Shadow Ops: Charlie by Sarah Luddington Genre: M/M Gay Military Romance
Workplace bullying can cripple the best of people, but for a soldier, it can be the difference between life and death.
Nick Wilde, an embattled SAS soldier, finds Gabriel Cabrera, a former US Ranger, hanging by his wrists in a terrorist camp in Myanmar.
Their first battle is surviving the jungle when they are abandoned by Nick’s homophobic commanding officer and his team.
Their second battle is to survive Jupiter Section. The blackest of black ops US organisations. The small UK covert group Unit Twelve use the skill and bond of both men to fight and try to bring down Jupiter Section and save both the US and UK governments.
The final battle is how the men survive the aftermath of this conflict and learn to live with the terrible consequences.
An MM military romance with tough men who are broken and reformed by their experiences. Only love can draw them into the future they both crave – a future of peace.
I FOUND OUR FORMIDABLE LOOKING captain at the controls of his ship. He turned to watch as I climbed the steps.
“Good afternoon,” he said in an accent more French than English.
“Captain, good afternoon and thank you for everything.”
The weathered and bearded face broke out into a smile. Several teeth seemed to be missing and the crinkles made it a little alarming. His face seemed to be part accordion. “It is what we do, is it not? Save the stranded?”
“I guess so, but you endangered yourselves to save us and have given us a good berth.” I shook his hand, large, strong and callouses so thick you could mistake it for elephant hide. “Anna said you have contacted the embassies?”
“Oui, we thought it would be a good idea for them to know we were on our way. If they can meet us on the river, it would save complications with paperwork, would it not?”
He waved his hand. “Then all is good. You can continue to enjoy our hospitality until we reach Phop Phra. It will take another day maybe two, the river is difficult this time of year. Get rest, see Anna and eat.”
“I wondered if I might be able to speak to the UK Embassy? I’m a soldier, they need to inform my people.”
“Sat phone isn’t working well. We only have emergency calls most of the time out here. It’s why we are heading back to Phop Phra. We cannot be out here without good communication. These jungles are dangerous.”
He didn’t have to explain that to me. Unfortunately, it meant I couldn’t communicate with the Head Shed back in England, which meant I had no way of gaining their help in protecting Gabriel. Not that I thought they would, helping stray American servicemen in the jungle they might forgive me for, but starting an international incident because the CIA or Jupiter Section wanted him dead, would be a step over the line they wouldn’t countenance.
“Can I send email?” I asked.
“Oui, speak to Anna. Sometimes it works.”
Not a statement to fill me with confidence. If I could use email, I could use internet calls. Perhaps we’d have a way to stop Gabriel disappearing down a satanic rabbit hole. I returned to the kitchen and found Anna with Grace; they were deep in conversation using sign language but looked up when I approached.
“You’re up, Nick.”
“I am. Listen, Anna, the captain said the sat phone is out of service again, but you have internet?”
She shook her head and grimmaced. “Our beloved captain is very good at some things and not so good at others. We can’t move any heavy data packets off the ship and email is a bust right now. There’s something wrong with the satellite receiver. Short of catching a parrot and training it to speak there’s not much you can do. I guess you need to touch base with your commanding officer?”
“Something like that,” I muttered. “Oh, and we ate some pastries, is that okay?”
She nodded. “You need more for Gabriel. How is he?”
“Awake and okay,” I said.
“Drop by the medical bay and I’ll re-dress your wounds, check him over and give him another dose of vitamins.” She rose from the bench around the table and began pulling food out to give me. Fruit mostly and more, easy to digest starch with a couple of bottles of water.
I retreated like a teenager to my room and found Gabriel had managed to shower again. His wet hair was combed back and his face free of beard for the first time. He smiled when I came in with more food. Feeling a little stunned at the new look I stood watching as he rescued various items from my arms.
“God, you’re beautiful,” I muttered. The scar over his cheek to his nose was now clearer to see but added to his rakish charm rather than ruined his handsome face.
He looked up and grinned. “I do polish up better than a turd.”
My sharp intake of breath as his fingers brushed the front of my t-shirt turned the grin into a shy smile. “What did you find out from the captain?” he asked, distracting me from the growing intensity filling the room.
“Internet and phone are patchy at best. We won’t be contacting anyone easily. They might be meeting us at somewhere called Phop Phra.”
“What are the chances of Jupiter Section reaching you before the British reach me?”
He crawled back into the bunk, hands full of food. “Have you ever tasted anything like this apple?” he asked, holding it for me.
“Gabe –” We needed a grown-up conversation.
“I’m serious, Nick. It’s amazing. Sharp and sweet and juicy…” He took another bite and groaned, long and low.
Giving up I sat beside him and he offered me the apple. “You’re a wicked man,” I murmured.
“Maybe? Maybe I just want to find out a little more about you, Nick. Not soldier, survival Nick, but happy gay man Nick.”
