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A Prince Among Men: Red Hot & Blue, #5

A Prince Among Men: Red Hot & Blue, #5

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A Prince Among Men: Red Hot & Blue, #5

4.5/5 (3 évaluations)
209 pages
3 heures
Mar 9, 2018


Sergeant Ryan Pettit blogs anonymously as Groundpounder, recording a deployment where every day feels exactly the same—until a female reporter shows up at his firebase and he realizes nothing will ever be the same again.


His orders are clear—protect her, but make her life so miserable she high tails it back to London—but the last thing he wants is to watch her leave in a cloud of Afghanistan dust.


THE RED HOT & BLUE SERIES: Red Blooded, A Few Good Men, BB Dalton, Model Soldier, A Prince Among Men, Smalltown Heat, True Blue, Red Hot & Blue Collection: Complete Series

Mar 9, 2018

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New York Times & USA Today bestselling contemporary romance author Cat Johnson. Sign up at catjohnson.net/news to get new release and sale alerts.

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A Prince Among Men - Cat Johnson



Afghanistan, Early 2008

Sergeant of the Guard. The title sounded really impressive, unless you knew what it meant—twenty-four straight hours of guard duty.

What bastion of military intelligence thought that would be a good idea? Certainly not the Army infantrymen who had to endure it. Of that, Sergeant Ryan Pettit was certain.

His being sure of anything at all was pretty amazing, because after one long shift of guard duty, gallons of coffee and no sleep, he wasn’t clear on much.

There was something else Ryan thought pretty much a certainty. Though going to bed would be welcome about now, his mind was definitely too wound up and caffeinated to sleep. No matter how worn down his body felt as he finally made his way to his quarters, he doubted sleep would come easily.

An unwelcome, bright orange ball on the horizon had Ryan squinting against the glare during the walk to his room. He almost didn’t recognize it as the sun, it had been so long since he’d seen it shine over his little corner of Afghanistan.

At least it had stopped raining for a few minutes. But the fact that the sun was up and shining was in direct contradiction with his plans to go to bed. It would do nothing to help convince his weary but over-stimulated body and mind it was time to go to sleep.

Oh, well. It wasn’t the first time he’d been exhausted this tour of duty, nor would it be the last. With an air of acceptance of that unavoidable reality, Ryan absently reached for the handle of his door.

Home, sweet home, at least for now.

Once inside the cozy—a nice way of saying laughably tiny—mud hut, he looked around. Ryan shared his lodging with his squad leader, Staff Sergeant David Hawkins, but Hawk wasn’t here.

It took only one quick glance to confirm to Ryan he was alone. That wasn’t a surprise. If there were a job to do, Hawk would be out there doing it, even at the crack of dawn. If possible, the man spent less time sleeping than Ryan did, and that was saying something.

Since it was doubtful he could fall right to sleep anyway, he decided to take advantage of the privacy and this rare opportunity to update his oft-neglected blog.

Ryan sat and flipped open the lid of his laptop.

Hawk was a good roommate and a good leader, but he also didn’t get the whole World-Wide-Web thing.

If Hawk didn’t have the incentive of emailing his cutie girlfriend Emily back in the States, Ryan doubted his leader would have any recreational use for cyberspace at all. Hawk was a hands-on kind of guy, but he didn’t consider putting hands on a computer keyboard part of that credo.

He definitely didn’t understand that Ryan often gave up sleep to write his own military blog.

Ryan found it was simply easier to avoid Hawk seeing him doing it whenever possible rather than debate the point and listen to Hawk’s stubborn opinion about it.

Maybe it was stupid, but Ryan wasn’t going to ask for any more razzing than he already got from his leader. Why look for trouble? That was Ryan’s credo, and to date it had served him well.

Meanwhile, even though he didn’t get to it as often as he liked, Ryan’s blog had gained quite a following, judging by the number of hits and comments it got.

One woman, screen name Vicki V, had commented on every post for the last month, telling him how beautiful his writing was. Ryan got a secret thrill from hearing compliments like that.

All right, truth be told, Vicki V’s compliments were not the only thing that sent a thrill through him. He and Vicki, whoever and wherever she may be, had gotten kind of flirty with each other lately. That was another reason he’d often log in rather than hit his rack.

