Subscriber Bonus! First Three Chapters of COLLIDE INTO YOU

Thank you for being a loyal reader! Please enjoy the first three chapters of Collide Into You. Author Note: This is an “uncorrected” proof copy of the story and not the final version. Collide Into You will be released on Oct 25, 2014. You can pre-order it now for $2.99.

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Chapter One


Keira

 “Wow,” a masculine voice says from across the living room. Not to me. At me. And he says the word “wow” in two syllables. Wow-Wa. It is my roommate, Dillan. Or, rather, I’m his new roommate. Did he always have to talk so sarcastically? I wait for his next comment. “Keira, whatever the opposite of amazing is, that’s how you look today.”

I look down at what I’m wearing, which is my Army Combat Uniform, or ACUs, for short. My hair is pulled up in a low bun and, in the interest of time, I’m wearing pretty much zero make-up. I look exactly like what a twenty-seven year old sergeant in the Army is supposed to look like: like every other female sergeant in the Army.

I’m fairly close to being late for my first day at the Pentagon and the last thing I need is for the man-slut I’m rooming with to harass me. I don’t care that he’s my brother’s best friend, or that I’ve always had a secret love-hate crush on him, or that his abs are totally to-die-for and that looking at him is like looking directly at the sun, I’m rooming with him only because I need a place to crash before I find my own place.

Look away, Keira! Those abs will totally blind you.

My older brother, Jon, who’s in the Navy and deployed to Bahrain, asked Dillan to let me stay here after the Army reassigned me to Washington, DC.

Dillan, shirtless and drying his hair, stands just outside his bedroom door. His wide-open bedroom door. Beyond him I can see a naked female form sleeping on his bed. She’s blond, leggy, and those are totally fake breasts.

Secret love-hate crush aside, in truth, after living here for only two days, I’ve come to the realization that I sort of don’t like him. I’m glad that the living room separates our two bedrooms. Seriously, I don’t want to hear sounds coming from his room at night. Not after what I heard yesterday.

I’m tired of trying to not look at Dillan, so I glance out the window. I still cannot believe that I’m living in a high-rise apartment with an amazing view of the Capitol, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial. Too bad it came with a man-slut.

I try to figure out what Dillan’s talking about when his lips curve in a victorious manner. I’ve been silent too long after the insult.

“What?” I ask, tilting my head. “Are you not used to women being clothed in front of you? Perhaps you’re not exactly sure how buttons and all those crazy little fastening thingies work? Listen, can we insult each other later? I’ve got to catch the metro.”

He grins as he reaches for a shirt of his own, a blue collared shirt, and purposefully buttons it up slowly, as if to illustrate that, yes, he knows how to dress himself. What an accomplishment, I think. Whatever will he do next? Use his finger to pick his nose?

I smile at the juvenile thought.

Dillan crosses the distance between us as he tucks the shirt into tailored trousers. He cleans up nicely. I know he isn’t some bum. He works at a prestigious firm as some big-wig’s senior executive assistant. Let me clarify. That big-wig boss is a woman. And if I’ve learned anything about Dillan Pope in the two days that I’ve been his roommate and all the stories Jon has told me over the last few years, it’s that he can charm anyone.

Myself excluded, of course. I find something unattractive about overly-attractive men. Sorta.

My roommate clears his throat as if he has some big announcement. I roll my eyes and look at my watch. Hint, hint, buddy.

“I was just going to say that you looked much better this morning after you came in from your run,” he says in a low voice. I study his chiseled jaw, his light green eyes, and his dark hair. Not that I was smelling him or anything, but he smells like Sandalwood.

My run? That was two hours ago. “Can you please make sense, Devon?”

He chuckles. “It’s Dillan, but you already knew that. Don’t act like I don’t affect you. I mean,” he shrugs, “I really don’t care one way or the other. You’re not my type.” He slips on his shoes and folds his suit jacket over his arm and turns to go. “But, for the record, Sergeant Holtslander,” he says with a smirk. “I certainly like the little running outfit a whole hell of a lot better than whatever that”—he motions his hands up and down—“shapeless uniform is called.”

He winks as he leaves the apartment.

I stare at the closed door and wonder, not for the first time in the last thirty-six hours, what have I gotten myself into?


