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In His Sights

By LA Bryce


Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

Visit jms-books.com for more information.


Copyright 2019 LA Bryce

ISBN 9781634868730

* * * *

Cover Design: Written Ink Designs | written-ink.com

Image(s) used under a Standard Royalty-Free License.

All rights reserved.


WARNING: This book is not transferable. It is for your own personal use. If it is sold, shared, or given away, it is an infringement of the copyright of this work and violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

No portion of this book may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the publisher, with the exception of brief excerpts used for the purposes of review.

This book is for ADULT AUDIENCES ONLY. It may contain sexually explicit scenes and graphic language which might be considered offensive by some readers. Please store your files where they cannot be accessed by minors.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

* * * *

This book came into this world with a lot of outside help.

I want to thank my family for always putting up with my need to write—whether it was at the dinner table, during a movie, or right when we were about to go somewhere. You four where with me all the way, and I love you beyond words.

I also want to thank my critique group for all their time and patience, and for teaching me how to write. And to my writing group for helping to mold me into a writer.

And to my friends, thanks for keeping me motivate and full of hope.

* * * *

In His Sights

By LA Bryce

Chapter 1

Mason finished packing his bag and threw it by the door, then fished his phone from the back pocket of his jeans. He had two hours before he would leave, plenty of time to talk to his sister.

Just the thought of the call caused his chest to ache. It’d been this way every time he’d called—in the past eight months anyway.

On the fourth ring, a familiar click alerted him the call transferred to voice mail. His heartbeat slowed, and relief washed over him; seconds later, shame for feeling that way filled him.

His mind raced. What would he say to her? He had no news. No one had taken credit for the bombing, and even if they had, what kind of comfort would that have offered his sister? She was a widow. Her children were fatherless. The best he could offer was to capture the fuckers responsible and make them pay. But sadly, he was no closer to that. Before, he hadn’t a goddamn clue who they were. Now, he had a clue, he just required evidence to back it up.

The voice mail beep snapped him out of his thoughts. He cleared his throat. “Hey, Sis. Just checking in. I wanted to touch base before my flight. My ETA is twenty-two hundred. Call if you need me. No matter what time. I’ll be available for you.” He took a deep breath, his stomach sinking. “I love you, El.”

He ended the call and put the phone back in his pocket. His gaze caught on the photos sitting on the shelf in front of him. One in particular. He padded around the couch and picked it up. Tears welled in his eyes. It had only been a year ago.

The picture contained the four smiling faces of his sister’s family—one of them now gone forever. His brother-in-law stood staring at his wife and kids, pure wonder in his eyes. Mason put the photo down and walked out of the room. His heart couldn’t take the pain right now. After all the shit he’d been dealing with the past twelve months, it was time he focused on something good for a change. Although it felt selfish, as his sister couldn’t put her loss away to mourn another day, he needed to so he could continue to function. He couldn’t allow every death to affect him as much as his brother-in-law’s had, or he’d no longer be efficient at his job. There had been others, just as personal, and he’d surged through. He needed to focus. He had to keep his eyes on the prize of taking the bad guys out. That was the way he’d earn his peace.

He glanced at his watch, knowing he still had time. “Can’t hang around here anymore.” He picked up his bag and headed out to his truck. He’d stop and pick up something to eat on the way to the airport.

* * * *

The departure board flashed, and the message changed. The word canceled blared next to Mason’s flight number. He wasn’t going anywhere. What was supposed to be a weekend full of sex, sex, and more sex had just been cut short because of treacherous winds. Mason fisted his hands. Why am I not surprised? Because every time I make plans with Jeremy something goes wrong. His stare stayed glued to the board, willing the words to change—begging the forces that be to settle the winds and let the bird fly. He really needed this—not only for his body, but also for his mental stability.

Why would I expect anything different for tonight? The only thing that’d gotten Mason through the past months was knowing he had time coming, and that he planned to use the time with Jeremy—with Jeremy’s body spread, ready, and waiting for Mason. “Dammit.”

After five minutes of giving the sign the evil eye, Mason turned away. “What do I do now?” He couldn’t go home. Not just yet. Being in the empty house, alone with his thoughts of the past twelve months, with both work and family and how the two entwined, would be enough to put him over the edge.

He pulled the phone out of his pocket with a sigh. No use putting it off. The call connected, and Mason was surprised he got voice mail. Not that he expected Jeremy to be waiting for his call. Although Mason thought the man might be sure to be available in case Mason ran into a problem—like his flight being canceled. He left a brief message, figuring Jeremy would call back, and they’d discuss their options then. With his phone back in his pocket, he spun around, checking the choices the airport held for his unexpected night out. He spotted his target. With his bag in hand, he headed toward it.

He strode into the small Irish pub, immediately hit with the smell of beer and corned beef. Even though he wasn’t hungry, his stomach made a pleased noise.

The music playing in the background barely made itself heard over the hum of the people. Surprisingly, instead of being some type of traditional Irish music, Mason recognized the beat from today’s Top Twenty. With the base beating in sync with his heart, he walked over to the bar and took a seat against the wall, giving him a view of the entire establishment. As he sat, he took note of the other customers, most occupying tables, spread around the room.

The bartender, an older man wearing a black button-down shirt that molded to a set of broad shoulders, came over to Mason.

“How you doing tonight?”

“Would be better if I was on my flight. If I had a flight.” Mason couldn’t keep the grumble from his voice.

“Sorry about that. What would you like?” The man’s face lit up when he smiled.

“Jack and Coke.”

“You got it.”

Mason sat still, his gaze taking in the man’s ass as he strolled away to fetch Mason’s drink. It took the bartender turning around, almost catching Mason ogling him, for Mason’s stare to release its captive. He stood and pulled his wallet out of his pocket. He’d keep track of how much he drank. At the end of the night, he’d have to drive home.

