Personally, I’m a huge fan of this scene because unless you’ve ever gotten your fourth point of contact gouged out by a full bird colonel, this is as close as you’ll ever get (yes something along these lines has happened to me at multiple points in my military career. No, I’ve never burned down a large portion of Fort Hood).
So here goes! Enjoy!
Three years and two deployments later
Claire Montoya stood at the position of attention looking at a point over the top of her brigade commander’s head and the smoke coming out of his ears. Okay maybe that wasn’t exactly true but Claire was trying to distract herself.
Otherwise, she might just piss her pants.
She’d had ass chewing before. Epic ass chewings. But never like this. Never this quiet fury mixed with utter disappointment from a man Claire admired and looked up to. He’d always been hard on her but she’d always performed. Always made him proud of her.
Now? Now she was ashamed. And humiliated because that Evan Loehr stood off to one side, looking completely self-righteous. She could not believe she’d ever thought kissing him was even remotely close to a good idea. The smug bastard had turned her in.
She should know better by now. Three years and two deployments had shown her exactly what Evan Loehr was made of. How could he stand there, looking so smug knowing he turned in one of his former platoon sergeants? Who knew Captain America was such a prick?
He was everything Claire wasn’t and the bastard made sure she knew it every time she walked into the room. He never laughed. He never took risks. He wouldn’t deviate from the plan if it meant he pissed down his own leg instead of veering off to find a latrine. How had the same war taught them both such dramatically different lessons?
Claire took a deep breath and tried to find the words to explain, in very simple sentences, the epic disaster at the weapons range earlier that day. “Sir, I had the wrong ammunition. It was my assessment that it was more important to get the soldiers qualified on their weapons than to worry about some civilian employee shutting us down because of the risk the tracer rounds held.”
There was that smoke again. Accompanied by a dark shade of purple creeping up Colonel Richter’s neck. It would probably be a bad time to ask him if he’s taken his blood pressure medication. Then again, he never really appreciated her sense of humor. Probably better to keep that question to herself.
“So you and the other Wonder Twin set Clear Creek Rifle Alpha machine gun range on fire because your assessment was that the troops needed to fire more than we needed to oh, I don’t know, not burn down Fort Hood?” His voice was deadly calm.
Claire felt two inches tall and covered in slime. Next to her, Sergeant First Class Reza Iaconelli, a man who had been her partner in crime since Claire had been a private more than a decade ago, shifted uncomfortably. The movement drew Colonel Richter’s gaze and his anger.
“Sarn’t Iaconelli, I’ve known you a long time and you’ve pulled some stupid stunts in the past but this is pretty much the dumbest thing you’ve ever done. What, were you drunk?” Colonel Richter shook his head and held up a hand. “Don’t answer that.” He took a deep breath. “I can’t believe I’ve got to do this.” He pinched the bridge of his nose then jabbed his index finger in their direction. “You two are going to Fort Carson. And you better not do anything to discredit this brigade or I will hang the both of you.”
Claire opened her mouth to argue. She had plans right here at Fort Hood. Plans that did not involve freezing to death in the dead of winter in Colorado Springs.
Colonel Richter slammed his hand on the desk, cutting off whatever she’d been about to say. “Not a word, Captain. I tolerate your flaws because you’re a natural tactician, but I have had it with your constant cowboy antics. You will go to Colorado and you will get our support company ready to deploy with the Palehorse Brigade and you will adhere to the plan for once in your life or I will personally end your military career. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes sir.” Her voice didn’t waiver but it was a close thing. Next to Colonel Richter, Evan lifted his chin. The only other sign of life was the slight flare of his nostrils as he inhaled slowly. Anger and humiliation wrestled in her belly at being dressed down in front of Evan.
“And you.” Colonel Richter turned his cold blue eyes on Reza. “You’re lucky to still be in the army.”
“Thank you, sir,” Reza said quietly. Claire wanted to punch him. Now was not the time for sarcasm.
Colonel Richter let the comment slide. “There are limits to what I’m willing to overlook. Do I need to say anything else?”
Beside her, Reza stiffened slightly. “No sir.”
In sync, she and Reza saluted and executed a rigid left face and marched from the office. The door closed quietly behind them.
“Well, that was fun,” she said as they walked down the hallway. “I don’t know about you but I lost about five pounds off my ass.”
“Meh. You’ve taken worse. Remember Iraq?”
Yeah, she remembered. That ass chewing had almost ended in court martial. Battalion commanders didn’t generally approve of captains violating orders in the middle of a battle. Good times. She looked up at Reza. He might not be standing there today if she had obeyed those orders. It was worth it then and it was worth it now.
Reza looked down at her. He’d been her rock her entire career and sure enough, he’d stood by her today. That kind of loyalty was hard to find. Claire didn’t do trust. Not easily anyway. The war had shown her too many people’s true colors.
But Reza had always been stalwart. No matter what.
“So. Looks like we’re going to Fort Carson,” he said.
“Pack your sweater,” Claire muttered. She was going to need more than her cold weather gear. She needed a full blown miracle because if Colonel Richter said he would end her career, he wasn’t kidding. She was like a cat on her last life.
And she was was well and truly screwed because for an officer, Claire was terrible at following instructions.
