Birthday Box Set Bonanza!

It’s my birthday week!

And that means lots of fun and goodies for YOU!

Ten of my fabulous box sets are discounted to just 99 cents for five days (because I’m celebrating turning 55).

Click on your favorite one below–or snap up all ten. Why not? It’s an unbelievable deal!

{Note: some of the links might go only to Amazon because the books were not updated yet at the other vendors. If your vendor isn’t linked, don’t worry– the sale should be happening there, too!}





Love in a Small Town Box Set I







The Perfect Dish Romance Collection 











The Anti-Cinderella Royal Romance Box Set









The Career Soldier Collection (Fort Lee Tour of Duty)










A Year of Love in a Small Town Volume 1








A Year of Love in a Small Town Volume 2










A Year of Love in a Small Town Volume 3









Diagnosis: Love Box Set One








Diagnosis: Love Box Set Two







The Recipe for Death Box Set 

First Chapter Friday: Temporary Duty

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.


You can read the rest of Temporary Duty here:

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First Chapter Friday: Maximum Force

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.

Max Remington has never been anything but a soldier. The oldest son in a family that served our nation for generations, he’d never considered any other path. The army is his life, his home, and his one true love.

Until he meets Samantha Crewe.

Part millennial flower child, part spunky free spirit, Sam was raised by parents who encouraged her to express her feelings and embrace peace. She’s quick to love and open to just about any new adventure . . . but Max might be her biggest challenge yet.

When these two clash, expect immediate combustion . . . of the very hottest kind.

Read the first chapter now!


“Hey! Remington. Hold up a minute.”

I paused just outside my office door and waited for my buddy Shaw to catch up. We’d just come out of a battalion meeting, and the colonel had not been happy. While she wasn’t angry at me—or at any of the other company commanders, per se—I was still glad to be out of the tension-filled room. I figured Shaw felt the same way.

“That was fun, wasn’t it?” One side of his mouth curled up. “I’ve never seen Colonel Debbings so pissed.”

“She’s getting heat from above. Nobody likes bad PR, and this deal with Reardon’s a fucking mess. I get that most of these morons aren’t gifted with much common sense when they get to us, but God almighty, Shaw—this kid’s just trouble and has been from day one.” I rubbed my forehead. “I’m having Lake bring him in after lunch so I can talk to them both.”

“It’s a pretty clear-cut cause for an Article Fifteen, right? Or maybe even court-martial.”  Shaw leaned one hand against the door jamb. “I mean, he went into town, provoked a fight in a bar, and fucked up the other guy but good.” He lowered his voice. “This Billy Johnson, the victim? Colonel didn’t say it, but what I hear is that they’re talking traumatic brain injury on the dude he beat.”

“Yeah, I heard that, too. And it would be bad enough if that were the extent of it, but now with the victim’s sister going to the press and raising a fuss, it’s only going to get worse.”

Shaw rolled his eyes. “I saw her on all the local morning news today, and it’s already been picked up by one of the national programs. This shit storm’s going viral.”

I nodded. “And I’m the lucky son of a bitch who gets to deal with it.”

“Sorry, buddy.” He grimaced. “If there’s anything you need my help with, let me know.” He began to walk away and then turned, taking a few steps backward. “Oh, and just in case you didn’t hear this—now there are protesters outside post. My first sergeant’s wife came in to go to the commissary and said they were there with signs and chanting about us training killers and turning them loose on the civilian population.”

“That’s just peachy.” I shook my head. “When there are terrorists blowing up shit, though, who’re they going to scream for? Us trained killers, that’s who.”

“You’re not wrong.” Shaw sketched a wave. “Good luck, Max. See you later.”

I heaved a sigh as I went into my office and pulled out the chair from under my desk. I didn’t understand people who picketed or protested. From where I stood, all that yelling and waving signs didn’t accomplish a damn thing, and who the hell had time for it, anyway? Bunch of whining, would-be hippies who were just looking for a cause they could complain about, I thought. My granddad used to talk about the peace protesters from the sixties, as well as the anti-war folks who’d been waiting in the airport when he’d landed in San Francisco fresh from his second tour in Vietnam. They’d been quick to sneer and spit at him . . . at my granddad, a soldier who’d just risked his life to keep the world safe from the spread of communism.

