“Beer sounds good.” I jerk my chin toward the dock’s locker room. “Let me go throw something on and we’ll head. Don’t steal my boat while my back is turned.”

“You remember my specialty, then,” Musgrave says on a hearty laugh. “Hey, man. When you’ve got two minutes to meet the bird or get left in the weeds, you improvise.”

“Never did return that boat to the owner, did you?”

A lazy shrug. “Didn’t hear you complaining over the fast exit. Ain’t that the mission you took a knife to the back?”

“It was.” Just acknowledging the injury makes the pulse beat harder in that particular section of my back, right above my left shoulder blade. “Did I ever say thank you for getting me to the medic?”

He gives me a look to remind me I would—and have—done the same for him. “Fuck you, Bristow. Go change.”

We’re both laughing as I move along the dock toward the office. I feel more like my old self than I did two minutes ago, just being around Musgrave who’s been the same places I’ve been. Skirted landmines, risked life and limb, engaged in hand to hand battles with men. Men just like me, fighting because we’ve been ordered to. Men with families just like me, but who I’ll never know beyond those brief, brutal encounters. It’s hard to be normal after that.

I shoot a text to Birdie letting her know I won’t be home for dinner and to use the cash in my money clip to order a pizza. This isn’t the first time I’ve missed dinner, but it’s the first time I’ve felt guilty about it. I should be home with her, making more of an effort than I have been. Hell, I haven’t even really talked to her about the pageant. It’s the biggest thing in her life right now and I don’t even know if she’s nervous. Or optimistic. Doesn’t she need dresses for the competition? Have I funded those yet?

Thirty minutes into happy hour with Musgrave and I’ve drowned most of those worries in Budweiser, but they remain nonetheless, reminding me I need to be home at a decent hour. Need to be up in the morning making breakfast for my sister. Need to be at the window when Naomi floats down the steps in whatever outfit she’s chosen to drive me crazy in for the day.

“You heard from Wallace? Hirschberg?”

I shake my head. “Not since I’ve been on leave. Then again, I don’t think any of us are on fucking Facebook. I’m assuming they’ll just show up some day like a rusty penny. Sound familiar?”

Knowing I’m referring to his impromptu visit, Musgrave smiles. “Old habits die hard. I still don’t like telegraphing my moves.” His beer bottle pauses on the way to his mouth. “You know what I mean?”

There’s a pinch in my middle. “Yeah. Doesn’t feel natural being in one place this long.”

The other man seems deep in thought for a moment. “You still planning on going back?”

“Always.” My answer doesn’t have quite as much conviction as it once did, I’m surprised to find. “Feels like I’m on duty sometimes and just ignoring orders.”

“I was like that for the first year. Still am sometimes. I mean, I just drove half a day on a whim because life felt too comfortable.”

“And bad things happen when you get complacent. I hear you.” We sip in silence. “My couch is yours for the night. I got a…tenant right now. Or else I’d offer you the apartment for as long as it takes to get right.”

“A tenant?” He plants an elbow on the bar and turns to face me. “Have to say, that doesn’t sound like you, Bristow. You once made Wallace test your shampoo in his hair before you’d trust we didn’t put leg hair remover in it.”

“Yeah. And he wouldn’t test it. Because there was leg hair remover in it.”

His crack of laughter draws attention around the bar. “Still, you have to admit, you’ve got some trust issues.”

Okay. So we’re going to have this conversation. “Her name is Naomi. She’s my little sister’s pageant coach.”

“Former pageant girl or stage mama type?”

An image of Naomi moaning into my mattress with her ass in the air forces me to clear my throat. Hard. “The former.”

He waggles his eyebrows. “She single?”

“No,” I answer on instinct. She’s off limits to everyone, including my friend. I don’t care if it’s rational or not. Acid churns in my stomach, though, because I can’t physically lie to my teammate. It goes against my nature and training. “Yeah, she’s single. But not in the traditional sense.”

Musgrave studies my face for a moment. “Fuckin-A. Sounds complicated.” Humor flashes in his face. “Single or not, I’m getting a vibe from you that says if I flirt with her, you’ll rip my spleen out through my armpit.”

Tessa Bailey Books | Erotic Books | Girl Series Books
Source: www.StudyNovels.com