Dillan

 I leave the apartment with a little pep in my step and walk to one of my favorite places, Ellen’s Corner Bakery, and wait in the usual long line. While not technically on a corner, Ellen’s bakery feels like your grandmother’s home. Your grandmother’s home on steroids.

Mix-matched, cushy chairs were pushed up next to kitschy, antique tables. The walls were covered with famous faces, old newspaper clippings, artistic findings from all over the world, and, near the register, is an older-looking wedding photo of a soldier and a young bride. I love the place. So does everyone else, as evidenced by the long line.

While I wait my turn, I can’t help but think about Jon’s little sister. Keira is cute, adorable, and, well, okay, she’s freaking hot. I remember her little running outfit from this morning, which consisted of not much more than an orange sports bra and tiny—and I mean tiny—lime green running shorts. The outfit was bright enough to land planes. It certainly landed my attention.

At six a.m. this morning, Keira returned from her workout. The lights were out. She didn’t notice me at the fridge, drinking milk straight from the carton. But I sure as hell noticed her. God, those tan legs, her slim waist, and her dewy, sweaty skin. I wanted to bathe her right then and there. With my tongue.

And when she bent over and began to stretch out… I nearly choked on the milk.

“You’re deep in thought this morning, Dillan,” the cashier slash baker slash owner, Ellen, says. She is a young fifty-year-old lady who I have seen every morning since moving to Washington, DC seven years ago.

I add up the math… I’ve seen Ellen at least 2,555 times. Sometimes I am here twice a day. That’s a lot of coffee. And muffins. And innocent flirting.

“You know I can’t start my day without seeing you, Ellen,” I tell her, grinning, and order the usual: a large, black coffee. I can’t help but flirt with her. “If I were thirty years older, sweetie, I’d romance you like it was no one’s business.”

“Careful what you wish for,” she says in her sweet-as-pie voice. She stares at me in a manner that seems way too intense. “And I’m fairly certain that the thoughts running through that handsome head of yours would make Lucifer blush.” I get the feeling that in some other life she might have been a witch. She gives off that vibe.

“Lucifer, yeah, but not you, Ellen.”

“True,” she says with a laugh as she made coffee for another customer. Ellen points to a sign above her head that announces her bakery’s 30th anniversary party next Tuesday. “Did you get the invite?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world, Ellen.”

She smiles brightly. “And how’s the new roommate? Jon’s sister is renting your second bedroom, right?”

Sometimes, Jon came with me to the bakery, but he wasn’t much of a coffee drinker, so Ellen never really got to know him. Instantly, I wonder if Keira drank coffee. Did it matter?

“If you’re asking me if she’s cute, the answer is yes, but I can tell she’s as boring as a snail. Sergeant Prim and Proper. She probably does twenty push-ups at every metro stop.”

Ellen arches an eyebrow. “You’ve told me all I need to know, Dillan,” she says in a manner that suggests she believed just the opposite of what I said. Her eyes sparkle. “I can’t wait to meet her.”

“Oh, no you don’t,” I say. “I have no intention of bringing her here. You are mine, Ellen.”

She laughs at my possessiveness. “She’s a soldier?” she asks. I nod yes. “Slim, five foot eight, with brown eyes and brown hair? Carmel skin? Is her last name Holtslander?”

I wonder if she has a magic crystal ball behind the counter. “How on earth did you guess all that?”

“Because I’m standing right here, you idiot,” Keira says with a biting tone. Without my realizing it, she was at the front of the line. “Sergeant Prim and Proper loves coffee and the sign outside is big enough for a boring snail to see it.”

“So, you heard everything?” Even the cute part?

Ellen looks back and forth between us with a gleeful smile.

“Like I care,” Keira says as she pours a pound of cream and sugar in her coffee and places a lid on top. She returns her attention to Ellen. “It was very nice to meet you. I’ll see you again tomorrow.”

I watch as Keira puts on her Army beret and leaves the store without acknowledging me at all.

“I like her already,” Ellen says and smiles so large that I can count all of her teeth. “You could use a challenge, Dillan Pope.”

I nearly glare at Ellen, but then realize it wouldn’t be respectful to glare at her.

“What’s that supposed to mean? I could use a challenge?”

