Halos and Heroes Ch. 27

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Thank you all who have been reading and following along. I always appreciate getting feedback. It helps with becoming a better writer and it’s always an ego boost, so feel free to reach out. I will always respond!

The usual spiel: This isn’t a stroke story, (more porn with plot.) Be warned, it’s very long. 33+ chapters, and many sexless ones to come before it gets sexy, which is why it was originally published under novels/novellas, but readers asked for it to be put under gay male due to content, so here we go.

This book is dedicated to all of the brave service members and their families who sacrifice so much every day so that the rest of us can enjoy the liberties that they swear to protect and uphold.

Although references in this novel may be made to actual places or events, the names, characters, incidents, and locations within are complete works of fiction. They are not a resemblance to actual living or dead persons, businesses, or events. Any similarity is coincidental. In an effort to do the United States Army justice, and to show my respect to my country, I have applied all possible efforts to merge fact and fiction to entertain, while portraying the military, and the hardships and achievements of soldiers, with respect, dignity and accuracy to the best of my abilities. It’s my hope that I’ve done you all justice, and that all of the creative licenses taken with this novel are understood to be the efforts of imagination, and not any judgment or disrespect against the U.S. military. Thank you all for your service.

***

Tell a man there are 300 billion stars in the universe and he’ll believe you. Tell him a bench has wet paint on it and he’ll have to touch it to be sure.

—Murphy’s Law

I had second thoughts about looking at the world through rose colored glasses when Ben and I walked up to Sofia’s house. He’d insisted on taking me all the way to the front door to say goodnight. It would’ve been funny, even cute, if Max hadn’t been sitting on the porch swing with a little cooler at his feet, and a beer in his hand. He stood when he spotted us. My ears heated immediately. Being caught strolling hand-in-hand with Ben like some love struck moron was made more embarrassing when Max looked down at our entwined hands and smirked.

Only a few inches shorter than me, he looked a mile long standing on the upper steps of the porch. In camouflage BDU’s and a tight black tee shirt that wasn’t military issue, he was all lean, rangy muscle. He lacked my bulk, built more like a runner, but I knew from experience of being pinned by those healing hands that he was as strong as I was. He was smiling like usual, deep dimples flashing as the smile deepened into a full out grin. Sandy brown fuzz covered his head, matching the faint dusting of dayold stubble along his jawline and nowhere else. More boy next door cute than Hollywood leading man, he looked as harmless as Doogie Howser, but I knew from experience that both men and women fell at his feet like dominoes. Sex appeal came from the soul, and people seemed to have a thing for guys who had intimate knowledge of anatomy.

Max let us get to the base of the porch before he came down the steps. When he held his hand out to Ben, my attention was drawn to the thick bandage wrapped around the middle of his arm above his elbow. After they exchanged perfunctory formalities, I turned into Max’s hug, my arms tightening around him on instinct.

His lips brushed my ear as he murmured, “You guys look all polished and shiny…”

I pushed at his good shoulder, earning a grin from him when he stumbled back. “When did you get here?”

“Addie picked me up from the airport and took me to the rental place since Sofia is working late.” He looked over at Ben. “We could’ve used you in the car earlier. That girl drives like she really wants to find God.” His gaze swept over Ben, sizing him up. “Nice to meet the man Sam’s told me so much about.”

“Ditto,” Ben said with an easy smile.

“Heard you guys were at a club. Did I miss a good time?” Max’s blue eyes laughed at me.

“We’ll have to take you there one day this week,” I said, proud at how casual my voice was despite the X-rated footage playing over and over in my head. “Ben is friends with the owner.”

“Impressive. Guess priests have a lot in common with ogres.”

“What?” Ben and I asked at the same time.

Max parked a lean hip against the porch rail. “Layers.”

I cocked an eyebrow at him with equal amounts of threat and question. “How many beers have you had?”

“Only one, baby.” He covered his mouth with his hand. “Oops. I forgot, you hate that.”

“He doesn’t mind when I do it.” Ben’s tone was mild.

Max’s usual MO would’ve been to flirt with Ben just to tease me, but there wasn’t a hint of playfulness in his manner, and I suddenly felt like a bone caught between two hungry dogs.

“I’m sure there are a few things he doesn’t mind you doin’ darlin. We should talk shop one day, compare notes.”

“Max, knock it off.”

