyes. She was a walking hard-on, coming and going, and if she hadn’t lived right next door, Tuff definitely would have hit on her. But he knew better than to piss in his own sandbox.

Tuff wasn’t a long-term relationship kind of guy. Even though he’d never lied about that to any woman he’d dated, or even had a one-night-stand with, many of them had thought they could change him. When they couldn’t, things usually hadn’t ended well. If the sexy, little bomboncita next door turned out to be that type of woman, it would be hell living next to her if things went south. More than once, one of his ex-girlfriends or brief flings had shown up at his house, screaming like a banshee after he’d broken up with them. Twice, someone had needed to call the cops to restore quiet to the neighborhood. He could only imagine what would happen with a woman who lived in a home attached to his own. No thanks. He didn’t want to have to give up the place he’d lived in for the past few years, nor did he want to get a restraining order against a neighbor. It was best to keep his hands to himself and his dick in his pants when it came to Chet.

After grabbing his duffel, Tuff climbed the few stairs to the shared front porch. As his gaze dropped to the keys in his hand, looking for the right one, the door to Chet’s unit swung open. Without warning, a huge, muscular, tan pit bull lunged at Tuff, growling and barking. With quick reflexes, honed over years of training and missions, Tuff dropped his duffel, vaulted over the banister, and landed on the balls of his feet in a flower bed, crushing several blooms.

“Meat! No! Stop! Easy, Meat!”

He was happy to see Chet had the beast on a leash but was worried she wouldn’t be able to control “Meat” for long. The dog’s muscles strained as he tried to go after his quarry, and the woman holding him was clearly doing her best to prevent that from happening. Tuff readied himself to dive onto the hood of his truck. The last thing he wanted to do was draw the 9mm stuck in his back waistband and shoot the dog if it attacked, but he knew it might come down to that. Those snapping jaws could do irreparable damage to a person, even someone Tuff’s size. It would destroy him if he had to put the dog down, though. He had a soft spot when it came to furry animals.

With the leather leash wrapped around her forearms, Chet lowered her voice to a soothing tone and maneuvered herself between the dog and his target. “Easy, boy. It’s okay. He’s not going to hurt you. Easy.”

Tuff prayed the woman knew what she was doing as the dog kept trying to see around her to the man he wanted to rip apart. Meat’s massive chest heaved as he panted and growled, while drool rolled down his jowls.

“Eh!” The sharp sound of Chet’s voice grabbed the dog’s attention, and when he looked up at her, she continued in her calming voice, “Good boy. That’s a good boy.”

She waved her hand in front of the canine’s nose. It took a moment, but the scent of whatever she was holding seemed to register and catch his interest.

“Meat, sit.” She tugged on the leash once while making some sort of hand signal, and, thank God, the damn thing finally obeyed, sitting on its haunches, no longer interested in tearing into Tuff’s hide—at least for the moment. After the silence remained for a count of three, she rewarded the dog with the food in her hand. Slobbering all over the porch, the dog barely chewed before swallowing.

Petting the pit’s massive head, Chet murmured a few times before turning to look at Tuff, apologetically. “I’m so sorry about that. I didn’t know you were out here. Meat’s had a tough life so far, and he’s very wary of men.”

Tuff relaxed a little and snorted. “If that’s wary, I’d hate to see when he gets hostile.”

Still stroking the dog, Chet frowned. “That’s what happens to pit bulls when they’re raised from puppies to be fight dogs.”

“Fight dog? Is he from the raid I heard about last week?” He remembered her telling him she was an animal control officer for Hillsborough County, which included the city of Tampa, and volunteered with rescue groups.

“Yeah. He and fourteen others. They were found caged in a warehouse in deplorable conditions. Two had been so badly injured they had to be euthanized.” She clearly wasn’t happy about that, and Tuff didn’t blame her.

Studying the dog, now that Meat wasn’t trying to kill him, Tuff could see the multiple scars that covered his face and body. His velvet-covered ears had been cropped, and there was a cleft on the side of his upper lip from a tear that’d healed without stitches. Despite the damage, he was a beautiful dog, and Tuff wished he could spend five minutes alone with the bastards who’d used Meat and the other dogs for sport. No animal should be abused in any way, shape, or form.

“Sorry to hear that. So, he’s staying with you?” Renters were allowed pets as long as there weren’t any complaints from the neighbors about them.

“I’m fostering him for now. We bonded at the shelter. Once he was out of quarantine, I decided to bring him home to show him what it was like to be pampered. He’d never seen the inside of a house or had his own soft bed before. I’m hoping to retrain him so he can find a forever home.”

Tuff’s gaze dropped to Meat, who’d finally laid down on the concrete, still panting, then returned to Chet’s face. “That’ll probably take a while.”

Her chin lifted. “I think he’s worth it.”

“I didn’t think he wasn’t.” He scratched his temple. Tuff loved all animals, but dogs especially. He’d had a few while growing up, and there had been some in his Army unit. When they weren’t working, he and his buddies had enjoyed playing fetch with the MWDs, or just sitting there, petting them. “Can I help?”

Chet’s head tilted to the side. “How?”

“You can use me to get him to understand not all men want to harm him. Think if I lay down on the grass, you can let him sniff me? I’ll stay perfectly still. Then you can reward him when he doesn’t sink his teeth into me.”

“Um . . . yeah, if you don’t mind. I’ll walk him around you, but not too close.”

“Great.” Tuff headed for the middle of the lawn in front of Chet’s side of the house, wondering if he’d just signed himself up to be the dog’s next meal.

Copyright ©2018 Samantha A. Cole

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