Father Figure - Jane Harvey-Berrick
Gabe . . . Then
It was the last night of our world.
Luke and I stormed into the bar as if we owned it. We were motherfucking SEALs, and the night before a SEAL deployment in Coronado, California, the locals rolled out all the stops. Free food and drinks in every restaurant and bar. Free pussy, too.
Luke and I acted tougher than sin, but in reality, both of us were scared shitless about our first deployment, although we would never admit it. We were new SEAL pups, recently awarded shiny tridents, but our egos were fully inflated.
We were raised on internet porn and superhero movies. We were badasses with attitude. We couldn’t wait to go overseas and kill some terrorists.
But we had one night left in America.
“Hey, Charlie, give me some whiskey.”
The bartender poured the shots and slid them over to Luke and me. We downed them in unison without a thought. We were as close as two men could possibly be—he was my swim buddy at BUD/S, which meant there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for him.
I would kill for him, I would give my own life to save his.
And he would do the same for me.
My attention turned to the front door of the smoky bar. Two sexy women strolled inside, clearly SEAL hunting. Every woman in San Diego knew exactly what happened at the Pickled Frog: Team Guys and Frog Hogs only.
I turned to study Luke. “Red or Blondie?” His green eyes were fixated on the women.
I wanted Red—her hair looked almost electric in the dim lighting, and I’d always had a thing for redheads, but it was his turn to choose first.
He eye-fucked them slowly. “I’d say both. Maybe we can tag team.”
I shook my head. “You’re a fucking pig, man. And I don’t want to share. Shall we flip?”
“Nope. I’m in the mood to get burned. I’ll take Red.”
And with that, we walked over to the women. I was the shyer of the two of us. I asked the blonde if I could buy her a drink, but Luke wasted no time.
He grabbed Red by the wrist and pulled her out of the bar. She didn’t resist at all, happily trotting after him to the dark alley outside. I didn’t intend to be far behind.
I barely remember anything about that night. I was smashed beyond belief and had my own fun with Blondie. I do remember that we stumbled out of the Pickled Frog and into another bar and another, goofing off along the way. Luke and Red crashed a wedding on the beach and found one of those passport photo booths. They took some lame couples pics, and I bombed the last one, laughing my ass off. Blondie was pissed that she didn’t make it into the picture. Whatever. I couldn’t even remember her name.
But I remembered one thing.
Her deep dark eyes were the shade of the whiskey we drank, and her hair was the color of a cardinal. The color of sin.
A shade I never saw again.
Until I met Mariana.
Every day for the past twenty years of my life, I’ve awoken before dawn.
But twenty years ago, I had bounded out of bed for a different reason than I did these days.
Back then, I was full of hope, pride, youthful invincibility.
Basically, I was stupid.
I thought I could change the world. As the youngest Navy SEAL on my Team, I had the world at my feet. I planned to serve a long career in the Teams, defending our freedom overseas. And partying our asses off when we were back on American soil.
But one night could change