Marry her. It was a crazy idea… and the more he thought about it, the better he liked it.
In his career as a Navy SEAL, Rocky Mangiano has been called a Jersey boy, and a Yankee, and a few other choice names he shouldn’t repeat in mixed company, but never has anyone called him daddy. If the bundle of joy he finds on the doorstep is any indication, things are about to change and he has no clue what to do about it.
When the baby’s single mother enters the picture things get even more crazy, but given the fringe benefits that come along with the complications of their marriage of convenience, Rocky’s not complaining. Not one little bit.
He’d been at the club for fun countless times, which made it particularly odd being there today for this self appointed close personal protection assignment.
Enlightening was an even better word than odd.
Rocky usually thought of himself as more observant than the average person. It came with the job. But it was becoming more than obvious that he sure as hell didn’t employ his skills of observation when he came to the club looking for mindless pleasure.
How many hours had he sat in this very room and never noticed the security cameras? And was the music always so god-awful and so loud?
His phone vibrated in the pocket of the jacket he wore to hide his shoulder holster. He pulled it out and saw Rick’s name on the readout.
He hit the button to answer and pressed it to his ear. “Hey.”
“Where are you?” Rick asked, though it was damn hard to hear him.
“I’m still at the club. Her shift’s got another two hours or so.”
“Any sign of Isabel’s Latin lover yet?”
Rocky hated that reference. It reminded him too much that a man who didn’t come close to deserving Isabel in any way had already had all of the pleasures with her that Rocky could only dream of experiencing.
“Nope. Just a handful of young sailors with their attention glued to the girls.”
And the three minutes that Isabel had been on stage in front of the leering boys had been pretty damn stressful . . . for both of them.
She’d kept her eyes on the audience, no doubt watching for Tito. Rocky had done the same, while keeping just as close an eye on the kids from the base to make sure none of them got out of line with her.
Then there was the other thing that he had to deal with—trying not to leer himself.
He couldn’t believe he’d never noticed Isabel before, because she was exactly his type. A dark-haired beauty rounded in all the right places.
Of course, he’d been away a lot and she had to be new here given the fact she’d had Lola only a few months ago.
“Tough job you assigned yourself there, bud.” Rick’s displeasure at the division of labor came through clearly in his tone and brought Rocky back to the conversation.
Even if he hadn’t heard the baby crying in the background above the sound of the music in the club, Rocky would have known Rick was unhappy.
“What’s up with Lola?” he asked.
“No clue. Darci and Ali changed her. Fed her. Danced around with her while singing songs. We’re running out of ideas here.”
“Not that I know what I’m doing any more than you do, but did you burp her?”
“I’ll pass that question on to the girls and see if they did.”
“I can grab Isabel and ask her if you really need—”
“Nah. Don’t bother her yet. She’s got enough to worry about. If we can’t get the baby settled down soon, I’ll give you a call back. Maybe I’ll call Thom.”
Rocky laughed at that. “I think you should. Why shouldn’t he get to share in the fun?”
“Right. Oh, and Jon just left. He said he’s going to keep an eye on the club parking lot. Make sure Tito’s not hoping to get to her there.”
Rick snorted. “My opinion? He just wanted to get away from the babysitting duty but yeah, it was a sound enough plan I couldn’t stop him from going. And there’s no way Darci will let me or Chris leave when she and Ali are stuck here with the kid.”
“Chris is there too?”
“Yup. One of the duties of dating my sister. He has to do what she says. But he’s as useless when it comes to babies as the rest of us.” Rick paused. “Oh thank God, she’s quiet.”
“What did you do?”
The sound of Rick walking was followed by a soft laugh. “It looks like Chris got the idea to put her on top of the dryer while it’s running.”
“Jesus. Is that safe?”
“She’s strapped in the car seat. We’ll have to watch and make sure the seat doesn’t vibrate off but hell, that’s worth it for some quiet.”
Rocky cringed at the image of Lola and the seat toppling off the machine. “Please don’t let her fall on her head.”
“Dude, I think four adults can handle one tiny baby.”
Rick hadn’t sounded so certain of that just a few minutes ago, but Rocky let it go. “I’ll call to check in later.”
“You just worry about Perez. We got it covered.”
“I’m calling anyway.”
“Fine. Talk to you later.” Rick disconnected and Rocky tried to not worry.
Rocky turned to the bartender and saw the unhappy expression on his face. He reached for his wallet and pulled out a bill. “You can make it a diet soda this time. I’m sorry. I’m not drinking today.”
The hulking older man reached for a glass as he eyed Rocky. “You’re not watching the girls all that much either, so what are you doing here?”
“Just helping out a friend.”
The man glanced around the bar. “Well, you were here before them.” He lifted a chin in the direction of the seamen, all clad in NAVY T-shirts. “And they don’t look like they need any help from you, so I’m figuring it must be one of my girls.”
He tipped his head. “Yup. I’m the owner of this club.”
“Oh.” He turned to face the man more fully and extended his right hand. “Rocky Mangiano.”
The man gripped his with his own beefy hand. “Pete O’Neill. You Navy?”
No use denying that. It was on the damn bumper sticker on his truck in the parking lot. He should probably peel that thing off but for now, he nodded. “Yeah.”
“You involved with one of my dancers?”
“No. Well, yes, but not in the way you’re insinuating.”
“Wasn’t insinuating anything. I’m outright asking.” The man’s gaze was steady as it held Rocky’s.
Rocky was usually a pretty good judge of character and this man struck him as trustworthy. “Isabel.”
The man’s brows rose. “Since you know the name I cut her checks to and not her stage name, I’m going to take that as a yes, you are involved.”
“It’s not as simple as that.” Rocky leaned in, keeping is voice as low as he could and still be heard over the pounding dance music. “You know she has a kid?”
