SAMPLE SUNDAY: Excerpt from “Crush (Insatiable: Book Three)”
Two Months Later
Early Saturday Morning
Leah stirring against him woke Paul up.
For a moment, while he was in that place between conscious awareness and his last dream (he’d been running scared about something) he didn’t know where he was or who she was. Then he remembered. He was at work, on the sofa in Edwards’ office. Leah was on the sofa with him.
When he’d fallen asleep Leah had been out on the flightline, taking her turn monitoring aircraft loading and refueling operations for the week-long base mobility exercise. Now she lay with her head at the other end of Edwards’ sofa, huddled against his legs.
So either she’d come back to the office early or he was late.
His watch read 3:06 a.m.
The mobility exercise required around-the-clock coverage, which meant that he, Edwards, Woodson and Leah had to work 12-hour shifts, two bodies on each shift. Edwards and Woodson had the day shift from 8:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. Paul and Leah had the overnight shift from 8:00 at night until 8:00 in the morning.
Paul decided to maximize his and Leah’s rest by splitting their work into two-hour shifts—one of them could rest or nap and be in the office to answer the phones while the other was out on base monitoring mobility operations. He’d lain down expecting Leah to wake him up for his turn to go out at 2:00 a.m. Instead she’d squeezed onto the couch with him and conked out. In her almost two years working for him they’d never had this much physical contact.
Nope, not good at all.
What the fuck was she thinking?
The lights in Edwards’ office were off, but enough illumination from the common area filtered through the closed blinds of the interior office window for him to see that Leah had taken off her boots and her ABU shirt, which she’d folded to use as a pillow.
This was too intimate for government work.
Not trying to be quiet or careful Paul got up. As he stood Leah stirred again and stretched. She arched her back and thrust out her chest and bent her legs up in a posture that reminded him of that Marilyn Monroe calendar pose—the one where she was lying naked on something red. That reminded him of something Woodson had joked about a while back, about Leah calling him into this office while she was on the sofa naked.
Coming out of her stretch, Leah gazed up at him and in a sleep-husky voice said, “Hey sleepyhead, do my feet smell or something? You didn’t need to get up.”
The fuck he didn’t, and for a couple of reasons.
Before he could ask the question Leah said, “The guys in Aerial Port said word came down to stop loading cargo. No more flights are going out because things are wrapping up. You looked so peaceful so I figured I’d let you sleep.”
“Did you verify what they said?”
Leah tilted her chin toward Edwards’ desk. “I printed out the latest SPIN.”
Paul scanned the special instruction from MAJCOM. As Leah said, the last movement wrapped up over an hour ago, and per headquarters directive the exercise would officially terminate at zero-six-hundred hours; 6:00 a.m.
So he and Leah had three hours to kill alone, with not much to do.
She was still lying on the sofa, watching him with those tropical sea eyes.
Back at his desk and out of her presence, away from her pretty face and those eyes and that body, Paul’s brain started working again. He didn’t care about Leah relaxing for the last few hours of the exercise. Hell, they’d just worked seven straight 12-hour days, and it was Saturday morning. So why the fuck hadn’t he just told her to go home? You know why, stupid motherfucker.
But it wasn’t going to happen. That’s why he’d gotten the hell out of Edwards’ office instead of hanging out in there with Leah on the sofa. Nothing was going to happen, but the vibe felt wrong. His mother always said that if something didn’t feel right, it probably wasn’t. And as far as issues between genders went, the Air Force said that if it felt wrong, you were already guilty. So he’d taken his ass out to his desk.
Paul was thinking that he could set his watch, put his head down on his desk and catch some Zs himself when Leah came out of Edwards’ office, yawning and stretching with her hands fisted behind her head and her hips swaying. The girl’s toned arms looked as tight and hard as marble, and with her arms back, the chest of her stretched-out tee-shirt looked ready to rip. She was still in her sock feet, too.
First she’d gotten on the sofa with him, and now she was walking around like she was chilling in her dorm room rather than being on duty in her workplace. And he was enjoying the show too much.
Okay, enough was enough.
“Hey, you can go home,” he said. “I’ve got it covered.”
Leah came out of her stretch and sashayed toward his desk. “So we’re playing that game again?” she asked.
“Remember that day you wanted to leave early to go see Valerie, but Sergeant Edwards wouldn’t let you go? Somebody had to be at work, and you let us go early, but we would’ve covered for you with Sergeant Edwards. Or at least I would’ve covered for you.”
“Pardon my French, but Sergeant Edwards can be an ass sometimes.”
Leah didn’t know that Edwards kept him at work that day because Val had showed up at the base to surprise him, and Edwards had been in on the surprise. He wasn’t going to tell Leah about that, not just because it wasn’t her business, but he preferred keeping his mind off Val as much as possible. After two months the pressure in his chest was gone, but in his place was a space that usually felt empty whenever she crossed his mind. “I think being an asshole is Edwards’ super power,” he said.
“Well, you’re a nice guy, Paul; definitely a better boss than him.”
Leah parked her hip on the corner of his desk. That was a new move, too. All of a sudden tonight she was getting real familiar.
“I guess that depends on who you ask,” he said.
“No really, you are. Most guys would take things the wrong way, you know?”
“Take what the wrong way?”
“Us snoozing on the sofa. Most guys couldn’t do that and not think it meant something else. So you’re definitely cool.”
If she knew that he’d been thinking about her on that sofa bare-assed naked she wouldn’t be so generous in her opinion. “You’re pretty cool too.”
If she was looking for him to take the conversation someplace else, it wasn’t going to happen. He had just under six months to go and he’d be a civilian again. He wasn’t going to fuck up now by making assumptions. “You’re a sharp troop,” he said. “If this is what you want to do long-term, you’ll go far. Edwards know that. Major Reed, too. You’d make Chief, no doubt.”
