(Anchor Point #6)
by L.A. Witt
Release Date: April 9, 2018
About Once Burned
Captain Mark Thomas’s world has been tossed on its head: A long overdue but still unexpected divorce. A promotion out of left field. Last-second orders to a ship where careers go to die. As the dust settles in his new home, he barely recognizes his life, but he sure recognizes the loneliness creeping in.
Diego Ramírez wants nothing to do with the military or its men. Not after the Navy burned him both literally and figuratively, costing him his career, his health, and ultimately his green card. Now working illegally in an Anchor Point bar, he keeps the military and its personnel at arm’s length.
But after a single moment of eye contact across the bar, Mark and Diego can’t resist each other. As a one-night stand quickly turns into more, Diego knows he’s playing with fire. Now he can stick around and let things with Mark inevitably fall apart, or he can run like hell and wonder what might have been. One way or another, Diego knows he’s about to get burned. Again.
50% of the author’s royalties from this book will be donated to charities supporting US military veterans who have been deported or are at risk of deportation.
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An Excerpt from Once BurnedMark
The bartender had his back turned, and he was leaning down to get something from a small fridge, and oh, hello.
I felt myself blush and had no idea why. Two other guys were being conspicuous as fuck about checking out the bartender’s tight, jean-clad ass, so why should I be embarrassed about doing the same?
Before I could think too deeply about it, the bartender stood and turned around, a couple of longnecks between his fingers, and holy crap, he was hot. Like whoa.
While he took care of the men who’d reached the bar ahead of me, I stared at him.
He had . . . not dark skin, but not pasty white like mine. It was November on the Oregon Coast, which had been stubbornly dark and overcast since I’d arrived, and he still looked sun-kissed. I suspected he was one of those guys who only had to step outside on a sunny day and he’d instantly tan to a rich, mouthwatering bronze.
His artfully messy dark hair was just long enough for a few strands to fall over his near-black eyes, and a thin beard lined his sharp jaw and framed his full lips. Not like a flawlessly manicured hipster beard, either. More like several days in a row of “meh, maybe I’ll shave tomorrow.” Why that made my spine tingle, I had no idea, but I didn’t argue with it.
He had a short but deep scar dangerously close to his left eye, the silvery line standing out against his tanned skin, and another that nearly disappeared into his hair at the temple. There had to be a story there, and I decided immediately that I wanted to hear it. Not because I wanted to pry into things that weren’t my business—there was just this sudden intense curiosity about him. He had my full and undivided attention, and I wanted him to do something with it.
He picked that moment to turn to me, stunning dark eyes fixed right on mine. He opened his mouth to speak, but then paused, and if I wasn’t mistaken, gave me a conspicuous once-over. When our eyes met again, he asked, “What can I get you?” He had an accent I thought was . . . Mexican? Something that made his simple question sound lyrical and—
And he was still waiting for me to answer that question.
I cleared my throat. “Uh. Corona. Thanks.”
He shot me a quick, friendly smile—did he blush, or was that my imagination?—and reached under the bar. I busied myself getting out my wallet and finding some cash so I didn’t stare at his long fingers while he popped off the bottle cap. I found the money and glanced up just in time to see him thumb a lime wedge into the mouth of the bottle, and I had no idea why he looked right at me when he did it or why the whole picture made me hot all over.
I paid him and took my drink, and just like that, he was moving on to another customer, and I was standing there with a cold beer and a thumping heart.
I pressed the lime all the way down, then took a deep swallow to cool myself off. The zing of the citrus met my palate, and my mind’s eye showed me the bartender sliding the lime wedge in, and it didn’t matter if something like that should’ve been sexy or not. One look, and I’d gone completely stupid over him. At this rate, if I saw him do something normal, like wiping down the bar or ringing up a tab, I’d probably come in my pants.
Whoa, fuck. I really need to get laid tonight, don’t I?
That was it. Of course it was. I was in a dry spell that had to be measured in months, and recently I’d been too busy with a cross-country move to take advantage of being single, and now my libido was going to get some attention.
I turned my back to the bar and faced the dance floor. That didn’t help. All those gorgeous men in skintight clothes—and in a few cases, without shirts—moving to the beat of an up-tempo pop song I didn’t recognize? Fuck. All they did was make me think of the hot bartender behind me and how much I wanted to see him dance like that.
Without thinking about it, I looked back at him, and . . . yeah. I wanted to see him dance. I wanted to see him naked.
What the hell?
I eyed the Corona in my hand. I was two swigs in and already zeroing in on someone. Damn, I’d expected to come in here and maybe proposition a stranger, but not this fast. Had he spiked my drink with something? Shifting my gaze back to him, I decided that, no, he hadn’t spiked the Corona. He didn’t need to.
I’d come here hoping to find someone reasonably attractive for a roll in the hay. I was surrounded by hot men—I was vaguely aware of a few sexy bodies and gorgeous faces still registering in my peripheral vision—but I was laser focused on him. I’d never experienced that kind of attraction before. I’d done double takes. I’d ogled strangers. I’d moved pretty fast from first sight to first contact. But this? Standing here with just enough self-awareness to keep my mouth from falling open? This was new.
While he put a glass under the tap and filled it with beer, he glanced at me, and the subtle, knowing smirk told me I wasn’t being subtle. I probably should have been embarrassed, getting busted shamelessly checking him out again, but I wasn’t. In fact, the uptick of my pulse had nothing to do with embarrassment. More like an adrenaline rush because he was onto me, he knew I was into him, and he wasn’t giving me a red or yellow light.
Game on, my speeding heart said.
I took another drink of Corona. It didn’t do much to cool me down, but it was something to do.
