Authors: ML Skye
Tags: #science fiction adventure erotic romance
Ha. More like snake-bit. "Um, yeah. You couldn't be more wrong."
Deuce pushed harder. "I don't think so, bro. You went for a hot blonde. That's not SOP for you."
Jace sniffed. "How do you know she's not the one?"
Deuce made a face. "Bro, you got on the plane looking like you'd been through a battle. No way did the perky tits and nice ass on that hot blonde fuck with your head."
Jace had to give Euceks credit. "Yeah, okay. She's not the one."
Deuce studied Jace for a moment. "Didn't think so. Your latest and greatest is back home."
Jace wouldn't confirm or deny. He didn't really want to talk about Chloe.
Deuce offered advice anyway. "Dude, take the post. The one we're not supposed to know about. You'd be a good fit there."
Jace shrugged. "Maybe. But I shouldn't go back. I should stay right here and finish my billet."
Deuce snorted. "Jace, man. Go home. Get the girl."
Right. Jace would steal her right out from under his brother's nose. Or after he pulled Marc off her. The thought made him sick.
He sighed. "It's not that simple, man."
Deuce frowned. "Sure, it is. Boy meets girl. Boy gets girl. They live happily ever after."
Jace wondered how such a highly skilled pilot could boil life down to fairy tale clichés.
He shook his head. "Not this time. The lady's already taken."
Deuce opened his mouth, then snapped it shut again. "Well, shit."
Jace chuckled. "Exactly."
A long moment of silence stretched out.
Deuce jerked his head back and forth. "No. Not exactly. If she hooked up with you, things can't be all rainbows and rings of joy." He shot Jace a sideways glance. "Unless she's the type."
Jace set him straight. "She's not."
Deuce leaned back again. "Then it really
simple. You need to find out if she's actually taken or just marking time until the right guy comes along."
Holy hell. Deuce needed to shut the fuck up before he had Jason thinking about shit better left alone.
Deuce shrugged. "Look. At least find out if there's a shot."
Jace considered the idea. "Yeah, maybe I will." When had Deuce become so wise?
Euceks snickered. "And hey, if you find out she's not the one, we'll get you propped back in the saddle again… even if we have to tie you to it and slap the horse's ass to get you moving."
Now that sounded like the Deuce Jace knew and loved. "Um, thanks. I think."
Deuce rose. "You know it." He clapped Jace on the shoulder. "By the way. I'll fill the guys in. Tell them to back off for a while." He started for the door. "Let you get your head on straight again."
Jace quirked a smile. "You know what, Deuce. You're all right."
Euceks grinned. "I know. Try not to forget it, okay?"
Jace laughed. He might be the most suck-ass sibling ever, but he had great friends.
Chloe couldn't stand the tension she'd created. Walking into the flat after work, her toxic mood permeated everything. Marc sprawled on the couch, flipping through channels, but he shut the screen off when she set the carryout bags on the counter. He rose and made his way to the kitchen, grabbing plates and silverware. He'd run the gamut over the past week going from 'what the fuck' to 'shit just got real' before finally settling on 'wait and see' mode.
She dished the food onto the plates and sat down to eat at the island bar. Marc got a beer from the fridge and pulled a bottle of wine from the rack. He opened it and poured a glass for her before dropping onto the stool next to hers.
Chloe tried to start a neutral conversation. "Any word on your former CO? He make it back home and get settled?"
Marc grabbed his beer and took a long drink. "Seriously, Chloe? You've barely spoken since I mentioned marriage except to snap my head off or hand my ass to me, and now you want to talk about my CO? Like there's nothing else more important?"
She bit back a sigh. "Not really, but I'm trying here, Marc."
He snorted. "Really? Is that what you call climbing the walls?" His voice rose, and he stopped, inhaling deeply before continuing. "I asked a simple question, Chlo."