Dammit. He really hadn’t wanted to go home. I was looking forward to doing Jeremy. Seeing Jeremy—that’s what I meant. Sure. That’s what I meant.

The bartender put the drink down in front of Mason. Mason waited until the man was back with his change before picking up his drink and taking a big gulp. The cold liquid brought with it a heat that burned down Mason’s throat, straight to his belly. Perfect. Mason took another swig. Then another. With half the drink gone, his tensed muscles relaxed.

Focused on his bad luck, Mason was surprised to realize he’d failed to notice the man sitting at a table in the back of the bar, come in. His hair was in a crew cut. Could be a fellow Marine, but something about him said no. Definitely military, just not Marine. The way the man sat, Mason couldn’t see his face.

Mr. Military stood up and dug into his pocket. The movement pulled his pants tight around his ass. The body part had Mason wanting to walk over to the guy, skip the introductions, and head right into the bathroom with him. Shit. “Horny” sounded too polite a way to describe how Mason felt. Desperate and ready to throw someone up against the wall and fuck their brains out was more like it. The man sat back down, putting his delectable ass in the seat and taking it out of Mason’s focus. That pissed Mason off. His view, the only thing he’d have to enjoy that night, was gone. On top of that, the guy still faced away from where Mason sat, not letting him peek at the rest of the goods.

Mason took another sip of his drink. Adrenaline and lust rushed through his veins, he needed to calm down. Tonight was a bust, and if he couldn’t translate that to his half-hard dick, he was in for an uncomfortable night.

As Mason debated on how long he planned to stay at the bar, and whether he should order another drink, four guys walked in. They were all frowning, hauling carry-on luggage and looking displeased. It was obvious their plane had gone the way of the wind too, and they appeared none too happy.

All four bodies were fit, two a bit more filled out than the others, but what their muscles lacked their faces made up for. The first guy on the other side of the bar appeared to have no plans of moving, so at least now Mason had something new to stare at. They also made Mason’s decision a little easier. He’d stay a while. He waved down the bartender and ordered another drink.

He was about halfway into it when one of the four guys got up and went to the bathroom. Another appeared ready to join him, but instead found his way over to Mr. Military, sitting all by his lonesome. Mason’s heart sped up. The guy planned to make a move, and for reasons he couldn’t fathom, Mason had missed the chance. Not able to hear what they were saying, Mason watched with sadness in his heart. Two down, three to go—if he decided to go for it. The first one came out of the bathroom. Instead of joining his friends at the bar, he headed to the table to join his friend currently with the military man. It just keeps getting better. Mason’s imagination went wild. Bet those guys are going to have a three way. Yeah. My luck, the other two will join in as well.

Done wallowing over missed opportunities, Mason was ready to give up and go home. Those guys are straight. Probably talking about the latest model of muscle car to hit the market. Mason’s best chance at action was at home with his hand. He remained caught in his stare across the room when he noticed the two guys still standing at the bar turn toward their friends, their bodies tense. The hair on the back of Mason’s neck stood on edge. Something was about to go down, and it wasn’t an orgy. Mason sat there for a few more seconds as the two guys talking at the back table headed back over to the bar. They all stood tall, their bodies posed to show off their muscles.

Mason’s gut twisted. Not having a clear idea of what was happening, Mason stood down, thinking perhaps he imagined the tension. That’s when the talking between the men increased in volume.

Mr. Crew Cut, still at his table, stood up.

It wasn’t long before the curses, which sounded to be aimed at the guy that was alone, echoed throughout the room. The bartender hustled over to where the four guys stood.

Mason held his breath. Then before he could register what transpired, the four guys, and the other, headed for the door. All five expressions told of the upcoming war. Four against one was never fair, even when the one looked as if he could take down the others single-handedly.

Never leave a man behind, regardless of which branch they fought. Not having another choice, Mason got up and met the group as they reached the entrance.

His chest puffed out, Mason spoke in his most authoritative voice. “This isn’t a good idea.”

“You need to get out of here.”

Mason wasn’t sure which one of the four had spoken, as they suddenly all looked the same. Big and stupid.

“I don’t think I can do that,” Mason said, focused on staring down the guy he’d decided was the leader. Mason hadn’t had a chance to witness the single guy’s reaction to his coming over. “If you’re going to head outside with him, I’m going to have to come along. And trust me, things won’t be pretty.”

Mason watched as three of the guys turned, ready to continue their walk of the condemned; the fourth hadn’t moved, and a frown marred his face.

Shit. Mason pulled out his wallet, opened it, and held up his badge. Maybe there wouldn’t be a fight in his future after all. “Really think this is a bad idea.”

All five guys stared, their eyes locked on the piece of metal that had gotten Mason out of a lot worse. The four amigos, who’d had so much to say moments ago, seemed to lose their voices. Mason half expected them to simply turn and walk away.

Then one of the guys found his balls. He glared at Mr. Military and said, “You’re lucky your friend here bailed you out. Would’ve ended you.”

Mr. Military stood up taller. “He’s not my friend. I’ll be happy to head outside right along with you,” the jackass said.

“Get the hell out of here. Now,” Mason reiterated. “Before I call in backup.” They hadn’t needed to know the kind of backup Mason had wouldn’t show up for a fight at a bar. Well, they would if it was one of their own involved. But in this instance, where Mason had made himself part of the incident, he wouldn’t ask them. Taking a cursory gander at the guy he’d be fighting alongside, he was sure he wouldn’t have to call for backup anyway.

The goons left without another word to Mason. Too busy bitching to each other on their walk down the concourse.

Mason turned around for his first real look at the guy he’d just saved. His stare met a pair of dark green eyes that seemed to be looking right through him. They also seemed to be familiar.

“Are you kidding me?” Mason asked at the same time Mr. Military said, “Why don’t you stay the hell out of other people’s business?”

“Are you kidding me?” Mason repeated, and this time when he said it the guy—Navy, as Mason used to call him—stayed quiet.

