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He's a Marine...she grew up on a commune.
He always puts duty first...she's a free spirit with an unshakable belief in Fate.
He loves routine and order...she brings chaos and creativity wherever she goes.
They're going to balance each other perfectly?or drive each other completely, utterly insane...
On a wild pre-deployment celebration in Las Vegas, Captain Timothy O'Shay encounters free-spirited beauty Skye McDermott, and for once lets down his guard. Now his life is about to take off in directions he never could have imagined...
"Like a cup of hot chocolate, The Officer Says I Do is warm, sweet, and spicy."?Mary Margaret Daughtridge, bestselling author of SEALed Forever
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Timothy O'Shay was positive of one thing.
He would be dragging his friends' drunken asses out of a ditch before morning if things progressed the same way the rest of the night.
"Twenty!" Dwayne crooned next to him. Whenever D drank, his southern accent only became thicker until it was all twang. If someone wasn't careful, they could easily take Dwayne for an idiot. Big mistake.
"Twenty-one. Sorry, sir," the blackjack dealer said in a monotone voice before sweeping a crestfallen Dwayne's chips away.
Somewhere else in the casino, a siren alerted to a slot machine winner. The sound seemed to rub the loss in Dwayne's face as he scowled more.
"You're going to lose everything you have on the last night in Vegas," Jeremy warned. Not drunk, but plenty buzzed, he seemed to be slowly working his way toward the hammered side of life.
Since Tim had zero intention of using his last night of pre-deployment leave on babysitting their drunk asses-again-he shoved Dwayne until he tumbled out of the chair. "Grab some food to soak up the keg in your stomach. I'm not hauling you around by your shirt collar for what's left of leave."
Tim loved his friends like brothers. Meeting them in The Basic School was the best thing that had happened to him, to all of them. But often their fondness for free-for-all fun led to more problems than good times. Tim's tendency toward moderation and keeping a cool head kept them out of hot water more than once.
"Tim, let me borrow a few more bucks."
"And watch you lose my cash as fast as you lost yours? Hell no." Tim made another modest bet and watched as he broke even with the dealer. Unlike Dwayne and Jeremy, Tim was about to leave Vegas with the exact amount of cash he entered it with. Moderate play and moderate drinking ensured he never played too deep.
Moderate. The story of his life. Hard to shake the "play it safe" feeling when your entire life in the Marines consisted of just that. But then again, if he wasn't willing to play nanny to the two boobs he came with, they'd all be knee-deep in shit.
"Bet your own cash, then. It's our last night," Jeremy reminded him as he doubled down on his next hand.
"I am betting my money, Jer. And I'm doing just fine without a drunken Statler and Waldorf in my ear."
"Statler and who?" Dwayne asked.
"The Muppet hecklers, you idiot," Jeremy shot back.
"Both of you knock it off," Tim started. "I'm not going to-" He cut off, turning his head to follow a woman who passed behind the table, headed toward the slots. She was tall, her head high, and she floated more than walked. A thick mass of chestnut curls rioted down her back, almost covering her bare shoulders.
"Tim. Earth to Timmy." Jeremy waved a hand in front of his face.
Tim slapped it away and snapped, "What?"
"You're daydreaming and the dealer's waiting."
"Oh, sure. Right." Trying to find the brunette again, he shoved some chips out in front without counting. Jeremy whistled and Dwayne muttered a curse, but he didn't take his eyes away from the hunt. She must have slipped down an aisle of slots.
And why did he care? One woman, one night. In the end it amounted to nothing.
"Holy shit," Jeremy breathed next to him.
Dwayne slapped his shoulder. "That was some playing, bro."
Huh? Tim looked down and saw that instead of his normal modest bets, he'd shoved almost three hundred dollars in for the hand. And won.
Holy shit indeed. He could have lost three hundred dollars and never even realized it. A cocktail waitress bent over to hand Dwayne the whiskey he'd ordered. Tim grabbed the glass first and tossed the drink back. The burn down his throat only ignited the adrenaline that was blazing low in his gut.
One shot wouldn't kill him. He wouldn't lose control from one shot.
"Do it again," Dwayne encouraged. His friend was starting to sound less sloppy, more like his normal good ole country boy self.
"Are you crazy?" Tim asked. "I could have lost that entire thing!" And why, when the thought should have been a cold wake-up call, did the fear thrill him, just a little?
"That's why it's called gambling," Jeremy pointed out. "Don't be a pussy. Do it again."
"You two are nuts."
Jeremy grabbed his wrist in a tight grip. "If you lose, I'll pay you back every penny," he muttered in a low voice.
