Authors: Elle Kennedy
This one’s for Jennifer and Lindsey, for making Samhain such an incredible, supportive publisher to write for .
Jackson Ramsey was a man on a mission. He marched into the bar, scanned the room, and once he’d locked in on his target, he moved toward it with military precision. He didn’t pause to smile at a passing waitress, didn’t break his stride to approach the three lovely females waving at him from a nearby booth. He simply strode to the table where his teammates were hunkered down, stole Cash McCoy’s beer right out of his hand and planted his ass in the last empty chair.
“Well,” Cash said dryly. “Looks like Rude Randy is here. Gimme back my beer, asshole.”
Jackson took a long swig before relinquishing the bottle. “Trust me, I need it more than you do right now.”
Across the table, Seth Masterson checked his tactical watch with a frown. “It’s only nine o’clock—I thought you were picking her up at eight. What were you trying to do, set a record for the fastest date on the planet?”
“Honestly, I think that was the longest hour of my life,” he answered with a heavy sigh.
“That bad, huh?” Dylan Wade spoke up.
“That bad,” Jackson confirmed.
The waitress he’d bulldozed past approached the table to take his order, and though he didn’t usually drink anything other than good ol’ fashioned Bud Light, he opted for two shots of whiskey, which caused his three fellow SEALs to raise their eyebrows in surprise.
Seth grinned. “Going for the hard liquor tonight, eh?”
“All right, let’s hear it,” Cash said with a laugh. “What happened on the date?”
Growing up, Jackson had never been much of a talker. The long line of Texan cattle ranchers he’d come from had no doubt programmed a whole lot of
silent, brooding cowboy
into his genetic code, but from the moment he’d met Seth, Cash and Dylan during SEAL training, he’d turned into a dang chatterbox. The boys were so easy to talk to, and he had to admit, it was nice to have confidants he could trust, who didn’t judge him the way everyone back in Abbott Creek did. He’d discovered at a young age that small towns were rife with judgment and disapproval.
“Well, everythin’ was going okay at first,” he told the guys, leaning back in his chair. “I picked her up at her place, we were chattin’ in the truck, she was all dreamy-eyed when I opened every door for her and pulled her chair out in the restaurant.”
“This is the Southern chick we’re talking about, right?” Dylan interjected. “The one you met at Savannah’s shop?”
Jackson nodded, his mind returning to that sunny afternoon when he’d encountered the beautiful Kelly Ann in the flowershop owned by a teammate’s fiancée. The blonde’s Southern drawl had immediately drawn him in, reminding him of back home, but it had been her easygoing smile and earnest demeanor that won him over. He’d asked her out right then and there, and had been looking forward to this date all week.
Another sigh lodged in his chest. “Anyway, we sit down and order. We’re talkin’ about our families, our jobs, the usual shit, but then I ask her about growing up in Georgia and suddenly she tells me she has a confession to make.”
Seth snorted. “What, did you find out she turned tricks in Georgia or something?”
“I doubt it, considering she’s not from Georgia.” He let out a groan. “Turns out she’s never even been to the south. She was faking the accent.”
His buddies hooted.
“So she starts apologizing and going on and on about how she heard my accent when I was talkin’ to Savannah in the shop and how she thought that if she pretended to be Southern it would be a good way to approach me. You know, ’cause we’d have somethin’ in common.”
Dylan’s green eyes twinkled with amusement. “That’s totally nutso, but kinda sweet, if you think about it.”
“Yeah, not the end of the world.” Cash hooked a thumb at their resident smartass. “Masterson faked a Russian accent with that chick from the club a couple years ago, and she still banged him again even after he confessed that he wasn’t Dracula.”
“Dracula wasn’t Russian, dumbass,” Seth said, rolling his eyes.
Cash waved a hand. “Same diff.”
“Don’t worry,” Jackson assured them. “I didn’t abandon ship when she told me.”
Nope, he’d been willing to overlook the teeny little fib because Kelly Ann had been so dang cute. And besides, it really
sweet that she’d gone to such lengths just to meet him.
“Here you go, honey,” Roz the waitress announced, interrupting the discussion by dropping two full shot glasses in front of Jackson. “Enjoy.”
He reached for one of the shots. “Thanks, darlin’.”
As she darted off, Jackson threw his head back and inhaled the first shot, followed immediately by the second. The whiskey slid down his throat in a nice, slow burn and warmed his insides, but it didn’t succeed in vanquishing the frustration gathering in his body.
He promptly picked up where he’d left off. “So our food shows up, things are good again—”
“Did she keep doing the accent?” Seth cut in, chuckling.
“Naah, all traces of the south were gone. Replaced with a northeastern accent. Boston, she says.”
Dylan snickered. “‘She says’?”
Jackson released a glum breath. “We keep chattin’, order some dessert, and then she cuts me off midsentence and says she has another confession to make. Boston accent—poof. It’s gone. She’s actually from North Dakota.”
There was a brief silence, and then all three SEALs burst out laughing.
“And she’s talkin’ in this thick North Dakota accent,” he went on. “Like right out of
Seth started wheezing, slapping a palm on the table as he convulsed with laughter. “Oh sweet baby Jesus, this is awesome.”
Cash wiped a tear from the corner of his eye. “What was the explanation this time?”
“She wanted me to think she was sophisticated.” Jackson pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache coming on. “So I tell her, no biggie, darlin’. First dates can be stressful, people lie, that kind of shit. But apparently she saw this as me giving her permission to own up to everythin’ else, ’cause now she’s tellin’ me she’s not a bank teller like she said—she’s actually a cashier at a grocery store. She’s not twenty-seven, she’s thirty-three. Oh, and her name isn’t Kelly Ann. It’s fuckin’ Susan.”
