These are the men of the 94th ID. They fight with honor, they defend their nation and their brothers fiercely, and when they love, they do it with single-minded passion.
Kade Braggs grew up wild and free, surfing on a California beach without much ambition until an impulsive decision led him into joining the Army. What started out as a joke turned into a career, and now he’s a company commander, leading several platoons of soldiers. Still, Kade does it all on his own terms; he plays as hard as he works, and having a good time is non-negotiable.
Until he meets Leah Samson.
Leah doesn’t have time to play. On her own for as long as she can remember, she’s driven, focused, and intent on finishing law school at the top of her class. Nothing could distract her from that goal until an unexpected night of passion with a visiting soldier leads to life-changing complications.
But while neither Kade nor Leah planned this bump in the road, the unplanned parenthood that threw these two together may be the best thing that ever happened to either of them. That is, if the heat they both feel doesn’t sizzle out of control first.
Read the first chapter now!
“Dude, you are so fucked. So totally and completely fucked.”
Jake Robinson, one of the other company commanders in my battalion, slapped me on the back as I was on my way into the bachelor officers’ quarters. I’d just arrived here at Fort Davis, and the first order of business was to get settled in my temporary home-away-from-home . . . which would basically be a sterile bedroom in a drab building full of other sterile bedrooms. Welcome to the Army.
“Fine by me if it’s Scarlett Johansson doing the fucking. She’s on my list of undeniables.” I punched his arm and then hesitated. “Wait. Why am I fucked? What’re you talking about?”
“Guess who you’re stuck rooming with for the duration of this class?”
Dread began to creep under my skin. “Don’t even. Not the mule? Say it’s not so.”
Jake chuckled. “Sorry, bro. I saw the list. You’re with Eric Mueller, which means you get the pleasure of his company for the next six weeks. Congratulations.”
I closed my eyes and groaned. “Fuck. How the hell did I draw the short straw on this one?”
“Hey, everyone has to take a turn riding the mule.” He winked at me. “That’s only a figure of speech. He’s so damn full of himself, he’d never think any guy was good enough to screw.”
Grimacing, I shook my head. “Even if I were attracted to dudes, the mule would be at the bottom of the list.” I hefted my duffle bag more securely on my shoulder and began to head for the door of the BOQ before I turned back again. “Robinson, you’ve been on TDY here before, right? What’s around? If I have to share space with Eric Muller for over a month, I already know I’m going to need someplace else to be, or he’ll drive me out of my fucking mind.”
Jake squinted. “Not too much hereabouts. Couple of bars off post, a few restaurants . . . oh, hey, there’s a mall a few miles away. I went there to get a tat when I was here last time.”
I cocked my head. “You got a tattoo in a mall, Jake? I thought only chicks went to places like that.”
He shot me the finger. “Couple of the local guys recommended it, asshole. And don’t be a sexist pig. Try to learn from my example: I’d never assume a woman only got her ink at a mall. You should be all enlightened and shit, like me.”
“Yeah, whatever. I don’t see all your enlightenment getting you laid on the regular.”
Jake pretended to be affronted. “Just because I don’t screw a girl and then blab to all you guys about it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. I get plenty of action, thanks.”
Laughing as I walked backward, I nodded. “Sure you do, Jakester. Surrrrre you do.”
My humor lasted until I rounded the landing on the first flight of stairs, at which point I remembered the roommate situation. Fuck. I hated Eric Muller. I’d known him since we were both in officer basic together, over ten years before. Jake had been in our class, too, which was why he was all too well acquainted with the mule.
We’d given him that nickname privately after two weeks of OBC. Eric was the kind of guy who was just about impossible to like, no matter how hard we all tried. He couldn’t take criticism or a joke, although he was quick to point it out whenever the rest of us did anything wrong. He showed off in front of instructors, and worse, he was underhanded: although none of us had solid evidence, we were all sure he’d done things to make the rest of us look bad.
And living with him was apparently a real treat. He’d had three roommates during OBC, which was incredible because the Army really wasn’t that concerned with how we soldiers felt about our living situations. But the complaints had been ongoing: Eric threw a fit if a light was left on when he’d decided to go to sleep, no matter how early in the evening that was. He was fastidious to the point of obsession about the cleanliness of the room. He himself complained about all of us all the time, sneering about our lack of discipline.
