Authors: Jessica Scott
Tags: #Fiction / Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction / Romance - Erotica, #Fiction / Contemporary Women, #Fiction / Erotica, #Fiction / War & Military
A Coming Home Novella
New York Boston
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Because these stories wouldn’t be here today if not for you
This book was probably the most fun I’ve had writing in a long, long time, and first and foremost I have to thank my readers for clamoring for Carponti ever since the scruffy sergeant first hit the page. I hope you enjoy his story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
As with all my projects, it takes a village. First, I have to thank my agent extraordinaire Donna Bagdasarian for believing in me and being there when the poo and the fan were making babies. You don’t know how much your support and faith means to me. To Amy Pierpont, thank you for proving there is still loyalty in the world. Paula Robinson, thank you for keeping me straight on series continuity! Finally to my talented editor Michele Bidelspach, thank you for seeing the potential in these stories and helping me write them the way they needed to be written.
And to my family. We’re off on a new adventure but most importantly, we’re off on it together. I’m so eternally grateful that Mommy and Daddy are home for Christmas.
Fort Hood, Texas Early 2007
Sergeant Vic Carponti paused outside his company operations office, taking a deep breath. It was funny how their corner of Fort Hood felt deserted the night before a deployment. The company colors had already been cased. They would uncase them in a few weeks, once they got settled into their new home across the ocean in the middle of the war.
He didn’t know why this deployment was bothering him so much. It wasn’t his first time heading off to war, so he knew what to expect when the shit hit the fan in combat. But there was something hanging over his head this time. A fear that maybe this time his luck would run out.
He sighed and rubbed his face with both hands before walking into the company ops. The only thing they’d left up was the plaque that bore the names of their fallen brothers from the last deployment. The commander—Captain Trent Davila, a man Carponti had known for years—was planning on carrying that with him personally so it couldn’t ever get lost.
And so no one would ever forget. Carponti reached up and took it gently off the wall, then strolled into his company commander’s office with a nonchalance painted on his face that he damn sure didn’t feel. But people expected him to laugh and joke and make them forget the bad shit all around and so that’s what he was going to do.
“Don’t forget this,” he said, placing the plaque on Trent’s desk. He plopped down in a chair, then kicked his feet up on Trent’s desk. “Are you coming out with us tonight?”
Captain Trent Davila lifted one eyebrow at Carponti’s feet and said nothing. Carponti looked at his commander and longtime friend, then at the plaque next to his boots.
“Fine,” he said with a sigh, dropping his feet to the floor. “So answer the question.”
Trent sighed. “I can’t go out with you guys. I’m the company commander. I’m not allowed to have fun,” Trent grumbled. “Besides, my boss would have my nuts in a sling if anything happens while I’m there.”
“It’s the last day before our deployment. You’re allowed to have fun. You can just say you’re supervising all of us miscreants.” Carponti took the last Dr. Pepper out of Trent’s fridge. “The deployment hasn’t even started and you already look stressed the hell out. You should be working your lieutenant to death instead of trying to do everything yourself.”
Trent shook his head and pushed his glasses to the top of his head. “Yeah, well, my new executive officer seems to think he’s God’s gift to the army. He’s good but he’s not as good as he thinks he is.”
“Oh, the boys just love him,” Carponti said.
“No, not really. He’s an arrogant fuck who believes his own press. Personally, I can’t stand him, but luckily I don’t have to deal with him much. I just sic Sarn’t Garrison on him.”
Trent grinned and reached for the plaque, sliding his hat on top of it so he wouldn’t forget it. “Yeah, Garrison has a way with words.”
Garrison was Carponti’s platoon sergeant. Garrison and Trent had been squad leaders many moons ago when Trent had still been enlisted. In Carponti’s world, it meant a whole lot that Trent had stayed close with his enlisted friends even after he’d crossed over to the dark side and become an officer.
“I’m swinging by his place on my way home. He needs to go out before someone shoots his grumpy old ass. He’s been a complete buzz kill since his wife left him.”
“Your sympathy is astounding,” Trent said dryly. He grinned and shook his head. “Why do we put up with you?”
“Because I’m charming and funny and good in a firefight?” Carponti said with a grin.
“Pretty much. You can make anyone laugh.”
“It’s an important life skill. Like balancing a checkbook. So seriously, find a babysitter and come out with us. Your wife could use some fun before she has to spend the year dealing with all the spouses in the Family Readiness Group and chasing your kids around while you’re off on another fun adventure.”
