By: Melissa Schroeder

“Why don’t we go do a little more walking? I need to stop by my bar. I just need to make sure there aren’t any problems.”

“I think I can handle that.”

She nodded. “And maybe we’ll stop at a voodoo store, and I’ll buy something to make you talk.”

“Don’t even think about it. I have a healthy respect for that shit.”

Laughing, she patted his hand.

“If Kade screws this up with you, I want first dibs at a date.”

Amused with him, with the solemn expression on his face, she smiled.

“You’re the first man I’d call.”

• • • • •

“So, how long you in town for?”

Mal smiled at Verna, and Kade tried not to cuss. He really hadn’t wanted to come to the bar, but Mal had insisted, telling him he needed to get out of the house. He knew his friend was right, but it didn’t mean he wanted to sit there with the skanky woman wrapped around Mal like he was a life preserver on the Titanic. And he didn’t want to be in Shannon’s bar.

“We only have a week of leave. So not long. Just needed to get out of Virginia, and I wanted to check on my sister. Has she been seeing anyone?”

Verna shook her head. “That new restaurant owner from down the street has been sniffing around. He’s one of the Augustins. But she shut him down. She told me he was just trying to scope out the competition.”

“Are we talking about Beau? He has always had a thing for her. When we were in high school, he used to follow her around like she was the goddess of New Orleans.”

Verna laughed, and Kade took another quick drink of his water. The woman’s laugh was equal to nails on a chalkboard to him.

“I could see that. She said it wasn’t that, but man he moons over her. Well, speak of the devil.”

He followed the waitress’s line of vision, and his heart did that little skip. The bright yellow dress she wore was made of some kind of flimsy fabric that clung to her generous curves. It dipped low between her breasts and stopped just above her knee. She was laughing at something Deke said, and dammit, he couldn’t help the way the air backed up in his lungs.

“Looks like they had a good time,” Mal said.

Indeed it did. Her face glowed with happiness as she looked up at Deke. He leaned closer and said something to her. She laughed, and although it wasn’t loud, he could hear it. It wrapped around his heart and gave a little tug. She was out having the time of her life with one of his buddies. Meanwhile, he had been stuck with Mal and the waitress from hell. He was drinking the damned water because the lazy woman had yet to get him another beer. She spotted them, and he felt her attention stay on him a moment or two longer than it had on Mal. They walked over to the table.

“I had a feeling y’all would be out. Did you do anything more interesting than entertain Verna?” Shannon asked.

“There isn’t anything more interesting than that,” Mal said, sending the waitress into peals of laughter.

“Verna, you need to get back to work. I have a feeling that both of these Seals need another beer.”

She made a face, but she did it all the same.

Shannon settled in the chair next to her brother. Chief took the chair next to her and acted as if he had a right to sit there. Between them. He shot a look at Kade, but then turned his attention to Shannon.

“Really, Mal, the woman is an idiot,” Shannon said.

“Why do you keep her around, then?” Mal asked as he scooped up another handful of snack mix.

“When you aren’t around, she’s a pretty good waitress, and I don’t have the patience to train someone else right now. She might not be the brightest bulb, but at least I don’t have to work with her anymore.”

“She’s not stupid,” Mal said.

“She went and got a two-for-one tattoo and was amazed that they spelled her name wrong on one of them. Really, who has their name tattooed on their own ass? I’ll tell you, an idiot.”

Deke chuckled. “It isn’t like you couldn’t find another woman in this town. It’s filled with them.”

“Yeah, Deke had a couple of women practically slobbering on him at the voodoo shop. It was embarrassing. I thought they might use a love potion on him.”

She leaned back in her chair, and Deke put his arm over the back of it. Like they were a couple. Fuck. He told himself for the millionth time that he didn’t have a right to get mad, but dammit, Deke wasn’t her boyfriend. He wasn’t anything to her.

“So, I was trying to talk him into a night on Bourbon Street, but he claims he’s an old, tired man,” Shannon said.

“I said I would enjoy a nice, relaxing dinner with you. Not some loud bar with a bunch of tourists,” Deke said.

His flirtatious tone had Kade grinding his teeth. He read the signs. Chief had shifted his chair closer, leaned into her, as if they were on a date. As if he had a right to touch her. Kade felt his temper rising, but he fought it. He was pretty sure Shannon wouldn’t be happy if he embarrassed her by re-breaking Chief’s arm.

“What’s on the agenda tomorrow?” she asked.

“I plan to follow you around like a puppy dog,” Chief said.

Her eyebrows rose slightly, but she didn’t say anything. If the red haze of anger and jealousy hadn’t blinded him, he would have noticed that she was surprised by Chief’s behavior. It was lost on him. All he saw was his friend coming onto the woman he had been in love with for too long. He did the only thing a Seal could do—other than shoot Chief.

Kade stood and walked around the table. Without a word, he grabbed Shannon by the arm and hauled her up.

“That’s enough of that,” he said.

Kade said nothing else as he dragged her out of the bar. She complained all the way, calling him many names in English and Creole. Some he knew, and he was pretty sure he didn’t want to know the others. When they reached the street, he scanned it for her convertible and found it easily. He started to drag her along to it, but she dug in her heels and forced him to stop.

“What in holy hell are you doing?” she asked, loud enough that people passing took notice.

He turned to face her and couldn’t think. Right now, he was so damned aroused and irritated, his brain just would not form words. Besides, she was a sight to behold when she was angry. Her face was flushed. Her green eyes were spitting daggers at him, and dammit, she was breathing heavily. With each breath she took, the delicate flesh rose about the flimsy neckline of her dress.