The truth was that if any of the rest of us had behaved in such a way, we’d have found ourselves shaping up or being tossed out. But Eric Muller was the son of General Ronald Muller, and consequently, the rest of the world had to put up with his shit. We’d had to keep our mouths shut and ignore him until we all finished OBC and moved on. Mercifully, our paths hadn’t crossed often over the course of our careers. But since the Army is much smaller than most people realize, I’d heard things, and I knew that the mule hadn’t made many friends over the course of his tenure.
Rounding the corner of the staircase on the third floor, I trudged down the hallway to my assigned room. The door was closed, but I knew that didn’t mean he wasn’t inside, waiting for me.
Turning the knob, I stepped inside, as cautious as if I expected a snake on the other side instead of a mule. And there he was, sitting at the desk, back straight, hair about a half an inch shorter than regulation . . . his Army-issued T-shirt stretched over his narrow chest without a single wrinkle.
“Braggs.” Muller’s voice was bland and expressionless. “I was surprised to see you were still in. I’d figured you’d quit after your first six years were up.”
That was absolute bullshit because he’d have known if I resigned, and we both realized it. Asshole.
“Why the hell would you think I left?” I tried to keep my voice mild. Eric Muller might aggravate the living crap out of me, but he was still a general’s son, and that general was now part of the joint chiefs of staff.
Eric shrugged. “You always seemed more like a good time surfer boy than a soldier.”
I dropped my bag on the bed that seemed to be mine. “Yeah, it’s good to see you, too, Eric. It’s been too long. How’s life been treating you?”
He watched me, his eyes calculating. “Can’t complain. I’m on the shortlist for promotion. And when that happens, I expect to be assigned to Washington.”
Of course, he did.
“Awesome. Good to hear.” I unzipped the duffel and began unpacking my clothes. “So, you married? Got kids?”
“No,” he snorted. “That’s not part of the plan until I make major.”
“Aha.” I nodded as if that made sense. “Well, if you’re on the shortlist, do you have any potential candidates? For the wife, I mean.”
Something flickered in his eyes. “No. I don’t have time for that yet. Once I’m ready, the right woman will be around. These things work out.”
“Uh-huh.” I opened up a drawer and dropped T-shirts into it. “That’s great, Eric. I’m happy for you.”
I could almost feel his skepticism. “Yeah, I’m sure you.” He frowned as I closed one drawer and opened the other, dumping in socks and boxers. “Aren’t you going to fold those before you put them away?”
“Nah.” I shrugged, getting a little secret amusement at the idea that my unfolded clothes would drive him crazy. “I’m just going to put them on under my BDUs, right? Who cares?”
I wasn’t certain, but I thought he growled.
After that, Eric ignored me for a while. A couple of the other guys who were taking the strategic mobility course with us stopped by to say hello, all of us catching up from the last time we’d seen each other, comparing our current jobs and different assignments. I watched my roommate out of the corner of my eye; I could tell that each time another person opened the door and yelled hello, he tensed up more.
Finally, when our room was crowded, with everyone talking at once, Eric stood up.
“That’s it. Get out, all of you. It’s late, and I need peace and quiet.” He glared my way. “If you want to socialize, go do it somewhere else.”
Jake, who was sitting on the end of my bed, shot me a meaningful look as he stood up. “Okay, then. Hey, why don’t we go down to my room? I’ve got a six-pack, and we can turn on the game.”
Everyone filtered out, the voices echoing in the hall. I sat down on my bed and reached for my laptop.
“Hey, Braggs, you coming with?” Jake lingered in the doorway.
I shook my head. “Nah. I’m just going to kick back and catch up on iZombie eps. You all have a good time.”
He rolled his eyes toward Eric’s stiff back, which was facing us. “Yeah, you, too. See you at PT tomorrow.”
“I’ll be there.” I glanced at the clock. It wasn’t quite seven yet, and here I was on my bed like an old man. I stifled a groan.
“I hope you have headphones for the computer.” Eric’s words were clipped, and he didn’t look my way. “I’m turning off the light in an hour. I had a long trip today to get here from Texas, and I don’t feel like being up half the night.”
I gritted my teeth. “Yeah, I have headphones.”
