Book: Afraid to Fly
Series: Anchor Point book 2
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Publication date: January 14, 2017
Length: 297 pages
Once a fearless fighter pilot, Commander Travis Wilson is now confined to a desk. It’s been eight years since the near-fatal crash that grounded him, and it still rules his life thanks to relentless back pain.
Lieutenant Commander Clint Fraser almost drowned in a bottle after a highly classified catastrophe while piloting a drone. His downward spiral cost him his marriage and kids, but he’s sober now and getting his life back on track. He’s traded drones for a desk, and he’s determined to reconcile with his kids and navigate the choppy waters of PTSD.
Clint has been on Travis’s radar ever since he transferred to Anchor Point. When Clint comes out to his colleagues, it’s a disaster, but there’s a silver lining: now that Travis knows Clint is into men, the chemistry between them explodes.
It’s all fun and games until emotions get involved. Clint’s never been in love with a man before. Travis has, and a decade later, that tragic ending still haunts him. Clint needs to coax him past his fear of crashing and burning again, or their love will be grounded before takeoff.
Tonight, it all seemed miles away. Something happening in some other reality while I sat here, surrounded by people and somehow feeling completely isolated as I shifted my gaze from one coworker to the next, wondering if things would be different on Monday.
There wasn’t much I could do about it now, but I still wasn’t sure if this had been the best way to come out to my new chain of command and coworkers. It had worked for a buddy of mine at my last base. He’d come to the Christmas party with his now-ex-thank-God-boyfriend, and aside from a few double takes, no one had really missed a beat. After that, nothing had changed as far as I’d been able to tell. Aside from quietly making bets on when he’d cut the loud-mouthed, sexist, racist son of a bitch loose—three weeks, it turned out—everyone had treated him the same way.
Hopefully the same would be true for me after tonight. I hadn’t come up with any other realistic or more subtle options for letting my coworkers know I had a boyfriend. Work it into a conversation? Put a picture on my desk that made it clear we were a couple? Make some big awkward announcement? I should’ve just mentioned him in passing and let people do the math.
But no, somehow, showing up with a man and letting it simply be known had been the best idea. No one really seemed to notice or care, so that was good. If anything, they were giving Logan the side-eye, but I thought it had less to do with him being male and was more about the bottles he’d been damn near deep-throating in rapid succession.
Slow down, idiot. You’re shitfaced before anyone else is even buzzed.
One thing was for sure—if my coworkers were taking bets on when I’d kick Logan’s drunk ass to the curb, I wanted to know so I could get in on it. I was this close to done with the guy, and dinner hadn’t even been served yet.
Which . . . hurt. I was angry with him tonight. We’d talked about this. Just one time, could he take it easy? But no. He’d been drinking since before I’d even picked him up, and we both knew he’d keep drinking until the beer ran dry.
I sighed, heart sinking. I liked the guy. I really did.
The longer I sat here, though, the more it felt like the last straw. I didn’t—and couldn’t—drink, and being around him when he was drunk was a problem. We’d fucking talked about this, damn it. He’d promised he’d do better, especially tonight.
And now here we were.
This must’ve been how my ex-wife had felt on more occasions than I cared to admit. There were only so many times a person could hear This is the last time—promise! from someone with booze on his breath before enough was enough.
Naturally, the straw would break the camel’s back tonight. At the Navy Ball. As I was introducing him to my coworkers as my boyfriend. First time since my divorce that I was in a relationship. First time in my life I was in a relationship with a man. It had felt good to think about going someplace public together. About saying, I’m with this person. It was like I was taking a huge step and moving on with my life. Now, instead of being out of the closet, all I could think was I wanted out. Of this room, of this ball, of this goddamned relationship.
I took a long drink, wishing it was alcoholic, and that stopped me in my tracks.
Oh dear God. Yes. If being with Logan made me want to drink, then he needed to go. Like . . . soon.
Sorry, Logan. You fucking blew it.
I felt bad about it, too. He was a nice guy and all—not a borderline skinhead like the asshole my friend had brought last year. The sex hadn’t been half bad either. But Jesus fucking Christ, the man could drink.
