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Patience and training have provided him with the tools he'll need to fight for what he wants.
Home on leave, Cade Donovan isn't looking for a hook-up, let alone love. Certainly not while he is out with his brothers. When Cade steps in to even the odds in a fight outside a bar, he is instantly drawn to the man being ganged up on. Acting on instinct, the Marine Corps sniper is drawn to the smaller man like a moth to a flame, refusing to give up until the man is his.
Being the younger brother of the school bully has made Jason Carlson's life hell. During yet another retaliatory fight, a man comes to Jason's aid just when he thinks his life and his luck have gone from bad to worse. Warned to stay away from his home, Jason accepts the invitation of his rescuer and soon realises that his life has been forever altered. He can have everything he desires, if he's willing trust Cade with his heart.
When the reality of loving a man in uniform sets in, Jason must find the strength within himself to believe and know that love is worth fighting for.
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"Stop ... please!"
The plea — barely a whisper next to the loud music pouring from the Driftwood Bar and Grille followed by a thud and the faint ding of metal — caught Cade Donovan's attention. Senses flaring, he listened again, weighing his options. The soft sound repeated itself — a body connecting painfully with a vehicle of some kind. His gut clenched and he turned to his brothers.
"Go on ahead, I'll be right in."
"Cade, where are you going?" his older brother Riley asked.
"Just something I want to check out."
"We'll go with you," his younger brother Christian said, nodding to his twin Riordan.
Cade smiled and shook his head. "Pretty sure I can take care of myself."
It was rare for all of them to be home at the same time, but they'd managed it — everyone meeting at Parris Island for their sister Cheyenne's graduation from Marine Corps boot camp three days ago. They had another two weeks before they all needed to be back to their respective bases. Earlier in the night, his sisters had gone to the movies, while their parents had gone to a couples-only party.
"Let us know if you need us to come rescue your ass." Riordan laughed.
Cade nodded as his brothers headed into the bar. Aware of his surroundings, he made his way around the side of the building. Knowing the music would cover the sound of his boots on the pavement, he kept to the shadows as he scanned the area. At the far end of the parking lot, four men stood on the other side of a brown 1990 Cadillac Seville, kicking and shouting at an unseen person. He made his way along the side of the building and his heart dropped as his intuition was confirmed. Pulling out his cell phone, he sent a quick message to his brothers.
"Four on one. End of lot."
Cade took a deep breath and hit send. Riley was with the SWAT team in the nearby city of Kalamazoo. Christian and Riordan were both Air Force Combat Controllers. It made sense to let them know and get their help, especially if any of the four men had weapons, but he had no intention of waiting for his brothers to show.
"Is there a problem?" Cade asked, striding over to the group then crossing his arms over his chest as he stopped.
"None of your concern, Marine," said a man with dark hair and the beginnings of a beer belly that his faded University of Michigan T-shirt failed to hide.
"Please help me," the boy on the ground sobbed out. "I didn't do anything."
"You're breathing, Carlson, that's enough," a second dark-haired man sneered.
The four men looked to be around his age and seemed vaguely familiar but Cade couldn't place them. They'd called the boy Carlson. As far as he knew, there was only one family of Carlsons — the family of the school bully, Scott Carlson. Scott had been in his class, so that made the guy his younger brother or possibly a cousin.
"Leave him alone." Cade stepped closer. Regardless of his relationship to Scott Carlson, four on one wasn't remotely fair in these circumstances.
"Nobody asked you," the first man said. "It's none of your business."
"Yeah, but see — four on one isn't fair, unless the one is a Marine. What did he do besides breathing that warrants all four of you beating the shit out of him?"
"His brother made our lives hell growing up," a third man replied.
"Pretty sure Scott Carlson made everybody's life a living hell. That doesn't mean you take it out on his brother. That could be suicidal," Cade reasoned as the kid tried to pick himself up.
"Doubt it. Saw him using his brother as a punching bag a couple of weeks ago. Makes him fair game," the second man said.
"Bullshit! Why don't you grow a pair of balls and face Scott himself?" Cade exclaimed. "Stop taking it out on someone smaller than you. That makes you just as bad as Scott."
Movement caught his attention. Cade turned and blocked the punch, before countering with one of his own, knocking the man to the ground. He waited as the remaining three men stalked towards him. Turning slightly, he stepped forward with one foot and punched the solar plexus and the gut of the closest man. Shifting his weight and pivoting, he kicked a third man in the head, knocking him to the ground, before focusing his attention on the remaining man. The man had been silent during the whole exchange.
Cade returned to the modified fighting stance he preferred and waited for the last man to move. He stared into the other man's eyes until he looked away and kicked out at him. Cade caught the heel of the man's cowboy boot and lifted with all his strength, sending his opponent sprawling on to his back.
Ignoring the four men, he stepped into the circle of bodies and grabbed the kid's hand. He spun around, pushing the kid behind him as the sound of footsteps approached.
"What the fuck?" Riley asked, dialling his cell phone.
Cade relaxed, stepped to the side and guided Carlson towards his brothers, positioning himself between him and his attackers.