“And you’ll need to turn it so that the light from the screen can’t be seen from my bed. I like to sleep on my right side, and the room must be completely dark.” He sounded so prim that I wanted to slug him in the face.
“You know what?” I slammed the computer shut, tossing it to the other side of my mattress. “You can have the whole fucking room pitch black. I’m going out so I don’t interfere with your beauty sleep.”
Grabbing a jacket, I shoved my feet back into my sneakers, yanking the laces tight. Across the room, Eric sniffed.
“Make sure you have your key, because I’m not getting up to let you in once I’m asleep. And just what do you think you’re going to do, anyway? It’s Sunday night. Everything’s closed.”
I picked up my keys, wallet, and cell phone. “I’ll find something. But thanks for your concern. I really appreciate it.” When the spirit moved me, I could speak fluent sarcasm.
I managed to make it down the steps and out into the parking lot without running into anyone, which was a good thing since I was now in a pissy mood. Climbing into the driver’s seat of my truck, I headed for the post exit, not really sure about where I was going.
At the guard hut, where I had to slow down anyway, I leaned out my window and called to the corporal on duty. “Hey, is there a mall somewhere around here?”
He nodded. “Yes, sir. If you make a right here, follow this highway for a couple of miles, and then take a left at the first traffic light. The mall is on that same road, about five miles on the right.”
I nodded with a brief smile. “Thanks.”
“Have a good night, sir.”
The roads were dark, and I took them slow. I had nothing but time to kill. Rubbing the back of my neck, I let out a long breath. I’d been looking forward to this course for a while. Fort Davis was only about two hours northeast of Fort Lee, but it was closer to the ocean . . . and thus closer to the beach. It was true what people said: you could take the boy out of the ocean, but you couldn’t take the ocean out of the boy. After growing up on the sands of California beaches, I still had that need to at least see the water every once in a while.
I’d driven up this afternoon, anticipating a little unofficial vacation. I knew I could handle the work involved with the strategic mobility training course, and during the off-hours, I’d have nothing but free, unstructured time. It was why most of us enjoyed TDY: a temporary duty station meant a break from the routine and the stress that came from commanding a company.
Having Eric Muller as a roommate was going to put a crimp in that plan, but I was damned if I would let him ruin my time away, even if it meant I had to stay out of our room as much as possible. I had options, after all. There was this mall that I was turning the truck into now. True, it was on the small side, and the parking lot was pretty barren. The stores I could see weren’t familiar to me. But it probably had to have a food court, didn’t it? And of course, there was the tattoo place Jake had mentioned. Not that I wanted ink, but I could check it out to waste some time.
The mall, like its parking lot, was almost empty, with only a few shoppers wandering past stores, window shopping or munching on crap from the food court. None of it looked good to me until I spotted a kid with a foot-long hot dog, and then that hot dog was all I could think about.
Following my nose, I made my way past the card store, the sunglass cart, and the lingerie shop—though I’ll admit my eyes did sneak a few peeks at the stuff on the mannequins in that window. The shit that chicks wore to be sexy was an endless source of fascination for me. Bras, for instance. They were a mystery I hadn’t yet solved. Racerback, push-up, strapless, T-shirt, enhanced, full-figure support—what did it all mean? Sometimes—scratch that; all of the time—I was grateful to be a guy. All I had to worry about was stepping into my boxer briefs each morning and kicking them off every night.
Two teenagers were working at the Weiner Hut when I stopped to order my food. The one manning the register looked bored to death, and who could blame him? The place was dead. He barely acknowledged my existence beyond mumbling the total I owed for my dog, fries, and drink. The other employee was a girl with a high ponytail and a quick smile. I caught her staring at me with open admiration, and I shot her a little wink before I strolled away with my food. She was jail bait, for sure, and I didn’t want any part of that, but it never hurt to be friendly.
Once at the small table, I made short work of the hotdog and fries. Usually, I’d have sat back and people-watched for a little while, but there just weren’t enough folks to do that tonight. So, after I piled all the trash on my tray and deposited it in the bin, I began to head back toward the exit, retracing my steps. The evening was a bust. There wasn’t anything for me to do but to drive my bored ass back to post and maybe watch something on my laptop, under the blanket, while wearing my earphones, if that didn’t bother his majesty, my roommate.