Ben poker oyna smiled. “I’ll be happy to give you pointers to wow the next guy in your life.”

Goodbye subtlety.

Max’s eyes narrowed. He didn’t start drama, but I’d gotten into a few bar fights over the years defending him because he wouldn’t back down if anyone screwed with him or me. So when he picked up his soda can from the railing, I started to move toward him in case he threw it at Ben’s head.

Instead Max grinned and saluted Ben with the can. “Ooo burn. Well played.” He raised both hands as he backed up, not objecting when Ben leaned toward me for a kiss.

“I have some things to finish at Maplewood, so I’m going to head back. Max, it was nice meeting you. Sam, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

The brush of Ben’s fingers against my cheek lingered long after his truck lights faded from view. As soon as I was sure that he was out of sight, I punched Max in his good arm again.

“You want to tell me what that was about?”

He shrugged and walked back up the steps. “I just find it funny that someone who’s previously found religion only through fortune cookies is shacking up with a priest. Who by the way, doesn’t look like any priest I’ve ever met. I might have to become a devout little Episcopalian.”

He pushed up the hinge on the screen door, keeping it from slamming and waking the whole house. “Looks like I’m going to have to get a hotel room.”

I moved to the fridge to pull out a bottle of the root beer Sofia had started stocking for me when I’d moved back here. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You didn’t kiss me hello.” He headed for the refrigerator himself when I sat at the counter. “I’m not stupid. Though I can’t believe that you’re so serious about this guy that you’d turn down all this.” He swept a hand down his body in a silly, provocative gesture.

“You saw him. Wouldn’t you be willing to get on your knees for that man?”

“On my knees, on my back, sure, but I wouldn’t make myself comfortable in his bed for too long. He’d try to exorcise me in my sleep.”

I grinned. “It would serve you right.”

“Probably, but that’s not the point.”

“What is the point of this asinine conversation?”

I watched him pick through the abundance of groceries without much enthusiasm despite the fact Sofia had just stocked the fridge a day ago.

“Max?”

“You fell for him,” he said, propping himself against the door. “I can hear it in your voice, see it in the way you watched him when he walked away.”

“He’s a good man.”

“I don’t doubt it.” Bottles rattled gently in the fridge as Max closed the door, emerging with a black cherry soda. “But for a relationship to work, you need shared denominators— hobbies, interests, politics. What do you two have in common outside of some undoubtedly life affirming sexual gymnastics?”

“He’s good with the girls.”

“So am I.”

“You’re not a part of this equation.”

“Why not?”

I eyed him in silence, not sure which direction this was heading.

Max leaned his good arm onto the island, looking down at the subtle pattern in the granite. He took a perfunctory sip from his soda before he met my eyes across the counter. “We’ve always been honest with each other, Sam, so tell me the truth. Are you really in love with this guy? Or is he just a safe play because he’s already involved in your family’s lives?”

It was the same question I’d asked myself a dozen times, but I didn’t have a concrete answer yet.

“We could make it work, Sam.”

“Make what work?”

“You and me.”

“What?” I blinked, sucker-punched by the words that came out of left field. “Max… You were the one who told me to go for Ben.”

“I know, and I fucked up by thinking you wouldn’t listen to me.” His expression softened at my obvious confusion. “You’ve never been serious about anyone, not even Devlin. You and me, that’s the longest relationship either of us has ever been in. I got cocky.”

“I don’t know what you want me to say. You were always clear that I loved you more than you loved me, and that you didn’t want monogamy.”

“I know what I said… And I was stupid.” He leaned in a little closer to me. “Sam, we were immature twenty year old morons and best friends when we started sleeping together. By the time I realized how deep it went for me, we were in a combat zone and I’d shoved so many random strangers between us that we’d fallen into a routine of low expectation and intense self-preservation.”

I didn’t know how to handle the intensity in his eyes. He broke the silence first.

“I want to throw all my bullshit hang-ups about monogamy out the window and make things work between you and me.”

“Why? Because I’m with Ben and you don’t approve? I told you I didn’t want you to come here on some mission of intervention.”

A muscle jumped in Max’s jaw. “This isn’t an intervention.” He paused. “I’m not re-enlisting, Sam. Once this tour is up in six months, I’m coming canlı poker oyna home. I want it to be to you.”

