TITLE: Chief's Mess
SERIES: Anchor Point (#3)
LENGTH: 77,000 words
GENRE(S): Contemporary, Military
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.
Chapter One: Anthony
One more minute in the presence of my ex-brother-in-law, and I was going to lose my shit.
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.
Chapter Two: Noah
Holy shit, I’d been needing this all day.
I could have taken or left the High-&-Tight and its too-loud meat market atmosphere, but they had some of the best beers in town on tap. That alone made it tolerable to be in a room full of men on the prowl. As I took a long pull from my ice-cold beer, my whole body seemed to relax, and the whole day—hell, the whole week that wasn’t even over yet—faded away. Tomorrow, that stress would be back in full force, and I’d be counting down the minutes until my next pint of relief, but for now, I was going to enjoy this.
It wasn’t unusual for me to go out drinking with everyone from work, but tonight, I hadn’t felt like being social. Just drunk. So, here I was—beer in hand, buzz en route.
I scanned the crowd just for something to do. Most of the guys here were looking to hook up and get laid. This was a meat market if there ever was one, kind of like the places up the street where the straight guys went.
That wasn’t me tonight. The thought of going through the pre-sex motions—getting someone’s attention, breaking the ice, working out logistics—all sounded exhausting. Even the thought of dancing to the annoying pop music blaring from the speakers made me tired.
This place had only been open a couple of months, filling in after the previous club—a dive bar that had smelled like stale beer and overcooked fries—had finally gone under. Some of the locals weren’t thrilled about the rainbow flags in the windows, and there’d been some snarling about it on base from some of the saltier old bastards who were still bitter over DADT being repealed, but there was definitely a portion of the population—on and off base—who liked the place. Personally, I was happy to have an openly gay bar nearby, especially one with decent beer. Win-win, especially on nights when I actually did want to get laid.
That could wait. Right now, I was here to drink until nothing else mattered.
The door opened, and for the hell of it, I turned.
And did a double take, my beer nearly slipping out of my hand.
Okay, so much for not wanting to get laid. Slack-jawed, I stared at the redhead who’d just come strolling in like he owned the place. He was fucking gorgeous. His cocky attitude was palpable from here. I liked that. A lot. Especially when it was coupled with that predatory gleam in his eyes as he scanned the room.
That was a guy who’d come here looking for a piece of ass. My mission to get shit-faced suddenly seemed a lot less important now that I had a growing erection with this man’s name all over it. And I didn’t even know what his name was.
Heads turned. At least half a dozen guys were watching him, sizing him up, and my competitive side was immediately awake.
Grab him quick before somebody else does!
When he reached the bar, I slid off my barstool, beer in hand, and headed his way.
I was no more than three feet away when he turned to me, and I nearly stumbled. Was it the lighting? Or were his eyes really that dark? And who the hell cared?
Mouth suddenly dry, I stepped closer and pressed my elbow onto the bar. “Hi.”
“Hi.” He almost sounded shy, but his eyes gave him away. Coy, maybe, but this guy didn’t have a shy bone in his body.
I took a sip to moisten my mouth, then tilted the glass toward the bartender. “Can I buy you a drink?”
“Yes, you can.” The redhead looked me up and down in the most deliciously lewd way, and met my eyes again. “Or tell me you bottom, and we can skip all that and get out of here.”
I gulped. “I’m a . . .” Words. Come on. English. “Vers.”
“Even better.” As he extended his hand, he grinned, revealing perfect teeth that really needed to be sinking into my shoulder right about now. “Anthony.”
It took me a second to remember what the protocol was here, but I finally shook his hand. “Noah.”
“Noah.” He said it like he was trying it on. Seeing how it fit in his mouth. Oh man, I was so glad I’d decided to come here tonight instead of hanging with coworkers or drinking at home alone.
“You’re very, uh . . .” I cleared my throat, “direct.”
“I am. Thing is, I’m not in town for very long, so if I’m going to hook up, there’s no point in wasting time playing games.” He grinned again and sidled closer to me, almost tucking himself up against my body. “And I do want to get out of here, but now I kind of want to see what you’re like on the dance floor too.”
I laughed. “If you’re expecting anything that belongs on YouTube, you’re going to be disappointed.”
“Not YouTube.” He shamelessly curved a hand over my upper thigh. “More like YouPorn.”
Sweet. Mother. Of God.