“I think I’ve heard that, yeah.”
“Well, I’m here to make sure both Isabel and Lola stay safe.”
“Safe from whom?”
“Someone from her past who’s bad news.”
“The kid’s father?”
Surprised he’d guessed, Rocky said, “I didn’t say that.”
“You didn’t have to.” The bartender leaned closer. “I figured there was some reason she showed up here looking for a job. We get all kinds of girls working here, but not usually like her.”
“Meaning what? What’s she like?”
“Shy. Timid almost.” He shook his head. “Her audition was so bad, I honestly only gave her the job because I felt sorry for her.”
Rocky frowned. “She didn’t look so bad up there today.”
“That’s because the other girls took her under their wing. Taught her. She’s a quick learner and a hard worker. Now she’s got a couple of months here, you’d never know she was so completely wrong for this job when she started.”
Rocky wasn’t sure if Isabel being such an accomplished stripper now was a good thing, but he could agree completely she was bright and a hard worker. He could see that himself.
“You know, I pride myself on making sure my girls are safe.”
“I didn’t mean any offense that you’re not doing a good job, but we’re not talking an overzealous admirer here.”
“I guess not or she wouldn’t need hired muscle.”
Rocky snorted. “Since she’s not paying me, I’m not exactly hired muscle.”
“No. You’re just a friend.”
Rocky nodded. “Yup.”
The bartender pulled his mouth into a crooked smile. “Okay. Got it. And if she needs any time off to deal with this situation, she’s got it. The girls are good about taking extra shifts.”
“Thanks. That’s helpful. I’ll tell her. She was worried about taking time off.”
“No problem. Oh, and by the way, your friend is about to take the stage again.”
Rocky spun toward the raised, spotlighted wooden runway as the bartender chuckled behind him.
At the moment, he didn’t give a shit what the club’s owner thought. Besides, the man was right. Rocky wanted to be much more than Isabel’s friend . . . particularly now as she strutted her stuff across the stage.
He’d never felt so torn in all his life. Half of him wanted to wrap a blanket around her to hide the costume that showed much too much skin. He’d love to jump up on that stage, toss her over his shoulder and take her far away from all the gawking eyes on her now.
The other half of him had gone dry in the mouth as he watched her bend at the waist and stick her tempting ass high in the air. That half wanted to jump on stage too, but not to cover her up. Rather to strip her down and take what she so artfully offered.
It was just a show, he reminded himself. That offer wasn’t real at all and it wasn’t for him. It was for every man in the room willing to part with a dollar—or twenty—so she could pay her rent and support her daughter.
That thought brought him back around full circle and he wanted her off that stage and back safe at Rick’s place with Lola.
He noticed the icy glass of soda the bartender had set on the cocktail napkin by his elbow on the bar. Rocky drew in a long slow sip through the straw.
Maybe he should order a drink. Between the guilt, the desire, and the hard-on pressing against the zipper of his jeans he sure as hell felt like he needed one about now.
The guilt wasn’t enough to keep his eyes off the stage though, or his mind from slipping into lurid thoughts of Isabel.
He should probably just go sit with that group of drooling sailors who were now standing so they could better shove dollar bills into the very few items she still had on.
Rocky curled his hand into a fist and drew in an angry breath.
The bartender’s laugh had him glancing at the man, who grinned and shook his head. “It takes a lot of strength to be able to handle falling for a girl in this profession.”
He opened his mouth to say he hadn’t fallen for her, until he realized he didn’t believe his own bullshit, so there was no way the bartender was going to.
Instead, Rocky tipped his head. “Yeah. I’m starting to realize that.”
What's next in the Hot SEALs series? Check out ROMANCED BY A SEAL, on preorder now for a July 12th eBook and paperback release.
Just in time for Valentine's week, True Blue SEALs:Zak is the 12th book in the SEAL Brotherhood Series, and is now on preorder.
You loved Zak and Amy's story in True Navy Blue, my novella that first appeared in an anthology and is now available in all formats, including audio. This is a continuation of their story, beginning with an intimate quickie wedding, and his first deployment to North Africa. Their SEAL Team 3 is tasked with providing security for the Secretary of State on a super secret diplomatic mission.
Zak and Amy will have some things to work out when he returns injured. It will be a true test of their marriage, their love, their future together.
Zak and Amy are destined for each other. After successfully passing the BUD/S training, and helping to stop a San Francisco terrorist attack, Zak goes to the arena of war with the rest of his SEAL Team 3 buddies, to return a changed man. Amy will have to negotiate the pain in her heart as she works to discover the man she loved going off to war is still the man of her dreams, and only if she can convince Zak he still is that man. Here's a short excerpt:
hands smoothed up and down her upper arm as he stared at the ceiling. He’d made
the first step to do something important with his life by becoming a Navy SEAL.
His new family, the Brotherhood, healed and filled so many holes in his soul.
He felt the honor of serving with men who would gladly die for him, without
thinking about it. He was indeed one of the lucky ones. Now, he was about to do
the next big thing in his life. He was “securing the target,” bringing Amy into
his life not just as a girlfriend, but also as a mate and life partner. He’d
even been honest with her. If she couldn’t take the intensity of his family
now, couldn’t deal with the stress and loss and tears that sometimes came with
the job, along with the joy of doing something more important than all of them,
he’d have to walk away.
as hard as it would be, he’d do it. He’d make sure he didn’t give up on his
shot to become one of the best of the best, and to serve his country proudly
were to meet Carter at an omelet house for breakfast. He and Amy noodled around
in the shower until they were going to be very unfashionably late. He was
always the one to have to turn down the heat so they could keep to a schedule.