And then I realized that I was walking by a bookstore. Score! Somehow, I’d missed it on the way in, but there it was: a little piece of nirvana, just waiting for me to wander in and find something to read. I knew at least two of my favorite authors had new releases this month, and I hadn’t had time to pick them up yet. This was the perfect opportunity to catch up on those books and amuse myself since I didn’t always have a lot of time to read.
Like the rest of the mall, the place was deserted. I strolled down the aisle until I hit the mystery area, where I got lost in checking out a bunch of different possibilities for tonight. Looking for the right book was kind of like searching for the perfect chick, I mused. Sometimes the covers were all pretty and promising, but then you opened it up and realized it was a dud.
I was chuckling at my own humor when I caught movement from the corner of my eye. A woman was standing with her back to me, facing the personal growth section. She was tall and thin, with blonde hair that reached nearly to her very fine ass. As I watched, she reached back to lift the strands away from her neck, and a very clear memory screamed across my mind. I saw that same hand brushing that same hair over that same shoulder as she straddled me. Her small, perfect tits bounced slightly and her neck arched, her mouth forming an O as she ground her pussy against me, and my cock was buried deep into her sweet heat—
Holy shit. For a minute I couldn’t breathe, and I wasn’t sure if it was the arousal from that memory flash—‘cause yeah, there was arousal in spades, baby—or surprise as I realized that I knew this girl. I’d met her a while back when I’d driven up from Fort Lee to Richmond to see my friend Cassie. Cassie had been in town visiting from California, and the woman who now tilted her head as she continued to peruse the shelves had been her . . . roommate from college. That was it, wasn’t it? We’d all met up in a bar, but after I’d dragged my ass the whole way up to see my old friend, Cassie had blown me off to hang out with her sorority sisters from college. So instead of talking old times with Cass, I’d gone home with her former roommate, whose name was . . . God. What was it? I should’ve remembered it because I sure as hell remembered what had happened once we’d gotten to where she lived.
We’d gone back to her tiny apartment, and she’d made me dinner . . . we talked non-stop, sharing stories and experiences, and then I’d fucked her so many times, we’d both lost count. Against her bedroom door the minute it was closed behind us. In her bed. Next to her bed. I’d gone down on her while she had writhed on her kitchen counter when we’d paused for a snack. She’d ridden me until I’d gone hoarse, calling out her name. Which was . . .
I didn’t realize I’d spoken it out loud until she turned her head. Those bewitching green eyes I remembered so well went round, and I wasn’t sure if she was more startled that someone was standing behind her at all, or that the someone was me, in particular. Shit, maybe she didn’t recognize me. Maybe I was just one of her many conquests, which would explain why she was looking at me with such a weird expression on her face just now. She probably didn’t remember my name at all—
The relief that flooded through me was only because I was glad that I didn’t look like a loser for remembering someone who’d long forgotten me. Nothing else. Only that.
“Yeah.” I took a step toward her, stopping when her face filled with panic. “Uh, good to see you again. I can’t believe I ran into you here. How’ve you been?”
She still didn’t turn around, which I thought was kind of odd. And when she spoke, her voice was guarded. “What are you doing here?”
I slid my free hand into the front pocket of my jeans. “I’m here at Fort Davis on TDY—uh, temporary duty. I’m taking a six-week-long class. And I’m here in this mall because I was bored, and my roommate in the barracks is a little bit of an asshole. And I’m here in this bookstore because I needed something to read before I have to go back and deal with the asshole.” I spread out my hands. “So that’s my story.”
Leah nodded, and her shoulders seemed to slump a little. “Okay, well . . . sorry about your roommate. I hope it works out. Good to see you.” She faced the shelves again, her back stiff. I got the sense that she was willing me to walk away.
“Hey, do you want to grab some coffee or something with me? I’ve got nothing but time right now, and if you have, say, half an hour free, we could catch up.” I shifted the three books I was holding to my other arm. “There’s got to be someplace around here that’s open, right? It’s not that late. I just have to pay for my books.”
She glanced back at me over her shoulder again, checking out the paperbacks I held. “You’re buying those?”
I nodded. “Yup. I was planning on it. The Army frowns on me just taking stuff out of stores, you know. Paying for it seems like the best option.”