I took another quick drink because my mouth had gone dry again. “What are we waiting for, then?”
“You tell me.” He nodded at the glass in my hand. “Whenever you’re ready, darlin’.”
There wasn’t much left—one swallow and it was gone. For a split second, I lamented that I wouldn’t be continuing with my plan to spend the rest of the evening in a comfortable haze, but Anthony’s eyes were enough to yank me from that train of thought in a hurry. I could drink tomorrow. Beer was always available, but guys like Anthony? They didn’t come along very often.
I pushed the empty glass away and motioned toward the dance floor. With a grin, he took my hand and led me away from the bar.
As he walked ahead, I gave him another up-down look. He was shorter than me and definitely slimmer in the shoulders. He wasn’t one of those guys who was so small he’d turn sideways and disappear, but there wasn’t much to him. Something told me that didn’t mean he was delicate or breakable, though. Wiry, lean, and powerful, with I dare you to fuck with me eyes. Which for some reason turned me on like crazy tonight.
The dance floor was smaller than it should’ve been, so even though this was a weeknight, the area was already getting crowded. Good thing we didn’t need much space. Wasn’t like either of us wanted a whole lot of breathing room.
Since he’d been so obviously toppy, I was surprised when Anthony turned around and pressed back against me. Not that I was going to argue, especially as I slid my hands over his hips and he squirmed in my grasp. I’d let him decide who was on top tonight. As long as we wound up naked, I didn’t care, because I had a feeling this man would find ways to make me come that I’d never even fantasized about.
I’d had a hard-on since before we’d left the bar, and there was no pretending I didn’t have it now. Not with that small, gorgeous ass grinding against it in time with the music that was suddenly not so annoying. He was one of those gay men who’d apparently been blessed with a natural ability to dance without looking like an idiot. Or, hell, maybe he did look like an idiot, but I was looking at him through fuck me–colored glasses, and everything he did was hot.
His shoulders rubbed my chest. I couldn’t resist nuzzling the side of his neck, pulling in a breath of his cologne or aftershave or whatever the fuck it was. Good, that was what it was. Artificial scents didn’t usually do much for me, but this one hit me like a strong drink. Maybe it wasn’t the cologne itself. Maybe it was the fact that my face was this close to his neck, close enough I could breathe him in. Close enough I could kiss his skin. Or bite it.
Oh Jesus. The thought of him tensing and shivering at the sting of teeth was almost irresistible.
I glanced around. Did I dare? I hadn’t seen any faces from work here. No one I recognized from NAS Adams. Still, all it would take was a surreptitious camera phone, and this would be all over the base. Then again, none of the things I’d done while shit-faced had made it onto social media, and people in gay bars near the base seemed to be reasonably discreet anyway.
But, in that moment, it didn’t matter. With Anthony’s hands sliding down my hips, and his body pushed up against mine while my erection throbbed between us, I really didn’t care about anything.
So I bit the side of his neck. Not hard enough to bruise or break the skin, but hard enough he damn sure felt it.
Even the deafening music wasn’t enough to drown out the ragged moan that escaped his lips as he shuddered.
“Like that?” I murmured in his ear. More like shouted, since the music was so loud.
“Fuck.” He was rubbing so hard on my cock now, it was a wonder the friction didn’t make our clothes disintegrate. “You like to leave marks, don’t you?”
I leaned down again and kissed the spot I’d nipped. “Maybe.”
“So I’m waking up tomorrow with teeth marks all over me?”
My turn to shudder. “You always this direct with people?”
“Says the man who just bit me.”
“To be fair—” I nibbled his earlobe “—you started it.”
“Yeah, I did. And to answer your question . . .” He craned his neck, which meant leaning into me and resting the back of his head on my shoulder. “When I haven’t been laid in too long? You better believe it.”
“You haven’t?” I slipped my fingers between his belt and his pants. “That’s a crying shame.”
“You’re telling me.” He let his lips brush my neck. “Think you can handle a boy like me when he needs it this bad?”
I shivered hard, and there was no way he didn’t feel it, especially not when he laughed and wriggled his ass against my cock. “Didn’t you say something about getting out of here?”
Anthony licked his lips. “Where do you think we should go?”
“My place is about ten minutes from here.”
“And why aren’t we in your bed yet?”
I leaned down and pressed a kiss to the side of his throat. “You tell me.”