I blinked, but faced with two bombs in one sentence, I had to triage. “You’re coming back to Florida?”

Max nodded. “I wanted to make a difference out there and thought I was, but—”

He stopped abruptly, and the pieces began to fall into place.

“This is about the kid in the hospital, isn’t it?”

“Not all of it. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I’m tired, Sam. I know what I did at the hospital was necessary,” he said, holding up a hand before I could chime in. “But that’s my point. I don’t want to live a life where killing is a necessity.”

I nodded. I’d embraced that thought once I let my let my guard down and started looking at the world differently.

“I need a cigarette.”

“You don’t smoke anymore.”

Max pulled a pack and a lighter from the pocket of his pants, then gestured to the porch so that we could sit out front on the swing to talk without getting smoke in the house. “Not in front of anyone who could tell my mama, but she’s not here and you don’t care.” To make his point, he passed over a cigarette and I took it.

He lit his own and inhaled deeply before tossing me the lighter. “Maybe we’re just getting old, man. Feeling the need to set down roots. To leave a legacy behind or something.”

I took a drag off my cigarette, glad that we had sailed back to safer ground. “Speak for yourself. I’m still spry enough to keep up with a five-year old.”

Max laughed, his eyes gleaming a paler blue than they actually were under the deck lights as he turned to face me, pulling one long leg up under him on the swing. The other set it into a slow rock. “What do you think about what I said?”

“You unloaded on me in there, so you’ll have to be more specific.”

“Let’s start with me moving back here. You okay with that?”

“What kind of stupid question is that? You’re my best friend. Of course I want you close.”

“Ouch. You dropped the friend bomb. Guess that answers my second question about us giving a real relationship a shot.”

“I don’t think this is about me, Max.”

“You’re not that confident in your own irresistibility?”

He was teasing, but I could hear the undercurrent of tenser emotions beneath it. To give myself an extra few seconds to think of a follow up, I passed him one of the ashtrays Sofia kept outside for me.

“So domestic. Who doesn’t want to come home to that?”

I rolled my eyes. “You have the worst fucking timing in the world.”

“I’m a doctor, not a clock.” Max’s lips quirked into a half smile when our eyes met.

I didn’t stop him when he leaned toward me, or cry foul when he curled his hand behind my neck to pull me in for a kiss. It started innocently slow. The tip of his tongue outlined my lips, following their curve until he stopped the languid exploration in the middle of my lower lip. Unlike Ben, Max knew exactly how hard to push right out of the gate, and I could feel the sensitive skin of my lower lip pucker with awareness as it was gathered into a pout controlled first by the practiced edge of his teeth, then by the insistent sweep of his tongue.

When I didn’t deck him for his assumption that I’d fall to my knees just because he’d suddenly decided he wanted me, it was all the invitation Max needed. He cradled my jaw and a press of his thumb on the edge of it gave him full access to my mouth which he devoured like neither of us needed oxygen. The swing creaked a warning about how dangerous a game I was playing when Max pushed me flat on my back against it. He dropped his cigarette and kept one foot on the floor to keep us stationary, while his body trapped mine with its full weight. He covered me completely, like he knew I’d bolt if given the time to think too long about how wrong this was.

I didn’t get that chance, because Max was kissing me with the determination of a man hell-bent on blocking out thoughts of anything except what he wanted to give me. Years of practice allowed him to draw out every sensation I was capable of. I savored the rough rub of his tongue against mine, and the confident stroke of his hands down my body. Max had never been a passive lover and he pulled out all the stops now, encouraging me to get lost in the taste of him and to forget everything else.

He shifted his weight, knowing exactly how to align our bodies so that every hard line and angle fit together like pieces of an erotic puzzle box. Even through my dress shirt, the unyielding contact of his muscled chest teased my nipples, rubbing them erect. Knowing this was a bad idea didn’t stop the instinctive tilt of my head that exposed my tongue to the scrape of his teeth. Firm hands jerked my hips up to meet his. I could feel every ridge of him even through his BDU’s and the thinner material of my slacks.

