Authors: ML Skye
Tags: #science fiction adventure erotic romance
"He's sorry, you know?"
Jason snorted. "Yeah, he is. Which is why he didn't come with you."
Chloe shook her head. "No, he didn't come with me because I asked him not to."
Jason had inclined his head. "So he just sends you out—alone—to soothe his pissed off brother. What a prize." And he needed to shut up. Chloe would think he'd gone completely insane.
Chloe had a very angry look on her face. "Marc knows better than to try and argue with me when I set my mind on something. He wouldn't try to stop me, no matter how pissed off you are."
Jason had all but snarled. "Really? Why the hell not?"
Chloe shouted back. "Because I'm a soldier, just like you two. I don't need backup."
Jason scoffed. "Whatever." He turned away, ignoring Chloe.
She gave Jason a considering look. "He's right about you."
Jason laughed. "Right about what? That I'm a stupid moron who falls for anything?"
Chloe tilted her head to one side. "There is that. But he also said you're a stand-up guy." She laid her hand on his forearm. "Being pissed off on my behalf—without knowing or meeting me—demonstrated his point nicely. Thank you."
Jason shook her hand away. "It also capped off the evening's entertainment for Marc. He gets a lap dance
has fun watching me make an ass out of myself."
Chloe sighed. "I went along with it. If you're mad at him, you should be mad at me, too."
Of course, she'd gone along with it.
Oddly disappointed, Jason skirted the issue. "Why are you here?"
Chloe smiled. "To apologize. Marc and I get carried away sometimes in the name of so-called fun. Occasionally, someone gets hurt. I'm not proud of that fact."
Jason didn't accept or reject her apology. Instead, he asked a question. "Okay, tell me this. Was the lap dance your idea, or did Marc put you up to it?"
Chloe pondered a moment. "He thought it would be amusing to see the look on your face." She grimaced. "I kinda agreed."
Jason blew out a heavy breath. "Well, that's just great. You two are perfect for each other." The light finally turned green, and Jace stepped toward the curb.
He couldn't wait to get the hell back to base.
Chloe's strong grip stopped him. "Look, it was a shitty thing to do." She let go of his arm. "Let's start over. Come to dinner tomorrow." She shrugged. "I can't cook for crap, but I know the best takeout places in town."
Jason didn't know if it would be a good idea to spend time with Marc right then, but he found himself relenting and accepting her invitation. "I like spicy ethnic foods."
Chloe's laughter rang out. "The kind Marc hates. Good choice. Stop by around seven. You know the address, right?"
Jason nodded and stepped onto the crosswalk.
Chloe lifted her hand in farewell and turned to head back to the club.
Dinner had gone off without any harsh words between the brothers. Marc behaved and kept his mouth shut about the incident the night before. Jason managed to forge a friendship with Chloe—having flying in common broke any remaining ice. And if Jason wondered sometimes what she saw in Marc, he kept it to himself.
Probably a good thing. Chloe freely admitted her own faults. Said her middle name should've been 'impulsive'.
But in a weird way, she helped keep Marc grounded. As grounded as he could be anyway.
The problem with Marc? His young age. Mentally, anyway. Sometimes, Jason thought Marc too immature for a relationship, but what did he know? He couldn't find anyone who spurred his interest enough to ask for a second date.
Only two years separated him from his brother, but there were times Marc acted like it could be decades. Brash and charming, Marc's bravado fooled almost everyone. Until he didn't get his way. His childishness always reared its ugly head when that happened.
Marc thought the world owed him something. That it should fall at his feet and thank him for being… well, Marc. Chloe did a lot to disabuse his brother of that notion. She didn't take Marc's bullshit when he got smacked down. For that reason alone, she proved to be great for his brother.
Jace had no reason to be morose about it. Not really. By thinking about Marc and Chloe, he could put off trying to decide what to do with his own life. Leaving the military would kick up a bunch of backlash. His dad still maintained active military status, even though he could retire with full pension and all the benefits that went with it.
