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.

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