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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
Please be advised this novel contains mention of PTSD, excessive alcohol use, past domestic abuse, military combat scene flashbacks, death of a family member and the topics of both military, religion and profanity pertinent to character.  Although I attempt to write with sensitivity to these topics and do not do so gratuitously, they are central elements to the story. It's a very slow burn, not stroke story. I previously published a version of this story on another story site. This has been edited and revised with plot changes so you may still wish to read this version as the changes will affect the stories that eventually come after. Thanks!

Halos and Heroes - 5. Chapter 5

If anyone finds religion or faith-based conversation offensive, you may want to skip this. There is of course mention of former domestic abuse, suicidality and other heavy topics and profane language in between the sweet and silly parts as these two boys begin to feel the love tonight.
It's been WELL over a decade since I published anything professionally, so it's been that long since I worked with a professional editor. I haven't been able to pursue the beta reader route due to my health circumstances which mean I write when I can without worry of back-and-forth deadlines because I just can't with MS. I do the best I can, but I own any mistakes/typos and apologize in advance.

 

The man who says he is willing to meet you halfway is usually a poor judge of distance.

—Author Unknown

 

THE gentleness of Ben's kiss surprised me even more than the fact he was kissing me in the first place. Not that I expected aggression from a priest, but he was going so slow, giving me the chance to backpedal when he should’ve been the one heading for the goddamn hills. As a priest, Ben had a moral obligation to be more forgiving of, and patient with, humanity’s wide range of stupidities, than the average person. But considering I'd been a gift wrapped pain in his ass since the moment we’d met, continually trying to save me from myself probably meant that Ben was one of three things; 1.) Suffering from his own brand of crazy in order to so willingly tackle mine. 2.) A glutton for punishment and/or applying for canonization, or 3.) On some next level mission from God.

When I didn't shy away from Ben’s touch, which was half exploration, half request, I felt him smile against my mouth. The pad of his right thumb rubbed lightly along the sensitive skin just below my jawline that was already prickly, though my early 5 o’clock shadow wasn’t anywhere near as dark as his was. Even when it fully grew in, my version of a beard leaned more toward the aesthetic of a thick layer of dirty sawdust coating my chin and cheeks. Not the most attractive look, but it’d worked well in the sandy streets of Afghanistan. It'd also helped me fit in when Delta had sent me to places where looking sketchy as shit was helpful. None of that mattered though, because Ben was still touching me, obviously not concerned about my situational scruff.

Ben’s fingertips lacked any of the trigger finger calluses on my own hands and were confidently unhurried as they traced the contours of my mouth, pressing lightly at the left corner until I opened for him. I allowed my lips to part as Ben’s hand slid down the front of my chest when he immediately accepted my invitation. His tongue slid into my mouth with a sensuality that should’ve been as illegal as kissing your cousin was in 48 of our 50 states. If anyone else had been in the room with us, watching how Ben, still fully garbed with clerical authority, worked me into pliable, willing submission with that sinful mouth, people who preferred to keep things in the family would’ve suddenly felt a lot less taboo in comparison.

Never in my life had I been so turned on, and this was just a kiss. Granted, I didn’t think that the average priest kissed like Ben did. Hell, most men didn’t know how to kiss like he did. Ben wasn’t passive, but he also didn’t plunder clumsily. Instead, he licked, nipped, and lazily explored every inch of my mouth so thoroughly, I suddenly felt bad that I hadn’t thrown at least a half-assed pity grope Darcy’s way for hooking me up with the water and Listerine regimen back at the bar. Of course, the cinnamon mints Ben had shared with me earlier didn’t hurt either. We were going to end up tasting like each other. If Ben reconsidered our sleeping arrangements tonight, the combined scent of our skin and the inevitably outstanding sex to follow—if this kiss was any indication of what would happen when we ended up in any version of a horizontal position—would blend and become something uniquely us. I’d dare any damn search dog in the world to tell us apart then.

Ben's strong arm encircled my waist as he subtly widened his stance for stability before shifting his balance. The minor adjustment gave him enough leverage to encourage me to sink deeper into his embrace. Technically, he was pinned securely by my larger frame, my hands still braced on the wall, bracketing his head. But it was Ben’s hands that moved down my back assertively as we kissed; his fingers that hooked through my belt loops to tip my hips up flush against his. I gasped, and he swallowed down the low moan that immediately followed.

I was bigger, stronger, and trained in ways that could take him down without a second though, yet right now, I was the one who felt almost boneless. The uncharacteristic sensation made me wonder who really had the control right now.

Despite being closeted out of necessity when I’d been in the military, I’d never been caught up in, or held down by labels of any kind. I’d also never been particularly submissive in bed, or so insistently dominant that I came off like one of those uncompromising assholes who felt topping was the only way they could still get their manly-man shit on, while being queer as a fucking Spring parade. With Max being my best friend, and A.J. a close second, I’d learned to be pretty open-minded about sex. I believed in switching things up as often as a 90’s club songs remix. Top, bottom, submissive, dominant, none of those words had ever been part of my Let’s Get It On, Marvin Gaye, sexual dictionary. I fucked however worked for me and my partner at the time. But right now, with Ben’s fingers firmly keeping our bodies slotted together by his hostage grip on my jeans, my ass was all on board with the idea of losing the denim and having those self-assured fingers slide lower between my cheeks to peel me apart.

I moaned softly into Ben’s mouth again when he wound our tongues together. I hated the broken pitch of that needy sound, but not enough to give up his mouth. I shuddered as pleasure rolled down the length of my spine, one vertebra at a time. This unhurried exploration was a luxury I hadn’t indulged in a long time. Necessary discretion in the military hadn’t allowed me many opportunities to make out with anyone like a horny teenager, and I’d always been paranoid about hooking up with random men at gay bars unless it was a place far from Fort Bragg, or even the entire state of North Carolina for that matter. Max was the only person I ever completely relaxed around enough to enjoy more than a quick rough tumble, but for once, my best friend and my complicated feelings for him, were just fleeting thoughts in my head as I got swept up in the heat slowly building between Ben and me.

There was no need for a fucking snow suit anymore.

I allowed myself to get lost in the moment, using the scent of Ben’s cologne and the flavor of cinnamon in his mouth to build erotic puzzle pieces I could put back together privately whenever I needed to remember how fucking alive I’d felt when I was consumed with the desire to lay Ben down and worship him inch by inch.

Ben regrettably broke contact first. His forehead rested against mine for a minute, both hands rising to rest on either side of my throat.

"As much as I hate to reiterate my previous point, which admittedly seemed a lot more sensible before, this isn't happening tonight."

His breath was warm against my erratic pulse as his head briefly dipped to kiss the hollow of my throat. I considered his soft huff of laughter acceptable only because the subtly wheezy quality to it meant I wasn’t the only one affected.

“Mmmm…. Your dick disagrees,” I murmured, able to feel every inch of him through his jeans because we were still wrapped up in one another like a Chinese finger puzzle. “And mine is happy to stand up for him in the court of your bedroom as a character witness.”

Ben’s lips curled into an amused smile before he leaned in to brush an affectionate kiss across my forehead. It felt oddly comforting, even though it didn’t quite crush my desire to have him fuck me through the floor.

"They’re both overruled because your face is the color of cement, your shirt is stained with your own blood, and you’re just a general hot mess right now.”

My ears heated. "Sorry."

"It's okay. I've been there," he said before he kissed me again, this time on my right cheekbone.

That was nice and all, but I had to ask. “Drunk and bloody?”

“Not bloody, but almost everyone on the planet, me included, has been stupidly inebriated at some point in their lives. When that kind of alcoholic mayhem happens, so do body fluids of one kind or another.”

I bit the tip of my tongue hard to keep from suggesting that we add a few more body fluids to our current situation. I was curious if Ben’s body being infused by the number of cinnamon mints he seemed to go through, would affect the flavor of his spunk. Spicy maybe?

I cleared my throat. “Explains Florida during Spring Break.”

Ben chuckled. “The bathroom is just down the hall, the second door on your right. I just cleaned it, including the toilet, so feel free to hang your head if you have to throw up again.”

“Thankfully I think I got it all out at the bar. I owe Darcy and Troy a really big tip. I wonder if they can cash personal checks.”

Ben looked amused, but immediately wrapped an arm around my midsection when I swayed a bit unsteadily. I wanted to blame my instability on the aftereffects of all those drugging kisses we’d traded, but it was most likely just the booze.

“She really did ply you with drinks, didn’t she?” Ben said, after he started walking us in in the direction of his couch.

“Mmm hmm. Not the cheap stuff either. She wanted to play a round of, ‘find out what kind of heat soldier boy is packing.’"

I could practically feel Ben smirk, even before he moved around to stand in front of me. “Is that a version of hide and seek?”

“More like a carnal adaption of capture the flag. Unfortunately, mine is rainbow colored, so it wouldn’t have flown for her anyway.”

Ben laughed outright this time. “I bet she never saw my couch coming into the equation to steal her victory.”

“The couch? Wasn’t I supposed to get your bed?”

“You were, until I realized that the scent of your skin covered in my body wash after you shower, is going to blend in with my fabric softener and it’ll combine into an eau de Sam scent that will permeate my sheets and give me a hard-on till my next laundry day. That isn’t until Tuesday and today is Sunday. Long-term blue balls are a no go. So is sitting on my clean couch in those clothes. Try to stay upright for a sec.”

“All I’m doing is pointing upright because you started it,” I muttered.

I blinked when instead of offering some snark of his own, Ben’s hands moved to settle at my waist, fingertips inching beneath the hem of my t-shirt. My dick thought that this was an amazing play, but he’d just nixed the whole scent of Sam situation.

“I… I thought you didn’t want to fuck.”

Ben’s chuckled as he rubbed his thumb in a snail slow circle around the indent of my navel, making my skin prickle with awareness. My nipples peaked immediately but I resisted the urge to ask when foreplay had become a seminary school course. Years of experience learning not to mouth off to my superiors had its benefits.

“A.) I said we're not going to, not that I don't want to. B.) You're still not sober enough to be trusted alone in the shower and no, I'm not getting in there with you,” he said in obvious response to my hopeful look. C.) Sitting on my clean couch in those clothes isn't even an option. So, let's lose the shirt and everything else except for whatever underroo situation you have going on. Then you can just relax while I brew some espresso."

