Hot SEAL, A Forever Dad (SEALs in Paradise #31) - Maryann Jordan
“Never too early for a beer!”
Ben “Pops” Popovich grinned as he stood with the tight-knit group of men he called brothers as well as friends and accepted the icy can from Gage. The California sun was not high in the sky but on the cloudless day the heat was already penetrating, causing a mirage of waves rising from the parking lot asphalt. “Gator, truer words were never spoken.” He held the can to his lips and let the cold brew slide down his throat, trying not to think that this was the last time he’d probably bend an elbow with these men all at the same time. Times were changing, and it was all he could do to focus on the needs of the day, not what lay ahead.
“Here’s to Pops and new fuckin’ adventures,” Cole shouted, holding up his beer before drinking, joining with the others.
Brian leaned against Ben’s new SUV and shook his head. “Hard to imagine you without your bike.”
Ben looked over at Brian, known as Heartbreaker to the group, a moniker which now seemed wrong considering he was now shackled to the beautiful Alicia… and from one look at Brian, the man was damn happy about it.
“Not gonna get his grannie on the back of his bike,” Joker grinned.
“That’s for damn sure. Hell, you’ve installed April on the back of yours, but all I’ve got is my grandmother,” he laughed. Ignoring the reminder of why he was leaving his SEAL team with an honorable discharge after fifteen years in the service, he directed his smile toward Joker, another friend whose single status had bitten the dust.
“Pops, what I can’t get over is how you managed to get all your worldly possessions into the back of this SUV with room to spare,” Chris said, peering into the back. “Damn, man, don’t you have more shit somewhere?”
Finishing his beer, he leveled his gaze onto Zig and shrugged as though he hadn’t a care in the world. “Fuck, what’s the use of spending my money on shit that I don’t use ‘cause we were always somewhere fuckin’ else?” The others nodded in varying degrees of agreement, but he couldn’t help but glance into the back of the SUV and see the boxes and bags that contained the entirety of his possessions. After years of living in barracks or renting small, furnished efficiency apartments that came with dishes and pots, he barely owned more than his clothes, linens, some books, a laptop, and a few mementos.
He’d been in the service since he was eighteen, earning an associate degree along the way before becoming a SEAL. Creating a home had never been on his list of things to do, focus on his career taking precedence over everything else. After all, he could never recreate what had been home with his grandparents. Now, at thirty-three, with all his possessions packed into the back of the vehicle he’d just bought after trading in his motorcycle, he scrubbed his hand over his face, ready to go back to what had been home, praying it wouldn’t be so different from what he remembered.
“How long do you figure it’ll take you to get to Hope City?” Gage asked.
“Hell, from California to the east coast? It’s about forty hours or so. Figure I’ll break it up into four days. I could make it in three, but then I’d get there late and don’t want to bother my grandmother after she’s gone to bed. If I arrive the next day, it’ll be better.”
“You okay with everything?” Cole asked, his smile still firmly in place but his gaze penetrating.
The others’ mirth slowed as they waited for his answer, knowing the atmosphere was different from the good luck party they’d thrown the other night at their team leader Bear’s house, where alcohol had flowed as much as the glory stories they told and embellished.
He nodded slowly, the truth of what he was about to say moving through him painfully. “Been a helluva career, guys. Couldn’t have asked for a better team to go out with. But family duty calls, and it’s time for that to take precedence over Uncle Sam’s needs. Plus, three fuckin’ knee repairs in the past years. Even if it wasn’t for my grandmother getting sick, this body isn’t what it used to be. There are younger men—although not better men—ready to take over.” That statement brought a round of ‘hear, hears’, and he laughed along with them.
Crumpling his beer can, he tossed it expertly into the trash