Shock & Awe (A Sidewinder Story)
After barely surviving a shootout in New Orleans, Sidewinder medic Kelly Abbott has to suffer through a month of recovery before he can return home to Colorado. He’s not surprised when fellow Sidewinder Nick O’Flaherty stays with him in New Orleans. Nor is he surprised when Nick travels home with him to help him get back on his feet—after all, years on the same Marine Force Recon team bonded the men in ways that only bleeding for a brother can. He’s very surprised, though, when Nick humors his moment of curiosity and kisses him.
Nick knows all of Kelly’s quirks and caprices, so the kiss was a low-risk move on his part . . . or so he thought. But what should’ve been a simple moment unleashes a flood of confusing emotions and urges that neither man is prepared to address.
Now, Kelly and Nick must figure out what they mean to each other—friends and brothers in arms, or something even deeper?—before the past can come back to ruin their tenuous future.
Note: A bonus Sidewinder short story, Bait & Switch, will be included in the paperback version of Shock & Awe. The bonus story will also be available in the ebook downloads for those who do not purchase the paperback.
Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:drug use
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Kelly had to lean against the railing of his front porch while Nick dealt with the lock and the alarm to his cabin. He pressed his hand to his chest, resting his palm over the healing bullet wound just under his left pectoral. It had been a long plane ride, even in first class, and the hour-long trip from the airport hadn’t been much better on him. He was exhausted, and all he wanted was his own bed.
Nick left the luggage at the door and hustled inside to turn off the beeping alarm. Kelly didn’t have to tell him the code. They all knew where the keys to their castles were: Ty’s and Owen’s security codes, Nick’s yacht, and a mental map of Digger’s bayou booby traps.
The beeping from inside stopped, and Nick returned to roll the luggage out of the way. Kelly wrapped his arm over Nick’s shoulders, and they hobbled through the front door. He could walk on his own when they’d left the hospital in New Orleans, but after so much travel, he wasn’t actually sure he could anymore.
“Thanks for doing this, bud,” Kelly muttered.
“Hey,” Nick grunted. “We both know you took that bullet for me. Least I can do is get you home.”
Kelly didn’t argue. He couldn’t claim he’d taken the bullet on purpose, but if he hadn’t been there, it would have lodged in Nick’s head, and they both knew how that would have ended. He leaned on Nick until they reached the worn leather recliner in the living room, but he hesitated as Nick tried to help lower him into it.
Kelly laughed. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to get out of this thing if I get down.”
“It’s not like you’re going anywhere.” Nick tightened his grip on Kelly’s waist and eased him into the recliner. “And I’m not carrying your ass upstairs right now, so sit.”
“You’re a horrible nursemaid.”
Nick pulled the handle on the side of the chair and shot Kelly’s legs out.
As soon as the chair stopped wobbling, Kelly closed his eyes and relaxed into its familiar folds. He listened to Nick banging around, bringing their luggage inside, going through the refrigerator. Nick gasped and closed the refrigerator door quickly. They’d been gone a long time; Kelly had no doubt what the inside of that thing smelled like.
Nick finally came back into the living room with a glass of water. “You ready for meds? I’m going to put you to sleep and go get some groceries. And . . . maybe some rubber gloves.”
Kelly mustered a smile. “Sounds good.”
Nick tapped one of the painkillers into his palm and grinned. “Bank shot?”
Kelly opened his mouth, and Nick tossed a pill into it, then another, snickering as he handed Kelly the glass of water. He threw a blanket over him, put the television remote and his cell phone within reach, then patted Kelly’s head.
“I’ll be back before you wake up.”
Kelly closed his eyes, relaxing so the pills could to do their work. He knew he didn’t have anything to worry about as long as Nick was on the job.
When Kelly awoke, it was to the sound of humming and the smell of bacon frying and a hint of Lysol. It took him a moment to remember where he was and why he was sore. He stared at Nick, who was curled on the couch a few feet away with a book.
“Hey,” he said, his voice hoarse.
Nick jerked, glancing up at him. He set his book aside and scooted forward, but he didn’t stand. “You okay? Need more pills.”
“No, I’m good. What’s that sound?”
Nick went still and listened briefly, then shook his head. “I don’t hear anything.”
Kelly held his breath and realized the humming sound had faded. So had the smell. “Are you cooking bacon?”
Nick began to chuckle, then fought hard to stop. “No. Do you want me to be?”
