Greg was an extremely stable

He wants you to trust him, Kayla. He knows what you went through, we all do. By the way, your first appointment with the shrink is next week.”

“I don’t need a shrink. I’ve dealt with my—stuff—just fine.”

“I’ve got my orders and this time I’m following them. I’ll sit on you myself in the doc’s office. I am never going to watch you have one of those—episodes—again. I’ve been tied up in knots hoping to hell you don’t have another one when it’s only me around.” Mace’s body tensed, and he shoved himself back in his chair, chucking back a long gulp of his beer. Swallowing, he brought the bottle down with a thud on the table. “No fucking way am I ever watching that again.” A hard set of eyes gazed at her, and he worried his cheek with his tongue. “You know you’re ex is back in the service, don’t you?”

Downing half the Margarita, she dwelled on sidestepping the issue of her past as she licked the salt from her lips. “Yes.” It hadn’t been her only motivation, but it certainly was one of the reasons she’d applied to the U.S. for a new job.

“That’s why you came here, isn’t it?” Mace surmised, cocking his head at her. “The Canadian forces brought him onboard after his release from prison because he had a sterling record prior to the attack. Exemplary warrior, and no government is gonna waste that.”

“Greg told me he’d been given a waiver. How do you guys find this stuff out?”

“Not me. The Captain went looking for answers. He could never understand why you were here.” Mace read her expression, saying, “No one blames you for leaving, Kayla. It’s understandable. Your ex is overseas right now, and the Captain knows where he is.”

“That’s not good.”

“You’re right, it’s not. Manchester received your file from the Canadian RCMP while we were in his office, and it included pictures of you in the hospital after the attack. It took five of us to stop your boyfriend from heading out the door.” Mace gave her a sympathetic smile. “You know us well enough. No matter what situation a SEAL encounters, we’re trained to maintain control, even if it’s in a hailstorm of confusion. I’ve never seen the Captain lose his edge, but he went nuts. Fox had to call Redding. He was the only one who could stop him from getting on a plane and hunting your ex down.”

A trickle of worry slipped down her spine. “When did this happen?” Mace only offered a steady tense brow. The “SEAL look,” she called it. “When?”

“Three days ago.”

“He doesn’t understand.”

“Understand what?”

“My marriage was complicated. I’m not defending what Daniel did, but he had issues he couldn’t control.”

Mace sat up straight. “You sound like you’ve forgiven him.”

She bit on her lip thinking about Daniel. They were explosive together in all the good ways and the worst. In the end, Daniel’s darkness won out. “Mace,” His eyes softened as they always did when he looked at her. “I loved my husband. What happened to me wasn’t Daniel’s fault.”

Mace folded his arms over his chest, his brow furrowing. “How can you say that?” he said. “I saw what he did to you. He didn’t just beat you up, he tried to slaughter you. I’ve left the enemy in better condition than you were.”

Fingering a chip, she turned her face to the warm sky. “Daniel was a victim of childhood abuse as well. Like me, he and his brother Greg joined the Navy to escape, and in a way, find a new family. Greg resolved his youth, but Daniel’s anger stewed inside him. The missions with JTF began to change him. Back then, Post Traumatic Stress wasn’t an open topic for admission or conversation. He didn’t mean to do it, and I understood that.”

Mace watched her intently. “So you’re giving him an out and blaming it on PTSD?”

She ignored his obvious doubt. “As the years progressed and he didn’t get help, the episodes got worse and came more often. That night,” She took a breath to center herself. “Daniel had just returned from a deployment. We were going to have a wonderful Christmas. Daniel had been standing at the fireplace reading the Christmas cards. His brother, Greg, had sent one. When he read the card he got angry, unreasonably so, but in that same instant a truck or car backfired on the street. Daniel wasn’t Daniel anymore. He attacked me. He was back in the theater fighting the enemy.”

Mace reached across the table and squeezed her hands tightly, trying to stop them from shaking. “I don’t want you to talk about this if it bothers you, but, Kayla, I want you to be honest with me.”

She nodded.

“Was Daniel only abusive when he had PT episodes?”

Her gaze veered to the couple sitting next to them. They were laughing, and had their heads together looking at something on her phone.

“Kayla—”

She gnawed on her lip. “Daniel hated it when men talked to me, and working on the base I was surrounded by them. I knew it was just his past haunting him, and I tried to reassure him, but I could never convince him, and once his anger took hold….” Trying to explain this to Mace was near impossible. “We were both too young to be married, and with our backgrounds and inexperience…we’d fight.” She bowed her head.

“You can’t blame all those years of abuse on PTSD. He had problems, deep ones, and you were right to leave. He needed help desperately, and hopefully got some, but using you as a punching bag is not acceptable therapy,” Mace growled.

She nodded knowing Mace was right on some levels. “Regardless, I’m just shrapnel in a minefield of women in Captain Austen’s life. There is no reason for him to become tangled up in my past.” Thane was stronger in mind and body than any man she’d ever known, except maybe Daniel. She wouldn’t want them to come face to face. The thought of those two titans squaring off, scared her more than the thought of standing like a morsel of meat between two T-rexes.

Mace reached across the table and stroked her necklace. “Do you really believe that after he gave you his Budweiser?”

It hung around an undeserving neck as far as she was concerned. Thane had earned it long ago, passing the BUD/S training, his qualification training, and then designated as a Navy SEAL. “He must have had a thousand opportunities, and he’s never settled down. There’s a reason for that.” Twisting the napkin around her finger, she watched the blood flood to the surface, reddening the tip. “The woman Thane’s meant for will be someone important. Someone strong, like him.”

Greg Lapierre slid into her thoughts. Her brother-in-law had called every day since she’d told him she wouldn’t be home for a while. He kept prodding and asking questions until she finally broke down and told him about the Shark.

Greg was an extremely stable, sexy, understanding man. The brothers were the same except for one thing: anger. Daniel had been possessive to the point of violence. She’d chosen the wrong one to marry. Greg had taken a lot of responsibility that didn’t belong to him after Daniel had his breakdown. Since those days, Greg had been someone she could always count on. “Greg wants me to marry him.”

Bdir

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