I couldn’t hold his gaze with those words strung between us. “Not sure happy gay Nick exists anymore.”
“Then I shall do more than Adam ever did by biting the apple, I shall raise your Gay Pride from the grave.”
I couldn’t help the smile and he responded with a wicked glint I’d never seen on his face before. He held out the apple to my mouth and I took the hint. I bit down on the hard almost white flesh and yes, it did taste good but I hadn’t been in a prison for months so what made it special was Gabriel’s fascination. He watched me lick the juice off my lips.
“Why don’t you think you’re good enough for me?” he asked. Both his voice and eyes were soft, but the words hit me with the power of a poison dart.
The suddenness of the question almost made me choke. “What?”
“I can see it in your eyes. You really don’t believe I find you attractive.”
“Gabe, can we not discuss my shortcomings right now?”
He chewed on more of the apple, thoughtful for a moment. When he finished the tasty morsel, core included, he relaxed against the bedhead.
“Come and sit beside me.”
I did as instructed. He shifted with his usual fluid grace and slung a leg over my lap before sitting again, on my thighs. My hands went to his hips without conscious thought, but I held him gently, wanting to reinforce he could move away at any time. The position made him much taller than me and he brushed back my hair.
“You have such a strong face, Nick. But your real beauty comes from your heart. I don’t know how you came to be what you are now, a soldier trained to kill –”
“I trained to save those weaker than me. It seemed wise to be able to kill those stronger than the weak as the most effective form of protection.”
“See,” he said tapping my chest, “a big heart. It makes your strength that much more noble.” I looked away from him, unable to stand the scrutiny but he took hold of my face and made me meet his eyes. “Teach me how to give us pleasure, Nick.”
My breathing ramped up alongside my heart rate and things south went even harder than before. The loose-fitting jogging trousers didn’t hide very much. Gabriel leaned down for a kiss and I obliged. I kept my hands on his hips and his gentle kisses turned into something more serious, darker and full of need. His tongue brushed mine and I moaned. I could do this and not fall further in love – couldn’t I?
He pulled away for a moment. “Don’t be afraid to touch me, Nick. I’ll let you know in plenty of time if we need to slow down or stop.”
Or maybe not. “Make sure you do.” The words were almost low enough to be a growl of sound and he rocked forward, nudging against the head of my straining cock. “Fuck, I can’t remember the last time I came.”
Gabriel set to work on my mouth, jaw and neck. I let him have full rein because in return I could explore his back, waist, chest and when my fingers brushed against the waistband of his trousers he moaned in approval. I dipped my fingers down and began exploring the taut muscle of his backside and thighs.
Every atom of his being seemed to vibrate under my questing fingers and his rocking hips moved harder and faster against me. For my part I began trying to push back but with his full weight on my thighs I had some limits. I wanted to turn us over so I could be on top but I had the feeling that would be a hard no right now so instead I took a handful of his hair and tugged it gently to move his mouth from my neck.
The position gave me access to that sweet spot I’d found in the jungle. I licked the tender flesh and he whispered something in Spanish. I kissed the spot and realised he didn’t speak English when aroused, his soft murmurs whispered into my heart even though I could not understand the words. I held his hip and his hair then bit down hard on his neck. Somehow, he shifted enough to give his cock friction against my belly, and we fed off each other. Me doing my best impression of a vampire and him trying to be a lap dancer. The heat between us grew.
“Fuck, Nick, I need more. Please.”
We didn’t have lubrication and I already knew Gabriel was circumcised. I pulled his t-shirt over his head and he shifted off me enough to yank his trousers down before removing mine. When I sprang free, he looked a little alarmed.
I had no such fears. Taking his thick full length might hurt at first and it would certainly be a challenge learning to swallow that much, but damn it would make me feel good.
“Gabe, look at me.”
“Not that bit, baby.”
He glanced up at my face. I stroked the sweaty hair from his face. “I’m not a natural top, Gabe.” The look of mystification made me chuckle. “I like to be fucked. Men usually want me on top because of my size but… To be honest, I just want to be held and loved and when it comes to penetration it’s not the be all and end all for me and if it comes to that, I would far rather have you doing all the work.”
Those big dark eyes were soft and a little too wet. He kissed my mouth, unable to find words but allowing his body to tell me what he understood and how much he appreciated my candour.
Perhaps if we all talked about sex before we did it, maybe we’d all enjoy it a bit more.
Gabriel opted to lie down on his side, and I lay beside him, our noses almost touching, our chests brushing with every breath and the rest of our bodies lining up in perfect harmony.
I licked my palm a few times. “Best option we have right now.”
He nodded. “Just make me feel good about myself, Nick.”
We kissed and I pulled his leg over my hips, so he remained in the dominant position. I slid my hand between us and soon realised I wouldn’t need much extra help to lubricate the pair of us lustful boys. The moment my hand brushed his cock his body stilled for the first time and a shudder passed through him. I held still. He took a few deep breaths and screwed his eyes shut trying to fight memories.
