Wash Out (Anchor Point, #7)
This title is #7 of the Anchor Point series.
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Casey Olson has always known he was destined to be a Navy SEAL, and the best day of his life was when he was accepted into training. The worst day was when a snapping bone ended his dream.
After three combat tours in five years, Logan Carter left the Marines and self-destructed. Now he’s sober and, thanks to a forgiving ex with friends in high places, has a promising job as a civilian contractor. All he has to do is stay on the rails and out of a bottle, even when his demons won’t leave him alone.
Logan likes his job, and he really likes the gorgeous man at the next desk. Casey tries not to check Logan out, but who is he kidding? From the start, despite their best efforts, neither man can resist the other. Sizzling chemistry leads to sex so hot they can both almost forget why they’re stuck in this office to begin with.
It would be perfect, except Logan can’t stop reliving wars he’ll never forget and Casey can’t stop grieving the SEAL he’ll never be. And they’ll never have a future together until they can make peace with their pasts.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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I expected to have a lot of feelings on my first day in the NAS Adams training department. For one, I was nervous while I paced in the parking lot outside the admin building. That wasn’t a surprise, but it wasn’t all new-job nerves.
Oh, there were plenty of those. Gazing up at the utilitarian three-story building, I had to swallow hard to keep my stomach where it belonged. My last job had ended in disaster. I was lucky there’d been someone here to put in a good word for me and help me get this new gig, and he’d reminded me half a dozen times that if I fucked this one up, it would get me blacklisted from any future civilian contractor jobs. With as many bridges as I’d burned in the last few years, that wasn’t a chance I could afford to take.
I tugged at my tie and wondered if it was really that tight, or if I was just that anxious. My mom had always told me to dress to impress, so I had. She’d also said to eat a good breakfast before I started a new job, but I’d ignored that advice this morning. That was the only reason I wasn’t heaving into one of the concrete planters between the parking lot and the building.
Eyes closed, I took a few deep breaths. I had this. I’d pulled my shit together, and I was done fucking up. Almost getting busted for DUI had been a wake-up call. Almost getting evicted had been the cosmic slap in the face I’d needed. Almost losing everything had been as close to rock bottom as I’d needed to get. I wasn’t going back there. I was six-months clean and counting down the days to seven. I was even diligently going to the gym and my therapist on a regular basis. I had this.
The tinted-glass front door opened, catching the morning sunlight, and my stomach somersaulted. Then, out stepped the other reason I was nervous as fuck.
Wow. He looked amazing. He was still as fit and hot as always, and the green digicam uniform and laced-up black boots were sexy as hell. Even though I’d seen him quite a bit recently, it still blew my mind how good happy and in love looked on that man.
“Morning.” Clint smiled. “Ready?”
“Yeah.” Am I sure I don’t need to puke into one of the planters? “I’m ready.”
He gave my arm a firm squeeze. “Hey. You’ve got this, all right?”
I nodded as my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. It was impossible to look at Clint without a mix of regret, gratitude, and shame in the pit of my already-churning gut. I’d thought it would get better after that first conversation. The one where I’d poured my heart out and apologized for being such a colossal—and drunk—dick while we’d dated a couple of years ago. But things hadn’t changed. In fact, he’d not only forgiven me, he’d also hooked me up with a job, which just made me feel a million times worse for the way I’d treated him.
I shook myself. “Sorry. So, um . . .” I cleared my throat. “Let’s do this?”
He gave me another smile and nodded toward the building. “They just put in cipher locks, or I’d have had you meet me inside. Diego will get you your code.” He stopped at the door and punched a six-digit code into the silver keys, and the lock snapped loudly. Then he pulled open the door and waved me inside. As he did, the light caught on his wedding ring. I pretended not to notice.
Queasy with way too many feelings, I went inside.
Clint led me up the stairs. “They’re remodeling the building and shuffling everyone around, so we’re all learning the new layout almost as much as you will be. And about the time any of us get it figured out, they’ll change it again.”
“That’s encouraging.” I laughed with humor I didn’t really feel.