“No. Yeah. Wait, no, no.”
Nick waited patiently, still smiling.
Kelly just stared at him, trying to get his brain to work. He wasn’t sure if he was hallucinating, if his brain had picked up on all the things Nick had been doing while he’d slept and then replayed them to him, or if he was just losing his mind. He wasn’t sure he cared, though, because now that he was fully awake, he was in pain again. “Okay, I need another pill,” he finally said. Nick reached for the pill bottle. “But half of it this time. I’m tired of you laughing at me for being drugged.”
Nick merely nodded as he fished a pill out. He broke it and popped one half into his mouth before handing the other to Kelly.
“What the hell, O’Flaherty?” Kelly asked, laughing despite how much it hurt to do so.
“Consider it payment for services rendered,” Nick said as he took a sip of Kelly’s water. Kelly gaped. Nick laughed harder and handed Kelly a whole pill to add to the half. “It’s like a step above Tylenol, don’t hurt yourself.”
Kelly was still chuckling while he tried to down the painkillers.
“You think you’re going to be more comfortable here or in your bed tonight?”
Kelly peered at the darkened windows. He dreaded nighttime, because that was when he hurt more and slept fitfully. There was never anything on TV to entertain him in the wee hours when he was wide awake, and he’d sped through all the books he had access to. It also got lonely, because he wasn’t about to keep Nick awake at night as well as depend on him during the day. “Is it that time already?”
Nick shrugged. “Close enough.”
“Well. If I sleep here, you can have my bed.”
“Doc, if you sleep here I’ll be on the couch in case you need me. If you sleep upstairs, I’ll make a pallet on the floor.”
“Promise not to roll in your sleep, and I’ll share the bed.”
Nick gave him an easy smile and stood. “Worth a try. I’ve promised more for a bed.”
“You whore,” Kelly said, grinning as he slid his arm around Nick’s neck and held tight for Nick to help him stand.
Once he was out of the recliner, he shuffled off to the bathroom on the ground floor. He could hear Nick lugging the suitcases up the steps to the loft bedroom of the cabin. Kelly was beyond grateful Nick had insisted he come with Kelly until he was well enough to fend for himself. Otherwise he didn’t like to think where he’d be stuck, or who would be stuck taking care of him. Nick was using every last hour of vacation time the Boston PD gave him to be here.
It took them a full five minutes to get Kelly up the stairs, mostly because they had to keep stopping to laugh at the absurdity of it, and by the time he eased onto the edge of his bed, they were both out of breath.
Kelly looked up at Nick and grinned. “Bet you never worked this hard to get a guy in bed, have you?”
“Not physically, no,” Nick grunted. He pulled back the covers and arranged the pillows for support, then Kelly wrapped an arm around his neck and Nick leaned over him as he eased him into the bed.
Kelly had to squeeze his eyes closed against the pull. It wasn’t really pain anymore, but there was some serious discomfort when he twisted and stretched, and the muscles were weak. Anything that forced him to use his core was still too much for him. He had to be careful or stitches and staples would tear loose.
Nick was still hovering over him when he opened his eyes. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” Kelly gasped. He cleared his throat. “That might not have been worth the effort.”
Nick grinned crookedly. “Well that’s the first time I’ve heard that before.”
Kelly made a derogatory sound and closed his eyes again. Nick pulled away, then gently covered him with the sheet.
Kelly may have been the corpsman, but Nick had always been the caretaker of the group. He’d been a wingman, fall guy, sounding board, and alibi. He’d been mother, father, big brother, and crazy uncle. Whatever they’d needed. He’d always been the one who’d made sure all the Sidewinder ducks were in a row, and he was probably the sole reason the house they’d all shared in Jacksonville hadn’t burned down.
It was so odd to think back on all those years and know that Nick had been hiding part of himself he thought he couldn’t share. It almost broke Kelly’s heart to think of all the secrets he’d spilled to Nick, all the things he’d gotten off his chest, but Nick had never been able to do the same.
Kelly opened his eyes to watch Nick. He was dragging Kelly’s suitcase toward the armoire. “How’d you make the jump, anyway?” Kelly asked. He had to close his eyes again as exhaustion threatened.
“I mean, were you always into guys and just hid it? Were all the girls we chased together just a cover, or . . .”
“No,” Nick said quickly. Kelly opened one eye to see Nick clearing off the table beside the bed. He was smirking as he spoke. “I consider myself equal opportunity.”
