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Revealing Her Seal

By:Kat Cantrell

Seagulls circled the wedding party like a mini-hurricane of feathers as the bride and groom stepped carefully along the makeshift aisle set up on the beach. Evan Silva planted his feet a little deeper in the sand, which seemed to have shifted beneath him in the scant few minutes he’d been standing at the edge of the crystal-blue Caribbean, acting as Dex Riley’s best man. Which was par for the course. The ground hadn’t felt solid beneath his feet since his first tour in Iraq, or any moment since then, and watching his best friend get married wasn’t fixing that.

If anything, Dex falling in love with Emma made Evan’s foundation even shakier. He pasted on the happiest face he could manage, because there was no way in hell he’d let this wedding turn him into a big pansy.

Dex grinned as he and his intended bride drew closer, then swept past Evan to wade out into the water where a preacher with rolled pant legs waited for them with a smile.

“Dearly beloved…”

Traditional vows. Somehow Evan was surprised that the couple hadn’t done something more suited to a wedding that took place in the water, but whatever. Evan tuned it all out. If the seagulls crapped all over everyone, that would be the most fitting commentary on the institution of marriage that the googly-eyed couple could possibly get.

Sure, it all started out as fun and games until someone got his heart ripped out of his chest and then stomped on as it lay there on the floor, still bleeding, still eking out a few postmortem beats because it hadn’t yet realized it was a lost cause.

Not that he wished that for Dex. Or Emma. He didn’t know Emma that well—or maybe he knew her better than he’d like since Dex had moved her into the bungalow he shared with Evan—but she seemed nice enough. Dex, on the other hand… Dex got him in ways no one on the planet ever would. He didn’t care if Evan talked up a storm or went weeks without a peep.

Evan swallowed as the man he’d done three tours with in the worst extremist-infested crapholes of Iraq turned to the blonde wearing a white bikini and said, “I do.”

This was really happening. Things were never going to be the same. Heaviness pressed on his chest until he saw stars.

Narwhals. Clowns. SpongeBob. Happy place. Evan thought of a few more things that he liked. No way was he going to freak out during Dex’s wedding. The panic mostly subsided before anyone noticed. He hoped.

Rachel, Emma’s maid of honor, glanced at him. Great. The last thing he needed was for Rachel to take his happy-place face as encouragement. She winked at him, sunlight flashing in the lenses of her horn-rimmed glasses as she turned back to witness the wrap-up of the ceremony.

No lascivious once-over from the supreme flirt? A small reprieve in deference to the solemnity of the occasion most likely. She’d be back to hitting on him with both barrels in about five seconds once they moved to the reception, he had no doubt. After all, as the best man and maid of honor, he was pretty sure God and everyone expected them to dance together at least once. He’d been rehearsing his refusal speech all day: no.

Evan didn’t dance. Especially not with Rachel, who might as well tattoo “I’m available” across her forehead in case Evan had missed the million or so signals she’d dropped in his lap.

Evan didn’t date either. No woman deserved the bag of crap inside his skin.

The kiss Dex laid on his bride drew hoots and whistles from the small crowd of ex-Navy SEALs and a smattering of employees from the Duchess Island Resort, all of whom lived in the village a few hundred yards up the beach.

As Emma surfaced from the kiss that managed to be both hot and sugary at the same time, Evan’s smile turned real. She and Dex would be happy. Evan would shed blood to help make that happen, come hell or high water.

Dex and Emma held hands and waded out of the water. It was done. Mr. and Mrs. James “Dexter” Riley smiled and waved at their friends as they trod the small stretch of sand toward the party set up nearby. Where else would an ex-SEAL turned excursion-company owner have a reception but at the beach?

Evan offered Rachel his crooked elbow before he thought better of it. Her smile widened as she shifted her maid of honor bouquet to her other hand and curled her fingers around his arm. His flesh sparked at the contact, but he kept the reaction off his face. Barely. Even with years of practice at schooling his expression, the response he had every time he got near the woman snuck up on him. It was a whack to the skull and then some.

He didn’t get it. Rachel annoyed him. All the time. Didn’t stop his blood from heating when she got close.

So far he’d managed to keep her clueless about that small fact because there was no telling what she’d do with it. Rachel was a toucher, along with being a talker, a flirter, and a laugher. Also known as the exact opposite of Evan, and what a kick in the teeth that she also had a fall of shiny hair the color of cinnamon and an interesting face that he couldn’t stop looking at. Usually he tried to avoid her. Not so easy at a wedding where they made up the sole extent of the wedding party.