“Look at me,” I whispered the demand.
He opened his eyes and locked onto me. I tumbled head first into his black gaze and almost drowned until he touched that magic spot on my chest again, just over my heart, grounding me to the present – to him. Those delicate fingers traced the wing of my crow tattoo and he gave me a small nod. I bent my brow to his, breaking the contact.
“Don’t be afraid, Nick, I’m not going to break your heart,” he whispered against my lips.
I wished I could find the strength to argue against him, to maybe say: I didn’t have to equate sex with love, I didn’t need his protection, I wasn’t falling in love with him. They would have all been lies and, in that moment, we had no room for lies between us.
He kissed me, trailed his fingers down my arm until he could coax us both into holding our cocks. When I had us in a firm, rough grip, he returned his hand to my cheek and stroked while we kissed and rocked through my fist.
It wasn’t the physical act drawing my balls tight and making them ache.
It had to be the incredible connection we shared. The heady scent of us in combination. The beauty of our dance together. The murmured broken words and phrases. The skin on skin contact. His so smooth and mine so rough with a tangle of dark blond hair.
“Oh, si, mi diablo, si,” he whispered against my lips. We moved faster and his fingers dug into my arse trying to draw us tighter together.
“Fuck, Gabe, I can’t hold on.”
“Don’t, want, need… mas… amore… mas…”
He shuddered and groaned long and low, lips pressed against mine and I soon tumbled down the hill with him. The scolding heat of our union graced our bellies and my hand. It felt so good to finally have him give me this gift I couldn’t control the emotional effects. He hushed me, sobbed with me while he stroked my face and we kissed tears off each other’s cheeks. Naked and wrapped in a sticky mess we fell back into sleep.
Shadow Ops: Bravo
Mac, a 42 year old veteran of the SAS, is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo learning to live without his closest friend Jacob Hayes after being forced into ‘retirement’.
However, a spat with an African warlord brings the SAS, British Military Intelligence and Jacob back into his life.
Mac soon discovers his enemies are more dangerous than he ever considered possible. While Mac, Jacob and Unit 12, the elite arm of British Military Intelligence, strive to prevent North Korea gaining a WMD of terrifying proportions. They also fall deeper into a global conspiracy set to disrupt the delicate balance of power in the world.
During their battles, Jacob forces Mac to confront the one truth he finds too hard to face alone. Mac’s sexuality is long denied, hidden in the dark by his brutal father before he ever had the chance to understand it. Is Special Forces operative Jacob strong enough to fight for the heart of the man he’s always loved?
This is a military gay romance with, off-screen torture (not BDSM) a high death count and a lot of action. It can be read as a stand-alone.
I WOKE LONG BEFORE DAWN, the sheets a tangled sweaty mess, the humidity of night pressing against my naked flesh because I’d forgotten to switch on the air conditioning again. Though the sweat might well have come from the dreams I didn’t push to remember. Memories were bad enough; I didn’t need to add to them with dreams.
“Run,” I muttered to the empty walls. I untangled myself and rose, the darkness of Kinshasa never a complete pitch-black, unlike the nights I’d spent in the jungle over the last couple of years.
Living alone meant I moved easily around the room without tripping over discarded clothes. I wouldn’t class myself as a neat freak but if an item had a home, not putting back in that home wasted time and energy. A habit I would never break after my 23 years in the British Army. The running gear had a home and I found it easily. I dressed in shorts and a vest, pulled on some socks and hunted down my trainers. While I dressed, I figured out which of my runs to tackle before the heat of dawn made running impossible for me.
“Seven kilometres should do it,” I said, walking through my darkened kitchen. Light from my neighbour’s back porch shone onto a wall of picture frames and one seemed to wink at me. A magpie attraction drew me to look, even though I knew it would be a jackdaw’s beak plucking at my heartstrings again.
The picture showed me standing next to my corporal, his arm slung over my shoulder. He looks at the camera, in full DPMs, the Disruptive Pattern Material suitable for work in the deserts of Syria. I am looking at him. Unable to stop the inevitable pain, I reached up to run a finger over the digital rendition of my friend while trying to ignore the expression the camera caught on my face. “Miss you.”
I can’t help looking at the younger version of me. The unmitigated longing in my face makes it hard for me to breathe. Flashes of memory. Flashes of seeing Jacob’s long, corded limbs naked in the showers we’d shared, or rooms and tents over the years together, crowd inside my mind and make my heart beat faster.
The growl coming from my throat is low and dangerous. I force the images back in their box, where they never manage to stay for long, turn away from the wall of pictures and grab the house keys. My only house guest, a huge mongrel dog who came with the property when I bought it, lifts his head as I leave but declines my offer of a run. Hound doesn’t run anywhere if he can avoid it. In fact, the dog doesn’t really do anything other than put his head in my lap if I sit outside in the evening.
