Book: Chief's Mess
Series: Anchor Point #3
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Release Date: June 19, 2017
Cover Artist: LC Chase
Length: 291 pages
Anthony Talbot is in Anchor Point to visit family, but after two days of strife, he needs a break. A local gay bar is calling his name.
When Chief Noah Jackson sees that red head stroll into the club, he immediately wants him. They’re perfectly matched, and before long, they’re burning up the sheets. Noah can’t get enough. Anthony can’t stay in Oregon for long, but as soon as he leaves, he’s counting down the days until he can fly back for more. And between his increasingly frequent visits, there’s always phone sex, sexting, webcams . . . anything they can get.
But Noah’s got a carefully crafted façade, and Anthony can’t help noticing the slowly forming cracks. The scent of alcohol in the middle of the day. The extra drinks at dinner. The hint of red in his eyes. Anthony knows what it means. He doesn’t want to believe it, but he’s seen this before, and there’s no denying it. If Noah doesn’t get his downward spiral under control, he’s going to lose both his career and the first man he’s ever really loved.
My sister and I were two days into a ten-day trip, and I was done. I’d been in a constant state of irritation from the moment we’d parked in front of Clint’s house. Or Travis’s, I guess. Apparently Clint had moved in with him. I didn’t care enough to ask for details.
To be fair, Clint wasn’t doing anything to piss me off. Breathing, maybe. Smiling and acting like nobody in the room remembered anything he’d done. Mandy had made peace with it, but all this baby brother saw was the man who’d hurt my big sister and her kids. That shit didn’t go away overnight.
I was happy for Mandy and especially for the kids, though. The separation from their father had been a huge and relentless source of stress for the past few years, and the tension between my sister and Clint had been driving her insane. So it was good to see things improving on all fronts.
None of that changed the fact that I wanted to choke the ever-loving fuck out of him.
But he was apparently getting serious with Travis, his new boyfriend, and Mandy wanted to introduce the kids and get them used to the idea of staying here with the happy couple, and I’d promised to come along for moral support, so . . . I was fucking stuck. Two days down. Seven to go. Ironically, I kind of wanted a drink, but that would only make me feel worse. And quite possibly make Mandy think I was trying to taunt him and prove he was less “recovering” and more “alcoholic.”
So no drink for me. Not even as I sat on one end of the couch, separated from Clint by Travis, trying not to grind my teeth to dust. Everyone—Mandy, Clint, Travis, and Travis’s daughter, Kimber—were chatting about something, but I wasn’t paying attention. I kept my gaze fixed on Mandy’s kids, who were kicking a soccer ball around in the backyard.
The room was suddenly quiet, and as I looked around, I realized everyone was watching me. Self-consciously, I sat up. “What?”
Mandy gestured at Clint. “He was asking how work is going.”
I glanced at Clint. Really? You think I want to chat with you about my job? Why don’t we talk about how much you stomped on my sister’s heart? Goddamn, I really needed that beer. If nothing else so I had a bottle to snap off on the edge of the coffee table and—
I cleared my throat. “Fine. Work’s fine.” I scooted to the edge of the sofa. “I’m, uh, going to go keep an eye on the kids.”
Nobody said a word or tried to stop me.
The kids were fine on their own. The yard was fenced in, and the three of them weren’t prone to fighting, so they could play without someone watching their every move. Mostly, I wanted to be alone for a while, and catch my breath. After all, I’d been grinding my teeth for two solid days. Today, my hackles had been up since lunch, when Clint had mentioned that he and Travis were talking about getting married. That shouldn’t have been a surprise. They were obviously in love, and they’d apparently been shacking up for a while now, so why the hell not? Why be annoyed over him finding happiness and stability?
Because you don’t deserve any of this, Clint.
To be fair, I was glad to see that he’d sobered up, and he did seem much calmer and more relaxed than he’d been during that horrible period when he’d destroyed everything. With time, I might be more charitable toward him. If Mandy could forgive him enough to be sitting there in the living room, chatting happily while the kids played in the backyard, then I was probably the asshole in this situation. But, damn, it was hard to look at him without seeing the slurring, snarling, red-eyed fucker who’d been the reason my sister had called me in tears almost every night for several months.
