Navy Husband (Navy #6)

Navy Husband (Navy #6) Page 1
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Navy Husband (Navy #6) Page 1

Chapter One

“This is a joke—right?” Shana Berrie said uncertainly as she talked to her older sister, Ali, on the phone. Ali was the sensible one in the family. She—unlike Shana—wouldn’t have dreamed of packing up her entire life, buying a pizza and ice-cream parlor and starting over in a new city. Oh, no, only someone completely and utterly in need of a change—correction, a drastic change—would do something like that.

“I’m sorry, Shana, but you did agree to this parenting plan.”

Her sister was a Navy nurse stationed in San Diego, and several years ago, when she’d asked Shana to look after her niece if necessary, Shana had immediately said yes. It had seemed an unlikely prospect at the time, but that was before her sister became a widow.

“I did, didn’t I?” she muttered lamely as she stepped around a cardboard box. Her rental house was cluttered with the makings of her new life and the remnants of her old.

“It isn’t like I have any choice in the matter,” Ali pointed out.

“I know.” Pushing her thick, chestnut-colored hair away from her forehead, Shana leaned against the kitchen wall and slowly expelled her breath, hoping that would calm her pounding heart. “I said yes back then because you asked me to, but I don’t know anything about kids.”

“Jazmine’s great,” Ali assured her.

“I know, but—but…” she stammered. Shana wasn’t sure how to explain. “The thing is, I’m at a turning point in my own life and I’m probably not the best person for Jazmine.” Surely there was a relative on her brother-in-law’s side. Someone else, anyone else would be better than Shana, who was starting a new career after suffering a major romantic breakup. At the moment, her life still felt disorganized. Chaotic. Add a recently bereaved nine-year-old to the mix, and she didn’t know what might happen.

“This isn’t a choose-your-time type of situation,” Ali said. “I’m counting on you, and so is Jazmine.”

Shana nibbled on her lower lip, trapped between her doubts and her obligation to her widowed sister. “I’ll do it, of course, but I was just wondering if there was someone else….”

“There isn’t,” Ali said abruptly.

“Then it’s me.” Shana spoke with as much enthusiasm as she could muster, although she suspected it must sound pretty hollow. Shana hadn’t had much experience as an aunt, but she was going to get her chance to learn. She was about to become her niece’s primary caregiver while her sister went out to sea on an aircraft carrier for a six-month deployment.

Shana truly hadn’t expected this. When Ali filled out the “worldwide availability” form—with Shana’s name—she’d explained it was so the Navy had documentation proving Jazmine would have someone to take care of her at all times, ensuring that Ali was combat-ready. It had seemed quite routine, more of a formality than a possibility—and of course, Peter was alive then.

Ali had been in the Navy for twelve years and had never pulled sea duty before now. She’d traveled around the world with her husband, a Navy pilot, and their daughter. Then, two years ago, Peter had been killed in a training accident and everything changed.

Things had changed in Shana’s life, too, although not in the same unalterable and tragic way. Brad—Shana purposely put a halt to her thoughts. Brad was in the past. They were finished. Done. Kaput. She’d told her friends that she was so over him she had to force herself to remember his name. Who was he, again? That was how over him she was. Over. Over and out.

“I don’t have much time,” Ali was saying. “The Woodrow Wilson’s scheduled to leave soon. I’ll fly Jazmine up this weekend but I won’t be able to stay more than overnight.”

Shana swallowed a protest. For reasons of national security, Shana realized her sister couldn’t say any more about her schedule. But this weekend? She still had to finish unpacking. Furthermore, she’d only just started training with the former owners of her restaurant. Then it occurred to Shana that she might not be the only one upset about Ali’s sudden deployment. She could only guess at her niece’s reaction. “What does Jazmine have to say about all this?”

Ali’s hesitation told Shana everything she needed to know. “Oh, great,” she muttered under her breath. She remembered her own childhood and what her mother had termed her “attitude problem.” Shana had plenty of that, all right, and most of it was bad. Dealing with Jazmine’s moods would be payback, she supposed, for everything her poor mother had endured.

“To be honest, Jazmine isn’t too excited about the move.”

Who could blame her? The little girl barely knew Shana. The kid, a true child of the military, had lived on Whidbey Island in Washington State, then Italy and, following the accident that claimed her father’s life, had been shuffled to San Diego, California. They’d just settled into their Navy housing, and now they were about to leave that. In her nine years Jazmine had been moved from country to country, lost her father, and now her mother was shipping out for six long months. If that wasn’t enough, the poor kid was being foisted on Shana. No wonder she wasn’t thrilled.

“We’ll be fine,” Shana murmured, doing her best to sound positive. She didn’t know who she was kidding. Certainly not her sister—and not herself, either. This was going to be another in a long line of recent disasters, or life-changing events, as she preferred to call them.