Ellen only laughs. “Aren’t you going to be late for work?”

I groan. “See you tomorrow, Ellen.” I walk to work and take the elevator to the fourteenth floor of the Brookshire Mierkle Building in the Federal Triangle area in Washington, DC, and think to myself, what have I gotten myself into?

 

Chapter Two


Keira

 I catch the blue line to the Pentagon Metro Station and get jostled around in the metro car for two stops before I eagerly exit and practically run up the escalator. I exit the metro station and, up top, a Pentagon security guard inspects my military ID and allows me to enter through the visitor’s section.

Once inside, I turn immediately to the right, enter the Pentagon badging office, take a number, and wait for it to be called.

I’m supposed to meet my military sponsor at nine. The clock on the wall reads 8:55. Good, I have five minutes to bristle about my jerk-face roommate.

How could Dillan Pope be best friends with my brother? So they went to college together. Big deal. Jon’s my hero. He’s an amazing officer in the Navy, he’s well read, and he has the most amazing boyfriend, Tanner.

Dillan’s hot. I got that. He makes good money. But he’s too sarcastic. He probably has sex with anyone who nods in his direction. And he looks at me like I’ve got warts all over my face. There is no way on earth he could ever make it in the military. Of the nine years I’ve been enlisted, three have been in war zones. I’ve experienced things that would make his skin crawl.

I am not as boring as a snail, and I’m sure as hell not Sergeant Prim and Proper. I can be fun. I can be sexy. I like to hike and bike and run marathons. Those are definitely unboring things. I just can’t do anything that will jeopardize my security clearance, like binge drinking, gambling, or stripping at parties.

Not that I would do those things even if I didn’t need a security clearance.

An automated system calls my number and two minutes later I walk out with my unsmiling face pasted on a white badge. I clip it to the pocket on the front of my uniform. Congratulations to me: the Pentagon has welcomed its newest member.

“Sergeant Holtslander?”

I turn around to face the voice. If I’m not mistaken, it had a Texas twang to it.

A male staff sergeant shakes my hand. “I’m Justin Hauten. I am the junior enlisted advisor to the Chief of Staff of the Army and I’m your sponsor.”

If anyone can give Dillan a run for his money in the looks department, it would be Staff Sergeant Justin Hauten. The way he said his last name, it sounded like Hot-In.

Yes you are, I think. I inspect him. He looked great in a uniform. I wouldn’t call him classically handsome. I can tell he’s had a few broken noses, but he’s ruggedly good-looking with a lop-sided smile that could easily melt hearts and land him on the cover of a few “most handsome” magazines.

I notice the black ring on his ring finger, which declares: Not available.

“Hi, yup, that’s me, Keira Holtslander, Sergeant Prim and Proper.”

“I’m sorry, what? Is that a nickname?” His thick eyebrows furrow briefly.

I laugh. “No, sorry. I was thinking of something else and it slipped out. Let me start over. I’m Keira Holtslander.”

Sergeant Hauten nods. He seemed friendly, but not overly friendly.

“Let’s walk and talk. I’ll give you the quick tour since I know that this is your first time at the Pentagon. Then you’ll meet the team. Your introductory office call with Colonel Benson is at thirteen hundred. He’s a great guy and you’ll like him a lot. He just returned from Kabul, Afghanistan. I read your file. You’ve been deployed a couple of times, right?”

I like that he didn’t feel compelled to discuss the weather or other inane facts. Instantly I could tell that he didn’t see a female in front of him, he saw a soldier. I knew from this point forward that he’d be an ally.

He leads us through a turnstile. I swipe my new badge and we go up another set of escalators. When we get to the top, he halts in a large hallway that he calls, “the concourse.” It reminds me of an airport, but without the planes. The hallway is huge and it appears you can buy anything from food, to greeting cards, to opening a bank account. Also, while I’m not entirely sure, I’m fairly certain I smell roasted nuts.

I tell him about my overseas deployments. “I had a tour in Bagdad in 2006 and two twelve-month tours in Afghanistan. One in 2009 and the other in 2012. Before my reassignment here, I was stationed at Fort Bragg, and worked for the JSOC intelligence chief.”

The sergeant cringes. “I have a feeling you are going to be a bit out of your element here.” He leads us down the hallway and we walk up an inclined ramp.

