SEAL's Accidental FamilyBy: Leslie North
SEAL and Veteran Series
Thirty-Two Days Ago—Dive Bar near Parris Island, South Carolina Marine Base
Harris McCallister slapped the empty long-neck bottle onto the scarred wooden bar table and lifted his gaze toward the bartender working her ass off behind the long counter. Between the off-duty military personnel, local civilians needing to forget their day, and the loud music he did his best to tune out, he’d be waiting until hell froze over before he caught her attention.
In the dive bar’s main dining area, a group of young women decked out in skimpy dresses broke into jubilant laughter as they raised shot glasses, then downed the colorful liquid. A few shuddered with sour faces while others smacked their lips and grinned. In one of the booths along the perimeter, four guys in worn fatigues watched the women with calculated expressions, probably looking for an opening to move in.
Harris snorted. The off-duty Marines would have no problem picking up the ladies. Those women were classic tag-chasers—women who targeted military men in hopes of leading them by their dog tags straight to the altar. Why else would the women hold their celebration in a crappy bar popular with Marines who traveled across the bridge from Parris Island?
Marines such as Harris. God, he was only twenty-nine years old, but he felt ancient. Slumping even further in the uncomfortable wooden-backed stool, he slid the empty bottle next to its equally empty buddy. Should he have another? Twirling the glass so the label faced him, he answered himself, how else are you going to get numbingly drunk?
Excellent point. He peered at the bartender again, but could not catch her eye. Shocker. Searching for the waitress who had served him the previous two beers, he found her tied up with a large group taking up three of the five tables in the bar area. Shit.
Another pang ripped through his heart, and he smoothed a hand over his olive-green T-shirt in an attempt to sooth it. Not that his attempt did a thing to help.
Too many goddamn funerals threatened to steal his sanity. First, his best friend and fellow teammate had stepped on an IED on their last mission in a Colombian hellhole. And second, his unit’s barely stateside and still reeling from hauling a casket home, when Harris gets the call that his father passed away.
A hard lump formed in Harris’s throat and he swiped his hand over his face to push the tears threatening to fall back into submission. Choosing between attending his best friend’s funeral or his father’s was a choice straight out of hell. But not really a choice in the end. He put in for bereavement leave, was granted a thirty-day pass, and made arrangements to head home to Springwell, Georgia. It had been too long since he’d seen his two brothers due to them all being in the military, though in different branches. The oldest brother, Chance, became a Navy SEAL, while the youngest McCallister, Lee, became a sniper for the Army Rangers. And Harris became a Marine Raider, basically the Marine’s version of the SEALs and Rangers.
They’re not in the military anymore, his conscience piped up. Right. Both his brothers recently retired but for two contrasting reasons. Regardless of their status, they’d all be together again tomorrow. And it only took their father dying to kick off the reunion . Fuck. He rubbed at his aching heart again. They’d need him to be his typical level-headed, supportive, middle-child-peace-keeping self. And he would, but that meant tonight, he could get stupid drunk as a way to anesthetize the pain.
Speaking of anesthesia, he glanced toward the last place he saw his waitress, then jerked upright on his stool. All thoughts about ordering another beer fled as he gazed at Rachel Winchester strolling toward him. All five-feet-two inches of sexiness packed into her petite frame kept striding closer with her denim-clad hips swaying provocatively while her pale-yellow tank top showed off perfect breasts and colorful tattoos filling her bared skin. She frequently changed the color of her long, straight hair and today she was sporting a muted shade of purple. With all the beautiful ink, the bright revolving hair color, and her small physique, she reminded him of a fairy—a naughty fairy he constantly fantasized about.
Oh, the dirty things he imagined doing to her and her reciprocating in turn kept him well primed when he had to take care of his own needs. For years. Ever since he’d joined his Raiders unit and got stationed at Parris Island. She lived in town and used to bartend here before she inherited a property and established a B&B…or at least that’s what he’d heard. When he was stateside, he had constantly planted his ass at the bar counter just to flirt outrageously with her. It had been a massive disappointment to come back from a mission earlier in the year and find out she had quit. He hadn’t seen her since…until now. God had finally showed some pity on him.
“By the look in your eye,” Rachel stated in a throaty voice, stopping beside Harris’s table, “a girl would think you missed her.”
Harris propped his elbows on the small round table. “By the way you disappeared, a guy would think you didn’t care about him at all.”
Rachel ran her forefinger and thumb down her purple-dyed hair and studied his face. The twinkle in her eyes dimmed, and a crease formed at the corner of her mouth. “What’s wrong?”
Harris sighed and slumped back in the chair. Retorts that normally came easily deserted him, and he didn’t have it in him to keep up the act.
Warmth filled his forearm, and he stared at the hand curling around his muscle. A shiver stole through him at the contact, and he closed his eyes against the godforsaken tears that threatened to fall again. Christ. He did not need to break down in the dive bar, and he especially didn’t want to lose it in front of Rachel.