“So it’s true you and Brad split up?” Ali asked with a degree of delicacy. She’d obviously been warned against bringing up his name.

“Brad?” Shana repeated as if she had no idea who her sister was talking about. “Oh, you mean Brad Moore. Yes, it’s over. We were finished quite a while ago, but either he forgot to tell me or I just wasn’t paying attention.”

“I’m so sorry,” Ali said.

The last thing Shana wanted was Ali’s sympathy. “Don’t worry, I’ve rebounded. Everything’s great. My life is fabulous, or it will be in short order. I’ve got everything under control.” Shana said all of this without taking a breath. If she said it often enough, she might actually start to believe it.

“When Mom told me that you’d decided to leave Portland and move to Seattle, I thought it was job-related at first. You never said a word.” She paused. “Did you move all those plants, too? You must have about a thousand.”

Shana laughed. “Hardly. But yes, I did. Moving was…a spontaneous decision.” That was putting it mildly. One weekend Shana had driven to Seattle to get away and to consider her relationship with Brad. She’d finally realized that it wasn’t going anywhere. For five years they’d been talking marriage. Wrong. She’d been talking marriage. Brad had managed to string her along with just enough interest to placate her. And she’d let him until…

Unexpectedly, Shana had stumbled on Brad having lunch with a business associate. This so-called associate just happened to be a willowy blonde with a figure that would stop a freight train. It was a business lunch, he’d claimed later, when Shana confronted him.

Yeah, sure—monkey business. Shana could be dense at times but she wasn’t blind, and she recognized this so-called associate as someone Brad had once introduced as Sylvia, an old flame. Apparently those embers were still very much alive and growing hotter by the minute, because as Shana watched, they’d exchanged a lengthy kiss in the parking lot and drove off together. She was embarrassed to admit she’d followed them. It didn’t take her long to see where they were headed. Brad’s town house—and she didn’t think they were there to discuss contracts or fire codes.

Even when confronted, Brad insisted his lunch date was a client. Any resemblance his associate had to Sylvia was purely coincidental. The more he defended himself, the more defensive he got, complaining that Shana was acting like a jealous shrew. He’d been outraged that she’d question his faithfulness when she was the one so often away, working as a sales rep for a large pharmaceutical company. He’d been so convincing that—just for a moment—she’d wondered if she might’ve been wrong. Only when she mentioned that she’d followed them to his town house did Brad show any hint of guilt or regret.

He’d glanced away then, and the righteous indignation had been replaced by a look of such sadness she had to resist the urge to comfort him. He was sorry, he’d said, so sorry. It had been a fling; it meant nothing. He couldn’t lose her. Shana was his life, the woman he intended to marry, the mother of his unborn children.

For a few days, he’d actually swayed her. Needing to sort out her feelings, Shana had driven to Seattle the next weekend. After five years with Brad she felt she knew him, but it now seemed quite clear that she didn’t. He wanted her back, he told her over and over. He was willing to do whatever it took to reconcile, to make this up to her. He suggested counseling, agreed to therapy, anything but losing her.

That weekend, Shana had engaged in some painful self-examination. She desperately wanted to believe the afternoon rendezvous with Sylvia was a onetime thing, but her head told her it wasn’t and that they’d been involved for months—or more.

It was while she sat in Lincoln Park in West Seattle, analyzing the last five years, that she concluded there was no going back. Her trust had been destroyed. She couldn’t build a life with Brad after this. In truth, their relationship had dead-ended three years ago. Maybe sooner; she could no longer tell. What Shana did recognize was that she’d been so caught up in loving Brad that she’d refused to see the signs.

“I was feeling pretty miserable,” Shana admitted to her sister. Wretched was a more accurate description, but she didn’t want to sound melodramatic. “I sat in that park in West Seattle, thinking.”

“In West Seattle? How’d you get there?”

Shana sighed loudly. “I took a wrong turn when I was trying to find the freeway.”

Ali laughed. “I should have guessed.”

“I ended up on this bridge and there wasn’t anyplace to turn around, so I followed the road, which led to a wonderful waterfront park.”

“The ice-cream parlor’s in the park?”

“No, it’s across the street. You know me and maple-nut ice cream. It’s the ultimate comfort food.” She tried to make a joke of it, but at the time she’d felt there wasn’t enough maple-nut ice cream in the world to see her through this misery.

“Brad drove you to maple nut?”

Shana snickered at Ali’s exaggerated horror. After her decision to break off the relationship, she’d grown angry. Okay, furious. She wanted out of this relationship, completely out, and living in the same city made that difficult.

“Actually, West Seattle is a charming little community. The ice-cream parlor had a For Sale sign in the window and I got to talking to the owners. They’re an older couple, sweet as can be and planning to retire. As I sat there, I thought it must be a nice place to work. How could anyone be unhappy surrounded by ice cream and pizza?”

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