Except he hasn’t had a drink the whole time we’ve been here.
It wasn’t that hard to be sober for a couple of days, though. And it wasn’t like this was a dry household. There was beer in the fridge. Some bottles of wine on the counter. Aside from Clint, every adult had had one or two since Mandy and I had been here.
He didn’t seem stressed about it. I’d scrutinized the shit out of him the first night, watching for a longing look at a glass or a bottle, but he’d barely seemed to notice anyone was drinking at all. He’d even held Travis’s beer bottle for a moment last night while Travis had lit a cigarette, and there hadn’t been so much as a flicker of wanting in his eyes. And I’d looked for it too.
He’d been bleary-eyed today, like he hadn’t slept well. Which, now that I thought about it, he’d looked like that since I’d been here. It was just more noticeable today, like last night had been exceptionally bad. And Mandy had told me Clint was struggling pretty hard with some PTSD. So maybe that was why he looked so tired. Or like he’d aged a decade since the last time I’d seen him.
Behind me, the sliding glass door opened. My hackles went up again, but settled back down when the slightly uneven footsteps told me who it was. Travis walked with a slight limp. I didn’t know the full story behind it—I was surprised he was still on active duty with a visible injury like that—and didn’t ask. I did feel kind of like a jerk for assuming at first that he was sore from something he and Clint had done in the bedroom—and I’d been pissed, thinking they were rubbing it in Mandy’s face that they were together—but the longer I was around him, the more I thought this was something chronic. At one point, Travis had gone to get up from the couch, but winced, and Clint had instantly turned to him with genuine concern written all over his face. They’d exchanged “Are you okay?”/ “Yeah, I’m fine” looks, but Clint had still helped Travis stand, and Travis hadn’t objected.
So yeah. I was an asshole. Immediately assuming the worst at every turn.
Travis stopped by the railing and took out a pack of cigarettes. “Mind if I smoke?”
“It’s your house.”
“Yeah, but not everyone likes it.” He stepped around to my other side, and I realized as he lit the cigarette, he’d put himself downwind of me.
“It’s fine,” I muttered. “My roommate smokes. It’s . . .” I waved a hand. “No big deal.”
He gave a subtle nod as he took a drag off the cigarette.
I hated awkward silences, so I cleared my throat. “You, uh, used to be a pilot, right?”
Something tightened in his expression, and he exhaled some smoke. “Yeah. Used to be.” His tone didn’t invite any more conversation on the subject. “What do you do?”
“Engineer.” I gazed out at the kids as they passed the soccer ball back and forth on the damp grass. “My company makes pneumatic tools.”
“Oh. Interesting work?”
“If you think staring at schematics all day long is interesting, yeah.”
He chuckled, bringing his cigarette back to his lips. “Can’t be much more boring than running an admin department.”
“Ugh.” I made a face. “No, thank you.”
He pulled in some more smoke, blew it out, and tapped the ashes in a glass tray on the railing. “So are you in Nevada with Mandy?”
I shook my head. “Denver. I’d never last in the desert.”
“You and me both. I don’t know how Clint handled it when he was stationed out there.”
We both tensed. I bit down on a comment about the abundant liquor stores helping him through that terrible time. Maybe if I’d been talking to Clint, I’d have let it fly, but Travis seemed nice enough. I didn’t need to be an asshole to him.
I drummed my fingers on the railing. He smoked. I didn’t. The kids played. Clint and Mandy were probably talking in the living room. Meanwhile, we stood here with this awkward silence.
I stopped drumming and rested my hand on the railing. “You been here in Anchor Point for very long?”
“Couple of years.” He crushed the spent cigarette in the ashtray. “I’ll probably end up retiring here.”
“Yeah? You like it that much?”
“It’s nice. And, besides, Clint’s not retiring for a while, so there’s not much point in moving unless he gets transferred.”
“Right. Makes . . . makes sense.”
And more awkward silence set in. I understood why he mentioned Clint every other breath. The fact that I couldn’t stand the guy didn’t change the fact that he was a huge part of Travis’s life. There was no discussing jobs and future plans and living spaces without mentioning Clint, just like Mandy couldn’t be expected to discuss her kids without their father’s name coming up.