At the third floor, he turned, and I fell into step next to him. We headed down a hallway that was half-finished and half-covered in duct-taped plastic, caution signs, and bare concrete with toolboxes and ladders tucked neatly out of the way. There wasn’t any activity, though.
“Nobody working on the remodel right now?” I asked just to make conversation.
“They do the work at night. Too many people in the building with PTSD.”
He glanced at me. “Most of the doors have signs reminding people not to slam them, and we’ve tried to fix the supply closets and file drawers so they don’t make so much noise, but it’s not perfect. If there’s one thing you really, really have to remember in this place, it’s to keep the loud noises to a minimum. Try not to startle anyone. That kind of thing.”
I nodded without speaking. Why hadn’t anyone told me sooner there were places where it was office etiquette to assume your coworkers had PTSD? That could’ve saved me three jobs and fuck knew how many of the dollars I’d poured into liquor stores in the name of keeping my shit together.
Better late than never, right?
We passed through the admin department. Clint’s husband, Travis, had run that area when they’d met, but he’d retired last month. According to both of them, the new head of admin was a bit of an asshole.
“He’s a commander,” I’d said over dinner the other night. “Of course he’s an asshole.” They’d both glared at me playfully, and I’d added with a grin, “Oh. Sorry, Commanders.”
Clint and I didn’t stop to meet the guy, though, and continued down the hall, following the signs toward training. We passed through an area with several guys in camouflage working in waist-high cubicles, and some did double takes when they saw me.
I cringed. I didn’t recognize any of them, but I was pretty sure they recognized me from the Navy Ball I’d gone to with Clint the night we’d split up. My memory of that debacle was fuzzy, but I knew he’d introduced me to several of his coworkers. Working around them was going to be a blast. Especially since I could hear some hushed murmurs behind us as we turned the corner.
“They remember me, don’t they?” I asked under my breath.
Clint clapped my shoulder gently. “Relax. Yeah, they remember you, but they also know you wouldn’t be working here if you hadn’t picked yourself up off the ground.” He gave another squeeze, then let go. “If anyone gives you any shit, I’ll squash it. Promise.”
“Thanks.” His reassurance helped, but my nerves weren’t getting any better. And I hadn’t even met my own coworkers yet.
At the end of the hall, Clint knocked on the door marked TRAINING. Then he pushed it open. “Ramírez? You around? Your new victim is here.” He winked at me.
“Be there in a minute,” came a familiar, accented voice from behind a taller cubicle wall.
I gulped. I hadn’t met my new boss yet. They’d needed to fill the vacancy quickly, and he’d been on the East Coast when I’d interviewed, so we’d just talked on the phone for a few minutes before he’d given Clint the okay to put in for my contract. I’d liked him from the phone interview, but he was a little intimidating too. Terse. To the point. I’d immediately gotten the impression he wasn’t a man who took shit from anyone, and it didn’t matter if there was a commander who had my back. Diego ran the training department now, and, like me, he was a civilian contractor. Rank didn’t scare him.
“Okay, well.” Clint cleared his throat. “Sarah sits over here, so this must . . .” He looked around at the three desks divided by more of the gray waist-high walls. One had photos and signs of life. The other two each had a computer and a phone, plus tons of thick binders, sticky notes with phone numbers on them, and calendars. That was about it. “Diego, which desk is his?”
“By the window. On your left if you’re in the doorway.”
“Right. By the window and on the left.” Clint motioned toward the desk. “You’ve got your ID card, right?” He motioned for me to give it to him. I took the lanyard off my neck and handed it over. Clint slid the card out of the case and into the slot on the side of the keyboard. “You’ll need to put your ID in here whenever you log in to your computer. Diego will give you all the information you need for logging in and—”
“And he’ll take it from here,” Diego broke in.
I turned to see my new boss. He was the epitome of a civilian contractor. Scruffy beard. Polo shirt and khakis. A red coffee cup with Fuck You, Sir in big white letters. No tie in sight. No military bearing whatsoever. I immediately liked him.
I extended my hand. “Hi. Um. I’m Logan.”
He shook it, smiling back. “Diego. Casey should be here soon; he’s down at security teaching a class.”