Leah mumbled something under her breath that sounded like either a prayer or a curse. “Okay. Well, I’ll meet you at the register. I’m the only one working tonight, so I’ll ring you up.”
“You work here?” Surprise tinged my voice. “You didn’t use to work in a bookstore, did you? I thought you were in law school and had a job at some big firm. What happened?”
She dropped her head, sighing. “A lot has happened since I met you, Kade. A lot has changed.” Squaring her shoulders, she pivoted around to face me.
Shock rendered me speechless and frozen because I realized now why she’d kept her back to me. While Leah’s frame was still slender, the small tits I’d enjoyed that night had grown much larger. But I couldn’t even look at them, because something else had my attention.
And that would be the high, round baby bump swelling the belly of this woman I’d slept with six months before.
When I wrote SCHEME OF MANEUVER, the final book of the first six in the Career Soldier series, I realized fairly early in the process that Owen Hughes, the lead soldier, was a West Point grad. It was really only a matter of time that one of these soldiers would be a grad, after all; the Academy is such a part of my family and who I am that it would’ve been odder if I’d avoided idea.
I cannot remember a time in my life when I didn’t know what West Point was. I can’t remember when Army wasn’t the football team closest to my heart. I can’t recall a time when I didn’t know what Duty-Honor-Country meant. My father had graduated in 1965, two years before I was born, and that was so much a part of him that it naturally became part of me.
When I was a teenager, my dad began to do some unofficial, volunteer recruiting for USMA. I became used to cadets visiting during breaks and holidays, as they often visited local high schools to speak about the Academy. When I was a sophomore in high school, a guy from a nearby high school started visiting my father to talk about attending West Point. They became friends after this kid was accepted to USMA; now he too came by during school holidays.
And then one Christmas break, when I was a senior in high school, he asked me on a date. Little did I know that my entire life would changed based on that date . . . and that once again, West Point would play a huge role!
For the next two and a half years, I spent most weekends up at USMA. As a matter of fact, I think it’s probably fair to say I spent more time there than I did at my own college, University of Richmond. And there is no doubt that I’ve always felt more affinity
It wasn’t surprising, then, that Owen and Jacey decided to get married at West Point. I was excited about setting a book there, revisiting many of my old haunts and the places I’d heard about but could never see. Many of the experiences they have in the book were things that happened to me or to people I knew. Memories that Owen mentions are based on our own.
If you are not an Academy grad or the child of a grad or the wife of a grad, you can’t understand what it means to be connected to West Point. But I hope that Owen and Jacey’s story gives you a glimpse of the old gray home by the Hudson.
You can preorder ARMY BLUE on all vendors now–OR you can buy it right here from my webstore, Buy The Book. Buying it here means you not only get it early–you also get exclusive added content not available anywhere else!
I’ve been waiting for a special day to share this one, and today is that day. This is my very own story of true love and happily-ever-after.
In 1984, I found myself at one of those cross-roads in life. It was the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, which may seem as though it should have been a carefree time of fun, but I was always old for my age, and at that point, I was tired of high school. Tired of the needless drama, tired of the games and ready for my life to really begin. After years of straight living and toeing the line of good-girldom, in my junior year I’d gone a little wild. Now, trust me, ‘a little wild’ in my vernacular and in the mid-80’s was not today’s wild. It involved a little bit of alcohol, a little bit of dating–but ONLY dating–a series of boys, but I never did anything that would negatively impact the rest of my life.
Still, in early August before senior year, I was restless. I was done with high school guys, I knew that. I didn’t want to party away my senior year. Craving something more solid and real, I returned two stalwarts that had never failed me: books and my relationship with God.
I remember very clearly standing in the local Christian bookstore, looking for something to read, when a small wooden plaque caught my eye. It was Psalm 37:5: “Commit everything you do to the LORD. Trust him, and he will help you.” That verse resonated with me that day, and I bought the little wall hanging. I remember clearly the odd sense of rightness I felt. As I drove home, I also realized I needed a hook for the plaque, so I stopped at a store I’d never visited before, even though it had been around forever in our town. Kandle Lumber and Hardware just had never been on my radar, but it was on the way to my house, so I ran inside to find what I needed.
The man who helped me was the owner of the store, and I’d met him before. Actually, I knew the whole family vaguely: their son had begun West Point the year before, and he’d come to our house a number of times to chat with my dad, both before he’d started at USMA and then after, to share experiences. But up until then, Clint had been just one of many cadets coming in and out of my house. My father mentored quite a few.
