Chapter One

 

 

THE short six-block walk from home to Gunny’s favorite diner on Main Street was one that he normally enjoyed. Riverview was full of southern small-town charm that was rich in history, and for the most part, the attitude among the residents was relaxed and easygoing. He’d bought the house not long after being promoted to gunnery sergeant, and knew when he retired, he’d be staying. Sure, he’d have much rather owned one of the grander homes closer to the main strip—he’d always had a thing for historical homes but could never figure out how to get rich in the Marine Corps. Besides, his house was perfect for him, tucked back off the street with a large private garden that could be viewed from every room in the place. The gardens were great, but it was the privacy he liked more. The fact that his best friend Mac fell in love with it made the decision to buy an easy one.

Most mornings, Gunny enjoyed the short walk, but he’d woken up in a shitty mood. Not that it was any different from the morning before. In fact, he’d been having a lot of those mornings over the previous couple of months. Whether he woke in the middle of the night or after the sun had risen, it was always the same. His gut would knot up, head filled with static noise, and his whole body would tense. Not just tense, but holy fuck tense to the point where he’d wake up with back spasms and cuss and groan in the middle of the night. And didn’t those oh-so-fun, twisting-in-agony nightly events make his new, unwanted, best friend insomnia even more irritating. In this irritable mindset, made all the worse because he couldn’t figure out what was causing the problem, he grabbed a newspaper and stomped off to the Bonnie Mill Diner.

The Bonnie Mill had been some fancy-ass private home before the turn of the century. From the outside, it was a huge Victorian painted lady with a wraparound porch. Gunny could imagine the typical ladies-in-the-parlor, men-in-the-manlier-rooms kind of house. Cute little chambermaids scurrying around with lace doilies on their heads yelling, “Yes mum, no mum, right away mum.” Nowadays, it featured apartments on the upper floors and a kick-ass place to eat Saturday-morning breakfast on the main floor. It wasn’t that he couldn’t cook his own breakfast. Hell, he’d been a bachelor since eighteen years of age. It had been either learn to cook or suffer the canteen seven days a week. It just seemed pointless to make a big breakfast for a party of one. Besides, the food at the diner was great, the company enjoyable, and it was routine. He liked routine.

Stepping through the door, a lively chorus of “Gunny” from about ten familiar faces filled the air to mingle with the smells of fresh baked pastries, bacon, and freshly brewed coffee.

“Morning.” He returned their greeting and waved.

A little of his ire subsided, and a warm smile crossed his face at the early morning welcome reminding him of that old sitcom Cheers. Everyone was pretty much regulars, only a couple of the faces unrecognizable. A place where everybody knew your name, although instead of a big wooden bar, the main focus was a soda fountain-style counter, and rather than being a really cool Boston pub, the Bonnie Mill had been converted to a diner back in the nineteen fifties. It still had the original Formica tables and red vinyl chairs set in place back when the diner had been new. So, there really weren’t that many similarities between the Bonnie Mill and Cheers, but the greetings were the same.

The only variation came from Bill Klein, who yelled out, “Gunny Gunnery,” while he laughed boisterously and slapped the counter with a loud bang.

Not sure what Bill’s major malfunction was, but from the moment the guy had found out his nickname was Gunny, short for Gunther, and that he was a gunnery sergeant, the old man had thought it was the funniest joke he’d ever heard. He nodded in Bill’s direction and took a seat at the opposite end of the counter as far away from the strange man as he could get. There was just something creepy about a guy who laughed at the same joke nearly every week for a year.

“Mornin’, Gunny, what ya in the mood for?” Carrie Anne asked, as she set down a glass of water, then turned over a mug and filled it with coffee.

Carrie Anne was another routine at the diner: more accurately, a weekly annoyance. Every Saturday morning she insisted on waiting on him. She claimed if she had to make sweets all week she was entitled to the man candy—that would be him—on the weekends. And she was entitled to whatever she wanted at the Bonnie Mill. Carrie was a twenty-eight-year-old insane bleach blonde with a big mouth and an even bigger, um, set of assets. She had married Carl, the owner of the place, who just so happened to be butt-ass ugly and thirty-something years her senior. She’d tried to convince Gunny she’d married for love, but he didn’t believe her, having heard the rumors of her affairs and seeing her leaving the local pub with one of those whom it was rumored she was sleeping with, only a few weeks after the wedding.

“Whatcha bake me fresh this morning, darling?” he asked with a smile.

Carrie Anne leaned in, her assets practically spilling from her two-sizes-too-small white blouse, and licked her brightly red-painted lips before murmuring seductively, “Hot, cherry pie.”

