Excerpt from Chapter 1
Sometimes, even the most dedicated workaholic needs to unwind in a low-class dive. Jax
Graham signaled the bar girl to bring him and Do-Lord two more beers. The Sea Shanty, as neon grunge on the inside as it was dilapidated on the outside, could always be trusted to live down to its name. A smart man would be grateful that darkness hid the dirt, and the odors of beer and ancient cigarette smoke obliterated smells even less savory. Nobody who gave a damn would see him, a lieutenant, having a drink with his best friend, Caleb "Do-Lord" Dulaude, a Chief Petty Officer.
The beer joint would fill up later with a volatile mix of bikers, SEALs, and Marines, but it was early now. Only a few tables were occupied. In one corner a couple of SEAL groupies used a lazy game of pool to offer generous displays of,tits and ass, occasionally casting acquisitive eyes in Jax and Do-Lord's direction. The tall blonde wasn't bad, Jax mused in unconscious, automatic assessment, but neither girl was anything special. Still, neither one would leave alone at closing time-not that he'd be here to see it.
Picking up groupies or closing down bars wasn't something he did much anymore. He'd done plenty of both almost five years ago after Danielle left him, taking his baby son. But it didn't take him long to learn all he achieved was a hangover. Hard work and dedication turned out to be more effective for blotting out the pain. And paid off in career advancement. Since his latest deployment to Afghanistan his superiors had recommended him for early promotion to lieutenant commander.
Ironic. Danielle left him because being a SEAL claimed most of his time. But after she took Tyler, the only thing that eased his grief was spending even more time at work. Danielle's death last month wouldn't really impact his life now. Not at all. It gave him a hollow feeling, but it was the truth.
"You haven't said much." Do-Lord's soft Alabama drawl slid easily through the happy hour chatter. "You worried about Commander Kohn chewing you out?" That his friend knew what had taken place behind closed doors between him and his mentor didn't surprise Jax. Chiefs knew everything.
"Nah." Jax used the bottom of his beer mug to press interlocking rings of condensation on the tabletop until he made an Olympics symbol. "It's not a problem."
Do-Lord made a dubious rumbling sound and raised one reddish eyebrow.
"Okay, yeah, I was ticked. Kohn questions whether I really know what I'm doing about my son. He kept asking how often I see Tyler. Shit. How much does any SEAL see his kids? And because Danielle and I were divorced, I saw him even less."
"He thinks you should bring Tyler to live with you?"
"No, he didn't tell me what to do, except to make sure I spent some time with Tyler-more than a couple of days-before I made up my mind." Jax scrubbed at his hairline with a fist, a habit when he was frustrated-a habit he thought he'd broken. "But here's the deal. Sure, custody reverted to me at Danielle's death, but I know what it's like to be raised by housekeepers and babysitters. Screw 'im. I'm doing what I think is right."
Jax could feel Do-Lord listening, though he said nothing. Jax went on, a little calmer. "Giving custody of Tyler to his grandmother is the only plan that makes any sense. I'm not palming him off. She wants him. I don't like her, but Lauren loves Tyler and he's already living with her."
Do-Lord's sympathetic smile said he understood the bad blood that existed between Jax and his exmother-in-law. But his raw-boned face immediately turned serious again. "Maybe you ought to be worried, though." Do-Lord's lightgreen eyes leveled a look at Jax. "Face it, man, it ain't natural for commanders to chew out lieutenants over filling out child care forms. He coulda and he shoulda passed that duty down the chain of command. Kohn could have you discharged if he's not happy with the provisions you make for Tyler. And I think he'd do it."
Jax grinned inwardly. Do-Lord's homespun manner fooled a lot of people. Like his sandy-red hair and slow speech, it made effective camouflage for his incisive intelligence. In fact, he was an omnivorous reader, and holder of several advanced degrees. The only person Jax had ever known who was as smart as Do-Lord had been his boyhood friend Corey. Jax had frequently found Do-Lord's ability to see patterns-where other people saw only chaos-useful. But he was taking Kohn's threats too seriously.
Jax shook his head. "You know how Kohn is when he gets the family responsibility bug up his ass. Tyler's already lost his mother. Why should he be ripped from the one person he really knows? Tyler's going to be taken care of. It's essentially the same custody agreement I had with Danielle. Now, it's just a matter of signing the papers."
Do-Lord tilted his head and looked at Jax through narrowed eyes. "You really think it will be that easy?" he inquired softly.
Do-Lord's question fell into one of those conversational lulls. For a moment the bar was so quiet Jax could hear the click of billiard balls in the corner.
"My lawyer's ex-Navy. He'll make sure everything is regulation," he said, but he knew that wasn't what his friend was asking.
Finally he said the thing he hadn't said to Kohn, or even to himself. "It's like this: I don't see that I'm losing anything I ever had."
Uncomfortable at revealing so much, Jax pressed a wet circle on the battered tabletop, then bisected it with another circle.
Do-Lord pointed to the wet circles. "You made a vesica piscis."
Good friend that he was, Do-Lord was offering this odd little factoid culled from his voracious reading as a change of subject. It was a mark of the trust between them that Do-Lord would reveal what an information sponge his brain was. Conscious of his affection and grateful for the shift away from a conversation that had gotten too touchy-feely too fast, Jax canted an eyebrow. "You know the damnedest things. Okay, what the hell is a ... a whatever you said?"
"Vesica piscis. It's a sacred geometric symbol representing enlightenment through union with the Divine Feminine principle. See?" Do-Lord pointed to the lens shape formed where the two circles intersected. "It looks sort of like," Do-Lord's eyes twinkled with deadpan humor, "the feminine portal."
"Feminine portal!" Jax hooted. "You know what, I'm worried about you. You've been talking funny ever since you read all those romance novels while we were in Afghanistan."
SEALs teased one another relentlessly to ease the inevitable friction among team members- alpha males, every one-whose natural tendency was to compete for dominance rather than to cooperate. Do-Lord refused to take the bait, though. "Nothing else I could do, once I'd been through all the paperback thrillers."
"I think you're trying to say it looks like pussy." Jax laughed again, then tilted his head one way and then the other to study the shape he'd made. "Well, damn! It sort of does. Okay, such a symbol is important to know about ... why?"
"You see it in Georgia O'Keefe's paintings, representations of the Virgin Mary-lots of places, even tabletops in beer joints. It's a clue to interpretation."
"You're the guy with the psych degree. How do you interpret my spontaneous work of art?"
"Me?" Do-Lord took a thoughtful swig of beer. "I think it means you need to get laid."
Both men chuckled and settled deeper into the scarred wooden armchairs. After a moment Jax broke the easy silence.
"I was just thinking about something the Commander said. Do you think a lot of men wonder if their children are really theirs?" Do- Lord had never been married and had no children, but there wasn't another man on earth Jax would have shared his musings with.