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Say You're Mine
A Shillings Agency Novel
By Diane Alberts, Candace Havens
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Diane Alberts
All rights reserved.
Steven Thomas lived in the ninth level of hell, or so he'd been told enough times. Mostly by women who hated him, because he slept with them and didn't call them back. He was always up-front about his expectations of women, and never led them to believe he was looking for more than a one-night stand, yet they never seemed to believe him. Even with all that, he was pretty damn certain they were right.
As if being a Navy SEAL doing morally questionable things in the name of freedom and country wasn't enough to fuck him over with the big man upstairs, the way he'd been acting ever since he returned to civilization would be. Maybe there was no saving him, but after getting shot overseas and almost dying, he was determined to have the best time possible before jumping into that fiery pit with a grin on his face.
But he wasn't fighting overseas anymore. Now, he was a security agent at the Shillings Agency, and he protected rich dudes while they golfed.
Another thing he was trying to accept.
Till he figured out what came next, he was going to have fun. Live life. Drink merrily. Screw beautiful women. Be wild and free. After all the shit he'd done, he was never, ever settling down. It wasn't in his blood — unlike his best friend, Holt Cunningham, who had settled down with Steven's baby sister.
The little fucker ...
"Dude." Holt sat next to him, letting out a long breath as he settled in. "Why do you look like you're about to go all Dalek on a bunch of Cybermen?"
Steven rolled his eyes at Holt's Doctor Who reference, and downed the last of his drink. It burned going down — just the way he liked it. It blurred his vision a little bit more — also the way he liked it. "If I was going to delete anyone from this universe, it would be you, dumbass."
"Ah." Holt sighed and leaned on the bar, completely unfazed by the threat to his safety. His brown hair was messed up to perfection — as it always was — and he studied Steven with somber blue eyes. "What did I do this time?"
"Besides falling for my sister ...?"
"Guilty as charged. And I'd do it all over again." Holt grinned, staring across the bar at something. That "something" was more than likely Steven's sister, Lydia. "But that's not what's bugging you. It's been a year."
A year. A whole damn year.
"She's not drinking tonight," Steven said, having his suspicions as to why she wasn't.
"Yeah." Holt flushed and ruffled his hair. Steven's instincts were spot on. That was Holt's tic, when he was trying to hide something. Steven was good at reading people, and even better at spotting evasion. "And? Why is that so weird? She likes soda, too."
He could call him on it. Ask Holt point-blank if he'd gotten his sister pregnant. Despite his avoidance, his friend wasn't typically a liar. But if they weren't ready to tell anyone yet, he could wait patiently. He wouldn't be upset about a baby, so the couple's secrecy was odd. The idea of a little niece or nephew felt ... nice.
"Is she feeling okay?" Steven asked. He needed to find out that much, at least. "Like, is she all right?"
"Yeah. She just had an upset stomach earlier," Holt muttered, still not looking at him. "She'll be fine."
In nine months. "Good."
"We're going to be expected to dance soon. Did you bring Lauren?"
Without really wanting to, Steven scanned the room for the familiar brunette. Lauren Brixton. His other best friend. She stood off to the side, chatting up some tall, blond man he vaguely recognized from accounting.
Why the hell was she talking to that dude?
He was a prick, and everyone knew it.
"Yeah." Steven shifted his weight on the stool, narrowing his eyes when she placed her hand on the asshole's arm. "She came as my plus one."
"These work events are too boring without one." Holt flagged down the bartender, his glasses askew and his black suit jacket unbuttoned. "I'll take another Coke, please. And a ginger ale, too."
So. Holt wasn't drinking because Lydia wasn't.
He liked that.
Lifting his hand, he held his empty glass up. "And I'll have another whiskey."
Holt frowned. "What is that? Your fourth?"
"We've only been here an hour, man." Holt adjusted his glasses. "Slow down, or I'll have to carry your drunk ass out of here ... again."
"The way I see it, you owe me at least ten more of those nights," Steven said, keeping his voice light even though Holt was pissing him off. After all, Holt had no room to talk. A year ago, he'd been drinking heavily and spending all his free time in bars, and Steven had been the one telling him to slow down.
So what the hell ever.
Lauren watched him from across the room, so he waved. She smiled and returned the gesture, but turned back to the prick occupying her time. Anger rolled through his veins when the asshole leaned in closer to speak into her ear, and she flushed in reply, but he ignored the unwanted emotion. It was just Lauren, not some girl he was trying to fuck.
If she liked flirting with the jerk-off, then so be it.
He turned back to Holt, who watched him with a smirk. "What now?"
"Nothing." Holt rubbed his jaw and shook his head. "Nothing at all. Hey, how's Lauren doing with that Brian guy?"
