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The SEAL's Instant Family
Author: Leslie North





Kenton Fitzpatrick closed his laptop and eyed the men who sat across from him. Patrick and Anderson were integral members of the SEAL team he captained—and his two closest friends.

“I’m not satisfied with what happened,” he said with a shake of his head. The higher-ups weren’t pleased with his team’s performance, either, so he’d taken some heat. Not something he was accustomed to. “I want a do-over.”

The mission to North Africa to take down a child-trafficking ring had been at best partially successful. Kenton’s team had managed to disrupt, but not destroy, the network that brought in children from all over the world and sent them back out to fates he didn’t want to contemplate.

“Not likely for us,” Patrick said, leaning back in his chair. “But another team will get assigned to finish what we didn’t.”

“Maybe they’ll have better luck,” Anderson said.

“Luck has nothing to do with this kind of work,” Kenton said flatly. He snatched a pen off the table and clicked it while he thought. It was true that occasionally his SEAL team caught a break, but success came from meticulous planning and flawless execution. He excelled at the former and was well known for it. And he couldn’t fault his men’s actions. They’d done what he’d planned, but the trafficking ring’s leader had slipped through their grasp. Kenton didn’t think it would be long before Marcus Ocampa built another network to prey on innocent children. And that pissed him off.

“I’m still trying to sort out exactly where it went wrong,” Anderson said. His language skills and analytical brain had been invaluable during the mission, but nothing had been enough to get the team to their end goal.

“Me, too.” Kenton needed to think about it more, mull it over. Maybe then it would come to him. He wanted to know what his mistakes had been, so he could avoid them in the future. “I appreciate you guys sticking around to help me finish up.” Anderson and Patrick had stayed on base an additional two days, answering questions alongside him and helping him complete the reports when they could have gone home to their families.

“No worries. I can’t imagine having one of my kids taken from me and exploited like that,” Patrick said with a shudder. He was the father of an eight-year-old girl and a baby boy. “It makes me want to hold my kids close and never let them out of my sight.”

Anderson nodded his agreement. He’d married just prior to deploying on this mission, and he and his wife already had a little boy.

“I’ll bet your families are anxious to see you. Have you talked to them since we got stateside?” Kenton asked, feeling guilty that they’d lost out on time with their wives and kids.

“Early this morning. They’re fine.” Patrick grinned. “It’ll be complete chaos when I get home.”

“You love it,” Kenton said.

“I do,” Patrick was quick to say. “You’ll have to try it sometime.”

“I’ll get there eventually.” Kenton said. He had definite ideas about his future, and kids were part of it, he’d realized in recent months. He already had a house he loved. It was a recent purchase, but he felt sure it was the place where he’d bring his bride. First, he had to meet the right woman, and then, when the time was right, they’d have a couple of kids.

“Eventually is never how it happens,” Anderson said with a laugh. “Some woman’s going to burst into your plans and change everything.”

“You got that right,” Patrick agreed. “Just prepare yourself to catch her when she falls into your life, because you won’t get any warning.”

That seemed to be the way of it with his friends and SEAL teammates. Most had paired off in recent years and were busy raising families. Still, Kenton didn’t think a woman was going to land on his doorstep like his buddies seemed to think.

“I’ve got to be home long enough for that to happen.” If he wasn’t deployed, Kenton advised other teams about to head out. It was a life that kept him out of the country or on base the majority of the time, which was why he was looking forward to heading home. He had an extended leave coming, and he planned to take it. He wanted to take care of some projects around the house, but his true goal was to lay the foundation for his future. And that meant finding a woman to share it with.

Kenton’s phone screen lit up again with another message from his mother. Margaret Fitzpatrick was the most persistent woman he’d ever known. He’d texted her earlier in the day that he’d be headed home soon, and she’d sent him five messages since asking him to call.

“You should call or text your mom back,” Anderson said, reading the screen from across the table. “You know how she is.”

The three of them shared a grin. Margaret had been a mom to all of them since Patrick’s had walked out when he was a kid, and Anderson’s was never much interested in parenting. Margaret had been the one who made sure they all had Halloween costumes when they were little and got home from football practices in high school. She was a mother hen who didn’t put up with any nonsense.

“Later,” Kenton said. “She probably just wants to invite me to dinner. I’m not feeling it.”

“You’ve got to let the mission go,” Anderson said, standing up. “We’ve analyzed it. Viewed it from every angle. What happened wasn’t your fault, man.”

“I’m not convinced of that yet,” Kenton said. The sense of responsibility stayed with him as they drove off base and headed for Hartsville. Kenton dropped off Patrick first, at his house just outside town, and watched as his friend was engulfed in hugs from his wife and kids. Next, he took Anderson to a home in a newer development. The porch light was on, and Violet immediately stepped outside with their son Nate on her hip and a huge smile on her face.

Kenton beeped his horn as he drove off, happy that his friends had each found a mate who suited them, even if both of them had fallen into relationships in unusual ways. A few minutes later, he turned onto the tree-lined street where he lived. He’d bought the home, sight unseen, eighteen months ago, when he was on the other side of the globe. He’d viewed pictures on the internet and had his family’s assurance that he’d love it. And he did. More than he could put into words.

The dark blue Victorian was stately and graceful, the kind of place that exuded comfort and security. It was exactly what he wanted. Patrick and Anderson had teased him about the ornate trim, stained-glass transom window, and rounded turret. He’d taken the ribbing while thinking that his future wife, whoever she was, would appreciate those details.

As he pulled into his driveway, he was just glad to be there and have time and space to himself. He’d call his mom in the morning, but he wanted to sleep in his own bed first. Unpack and unwind before having to socialize. That was always best when he came off a mission. He needed time to adjust to the civilian world.

He grabbed his duffel bag, pausing when he heard a dog bark. He listened more closely. The twilight air was still and quiet, with only the hum of the cicadas and the slight puff of an early autumn breeze in the trees. He waited, and the bark came again. He could have sworn the sound was coming from inside his house, but his ears must be playing tricks on him. He loved dogs, had even gotten interested in training them in the military, but he hadn’t owned one since he was a kid.

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