Home > Sunburst (Sky King Ranch #2)

Sunburst (Sky King Ranch #2)
Author: Susan May Warren




Ranger wasn’t here to get into trouble, but wow, she was pretty.

And clearly his brother Colt noticed too.

“She’s cute.”

Ranger looked back at Colt, who sat across from him on a high-top stool on the deck of the Bahama Mama, a beachside resort in Key West. He was nursing a mojito, the minty smell mixing with the jalapeno-and-onion spice of the ceviche dip on the table.

“I don’t have time for romance,” Ranger said, but yes, he’d been watching the woman armed with a camera take shots of the sunset as its rays cast over the frothy ocean and the cobblestones of the long pier at Mallory Square. The fire hovered above the horizon, the clouds a deep purple, with a deep amber rim over a golden spill of light and a darkening orange simmer.

The perfect place for Ranger to unwind. Sorta.

“Stop taking life so seriously. I mean, who wears khakis and a dress shirt to dinner?” Colt lifted his mojito but shot his smile at a girl in a bikini and a white cover-up headed toward the pool. “Meeting a hot girl just might be good for you.”

Colt had vacation written all over him, in his half-open Hawaiian shirt, his past-reg long dark hair, his sunglasses. Not to mention the wicked tan he’d gotten while Ranger spent the better part of the day in the fifty-foot free-ascent dive tower on the Army Spec Forces Underwater Operations school over on Fleming Key.

A mix of music—from the mariachi band at the hotel to a guitar player in the square playing “Peaceful, Easy Feeling”—added to the festive air of the nightly sunset festival. Black-winged seagulls dive-bombed tourists’ treats—fish tacos, coconut shrimp, and French fries dropped on the cobblestone surface—while jugglers and a magician performed for tips as hundreds of tourists set up chairs or pressed against the deck railing hoping to catch the last rays of the sun in the southernmost tip of America.

“What’s wrong with my clothes?” Ranger asked. “You said we were going out for dinner.”

“At a tiki bar. Catch up, dude. Sheesh. Do you ever go out with your team?”

“Yes.” No. Sometimes. Most of the time to make sure his buddies got home safe. Okay, so he was a little boring.

Ranger Kingston was the guy who got the job done.

His gaze drifted over to the woman again. Beautiful and petite, she wore her full and curly dark hair pulled back in a pink handkerchief, and she had on a white sundress, a patchwork satchel over her shoulder. As he watched, she crouched and took a picture of a seagull perched on one of the pier posts.

He looked back at Colt, who grinned at him.

Ranger reached for a chip. “Nope. Sorry. Women are trouble. Something you should probably remember.”

He raised an eyebrow, but Colt lifted a shoulder, looked out at the sunset. “Old news.”

It probably wasn’t old news to their brother Dodge, who still hadn’t returned home after the epic fight between him and Colt six years ago over, yes, a girl.

A girl Colt probably didn’t even like—not in the way Dodge did. As in, give your heart and soul for life to one person.

Worse, Colt had kissed her. Ranger had seen it happening, inserted himself into the drama that followed, and since then, watched his family disintegrate. He talked to Dodge. He talked to Colt. And all three of them occasionally talked to their sister, Larke, as well as their father, who was still back at Sky King Ranch in Alaska.

But Dodge and Colt didn’t speak to each other.

Maybe never would again.

Still, Ranger couldn’t help the desire to keep the family together, somehow, so of course he invited Colt down to the Keys during his training. After all, Colt had re-upped too, and this time had secured a position in the elite Delta Force.

“I’m here for my free-diving cert, nothing more,” Ranger said, finishing off his lemonade. The woman had moved into his periphery now, taking a picture of another woman who painted the sunset, her easel set up in the square.

“How’s it going?” Colt’s gaze hung over Ranger’s shoulder, on the dance floor. Probably on some cute girl dancing with her girlfriends.

“I have a fifty-foot test dive in two weeks that I don’t want to fail. Right now, I’m hunting forty feet, so I’m making progress.”

“Isn’t this just an add-on cert? Something to fill the gap before sniper school? You could do this in your sleep.”

“Hardly. It’s all about relaxing, about learning not to take a breath when your body is calling for it, mind over matter, and yes, technique. But my breath hold time is improving.”

“Relaxing is the key? Oh bro, this is why you need me.”

Ranger laughed. Yes, he needed Colt, but not quite how his brother wanted to help. He needed, most of all, to know that Colt was okay.

That inside the happy exterior, his anger had died to a simmer, maybe long enough to see that he was forgiven. Or could be, if he wanted it.

Colt picked up a chip, the tags around his neck glinting in the sun. His smile dimmed. “Had a buddy who nearly died during the ascent test. Panicked. Experienced a shallow water blackout.” He dipped the chip into the seafood mix. “So . . .”

“I got this, Colt.”

The girl now stood in the middle of the square, taking a shot of a knife juggler, tattoos covering his bare upper body. She put the camera down, watching the man. Yes, she was pretty. Cute, pixie nose, a wide mouth, eyes that shone—or that might just be the sunlight.

Still, something about her caught him.

She lifted her camera and took another shot.

Then, she turned the camera lens, her back to the sunset, and circled the pier.

Stopped the viewfinder on him.

He averted his eyes, back to Colt. “So, where to next, after your leave?”

“Back to North Carolina and then . . .” He lifted a shoulder. Which was correct—as a member of Delta, he might end up anywhere, anytime.

“Good thing you could sneak—oh no.” His gaze had, of course, returned to the woman, and she still had the camera on him.

As if taking his picture.

He slid off the high top. “Be right back.”

The sun hovered just above the horizon, backdropping her, silhouetting her in white as he walked toward her. She lowered the camera. He stood maybe a foot taller than her, but she didn’t move as he closed the gap between them. Instead, she lifted her face, cocked her head, and said, “What can I do for you, sailor?”


“I just saw you, the way you scanned the plaza, the way you sat in your chair . . . You’re an operator, aren’t you?”

He blinked at her.

“Don’t worry. I didn’t take your picture. But you’re not doing a great job of being on vacation, if that’s why you’re here.”

He stood, taken aback. How—

“Your shirt, for one. It’s an Oxford. At least roll up your sleeves. And maybe wear flip-flops instead of dress shoes. I dunno, but just an idea. Otherwise, how’re you going to feel the sand between your toes?”

“I don’t like sand between my toes,” he said before he could stop himself.

“A BUD/S reaction? Not so fond of sand after inhaling it for six weeks?”

Who was this girl?

She stepped over to him, showed him the digital viewfinder. “See, no pictures of you, or your buddy. Now that’s a sailor who knows how to be on vacation.”

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