Mason couldn’t turn his gaze away. Navy was just as beautiful as he’d been eight years earlier, when Mason had first met him. Holy moly.

“Why did you butt in?” Navy asked.

Mason wasn’t sure if Navy was trying to be a hard-ass or if he really hadn’t remembered who Mason was. “Because I didn’t want to see that ass of yours kicked.” As if that would have happened.

“First, that would never have happened.”

Mason smiled at Noah’s words, and the fact they were exactly what Mason had been thinking.

“And second, if you kept your goddamn nose where it belonged, you wouldn’t have had to see anything.”

Mason’s attention went to the airport security coming down the hall. “Either we get out of here, or we find our way back inside, sit our asses down, and make nice, ‘cause trouble is walking our way.”

Navy frowned, and his gaze moved to where Mason was staring. “Fuck.” He turned around and walked back into the bar. They both made their way over to where Mason had been sitting.

Before Mason was able to pull the money out of his pocket, the bartender appeared. “Is there a problem here?”

“Nope. Everything’s fine.” Mason looked the man in the eyes. “The problem left.”

“Good. What can I get you?” The bartender seemed to inspect Mason and Noah as the two officers walked into the bar.

Mason’s heart stopped. The last thing he needed was to be reprimanded at a bar. An airport bar was even worse.

The bartender ignored Mason and Navy, focusing on the two men standing behind them. “Everything’s fine. The guys causing trouble left. They headed toward security. They should be through and outside by now. There were four, two wearing sport team jackets, if you want to check around for them.

“We’ll keep our eyes out. Thanks.” The two officers left the bar without a second glance.

Mason wanted to kiss the bartender. He was cute, but the main reason for the spit swap would be for the fact he hadn’t ratted him and Navy out. Going back to work on Tuesday would have sucked if Mason had been forced to explain why he’d received a talking to from the airport authorities.

“Thank you,” Navy was the first to say.

Then Mason chimed in, “Yeah. Thanks a lot.”

“No worries. What can I get you guys?”

Mason wasn’t sure, but he thought the bartender might have winked at Navy. But from the lack of Navy’s response, he might be mistaken.

Once the bartender brought back their drinks, Mason went to pay.

“No, I’ll get my own,” Navy rushed to say.

“Absolutely not. I think I still owe you that drink from when you topped the high score on the sniper course.”

“Fuck.” Navy peered down at the bar.

Well, that answered the question of whether or not Navy had recognized Mason. Now Mason wanted to know why Navy had been faking not knowing him.

Mason sat quietly for a moment, wondering if Navy would say anything in his own defense. The silence stretched, and so did Mason’s nerves. Why was he playing dumb, and still trying to deny he knew Mason?

“So how have you’ve been?” That was as good as a spot to start as any.

“Fine.” Navy took a sip of his beer instead of going into details.

Great. Let’s try a new line of questioning. “You try to be outnumbered in a fight every time you fly?”

“Most.” Navy smiled.

“Yeah. I bet.”

* * * *

Chapter 2

Mason’s expression forced Noah to smile. But it was gone quick. What were the odds of running into Mason, and why did it have to happen right then?

“So, you going to tell me what was going through your brain when you started in with those four guys?” Mason asked again.

The question was one Noah hadn’t wanted to answer. But that was tough shit; Mason wouldn’t give up until Noah talked—that much was obvious. He could feign being drunk, which he really wouldn’t have to play too hard at. He’d already had a few too many drinks.

With Mason’s keen eyes staring at him, Noah hadn’t thought he’d get away with using drinking as an excuse, regardless that he was currently feeling no pain. And that’s part of my problem.

Mason remained silent, waiting for an answer. Playing ignorant wouldn’t work, so the next best thing was to exaggerate the story a bit.

“They came over and started with me. It wasn’t the other way around.”

“All right,” Mason said. “But it wasn’t something you could’ve ignored?”

“Not when some assholes come up to me and start talking shit about our troops overseas.”

“Oh,” was all Mason said, but it was enough. Noah knew Mason got it.

“Still…four to one, you didn’t seem fazed.”

“Should I have been?” Noah asked, confused.

“Guess not,” Mason was quick to concede. “Over and done. Let’s talk about something else. What have you been up to? You’re still with the teams.”

Noah hated that it was a statement. That it was a foregone conclusion that he was still a SEAL. It should have been. But because of one night, it was all over—his dream, his life, his destiny. Not wanting to answer, he forced the words out through dry lips. “No. Not anymore.”

“What? Thought you were a lifer.”

“Yeah, me, too.” Fuck. He hadn’t meant to say that. All that would do is open the subject to further conversation. Noah needed to stop it before it got started. “How about you. You still a Marine?”

“Always a Marine, man. Always a Marine.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s all good. And the answer to the question I guess you’re asking is no, I’m not in the Corps anymore. When it was time to re-up, I went for a less regimented position.”

“Really? What are you doing now?” Noah was surprised Mason was no longer active in the Corps. He couldn’t imagine what job had lured him away.

“I’m with the FBI. I’m working with the Joint Terrorist Task Force.”

That would do it. “Wow. That’s great.” Noah felt an emptiness in his chest. A sense of longing that he’d never fulfill. His days of fighting the really bad people of the world were over.

Noah let the quiet sit for too long, and Mason was back asking questions. “What are you up to now?”

More of what Noah had been dreading. “I’m not too sure. Still looking at my options. I’ve only been out three months. Had a few things I needed to take care of, and now I’m actually scheduled to catch a containership traveling to Africa. I’m part of the security detail.” His cheeks warmed. He was a glorified babysitter.

“That sounds cool.”

“I guess.” Not. “We’ll see.” Noah took a sip of his drink.

“What are you doing in New York?” Mason asked.

“Layover.”

“Where’s your final destination?” Mason was like a sniper with his target in his sights. He wouldn’t let up on the trigger.