Ignoring all further protest from me, Ben maneuvered my arms to pull my tee shirt up and over my head like I was a sulky child. He unceremoniously discarded the soiled material in a rumpled heap on the floor at the far end of the couch. I looked upward at the ceiling to distract myself when those deft fingers popped the button on my jeans and tugged the denim down below my hips. Ben wasn’t trying to be sexy about undressing me, but his hands on my skin were pure eroticism no matter how clinically he was using them right now.

I started thinking about naked nuns riding seahorses in a sea of fruit punch to avoid focusing on the sexy priest currently on his knees in front of me as he worked my jeans down my legs. If I looked down, I knew I’d be tempted to sink my hands into that thick, sexily tousled salt and pepper hair, and I’d already lost the battle of willing my dick to sit this one out.

Instead, I laced my hands on top of my own head while Ben tapped my right ankle and instructed me to sit. I obeyed immediately, aided by the numbness that inevitably followed an alcoholic induced happy stint. I exhaled and leaned back heavily into the plush support of Ben’s couch as he finished unlacing my sneakers. He removed them and my socks, before divesting me of my jeans too. He stacked all of my clothing up beside my discarded t-shirt. I was allowed to keep on my plain black boxer briefs even after I’d graciously offered those up as well.

“Sit. Stay,” Ben said, before he stood up and disappeared into the kitchen.

The entire room was an open concept so I could see him from here, moving around with his usual casual grace as he started making coffee and pulling mugs out of the cabinets. While he worked on that, I silently tried to concoct different scenarios that might help me make the transition from the couch to Ben’s bed. I unfortunately hadn’t come up with anything concrete before Ben reappeared in the doorway, followed by the scent of freshly brewed coffee too robust to come from those stupid little K-Cups Sofia usually used. I found them weak, but she liked flavored coffee when she wasn’t going old school. Thankfully, Ben came bearing properly caffeinated octane that was guaranteed to wash away the sins my inebriated stupidity.

"Here," Ben said as he offered me a mug of black coffee. The dark blue enamel was decorated with flying pigs.

Smartass.

"Thanks. Look... are you sure it's ok that I'm here right now? It's late and you probably have other shit to do."

At this point I wanted to leave about as much as I wanted a root canal, but it seemed only right to at least offer, even if I was currently sitting on his couch in my fucking underwear.

"Don't worry, Sam. I don't have plans with anyone else tonight."

Ben grinned, apparently reading the brief flicker of unexpected jealousy in my expression that I obviously wasn’t quick enough to hide. I knew better than to ask, but my tongue betrayed me. A general lack of common sense was always an unfortunate side effect of too many whiskey shots.

"Not tonight huh? Is your little black book full, or just heavily bookmarked under W?"

“Andrew Whelan and I are just friends, Sam,” Ben said, not even pretending that I wasn’t transparent as glass. “Yes, he’s interested. And no, I’m not. He’s a kind, intelligent and capable man who’d make an excellent boyfriend.”

I glowered at him over the edge of my mug as Ben leaned against the wall in a relaxed stance, arms folded across his chest. “Unfortunately for him, I seem to be attracted to someone who’s tall, stacked, smart and yet adorably stupid when it comes to letting people care for and about him.”

He grinned as I eyed him. “He’s tall and stacked in the, 'I’d worry about him and road rage,"way, especially if anyone ever pointed out how easily, ‘Whelan the Weenie,’ rolls off the tongue.”

“But he’s not adorably stupid.” Ben said with deliberately saccharine sweetness. I rolled my eyes because yeah, point taken.

“He’s also never seen the inside of my home. We usually enjoy drinks out on the veranda when he visits. Great weather almost year-round is one of Florida’s greatest perks when it comes to entertaining.”

“Hurricane season has its benefits too. It can blow unwanted pests back to fucking Oz with the flying monkeys.”

I ignored Ben’s snicker as I took a careful sip of my coffee. An immediate low hum of approval escaped my throat. I didn’t know anything about wine, but I did know coffee and the strong espresso rich and full-bodied. It was also black and unsweetened. I didn’t know how Ben had figured out how I took my coffee, but it was another check in his already long pros column.

So was the alert, almost predatory glint in his hazel eyes which had darkened slightly after I made another happy sound before looking up.

“What?”

Oh, I knew what. I’d probably had a very similar expression on my face just a little earlier.

“You’re dangerous for me in so many ways, Samuel Trammell,” he murmured, lips twitching like he was fighting back one of his normal wide smiles.

“If you can’t stand the heat of being with a former military man, maybe you need to reconsider your stance on dating Officer, excuse me, Police Sergeant Whelan,” I said, deliberately emphasizing the guy’s rank for two reasons; 1.) Ben had pointed it out earlier, and 2.) I was making the unnecessary point that although army and police tried to run respectfully parallel to one another, if shit of the running and screaming in the streets under threats of meteor showers were ever to happen, I outranked Whelan by miles, and he’d have to go hide in the bitch bunker with the women and children while guys like me miraculously became meteor whisperers and saved the day.

I was also confident that despite all of his impressive layers of muscle, I could hand him his ass. I’d been trained to fight efficiently as an adult, but I’d survived my childhood by fighting dirty.

“If he whips out his work handcuffs though, that’s an automatic reason to cut him loose. Metal chafes.”

I got mouthy when I was drunk, and without a hard dick to fill it, situations like this happened. Granted, the jealousy angle was new. I wasn’t possessive by nature. Any sporadically jealous impulses I'd experienced in high school, had always been about Max. Those had stopped once I’d accepted that the only place anything serious might ever happen between Max and me, was in my mind. You couldn’t covet what wasn’t yours without some serious repercussions, and jealousy would’ve never allowed for us to make what we had between us work for all these years.

I’d never cared about anyone else enough to be possessive, not even Devlin. My anger with him had nothing to do with his sleeping with someone else, as much as it had to do with the fact, that the guy he’d cheated on me with had been my brother.

But Ben had somehow gotten beneath my skin, deep enough that it irritated the shit out of me to think that anyone else, including Andrew Whelan, wanted to get into his pants, even if he wasn’t mine to covet.

But he could be. No one who kisses like that doesn’t want to be a part of your world.

I could’ve cut off my own tongue when Ben’s eyebrow lifted. The right one. That lone dimple of his deepened until I wanted to poke my tongue into it. Unfortunately, all I could currently imagine was how Sergeant Whelan might explore that same spot, as well as the enticing hollow of Ben’s throat. Maybe the strong bones of his clavicle. Or the tender spot where Ben’s neck met his shoulder. I stopped myself before I could get any lower with my mental narration. If I thought of Whelan’s lips dropping anywhere south of Ben’s private time border to suck him off until Ben spilled down his throat, I might go onto fucking Amazon as soon as I sobered up and invest in one of those offensively expensive, insulated travel mugs. I’d bring it with me when I delivered my boxes of apology donuts to the precinct. If I just so happened to accidentally spill scalding hot coffee all over Whelan’s crotch as I passed his desk, it’d be an unfortunate accident.

I took another sip of the coffee currently in the mug that Ben had handed to me. This internally grumpy, almost teenage snark seeping out of me like a scorned teenage girl needed to stop. I didn’t like it. I’d consider it irritating in a cute, skinny little girl like Adelyn, so hearing it come from my own mouth while knowing I clocked in at 6’2 and around 220, was a hard fucking no.

Ben didn’t seem to share my thoughts, because he smiled when our eyes met. A smile so slow and lazy, it would've knocked my knees out from under me if I wasn't already sitting down.

“I always bring my own to a party of two, and the leather is as supple as a concubine’s behind.”

I was surprised by my own out of character behavior. Shocked wasn’t nearly in the stratosphere of a strong enough word to convey the emotion that resonated throughout my entire body when I registered Ben’s words.

I blinked, then swore as my cup tilted too far to one side and I dribbled a little of my coffee on my bare knee. I inhaled sharply. Not due to the pain, but because my brain was suddenly exploding with full color, capitalized, WHAT THE FUCKS?!, like the old action word bubbles in comic books.

Ben’s smile deepened when he caught the sound, because of course he would. He moved with a liquid, feline grace, so why wouldn’t he have the ears of a cat to match.

“What’s the matter Sam? Coffee too hot?”

“Nope,” I said, though my voice was too thick with arousal for me to even pretend to play things cool. “I’m just distracted by the cup you gave me, which FYI, seems at holy fucking odds with this entire fucking conversation. And just add those to the tab,” I said, before Ben could chastise me about F-bomb compensation. The kids at Maplewood would be feasting on sugar for sure.

Never let it be said that I’d let kids go hungry.

Ben shrugged, still looking amused. “It’s my favorite cup and you were the one who questioned what I can handle. I’m just making the point with crystalline clarity, that I can handle a lot more than you think. I’m a priest now Sam, but this isn’t the only collar I’ve ever worn in my life.”

I swiftly righted my mug when it began to teeter dangerously again. This time I managed to keep all of the liquid inside the cup. I was still wearing only my boxer shorts, and I didn’t need a pissy, ‘Little Miss Karma’ doodle to come along and bestow on me, the future I’d imagined for Andrew Whelan.

“I’m a little out of practice because I haven’t been with anyone in a few years by choice,” Ben continued sagely, “but it’s probably like riding a bike.”

My voice sounded a little hoarse. “What is?”

I got an unapologetically toothy smile as Ben swept my body with a slow look, lingering somewhere in the vicinity of my mug, which just happened to be resting in front of my crotch, before he met my gaze again.

“Dating,” he said, managing a perfectly straight face. “And we can talk about that later. For now, sit there. Drink that. Sober up.” He set a coaster down in front of me on the coffee table as I blinked owlishly at him, completely dumfounded He’d definitely won our game of one-upping snark.

“I’m going to take a shower and then I’ll be back to check on you. Drink,” he warned.