Chloe shook her head. "It doesn't have a simple answer." She'd put off a harder confrontation as long as she could. "It's not just yes or no, Marc. Have you thought about five years from now? Ten? Twenty?" She dropped her fork on the plate and leaned back against the chair. "Because that's what has me climbing the walls as you put it." She got up and started clearing the bar. "You throw out a glib 'wanna get hitched', which regardless of the juvenile nature still means committing our lives to each other." She stopped on the way to the sink. "Oh, wait. I forgot. Nothing lasts forever, right, babe?" The dishes clattered when she dumped them in drainer.
Marc huffed out a breath. "Wow. Way to twist my words, Chlo." He got up and trashed the takeout boxes. "I can't take them back, so what do you want here?"
Chloe threw up her hands. "I want you to think, Marc. Because that's what I've been doing."
"What am I supposed to think about?"
She twisted the knob on the sink, rinsing the plates. "Oh, argh, Marc. The future. What you want from life. What you want from me. Hell, I don't care, but it's time to figure it out." She lowered her voice. "Because everything you want doesn't just magically appear." She turned the water off and dried her hands. "You have to realize that at some point." Grabbing her keys, she headed for the door.
Marc followed. "You're leaving now? Where are you going?"
"For a drive. To think." She put her hand on the knob.
"Maybe you're thinking too much, Chlo." He turned and started for the living room.
She paused. "One of us has to, Marc." Yanking the door open, she called back, "Don't wait up."
Apparently, she'd adopted a new catchphrase.
* * * *
Jace holed up in an empty briefing room and tested the flight program for the simulators. The tedious work let his brain shuffle through the scenarios, yet gave him time to ponder. The chat with Deuce had helped. Jace focused in on how things might play out. He'd cause friction if he stayed. The guys wouldn't get why he couldn't be their even number man anymore. How could they, when he didn't understand the restless, almost constant champing at the bit feeling he'd had lately? The unit needed to be cohesive, and maybe he'd grown beyond being a test pilot. He'd definitely outlived the need for the 'hangars'.
He desired something more out of life.
Damn Chloe for making him wish he had her.
Jace stopped working and leaned back. He couldn't have real feelings for Chloe. Not the true, deep emotional ones. Okay, he could, but he had,
, get the hell over them. She'd become the poster girl for what he wanted from a future partner. And he had to chalk it up to making a connection with her, a solid one, when he'd needed it.
Why the hell had he let things go so far? He couldn't blame it on the alcohol, not really. Or the adrenaline rush from the brawl. If he had to be honest, he'd acted on the attraction he'd had from the moment they met. She might have made the first move, but he let her lead him exactly where he wanted to go. It made him shit for a brother, and Jace would always carry that fact with him.
Especially if he took the temporary duty post until he decided if he wanted to muster out and accept the civilian contractor job. He leaned in the direction of doing something new. He'd still be able to fly and test planes. His old man might not be thrilled, but Jace figured he'd blow up and get over it. Hell, the elder McIvey could even end up enjoying the bragging rights if Jace helped design, too.
As for Chloe and Marc, Jace would figure out what to do if he got the assignment. He'd inevitably run into one or both on base, but he'd do his best to keep anything awkward from going down. Hell, maybe he'd discover the amazing night with Chloe had been a fluke, and they'd go back to the easy friendship they'd developed since they met.
Okay, probably wouldn't happen, but he could hope, right?
Hunkering back down, he finished the simulations and ejected the disc. Gathering up the others he'd completed, he rose, stretched out the kinks from sitting, and exited the briefing room. He made his way to his CO's quarters and rapped loudly on the hatch. Feeling pretty good about making at least one choice about his future, he blew out a long breath and greeted his commander when he opened the hatch.
"Sir. If you've got a few moments, I'd like to run something by you."
* * * *
Chloe rolled home just after four am. She had never left the car except to pee at a truck stop on the outskirts of nowhere. The drive hadn't done much to clear her head, but it had calmed her down.
She unlocked the door, expecting to see Marc zonked out on the couch, TV blaring.
Instead, she found the living room dark and quiet.
Shrugging, she tossed her jacket on the counter and kicked off her shoes. Padded quietly into the kitchen and poured a tall, icy cold glass of water. Lifting the tumbler to her forehead, she pressed the frigid surface against her skin.
It didn't tame the dull throb that pounded under her skull.
