Rank & File (Anchor's Point, #4)
This title is #4 of the Anchor Point series.
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Senior Chief Will Curtis is as straitlaced as they come. While his fellow Sailors have partied their way through their enlistments, he’s had his eye on the prize—making master chief and retiring after thirty years of service.
Lieutenant Brent Jameson is a Navy brat turned Annapolis grad. He’s lived and breathed the military his whole life, and he knows he’s destined for great things—once he’s done paying his dues at the bottom of the ladder.
When their paths cross, both men know better than to give in to temptation, but that doesn’t stop them. It also doesn’t keep them from coming back for more, even though being discovered would sink their careers. Something has to give—Will can retire, Brent can resign, or they’ll both face court-martial.
But there’s also the option neither wants to acknowledge: jump ship and walk away from each other instead of ending their careers over a fledgling relationship. And they should probably decide before they fall in love.
This title comes with no special warnings.
mentions of minor character domestic violence
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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I hated domestic calls. Most cops did, even if they hadn’t witnessed—or experienced firsthand—the things I had. Driving like a bat out of hell into base housing, I was nervous not only for myself, but for my younger masters-at-arms who were already on the scene. Who’d already called for backup.
I held the wheel tighter and gave the accelerator some more pressure. The MAs who’d called hadn’t given much detail over the radio. They’d requested assistance, and since I’d been in the area—closer to their location than the watch commander or anyone else—I’d headed their way.
Sometimes calls like that meant the MAs on scene were in over their heads. Domestics weren’t easy to defuse, and both patrols involved were relatively young and inexperienced with this type of call. MA3 Harvey hadn’t sounded panicked on the radio. Just uneasy. Like things hadn’t gone to shit yet, but he had a feeling they would and didn’t quite know what to do. That could mean anything from a pair of spouses who would not, despite repeated requests, calm down, up to and including someone getting violent. There’d been no mention of a weapon, so presumably we were just dealing with belligerence. Still, I went in with the assumption there was actual danger to my MAs, the people in the house, and myself.
Of course we were trained for this, but nothing ever quite prepared you for a domestic. Too many variables. Too many ways things could go south in a hurry. MA3 Harvey and his partner, MA2 Lee, were both levelheaded. If they needed help, this could be bad.
I slowed enough for my headlights to illuminate a street sign, and when I’d double-checked this was the right street, I hung a fast left. There was no need to check the address beyond that—base housing was row upon row of identical blue-trimmed white duplexes that were especially hard to distinguish from one another at night, but the patrol car parked on the curb was a dead giveaway.
I parked outside, radioed the watch commander to let her know I was on scene and heading inside, and cautiously approached the front door, which was wide open. Voices—a lot of angry, loud voices—spewed out onto the porch.
There was no point in trying to shout over them, but the MAs would hear their radios, so I told MA3 Harvey I was there. He responded that they were in the living room, and confirmed there were no weapons and everyone was accounted for.
With my hand on my Taser and the other close to my pistol, I went inside.
As soon as I saw the scene in the living room, I didn’t need anyone to explain what was going on.
A woman in a T-shirt and not much else was screaming at a man in blue digicam utilities, who was right in her face and giving as good as he got. Behind her was another man in a pair of jeans—only a pair of jeans—dabbing blood from the corner of his mouth. Another day, another cheating spouse in base housing. My favorite.
MA2 Lee and MA3 Harvey alternated between exchanging uneasy glances and trying to verbally defuse the situation. They both looked at me with dude, we’ve got nothing on their faces. The guy with the bloody mouth noticed me and watched me, eyebrows up in a look I recognized as someone who simultaneously hoped I’d intervene, and hoped I’d walk away and pretend I didn’t see anything. He was visibly rattled, and probably scared shitless that he was going to wear some handcuffs too. I couldn’t get a look at the husband’s face to confirm my suspicion, but it was rare for one guy to take a swing and the other to just sit back and take it. If the wife’s paramour had gone hands-on, he was getting his rights read too. Company policy.
I shifted my gaze from him to the couple, who were lighting into each other so viciously, they didn’t seem to be aware there was anyone in the room, never mind that another well-armed MA had entered the scene.
I cleared my throat, and when I spoke, the cop voice I’d honed for the better part of twenty years came out: “Sir. Ma’am.”