Then he was gone, and I was left staring stupidly at my mug. The painted faces of the pigs suddenly seemed more gleeful now, like they were saying, ‘you've got noooo game, motherfucker.’ I ignored them and sipped my coffee again, though thinking about Ben stripping off everything from collar to sneakers sobered me up faster than even an entire pot of expensive Colombian coffee could’ve managed. I took a second sip that led to a third, eventually draining the contents of the cup completely, in spite of my tongue and gums joining forces in vehement protest about the temperature of the liquid.

Heat I could handle. The tingle of a slightly burnt tongue would keep me focused and alert to imagine the play of the shower water sliding over Ben’s broad shoulders, then down the line of his spine slowly, before finally dropping off in little waterfalls from the small of his back, into the cleft of that perfect ass. I envied that water something fierce, because it got to explore all of the places I wanted to put my hands and tongue into.

“Falling asleep on me?”

When I opened eyes, I didn’t remember closing, I saw that Ben was standing with one shoulder pressed snugly against an elegantly carved support pillar that gave the impression of some separation from the living room and kitchen. He’d changed into gray sweats and a white T-shirt that looked comfortably worn in. The faded black lettering across the chest said, ‘Give me an amen!’ His feet were bare, and his damp hair was slicked back from his face by either a comb or his fingers. He looked as relaxed and comfortable out of his collar as he was in it, which of course made me remember his last words to me. I cleared my throat and shook my head.

"No, just coming back to earth. Do you mind if I take a shower now? I promise I won’t compromise your homeowner’s insurance by slipping in the bathtub."

I pushed myself to my feet after putting my now empty mug on the coffee table coaster. I swayed only minimally, but Ben still moved with that fluid speed to steady me as he helped me towards the bathroom. He didn’t have a bathtub, just a huge, glass and shower that was his immaculate clean as the rest of the bathroom with its steam of white and gray.

"Be warned the pipes are old, so the temperature fluctuates," Ben said as he let go of me long enough to get the water running. “It usually starts colder than a witch’s toe, then warms up to the perfect, hot tub temperature until it decides to scald you like a lobster. The kids at Maplewood are always talking about how great AI is and how it would help make things run so much easier in houses, especially with warming up water. Whenever I point out that your smart house could easily burn you alive if you made it angry by doing something like getting an addition added, I get blank looks. Obviously, none of them grew up as sci-fi nerds like I did.” He grinned without any shame. “So just be aware.”

“Of the fact you’re still a nerd?”

A fucking ridiculously hot one.

“Or that your ‘up and coming neighborhood’ might kill me?"

Being a smartass earned me a splash of water in the face, but I couldn't really complain. Not when Ben wiped his hands dry on his white tee shirt and the fabric turned translucent in those spots. His nipples were pale, small brown nubs beneath the thin fabric, his abs tight and sleek. It was doubtful he'd done it on purpose, but he was still the winner of tonight’s wet t-shirt contest.

"Shut up," I told my dick under my breath as I stripped of my boxers and stepped into the glass shower stall. By the lack of steam, I’d known the water would be freezing, but the dose of frigid liquid helped shut down any bright ideas my dick could come up with.

I thought I heard Ben's soft laughter when I hissed, but after I dunked my head under the spray, the water pounded so hard on my neck and shoulders that all outside sound was muffled.

My shower wasn't long. The water temperature proved as unreliable as Ben had warned. The upside was that the alternating shots of hot and cold helped clear my head. When I finally emerged, shivering and blotchy, I felt normal, aside from the killer headache already forming.

I made a mental note to ask Ben for aspirin, then stepped out of the shower to grab a fluffy looking gray towel off of the rack. It was clean and smelled like some pleasantly floral fabric softener. I briskly rubbed it over my short hair, then down my body before wrapping the now damp terry cloth tightly around my hips. I experienced a brief, ‘oh shit’ moment when I remembered my own clothes were still in the living room. But a brief scan of the bathroom brought my attention to proof that Ben was stealthy as fuck.

The plain burgundy t-shirt was almost a muscle tee fit on me, and the hem of the black shorts was a few inches higher than I was comfortable. I’d never been the sashay and shake my ass type. But, if the ill fit was evidence that the clothes were Ben's, rather than belonging to whomever in his past had taught him about the benefits of investing in leather handcuffs, I was just fine with showing some leg.

On the other side of the sink, I found a new toothbrush still in its wrapper, a travel sized tube of toothpaste, and a small bottle of generic mouthwash. There was also a small metal cup filled with what I realized was filtered water when I drank it to wash down the three-ibuprofen gel tabs he’d left on the safe edge of the sink in what looked like one of those liquid medicine cups. Unfiltered Florida water could be nose-curling, so it was yet another small courtesy that seemed to be very Ben; his MO so to speak.

That might be a problem.

Ben was a nice guy, and a fucking fantastic human being, one whom my dick thought he was especially amazing, but I wasn't the kind of man who'd ever appreciated a nice guy other than Max. Since my best friend had always made it clear he wasn't even a fleeting option for romantic longevity, I'd always gone for what was easy. No attachments, sometimes no names. Just a quick rub and tug, or a fast and hard fuck.

Give me your liars, your cheaters, your closet cases yearning to breathe free... Not quite the words Lady Liberty embodied. In my defense, I hadn’t ever knowingly slept with liars or cheaters. Devlin had broadsided me. The rest of my few hookups had been one-night stands; mostly closet cases like me. They helped keep a nice safe distance between the Sam who gave a shit, and the one who knew he'd have a lot of pieces to pick up if he ever allowed himself to hope for a life without some kind of violence and chaos; whether it was military sanctioned, or just every day bullshit.

Getting involved with a priest would be the crown jewel of bad decisions I'd made in my life, my involvement with Devlin among those. Men like Ben didn't do casual, and that was all I could give.

Meeting my tired eyes in the fogged mirror, I reminded myself of that nine times as I tied the elastic on my borrowed shorts and hung up my towel neatly. Then I reminded myself five more times, that Ben wouldn’t ever be able to do casual.

I walked out of the bathroom and toward the scent of coffee and what sounded like Ben humming.

"You look better," Ben said, pausing whatever song had inspired him, when he spotted me. "How do you feel?"

He gestured me towards the huge pale gray granite island, sliding a bar stool toward me with his bare foot. A second cup of coffee found its way to my side when I sat down. I took a sip without looking at it, and gagged when vile, offensively sweet liquid hit my tongue.

Ben grinned at me. "Not a café con leche fan?"

"If that means drinking a drop of coffee with my sugar, no. I prefer it black. Jesus, how much sugar did you put into this?"

Ben smirked and took a healthy sip of his own coffee, then tipped the cup down slightly so I could see that the liquid was even paler than most café style cappuccinos.

"Sorry. I gave you the first one black to sober you up, but when I was pouring these cups, I went on autopilot. I like it light and sweet."

There were so many places I could take that, but I’d consider the coffee my penance for tonight.

"I'm all right. A little worn out."

"I believe it. You've had a long day. How are your hands? Do you need new gauze?"

"No, they're okay." I held them up so he could see. I'd unwrapped them in the shower to check out the damage, but other than being a little more tender in some spots than others, they were fine. I’d just carefully dried them after throwing out the gauze in the small garbage can in the bathroom. "Not even bleeding anymore." I paused. "Hey… I'm sorry about before."

"Which part of before?"

I felt my lips curve into a rueful smile because yeah, a lot of different apologies could be appropriate. "For kissing you. I was out of line. I shouldn't have made a pass like that. You put yourself out there for me, twice. Instead of just saying thank you, I tried to jump your bones. That wasn’t cool."

"Technically I kissed you," Ben pointed out as he leaned forward on his elbows, just far enough into my space for me to catch the scent of his body wash. We really did smell like each other now.

"Sam, I didn't turn you down because I don't want you." Those warm eyes met mine as he smiled. "I think I made it pretty obvious with that kiss, just how attractive I find you. You're sexy, intelligent, and you look good in a uniform. What's not to like?" he said with another smile. "But when we do make love, I intend to make sure you’re sober and can actually commit every single moment to memory.”

My pulse kicked up as I met his eyes, trying to sound casual.

I failed.

“When? That’s being a bit presumptuous, isn’t it? Shouldn’t we stick to, 'if,' in order to avoid the whole pride and vanity, two-for-one-sin special? That kiss might’ve been a one-time thing.”

Ben didn’t say a word, but his expression clearly told me that was simply because he refused to waste them. We both knew I was full of shit. There was no possible way that was going to be a one-time thing, even if it should be.

I’d never been good at relationships, and with everything going on in my life, this was most certainly not the fucking time to try out training wheels. But even beneath the toothpaste, mouthwash and the sickeningly sweet coffee, I could still taste remnants of Ben… warm cinnamon and something else uniquely him.

Yep, no possible way it was going to be a one-time thing. My brain was already telling my dick to watch itself, and that damn appendage that got every man throughout history into trouble at some point in his life, told my brain to piss off and relay that message to my heart instead.

I took another sip of that horrendous coffee, then cleared my throat, going for shock factor to take back control. “Memory palace, or spank bank?”

My bold play failed epically when Ben grinned at me before nipping the air above my nose. “Dealer’s choice.”

Sweet Mother Mary, Jospeh, and baby Jesus too…

“Ben… just so you know… I don’t think you do casual, and that’s all I know how to do.”

Ben snorted. "I think we passed the casual stage once you started silently plotting how you could get away with taking out a police officer who has the hots for me.”

I didn’t deny it. “In all fairness, he’s probably had a few of those thoughts about me too.”

I stood with my mug because it warmed my hands pleasantly. I felt Ben’s gaze follow me when I started to move around his kitchen. I paced whenever I needed to think. It’d started out as a habit when I was a kid. I used to sneak out of the house at night and take long walks to clear my head and get away from the chaos at home. The habit had been fed and grown by nights of military patrol. I didn’t do well when I just sat still with my own thoughts.

“You don’t sleep around.”

“I don’t. Do you?”

“The military isn’t exactly open season for gay men.”

“The same could be said for the priesthood, though that’s not why I choose to be selective.”

“Picky people end up alone.” I attempted one last sip of the coffee, then grimaced.

Nope. Absolutely not.

I set it down on the counter.

“And men who sleep around end up with crotch rot.”

My lips twitched because I’d said that exact same thing to Max more than a few times.