Just what Noah didn’t want to deal with. “I’m heading to Maryland to meet up with the ship.” Noah tried to come up with something to ask Mason, but before he had a chance, Mason had more questions.

“Oh. They’re not going to leave without you? I assume your flight was canceled, too?”

Noah finished his drink and waved to the bartender for another one. Might as well get a little lit. He had a long night in the airport ahead of him. He’d stay at the bar until they kicked him out, then go hang out over by the gate, and wait until morning for his new flight—they’d keep the place open with so many cancelations. “Think all the planes are grounded. But I have four days before the boat heads out. Figured I’d travel down early to check things out.” And because I don’t have anything else to do.

“That’s a good thing, then.”

The bartender brought over Noah’s fresh drink and asked Mason if he wanted another. Passing on the refill, Mason stared at Noah. Trying to figure out what he was looking for had Noah’s skin crawling.

Seeing Mason was about to speak, Noah asked, “Where were you headed?”

“Up north to meet a friend.”

“Where’d you start?”

“Here,” Mason said. “I live thirty minutes away.”

“That’s perfect. You can head home and come back tomorrow; try again.”

“I’ll have to check on the available flights. There’s only one a day to Rutland, Vermont. If I’m not guaranteed on it, I’ll have to shut down the whole trip.”

Noah was surprised. “You’re headed to Vermont? What’s up there this time of year?”

“A friend.”

It took a moment for it to dawn on Noah. “Oh.”

“Exactly. He’s not going to be too happy when he finds out I’m not coming.”

Noah must have misunderstood. Mason wasn’t going north to see a fuck buddy, just some friend. Why had sex automatically popped in Noah’s head?

“He’s going to be pissed. I missed the last two times because of work. He’s going to think I’m avoiding him. Or have someone else on the side.”

What the hell? Noah took a gulp of his drink. Had Mason just outed himself to Noah? That couldn’t be. Mason wasn’t gay. There was no way he was gay. Noah took another sip as the bartender walked over to ask Mason if he was ready for a refill. Mason wasn’t, but Noah sure was. Or maybe not, as he’d already started to hallucinate.

“So, what are your plans for the night?” Mason asked.

Plan on getting fucked up, then sleep at the gate until my flight is ready to take off. Or…“I’m going to hang for a bit longer, then head over to one of the hotels the flight attendants had mentioned. Heard them say a few had shuttles to the airport.”

“All right.” Mason seemed to want to say more, but for some reason he hesitated.

“You going to head out?” Noah asked, believing Mason felt bad about leaving him there. That was ridiculous.

“I’m thinking you can come with me. I have a spare room and can run you back here first thing in the morning. What do you say?”

Noah hadn’t seen that coming. What do I say? “I’ll be fine. Thought I’d hang around for a bit, and be ready to crash when I get to a hotel.”

“Well, it’s not really hopping here. And if Guinness is your drink of choice, I’ve got plenty at home.”

“I don’t want to be a bother.”

“No bother. Like I said, I have the room. Bringing you here tomorrow is not a big deal.”

Noah wasn’t sure why he was so uncertain about going with Mason. A soft bed in a warm, quiet house played better than an uncomfortable seat in a cold, noisy airport.

“Um. Yeah. Thanks.”

Mason’s smile grew. “Good. Finish that drink, and let’s head out. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

Damn. Noah had made a mistake.

Mason laughed. Confused, Noah just watched him.

“You should have seen your face. You turned white as a sheet.” Mason let out a hearty laugh. “Relax. I’m not going to make you play twenty questions. Okay?”

Noah was an ass. Mason was kidding, and Noah was having a heart attack. Jesus. When had he gotten so freaked out by talking? Six months, three days and about twenty-two hours ago. Right before his life fell to shit.

They walked out of the airport and over to township parking to get Mason’s truck. It was a bumblebee yellow Dodge 1500 SRT, with a black racing stripe and custom chrome rims. Everything about it screamed, “Here I come.” It wasn’t exactly what Noah had expected, remembering the subdued personality of the Mason he’d met over in the desert.

“This is an amazing ride,” Noah said, not holding back any of his awe.

“Thanks. Something I always wanted. It was a gift to myself for making it back home in one piece.”

“Well deserved.” Noah glanced around the outside of the truck, then got in and was as amazed at the inside as he had been of the out. It was like he sat inside the sun. All the leather was yellow, outlined by black. The stereo was state of the art, although at this point, Noah wouldn’t expect anything less. He sat back and sank into the soft leather of the seat.

“This is really amazing.”

“Thanks.”

“Bet this is a hell of a ride four-wheeling.”

Mason’s face lit up like a little kid’s. “It is. Just not so efficient with gas.”

“I bet. But you probably don’t have a long commute.”

“Not so bad. Sometimes I have to head to DC, and I hate the train.”

“How often?” Noah peered at Mason.

“Often enough that I got a bike for lengthy road trips.” Mason turned to Noah and smiled. “And for beautiful days.”

“What do you have?”

“2012 Harley-Davidson Deluxe FLSTN,” Mason said, with pride in his voice.

“Let me guess. Sun yellow and a black stripe.”

“Na. That’s too flashy. It’s black with yellow accents.”

Noah laughed. “I love my bike. Just don’t get enough time to ride with the crazy Seattle weather.”

“That sucks. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t use it when I wanted to. Granted winter months are out, but most other seasons come with a day or two when taking it out is doable.”

“Kind of figure when I do take it out, it’s just that much more special.”

“What have you got?” Mason asked, as he accelerated onto the highway.

“I had a Super Low but changed it for an Iron 883 XL883N. Chocolate brown.”

“Nice. That’s a smooth ride.”

For the rest of the drive they talked more about bikes, cars, and trucks. Topics Noah was comfortable with. Before long, they pulled up to Mason’s house.

Even though the night was dark, Noah could see the home was a quaint two-story, with a wraparound porch and two chimneys poking out the top. Its conservative appearance was in deep contrast to Mason’s ride.

