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She's newly single and determined to never fall for a military man again.
He's a sexy officer who doesn't believe in love.
And they think they can handle a no-strings relationship.
Bless their hearts.
She’s no damsel in distress
Anna Martin's newly single and determined to never fall for a military man again. So when Mr. Swoony, sweep-her-off-her-feet saves her from a swarm of fire ants, she says thank you and sends this officer and gentleman on his merry way. But those dang butterflies in her stomach won't stop swarming now. She needs to get this man out of her system stat so she can get back to her to do list. One that does not include a sexy, blue-eyed, dimple-cheeked military officer.
He’s a knight in camouflage armor
Jackson Davis believes in family, football, and Uncle Sam. He treats people right, he takes his military uniform seriously, and he loves his dog, but he’s not built for true love. After all, if a man good as his daddy—his hero—couldn’t do it right, what chance does Jackson have?
And they think they can keep friends-with-benefits as a no-strings affair
Sometimes it's best to just give in and get it out of your system. Right? Neither of them are looking for anything long-term. It could be fun…Bless their Hearts. They’re both gonna end up with a big ol’ case of Southern Fried Blues.
She was lovable in her own way, which sometimes meant she was not loved at all.
—The Temptress of Pecan Lane, by Mae Daniels
The only thing better than watching a handsome man in uniform was taking him home at the end of the night to strip him out of it. With his fresh haircut and tailored Air Force mess dress, Anna Martin’s husband complemented the elegant southern grandiosity of The Harrington’s ballroom better than the faux marble floor and the towering magnolia arrangements.
This wedding reception couldn’t end soon enough.
Anna slid up beside Neil at the open bar and nudged him with her hip. “I always feel bad for the bride at these things.”
“Why?” Neil took two beers from the bartender. He tucked a few dollars into the tip jar.
“Because you’re already taken so they had to settle for second best.”
His face twisted into the same pained expression he’d worn the last half-dozen times she’d used that line, but she gave him a you-know-you-love-me grin anyway.
Because he’d still been happy to let her take him home and strip him out of his uniform after the last half-dozen weddings.
She shoved the gift she’d snuck from the pile at the bride’s request at him. “Oh, wait.” His National Defense Service Medal was crooked.
Before she could straighten it, he handed the gift back. “It’s fine, Anna. C’mon.”
He strode past tables of wedding guests finishing their chicken and cheese grits. Anna tagged along, enjoying the view from behind.
“Jules mention what’s in that?” Neil asked over his shoulder, his gaze shifting to the present.
“She said it’s from Rodney and they want to open it in private. So probably something with fur and spikes.”
She waited for Neil to laugh. Instead, his gaze went unfocused. Anna steered him around a chair she didn’t think he’d seen.
Jules, almost as resplendent in her ivory satin gown as Neil was in his mess dress, dove for the box as soon as Anna was within arm’s reach. Her thick dark hair was tucked and tamed into her tiara, but her wedding day hadn’t entirely cured her sardonic lip curl. She stashed the gift under the table.
Neil handed the groom one of the beers.
“That box has some giggidy written all over it,” Brad said. He and Neil shared a man-grin and a fist bump. Rodney leaned around the newlyweds for a high five.
“Your giggidy’s gonna give your grandmother a heart attack.” Jules snagged the beer Neil was passing to Rodney, then gave Neil a fist bump of her own. “Hope you have something nice to say,” she said to him. She jerked a thumb to Rodney. “I almost let Anna smack a dangerous when speaking label on his forehead.”
“I’m dangerous all the time, baby,” Rodney said.
Anna had spent a total of five minutes with him, but she’d agree with that. The groom and his best man shared the same bulky build, bushy blond hair, and lewd grin that, when flashed over their uniforms, had inspired half the women at the wedding to check that their dresses were still buttoned.
Anna only checked when Neil flashed her that grin.
The DJ worked his way behind the table to hand Rodney a mic.
“Does that thing have a profanity delay?” Jules asked the DJ.
He shook his head. She took a hit from her beer.
Anna settled into her seat and adjusted her fork and knife on her plate so they were parallel, then did the same for Neil’s. “Ready?” Anna murmured to him.
Rodney clinked his glass to get the room’s attention. The hum of voices and clink of silverware dropped off. “Evening, y’all.” His voice boomed around the massive room. “Want to thank you for coming out to watch my little bro give up his manhood for a woman.” Amidst a smattering of chuckles, he raised his glass. “Unlike these Air Force weenies, us Marines don’t waste our words, so I’ll make this short and sweet. To Brad and Jules. May the mountains in your lives be peaked with pleasure, and the valleys between show you the way to heaven.” He wiggled his eyebrows. “And may you still be getting it up when you’re eighty-three.”
“Giggidy,” Brad said with a brow wiggle of his own.
Jules gave him a playful shove. A few more people laughed. Brad’s mother’s long-suffering sigh made her jowls droop further. Anna assumed the suffering was more habitual than forced after a lifetime of raising those two boys.