"You were supposed to wait for us," Riordan whined.
"Be smart — stay on the ground," Christian said, moving towards the men partially sprawled on the pavement.
"Go find your own fight. Four on one was unfair. Besides, you were too slow." Cade shrugged.
"Quit your bitching, you three." Riley pocketed the device. "Police are on their way. What the hell happened?"
"The four of them were beating up on him for no good reason," Cade explained.
"I ... I need to go," Carlson stammered.
"No, you're waiting for the police," Cade said. "Well, the on-duty police. Riley is off-duty right now."
Carlson shook his head and stared at the ground, kicking at a loose hunk of asphalt, holding one arm curled protectively around his abdomen. Cade's instincts kicked in as he took a closer look at the battered man. Manoeuvring him towards the Cadillac, Cade used the nearby light to look for obvious injuries.
"How bad did they get you?" he asked.
"Just a few bruises." The man shrugged.
"I'm Cade Donovan. These are my brothers Riley, Christian and Riordan." Cade stuck out his hand to shake the other man's instead of running it along Carlson's cheek like his gut and cock were demanding.
Before Cade could say anything else, three black and white police cruisers with lights flashing pulled alongside them. Cade glanced from the officers to the men who had beaten Jason up, before turning his attention back to Jason. The first officer stepped out of his car and walked over to them.
"I'm Officer Slater, what's going on here?"
"Cade Donovan, my brothers Christian, Riordan and Riley, who is on Kalamazoo PD."
"Dan Slater — we went to school together. Heard you went into the Marines. You home for good?"
"I remember you. Nope, I'm on leave. So are Christian and Riordan and the girls," Cade said, shaking the hand of his former classmate.
"So, what seems to be the problem?" Dan asked, withdrawing a notebook and pen from his pocket.
"We were going into the Driftwood when I heard what sounded like a body hitting a car and —"
"You know what the sound of a body hitting a car makes and could hear it over the music?" a second police officer asked, as three more officers joined them.
"Yes, I do. Two tours in the desert, not only do I know the different sounds a body makes, but I also learned to filter out all sorts of things," Cade replied stiffly.
"Of course," the man acknowledged, looking slightly embarrassed. "We'll talk with this crew. Ambulance is five minutes out."
"I'll finish with him," Dan said. "So, you heard a noise and then what happened?"
Cade recounted the fight and what led up to it, including the reasons the men had given him for beating up on Jason. After taking down his contact information, Slater dismissed him to stand with his brothers, then turned his attention to the other men.
A half hour passed before the four men were taken into custody for assault and battery. When Jason began arguing with the paramedics and one of the police officers, Cade walked over to where they stood. There was something about Jason that made him want to stay near, to get to know him.
"Do you have a car?" Officer Slater asked Jason.
"No, it — I'm working on it."
"What were you doing here then?" Slater asked.
"On my way to ... the grocery store ... to pick up a few things," Jason replied, stumbling over the obvious lie.
Cade raised an eyebrow. Jason was hiding something. Cade would bet his pay cheque on it. "I can take him either to the hospital or home, Dan," Cade offered. "Riley, do you have that nutshell you bought for Sue with you?"
"Nutshell?" Slater asked, raising an eyebrow, looking from Cade to Jason and back again.
"Always took you for a rider." Cade laughed. "It's like half of a helmet, almost always black. Meets the helmet law definition."
Officer Slater nodded his understanding.
"I'm fine. I don't need to be checked out," Jason protested.
"Yes, you do," the paramedic said, frustration lacing his voice.
"A well-placed kick to the abdomen could tear your stomach, liver, spleen or intestines all to hell. Better to make sure you're all right than not and have you die," Cade replied.
Jason shrugged. "They're being charged and all I really have is a split lip. Nothing serious. Any bruises will take a few hours to appear. Besides, it was mostly punches to the head."
"Mostly?" Cade asked, his blood boiling. "I saw at least two kicks and I know there were more."
"They hit bone. Arms and legs. Nothing's broken."
Cade raised an eyebrow. "You don't have enough muscle on you to protect you from those kinds of kicks."
A truck pulled into the parking lot of the bar, temporarily blinding him before the beams continued past. Cade swore. When he looked back at Jason, the man was noticeably paler.
"Fine, I'll go. But I'm not riding in an ambulance. I can't afford that."
Cade smiled. "Good. Can I take him?"
"Where are you taking him?" Dan asked, opening his notebook once again.
"We're closer to Kalamazoo. Bronson," Cade supplied.
Dan nodded and wrote something down before pocketing the pad.
"I can —" Jason started to protest.
"I'll take you. I can get my hand checked out," Cade said. He wanted to see if his gaydar was right about Jason. He also wanted the chance to get to know him better. Jason couldn't have been more than five feet nine inches and a hundred and forty pounds dripping wet. With his wiry frame and strawberry blond hair, he was not the typical guy Cade dated, but something about the other man called to him like no other had. He didn't question the feeling, he simply went with it. Feelings like that had kept him out of trouble more than once. In Afghanistan, to ignore your instincts was to challenge death. Ignoring those gut feelings now wouldn't be the same, but he could be cheating his heart out of his soul mate. He could see what happened while he was home. If Jason truly was gay.
