Home > Home Front (The Long Road Home #5)

Home Front (The Long Road Home #5)
Author: Cat Johnson

Home Front

Cat Johnson



Copyright© 2021 Cat Johnson





Balancing on his crutches, Kyle stood by the baggage claim and tried not to look as pissed off as he felt as it seemed like everyone and their brother bumped into him.

They were all in such a hurry.

He supposed after months deployed, he would have been in a rush too if circumstances were different and he was able to, you know, walk.

But it was more than the brand-new plate and pins surgically holding his broken ankle bones together slowing him down.

The truth he didn’t want to admit was that crossing the airport in San Diego on crutches from the gate to the baggage claim area had wiped him the hell out.

The other thing he didn’t want to admit was that he’d never been so scared in his life as he was right now. That the fear that his splintered ankle being held together now by a plate, seven pins and one nauseatingly long bolt might cost him everything he’d worked for. Everything he cared about.

One snapped fibula could knock him right out of the teams, a thought that made him ill right down to his soul.

That main reason for his nausea was followed closely by the knowledge that the rest of his team was still over there and now one man short.

And through it all was the undercurrent of anxiety caused by Gretchen’s absence. All he’d asked his girlfriend to do was be here to pick him up at the airport when he got home.

Not that he’d actually asked. He hadn’t spoken to her, but he figured the email, plus the three text messages and an equal amount of voicemails delivered over the last twenty-four hours would suffice.

Apparently not. He glanced around him, at a loss. He had just called her—again—the moment he’d landed.

The call had gone right to voicemail. He supposed he could try again and hope for a different result. But he was running a little short on hope right now.

He hated being dependent on other people. Not the team, of course. But the guys on his team weren’t here. And an entire country stretched between him here in California and his family on the other coast in New York. So they were no help.

For the first time since earning that Navy SEAL trident, he felt alone.

“Hey, Chief Jones.”

Kyle turned at the sound of his name and rank and came face to face with two fresh-faced sailors he couldn’t identify by name.

“Hey. Do I know you?” he asked.

One bobbed his head to the side with a smirk. “Kind of. You heckled me once on the O-course during BUD/S. You probably just don’t recognize me now that I’m not wearing a brown shirt.”

The kid grinned so wide, Kyle had to assume the candidate had made it through the SEAL training at Coronado and had graduated rather than ringing out.

“I take it you made it,” he commented.

“I did. So did my buddy here. No more brown trainee shirts for us. Now it’s navy blue and gold all the way.” The fresh-faced young SEAL grinned and tipped his head to the young guy with him, who was also wearing a Navy shirt.

God, had he ever been that young? Bubbling over with so much excitement and potential?

With a possible three-month medical leave facing him, it was hard to remember.

“Hey, did you need a lift?” The young SEAL asked, eyeing Kyle’s crutches. “We’re heading back to the base.”

“I think I do need a lift actually. Must have got the signals crossed with my ride. But I was going to head to my girl’s apartment in Coronado. Not to the base.”

He’d given up his base housing for the months he’d been gone.

When he realized he was being sent back stateside to recuperate after the surgery, he’d called about getting housing in the bachelor barracks and had been put on the waitlist. Until that came through, he would be dependent on his girlfriend for short-term housing.

The same girlfriend he hadn’t been able to reach for days.

What the hell was that about? Had she dropped her cell in the toilet or something?

Knowing her addiction to her damn phone, he was having trouble believing she wouldn’t have replaced it immediately. Like the same day.

“That’s no problem. We can drop you off at her place. I never say no to a good excuse to stop by McP’s Pub.” The kid grinned.

Kyle let out a snort. He’d spent some quality hours imbibing there himself when he was a newly minted SEAL. Some things never changed.

“Thanks. Her place is just a few blocks from there.”

“Sounds like a plan. Let me get that for you.” The SEAL grabbed the overstuffed backpack on the floor at Kyle’s feet and swung it onto one shoulder. And as much as he hated being dependent on anyone, Kyle let him.

After an hour of battling traffic in the passenger seat of the kid’s jeep, Kyle was finally standing outside the door he hadn’t stood at in months.

A nagging fear tugged at the back of his mind as he unzipped the backpack and fished around inside for his keyring.

Finally finding it, he dropped the bag to the floor. Leaning heavily on the crutches, he slid his key into the lock. When it turned and the door opened, he breathed again.

Of course, the door opened. Why would she have changed the locks? That thought was crazy.

Everything was fine, in spite of the nagging doubt he couldn’t shake that something was wrong. He’d have the answer to why she hadn’t been responding to his texts and calls in a minute.

It was probably something simple and he was being silly worrying.

Balancing on the crutches, he leaned down, grabbed the backpack’s strap and hobbled inside. He dumped the pack on the floor again just inside the door and managed to get out of the way so he could close it behind him.

Meanwhile, his brain was still puzzling out reasons why she hadn’t met him at the airport.

The times he’d gotten through to Gretchen by phone over the past month were far fewer than the times he’d had to leave a message. She obviously hadn’t retrieved his latest messages or she would have picked him up.

By all indications, she wasn’t here at the apartment to greet him either.

Gretchen wasn’t here, but a stink bug was, crawling up the wall by the front door.

He’d told her before he’d left, she needed to call an exterminator or the landlord or somebody to take care of the invasion.

Obviously, she hadn’t.

That was okay. He could take care of it now that he was back and had absolutely nothing to do while his damn bone heeled. If it healed.

Scowling at that thought, he bent and reached into the open backpack to pull out his charger. His cell was nearly dead. Best to plug it in now in case she called.

Carrying the charger and the phone over to the outlet on the kitchen counter, he stopped dead when he saw two phones already plugged in there.

Frowning, he picked up the one he recognized. It was powered completely off, which explained her lack of response the past couple of days.

He picked up the other cell. It was a Samsung. Not hers. That was for sure. His girl had only wanted an iPhone—the most expensive model—when he’d offered to buy her a new one.

Hitting the button on the side, the Samsung’s screen sprung to life. He was greeted by a picture of a man he didn’t recognize, with his arms around Gretchen.

What the hell?

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