Two words, and the shouting stopped. The silence was so sudden, my ears rang. The couple stared at me, slack-jawed. The guy with the bloody mouth drew back a bit too.
While the shock was still raw and no one had had a chance to start shouting again, I took over the scene. “I’m separating everyone to give statements. Anything that comes out of anyone’s mouth from this moment on is going into a report. None of you”—I gestured at each of the non-MAs in the room—“so much as looks at each other, talks to each other, or goes into the same room as each other until I say so. Am I clear?”
Silent nods all around.
I turned to the husband. “Sir, I’m going to ask you to step outside with MA3 Harvey.”
“Outside?” He made a sweeping gesture. “Why should I leave my own house so they—”
His teeth snapped together.
I turned to MA3 Harvey. “Take him outside and get a statement.”
Harvey nodded and motioned for the husband to follow him. There was some more grumbling and a withering glance at his wife and her lover, but the man went outside.
“MA2 Lee.” I gestured at the wife. “Take her into the bedroom and do the same.”
Lee and the wife disappeared in seconds.
Leaving me with the paramour.
He sank into a chair, dabbing his lip again, and kept his gaze down.
Now that things were quiet, I studied him, trying to get a bead on him. He’d seemed kind of timid earlier, but I supposed anyone would in his situation. The husband had already slugged him after presumably catching him in bed with his wife. There were cops on the scene, tempers flaring, and—if he was military like his girlfriend’s husband—careers on the line. He had plenty to be nervous about.
My cop voice would be the opposite of helpful right now, so I shifted it down to something softer. “What’s your name?”
He didn’t meet my gaze. “Brent.”
“Brent . . .?”
He swallowed. “Jameson. Lieutenant Brent Jameson.”
No wonder he was nervous. I hadn’t had a chance to look at the scorned husband’s uniform, but this was enlisted housing. Not a good look for an officer to be busted in the bed of anyone’s wife, but there was just enough animosity between officers and enlisted that one nailing the other’s wife was insult to injury.
I cleared my throat again. “You want to go to medical and have that lip looked—”
“No. It’s fine.” Eyes down, he shook his head. “It’s one of those cuts that isn’t bad but bleeds like a motherfucker.”
I opened my mouth to ask how he got it—not that it took a rocket scientist to figure it out—but my radio crackled to life. The watch commander getting a status update while she was still en route. MA3 Harvey responded, so I turned down the volume on my radio and faced Lieutenant Jameson again.
He was already nervous and shaken, so having six feet of armed cop looming over him probably wouldn’t help. I took a seat on the sofa, sitting close enough to him that we didn’t need to raise our voices to hear each other, but keeping a comfortable distance between us.
I took my tiny green notepad out of my pocket and rested it on my knee. “I need you to tell me what happened.”
He swallowed, dabbing at his lip again. The bleeding had slowed, though a little had started to dry at the corner of his mouth. “I swear to God, I had no idea she was married.”
I tightened my jaw to keep from calling bullshit. Just because my ex-boyfriend’s last couple of side pieces had insisted on not knowing about me didn’t mean this guy really didn’t know he was the other guy.
At least he didn’t claim that she’d fed him the line about being in an open marriage. That was the oldest lie in the book for cheaters on base, and the oldest alibi for side pieces. Especially since there really were a lot of open marriages—on the down-low, of course, since that could get somebody court-martialed—but also plenty of not open marriages.
The second oldest lie was I’m not married, accompanied by the second oldest alibi—I didn’t know she was married.
Tone flat, I said, “You thought she lived in base housing by herself?” Which wasn’t necessarily out of the question—she could’ve been a single mom or something—but it was unusual.
He glared at me. Then he shifted uncomfortably, wringing his hands in his lap. “I didn’t think about it, okay? I was thinking with my dick, and . . .” He sighed. “Look, you don’t have to tell me I was an idiot. I know I was. Thing is, she told me she was single, and I didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t pay attention to where we were, and I didn’t think anything was wrong until he came home and she freaked out. Then they started fighting, he wouldn’t let me leave, and—” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Fuck. I . . . This was not what I signed up for.”
“How did the two of you meet?”
He fidgeted again. “Tinder.”
“This your first time seeing her?”
