Camp Audie Murphy
American Federation, Joint Forces Command
On the coast of The Republic of Oman
Master Chief Petty Officer Jackson Monroe hated running. That hadn’t always been the case but after twenty years in the Federation’s Navy, time had finally caught up with him in the form of a solid hour of pure pain. Eighteen months ago, regardless of terrain, an hour of running would have been nothing. Hardly enough to break him into a sweat unless he pushed himself racing his Raider teammates, the Wolf Pack. But he had been whole then.
His new reality was a bluish tint to his face because his overworked lungs simply refused to process the lifesaving oxygen any faster. It was probably due to the fact they were now burning with fiery vengeance, his lower back was screaming with every movement, and his left knee felt like it was about to crumble into dust if he took another step. His whole body felt like it would burst into flames at any minute. The only good thing was that his right knee felt fine. Actually, the titanium joint and attaching rods felt nothing. Never would.
Jackson hit the sandy beach portion of the hardest trail on the base and slowed down his pace to a light jog. He couldn’t complain. This leg wouldn’t blind him with agony if half of it got blown off. It was a good leg. The best that the American Federation Military could provide which meant it was the best prosthetics available in the world. He had been lucky. Eighteen months ago, he had only lost a leg. Several of his teammates had lost a whole lot more.
“Morning, Master Chief.”
Jack looked up in time to see the arrogant smiles from three members of Special Warfare, Raider Six, the Dragons, run past him. The fuckers had lapped him even though they had started at least twenty minutes later. It would be all over Camp Murphy by the time he got back. It didn’t matter that they were fifteen years younger, on the active duty roster and had use of two completely non-mechanical legs. He was never going to live this down. If nothing else, the other Chiefs would skewer him over an open fire for making them look bad.
“Over the hill,” one of them said loud enough to carry over the breaking surf.
“Assholes,” Jack muttered under his breath, coming to an abrupt stop on the hard sand. He gave up the ghost and leaned forward, hands resting on his thighs. He rubbed his very human aching knee, ignoring the water that rushed against his shoes and silently cursing at the metal that was now his other leg.
He looked up at the retreating backs of the Dragons, so eager to go spread the gossip that they had lapped Master Chief, the Ball Breaker of Camp Murphy. Jackson wondered what the blazes drove him to run this course. He hated sand as much as he now hated running.
“Good morning, Master Chief.”
Oh yeah. Now he remembered.
That smoky voice hit him right in the groin every single time he heard it. He straightened and turned, meeting sparkling green eyes that were alight with mischief.
Today she was actually within an arm’s reach. With the whole bloody beach to walk on, she was just a hairs breadth from intruding in his personal space and brushing against him. His breath stalled in his throat. Close enough so his hands could rip open the offending wetsuit and finally feel the softness underneath. Where his lips could finally taste the skin he had been dreaming about for over six months.
She sent him that naughty grin he now considered as belonging solely to him even if it couldn’t possibly be true. The one that hinted she knew exactly what he was thinking about and made so many promises that his cock twitched in anticipation. This flirtation had been going on since they’d met. But flirtation was all it could ever be. Cold harsh reality slammed into him like a freight train.
Gracen Ellison was simply too pretty, too young…and too commissioned.
“Morning, Captain,” he replied, his voice sounding harsh even to his own ears.
The moment shattered.