After a couple more attempts at small talk, Travis bowed out politely and went back inside. I watched as he sat down beside Clint again, draping his arm around him and pressing a kiss to Clint’s shoulder.
Muttering a curse, I looked out at the kids again because I couldn’t stand watching Clint and Travis. The mere sight of those two set my teeth on edge. It shouldn’t, but it did. It pissed me off to see Clint blissfully in love with his new man. How the hell did he get to be happy after he’d been such a dick, especially since Mandy was still single? And while I was still miserable and alone years after I’d—I thought—tactfully divorced my ex-wife? Okay, so neither of us had been happy about the end of our marriage, but the fact was, I was gay. Maybe this was karma for keeping myself in the closet and her in the dark for so long. We were still friends, though, so that counted for something, right?
Which was why it wasn’t fair that Clint could drink himself into violent rages until Mandy kicked him out, and just a few years later, he was with Travis. Travis, who was perfect. So right now, I kind of hated them both. I’d stopped liking Clint the first time Mandy had told me he’d put a fist through the wall, and I was bitter that Travis was making him happy now.
On some level, I got it that Clint had been consumed by PTSD and alcohol at the time, and that he’d gotten his shit together since then, but I wasn’t as forgiving as Mandy was. Or as quick to assume he’d stay on the rails. I didn’t like the idea of my niece and nephews coming to stay with him without me or Mandy nearby.
“Cut him some slack,” she’d said at the airport on the way here. “He’s really come a long way.”
Yeah. I’d believe it when I saw it.
Or maybe I wouldn’t. He’d been his old sober self since we’d been here, and I still wasn’t buying it.
Whatever. I was here for moral support for Mandy and the kids. Liking Clint wasn’t a requirement.
The door opened again, and I clenched my jaw. If it was him, I was going to blow a gasket, I swore to—
“Hey.” Mandy’s voice knocked that defensiveness right out of me.
Putting on a smile, I turned around. “Hey. How are you holding up?”
She hugged herself. “I was going to ask you the same thing.”
“I’m not the one who’s—”
“Don’t.” She rolled her eyes and playfully kicked my shoe. “I know you, and I can practically hear your teeth grinding.”
I avoided her gaze.
“He’s really trying, Anthony.”
I nodded, letting out a long breath. “I know he is. I can tell. I’m just . . .”
She leaned against the railing beside me. “You don’t like him.”
“No.” She shrugged. “I’m not crazy about him anymore either, but—”
“But he’s still the father of your kids. I know.” I’d lost count of how many times we’d had this conversation. I knew I wasn’t being fair to him, but this was someone who’d hurt my big sister, not to mention her kids, who I loved like they were my own. Even if I could forgive—and I wasn’t ready for that yet—I would not forget.
“Listen.” Mandy looked at me. “Things are going smoothly here. If you need to take off for the night, go ahead. The kids and I will be fine.”
Guilt mingled with that irritation. “I came here to be supportive. I’m—”
“You have been. And I appreciate that, especially since I know Clint isn’t your favorite person in the world.”
I ground my teeth some more. “You are the queen of understatement, you know that?”
She laughed softly, glancing over her shoulder as if to make sure no one was listening in. “Seriously, he’s so much better than he was.”
“Yeah, but you’ve been talking to him this whole time. Far as I’m concerned, he’s still the asshole you kicked out back when—”
“I know. But do you think I’d leave the kids with him if he was still that messed up? He’s got his shit together now.”
I scowled, but said nothing.
She squeezed my arm. “I think everything is under control tonight. Why don’t you take the rental car and go have a night to yourself?”
“And do what?” I growled. “We’re in a Podunk town in the middle of—”
“Anthony.” She eyed me. “It’s a Navy town. I’m sure you can find something to do.”
God, that was tempting. Get away from Clint and maybe find a man whose company I could tolerate for the night? Hell yes.
I shifted my weight. “Are you sure you’re okay without me?”