My gut told me he was telling the truth. And, well, we saw this a lot. If we’d caught them in the middle of the day, then I’d have expected him to be at least suspicious that she had a husband who was at work. Then he’d have had the daylight to take in the evidence that was all around him, including the large framed wedding photo that was currently hanging on the wall about a foot above his head. But if they’d found each other on a hookup app, gone straight from the front door to the bedroom, and not paid attention to anything else, then yeah, I could see him being genuinely startled when her husband showed up.
So maybe my perception of him had been colored by my own past. He was nervous and shaken and probably more than a little humiliated, and he was not my cheating ex or one of the men he’d taken into our bed. I wasn’t being fair.
“What happened to your face?” I knew but needed him to tell me so it could go on paper.
He sucked his swelling lip into his mouth as if he’d forgotten it was bleeding. Color bloomed in his cheeks. “Uh . . .”
“Even if you hit him first,” I said quietly, “I need to know what happened so I can—”
“No! He didn’t hit me.”
I watched him calmly. It wasn’t unheard of for someone in his position to try to downplay what had happened. Sometimes out of a macho need to make sure no one thought he’d had his ass handed to him. Sometimes out of fear he’d be arrested too. “Did you hit him?”
“No. No, it was nothing like that.” He lifted his chin and met my gaze, his expression sheepish. “It was her. And totally accidental.”
I blinked. “Come again?”
“We . . .” He covered his face with his hands, but not before the red in his cheeks got even brighter. Then with a sigh, he dropped his hands to his lap again and looked at me with that resignation that meant he was tired of bullshitting and was about to tell me the truth. “When he came home, she panicked, and while we were, uh, getting untangled, she clocked me with her elbow.” He motioned toward his mouth. “Like I said, it was an accident.”
“Oh.” That was actually a hell of a relief, assuming her story lined up with his. If it did, then there’d be no assault charges. Less paperwork. Nobody leaving in handcuffs. It could also mean the husband hadn’t laid a hand on him yet, though that could change the second we let them back in the same room.
Brent sat back in the chair, pressed an elbow onto the armrest, and kneaded his temple. “Fuck.”
I studied him again, and admittedly, caught myself taking in more than his defeated posture. When I was at work, especially on a call, I never checked people out, but . . . Jesus. How often was I sitting across from someone this hot? It was probably because he was shirtless, and his light-brown hair was still tousled enough to make sure I was aware that he’d been in bed with someone very recently.
He was a bit young for me—probably mid-late twenties or so if he was a lieutenant, and with a slight baby face to go with it—but I could make an exception for someone with his smooth stomach and broad shoulders. No six-pack, which was actually my preference anyway, especially with my forties looming and time beginning to take its toll. I didn’t need an underwear model in my bed to remind me of everything I wasn’t.
I shook myself and tore my gaze away. The guy was straight, and I was here as a cop. Clearly I needed to go out and get laid ASAP, but now was not the time.
“This is going to get back to my command, isn’t it?” His voice was still filled with resignation.
“The responding patrols will file a report that there was a domestic dispute. And yes, a copy of that will be sent to your command.”
He flinched. “Shit.”
“But assuming no one requests a protective order and no charges are filed, that’s the extent of it. More of an FYI than anything.”
“Ugh. Great.” He wiped a hand over his face, then let his head fall back against the chair, and while he stared at the ceiling, I absolutely did not steal a look at his stretched neck.
Christ. I really do need to get laid.
I pulled my focus away from his throat, and glanced down at my notepad. Outside, I could hear agitated voices. “Will you be all right for a minute?”
Eyes closed, he nodded.
I got up and went out to the porch. MA3 Harvey stood at the foot of the steps, and the husband sat on the top one, shakily smoking a cigarette. The husband twisted around to look up at me, and in the warm light coming from the hallway behind me, there was some extra moisture in his eyes. His face was a little red too, and probably not for the same reasons Brent had changed colors a few times.
I met MA3 Harvey’s gaze, and lifted my eyebrows. You got this?
I responded with another nod, then went back inside, but I didn’t rejoin Brent. Instead, I followed the soft sounds of female voices to the bedroom, where I found MA2 Lee sitting on the edge of the bed. Beside her was the wife, who’d put on a pair of yoga pants, and like her husband, had also gone from screaming and angry to quietly crying. MA2 Lee and I had the same silent exchange I’d had outside with her partner, and I left the bedroom.