“If you’ve got this under control,” Clint said, “I’m going to step out and—”
“Yeah, you are.” Diego made a shooing motion toward the door. “Move along, Commander.”
Clint flipped him off, but they both chuckled. Okay, so when he’d told me this was a pretty informal atmosphere, he hadn’t been kidding.
Finally, one of my twitchy nerves relaxed. There were plenty left that were bowstring tight, but I’d take what I could get.
Clint turned to me. “Call me when you head to lunch. I’ll take you to the O club.”
I nodded. “Will do. Thanks again.”
He left, and it was just me and Diego.
“So.” Diego gestured at my desk. “Have a seat, and I’ll walk you through everything.”
It wasn’t as overwhelming as I’d expected. My job involved coordinating training programs for the various departments around the base, maintaining the classroom schedule, and teaching classes. The teaching part still made me nervous, but Diego assured me I’d be sitting in on classes taught by him or one of the other trainers before they turned me loose on my own.
“Sarah’s my second-in-command.” He nodded toward the desk that looked lived-in. “She’s downstairs teaching right now, but she should be back”—he craned his neck to look at the clock—“in a half hour or so. During the weeks I’m traveling, she’s in charge.”
“You travel a lot?”
Diego shrugged. “Couple times a month, depending on the schedule.”
I nodded. “Good to know.”
He opened his mouth to say something, but someone knocked at the department door. “That’s probably Casey.”
We had to knock to get into our own department? But hadn’t Clint just pushed it open after he’d knocked? What the hell?
Diego pulled open the door, and the knock made sense—crutches.
The other guy—Casey, apparently—hobbled inside, dressed in green camouflage like Clint’s and holding a folder in his teeth. And . . . holy shit. I was supposed to be a productive employee while I was sitting across from him? I’d always been a sucker for military guys and the high-and-tight haircuts, and uniforms were sexy as fuck, but some guys definitely stood out from the crowd. This platinum blond with bright-blue eyes? Holy shit.
Oblivious to me and still clutching the folder between his teeth, Casey gave Diego a sharp nod, and Diego took the folder.
“The fuck is this?” Diego muttered, eyeing it.
“El jefe sent it over.” Casey didn’t sound pleased. “Wouldn’t even put it in my backpack for me.”
Diego rolled his eyes. “And he couldn’t walk thirty feet and give it to me instead of making you carry it? Fucker.” He gave Casey a sympathetic grimace. “I’ll mention it to him.”
“‘El jefe’?” I asked cautiously.
“The commander who runs admin.” Diego added something under his breath, but I didn’t catch it. “Lazy fucker would rather dump shit off on someone who’s got his hands full”—he gestured at Casey’s hands on the crutches—“than carry it himself.”
“Hate that guy.” Casey continued toward his desk. “But it is what it is.” He paused to slide his backpack off his shoulders and let it drop to the floor with a heavy thud. “I just wish Commander Wilson would come back.”
“Don’t think retirement works that way.” Diego glanced inside the folder, then tucked it under his arm. “Logan, this is GM2 Olson, but we just call him Casey. Casey, this is Logan. He’s taking over for MA3 Stevens.”
“Oh, hey.” Casey leaned on one crutch and extended his hand. “Nice to meet you.” Was I imagining the down-up flick of his eyes? Probably.
“Yeah, you too.” I tried not to be too conspicuous about looking him up and down. Hopefully, he just took it as curiosity about the cast immobilizing his left leg from six inches above his knee. Not from being caught off guard by how hot he was. Or by how gorgeous his vivid blue eyes were. He had smooth features—more of a baby face than I usually liked—but it worked for him.
“Sorry about the door,” Diego said, pulling Casey’s attention away from me. “I forgot to prop it open for you.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Casey eased himself down into the chair. “But I’ll remember it next time I order lunch.”
Diego shot him a look. “Don’t you dare.”
Casey showed his palms and grinned innocently. “Fair’s fair, right?”
They locked eyes, both looking pissed off, but then Diego laughed, shaking his head, and Casey snickered.
Yeah, I was going to get along with this group just fine.
A phone rang, and Diego gave me a hold on gesture before disappearing into his cubicle.