Fucking idiots. After we’d pulled out of Southeast Asia, all the protestors had eventually cut their hair, put on suits, and gone to work, making big money, while so many of the soldiers ended up sick, mentally and physically, as well as often broke and homeless. There was a lot of injustice in this life, and that particular one never failed to make my blood boil.

I spent the rest of the morning doing the endless paperwork that made up most of my job as a company commander. I loved the Army. That went without saying. I’d been born into it, raised on posts both in the US and around the world, and when the time had come for college, I’d gone ROTC, choosing active duty upon graduation. Being with my guys out in the field, going on deployments, marches, short-term camps—I thrived on that shit. But the sad reality was that the higher up I got, the more rank I gained, the less I got to do that kind of stuff.

Noontime rolled around, and my stomach began to growl. Some days I ate lunch at my desk, but today, I ran over to the grill across the post and picked up a burger, eating it on my way back to work. Fort Lee was busy as usual, and I heard more than one person talking about the protesters who were marching just outside the gate. It took everything in me not to roll my eyes. Instead, I gritted my teeth and tried to ignore any mention of those bleeding hearts.

When I got back to the company headquarters and swung into my office, Lieutenant Lake, one of my platoon leaders, was sitting in a chair just outside the door. Next to him, slumped slightly, was the object of the post’s chatter, Private Reardon. Medical tape crisscrossed over an ugly cut on his forehead, and he was sporting both a split lip and a beauty of a black eye. Considering what I’d heard about the other guy, it must’ve been a hell of a fight.

Both men got to their feet as I approached. Lake looked weary; as the platoon leader, he’d been the one to get up in the middle of the night on Saturday when the call had come in about the fight. He’d gone into Petersburg with his first sergeant to post bail for the troublemaker, and more than likely, if I knew Lake, he’d reamed the kid inside out from the minute he had custody of him.

“Sir.” The lieutenant met my eyes.

“Hey, Lake.” I spared the other man a brief glance. “Reardon, you look like shit.”

The private stared over my shoulder at the wall opposite us. “Feel like shit, sir.”

“Glad to hear it. You’ve fucked up big this time. It’s gone up the chain of command, and there are a lot of unhappy people on post this afternoon.” I paused to let that sink in. “A lot of unhappy officers. Doesn’t look good for you.”

“Yeah.” He muttered the single syllable. Next to him, Lake growled in warning. Reardon clenched his jaw. “I mean, yes, sir.”

“Come on in, both of you. Let’s get started.” I walked ahead of them into the office and sat down behind my desk. Both of the other men took their seats across from me. Reardon’s gaze never left his hands, but Lake leaned forward in his chair, waiting for me to speak.

“I need to know what happened Saturday night, Reardon. Tell me everything from the time you left post until Lieutenant Lake bailed you out of jail. Don’t leave out anything, and for the love of God, Reardon, don’t you dare fucking lie to me.”

His mouth twisted. “Yes, sir.” He took a deep breath and began speaking. “I left here about six with Deen and Petrowski.” At my questioning frown, he added, “From the platoon. We hang around together. So we called for RideIt and headed into town. We started at this one bar, but it was pretty dead. No girls, the music was lame, so we went on to another one. And then another. We hit the Crater around nine-thirty, I think.”

I stifled a groan of dismay. The Crater was one of the most townie bars in Petersburg. Named for the infamous crater that had come about on the Petersburg battlefield during the Civil War, it drew a crowd of women who were eager to catch themselves a soldier who might take them away from their hometown. It also was frequented by men who harbored deep resentment toward the military presence outside of town, even though they knew all too well that Fort Lee provided jobs to the community. It was the perpetual catch-22 cycle; they hated us, but they needed us . . . and they hated that they needed us. As a result, brawls between enlisted men and locals were all too common an occurrence.

Still, these scuffles rarely got out of hand or went too far. When they did, though, it was a big fucking deal, as demonstrated by my friend Reardon.