Kelly watched him curiously. Over the years, Kelly had seen Nick’s charisma and easy manner pull more barroom trysts than Ty and Digger combined. Sometimes it almost seemed like he did it by accident. Of course, that was all part of Nick’s charm. A lot of what he did seemed accidental, which had contributed to other Marines calling him Lucky for much of his career. But Kelly knew better. Nick’s methods were very deliberate, and his results were anything but luck.
Nick was a fascinating person, and Kelly had always thought so. When he’d first joined the team, Ty and Nick had been quite intimidating. Fiercely loyal to each other, dangerously protective of each other, and so close they could finish each other’s sentences and communicate without words. Once Kelly had proven himself worthy, he’d been afforded the same loyalty from both men. With Ty, it was like being surrounded by a barricade of barbed wire and mines. Nick’s loyalty felt more like being wrapped in a warm blanket. Everything about Nick felt warm, even the thought of him, and ever since Nick had come out to him, Kelly had wondered what that meant for him.
What did it mean that Kelly knew he would choose Nick over anyone else if a gun was put to his head? What did it mean that Nick’s calls or texts always left him feeling both happy and melancholy all at the same time? What did it mean when his heart dropped into his toes as he’d listened to Nick confess that he’d been in love with Ty for over a decade?
Even now the thought sent a pang through his chest that made his wound throb and ache. He placed his hand over it.
“What’s it like?” he asked suddenly.
Nick glanced over at him as he slid the lamp away from the bed and laid out Kelly’s pill bottles, bandages, and other necessities. “What’s what like?”
“Being with a guy.” He looked Nick up and down, trying to imagine. Would Nick be the same with a man as he was with a woman? Because Kelly had seen that, and it had looked fun. “Is it different?”
Nick shrugged and nodded. “Sort of, yeah. Physically? Definitely. Relationships, though, it depends a lot on who you’re with.” He glanced at Kelly and raised an eyebrow, smiling. “You a little bi-curious, Doc?”
Kelly laughed again, holding his side in a wasted attempt to keep it from hurting. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” Nick teased. “Either you’re curious or you’re not.”
“I guess. I mean, I like sex.”
“Granted,” Nick mumbled, still smiling.
“I never thought about it before.” That was a damn lie. “But hell, if you can do it, so can I, right?”
Nick placed his hand on Kelly’s forehead, holding it there briefly before patting him and then moving away. He headed for the bathroom, probably making sure the path from Kelly’s side of the bed was clear.
“And a beautiful person is a beautiful person, so why not open up that door to more opportunities?” Kelly called after him, desperate to have him return so they could continue the conversation.
“I think you’re omnivorous,” Nick said, his voice echoing off the tile and into the bedroom.
Kelly laughed again. He rested back to watch Nick move around the room. He was like a mother hen, prepping the nest. He moved the chair from the corner to the middle of the room, a convenient place for Kelly to get to and rest if he needed to. He went to the armoire beside the bathroom door and pulled out several extra pillows, putting pillowcases on them and tossing them on the bed. He was going to use them as a barrier between himself and Kelly as they slept, to protect Kelly’s wound from any stray limbs.
Kelly found himself wishing those pillows wouldn’t be there tonight. He didn’t know why. Painkillers? Knowing Nick was bi and having the nerve to ask questions? Watching Ty and Zane and the connection they obviously shared while in New Orleans? Kelly had never felt that with his ex-wife, not once, but he’d certainly felt it with brothers-in-arms. Maybe it was a perfect storm of factors, but Kelly was definitely curious. Asking Nick these questions had given him a little rush too. Nick gave him a little rush.
He had always been closest to Nick. Nick had been Kelly’s best man at his wedding. He’d also been the one who’d taken him in briefly after he’d divorced. They were very much alike in temperament, compared to the others who were all fire and stone. He and Nick were water and smoke: patient and nebulous and easy.
“I’m going to take a shower,” Nick said as he threw the last spare pillow on the bed. “You want anything from downstairs first?”
Kelly’s breath quickened, and he blurted it out before he could think twice. “Why Ty?”
Nick stopped short and cocked his head as if he hadn’t heard right. “What?”
“When you came out to me, you told me you’d been in love with Ty,” Kelly explained. He held his breath, telling himself the answer would probably make his wound throb again and he didn’t really want to know. “Why Ty?”