“Has the fire been contained yet, Loehr?” Colonel Richter asked once the door closed behind Claire and Iaconelli.
How had that woman manage to make it through Officer Candidate School, let alone the last two deployments unscathed? If she knew the inside of a single Army regulation, he’d eat his Stetson. She had a mouth that could make an infantryman blush and Evan wondered if he’d ever stop thinking of her mouth on his all those nights ago. The echo of that kiss and the epic mistake it had turned out to be still stung sharply. It was a memory he’d been unable to banish.
He’d never admit to a living soul that seeing her standing there, soot marking her cheek, looking disheveled and defiant aroused a deep longing inside him. One he’d been ignoring since that first – and only – kiss.
Then there was her whole lack of following orders thing. She’d driven him just this side of bat shit crazy when they’d been deployed this last time. She did what she wanted. Evan simply didn’t work that way. He could not fathom disobeying orders. Or lying.
Or burning down half of Fort Hood. Which took a lot considering Fort Hood was the largest military installation in the free world. He could not believe the brigade commander hadn’t fired half the dynamic duo yet. Even after today. But in a private part of his heart, he admired her guts, her willingness to take risks. He simply could not operate the way she did. Full speed ahead and damn the consequences.
There were always consequences.
“Sir, Range Control called right before we came in. They’ve contained the fire.”
“Anyone else hurt?”
“No reports of further casualties.”
Colonel Richter rubbed his hand over his jaw and mouth. “Three months home from combat and we’re still sending troopers to the hospital,” he murmured.
Evan said nothing, the weight of the non combat injuries weighing on him despite not being a company commander any longer. He’d done his time. That didn’t mean he still didn’t miss leading soldiers.
“Sir, what’s going on in Colorado?” he asked after a moment.
As quickly as it had appeared, the thoughtful mood passed and Colonel Richter pinned him with a hard look. “Pack your gear. You’re in charge of this little boondoggle.”
Evan’s guts clenched and he swallowed the sudden dryness in his mouth. He did not want to go to Colorado. Ever again. “Sir?”
“Because our support company was the first group back from our deployment, they’re being attached to Palehorse Brigade. They’re deploying in less than 90 days. You’re going to oversee their training to make sure they’re good to go before they ship out.”
Evan simply stared, unable to give voice to the concerns slamming through his brain. Sadly, it looked like he needed to work on his poker face because Colonel Richter pinned him with a hard look and said, “What’s on your mind, son?”
Evan searched for the right words. “I’m worried about Captain Montoya on the mission, sir.”
Colonel Richter nodded thoughtfully. “Claire is the best officer for evaluating their convoy techniques and you know it. Maybe, instead of talking to her like she’s one of your lieutenants, if you treated her like a peer, you two could stop arguing all the damn time and get some work done.”
Evan opened his mouth to argue the point then snapped it shut abruptly. They may have the same rank on their chest but she was not his peer. No, he did not have dark, primal fantasies about his peer. And he was lying to himself. He didn’t want to talk tactics with her. He wanted something else entirely from Claire Montoya. But he’d never, ever act on that impulse and he kept his thoughts to himself. To argue that with his brigade commander was just…childish. He breathed deeply. “Roger, sir. I’ll get the rest of the order from Major MacLean, sir.”
“Good man, Loehr. I need you to keep the Wonder Twins out of trouble. They’re a damn good team but they need guidance. Keep them from blowing anything up or getting someone hurt. Colonel Bill Danvers is the brigade commander down there and when I say he’s risk averse, I mean he won’t take a piss without a risk assessment.”
Which meant Colonel Danvers was a coward, but Evan didn’t say that out loud either. There were things one simply did not say to full bird colonels.
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Jessica Scott returns with an all-new contemporary eBook original romance, following last fall’s release of her sizzling debut novel Because of You.He plays by the rules, she’s not afraid to break them. Now these two strong-willed army captains will prove that opposites attract . . .
A by-the-book captain with a West Point background, Captain Evan Loehr refuses to mix business with pleasure—except for an unguarded instance years ago when he succumbed to the deep sensuality of redheaded beauty Claire Montoya. From that moment on, though, Evan has been at odds with her, through two deployments to Iraq and back again. But when he is asked to train a team prepping for combat alongside Claire, battle-worn Evan is in for the fight of his life.
Strong, gutsy, and loyal, Captain Claire Montoya has worked hard to earn the rank on her chest. In Evan, Claire sees a rigid officer who puts the rules before everything else—including his people. When the mission forces them together, Claire soon discovers that there is more to Evan than meets the eye.
He’s more than the rank on his chest; he’s a man with dark secrets and deep longings. For all their differences, Evan and Claire share two crucial passions: their country and each other.
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Jessica Scott is a career army officer, mother of two daughters, three cats, three dogs and two escape-artists hamsters, wife to a career NCO and wrangler of all things stuffed and fluffy. She has commanded two companies, served in Germany, Korea, Fort Hood and Iraq, and been lucky not to get fired. She is a terrible cook and an even worse housekeeper, but she’s a pretty good shot with her assigned weapon. Somehow, her children are pretty well adjusted and her husband still loves her, despite burned water and a messy house.