Halos and Heroes Ch. 25

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Brunette

Thank you all who have been reading and following along. I always appreciate getting 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, 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.

I figure that if the children are alive when I get home, I’ve done my job.

—Roseanne Barr

“So how does it feel to be a man who has it all?” Tara asked, looking up from the piece of pizza she’d been inhaling. It was her third slice, and the protective way she curled the box closer to her elbow assured me it wouldn’t be her last.

“What do you mean?” I picked a piece of pepperoni off my slice and flicked it onto her plate in an experiment of curiosity. It lasted all of three seconds, like chum in a shark tank.

“Well, you have a fantastic family, a phenomenally beautiful and intelligent best friend, and a really hot boyfriend guaranteed to get you into Heaven. What more do you need?”

“Boyfriend? We’re not in high school, Tara.”

“Excuse me,” she sniffed. “Beau? Partner? Paramour?”

“Friend?”

She snorted. “Friends with benefits maybe. You can’t hide that well-laid look, buddy. So how is he?”

“I’m not going to tell you that,” I said, ignoring her when she waggled her brows and held her hands an obscene distance apart.

Her disappointment was so obvious, I couldn’t help but laugh. “You sure you’re a lesbian?”

“I’m a frustrated lesbian,” she said frowning at the pizza box before taking the plunge on her fourth slice. “My last date was months ago, so I’m living vicariously through you.”

“You should come out to the club with Ben and me tonight.”

“And be the dykey third wheel that turns your happy little gay bicycle into a tricycle? No thank you.”

“Oh come on. Maybe we can bring you over to the dark side of dick and ass.”

I grinned when Tara turned an interesting shade of green. “That looks like a no. Guess you really are a lesbian.”

“Who’s a lesbian?” Sofia asked as she entered the room with bag of groceries she set on the counter.

The contraband box of Twinkies poking out of the top of an otherwise organic grocery bag were unusual, but less interesting than Sofia’s new look. In the three hours that she’d been gone, she’d gotten her hair chopped into a short, flattering style that highlighted her cheekbones. Her dark hair gleamed with reddish highlights under the kitchen lights. Ten years had been taken from her previous look with the makeover. When she smiled, off went another five and for the first time since I’d come back to Florida, I recognized the pretty, confident girl I’d known as a kid.

A hand went up to her hair as she noticed Tara and me staring. “Do you like it? I needed a change.”

“I love it,” Tara said, cutting off my response with enough fervor that Sofia grinned.

“Ahh, so you’re the lesbian in question,” she said as she started unpacking the groceries. “Did I ever tell you that I slept with a girl once? It was back during one of the times Connor and I were ‘off’ in our relationship, about a year or two after Adelyn was born.”

She turned back with a mischievous smile curving her mouth when we continued to stare. “What? I was casino oyna adventurous once and she was from Boston, so it wasn’t like I’d see her again.”

“Slut,” I said, my grin matching Sofia’s after she winked at me.

“Next time you’re feeling adventurous, you don’t need to look to Massachusetts, just your own happy Floridian backyard.” Tara leaned into the counter, giving both Sofia and me a good look down the front of her blouse.

Sofia’s grin looked surprised but also pleased. “I’m your type?”

“Leggy, intelligent and gorgeous…whose type are you not?”

Sofia blushed, but the smile didn’t slip. “Thanks, Tara.”

“Anytime. Friends are always there for one another, so if you ever need to come by late at night to borrow a cup of sugar because you’re craving something sweet, feel free.”

I snorted. “As much as this conversation should inspire salacious thoughts since I’m a guy, it’s not happening. In fact I’m feeling kinda icky.”

Sofia laughed. “Shush, Sam. Tara, as flattering as the offer is, I think that boat has sailed.”

“Of course it has,” Tara sighed, stealing the rest of my pizza as she slumped deeper into her stool at the counter. “So close, and yet years too late.”

“The offer still stands to hang out with Ben and me in a happy sandwich.”

My suggestion got me the death stare from Tara.

“We’ll see how happy you are when Ben prays for your junk to shrivel up. The man doesn’t share well.”

“Wait, Sam and Ben…” Sofia made a lewd hand gesture. “Ooh. How was it?”

“He’s being stingy with the details even though I—”

“Amazing,” I said, interrupting Tara. “I heard a choir of angels.”

“Hallelujah.”

Sofia and I grinned at each other like two fools when Tara complained.

“Hey, why does she get details when you shut me down?”

“She’s my sister.” I said, smiling when Sofia leaned over and hugged me hard for leaving off the in-law part. “She puts up with my ass living here and eating her out of house and home, so she gets details.”

“Los lazos de la amistad son los más estrechos que los de la sangre y la familia,” Sofia said with a smile.

Tara looked to me for clarification. “Um, the ribbons or bonds of friendship are narrower than those of blood and family?”

Sofia applauded and Tara rolled her eyes. “So blood is thicker than water? Fantastic. If you want to talk body fluids, I can think of a few that are more interesting.”

I snickered. “Ooh you’re nasty when you don’t get some.”

“And you’re mean for throwing it in my face that you’re getting tons, and not sharing the damn details!”