Followed by another round of gut-busting laughter that ended up bringing a wry smile to Jackson’s lips. Fine, maybe it
a wee bit funny, he had to admit.
But another part of him was distressed as hell. He was twenty-eight years old—he’d always figured he’d be married with a couple of kids by now. Instead, he was still playing the frickin’ field while everyone around him caught the love bug and found the woman of their dreams. Or in Dylan’s case, the woman
He wanted what Seth and Miranda had, dang it. What Cash and Jen had. What Dylan, Claire and Aidan had. Well, minus the Aidan part. He loved Dylan to death, but screwing another dude had never interested Jackson. He just wanted the love part, but it seemed like every woman he went out with was certifiably nuts.
Cash’s voice interrupted his depressing thoughts. “So I’m guessing you’re not going out with her again.”
“Gee, great guess,” Seth cracked. “Sherlock fuckin’ Holmes over here.”
Cash flashed his middle finger at the other man, then turned back to Jackson. “This might actually be a good thing. Jen was just telling me this morning that she thinks she found the perfect woman for you. She wanted me to ask you if it’s okay to give the chick your number.”
Jackson hesitated. He wasn’t crazy about set-ups, but he’d been striking out on his own so much lately that maybe it wouldn’t hurt to be more open-minded.
“I don’t know,” he finally answered.
“Maybe Jen’s friend will be the one,” Dylan said helpfully.
He shrugged, not at all convinced. “Yeah, maybe. But I’m not sure I—”
“Sorry to interrupt again, boys.”
All four of them turned their heads as Roz sauntered to the table with a bottle of Coors in her hand. “You’ve got an admirer,” the forty-something-year-old brunette said with a barely restrained smile.
The remark was directed at Dylan, and she promptly set the beer in front of him. “Compliments of the redhead over there.” Roz nodded her head toward the pool table, where a very pretty woman was eyeing Dylan with a coy smile.
Dylan ran a hand through his short blond hair. “Aw, shit. Tell her I appreciate the gesture but I’ve already got a redhead waiting for me at home. And don’t you dare charge her for the drink, Roz. Put it on my tab, ’kay?”
“You got it, hon.” The older woman strode off in the direction of Dylan’s fan, still grinning to herself.
“Anyway,” Seth said after Roz was gone, “now that we’ve listened to Texas whine about his love life—”
me to tell you,” Jackson cut in, rolling his eyes.
Seth ignored him. “—how about we get back to
problem? You know, the only issue that matters.”
Cash groaned loudly. “For real? We’re
on this? Dude, just get the kids a kitten. It’s not going to kill you.”
“Wait, what are we talkin’ about?” Jackson asked.
Dylan quickly filled him in. “The twins want a pet and they can’t decide if they should get a kitten or a puppy. Smartass wants a dog, and he’s vowed to divorce Miranda if she brings a cat into the house.”
“Cats are dicks,” Seth burst out. “Seriously. They’re fucking dicks. I don’t want a pet that makes me
for their love and devotion. Jesus.”
“But kittens are so damn cute,” Dylan protested.
get one,” Seth grumbled. “Me, I’m a dog guy. Dogs are loyal and smart and they would never fucking eat you if you dropped dead in front of them. But cats? They’d turn you into a meal before your body even got cold. McCoy, back me up here. You love dogs.”
Cash chewed on his lip. “I dunno, man. Dylan makes a good point about the whole cuteness thing.”
Seth scowled. “Oh, for fuck’s sake. You watch
YouTube video and now you’re going against everything you once stood for.”
“That was the most adorable video I’ve ever seen in my life,” Cash said solemnly.
Jackson had to grin. “Shit, you talkin’ about that link Jen emailed everyone? The one where that teeny white kitty was sneezing?”
“Oh man, that was amazing,” Dylan agreed. “Screw it. I’m asking Claire and Aidan for a kitten for my birthday.”
“Traitors,” Seth muttered, jabbing a finger at each of them. “You’re all traitors.”
“Me again.” Roz reappeared, this time carrying a tray of beers. “You boys are popular tonight. This round is from the ladies by the window.”
Jackson followed her gaze and tried not to wince when he spotted the group of blondes across the bar. He knew them well—all four had hit on him and his boys at one point or another, but none of the SEALs had ever taken the bait. When you lived in San Diego, you were bound to run into navy groupies, women who trawled every bar and club in the city in search of military men to hook up with. SEALs were the ultimate catch for navy groupies, but Jackson had no intention of sleeping with a woman who only wanted to brag to her friends that she’d bagged a SEAL.
One of the women in the group boldly took a step forward, only to halt when Seth held up his left hand to flash his wedding ring, which gleamed in the dim glow of the overhead light fixture. Seth waved at the other men to indicate they shared the same status, causing the woman’s face to flood with disappointment.
Roz chuckled. “I guess I’ll be putting these on your tab, too?”
Dylan sighed. “Yup.”
“Was it always like this?” Cash asked after Roz dashed off. “When we were single, I mean?”
“What, women ripping off their panties the second we walked into a place?” Seth said with a grin. “The answer to that is yes.”
“I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with that anymore,” Cash remarked, a thoughtful expression on his face. “Never knowing if a chick wants to hook up because she likes me or because she’s looking to score with a navy man. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have Jen.”