By: Melissa Schroeder

Before she could get too depressed, she heard her brother’s voice booming out from the bar area.

“Where is my gorgeous sister?”

Excitement had her jumping up from the chair and running out to see him. He was drenched, but he had a big smile on his face and his arms open wide. She didn’t hesitate, didn’t think to. The entire family was close, and these last few months had been hard on all of them. She ran to him and jumped into his arms. Tears stung the back of her eyes as he hugged her tight.

“It’s so good to see you,” she said just loud enough for him to hear. Her voice wavered a bit, and she was afraid she just might start crying.

He gave her one last squeeze and then pulled back. Up close, she could see a new scar on his lip.

“Bad assignment?” she asked and was embarrassed that her voice caught.

He nodded. “But I came out of it with flying colors. Not like the losers I brought with me.”

He motioned with his head behind him, and she followed the direction. There, on the steps leading down into her bar, stood Kade. A rush of relief came first, her heart now happier to know that he really was okay. She knew Mal wouldn’t have lied about something major, but he might have hidden the injuries Kade had suffered.

In the next instant, irritation replaced it. There he stood in her bar, larger than life, if a little more ragged around the edge. Dammit, he should look apologetic. Still, she couldn’t say anything. Not with an audience.

“You know Kade, of course,” Mal said, his voice dipping a bit in a threatening way. She glanced at him, wondering if he had guessed what had gone on, but if he did, he hid it well. “I don’t believe you’ve met Chief.”

She realized that there was another man there beside Kade. She guessed he was older than both Mal and Kade by just a few years. Tall, blond, he was assessing the room like most of the Seals she’d met. His gaze roamed over her customers. He had his arm in a sling, telling her more than just Mal and Kade had been injured. When he focused his attention on her, she felt it to her toes. His gray eyes were as intense as the man. Damn, these men were dangerous.

“Chief,” she said.

“Deke, ma’am.”

She smiled. “Then you must call me Shannon.”

He looked at her for a second, then a slow, sexy smile curled his lips. Dangerous was too simple of a word for the Viking god standing in front of her.


Mal made a disgusted sound. “That’s enough of that.”

She hadn’t truly looked at Kade until now. He hadn’t said a word. Now, though, she turned her attention to him. If it had not been melodramatic, she would have gasped. He’d lost weight. He had a fresh scar above his right eye, and his eyes, those beautiful blue eyes, were cold. The sparkle was gone. He offered her no smile. As she allowed her gaze to drop, she noticed he was favoring his right leg.

“Hey, Kade.”

He hesitated. “Hey.”

She could barely hear him above the noise in the bar. His voice was low and gravelly and very un-Kade-like.

“I was hoping that you had room to spare for us,” Mal said.

Shannon tore her attention away from Kade and looked at her brother. He was smiling at her with the same puppy dog eyes that made most women melt. Not his sister. She was ready to say no and send them to her mother. She didn’t need to deal with three injured surly men, especially one who had just about broken her heart. But there was something else in Mal’s expression, something a little desperate. Their mama could fit them, and she would definitely fatten Kade up and baby the three of them. For some reason, though, Mal wanted to be with her.

She nodded. “Sure. You know my house is big enough for y’all.”

Mal kissed her cheek. “Do you have to close up?”

“No, she doesn’t,” Simon, her bartender said. He was watching her like a hawk, and she knew that he sensed her hesitation. “Go on, boss. I can handle this.”

She smiled. “Thanks. I’ll just get my things.”

Mal nodded.

“You know the way and you have a key. I’ll catch up with you in a minute,” she said.

He ushered the other two out. She felt Kade give her a look, but she couldn’t return it. Her emotions were too raw, too…unbalanced. She didn’t know what she would do. If she did, she would surely yell or cry. Or both.

She walked back to her office with Simon on her heels.

“So that’s the guy.”

She glanced back at one of her best friends and sighed. She should have known that he would figure it out.

“What are you talking about?”

“You’ve been moping around since you returned from the wedding.”

“I have not,” she said, lying through her teeth as she pretended to shut down the computer.

“Yeah, sure. This is Simon, child.”

She sighed and looked at him. He was a year older than her and ten times prettier. Long brown hair, blue eyes, and a dimple in his chin made him irresistible to both men and women. Being the tramp that he was, Simon had no problem with either of them.

“Simon, how many times do I have to tell you that you’re white? Really white. When you talk like that, you sound stupid.”

He rolled his eyes. “And you’re stalling because you don’t want to answer me.”

“Yes, he’s the reason I have been out of sorts.”

Simon snorted. “Yeah, sure. ‘Out of sorts.’”

“Anyway, we had a little fun in Hawaii. Apparently it meant more to me than to him.” She shrugged, trying not to lose her composure. “No big deal.”

“Oh, hun, of course it is. I can tell by looking at you. And I really think you’re wrong. I know Kade. He’s been in here for years mooning over you. A guy that is that infatuated just doesn’t have a one-night stand with his brother’s best friend. Especially someone like Kade.”

She had thought so, but apparently she had been wrong. Very wrong. “Well, I haven’t heard from him in months. So I am assuming that the infatuation is over.”

He opened his mouth to argue, but she held up her hand. “No more. I don’t have time. Could you get Chef to prepare some of that jambalaya to go for me? Enough for the three of them—which will be a lot. Those Seals are going to eat me out of house and home. Oh, and can you handle tomorrow night? I know it’s a lot to ask, but I thought maybe I should stick around the house. I feel like Mal has something to tell me.”

He wanted to say more. She could tell by the look in his eye, but apparently thought better of it. He left her alone, and she finished shutting down the computer. It would take a few moments to prepare herself to face off with Kade. And they would…have a face off.