Authors: June Gray
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, locations and incidents are
either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any
resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, and events is entirely
Copyright © 2012 by
June Gray. All rights reserved.
No part of this
book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means,
including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in
writing from either the author or the publisher, except by a reviewer who may
quote a brief passage in a review.
Cover design by June Gray
To the men
and women married to the military:
You are the
strongest, kindest, most courageous people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing
and I am proud to be in your company.
life is tough, but we are tougher.
ASSESSING THE SITUATION
my fault—at least, not entirely. Henry Logan, my roommate and Captain in
the Air Force, was technically to blame. The guy had been acting so unusually
moody for the past five weeks that I was getting desperate to see a smile on
his face. So that Saturday night, I suggested we head to our favorite bar at
Bricktown and just drink the night away, confident that Henry, even in his
grumpy-bear state, could never turn down beer.
parking his convertible Mustang, we walked down the street to Tapwerk
in silence. I waited for him to open up, to tell me what had been bothering
him, but no dice.
with you lately?” I asked.
his hands in his jacket pocket and shrugged. “Nothing, why?”
I raised an
eyebrow at him. He could successfully pull off the nonchalant attitude on
anyone but me. I’d known him for thirteen years and had lived with him for two.
I could decipher his every expression, sometimes to the point of reading his
mind. “Come on. Are you on your period or something?” I asked with a teasing
jab of the elbow. “Do you need to borrow a tampon?”
finally got a small laugh out of him. “Elsie, you are such a brat,” he said. He
reached over to ruffle my curly brown hair, but I anticipated the move and did
a little ninja-ballerina maneuver to avoid him.
said, “leave the hair alone.” I slipped my arm through his as we stood in line
for the bar—Tapwerks was
place to be on weekends—trying
to pilfer some of his warmth. He was 6’2” and built like a brick wall; he had
plenty of everything to spare.
As I craned
my head to study the people in line, dressed up in their casual best, I
suddenly caught a glimpse of Henry, his face partially lit by the soft glow
from the bar’s windows. It struck me then that he was really no longer that
awkward kid I grew up with but a
, and a gorgeous one at that. I’d
always known he was good-looking—hell I’d had a crush on him since my
brother started hanging out with him in their sophomore year of high
school—but the way the shadows played on his face rendered planes I never
knew existed. His short dark hair and the scruff on his strong jaw lent a nice
contrast to his olive skin, and he had a proud nose with a little cleft at the
end that matched the cleft on his chin. But it was his eyes that drew my gaze,
those icy blues that seemed as if they could see into my every thought.
I stared at
him for a long moment, feeling a strange tickle in my chest, when I came to the
realization that he was staring back.
Elsie?” he asked in that husky, gravelly voice of his. Had he always sounded so
I gave him
my best sunny smile, shaking off the confusing feelings that had snuck up on
me. “Just wondering why you don’t have a girlfriend.”
quirked up a little and I felt a finger tickle me on the side, but he didn’t
bother answering the question.
two floors were at full capacity and there were no available tables or chairs,
so we stood at the bar, trying our hardest to get the bartender’s attention. I
was only 5’6”, so Henry theoretically had a better chance at visibility, but
somehow, the male bartender’s eyes just kept flitting right over him as if he was
try.” I stepped up on the brass rail that ran along the bottom of the bar and
squeezed my arms together, causing instant cleavage over the low neck of my
bartender noticed. He finished up his orders and came right to me with an
appreciative smile. “What’ll it be?”
Cider, Sam Adams, and two tequila shots,” I said, and straightened up.
doing the big brother scowl when I joined him back down on the floor.
asked, preparing for the lecture. “When you’ve got ‘em, use ‘em.”
down at me with a disapproving purse to his lips but said nothing. God, was
nothing going to get him to talk?
downing our shots, Henry and I stood around with cold bottles in our hands. He
continued to scowl at me and I pretended not to notice by looking elsewhere.
Thankfully, I saw a few of his Air Force buddies across the room and they waved
us over to their table. Henry grabbed a hold of my hand as he led the way
through the sea of bodies, his large frame parting the crowds so that I
wouldn’t get swallowed up.
another captain, raised his beer bottle in greeting.
his bottle with my cider. Henry gave a cool little jerk of the head and said,
“Hey, man.” The two men exchanged a silent look before Henry gave the slightest
shake of the head.
girlfriend, Beth, gave me a hug before I could figure out what the guys were
communicating. “How are you?” she asked. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”
good. Busy,” I said, keeping an eye on Henry. “You?”
started to say something, but the band began to play and cut her off. For a
while, we all stood there and bobbed our heads to the rhythm of the rock group,
all except for the stiff corpse beside me. Sometimes Henry knew how to really
kill a good time, but as his friend, it was my duty to pull him out of this
funk he was in.