"My pizzle stick is in prime condition, handsome. Want to see?"

Ben laughed and added another heaping spoonful of sugar to my coffee mug before he scooted it closer to his own, apparently claiming it. "I'm sure that it is, but I'm still not sleeping with you."

"Tonight," I corrected. "You’re not sleeping with me tonight because of a minor inebriation issue. Tomorrow is a new day, and semantics become a thing of the past. If you're already in bed with me, logistics get easier."

Ben smiled with the serenity of the Mona Lisa but didn’t move after I crooked my finger at him to try and get him to come closer. Instead, he just pushed one of the two water glasses near him, over to where I'd been sitting.

"No? What else are we going to do all night then?"

"Do you know what the name Samuel means? It's Hebrew, from the Old Testament," Ben said my blank stare prompting him to enlighten me. "Samuel was the prophet who anointed Saul and David as kings of Israel. All of the translations, name of God, asked of God, heard by God, mean the same thing...God chose Samuel as His voice."

I moved to retrieve the glass of water since Ben's version of coffee was completely unacceptable. After taking a sip to clean my palate, I shrugged. Connor and I hadn’t been raised religiously. I hadn’t even attended weekly Sunday services until Connor, and I had moved in with Max and his parents. To say that my biblical knowledge was fuzzy, was a gross understatement. I was solid on baby Jesus being born, and his adult self, dying on the cross. Everything in between fell into a category as clear as the dirty channels between the snowy static on our old tv with basic cable had been.

“Not to be a dick, but is there a point in there somewhere?”

It was easy to give Ben credit for patience. Instead of slapping me upside the head as I no doubt deserved, he continued. "I always think of Samuel as a soldier—someone with the courage to not only hear, but also to carry out God's plan."

"And what exactly would that plan be?" I wasn’t sure I’d like where this conversation ended up, because I was already at a loss as to where it was going.

"I don't know. Maybe a chance to give your head and heart an opportunity to heal? Or perhaps a way to unite you with your family again, allowing you to pick up some of the broken pieces Connor left behind."

"Are you saying God wanted Connor to be killed in action to make everyone’s life easier?” I silently commended myself for showing restraint when I set my water glass on the counter without shattering it from the forceful pressure I applied.

"No." Ben's voice was firm, his gaze steady when our eyes met and I tried with my harshest stare make him look away first. "Sam, I don't know why Connor died, or why anyone dies.” His expression gentled. “God works in ways that we don’t always understand. Jesus’ death was the only one ever truly predicted. The rest of us live in the unknown. It wasn’t your fault you survived the things life has thrown at you, or that Connor didn’t. It was just some part of God’s plan, like you returning to Florida is.”

“Connor died because he made some very stupid choices, I said tightly. “I’m here because those choices left his family in need of help. Coming back was just the right thing to do. That’s all there is to it.”

“They needed you before,” he said, refusing to back off. "Where were you then?"

"Out killing a lot of fucking people to save the goddamn world.”

I wanted those words to come out as a harsh snarl. Brutally, to convey the unforgiving reality of the world I’d lived in for a decade and a half. I wanted to freak Ben the fuck out and finally scare him off, but instead my words were delivered in a tone closer to pragmatic resignation than to rage. Tired more than terrifying.

Ben stood immediately, but instead of running, he moved toward me, one hand reaching for me. I smoothly sidestepped. I could move just as stealthily as he did when I needed to, though my grace was learned, not naturally ingrained like his.

"Sam, wait. That came out wrong. I’m sorry. I'm not judging you."

"Like hell you aren’t. Not that I blame you.” I took another step back when Ben started to move toward me again. He finally got the hint and stayed where he was.

“If I had a fucking time machine and could rewind everything that’s happened, I would. But I can’t, so I’m stuck with trying to navigate reality; Connor is dead. His family's a mess. I'm a mess. But that's on me, not some all-mighty deity."

Ben sighed. "This is going sideways and I think we need to reset because the last thing I want, is to upset you. You’ve had a rough night and I’m honestly not judging you. We all have things in our past we’re not proud of, myself included. That doesn’t change the fact we can always find forgiveness from God if we just have a little faith. It can be one drop in an otherwise empty bucket. It’s still enough for Him."

"That sounds like a beautiful fantasy, but I gave up on happy fairytale endings once I realized my mother wasn’t a princess, and my father wasn’t a prince who cared about her or his sons enough to save any of us from the world, or from him."

"I’m not talking about fairytale endings. I’m talking about hope. That’s what gives us a reason to keep going."

“Well, you better get your jar ready, because I’m calling fucking bullshit.”

“Then I’m going to call that bologna and raise you a full can of beans.”

We stared one another down silently like two children for all of about thirty seconds before I backed down. I was bigger and stronger, but Ben seemed scrappy, and I didn't want to risk an altercation when I was off my game and he had the advantage of angels on his side. I’d also never hurt him. When I’d had to take violent action in the past, even before the military, it was always because there’d been no other option. Right now, my options were limited, but I still had a few.

Ignoring all etiquette about smoking in other people’s homes, I turned on my heel to stalk back into the living room. I pulled out one of the five packs of cigarettes that were still in my jacket. The rustling sounds of plastic as the rest of the packages were disturbed with the loss of one, clearly signaled that it wasn’t my only stepping stone towards potential lunger cancer one day. Before Ben could protest, I had one lit with the stainless-steel lighter Connor had given me as a gift on our 21st birthday six years after we’d both picked up the bad habit.

Out of a sense of propriety, I offered the cigarette to Ben. He hesitated for a fraction of a second, just long enough to grant me a perverse sense of satisfaction. He was human after all.

"I quit over a decade ago,” he said. “I prefer not to choke on myself."

"Not any worse than garlic breath," I said taking another hit. I held the smoke in until it burned, then carefully released slow rings like Alice’s caterpillar, a cheap party trick perfected from years of practice.

"I'd suck a garlic clove before I'd kiss an ashtray."

My lips twitched, but I switched the cigarette to my left hand to keep the smoke away from Ben.

"You said there wouldn't be any more kissing," I reminded him. "I'm also too drunk to fight with a priest who lives out in the middle of nowhere, and is lusted after by a high-ranking police officer who I hate to admit, is stupidly hot. He‘d probably help you hide my body."

Ben looked amused. "Tonight, there's no more kissing," he said, quoting me. "Quit smoking by tomorrow, stay away from the booze, and we can renegotiate."

"I'm going to finish this outside."

I wanted to avoid making promises I didn’t have a chance of keeping. I knew Ben was just teasing me, but stupidly, I still wanted to give him what he asked for. Since I couldn’t, at least not yet, evasion was the best plan of action.

I pulled open the elegant French doors leading out to his back deck. The muggy air immediately wrapped around me like a wet, heated blanket, but it still felt less oppressive than being inside.

I had a few moments to myself before the doors re-opened, then closed again with a gentle bang as Ben joined me on the deck.

I could see him moving in my peripheral vision as my eyes adjusted first to the dark, then readjusted to the soft glow of the deck lights after Ben flipped them on. Like he’d said earlier, the back veranda was huge. It was just as invitingly decorated as the front deck with wicker furniture, a slatted wooden canopy, and plenty of comfortable seating. The porch swing he’d mentioned was in the far corner, facing the direction I knew the sun rose in. When it came up in the morning over the water, I imagined it’d illuminate the view into something almost magical.

When I’d gone to Arizona with Max and AJ a few years ago, our travel agent had heavily stressed seeing the Grand Canyon at sunrise. She’d said that when the sun came up and slowly brought the expansive beauty of the canyon into focus, it felt like God had turned on a flashlight. While I might not have a superlative relationship with The Almighty, I had to agree that it’d been an almost otherworldly experience. I’d never felt so small and insignificant that it was humbling, but in a serene way, not degrading like when my father had instigated those feelings in me as a kid with his years of verbal and physical abuse.

I puffed out another smoke ring pensively. If I had to spend the night, it might be worth seeing how this sunrise compared to that one.

For now, standing out in the quiet dark was calming. The soft crash of the ocean was soothing, and the ocean spread out as far as I could see, in shades of blue so dark they looked almost black. I inhaled deeply, then slowly exhaled. I still didn’t believe that God had set all of this into motion, but I couldn’t deny the odd sense of serenity out here; the first I’d truly experienced since coming home.

"Sam?" Ben said, his tone low as not to spook me, but still confident enough to convince me he hadn't come out here to apologize for anything he'd said. I wasn't sure if I was annoyed or impressed by the size of his balls and their bold brass color.

"Judging isn't what I do, but if it came across that way, I assure you it wasn't what I intended."

I tapped my cigarette with one finger over the railing so the ashy end fell off and disappeared into the sand. “What were you after then?”

“All I wanted was to help you make sense of things I know you’re conflicted about. I fall back on my faith to help me make sense of things when I feel lost. Sometimes I forget that isn’t true for everyone. I should’ve taken a slower, more patient approach with you, because accepting that God always has the best intentions for us, no matter how hard they can be to see, only happens when we believe there is a God. Once we get there, believing that He loves us too much to allow us to live blind without any plans to help us find our peace, becomes possible. You’re not there yet, so I’m truly sorry I pushed you so hard. That wasn’t fair. Forgive me?”

I sighed. I could hear his sincerity, but instead of leaving it there with a simple acceptance of his apology, I said, "Ben, it's not that I don't want to believe there's a higher power of some kind. When a soldier is sure he’s about to die, they always find religion really quick because they worry about what’s waiting for them on the other side. There were times when I was in tight spots and didn’t think I’d make it to see the next day, that I promised the universe I’d try to do better if I made it out. I just stopped at some point, because I realized that asking for help without committing was wrong. If there was a God, he’d probably stopped listening to me a long time ago, and my survival rate was sheer luck.”

“God doesn’t keep score, Sam,” Ben said, his voice gentle.

I shrugged. “Max’s mom says she prays for me every Sunday, so I figure if He's listening, she has a better chance of being heard."

“Do you feel like Connor dying is proof God doesn’t exist?”

“No,” I said, and that was the truth.

Surprise registered in Ben's tone. "Really?"

