“Hey, bros!” he shouted, lifting his arms to greet Blake and Taylor as they approached.
“Atticus, my man,” Taylor called as he jogged to his side. They were both dressed in running shorts and T-shirts spotted with sweat. Taylor’s T-shirt was worn, torn, and had USMC in bold letters across his chest. “So,” he said with approval in his gaze, “the Rev runs.”
“Every day.” Atticus took deep, gulping breaths. These guys must’ve run all the way from Sea Breeze on Sullivan’s Island and were barely winded.
“You should join us,” Blake offered. Then he cracked a wicked grin. “If you can keep up.”
“Oh, I can keep up.” Atticus laughed, trying not to openly pant. He glanced over Taylor’s shoulder. “Don’t look now, but your fans are coming,” he said in a low voice, nodding.
Taylor looked over his shoulder to see the two twentysomethings walking their way. The blonde, her luxuriant hair pulled back into a long ponytail that swished jauntily left to right when she walked, seemed to be forcing the darker woman to accompany her. The blonde had her gaze set on Taylor. The other woman’s hair was black and her ebony skin glistened with a fine sweat from her run. Atticus remembered his mama telling him that ladies didn’t sweat, they glowed.
“Nice dogs,” the blonde said, lifting her arms to point out the two dogs frolicking in the surf, oblivious of their admirers. “Are they yours?”
“No, they just followed us,” Taylor replied.
“Really?” she answered, eyes wide. “Don’t they scare you? They’re so big.”
Atticus met Blake’s eyes, and it was all they could do not to laugh.
“No, I’m just messing with you,” Taylor said. “They’re our dogs.”
“They’re beautiful,” the black-haired woman said, eyes on the dogs. “It’s nice to see animals so fit.”
“Indeed it is,” the blonde echoed, and her double entendre didn’t escape anyone.
“The golden one is obviously a Lab, but the other? Is it a Great Dane mix? Maybe some Lab there, too?” the other woman pondered.
She knew her dogs, Atticus thought.
“Yeah, that he is,” Taylor said. “That’s Thor. He’s my dog.” At the sound of his name, Thor stopped and turned toward his master. “The other dog, Hobbs, is Blake’s.”
“I’m Ashley,” the blonde said, smiling with invitation, “and this is Vivian. Are you boys from around here? Your accent says you are.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Taylor, who was answering for the team. “We’re here to celebrate our weddings.”
“Oh.” Ashley’s disappointment was clear in her voice and on her face. “Y’all are getting married?” Her hand made an encircling gesture to include all three men.
“Everyone but the Rev here,” Blake said. He winked at Atticus, knowing he’d just opened the door for him. “He’s here to marry us. We keep it friendly.”
Atticus glanced at Vivian. She was a stunner, lean and intelligent looking with fine cheekbones that gave her dark eyes a lilt. “Are you here on vacation?” he asked her.
“I live here. I’m the local vet.”
“Really?” he said, surprised.
“We best be going,” Taylor said, jabbing Atticus in the ribs. “You coming?”
“Uh, yeah, sure.”
Taylor nodded to the women in farewell. “Ladies.”
Blake turned toward the surf and gave a piercing whistle. In an instant, Hobbs and Thor were at their heels. They took off toward Atticus’s condo.
“I got to get myself a dog,” Atticus said, picking up the pace.
“That you do,” Taylor told him. “For lots of reasons.”
“Hey, my cousin’s Lab is having pups,” Blake offered. “Real pretty chocolates.”
“Not yet. I’m only renting the place.”
“I wouldn’t wait. Not with a vet like that on duty,” Blake said.
“I’ll just borrow Hobbs for a day. Rent a dog,” Atticus called back.
“You don’t want a puppy,” Taylor said. “Get a rescue. They’re so grateful.”
“Is that what Thor is?”
“He sure is. But he’s more than a rescue. He was trained for the Wounded Warrior program. I got him when I got back from Afghanistan.”
“You had PTSD?” Atticus asked.
“Yeah. I was in pretty bad shape.” Taylor looked at Atticus, and the pain was visible in Taylor’s pale green eyes. “Nuff to say that I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep going. That guy back there”—Taylor pointed over his shoulder to Thor—“got me through it. I used to have these bad dreams. Real bad. I was back in the war. Reliving it. Ol’ Thor could tell when I was having a nightmare. He’d lick my hand, my face, wake me up. Got so I couldn’t sleep without the dog by my side.” Taylor glanced over his shoulder to check on his dog. Thor was trotting comfortably behind him in an even stride. “Best damn dog in the world.”
Atticus was well aware of the trauma of PTSD. He’d counseled several parishioners suffering from it, not as many servicemen as battered women, accident victims, and others who’d experienced the many traumas of life. “How are you doing now?”
“You don’t have nightmares?”
“Nope, not in a long time. I was worried when Harper and I moved in together. You can imagine. I would’ve been okay with separate rooms, but she wouldn’t have it.” Taylor grinned, obviously thinking of his bride. “For such a mite of a thing, she’s got a backbone of steel when it comes to me. She’s going to make the best mother.” Taylor’s love for Harper shone in his face.
Atticus wondered if they’d resolved the prenup issue. “What about her mother? Have you met her?”
“Georgiana?” He said the name as if it were a curse word, followed by a guttural grunt. “Shit, no. Don’t want to. That woman’s a piece of work. I’m glad she’s not coming to the wedding. Not sure I’d be able to be civil.”
They drew close to Atticus’s condo and he started to slow down. “This is my place.” Atticus pointed out the building. “Want some water? Coffee? That’s about all I have to offer.”