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Authors: Rachel Gibson

What I Love About You

BOOK: What I Love About You
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What I Love About You

Rachel Gibson

 

Dedication

To the real Bow Tie.
I love you bigger than the mountains.

 

Chapter One

It’s just us. Grab me by the neck and swallow me
whole.

Blake Junger wrapped his hands around the thick arms of the Adirondack chair and pushed farther against the back. Desire twisted his stomach, and his muscles hardened. He let out a slow, ragged breath and turned his gaze to the smooth lake. Spiky pine and ponderosa threw jagged shade across his lawn, the wet sandy beach, and the wooden dock floating on the emerald lake. The tops of the trees swayed in an unusually warm October breeze, and the scent of pine forest filled his nose, so strong he could almost taste it. “You’re living in God’s country now,” his realtor had told him when he’d moved into the house in Truly, Idaho, a little over a week ago. The home was four thousand square feet of beautifully crafted wood, its floor-to-ceiling windows reflecting the emerald lake, the deeper green forest, and the brilliant blue sky. It sat on the edge of a small development of homes and had five acres of dense forest on the undeveloped side.

He’d needed a place. A lair. A place to invest a pile of money with good tax benefits. He’d seen this multimillion-dollar property on a Realtor’s site, and he’d called and made an offer from his mother’s pool deck in Tampa.

He’d trained for high-altitude winter warfare in some of the most frozen and rugged places in the country, one of his favorites being the Idaho Sawtooth mountain range. Blake could live anywhere in the county, but he’d chosen this property on the edge of the wilderness for two reasons: (1) the tax write-offs, and (2) the solitude. The fact that it had a lake in the backyard had sealed the deal.

His parents thought he’d been impulsive. His brother understood. If Truly didn’t prove to be an anchor, he would untether and move on.

You want me
.

Want and need. Love and hate clogged his chest and dry throat, and he swallowed past the urge to give in. To just say fuck it and give up. He might be living in God’s country, but God wasn’t paying much attention to Blake Junger these days.

No one will know.

Less than a handful of people even knew where he lived, and he liked it that way. From his time spent on rooftops in Iraq, he’d once lived with a fifty-thousand-dollar bounty placed on his head by Al-Qaeda. Blake was certain the bounty had expired years ago, but even if it hadn’t, he wasn’t worried about terrorists in Idaho. Hell, a lot of U.S. citizens thought Idaho was in the Midwest next to Iowa anyway. He was much more worried that his well-intentioned family would pop up and camp out in his living room. Watching to make sure he didn’t fuck up and end up on his face somewhere.

I’ll warm you up. Make you feel good.

Blake returned his gaze to a bottle sitting on the wood cable spool a few feet from his left foot. Sunlight touched the neck and shone through the amber liquid inside. Johnnie Walker. His best friend. The constant that never changed. The one thing in the world he could count on. The hot splash in his mouth. The kick and punch to his throat and stomach. The warmth spreading across his flesh and the buzz in his head. He loved it. Loved it more than friends and family. More than his job and latest mission. More than women and sex. He’d given up a lot for Johnnie. Then Johnnie had gone and turned on him. Johnnie was a big lie.

I’m not the enemy.

Blake had faced enemies before. In Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, and too many shithole countries to count. He’d faced and conquered those enemies. He had a footlocker full of medals and commendations. He’d been shot twice, had screws in his knee, and had fractured his feet and ankles more times than he could recall. He’d served his country without regret or remorse. When he retired from the battlefield, he thought he’d left the enemy behind. Thought he was done fighting, but he was wrong. This enemy was deeper and darker than any he had faced before.

You can stop after one drink.

It whispered lies and plagued his waking hours. It lived in his soul. It had a bounty on his life. A bounty he couldn’t ignore. There was no getting away from it. No leave. No passes. No stand-down time. No hiding in the dark as it passed him by. No dialing in his scope to take it out. Like the enemies he’d faced on the battlefield, if he did not defeat it, he would die. No doubt about it, but the problem was, he craved the taste of this particular death in his mouth.

You don’t have a problem
.

Out of all the things that had been hammered into his head at the fancy rehab his brother had forced him into, one of the things he did believe was that if he did not stop, he would lose his life. He’d been through too much to be taken out by a bottle of Johnnie. Too much to let his addiction win.