Noah followed Mason up the three steps leading to the porch. He looked around, taking in the scene. Two rocking chairs sat center stage, surrounded by a multitude of plants and flowers. Noah wasn’t only impressed by the sight; he was also amazed that the plants were alive and thriving.

Mason clearing his throat was Noah’s clue that he’d stood gaping too long. He turned toward Mason, who smiled at the opened door. Mason peered at the plants. “Most of the time I forget about them, and my neighbor has to come over and revive them.”

From the pretty pink hue of Mason’s expression, Noah had a feeling he was being modest.

“They’re beautiful.” Noah followed Mason into the house. The first impression he got was cozy. He’d expected something more of a bachelor pad, much like his own home, an area devoid of personal touches, but this was far from. Just inside the foyer stood a table filled with pictures and a colorful pottery bowl, where Mason dropped his keys. As Noah strode farther into the house, he was again struck by Mason’s sense of color. The hall was bright, what Noah considered royal purple—the color making it both cool and calming. That led to what Noah assumed was the living room, but they passed it too quickly for him to get much of a look.

They moved on to the kitchen, and Mason turned on the light. Noah stood still, blown away. The house from the outside appeared rather small, but this room alone told a different story. The room was huge and painted in what Noah thought of as a tomato red. The white cabinets hung over a bluish-gray countertop. Above the center island hung a pot rack holding what seemed like enough pots to cook a feast for twenty. This was definitely a kitchen of someone who liked to cook. Another aspect of Mason that Noah wouldn’t have picked up on knowing just hours ago.

Mason strode over toward the refrigerator. “You ready for a Guinness?”

“Actually, I think I’ll pass. Feeling a little tired.” Or maybe just a little tense about answering any more questions.

Mason looked at the clock. “Shit. Didn’t realize it was that late. Let’s get you set up for the night.” Mason moved past Noah and back into the hall. Noah followed.

When they got to the stairs, Mason turned, and headed up. “Your room’s this way.”

* * * *

Chapter 3

Noah opened his eyes. Spotting the brown walls, he closed them again. Where the hell am I? He rolled over, carefully moving his hands to see if he’d find something. Another body maybe. Nothing. He opened one eye and peered around the room. He wasn’t sure where he was, but the aroma of coffee wafting through the air told him he wasn’t alone.

Noah got up and found his clothes lying in the chair next to the bed. A good sign. He put them on, then stood listening at the door. Nothing but silence. Shit. Should he try to sneak out, or man up and find out who was at the other end of that endearing smell? He used to be a SEAL, dammit. “I can handle this.” Besides, what did he expect to find? Probably some chick he’d picked up last night trying to convince himself he was still a man.

Noah closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and opened the door. Bright purple accosted his gaze, and it all came back to him. His Marine, and the man’s love for eccentric home and motor vehicle colors. His Marine? What? He needed coffee. Right now. He maneuvered himself toward the smell, not exactly remembering the way to the kitchen from the room he stayed in. Once at the stairs, he followed the aroma down and to the left. Then turned a corner and ta da. There, right in front of him, facing the opposite way, stood Mason, wearing nothing but a pair of baggy shorts. When he turned around, Noah noticed he had on a smile, too.

“Good morning, sleepy head.”

“What time is it?” Noah asked, his gaze fighting to go down to get another peek at Mason’s chest, his ripped muscles, and pointed nipples.

“It’s 05:00.”

“Yeah. Guess I slept in.” Noah said, and they both laughed. “Did you hear anything from the airline?”

“Nothing yet. The terminals usually open at 07:00, but after last night, I’m thinking they’ll be there a little earlier. I’ll call in a bit, see what we can find out.”

“Sounds good,” Noah agreed.

“In the meantime, you want something to eat?” Mason went to the refrigerator and grabbed the cream for the coffee, then handed the carton to Noah.

Noah’s gut twisted. Food right then didn’t sound too good. “I got a hankering for a run before I eat. Sweat some of last night’s alcohol out of my body.”

“A run sounds great. Mind if I join you?” Mason took a sip of his coffee, and his smile grew.

“Nope.”

Mason put down his cup, and leaned back against the counter, his arms folded in front of him. “Do you want a pair of sweats and T-shirt to borrow? Can’t be fun running in tight jeans like that.”

Noah couldn’t look away. His insides burned. If he kept gawking at Mason, it wouldn’t take long for him to start sporting some wood. He padded over to where the center island would give him cover and put his coffee down. “That’d be great. Thanks.”

“No problem, I’ll be right back.” Mason left the room.

It gave Noah a moment to cool down. Just what he needed. Staring at Mason’s muscled body, and knowing the damage it could do, gave him little chance to keep his hormones in check. Damn, he’s built.

Mason walked back in and handed Noah a pair of Marine sweat pants, a plain black T-shirt, and a matching Marine hoodie. Noah would be a running advertisement for the Corps. Why did he think Mason had done that intentionally? When Noah glanced over at Mason, he couldn’t miss the laughter in Mason’s eyes. Yeah. Definitely done on purpose. Noah couldn’t help but smile.

“I’ll be right back.” Noah headed back to his room. On his way upstairs, he took in more of his surroundings. Pictures hung on the walls. One was of two little boys, another of Mason with a woman, his arm around her. I must’ve misunderstood him last night. He has a girlfriend, he can’t be gay. Noah’s thought moved to another one. One where Noah had been in a relationship trying to hide the fact that he liked men. He shut his mind down as he shut the door to his room. He dressed as fast as he could, blaming all of his rogue thoughts on his drinking the night before.

When Noah came back in the kitchen, he found Mason at the coffee maker, refilling his cup.

“You going to be up for this?” Noah asked.

“Absolutely. Just need a little more go-go juice. Then I’ll kick your ass.”

Noah shook his head. “In your dreams, buddy. In your dreams.”