Forgoing the warm up, I opt for a gentle run to start, trying hard to keep my mind blank. By concentrating on each footfall, I gradually chase the ache in my heart away, put the memories back in their rigid containers, and stop thinking about the past or the future. By living in the present there is a safe numbness to my life which brings with it a sense of peace, perhaps even happiness, if you think happiness is no longer wanting something you can’t have in your life.
The kilometres stacked up as I pounded along well-lit streets in the mega city of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I wove through the urban landscape, the roads quiet, the pavements empty, the air not exactly clean but better than it would be during the heat of the day. Summers here weren’t desert hot, but the humidity could make them feel like hell.
I never thought I’d miss the deserts of the Middle East and Asia.
The burn in my muscles weighed heavy for a moment and I forced myself to slow down, having picked up the pace 5km ago. Walking up a hill made sweat slide down my back and another memory took the opportunity to leap out of the dark.
Unable to keep it pushed away, I stopped and closed my eyes for a moment indulging in the ridiculous fantasy.
Even after 3 years I could still recall every freckle on Jacob’s face and shoulders. His soft brown eyes, pale but bright, like amber rather than something dark such as mahogany. The brown hair, always cut short, and naturally tanned skin. His hands and forearms I knew just as well, covered in fine hair, thick fingers and rough knuckles. Callouses from the hours spent on the firing range and working out in the gym. Five years we’d worked together in the Special Air Service. He’d come up from the Pathfinders, 12 years my junior and the moment he passed selection I had known I’d be unable to keep him away from my heart. Within weeks our commanding officers realised we were a seamless team of two and every deployment found us working side by side. On a training exercise in Saudi Arabia I’d taken a tumble down a dune. The sand, hot and fine, suffocated me as I rolled down from the crest of the hill. I dropped 30 metres, the heat of the sand burning into my face and hands as I tried to stop the roll. We carried full Bergens, webbing, complete with magazines and water rations, belts and body armour. My assault rifle, the trusted L119A2 carbine, smacked me around the face making my tactical helmet slip so the next roll had the gun’s butt hit my head. I had no control. I could hear Jacob scream my name but with a mouth full of sand I didn’t stand a chance of answering, I could hardly breathe. When I hit the bottom the extra 30kg of weight I carried, the dizziness and the heat which left me sucking more sand into my body, made it impossible to move. Arabian sand is like golden water. If the gods could find a way to make it look and move like water yet deny all those who needed their grace access to life by creating this mockery, then that’s what we had in the desert. A mockery of water. It covered me. A prickly, miserable sensation of clinging sandpaper. “Mac, shit, Mac, you okay?” Jacob’s breathless question made me realise he’d raced down the hill after me.
“Sergeant, get your fucking arse back up this hill,” barked our captain. The sadist had decided we needed more team discipline so forced us on a 10km forced march through the desert near the camp we were using as our OP. “And, Corporal Hayes, you are docked a week’s pay for disobeying my direct order to remain in formation.” I watched Jacob’s eyes flash with the need to give his CO the finger. I croaked, “Don’t,” and managed to lay a hand on his arm. Jacob’s expression darkened. “You okay?” He took out his water bottle and helped me sit up. The rest of the team were already doing double time away from our position. I took a drink and watched them go. “That man is going to be the death of us,” I muttered once I’d spat the sand out.
“Fucking rupert.” He was a prick, straight out of Sandhurst and must have licked some serious arse to get posted to the SAS so fast. He’d made it through our basic training, just, but the 22ndRegiment didn’t like it when people played politics, so rumours were flying that his position in the team was probationary. We loved to gossip so this man’s status as our CO meant we had little to no respect. Aforced march like this in the desert wouldn’t win him any medals from us.
“Well, we’re going to be late back, so there’s no point in hurrying now. Might as well take it easy.” I poked Jacob in the chest. “But you shouldn’t have come after me, you prick. You could have broken your neck.” Jacob snorted. “Yeah, I’m going to leave you in the sun to bake. Come on, old man. Let’s get you up and make our way back to the OP at a sensible pace.”
“He’ll dock us another week’s pay.”
“That’s going to be a problem,” Jacob admitted. I looked at him and recognised the blush covering his sunburned cheeks.
“What did you do this time?” He shrugged. “Might have found myself at a camel race when you went off to Turkey for that meeting with the Head Shed.” I sighed the sigh of a thousand martyrs. “Jacob…”
“Don’t, alright, I know – I have a problem. Sorry.” He actually hung his head. I used his younger back and knees to push myself out of the sand. “Fella, you’re a walking disaster area. We’ve had this conversation too many times to count.”
“I know. Sorry.”