After tonight, though, now that he’d been slurring his words and wobbling on his feet right there in front of my new coworkers when he’d sworn he wouldn’t, it was going to have to be addressed one way or another. By the time the cocktail hour ended, he’d been on his third beer, not counting the pre-gaming before I’d picked him up.
A couple of guys at the next table watched him. Then they glanced at me, brows pinched with what looked like sympathy, before turning their attention back to the CO. She’d been speaking for a while now, and for the life of me, I couldn’t recall a word she’d said.
Wasn’t this night off to a fantastic start?
Now I was out as seeing a man I was five seconds away from dumping. On the bright side, I wouldn’t have to sweat over pronouns when I started dating someone with a lower blood alcohol content. Though my coworkers would probably all be confused as hell if I mentioned going out with a woman—I swore nobody at my last several commands had ever heard of bisexuality.
Eh. It was what it was. If they thought my closet had a revolving door, so be it. I just hoped nobody was a dick about me bringing a guy. So far so good, but there were a lot of people here. How they’d treat me in private—say, at the office on Monday—remained to be seen. Every command was different. Some of the guys at NAS Adams were on the conservative side. Some seemed pretty open-minded. The last CO was apparently marrying his boyfriend soon, and I hadn’t heard anyone screeching about that, so I was hopeful. But still worried. Because God knew one queer coworker plus one homophobe could equal a seriously hostile environment. I knew too many people who’d learned that the hard way.
“Hey. Clint.” Logan nudged me clumsily. “Earth t’Clint.”
I shook myself. When had the CO stopped talking? Were all the ceremonies over?
I turned to Logan. “What? Sorry.”
He laughed. “Space cadet.” Gesturing over his shoulder, he said, “I’m gonna get another drink. You sure you don’t want anything?”
Gritting my teeth, I said, “No, I’m fine.” And you don’t need any more either, especially if you’re too drunk to remember why I don’t drink.
He rose unsteadily and stumbled off toward the bar.
Scowling, I reached for my sweaty glass and took a drink.
A few years ago, I probably wouldn’t have been quite so annoyed that Logan was getting this drunk. And I probably would’ve had a couple of drinks with him. On the other hand, a few years ago, it would’ve been a moot point because I would’ve been here with my ex-wife. Neither of us would’ve been drinking heavily anyway because it’d been one of a handful of nights each year that we’d rented a hotel room for some couple time while the kids had stayed with Grandma and Grandpa.
But those days were over, and my ability to drink myself senseless had played no small part in destroying my marriage, and—
I winced at the painful barrage of memories.
Have a drink? No, thank you.
He knew why I didn’t drink, though, and he kept asking. Not only would he keep drinking himself stupid, he’d keep egging me on to join him. Aside from the shit inside my own head, Logan was the single biggest threat to my sobriety these days.
And somehow, I’d had to wait until we’d announced our relationship to God and everyone to realize I couldn’t spend one more night with him. I couldn’t—
“Clint?” That time, it was a voice that didn’t raise my hackles.
I turned toward Commander Wil—Travis. Not at work. Call him Travis.
He lifted his eyebrows. “You all right?”
“Yeah. Yeah.” I waved a hand. “I’m . . . I’m good, yeah.”
He watched me, no expression at all to let me know if he was concerned, or thought I was an idiot, or maybe a little of both.
I took a swig of ice water and casually looked around to avoid Travis’s blue-eyed scrutiny. If he thought I was an idiot, he was right. I was relieved that I didn’t have to worry about whether people knew I was queer—it was the first time I’d ever done anything close to coming out, so that was a shaky plus. But I wasn’t so sure I liked being the guy who was dating the cute-but-sloppily-drunk dumbass. Maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea.
I twisted around to find him in the crowd. He was at one of the bars, having an animated conversation with someone who looked equally inebriated.
Maybe it wasn’t a good idea?
Swearing under my breath, I turned back around. This was going to be a long night. Lord help us all when they opened up the dance floor.
Moments after Logan stumbled back to the table, a waiter came by to send us up to the buffet.
“All right!” One of the guys from Travis’s department stood, rubbing his hands together. “Chow time.”