“Oh, I thought you meant I was cool on a personal level.”
“From what I know of you, you’re that, too. We were both tired, so you weren’t tripping about us getting some sleep.”
“Yeah well, if I didn’t think you’d be rebounding off Valerie I might not be so cool.”
Paul thought he could take that two ways. Either Leah meant she thought he might’ve made a move on her because he was looking to fill a hole left by his dead relationship, or she was saying that she might’ve made a move if she didn’t think his response would be more about Val than her. He decided to keep playing it safe and not lean over the edge. “We’re professionals. We’re cool. You’re a cool troop either way.”
“Actually, I’m pretty broken, I think.”
She smiled a smile that had no humor. “People think I’m one thing, but I’m really not.”
“Sometimes I feel like a fraud.”
“I don’t follow.”
“You know, people judge you on appearances and what you do, but that’s not who you are, not really. No one knows what I come from. It wasn’t all that great. It really wasn’t.”
Was she talking as a friend or as a subordinate who needed to unload? As her supervisor it was his responsibility to be attentive to personal issues that might affect the mission, and to offer advice or assistance. “Hey, anytime you want to talk, you can, you know?”
“Are you saying that as a friend or as my supervisor?”
“Both. I mean, whichever applies.”
“So what did you mean about being broken?”
“What? Oh, I meant you know…a broken family. People think I’m a military brat and my path was laid out for me to enlist and do well. But it wasn’t like that.”
“How was it?”
“My real father died when I was a kid. My mom waited a couple of years and married this Army guy, a captain. A couple of years after that, she died. So here’s this career Army guy being a single parent to a teenage girl, which he didn’t plan for. His way to manage being a single dad and raise me was to buy me stuff. He didn’t know what else to do with me, I guess. So I felt like an orphan with a bunch of crap I usually didn’t want or ask for. It was just a bunch of stuff, you know?”
“Yeah, material things don’t take the place of parental love, which is what a kid really needs.”
“You know what I really need?”
His heart had been beating a slow, jazzy snare drum rhythm. Now the bass drum kicked in. “What’s that?”
“Breakfast. How about when we’re off we go grab something to eat?”
“I thought you were tired.”
“I am. And when I’m in for good I’m gonna drop my clothes where I stand, crawl between the sheets and not get up until it’s time to come back here Monday. So I need to stuff myself first.”
Paul pictured Leah dropping her clothes and getting stuffed. In his imagination it had nothing to do with food. “Chow hall?”
“Not even. They’ve been open non-stop for a week and I’m not feeling eating some exhausted cook’s concoction. How about Cracker Barrel? It can be our end of mobility exercise celebration date.”
Since they were going off base they needed to change into civvies. As they climbed the steps to the second floor of their dorm Paul said, “Thirty minutes enough time for you to shower and change?”
“Plenty,” Leah said. “Meet you out front?”
Paul headed right, down to his room at the end of the hall. Leah headed left, toward her room. Without looking back he had a sense that she might’ve been looking back, watching him. A snatch of the dream he’d had while sleeping on Edwards’ sofa came back to him. He’d been running scared in the darkness, running toward or away from something; he couldn’t remember which. He only recalled the sense that time was running out, and that he might be too late.
As he turned the key in his room door he looked back the way he’d come. Leah was already in her room, out of sight.
By the time he’d showered, shaved and dressed it was right at a half an hour since they’d parted company. Expecting to find Leah waiting he hustled downstairs. Leah wasn’t in the lobby. She wasn’t outside, either. It figured. Since when did a woman ever beat a man getting ready?
Fifteen minutes later she still hadn’t shown so Paul went back up.
After his second knock on her door she called from the other side, “Paul?”
Bass drum pounding full force, all the way up to his ears.
The second thing he noticed, after the inch of cleavage above the towel and her legs damn near from her crotch down below it, was that her eyes were puffy from sleep.
She brushed a hanging wisp of yellow hair from her temple and said, “Jeez, I’m sorry. I was about to jump in the shower and I called myself just lying down for a second, and I was out.”
Two doors down a door opened, and the bass drum turned to thunder as a couple of female airmen emerged. Even if they knew he was Leah’s supervisor this might not look good. In fact it might look worse. But instead of heading their way toward the center stairs the airman headed for the exit at the end of the corridor. They didn’t see Leah in her doorway wearing nothing but terrycloth.
It was January. In six months he’d start his thirty days of terminal leave. In July he’d officially be a civilian again. After almost twelve years in, this wasn’t the time to fuck up.
“Hey, you’re tired for real,” Paul said. “Go ahead and crash. I’ll run to the dining hall.”
“Okay. If I got you hyped for Cracker Barrel I’m so sorry.”
“No problem.” Her nipples were hard. They looked like little thimbles under her towel.
“Hey, could you bring me back a carry out?” she asked.
Leah was smiling at him as she said, “On second thought, never mind. By the time you get back I’m going to be like the Isley Brothers: between the sheets.”
Except that they weren’t singing about sleeping. He pictured Leah sleeping nude; thought about her sleeping naked half a football field away from him for the past two years. Go now, you stupid motherfucker.
“Okay Leah, if I don’t see you sooner, I’ll see you Monday morning.”
“See ya Paul.”
When he was two steps away Leah said, “Hey Paul…”
She was leaning out of her door with one foot on the hall carpet, showing off all of a hard-toned leg. The pose would’ve been perfect for Playboy. “Yeah?”
“Would you answer a question honestly for me?”
She crooked a finger at him beckoning. He stepped back, closer.
In a lowered voice Leah said, “If you weren’t the NCOIC of Ground Safety and I asked you in right now, would you?”