"What the hell has gotten into you?" Tim started to scrape his chips into the palm of his hand. Maybe he could catch up with the hot brunette before she got too far away. Playing all or nothing wasn't his style. Never had been. Measured risks made him a good officer and kept his ass out of trouble.
"Place your bets, gentlemen," the dealer intoned over the clang of another winning alarm bell somewhere in the slots section. Where his anonymous woman had disappeared to. Where he was heading.
"You have spent the entire trip playing nanny. And don't pretend you haven't."
"Someone has to," Tim grumbled. And yeah, it grated just a little that even if he wanted to have fun, it wouldn't be possible. Not with his two friends always being the first to sign up for Party Mascot.
"And we love you for it. But it just occurred to me that while you're babysitting, you're not having as much fun." Jeremy took the glass of Jack and Coke and pushed it in front. When Tim stared at him, he motioned to the glass. Tim took a sip, then a gulp.
"Place your bets." The request was more forceful.
"Hold on," Jeremy shot back, then faced Tim. "Do this. You're my best friend. You need to live. For one fucking night, stop thinking about what can go wrong. We have seven months in Afghanistan to worry about that. Have fun and let go. Don't be a pussy; just go for it."
Let go. It sounded like heaven. And really, if Jeremy was going to pay him back, was it really that much of a risk? For one night, he could act a fool like his friends normally did and worry about the consequences later.
He took all of one second to debate. He stole Dwayne's shot of tequila, ignoring Dwayne's protests, and tossed it back, adding to the burn of whiskey. Then he shoved his pile of chips forward.
"Do you hear that?"
Skye McDermott turned to her best friend, Tasha, and asked, "What?"
"That noise. Coming from the tables. Sounds like someone's going to win big," her friend replied.
Skye checked her watch and tried to remember what time the show started. "That happens. It's a casino, after all," she pointed out.
"Do you wanna go watch?" Jessie asked.
Skye watched as she came up broke on the slot and swiveled on the stool. "This is girls' night out. Do you really want to spend it watching some fat, balding CPA have a lucky streak at cards while he pinches the waitresses' butts?"
"Girls' night out. As in the three of us. And two want to go. GNO is a democracy," Tasha said with a smile. "Come on. If it's boring we'll come back."
Skye heaved a sigh but followed in their wake, winding through the rows of slot machines. Just go with the flow. There was likely a reason her friends were so insistent, even if they'd never find out. Fate was weird that way, and like an experienced cardsharp, she didn't always show her hand.
Pulling her hair off her neck for a moment, she gave another sigh-this one of pleasure-as the cool casino air hit her hot skin. The curse of thick curls. She debated pulling it up in a ponytail but didn't bother. She pulled a few strands loose that were caught in her large hoop earrings.
"Can someone remind me why we didn't go elsewhere for our GNO anyway?" Jessie asked. "How much of a night out is it if we hang where we work?"
"We work at Cloud Nine, the restaurant. Just because it's inside the casino doesn't mean we work here on the floor," Skye reminded her. "And it's good to show support for our employer."
"Spoken like a true manager," Tasha teased, then stopped short. With a wide grin splitting her beautiful face, she pointed. "Now tell me. Does that look like a balding CPA?"
Skye glanced around her and saw the blackjack table causing the commotion. A crowd had formed in a semi-circle, completely enamored with the action. And no wonder.
Three men sat at the table meant for eight, but only one was actually playing the game. The one on the left was the largest of the three, his height evident even though they were sitting down. His grin was a bit loopy, as if he was fighting off a good drunk. The one on the right was smaller for sure, more lean than large. He was concentrating hard on the dealer's hands, as if memorizing every move. His body almost quivered with anticipation with each card pulled.
But the man in the middle grabbed her attention and held on tight. Military short, light brown hair, eyes that took in everything, and a mouth that she could watch for hours. He wasn't handsome in an obvious way. And nobody would dare call him pretty. But he was tempting all the same. He looked... relaxed. One arm draped over the back of the tallest one's chair, the other rested on his thigh. No tense energy, no anxiety, as if it was no big deal that he'd just laid down a two-hundred-dollar bet on a ten-dollar table. And he played with reckless abandon. No rhyme or reason. No pattern.
He lost a hand, and his smile quirked to one side as if to say, Can't win 'em all. When he won, he grinned like there was no point in playing it cool. He didn't play to the small crowd. In fact, the whooping, cheering horde of people behind him ceased to exist in his world. He was simply having fun for fun's sake. The lack of a plan, the absolute abandon that he played with was more attractive than his pile of chips. His easy laughter was infectious, and she found herself smiling along.
"The guy has absolutely no method to the madness," Jessie said in a murmur. Of the three women, she would be the one to know. Jessie was obsessed with poker and all things related. Skye didn't ...
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