I nodded as I finished my cigarette. I didn’t see an ashtray anywhere so I silently apologized to earth savers everywhere, and dropped it over the edge into the sand. "It'd go against the beliefs that helped me survive." My gaze lifted to meet Ben's. "Every single time a soldier goes out there and puts their life on the line, they believe it counts for something. It's a conscious choice we make.”

"So, you're saying that you want to be respected for those choices, and believing in some greater plan takes away from that sacrifice?"

"Partially. I also lost almost an entire team under my command, which meant wives, girlfriends, and children, all under the age of five by the way, lost their daddies. That experience made me feel like sometimes God just likes playing games of chance, so why put extra faith in Him, when we already had to play those games ourselves to help other people because it was what we signed up for?”

“Loss of loved ones, especially when it’s sudden or unexpected, rocks everyone. It’s still within God’s plan, but it can also feel very ugly and like a deliberate attack. I get that.”

Ben was silent for a moment before he said, “Let’s try something easier that ties into your own belief systems. But only if you’re willing. No pressure.”

I eyed him, but finally nodded. “Ok.”

He smiled. “Sometimes I think of religion like one of those, ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books; the ones that gave you two options to eventually achieve one of several possible outcomes that were dependent on the choices you made.”

“I remember those. Connor always ended up with the good quests. I got attacked by cannibals or mauled by lions.”

Ben smiled slightly. "Well, that’s sort of how God works. He allows us free will to make our choices. Sometimes they have negative consequences. But the fact that he knew us before we were made, and will always be there for us the way any good father is for their children, never changes. But I can see why you wouldn’t want to feel like some marionette being moved around by its strings."

I knew he read my bemused expression when he chuckled. “Trust me Sam. I sort of know what I’m talking about.”

“Because you’re a priest and are tapped into the whole ever after?”

“I wasn’t always a priest, Sam. I just practice what I preach because I have my own story, just like everyone else does. Demons still chase me. But now I chase back.”

“So, you said before. But what exactly is that story?”

“Do you really want to know while you’re still coming off of a bender, or when you’ll remember it all in the morning? I’m willing to tell you either way, so it’s up to you.”

I considered it. I was feeling more sober now, but I was getting tired and despite all the shit I’d given Ben tonight, I wanted to learn more about him, and I did want to remember the details.

“Later,” I agreed. “You said you still run from your demons and if you’re an avid runner, your story will still be there when I have a cup of coffee in my hand that doesn’t hurt my teeth every time I sip it.”

Ben grinned. “Fair enough. And I run five miles a day, three days a week.”

"I try to get ten in daily just to have some down time to clear my head."

“That sounds excessive.”

“You live in a house of all women for a week, then let me know if that’s your final answer.”

Ben chuckled and his smile was both sweet and suggestive as he said, "I'll have to work myself hard to keep up then."

"I won't go easy on you."

"If you can dish it, I can take it." He grinned. "But back to what we were saying. Was your family religious?"

I snorted. “We never even got a bless you when we sneezed. Connor and me never went to church as kids, but I met my best friend, Max when I was 14, and his parents dragged me along with them a few times. They’re devout Baptists, but it didn’t take until Connor and I moved in with them after emancipating ourselves from our father at 16. Going to weekly service was a non-negotiable rule for the Colonel. Max’s father, I clarified.

“Another military man?”

I nodded, more comfortable with this direction of conversation for now. Discussing my biological family’s dynamics could become a shitshow really quick, but I considered the Melones my only real family outside of Sofia and the girls.

“Highly decorated and super strict, but always fair. He and his wife, Vera, protected me as much as I allowed them to while I was growing up. They’re good people."

Ben smiled. “That’s nice. You’re still in contact with them?”

“Yeah. Losing touch of them would be like cutting out a piece of my heart, especially since their son and I have always been close. As kids, Vera like to joke that if you were looking for one of us, all you had to do was find the other one first.”

I considered lighting up another cigarette. Instead, I settled for moving over to the porch swing where I could rock slowly, my still bare feet braced on the smooth floorboards, hands loose in my lap. I needed movement as I came down from my alcoholic high, but this was a few steps down from pacing.

“Sofia showed me a photo of the four of you once; Connor, you, her and Max. You are all in your late teens and looked happy. Comfortable with one another.”

He paused. For the first time since I’d met Ben, he seemed to be weighing his words very carefully in his mind. “Sofia said you and Max were especially close once?”

It was my turn to see through his transparent lines. “We still are. Max and I have had a thing since high school, but it’s never been serious. More like a dictionary version of friends with benefits. We love each other, but… we just can’t be together.”

I hated the fact that was 100% true, because I knew it was opening a damn can of worms, but at some point tonight, without realizing it, I’d apparently decided that I wouldn’t lie to Ben about anything, even if it was painful.

“Why not?”

And there it was. Fat, wriggling worms exposed to the surface as Ben asked the million-dollar question.

“Because he’s never wanted that.” I was proud of how matter of fact I sounded. Calm even. Apparently the truth really could set you free sometimes.

“Let me apologize in advance then for what I’m about to say.”

Ben paused and I gave him a curious look.

“Max might be he’s your oldest and closest friend, but he’s also inexcusably stupid. And not in the adorable way.”

I grinned. "Believe it or not, he’s said the same thing a few times.” I shrugged. “He told me a long time ago that he can’t be what I need, but never that he doesn’t want to be, so it’s complicated.”

“Sounds a bit like mind games to me.”

“No, he’d never do that to me.” And that was 100% true too. “With other people, he bullshits as much as the day is long, but we don’t do that to each other. If you really want me to take your word about the Most Holy on High, then trust me about Max. I don’t know why he can’t commit to me romantically, Ben, but he’s always been the most loyal and devoted person in my life. He’d take a bullet for me without hesitation, just like I would for him. He wouldn’t do that for anyone else, except his mom. If he could be here with me now, he would be, and not because we’re in any kind of real romantic relationship. It’s just who we are to one another. But he couldn’t get the leave time. He’s a military doctor so it’s just as difficult for him as for anyone else.” I rocked the swing with a bit more force before I added. “I lost a lot of people when we were ambushed on a mission. I told you that. I didn’t tell you that I was shot three times and almost killed." I paused when I heard Ben make a low sound in his throat. I didn't look his way. "But I survived, and Max was the first person I saw when I woke up in the ICU. He refused to leave my side unless he had to do his rounds at the hospital. When I was discharged, I went home with him while I recovered. Max was there for me in every possible way during all that time; making sure I ate, that I took my meds... and later.... that I didn’t blow my brains out after I found out Connor was killed and it felt like one more death on my hands.”

I swallowed hard. That last part made my ears burn with shame. Shame had killed more people in the world than guns did, and I'd almost become a statistic for both.

I turned to look at Ben and watched his eyes widen as what I was saying finally registered.

“If it weren’t for Max, I wouldn’t be here, so that’s why I can say with all certainty, that he isn’t trying to hurt me. You talk a lot about faith…well…Max is faithful to me, and loves me as much as he’s able to. I wish it were in the way I wanted him to, but I’d rather have him at my back in this capacity, then out of my life because he can’t change.”

Ben exhaled and the soft whoosh managed to sound both frustrated and resigned. “I probably know better than most, just how complicated people can be, but still…. It’s difficult for me to understand how he couldn’t want more than something casual with you. Did anything ever happen to make him doubt relationships? Do his parents have a good marriage?”

I grinned. God, he was cute when he was all Team Sam Trammell.

“There goes that shrinky default of yours,” I said, amused when Ben had the grace to offer a lopsided smile as his cheeks brightened with the very faintest hint of rosy color.

“Told you… Having Tara as a best friend makes it difficult not to see the world through all the shades and shapes of human neurosis, my own included.”

I chuckled as my knees alternated between a slight bend to straight out in front of me as I settled the swing into a gentle rock. Ben apparently kept the hinges and chains well oiled, because they barely made any noise.

“They do. They’re polar opposites on the surface. His mom, Vera, is a former southern debutante who can be found in the dictionary beside the words, perfect mom. She’s loving, open, and always ready with both hugs and a slap of common sense to the back of your head, depending on which one is more appropriate to the situation. Sometimes it’s a two-for-one deal.”

Ben chuckled as he pushed off the railing and moved towards a small blue cooler that was parked beside a very large potted plant. I’d noticed neither cooler nor plant before, but I lifted a brow when Ben opened the little cooler. I silently pointed to the bottle of water he came up with in his left hand, instead of the can of orange pop in the right. Ben put the soda back and grabbed another bottle of water for himself before moving to sit beside me on the swing. I took a sip of my water after I untwisted the cap. It wasn’t ice cold, but it was definitely cooler than it should’ve been on such a muggy night. The cooler must’ve been one of the insulated types to keep the temperature of whatever was put in there. A slight smirk touched my mouth as I recalled my earlier fantasy plan for the tragic scalding of Andrew Whelan’s dick.

“What’s his dad like?” Ben asked, interrupting my thought process after taking a sip of his own water.

“The Colonel’s complicated. He’s a good husband and a good dad, but strict enough that Max has never been allowed to call him anything else, even though he told me a few years ago that I could call him Henry. I never have. Partially because he’s earned his rank and it’s the right and respectful thing to do, but also because I know it would hurt Max, even if he’d never admit. He always jokes that I’m the son his father wanted since we were both soldiers.”

“That’s actually… pretty painfully harsh.”

“And now we’ve left shrink mode, folks, and are moving right on back with a steady flight plan to land in priestly compassion.”

Ben nudged me hard with his toes. I chuckled, then nodded.

“I know. Most parents would cream themselves with pride over the bragging rights of having a successful MD in the family, but the Colonel and Max have always butted heads on practically everything. They love each other, but it’s the epitome of the ‘we shall not say it loud,’ situation.”

A thoughtful expression came over Ben’s face. I could practically hear his wheels turning, but when I asked him what he was thinking, he just smiled and shook his head slightly.

“Psych 101 is over for the night. How about a penny for your thoughts instead?”

I took another sip of my water. “They’re not worth that much.”

“They are to me.”

I grinned. You’ll get richer faster with all the curse word fines that I owe you.”

