**NOTE: Protecting Remi is an expanded version of a story I wrote for a fun little project. I wrote Finding Peyton for an author friend's reader group on Facebook. I decided I liked the story so much I wanted to expand it into a full length novel. I changed the names of the main characters and here we are! So if this first chapter sounds familiar, you have NOT already read this story, but you might've read the short story. Trust me...this book is FULLY expanded. (For example, this chapter is 2,700 words long, and the entire short story was only 10,000 words long.) Protecting Remi is almost 90,000 words long. So a LOT more happens. Enjoy! 


Chapter One


“You’re going without me?”

Remi Stephenson refrained from rolling her eyes. Barely. “Miles, we broke up. Of course I’m going without you.”

“But we planned this trip to Hawaii together,” her ex-boyfriend whined.

Remi wondered if he’d always been this annoying and she’d just refused to see it. She mentally shook her head. Of course he’d always been like this. Hadn’t her best friend, Marley, tried to tell her time and time again that Miles was a jerk?

She’d broken up with Miles just over a week ago, after he’d stood her up for what seemed like the hundredth time, and this time he’d messed up so badly, she couldn’t overlook or excuse his asshole-ness. He’d accidentally sent her a text that was meant for the woman he’d been sleeping with behind her back.

 

Miles: Remi doesn’t suspect anything. I told her I was coming down with the flu. So we’ve got at least the next few days to be together before I need to see her again. Can’t wait to be with you, baby. Wear that red dress I like so much and I’ll see you in thirty minutes or so.

 

Remi supposed she should be more upset or angry that her boyfriend had been cheating on her, but honestly, she was simply relieved. He wasn’t a very nice man, even though she’d made excuses for him time and time again. Now she was done being nice.

“Did you hear me?” Miles bitched once more. “We planned this trip together. Everything from the hotel to the things we wanted to do.”

“Wrong,” Remi told him with a frown. “I planned this trip. By myself. The only thing you cared about was which hotel we were staying in and making sure I made reservations at the most expensive restaurants in the city.”

“That’s not true.”

Remi was done. “Why are you even here, Miles?” she asked. When someone knocked on her door earlier, she’d expected it to be Marley. Her friend was coming over so they could hang out. They’d planned on watching a movie and chilling on her couch, something they hadn’t done in a long while. Marley had a busy life with her husband and two kids, and Remi had put all her energy into trying to make the relationship with Miles work, something she was definitely regretting.

But instead of seeing her friend, she found Miles standing at her door…and now she was done listening to him whine.

“I’m here because I know I messed up. I want to be with you.”

Remi did roll her eyes then. She was thirty-five. Way too old to buy his crap. “No, you don’t. Maybe you did when we first started dating a year and a half ago. But now you want to be with the stripper you were cheating on me with. Oh—and you want my money. You want to do what you want, when you want, and screw anyone’s feelings you stomp on along the way.”

Miles stood taller. Remi hadn’t invited him to sit. Hadn’t really invited him inside her condo, he’d just pushed past her when she’d opened the door.

“You’re such a bitch,” he told her in a harsh tone.

Remi couldn’t help it. She laughed.

Miles took a step toward her. “You think this is funny? And if you’re not taking me, I want half the damn money for this trip!” he demanded.

That made her smile die. “No. This is definitely not funny. You have some nerve coming over here to bitch about me going to Hawaii without you. Miles, you cheated on me. With a damn stripper. It’s so cliché it’s ridiculous. I’m going to Hawaii without you. I’m going to go snorkeling, to the zoo, hike to the top of Diamond Head, eat hula pie at Duke’s, watch the surfers on Waikiki, go to the North Shore and eat dinner from a food truck, get lost in the pineapple maze at the Dole Plantation, and flirt with hot strangers at the hotel bar every night while I sip on some fruity alcoholic drink.”

That last bit was a stretch, as Remi wasn’t the flirting type. She was an introvert and wouldn’t even know what to say to an attractive stranger. But she was on a roll, so she pushed that thought aside. “And why shouldn’t I go on this trip? I paid for it! The airline tickets, the hotel, the excursions, all of it—you paid nothing, so you get nothing. I’m going enjoy myself for once, without having to worry about trying to please you.”

“You’ve never worried about that,” he barked, his face red with anger.

Remi didn’t understand where his ire was coming from. The Miles she knew was fairly laid-back. But then again, she’d always done everything he’d ever wanted, so why shouldn’t he have been that way?

“You’re a bitch,” Miles repeated. “An ugly, fat bitch! All you want to do is sit around the house and draw your stupid cartoon. You were lucky to have me as a boyfriend. I did you a favor.”

“A favor?” Remi asked incredulously.

“Yes. You’re a fucking nerd. Pathetic. You have no friends except for that bitch, Marley, and you suck in bed. You have no life whatsoever. I was trying to help you change for the better, but instead of wanting to go out to have some fun, or learning how to suck cock like a real woman, all you ever want to do is stay here. You’re boring, Remi. You’re going to end up like one of those disgusting cat women…old, obese, smelly because your house is overrun with twenty cats, and content to sit on your couch and read or draw those fucked-up cartoons of yours.”