“Why do you say that?” I ask. He wasn’t good at hiding the fact that he didn’t think I’d enjoy my new assignment. Or maybe he didn’t think I was qualified. I try not to bristle at the thought.

“The billet Colonel Benson has placed you in isn’t an intelligence billet.”

I think about this for a second. It wasn’t unusual to work in a different field from what you were trained in, but it generally wasn’t too far the norm. For example, the army would never put me in an infantry position. I don’t have the training.

“What will I be doing, then?” I ask.

He cringes again. I can tell that Sergeant Hauten is an intelligent soldier, but he’s not an intelligence specialist. He came across as an infantry soldier, which seemed a little out of place in a place like the Pentagon. I wonder how he got his position.

“Colonel Benson will brief you on your job description at thirteen hundred today.” He pauses as if he expects me to question him, but I don’t, so he continues. “Anyway, let me orient you.”

We stop at the top of the ramp. It’s a junction, of sorts. In front of us there is a massive set of stairs as well as three different hallways. Also, from this vantage point, I can see outside into the inner courtyard. My brother told me that the Pentagon often held concerts there in the summertime.

But I can already tell that I’m going to get lost. What I needed was a map.

Sergeant Hauten starts pointing and explaining. “This is the innermost ring, the A Ring, and we’re at the beginning of the 9th Corridor. Each office has a unique number that identifies where it is in the building. Think of it like a spoke of a bicycle wheel.”

“Uh huh,” I murmur. I can imagine a bicycle easily.

“There are five rings, A through E; five floors, one through five, but if you count the basement and the mezzanine levels, then it gets a bit complicated. I’ve been here a year and I still get confused if I have to go downstairs. Anyway, for each corridor, one through ten, i.e. the bicycle’s spokes, generally speaking, if you’re walking from the inner ring to the outer ring and the office number ends in 0-50, go left at the office number’s corresponding ring identifier. If it ends is 51-99, go right. If you’re walking in the opposite direction, do the opposite. I’m sure you get the idea.”

Okay. The Army has not trained me for this system. “Should I be taking notes? I feel like there’s a test at the end of all this.”

He laughs. I didn’t think it was possible, but when he smiles, it makes him even more attractive.

“You’ll get the hang of it. Everyone gets lost. All I want you to care about right now is how to find our office and how to find the metro entrance. Our office is 2E801.”

“Two echo eight oh one,” I repeat.

“It’s located on the second floor, the E Ring, in Corridor 8, room 01.”

I process the sentence. “Oh, now it makes sense. That doesn’t sound too hard.”

He laughs again, like maybe he’s convinced I’m mental. “I’m glad you feel that way, because I’m going to make you lead me there.”


Dillan

 My boss, LouAnn Britton, calls me into her office as soon as I arrive, which she almost never does. LouAnn is an attractive woman in her fifties who has worked long and hard to earn a corner office and the title of senior vice president of Brookshire Mierkle Industries.

Seven years ago she took a chance on me right out of college, and I’ve been her senior executive assistant ever since. Many within the company think I’m sleeping with her, or that I have slept with her, and that’s how I earned the senior position with her.

While a somewhat accurate depiction of my womanizing ways, and seven years ago I might have actually done something like that for a job, the rumors are, however, untrue. I’ve known the gossip for quite a while, and LouAnn only heard about it last year. I think she laughed for ten minutes straight after asking me if I knew what everyone was saying.

Another rumor surfaced last week. A rumor that I was LouAnn’s biological son. Obviously this is something my actual mother would object to hearing, but it’s now out there and I assume that this is why LouAnn practically ordered me inside her office the second my feet landed on the fourteenth floor.

The receptionist, who hates my guts for some reason, didn’t even have time to give me a curt greeting after telling me my boss wanted to see me.

“I have a job for you,” LouAnn says after closing her office door. We were alone in her office, as usual, and I sit in my normal chair in front of her massive, glass desk. Behind her I can see the Old Post Office Pavilion, a building that’s always nice to look at.

“Hit me with it,” I say, referring to the job, not the building.

“It’s a covert job. I’m loaning you out.”

