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.