In the living room, Brent looked at me. “So, what happens now?”
“When my patrols are finished getting their statements, everyone will be free to go unless there’s a reason we should arrest someone.” I paused. “I would recommend that you not stay here after—”
“Ten steps ahead of you,” he muttered. “Just need to figure out how—” His features tightened. Then he closed his eyes again. “God, I am so stupid.”
I eased myself onto the sofa where I’d been earlier. “Something I should know?”
Brent laughed humorlessly. “Besides how much of an idiot I am?” He turned to me. “She wanted to meet up for drinks first. Soon as I got there, she said we should go back to her place, and insisted we take her car.” He rolled his eyes. “And there I was, thinking with my dick and not realizing she didn’t want my car in their driveway in case he showed up.” He gestured sharply in the general direction of the husband. “Fuck. You’d almost think she’s done this before.”
I bit back an unprofessional comment. I’d been a Navy cop for almost nineteen years. The cheating that happened within military marriages was eye-watering, and yeah, this particular wife probably had enough experience to know how to cover her tracks. Or, at least, to try to cover her tracks. In fact, I’d have bet money that the only reason she and Brent had been busted tonight was a nosy neighbor tipping off the husband. Wouldn’t be the first time, and wouldn’t be the last.
Brent drummed his fingers on the armrest and looked right at me. His blue eyes were so intense, it took me a second to realize he’d spoken.
“Sorry, come again?”
He eyed me, but didn’t seem annoyed. Curious, if anything. “I asked when I could get out of here.”
“Oh. Let me check in with my MAs again and see if they’re finished.” I pushed myself back to my feet. “Sounded like they were wrapping things up.”
I ordered the spouses to stay put. Nobody put up a fight. The husband lit another cigarette, and the wife buried her attention in her phone.
I took my patrols in the kitchen, and everything checked out. The wife corroborated Brent’s story, and the husband had come home after a neighbor had texted him. Damn. Either I was getting good at this, or it was just another case of base housing déjà vu. Nobody wanted to press charges. Nobody needed to go to medical. The husband was going to go crash at a friend’s house. The wife was going to stay here. Neither she nor Brent had any desire to speak to each other, which led me to believe their story really did check out. They were strangers, not lovers who’d finally been caught.
MA2 Lee took the wife into another room so her husband could pack an overnight bag, and she handed me Brent’s shirt, shoes, and jacket.
While Brent was tying his shoes, the husband suddenly walked into the living room, MA3 Harvey hot on his heels.
“Wait,” Harvey said. “He’s not ready for—”
“Sir.” I put a hand up and put myself between Brent and the husband. “I need you to wait a minute.”
The husband sighed heavily. “Look, I don’t . . .” He made an exhausted motion toward Brent. “I just want to get my shit and go. I don’t have any beef with him.”
Brent and the husband’s eyes locked; there was no hostility. They both seemed tired, defeated, and more than a little humiliated.
Softly, Brent said, “I’m sorry. I had no idea.”
The husband nodded. “Yeah. I know.”
They exchanged a look. Then Brent got up, moving like it took all the effort in the world, and stepped away from the chair so the husband could continue toward the bedroom without them rubbing elbows. The husband walked past without another word.
“Sorry,” MA3 Harvey said. “He got away from—”
“It’s okay.” I paused. “Can you and MA2 Lee take it from here?”
He nodded. “Yeah, we’ve got it. Thanks, Senior.” He followed the husband.
I turned to Brent. “Where’s your car?”
He swallowed. “By McCade’s. Outside Gate 4.”
I motioned for him to follow me. “Come on. I’ll drop you off.”
There was a cop car on the curb in front of Jenna’s house, but the cop who’d offered me a ride continued toward a black pickup parked next to it. Government issue, probably with a light bar hidden in the grill or the bottom of the windshield, but not quite as conspicuous as the patrol car. Fine by me.
As I buckled my seat belt, I said, “I, uh, never caught your name.”
“Senior Chief Curtis.”
I faced straight ahead and tongued the sweet spot where my tooth had sliced into the inside of my lip. Curtis wasn’t terse about his introduction, just businesslike. Which made sense. He was a cop. He wasn’t here to be friendly. But right then, with as raw and stupid as I felt, it would’ve been nice for someone to do one better than cool professionalism.