“You want me to take over your wages again?” I asked. We’d been working on his gambling problem for a year now. I had the feeling it masked something worse, something deeper but I couldn’t get him to talk it through. We’d gone into his bank and made arrangements for an allowance and everything over that he had to gain a signature from me. We’d cancelled the agreement a month ago, clearly that had been a mistake. He nodded, thoroughly ashamed of having to be rescued. “Sorry, Mac. I never want to disappoint you.” I gripped his shoulder, the strength in him always surprising me considering he stood a good 10cm shorter than me. “You will never disappoint me.” A wave of desire ripped through me, from nowhere, and I almost doubled over with the pain of denial that whipped up to chase it away. The frequency of these moments, a sickening combination of lust for him and loathing for myself, left me raw. I turned away from the sad puppy eyes. “Come on. Let’s go.” Rough words. While we walked through the shifting sand, plodding because with every step we sank into the solid water, I wrestled with the ache in my chest, the need in my groin and the fear in my head. Jacob wanted women. He’d made that clear to me over the 18 months we’d worked together. He took them home, he fucked them, he behaved like every young squaddie since the beginning of wars, but I didn’t. I preferred not to think about sex. I didn’t get close to the women in the clubs and bars, or the bases we worked out of all over the world. I liked women. I liked working with them, I liked being friends with them, but I didn’t need or want sex. I wasn’t very good at it and found the whole experience uncomfortable. I understood others gained a great deal of joy from the practice, but it wasn’t for me. I worked. The SAS were my family, my life, my mission. I had nothing else. I wanted nothing else. Jacob began to talk, he did that a lot, and I listened to the chatter about something one of the guys on base had told him about SEAL Team 7 and gradually the pain eased. I’d become adept at lying to him, to me, and living in a world of denial so deep I’d never see the daylight over the weight of water drowning me on a daily basis.
“Mac?” I logged back into the day, the heat almost felling me as we stopped.
“You okay?” I smiled at him and reached up to grip the back of his neck, the only gesture I allowed myself despite Jacob constantly rubbing against me or slinging an arm over my shoulders. “Yeah. I’m with you, so I’m bound to be alright.” He grinned, his teeth very white in the deepening tan of his face. “I was saying – the girls on base are going to throw a party. We’ve all been invited.” The idea filled me with horror, but I’d get to spend the evening shooting the shit with some of the married women and that didn’t sound so bad. The horror part would be watching some young thing throw herself at Jacob. I had visions of being his best man at the wedding, god father to his children and being their single uncle who never met ‘the one’.
“Yeah, sounds good.”
“You don’t have to sound quite so enthusiastic,” he said.
“Come on, we need to keep moving. You never know, we might beat them back.”
“Unless you plan on whipping my arse to make me move faster that’s never going to happen,” he grumbled. The thought of whipping his arse to make him do anything almost made me pass out the blood shifted away from my brain so fast. “Just walk, pest.” I prodded him with the carbine. He grinned at me and we fell into step together again, just like always. Life was good when I had Jacob at my shoulder.
Fortune's Soldier Shadow Ops: Alpha
Fortune is a fickle bastard for a soldier, Luke Sinclair knows that more than most.
As a Special Forces Operative he finished his career with an elite British black ops department in Military Intelligence. As tough as it had been, Luke loved his job and his partner, Sam Locke. Sam had once been a US Navy SEAL.
Being a mercenary gives Luke freedom of movement even if he cannot escape his memories.
When their world fell apart, Luke thought he would never see Sam again, until they are recalled to London and sent to Syria. They must transport the one person able to finish tearing them apart. A terrorist who destroyed their lives. Luke and Sam fight to save the world from imminent destruction and fight just as hard for each other.
From the deserts of Syria the men chase a nuclear bomb and weaponised virus through Armenia and into Russia, finding so much more than revenge on the way.
This is a military gay romance with a high death count, torture (not BDSM), and a lot of action.
THE RUBBER EYEPIECE STUCK TO my skin in the heat coming off the asphalted roof. Sweat greased my face and dripped under my chin making me itch. It might be pre-dawn but damn I couldn’t stand much more of this torture. The five storey apartment block squatted in the New York district of Queens and from this high corner of a tenement building, with the aid of my mounted scope, I could see the much finer apartments of Center Boulevard in Hunters Point. I shifted just enough to ease the cramp in my back for a moment before settling. Just one of the many disadvantages of age and a life lived on the edge of violence, the constant aches. To be honest I’d never planned to live this long but that’s what happened when you were well trained, damned good at your job and some dark version of lucky that preserved your life.
I relaxed again, breathing through my nose and continued to watch the apartment 678 metres away. It wouldn’t be much of a challenge to kill the bastard I hunted, not at this distance and in this sultry weather. My bladder made life more tricky. I eyed the bottles I’d been pissing in for the last thirteen hours waiting for my target to return to his luxury penthouse. The importance of remaining hydrated on a job had been drilled into me, it helped maintain concentration if your body didn’t haveto suffer from lack of water. The downside? The stuff you didn’t sweat out had to leave your body regardless and getting up to take a piss just didn’t happen when you are a sniper.