She glanced back into the house, then out at the kids, and a small smile worked its way onto her lips. “I’ll be fine. I probably didn’t need to drag you out here after all.”
“You know I’d have come along anyway.”
The smile got bigger, and she hugged me. “I know. Thank you.”
I hugged her back, holding her tight for a second. She’d come to me for support as she’d figured out how to cope with Clint being queer. When she’d brought the kids out here to visit Clint and meet Travis, she’d asked if I’d be willing to come along so she didn’t have to face them alone. I’d moved hell and earth at work to make sure I had the time off.
But now it was time for a break. With my sister’s blessing, I said good-bye to everyone—even Clint, because I was here to be supportive—and left like the place was on fire.
Travis and Clint lived fairly close to the base, but then, everything in this tiny town was close to the base. So, a few minutes after I’d pulled out of their driveway, I was following the road lined with razor-wire topped chain link and signs warning against trespassing on government property. Not long after that, I was in downtown. Well . . . “downtown.”
I’d been living in Denver for too long. Little towns were things I drove through on my way from one actual city to another, or places I stopped into for lunch at mom-and-pop restaurants no one had heard of. I was used to freeways and skyscrapers, not microscopic map dots with a single highway running through and nothing taller than five stories. Hell, I was pretty sure that even at low tide, the bridge of the aircraft carrier moored on the pier was the tallest thing in Anchor Point.
And why am I so bitchy about this? Why am I so bitchy about everything?
Sighing, I rubbed my neck as I drove. Maybe I needed to get laid. As it was, I’d been so busy at work for the last month, I hadn’t had an evening to myself, and I never went more than a couple of weeks without hooking up. Add in the stress of being around my ex-asshole-in-law, and I was a sexual powder keg who needed his fuse lit stat.
Sooo how exactly did one go about finding some cock in this town? Portland was a bit far, and I had no idea what the gay scene was like in the towns that were closer.
There were apps like Grindr, but I kind of felt like having a drink and maybe winding somebody up on a dance floor first. Not romance or anything like that—just some foreplay-before-foreplay to make sure my dude of the night was as into it as I was. That didn’t necessarily mean a guy would be good in bed, but at least I’d have a better idea of what I had to work with.
Did a town like this have gay clubs, though? It did have a base, so that was a plus. I’d never had much difficulty finding hot and horny queer men in the vicinity of a military base. Were there Marines stationed on NAS Adams? Because that would be awesome. So awesome. I smiled at the memory of a threesome I’d shared with two jarheads a couple of years ago. So much ink, so much cock . . .
I shivered away the goose bumps and decided that, yes, I needed to find a club in Anchor Point. As close to the base as humanly possible.
I stopped to get gas, and as I got out, the attendant appeared. Oh. Right. It was illegal to pump your own gas in Oregon. This place was weird.
While the attendant filled the tank, I took out my phone and did a search for gay bars in and around Anchor Point. There seemed to be quite a cluster of them down in Flatstick, which looked like an equally tiny town within an hour or so. Ugh. I didn’t feel like driving that far. Especially if I wanted to have a drink or two.
There were a couple here in Anchor Point, though. Neither had a lot of reviews—never mind terribly positive reviews—but they were the closest places for a man to go trolling for dick. Push came to shove, I could always have a drink while I perused Grindr.
The High-&-Tight sounded promising enough. And it was close to where Mandy and I were staying. Not that I had any intention of bringing tonight’s man back to the room we were sharing—I’d figure out the venue when the time came—but at least I didn’t have to drive all over No-Name, Nowhere, to get to the club in the first place.
It was also about half a block from the base’s main gate. Perfect.
So, after my tank was topped off and I’d paid the attendant, I drove back to the hotel to make myself presentable.
Tonight, come hell or high water, this boy was getting laid.
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…
L. A.’s backlist is available on her website, and updates (as well as random thoughts and the odd snarky comment) can be found on her blog or on Twitter (@GallagherWitt).
To celebrate the release of Chief’s Mess, one lucky winner will receive their choice of two eBooks off L. A. Witt’s backlist (excluding Chief’s Mess) and a $10 Riptide Publishing store credit! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on June 24, 2017. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!