“Probably, but that’s altruism for the kids. Getting to know you is a selfishly motivated endeavor.” He grinned as he shifted slightly closer to me. It wasn’t enough to make our bodies touch, but the swing was a moderate size so were too close for a third person to have sat between us.

“I smirked. “Any specific thought?”

“Nope.”

I was thinking that I wanted to burn a guy’s dick off with hot coffee earlier.

“I was thinking that this is probably the most relaxed I’ve been in a long time. Like I can finally breathe after months of holding my breath.” I sipped my water, surprised that I could actually admit that out loud to him. “Max’s parents, the Melones, always made their home a safe place for me, and despite Max’s inability to satisfy my hearts the way I’d prefer, he’s always felt like the safest place for me to be.”

Felt?

Ben’s voice was politely pointed, and I could feel my eyes crinkling at the corners as I fought my smile. Of course he’d pick up on that small semantic slip.

“You’re a nosy bastard.”

“Yes, I am,” he agreed. “I’m also a really good priest who knows how to drive you from zero to sixty like whoa!”

My laugh burst out before I could check myself. Ben spanned the entire spectrum of personality traits from compassionate to passionate, to goofy as fuck. God only knew what else would pop up if I spent enough time around him.

“Unless you’ve changed your mind about driving it like you stole it, it’s time for a subject change.”

Ben chuckled and gently tapped his water bottle against mine in a teasing toast.

“That’s fair. But we’ve bounced around a lot, so I’ll let you either choose a new topic of discussion or choose a previous one if you feel we didn’t explore it enough.”

I considered the question. Ben was giving me a major out. I could talk about rutabagas if I wanted to and he’d allow it. It’d be easy. Unfortunately, Ben’s interest in us getting to know one another better was becoming less of a one-way street with every passing minute. He thought I was dangerous for him… well, that shit wasn’t a one-way street anymore either.

“Earlier you asked about my relationship with God, and I said I went because I respect Max’s parents and that was what they wanted.”

“Ah, that’s right,” Ben said. He smiled, and I could see his surprise and pleasure over the topic I’d chosen. “Would you have gone otherwise?”

“Probably not.”

“Were you reluctant to go because you didn’t want to listen to weekly doctrine quoted at you about a God so wrathful that He only forgives when his biblical rules are followed exactly as they’re laid out?"

I considered that. "I see where you're going with this, but I'm not an atheist. Maybe agnostic, and that’s mostly because sometimes religion does a lot more harm than good. I fought for years against fanatics who wanted to obliterate half the world, including their own people, simply because of different belief systems.

"That’s a valid point. But once we get hung up on the bad, it's easy to overlook the good. If everyone stopped complicating God, we'd be fine."

My lips twitched. "Now I know why people steer clear of politics and religion in conversation."

"Eh, it's not that difficult." Ben's hands lifted to punctuate his words when he spoke, the way Sofia sometimes did. "Too often, people confuse church, with God.”

“What do you mean?”

“God is God. He has no equal. He is infallible and all loving. He doesn’t make mistakes. People make mistakes. Yes, the bible was inspired by God, but it was written by men, then transcribed and translated so many times, into so many versions, that one simple word substitution can completely change the intended meaning like a bad round of playing telephone with teenagers.” He smiled when my lips twitched. “When anything is translated that many times, misspellings can happen, possibly even entire portions. Maybe that’s why women weren’t equally mentioned throughout the bible often despite the fact God created ALL of us. We’re all His creations, and if we’re all offered an equal seat at His table when our time to meet Him comes, why leave out half of His children? Was that God’s intention of was it simply because the books of the bible were written by men during an age where women were considered lesser? Do you see where I’m going with this?”

“To hell? Yep, absolutely.”

Ben laughed, a low rumbling sound. The swing dipped when he pulled his legs up, and completely turned his body to face me, sitting on the bench in a cross-legged position. “What I’m saying, is that “church” is built solely around the bible, and that the bible was written by human men. Every human being is fallible, so sometimes it’s less about the black and white book, and more about what God is supposed to feel like. Which is always love,” he said with such obvious warmth and conviction, it was almost a little overwhelming, like staring straight into the sun. “Not everyone is born into a home that has a relationship with God, but some people forget that, and don’t offer hope to those who need it most. And then the lost get a sour taste in their mouths and say?...”

I blinked as I realized he was waiting for me to fill in the blanks. After a few seconds of mental static, a light bulb went off, “that they don’t like going to church.”

“Exactly. Which turns into them feeling God doesn’t love them and won’t always forgive anything they throw at Him as long as they keep trying to live a life where they love Him, love their neighbors and just try to do the best they can. Going to church to be closer to God is wonderful, but going just because it’s what you you’re supposed it, isn’t.”

"You talk so much blasphemy for a church guy."

"Maybe, but I wasn't born with a collar on. Religion, aka “the church,” lacks stability because it changes with the whims of whoever's in power at the moment. Like all human institutions it's fallible. So, we're not talking strict doctrine here, just personal faith. Same as your beliefs as a soldier."

"If our belief systems are so much alike, why are we having this conversation?"

Ben grinned. "So that you stop seeing the differences between us and start seeing similarities."

"Why?"

"My priestly answer is because God can be a great comfort when you feel that you don’t have any other options. Even when you stumble and fall to your knees, his hand is there to help you up. You just have to take it. My personal reasoning though, is simply that it’s good for friends to understand what makes them each tick and where their passions lay, so they can find all the things they have in common."

He flicked my knee. "Bottom line," he said, "I believe God loves every one of his children, whether they’re brilliant or foolish, and He has a special plan for each one. And now this is me stepping off my soap box."

I snorted. "Watch that step. It's a doozy."

"Hey, if a bunch of teenagers consistently railing against, ’the man,” and by the man, they usually mean me, not God, I'm sure a man trained in takedowns can handle me."

He was joking, but the words brought full color, X-rated visuals to the forefront of my mind. I swallowed hard, trying to find a light note for my voice. "Covert tactics… they are a thing. "

"So, I've heard. Army Rangers are always portrayed as sexy protectors in between kicking butt and saving the day."

I nodded, hesitating for a moment before I made a decision. Delta operators were supposed to be the epitome of the cast of Guess Who game characters. Or fight club. You didn’t talk about fight club. You didn’t talk about Delta. We were supposed to unidentifiable spooks. Someone could have a current or former operative on the line behind them at the grocery store, or sitting beside them in a church pew and never suspect that the mild-mannered guy singing Hallelujah beside them or offering them tips on the best cuts of meat to buy when they were on sale, could end them with one move. We were just people. Extremely capable and dangerous people who had to keep the lowest of profiles. We had to keep our identities secret, but we were allowed to tell our spouses and serious significant others. I didn’t have a boyfriend and I wasn’t married, but Max was my emergency contact in the event anything ever happened to me, so he knew. No one else did, not even Sofia. And though technically, secrecy didn’t matter now that I was retired, I still wanted to tell Ben. I wanted him to know exactly who I’d been, so then maybe he could help me learn who I was supposed to be now.

I wasn’t sure where to start, but it seemed like God wanted to prove Ben’s belief that He always had a plan for us, which included having flawlessly appropriate timing.

Ben’s voice softened. “May I ask you about something you said earlier?”

That was a loaded question because we’d both said a lot, and most of what I’d said, fell into the douche chill category. I nodded anyway.

“Sure.”

“When you were upset before, you said that the reason you weren’t here for Sofia and the girls earlier, was because you were killing people to save the world…” He paused, his hazel eyes searching my blue ones intensely like the answer really mattered. I suddenly felt slightly nauseous, but I sat up, my shoulders squaring with the proper posture I’d temporarily forgotten while I let down my guard with Ben.

“Was that a figure of speech or was it really that bad over there? I’ve seen clips on the news like most people, but I know that news networks can vary with the angle of coverage they take on certain news stories, just like different versions of the bible sometimes do with scripture.”

I swallowed and shook my head slightly. “Not a figure of speech. It happened less when I was a Ranger then when I was recruited by Delta as an operator though.”

Ben arched an eyebrow reaaaaaally slowly. I could see his wheels turning again, his mind probably filling in blanks with definitions made up of movie and TV show portrayals which was usually pretty inaccurate, but it was a start. “Delta as in Army special forces?”

“Delta falls beneath the Army’s jurisdiction, but we aren’t soldiers in the traditional sense. Our missions are specific, and the specs depend on which agency calls us in. Regardless of which one spearheaded the operation, for 6 years, it the job of me and my team to make sure we got jobs done and continued the tradition of keeping Delta in the category of ghost stories. The movies overly glamourize it. All they generally get right is that most of the time, operators dress the way civilians do. My hair was longer too, generally because I couldn’t always be bothered to cut it, and I wasn’t required to.”

“You probably look good with some scruff.”

“It was long enough for your fingers to tangle in if I was on my knees.”

I knew my smile didn’t reach my eyes when Ben didn’t take the bait. “What other parts does Hollywood get wrong?”

I tensed, but he waited me out, gently wiggling his toes slowly so they brushed the outside of my thigh.

“The nightmares,” I said finally. “We were all justified in whatever we had to do when it was necessary, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t sometimes fucked to hell and back… nightmares don’t just happen for no reason, and we all got them from time to time.” I swallowed, but I didn’t look away and neither did he.

“I don’t get them every night, but they’ve been more frequent since Connor died, and these are unfamiliar surroundings. If it gets bad in here,” I said, lightly tapping the side of my head with my index finger, “you might hear me talking in my sleep… but…don’t freak out. The nightmares always pass eventually. I might just need to get clean sheets for the couch, then come back out here for a cigarette break. Maybe make coffee for you this time so that my glucose levels don’t shoot through the roof.”

I heard a soft pop and realized I was restlessly cracking my knuckles. It gave me a reason to look down at my hands as I said, “I’d understand if you wanted me to call a cab now. It’s cool.”

I don’t know what I was expecting Ben to say or do, but him sliding into my space, half on my lap, definitely wasn’t it. We were up in one another’s space like we had been in the living room earlier, but this time it didn’t feel sexual at all, though a different kind of tension crept into my spine as his hands came up to cradle my face for a moment.

“I’m sorry.”