Tara’s wail turned into exasperated laughter as Sofia and I pounced on her from opposite ends, covering her in hugs and kisses until she flipped us off.

“You both suck, just so you know.”

Sofia laughed as she moved back to the grocery bags, tossing me the carton of orange juice I would inevitably look for as soon as she was done. “So you and Father Ben are officially dating now?”

“I guess, though why does there need to be a label on everything all the time? We can just be friends—”

“Who like to fuck,” Tara offered helpfully.

“No that was him and Max,” Sofia corrected.

They both looked at me with matching Cheshire smiles when I rolled my eyes and dug deeper into the bags to look for anything of interest that would be an excuse out of this conversation.

“I think he’s blushing,” Tara crowed. “He’s actually turning red. So cute. I wonder if Sam turns that color when Ben lays down the law and puts his… Oh, hello!”

It was her turn to flush the color of good tomatoes. As I looked between her and the door, I saw why. Emma was standing there with a Barbie doll in one hand, and a look of extreme interest in the conversation. Sofia made a strangled sound low in her throat, turning away when I hoisted Emma onto my hip.

“What are you and Mami and Aunt Tara talking about, Uncle Sam?”

“Nothing, sweetheart. Aunt Tara was just telling me about an article she read on the lasting emotional damage done by adults being inappropriate in front of young children.”

Tara flipped me the bird behind Emma’s head as my youngest niece said, “Oh okay.” There was a long pause, then, “Why’s Father Ben laying down with you?”

* * *

One wolf whistle and a cheerful “ooooh,” marked my entrance into the kitchen when I came downstairs after getting dressed to go out with Ben. There hadn’t been much in my closet in the way of club clothing, so after I’d spent twenty minutes convincing Emma slot oyna that neither Ben nor I were laying anything down anywhere—a conversation Sofia and Tara had opted out of behind peals of laughter and the safety of a locking bedroom door—I’d taken Adelyn and Emma with me to the mall to pick out clothing appropriate for a night out.

It was fortunate that for once, Addie was on my side, or I’d have ended up wearing something bedazzled. As it was, the sapphire blue dress shirt and black slacks felt a little alien to me after years of fatigues and tee shirts. My shoes squeaked against the linoleum as I did a little twirl for an encouraging Emma before sweeping her up onto my hip for a kiss.

She giggled, patting the subtle stiffness of my freshly trimmed and gelled hair. “You look fancy, Uncle Sam. Will you play dress up with me one day?”

“Of course, honey. We’ll go out for a night on the town—a Pixar movie and the biggest popcorn they have.”

Sofia looked amused as Emma and I twirled in a quick two-step. She freed me from an encore by swooping in and taking my niece away on our next spin.

“You spoil her,” she scolded with a smile.

“I need to be able to spoil somebody. Addie turned me down flat when I made her the same offer. Breaking my heart over here.”

A snort came from inside the freezer where Adelyn was hunting down a container of ice cream. Sofia shook her head, murmuring, sorry, under her breath.

I smiled to reassure her as I poked Adelyn in the ribs, earning me a smile along with her eye roll.

“Don’t worry about it. Addie’s sixteen. Don’t you remember what you were like back then? I do,” I teased, waggling my eyebrows at Sofia. “Your mama was moooody, Addie. Couldn’t look at her sideways.”

“Your Uncle Sam is getting old,” Sofia cut in with a warning look when Adelyn looked between us with interest. “He doesn’t remember things very well.”

“I remember enough. Like the time you tried to sneak out of the house wearing that pink lace number with the cutout right—”

Laughing, Sofia swatted me, shooing me out of the kitchen when the doorbell rang.

“Tara isn’t supposed to come back for another hour, so that’s probably for you.”

It was. Even distorted by the glass of the peephole, Ben was gorgeous and the view only got better when I opened the door and found him on the other side in monochromatic black. He’d left off the white collar tonight, though the high, mandarin cut neckline of his dress shirt was an appropriate replacement. Glints of gold lightened his hazel-green eyes under the porch lights, making them even more cat-like than usual when he smiled.

“Hey, Sam. You look good. A step up from desperate and needy.”

“Shut up,” I said, laughing. “Come in.”

Ben got the same treatment I had when he walked into the kitchen, even though Sofia blushed over catcalling a priest. I grinned and grabbed one of the cookies she’d baked just as Emma said, “You guys look like my boy dolls when they marry Barbie.”

Adelyn chortled with glee when she jumped off her stool to whack me across the back a few times to dislodge the piece of pastry that’d taken an abrupt turn down the wrong pipe.

“Uncle Sam and Father Ben probably want to marry Ken instead of Barbie,” she smirked.

Emma’s eyes rounded. “Or Uncle Sam can marry Father Ben and then he’d be our Uncle Ben! I can get my Barbies right now so they can get married!”

A laughing Sofia tried to keep Emma in her chair and Adelyn smirked at me. “From Father to Uncle… That’s like Jerry Springer weird.”

“Oh for crying out loud,” I muttered. “It’s like Romper Room in here.”