The man I hunted had touched down on American soil at 16:35, but the target could take anywhere between two hours or several days to reach his penthouse from JFK. It all depended on what he wanted to do in the vast city of New York. So, I waited with patience even a cat would envy, for the fucker to turn up. Unfortunately, I waited in a New York sweatbox, covered in fumes and dust. Even at 05:36 the sounds of the city rumbled around my high perch, bouncing off the nearby buildings.
Making a hit from this distance wasn’t about the target so much as making certain I wasn’t spotted by the overlooking buildings and the hels running around the sky. I wore clothes that were thin enough to cope with the heat and dark enough to blend with the tarmac I lay on, which stank by the way, and had a few broken cardboard boxes draped over me and the muzzle of my Barrett MRAD and its suppressor. The .308 Sinclair rounds were my preferred option for this American rifle over this distance. They’d go through the glass without deviation and hit the target like a hot needle being pushed into warm butter.
A light flicked on in the glass and steel stairwell. Elation rushed through me but the world in my scope didn’t shift and neither did the long muzzle. The arrogant prick lived inside a glass bubble and I had a way to shatter it. The target didn’t trust elevators, so he and his bodyguards walked up the stairs. I could see him on the phone, no one concentrating on the target’s surroundings; they certainly would not be able to see me.
I eased my finger to the trigger, my breathing didn’t change, neither did my heartbeat. The target came to the top of the stairs and paused.
I squeezed the trigger. A dull spat whispered out of my rifle. Between one calm breath and the next the glass shattered and I watched red blossom over the marble interior of the stairwell. A single shot and I’d done my job. The man dropped to the ground. The bodyguards, three of them, drew their weapons but I just remained still and continued to watch through the scope. There was shouting, wild gesticulation, calls made on phones and I could hear sirens screaming. I wanted to move away before the authorities turned up, not because I feared being found, it would just complicate matters. The three men all turned their backs to me, giving me the opportunity to slide away from my vantage point and begin cleaning up my nest.
The clean-up took long enough to see the police and ambulance arrive but I’d already packed my gear, changed into clean clothes I’d brought with me and descended to the street through the stairwell.
Once outside I looked like a large man carrying a gym bag and a small day sack. The black baseball cap I wore shielded my eyes from the sunlight glinting off the shop windows and the elation of the job being completed well, without additional casualties, began to wear off. The muscle cramps in my back and legs from remaining still for over thirteen hours started to force me to slow down. Once upon a time I’d have been able to do a three day stint and then run a bloody marathon across a desert carrying a fifty kilo pack. These days I looked the same on the outside – at least that’s what my vanity told the mirror – but bits of me inside just didn’t work as well any more. Water and protein bars might feed a twenty-five-year-old body but not a forty-eight-year-old one.
Thinking about scran made my stomach grumble but I needed to shower before I considered forcing someone to serve me food in one of the thousand eateries in the area.
After walking eight blocks I found the hotel I’d registered in and returned to my room without needing to use the front desk. All they would remember was a man walking out one day and returning another, these places were anonymous. In my room I dropped my bag and pack, stripped out of my clothing and headed for the shower. The cool water caressed my taut flesh and the multitudinous scars of past campaigns that littered my body. It felt ridiculous to enjoy a simple shower this much but as I rubbed my shorn hair clean my eyes slid closed and I allowed myself a smile. Someone once told me that if I made the effort a bit more often my smile could melt the hearts of terrorists and politicians alike. As a soldier I had little time for either and tended to clump both groups into my ‘kill list’ frame of reference.
I switched on the TV and the news reported the shooting. They were already assuming the Russian was killed by either his own government or a rival, which amounted to the same thing. I sat on the bed, opened the gym bag and removed the rifle. I stripped her down while watching a film about zombies and cleaned each part with a meditative air of peace settling into my mind. Cleaning
a rifle, even after a single shot, had always been a place of peace for a working mind. Even in the early days I’d taken pride in my weapons and this small act kept me focused but not able to think outside the moment and I never liked the comedown after removing a target. This smoothed the transition, put the box back in the right place and allowed me to bury my dead.
My next task would be food but my phone buzzed and took priority.
I hit the speaker button. “I hope you’re not phoning to check on me?”
“As if I would dare,” said a woman’s cultured voice on the other end.
“You are the only person brave enough, Aria, and for that I will always love you.” I heard a disgruntled harrumph the other end.
“There’s nothing more in the world that makes my skin crawl than you telling me you love me,” she groused.
I managed a half smile. Aria found me work and I paid her a finder’s fee. She didn’t work with me exclusively but we had an understanding. I took the work others, meaning governments mostly, couldn’t do without causing them to lose sleep but needed doing anyway – hence the dead Russian.
“Truce, Aria, why are you calling because you already know I’ve done the job?”