I knew what he meant. I shrugged, though my hands rested lightly on his knees. “I’m not. Not about the majority of it. We knew what we signed up for.”

He nodded. “True. But being a good person meant you don’t always have to accept it.”

You’re a good person, and that’s exactly why we shouldn’t be doing this.”

Whatever this was.

“You said I was dangerous for you, remember? You were right. The military thought so too. They couldn’t trust I’d keep it together forever because of my PTSD. I was so close to the end of my contract, my COs decided that qualified me to get out a little earlier under the classification of a medical discharge. But no matter what they call it on paper, it all amounts to me being out of the club because being considered unsafe is bad for optics.”

Ben snorted softly. “You know that I was teasing. I’m not afraid of you, Sam. The military has its opinions. I have mine. Right now, those are the only ones that matter to me. You just said you only hurt bad people when necessary, and by your own standards, I’m good, which means I’m safe. I trust you, just like your family does, and I want you to stay right where you are, just like they do.”

That sentiment was sweeter than his damn coffee and made me feel just as queasy. I squirmed awkwardly because I wasn’t used to this mushy shit. I’d never been that type of man, not even with Max, who deliberately used ridiculous, over-the-top endearments to tease me because he knew that they made me as uncomfortable as PDAs did.

“I’m hoping you mean in Florida and not on this swing because my ass is starting to go numb. You eat bricks for breakfast or just entire boxes of sugar cubes?”

I protested when Ben goosed my ribs hard, but then he leaned in to brush the lightest possible kiss across my mouth, so I let him live.

“We agreed no kissing tonight.”

And yeah, I knew my tone didn't sound like a complaint.

I felt Ben’s smile against my mouth before he pulled away. “That wasn’t a kiss.”

“Vera would politely ask you not to pee on her leg and call it rain.”

I was beginning to love the way that Ben laughed. He never bothered to tone it down. He just let it rumble out of his chest with natural, delighted enthusiasm that always felt exactly appropriate to the situation. He laughed like most people did as kids, before we realized that toning down our emotions was how most people went through life.

“If you stay, there’s plenty of time for real kisses. I can also teach you how the right amount of sugar elevates a properly made cup of Cuban Cafecito.”

“Since I now have a baseline for what you consider the perfect amount of sugar, the coffee thing ruins your pitch. “

I blocked Ben’s hand smoothy when he went for my ribs this time. “I didn’t intend to stay past the funeral.”

“Are you going to?”

For the first time since I’d gotten home, I didn’t hesitate when I answered that question. “Yeah… Things are so fucking complicated, but I can’t leave. Not until I know they’re ok.”

“That might take a long time.”

“I know... it scares the shit out of me.”

“Because of what Connor said to you?”

I nodded.

“Sam, I met Connor a handful of times, and I can assure you, that even though you were identical twins, anyone who stood you side by side, would be able to tell you apart.” Hs thumb brushed the thin skin just below my left eyebrow. “Your eyes are completely different. He didn’t have the eyes of a protector. You do.” Ben’s expression softened. “You would never hurt Sofia or the girls physically, and you’re working on the emotional part. They need you. Even if it takes some time, eventually you’ll build something stronger and more beautiful together. Like Kintsugi.”

“What now?”

“Oh, now you really need to stay so I can make you all cultured while you rock your, I’m all big and bad, but stuck in suburbia, uniform of tactical pants and t-shirts. Wear that to a PTA mom meeting and I guarantee you—”

Ben didn’t get a chance to finish whatever smartass angle he was working, because my pointer and middle fingers curved into his right side, and he yelped.

“What’s kintsugi?”

He rubbed his ribs. “It’s me trying to give you a compliment," he grumbled. "Kintsugi is a Japanese art form where they repair broken pottery with gold. The repaired cracks of the pottery represent the healing process we all go through us when we get scarred by life in different ways. Sometimes our lives aren’t easy, but we can always surprise ourselves with our level of resiliency when we embrace our flaws and accept them as a part of our lives. Google it later. The pieces are beautiful.”

"Gold’s a little out of my budget. I’m more of a duct tape guy.”

“If it works, that’s all that matters. We all have issues. What makes them manageable is having supports." Ben flashed me a smile so deep that lone dimple danced. "So, find your own support."

"I told you I'm not comfortable with the whole group setting. Aside from Max and A.J. you’re the only other person who knows all the sh—stuff, I told you tonight."

Ben smiled when I made the effort to slow down the profanity train. "I’m not talking about the group right now. I’m asking you to give me a chance, Sam."

I sighed. “I already have three people in my life I’m worried about screwing up. I don’t know if I can handle a fourth.”

A soft oomph sound escaped my throat when Ben slid completely into my lap. He wasn’t heavy. I was just surprised. But when he looped his arms loosely around my neck, I didn’t pull away. Instead, my hands slid down his back slowly before resting on his hips.

“How about this then? If you can’t have faith in God yet, let's go old school John Hiatt, and you can just have a little faith in me. Fair?"

My lips twitched. “That’s asking a lot.”

“No, it’s not, because it goes both ways, which is why I changed my mind. You have 3 places to choose from to get some sleep tonight. The couch, which I originally suggested because it was closer to the main bathroom than my guestroom is, the guestroom itself, or, in my bed with me.”

I blinked. He was still in my lap, so I knew he felt me tense. It’d been one thing to try and get him to fuck me when I still had the safety net of a barely-more-than-strangers wall between us, but now, after my night of uncharacteristic word vomit, being in bed with Benjamin Santiago would take on a completely different meaning, and probably be a worse idea than letting him in as much as I already had tonight.

“I don’t think we should sleep together tonight.”

Ben looked amused, probably because my voice was as serious as I was.

“I’m not offering sex, Sam. I’m showing you that I trust you enough to take you as you are, nightmares, insecurities, and all the rest. I have a king-sized bed. Even you can’t take up enough room for us not to have our own lanes, though if you insist on a pillow wall between us, we can make it happen.”

I scrubbed the heel of my left hand over my face to hide my smirk. It was a loaded offer. The attraction between us was an almost tangible vibration. Even though nothing was going to happen tonight, Ben’s voice was low and intimate, but comforting, as his words curled up low in my belly like a sleepy cat. I'd opened Pandora's Box by making a move on Ben earlier, and like her, I had no idea how to completely handle what I'd set free.

Ben waited me out, his fingers brushing lightly across the skin of my right arm where there was a long flat scar left behind by what had been a very sharp knife. It was nearly a decade old, but even faded by time, it still visible against all the tanned flesh around it.

“Guestroom,” I said finally. "Because as much as…as much as this… has all been tonight… I’m still not sure I can give you what you want."

Ben got extra points for being able to not only interpret, but also ignore that mess. "To have someone to talk to when you have a lousy day?" he asked, his voice light as he continued drawing abstract patterns into my skin.

"You know what I mean."

"I know we’re attracted to one another and have spent hours talking.”

“When we weren’t fighting,” I said.

Ben showed me his teeth and I grinned back. “We didn’t fight. We both voiced our strong and stubborn convictions, then we worked it out. You’re still here, and I’m comfortable right where I am, though it is getting late, so I regrettably have to get up. But I want you to stay tonight and get some sleep.”

Sleep was the last thing on my mind, but I followed Ben back into the house after he got off my lap so I could stand. I noted that his bedroom was directly across from the guestroom before he gestured me a room that reminded me of the guestroom in Sofia’s house, just with more masculine colors and darker furniture. It made me wonder if there was some secret, guestroom decorating handbook that all homeowners had access to.

“The sheets are clean. I wash them weekly even though this room never gets used. I just like the smell of the fabric softener.”

He grabbed a small remote control from the nightstand and tossed it to me, then indicated the large flat screen mounted on the wall. "I have all the premium cable channels, so have fun." Ben grinned at my questioning look. "Even a priest has to have a vice."

"Thanks, Ben. For everything."

"You're welcome. Feel free to stay as long as you want to. I have a youth group session in the afternoon, but my morning is free if you're up for a run."

I made a noncommittal sound because I felt pretty sober now, but hangovers were stealthy son-of-bitches and liked to catch you off guard, so who knew what the morning would bring, especially if my nightmares made an appearance halfway through the night.

Ben smirked. “I'll throw your clothing into the wash for you and put your jacket on the chair over there. I have extra phone chargers for both androids and iPhones inside the drawer of the nightstand.”

“Look at you being all domestic.”

“Yep. I’m very much the kind of boy you want to take home to meet the Melones.”

I chuckled even as I felt my ears heat because yeah, he was too damn persistent for his own good or mine.

“I’ll see you in the morning Sam. Remember, I’m an avid runner. I’m also considering it game on tomorrow, so if you don’t want me to catch you, you better call on the strength of every military hero you’ve ever had to channel and bring it.”

He grinned and I sighed.

Well fuck.

That slow burn just keeps on burning... Now Ben just has to walk around with some matches to relight it whenever Sam gets squirmy and tries to put out the spark!
As I mentioned to someone whose followed my work for a bit, this novel WAS finished.... however, when I did rewrites and discussed with them as well as just let ideas percolate in my head, the characters rewrite themselves which means more unexpected twists happened. So, while this chapter was HEAVILY revised from the original, the next one is going to be almost a complete rewrite because a former bit character gained a larger role here unexpectedly. So there will be a bit of a delay depending on how cooperative my nerve pain is, but it's in the works already!

I love hearing from everyone so please don't be shy if you're enjoying the story, have feedback or thoughts. Thanks all!
Copyright © 2024 JJQuinn; All Rights Reserved.
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I always appreciate receiving constructive feedback. It helps all writers improve, so feel free to reach out and comment.  Another version of this novel was previously published on another site years ago, but this version has been heavily edited, lengthened and many portions have been completely rewritten.
 