Casey turned to me. He propped up his leg and leaned back in his chair. Lacing his hands behind his head, he asked, “So you’re an ex-Marine?”
I tried not to act surprised. Apparently, they’d been briefed about me. “No such thing as an ex-Marine. Semper Fi.”
He chuckled, but didn’t really seem to feel it. “How long were you in?”
“Eight years. I’ve been discharged for almost seven, though.”
His eyebrows rose. “Yeah? You’re probably making bank as a contractor, then.”
I tried not to shift uncomfortably. “This is my first contract, actually.”
“What were you doing before?”
Slowly and steadily self-destructing. “Nothing I want to keep doing.”
He gave a little grunt of what must’ve been approval. “Well, it’s not a bad gig. I’m only here until this”—he knocked on the hard cast—“finally fucking heals.”
“How long will that be?”
“Too long,” he grumbled. “Docs say the cast will be off soon, but it’ll be at least three or four months after that before I can run. Assuming I don’t need more surgery.”
“Yeah, careful working in this office, Logan.” Diego stepped out of his cube, thumbing through a stack of papers as he spoke. “It’s the office of cursed legs.”
“Pfft.” Casey rolled his eyes. “We all had fucked-up legs before we got here.”
“We did,” Diego corrected. “What about Sarah?”
Casey’s eyes flicked toward the empty desk. “Okay. Fair. But still, that’s only one person who got hurt after they started in this place.”
“Exactly. Three people in an office of four have shit legs.” Diego glanced at me. “Careful with yours, my friend.”
“Duly noted,” I said.
“I’ll be right back,” Diego told me. “I need to talk to the XO, and then I’ll walk you through the safety program. That’s what you’ll be teaching first.”
I nodded, and as Diego headed out, I noticed for the first time he had a subtle limp. “Cursed legs, huh?” I turned to Casey. “What’d you do to yours?”
Casey’s mood immediately darkened. He dropped his gaze for a second, but then shook himself and cleared his throat. “Got hurt at BUD/S.”
I blinked. “Wow, really?”
“Yep,” he said bitterly. “Hey, I’m in good company, right? Isn’t it like ninety-seven percent of BUD/S recruits that wash out?”
I wasn’t sure what to say to that. It was common knowledge that all the special forces training programs, especially the SEALs, lost most of their recruits. I’d met a few washouts, and never quite knew what to say to them. If they’d busted their asses that hard to get in and didn’t make it through to the end—that shit stung.
And it was an injury that had killed Casey’s shot at a trident. He might very well have had the mental and physical wherewithal to be a SEAL. But whatever had happened to his leg . . .
“I’m sorry,” I finally managed to say. “That . . . must be tough.”
“Yeah.” His voice was dry. Distant. “It is.”
“But hey, at least no one’s shooting at you in here, right?”
Casey set his jaw. “Something like that.”
Silence fell. After a moment, he turned back to his desk. I chewed my lip, really at a loss for what to say, especially since I didn’t know him at all. I held back a comment about how he’d dodged a bullet. Quite possibly a literal one. People didn’t join the military to avoid getting shot at. Finding out you weren’t going into the heart of a war zone was comforting to the side of you that wanted to survive, but it didn’t do good things to the part that was trained to fight.
Someone like him who was driven enough to become a SEAL was never going to be happy anywhere but the front lines. Someone like me who’d been to the front lines would never be able to explain that it was a circle of hell we wouldn’t wish on anyone.
Not even the ones who wanted to be there.
I was relieved when Diego came back and took Logan for a tour of the building. The silence had gotten awkward as fuck, and now that he was gone, I could breathe.
I felt bad about it, though. Logan seemed like a nice enough guy. He’d had every right to ask about my leg. Hell, I’d brought it up. He just couldn’t have known how much mental shit was attached to all the damage that cast was holding together.
Alone in the office, I sat back in my chair and rubbed my eyes. Sometimes, I wished people understood that “at least you’re not getting shot at” wasn’t as comforting as they thought. I was supposed to be fighting. Or at least training to fight. Being a SEAL was who I was—or at least, who I was supposed to be—and sitting behind a desk was a kind of torture most people just didn’t understand.