Amy would have been fine just staying in bed the whole time.
made a point of showing him she wasn’t going to wear panties, “just in case.”
is going to be a painful day for me, I can see.”
have the cure for that pain,” she whispered.
you do.” Her hopeful face was seeking out a message he wasn’t going to give
her. “You’re here to learn about my community. And before you tell me you
learned all you need to know in that bed,” he pointed to the tussled sheets
behind him, “I need to show you things. Things that are important for you to know.
I’m doing this for you, Amy.” He added a smile he’d almost forgotten to show.
got that little flighty look as she continued dressing and then examining the
floor, turning her head from side to side, the pouty smile on her face, just
reminding him that he really wasn’t in control. “Zak, I hope you’re not tired
of me already,” she whispered to her bright red toes.
a chance, sweetheart.” He grabbed her and held her tight. Lifting her lips with
fingers gently under her chin. “Stay just the way you are. Insatiable.” He
kissed her. “Sexy as hell.” He kissed her again. “Riding my cock all night long
like last night. I’m going to be ruined when you have to go back.”
keep me here.”
clear brown eyes were honest, unflinching. He knew she was ready to take that
step through the doorway with him. As long as everything else worked out for
these next two days, he’d be able to convince her to get married before he
deployed. That was the mission. That was the target to be acquired.
Sharon Hamilton is a NYT and USA/Today bestselling author
most known for her SEAL Brotherhood series. She also writes Golden Vampire and
Guardian Angel series.
A lifelong organic gardener, Sharon lives with her husband
in the Wine Country of Northern California, where most of her stories take
place. When she’s not writing, she’s getting verra verra dirty in the mud, or
wandering Farmer’s Markets looking for new Heirloom varieties of vegetables and
Known only as Mack to his SEAL teammates, he’s a stone cold killer when he needs to be, but he’d rather just straddle his Harley and escape from everything and everyone.
The only person who calls James MacIntyre by his given name is his father, the one family member he has left . . . that is until his widowed father meets a divorcee and decides to remarry. Suddenly, this woman and her daughter are Mack’s new family, all calling him James whether he likes it or not.
The problem is he’s starting to like hearing his name on the lips of curvy co-ed Lydia.
The bartender paused in front of Mack. “Another one?”
Mack raised his gaze from the now empty glass he’d been hunched over, partly because he was mentally and physically exhausted, but mostly so no one would bother him.
He wasn’t there for small talk, but he was there for the booze.
“Yeah. Thanks.” Mack nudged the empty tumbler forward with one finger.
As he leaned back while the bartender upended a bottle over the glass, he glanced around and took in his surroundings. The place had filled up a bit more since he’d arrived.
It looked like the usual late night crowd, most a good ten maybe twenty years younger than the patrons who came in during daylight hours.
Mack was more than a bit familiar with the comings and goings of the establishment’s customers.
That wasn’t just because he lived directly across the street and had a view of the place from every one of his apartment’s windows. It was more because he had frequented the bar during all hours of the day and night himself.
Working vampire hours a lot of the time had made him an equal opportunity drinker. Daytime. Nighttime. Anytime.
He didn’t judge anybody else, so he figured they had better not judge him either. Not if they knew what was good for them, anyway.
The one whisky he’d downed hadn’t improved his mood any. Maybe he’d have better luck with the second.
Mack pushed the change he’d left out from the first round closer to the bartender. “Take it out of there.”
The bartender nodded and grabbed a bill from the stack.
They’d done this dance many times. Mack knew the next round would be free. He would down it and leave the remaining cash on the bar as a tip before making his way across the street to his bed.
Three drinks, straight with no ice to water down and ruin the whisky—that would hopefully keep the nightmares away. For tonight, at least.
Tomorrow would be another story.
In the morning he had that waking nightmare of meeting Daddy’s new wife and her daughter. What fun.
Mack felt the guilt niggling at the back of his brain. He should be happy his father had found someone to make him happy after the loss of his mother.
Pressing the glass to his lips, Mack downed a large swallow and relished as it burned a path down his throat.
He felt the fire all the way through his chest. Clear to where his cold dead heart was lodged, still beating away somehow when so many others no longer had that luxury.
Funny that he had plenty of heart when he was fighting. Hell, maybe all that took was balls, not heart. Maybe he was as far past caring as he suspected he was. He didn’t seem to be able to feel all that much for other people at the moment.
“I said no!”
A voice that rose above the usual volume of the din of the bar had Mack twisting in his seat to get a better look.
He zeroed in on the source of the annoyed-sounding exclamation and saw the woman he’d noticed briefly before when he’d surveyed those around him.
Okay, he’d noticed her because her ass, round and firm as she perched on the bar stool, had looked particularly enticing.
Nothing he liked more than a woman with generous curves. Another time, he’d be more than interested in an ass like that, but he was not interested in this particular woman.
First of all, she looked painfully young. Young enough that he hoped the bartender had taken the time to check her ID and verify she was allowed to be drinking that bottle of light beer. The bottle that was giving him ideas he shouldn’t be having as she pressed the longneck against her lips.
Staring straight ahead at the shelves of bottles behind the bar, she was making an obvious attempt to ignore the sleazy guy next to her.
The lowlife—a snap judgment on Mack’s part that he was standing behind even if it was made just by looking at him—leaned closer.
The young woman planted the bottle on the bar and turned to face the man. “Look. I said no thank you.”
Mack didn’t hear the bastard’s response but he could only imagine it wasn’t good since the chick grabbed her purse from the bar and moved to climb off the barstool.
When the guy grabbed her arm, Mack decided he’d had enough.
He was behind the guy and had him in a headlock before anyone knew what was happening, particularly the douchebag himself.
Ignoring the shock on the brunette’s face, Mack leaned down close to the guy’s ear and hissed, “She said she wants to be left alone. So how about you listen to her and go somewhere else?”
