Chapter 1: Declan
I walked across the parking lot, my leather boots making virtually no sound as I zeroed in on my baby, a silver Nissan 370Z. It had been six long months since I had seen it. Hearing the click of the door unlocking settled an unease inside me. I unbuttoned my uniform shirt and tossed it onto the passenger seat.
I finally sank into the driver’s seat and sighed. My team had only been back on US soil a handful of hours after a fairly cut-and-dry deployment turned into anything but. Thanks to weather, terrain, bad intel, equipment malfunctions, hostiles, and injuries, our deployment lasted every single day of six months.
The inside of my car smelled stale. Sitting in the baking southern California summer heat was certainly to blame for that. I turned the key in the ignition and took a moment to enjoy the air, albeit hot and pungent, blowing on my face.
I plugged my phone in, allowing it to charge for a few minutes before I powered it on. The other guys had charged their phones as soon as they were handed back to us on the plane. They were all checking in with their families, their wives, and their girlfriends. I hadn’t seen my family since I’d moved in with the Scotts nine years earlier. Ty Scott had been my best friend since childhood and when my family situation had turned sour, his mom had been there to put my pieces back together.
I hadn’t spoken to my biological family since I moved into off-base housing when I was twenty. The only people I spent time with were my teammates, Ty—who’d lived with me for the last six years—and some of his friends from college. When I was deployed, the only texts I got were from Ty and his family.
My phone finally got enough charge to turn on and I saw hundreds of missed texts, almost all of them from Ty. I swear, the guy texted me at least twice a day, sometimes more. He always texted me to tell me if he was going somewhere, just in case we got home. After six years of living with me, he knew I could be gone for days, weeks, or months at a time whenever my team was called.
I found the last text time-stamped only a few hours earlier. He was headed to a bar that evening. I knew what that meant, so I pulled out of my parking space and instead of turning right toward our condo, I turned left toward downtown San Diego and the popular night clubs.
I knew Ty would be at Bump. It was his favorite gay bar in San Diego. Personally, the place always made me feel weird. I felt like a piece of meat up for grabs. It would have been easier to text Ty and tell him I was back and going home to sleep, but I wanted to surprise him, and I didn’t want to risk him walking into the house with a hookup. That shit was awkward, and yeah, been there, done that—more than once.
Thinking about it, I realized Ty hadn’t been bringing guys home much in the last few years—not that I was complaining. Then again, I spent a good portion of the year away from home and we had long ago decided to keep the finer details of our sex lives away from one another. Not that I had much of a sex life.
I found Bump almost by muscle memory and was able to find parking not even a block away. After paying the parking attendant, I headed down the block to the bar. After months in the jungle, I still wasn’t sure what day it was and it wasn’t until I saw the line stretched around the block, that I realized it was a Saturday night.
“Christ on a cracker,” I groaned when I saw the line. My idea to surprise my best friend was seeming less than likely. I wasn’t going to have the energy to wait in line for that long. I’d be asleep before I made it to the door.
“You looking to get in?” the bouncer asked, eyeing me up and down.
I shrugged. “I thought about it, but I forgot it’s Saturday night.”
The guy winked at me. “Come on, I’ll let you through. The guys inside will eat you up in that uniform.”
I groaned. I was obviously sleep deprived. I’d forgotten I was still in my work uniform, right down to my boots. Thankfully, the guy was giving me an in, so I pulled out my wallet and paid the cover charge. I opened the door and music poured out, causing me to wince at the assault to my eardrums.
Conversations stopped and eyes followed me as I made my way from the entrance to the bar. I wasn’t blind, I knew I had a nice body. Growing up in Oklahoma and working on the Scott ranch had given me well-defined, lean muscle when I was a teen. Now after eight years in the Navy and almost seven as a SEAL, I was a twenty-six-year-old with a chest and biceps that bulged under my t-shirts and powerful legs that filled out my uniform pants nicely. The thousands of squats I did at the gym and during training drills had given me a firm, round ass even I could appreciate.
I scanned the room, ignoring the offered drinks and requests to dance. I had one goal only, to find Ty. I spotted him by the bar, chatting with some tall, young guy who didn’t even look old enough to drink. Even in a crowded bar in San Diego, I could pick Ty Scott out without ever seeing his face. Like that mop of unruly blond hair that was uniquely Ty, so was his outfit of worn jeans that fit him like a glove, brown leather boots, and a white and black plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up past his elbows. He was, hands down, the best-looking guy in the bar.
I sighed and weaved my way toward them. The guy he was talking with looked even younger up close than he did from a distance. His face still showed residual acne marks and his muscles were barely visible through his tiny shirt. Ty may have been shorter than him, but the guy didn’t stand a chance with my best friend.
The growl that emanated from deep in my chest surprised even me. I could tell by the way the guy was flirting with Ty, he was looking for a quick fuck and that wasn’t what Ty wanted. Ty was looking for his prince charming and even from ten feet away, I could tell this guy wasn’t going to sweep Ty off his feet. Hell, the kid probably wouldn’t have been able to lift a spare tire. Ty deserved everything he wanted and more.
Where did that thought come from?
If I analyzed it enough, I would be able to admit where it came from. The same place in my soul that had been in love with Ty since we were teenagers. I buried those feelings for him when my parents kicked me out at seventeen, though lately, they never seemed to be far from the surface whenever Ty was around. I could feel how pinched my expression was as I walked up behind Ty. Of course, Ty never even registered my presence until the scrawny guy stopped talking to him and stared at me with wide eyes. Scrawny seemed so shocked I almost laughed, but then I remembered he was hitting on my best friend and my lips pursed.
Ty turned around to follow his companion’s wide-eyed gaze. It took all of a half second for his blue eyes to widen and for Ty to make a squealing sound that shouldn’t have been able to be produced by a man past puberty. That was all it took for my scowl to soften into a smile.
One second, Ty was standing with his arm resting on the bar, the next he was clinging to me like a monkey. Not only was I thankful for the four inches I had on Ty’s five-nine frame but also for the extra sixty or so pounds of muscle I worked hard to maintain, as Ty jumped up and wrapped his legs around me. I wrapped my arms around his back and smiled. After six hours in California, I finally felt like I’d made it home.
I put Ty down on the ground and he bounced slightly with excitement. “When did you get home?”
“A few hours ago. Haven’t even been back to our place yet,” I admitted. I hated having to yell to be heard over the music. I shot a glance at the guy standing behind Ty who seemed to cower slightly.
“Uh, I think I’m going to get out of here,” the twink said uncomfortably.
Ty managed to look embarrassed. “Oh, uh, yeah. Sorry. Maybe I’ll see you around.”
I rolled my eyes as the guy made a hasty retreat. If I wasn’t careful, I was going to end up giving away too much about my feelings toward Ty. Despite my ever-present attraction toward him, I didn’t know if I was ready to admit I was gay. I didn’t even know for sure that I was gay. How could I know if I’d never done anything with another guy? Yet, in a bar full of men who were offering to buy me drinks and dance with me, the only guy I had eyes for was Ty.
“What’s got you so scowly?”
I shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t know, really. But once the little thing who was hitting on Ty had left, I didn’t feel quite so unsettled. “I don’t know. I must just be tired.”
Ty finished his brightly colored drink and looked over at me. “Are you ready to head home?”
“God, yes, please.” I said, barely containing a yawn.