Some days were worse than others too, and today . . . Fuck.
My leg hurt, for one thing. I was really kicking myself—so to speak—for not taking Diego up on the offer of letting him teach some of my classes this week. Leaning on my crutches during the PowerPoint presentations and lectures wasn’t usually that bad, but back-to-back classes this morning had been a mistake. Probably would be until the next surgery, and God knew if that one would help. All I knew now was that the joint hurt like hell and the muscles were throbbing. I swore I could feel every pin, screw, and scar trying to keep my lower leg from falling apart.
And I’m supposed to run on this? Like, ever?
The docs were convinced I would. I might not ever run a marathon, and my Physical Readiness scores might never be above satisfactory, but I would run.
I’d believe that when I saw it. All I knew now was that I was too fucked up to finish training and become a SEAL, but not fucked up enough for a medical discharge. I didn’t want to stay in if I couldn’t be a SEAL. My contract didn’t care.
Ah well. At least the Navy was paying to fix my leg. I couldn’t complain about that part.
I turned my head toward the cubicle where Logan would be sitting. Maybe this would be slightly less of a shitty deal now that there was some eye candy around the office. Diego was hot and all, but Logan? Whoa.
He was seriously built. The guy had shoulders and arms like some of the guys I’d known in BUD/S, but without that balloon-animal look some of the meatheads got. His black hair probably hadn’t seen a regulation cut since he got out, and it just teased the collar of his dress shirt. He was fair-skinned like he probably didn’t get much sun, which wasn’t out of the ordinary in the Pacific Northwest. Even my SoCal tan was fading fast.
It was a shame I’d been so distracted by my own brain when he’d left, or I’d have made a point of checking out his ass. Eh, the day was still young. And I was lucky—my desk was turned at the perfect angle to let me subtly ogle anyone coming or going.
You just became my new happy place for when the doc is messing around with my leg.
I laughed at that, and tried to ignore the goose bumps prickling up my spine. Oh yeah, I’d be thinking of him, and not only when the doctor was testing out new torture techniques on me. When I tried to sleep, when I jerked—
The clomp of high heels in the hallway brought me out of my thoughts, and I smiled. I knew that set of footsteps from a mile away.
Sure enough, a second later, Sarah came strolling in through the open door, the beads in her long black braids clicking as she tossed her hair over her shoulder. She was seriously tall, and she wore these enormous heels all the time, so she towered over all of us.
“Hey, honey.” She flashed me a smile. “Just you in here?”
“Yeah. Diego’s showing the new guy around.”
“Oh, what’s he like?”
“Oh, you know.” I shrugged. “A little bitchy sometimes. Swears in Spanish when he’s mad.”
Sarah rolled her eyes. “The new guy, dumbass.”
I snorted. “He’s all right. Easy on the eyes too.”
“Oh yeah?” She lit up. “Well now I’m curious.” She let her nails click along the top of my cube before she turned into her own and dropped into her chair. “How’s the gimpy leg?”
She frowned. “Better? Worse?”
“Not happy after two classes in a row this morning.”
She clicked her tongue. Then her drawer rattled, and I straightened like a cat who’d heard the treat bag crinkle. A second later, she tossed me a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. “There. That won’t make it better, but being sore with one of these is better than being sore without one.”
“Fuck yeah, it is.” I tore into the orange wrapper.
I loved Sarah. Diego had taken a week or two to really grow on me, and I’d never cared for Logan’s incompetent predecessor, but Sarah? I’d loved her the minute I’d started working in this office. That little drawer full of candy didn’t hurt, either. Especially when she loaded it up with Baby Ruth bars. I had a feeling we’d all be in sugar comas around Halloween.
Sarah had to leave again for a meeting a few minutes later, and after she’d gone, I went back to the PowerPoint presentation I’d been ignoring for the last half hour. While I worked on it, though, I couldn’t get the new guy out of my head, and not just because he was attractive as hell. Yeah, a lot of people had combat-related injuries and didn’t like talking about them, so asking about wounds and scars was tricky, but I’d mentioned it first, so it had been fair game. I probably would’ve asked too, just out of curiosity. And rationally I knew what people meant with those comments about metaphorical dodged bullets. It just frustrated me that I couldn’t explain how much they hurt.