“At first, it was okay. We just sat in a booth and had some beers. Deen was all gloomy because he’d had a fight with his girl back home, and he wanted to go back to the barracks and video chat with her.” Reardon breathed a phrase under his breath that sounded suspiciously like pussy whipped.

I cleared my throat, and the private’s eyes flashed to me, full of sardonic humor, before he continued.

“So he left the bar about . . . oh, I guess eleven or thereabouts. Petrowski and I went up to the bar after he took off, and we started talking to a couple of girls.” Reardon flushed, the pink staining his neck. “Petrowski . . . he, uh, went outside with one of them. I don’t know what they were doing.”

I tried not to smirk. I had a fairly good idea of what Private Petrowski and his townie hook-up had been busy doing outside. It probably wasn’t a Bible study.

“The other girl, the one who was still in there with me, she was kind of drunk by then. She kept trying to talk me into going outside, too, or even going home with her, but I could tell she didn’t really know what she was saying. She’d had a lot to drink.” His mouth worked. “It wouldn’t have been right to take advantage of her.”

“And you’re nothing if you’re not a gentleman, huh, Reardon?” I couldn’t hide the sarcasm in my voice.

This time, his eyes flashed with anger that took me aback. “Yes, sir, I am. I may be a fuck up here, and I might get into trouble a lot, but I respect women. I was raised by a single mother, and she’d beat me within an inch of my life if she ever heard of me showing anything less than courtesy and kindness to a girl. To any woman.” His words rang with both conviction and sincerity, and I noted absently that even Lieutenant Lake appeared to be surprised.

I steepled my fingers in front of my face. “I apologize, Reardon. I shouldn’t have made that assumption. So, you were there in the bar with this girl, and you were fending off her advances. And your buddy was outside getting laid. What happened next?”

He shifted in his chair. “The girl, she just plastered herself up against me. And like I said, I wasn’t going to go outside with her or anything, but at the same time, I figured, there wasn’t any harm in a little, um . . .”

“Flirtation?” I suggested.

“Uh, yeah, I guess. We might have been, like, kissing a little, but nothing else. And then this guy comes up to us. He grabs the girl by the arm and rips her away from me, and she falls down on the floor.” Fury infused his words. “He threw her down so hard, she knocked into someone else, another girl, and that one fell on top of the first one. I was afraid one of them, or even both, was really hurt.”

I was beginning to see where this was going. “Is that when you started to fight?”

Reardon shook his head. “No, sir. I honestly was too surprised at that point to do much more than try to help the girl. I pulled her up, and I was trying to see if she was all right, and the guy comes at us again. He starts screaming at the girl, calling her names—” He broke off. “It was clear pretty fast that they used to be together. He was saying that she was a cheating, uh, bitch, and she was yelling right back that she didn’t belong to him because there was no way she’d stick with a guy who smacked her around.”

I closed my eyes, sighing. “Okay.”

“I’ll be honest, sir, at that point, I was pissed. This guy was getting in my face, and I knew I should just get out of there, but then he, uh . . .” Reardon swallowed. “He backhanded the girl. Like, hard. She would’ve hit the floor again if I hadn’t been there behind her.”

“Shit.” I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Fucking asshole.”

“Yeah, that was my thought exactly, sir. And maybe I should’ve told the bartender to call the cops, or maybe I should’ve just dragged the girl out of there—I thought of both of those things after—but I didn’t. I reacted. I hauled off and hit the guy, and then . . . well, it all got pretty fucked up after that.”

The room fell silent. This situation wasn’t exactly the way I’d assumed it was. Reardon was a screw-up, sure; he’d admitted to that. But if even most of what he was telling me was true, there wasn’t much I could do to fault him. That was the man in me speaking, though. The company commander still had to dole out consequences.

“So you threw the first punch.” I tilted my head in question, and Reardon nodded.

“Yes, sir. I did hit him first, but I was sure he was about to go after the girl again.”

“Right, but it wasn’t self-defense. You were acting to protect another civilian.”

He nodded again. “Yes, sir.”

I glanced at Lake. “Do you know who called the police?”

