Love Lies Beneath(4)

By: Jen Talty

Alone sometimes was good.

A line she kept telling herself so she’d believe it. Truth be told, she’d started to get lonely and wouldn’t mind male companionship, but when all you do is spend your time on the base, it’s hard to meet civilian men.

“I’m glad I got to work with you.”

“You’re good at what you do.” He swiveled his stool, putting his back to the bar, crossing his arms over his chest. “We need more people like you. Makes healing a lot easier. I’ve seen men with life-changing injuries who honestly believe their physical therapist makes all the difference in the world. No offense to others in your profession, but some of them aren’t very people-oriented.”

She let out a dry laugh. “Sometimes it’s a thankless job. I’ve been called names that would make even a drunken sailor blush. But at the end of the day, my job is to help my patients adjust to whatever changes in life they have to deal with.” She pointed to his knee. “As you saw on the discharge papers, I cleared you for the physical, but did you read my side note?”

He nodded, his royal-blue eyes catching her gaze and locking it in as if she were a target and he the missile. “I wouldn’t have brought it up, but since you did, I’m wondering why you believe the knee has been compromised.”

“It’s weaker than your other leg, which is your non-dominant leg. I’ve seen great progress, but I worry that under certain circumstances—in the field, in combat— t might hinder your performance.”

He swiveled, grabbing his wine, and raising it in the air. “I look forward to proving you wrong.”

“I hope you do.” Once again, they made a toast. The rich, red wine flowed smoothly down her throat, coating her stomach with a warm burn. This was no happy hour special. While she wasn’t a wine snob, she knew when she was drinking a cheap blend over one closer to a hundred dollars a bottle.

This was of the latter variety.

So, he lied about happy hour specials, making him once again, confident.

Or arrogant.

Either way, she enjoyed the easy conversation he provided. If he weren’t a SEAL, or a patient, she might have a second drink.

“Tell me about your boyfriend,” he said as he waved the bartender over.

“I’d rather not discuss my personal life.” Not to mention she hadn’t thought the lie through, and she wasn’t good on her feet like that.

“I get that. Do you want another drink? Something to eat?”

“I’m good.”

The girl behind the counter tossed a towel over her shoulder. “What can I do for you, Mitch?” she asked in a southern drawl, smiling, batting her baby blues. Maybe she was looking for a bigger tip.

“The usual app, and I’ll get one more glass of wine.”

“As long as you’re not driving. Of course, you could hang out with me all night, and I’ll take you home.”

He laughed, though Ashley thought…or maybe hoped…it was forced.

“I’ve gotta work in the morning, otherwise, you never know.”

Ashley waited until the young woman had moved onto another customer. “Do women fall at your feet like that all the time?”

“No,” he said. “And you’re proof of that.”

“I have a boyfriend.” She swallowed, trying not to cough on the lie.

“And if you didn’t?”

Christ, why did he have to ask that question. Heat rose to her cheeks. “It doesn’t change the fact you’re military.”

“You don’t like the military?” he asked, rotating his hips, swinging the chair left and right slightly.

“I have the utmost respect for all branches.”

“Then why the rule?” he asked, leaning in, keeping his gaze intently on her every move.

“My dad is a career military man, and it’s a hard life. I don’t want a repeat in my future.”

He turned back to the bar just as his food arrived. “That, I can certainly understand. What branch?”

“Army. My dad is a Green Beret.”

“Nice,” he said. “I’ve worked with a few A-Teams on various missions. I seem to remember a Riggs. Can’t remember his first name. The op was so long ago, maybe six years ago.” Mitch shoved half a steak sandwich in his mouth. Holding his hand over his lips, he said, “Joshua. That was his name. Nice guy.”