The guy looked torn between pissing his pants and wanting to break free and take a swing at Mack.
Mack wasn’t sure about his first prediction coming true, but he knew the second wasn’t going to happen as long as he was living and breathing. He tightened his hold just enough to scare the guy.
If this went on any longer, he’d be perfectly comfortable choking out the guy. It wouldn’t kill him. He’d wake up eventually and Mack had no doubt that once this asshole was blissfully unconscious he could leave him to recover on the floor in the back hall by the bathroom and the bartender wouldn’t have a thing to say about it.
Mack didn’t tell people what he did for a living but in this area—just a few miles from the base—it was easy enough for the locals to pick out the Navy guys among them.
His disappearing for months at a time didn’t help hide Mack’s occupation. Neither did the fact that he could take out this asshole so easily, so quietly, no one would notice except for the sweet, curvy young thing watching him with her big brown eyes wide with surprise.
“We gonna do this the easy way or the hard way?” Mack asked, low and close.
“I wasn’t doing any—”
Mack squeezed a bit tighter. “See, now that wasn’t the question. Wanna try again? You’re going to leave the lady alone. You can do that under your own power, or mine. Your choice.”
“Fine. I’ll go.” The guy’s reply was more of a wheeze.
Mack probably shouldn’t take such great satisfaction at that, but hell, sometimes little things made him happy.
“Good boy.” Mack waited a second before easing up his hold, all while watching for any move the dickhead might make to indicate he wasn’t going to go quietly.
The guy would have to be pretty stupid to try anything.
Dickhead proved to be stupider than Mack anticipated.
It was the smallest shift in posture, but Mack was skilled in reading body language. Just as the guy pivoted and drew back his fist, Mack sprung into action.
He had the guy face down on the ground, arms secured behind his back, all before the first punch was ever thrown.
Mack sighed. There was no hiding the conflict now. The others were starting to notice his knee in the back of a man whose face he was grinding into the dirt of the bar floor with one hand while holding his wrists in the other.
“Need a little help?” The bartender’s black pants and shoes came into Mack’s line of vision.
Mack twisted his neck and glanced up. “Does it look like I need help?”
“Nope, but if you hurt him the police are gonna get involved, then there will be reports to be filed and I ain’t got the time or patience for that. So how about I take over and you can sit down and relax?”
Mack pursed his lips. He had no dog in this fight. He’d just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. And for some reason had felt the need to get involved.
That was pretty unlike him, actually. When he was in civilian mode, usually all hell had to break loose before he bothered to take note and even think about intervening.
The bartender was right. Maybe it was time he got back to his brooding.
“Well, I would like to finish my drink.” He shot the bartender a crooked grin.
The burly man, who probably owned the place given he was there so often, snorted out a short laugh. “Yeah, I figured.”
They swapped positions, the bartender taking over dealing with stupid ass and dragging him up off the floor.
The kid looked happy to be standing or maybe he was just grateful to be away from Mack. At this point, Mack didn’t know and couldn’t care.
Mack glanced at the girl. “You okay?”
She watched him for a second before nodding. “Yes.”
He dipped his head in a nod, not bothering with more conversation. He had his answer, so he turned to move back to his spot and his drink.
“Wait.” She scurried after him, arriving just as his ass hit the barstool.
He cocked one brow. “Yeah?”
“I uh wanted to say thank you.”
“No problem.” He lifted one shoulder and reached for his glass.
He didn’t quite make it before she stuck her hand out to him. “I’m Lydia.”
Yes, she was cute. Yeah, he hadn’t gotten laid in far too long. But this close up, and under the light above them, his initial impressions were confirmed. She was young.
Young and naïve and sweet and everything he had no interest in and no business touching.
Completely ignoring her and her gesture would be rude. Since that wasn’t an option he liked, he turned his body enough he could extend his right hand out to her. “Mack.”
The corners of her mouth lifted in a smile. “Nice to meet you.”
“Yeah. You too.” He dropped his hold and turned back to reach for his glass.
As a combat hardened Navy SEAL, Thom Grande has fought terrorism around the globe, but he can’t fight is his ex-wife. Or her lawyer. Or the alimony payments. Just when he thinks his life can’t get any worse, bad luck smacks him up side the head—literally. Now he’s got a traumatic brain injury and can’t remember his own name. The good news? He can’t remember his ex-wife or the woes she’s causing him either.
Virginia Starr has the worst luck ever with romance. But maybe her luck is changing because one hell of a hot man just showed up at her door in the middle of the night. One problem—he can’t remember anything, including who he is. The more Ginny sees, the more she realizes, that might not matter all that much.
Enjoy this EXCERPT from SEALed at Midnight (Hot SEALs) by Cat Johnson
“Virginia! This is your mother. Where are you? Call me back.”
Ginny listened to the voicemail, not breathing as she heard the familiar and far from melodic voice.
An irrational fear had her worried her mother would somehow sense she hadn’t picked up because she’d seen who was calling, even though that was exactly what had happened. A not so irrational fear had her more afraid she’d accidentally hit the button to return the call while retrieving the voicemail.
She heard the click as her mother hung up the receiver of the old wired house phone her parents still owned. Then the message ended. Only then did Ginny dare to breathe.
Caller ID saved her multiple times daily. She’d like to give whoever invented the means for her to screen her calls a great big kiss.
She loved both of her parents, of course, but a girl could only be berated about the same things so many times before instinct kicked in.
Given the choice of fight or flight, when dealing with one’s mother choosing flight seemed safer for everyone.
Her lack of a steady boyfriend. Her lack of what her mother considered a real job. She didn’t visit enough. She was too far away. A young woman shouldn’t be living alone . . .