“About damn time.” Travis winced as he rose, and his daughter said something I couldn’t hear. He gestured dismissively. With his other hand, he gingerly rubbed the middle of his back. Then he twisted like he was trying to loosen up a crick, and followed her toward the buffet. I hadn’t known him long, but I’d never seen him walk without a limp, and it seemed more pronounced tonight. His daughter motioned for him to go ahead of her as they joined the line. As I watched them—surreptitiously of course—I swore she was deliberately positioning herself so anyone squeezing past them would bump her and not him.
It wasn’t unusual to see service members with visible pain, especially if they’d been in for any length of time. Being a commander, he’d probably been in at least a couple of years longer than me. Plenty of time to get battered and beaten by the nature of the job. And since he had wings on his uniform, he’d been a pilot at some point in his career. Maybe he’d ejected. God knew every flyboy I’d ever met who’d survived an ejection walked a little uncomfortably at times.
I pulled my gaze away from him so no one would catch me staring. Wasn’t that what I needed—bring a guy to the ball, realize we were a huge mistake, and then get caught ogling another man. Yep, this was going to be a great night.
The buffet line moved quickly for once, and we made it to the table lined with chafing dishes. For as drunk as he was, Logan managed to load up his plate and make it back to his seat without incident. I didn’t know if that impressed me or annoyed me. Nothing made it harder to tell someone “you’ve got a drinking problem” like evidence that he could function fine when he was intoxicated. My ex-wife could attest to that one.
As I sat down with my own plate, Travis caught my eye over the rim of his water glass. He glanced at Logan, then back at me, but said nothing.
I had expected to feel conspicuous tonight, but not like this. Being out was fine. Sitting with the drunken idiot I needed to dump, across from the man I’d sell my soul to sleep with? Crap. Clearly it should’ve been a pre-ball sign when I’d been getting steadily more frustrated with Logan while fantasizing more and more about Travis. Who I had known would be here tonight.
No, I had not thought this through.
Except he had a daughter, so he was probably straight. Except that assumption made zero sense because I had three kids and I was anything but straight. The only things I knew about Commander—about Travis was that he had an adult daughter and wasn’t wearing a wedding band. So basically, I knew nothing about him. Aside from the fact that I’d been wanting him since I’d transferred here.
Fuck my life.
Avoiding eye contact with anyone, I picked at my food. It was decent, all things considered—I’d been to some military functions with food that was barely fit for human consumption—but any appetite I’d had was gone. How much longer was I assigned to this command? Would it be pathetic to start prodding for a transfer to someplace where this Navy Ball hadn’t happened?
Yeah, it would be. And I wouldn’t. Especially since I was probably the only one here who’d care about any of this after tonight. But goddamn, in this moment, it sure felt like the reasonable, rational thing to do.
I reached for my drink and cautiously glanced around the table. Logan was chatting with Wolcott’s wife, who was almost as drunk as he was. Everyone else was caught up in their own conversations—in between shooting the two drunks irritated looks—including Travis and his daughter, who were talking about something with Stevenson and her husband.
Discreetly, Travis took something out of his pocket and looked at it under the edge of the table. I thought it was a smartphone, but his phone was next to his drink. And whatever was in his hand had a couple of thin wires coming off it. His daughter glanced at him, concern pulling her eyebrows together, but neither of them said anything.
Then he shifted, grimacing, and put the device back in his pocket. As he did, his eyes met mine, but we both quickly broke eye contact. I thought some color appeared in his cheeks. In this light, though, it was impossible to be sure.
Travis returned to his conversation, and I returned to chasing a piece of . . . beef? Well, it resembled beef, anyway, and I chased it around my plate with my fork.
Logan nudged me. “I’m going to hit up the buffet for more. You want anything?”
“No, I’m good. Thanks.”
He got up, wobbled hard enough he had to grab my shoulder for balance, and clumsily made his way toward the buffet. I watched him go, feeling like the world’s biggest asshole because I was already rehearsing how I was going to cut him loose at the end of the night.
Yes. Tonight. I didn’t need this anymore. Especially if I was going to stick to that promise I’d made to my ex-wife, our attorneys, the judge, and the fucking Navy to stay out of the bottle.
Do you want this guy, or do you want your kids back?
My throat tightened.