Nick blushed and lowered his head, chewing on his lip. He shrugged. “He was . . . like this big shining beacon. For a long time I was a little in love with the idea of him. The idea of that kind of loyalty and trust for the rest of your life, you know? I think it was mostly just being young and wanting to believe in something. You know Ty. He was easy to believe in.”
Kelly nodded. “Are you still in love with him?”
Nick was already shaking his head. He came around the other side of the bed and sat, leaning against the headboard so Kelly couldn’t see his face without twisting. “We went through too much. Nothing romantic about it. And the night I kissed him, the night I told you about everything, there was nothing there. We would have worked if we’d wanted to, I guess, if we’d never found anything else. But . . .” He shrugged and shook his head.
Kelly turned to try to see Nick’s face. “So there’s nothing left there?”
“Nah. It’s kind of a relief. Life changes what love means, you know? What I felt about Ty, it was a different kind of love.”
“Have you found something else?” Kelly asked carefully, surprised by how nervous the question made him.
Nick looked at him oddly. “I don’t know. Why are you asking me these things? This isn’t some sort of post-gunshot meltdown, is it, ’cause I’m not built to handle those.”
Kelly began to snicker, holding his chest so it wouldn’t hurt. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
“If it is, we’ll call Owen; he’s good at the meltdown stuff.”
“I’m not having a meltdown,” Kelly assured him. “Are you seeing anyone?”
Nick was silent, sitting there and looking confused for a few seconds before answering. “Sort of. We haven’t had a date or anything, but we’re . . . actually, I’m not sure what we are.”
The indecisive answer bolstered Kelly’s courage and relieved him, which was an odd sensation. “Hey, Irish?”
Nick turned to him, the beginnings of a smile on his face.
“Will you kiss me?”
The smile faded into wide-eyed shock. Nick’s eyes were so green he almost looked like a cartoon. Kelly began to laugh. He had to hold his hand over his wound, but he couldn’t stop laughing. He reached out to put his other hand on Nick’s arm. “I’m sorry I’m laughing,” he wheezed. “It’s the drugs, I swear.”
Nick snorted and gently peeled Kelly’s fingers off his forearm. “From now on you only get halves,” he mumbled. He slid off the bed, beginning to chuckle.
Nick turned, trying to look annoyed but still laughing. Kelly schooled his features, frowning dramatically. “I’m serious,” he managed to say.
“Yeah, you look it,” Nick drawled.
“I want you to kiss me.”
Nick examined him, seeming dubious.
“I want to know what it feels like to kiss a guy. And you’ve had a lot of practice, so I know you’re a good kisser.”
“Are you simultaneously complimenting me and calling me a whore?”
“I’m . . . I’m just impressed you can take half a Percocet and say simul . . . simultaneous.”
Nick sighed heavily, fighting back his smile. He came around the end of the bed and sat next to Kelly’s hip, turning to hover over him. “Okay.”
Kelly was surprised when his stomach flipped, but he liked the feeling. “Okay what?”
“Okay. If you want me to kiss you, I will.”
Nick nodded. “But only if you can sit up on your own, and then pass a field sobriety test.”
Kelly rolled his eyes and snorted. “You’re such a dick.”
“I’ll give you that too if you want it,” Nick said, laughing as he pushed off the bed and headed for the loft steps.
Kelly watched him, trying to decide if the flip in his stomach was excitement or nerves. “Hey!”
Nick stopped at the head of the staircase and turned again, ever patient.
“I’m serious,” Kelly said.
Nick’s eyes narrowed, and he remained there for a few moments before he moved slowly back to the bed. “You really want me to kiss you?”
“So you’ll know what it feels like to kiss a guy.”
“Well you and Ty both seem to enjoy it. What’s good for you is good for me, right?”
“That’s a horrible reason.”
Nick sat down again, close enough that the mattress dipped and Kelly slid toward him. They stared at each other for a few seconds, Kelly holding his breath as Nick thought it through. He was curious, because he knew locking lips with another dude had to be different from kissing a woman, and he was by nature an inquisitive person. He was open to trying just about anything once, and he’d always kind of been on the fence about it. But he was also wondering what it would be like to kiss Nick, and that had nothing to do with the painkillers or his innate desire to try new things.
“Okay,” Nick said quietly. He adjusted the way he was sitting, propping one hand on Kelly’s other side as he leaned over him.