I pinched the bridge of my nose and sighed. Okay, Logan and I had just met, and we’d gotten off on the wrong foot (so to speak), and I needed to fix it. Otherwise things were going to stay really awkward around the office for a while. Maybe once we’d felt each other out a bit, I could gently explain to him how little comfort there was in dodging this particular bullet, and maybe he’d understand. But for today, he was the new guy who genuinely meant well, and I was the unreasonable dickhead for expecting him to read my fucked-up mind.
It was almost an hour before Diego and Logan returned, and as soon as they came in, my stomach knotted. Logan glanced at me and smiled, but there was still some tension in his brow, and the air between us was definitely awkward. He probably didn’t know what to say or if he’d already said too much.
I waited until we were more or less alone. Sarah was out of the office and Diego was on the phone, so I grabbed the opportunity and turned my chair to face him. “Listen, um.” I cleared my throat. “Sorry for kind of giving you the cold shoulder earlier. When you asked about my leg.”
“It’s okay. I don’t know you well enough to be asking about—”
“No, you were fine. I brought it up, you know?” I paused. “So, just . . . I’m sorry for being an ass, all right?”
Logan studied me, but nodded without pushing the issue.
I went on, though. “Like I said, it’s the reason I had to drop out of BUD/S. So it’s, you know—”
“I get it,” he said softly. “I wouldn’t be happy about something like that either. And, uh, sorry if I downplayed it.”
I swallowed, nodding. “Thanks. It’s . . . You really couldn’t have known. So it’s okay.”
The silence stretched on, threatening to get even more awkward, before Logan said, “Where will you go once your leg’s healed?”
That was another minefield, but it was a reasonable direction for the conversation to head. I shrugged tightly. “Back to a ship, I guess. Depends on where they’ve got an opening for a Gunner’s Mate. I mean, unless Diego pushes to keep me here or—”
Diego barked a laugh. “That’ll be the day.”
“You know you love me, Ramírez.”
Another laugh, this one quieter. “Whatever helps you sleep at night.”
Logan chuckled, and the tension in the room seemed to loosen. “I think I’m going to like working in this office.”
“Eh, give it a week.” I smirked. “You haven’t heard one of Diego’s tirades yet.”
Muttered Spanish from the other cubicle made us both snicker.
With the air cleared between me and Logan, I went back to my PowerPoint, and he continued getting oriented. Diego got him started with the computer system—pointedly eyeing me when he reminded Logan not to forget his ID card at the end of the day, since some people in this office were notorious for leaving theirs in the card slot—and Sarah took Logan downstairs to finish his new-hire paperwork.
Logan still seemed surprised by the jabs we fired off at each other, but that was probably just because he didn’t know all of us yet. I guessed he’d be joining in without hesitation by the end of the week. The rest of us had gotten on board pretty quick. After all, none of us had even been here all that long. I’d started two months ago. Diego had apparently been here for almost a year by that point, since he’d started around the time the department had been restructured. Sarah had worked in various departments for three years, but she’d only been in training since shortly after Diego had started.
We all got along most of the time. Diego had days when he was insufferably crabby, but almost without fail those would be the days when his fiancé would show up to take him to lunch or something, and suddenly all would be fine. I sometimes wondered if Sarah tipped Mark off that it would be a good time to come strolling into the office.
Sarah was admittedly not the easiest person to work with for a few days out of every month. Like clockwork she’d be out sick for two days afterward, and she’d leave chocolate bars on our desks when she came back on the third day. Not that she needed to apologize, for God’s sake. Diego and I never gave her any shit for it—we didn’t know what it was like firsthand, but damn, if we were that miserable, we’d probably snap at people sometimes too.