Then I realized that, while the ballroom was still noisy with dozens of conversations, my table had fallen silent. When I turned, I realized everyone was watching Logan or me. The last few heads turned, and they were all looking at me.
Heat rushed into my face. I cleared my throat as I reached for my glass.
Oh God. Say something. Say something!
Bailey snickered, tilting his glass toward Logan. “Boy can really hold his liquor, can’t he?”
I pleaded with the ground to open up and swallow me right then and there, but managed a quiet chuckle. “Ex-Marine. What can I say?”
To my great relief, everyone at the table laughed.
“That explains it,” Stevenson said. “The Marines can hold plenty of liquor. Problem is they don’t know what to do with it.”
“Not like Sailors,” Bailey said proudly.
Everyone laughed again and raised their glasses. I was still mortified, but joined in. At least they were all taking him in stride.
“You have my sympathy.” Travis absently ran his finger around the rim of his drink. “I took a guy like that to a buddy’s wedding once.”
I blinked. “You . . .”
“Yeah.” Travis chuckled, gaze fixed on Logan. “Ex-Marine too, if I remember right. Anyway, he drank like a fish, and it was a fucking disaster.”
Kimber groaned. “Oh my God. You’re talking about Nate Grayson, aren’t you?”
Bailey smirked. “Wasn’t that the guy who hooked up with the bride’s dad?”
“Yep.” Travis grimaced. “I’m surprised my friend still spoke to me after that.”
The table again erupted in laughter, and suddenly everyone was coming out with disastrous wedding stories. I couldn’t have been more relieved, especially as Logan returned to his seat.
But at the same time, my stomach was wound up in a whole new set of knots.
So Travis . . .
Took a guy to a wedding?
He’s . . .
So now I felt like an epic idiot for being nervous about coming out to this crowd. They obviously all either knew Travis was gay, or didn’t care. Shit. I really should’ve just mentioned in passing that I was dating a guy, and that would’ve been the end of it. Especially since tonight would also be the end of me dating his ass. Pity I hadn’t gotten my head together before I’d made myself look like a tool in front of the man I’d been lusting after. The man who, it turned out, was not-straight enough that he openly and casually talked about taking a man as his date to a wedding.
Yep, this night was one for the history books. Best night of my life, or some bullshit like that.
Movement at the other side of the room caught my eye, and when I turned my head, that knot in my stomach turned to pure horror. The deejay and his assistant were settling in behind the booth, probably getting ready to fire up the music.
Which meant dancing.
I slowly turned toward Logan. He was in the middle of animatedly telling some story to Wolcott’s wife, unloading half his drink on himself, which he so far hadn’t noticed. But he would. Once that music started, he’d be on his feet, tugging me toward the floor, and I would have to fake my own death or go into witness protection rather than risk crossing paths with any of these people ever again.
I touched his shoulder. “Hey.”
He faced me. “Hmm?”
“Listen, um . . .” I hesitated. “Maybe we should get going.”
Logan’s glazed eyes lit up, and he grinned as he slid a hand over my thigh. “Yeah, we should.”
I fought the urge to squirm out from under his touch. He was in for a surprise when we got to his place, but if the prospect of going home and getting laid—even after we’d just eaten—was enough to get him out of here so I could break this off? Fine. Leading him on for an hour if only to get us away from my coworkers before I dropped the hammer . . .
Well, I’d find a way to sleep at night.
About L.A. Witt
L.A. Witt is an abnormal M/M romance writer who has finally been released from the purgatorial corn maze of Omaha, Nebraska, and now spends her time on the southwestern coast of Spain. In between wondering how she didn’t lose her mind in Omaha, she explores the country with her husband, several clairvoyant hamsters, and an ever-growing herd of rabid plot bunnies. She also has substantially more time on her hands these days, as she has recruited a small army of mercenaries to search South America for her nemesis, romance author Lauren Gallagher, but don’t tell Lauren. And definitely don’t tell Lori A. Witt or Ann Gallagher. Neither of those twits can keep their mouths shut…
Website: http://www.gallagherwitt.comTwitter: https://twitter.com/GallagherWitt
To celebrate the release of Afraid to Fly, one lucky winner will receive $10 in Riptide Publishing credit and two books of choice from L.A. Witt’s backlist! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on January 21, 2017. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!