I like him.
“Welcome to the sandbox,” Morrero says with a boyish grin. He looks to be about six feet tall, standing an inch or two shorter than Briggs, both of them dwarfing poor Jones. He’s Latino, with short black hair, dark brown eyes, and ears that are a little too big for his face, yet somehow fit. “’Bout time we get something nice to look at around here.” He waggles his brows.
“That’s totally inappropriate, Soldier,” I snap. I suck my lips into my teeth and shake my head, trying not to feel annoyed as the apples of my best friend’s cheeks brighten in a blush.
Morrero homes in on my reaction, and unlike Briggs, who used it as fuel, his brows dip inward toward his nose in concern.
“It was meant as a compliment; are you always so on edge?” The question is directed to me, but it’s Mullins who answers.
“Yes, well, no,” she corrects, narrowing her eyes in my direction. “Scottie here has been married so long, she’s forgotten how to have fun is all.”
She isn’t wrong, and I feel bad for my reaction. Since when can I not take a compliment? “I’m sorry,” I say, shifting my weight from one foot to the other. “I’m just trying to embrace the suck.”
His face relaxes. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”
“It’s okay,” I assure him. “I’m just a little…”
“Uptight?” Briggs supplies with a smirk. “We aren’t stateside anymore, Scottie. Protocol has its place in the field, but this here is a different dynamic.”
I raise my brows. “Is that so?”
Briggs leans in. “It’s so. Welcome to the wild, wild East.”
“Dude, cut the shit.” Morrero shoves Briggs’s shoulder as he says it, and his chocolate brown eyes meet mine. “Sorry, Scott. This one’s a pig.”
“I noticed,” I deadpan, glaring at Briggs. The man makes my blood boil. I have a strong urge to kick him in the balls. I haven’t wanted to do something so juvenile in years.
Morrero chuckles, spouting off something in Spanish. I don’t know what he says, but apparently, Briggs does, the annoyance on his face making me like my new champion that much more.
The five of us sit on the iron benches in front of the clinic, getting to know one another. I learn that like Mullins, both Briggs and Morrero are single, with no plans to change that status any time soon. I’ve never been able to understand how people don’t get lonely living the single life. But, I’m beginning to wonder if they aren’t the smart ones. Anyone can see that Jones and I are by far the loneliest of the bunch. The two of us spend our time exchanging stories about our children while the others flirt shamelessly. I can’t help but feel a little envious.
Midway through a story involving potty training and Jones’s son peeing in one of the display toilets at Lowe’s, I get this intense feeling I’m being watched. Glancing up, my eyes connect with Briggs’s. The knowledge that he’s been watching me shouldn’t have my heart jumping like this. Almost immediately he jerks his head away, leaving me breathless, a little confused, and resentful of both.
When the sun threatens to peek over the horizon, we realize that we’ve been out here all night. Reluctantly, we say our goodbyes and haul ass back to our respective tents for a little shut-eye. On the walk back, while Mullins is gushing about how hot the guys are, I find myself thankful for our newfound friends. My shoulders feel less tense, and some of the weight has eased off my chest.
Maybe this deployment won’t be as bad as I thought.
THREE WEEKS LATER
“Scott, wake the hell up,” Mullins says as I try to stir and fail. It seems like just seconds ago I collapsed in my cot.
“Screw off, woman,” I groan, pulling the thin blanket over me, which she promptly rips off.
“Get up right now. I’m bored.”
Sitting up, I sigh into my hands. “You’re a single woman on a military base—I’m sure you can find someone else to bother in bed.”
“Oh, I fully intend on flaunting my single status. Who knew a bet would have you tied down and pregnant?”
I throw my legs over the side of the cot. “Thanks for reminding me of the family I can’t see.”
“Sorry,” she says easily, though I know she means it. “Come on, babe, rally. We have plans today.”
“You have plans today.”
She eases down next to me with a sigh. “We’ve been here three weeks, and I’m already going crazy. Come on.” She gives me a nudge, her lips turning up as almond-shaped eyes bat my way.
“Fine, where are we going?”
“To see the fight.”
The fight turns out to be a boxing match at the base gym.
“Great,” I mumble as we walk inside. “As if we don’t have enough testosterone floating around us.”
“Yes, girl, breathe it in. All of these men are in their prime.” She inhales deeply as if she’s smelling freshly baked cookies, and I laugh.
“Finally! Thought that would never happen.”
Concern etches her features. “You…laughing. You’ve been pretty tense since we got here.”
“I’m piecing soldiers back together. It’s a somber job, Mullins.”
“All the more reason to soldier up, Katy.”
She looks over to me as we make our way toward the ring, and I feel bad. She’s missing her friends, and I’ve been a walking zombie.
“I just can’t get used to being away from them,” I admit.
“Understandable,” she says with another nudge. “I swear I get it. I love that little boy like I gave birth to him, but we have to rally. Try and find a reason to smile.”
“I will,” I promise under my breath, and in the next one, I’m stumbling in my footing as my eyes fix on a six-foot-two soldier getting his wrists taped, a smirk on his face as the guy taping him keeps him in conversation.
“Briggs is fighting?”
My eyes wander from the curve of his lips to his bare chest. He has a lone tattoo on his back, a soldier’s memorial. The combat boots and rifle supporting the helmet look damn near lifelike on his clear skin. He’s muscular but slim, and his bronze skin is covered in a sheen of sweat.
“You’ll be catching flies if you open that mouth any wider,” Mullins whispers over to me. Instantly I’m defensive.
“What the hell?” I snap at her. “I’m no stranger to a decent body. Shut your hole.”
“Hey, I know you love your Captain and so does your Captain, but Briggs is seriously smoking, and that twang?” She shakes her head. “Damn, damn, damn.”
I scrunch my nose at her. “That’s nothing new either—he’s a Texan.”
“Fine, play immune, but I couldn’t blame you if you were checking him out.”
My eyes rove over him. “He’s decent looking for his age.”
“He’s your age,” she scolds. “Just because you married up doesn’t mean you’re older.”
“Why am I here again?”
“You’re my wing bitch, like it or not.”
“It wasn’t a question,” she laughs before turning to me. “Twenty minutes, okay?”
“Ladies,” Jones says, taking the seat below us on the small aluminum stands. “Ready to see Briggs kick some serious ass?”
Mullins asks my question. “He’s that good?”
“He’s fast and hits hard. I’ve rarely seen him lose at spar. He always wears them out. He’s got a lot of stamina.”
“Stamina,” Mullins sighs as her tongue rolls out of her mouth.
“Jesus,” I say, shaking my head.
Morrero pops up next and gives us both a wink. “Ladies.” He joins Jones below us as my eyes wander back toward Briggs, who’s looking straight at me. My reaction is immediate—I wave like a four-year-old, giving him a shy smile. Glove up, he mimics me with the same stupid wave, wearing a smug smirk, which only makes me seem more ridiculous. Mullins bursts into laughter at my expense.