The driver parked up, and I clambered out of the car as if I were waking from a dream—the heat a slap in the face after the blast of the AC. My CO, or who I assumed was my commanding officer, strode my way, every inch the army man with the stiff walk and straight back.
“Matthews?” He thrust a meaty hand at me, and I shook it as he crushed my palm in his.
“Yes, sir. Lane, Lane Matthews. The Duke of Lancaster’s regiment.”
“Major Tibbins. Glad to have you here. I won’t lie; we struggled to cover the last guard’s shifts when he left, so we’re happy to have you here.”
Guard? What guard? He released my hand and clapped me on the back. I staggered under the weight, catching myself before I stumbled.
“We’ll start you on gate duty in the hut you just drove past, but you’ll probably be able to rotate with the others soon. Anyway, I just wanted to welcome you, but I’ll let you get settled in. Reception has your accommodation details and duty roster. You’re not on until tomorrow afternoon, but I’ll swing by before then. Any questions, just let me know. I’m here to help you settle in.”
He waited a beat, but when all I could do was nod in response, he strode off, leaving me to stare after him, more than a little shell-shocked.
I shuffled into reception and waited as the man behind the counter spoke to a woman with a kid sat on her hip about the nursery. Army wife? Another woman popped up behind the desk before I could give it more consideration.
“Hi, can I help you?”
After a whirlwind of paperwork, I left with a set of keys and a folder of documents. I grabbed the map and followed the tarmac path-slash-road into a housing complex. I wound my way through the houses until I found mine in the corner and fumbled the key into the lock as I finished reading my roster.
After more years than I wanted to consider in the reserves, my first proper assignment would be as a guard. A glorified fucking babysitter. What the fuck? This was not how I imagined my first overseas posting with the army. Not leaving the compound all day. I wouldn’t be a soldier like my brother. How the hell was I going to find out what had happened to him—if he was even alive still—if I would be stuck in a hut all alone?
I needed to find the soldiers he served with, question them. Find out what they were doing to locate Jake. I couldn’t just wander onto their base, and I knew none of his teammates to ask. I was screwed. And I couldn’t help but wonder if Steve, my CO back home, and maybe my dad seeing as he went way back with Steve, had had a hand in keeping me on the compound. Probably with how Steve had helped me get posted here in the first place.
I slammed the front door shut with my foot, still staring at the goddamned piece of paper, and flung my rucksack to the floor. It knocked into the console table and rattled a can of pens. I slapped the handle of my suitcase down so hard the case fell over and crashed against the wall. A groan of frustration slipped out as I slumped against the doorway and buried my hands in my hair.
“You quite finished taking your tantrum out on my home?”
The deep voice had me jerking away from the wall as my eyes flew open. I’d thought I was alone. Why was there someone in my house? Wait, his home? “I wasn’t having a tantrum.”
One thin eyebrow arched in response and, yeah, sounding like a spoilt brat wasn’t my best defence. But then all reasonable thoughts disappeared as the surprise of someone else being there wore off and I took in the man standing before me.
A man I could’ve conjured straight from my spank bank: a couple of inches taller than my six feet and much, much broader than me. With his bare chest, it was all too easy to see just how ripped he was, and I licked my lips in response. His dog tags nestled in the valley between his pecs and my gaze wandered lower over each peak and dip of his abs and traced the veins disappearing beneath the waistband of his shorts.
He cleared his throat and my gaze shot up to his, meeting dark brown eyes that seemed to mock me. Do not blatantly check out guys you’ve just met, Lane. Unless you want to get punched. Especially not a straight guy, if the edge to his glare was anything to go by. I gulped.
“It sure sounded like a tantrum.”
“I didn’t know anybody else was here.”
He smirked and a dimple appeared, softening the sharp angles of his jaw that was accentuated by the hard bristles of his beard. “So, it’s not a tantrum if you’re alone?”