There were more topics but those were her mother’s current favorites.
She’d call her mom back—eventually. But right now, she just wanted to enjoy her cup of hot tea undisturbed.
Ginny had just lifted the steaming mug to her mouth when the ringing of the cell began again. She sighed. She might be farther away from them until March first, but she wasn’t so far that calls couldn’t reach her. Maybe she should look for a house sitting gig someplace like the South Pole next year.
She reached down and lifted the phone. Seeing Molly’s name on the screen, she hit the button to answer. “Hey.”
“About time you picked up. I was starting to wonder what the heck you could be doing on Christmas Eve up there in no-man's-land where there’s nothing but woods and wildlife.”
“Sorry. I was waiting to see who it was.”
Molly laughed. “Are you screening calls again? I guess I should be grateful that I made the cut.”
“You should be. My mother didn’t.”
“Ginny, it’s Christmas Eve. The least you can do is talk to your mother on the phone.”
“This coming from the girl with the sweetest mother on earth.”
“That’s no excuse. Virginia Starr, call your mother!”
“Oh my God, you sounded just like her. Stop that. You’re giving me heart palpitations.” Ginny pressed her hand to her chest.
“That’s not palpitations you feel. That’s guilt and you deserve it.”
“Is she paying you to torture me? Come on. Tell me. What did she promise you? My grandmother’s secret plum cake recipe? What? Spill.”
“We had a lovely conversation this morning but no, she promised me nothing. I bug you without compensation. Just for the sheer joy of it.”
A lovely conversation this morning?
Zeroing in on Molly’s words had Ginny frowning “Wait one minute. You talked to my mother? Today?”
“Yup. She’s so sweet. She called to thank me for the Christmas card I sent her.”
Ginny groaned. “Let me guess what she said next. How horrible it was that I didn’t bother to send cards this year.”
“Nope. You’re wrong. We talked about what she’s cooking for dinner tomorrow night.”
Ginny blew out a frustrated breath and glanced out the window at the snow that had started falling about an hour ago. “She’s really going to freak when she hears I probably won't be able to make it home. Not with the way this snow is falling.”
“It's snowing by you? Aw.” Molly sounded annoyed. “There's not even a hint of a flake here. You're gonna have a white Christmas and I'm jealous.”
Easy for Molly to say. She lived in a condo where some nice hired maintenance man shoveled, plowed and sanded the walkways before Molly even woke.
Ginny glanced out the window again, taking particular note of the length of the driveway she’d have to shovel before she’d be able to get her car out.
There was a snow blower in the barn, but she’d be damned if she knew how to start it. Besides, the giant exposed blade in front scared the bejeesus out of her.
People should know their limitations, and she knew she wasn’t cut out for operating equipment with big sharp spinning parts.
A white Christmas as an adult was definitely not as much fun as it had been when she’d been a child. If she was still eight years old, Ginny would be jumping for joy. Getting out the sled and the makings for a snowman. Running inside wet and cold for hot cocoa with tiny marshmallows.
Being twenty-eight meant she’d be breaking out the shovel and the bag of ice melt instead of marshmallows.
The snow changed from tiny flakes that drifted down slow and serenely before disappearing, to fat juicy lumps that pelted the ground with a big splat of white.
“It's snowing like crazy.” She glanced at the rapidly disappearing driveway. “It’s sticking too, even on the blacktop.”
Molly hissed in a breath. “That doesn’t bode well for driving. But maybe it will stop soon and the crews will have all night to clean up the roads. Then by tomorrow you’ll have a beautiful clear drive.”
“Maybe.” And maybe Molly was the biggest optimist she knew.
Given Ginny’s own propensity for pessimism, it was a wonder they’d been friends since grade school.
Pessimist or not, this time she couldn’t help but hope Molly was right, because her mother would never let her hear the end of it if she couldn’t get home for Christmas dinner.
Sometimes being an only child was a lot of work.
On a brighter note, Ginny had to admit, though begrudgingly, that it really was getting pretty outside. Snow totally covered the ground and the thick wet flakes stuck to every tree limb and surface.
If she had nowhere else to be, it would be perfect. Quite the makings for a picturesque scene . . . then the lights flickered.
“Uh, oh.” Ginny eyed the table lamp, waiting for the worst to happen, but the bulb stayed illuminated. For the time being anyway.
“What’s wrong?” Molly asked.
“I’m worried I’m going to lose electricity.” And along with it, the heat and hot water.
Then what would she do?
She was all for women’s equality and independence but at times like this she regretted not having a man around. If not a boyfriend, then at least a hired handyman to build a fire and bring over a generator.
Ginny needed to face it. She was, and always should be, an apartment dweller. Then she could make a single phone call and pass problems such as no electric to somebody else—like a nice twenty-four hour on-call building superintendent.
But when she’d taken this job as a house sitter, she supposed she'd become the twenty-four hour handyman.
She probably should have thought this over better before taking on the responsibility of a whole house, five acres and a barn in Massachusetts in winter.
Hindsight always had been Ginny’s strength. She sighed and turned her mind to brighter thoughts. As long as the lights stayed on, everything would be okay.
“So what are you doing for Christmas Day?”
“Marco is taking me to the city to see the tree at Rockefeller Center and look at the window decorations, then back to his place for a romantic dinner.”
It was Ginny's turn to be jealous.
Her friend not only had a great job, a fabulous condo, and parents who supported everything she did, but also a hot new boyfriend with an Italian accent to go along with his expensive Italian sports car.
“That sounds perfect. You better text and tell me what he bought you for Christmas the minute you open it.” Ginny might as well be completely green with envy and get it all over with at once.
“I will. Promise. Are you going to be all right up there by yourself if you get snowed in and can't drive home tomorrow?”