Anna and Neil had put off discussing raising kids of their own until they paid off some debts and Neil made it through the latest round of force reductions, but Anna had been drawing a steady paycheck for a year—a new record—and Neil’s job was safe. She hoped tonight, with their busy schedules finally slowing down, they’d talk about their future. Their beautiful, baby-filled future.
Maybe they’d do some practicing too.
Rodney handed Neil the mic. As the only married member of the wedding party, he’d been asked to give a toast as well. Neil stood and gave his jacket a tug, then surveyed the room. Anna smiled up at him. A light behind his head illuminated his sandy hair and his hazel eyes took on a deeper hue over his Air Force blue mess dress. He didn’t fly planes for the Air Force, but instead worked behind the scenes making sure the next generation of airmen would have the best training and equipment in the world.
She loved him for his higher purpose.
He flexed his left hand, but otherwise appeared perfectly at ease. “Good evening,” he said into the microphone. “I’m Neil Martin, and I’ve known Brad since he made me eat dirt in field training.”
A few chuckles came up from the crowd, mostly the uniformed contingent. Neil paused, and a muscle in his cheek spasmed. He clapped Brad on the shoulder. “Well, buddy, yesterday you asked my advice about making marriage work. It’s pretty simple. Put your dishes in the dishwasher, wipe out the sink after you shave, and for God’s sake, man, learn to use the hamper.”
Brad shook his head and pointed at Jules, which the crowd loved.
“Well, then, I guess the best I can do is to tell you what I was told all those decades ago, when I took up my old ball and chain. You can be right, or you can be happy.” Neil leaned closer to Brad and dropped his voice in the mic. “But trust me, sometimes you can’t be either one.”
Hoots of laughter erupted around the room. All those decades were six and a half years. Neil knew how to work a crowd. The bride gave him a wonky eyebrow.
“Remember today,” Neil said to Brad. “Remember right now, this moment. Remember how happy you are. Because someday, you’re going to look at her and it will finally sink in that her face is the only one you’re going to see every single morning of the rest of your life.”
A couple people aawed, but Anna’s shoulders went back.
That hadn’t sounded entirely complimentary.
Brad raised his champagne flute. “Ain’t just her face, bro. Giggidy.”
Jules elbowed him.
“Yeah, well, that drops off too,” Neil said.
The male guests roared. Anna’s face flamed. Jules shot her a what the hell? look.
Anna tried an I don’t know, they’re guys look back, but she suspected it came across more like would anyone notice if I ducked under the table?
Neil’s skin was splotchy above his collar. A fine sheen of perspiration glistened on his forehead. He nodded toward Jules. “And with her job, forget those dreams of a hot meal waiting every night when you get home. Got some takeout numbers for you. Hope one of those presents is a grill. Gonna need it, man, gonna need it.”
“They’re ordering a maid and a cook,” Rodney said loudly.
“That’ll go nice with the moving companies,” Neil said. “But if she ever buys a label maker, watch out. When PCS time comes around, she’ll be so busy using it for packing, she won’t have time for you. Guess which one she’d rather sleep with?”
Over yet another round of laughter, Jules shot Anna another look and made the drinky-drinky gesture.
Anna couldn’t even shake her head. She was too busy pretending her husband hadn’t insulted her and their marriage in front of everyone they knew at Gellings Air Force Base.
He didn’t really think she would’ve rather slept with her label maker, did he?
“Might come a day,” Neil said, his voice getting thick, “when you’re better off not telling her you’ve got those moving orders so you don’t have to deal with all that shit.”
Cold spikes of alarm scratched like fingernails over Anna’s skin. Her lungs shuddered. Silence stretched over the room. She latched onto Neil’s sleeve. He blinked at her like he’d forgotten she was there. Something dark flashed through his eyes.
He cleared his throat again, his face so red Anna was perspiring for him. He broke eye contact with her and focused on Brad. “But you’re one of the lucky ones, man. You got Jules, and you two are going to have the time of your lives. To you, man. To both of you.”
Except Neil choked over the words, and when he raised his glass, he couldn’t seem to gulp the champagne fast enough.
A few people clapped. Rodney rescued the microphone and handed it to the DJ, who prodded the happy couple to do some kissy-kissy before they got to their first dance.
Neil stumbled around the table toward the door.
Anna scrambled after him, forcing smiles at her coworkers, making herself stay upright and moving forward so they wouldn’t know the champagne was roiling in her stomach like grade-A wedding poison. With his long stride and frantic pace, he was gone when she stepped out of the ballroom.
The door at the end of the hallway clicked shut.
She tripped over her heels dashing after him. Her feet moved in time to the rapid firing of her heart. Her strappy sandals cut into her feet, and her legs had all the flexibility of a freeze-dried Twinkie, but she kept moving as if her existence depended on it.
Because she had a horrible, ants-marching-over-her-grave suspicion it did.
She burst through the exit and found him hunched over next to a garbage can at the edge of the parking lot. She wanted to reach out to him, but the distant wariness in his gaze held her back.
She slowly licked her lips and tried to keep her voice steady. “Neil? Are you okay?”
He swiped his forearm over his brow, still staring at the concrete. “It’s over, Anna.”