As he drove out of the cul-de-sac and into the maze of base housing, I stole a few looks at him. Not that I could see much in the glow of the streetlights or the faint blue from the dashboard, but I’d memorized quite a bit of his face while we’d sat there in Jenna’s living room. It hadn’t been the time or the place, but drooling over the hot cop had been a step up from wallowing in how much of an idiot I was or how thoroughly I’d fucked my career.
He was a bit young for a senior chief. Maybe midthirties or so? Most senior chiefs were in their forties. Maybe he just looked younger. He had a few lines and a few grays, not to mention sharp features and eyes that were perfect for a cop—hard when he was ordering a room full of screaming people to shut up, soft when he was talking to someone who was nervous and shaky. God, he was hot. And the blue digicams looked ridiculously sexy on cops anyway. The uniform itself was kind of generic, but add a police belt and a side arm strapped around the thigh, and . . . whoa. Too bad he was enlisted.
And a cop. A cop who’d come to calm shit down before Jenna’s husband tore my throat out or something, and who was taking me back to my car because I’d gotten my dumb ass into that situation to begin with. Pretty sure it didn’t matter that I was an officer and he was enlisted.
“You gonna be all right tonight?” His voice startled me enough I actually jumped. When he glanced my way, his brow creased with palpable concern, and I wondered if he thought I was just rattled from everything that had happened. I was good with that. Better than him realizing he’d nearly caught me ogling him.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m . . .” I focused hard on the street in his headlights. “It’s been a hell of a night.”
“Sounds like it.” Silence fell, and I thought that might be the end of the conversation, but then he went on. “For what it’s worth, you’re not the first and you won’t be the last.”
Curtis tapped his thumbs on the wheel. “Getting duped into thinking someone is single. Finding out the hard way that they’re not.” His eyes flicked toward me for a second. “Everyone always feels like an idiot, but it happens a lot.”
“Doesn’t make us any less stupid.”
“I’d say you’re more deceived than stupid.”
“I should’ve figured it out, though.”
He was quiet again, this time for almost a minute. “At my last command, I responded to a call that was a lot like this one. Only difference was the guy in your role had been seeing the woman for months. I have no idea how she kept the wool over his eyes that long, but you’ve never seen a more shocked face than when her husband came home from deployment.”
I stared at him. “Seriously?”
Curtis nodded. “It really does happen. A lot. Only way it could be completely avoided would be to do a thorough background check on every person you want to hook up with.” He glanced at me again. “I’m a cop, and even I don’t do that.”
To my surprise, I actually felt better. No less shaken up, and still pretty stupid, but . . . better. If nothing else, because he didn’t think I was stupid. For some reason, that was important right now.
Neither of us said anything for the rest of the drive, which wasn’t all that long. The entrance to that particular section of base housing was pretty close to Gate Four. Housing was under Navy jurisdiction, but this section of it wasn’t physically on the base. It was a development about half a mile away, and there were a shitload of bars and clubs in between. There were bars and clubs clustered around every gate on every base, but the seedier meat market ones always seemed to be closer to base housing. Couldn’t imagine why.
“You said McCade’s, right?” he asked.
“Yeah.” The bar’s familiar red and green neon lights came into view, and I gestured toward it. “Right there.”
Curtis put on his blinker even though there was no one else on the road—such a cop—and pulled into the parking lot.
“Here is good,” I said. “I can walk the rest of the way.”
He stopped gently beside a couple of other cars. “Take care, all right?”
“I will.” I turned to him, intending to thank him for the ride, but my tongue suddenly stuck to the roof of my mouth. I couldn’t decide if it had just been a long time since I’d looked at him, or if there was something about the way the parking lot lights picked out his blue eyes, but Jesus Christ, I didn’t want to look away. He really was hot. Like . . . hot.
He was also enlisted, as the stripes and anchors on his lapels made very clear. And he was probably straight. He probably also needed to get back to work instead of sitting here with the idiot lieutenant who was just horny because he’d been interrupted before he’d had a chance to get his rocks off.
I cleared my throat. “Thanks. For the lift. I really appreciate it.”
“Don’t mention it.”
I smiled, and let myself steal another second or two of drinking in his features. Weirdly enough, he didn’t seem to mind. He didn’t look away either.