“Sure. There's food in the fridge.”
“But what if the power does go out?”
“There’s firewood on the porch and plenty of candles in the house. I’ll be fine even if the power goes out.” Ginny dismissed Molly’s concern, sounding more confident than she felt.
“Okay, but I'll make sure I keep my cell phone on in case you need anything.”
“Thanks.” Ginny didn't know what Molly and Marco were going to be able to do for her. If the roads proved so bad she couldn't drive south to Stamford, they wouldn't be able to drive north to Springfield either, but she did appreciate the offer.
The lights flickered again and she stifled a groan. She didn’t need Molly, in an attempt to help, reporting back to her mother that she was sitting alone in the dark. Her mom’s I-told-you-so would be more than Ginny could stand.
“I’m going to go. I think I’ll bring in some wood and make a fire.”
Even if the power didn’t go out, a cozy snowy Christmas Eve spent in front of a roaring fireplace seemed slightly less sad.
“That sounds nice. You should open a bottle of wine and enjoy your night alone.”
Spoken like a woman who had a boyfriend and didn’t have to spend any night alone if she didn’t want to. “Will do. Good night, Mol.”
“Good night and happy Christmas Eve.”
“Happy Christmas Eve to you too.” She disconnected before Molly could dispense any more holiday cheer Ginny wasn’t in the mood for.
After putting the cell down, Ginny stared at the lamp for a few seconds. The light bulb glowed steadily, with no more visible flickers.
That was a good sign. Maybe it had been a false alarm, though she should probably locate some provisions in case the electricity did go out.
Even at only four in the afternoon, on a cloudy late December day in New England, it was nearly dark already.
Best to be prepared, that's what Ginny always said. Well, she never actually said that, but it sounded good. For this situation she settled on locating the flashlight.
That was preparations enough for the time being because her trip to the kitchen had made her realize she was hungry.
She opened the fridge and perused the choices. She had lettuce to make a salad, but that idea left her feeling cold.
There was chicken breast in the freezer. She could defrost that in the microwave and throw something together for dinner. Maybe with some homemade mashed potatoes, but that would all take a lot of time and more incentive than she had.
Ginny opened a cabinet and eyed the rows of cans. Laziness won out and she opted on a hearty bean soup. One quick turn of the electric can opener and it would be ready to cook, with only one dirty pot to wash after she was done.
As the soup heated on the stovetop, Ginny wandered into the master bedroom.
Choosing to ignore the time of day, she grabbed her pajamas from where she’d left them hanging behind the bathroom door. A cozy night in front of the fire would be even better in her soft flannel PJs.
Okay, it wasn’t technically night yet. It was still more late afternoon, creeping up to be evening, but what good was the freedom of working from home if she couldn't put on her pajamas when she wanted to?
Besides, for better or worse there was no one there to see or judge her for it, so Ginny tossed her jeans and sweater on the chair in the bedroom and pulled on her softest, and also oldest, red and white snowflake patterned pajamas.
The soup was hot enough to eat by the time she got back to the kitchen, so she flipped off the burner.
After poured the steaming liquid into a bowl, she grabbed a spoon and a napkin and carried the lot into the living room.
The dark gaping opening of the fireplace reminded her she’d meant to bring in wood and make a fire. She’d have to do that later. If she did it now, her dinner would get cold.
She should probably try to put in at least an hour on her book since she hadn’t touched it in days. She could do that while she ate.
Ginny put the bowl down on the desk and sat. Her laptop was still open, just the way she’d left it. She tapped a key to wake the computer from hibernation mode and watched the screen spring to life.
She clicked to open the file for her novel. The document appeared on screen, looking exactly how she'd left it—unfinished, stalled halfway through the first chapter.
Okay, maybe not halfway. More like a few paragraphs in.
She blew out a breath. Ginny had heard of writer's block, but her experience seemed more like writer's amnesia. Nothing spilled out of her brain and onto the screen and she started to suspect that what she'd already written might be crap.
A Colonial-era cozy mystery had seemed like such a great idea when she'd originally come up with it and done the research.
So why wasn't it working? She had no idea, but sitting and staring at the screen didn't help either her mood or her novel.
In her defense, she had an eight-page outline for the story and ten pages of research notes, so she was closer to being finished than it appeared at first glance in spite of the pitifully low word count.
All she had to do was write it.
Easy. No problem at all . . . She laid her fingers on the keyboard, but she’d be damned if she knew what to type.
Maybe if she opened the outline and went over that again it would help.
Ginny was just about to do that when an alert popped onto her screen, which reminded her she hadn’t checked her email since this morning.
She opened her inbox in a new browser and found it full. She’d definitely be able to concentrate better after she went through it. And it would be far easier to eat her soup while reading email than while trying to write her novel.
Decision made, Ginny clicked open the first email, grabbed her bowl and settled in.
The falling white flakes out the window in front of her caught her attention. She had to admit, there was nothing that put a person in the holiday spirit more than snow.
It was peaceful.
Too peaceful. The house, so far removed from the neighbors and the road, was too quiet.
Maybe that was why she couldn’t work. She was used to her apartment and all the noises that came with it.
She got up, grabbed the remote control, and turned on the television. Ginny flipped through the channels until she found an old black and white movie. She lowered the volume until it was a soft drone and went back to the desk.
A little background noise would make her feel more at home. She’d make quick work of the inbox and the soup, then get right back to her book.
An hour later, Ginny’s soup bowl and inbox were both empty.
The movie had ended and another began. She heard George Bailey’s familiar voice behind her and smiled. It's a Wonderful Life had come on the movie channel.
It was a classic. One she made sure to watch every Christmas, but she hadn’t seen it yet this year. Who knew if the station would air it again tonight, and if she was traveling tomorrow she could miss it.