I smile. Sometimes LouAnn uses me to get the dirt on her rivals. Nothing illegal or even unethical. In LouAnn’s world, she calls it, “integrated business partnerships” and “liaison exchanges” in order to build up the young crop of business officials, and to “cross pollinate” the industry. So I’m not alarmed that she’s decided to pimp me out again.

The last time she did this, I worked in Senator Murphy’s office for four months assisting in drafting the language for a small business friendly bill. Senator Murphy is, of course, a female, and her staff is comprised mostly of the female gender. And, yes, other than the Senator herself, I dated all of the ladies at some point or another during, or after, that liaison exchange.

In fact, Stacey, the woman probably still asleep in my bed, used to be an intern with Senator Murphy. We happened to bump into each other two nights ago at the 930 Club and didn’t stop bumping into each other for forty-eight hours. We only paused when I had heard rustling out in the living room, which was when Sergeant Prim and Proper happened to move in.

I smile as I recall how red Keira’s face had become when I opened the bedroom door to find out what was going on and she witnessed the full glory of my manliness. I’m shocked she could even look me in the eye this morning.

But, at the moment, I really didn’t want to be thinking about Keira Holtslander.

“Who am I being loaned out to this time?” I pull out a notepad, ready to take notes. Normally, I have a few weeks to prepare for such a role. LouAnn won’t throw me in willy-nilly.

“I’ve agreed to send you to Johnson Brookshire’s office—”

This wasn’t good. I stand up abruptly, interrupting LouAnn. “Wait a minute now. Johnson Brookshire hates my guts, LouAnn, and you know it.”

“The President of Brookshire Mierkle has never verbalized his feelings for you one way or the other, Dillan. Admittedly, dating his daughter wasn’t your brightest idea. If you’ll remember, everyone, to include the janitor, advised you against it.”

I run a hand through my hair. “Are you trying to get me fired? Are you unhappy with me for any reason?”

LouAnn chuckles. “Stop acting like a girl, Dillan. This isn’t about you, it’s about me. Now sit down, because what I’m about to tell you is confidential.”

I sit down. “I’ll never break your confidence, LouAnn. I hope you know that.”

“Why do you think you’re still with me all these years later, kiddo? I’ve heard a rumor that Johnson is retiring this summer. The board of directors will take into account my seniority as well as my thirty-five year tenure with the company, but I know deep in my gut that Johnson will not select a female. He’ll go for one of the other vice presidents. Probably that asshole Terry Richmond from the New York office. I know I should have taken up golf in order to schmooze with the bosses, but the only balls I’ve ever wanted to hit were the ones between their legs.”

I clear my throat and cross my legs. “You want me to go in and convince him you’re the right person for the job?”

“That’s the end state, yes, but first I need you to convince him that you’re not such a douche bag for dating and then dumping his daughter. No offense, but you are sort of a liability right now and I’d like you clean up your own mess.”

“That’s harsh, LouAnn.”

“You’ll get nothing but the truth from me, Dillan. Johnson doesn’t know I know. He thinks you’re coming in to help with a new client in our federal business sector. Apparently there’s hostility with, or maybe from, this client, I’m not sure, but Johnson was pleased with your performance in Senator Murphy’s office. Johnson thinks he’s “reassigned” you, but in reality I put a tickle in the right ear and “offered” you. Naturally, Johnson assumes he came up with the idea. I have no intention of disagreeing with this assessment.”

“When do I infiltrate his office?”

“I like how you think.” She hands over an accordion-style packet. “One week. Take that time to do research on the client and the Brookshire Mierkle team handling the account. If anyone can tame the beast, it will be my “son”, Dillan Pope.”

I couldn’t hold in a bark of laughter. LouAnn did finger quotes around the word son.

 

Chapter Three

Keira

Thank goodness Staff Sergeant Justin Hauten is a patient man, because it takes me twenty-five minutes to find the office. I think about the things I can normally complete in that time. I could run three miles. I could cook a fairly decent dinner. I could take a nice bubble bath. I could have sex, twice.

I’m a little flush, and embarrassed, when Justin introduces me to the rest of Colonel Benson’s team. Benson is one of the Chief of the Army’s military assistants. General MacWilliams has five military assistants. One is a one-star general, two are Colonels, one is a command sergeant major, and the last one is Justin. I’ve never heard of a junior enlisted advisor before, and Justin didn’t really explain it to me when I asked, only to say that it was a new billet and that even he was mystified about the position.