“I should bloody hope so, they’ve paid you enough to get it done clean. But I’ve another job for you,” she said getting to the point.
That decision was easy. “No.”
“Luke, you’ll want this one.”
I shoved the oiled rag down the barrel of the suppressor. “No. I don’t do back-to-back jobs any more. I don’t need to and I’ve just spent three days and nights, I might add, on a rooftop in a New York summer making sure I had the right location. I’m going home tomorrow,” I said.
I had spent a great deal of time stalking New York’s streets to find the right apartment building to take that shot. It needed to be high enough, full of residents who weren’t interested in strangers or empty of people altogether, and overlooked by few domestic buildings. Office workers seeing me wouldn’t have mattered so much but people tended to pay attention to changes in their home’s
“You really will want this one,” she repeated, making her voice lighter and mischievous.
I lay back on the bed and looked at the ceiling of the hotel room. A nice blank white space. “No, I won’t. I have a dog in the Cotswolds that needs me.”
“Rogue is fine, the nanny cam in the dog sitter’s house is reporting back to me on an hourly basis.”
Aria’s sarcasm didn’t go unnoticed.
I frowned at how much Aria had infiltrated my personal life, such as it was these days. “Rogue will be missing me and why have you hacked my camera?”
“Why do you feel the need to spy on your dog sitter? Helen seems to be a very nice English woman.”
“She’s a formidable woman,” I said. Helen stood at five foot and a whisker, age almost indeterminate, with steel colouring and a soul to match. She kept my Malinois in check like few other people could manage, including me most of the time. “And I don’t spy on her, I spy on the dog.”
Aria barked a laugh. “You just keep telling yourself that.”
The ceiling in this hotel looked inviting. I could lie on the bed and stare at it for hours, which is what would happen until I took that flight back to my country cottage and the dog, where I could stare at my ceiling instead and not sleep.
I sighed and wondered when it would stop. When the drive to work, to be in the zone and hunting might leave me in peace to enjoy the life I kept trying to re-build. “What’s the job?” I asked.
Aria made a pleased hum that made me want to turn it down on principle. “You want to go back to the UK? Your wish is my command.”
“I doubt that somehow but okay. What’s going on?” I asked. I rarely worked on UK soil, my skills weren’t needed too often. That and hunting my back garden felt too pedestrian. “I have little information at the moment but they are paying a great deal. The person who contacted me said his name was Damien Stapleton.”
“Doesn’t ring a bell.”
I could hear fingers moving like greased lightning over a keyboard. “No, he clearly doesn’t exist. I’ve done a full background check and I can’t find him anywhere. It’s good news really because it means he doesn’t have a reason to create a full identity. He’s just using a name for a little protection. It’s why I agreed to contact you because this mission is specific to you.”
I frowned. That wasn’t normal, not many outside the industry knew who I’d become since leaving the Regiment. “They asked for me?”
“They want, and I quote, ‘Sergeant Luke Sinclair, for a pick up.’”
My frown deepened. “A pick up?”
I heard the clatter of more computer keys as she spoke to me. “Yep. They need you in London and then you have to go and retrieve someone.”
“That’s why they want to meet you in London I guess. You have the standard clause at that point to reject the job but we keep the deposit.” And Aria of course wanted her cut of that deposit, which would be a sizeable sum.
London in the early summer wasn’t as bad as New York and I could be home in three hours, less if the motorway wasn’t packed. “Alright, I’ll bite. Get me a flight to Heathrow.”
“Fuck off,” I muttered, hanging up the phone.
That title sent chills up my spine, who would be asking for me as Sergeant Luke Sinclair? I hadn’t been in the army for almost five years and I might have a problem leaving certain parts of the life behind – mainly the killing bad guys part – but I didn’t miss the chain of command. My mind wandered off down a rabbit hole and I fought to drag it back, but failed again. My room felt lonely
and cold, much like my life for the last five years.
I pushed off the bed, contemplated shaving but decided I liked the grizzled look for New York, and went in search of the nearest gay club. I needed to drink and I needed to fuck. Aria sent through the flight details to London, I had twelve hours to burn and in New York even during the day, I could find some trouble to enjoy.
Sarah Luddington is the author of historical gay romance and contemporary gay romance. She is a gay rights activist, holds three martial arts black belts, a degree in Medieval History and far too many dogs. She lives on a mountain in Spain and in her spare time writes and reads LGBT fiction.
Come and visit her website at www.romanticadventures.net or Facebook for more information. She always welcomes contact with her readers.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author? I have answered this one before, but…
I use writing as a way to escape. I need to have the space, the quiet, the time to explore worlds I’ll never visit. I need to be outside of my life and my head. I use it to control the spiraling thoughts. When I was a child, I was horribly bullied. It’s had a profound effect on my life since forever, stories helped me escape that life. Helped me escaped school and home. You’re never alone if you’re a writer. You always have company and you always have someone to love you.
