By: Melissa Schroeder

The thought had his brain almost shutting down. From the time he’d been medevac’d out, he had been out of it. Even thinking about Shannon hurt. He had thought that there was a good chance he couldn’t be the man for her anymore. He knew he couldn’t. Right now, he was desperately trying not to imagine her tied to his bed as he pleasured her.

“Of course I’m making fun of your cooking. It sucks,” Mal said, agreeable.

“No pancakes for you,” she admonished, but she smiled when she said it.

“Okay, I take that back. Everything Shannon makes sucks, except for her pancakes.”

Deke smiled at her. “Cooking isn’t that important when a woman can look as beautiful as you do in a pair of sweats.”

Shannon laughed and placed her hand on Deke’s shoulder in a friendly gesture. Something rumbled in his chest at the sight. She glanced at him, her eyes widening a bit.

“I see y’all definitely left me nothing to eat.”

“You don’t eat this late,” Mal said. “Does she, Kade?”

He was still irritated that her hand was on Chief’s shoulder. The contact was far from intimate, but it was driving Kade insane.

“So she claims.”

She glanced at him again, her brows now furrowed. But she said nothing to defy his suggestive tone.

“I ate something earlier, before you got here. I would have been home if you would have told me you were bringing guests.”

“I had to drag these two along.”

She shook her head and went to get herself some water. “What kind of Seal needs to be forced to come to New Orleans? You boys need to have your heads checked out.”

“If I had known you would be waiting here, I would have offered to drive,” Deke said.

She laughed. It was that sexy little flirty laugh he loved. And she was doing it for some guy. Some other guy, who was looking at her like he had a chance at her. Dammit, didn’t Chief know not to take advantage of Shannon? She was his.

He pulled back from that thought. She wasn’t his. Never would be again.

Fuck, he needed some rest.

“I think I better get some sleep.”

“Do you need anything?” Shannon asked. Her tone was normal, but there was a hint of something else there. He looked over at her, but he couldn’t decide if it was wishful thinking.

“No, just some sleep. It was a long drive from Virginia.”

She nodded in understanding.

“This old man needs some sleep if he’s going to see any of New Orleans tomorrow. Been a while since I’ve been here,” Deke said.

“If you need someone to show you around, let me know. I scheduled myself off the rest of the week to spend time with Mal. I’m sure he will get sick of me within six hours,” Shannon said.

Deke smiled at her. “Thanks.”

Kade and Deke made their way to their rooms. The guest room was right by the stairs, and Deke stopped him there.

“You don’t have a problem if I ask Shannon out while I’m here, do you?”

He wanted to tell him to stay the hell away from Shannon. He wasn’t her type. He was too old. And she was his.

But that wasn’t true. None of it.

“No problem, mate.”

He turned and walked into his room, thinking that for the first time in a week, he would be taking the hard meds.

• • • • •

“You want to tell me why you brought this motley crew to my house without warning?”

Mal shook his head. “I didn’t want to say I was bringing them if I couldn’t convince them. Both of them just wanted to spend the week sitting around their quarters. I thought it wasn’t a good idea.”

“That bad?”

He nodded. “Actually, probably worse. We lost Forrester.”

The name brought to mind the young kid that had spent his honeymoon in New Orleans just a year earlier. “Oh, shit.”

“Yeah, Amanda is kind of a wreck.”

“I can imagine. How are you doing?”

“You can see that my beautiful face is just fine.”

She took his hand and tugged on it. “No. I want to know if you are doing okay.”

For once, Mal’s expression turned serious. “Yeah. A few dreams here and there, but no depression. Seriously, I was knocked unconscious and missed the worst of it.”

“I take it Deke and Kade didn’t? They looked a little roughed up.”

“They look amazing compared to what they looked like a few weeks ago. Kade especially. I understand we almost lost him. He was trying to save Forrester.”

Her heart jumped into her throat. “Do Kade’s folks know?”

“Probably not. He’s shut down. He was quiet before, but now he’s damned creepy.”

“Mal,” she admonished. “That’s no way to talk about your best friend.”

“Yeah, I know. But it’s the truth. You saw. He barely talks now. It’s like he’s not there. I thought you might be able to help out.”

She studied her brother’s eyes. “Like how?”

“He’s always had a crush on you. You have to know that.”


“Well, he always seems so...relaxed around you. He talks to you more than he talks to any woman I’ve seen him with.”

She dropped his hands. “So you want to act as my pimp?”

He rolled his eyes. “Good God, no. I might have to bleach my brain to get that image out of there.”

“Why don’t you explain what you want from me, Mal?”

“He talks to you. If you could get him to listen, to come back to life, that would be fantastic.”

“So a miracle?”

He chuckled. “No, just a sounding board. Not sure if it will work, but I thought maybe you would bring him out of his shell.”

“I’ll try.”

“That’s all I ask, sis.” He leaned forward and gave her a kiss. “I’m going to go to bed. You need help with the dishes?”

Normally, she would force him to do all the cleaning up. Looking at him though, she saw the dark circles under his eyes and the fatigue weighing him down. He was worried about his friends, and the stress of that and the drive was probably enough to blank any man out, even a Seal.

“Naw, I got it.”

She went through the motions as she listened to him walk up the stairs. She couldn’t let him see just how much that affected her. He knew it hurt for her to hear, but she also knew her brother. He was worried. Very worried. Kade was usually so self-contained, but now that Mal pointed it out, she realized he was right. Kade had shut down. She rinsed off the dishes and put them in her dishwasher as she thought of his behavior.