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By:Lexi Blake


Arlington, Virginia

Macon Miles sat up and it took a moment for him to realize that the ringing in his head was actually the doorbell. How much had he had to drink? His stomach turned as he took in his surroundings. He was in his shitty one-bedroom on the couch Elise had decided she didn’t want because the dog had pissed on it or something. Her dog, of course. She’d kept the dog but not the couch or him.

He looked down. Six months and he still checked. He would have thought he would be used to it, but every time he woke up, he had to check.

Yep, still only had one fucking leg. One and a quarter. Maybe a little more, but not quite a third. God, he was a kid counting his age in quarters and halves except he was doing it with what was left of his limbs. One and what? Something less than half, more than a fourth. Yeah, that described his leg all right. Maybe if he’d been better at math he wouldn’t have gotten his leg blown off.

There was a volley of knocks, but he slumped back down on the couch. Whoever it was could go away. It was probably one of the neighbors trying to sell him some meth. Yeah, it was that kind of place.

He stared up at his ceiling and tried to find some semblance of will. Will to do anything. Will to get off the couch. Will to breathe. Will to fucking live.

Nope. That had apparently been blown to shit with his leg. He’d left his willpower in Afghanistan along with his limb. He laughed. Life and limb. He’d promised he would give it all for his country and he had. His leg had been sacrificed to the almighty IED.

And his wife had sacrificed, too. She’d sacrificed their marriage, her morals, her dignity, very likely any chance at future orgasms because he knew her new man and he was a selfish asswipe.

Unfortunately, he was also Macon’s oldest brother.

He closed his eyes. The banging had finally stopped. Maybe he could find some peace, or at least another bottle of whiskey.

When he went to get the whiskey, he should also get some sugar and eggs.

That thought made him sit up. Pastry Chef Wars was coming on tonight. They were all self-centered douchebags, but he kind of liked the show. Okay. He was pretty obsessed with it. One of the boxes Elise had shipped to his new place had come from their rarely used kitchen. She sure as hell wouldn’t deign to cook, and he’d been getting his ass blown up halfway across the world, so the kitchen tabletop appliances they’d received for their wedding were mostly unused.

One day, in between horrifically painful PT sessions, he’d opened his mother’s old recipe book. He hadn’t really known the woman. She’d died long before he had memories at all, but his stepmother, in an uncommon fit of sentimentality, had saved her recipe book. It was a notebook written in his mother’s own careful hand.

He’d opened it and felt some connection to that woman who had given birth to him all those years before. He touched the pages and read the words. The first recipe had been for chocolate cream pie, and he’d smiled when he got to the last ingredient. Love. She’d drawn a heart beside the word.

His mother’s recipes always included love. He didn’t have any of that now, but he did like playing around with desserts. He’d been surprised to find he was good at it.

If his Army buddies could see him now… Not that he would let them.

He thought briefly about Ronnie’s sister. Ronnie Rowe had been the new kid. He could still vaguely remember meeting him the day he’d joined Macon’s team. Ronnie had been so green. The kid had thrown up after his first firefight. He hadn’t really known much about Rowe until that day…

His sister kept calling, but he couldn’t talk to her. Not yet. Maybe never. He’d failed so terrifically that he didn’t want Ronnie’s sister to ever meet him. He wondered if she looked like Ronnie. He’d been a tall goofball with red hair and freckles.

And then he’d been nothing but a body on the ground. He’d been nothing at all and Macon had been left alone. Sometimes he woke up in the middle of the night and Ronnie’s body was still there, right beside him, blank eyes staring up and reminding him that he was the only one left.

Sometimes he thought he should have let them take him. A bullet to the brain might have been the easier way out than this slow, pathetic march.

The sound of the door scraping open brought Macon out of his thoughts, and his heart rate tripled. He looked around the room. Where the fuck was his leg? No. Screw the leg. He needed his gun. Where had that gone?

And where was his damn death wish when he needed it?

“Macon? Don’t shoot me.”

