Commander Rick McConnell and Colonel Elijah Masters have been secret lovers for years. They nurtured their very private relationship with planned vacations and leaves, always meeting somewhere different—always escaping off the grid. It worked for them—career officers with a desire to serve their country and a passion for each other. The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell provides them with the tremendous opportunity to come out to their friends and loved ones—Rick wants to seize the day, but Eli isn’t so certain. His hesitation leads to a fight, an ultimatum, and a breakup. Rather than confront their issues, Eli takes a foreign assignment.
A year’s separation changes both of them. The last person Eli expects to see when he steps off the plane is Rick, but the physician wants another chance with the only man he’s ever loved and he has a plan. Will bitterness, recriminations, and loss keep them apart or can these two officers rediscover the faith and loyalty that bound them for so long?
“You’re late.” Eli greeted him with a dry smile. The man looked better than the day before, if that were possible.
“Sorry, surgery ran longer than I expected.” He took the chair next to him rather than the one opposite. “A beer please.” The waiter took his order and left them alone. The best part of the restaurant were the availability of private party rooms where diners could enjoy their meal and not have to share their table with a family of strangers.
“I figured.” Eli gestured to the sushi. “They just delivered it. Your favorites.”
The gesture struck him with its kindness and compassion. Eli didn’t have a favorite kind of sushi, he didn’t particularly care for it. Rick knew he only ate it when they were together because Rick enjoyed it. “Thanks.”
Unwrapping his chopsticks, he tucked into the Philadelphia rolls with their salmon, cucumber and cream cheese. He’d spent nearly ten hours in the operating room. A light day by his usual standards, but he hadn’t had time to eat since breakfast that morning.
“What happened?” The quiet question drew him back to the moment.
“Just a long day.” The waiter brought his beer and they both ordered. Steak and shrimp for Eli. Chicken and fish for Rick. Fried rice for Eli, while Rick chose white. They both wanted extra veggies and Eli added an order of shrimp tempura for himself.
So many little differences, from food choices to the teams they liked. Rick loved the Mets while Eli was a dyed in the wool Yankees fan. He exhaled a humorless laugh and looked sideways at the Marine. “Red meat, fried rice, and fried food—you going for the early heart attack?”
“My first real red meat in a year and the last time I saw fried food it was a McDonald’s drive thru on the way to the airport. I think I’ll survive. Besides I lived on rations more often than I care to count—if that doesn’t kill you this sure as hell won’t.” Eli saluted him with the beer. “What happened in surgery?”
The man possessed homing radar. He always knew what bothered him. Weird how he was an open book while Eli remained a mystery unless he chose to share. “Lost a patient. Complications.” Acid churned in his stomach. “Kid didn’t report some medication he’d been on. Too many bleeders, not enough blood. It happens.”
“Sorry.” No platitudes, no coaxing comfort, just a plain and simple word that encompassed so much more.
“Me, too. Anyway, how’s Christina?”
“She’s good. Recovering. Kid’s cute—well—not really, he’s ugly as sin, but then most babies have that smooshed look, so I figure he’ll grow out of it. Healthy.” Eli rubbed the back of his neck. It looked like he wanted to say more, but their chef arrived and along with Eli’s tempura. They ate in silence and watched the food preparation show.
“You have your new orders yet?” Small talk gave them both an out.
Eli shook his head. “Marine Barracks next Monday. Fitness assessment, and debrief. Probably get them while I’m there.”
“You apply for anything?” With his rank and credentials, he could open a lot of doors.
Shaking his head, Eli speared a piece of meat onto his fork. “I thought about it, but I don’t want a desk job. Colonel Spears asked me to consider a teaching position either at Parris Island or OCR at Quantico.”
A position at either base would keep Eli in country—Quantico would keep him in the region. Rick swallowed back the urge to give him any advice. “Nice.”
“Maybe. What about you? Running your department yet?”
“No.” Rick shook his head. “I didn’t want to play those politics. I like my patients. I like training interns and I like having something of a life outside the hospital. Department Chief doesn’t give me much time for any of that. I am going to Amman in a few weeks, but it’s a three week clinic to train some of the locals at the hospital.”
“Huh.” The bland grunt didn’t reveal as much as the tightness flexing Eli’s jaw. He didn’t like it.
“I like keeping my hand in and they need a cardio thoracic specialist. Too many of their cases have to leave the country, they’ve got some good candidates signed up for the training and the top two will return here for another six months of training that I’ll supervise.”
“You ever think we’d be teachers?” Eli finished all the meat on his plate. He didn’t like mixing his foods. He ate methodically, one dish after the other.
“Not as a life goal, no. But it makes sense. See one, do one, teach one. Learned that in medical school.” The educational method described most of his internship, fellowship and his current residency. He could have his pick of civilian hospitals, but preferred his military service. Two years as a medic to a forward unit during the initial incursions into Afghanistan taught him more than all his years at a hospital combined.
“Christina tried to set me up with another date.”
The unexpected bit of news sent a shock through Rick. He chewed a piece of chicken thoroughly as he tried to digest the information. He could handle this. “Yeah? Anyone I know?”
“One of her girlfriends from college—thrice married. Apparently she thinks my prospects are limited and wants to fix me up with my first divorce.” If Eli tried to be funny, the humor was lost on him.
“She doesn’t know.” The revelation stunned him. Rick’s family knew about him, his mother was more comfortable with the information than his father, but both accepted it. Eli’s family didn’t?
Why hasn’t he told them? The thought burned through him, igniting a dozen other questions. He clamped a lid on it. In a decade together, Eli never indicated his sexual preference was a secret from his family. Was that the problem? He chewed that thought over and over, eating to try and cover his silence.
Two beers and half the meal later, Rick turned sideways in the chair. Bit by bit Eli relaxed while they ate. Maybe it was the company, the day’s loss or the alcohol—or some combination of the three, but wanted their cards on the table. He wanted Eli back. “I miss you Eli. I want us back. What do we need to do make that happen?”
A MARINE AFFAIR
Always a Marine #13
A national best selling author, Heather Long lives in Texas with her family and their menagerie of animals. In addition to military romance, Heather writes a wide variety of romance from paranormal historical western romance to contemporary romance and romantic suspense. She loves characters and the stories they have to tell.
As a child, Heather skipped picture books and enjoyed the Harlequin romance novels by Penny Jordan and Nora Roberts that her grandmother read to her. Heather believes that laughter is as important to life as breathing and that the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus are very real. In the meanwhile, she is hard at work on her next novel.