Kelly held up a finger. “No half-assed middle school kissing, either.”
“I want the whole deal.”
“This is starting to feel like I’m leasing a car or something.”
“I’m serious, I want the Irish special.”
Nick rolled his eyes and glanced up at the ceiling. “Fine. Jesus.”
Kelly nodded, his lips twitching on a smile and his chest fluttering. They stared at each other as Nick leaned over him, and it was harder for Kelly to catch his breath as he waited for Nick to make his move. He licked his lips.
Nick finally laughed. “Close your eyes.”
“’Cause I can’t do this with you looking at me.”
Kelly gave a long-suffering sigh, but he closed his eyes anyway, still fighting a smile. He felt Nick lean closer, and he inhaled sharply, holding his breath as Nick’s lips brushed the corner of his mouth.
He parted his lips and tilted his head, their noses bumping as Nick moved the same way. They both laughed and Kelly cocked his head the other way, dragging his lower lip across Nick’s as they adjusted. Then Nick was kissing him. Really kissing him. His lips parted, tongue darting between them to lick at Kelly’s lips. His teeth closed over Kelly’s lower lip and dragged before his tongue slipped inside Kelly’s mouth.
They both moaned.
Kelly reached up and grabbed a handful of Nick’s shirt, barely realizing he’d done it. His knuckles knocked against hard muscles. Nick’s hand came up to Kelly’s face, brushing his cheek tentatively as if he wasn’t sure he was allowed to touch. Kelly nipped at his lip, and Nick groaned again. He pushed his hand under Kelly’s head and clutched at his hair.
The stubble on Nick’s chin scratched against Kelly’s cheek. Nick leaned more on top of him, his hands clamping down in the kind of grip Kelly had never felt from a lover. The kiss was more forceful and demanding than any he’d ever experienced, and he found himself using his tongue and his teeth to fight back, even as he pulled Nick closer to urge him on.
Kelly’s hand pressed against Nick’s chest, and it wasn’t even odd that there was nothing but muscle to grab there. He moaned again, and the sound traveled through his body, awakening the rest of him to the moment, to the scent of guns instead of roses, the brush of leather instead of lace.
Kelly gasped as Nick began to pull away. He didn’t have the strength yet to sit up to follow. Their lips dragged as they separated. Nick’s fingers released Kelly’s hair and slid out from under him as he pushed himself up. Kelly finally opened his eyes, but he didn’t let go of Nick’s shirt. His heart was hammering and his mind was churning, making him light-headed.
“Well,” Kelly finally breathed. “No shit.”
Nick laughed and ran his thumb across his lip. Kelly knew him well enough to know when Nick was nervous, and he was nervous now. He tightened his grip on Nick’s shirt to keep him from getting up. Nick turned hesitant green eyes on him, waiting for his verdict. Kelly had never really appreciated the color of Nick’s eyes.
“Do that again,” he whispered.
Nick took in a deep breath and then let it out slowly, like he was trying to calm himself. He patted Kelly’s hand, taking it in his and gently extricating his shirt. “Let’s just let that one settle with the Percocet, okay?”
He made to stand, and Kelly was forced to let him go.
Nick was walking away, running a hand through his hair, and Kelly realized his entire body was still buzzing. It might have been from the painkillers, but he was willing to place bets on his buddy right now.
It was the same feeling he got when his phone rang. The same feeling as waking up in the hospital to find Nick holding his hand. The same warmth of a blanket wrapping around his shoulders, and something inside him screamed for him to pursue it.
“Hey, Nick,” he whispered.
Nick stopped and rolled his neck, like he might have been irritated by Kelly’s repeated attempts to keep him from descending the stairs. He turned, though, the same easy smile on his face, his feelings masked by his legendary patience.
“Is the rest of it like that too?” Kelly asked.
Nick ran his teeth across his lip, beginning to nod. “Isn’t it always if you have the right dance partner?”
Kelly stared at him, finding himself nodding. Jesus, was it possible he was considering Nick O’Flaherty a dance partner right now? Yes. Yes, he was.
“You’re not going to ask me to fuck you now, are you?” Nick asked, deadpan.
Kelly began to laugh. “The thought was crossing my mind.”
Nick’s smile faded. “Are you serious?”
“Sort of. You got the engine revved a little.”
Nick rolled his eyes and turned toward the stairs. “Put him back in the garage then. I don’t drive automatics,” he said as he thumped down the stairs.