“What do you feel up to?” Mason asked. “There’s a lake up the block—the trail’s about five miles around. That’s where I run.”

“That’ll work.”

“We should have enough time to get through it before the airport opens. I’d say we could run there, but that’s another three miles each way. Think we should put that off for another day.”

Another day? Sure. “Sounds good.”

Mason finished his coffee, then put the cup in the sink. “Let me run upstairs and grab my phone.”

“Okay.” Noah leaned against the cabinet to wait, pouring a little more coffee into his own cup.

“Fuck.” Mason’s voice echoed through the house. When he stepped back into the kitchen, a frown marred his face.

“Everything okay?” Noah asked.

“Yeah. Just the power. Must have blown out last night with the winds causing the breaker to trip. Need to run downstairs and reset it. I’ll be right back.” Mason disappeared into what Noah assumed was the basement.

“That should make it better.” Mason smiled as he came back into the room. “Although, now my phone’s dead.” He plugged the charger into the outlet above the counter and set it down. “I’ll leave the phone there. Blew up my car charger last week. Need to get a new one.”

Mason inched over to the refrigerator and took out four bottles of water, handing two to Noah.

“Thanks.”

“You got it. Let’s go.”

Outside, the sun shone in the clear blue sky, and the air had a crisp bite—perfect running weather. As he headed for the truck, Noah turned around. The picture in front of him didn’t shock him in the least. Somehow, he had missed it in the darkness the night before. Cobalt blue paint covered Mason’s house. And as if that wasn’t enough of a shock, his shutters were stark white, and his door fire-truck red. From what little he’d learned of Mason, the house fit his personality perfectly. With a smile on his face, Noah stepped into Mason’s truck.

Within seconds, Mason steered them out of the driveway.

Neither spoke as they drove. Noah glanced around to get a better idea of where Mason lived. The houses were as diverse as Mason’s tastes. Each of their shapes were different; one a small bungalow, then two doors down a McMansion. In Noah’s opinion, Mason’s stood out the most for all the right reasons. The color was brilliant, the style tasteful, and the size just right. They drove through twisting back roads, surrounded by large overhanging trees, and before long, they entered the park.

Off in the distance, Noah spotted the lake. “This is amazing. Can you boat in here?”

Both men stretched as they spoke.

“Not with a motor. They let in paddle boats, kayaks, and canoes.”

Noah soaked in the tranquility of the place. “You ever catch anything here?”

Mason regarded Noah as if he was crazy? “Huh?”

“Fish. Have you ever caught any fish in the lake?”

“Oh man. I didn’t know what the hell you were asking.” Mason laughed. “Yeah. Caught a couple largemouth bass and some pike. There’s others in there—just haven’t gotten any yet.”

“I haven’t fished since I was a little kid. Used to go with my grandpa.” Before all hell broke loose.

“Next time you’re around, we should set that up.”

Yeah. Next time I’m around. Right. “That’d be great.”

“Ready to run?”

Before Noah fully got out, “Yeah,” Mason took off.

Mason took the race aspect of the run seriously.

Noah started and quickly caught up to him. “Thinking you jumped the gun back there.”

“You said you were ready.” Mason glanced over and smiled.

Noah almost tripped on his feet. “Barely.”

“Well, no worries, we’re even now.” And that’s how they stayed for the rest of the run. Most of the time, each focused on their running, and when they did talk, it was Mason pointing something out on the trail.

When they made it back to the truck, Mason opened the door and grabbed each of them a water.

“Thanks.” Noah downed the bottle in a few gulps.

“Want another?” Mason held a second bottle for Noah.

Noah reached out and took the drink. “Thanks.”

In the car, Noah checked his phone. There weren’t any missed calls.

By the time they got back to the house it was 6:30 A.M. Perfect.

* * * *

Both men shuffled into the house. Mason stopped and threw his keys in a bowl. “Why don’t you jump in the shower first?”

Noah glanced at Mason. “Thanks.”

Mason walked Noah to the bathroom and grabbed him a towel. “Here you go. What about clothes?”

“I’m all right with what I wore last night. The flight’s only an hour, then I’ll have my duffle.”

“Okay. Enjoy.” Mason ambled back downstairs and grabbed his phone to check in with the airport. He picked it up to inspect the charge and was surprised to see he had ten missed calls and twenty text messages. Did I miss my new flight?

“No.” He examined who had sent the messages; they were all from Jeremy, his fuck buddy. He was about to dial his number, until he read the first message. Then the second. And the third, fourth, and tenth. Each one worse than the last. All accused Mason of messing around. What the hell. That wasn’t Mason’s style, and even if it was, he and Jeremy weren’t exclusive. Not by a long shot. They were just two buddies, both in need of occasional companionship. If this was the way their non-relationship was going, Mason was glad the plane had been canceled the night before. Because there is no way he was going to listen to someone bitching at him, on his first weekend off in ages. “Fuck no.” Even if said bitching got him a piece of ass.

Smelly and a little bit angry, Mason trudged upstairs to his bathroom. A shower would help him get over it.

Mason turned on the water, setting it a little cooler than normal to help get him back on track after being overheated from his long run. He plucked a towel from the closet, then put his sweaty clothes in the hamper. He caught a quick glance in the mirror, and a smile formed on his face. He was proud of the way he looked—hell, he worked hard for it.

He stepped in the shower and immediately lowered his head. He let the water bounce down his back, stimulating his muscles more than they already were. He picked up the shampoo and let his fingers massage the soapy bubbles into his scalp. The tightness in his shoulders dissipated, and his anger washed away with each scrub. It was better he found out how Jeremy felt now rather than when he got there. Hell, he’d missed other times seeing him, and the man had never reacted like this. Something must have crawled up his ass and died, and as far as Mason was concerned, he wasn’t interested in finding out what it was. Better to just let things go. At least he would. He wasn’t sure what Jeremy’s plan would be for handling this, but as long as he didn’t plan to fly down and confront Mason about his reaction, Mason was pretty sure he wouldn’t have to deal with Jeremy anymore. As far as Mason was concerned, he would again apologize for what was out of his hands, and end their relationship, or non-relationship as it was, then and there.