“I wouldn’t exactly call going to combat a fun adventure.” Trent rubbed his chest. There was a scar there, Carponti knew. A scar that had damn near killed Trent several years ago. Carponti wondered just how much stress his commander was carrying and not telling anyone. Trent’s face flushed when he realized Carponti had caught him rubbing his scar and he tapped the pencil hard enough to snap the eraser off. “You know, you’re right. Let me see if we can’t find a sitter.”
“Excellent. We’ll be congregating by the bar when you get there. Now I just have to go convince Garrison to come out with us.”
“Good luck with that,” Trent said, pulling his glasses down. “He’s on the verge of becoming a warrior monk.”
“Not if I have anything to say about it,” Carponti mumbled as he strolled out of his commander’s office. He wished he hadn’t seen the flicker of worry that flashed in his commander’s eyes when he’d mentioned his wife. He’d thought that Laura and Trent were one of the strongest couples he knew. She’d put up with him deploying back to back to back since he’d almost died a few years ago.
But that flicker of worry? Yeah, Carponti hadn’t missed it. There were problems there, hopefully small ones that Trent would take time to fix after this rotation into the sandbox.
Carponti looked down at his own wedding ring. It was his last night home and his last night with his wife.
He was glad he’d convinced her to come out with him and the boys. That way he could make sure they had a most excellent party and spend time with Nicole at the same time. He was going to spend part of the night chaperoning his guys to make sure they made the most of it—which meant making sure no one ended up in jail—but then? Then the time he had left was going to be spent making his wife laugh.
Because try though he might, he couldn’t shake the quiet dread that settled in the pit of his stomach that tonight was the last night of normalcy he had on this earth.
* * *
Nicole Carponti breathed deeply and fanned her eyes, trying to stop the burning of hot tears. She leaned against the wall of the bathroom in Ropers and tried to stuff down all the churning emotions chained to the fact that her husband was leaving for war tomorrow. Again.
The first time he’d left she’d been scared, but then the war, the deployment… the waiting… it had all been unknown. She’d worked on finishing her degree and kept herself busy and waited by the phone like all the military wives who had gone before her.
The second time he’d left, she’d known better what to expect. The long waits between phone calls. The silence when he couldn’t talk long. The quick e-mails saying “I’m alive” that once upon a time would have been too little, but during the war were more than enough to keep her going.
But this time? This time was different. The Surge was different. They were sending in massive amounts of soldiers to try to quell the Iraqi insurgency. It was bloody and deadly and soldiers were getting attacked at higher rates than at any earlier time during the war.
And Nicole was terrified.
She had to hide it, though. She’d agreed to come out with him tonight just because it gave her a chance to pretend that she was fine. She had to keep everything in check until after he left. She couldn’t let him know how much she worried this time.
Fanning her eyes once more, she stepped out of the bathroom and into the rowdy country bar. A place like this was guaranteed trouble on a normal night, but tonight her husband’s platoon was rolling deep. Which was either going to be a really good thing or a really bad thing for her future job at the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, depending on how cantankerous tonight got.
She spotted her good friend Laura Davila at the bar with a cute blond woman Nicole had met in the bathroom a little while ago. She had already completely forgotten the other woman’s name. She was terrible with names.
She wound her way through the pulsating crowd until she reached them. Laura grinned at her and she exclaimed, “I can’t believe you came out tonight.”
“You’ve already said this twice,” Laura said. They had to shout to hear each other.
Nicole flagged down the bartender and leaned around Laura to her friend. “I’m a terrible person but I already forgot your name. I’m Nicole Carponti.”
The petite blond held out her hand. “Jen St. James.”
“Nice to meet you, Jen. I won’t forget this time,” Nicole said with a smile.
Laura leaned toward Nicole. “I’m trying to get her out of her shell. She had cancer and she’s been struggling with her self-esteem ever since.”
Nicole frowned, glancing toward Jen, who was now trying to get the attention of the bartender. On the other side of her, though, was Garrison, her husband’s platoon sergeant. He was a big man and he was currently leaning down to talk to Jen. “How’s that for a self-esteem boost?” Nicole said, gesturing toward the two.
Laura glanced over, then quickly looked away before she was caught. Her eyes lit with a brilliant smile. “Oh, that couldn’t be more perfect if I had planned it.”
Nicole studied her friend through narrowed eyes. “Did you plan it?”
“I wish. But let’s just see how this little situation develops, shall we?”
Nicole raised her beer in mock salute to her friend. “You, m’dear, are a devious and loyal friend.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Laura said. “So how’s Carponti taking this deployment?”