Their entire correspondence so far had been conducted in public blog comments, which meant they had to get creative to keep things PG on the surface. Even so, the undercurrents in their messages hinted toward something more. Ryan found the public but kind of sexual nature of their relationship hugely entertaining. That probably just proved he’d gone far too long without having a woman.

A yearlong deployment with no chance of sex led a man to do strange things. Blog flirting being one of them, he supposed. He tried to ignore the disturbing thought that he knew nothing at all about Vicki.

Hell, she could just as easily be a man with a woman’s screen name as she could be someone’s ninety-year-old grandmother.

He pushed those unpleasant theories aside.

No use squashing the illusions he’d created about Vicki since the chance of his ever meeting her was slim to none. He’d rather continue to think of her as smart and sexy and with very good taste in milblogs.

After throwing one last furtive glance over his shoulder to look out the window and confirm Hawk wasn’t on his way back to the hut, Ryan set fingers to keyboard.

He logged into his blog account using what he thought was his very clever screen name Groundpounder. After all, that’s what he was in the Army infantry—a groundpounder and proud of it.

Waiting for him on his latest post, just as he’d hoped, was a new comment from Vicki V.

Ryan grinned. She never let him down. If only his real girlfriend back in Germany was as reliable as Vicki.

Though to be fair, Gretchen was not exactly his girlfriend. Theirs was a complicated relationship. More of a friendship of convenience kind of thing leftover from when he was at Hohenfels—friends with benefits to be exact.

Dismissing thoughts of Gretchen for the time being, Ryan leaned forward to devour each and every new word from Vicki.


You never disappoint. Again, I say bravo. Your words sent a shiver straight through me, culminating in an ending that left me breathless. My only complaint, you don’t do it often enough.

Looking forward to the next time you come (back to the blog, that is).


Ryan blew out a long, slow breath and leaned back. Damn, he was starting to get hard just from reading her words and the subtle double entendres within them.

The next time you come . . .

Tired or not, after that Ryan had a feeling he would be coming in the naughty sense of the word next time he was in the shower.

Drawing in a deep, steadying breath, Ryan leaned forward again and hit Reply.

Dearest Vicki V,

Once again, your compliments never fail to inspire this humble soldier to do exactly as you wish. I will do my best to come far more often, starting today.

Your servant,


Fueled with new inspiration, Ryan ignored his hard-on for the present and began typing his next post.

When I left you with my last blog post titled Cheeseburger in Paradise— Not, I believe I was complaining about eating meatloaf patty for nearly every day of the week. Thanks to a welcome care package from a troop support site last mail call, we now have ketchup, hot sauce, grated Parmesan cheese and ranch dressing with which to disguise said meat patty and make it a bit more palatable. But never fear, I have something new to complain about: the weather.

Oh, yeah, have we got weather. Everyone here thought freezing temperatures were a bad thing. But just when I assumed it couldn’t get any worse than winter in Afghanistan, with the waist-deep snow, the midnight frigid treks to the pee-tubes when nature chooses to call at the most inopportune times, or the challenges presented us by frozen toothpaste and water bottles, it hit—Afghani Spring. Hey, that might make a good song title.

Anyway, it’s been rainy here. Pouring rain mixed with hail at times, and it has been like that for days, barely letting up for a moment, and definitely not for long enough to dry out the paths or the mud huts we live in. Everything is absolutely saturated, my last pair of clean socks included.

My base is at such a high elevation that most times it seems we are in the middle of the storm itself, almost walking in the clouds. Real fun when lightning strikes, especially when one happens to be using the above-mentioned pee-tubes at the time. Can you say lightning rod? Yikes!

The good news is that with the coming of spring, the snow has mostly dissipated and there is only a bit of powder still on the higher peaks. The bad news is that when warmer weather arrives so does the wildlife—snakes, scorpions, lizards and spiders—and also unfortunately, so do the local bad guys. Enemy contact has increased substantially, to put it mildly.

I often have the feeling of being watched. It is becoming a familiar sensation—the tingle at the back of my neck. It’s usually followed by a pop, then the whoosh and bright trail across the night sky of a rocket-propelled grenade. It’s inevitable, I guess. After all, you can’t swim in shark-infested waters and expect the bloodthirsty predators to just stare at you. To paraphrase the great bard, Jimmy Buffet, there are bad guys to the left and bad guys to the right and we’re the only bait in town.