“Yes, sir. The bartender did. By the time they responded, though, the, uh, victim was already unconscious.”

“Jesus Christ, Reardon. I get that you were standing up for this girl. I get that you were trying to do the right thing. But did you have to take it so far? This man, the one you hit, he’s still out of it. He might have a brain injury, the type that has serious repercussions. You gave the motherfucker a fucking concussion.” I picked up a pen to make a few notes on the paper in front of me and then tossed it down in disgust.

“Sir, I didn’t hit him that hard, and I only hit him twice, both times to the jaw. He went down the second time, landed on a table, and one of the men at that table shoved him away. That’s when he knocked his head into the bar and passed out.”

This was better, but only slightly. I addressed the lieutenant again. “Were there any witnesses to this? Is there anyone who will corroborate his story?”

Lake looked even wearier than he had before. “According to the police report, no, sir. All the people at the bar either claimed that they hadn’t seen anything or that Reardon provoked the victim.”

“What about the girl? Did anyone get her statement? Seems like she might be our best bet here, seeing that she didn’t have any reason to want to defend the victim.”

“There wasn’t any mention of her in the report, sir, and I didn’t ask about her at the station, because I hadn’t talked to Reardon at that point. I can go back and find out, though.”

“Do that,” I directed, and then paused. “On second thought, no. Send Sergeant Tulley. He might have more luck than you would.” Tulley, the platoon sergeant, wasn’t exactly a local boy, but he was from Richmond, about an hour north of us. He had a better chance than Lake did of getting information from the Petersburg PD.

“Will do, sir.” Lake nodded.

“Reardon, until we can get this straightened out, you’re confined to the barracks. This is for your own good as much as for anything else. This story hit the news, and now we’ve got locals picketing outside post because they’ve heard you started the fight and nearly killed the man.”

For the first time all afternoon, Reardon straightened his spine. “Sir, that isn’t true. None of it is.”

“From a certain point of view, it is, and that’s all that matters to these people. They’re responding to a sound bite they heard over their breakfast cereal, and some of them are operating off years of resentment against the Army, against Fort Lee, and against any of us who go into their town and mess with their people.” I tapped on the edge of my desk. “Lake, what about Petrowski? He didn’t see anything of this, I take it? He was still too busy getting his rocks off outside the bar?”

Lake looked pained. “No, sir, he didn’t see it. But when the cops showed up, he went back inside and figured out what was going on. He was the one who called first sergeant and filled him in.”

“Maybe he can at least give a statement about what happened before he went outside. He might be able to speak to the actions of the girl and how Reardon was handling her.”

“I’ll talk to him, sir. He said he offered his statement to the local police, but they said they weren’t interested since he hadn’t actually been present during the altercation.”

“Of course not,” I muttered. We tried to keep a cordial relationship with the nearby police departments, but it wasn’t always possible. “Well, find out what he has to say, and if we need to do it, we’ll drag him back down there and convince them to put him on record. If he can even speak to Reardon’s state of mind prior to the fight, that might be helpful.”

“Got it, sir.”

“All right.” I waved my hand. “That’s all for now. Once we get all the details straight and find out what the police intend to do, we’ll see what’s going to happen on this end.”

Both of the men stood, but Reardon lingered when Lake made to leave. “Sir, I just want to say—I know this was my fault. I know I didn’t do everything exactly like I should have. I should’ve walked away, or I should’ve taken the girl out of there if I felt she was in danger. And I’m sorry I put you in a bad position.”

“Yeah.” I pressed my lips together. “I appreciate that, Reardon. If you’re being straight with me, if everything you just told is true, I understand that you were in a tough position. You did the right thing to defend the girl, but you went about it the wrong way, and that’s probably going to fuck up your life for a while. But I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure you get justice. You have my word on that.”

Reardon looked as though he wanted to say something else, but finally, he simply nodded. “Thank you, sir.”

Lake closed the door behind the two of them, and I leaned back in my chair, stretching my back.

“Fuck.” I closed my eyes. A nasty headache was beginning to brew inside my brain, and I had a feeling that it was only going to get worse before it got better.

You can read the rest of Maximum Force here (FREE!):

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