“What’s a beautiful girl like you doing in a dive like this?” Stone slurred his words and leaned his arm on the bar beside the blonde with the crystal blue eyes.
The look she gave Monroe clearly shouted ‘help!’ and that was Monroe’s cue to jump into action. He slid off his barstool and strode confidently over to her. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders protectively and nodded to the bartender then focused his attention on his teammate. “Hey, Stone, I see you’ve met my date.”
“Yer date?” Stone took a step back. “I ain’t seen you with her.”
“We just met a few minutes ago,” Monroe told his buddy. In reality, he and the woman had been flirting across the bar for about twenty minutes and he was trying to work up the nerve to come introduce himself.
Just then the bartender presented a beer for Monroe and whatever drink the blonde had been nursing. “Here you are, Monroe. And another for the lady.”
“Thank you,” the blonde said to Monroe, then asked, “Is Stone a friend of yours, Monroe?”
“Yes, would you like to introduce yourself to him?” Monroe tried to communicate with his eyes that he couldn’t exactly do that for her since he didn’t know her name.
“I’m Bree.” She held out her hand to Stone. “Any friend of Monroe’s is a friend of mine.”
Stone pulled Bree’s hand to his lips for a kiss. “When y’er ready to ditch lover-boy here, I can show you how good a friend I kin be.”
Bree quickly pulled her hand away from Stone, wiped it on her jeans and leaned closer to Monroe. “That would be rude to my date. But thank you for the offer.”
“Hey, Stone—” Their teammate, Blake, came up behind Stone and pulled him gently away from Bree and Monroe. “Why don’t you challenge me to a game of pool. Raymond just isn’t enough competition for me.” Blake winked at Bree, rolled his eyes at Monroe, and led Stone over to the billiards table.
“Thank you,” Bree mouthed at Blake then turned to Monroe. “And thank you. Ugh, what is it with drunk guys hitting on ladies who just want to sit down with a drink at the end of a long day?”
“I don’t know.” Monroe unwrapped himself from Bree lest she think he was one of those drunk guys who hit on ladies. “I’ve never been drunk before.” Monroe took another pull from his bottle of beer and grinned at her.
“Yeah, right.” Bree’s playful eyes told Monroe she wouldn’t mind if he hit on her, but he was determined to be a gentleman. There was a clicking and thumping as the balls on the billiard table dispersed in a clean break that probably put Blake at advantage over Stone.
“Back to Stone’s original question,” Monroe said. “What are you doing in a dive like this?”
“I love Mexican food, and this looked like just the place to order some.” The joint was a Mexican restaurant in food only. Country music flowed from the speakers rather than Mariachi music, glasses clinked behind the bar, guys cheered each other on while throwing darts, and ladies showed up with one thing on their minds; meeting an officer from Elgin Air Force Base.
“Have you ordered already?” Monroe asked, hoping to escort her to one of the booths and sit down to buy her dinner.
As if on cue, the bartender set a Styrofoam box in front of her and she slipped him a twenty-dollar bill. “Keep the change.”
“Taking your meal to go, huh?” Monroe tried to hide his disappointment. He grabbed a pen from the mug on the bar and reached over and wrote his cell phone number on the top of her Styrofoam box. “In case you need someone to talk to later while you’re enjoying your meal.”
Like a summons from Hades, Monroe felt the phone in his pocket vibrate and knew the text wasn’t from Bree. In his peripheral vision he watched as everyone on his team pulled out their cell phones with an identical text.
Monroe swore under his breath then looked up at Bree. “Duty calls.”
“Looks that way.” She smiled at him with feigned wistfulness.
“Sorry I won’t be able to talk on the phone tonight, but maybe you could send me a text and we could hang out when I get home from wherever it is the Army is sending me.” Monroe tapped the number he’d written on her to-go box.
“Stay safe, Monroe.” She pulled her cell phone from her purse. Good, maybe she would send him a text.
“I always do.” Monroe leaned down and kissed her cheek then lifted his focus and called out to his team. “Let’s go, guys, wheel’s up in an hour.”
“Comin’ Cap’in,” Stone slurred.
Blake called out to the bartender, “Can I get some coffee to go?” Blake pointed to Stone.
“Nice meeting you, Bree.” Monroe patted her on the shoulder as he headed over to help Blake drag Stone from the bar. “See you soon.”
“Maybe sooner than you think,” she said.
Monroe wasn’t sure what she meant by that but shook off her comment and balanced Stone between himself and Blake. The bartender handed Blake a Styrofoam cup of coffee, Davis fell in behind them, and Raymond held open the door. Time to get sobered up and hope wherever they were going was far enough away for Stone to get some sleep on the plane.
“Gonna be a long night,” Monroe grumbled. “Time to catch some bad guys.”