“Same place you left us, man. Going out on a sneak-and-peek in about twenty.” Which meant the team had been deployed back to Syria. “Gonna get the chance to nail the guy who took out your shoulder.”
“No shit.” The pain he’d temporarily forgotten about throbbed back to life. “Give him an extra bullet for me, would you?”
“My pleasure, brother. Hey, could you do me a favor while I’m tracking him down?”
“Could you get a hold of Grace for me?” he asked. “She’s not answering my calls.”
The image of Beck’s ex-wife filled Josh’s mind as he’d last seen her, sitting on the edge of his hospital bed, over a year ago now. Her strawberry-honeyed hair had been short and sleek. Her cheeks pink. Blue eyes sparkling with excitement and affection when she’d taken his hand in hers with a shy smile and an “I’ve been thinking…”
He pushed the hurt back. “Why? What’s going on?”
“I don’t know. We were talking pretty regularly up until about three, four months ago, but she seemed distant, you know? Maybe a little evasive. Then she stopped answering my calls, and she’s not returning my messages, texts, or e-mails.”
“Hold on,” Josh cut in. “Beck, she doesn’t have to call or text or e-mail you back—you’ve been divorced three years.” And, yes, dammit, Josh was counting…not that it made any difference. A hundred years could have passed, and Grace would still be off-limits. “She’s probably seeing someone. And if that’s true, you’re putting her in a really awkward position. Nothing like having your ex call in the middle of the night to cause problems.”
“That’s not like Grace, but I’d let it go if…” Beck heaved a sigh, and his voice grew serious. “See, it’s like this—I’m worried about her. I heard a rumor, and I just need someone I trust to check in on her.”
“A rumor? Seriously? Dude, I’m about to leave for Christmas in Philadelphia.”
“Can you stop in San Diego on your way? You know I wouldn’t ask you to do this if it wasn’t important.” His voice lowered as if he feared being overheard. “See, I met a guy from team four on an op out of—” He paused abruptly. “Uh, anyway, we were talking about fishing for marlin in Mexico. I pulled up Facebook and showed him pictures of our trip, that really awesome first anniversary trip Grace and I took—”
Awesome? “The one where you made her go deep-sea fishing with you?” Josh said more than asked.
“And she puked over the side for eight hours. Dehydrated herself so bad, she landed in a Mexican hospital. That awesome anniversary trip?”
“Dude,” Beck said in a perfect Dumb and Dumber impression. “Focus.”
The man was one of the sharpest SEALs Josh had ever known. A man Josh would always trust at his back. A true brother. But he was also an epically dense husband. Always had been.
“Right,” Josh said with an eye roll. “Sorry. Go ahead. Your romantic trip to Mexico…”
“So this guy from four points right at Grace in a picture and says, ‘You let your girl strip?’ I’m, like, what the fuck, right?”
Denial hit Josh first. Grace Ashby was not the stripping type. She was the sweet girl-next-door type, complete with a smattering of freckles, a smile like sunshine, and the manners of a Southern belle, even though she was a southern California girl, born and bred.
“Come on, Beck,” Josh said. “Use your common sense.”
“I have been. For two months.” Beck’s voice came out flat, the matter-of-fact tone he used only when he was serious. “And now I’m worried.”
Beck—the warrior—was worried.
“This was a SEAL from team four who fingered her with no doubt, dude,” Beck said, “not some average Joe.”
Josh’s denial melted into a blend of shock and confusion. Yes, Grace was a dancer. Her mother, Carolyn, loved to brag and tell stories at the SEAL family get-togethers whenever the team was stateside. And Carolyn had told the story of Grace starting ballet at three years old, continuing with every type of dance imaginable throughout her life. She’d told stories of Grace smoking the gymnastics team and leading the cheerleading squad all through high school. And Josh knew from his own friendship with Grace that she’d gone on to teach and dance through several different Southern California theatres.
But the transition from dancing to stripping was a huge leap.