I don’t remember exactly what Pete Kandle said to me that day, but it was something about his son, hinting that I should consider seeing him the next time he was home for a visit. Did I say I would? I don’t know, but that day stuck in my memory as a turning point in my life. I thought about it over the next few months.
The Army-Navy game had long been a huge deal in my family, and we were pumped in early December of my senior year. For the first time in a long time, Army had a real shot at winning. My family had been invited to a post-game party at the Kandles’ home, and I brought along some of my friends, at Mrs. Kandle’s request. But what I remember most clearly was the hour I spent talking to Clint, leaning up against his dad’s desk in their den. The house was filled with people, and there was no place else to sit. Clint saw me on the floor and ran to grab a down-filled blanket to make me more comfortable. I didn’t know it then, but that was totally who Clint is: serving others, reaching out and giving of himself is at the core of his character.
I didn’t hear from Clint after that celebration, at least not immediately. But about a week before Christmas, he called and asked if I wanted to go Christmas shopping with him. He’d just gotten home on leave, and he needed to buy his mother a gift. What I remember about that day is that I’d never laughed more or felt immediately comfortable with any boy ever.
We went out a few more times over his Christmas break, but I wasn’t sure if we were just friends or . . . more. That is, until New Years Eve, when we went to a party at his friends house. As the clock struck midnight, ending 1984 and ushering in 1985, he kissed me for the first time.
Over the next months, we exchanged hundreds of letters, shared long phone calls (to the chagrin of Clint’s parents, who were footing his phone bill!) and I visited West Point as often as I could. He gave me an A-pin on March 1st that year. I was thrilled, and we were both deep in the throes of young love.
I started college that fall at the University of Richmond, but my heart was up in the mountains along the Hudson. Every Friday, I’d get on a train north, get off in Philadelphia, spend the night at my parents’ house, set my hair . . . and the next day, I’d drive three hours up to West Point, going to football games, dances or other social events, or just sitting with him in the lobby at the Hotel Thayer, doing homework and talking. The rules at West Point were very strict: no PDA, and no cadets were allowed above the mezzanine level at the hotel. Most weekends, Clint couldn’t leave post. But we always enjoyed just being together.
On Sundays, after chapel, I’d drive back home to New Jersey, repack and get on the train south, usually back in my dorm about midnight. It’s no wonder I failed calculus that semester, is it? I was miserable at college most of the time I was there. We knew once Clint finished at West Point, he’d be stationed somewhere in the world, and I’d still have two years of college left. At that time, this future seemed impossible.
And so we did what any two kids in love might: on Christmas Eve of my freshman year, after we’d been dating just about a year, Clint proposed and I said yes.
We were married in June of 1987, ten days after his graduation. We spent our first six months together in Richmond as he attended Officer Basic and I got in another semester at Richmond, and then we moved to Hawaii for his first duty assignment.
That was four children, one son-in-law, many cats, dogs, homes and almost 30 years ago. We’ve lived in Virginia, Hawaii, Wisconsin, New Jersey and Florida. We’ve lost all of our grandparents and all but one parent between the two of us. We’ve weathered parenting, illness, homeschooling, many different churches, changes in career, moves and so many challenges . . . but there is no one in the world I can imagine sharing my life. Clint has always been the first one to support me, the first one to tell me I can do anything I want. I know without a doubt that he would–and does–move mountains to make me happy. He’s still the same boy who will do anything to make me a little more comfortable.
And almost 32 years after that very first date, he still makes me laugh more than anyone in the world.
I’m more in love with my husband today than I was when we got married. Then, I had no idea what love really was. Now, I think I’m beginning to catch glimpses of it. I think we need at least another thirty years to really get it down. I pray that we have those years together. When you’ve lost parents relatively young, you realize that nothing is guaranteed, and so I am grateful for every day we have together, and I am also greedy for even more.
This is a real happily-ever-after. It’s not all sunshine and cloudless skies; as my grandmother told me once upon a time, you must have just enough clouds to make a beautiful sunset. There must be rain to enjoy a rainbow. But we’re living out our happy ending, day by day. That’s the very best kind of story in my book.