After a year of practice, the greasy-looking lips inches from his face and the sickly sweet perfume she wore no longer made his stomach roll. He no longer had to hide the gag behind a coffee cup, having grown used to it or perhaps just become desensitized. There wasn’t anything wrong with sweet perfume, just not a complete bottle at one time. Less was definitely more. Even the painted lips—again in moderation—didn’t bother him. He’d dated a drag queen once, hot as hell. The things he could do with those pouty and glossy lips— Well, let’s just say Carrie Anne was so not sexy. But the woman was a fan-fucking-tastic baker, so he put up with her batting her fake lashes and groping his ass while she walked him to the register each Saturday morning.

“I’ll have the three eggs, over easy, bacon, ham, sausage, hash browns, and an extra side of toast, please.” He gave her a wink. “And a slice of your cherry pie.”

“Coming right up, sugar,” she purred, returning the wink.

Gunny shook his head as Carrie swung her hips exaggeratedly as she swished and swayed her way to the kitchen. Gunny couldn’t help but wonder as she walked away, trying to be all sexy, what she would say if she knew he was gay and none of her shenanigans did a damn thing for him. Not that he had plans to tell her anytime soon, but sometimes he thought the shit storm that would rain down on him would almost be worth the look on her face. Talk about priceless.

After taking a sip of coffee, Gunny flipped open the newspaper; his eyes nearly bugged out and his breath whooshed out noisily when he read the headlines.

 

BREAKING NEWS: Obama, Pentagon certify “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal

 

Heart hammering in his chest, Gunny wrapped both of his hands around the mug and brought it to his lips, sipping at the steaming brew to cover up the shocked look on his face while he continued to read the article.

 

“Today, we have taken the final major step toward ending the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law that undermines our military readiness and violates American principles of fairness and equality,” Obama said in a statement. “In accordance with the legislation that I signed into law last December, I have certified and notified Congress that the requirements for repeal have been met. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ will end, once and for all, in 60 days—on September 20, 2011.”

 

Christ! There had been rumors, but just like in civilian life, rumors ran rampant among the troops and more often than not were complete bullshit. Being the government, the bullshit rule was probably even more accurate.

“Fuck me,” he grumbled around the mug. Twenty-two years he’d been hiding a big part of himself, and the day before his retirement, DADT was to be repealed? Are you fucking kidding me?

“Goddamn shame,” John complained to his right.

John Wilson was about a million years old. He still believed women should be barefoot, pregnant, and their place was in the kitchen. John still paid homage to the ancient belief that women should be seen, not heard. Most days John was laughable at best. It was kind of fun to tease the ol’ bastard. It didn’t take much to get him all flustered and steaming, and Gunny could easily admit he found a perverse pleasure in seeing if he could cause the steam to shoot out of the man’s ears before breakfast was over. For the most part the ribbing was in good nature, and he knew John was a dumbass so he didn’t take the old man seriously. In that moment, however, with shock causing his heart to beat erratically and him feeling a little off-kilter while his brain tried to figure out if the article was a fact or a joke, he was in no mood for John’s antics.

Gunny looked up from the paper and turned to glare at John. “You got a problem with gays in the military, John?”

“Damn straight I do,” he spat, pushing his wire-rimmed glasses up on his red, bulbous nose. “This country don’t need no damn queers fighting for it. A bunch of nancies running around slapping the enemy? Where is the honor in that? Next they’ll be allowing pedophiles and rapists to run our school systems.”

Now, for twenty-two years he’d been known as Gunther Duchene, United States Marine. It was the side of himself he presented to the world around him. It wasn’t a lie. He was a Marine at the very core of his being. But from the age of ten he’d known two things for a fact. Number one: he would grow up and become a Marine, just as his father and his father’s father had, and number two: he was gay. The two things mixed like oil and water, so he kept that private side secret.

He wasn’t ashamed of being gay, nor was he a coward by any stretch of the imagination. He was a realist. He’d had to sacrifice one thing for the other and didn’t have a single regret. Unlike some people, he didn’t need, nor did he ever want, to be one-half of a pair. He had no dreams of meeting Mr. Right, settling down in the ’burbs, and living happily ever after. His vision of a perfect life was combat, technical maneuvers, strategic planning, building a powerful body, and when the opportunity presented, a hot guy to fuck or suck his dick to satisfy his baser desires. Gunny had no wish to be loud, proud, and out. Never felt it his responsibility to be a representative, role model, or any other type of influence for the gay youth. Being a damn good Marine and damn good man defined him, not who his bed partner was.

Having spent over half his life around other Marines, he’d heard every joke and disgusting slur slung at gays and didn’t take it personal. They talked the same smack about commanding officers, men, women, straight, gay, bi, black, white, young, and old, it didn’t matter; they would eventually get around to disrespecting everyone. Hey, at least they were equal-opportunity dumbasses. He’d wager a good number of them, slinging some of the nastier remarks about gays, would have willingly dropped their fatigues and presented their asses to him. However, this particular morning, John’s statement had Gunny clenching the mug and his body literally shaking with anger. How the mug didn’t shatter under the pressure, he had no clue. What he really wanted was to wrap his hands around John’s thick, judgmental head and squeeze until bones shattered.

