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"Still as ugly as ever, I see."
Sean Kowalski flipped the bartender the bird and dropped his duffel on the floor next to an empty stool. "Runs in the family, cousin."
Since they both stood a hair over six feet, they were able to exchange a quick hug over the bar, and Kevin thumped him on the back. "Damn glad you made it home."
"Me, too." Sean sat on the barstool and took a long swig of the foamy beer Kevin put in front of him. "Sorry I missed your wedding. And Joe's, too."
"You were getting your ass shot at in Afghanistan. We won't hold it against you. Much."
"Still can't believe you both found women willing to be your Mrs. Kowalskis. What's wrong with them?"
Kevin flashed him a grin. "It's the dimples, man. Women can't resist them. Too bad for you we got 'em from Ma and all you got are the blue eyes from the old man's side."
"They do me well enough. How are your parents doing?"
"Good. They're looking forward to seeing you, and Ma made lasagna for tonight."
Sean grinned and patted his stomach. "I didn't stop for lunch so I've got plenty of room. There are a lot of things I miss about my mother, God rest her soul, but her cooking isn't one of them. Aunt Mary, though? Damn, that woman can put a meal together."
Kevin nodded, then stepped away for a minute to grab a water. "So, you've got no job. Gonna mooch food from Ma and bum an apartment from me. The army was supposed to make you a man, not a useless son of a bitch."
"Twelve years was enough. Don't know what I want to do now, but I know it's not more of that."
"No interest in going back to Maine and helping your brother run the lodge?"
Sean shrugged. It had come upespecially when he'd told his brothers and sister he was going to hang out with the New Hampshire branch of the family for a while. But spending the rest of his life at the Northern Star Lodge wasn't something he wanted to do. As a child, he'd hated strangers making themselves at home in his house and he'd never outgrown it. He just wasn't cut out to be an innkeeper.
"It's a plan B," he said.
Kevin took a swig off the water bottle, then screwed the cap back on. "You know I'm just giving you shit. You can crash here as long as you want."
"Appreciate it. Once I've had my fill of Aunt Mary's cooking, I might go home or...hell if I know." It was one of the reasons he'd decided to leave the army. There was nowhere he had to be tomorrow. Or the day after that.
A tall, busty redhead stepped out from a back room and Kevin waved her over. "This is my cousin, Sean. Sean, this is Paulie Reed, my head bartender, assistant manager and all around right-hand man. Woman. Person. Right-hand person."
"Nice to meet you," Sean said, shaking her hand. She had one hell of a grip.
"I've heard a lot about you. Welcome home. My fiancé, Sam, and I live in the apartment below yours, so give a shout if you need anything."
"Will do." He watched her walk away because she had a hell of a swing, butwhether it was the mention of a fiancé or the fact she just wasn't his typeit didn't do much for him. "Jasper's Bar & Grille, huh? Interesting name."
"It came with the place and I'm too cheap to buy a new sign. Finish that beer and I'll take you upstairs now that Paulie's off break."
Sean knocked back the rest of the suds and picked up his duffel. He followed his cousin to a back hallway, then up two flights of stairs to the apartment Kevin was letting him use for the duration of his visit. It was a decent place and clean, with an oversized leather couch and a big-screen TV. All good, as far as he was concerned.