★ On the Way Home ★
Author: Skye Warren
Release Date: May 20, 2014
For eight months I’ve been deep under cover as a special operator in the Army. On the plane ride home, all I want is a hot shower and a long sleep. But a Dear John text message leaves me stranded. I need a ride and a place to stay, and the pretty stewardess is more than willing.
It’s supposed to be a simple trade—the passenger in seat 34B for my sister. But the sexy soldier is more than I can handle in all the best ways. He trusts me, but I can’t save him. No one can. Sometimes trouble has a way of following you home. On the Way Home is a dark new adult romance intended for readers over eighteen.
I could be comfortable strapped into a Chinook, with full body armor and another hundred fifty pounds of equipment on top of that. I could HALO down to a cross-fire insertion, no problem. But flying coach on a standard commercial airline was killer.
Everything seemed tiny, as if I’d walked onto a display version of a real airplane. My legs were folded like a pretzel to fit into the small amount of legroom. My head cleared the headrest by almost a foot. And my body jutted into the aisle, but there was nothing to do about that without pushing into my buddy James beside me.
The pretty stewardess walked by, her hip brushing my shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured.
Della, her name tag read. She was slender and careful, but that didn’t matter when I was taking up half the aisle with my shoulder.
“My fault,” I managed to say. It came out more like a rumble.
The lightest whisper of cloth, her blue uniform against my fatigues. A wisp of heat and a faint smell of peaches. It was too much. As if I were goddamned Sleeping Beauty, my dick woke the hell up.
She smiled then, and it was way too late to pretend I wasn’t getting hot at the sight of her.
Jesus, those lips. And the little upturned smile, the one that said she knew exactly what I was thinking.
Well, maybe not exactly. No way were her thoughts as desperate as mine. Eight months away from the States had taken its toll, with not even enough time or energy to beat off with regularity.
No privacy, either, but then we didn’t care about that. You couldn’t be fastidious in a godforsaken jungle. They send a bunch of eighteen-year-old testosterone junkies into the wild, what else is gonna happen? There’d been a time we’d all go into a firefight, walk out with no bullet holes, then head back to our bunks and jack off like we were synchronized swimming.
Not this time, though.
After our first two tours in Afghanistan, James and I got picked up to work as part of a joint task force. Guess we impressed somebody. We couldn’t even drink back then—at least, not legally—but we were handed some of the most lethal weapons and secretive recording equipment in use.
Since then we had continued to fight, but not on any sanctioned battlefield. Our ops were secretive and lethal and mostly not even acknowledged by the US government. We lived and worked in the darkest parts of the world, then came home on leave so we could remember why we did it.
My twenty-third birthday had come and gone, spent with some of the most disgusting human beings I’d ever met and had to pretend like I was their new best friend. I shuddered just remembering some of the things I’d witnessed, unable to do anything without blowing my cover. I’d seen some bad shit in my life, but nothing compared to those sights. When I closed my eyes, I could still see those young girls. Way too young. I wanted to wash myself off just for being around that, even if we had taken it down in the end.
Mission accomplished. Go home.
So it was a real fucking surprise when my body was suddenly interested in the sweet-smelling, hot-as-hell stewardess.
“Can I get you something?” she asked. “Water? A soda?”
Suddenly my mouth was dry. “No, thanks.”
She smiled again. God, she really needed to stop that. “I think I can rustle up some pretzels if you ask nicely?”
Nope, wasn’t doing that.
“I could use some pretzels,” James said from beside me.
Really? “Nah, we’re good. Don’t worry about us.”
“All right. You boys let me know.” She sauntered off, leaving both James and I staring. Man, that skirt hugged her so nicely…
“What the hell was that for?” James said. “She would’ve come back.”
“And then what, asshole? You’ve got Rachel.”
“And you’ve got… what’s her name? Chelsea.”
“Yeah,” I lied. I’d been lying for a few months now, ever since I’d landed at the base in Germany where I could check my messages. Dear Clint, I’m sorry to tell you like this but… A Dear John text message. A remote control breakup. It had happened to enough of our friends that I knew what the reaction would be if I told people. Pity, from the guys who could still look at me. Avoidance from everyone else, as if the condition of being dumped was contagious.
So I hadn’t told anyone, not even James. And hell, maybe it wouldn’t be that bad. Me and Chels had a good thing going. Maybe not good, but it wasn’t bad either. And separation was always hard. For all I knew, we’d patch things up right away and then I’d be glad I never told James, who would’ve given her a hard time after that.
She was probably going to pick me up at the airport, just like we’d planned, and here I was checking out another woman. The eight months had done a number on both of us, that was all. We’d work it out.
I glanced down the aisle at the stewardess—Della—who had bent to speak to another passenger. “The point is, she’s doing her job. She doesn’t need us bothering her.”
“Hey, you were the one groping her.”
“With my shoulder?”
“And flirting,” James added.
“I was not flirting.” I would have known if I’d been flirting, right? And I definitely hadn’t done that. She was working. The last thing she needed was two horndogs using up her time or ogling her. “And stop looking.”
“That’s your argument? There’s nothing wrong with looking, man. It’s harmless. You think when our girls are back home, they don’t look?”
I did not like where this conversation was going. One of the main reasons to send a Dear John letter, as opposed to waiting until I got back, was for another guy. It pinched something in my chest to imagine Chelsea moving on that quick. I turned my irritation on my best friend. “Do you actually hear yourself talk?”
“I stand by my assertion. I don’t care if Rachel checks out some hot doctor at her hospital. Long as she saves up the horniness for when I get back.”
“Yeah, okay. You write that on your anniversary card.”
“Shit, it’s my anniversary?”
“Hell if I know.”
We were quiet a moment. James was probably working out the dates in his head, trying to figure out if he needed to pick up a present from the airport gift shop. Me? I pretended to be asleep. Shut my eyes, even when the stewardess came back this way. But I could still see her long legs and black heels, and I had to admit: I was peeking. I couldn’t help it. There was something about her… the way she moved… so alluring…
“She walks like a stripper,” James muttered when she’d passed us by.
My eyes snapped open. “I am seriously going to punch you in the face right now.”
“What? I didn’t mean it in a bad way. It’s a good walk. A good, professional walk.”
“Your nose will be broken, and then you’ll have to explain to Rachel why it’s broken.”
“Okay, I’ll stop. But only because Rachel would freak out. She worries about me.”
James said the last part carelessly, but I still felt it like a blow, as if he’d beat me without even trying. Rachel didworry about him. A lot. It was a point of contention between them, but also a sign of how much they cared about each other.
Had Chelsea worried about me while I was gone? Hardly.
“Hey…” I cleared my throat. “How do you and Rachel reconnect when you get back home?”
“You really want me to answer that question?”
“What else is there?”
“Nice. I mean… hell, I don’t know. The emotional connection.”
James narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “Are we secretly on Oprah? Look, man. The emotional connection is the easy part. You like a girl, you spend time with her, you get closer. That’s the connection. And the sex doesn’t hurt. Well, unless you want it to.”
“Ha-ha,” I said, but unease speared through me. It sounded so simple when James spelled it out. You like a girl, spend time with her. I’d had that with Chelsea once, hadn’t I?
I couldn’t remember.
Leaning over, I looked forward and back. The aisles were clear. No sign of Della or any other flight attendant. Frustrated for reasons I couldn’t explain, I settled into my seat—as well as I could—and closed my eyes. One thing you learned in the army was how to sleep, even if you were uncomfortable, anytime, anyplace.
Not this time, apparently. But I kept my eyes shut and pretended.