Ryan leaned back in his chair and reread what he’d written. He was about to launch into the news that a new group of British soldiers had recently arrived to join the US, Afghan and Romanian Army troops already occupying the forward operating base when he heard a muffled shout cut through the air.

The hair on the back of Ryan’s neck stood on end.

He grabbed his weapon with one hand and his helmet with the other. Luckily, he’d never gotten around to removing his body armor, so he saved a bit of time there and was outside running toward the unknown situation in seconds.

Ryan saw one of the guys in his squad, Sergeant Trent Wallace. Wally staggered forward, looking dazed as he came out of the base’s operations center.

While standing in the drizzling rain, which had begun to fall again, Wally reached up and brushed what appeared to be large hunks of dirt from the top of his head.

When he got closer, Ryan watched as his teammate touched his hair again and then inspected his hands, as if he were checking for blood.

Wally, are you okay? What the hell happened?

Wally barely had time to point to the structure next to him when Ryan heard a loud groaning noise. He stood, wide-eyed and unbelieving, as the building shifted ever so slowly to one side.

The operations center was just a fancy name for the mud room containing radios and maps, but as crappy as it was, it would still be really bad if it fell down. That’s exactly what seemed to be happening.

Holy shit, that building’s gonna go. Ryan’s words brought the speechless Wally to his senses. He leapt farther away from the hut.

Ryan’s gaze shifted to the other section of the building—the attached living quarters.

Losing the equipment in the operations center under a ton of mud was one thing, but losing the men still sleeping in the attached living quarters was quite another. As Ryan watched helplessly, it appeared inevitable that both sections of the mud hut were going to collapse.

A dozen men were about to be buried.

He’d already taken a step forward to warn the Joes, who were most likely all still sleeping inside at this hour, when Hawk appeared from out of the hazy dawn.

Get those men out of that building. Now! Ryan’s squad leader was shouting as he ran.

Since he’d been about to do exactly that, Ryan was the closest and fastest to respond. Wally still looked dazed. He wouldn’t be much help, so Ryan sprinted through the door of the mud hut, shouting a warning for the troops to get out.

As soon as he cleared the doorway, he felt the plywood floor shift under his feet, but it was the walls visibly quivering that held his attention. That was until he dared to raise his gaze to the ceiling and check to see if it was still holding up.

Amazingly, he didn’t see sky yet. Taking that as a good sign, Ryan continued to yell at the recently sleeping but now very wide-awake soldiers.

Those in the top bunks leapt down half-dressed. Instinct kicked in as every one of them grabbed for body armor and weapons first.

It wasn’t until they were suited up that they tried to load their arms with the things most important to each of them—family photos, laptops, whatever was in reach and could be easily carried.

Aware of the others around him doing the same, Ryan tried to help by gathering what he was able.

Everyone dumped what they could carry outside where it would be clear of danger from the collapse, each man running back in for more.

By his second trip inside, Ryan realized it was only a matter of seconds before it would all come crashing down.

Having been stationed in California during one point in his career, Ryan had once had the dubious privilege of experiencing an earthquake firsthand. That was the only thing he could compare this to.

From just inside the doorway, he watched the surreal scene unfold as a large part of the rain-saturated ceiling finally gave way and came crashing in on them. At the same time, the walls began to buckle before his eyes.

One soldier reached for his laptop and spent precious time struggling to get it unplugged from the extension cord running beneath the bunk.

Ryan grabbed him by the arm. Bender, you gotta get out now! These walls are starting to go.

Bender glanced up, his eyes widening as he saw what Ryan said was true.

There was no more time. Ryan dove out the door, headfirst. Bender, carrying his laptop but without its now abandoned power cord, followed.

They were barely able to leap clear before everything mere feet behind them collapsed with a roaring rumble. Huge logs and sections of rock-hard, water-soaked ceiling came tumbling down.

Lying in the mud, Ryan watched in amazement.

Holy fucking shit, Wally burst out with an uncharacteristically foul curse. Damn. This all started with some dirt hitting me in the head. Now look at it.

Hoisting himself out of the muck, Ryan ignored the sorry state of his mud-covered cammies and blinked the rainwater out of his eyes.

He shook his head as he took in the devastation. That was too damn close.

You can say that again, Hawk agreed.

What now? Ryan glanced at his squad leader.

Hawk sighed and looked at the assembled group of shell-shocked soldiers and their scattered belongings littering the wet ground. "I’m gonna have to go and break the bad news to

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