Macon stilled. He hadn’t heard that voice in years. No. He couldn’t do it. The last thing he needed was this. He was freaking dreaming and his brother was going to make him feel like shit. Not the oldest one. Not the one who had run out with Macon’s wife. No. This was worse. The voice he heard was Adam, the brother he’d wronged himself. The last person in the world he wanted to see was Adam because Adam was the only one he couldn’t hate.

He often wondered if his mother had stayed alive, would she have allowed things to go so wrong? Did she look down and weep because her family was so very broken?


He opened his eyes and was suddenly really sure this wasn’t a dream. His brother was standing in front of him, dressed like some fucking movie star and looking years younger than Macon felt. “How did you get in? You should leave.”

Adam grinned as though he hadn’t expected less. “You have serious issues with security, little brother. I picked that lock in no time flat. This place is a one-star roach motel. I don’t even think most roaches would stay here.”

He was wrong about that. Macon had to beat the disgusting fuckers back constantly. Adam. God. His brother was standing right in front of him and Macon had to wonder if he hadn’t come for revenge. Had he come to see how far his brother had fallen?

Did it matter? His first instinct had been to tell him to fuck off, but now that he was standing right here, he kind of wanted to beg him to stay. He and Adam had been closest in age. Alan hadn’t had time for little brothers, but Adam had always been patient and gentle with him. Even when it pissed off their dad because brothers were supposed to fight for position, not treat each other like pussies who couldn’t handle a punch.

Fuck it all. He didn’t want to fight anymore. Every minute of every day seemed like a fight and now Adam was here and Macon was five again. He wanted his brother to make things better.

He’d lost that right.

Adam sighed as he took in the room. “This is significantly worse than your dorm room. And what is that smell?”

It could be anything. He’d gone nose blind two weeks into his new life. He’d gone from hospitals and their antiseptic smells to this place.

He tried to straighten up. God, he wished he’d brushed his teeth. His mouth still tasted like cheap whiskey. He might have one shot at this. He’d nearly died and the one regret he had was never telling Adam how he felt. Adam might have come here for revenge and Macon would give it to him. He deserved it. Macon had been a shit and anything Adam wanted to dole out would be nothing compared to the hate he felt for himself. But he owed Adam one thing, and now that he was standing right here, Macon was determined to pay up.

“I’m sorry, Adam. You should know I think every single day about what I did to you.” His brother was into alternative lifestyles, to say the least. When he’d gotten kicked out of the Army for breaking Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Macon had been pressured into shunning him. He hadn’t, not all the way, but he also hadn’t fought for his brother. He hadn’t stood up for Adam the way Adam would have stood up for him. “I tried…no, I didn’t try hard enough. I should have walked away. I should have told them to fuck themselves. You and Jake are a really great couple. You should be allowed to be happy.”

Adam groaned and looked around, seeming to try to find a clean place to sit. He remained standing. “Dude, we’re not lovers. I’m straight. Jake’s straight. I’ve never once touched that man’s junk and I never will. We share.”

“Share? Like love and stuff?” It didn’t compute.

A long sigh came from his brother’s mouth and Macon was pretty sure he was getting Adam’s “dumbass said what” face. “Did the IED blow up your IQ? We share a wife. We’ve shared women for years. It was what we were doing that got us kicked out of the Army. We were discovered with a superior officer between us. A female superior, who also happened to have caught the eye of a general. The general had not taken kindly to the infraction. Dad is the one who told you I was gay. Here’s a surprise. Dad lies.”

“There’s nothing wrong with being gay. It’s natural.” He’d briefly tried that argument with his father and Alan, but Elise had shut him down. She’d wanted a house off base and the only way to get it was with help from dear old Dad. Macon had tried to convince her to tough it out, but she’d cried and cried and he’d sold his brother out in the end because it was easier to let Adam go than to fight it out with everyone else.

He’d been a fucking coward.

“It’s not considered natural in our family, but I’m glad you see it that way. You always did have a mind of your own.” Adam finally cleared off a space on the coffee table and sat down in front of Macon. “You called to let me know the important stuff. You called to let me know Dad was sick. How much trouble did you get in for doing that?”