I can tell that there’s more to the story, and maybe in time he’ll spill the beans, but for now I let it go. There’s no reason to make my first day complicated, especially with a staff sergeant who was clearly unavailable.

At one o’clock, Justin shows me into Colonel Benson’s office and then leaves.

The colonel shakes my hand. “Welcome to the Pentagon, Sergeant Holtslander. The Puzzle Palace can be a little daunting at first, so the first week we give you a bit of latitude in finding your way around. After that, however, I’ll expect you to be where you need to be ten minutes before the appointed time. First and foremost, you represent the U.S. Army, and secondly, you represent General MacWilliams at all times while you are in uniform.”

“Yes, sir,” I say automatically. I fully expect this and am rather used to such speeches and welcomes. I’ve done a few of them myself when army privates arrived at my unit while I was stationed at Fort Bragg.

“How long have you been in the Army, sergeant?”

“Nine years, sir.”

“When are you up for reenlistment?”

“In three years.”

The colonel doesn’t answer right away. He appears to be thinking something over, and I wonder if it has anything to do with the billet I’ve been assigned to. I start to bite on a fingernail. After another moment, he pulls out a folder and lays it on his desk.

“I know your background, Sergeant,” he begins. He’s looking at my enlisted record brief, which is the report that details my entire army career up to this point. “And I know that you are a 96B, an Intelligence Analyst, but that’s not why I asked for you to fill this billet. It isn’t an intel position. Well, I should clarify and say that the position isn’t inherently intelligence related. You’ll be reviewing documents for an internal review General MacWilliams is leading.

“Only four people know about the investigation, and you’re that fourth person. I spoke with several Army commanders, looking for recommendations, and you quickly surfaced to the top of the list. You have a reputation for steady, professional work. You are not prone to jumping to conclusions and, if I’ve heard correctly, you somehow find reading Army manuals enjoyable. I’m happy to report that you’ll be reading several more.

“I personally called every supervisor you have reported to and each have consistently praised you, your body of work, and high nature of their trust in you. General MacWilliams reviewed the findings with me and wanted you right away.

“The next few weeks will be busy ones for you as you apprise yourself of the situation. You’ll have quite a bit of reading to do that can only be done inside the General’s secure office. In the initial stages of the investigation, all you’ll do is read the documents. In the subsequent weeks, you’ll have time to write up a formal report and brief it to General MacWilliams. At this point, the position isn’t permanent. Once the report is done, it is highly probable the Army will send you back to Fort Bragg. However, if you impress the General, well…” he smiles, suggesting it is possible I’ll stay on board. It isn’t something he can actually say out loud. He isn’t allowed to promise me anything. “Do you have any questions at this point?” Colonel Benson asks.

It’s like he dropped a bomb on me. Internal Review. So, someone’s done something wrong, and I have to read the raw material, analyze it, and present it in a coherent, unbiased manner. I did that everyday. The material and subject matter might be different, but the methodology could cross over easily. Maybe Dillan’s title of Sergeant Prim and Proper wasn’t all that far off. Uh, I really didn’t want to think about Dillan at the moment.

Granted, if my job only took me a few weeks, then I’d be in and out of Washington, DC sooner than I thought, and I wouldn’t have to see Dillan’s sarcastic face every day.

That was a plus.

I return my thoughts to the investigation.

“Is anyone else working this with me? Who can I bounce ideas off of?”

“Obviously General MacWilliams is not the optimal choice. You’ll have your office call with him next week since he’s on official travel overseas. You can come to me or Staff Sergeant Hauten. We are both cleared at the proper clearance level and understand the situation. Under no other circumstances are you to talk of this to anyone else, even if they claim to have a top secret clearance or the need to know.”

“Roger, sir. I completely understand and know the rules of need to know.”

“Let’s get started. I’ll show you to your office.”


Dillan

When I get home, Keira isn’t there yet and my weekend date has already left, but she wrote a naughty message with red lipstick on the bathroom mirror.

I think about removing it, but then like the idea of Keira discovering it. I want to find out what she’d do. Jon, who had become a bit more domesticated once he became serious with Tanner, would have laughed but said. “Dunno man, don’t you think it’s time you knocked it off and found a nice girl?”