Although references in this novel may be made to actual places or events, the names, characters, incidents, and locations within it are complete works of fiction and the result of an avid imagination. They aren’t a resemblance to any actual living or dead persons, businesses, or events. Any similarity is completely coincidental. I originally began this series during the Afghanistan war, but I skip around a lot timeline wise in the sense of mentioning movies/songs/events that are sometimes more recent. I try and keep it subtle, but sometimes you might have to suspend belief a bit, so bear with me and my creative license. In an effort to do the United States Army justice, and to show my respect to my country, I have applied all possible efforts to merge fact and fiction to entertain, while portraying the military, and the hardships and achievements of soldiers, with respect, dignity and accuracy to the best of my abilities. It's my hope that I've done you all justice, and that all of the creative licenses taken with this novel are understood to be the efforts of imagination, and not any judgment or disrespect against the U.S. military. Thank you all for your service.
Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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Chapter Comments

Again, I have to comment before reading complete chapter!

OMG WHAT A KISS!!! There are many good smut writers here on GA, but this has been the best kiss I have read about!!! A MIND-BLOWING KISS! :kiss::heart::2thumbs:

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10 minutes ago, Cane23 said:

Again, I have to comment before reading complete chapter!

OMG WHAT A KISS!!! There are many good smut writers here on GA, but this has been the best kiss I have read about!!! A MIND-BLOWING KISS! :kiss::heart::2thumbs:

Hah...thanks so much Cane. As I've mentioned to you before, writing JFH which of course comes after Halos, helped me go backwards with this rewrite to fill out the characters better because they all had their own POV in that one. Knowing Ben "before" in that novella helped me with him in Halos in "the past" which has changed his dynamic with Sam because Ben wouldn't be passive lol. We won't say why for any new readers who don't know hos past career choices but if ya know, ya know 😉 

Edited by JJQuinn
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I loved this comment by Sam..."Ben spanned the entire spectrum of personality traits from compassionate to passionate, to goofy as fuck. God only knew what else would pop up if I spent enough time around him."

Sam is going to spend lots more time around Ben and we are going to find out. But, going through his PTSD will be create more nightmares and very rocky, I am sure.

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47 minutes ago, akascrubber said:

I loved this comment by Sam..."Ben spanned the entire spectrum of personality traits from compassionate to passionate, to goofy as fuck. God only knew what else would pop up if I spent enough time around him."

Sam is going to spend lots more time around Ben and we are going to find out. But, going through his PTSD will be create more nightmares and very rocky, I am sure.

It's definitely an up and down, but when Bens past comes to light, why he spans the spectrum that way makes more sense. With every life experience comes inevitable change. Some rockies but also more light. Ebbs and flows 😀 I'm glad youre following along!

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Well, what started with amazing KISS, continued with amazing FLIRT and SEDUCTION GAME and ended with amazing conversation, ultimately CONFESION! The magnetism between Sem and Ben is incredible. There's even jalousie toward Police Sergeant Whelan which Sem cannot rationally explain to himself. Sem is really behaving 'out of his usual' character in front of Ben. All these confused feelings, fears and openness...he has told Ben most hidden secrets of his life - about his family, Max, Max's family, love and betray, combat and PTSD...

They have serious conversation, with Sem's past being only part of it.

They have talked about religion bringing some good arguments...with Sem being intelligent and adorably stupid😆

The morning will bring sobering headache, running and Ben's CONFFESION about his own past. Is there something that can surprise this tough warrior?!😉

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46 minutes ago, Cane23 said:

Well, what started with amazing KISS, continued with amazing FLIRT and SEDUCTION GAME and ended with amazing conversation, ultimately CONFESION! The magnetism between Sem and Ben is incredible. There's even jalousie toward Police Sergeant Whelan which Sem cannot rationally explain to himself. Sem is really behaving 'out of his usual' character in front of Ben. All these confused feelings, fears and openness...he has told Ben most hidden secrets of his life - about his family, Max, Max's family, love and betray, combat and PTSD...

They have serious conversation, with Sem's past being only part of it.

They have talked about religion bringing some good arguments...with Sem being intelligent and adorably stupid😆

The morning will bring sobering headache, running and Ben's CONFFESION about his own past. Is there something that can surprise this tough warrior?!😉

I'm glad you approve Cane. This chapter was almost completely revised. The skeleton was the same,  but 90 percent of the dialogue was either new or the structure and placement changed. I hadn't fleshed Ben out as a person in my mind the first time but when writing JFH I found him and realized dang...someone like he used to be, who was as ahem...successful as he used to be, wouldn't just turn it all off. We can't turn off our basic personality whether that's confidence or magnetism. We just make it work more appropriately to our current or new lives. So definitely not letting Sam run as much. I like it better.

 

Heh I giggled too when adorably stupid popped onto the page. Ben is more Ben and Sam is still broken but not as whiney in his head because he also let's the grumbly snark out more often. I'm glad you feel the chemistry.

 

Unfortunately such, major changes and confessions in this chapter that originally didn't happen till the next chapter means that one had to be completedlu pletely scrapped so changing it around to bring AJ in made sense. But I think the overall result is stronger because it balances Sam's family life a bit. New person, new distraction who is close to Sam and can vouch for him and used to a huge family so he can handle teenage angst. Thank you for always taking the time to give your feedback!

 

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46 minutes ago, JJQuinn said:

Heh I giggled too when adorably stupid popped onto the page

Their conversation is so witty and intelligent. I'm always laughing to good humor of yours:

“Mmmm…. Your dick disagrees,” I murmured, able to feel every inch of him through his jeans because we were still wrapped up in one another like a Chinese finger puzzle. “And mine is happy to stand up for him in the court of your bedroom as a character witness. 😂

He grinned as I eyed him. “He’s tall and stacked in the, 'I’d worry about him and road rage,"way, especially if anyone ever pointed out how easily, ‘Whelan the Weenie,’ rolls off the tongue. 🤣

Quote

“Yep. I’m very much the kind of boy you want to take home to meet the Melones.”

This sentence caught my attention. How perceptive Ben is, he knows exactly where the family is and who to 'ask for a bride's hand"! 😉 That is new, I remember we have spoken about colonel and his perspective of his sons. Who is the 'real' one? Hope in some of the sequels, both Sem and Max will not call him nether colonel nor the Henry, but dad. 

Quote

God is God. He has no equal. He is infallible and all loving. He doesn’t make mistakes. People make mistakes. Yes, the bible was inspired by God, but it was written by men, then transcribed and translated so many times, into so many versions, that one simple word substitution can completely change the intended meaning like a bad round of playing telephone with teenagers.”

Ben's view of God and religion might be seen as blasphemy by Sem (yea, I know, he is teasing) but this view is not strange for the church itself. A father of the church St. John Chrysostom said: “If you’ve come to church to find holy people, you’ve made a mistake. If you came to find God, you chose correctly”.

At the end of the comment, I must say how much I have enjoyed 'coffee talk'. I had to make a cup of good Turkish coffee before the end of the chapter! 🙂

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3 hours ago, Cane23 said:

This sentence caught my attention. How perceptive Ben is, he knows exactly where the family is and who to 'ask for a bride's hand"! 😉 That is new, I remember we have spoken about colonel and his perspective of his sons. Who is the 'real' one? Hope in some of the sequels, both Sem and Max will not call him nether colonel nor the Henry, but dad. 

Yes! This part is new and I'm not surprised in the least that you caught it. That's exactly what was intended.  Ben's quick and Sam talked about how the Melones are his family.  Also a way to neatly nudge Max out of the way lol. And I hope that too!

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3 hours ago, Cane23 said:

Their conversation is so witty and intelligent. I'm always laughing to good humor of yours:

Aww thank you. I have a smart mouth...it used to get me into trouble with my parents lol but as an author it works! When Tara talks...that's all me lol. Except she's gay.

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I'm loving this sizzling hot slow burn story. The background story is compelling, and the characters are both complex and engaging. Please keep those episodes coming!

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24 minutes ago, riccardo said:

I'm loving this sizzling hot slow burn story. The background story is compelling, and the characters are both complex and engaging. Please keep those episodes coming!

Thank you Riccardo! The next chapter is coming. Because I'd made a few last minute changes to the original story, it changed a lot of it unintentionally so I had to dump the previous chapter 6 and am rewriting it all  eesh! But I hope to be done sooner than later. I am an editor and re editor type so it takes mr awhile between that and stuff hands. I have a voice to text but I like pen and paper for flowing and then transfer it to word. But it's coming! The burn continues to be slow but when it finally heats up...fireworks!

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I’m definitely immersed in this suburb well Crafted story. Please don’t keep us waiting too much longer for more!
 

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3 hours ago, Unioncounty said:

I’m definitely immersed in this suburb well Crafted story. Please don’t keep us waiting too much longer for more!
 

Aww thanks! I hope the next will be done soon. It was technically done but then I made some changes and it drastically changed a lot so I'm just fixing things as I go. Fortunately the book after this is finished and will be posted faster after this..thanks so much for letting me you know you're enjoying it!

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5 hours ago, JJQuinn said:

Aww thanks! I hope the next will be done soon. It was technically done but then I made some changes and it drastically changed a lot so I'm just fixing things as I go. Fortunately the book after this is finished and will be posted faster after this..thanks so much for letting me you know you're enjoying it!

Scared Still Waiting GIF by Looney Tunes

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On 4/29/2024 at 6:26 PM, Cane23 said:

Scared Still Waiting GIF by Looney Tunes

lol It's in the moderation queue. Had to break it in half... this chapter and next 2 are basically all new content. One tiny change made a mess lol.

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20 hours ago, JJQuinn said:

lol It's in the moderation queue. Had to break it in half... this chapter and next 2 are basically all new content. One tiny change made a mess lol.

Happy Very Good GIF

Crazy day today so I'm late for the party. I'm going to ch 6 now... 🙂

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I thought the bast part of this chapter was the following...

Ben smirked. “I'll throw your clothing into the wash for you and put your jacket on the chair over there. I have extra phone chargers for both androids and iPhones inside the drawer of the nightstand.”

“Look at you being all domestic.”

“Yep. I’m very much the kind of boy you want to take home to meet the Melones.”

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8 minutes ago, drsawzall said:

I thought the bast part of this chapter was the following...

Ben smirked. “I'll throw your clothing into the wash for you and put your jacket on the chair over there. I have extra phone chargers for both androids and iPhones inside the drawer of the nightstand.”

“Look at you being all domestic.”

“Yep. I’m very much the kind of boy you want to take home to meet the Melones.”

Ben plays for keeps. Sam has no chance but we will pretend he does!

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