Rowe frowned as he drove toward the end of the street and saw that his front porch light was out. It could be a coincidence. He hadn’t changed the bulbs when he set up the security system after buying the house. But after Lucas and Snow…and Mel…there were no coincidences for him. He slowed, removing the gun he kept in the center console.
The bright lights of the truck splashed across the front of the small, red brick, single-story house, elongating shadows but revealing no one as he parked. Rowe’s heart sped up and he found himself praying that someone was waiting to kill him. He didn’t like the waiting, not knowing how the next assailant was going to strike or when or even why.
Switching the lights off, Rowe pocketed the keys with his left hand while tightly clutching the gun in his right. As he opened the door, the snick of a lighter echoed in the silence followed by the soft glow of a flame as it was applied to the tip of a cigarette. The light caressed features that looked hauntingly familiar, but he couldn’t place the face from what little he could see of it. At least it answered the question of whether someone was waiting for him.
The flame disappeared, but the cherry-red glow of the cigarette remained.
“Don’t shoot, Ward. I didn’t travel sixteen fucking hours from Berlin to be shot by your crazy ass.”
The voice was rough and tired and older than he remembered, but it speared straight through his chest. Fuck. He had heard it only a handful of times since leaving the Army, but he knew that voice.
“Keegan?” Rowe called, stepping slowly out of the truck cab. He kept his gun held out to the side, but his finger rested on the trigger guard.
The cigarette ember rose in the air and the shadows shifted as the figure stepped back toward the front door. A high-pitched squeak was followed by the front porch light flaring on as the person screwed the light bulb back into the fixture next to the front door.
Squinting against the light, the man stepped forward and pinched off the flame of his cigarette, then field-stripped it as he grinned at Rowe. Rowe drank in the sight of his old friend. His shaggy brownish-blond hair grazed his slumped shoulders—so much longer than the regulation cut Rowe was used to seeing him with. It threatened to hide vibrant blue eyes that had never truly left Rowe’s memories. New lines cut across his forehead and stretched around his eyes and mouth. He looked worn, as if life had tried to beat him into the ground and very nearly succeeded.
But it was still Noah Keegan. His best friend in the Army after Lucas and Snow returned to civilian life. The only other person in the world he could even think of to watch his back. The only man he’d ever known to come up with crazier shit to try than himself.
And the one man who’d first made him question his sexuality.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Rowe asked, still frozen to the spot as he stared at a ghost from his past.
A half-smile tugged at one corner of his mouth and a little of the man Rowe knew sparkled in his eyes. “Hoping an old friend’s got a rack and a beer to spare for me.”
Slamming the truck door shut, Rowe shoved his gun into the pocket of his coat and joined Noah on the porch. A closer inspection didn’t make him look any better. His jeans and sweatshirt were badly wrinkled from hours of travel. He looked dead on his feet and considering what they both survived during their years as Rangers, Rowe knew Noah had to have been running far longer than sixteen hours without sleep.
Something swelled in Rowe’s chest, a sort of elation he hadn’t felt in a long time. Fuck, it was good to see him.
Rowe gripped Noah by the back of the neck and pulled him into a tight embrace. Noah hesitated for only a breath before he wrapped both arms around Rowe and hugged him back. A shudder ran through the length of Noah’s long body and something in Rowe ached to think that his friend was suffering.
“It’s about fucking time you came to see me,” Rowe mumbled into Noah’s hair.
“I was never sure you’d welcome me.”
Rowe jerked away, stunned at his friend’s words. They’d gone through an awkward period, yeah, but he’d thought they’d smoothed through it, repairing their friendship through emails, raunchy birthday wishes, and some hilarious phone calls. He stared hard at Noah, trying to pick up his meaning through his expression.
“Face it, Ward. If I hadn’t caught pneumonia, you’d never have taken one to the chest,” he paused, tapping his knuckle against Rowe’s sternum, just over his heart. “Ending your damn career as a Ranger.”
“Fuck that,” Rowe growled, batting Noah’s hand away. “Life didn’t go how I’d planned, but I wouldn’t change how it worked out.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he knew they were wrong. He would have changed the fact that Mel was gone. And now that he was staring into Noah’s face, he would have done more to see his friend.
But the bullet that ripped through his chest? No, he wouldn’t change that. Considering that when Noah and Rowe were in the same squad, Noah had been at his back at all times. If Noah hadn’t been sick that day, that bullet would have ripped through his friend first, probably killing him.
Rowe shook his head, shoving that ugly thought aside. “Let’s get inside. The neighbors are probably waiting to see if we start making out.”
Both of Noah’s eyebrows jumped toward his hairline and his mouth fell open. “Something you want to tell me…”
“No,” Rowe snapped, and then sighed as he dug his keys out of his pocket. He’d naturally thought of the time he’d caught Jude and Snow making out while leaning against his front door. Rowe had taken a lot of pleasure in jerking the door open and sending them crashing to the floor, followed by the slobbery attack of his dogs as they scrambled cursing and snarling back to their feet. It was the best damn laugh he’d had in months. He was used to being around Lucas and Snow and while he and Noah had joked along similar lines, he wondered if they’d screwed up too much that last week before he was injured. “It’s a long story.”
TORCH releases October 25th! You can get your pre-ordered copy here!