Brian. Shit, he hated that guy. He was using Lauren, and the sooner she saw it, the better. Plus, when he laughed, he sounded like a damn otter. Kind of acted like one, too. "Ask her yourself. I don't give a damn how he is, or how she feels about him. He's just another guy she'll date, then realize isn't good enough for her, and I'll be the one comforting her after he's gone — until she finds another asshole to try and fix."
"Easy man." Holt shoved his glasses into place with his pointer finger. "Your jealousy's showing."
The hell it was. He and Lauren had been friends for over twenty years — and that was it. Friends. They'd never crossed the line, or even discussed crossing the line. She'd never once acted as if she ever thought about more. He would've noticed.
But everyone else was convinced they were soul mates.
Just because he had yet to like a man she'd brought home didn't mean he was jealous, or that he secretly loved her. It meant that she had horrible taste in men.
That was fact, not opinion.
"Whatever you say, man," Steven said, dragging a hand through his hair. A classical song started in the background, and people milled to the dance floor — including their boss, Cooper Shillings. He scowled at them and cocked his head toward the dance floor. Shit. He hated dancing. Give him a gun and a desert over a tux and a ballroom, anytime. "Cooper's giving us the look."
Holt sighed, grabbed his soda, and tugged on his bow tie. "Guess it's time to dance, huh?"
"Guess so." He picked up his whiskey and held it out to his buddy, grinning. "But first? I'll finish this. To leave it here unfinished would be alcohol abuse."
His best friend stared back at him, looking 100 percent not amused. "You forget I've done this already." Then he leaned in, nostrils flaring. "Drinking to drown the pain doesn't work. Nothing does."
"It worked pretty damn well for you, didn't it?" He tipped his head to his sister — a former one-night stand of Holt's. "You found her in a bar, while drinking."
"Yeah." The other man watched Lydia with devotion and love as she made her way across the room to him. "But that was pure luck."
"Well, we can't all be so lucky, can we?"
He might be drinking and fucking too much, but it was the only thing that dulled the screams that haunted him daily. The only thing that dulled the guilt that he'd lived, when the rest of his platoon hadn't, and it eased the anger over that fact — fuck, the anger. Every time he remembered what happened over there, he wanted to shoot someone.
So he took a different kind of shot instead.
If he'd known what they truly were walking into, if he'd had even a damn inkling of the type of danger they'd faced, his men would be alive today. If his superior officer hadn't led him to believe he was bringing his men on a routine mission that held no danger, when in fact it was an ambush, his men would still be here, and he wouldn't have gotten shot — and put out of the game permanently.
He fucking hated liars.
Every single one.
He glanced over his shoulder. Lauren walked beside Lydia. Something about the way she moved tonight made it impossible to look away. Damn it, she was intoxicating, with her hips swaying seductively as she made her way across the room to him. Her dark hair fell over her shoulders and tits, and she was easily the prettiest woman here.
She was his one constant, in a world full of chaos.
And she would never lie to him.
He tossed back the rest of his whiskey, shaking his head at the burn. "Damn. That felt pretty damn good."
Holt shifted beside him. "Steven —"
"Dude, I'm fine. I'm just thirsty, is all." Steven set the empty glass down. That last shot blurred his vision even more, drowning out the memories. The nightmares. The loss. "Now cheer up. It's time to go dance with our women."
He smiled at Lauren, and she grinned back. The prick she'd been chatting with stood by the wall, alone, looking all sad-faced panda bear. That shouldn't have pleased him so much ... but it did. It didn't mean he was jealous, though.
He'd die for her. Kill for her. Fight for her. But not love her. He didn't do love. Didn't want it. Hell, he didn't deserve it. Guys like him didn't get to be loved.
"Hey. It's my two favorite men," Lydia said, hugging Steven tight. "You two doing good?"
"Of course we are," Holt said.
Steven hugged her and squeezed tight, breathing her scent in. She was the only woman who held his heart. His baby sister. And, damn it all to hell, she was all grown up now. She needed to knock that shit off. Her secret almost made him throw her over his shoulder and run for the door so he could keep her safe forever and ever, just like he had when they were kids. That was Holt's job now, though. "How are you, Lyd?"
"Great." She beamed at Holt and moved out of his arms. It was a hell of a lot harder to let go of her than it should have been. As soon as he did, she went over to Holt, sliding into his arms naturally. "You're looking quite handsome in your navy blue suit. And bow tie."
"Bow ties are cool," Holt said, quoting Doctor Who.
Lydia and Steven laughed.
Lauren looked lost. She didn't watch Doctor Who like the rest of them.
It was her only fault.
He winked at her. "Lauren picked it out to match her dress, after calling me color-blind."
"He planned on wearing black," she said, exasperation in her tone. "The man might be able to charge into an armored building full of insurgents without a weapon, and come out alive, but he can't match colors to save his life."
She rested her hand on his shoulder, like she had a million times before.
