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TEMPTED BY A SEAL EXCERPT
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.