I also had my moody days, especially when my physical therapy started tickling the line of cruel and unusual punishment. Or when I started thinking too hard about the fact that I was pushing a goddamned desk and training Sailors to do CPR and killing them with PowerPoint presentations instead of becoming a SEAL. Most of the time, though, I was okay. And even though I was still pissy about being here in the first place, the Navy could’ve put me on worse detail. Training was a cakewalk, and as a bonus, my boss was gay. After the homophobic asshole I’d worked for on the ship before I’d gone to BUD/S, I’d take it.
Everything had run nicely the whole time I’d been here, right up until Stevens had left. Good thing they’d gotten Logan in here when they did; we could all handle the extra classes and workload, but not for much longer. Once he was up to speed, it would be a hell of a lot easier on all of us.
Assuming I could get anything done while someone that hot was in the same office.
A little before twelve, Commander Fraser poked his head into the office and looked at Logan. “You ready to roll?”
Logan nodded. “Yeah, give me a sec.” He got up and went to Diego’s cube. “Hey, I’m heading to lunch. Is that cool?”
I didn’t hear Diego’s response, but Logan left a second later, and this time I did watch his ass on the way out.
“Mm-mmm.” Sarah whistled. “About time we got one of the pretty ones in this office.”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine. One of the pretty ones who plays for my team.”
“You don’t know that.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Fifty.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Confident, aren’t you?” She craned her neck. “You in, Ramírez?”
“No way.” His chair creaked, and something rustled. When he appeared, he had some folders tucked under his arm and a stack of papers in his hand. He was flipping through the pages, but paused to eye us both. “He hasn’t been here half a day, and you two are already making bets?”
I shrugged. “Admit it—you’re surprised it took us this long.”
Diego laughed and rolled his eyes. “Okay. Yeah. I am.” He paused, sobering a little. “By the way, how’s your leg doing?”
“Still attached, I guess.”
His forehead creased. “You need me to take your afternoon classes?”
“Nah.” I shook my head. “I’ve got it. And you’re dealing with the new guy anyway.”
“Sarah can handle him.”
“Ramírez, what did I say about volun-telling me to do things?”
Diego turned to her. “That you’re my subordinate and you’ll do it without question?”
“No. The other thing.”
He thought for a moment. “That you’ll start putting Almond Joys instead of Mounds in the candy dish?”
Diego narrowed his eyes. “You wouldn’t.”
She narrowed hers back. “Try me, motherfucker.”
He huffed. “Fine. I’ll train the new guy.” They both laughed, and I was pretty sure they knew as well as I did that Sarah would fill in for him without complaint if he needed to take over one of my classes. They just had to constantly bust each other’s chops.
“Guys, it’s really okay,” I said. “It’s one class, and it’s downstairs instead of in another building. I’ll be fine. Diego, you can keep training Logan, and Sarah, you can keep putting Mounds in the candy dish.”
Diego turned more serious. “Are you sure? If standing for that long is bothering you, say something, all right? You know I get it.” He gestured at his knee, which wasn’t in a brace today but sometimes was.
I nodded. “I know. I appreciate it. But I’m good. Promise.”
He studied me. Then he shrugged, swiped a handful of Mounds bars out of the dish, and headed back to his desk.
“Hey!” Sarah called after him. “You’re only supposed to take one!”
“Just saving myself a trip,” he said, tearing one open with his teeth as he rounded the corner into his cubicle.
Sarah huffed. “Asshole.”
I just snickered and kept plowing through my PowerPoint, wondering who the hell Logan had blown to score lunch with Commander Fraser.
The NAS Adams officers’ club was nice. Officers’ clubs in general were probably all nice, but I’d never been in one before. The lighting was dim, giving it a kind of upscale atmosphere, especially with the dark hardwood floor and rich red leather on everything. From what I’d heard, the enlisted club across the street was basically a step up from a Denny’s. Even though they were both open to officers and enlisted, the differences between them brought to mind all the animosity between the ranks. I rolled my eyes at the memory of officers looking down their noses at us while me and my guys glared right back at them. There were things I missed about the Marine Corps, but that wasn’t one of them.
Clint and I took a seat at a table with a view of the golf course, and started perusing the menu. Out of sheer habit, I skimmed the drink menu, but caught myself and turned the page to the entrees.