Gunny shut his eyes and counted to ten—it didn’t work—then twenty, and still the rage swirled around inside him like the coffee he could practically taste in the back of his throat. Somehow, he managed to get control of his body, mainly his hands, and eased the death grip on the cup and set it aside.

“You never served in the military, did you, John?” he hissed.

“No, I had an—”

“Yeah I know, an injury,” Gunny interrupted. “I’ve heard the story.” With calm he didn’t feel, Gunny folded the newspaper, and tucked it under his arm and pulled a wad of bills from the pocket of his jeans. “Here’s the thing, John. I’m having a hard time swallowing your statement this morning.” He slammed the bills on the counter with a thunderous slap; every head in the diner turned in their direction. Theatrical, hell yeah, but it got John’s attention.

“Don’t seem to me a drunken coward who dodged the draft claiming he wasn’t physically able to defend this country against the enemy, but physically fit enough to beat on his wife, rightly gets a say in who can and cannot defend this great country of ours.”

Gunny didn’t wait for a response. A man could only control his rage for so long. Without a word to anyone else, he turned and walked out of the Bonnie Mill to save John Wilson’s fool life. Pretty big of this queer, considering the son of a bitch didn’t think I should be defending his country.

Gunny was still totally pissed off by John’s attitude by the time he arrived back at the house. Whether it was because the older he got the less he could tolerate bullshit, the shitty mood he’d woken up in, or if he’d just reached his limit, he didn’t know. With a snort, he kicked off his shoes the minute the door slammed behind him and threw himself on the couch. He snatched the remote from the coffee table and angrily clicked through the channels without discerning one channel from another, concentrating more on slowing his panting breath. By the time he made it through the couple hundred channels the second time, his jaw unclenched as the anger slowly drained from him. Giving up on abusing the remote, he picked back up the newspaper he’d thrown on the cushion and was finally calm enough to read more.

 

 

HALFWAY through the article, Gunny’s cell phone vibrated against his hip, and he snatched it from the clip, flipping it open without glancing at the display screen.

“What?”

“Are you reading this shit?” Mac’s voice came though the phone line, sounding as shocked as Gunny had felt earlier.

“Yeah, I’m reading it now,” Gunny responded, rubbing a hand across his stubbled jaw as he stared down at the newspaper. “Pretty fucking amazing, huh?”

“Only twenty-two years too late!” Mac huffed. “Do you know how much ass I have been denied because of this stupid fucking law? I was in my prime, Gunny. My prime!”

Macalister Jones had been his best friend since they went through boot camp together twenty-two years ago. Mac was also the only man who had shared Gunny’s bed for the last decade, and in turn Gunny was the only one who’d been granted access to Mac’s. They’d been fucking each other pretty much since they met, but were honest-to-God best friends and had never been what he would define as a couple.

“Stop your damn whining, you’ve had the best ass there is,” Gunny reminded him.

“Ha! That would be mine; that is why I don’t allow you to tap it too often,” Mac said pointedly. “It’s like a rare work of fine art that has to be adored and stroked lovingly, not slammed into and abused.”

“Jones, my bullshit meter is already full for the day.” Gunny laughed, feeling better than he had before the phone rang. Mac was a major joker, so it was hard to stay in a pissy mood when under his charm. He was also a big, lovable bastard who’d give you the shirt off his back. As long as you didn’t piss him off. Mac was part of the elite scout snipers, a Marine Corps special-forces team, which meant not only was he skilled in reconnaissance but once he found you, he could take your ass out.

“Oh ho! You are nowhere near full,” Mac chuckled. “But you will be as soon as I get there,” he added in a husky voice.

A rush of arousal went straight to Gunny’s groin at the seductive tone of Mac’s voice. Gunny started counting the hours down till Mac was home. “You still going to need a ride from the airport?” he asked, distractedly. He’d need to find something to distract him for—eight hours, he groaned silently.

“No, Gunny. I bought a new car and had it shipped to the airport, what the fuck do you think?” Mac asked sarcastically.

“Good, then you won’t mind me hanging up on your cocky ass and—”

“Gotta go. See ya at six.”

The line went dead.

Gunny flipped his phone shut and threw it on the coffee table, a big goofy grin spreading across his face. He heaved himself up off the couch and went to make breakfast. It had been three months since he’d seen Mac, so with his gruff voice still ringing in Gunny’s ears, thoughts of a fine, tight Marine’s ass running through his head, all thoughts of John Wilson, DADT, and the rest of the world were pushed out in favor of all the fantasies his little head was spinning. Over the last few months, Mac seemed to be the only thing he could focus on for any length of time. The pissed-off mood gave way to hunger and horniness.