Rex reached in the cooler, his hand moving around in the ice to pull out three beers before handing two of them to Jack and Adam. All three twisted the caps off before taking a healthy swig. He knew they had all three turned into a bunch of sappy asses, but he didn’t care. He was damn happy with how his life had turned out. Adam and Jack seemed to be of like minds, too. Jack with his new son, JJ, and Adam with brand-new bride, Chelsea.
“Would you look at us? What a bunch of tough bad asses we are, huh?” Rex mocked them all.
“Speak for yourself, big guy. I am every bit as much of a bad ass as I used to be,” Adam answered.
Jack threw back his head in laughter. “Right, until Chelsea calls for you. Then it’s all, ‘what do you need, sugar.’ Yep, Mr. Bad Ass himself.”
“Says the man with the baby monitor attached to his waistband where he used to holster a gun.”
“Oh shit. He’s got you there, buddy. You’ve turned into one domesticated rebel.” Rex patted Jack’s shoulder.
Now in complete hysterics, Adam set down his beer, crouched down on his knees and pretended to aim an invisible gun. “Freeze, bucko. Jack Peyton here! International Dad Extraordinaire. Drop your weapon or I’ll spray you with baby powder.”
“Oh listen to the fucking comedians. You know damn well if my beautiful wife and handsome baby boy weren’t within shouting distance I’d kick both your asses to hell and back.”
“Yeah, he doesn’t want to get in trouble,” Rex added.
“Babe.” Jack’s wife Tamara stood in the patio doorway, smiling. “Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. Kick their asses. I’ll close the door so the others don’t hear.”
All three men laughed, but Rex shouted back to her before she could close the door. “Traitor!”
Jack set down his beer. “You heard the lady.” He made a joking attempt to put Adam in a headlock, and the two proceeded to take a few playful jabs at one another.
Rex could only grin at the two men who for years served as his brothers on the teams, but who had more importantly become his friends. Jack had always been his friend dating back to BUD/S class, but Adam was someone he met years later. He was a good guy to have on your side in an ugly firefight, and he never had a problem with him. Somehow though, Jack and Adam had clashed many times over the years. He could remember countless times the two had run into one another, and an argument always ensued. Hell, Adam always was a cocky son of a bitch, but when the going got tough there was no better man to have on your side.
“You two idiots look like Abbott and Costello.”
Both of the men stopped, looked at Rex, then at each other and then back at Rex again.
Rex ran down the deck stairs, both Adam and Jack hot on his tail in pursuit, Jack with a pitcher of lemonade and Adam carrying a bowl of potato salad.
“Rex! Get in here! Hurry!” Shelby shouted through the kitchen window.
All three men froze, but Rex had a sense of foreboding. His beautiful wife wasn’t yelling at them for roughhousing in the backyard. He knew her like he knew no other. Her voice sounded anxious.
In mere seconds all of them were entering the house to find out what was wrong. Each of them went to their wives and stood by their sides to find out what had them all looking so shocked. A sound from the television redirected Rex’s attention. He turned to see a live news report out of somewhere that appeared to be tropical.
“Local authorities have yet to release any motive behind the attacks, but it is thought to have been the work of terrorists trying to send a message to the United States,” a serious-looking blonde reported.
“What happened?” Jack asked.
Adam picked up the remote and turned up the volume.
“Constance, have they released the names of the Navy SEALs killed in the ambush?” a stocky male sitting behind a desk in some studio asked the field reporter.
Rex’s stomach churned at the man’s question. More of his brothers had fallen, and by the hands of terrorists. Mother fuckers! When would this madness end? It was times like this that he wished he was still in. A quick side-glance toward his wife, and he knew she all but heard his thoughts. He took her hand in his to reassure her he wasn’t going anywhere before redirecting his attention back to the television.
“Yes, Phil, they have. Commander Tom Drake, a recently retired United States Navy SEAL, was one of the men attacked and killed in the ambush. However, authorities have yet to release the name of the other Navy SEAL who was found badly injured and later was pronounced dead-on arrival after being transported to the Hospital de la Comunidad de Loreo.”
“Horrible, simply horrible. Amber, please keep us posted on any updates from this tragedy.”
The news anchor’s voice trailed off as anguish roiled up inside Rex. Jack turned the volume down when the news switched to an irritatingly inappropriate commercial for a clothing store, which showed people dancing and singing all because they had the newest and hippest pants. Didn’t television networks have a conscious? They should have a moment of silence once a breaking-news alert like that airs.