“Grilled cheese sandwiches?” I smirked across the table at Clint. “Mozzarella sticks? The O club is really keeping it classy, aren’t they?”
“Hey.” He flipped the page in his own menu. “Officers like comfort food as much as the next guy.”
“Fair enough. And I guess it is balanced out by all this kale bullshit.” I wrinkled my nose at the salads.
Clint just laughed.
After we’d put them aside, placed our orders, and gotten our drinks, he met my gaze. “So what do you think of the job so far?”
“Don’t really know yet. That GM2 sitting behind me is cute.”
Clint shot me a pointed look. “Logan . . .”
I put up my hands. “Nothing wrong with checking people out, right?”
“No, but . . .” He sighed. “Just be careful, all right?”
I tried not to let my frustration show. He meant well, but I still didn’t like the feeling of being on a short leash. Regardless of whether I needed that leash, which I probably did. “I said he’s cute, okay? I didn’t say I was going to hunt him down on Grindr or anything. Relax.”
Clint pushed out a breath through his nose, and some tension eased in his shoulders. “I’m sorry. I just really want this to work out for you.”
I dropped my gaze. “I know. And I appreciate it. I owe you big time.”
“No, you don’t.” His voice was soft, and that almost made it tougher to take what he was saying. “I know you’re busting your ass to straighten out your life, and I want to help. I’ve been there, you know?”
Without meeting his eyes, I winced. I still felt guilty as fuck for how much harder I’d made things for him when he’d been trying to get himself back together. I didn’t remember much about that period in either of our lives, but there were a few too many clear memories of Clint’s pained expression when he told me for the hundredth time that, no, he really didn’t want a drink. He’d spelled it out to me, and I’d gotten it when I was sober, but the minute I’d start drinking, I’d start pushing for him to join me. It hadn’t mattered how much that could sabotage his world—I’d felt like shit, and I hadn’t wanted to feel that way alone.
He could remind me over and over that he’d forgiven me, and I’d still hate myself for how I’d been when we were together. Why he ever even took my call two months ago, I’d never know. I was just glad he had.
Clint picked up his drink, and as he did, the light caught on his wedding ring again, and I fought another wince. There was no point in dwelling on what might’ve happened if I’d unfucked myself before Clint had dumped me. We were both different people now. He was happy with Travis. Sometimes, though, I wondered. If I’d been a little less of an asshole, we—
“Hey.” Under the table, he gave my foot a nudge with his boot. “Earth to Logan.”
I shook myself. “Sorry. I’m still, uh, kind of shocked we’re here.”
“It’s just the O club.” He smiled playfully, but something in his eyes told me he knew what I meant. After a moment, he sighed, shaking his head. “You’ve got to start forgiving yourself, all right? I know exactly what it’s like, destroying your life with a bottle. Believe me, I do.” He sat up and touched my forearm. “I don’t know exactly what you went through, but I get it, and I’ll do whatever I can to help you pick up the pieces.”
I had to force back a sudden lump in my throat. “Thanks.”
He gave my arm a squeeze before pulling his hand back. “I know you’re really trying. Which is why I want you to be careful with that GM2 in your office.”
“I don’t even know if he’s gay, so . . .” I shrugged.
“Still.” He paused. “I mean, there’s nothing that says you can’t date someone at work. Especially since you’re a civilian. But what happens if shit goes south?”
I inclined my head. “Says the man who married someone in the same office.”
“Same floor, yeah. But we didn’t work right next to each other. We could actually avoid each other if we needed to. You two are practically face to face, and you’ll have to interact constantly.” He chewed the inside of his cheek. “Look, I’m not going to tell you how to run your personal life, or how to interact with your coworkers. I just really want to see this work out for you.”
“I know. And I appreciate it.”
He gave me a soft smile.
I returned it, but I felt like an idiot too. Clint was right. No matter how good-looking my coworker was, I had to stay focused. If I fucked up this job, there weren’t exactly a lot of employers falling all over themselves to hire my ass. Definitely not for what I was making here.
Didn’t matter how cute Casey was. Or if he was gay. Or if he was single.
I wasn’t ready to date anyone—never mind a coworker—until I had my life back on the rails.