She tilted her head back and lowered the glass, drinking the clear fluid down in several heaping gulps. Finished, she turned and placed the cup in the sink. Heaving out a sigh, she headed for the bedroom, wondering what she'd say to Marc.
She didn't find him in bed. But he'd left a note on her pillow.
Crossing over the floor, she picked it up and read the brief missive.
Not sure what's going on with you, but I figured you needed some
Gonna hang at Winnow's for a couple of days.
Love you. Marc
The note slipped from Chloe's fingers, and she sank to the edge of the bed. God… how the hell did everything get so messed up? Flopping sideways, she gathered a pillow close and hugged it to her chest, tears burning the corners of her eyes.
She hated crying. Loathed it with a passion but couldn't seem to stem the flow. She had to decide. Did she really have feelings for Jason, or did she just need to compromise her expectations for a life with Marc?
Her biggest problem? When she imagined the future… she couldn't see anyone but Jace.
Finding sleep elusive after the flood of tears, Chloe grabbed a quick shower, then headed out to talk to the one person who might offer some solid advice. But standing outside in the crisp morning air, she questioned her sanity. No one else needed to get sucked into her mess.
Screw it. If nothing else, she'd feel a hell of a lot better if she spilled her guts. Raising her hand, she rapped on the solid wood surface.
The porch light lit up, and Rafael Ferenza pulled the door open. Dressed in battered fatigues, he blinked, clearly surprised to find her on his doorstep.
Chloe tried to smile. "Is that offer for coffee still open?"
Raf stepped back and let her enter.
Closing to door, he jerked his head toward the kitchen. "I'll get a pot started. Come on."
Chloe pulled a chair out and sat at the table.
Raf measured out the grounds and filled the coffeemaker with water. He hit the on button and joined her.
"Did you just want the coffee, or are you going talk about what's going on with you?"
Sucking in a deep breath, Chloe started with Marc leaving to go back home and didn't stop until she'd arrived at Raf's house. She left nothing out, confessing to the passionate encounter with Jace and her subsequent inability to decide if she wanted to marry Marc.
He heaved a sigh. "Sounds like it's shit or get time, Chlo."
She agreed. "I know, Raf, but it's not that easy."
"'Cause you're makin' it hard." He leaned back in his seat. "Do you love Marc?"
Chloe didn't want to hesitate, but she'd been asking herself that very question for too long now.
Rafael jerked his head back and forth. "Chloe, it's a simple question. And I know you think the answer is complicated, but you really just have to decide if you wanna spend the rest of your life with him… or if he's just a nice, comfortable habit you've grown used to."
He'd boiled it down to the bone. "I hate you sometimes. I really do." She didn't mean it, of course. "Geez, Raf. How do I know? I mean
Raf's lips quirked. "It all comes down to one basic thing, Chloe. Whose face do you picture when you think about ten years from now?"
She didn't even have to ponder. When she thought about the future, Jace stood front and center in her head.
Raf nodded. "And there's your answer. Maybe not the one you want, but you've got it."
Chloe slumped back in her chair. "Shit. This sucks." She amended her sentiment. "No, I suck." She met Raf's gaze. "How the hell do I tell him?"
Raf shook his head. "Oh no, I'm not touching that one." He leaned forward again. "But you'll figure it out. You've done the hard part."
Right. Somehow, that didn't make her feel much better.
* * * *
Jason entered the pilots' quarters for the last time and cleared his locker out, packing his gear. He'd had a good run with his squadron and had a feeling they'd be sending him off with the usual bottle of rum, which he'd be expected to open and down a shot of before passing it around to the rest of his crew. Jace's lips quirked. He had no doubt Jagger would lead the charge for the first drink.
Paul Jaginski must be part mind-reader because he entered quarters and plopped down on his bunk, two down from Jace's. "Deuce filled us in. You're really giving all this up to take a land job?"
Jace snorted. "Jag, I'll still be flying planes, just not from a space carrier. Hell, we spend three months a year flying planetary shows anyway. This won't be that different." He shoved his fatigues in his rucksack, then grabbed his socks.
Jagger shrugged. "True. But what if it doesn't work out with the woman?"