Thinking about Jon makes me miss him more. He’s been my best friend since college. I went the business route while Jon joined the Navy to fly fighter jets. The fighter jets never worked out due to his poor vision, but he was an outstanding staff officer who was recently promoted away from Washington DC to work for the Navy in Bahrain. Tanner, a professional baseball player with the Washington Nationals, had been showing a brave face for the last month.

While I certainly love Jon like a brother, it in no way compares to how Tanner feels about him. So if I’m missing Jon this much, I wonder how Tanner is taking it? I pick up the phone, ready to call him, when I remember that Jon put the entire Nationals’ schedule on the fridge. I groan. Tanner is up in Pittsburgh, playing the Pirates for the next three days.

So there went thought.

The front door opens and slams shut as I mentally calculate when I can invite Tanner over.

Keira walks in. I didn’t think it was possible, but her uniform is more shapeless than it was this morning. Shapeless, but with wrinkles.

When she spots me, she scowls. You’d think she’d been battling an entire band of guerilla fighters all day long by the way she looks at me.

It also occurs to me that I’m in the same position I was this morning when I spied on her as she stretched from her run. I wonder if she has figured that out yet.

“Rough day?” I ask. I look at the clock on the microwave. 7 p.m.

Her features soften slightly. Maybe this is a good sign.

“You can say that,” she says, looking at the fridge.

She moves toward me. Each step some sort of wordless declaration of… something. Should I comfort her? Did she need a hug? I inhale when she’s a foot a way. When Jon came home after a long day, I always got him a beer. God, I was totally the bitch of that relationship, wasn’t I?

I swing the fridge open, lean in, and hit Keira with the door.

“What the hell?” she yells, backing up and grabbing at her shin. “You certainly know how to welcome a girl, jeez. I came over here to see if that was Tanner’s schedule.”

“Uh, sorry about that.” I offer her the beer, but she gives me the evil eye, so I pop the top and take a large sip. “Tanner’s up in Pittsburgh. I was thinking of inviting him over this weekend.”

She sizes me up briefly, like maybe she thinks that’s what I think she wants to hear after hitting her with the fridge door. I smile at her. There’s no change, and normally there’s a change in a girl’s expression after I give The Grin.

Keira must be a robot.

“I doubt Tanner’s going to be available since he’s taking me to all the Nationals’ games this weekend,” she says, grabbing an apple from the counter. “I get to sit in the wives’ box.”

I must look crushed because her dry lips crack into a smile. I take another long gulp of the beer as I think of a good comeback. Damn, I’ve got nothing. Jon’s shapeless little sister twists the knife just a little bit deeper in my back. Tanner and I were friends, right? He didn’t just put up with me because I used to be Jon’s roommate?

“That should be fun,” I say. I look again to the fridge. I desperately want to change the subject. “Are you hungry?”

“What about sleeping beauty?” she asks, moving away from me.

I draw a blank. “What are you—oh, you must mean Stacey. No, she already left.”

“Stacey, huh? I’m terribly impressed that you can remember their names. Thanks for the offer, but I have a lot of reading to do. I’ll just have a protein bar and a glass of milk.”

Right. Sergeant Prim and Proper probably doesn’t eat anything with more than one gram of fat in it.

“Suit yourself.” I finish the beer and place it in the recycle bin.

“I’m going to jump in the shower. Do you need anything in there first?”

I give her The Grin again. “Are you offering?”

Keira glares at me. “Are you always this much of a pig? Jon was so right.”

“You and Jon talk about me? What about?” While I say it flippantly, something about the fact that she said, Jon was so right pierces doubt right through me. Like maybe Jon had serious concerns about me. I know he’d been joking for me to find the right girl, but when there are so many right girls out there, it certainly makes it difficult to choose just one.

Besides, what business did she have prying into my life? Just because she was Jon’s little sister didn’t mean she had the right to judge me.

“You’ll have to ask Jon,” Keira says over her shoulder. She walks into the bathroom and locks the door. Seconds later I hear her cuss rather loudly. She opens the door harshly. “I am not amused by sleeping beauty’s message, Casanova.”

I laugh as she slams the bathroom door shut again.


 

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