I stood on
my tiptoe and pulled him down so I could yell in his ear. “You wanna dance?”
at me then at the near-empty dance floor, then back at me again. “Hell no.”
not to hear. I grasped his hand with a cheeky smile and pulled him through the
crowd and onto the dance floor.
no,” he said and turned to leave.
But I still
had a hold of his hand, so I jumped in front of him and danced to block his
way. I pulled his arm around my waist and gave him my most seductive smile as I
began to sway my hips to the music.
his eyes but I kept on dancing, sure that sooner or later he would relent. He
knew how to have a good time; he just had to be pulled out of that scowly shell
on the dance floor swelled and I was unexpectedly pinned to Henry, my hips
grinding in to his before my brain could tell it to stop.
was instantaneous and twofold. Henry’s expression changed at the same moment I
felt something stir in his jeans. My face went up in flames, but when I tried
to pull away, his arm tightened around me and pulled me closer.
you going?” he asked in my ear, his warm breath tickling my neck. “I thought
you wanted to dance?”
was pounding a million miles a minute through my chest, but I had teased the
beast out of hiding and I now had to face him. I looked up at him, acting as if
having an erection against my stomach was not a big deal, and tried to take advantage
of our close proximity. “Why won’t you talk to me?”
want to talk tonight,” he replied, his eyes focused solely on my mouth. The
breath hitched in my throat when he ran his tongue along his lower lip. “I’d
rather do other things.”
about the time I lost my cool. This was Henry, my closest friend, my roommate,
my surrogate big brother. He was a great many things to me, but he was
definitely not someone I made out with. I’d stopped hoping for that a long time
ago, when he’d made it clear that he saw me as nothing more than a little
Now here he
was, bowing his head with a dark look on face, his arm tight around my back.
The fifteen-year-old me was squealing with glee, but the twenty-six-year-old
was, admittedly, a little flustered.
out of his embrace and took a step back. My face was overheating, my heart was
trying its hardest to hammer its way through my chest, and my body was tingling
with that special kind of sexual exhilaration.
face broke out into an impudent smile. “Are we done playing this game?” he
called out to me over the music.
Yes, we were definitely done. For now.
something you should know about Henry and me: we never meant to live together.
He and my brother, Jason, met in high school and attended college together. For
as long as I could remember, Jason had always intended on joining the Air
Force—it was kind of a given as my father and grandfather were both
retired pilots. My guess was that Henry hung out with Jason enough that he too
became convinced the military life was for him. So they had gone through ROTC
together and eventually were sworn in to the Air Force, Jason as an Intelligence
officer and Henry as a Security Forces officer. Not surprisingly, they were
both sent to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, and of course, lived together
in an apartment on the south side of the city.
always the outsider, the third wheel. I was two years younger and was a bit of
a pest, always asking to join them in their adventures. Besides that, I was a
and had cooties, so I was almost always left behind, rejected and heartbroken.
Very early on, even before his braces came off, I was convinced that Henry and
I would get married. In my Disney years, I pictured him as my Prince Charming.
Then in my rebellious years, he was my imagined bad boy who would whisk me off
in his motorcycle. But they were nothing but the daydreams of a girl who then grew
up to realize that the boy of her dreams was far from perfect. The sobering
reality was that Henry was a flawed guy who oftentimes tiptoed into jerk
territory, as all men are wont to do.
graduating from college, I accepted a web design job in Oklahoma and crashed on
their couch for a few months while I saved up enough money for an apartment.
Henry was not keen on the idea and, in fact, tried his hardest to find me
another place to live. I still remembered coming to the table on Sunday
mornings and finding the newspaper opened to the classifieds with some listings
already highlighted, his not-so-subtle way of telling me to stop cramping his
inspired me to find a place faster, but then Jason was deployed to Afghanistan
and asked me stay in his room for the six months that he was gone. To save
money, I jumped on the offer.
I know that my brother would never come back.
gathering intel, walking around a Kabul neighborhood talking to the nationals,
when someone started shooting out of nowhere. Jason never even had a chance.
Even now, his death makes no sense to me, and I still hold onto the hope that,
one day, they’ll find him somewhere in the Afghan mountains, roughed up but
It’s a long
shot, but the ability to fool myself is one of my best talents.
So it was
with a smile that I walked out of my room the next morning, pretending that
nothing happened at Tapwerks the night before. I shuffled to the kitchen in my
flannel pajamas and turned on the coffee maker. Henry came out of his room,
still committed to that sullen persona, and reached for the coffee mugs. I
started frying some eggs and he put the bread in the toaster. When the coffee
was done, he poured and fixed mine the way I like it and took our mugs to the
table. I slid the eggs onto two plates, placed a piece of buttered toast on
each one, and joined him at the table.