First of all, Remi thought what he’d described sounded pretty good. Reading and drawing while surrounded by cats? Sign her up.

But second of all…what an asshole.

“Get out,” she told Miles, pointing at the door.

“I’m not done,” he told her pompously.

“Yes, you are,” she countered.

“What are you gonna do? You gonna make me leave?” he asked with a mean scowl, crossing his arms over his chest.

For the first time, Remi felt a small niggling of unease. She’d never been afraid of Miles. But right now, he was kind of scaring her.

“That’s what I thought. You can’t do shit.”

Remi stared at her ex for a beat, before turning her back on him and heading for the short hallway that led to her small one-car garage.

“Where are you going? I’m not done talking to you,” Miles called out. “Wait—stop! Don’t, Remi.”

Too late. Remi had already pressed the panic button on the security system.

“Fuck! Why’d you do that?” Miles asked, back to whining once more.

“I told you to leave. Did you think I was going to be one of those too-stupid-to-live women in the movies you love to watch, who stand around doing nothing while their ex-boyfriends put their hands on them? No way. Leave, Miles. I don’t ever want to see you again. I don’t want to talk to you again. I don’t give a shit if you get some sort of sexually transmitted disease and your dick falls off.”

“Nice, Remi.”

“I am being nice,” she countered.

They stood staring at each other for a moment before Remi’s phone started ringing in the other room.

“That’s the security company wanting to know if everything’s all right,” she told him. “And when I don’t answer, they’ll tell the cops to step on it and they’re going to be here in minutes. Get out.”

Remi held her breath. The truth was, her heart was beating a mile a minute and her hands felt clammy. She didn’t like confrontations, but she wasn’t about to back down from Miles.

“Fuck you!” Miles spat. “Fine, go to Hawaii alone. I hope it sucks. I hope your room has bedbugs, the food is terrible, and you get left in the middle of the fucking ocean while you’re on that stupid snorkeling trip you insisted on booking even though you know I get seasick.”

Remi didn’t reply. She simply stood at the security panel and stared at the man she’d thought was so mild mannered…and too enamored of her family’s money to dare speak to her the way he was right now.

He took a step toward her—to do what, she had no idea—but stopped when the sound of sirens was finally audible. His fists were clenched tight and he stared at her for another beat.

“What the hell is going on?”

Every muscle in Remi’s body relaxed.

Marley. Her best friend was kick-ass. She was everything Remi wasn’t. And her showing up right when she needed her seemed like a freaking miracle.

“Miles was just leaving. Right?” Remi told her ex.

“Bitch,” Miles muttered yet again—the insult was getting old—before turning and heading for the front door. His shoulder brushed against Marley’s as he passed, knocking her back a step. But her best friend didn’t shrink away from him, just stood taller, her feet braced as she glared at Miles, who wrenched open the front door and slammed it behind him.

Remi sagged against the wall. She couldn’t believe that had just happened. Then the ringing of her phone registered and she hurried into her living area to grab it. She answered and breathlessly told the woman from the security company her code word and explained what happened. It was too late to call the police and have them stand down, which was all right with Remi. She’d make sure the officers who responded made a note of what happened with her ex, just in case.

 

* * *

 

An hour later, Remi was finally on her couch with a glass of wine in her hand, her best friend sitting right next to her, hovering in concern.

“I can’t believe he had the nerve to say all that shit,” Marley said with a frown.

Remi had told the cops everything, and of course, Marley had heard it all at the same time. The police had taken notes, told her to make sure her doors were locked and the security system on, and had left.

“I know, right? I mean, like Miles really thought telling me I was going to become a cat lady was an insult,” Remi said, attempting to lighten the mood.

Marley shook her head. “He’s dead to us,” she declared dramatically. “His name is never to cross our lips again. From here on out, his name is Douchecanoe.”

Remi laughed. More accurately, she snort-laughed. Marley was obviously influenced by her twelve-year-old daughter, who was currently in the running for the Drama-Queen-of-the-World crown.

Marley’s lips twitched as she fought a smile. “I mean it,” she told Remi.

“And I heard you. Henceforth, Douchecanoe is forgotten.”

“Good.” Marley reached for her hand. “Are you sure you’re okay? That whole scene sounded like it was intense.”

“It didn’t start that way. Douchecanoe was here to beg me to come back to him. Or honestly, beg me to take him to Hawaii. And I think he thought it would be easy. He never really liked me, Marl, it was about my money. It’s always about that.”

“There’s someone out there for you. A guy who’ll see you for who you are. An amazing, talented, beautiful, sensual woman.”

Remi sighed. She loved her friend for being supportive, but she knew what she was and what she wasn’t. Douchecanoe wasn’t exactly wrong. She was a nerd. She had too many pounds on her frame and was definitely much more content to hang out in her condo, drawing her latest cartoon, than going out and being seen. But the thing was…she was all right with that. She didn’t wish she was taller, thinner, prettier, or more social. She liked her life. She just wished she had someone to share it with.

“I know,” she said belatedly.