He started to say something, but then his radio sputtered, startling the fuck out of both of us. I didn’t understand what the voice on the other end said, but Curtis scowled, pressed the button, and responded, “Copy that. On my way.” He looked at me again, an apologetic grimace on his face. “I gotta go.”
“Right.” I reached for the door. “Thanks again.”
“You’re welcome, sir.”
Why was it so weird to hear him call me sir? He didn’t have to when we were out of uniform, but it . . .
Well, whatever. I couldn’t think anymore tonight. I opened the door and went to step out, but it turned out that isn’t very effective with a still-buckled seat belt. Feeling like an idiot for the fortieth time tonight, I unbuckled it, tried again, and made it out of the truck this time.
Senior Chief Curtis left, and I stared at his taillights until they’d disappeared down the road. Then I headed for my car.
I made it as far as the driver’s seat and got the key into the ignition, but that was it. I leaned back in the seat like I had in that chair at Jenna’s while Curtis had questioned me. Funny. I’d never really felt like he was interrogating me. If anything, he’d seemed more concerned that I was all right. Yeah, he’d wanted to find out what happened, especially since he’d thought her husband had hit me, but he hadn’t made me as nervous as I’d expected a cop to. Or maybe I’d just been so relieved that Jenna and her husband had been out of the room.
I closed my eyes and exhaled through my nose. Tonight had turned out to be such a fucking disaster. All I’d wanted was to get laid, and Jenna had apparently been on the same page. Hell, desperate as I was tonight, she probably could have been wearing her wedding ring, shown me that gigantic wedding portrait on the wall, and introduced me to her husband, and it still wouldn’t have registered because my little brain had been running the show.
Thinking about that, I cringed. I wasn’t a pig who saw women—or men—as holes to put my dick in, but I’d been stressed and horny lately. I’d been upfront on Tinder that I wanted sex and nothing else so there would be no false expectations, and when the hot brunette had responded, I’d been sold.
Should’ve known she was too good to be true.
And then, because I wasn’t frustrated enough—Jenna had gotten off, but I hadn’t—the cop that showed up had turned out to be Curtis. Gorgeous Curtis. Maybe I should’ve been on Grindr tonight because apparently I was in the mood for a man. Or, at least, I was now. Christ, one look at that hot cop, and now I was seriously jonesing for a guy.
Pity that hot cop was probably straight, definitely on duty, and absolutely enlisted. He couldn’t be any more off-limits if he tried.
Son of a bitch.
* * * * * * *
I’d been at the office five minutes the next morning when I got called into my commander’s office. Base security worked quickly, apparently—they hadn’t wasted any time getting that report to the powers that be.
Might as well get it over with, so I put my jacket and coffee cup in my office, then walked back up the hall. I knocked on my boss’s door.
I paused to pray that this wasn’t a career-ender, then stepped inside and closed the door. “You wanted to see me, sir?”
Commander Wilson eyed me over a printout of something, but his voice was mellow. “Have a seat, Lieutenant.”
He put the printout on his desk and folded his hands on top of it. “You want to tell me what happened last night?”
I met an insanely hot cop and really wish I’d invited him home and—
No, you meant the other part.
I gulped. “I, um . . .” There was no point in trying to play stupid or bullshit Commander Wilson. And, really, I didn’t want to. He was about the most relaxed person I’d ever met in the Navy. Completely cool with letting people do their jobs, and only getting in their faces if they made it clear they’d not only fucked up, they had every intention of continuing to fuck up until someone gave them an attitude adjustment. A few people in the department had learned the hard way that Wilson’s bad side was not a place you wanted to be.
So I cleared my throat and sat a little straighter. “I met a woman online, and we met up for . . .” The heat in my cheeks made me wince. “Anyway, I didn’t realize she was married until her husband came home.”
Wilson gave a slow single nod of understanding. He skimmed over the report. “There’s a note on here that you had blood on your mouth.”
I absently tongued the cut, which was closed now but distinct. “It . . . wasn’t because anyone got violent. She bumped me with her elbow, and I . . .” I motioned toward my mouth.
“I see. Why was base security called?”
“I’m not sure, to be honest.” I tried not to fidget in the chair. “The couple got into it, and wouldn’t let me leave, and—”
“Hold on.” His eyes widened. “They wouldn’t let you leave?”
