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“Jackson Elliott, you can get the fuck out of my office right now,” Colonel Morrison barked as soon as Chuck crossed the threshold.
Chuck gave him a half grin and nonchalant shrug of his shoulders. “Walker, you always were a hard-hearted bastard.” Chuck sauntered forward, charm and swagger oozing from every pore.
Summer’s nostrils flared and her eyes narrowed as she watched him advance on the Colonel’s desk. She had watched Chuck transform over the last hour. When he had arrived at her townhouse in the gray beater, its engine purring under a rusted hood, he was the man she knew. His movements were strong, purposeful, and spoke of a man who possessed the ability and skill to do lethal violence but simply had no need at that moment. He had stood straight upright at her door, his shoulders square and his weight balanced slightly forward on his feet as if he was unsure if he would bolt or fight as she grabbed her purse. He nodded at her practical pants, hiking boots, and plain cotton t-shirt but had rubbed his nose once as well, as if in irritation. The short drive from her townhouse up a rural road to Camp Rudder had been largely uneventful. Chuck navigated the gray beater over weathered asphalt surrounded by Southern pine.
“Thank you for texting to say we could go up today,” Summer told him.
“Sure thing. Thanks for taking my text.”
“I’ve been thinking about you,” Summer started.
“Not like that,” she huffed. “How well do you know this Ranger guy?”
The cracked asphalt hummed under the beater’s tired for a moment while Chuck considered her. “At one point in my life, he was the person I trusted the most in the world. We were lovers at a time when the military, well, most of America, would have kicked our asses to the curb for just that. But it was more. I,” Chuck hesitated, “I thought very highly of him. He had my back and I had his. We were battle buddies, keeping each other sane as we patched up the few wounds in the war.”
“Did you love him?”
Asphalt hummed again. Summer watched Chuck rub his nose once, then scratch his chin when we caught himself.
“What always happens.”
“He’s human. Eventually, I pulled energy from him, as an incubus would. I think he had already figured it out, what I was. Am. He didn’t want to be a literal meal ticket and confronted me about it. We fought. We fought in the middle of the desert and he broke it off. Said he couldn’t trust me. I don’t think he was made I had pulled from him, although it made him weak, I think he was mad I didn’t tell him what I was.”
“It’s why my trust in you is so important, isn’t it?
Quiet minutes stretched behind them until they pulled up to the gates to Camp Rudder.
“Summer, no matter what happens next, remember I have your best interests in mind.”
Summer’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Why?”
“I know you still may not believe me, but I’ve never gone full incubus on you. You’re about to see it.”
As soon as the gates came into view, Chuck’s entire demeanor changed. His strong, straight posture melted into something languid. He flowed back into his seat, giving the appearance of swaggering as he sat still.
“Good morning, Corporal,” Chuck all but growled to the guard at the gate. His voice dropped half an octave and played across Summer’s ears like fine silk. “My companion and I are here for Colonel Morrison.”
The young man at the gate stuttered something unintelligible and waved them forward. The rest of the journey to Colonel Morrison’s door had gone much the same: they would encounter one of the many servicemen on the compound, Chuck would growl and swagger, the confused or blushing young man would wave them on.
Colonel Walker Morrison’s immediate rebuff of Chuck’s advance spoke volumes about his personal fortitude.
“Get out,” Colonel Morrison grunted.
Chuck put a hand on his hip and turned back to Summer. The look on his face held such intensity that she jerked back. Ever since the first time he’d come back to her townhouse, his face had been open, honest, and readable. Now, it held the strange intensity she had seen the night he kidnapped her. She took a single step back as he looked at her. Suddenly, his face opened again and he gave her a quick wink. Summer’s mouth dropped open as his intense stare returned and he turned back to the Colonel.
“Walker, I need a favor. Then I will never bother you again.” Chuck took several steps closer to the desk.
“Not even for an old friend?” Chuck put both his hands on the Colonel’s desk and leaned in.
“Friend? You ruined my life,” Morrison spat. “You ruined my life and I broke your damn nose for it!”
Chuck cock his head to the side, clearly disbelieving but Summer saw his hand twitch as if it wanted to go to his nose again. “You’re now a full bird in charge of the Florida Ranger schoolhouse. Surely you can’t tell me this is failure?”
“I had to leave my entire life because of you. I left it all behind,” Morrison growled.
“From what I see, you’re back in the Army, better and more fit than ever,” he gestured to the Colonel’s physical form, imposing even from behind a desk. The man’s uniform must strain the regulations as much as his overdeveloped pectorals strained the buttons of his shirt. The forearms resting on his armrests were thick with muscle and some scars, giving him the look of a well polished pirate.
Chuck flexed his fingers slightly where they rested on the desk. “Just one favor?” he whispered and leaned in further.
Colonel Morrison leaned back slightly before leaning forward once more. “What do you need?” he asked quietly.
“A few of your men to help me clear out some,” he hesitated, “vermin.”