Later, as a victim of domestic violence (is it any wonder I like to kill people in my books!), I began to realise I needed to find a way out of the life I was living. I was so poor – sooo pooor. But it gave me the courage to try for a life few ever get to experience. When you know how bad the bad can get, it makes it easier to risk everything on the words you write.
So, my writing continues to be a coping mechanism for the real world. Even if it’s just a few minutes a day, I need that time for myself. If I don’t get it then the inside of my head becomes very messy. Very messy – like imagine a teenage boy’s bedroom with no mother around to clean up after him!
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you! I’ve stood on a medieval battlefield with nothing more than a clay water jug and a woolen dress on (15thCentury re-enactment. No sword because no willy!) as the lines broke and several dozen men in full armour came charging towards me! That was scary. Oh, and I’ve shot arrows at Warwick Castle.
If you knew you'd die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day? Writing probably. Or walking with the dogs – yes, walking with the dogs. Then we’d come home, lie in bed together and go away. Not that I think about this stuff all the time or anything!
Who is your hero and why? Currently:Greta Thunberg. She, and those like her, are going to save the world. I admire her courage, fortitudeand honesty. I wish I had an ounce of her courage.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal? A magpie.They are loyal, clever, they steal shiny things like I steal stories, and mate for life.
What inspired you to write this book? Two things, a report into bulling in the Armed Forces and the need to shine a light on at least some of the horrible things that are happening in Myanmar. You know – cheerful stuff!
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters? Yes, in my newsletter, which you can sign up for here: XXXXX I am writing about one of the returning characters in the series, Corporal Richard Lancing. He’s a young man, who considers himself straight until he meets Blue. A cyber terrorist turned reluctant white hat and working for the UK Government. They will play a larger role in the next book, Firepoint.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters inFinal Play? I can. It’s first person and told from Nick Wilde’s point of view. He’s a private in the SAS (UK Special Air Service). He’s a big man, but not handsome – in his eyes at least. He’s being badly bullied by his commanding officer and decides to save a US Army Ranger from certain death. He is noble, quiet, kind, heroic in a gentle way and deeply compassionate. I think he’s my favourite in the series.
Gabriel Cabrera is the US Ranger he saves. Gabriel is beautiful, strong, determined and stubborn. He’s also flawed. He can be hard, callous even, and wants to learn to be a better man – a man with a heart. He falls in love with Nick and despite the terrifying odds, Gabe finds a way for them to be together so he’s no longer alone.
Tell us about your main characters- what makes them tick? The same thing makes both men tick – a strong sense of obligation and justice. They signed their lives away to their countries and they want to do right by that oath. They will also protect each other no matter what they face.
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead? I know exactly who will play Gabriel: Santiago Cabrera (Yes, I even stole the surname). Nick’s a bit harder… Someone able to pull off that gentle giant who can shoot to kill and isn’t too pretty… Suggestions on a postcard please!
What is your favorite part of this book and why? Oh, the ending – it’s so romantic – the most romantic ending I’ve ever written I think.
If you could spend time with a character from your book whom would it be? And what would you do during that day? Colonel Elizabeth Brant – she’s a tough but fair commander and despite being in her early fifties she’s on the ground with her boys helping to save the day. The adventures she’s had… And before anyone thinks that’s too old to being this stuff – come talk to me because I’m not that far off!
Convince us why you feel your book is a must read. The characters own the story. I’m just the one writing it down for them. It’s a must read because it’s a great romance, but I’m also very politically aware of what’s happening in the world right now (outside of COVID of course). It’s accurate, well researched and a page turner!
Is there a writer whose brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why? Stephen King. Tom Clancy. Two writers who can create great stories that people want to read but they are contemporary and not literary. I don’t go for literary books. I need to learn to make mine stronger and more complex. I’ve a great idea for a story about a prince from Afghanistan– did you know they had a royal family until the 1970s? There’s a story in there! It’s just such a complex one to write!
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book? I research while writing as I start with the characters and a location. That location will lead into the politics of a place, then I do loads of research into the history. For this one, I needed to understand what happened to Myanmar to make it the place it is today. I know loads more than I’ve put in the book. Also, I had to research a lot of the survival stuff. Some I knew, because it’s a passion of mine already, but some of it I had to work out along the way.
Do you see writing as a career? If only to keep the voices in my head quiet, I need to make this my career.
Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre? MM Romance, but it’s got to be good, it’s got to be world building. I don’t like cute meet. I don’t like boy meets boy nothing really happens but them falling in love. So MM romance with a side order of thriller, fantasy, sci-fi, crime, mystery…
What is your writing Kryptonite? Husband = Television - grrrrr
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? I actually struggle to write about women. All my women are very masculine and perfectly at home with a gun or a sword. I know nothing about fashion (my idea of heaven is being let loose in an army surplus stores to buy my clothes). So, writing soft women who need rescuing… Not really possible.
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