This time, though, her touch burned through his suit jacket, and it unsettled him in ways it never had before, which didn't make sense. But, damn, she looked good tonight. And he needed to cut back on the drinking. The desire he felt for her was unexplainable. It had to be the booze fucking with his head.
He turned to her, laughing despite the unwanted desire rushing south at the speed of light. "It's not my fault. Navy blue and black have always, and will always, look the same to me. I look at you and I see ... black. Nothing but black."
"Look again," she said, raising a brow.
Always one to follow her wishes, he glanced up and down her trim length. It was as flawless as always. Generously sized, perky tits — which he knew for a fact were 32D, because he'd gone to the mall with her once, and she'd made him go into Victoria's Secret with her, which had been pure hell — thin waist, generously curved hips that never failed to draw his eye, and a fine ass that had driven many men crazy.
But not him. Never him.
And if he said it enough times ... maybe he'd believe it.
He'd always admired her. Her smart brain. Her sharp wit. The way she laughed, all full and rich, and how much she cared for everyone around her. And when she smiled at something sweet, it stole the air straight outta people's chests — particularly his.
And there was her body, which was, hands down, one of the finest damn bodies he had ever seen. He might only be her friend, but he wasn't blind or stupid. She was the most beautiful woman he'd ever met. The real kick in the ass was she was just as gorgeous inside as she was out.
But tonight, the outside was a hell of a lot prettier.
She stood there, smiling at him, asking him to look at her, and it did things to him. Things that had nothing to do with friendship, and everything to do with getting her out of that tight black dress ASAP, and into his arms. "Trust me, cupcake. I'm looking."
"Yeah." Her cheeks flushed pink, and she cleared her throat. "I see that."
"Well. This just got really awkward, really fast." Holt slid off the stool, winking at Lydia. "Want to dance with me, Lyd? Cooper's giving us the death stare."
"God, yes," Lydia said, giving Steven the stink eye.
He watched them go, not sure what was awkward about the four of them chatting like every other night. "What the hell was that about?"
"No idea," Lauren said quickly, smoothing her dress over her tiny waist that he couldn't stop staring at. "Are we dancing, too?"
Steven's mouth watered, and he tugged on his bow tie, studying that spot where her waist flared out for her hips. He'd never been much of a hips guy, but something told him that his hand would fit perfectly right above there, right above her hot little ass — shit. There he went again. "Son of a bitch."
"It's just dancing." Lauren blinked and pursed her lips. He'd never noticed how delicious they were. All pink, and soft, and lush, and begging to be kissed. "Why are you looking at me like that? What's wrong?"
"Nothing." He stood and rolled his shoulders, shaking off his disturbing attraction to his best friend — Lauren, not Holt. He needed to knock this shit off. Cooper scowled at him and crooked his finger. He was the only Shillings guy not out there. Even Jake and Tara were with the team, laughing and looking as happy as pigs in shit. "Ready?"
She took a deep breath, curled her hands into fists, and nodded once. "Yeah. Sure."
Skimming his gaze down her slender form one last time, he held his arm out for her. She grabbed onto it with both hands, her body stiff against his. When she glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, she quickly turned away, blushing again. He couldn't help but wonder if she felt the same odd attraction as he did tonight — and if the whiskey was messing with her head as much as it was his.
This newfound desire might throw him off, but one thing was unchangeable. No matter how much he wanted her, or how badly he ached to see how those bare hips felt in his hands, or how soft those pink lips of hers really were, he wouldn't find out. Women like Lauren deserved all the happiness in the world.
Love. A family. A dog. A cat. A house.
A white motherfucking picket fence.
All the things he could never give her — so he wouldn't even try.CHAPTER 2
The live orchestra played — she loved Mozart — and dancing couples swirled around them in fancy dresses and tuxedos, but all Lauren could see and hear was Steven Thomas. As he led her into the midst of the elegantly dancing crowd, his body hard and his arm even stiffer, she sensed an edginess in him that was stronger than ever before, and just as unattainable as he was.
He'd always been a restless man, moving quickly from one thing to another, never satisfied with life. She'd watched him go from woman to woman ever since he came back from his first tour in Iraq. Nothing was ever good enough, and she had yet to see him be happy with what he had. It was that same unquenchable drive that had sent him to the Navy, and right into a spot as a highly sought-after Navy SEAL.
Through it all, Lauren had been there.
Worrying. Waiting. Worrying. Watching. Worrying.
Yeah, worrying was mentioned three times. It should have been mentioned a thousand. Heck, a million. Through it all, no matter how far away he'd been, or what country he was in, she'd waited for him to call, write, or knock on her door.
So. Much. Waiting.
Excerpted from Say You're Mine by Diane Alberts, Candace Havens. Copyright © 2015 Diane Alberts. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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