Summer flinched and frowned, but the military man looked stunned, ignoring the implication in Chuck’s voice.
“When?” he asked slowly, his eyes darted to Summer then back to Chuck.
“This week, maybe as late as next weekend. They don’t have to travel far,” his deepened voice caressed Summer’s ears as it did the Colonel’s.
Colonel Morrison started to nod then closed his eyes. His face suffused with blood, turning a deep shade of crimson. “God damn it, Chuck!” he roared finally. “No. No, you don’t get to fuck around in my life anymore!” He stood from his desk, towering over Chuck.
Chuck stepped back from the desk.
“You get the fuck out of my office,” Colonel Morrison roared and pointed to the door.
Summer caught the glimmer of gold on his hand as he pointed and nodded. She stepped back into the hallway, knowing Chuck had overplayed his hand.
Chuck followed a moment behind her, took her elbow lightly and walked her out to his car.
“His mind is as strong as ever,” Chuck told her as he settled himself in the driver’s seat. “It’s how he caught on to me being an incubus in the first place.” The beater’s deceptively well tuned engine purred to life and Chuck hauled ass out of the schoolhouse parking lot.
“Jesus, Chuck, what was all of that?”
“I tried to put the whammy on him like I did all of his soldiers, but his mind is too strong. Only a little less strong than yours. I almost had him convinced, seduced, but he overcame it.” Chuck shook his head.
“That was your incubus side?”
“What? You think an entire base full of highly trained and extremely disciplined soldiers just let us walk in?”
“I gave you the look too,” he told her. His posture was straight again as he turned to smile at her. “You reacted to my expression, but not the incubus.” He shook his head ruefully and smiled again.
“That was intense,” Summer said on a shaky breath.
“Imagine that look, but I can manipulate your emotional response too. Hell,” he said and his hand tightened on the steering wheel, “it still happens when I’m not consciously suppressing it. Thank God for grocery delivery services. I can barely go out in public if I’m not on my game.”
Chuck and Summer both inhaled deeply then. They noticed the other and gave twin nervous laughs.
Summer shook her head, “I’m glad I’m only a werewolf and have control over my shifting. Well, all but three days a month.”
“Don’t worry, Summer, I’ll never hold your time of the month against you.”
Summer’s jaw dropped and she stared at him. Chuck finally burst out laughing.
“It’s a joke, Summer!”
Summer prepared to blast him with her reply but his phone rang then and Chuck fumbled for it as it rattled in his cupholder. Chuck frowned, gave Summer a “shh” gesture, and thumbed the phone on with speakerphone engaged.
“Walker, I’m surprised you still have my number. In fact,” he drawled, “last time we spoke, I didn’t own a cellphone. You stalking me?”
“I’m sorry, Chuck. I reacted badly,” Colonel Morrison’s voice echoed from the phone.
“It’s ok. I didn’t think that would go all that well anyway.”
Chuck’s eyes darted to Summer. “Yes, why?”
“Why did you come today?”
“I was being honest. I need a favor. I need some of your Rangers. I’ll take trainees if you don’t have full Rangers to give up.”
“I’m in town for something. I need to accomplish something locally and you were close,” Chuck said.
Summer caught the furrow of his brow as he worked out why Colonel Morrison was so concerned. Summer gave him a slight smile because she already knew why Colonel Morrison worried about a sexual demon reentering his life.
“Are you doing it for the woman?”
Chuck gave her a glance, catching her slight smile. “Yes.”
“Then it’s not to get closer to me?”
“No. No, Walker, it’s not that,” Chuck said quickly.
There was a sigh that came across the phone and Summer nodded to Chuck.
“I have a family. My husband and I have children. I can’t have you messing that up.”
Summer smiled at Chuck as his mouth made an “O” of surprise.
“No, it’s not you, Walker,” Chuck said as an easy smile came across his face. “I can tell you, in all honesty, it’s for her.”
“Good. Good. I think I always hoped you’d end up going that way. In that case, I’ll help. The students need more comprehensive training anyway. Meet back here tomorrow and we’ll plan the op.”
The line clicked dead.
“You knew?” Chuck asked her.
“Of course,” Summer said with a light laugh.
“How?” Chuck sounded mystified.
Summer gave him a quizzical look. “Chuck? He was wearing a wedding ring. And those were the pretty muscles of a bodybuilder, not a Ranger,” she told him. “Clearly, there’s someone at home that he loves deeply and wants to keep impressing. Of course, he would feel threatened when his supernaturally alluring ex-lover showed up. I’m just glad he still holds enough affection for you to call you once you were out of eyesight and not as much of a threat.”
Chuck captured one of her hands in his and brought it to his mouth. The light kiss he placed on it sent a shiver through her.
“I like having you around, Summer. You catch what I’m willfully ignoring.”
“You’re a menace,” she told him lightly but didn’t pull her hand back.
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Worth the wait! It was nice seeing another side of Chuck.