Flipping the lid of the laptop closed, she stood. The book would still be there when the movie was done.
Maybe a couple of hours spent away from staring at the screen would rejuvenate her. Moving to the sofa, she flopped onto the cushion and grabbed the throw to pull over her legs just as the station came back from a commercial break.
One glance at the screen told Ginny it was the colorized version of the classic. She hated that. Black and white movies were meant to remain black and white, in her opinion.
In silent protest, Ginny reached for the remote and changed the channel. She’d rather miss the movie than watch the bastardized version.
The people who owned the home had every channel known to man, so she was pretty sure she’d be able to find something good to watch.
“Today’s topic is how to find a man.” The words of the male host of a show she didn’t normally watch halted Ginny’s channel surfing. “We’re here with relationship expert Ronald Pearl, also known as the Love Doctor.”
Just what she needed—some expert giving her advice, as if her mother didn’t do that enough.
She was about to flip again when the guest said, “Single women are alone because subconsciously theychoose to be alone.”
She paused long enough to scowl at the idiot on the television who’d just delivered the ridiculous statement.
The homeowner’s cat chose that moment to dart into the room. It sent a look of fear in Ginny’s direction and then skidded into the kitchen where the food and water bowls were.
If Ginny couldn’t even get the damn cat to spend time with her, how was she supposed to do it with a man? She’d love to ask this expert that.
Remote control still in her hand, she couldn’t bring herself to change the channel quite yet. Not until she’d heard what other bullshit this man had to say.
The Love Doctor, who she doubted was really a doctor at all, continued, “Think of where you choose to work, to live, to shop, to recreate. Are these places where you are likely to meet the man of your dreams?”
The doctor of course had spoken to a female audience member, but it seemed as if he addressed Ginny directly.
She thought over her choices, mostly to try and disprove his theory, but the more she thought, the more she realized he was right.
Rather than getting an office job, Ginny chose to work from home.
For the holidays, the busiest time of the year for shopping, parties and just generally being around other people, she traded her city apartment for a house in the country, hours away from her friends and family.
The only guy she’d be likely to meet while buried away here was the man who delivered the heating oil. She’d barely even caught a glimpse of the mailman since she’d been here because the mailbox was along the road at the end of the very long driveway.
And recreation? Even when she was home in Stamford, watching television and reading were her main past times, especially now that Molly had a boyfriend to keep her busy.
It was her own fault she remained alone. The epiphany sat heavy in her chest.
Her mother might be right. Just that realization alone shifted Ginny's entire perception of reality.
“So what do I do?” She whispered the question aloud as the woman standing in the television audience asked the Love Doctor almost the same thing.
“I want you to make a list of everything you want in your life. By writing down and acknowledging your goals, you’ll unconsciously take the steps necessary to achieve them.”
Tossing the blanket to the side, Ginny jumped up and lunged for the desk. She grabbed a pad of paper and a pen.
The audience member began to tear up. Ginny frowned at the reaction. Crying would do no good.
Then again, writing down what she wanted probably wouldn't do much good either, but at least it seemed more productive than sobbing on national television.
She began her list by writing at the top of the page What I Want in Life.
Ginny paused. What did she want? She tapped the pen against the pad of paper while considering the answer to that very important question.
Her lack of ideas wasn’t a very promising start. Did her writer's block extend to list making too?
Ah, ha! That was what she wanted.
“I want to get over my writer's block. I want to write a novel.” She wrote as she spoke and felt better the minute something went down on the paper.
On a roll, she went back and added the words and publish after the words to write.
Ginny thought some more and added the words bestselling before novel.
She reread the sentence with the additions.
To write and publish a bestselling novel.
As long as this was a wish list, she might as well make the wishes good.
Feeling as if she was finally off to a good start, Ginny continued to consider what she wanted in life.
She glanced outside at the snow and thought of another point for her list. She was tired of feeling helpless. She’d had enough of being unable to fix things that broke or start a snow blower.
I want to be able to take care of myself.
Independence was important, however, she didn't want to be alone all the time either. Ginny added one more thing to the list.
I want a man.
Hmm. Better be more specific than that. She started a bulleted list of criteria below that.
After a moment of further consideration, she added two more.
Good in bed
Lets me be my own person
Glancing up, Ginny saw the woman on screen had finally wiped her eyes and started making her own list.
The doctor kept speaking, “Once you have your list, the points you’ve written become your destination. But you need a map to get to your destination. What steps can you consciously take to move you in the right direction to help achieve your end goals?”
Ginny supposed she could get out of the house more.
No wonder she was alone and had writer's block. How could she obtain any material to write if her entire existence consisted of this house, the television and her computer? She needed to get a life in order to write a book and land a man.
Molly and Marco met at the snack bar at their gym. Ginny had never belonged to a gym. She preferred exercise videos she could workout to in the privacy of her own home.
That was just one more way she unconsciously made the choice to be alone. Maybe she needed to join a gym. She added that as step number one.
She glanced at her list of male criteria. To find a man like that, she definitely needed to get out more, but not going just any old place would do. She supposed she could take day trips into New York City.
There she could visit museums and art galleries. Smart men would hang around there. Right?
Maybe she could sign up for some adult education classes at the local college. That would kill two birds with one stone. She could learn how to fix things and she might meet some cute guys at the school.
She wrote all those new ideas down as well, and then reviewed the lengthening list. She had a lot of changes to make in her usual routine.
The half hour show was wrapping up with the Love Doctor hawking his book. Ginny flipped the channel. She’d gotten what she needed from the show—a list of goals and a game plan on how to achieve them.
Since she couldn’t do anything about her plan on Christmas Eve, she put the list aside and decided not to think about any of it tonight. Tomorrow would be out of the question too, since it was a holiday.
