The tenth installment in the Always a Marine series. It is part of The Challenge Series. A new series from Decadent Publishing.

Combat Barbie

Always a Marine #11
Women in Uniform #1

The high school beauty queen…

The face of baby food, the darling of surfing commercials, and the exotic stunner who walked away with the Miss California title at eighteen, Mary Phillips has heard “you’re so beautiful” from childhood on. Tired of being her mother’s personal Barbie, she traded in her tiara and a lucrative modeling contract for combat boots and life as a Marine. She’s lost good friends and seen more walking wounded than she cares to admit, but this Marine wouldn’t trade her assignment for all the Manolo Blahniks in the world. What does it matter she has no one waiting at home?

The class nerd…

Kyle Stewart heard every variation as he went through school: nerd, geek, four-eyes, weirdo—and he rolled with it. He could count on one hand the number of girls who ever deigned to talk to him about something other than tutoring. But as the only self-made millionaire from his graduating class, he has the last laugh.

A high school reunion…

Despite the invitation, Mary didn’t plan to attend the ten-year reunion. The last thing she wanted to hear was—”you could have been so much, what happened?” But running into Kyle at the local coffee shop reminds her that not everyone judges by appearance. Kyle once swore to rub his former tormentors noses in his success, but when the reunion rolls around, he’s reluctant to go. Seeing Mary again encourages him to confront his one lingering regret, and the millionaire dares to reach for happiness.

Can Combat Barbie and her nerd overcome the past to love another day?

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Read An Excerpt

Combat Barbie

EXCERPT

Blegh, what was I thinking? I should have just gone to see Jazz. Who cares about her honeymoon, she can sex up her hot husbands anytime she wants. Husbands—Stormer snickered. She wasn’t sure which was harder to believe, that the tough gunny got married or that she married two men? Ahead of her the line moved and a tall, lean guy with a thatch of thick black hair brushing his neck and a rumpled look that cried just rolled out of bed stepped to the side and leaned against the counter—clearly to wait for his order.

He glanced back at her and she gave him a quick, polite smile as their gazes collided. She shouldn’t be staring—or judging. Just because the man wore a polo and khakis and looked ready to walk out to the golf course at seven a.m. on a week day didn’t make him a lazy bastard or wealthy dilettante. Hell, she was jogging in an exclusive section the city and about to order a cup of eight dollar coffee just for the thrill of it.

Gaze skating over him again, she found him checking her out. He stared at her hard, the tiniest of frowns wrinkling his brow. Lifting her eyebrows in challenge, she waited for him to look away. But he didn’t. Thumbing her music off, she pulled out the earbuds to ask what the hell his problem was, but it was her turn.

“What can I get you ma’am?” The barista smiled cheerfully.

“Double tall pumpkin spice latte, with extra foam.” She pulled a credit card out of her back pocket and slid it across. Despite having received his drink, her gawker still stood at the counter when she walked around to wait.

And he still stared.

Maybe it was years in the field or maybe it was just her sour mood after the argument with her mother the night before, but she wasn’t in the mood for some stranger undressing her with his eyes. She whistled between her teeth. “My eyes are up here.”

He glanced up and an amused grin curved his lips. “I know. I was trying to see if you had a tattoo.”

“Is that some new form of pick up line?” Damn, she must be rustier than she thought if she didn’t know what the latest was. But then, this was California and her last trip home hadn’t included any kind of dating or introductions. It was a funeral for her grandmother and then back to base she went and off to deployment. She hadn’t spent seventy two hours straight in the state since she enlisted.

“No.” He shook his head and laughed. The barista called out her order and slid the coffee cup over. She claimed it and gave him a half salute.

“Have a good one.” She turned to head out, but rather than accepting the brush off he followed her and grabbed the door.

“Sorry, not trying to go stalker creepy on you, but you remind me of someone I used to know—hence looking for the tattoo.”

The unabashed flirt rolled over her and she tipped her head back. If this guy thought she was an easy mark, she couldn’t wait to disappoint him…still, the longer she stared at him the more familiar he seemed. He wasn’t a Marine. His hair was too long for one and he didn’t carry himself that way. So why did it feel like she recognized him?  “What kind of tattoo?”

“A purple butterfly—it was on her calf, just behind her right ankle—tiny, delicate thing. I used to think it was a fairy, but it wasn’t. Just a butterfly.” He cut himself off, perhaps realizing he’d gone to unnecessary length.

“I used to wear one when I was in high school, but it was a press on. I had hundreds of them. If I’d gotten real ink, my mother would have had a coronary.” High school. “Kyle?”