“Uh. Well.” My face must’ve been bright red. “I don’t think they’d have physically forced me to stay, but at the time, I was scared, and he was pissed, and . . .” I waved a hand. “I guess I kind of froze.” I summed up the rest as best I could, from the part where the two young cops couldn’t quite get Jenna and her husband to cool it, and when Senior Chief Curtis had shown up and gotten a handle on the situation. I left out the part where I’d shamelessly checked out the senior chief at the most inappropriate moments. Commander Wilson was openly gay, married to another officer who worked right down the hall, but he’d probably look askance at my lapse in military bearing.
When I’d finished giving him the most professional explanation of everything that had gone down, he nodded. “All right.” He pushed the printout aside. “You’re good. I just wanted to hear it from you so I knew what was going on.”
Thank God. He dismissed me, and that was the end of it.
In fact, to my surprise, it really was the end of it. I didn’t know how many people had heard about last night, but as the week continued, no one said another word about the domestic at Jenna’s house. Security didn’t follow up on anything. Navy legal didn’t get in touch. Commander Wilson didn’t mention anything. I didn’t hear so much as a rumor around the watercooler.
Jenna’s husband didn’t knock down my office door either, though I really hadn’t expected him to. After that exchange right before I’d left, the guy had seemed more devastated than angry. Like the screaming and shouting with Jenna had kept him going, but as soon as everything had quieted down, the truth had sunk in. His wife had cheated on him in his own bed. Maybe he’d suspected it for a while. Maybe he’d been blindsided. Either way, now he knew, and it was painfully obvious that the truth hurt. Somehow he’d had the presence of mind to understand that I honestly hadn’t known and that I was genuinely sorry for the role I’d played.
I felt for the guy. I thought about him a lot over the next week, and wondered if he was all right. For all I knew, he’d been an utter dick to Jenna and deserved every cum stain that wasn’t his on their sheets, but I didn’t think so. It might’ve just been my guilty conscience, but my gut said no.
Whatever had happened, though, I didn’t see or hear from either of them, and still, no one said a word. Which meant I needed to move on, forget it ever happened, and figure out what to do about this simmering sexual frustration.
Only problem was I couldn’t get that night out of my mind. Every time I drove past base housing or saw a patrol car, my mind went straight back to that night.
Not the part where I’d had my head between Jenna’s thighs, going to town on her and making her crazy right up until the sound of a key in the door had turned it all into a frenzy of panic. Not the part where I’d gone home, horny as hell and on the verge of blue balls, and couldn’t even rub one out because I’d been too frustrated, not to mention irrationally sure that some angry husband would come crashing through the wall like the Kool-Aid Man.
No, I kept going right back to the ride to McCade’s. To the cop who’d driven me. And with him almost constantly on my mind, I was way hornier than I’d been the night Jenna and I had hooked up.
I hadn’t been with a guy in a while. Maybe that was it. I’d been with plenty of women recently, but guys . . . it had been at least three or four months since the last one, and a good six months since I’d driven up to Seattle and spent the weekend with various dicks down my throat. Maybe that was what I needed. Not another weekend of debauchery—that had been fun, but in that exhausting, once-in-a-blue-moon kind of way. Just someone to get naked and sweaty with for a night.
And with Senior Chief Curtis still firmly planted in the front of my mind, especially whenever I got myself off, apparently I needed to get naked and sweaty with a guy.
No apps, though. No websites. I wanted to meet someone. Size them up face-to-face. Get a good look at their left hand in case there was an incriminating tan line on the third finger. With any luck, we could find someplace private, get what we both came for, and walk away happily without any disgruntled partners in our wake.
There were a handful of clubs in town that were fairly gay-friendly, but only one that was really a gay club. All the rest were down in Flatstick, which was way too fucking far to drive tonight. So, not a lot of options. After work, I’d grab a shower, put on something reasonably hot, and take my ass over to the High-&-Tight.
And hopefully I wouldn’t be spending tonight alone.
What the hell am I doing?
I looked around the club. Most of the guys here in the High-&-Tight were years younger than me. The music was geared toward their generation, not mine, though it was catchy. The beers were all right even if I hadn’t heard of most of them. It wasn’t a bad place by any means, but I wasn’t sure if coming here was such a good idea. My best friend, Noah, had sworn by this club. Anchor Point finally had a gay bar, and according to him, it was a damn good one. So if there was a place to get laid in this town, the High-&-Tight was it.
