Home > SEAL Next Door (SEALs of Coronado #9)(6)

SEAL Next Door (SEALs of Coronado #9)(6)
Author: Paige Tyler

On that cheery note, Nyla left to tell the powers that be, leaving Poppy alone with the photos and the job of figuring out if they were actually the plans for a functional nuclear weapon or an elaborate fake. But she didn’t mind. Nuclear weapons—especially foreign nuclear weapons—were her specialty.

It was almost enough to make her laugh. All those years in college, taking math, physics, and engineering courses, only to become an expert on foreign nukes working for an organization with no name, never being able to tell a soul outside the walls of The Cave.

Not that anyone would have believed it if she told them. As far as the world was concerned, Poppy was simply a college professor.

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

 

“I thought we were going to have dinner,” Poppy said curiously as Sam pulled his pickup off Hill Street and started south along the narrow boulevard that ran above the cliffs overlooking the ocean.

Sam glanced over at Poppy beside him in the passenger seat. He thought she’d been devastatingly beautiful last night when she’d been casually dressed to go jogging. But now, wearing a yellow off-the-shoulder sun dress and just the slightest bit of makeup, she was so stunning it was hard to keep his eyes on the road.

Which could be dangerous considering it was about a fifty-foot drop to the beach if he suddenly veered too far to the right.

“We’re going to dinner, but I thought we’d do something a little different,” he said, turning into a parking lot near the corner of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard and Ladera Street. “You up for a little adventure?”

Poppy expression was curious even as she nodded. “Always.”

Grinning, Sam hopped out of the truck and walked around to open her door, offering her a hand as she slipped out. The hem of her sun dress rode up a little as she slid off the seat, exposing a length of long, toned thigh, but he forced himself to keep his eyes locked on her smile, refusing to be that guy.

Poppy was quiet as he led her along the walkways that meandered through the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, but he could tell she wanted to ask what they were doing there. He only prayed his plan for the evening worked out right. He wanted to impress her, but with less than twelve hours’ notice, he hadn’t had a lot of time to come up with something.

When they walked around the corner in the walkway and came out onto a grassy bluff overlooking the ocean dotted with surfers, Sam heard Poppy gasp.

Maybe he’d pulled this off after all.

While Poppy stood there beaming, Sam wondered what part of the scene she liked more—the visual of the sun slowly sinking toward the blue horizon or the charming little table full of picnic food. But either way, the look on her face told him he’d hit the ball out of the park.

As he guided her over to the small table set on the colorful beach blanket surrounded by throw pillows, he took in the trays of meat, cheese, and fresh fruit, as well as the covered tray of bite-sized pieces of cheesecake and brownies.

The red-haired woman waiting for them smiled. “You’re right on time! We just finished setting up your picnic and the sun won’t be going down for about an hour, so you two will have plenty of time to talk. Enjoy!”

Before Sam had a chance to thank the woman from the picnic company, she and her assistant were off, both smiling at the look on Poppy’s face. They probably got that a lot. When it came to romantic gestures, picnics on a cliff overlooking the ocean had to be at the top of the list.

Poppy looked at him, her face incredulous. “How did you set all this up so fast? Not that I’m complaining, of course, but you know you didn’t have to do anything this expensive for a first date, right?”

Sam tried to figure out if he should take a seat across from her so he could look at her, or beside her so they could both have a view of the ocean. The decision was ultimately taken out of his hands when Poppy sat down facing the water and immediately motioned for him to sit beside her.

“I know, but I wanted to do something special—and different,” he said as he joined her. “The picnic company handled everything, including the permit to set up in the park, and it wasn’t all that expensive. Even if it was, I still would have done it. You’re worth it.”

The smile Poppy gave him made Sam want to pump his fist in the air and shout SCORE! but he controlled himself. He had to keep his cool, calm exterior. So instead, he flipped open the cooler beside him and took out the small cans of flavored sparkling water. He didn’t normally drink the stuff, but that’s what came with the meal, so he’d make do.

“To first dates,” he said after filling the fancy copper cups and offering his up in a toast. “And hopefully many more to come.”

She clinked her cup against his, then took a sip. Sam wasn’t sure how long he sat there mesmerized by her beautiful pursed lips before he forced himself to take a drink.

“How was work today?” she asked as they added meat, cheese, fruit, and crackers to their wooden plates. “You mentioned last night that you had to be in stupid-early this morning.”

Sam chuckled at the memory, wishing he hadn’t needed to say those words because he’d wanted more than anything to spend time with her. But unfortunately, duty really had been calling.

“It wasn’t too bad,” he said. “They had us in early for PT—physical training—followed by hours of equipment maintenance and cleaning. That’s what you do in the Navy when the people in charge don’t have anything better for you to do. Even with the gloves I was wearing, it still took forever to get the smell of solvent out of my skin.”

Of course, Sam didn’t mention that the reason they had nothing to do was because they were all waiting around to hear about the outcome of that surveillance op in Indonesia. It had been days since that mission and there hadn’t been a peep out of the CIA. In theory, they were supposed to get a briefing about it tomorrow morning, but he’d believe that when it happened.

Sam also didn’t tell her that the equipment he and his Teammates spent the day cleaning were carbines and submachine guns. That would have tipped Poppy off that he was something much different than a machinist mate. He hated lying, but he’d created this fake role and now he had to play it—or lose any chance with Poppy.

“How about you?” he asked, biting into some kind of spicy meat that he couldn’t name, but still liked all the same. “What’s the day-to-day life of a math professor at San Diego Mesa College like?”

Poppy had mentioned where she worked last night over pizza, along with a few details on her teaching credentials. He’d been fascinated to hear that she had her doctorate, but at that moment she seemed surprised he remembered where she taught.

“What?” He grinned. “You didn’t think I’d remember?”

She shrugged, nibbling on a piece of cheese. “Actually, yeah. Most of the guys I’ve dated weren’t particularly interested in what I taught, much less where. But to answer your question, today was pretty standard. I didn’t have any classes to teach, but did look over a few papers. The rest of the time I was buried in a research project I’m involved in. It was interesting, but dry.”

At they ate, they chatted for a while about their respective days. Sam got the feeling that teaching was a relatively small part of what she did on a regular basis. He guessed that came with the doctorate degree. He’d heard professors at that level had to constantly do research and publish papers to maintain their standing in their field.

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