I tossed my cigarette too, and slid my hand up under his shirt, scratching slow lines into the broad expanse of Max’s back until he shuddered and internet casino pressed against me harder to encourage my exploration. I’d wanted Max for half my life, and now he was willing to give me everything. Regardless of what had prompted the confession, I knew it was real. He’d never lie to me, especially not about something that put him in such a vulnerable position. He was laying it all out on the line for me to take it if I wanted to. It was of those times when we’d find happier results in leaving the past right where it belonged. Trying to revive emotions that you’d killed off for your own protection was stupid. But memory can screw with you, and make you forget all the reasons that made you walk away in the first place.

It’d be easy to invite Max upstairs and finish this—I was tempted for longer than I’d ever admit to anyone—but when his hand slid up my thigh and stopped just below my crotch, my brain finally kicked in and started throwing out images of just what I’d lose.

Ben playing with my nieces at the beach. The width of his smile in the club when I told him he was mine. Laughing with him in bed before my mouth had other things to engage it. The sleepy, trusting press of his head into my shoulder, and the way he said he loved me in every way he could think of without spooking me with the actual words.

I’d been walking a fine line, but I tapped out on Max’s arm. He stopped immediately. I leaned in to kiss him again. My mouth brushed his cheek this time. Max shifted before I could pull completely pull away. The gentle hand at the back of my neck stilled me so that he could catch my mouth again. Just a light graze. He backed off and let me sit up, then handed me another cigarette.

“Okay,” he said as he agreed to my silent request. “Nobody sleeps in the wet spot tonight.”

I smiled, knowing he could see the relief in my eyes when our gazes met. We didn’t talk for a few minutes, and the silence was slightly more strained than usual, but we’d get over it eventually. I hoped. I wanted to be with Ben, but Max was still my best friend and part of my family, so losing him wasn’t an option.

We were halfway through our cigarettes when car headlights dragged both our gazes up. Tara’s blue convertible parked in the driveway, and she got out before Sofia did.

Max whistled low when she started walking up the driveway toward the porch. She didn’t have her fedora on, so she was all long blonde hair and tanned skin in tight jeans, a red halter top, and high heels; much sexier clothing than she usually wore, and I wondered what the occasion was. Max didn’t seem to be wondering about anything other than the fact she was smiling, and I sighed in relief, never happier that he swung both ways. Tara would shut him down quick if he made a move, but at least it was a temporary distraction.

He stopped his obvious appraised and grinned at Sofia when she hurried up the steps past Tara to hug him hard. She melted into his arms without hesitation, though I knew it wasn’t sexual. They’d been friends almost as long as he and I had. Max gently tugged a strand of her short hair with one hand, and then offered a teasing wolf whistle as he swept her pink scrubs with a silly leer.

“A woman in uniform. Very hot. Want to show me how people play doctor in the States?”

He grinned when she laughed and swatted him away before he turned the charm fully on Tara, deepening his usual drawl. She slid her slim hand into his and grinned back, not bothering to hide her amusement. She knew the game, her own accent kicking up immediately as she swept him with an assessing look he returned.

“Hey. I’m Max.”

“Tara. Nice to meet you, Max. I’ve heard a lot about you. Mostly that your dick is more lethal than that good ol’ boy smile,” she said sweetly, and I hid my laugh in a cough. “Unfortunately rain on a tin roof pings more for me than men do.”

Max’s eyes gleamed with amusement. “Ah, so, you’re Sam’s new fag hag… That’s a damn shame. Sam can tell you I’d make it worth your while.”

He smiled at me casually, but it felt like our momentary ease was up in the air again. I shook my head, and he looked back at Tara, not missing a beat. “The night is young, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been home. Sure you’re you more faggy than haggy?”

Tara leaned into his space to bite the air above his nose. “Type LES into my search engine and my browsing history becomes a panties only playground.”

Max grinned. “Man, I’m getting no love tonight.”

“If it makes you feel better, I don’t use communal toilets either.”

Max’s grin deepened until it became a full out laugh. He wasn’t offended, but Sofia came to his defense anyway.

“Hey, Max is quite the catch. He’s handsome, funny, and a doctor.”

“And if you want to live vicariously through another person’s sexual hijinks, Max is your man,” I added.

Max bowed. “Thank you, friends.”

“If he was missing his dick we’d be in business, but for now you can be a doll and grab me a Corona,” Tara said pointing out the little cooler. “Thanks, sugar.”

Max’s grin was genuine as he reached down to get the beer, and then handed it over. “Ooh she’s nasty. I like it. I say we keep Tara even if she doesn’t like man-banana.”

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