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Navy Seal&apos;s Deadly Secret
Cindy Dees


Maybe that was why she plunked this one’s water down a little too hard, sloshing it onto the table and into his lap. He jumped, and their hands collided reaching for the paper napkin folded under his fork.

Hot. Hard. Strong. The sensations raced through her almost too fast to name. She jerked back, scalded. “I’m so sorry!” she stammered.

“It’s just water. I won’t melt,” he said gruffly. He lifted the napkin out of her slack fingers and mopped at his crotch.

Realizing in horror that she was staring at his groin, she mumbled, “I’ll, um, get you another glass of water.”

“I’d rather have a cup of coffee.”

“Right. Uh, how do you like it?”

His gaze snapped up to hers, startled and wary, as if some alarming innuendo was buried in her question. But then a faint smirk bent his lips. “I like it hot and sweet.”

She stood there staring down at him like she’d lost her marbles until he murmured, “Coffee? May I have a cup?”

“Coffee. Right. Coming up.” She whirled away, her face flaming in embarrassment. Good Lord. She’d been standing there, staring at him like a starstruck girl. And she was neither starstruck nor a girl anymore. She’d been both when she’d left Sunny Creek at the ripe old age of eighteen, but Eddie Billingham had stolen both her innocence and the stars from her eyes long ago.

“You okay?” Patricia asked her at the coffee station. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“No ghosts in here,” she retorted. Just ghosts in her head. The ghost of her innocent self. The ghost of her girlish hopes and dreams. The ghost of Eddie—

“I don’t know,” Patricia was saying. “Is that one of the Morgan boys? He looks mighty familiar.”

Anna glanced over her shoulder at the customer and jumped to see him staring at her. Intently. She looked away hastily, staring unseeing at the coffeemaker. The Morgan family had four sons and two daughters, but they’d all moved away from Sunny Creek in the past decade. Last she’d heard, none of them showed any signs of returning.

Pattie continued, “He’s got the look of a Morgan about him with that dark hair and those blue eyes. Good-looking like a Morgan, too.”

“If you say so.” She’d only had eyes for blond-haired, pale-blue-eyed Billie in high school. Stupid her. Anna poured a mug of coffee and piled a handful of sugar packets and containers of creamer on the saucer beside the mug. Determined not to spill hot coffee on her customer, she put the drink down carefully in front of him. “Can I get you a bite to eat?”

“Nah. Not hungry.”

“Petunia baked this morning. Sure I can’t get you a slice of her world-famous pumpkin chiffon pie?”

“No thanks.”

The guy was showing no signs whatsoever of wanting to be social with her, and God knew, she didn’t want to be social with him after making a complete fool of herself. She moved away, pausing at the next booth down to check on a retired couple passing through town in an RV. They asked for the check, which gave her an excuse to come back to this end of the dining room. She dropped off the bill and swung by the hunk’s table.

“Need a refill on that coffee?” she asked.

“Nope. The deal was I had to drink one cup. No more.”

What deal? She was tempted to ask him, but he forestalled her by frowning faintly at something over her shoulder. He muttered, “Someone just walked in and wants to be seated.”

Far be it from her to look like she was hanging around his table trying to get his attention! She turned quickly and headed for the newcomer, yet another lone guy. Except this one looked to be in his early twenties. And if she didn’t know better, she would say he was high. His entire demeanor was jittery. His hands were never still, and he tapped his booted heels incessantly. Like a flamenco dancer on crack.

God, she knew that look. Eddie used to get it when he snorted crack to hype himself up before auditions…and used his fists on her to come down from the hype after auditions.

The guy pushed past Anna toward the counter and the cash register, and she turned to ask him if he’d like a booth, determined to be polite after being such a doofus with her last single male customer.

Over the newcomer’s shoulder, she spied her customer. He was frowning heavily, his gaze shifting back and forth warily between her and the new guy. Trepidation leaped in her gut. The old panic that she would do something wrong and provoke jealous violence flared, making her insides quail.

Oh, wait. Not Eddie. She drew a breath of relief, tried to exhale away the panic attack and turned to face Flamenco Heels.

She spied a flash of silver in his fist. A knife. Her gazed riveted on the blade and time slowed around her to a strange, silent blur while her mind kept churning away.

Of course it was a knife. Karma was a bitch that way.

She watched the guy with the knife take a step toward her. Her entire world narrowed down to that lethal bit of sharpened steel with her name on it. Of course it was going to stab her in the belly. To gut her. Just like she’d gutted Eddie.

The remembered feel of the blade slipping into her husband’s flesh, the slight resistance and then the slippery slide of it, the heat of blood gushing out onto her fist, the metallic smell and taste of blood…

Relief flooded her, taking her by surprise, as the guy took another slow-motion step toward her.

Thank God it was finally over. Justice had caught up with her. There would be no more running from the truth. No more pretending she wasn’t racked by guilt. No more fake smiles when people offered condolences.

She’d had no idea she was waiting for this—for the swift and certain retribution that was owed to her—until a punk with a knife charged her.

Her hands dropped to her sides. She stood up straight, threw her shoulders back and closed her eyes.

Peace. At last. A finish to the self-loathing and constant voice of judgment in her head.

Her body jerked backward without warning and she opened her eyes, startled.

Apparently, Flamenco Heels had stepped around behind her and thrown his arm around her neck, yanking her back against him. She staggered and choked as his arm dug into her airway.

She was no stranger to being choked and went limp in his arms, not fighting the unconsciousness to come. The kid turned, putting his back to the counter, dragging her with him.

She saw her customer surge up out of his booth, sending his coffee across his table in a spill of sable. Anna stared at him in dismay as he charged toward her. There was no need for him to put himself in harm’s way! Not on her account. Particularly not since she’d been waiting for this ever since she got back to Sunny Creek. She’d known someone would come for her eventually. Eddie Billingham had always had plenty of hard-drinking friends and family in this town who were as violent as he had been.

She tried to shake her head at her customer. To warn him off. She managed only a frown, but hoped it was enough.

Nope.

He merely frowned back at her and kept on coming in a swift prowl that screamed of violence. And skill. He moved like some sort of trained killer.

“Give me all the cash in the register!” Flamenco Heels shouted in her ear. She was shoved forward violently and slammed into the edge of the counter.

Now. Kill me now, she begged the kid silently. Before my customer gets here and stops you.

The counter had slammed squarely into her solar plexus and knocked the wind plumb out of her. Gasping for air, she pushed upright just as something big and fast rushed past her. Spinning around to face her attacker, she was in time to see her customer smash into the would-be robber, shoulder first.

Both men crashed to the floor, the robber on the bottom taking the brunt of the impact.

The two men grappled, the kid’s knife grasped in both of their fists. Her customer forced the punk’s hand up over his head, but then the punk slugged her customer in the side with his free hand. Her customer grunted in pain, letting go of the kid’s knife-wielding hand and rolling away sharply. She danced back out of the way of both men as they jumped to their feet.

Her customer slid in front of her, hooking his right arm around her waist and shoving her behind him. The robber jumped forward, knife first, and her customer reacted so fast Anna barely saw him move. His fist slammed down on the kid’s elbow, and a terrible crunching sound of bone and tendon giving way accompanied the clatter of the knife on the floor. The punk screamed and collapsed around his ruined arm.

As the robber’s face went down, her customer’s knee came up, connecting squarely with the kid’s nose. Blood gushed from the robber’s face, streaming down his chin onto his white T-shirt. He staggered back, holding his face.
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