“You behave, you sit, and you drink this,” Sofia said addressing first Adelyn, then Emma, then me, all with the same unabashed grin. She set a water glass in front of me. “Have some respect for Padre Santiago.”

“Oh, don’t stop on my account,” Ben said. “I feel like part of the family.”

“See Mami, Father Ben would like marrying Uncle Sam,” Emma continued to my horror and Ben’s obvious amusement. “My teacher, Ms. Amy, says that boys can get married to boys now and God still loves them.”

“Your teacher is enlightened.” Ben grinned at me. “We’ll have to invite her to the wedding.”

“Okay, on that note, we’re done,” I said, ignoring the boos and protests hurled my way. I popped kisses on every female cheek, then dragged Ben toward the door. His hand was warm and solid enough in mine that I could forgive his laughter at my expense.

“I think we’d have made a cute couple with Barbie as our best woman,” canlı casino siteleri he murmured. “Very forward thinking.”

“Emma’s never going to let that go now,” I pointed out.

“Girl right after my own heart then.” Ben smiled when I opened the car door of my rental for him. He slid across the leather seat to get as close as he could to my side. “I needed that laugh tonight.”

That admission prompted me to look over at him a see the tightness in his face that I’d missed while we were inside. “Are you okay?”

“Not really.”

“Want to talk about it?”

He paused then nodded. “Yes, I do actually. Is that okay?”

“Of course. I don’t open up well, but I have big ears. What’s up?”

Ben sighed. “Remember how I told you that my youngest sister, Catherine, was having a baby soon?”

I nodded. “Are she and the baby okay?”

“They’re perfect,” he smiled. “I have a new nephew. His name is Noah Alexander.”

“Since that’s great news and you don’t look very happy, tell me what’s wrong.”

Ben rubbed one hand over the back of his head. “My mother wanted me to visit them in Havana for the baby’s baptism next month. I told her I’d love to come and she was happy about that.”

“But?”

Ben sighed. “But then she mentioned that there was a ‘nice girl’ that she wanted me to meet, a friend of Catherine’s.”

I could already see where this was going, but I let him get it out. My hand slid over his, holding on when his fingers tightened.

“I reminded her that it didn’t matter how many wonderful women I met. After we made polite conversation for a few hours, I’d still be gay. That didn’t go over well and we got into an argument about it. So I ended up telling her I was seeing a man I really like… You should’ve heard her voice, Sam. She got so quiet… Then she told me I should stay home.”

His throat worked as he stared straight ahead. “She can forgive my having been an escort, but a gay son is out of the question.”

“I’m sorry, Ben. That sucks. A lot of people are like that. I’m lucky that Sofia has always supported me.

“Do you think your mom would’ve, if she was still alive?”

It would’ve been kinder, but I couldn’t make myself lie to Ben. “She would’ve loved you,” I said, rubbing my thumb along his hand. “My Dad’s a different story and not one worth reading. Maybe your mom will come around by the baptism.”

He nodded. “Maybe. Sorry for bringing the mood down.”

“Hey, I happen to know a guy who’s better at that than you are, and you’re holding his hand.”

Corny, but worth it when Ben laughed and tangled our fingers more firmly together. It was a cozy moment, so of course it needed to be broken by the sound of a cell phone. Mine, judging by the generic ring. I listened for a moment then hit the answer button.

“Trammel.”

“Are you never at ease, Soldier?” Max’s voice was amused as it came through the car’s Bluetooth.

I glanced back at Ben. I mouthed, “Can I take this?” to him, and he nodded his head. “Max? Hey, what’s up?”

“Besides you not calling me back? Didn’t you get my texts?”

“What? Shit, no. Sorry, I had my phone on the charger. Haven’t looked at it since I was home with Sofia and the girls. Are you okay?”

“That depends on what you’re doing tonight.”

“Why?”

“I’m going to need a ride home from the airport and I was thinking that a personal car service might be the way to go.”

“You’re in Florida?”

“I will be soon. We’ve descended enough for me to see the airport.”

“You were supposed to call me before you came back to the States.”

“I did text you,” he reminded me. “But since when does a surprise need advance warning anyway? Are you out with the girls, or doing something else equally domestic?”

He was teasing, but I knew him well enough to catch the defensive undercurrent in his tone.

“I’m out with Ben.”

Silence. “Ah…shit. I’m sorry, Sam. I should’ve thought of that.”

“It’s fine. We’ll turn around and come get you.” I didn’t meet Ben’s eyes.

“Nah,” Max drawled. “I don’t want to ruin your night. I’ll catch a cab. Is it still cool if I crash at the house?”

“You’re my best friend, stupid. Of course it’s fine. Just call Sofia, and she’ll pick you up. How long are you stateside?”

“Nine days, but I can figure something else out if I need to.”

“Max…”

“Don’t worry about it, baby. I’m a big boy. Have a good time with Ben. I’ll text Sofia my flight info.”

Max hung up before I could say goodbye.

Damn it.

As soon as I put down the phone, I could feel the tension in the air between Ben and me. He didn’t say anything though, reaffirming just how smart he was. Only stupid people asked questions they didn’t want answers to.

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