Bad Case of Loving You(3)

By: Kait Nolan

His former captain had been through hell. Ivy was his reward for surviving and a big part of why he had. She’d brought him all the way back to himself. Ty never would have imagined the man could be this contented if he hadn’t seen it himself.

“Exactly why I proposed the bet,” Sebastian argued. “Those two are full steam ahead on their happily ever after. All that stuff we talked about on missions that we’d do when we got out. They’ve got the marriage thing down. Babies are next.”

“You’re not wrong,” Porter conceded. He would. His own daughter was only a few months old. This trip to Nashville was the first time he and his wife, Maggie, had been away from Faith since she was born.

As the resident single guy, Ty couldn’t resist a little ribbing. “You’re all opinionated about the way of things. When exactly are you gonna get there with Laurel?”

“Dude, she said yes when I asked her to marry me. Now it’s my job to nod and say ‘Yes, ma’am’ to anything wedding related.”

Porter grinned. “Nice to know your Army training in following orders isn’t going to waste.”

Ty felt his own lips curve as he went back to scanning the room. His friends were happy. Blissfully so. They absolutely deserved to be, and he was grateful the Universe had smiled down on the lot of them. But that kind of happy wasn’t for him.

He wanted to get back to Eden’s Ridge, to his cabin in the woods, where he could avoid all this revelry. Where the sight of it didn’t punch him in the chest like an armor-piercing round, reminding him of exactly how undeserving he was—as weddings likely would for the rest of his life.

Years ago, right before Ty had shipped off to basic training, he’d been best man when his brother from another mother, Garrett, had married his childhood sweetheart. Garrett and Bethany hadn’t been the only ones to take vows that day. Ty had sworn to do everything in his power to protect the friend he’d known and loved from the cradle. To make sure Garrett came home to his wife for the life they’d been planning for years.

He’d failed.

So no. He didn’t get to have a happily ever after. He didn’t get connection or comfort or love. Those things were for better men.

Even if he’d believed he had a right to them, he didn’t have the bandwidth to form new connections. He didn’t have it in him to care about anybody new. He had his friends, and they were enough. Them and the job as a deputy in Stone County that had saved his sanity, if not his soul. He protected and served. It was what he knew, who he was.

Because he could no more turn off his inner cop than he could the soldier, Ty continued to scan the room, watching for trouble. He automatically cataloged the guests who were headed toward too much to drink from the open bar. Somebody was gonna have to steal Harrison’s uncle’s keys, if he didn’t end up snoring in on one of the sofas strategically placed around the edges of the room. And if he wasn’t mistaken, that cousin of Ivy’s was making a bid for some wedding karaoke—an activity the bride had vetoed in advance in no uncertain terms. A cluster of kids, maybe eight or ten, crept their way past the gift table with an eye toward scoring more cake.

But it was the guy in the pin-striped suit who snagged Ty’s attention. There was just enough lack of control in his gait to tell Ty he’d had more than his fair share of alcohol. He moved from woman to woman, flashing a too-practiced grin that turned sharp around the edges as he got shot down one after another. An opportunistic predator. Every social function seemed to have one.

“Okay, you have hidden long enough.” Laurel Maxwell, Sebastian’s fiancée, appeared from the edges of the parquet dance floor. Somewhere during the course of the evening, she’d ditched her shoes. But the lack of extra inches didn’t diminish the force of her personality one bit as she grabbed his hands. “I demand a dance!”

Maggie was right behind to claim Porter. “Come on, honey. We’re taking advantage and shaking our groove thing before the clock strikes twelve and we turn into pumpkins.”

Porter ditched his beer. “Yes, ma’am.”

Ty barely noticed as they all headed for the dance floor. He was too busy watching the shark close in on a woman alone in the far corner. Caramel hair spilled down her shoulders in waves. She was seated on some little sofa thing, people watching or maybe resting her feet in those high, high heels. The furniture around her had probably been arranged for cozy conversation. Instead, it acted as a bottleneck, effectively trapping her when the shark approached.