If Jason chose to leave, his dad would lose his shit. And Marc would take whatever track the elder McIvey decided on. And honestly, Jason didn't know if he wanted civilian life. He liked the structure and rules involved with his job. They acted as a tether, kept him grounded.
But the prospect of creative freedom held great appeal, too. The not knowing for sure what he wanted… not so much.
God, he should be committed.
"Yo, Jace? Where'd you go, man?" Jagger's voice pulled him from his thoughts.
Jason glanced over and noticed the guys all gathered by the door.
Jagger lifted a brow. "We're ready to head out. You coming?"
Jace waved them off. "Nah. I'm not ready to take off yet. I'll take a cab back to the apartment." He could actually walk, but he didn't need the guys to know that. He kept the location of his apartment to himself.
His boisterous mates left and he finished his shot. Still too keyed up to head for home, Jace exited the bar and ambled up the road for two blocks, then turned and continued along the next block until he arrived at his second favorite pub in town.
He'd never shared the information with his team… it came in handy on occasion to have a little place tucked away that no one knew about. He made his way to the crowded bar, grabbed a vacant stool, and ordered another shot.
Lifting the glass, he made a silent toast.
To figuring shit out.
Tossing back the liquid, he relished the strong burn that slid down his throat.
Maybe if he drank enough, the answers would come to him.
Chloe couldn't shake the itchy feeling that hummed in her blood. She hadn't been so tightly strung since she took her final flight test. It made her a little insane.
All because she thought she knew why Marc had returned home. If he planned what she suspected, well… she shook off the thought. She'd wait and see if she'd called it right when Marc returned. Then she'd figure out if she could handle the challenge.
While she worked on her fourth shot, a guy approached and struck up a conversation. He introduced himself as Max. Chloe knew the type… snobby college boy always hanging out with a gang of friends… unless he got lucky. She didn't have the patience to be hit on but spoke casually, being careful not to express an interest. After downing her shot, she ordered another, then excused herself to throw darts.
She broke in on a loner named Charlie, asking if she could join him. Charlie slid his gaze toward Max and his buddies but shrugged and allowed her to play. Midway through the second round of darts, she had just finished her sixth shot when Max cut in and asked her competitor if he could finish the game. Charlie took one look at Max—about twice his size—nodded to Chloe, and ducked out.
Chloe had liked Charlie. A funny guy and only interested in throwing darts, their game had made her forget the nervous tension. The edginess returned when Max loomed back in her personal space. Chloe signaled the bartender for two more shots, deciding she'd play things loose until Max pushed her too hard.
Then she'd push back.
His loud and raucous gang of friends held court in a corner booth. Chloe rolled her eyes and downed another drink. She rebuffed Max's attempts at conversation and focused solely on the game. Unhappy she all but ignored him, Max upped the ante by trying to distract her when her turn came around. Chloe smirked or sneered every time he said something to her or about her. Insults did
faze her. She got used to deflecting them in basic.
What did happen to rub her wrong? When someone grabbed her from behind and put their hands anyplace on her body. The thing that could send her around the bend? When their hands ended up on the front of her just below her shoulders. Chloe might be well on her way to being stupid drunk, but when Max's paws landed in the vicinity of her breasts, it didn't take her two seconds to respond. Rearing her head back, she cracked him just under his chin, then grabbed one of his hands and flipped him over.
Stepping back, she looked down and yelled, "Come on. Get up." With upturned hands, she made a 'come get me' motion, then loosened her stance when Max started to rise.
Focused on him and still seeing red, she didn't notice his friends coming in their direction.
Before Max even had a chance to completely stand up, she punched him in the face and sent him sprawling. "You think it's all right to just grab what you want?" Keyed up and spoiling for more, she grabbed his arm and pulled him to his feet. "Never had anyone fight back?" Not waiting for an answer, her fist found his gut. She didn't wince from hitting solid muscle, just waited for him to make a move.
It took Max a dazed minute to realize Chloe didn't count as some college-bound bimbo, but as a warrior instead. But it probably let him off the hook for what he pulled next.
He stood up straight, noticed his backup on the way and took a swing, his fist connecting with her chin. "Bitch… you just bought yourself a whole lotta trouble."