Mason closed his eyes and leaned his head back, washing all the suds from his hair.

Finished, he reached for his body wash and rubbed his shoulders. Working his way over his chest and down to his cock, it twitched. It apparently hadn’t gotten the memo explaining it was on its own for the weekend. “Sorry, fella.” Mason soaped his cock, moving his hand nice and slow. Up and down. The twitching increased as his dick hardened. It wasn’t his dick’s fault the plane was canceled. Why should it be punished? Mason stroked with more vigor the longer he continued. He twisted his hand and took time to pull on the head. Close, he closed his eyes and an image formed in his head. The man stood pressed up against the wall. His body slightly arched, giving Mason access to his ass. Mason positioned his cock at the opening, pushing in until he was balls deep. The tightness was almost his undoing. Mason remained frozen in place, afraid to move, ending it all too soon. When the muscles squeezed, tightening around Mason’s cock, he lost it. He pumped his hips, increasing the friction.

Shocks radiated up his back. His balls pulled up tight, and his movements turned erratic. His fingers dug into his lover’s hips as he shot his seed. Mason’s breaths were deep as he watched his cum go down the drain. It had been too long since he’d done that, saving up for the weekend.

Feeling more like himself, Mason seized a pair of jeans from his closet and an old Henley T-shirt. He half thought about shutting his phone off—not having to hear if jerk boy tried to call again—but he wouldn’t, in case his mom, sister, or work wanted to get in touch. He’d leave it so he could hear the ring, but would ignore it if Jeremy’s number flashed across the screen. He’d save that discussion for later. For after his after dinner drink.

A noise rose up from downstairs. Shit. Noah was already done and waiting for him.

He hightailed it down and found Noah standing in the living room, a bottle of water in his hand, peering out through the French doors. Mason, again, couldn’t help but stare at the man’s full rounded ass, and the way his jeans hugged it.

Noah’s words clipped Mason’s thoughts in the bud. “It’s like your own little piece of heaven back there.”

Mason sauntered over to stand next to Noah, as his chest filled with pride. “Yeah. This space is what sold me on this house. It’s like getting away without having to go anywhere. Which is perfect, because I almost never have time to go anywhere.”

Noah turned to face Mason. “Work that crazy?”

“Yeah. Past twelve months. A case has been taking up a lot of my time. Usually, I don’t mind. Except when it interferes with other plans.”

“Want to talk about it?”

If only he could—he had no doubt Noah would be able to shed some new light on things if he caught him up. But unfortunately, that wasn’t the way things worked. “Can’t. But it’s the same as usual. Every lead you follow ends up at a dead end until you land right back where you started.”

“That sucks. Sorry.”

“It’s all good.” Mason refused to let the job get to him right then. He’d feel enough pressure when he had to go back to work in four days. “Nothing can be done about it, so we keep chipping away.”

They were both quiet. Mason wondered what caused Noah’s faraway look. He hated interrupting Noah’s thoughts, but it was already late. “You talk to the airlines?”

“Already did. My flight’s not until five-forty-five tonight. How about you?”

“I haven’t tried, but I’m thinking of changing my plans and canceling the trip.”

“Everything all right?” Noah’s voice held concern.

“Yeah.” Guy I was supposed to hook up with turned into a raging lunatic. “Just not in the mood to rush. Would have had a couple days up there, now I’ll only have a little over twenty-four hours, and only if lift off is within the next couple hours. I might as well stick around here and relax a bit. Not like I get a huge amount of time off.”

Noah stared into the yard, and Mason stared at him. Something was on the man’s mind, and Mason wanted to know what it was.

“I got an idea. You’re heading down to Maryland early. Not expecting to hook up with anyone until Monday. Why don’t you stay? My plans fell through. We could do a barbeque tonight. Do a little fishing tomorrow?” Mason wasn’t sure what made him ask, but since he had, Mason caught himself holding his breath, waiting for Noah to answer him.

* * * *

Chapter 4

Stunned only mildly described Noah’s current state. He hadn’t seen Mason’s offer coming. Now that it was out there, he didn’t want to do anything else. But the question was, could he? Could he stay for another three full days with Mason? Alone? Hanging out like two regular guys?

Shit. Mason stood staring at him now, the doubt in his eyes obvious. Noah didn’t want Mason to think inviting him to stay was a mistake, so before Noah could give the idea any more thought, Noah said, “Sure.” Unexpected excitement spiked through him. Then he remembered, “Shit. My duffle went through to Maryland.”

“No problem. Call ahead, they’ll hold it. You can borrow my stuff while you’re here.”

“You sure? I’m going to borrow your briefs?” Noah asked, trying to be funny.

“Unfortunately, you can’t. I don’t wear any.” Mason’s answer sobered Noah right up.

Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea after all. Noah’s stomach did the damn flip-flop thing.

Mason smiled. “Why don’t you call the airline, change your flight, and I’ll check what’s in the freezer for dinner.”

“Perfect.” Noah ran upstairs to retrieve his phone and his plane ticket. He sat down on the bed as he dialed. Within ten minutes, the airline had him rescheduled on the same flight, only Sunday night instead of Friday. That gave him three more days to spend with Mason. A shiver raced down his back with thoughts of what they’d do.

Mason called out to Noah, and stopped his thoughts before they traveled too far down that road. “I’m coming,” Noah yelled back.

As Noah came down the stairs, Mason exited the kitchen. “There are some steaks. We can do those, or run over to the fish market and buy some mahi-mahi, and do a little surf and turf.”

“Both sound delicious, but we might catch some of our own surf tomorrow, so why don’t we do the steak tonight.”