"Let's get you two to the hospital," Riley said.
Cade nodded as Officer Slater turned his attention away from them and got back into his patrol car. Cade smiled as his brothers helped form a protective circle around Jason. He wasn't sure what had caused Jason to change his mind about getting checked out, but he was glad he had.
"Motorcycles? You expect me to ride on a motorcycle?" Jason asked as they stopped at their bikes.
"Unless you want an ambulance ride?" Cade offered.
"Jeez, no. I don't even really need to go to the hospital."
"Too late. Here you go, Cade." Riley tossed him a small black helmet.
"Do you know how to put one of these on?" Cade asked, handing it to Jason.
Sighing, Jason took the helmet. Cade slipped his own on and threaded the chinstrap automatically as Jason continued to fumble with his. Smiling, he stepped closer and fastened the strap.
"Wait until I tell you, then step up on the back pedal here and swing your leg over. You can hang on to me," Cade said, fishing the key out of his pocket before mounting the large silver Triumph. Next to him, Riordan and Christian started dark blue Harley Road Kings with a variety of Air Force symbols painted on their tanks, while Riley had a black Triumph.
Cade nodded. Moments later, a firm grasp on his shoulder was followed by a slight thud and Jason was seated behind him. Reaching back, he pulled Jason's arms around him. His cock definitely appreciated the touch and wanted more. He was able to justify it to himself knowing that it was the best way for him to gauge Jason's reactions. He wanted Jason's first experience on a motorcycle to be a positive one, even though their destination was the hospital.
The twenty-minute ride to the hospital had been the most freeing experience of his life. Jason shook his head and squeezed Cade tighter as they took a corner. He still couldn't believe he'd chickened out and agreed to go the hospital. Maybe he could just pretend to be seen and not really talk to a doctor. Jason sighed. That would only make things worse for him when he did finally go home.
Jason blew out a breath. Cade was different. Cade made him feel safe.
He tightened his grip on the other man before releasing it. He didn't know Cade. Cade Donovan could be just as big a bastard as most of the other men in his life. Coming to his rescue didn't make him a good guy. Neither did giving him a ride to the hospital. If Cade dropped him off at the Emergency Room doors and then parked his bike, he could slip away and call a cab. His brother had seen the police cruisers and ambulance — he'd believe that Jason'd had to go to the hospital.
Jason sighed again. The men hadn't done the damage Cade said they could have. He knew that, but part of him wished they had. Staring at the passing scenery, he wondered when dying had become preferable to living.
Cade's dark green T-shirt printed with the word Marines bunched up under his fingers. Maybe that was the answer. He could go into the military. At twenty, he knew he wasn't too old. Tomorrow he'd call the recruiter and see what he needed to do. He wasn't smart enough to get into college, even if he could find the money to pay for it, but the military would get him away from Hickory Ridge and his family.
Hope for escape from the hospital died in his chest as the group pulled into the parking lot next to the Emergency Room, bypassing the driveway completely. Leaving their helmets on the bikes, they walked him into the ER and proceeded to explain to the receptionist what had happened and what their concerns were. The woman nodded, batted her eyelashes and agreed with everything that Cade said then pointed to the waiting room, telling them the doctor would be right with them.
* * *
Four hours later, Jason could see his entire world slipping away. The initial exam had led to photographs and X-rays. The physician assistant diagnosed bruised internal organs, two broken ribs and a fractured wrist. She splinted his wrist and gave him orders to rest and take it easy for the next couple of weeks. The woman went so far as to write a formal restricted light duty notice for his boss.
"What the hell?" Cade demanded, walking into the exam room as he was pulling down his shirt, obviously having seen the older bruising.
"Accident," Jason shrugged giving the same answer he'd given the physician assistant when she'd asked about the older injuries. "What are you doing back here?"
"I asked the nurse where you were and she told me. I said I was your friend and wanted to make sure you were okay," Cade answered.
"Why are you still here?"
"Because I was worried about you. Did your girlfriend do all that? Those aren't all from tonight."
Heat filled his cheeks as he shook his head. He didn't have a girlfriend. He'd never even been interested in girls. He preferred men. Not that he dated. Ever. Even if there were more than a handful of eligible men in Hickory Ridge or he wanted to try his luck in Battle Creek or Kalamazoo, he was Scott Carlson's younger brother and would forever pay for his brother's actions. "No."
Jason shook his head vehemently. He went into the larger cities for the occasional hook-up, but dating wasn't something that happened after most men learned his identity.
"But you do like men," Cade said, stepping closer and running the back of one knuckle down his cheek.
Jason nodded, looked into his deep brown eyes and was instantly lost. Short brown hair topped an angular face. Cade was at least six inches taller than him and built like a quarterback. The tight green T-shirt under the black leather jacket he'd donned when they first got on his motorcycle indicated a well-muscled body.
"Come home with me?" Cade whispered.
He shouldn't. "I —"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Uniform Desires"
Copyright © 2012 Simone Anderson.
Excerpted by permission of Totally Entwined Group Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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