Chloe's head snapped back, but she'd been hit harder in sparring matches. She recovered quickly, to Max's surprise.
Her lips curved upward. "Bring it on, asshole." Her palms curled up into fists when she noticed his pack of buddies on their way over.
They formed something of a square around Chloe and Max, making sure she couldn't duck out.
She paused a moment, then heaved out a breath. "Right. Standard asshattery. No problem." She sneered in Max's direction, took off at a run, and drove her shoulder into his midsection, sending him back into the wall.
He slumped to the floor but didn't stay down.
Chloe turned and swung at Max again, considering the fight game-on. So wrapped up in trying to knock him out and dodging his blows, she almost missed the fact the patrons were gathering around to witness the spectacle.
* * * *
Well on his way to being inebriated, Jason ordered another double shot. He choked it down in surprise when he glanced up to find his brother's girlfriend ramming her head into a guy standing behind her. He didn't doubt Chloe could handle herself, but after quickly scanning the bar and seeing the foursome blocking her way out, he made his way through the growing crowd to lean against the wall, drink in hand. He wanted to get a handle on the situation before he tried to intervene. And figure out why no one bothered to step in.
It didn't take long to find an answer.
"Looks like Mad Max is at it again." One of the patrons shook his head.
Jace cocked his head, trying to hear the conversation.
"Yep. Too bad his band of reprobates never gets their due," another guy chimed in.
The other man snorted. "Hell, no. Not when their parents pretty much have a lock on the police department, city council, and two seats in the senatorial delegation."
Jason blew out a harsh breath. Pissed off anyone would beat on a woman, he got angrier no one had the balls to lift a hand to help, regardless of the potential fallout. He'd known Chloe long enough to wait a few more moments. She wouldn't welcome a distraction… at least not yet. But soon. She put up a good fight but had to be getting weary.
When she finally turned in his direction, he lifted two fingers in a salute. "Hey, Chloe. Having fun?" He might sound nonchalant, but he'd be ready for action. Even when halfway drunk, his eyes were taking in the position of her opponent and his buddies.
Chloe seemed to not know whether she should be pissed or throw her arms around him.
Grabbing Max by the collar, she acknowledged Jason. "Jace… fancy meeting you here." She tossed Max in the direction of a table, and he stayed down.
Jason pushed away from the wall when Max kicked out and swept Chloe off her feet, sending her sprawling. Downing his shot, he set the glass on another table and walked toward the fracas.
Keeping his voice casual, he asked, "Where's Marc?" Jason didn't join in… but he kept the other four idiots in his line of sight.
Chloe scooped herself up off the floor. "At your mom's." Brushing off her jeans, she added. "I'm flying solo tonight."
Okay, Marc wouldn't be providing backup, and he had a good notion how the fight got started.
Jason didn't get a chance to respond. Max got back up, and his friends moved in, tightening the barrier around Chloe. She spun around and realized she had no place to go. With a well-placed kick, she sent Max sprawling again. His momentum knocked one of the other men into a chair, and Max crashed into a table.
Chloe put her back to the wall and faced the remaining three guys, who blocked her exit.
Her energy level seemed to soar. "What are you doing here?"
She kept her eyes on the advancing group but directed her words to Jason. He wondered if the goons were too drunk to realize she had someone to back her up or just didn't care. Jason swung around behind the guys and slowly followed their progress.
He glanced toward Chloe. "Test flights on base." He kept the answer short, not liking how Chloe inched back toward the corner.
* * * *
Max's trio of friends cut off any angle for her to escape, and Max recovered enough to start making his way toward her.
She kept her cool and resumed talking to Jason. "Yeah… watched 'em earlier. Great flying."
Max cut through a small space and snarled. "Do you have any idea who I am?"
Chloe shrugged. "A dickhead named Max?" Chloe flicked a glance toward Jace.
Max growled and threw a punch.
Chloe ducked and looked up in Jason's direction. "Little help here?" She stood back up, and Max's fist connected with her jaw, her head smacking back against the wall.