March 31, 2015
Forever Mass Market
Captain Ben Teague is many things: a tough soldier, a loyal friend, and a bona fide smart-ass. He doesn't have much tolerance for BS, which is why he's mad as hell when a trusted colleague and mentor is brought up on charges that can't possibly be true. He's even more frustrated with by-the-book lawyer Major Olivia Hale. But there's something simmering beneath her icy reserve--and Ben just can't resist turning up the heat . . .
. . . and he's determined to break them
The only thing riskier than mixing business with pleasure is enjoying it . . . and Olivia can't resist locking horns--and lips--with Ben. He's got more compassion in his little finger than any commander she's ever met, a fact that makes him a better leader than he realizes. But when the case that brought them together awakens demons from Olivia's past, she will have to choose between following orders--or her heart . . .
“Define ‘other intoxicating substances’? What the hell does that mean?”
“Huffing, spice, bath salts.”
“Bath salts? What the hell are bath salts?”
Olivia pulled out her phone and pulled up a website explaining the drug. “They’re really new but we’re starting to see more of them. They’re meant to be a synthetic drug that mimics cocaine and ecstasy but they’re really bad stuff. Some of it is variants of plant food.”
Ben reached for her phone and angled it so he could see. His hand was big and rough against hers. Hot where their skin met. If he noticed, he didn’t give any indication. “Plant food?”
Olivia tried to ignore how his hand felt against hers. Because, oh yes, she’d noticed. Heat spread across her skin, sliding up her forearm and tingling down her spine. “Soldiers will smoke anything these days,” she said quietly.
“That’s a whole ’nother discussion,” she said, easing her hand out of his. “The short version is that intoxicating substances are prohibited by regulation and I advise you to do two things with these kids: send a strong message that this behavior won’t be tolerated but also enroll them into drug abuse counseling to send a message that you’ll help those who want it.”
Ben studied the paperwork in front of him. Tormented emotions flickered over his face and it was everything she could do not to ask him what was on his mind. She didn’t have time or reason to go crawling around Ben Teague’s head but that didn’t stop the want pulsing warmly over her skin.
“I know this kid,” Ben said quietly. “I served with him downrange last deployment but ever since he’s come home, he’s been nothing but trouble to the old commander. Zittoro has three previous drug charges,” he said.
“Private Zittoro is a different case. I recommend you separate him from the military under a chapter nine, rehab failure.”
She heard his quick intake of breath. Saw the conflict flicker over his sharp features.
He cleared his throat roughly in the awkward silence. “Zittoro… he’s got nowhere to go. He’s got a deadbeat dad and his mom is… well, she’s not winning any parent of the year awards.” His fist clenched on the table in front of her. “If I throw him out of the army, what happens to him? He’s an addict.”
She flinched at the pain in his words. Ben had only been a commander for a couple of hours but the strain was already obvious in his voice.
“You can’t save everyone,” she whispered. She waited until his eyes met hers.
“You know that, right?”
There was no comfort she could offer. This was the burden of command: to balance the needs of the army over the needs of the individual. A tightrope he had to walk alone.
All she could do was give him the facts and her opinion. But in that moment, she had the sudden urge to save him from this. “If you keep him, do you have the manpower to keep going to his room and making sure he hasn’t overdosed every night? Do you trust him enough to give him a weapon and believe he’ll do his job?”
Ben’s throat moved as he swallowed. “Guess not,” he said quietly. He leaned back and it was as if a wall of glass crystallized between them. “What other fun things do you have in there for me?”
Olivia wasn’t convinced by the sudden shift in Ben’s mood but now wasn’t the time or the place for digging any deeper. She reviewed the rest of the drug packets, watching him tense more with each one. She stopped after the last driving under the influence.
“Why is this bothering you so much?”
He offered a half-assed cocky grimace that failed to mimic the smile he was going for. A pretty shitty attempt to cover the darkness twisting beneath the surface. He took a deep breath. “I’m a big boy. I’ll do what has to be done.”
“I didn’t imply that you wouldn’t. But that doesn’t mean it’s not bothering you.”
He drummed his fingers on the table. “Let’s finish this up. I’ve got to get down to my company and start digging out from the mountain of crap that my predecessor left me.”
He brushed her off. The action was as insignificant as a paper cut.
She leaned back and picked up the next packet and wished it didn’t sting like it did. Then she made the mistake of meeting his gaze. There was such a dark lack of hope in his eyes. A bleak resignation to the things he was forced to confront. She almost reached for his hand. It would have been a simple gesture of support. But he looked at her as though a single touch might have shattered him.
He was not her problem. She didn’t do damaged and introspective.
Because there were people counting on her not to get distracted.
But looking at him now, she wondered about the glimpse of the tired warrior she saw behind those tormented brown eyes.