In fact, with New Year's Eve just around the corner, after the first of the year might be a better time to start implementing the changes for her new life.
That seemed like the perfect time. After the holidays were over. When businesses were getting back to business as usual. And when the whole world was making resolutions for the new year.
Happy with that plan, Ginny scrolled until she found a Christmas movie she could live with, pulled the blanket over her legs again and snuggled in for the evening.
She’d call her mom and dad as soon as this movie was over. Maybe by then she’d have a better handle on how bad the storm was going to be.
~ * ~
Thom leaned toward the restroom mirror and evaluated his reflection. Aside from the darkened circles beneath his eyes, which were caused by lack of sleep not bruising, he looked back to normal.
His face had gone through a whole rainbow of colors since the November mission that had landed him in the hospital. During the worst of it, he’d even resorted to putting on makeup so the bruises wouldn’t scare his kids.
Now, finally, that night was just a memory. And a hazy memory, at that.
He balled up the paper towel he’d dried his hands on and tossed it across the room. It landed dead center in the trashcan.
His depth perception was back. So was his peripheral vision, and he hadn’t experienced memory loss in weeks. Proof that even an RPG-powered hatch to the face couldn’t keep a good SEAL down for long.
Thom tugged the men’s room door open and headed into the dimly lit bar toward the table where his friends sat.
Rather than take his seat, he dug into his pocket for his wallet and tossed a five-dollar bill onto the table for the soda he’d drank. “I guess I’m gonna get going.”
From his seat at the table, Brody frowned up at him. “You sure you wanna take that drive tonight?”
“I’ll be fine.” Thom dismissed his friend’s concern with the wave of one hand.
The team was used to working vampire hours, with most of their missions happening at night. Compared to infiltrating an ISIS stronghold, driving from Virginia to Massachusetts would be a piece of cake.
Brody’s brother Chris paused with his beer in his hand. “I don’t see why you don’t just hit the road in the morning instead. That way you can stay, have some beers with us, then start fresh in daylight.”
“There’ll be less traffic driving at night. Besides, they’re expecting me in the afternoon, but I kinda wanna surprise my parents and be there when they wake up in the morning.” Thom couldn’t be with his kids on Christmas morning, thanks to his bitch ex-wife’s rules, so he wanted to be with his parents.
He would have left earlier today, but he’d only been allowed to have his son and daughter for Christmas Eve dinner. He couldn’t miss that, so it delayed his departure.
Thom had three-days leave and he was going to make the most of it. If that meant driving at night to maximize the time he had with his family in Massachusetts, then that’s what he’d do.
Brody pushed back his chair and stood. He extended his hand to Thom then reeled him in to deliver a slap on his back with the other. “Safe trip and Merry Christmas.”
“Thanks.” Thom turned and got the same treatment from the other Cassidy brother.
Chris pulled back and said, “Be careful driving up there. I saw talk of a snowstorm on the news.”
Thom laughed. “Don’t worry. We Yankees know how to drive in the snow. It’s only you southern boys who think a few flurries warrants a winter weather emergency.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Chris rolled his eyes. “Just be careful and Merry Christmas.”
“Same to you.” Thom tipped his head. “See you in a few days.”
“You got it.” Brody’s voice followed Thom as he turned for the door. “And don’t forget, New Years is at Rick’s place again this year.”
Thom raised an arm in acknowledgement as he pushed through the back door of the bar that led to the parking lot.
The cool air hit him like a bracing slap across the face. He was grateful for that after the overly warm air of the bar and his full belly from dinner with the kids. He had become a little too relaxed and kind of sleepy.
Luckily, when he’d stopped at the gas station to fill up before getting the kids this afternoon, Thom had picked up an energy drink. If he started to feel tired during the eight-hour drive to Springfield, he’d down that and be good.
Sliding behind the wheel of his SUV, he thought about what Brody had called to him as he’d been leaving. New Years Eve was next week. Yet another holiday to remind him of his divorce.
He’d negotiated to get the kids on New Years Day this year so he couldn’t get shitfaced at the party the night before. Even so, it would be good to be at Rick’s place with his buddies.
Of course, it wouldn’t just be the guys. There’d be a few females. Rick’s sister Darci would be there and Ali too since she and Jon were a couple now.
Even Zane had settled down with one girl, amazingly enough. And of course, Grant and his wife would probably come.
One day—maybe—Thom would be interested in going down the dating road again. Since thoughts of his ex-wife still had his blood pressure rising into the danger zone, that day had obviously not come yet.
Hell, she’d turn him so completely off women he hadn’t had sex in—what? A quick calculation told him it had been over eighteen months since the divorce had been finalized and he’d gone out on a drunken rebound-sex spree.
That had been more about revenge and anger at his ex than pleasure for himself.
Christ, that woman had messed him up good if even sex hadn’t held any appeal for him for a year and a half.
Steering onto the entrance ramp for the highway that would lead him north and home, Thom decided this holiday was a good time to forget about everything bad in his life. A time to enjoy his family, the beauty of his hometown in winter and some much needed time off.
He might even run into one of his old girlfriends from high school. A one-night reunion with a woman from his past might be just what he needed to break out of this funk he was in and end his dry spell.
Some quick, easy sex might get him back on the horse, so to speak.
Still, somehow that idea left him cold.
Even with as bruised as he was from the divorce, damned if he wasn’t still a romantic at heart. He should probably work on that.
Thom realized it was going to be a long night if he kept second-guessing his life and loves the whole way.
He spun the dial on the radio louder, hoping the music would fill his head rather than his own thoughts.
With a dry, open highway ahead of him, he set the cruise control for ten miles above the posted speed limit and reached for his energy drink, settling in for the drive.