He pulled away from Shelby and went to sit on the nearby couch. Placing his elbows on his knees, he dropped his head in his hands and shook it from side to side. He had known Commander Drake, worked with him on more than one mission. Hell, he led the search-and-rescue team that had led to Jack and him being saved all those years ago in Colombia.
“Rex?” Shelby went to him and placed an arm around him after sitting beside him. “Did you know him?”
He didn’t answer. It was just so unbelievable. He remembered hearing about his retirement party after the fact and wished he had known about it sooner so he could’ve gone. That was only three weeks ago.
“Drake was the guy who led the team which rescued us several years back,” he answered Shelby.
The room was filled with an overwhelming sense of sadness. Rex knew Jack would be upset by the news and understood why, but he hadn’t been prepared for the cold stare on Adam’s face. He looked nearly frozen in shock.
“You all right, man?” he asked him.
Adam stood there, no reaction whatsoever. Rex knew out of the three of them Adam was always the cooler, less emotional of the men, but this was different. Something was off.
“Adam, you’re scaring me. Say something,” Chelsea insisted.
Rex shook his head at his friend’s new bride. She was sensitive and so very sweet, the exact opposite of her new husband. Sometimes he wondered how the hell the two even meshed together, let alone well. Adam could be an unattached son of a bitch at times and just shut down. This seemed to be one of those times.
Calmly, Adam turned to Chelsea and gave her a soft kiss on her cheek before giving her a reassuring smile. “I’m going to go for a little walk. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“Adam, please don’t go. Stay here and talk to me. Talk to us.” He was out the door though before she finished.
Rex felt sorry for her. At times she looked so timid, and he wondered if all her scars had healed from everything she’d been through. She’d just gotten away from an abusive relationship when she met Adam and became embroiled in his revenge plot against the mob boss who had killed his fiancée and their unborn baby. Soon after she was kidnapped, and to this day he didn’t know how badly she had been hurt in that ordeal. He knew Drake’s death was probably a shock to Adam, but he wished the guy would get his shit together sometimes and consider others.
Clearly embarrassed for the way Adam had walked away from her in front of a room full of people, and so very true to her loving nature, she turned toward the others and said, “He gets like that sometimes. He doesn’t mean anything by it. He’ll be back soon.”
Shelby and Tamara followed her into the kitchen. It seemed a moment of sisterly understanding was in order.
“He can be such a dick sometimes,” Jack said quietly.
“Yeah, I know.”
They both sat there in disbelief. It was bad enough when a team member was killed in action, but to have someone like Commander Drake, one who epitomized all they stood for, live through over twenty years of service, proudly serving his country, only to be killed mere weeks after his retirement seemed to be a sick twist of fate.
“He never married or even dated that much. He always said he’d settle down and meet the right woman after he served his country,” Jack muttered.
“It’s not fucking fair. He was a good man.”
“Yeah. That he was, brother. That he was.” Jack patted Rex’s shoulder.
“It puts things into perspective you know. I wonder who the other one killed was.” Rex was interrupted by Adam coming back in the house.
He watched as Adam calmly walked outside to the back deck, reached in the cooler, and retrieved three beers. Quietly and without making eye contact he handed two of them to his friends. Removing the caps they raised them to clink with one another.
“To Tom Drake, one of the finest men there ever was. Fair winds and following seas, brother,” Adam said.
“Hooyah!” Jack added.
Rex couldn’t be sure, because Adam refused to look at either of them, but his voice sounded strained, and his eyes looked a bit weary. He pondered for a moment that his tough-as-nails, don’t-give-a-shit-about-anyone-but-himself friend had actually cried on his brief walk, but quickly dismissed the idea. Tears just weren’t something he thought Adam was capable of.
“Adam, you’re back so soon.” Chelsea came to sit beside him on the arm of the couch.
Rex watched him. One minute the insensitive jack ass, the next a smooth-as-silk operator. He pulled Chelsea on his lap and gave her a loving kiss. “Now didn’t I tell you I would be?”
Rex gave Jack a knowing nod of what the fuck. The man was a walking contradiction. He knew it, Jack knew it, hell even Chelsea knew it. Yet the way she looked at her husband with such adoration showed she didn’t really care.