The Last Easy Day
The day Lieutenant Kurt Crandall entered Navy SEAL training, the last person he expected to encounter was the guy who seduced him two nights ago. Enlisted man JJ Hunt is blond, built, and proficient at every task…and strictly off limits. Despite the risk, Kurt can’t resist JJ’s invitation for a covert fling. Days short of graduation JJ drops out due to grievous injury, only to show up eight years later assigned to the SEAL team under Kurt’s command. It doesn’t take long for the Lieutenant Commander and his new Chief to disregard regulations and succumb to temptation. A suspicious teammate tries to stir up trouble, but trouble is relative when a mission goes wrong, leaving a life hanging in the balance.
Eight years ago, 1400, Mid-December, BUD/S training, NAB Coronado California
Kurt stumbled and fell to one knee on the beach. Two hours on the obstacle course and a grueling run, followed by hours in the surf with his boat crew had sapped his strength. Soaked and shivering, his legs felt more like spaghetti than flesh and bone, and despite the cold he’d sweated out twice what he’d taken in. Sand had gotten in every crack and crevice, rubbing him raw. His head throbbed in time to his heartbeat.
“Get up Crandall, you pussy!” Master Chief Stillwater’s scream had all the subtlety of gunfire. “Why am I seeing you on the goddamned ground again?”
The harsh words bounced around inside Kurt’s skull. Exertion had left his muscles burning, shaking with the effort of putting one foot in front of the other. He lurched to his feet.
Behind Stillwater, Kurt’s team waited on the sand. Like the other four, JJ was soaked to the skin and smeared with sand and sweat, but Kurt could still make out the sympathy in that pale blue gaze. Sympathy…and maybe a hint of something else. Don’t look at me like that, JJ, You’ll screw us both.
They’d gotten to know each other since that first encounter in the men’s room.
Josiah Joplin Hunt had left Kurt high and dry at Molly’s due to running into a friend in the parking lot. He came from a family of SEALs: father, brother, cousin. His sister had married a SEAL. There was heavy expectation JJ would follow the family tradition. JJ had enlisted in the navy right out of high school and had spent three years on a ship. Now he’d taken on BUD/S and had a shot at a trident. Maybe a better shot than Kurt had, at this point.
“What the fuck is wrong with you, Crandall?” The instructor’s gaze probed him, seeing everything and finding him wanting.
“Tired? You’re a motherfucking officer. How can you lead a team if you can’t stay on your fucking feet? You think the fucking enemy is going to wait for you to fucking rest, Crandall?”
“No. Chief.” Kurt swayed, broadened his stance. He was in serious danger of falling on his face. And won’t that impress the Chief. Before BUD/S, he hadn’t believed the stories of physical extremes and mental exhaustion. Now those rumors seemed like fairytales. BUD/S was hell on wheels, beyond the endurance of the human body.
Stillwater gave him a narrow-eyed glare. “You think they’re handing out tridents to men too tired to stay upright, Lieutenant?”
“No, Master Chief.”
“You think a man too tired to haul his sorry carcass onto shore deserves to be a SEAL?” Stillwater had gone back to yelling. “You think you get to be too tired to carry your injured buddy out of the jungle with bullets flying?”
“No.” Kurt forced his legs to quit trembling. “No, sir.”
“No. The SEALs don’t want that man. A SEAL has the mental fortitude to reach past physical exhaustion and operate on sheer will.”
“I can do that, Chief.”
They’d started out with a class of one hundred; after six weeks the class was down to thirty. Seventy percent of the class has DOR’ed—dropped on request. For some, DOR represented the admission of failure; for others it meant salvation from a grueling journey that had evolved from optimism to despair.
Right now, Kurt didn’t feel too optimistic.
“BUD/S is too much for you. In fact, I think you’re one of those guys who couldn’t handle enlisted boot camp.”
“I can handle this, Instructor Stillwater.”
“I don’t think you’ve got what it takes to be a SEAL.”
Kurt’s stomach clenched. Shit. He wanted this with every fiber of his being. He’d always wanted it. There was no plan B. “I do have what it takes, Chief. I do.”
Stillwater scowled and crossed his arms. “Then get off your fucking lilywhite ass, get on your feet, and start proving to me you fucking can, Lieutenant.”