Home > Off Base (Out of Uniform #1)(14)

Off Base (Out of Uniform #1)(14)
Author: Annabeth Albert

    “Sure. I’ve got a menu in my room.”

    Pike could have looked up the menu on his phone, but he hadn’t seen Zack’s room yet and was beyond curious so he followed along.

    Not waiting for an invitation, he peered in the room—the very, very bare room. Neat stacks of clothes in boxes around the edge of the room, precise stacks of what looked to be true-crime and history novels along with a collection of atlases and—

    “Holy crap. You just have a sleeping bag for a bed?”

    “What the hell, man?” Zack whirled on him. “You can’t knock?”

    Pike waved away the complaint. “No. Seriously. Does Senior Chief Weber know that you have no bed?”

    “Nah. Not his business.” Zack’s voice was gruff. “Told him I’d buy something. I just haven’t yet.”

    “You’ve been here weeks. And you’re out there defending our country and shit. Sleeping bag—”

    “Where exactly do you think we sleep on missions? The Hilton?” Zack put his hands on his hips, looming over Pike, who was not going to be intimidated.

    “That’s in the field. At home, you deserve a bed. A real bed.” Pike’s pulse sped up. It was a stupid thing to get worked up over, but it was totally making him angry that Zack was coming home after twelve or more hours on duty and sleeping on the fucking floor. Zack was a SEAL, not some homeless guy. And maybe that was the root of Pike’s issue—it reminded him too much of his perennial couch-surfing uncle and his ever-present sleeping bag that accompanied him from relative’s house to relative’s house as he overstayed his welcome. Zack wasn’t some vagabond. He deserved a real bed. “We’re going to get you a bed. Tonight.”

    “We are not.” Zack’s stare would be worth a thousand ammunition points in War Elf.

    “You are not sleeping on the floor. It’s either we get you a bed, or you’re sharing mine.”

    “No, I’m not.” Zack swallowed hard. Bingo. Pike had known the bed comment would get him.

    “Then buy a freaking bed.”

    “I don’t want something off craigslist—” Zack gave a little shudder.

    “I’m with you on that. Nah, we’ll head to IKEA. That’s where I got mine. And I need to buy something to put the gaming stuff on downstairs. I’ll even treat you to meatballs.” This time he didn’t leer about sharing balls with Zack, lest he spook what he was pretty sure was about to be a win. “And you can get a dresser and some cheap shelves too.”

    Zack shrugged. “I’ve been so busy with the list of stuff Senior Chief made—”

    “And that’s why you’ve got me here now. Really.” Pike couldn’t resist reaching out and rubbing Zack’s muscled shoulder. Jesus, he was tight. “We’re going to make a good team.”

    Pike’s stomach clenched. Wow. He really wanted Zack to believe him. He wanted this makeshift partnership to work in a way he hadn’t really expected.

    Why are you so reluctant to make this a home, Zack? That was what he really wanted to know. He’d never seen a guy so hesitant to have a place to put his crap. And Zack was so ordered and neat with the rest of his life—he deserved to have a home that reflected that.

    “You’re really not going to let up, are you?” Zack sighed. “I’ll grab my truck keys.”

    Pike waited until Zack was headed back down the hallway before he fist pumped. He might never win the war with Zack, but he’d take the little victories where he could.



           Chapter Six

    Zack was really good with maps and directions—his ability to estimate time needed to reach targets was something his teammates relied on. He was proud of his ability to gather intelligence for his team. But even with all those scouting skills, navigating IKEA’s maze of displays and showroom areas was like trying to make headway in a dust storm. Pike, who claimed to love the store in LA, led the way to the cafeteria with confidence. They loaded up their trays with food, and at the cashier stand, Pike got his wallet out to pay.

    “I’ve got mine.” Zack dug his own wallet out.

    “I promised you meatballs,” Pike said with a wink. “And I always deliver.”

    God, this was not the time to call Pike on his promise to not flirt, but that wink and that inflection were doing things to Zack’s insides that he’d rather not think about. Letting Pike pay felt vaguely datelike, which was not how Zack wanted things.

    The cashier, a bored girl around his age, ran Pike’s card before Zack could protest again.

    “It okay if we sit together? Or is that going to offend your het pride?” Pike laughed as they stepped into the dining area full of crowed white tables, like he had a direct line to Zack’s thoughts.

    “We can sit together,” Zack mumbled. Then because it needed saying, he added, “I’m sorry Harper was an ass. He doesn’t mean to be—”

    “But he kind of is.” Pike grabbed a seat at a two-chair table and motioned for Zack to do the same. “The senior chief was cool though. At least your whole team isn’t homophobic idiots.”

    The careful look Pike gave him made his skin crawl like there were fire ants on it. “They’re not,” Zack said firmly.

    “You know Ryan said his team was cool—”

    “That’s great for Ryan.” Zack stabbed a meatball far harder than he needed to. A few tables over, a younger Asian guy and an older dark-haired white guy were having an animated discussion over throw pillows matching lighting or some fool thing. Pike tossed a fond look their direction, confirming Zack’s suspicion that they were a couple.

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