“You’re right.” Mason padded back to the kitchen, and Noah followed him. Noah’s gaze went straight to Mason’s ass. He needed to knock it off before Mason noticed.

Mason ambled to the refrigerator, and Noah walked around the island. He didn’t want to be too close, but didn’t want it to appear as if he purposely chose to distance himself either. Noah thought being out of smell range of Mason’s scent might be a smart idea.

Mason took the steaks from the freezer and put them in the refrigerator. Noah’s stomach growled, already excited for dinner.

Mason turned around and leaned on the counter. “So, what do you feel up to today?”

“Not sure. This is your neck of the woods. I’m game for most anything,” Noah answered, realizing he truly was.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Noah said, confident in his answer.

Mason hesitated for a second before continuing. “I’m sure this isn’t what you were hoping, but I’m supposed to pick up some trees upstate.”

“Trees?”

“Dogwoods for the corner of the backyard. They’re waiting for me, and I planned to try to hire a driver to go and pick them up some time this week. But since I’m home, we can take my truck, go by, and get them.”

Heading out and getting back to nature sounded perfect to Noah. “Great.”

“You sure? We can skip the trip and do something else. Besides, the nursery’s upstate, fifty miles over the Throgs Neck.”

“Today’s perfect for a road trip.”

“Yeah. It is.” Mason smiled, and Noah wanted to remember how it happened so he could make him do it again.

“Why don’t we grab a bite to eat, then head out on the tail end of rush hour?”

“Perfect. My stomach was about ready to complain.” As the words came out, Noah’s stomach growled again in agreement.

Both men laughed.

“Omelet?” Mason asked.

“Sure.”

Mason padded to the refrigerator and pulled out everything he’d need.

Wanting to earn his stay, Noah asked, “What can I do to help?”

“Want to chop?”

“Sure.”

They worked together preparing the breakfast. The aromas floated through the room and caused Noah to wish the omelets would cook faster.

When they sat down to eat, both men stayed quiet, focused on the food in front of them. Noah took the last morsel of his food into his mouth then peered at Mason.

Mason’s eyebrows were drawn close, his gaze not quite making contact with Noah’s. “You sure you’re okay with this?” Mason asked. “With me putting you to work?”

“Absolutely.” Noah smiled, trying to wash away Mason’s doubt. “Physical labor and working the muscles always makes for a great day.”

Mason smiled. “Okay. Then let’s go.”

They both hopped in the truck. About to pull out of the driveway, Mason stopped. “Shit. Think I should bring some rope and a tarp. They probably have, but in case they don’t, I’d rather not spend the day driving around a town I’m not familiar with, trying to find supplies.”

“Smart.”

As they both got out of the truck and sprinted to the garage, Mason told Noah where to find the rope, and Mason climbed up the ladder and grabbed the tarp off a shelf. With the items in their hands, both men raced back to the truck. This time when the truck made it to the end of the driveway, Mason drove onto the road.

For the first few minutes of the ride, the only sounds in the car were raspy voices from the radio, singing about their lost love. Well technically, three different voices. Each song sounded almost the same, except in the first one the guy got on a plane to forget about her, the second drank to forget about her, and the third had already forgotten about her. Next, Noah expected to hear about the guy’s new girlfriend. Or that he got a dog for companionship instead.

By the time they arrived at the highway, Noah’s legs bounced while his hands fidgeted. He needed to break his and Mason’s silence, but how? He kept his gaze focused out the window, staring at nothing in particular.

“How’d you find this place? Internet?” Noah smiled, glad something popped into his head, even though it was lame.

“No. Guy from my team recently had his yard redone. Said after a lot of shopping around this nursery had the best bang for your buck. Saved me time tracking the trees down.”

“Cool.”

And that was it—back to silence. His words were not quite the conversation starter Noah had hoped for. His eyes strayed back to gazing out the window. He counted the cars with New York license plates as they passed. When he counted up to forty, he got upset. Why is getting us to talk all on me? Mason doesn’t seem to be bothered. He had on the same smile he wore all morning. They passed two more cars. Hell no. This trip is too long to be playing with license plates.

Needing to talk, Noah decided on something that had been bothering him, but he couldn’t figure out why. “The woman in the pictures in your hallway—is she your girlfriend?”

Mason’s reaction stunned Noah. He wasn’t sure what he expected, but it definitely wasn’t Mason laughing hysterically.

“What’s the joke?” Noah asked, still angry, especially now that Mason laughed.

“Sorry. Funny question.”

“Oh?” Noah still didn’t understand the joke.

“The girl’s my sister.” Mason wiped his watering eyes and stifled his laugh.

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t notice the resemblance.” Now Noah felt silly thinking that, and even more so for getting angry at Mason’s response.

“It’s all good. But that’s not why I’m laughing. What? Did you think I changed teams?”

“Huh?” Noah stared at Mason, who still wore a smile on his face, not understanding what he meant.

“I’m gay, Noah. I’ve been out for a lot of years. Guess you missed the guys calling me on it back in Afghanistan.”

“They gave you shit?” Bile burned the back of Noah’s throat, and he fisted his hands. The thought of anyone ragging on Mason caused him to heat up.

“Nah. The usual stuff. It was nothing they didn’t do to each other. Never had to deal with any type of shit in either the Corps or the Bureau. There was one guy who had a problem with me, but he transferred out the week after I started. So yeah. I’ve been kind of lucky.”

Noah’s brain froze, not believing what he’d heard—he had a problem accepting Mason was gay, although it was more of a problem accepting Mason would out himself so easily. He also couldn’t believe what a lucky son of a bitch Mason was. Noah had only ever listened to horror stories about people coming out in the military, and the way they were treated. And for Mason to not only come out in the Marines, but also in the FBI, and not to have to deal with any repercussions, meant someone was watching over his shoulder. And for that, Noah was grateful. Because the thought of Mason having to deal with any shit had a rage unlike any Noah had felt in a long time, racing through him.


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