Being close to the base, and with a name like that, it was no surprise the place was crawling with military. First termers, mostly—guys who probably hadn’t been able to legally drink for more than a few months. Guys I had no business touching.
Christ. I didn’t know what I expected to find here. Someone barely over half my age who was game for a hookup in the men’s room, maybe. Younger guys weren’t exactly my thing, but I didn’t see many alternatives in this club. And the high-and-tight haircuts at least let me know who to stay away from. I didn’t relish the idea of being called into Captain Rodriguez’s office to explain why someone had a photo of me making out with some E-3 I hadn’t recognized out of uniform.
I played with the label on my beer bottle. Ultimately, I wasn’t here because the men in this crowd were what I was craving tonight. They were a distraction from what I hadn’t been able to get off my mind for the last several nights. I’d given up on fooling myself into believing I could get Lieutenant Jameson out of my system if I thought about him with my hand on my cock enough times.
I took a deep pull from my beer and rolled the ice-cold liquid around in my mouth until my teeth ached.
You’re an idiot. No two ways about it. Getting hung up on a straight guy? Yeah, because that had worked out so well in the past. Not that getting hung up on queer guys had worked out any better. As it was, I hadn’t been laid in almost a year. Not since my ex had left with his side piece.
What the fuck is wrong with me? Why am I so depressed tonight?
It was probably because just this week, I’d agreed to help Noah’s boyfriend move in with him when they finally had all the logistics sorted out. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for Noah—and by extension his boyfriend—but I wasn’t looking forward to helping them unload that U-Haul. It’d be like a reverse of what Noah had helped me do earlier this year, when we’d been taking boxes out of my house and putting them into a truck. His boyfriend was coming to live in Anchor Point. Mine had been getting the hell out of town with someone younger and more limber.
Fuck. Even now, the better part of a year later, something came along every so often and reminded me that Vince was gone. I was over him, and wouldn’t take him back if he were the last man on earth, but after six years together, it had taken time to get used to being Will, and not one half of Will and Vince.
So that was it. I’d been raw after agreeing to help Anthony move because apparently I was more of a wreck than I’d realized, and I’d zeroed in on an attractive man. He’d been a distraction from my ex, and from how wound up I always was when I had to respond to a domestic, so I’d run with it. I’d let myself memorize him. I’d ogled a half-naked man with just enough bedhead to make my mouth water, let myself wish I could be the one messing up his hair, wondered if he liked it pulled, or if—
Stop it. You’re going to make yourself crazy.
Yeah, he’d had messy hair after getting out of bed with a woman. The guy was straight. End of story. That long look before he’d gotten out of my truck? My imagination. The way he’d kept watching me while I drove—which I’d noticed because the rearview had been tilted to let me steal glances at him—had also been my imagination.
He was gone, and even if he wasn’t, he was out of my league, so I needed to get over my ridiculous fantasies and find a guy who actually played for my team. I could either spend the night hunched over the bar and staring into my beer, or I could pull my head out of my ass and start looking for someone to distract me for a while.
So, I turned around, leaned against the bar, and—
You have got to be kidding me.
If I’d thought Brent was gorgeous in a pair of jeans and nothing else with sex-ruffled hair . . . Okay, I stood by that, but Christ, tonight he was really abusing the privilege of being sexy. His tight jeans clung to his ass, and something about the way the black belt sat made my skin tingle. He had on an unbuttoned black shirt, and under that a skintight white tee. And instead of his hair being disheveled from sex, or hastily finger-combed into place, it was meticulously styled now. Like a lot of officers, he didn’t cut his hair as severely as enlisted guys often did, and he had enough length on top to style it and give it that “neatly messy” look.
And he was here. In the High-&-Tight. A gay bar.
Fraternization between the ranks is clearly another hoop that today’s armed forces needs to maneuver, and this love story, the fourth Anchor Point novel, handles it with sensitivity and candor.
Witt’s skillful characterization, gift for plotting, and sensitive treatment of same-sex relationships in the military context make this novel a pleasure to read.
Witt offers military details as well as emotional depth in this red-hot gay Navy romance.