Her best friend, knowing her as well as anyone ever had, didn’t challenge Remi on her less-than-exuberant-response. Instead, she changed the subject. “So…you’re really going to Hawaii by yourself?”

Remi sat up straighter and nodded. “I am. I was still waffling on going before tonight, but now I’m definitely going.”

“Good for you. I wish I could go with you,” Marley said a little sadly.

“I know. But you have too much going on here. We’ll get our girls’ trip some other time.”

“I’m holding you to that. I’m so proud of you, Remi. Just promise me you won’t sit in your hotel room the whole time. That you’ll actually go out and do all those things you’ve booked.”

“I will. I mean, I’m sure there will be some sitting in my room. I did pay for that kick-ass corner room with the ocean view, after all. Have to get my money’s worth out of it. But I want to explore. I want to see the North Shore, and get a Dole Whip, and taste this hula pie everyone always talks about. And I want to go snorkeling. I’ve heard the turtles are everywhere in Hawaii. I want to see one in the wild.”

“You better take a ton of pictures,” Marley warned.

“You know it.”

“And send them to me,” her best friend went on. “I’m gonna need proof of life every day from you or I’ll be calling the cops to storm into your room to make sure you’re all right.”

Remi snort-laughed again. Lord, she was such a dork. She wished she had a cute laugh, but thankfully Marley didn’t care that she had such a weird laugh. “You would, too, wouldn’t you?”

“Of course. I love you, Remi. Who else has always been there for me?”

Surprisingly, tears came to her eyes. The truth was, Marley had always been there for Remi, not the other way around. From the outside looking in, Remi had it all. Her parents were loaded, she lived in a nice condo, had a closetful of designer clothes…but outside of Marley, she had no other friends. She’d been lonely for as long as she could remember.

She’d always been eccentric, even as a child. She loved to draw and doodle, did so anytime she could, preferring to do that over playing outside with her classmates. The other kids didn’t understand her, and since she was different from them, they found she was an easy target for making fun of.

Marley had smashed through all her shields and basically informed her in the third grade that they were going to be best friends, and that was that.

“Don’t cry!” Marley insisted. “If you start, you’ll make me lose it, and you know I’m not a pretty crier!”

That was true. Marley might be beautiful and petite, with gorgeous, thick red hair and green eyes that looked like the water in the Caribbean, but when she cried, her face got red and blotchy, her eyes bloodshot, and she looked like a hot mess.

“Right, so what movie are we watching?” Remi asked as she wiped the tears from her eyes.

“Legally Blonde, definitely! I love watching what’s-his-name get what’s coming to him!” Marley exclaimed.

Remi smiled. She wasn’t surprised that was the movie her friend chose. Truth be told, it was one of Remi’s favorites too. And she needed to watch something where the ex-boyfriend lost in the end.

Picking up the remote, she clicked on the streaming app that had the movie and brought it up.

Marley leaned into Remi as the movie started and said softly, “It’s Douchecanoe’s loss. He might not know it now, but he fucked up and lost the best thing that’s ever happened to him. You’re gonna find the right person for you, Remi. I know it.”

Remi nodded, but she wasn’t so sure. She felt the clock ticking away. She wasn’t getting any younger, and so far, she hadn’t found a man who could look past her family’s money and her introverted exterior to the woman underneath. She was more than ready to love someone, but she simply hadn’t found a man who liked her exactly as she was.

Forcing the depressing thoughts from her mind, she took a sip of wine and settled in to watch Elle Woods kick some lawyer butt.

New York Times Bestselling Author

Protecting Remi

July 2, 2024

The start of a brand-new series featuring Navy SEALs who will do whatever it takes to keep their women safe.

When introverted cartoonist Remi Stephenson dumps her cheating ex and goes on their Hawaiian vacation solo, even her creative mind can’t imagine being purposely stranded in the ocean…with a handsome, muscular, brave Navy SEAL. Even more unbelievable is the spark between them. Surely this is just rebound hormones. Right? Because who finds their soul mate in the middle of a life-or-death situation? And what would a SEAL want with a curvy, nerdy artist, anyway? Of course, none of those doubts stop Remi and Vincent from making plans to get together back in California, even before they’re rescued.

When Vincent “Kevlar” Hill gets dumped by his ex because she can’t handle the demands of his job, he cuts his losses and heads out on the Hawaiian holiday she planned with his money. He has zero interest in a vacation fling…but tell that to his brain and body when he finds himself bobbing in the middle of the Pacific, sans boat, miles from shore, with the most intriguing woman he’s ever met. They’ve both been burned, and Kevlar has no proof Remi can handle his career any better than his ex, but after her calm courage in the face of being stranded, he’s willing to take the risk.

Remi and Kevlar’s attraction runs hot, even as they try to take things slow, but they can’t forget that someone arranged for them to be left in that ocean. Maybe it was one of their exes, looking for a little payback. Or maybe it was an unknown enemy, looking for something a little more permanent…and determined to finish the job.

**Protecting Remi is the first book in the SEAL of Protection: Alliance Series. Each book is a stand-alone, with no cliffhanger endings.