The craving rolled through him and he set his jaw against it. His addiction doctors and counselors had preached avoidance, but that wasn’t Blake’s way. He didn’t avoid demons. He faced them head-on. He didn’t need a twelve-step program or daily meetings. He was not powerless over his addiction. He was Special Warfare Operator First Class Blake Junger. Retired from SEAL Team Six, and one of the deadliest snipers in the history of warfare. That wasn’t a brag, just a fact. To admit he was powerless would be admitting defeat. There was no quit, no giving up. Those words were not in a Junger’s vocabulary. Not in his or his twin brother, Beau’s. They’d been raised to win. To push themselves and each other. To be the best at everything. To follow in the famous footsteps of their father, Captain William T. Junger, a legend in the SEAL teams. The old man had earned a tough reputation in Vietnam and Grenada and countless other clandestine engagements. He was a tough warrior, loyal to the teams and his country, and he expected his sons to follow. Blake had done what had been expected of him while Beau had signed with the Marine Corps just to spite the old man.

At the time, Blake had been pissed at his brother. All their lives they’d talked about serving in the teams together, but Beau had stormed off and joined the jarheads. In hindsight, it was a blessing that they’d served in different branches.

They were monozygotic twins, had split from the same egg, and were so alike they could pass one for the other. They were not different sides of the same coin. They were identical sides, and it was no surprise that each had signed up for sniper school in their respective branches. No surprise that each earned a reputation for his accuracy and lethal shots, but when it came to numbers, Blake had more confirmed kills.

The brothers had always been competitive. Their mother claimed that even in the womb they’d fought each other for more room. At the age of five, Beau had been the faster swimmer, had won blue ribbons while Blake had won red. Second place spurred Blake on to work harder, and the next year the two traded places on the winner’s podium. In high school, if Blake won more wrestling matches one season, his brother worked to win more the next, and because they were identical twins, people compared the two in more than looks. Beau was the smart one. Blake was the strong one. Beau ran faster. Blake was the charming one. A day later, the script would flip and Blake would be smarter and faster. But no matter how many times the comparisons spun in opposite directions, Blake had always been the more charming twin. Even Beau conceded that win.

If they’d both been SEALs, people would have just naturally compared their service. They would have compared numbers and missions and ranks. While the brothers were extremely proud of their service, and the American lives they’d saved with their deadly shots, a man’s death, even that of an insurgent hell-bent on killing Americans, just wasn’t something they felt the need to compete over. Neither had crouched in the shadows of a shithole hut or rocky crag, alternately sweating like whores in church or freezing his nuts off, thinking he needed to compete. Both knew that numbers were more a matter of opportunity than skill, although neither would ever confess that out loud.

Since Beau’s retirement from the Marines, he’d started a personal security company. Beau was the successful one. The settled one. The one getting married. Beau was the one who’d used his skills to create opportunity for fellow retired military personnel.

And Blake was the drunk. Since his retirement from the Navy a year ago, he was the one who’d used his skills to make money as a hired gun. He worked for a private military security firm, and he was the one who’d hopped from hot spot to hostage situation. From country to open seas, living a seemly unsettled life.

And Blake was the one who’d needed rehab to face his biggest demon. Like all enemies, he’d faced it head-on, only to discover that the consequence of sobriety was that at any moment, a flash or smell or sound could spin his clear and sober head around. That a flash in sunlight, or the smell of dust and sweat, or a high-pitched whistle could crawl up his spine and stop him in his tracks. Could make him drop and look for something that wasn’t there. The flashbacks didn’t happen often and didn’t last more than a few seconds, but they always left him disoriented and edgy. Angry at his loss of control.

He looked at the bottle of Johnnie. At the blue and gold label and sun filtering through the rare scotch whisky. He’d paid three hundred dollars for the bottle of booze, and he craved it in the pit of his stomach. It tugged and pulled at his insides, and the sharp edge of need cut across his skin.

One drink. Calm the craving. Dull the sharp edges.

Blake’s knuckle popped as he tightened his grasp on the chair.

Just one more. You can stop tomorrow
.

The craving grew stronger, pinching his skull. Wasn’t day sixty-two supposed to be easier than day one? His stomach rolled and his ears buzzed in his head. He picked up the camera by his hip and stood. He wrapped the black and yellow strap around his forearm and pointed his Nikon SLR at Johnnie. Six months ago, he’d stared down the scope of a bolt-action TAC–338 in Mexico City with two corrupt Mexican police officers sharing his crosshairs. These days, he shot his enemy with a camera. He looked through the viewfinder and dialed up the bottle. His hands shook and he tightened his grasp.

“What are you doing?”

Blake spun around and almost dropped the camera. “Holy fuck!” A little girl in a pink shirt and long blond ponytail stood behind his chair. “Where in the hell did you come from?” He’d lost his touch if a little kid could sneak up on him.

With her thumb she pointed next door. “You said two bad words.”

He scrubbed his face with one hand and lowered the camera by the strap to his chair. She’d scared the shit out of him, and that wasn’t easy to do. “And you’re trespassing.”

She scrunched up her nose. “What’s that mean?”

He’d never been around kids and couldn’t even guess her age. She was about as tall as his navel and had big blue eyes. “Trespass?”

“Yeah.”

“It means you’re in my yard.”

“I know it’s your yard.” She actually rolled those blue eyes at him. “I saw you move in.”

A five-foot stretch of pine and underbrush separated the two properties, and he glanced at the neighboring yard through the trees. The woman living there was working in the flower garden that she had managed to scratch out of the forest. Ass-up in pink and purple flowers, her shorts rode up just high enough to show the naked curve of her butt. He’d noticed her before today. He might be a drunk, white-knuckling sixty-two days’ sobriety, but he was still a man. A man who appreciated a nice ass pointed his way. He’d never seen the woman’s face. Just the back of her blond head and her sweet butt cheeks.

“What’s your name?”

He turned his attention back toward the child and wondered if he should feel guilty for having sexual thoughts about the kid’s mama. “Blake.” He didn’t feel guilty. He just wondered if he
should
feel guilty. “Is that your mom?”

“Yeah. She’s not at the store today.”

He couldn’t recall hearing a man’s voice coming from next door as he’d studied the mom’s butt. “Where’s your dad?”

“He doesn’t live with us.” She swung her arms from side to side. “I don’t like bees.”

He frowned down at the little squid in front of him. He didn’t know what bees had to do with anything, but after sixty-two days, nausea rolled through him like it was the first. He felt like he might puke and dropped his shaking hands to his hips.

“You’re weally weally big.”

He was a little over six foot and weighed two-twenty. In the past few months he’d dropped twenty pounds. One of the last times he’d seen his twin, his brother had called Blake “a pudgy fucker.” They’d been slugging it out at the time. Arguing over who was the better shot and the toughest superhero, Batman or Superman. Beau had been wrong about Superman but right about the fat. After Blake had retired from the teams, he’d had time to kill between security jobs. He’d stopped working out as much and started drinking more. “How old are you, kid?”

“Five.” Her arms fell to her side and she tossed her head. “I’m not a kid.”

Behind him Johnnie whispered,
I’m still here. Waiting
. Blake ignored the whisper. He needed to jog or swim. He needed to wear himself out, but that didn’t mean he’d quit and let Johnnie win. No, a warrior knew when to withdraw and come back hard.

“I’m a hoss.”

Blake moved his head from side to side as the pain in his skull thumped his brain. “What the hell’s a hoss?”

She rolled her eyes again like he was a bit slow. “A hhhooooosssss.”

Blake spoke perfect English, broken Arabic, and fluent split-fucking-infinitive. He’d never heard of a hoss.

“My name is Bow Tie.”

“Bow Tie?” What the hell kind of name was that?

“I have yellow hair with white spots.” She tossed her head again and stomped one foot. “I have a white mane and tail. I’m fancy.”

“Are you saying ‘horse’?” Jesus. She was turning the ache in his head to a stabbing pain. “You’re a horse?”

“Yes, and I’m weally fast. Do you want to see me race?”

He’d never been around kids. He didn’t even know if he liked kids. He was fairly sure he didn’t like this kid. She thought she was a “hoss,” couldn’t say some of her R’s, and looked at him like
he
was slow in the head. “Negative. You should go home now.”

BOOK: What I Love About You
10.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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