The bartender continued working, and all the while, he kept stealing glances at me. Whenever he did, an asymmetrical little grin played at his lips and screwed with my equilibrium. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was that made him so different from the rest of the crowd or everyone I’d ever checked out before. I even tried scanning the room to see if my sex-deprived brain would zero in on someone else. Now and then, it did, but one glance back at the gorgeous bartender and I’d forget all about them. I decided it didn’t matter why he stood out. He did, and I wanted him. End of story.
He effortlessly kept up with orders being shouted over the music. One after another, he handed over glasses filled with beer or colorful liquors. He took one order while he made change for the one before it, and craned his neck to hear the next one being shouted while he mixed what I thought was another Long Island Iced Tea.
At one point, he paused to brush some sweat off his forehead with the back of his wrist, but otherwise, he made it all look so easy.
He reached under the bar for some Budweiser bottles, and as he popped off the caps, he tossed his head to get a few damp strands of dark hair out of his face. God, that was sexy. Wasn’t it? Or was I just that wrapped up in him? Fuck if I knew. But I hoped he’d do it again. Or maybe not. I didn’t need to explain to Medical that I’d had a heart attack in a bar because this guy had tossed his hair one too many times.
The crowd waiting for drinks thinned. I hadn’t realized how lightning fast his movements had been until the rush died down and he started mixing and pouring at a more normal pace.
And then, just like that, he was wiping his hands on a towel and coming straight toward me.
Oh shit. Am I supposed to say something? What do I—
“Another round?” He nodded toward the Corona in my hand.
“Um.” I glanced down at the bottle. When had I emptied it? “Sure. Yeah.”
He flashed another one of those knowing grins, then took a Corona from the fridge. Neither of us spoke while he uncapped it and slid a lime wedge into the top. He pushed the bottle toward me, and I paid him, and then . . .
He didn’t move. He glanced to either side, probably making sure no one else was waiting, before looking at me again. “Your first time in here?”
I nodded. “Why? Am I that out of place?”
He laughed. I couldn’t hear it over the music, but I could see the humor play out on his lips and the crinkling corners of his eyes, and it was enough to throw off my balance. Now that we were up close, I could see he wasn’t some twentysomething kid. Not with those subtle lines on his face and flecks of silver in his stubble.
Like he isn’t hot enough already.
Still grinning, he leaned his hands on the bar. “No, you don’t seem out of place. I just haven’t seen you before.” He gestured at the crowd. “Work in a gay bar in a small town, you start recognizing regulars pretty fast.”
“I guess you would.” I chewed the inside of my cheek, heart thumping as I debated how ballsy I should be. Finally—fuck it. I pressed an elbow against the bar. “So if I told you I was new in town, you think you could give me some recommendations about stuff to do?”
He laughed again, still so softly I couldn’t hear it over the music. His dark eyes sparkled as he leaned closer. “That your slick way of keeping me here to talk to you until you can convince me to go home with you?”
Damn, he was good.
“Maybe not as slick as I thought.” I chuckled. “How about a different approach—any way I can talk you into a cup of coffee after you’re off work?” My heart immediately sped up. Shit. I’d been out of the game for so long, I hadn’t expected to be smooth at all, but now I was worried I’d committed some faux pas.
But he smiled, turning my insides to liquid. His voice was almost a purr as he said over the music, “Maybe you can, but you have to answer me something first.”
I mirrored him, leaning in more so I could hear him. So I could almost imagine what his skin smelled like. What it tasted like. Oh God. Trying not to choke on my nerves, breath, spit, ghosts, or whatever else could come along and make me sound like an idiot, I said, “Yeah?”
He slowly ran his tongue along the inside of his bottom lip. “You active duty or retired?”
I blinked. “What makes you think I’m military at all?”
He rolled his eyes, but his tone and his smile were playful. “You think I can’t tell who’s military the second they walk through the front door?”
Well, I couldn’t argue with that. I could spot service members at a glance from a hundred paces. Heart thumping, I said, “Active.”
And I instantly regretted the answer, and even the truth behind it. Irrationally, I regretted my entire profession as the bartender sighed with palpable disappointment.
He shook his head and drew back a bit. “I don’t do military.”
“Not . . . You . . . Really?”
He shrugged apologetically. “Sorry.” He opened his mouth like he was about to speak, but stopped as he glanced to his left. When he turned back to me with an even more apologetic look on his face, he said, “I need to help them.”
Some guys had clustered near the bar and were watching him expectantly, so I stepped back to get out of their way. And to give that hot bartender some space. As much as I wanted to be persistent, what was the point? I knew a rejection when I heard it. He’d said no. Message received. I despised pushiness and wasn’t about to be that way to him.
So while he poured drinks in between throwing a few more glances my way, I headed for the dance floor to search the crowd for someone who might say yes.
But I hoped the bartender would change his mind.
About the Anchor Point series
Welcome to Anchor Point!
Nestled on the northern coast of Oregon, this small town is home to Naval Air Station Adams. On base, you’ll find freshly minted Sailors who’ve just graduated boot camp, salty officers counting down till retirement, grounded pilots who’ve landed behind desks, and everyone in between—and they’re all looking for love. Well, not all of them, but that won’t stop love from finding them.
So pull up a barstool, grab a beer, and get ready for some sea stories as these men in uniform—or not—navigate the waters of love and life in the military.
Anchor Point stories can be enjoyed in any order. Hop in wherever you'd like!
Find the Anchor Point series on Goodreads.
About L.A. Witt
L.A. Witt is an abnormal M/M romance writer who has finally been released from the purgatorial corn maze of Omaha, Nebraska, and now spends her time on the southwestern coast of Spain. In between wondering how she didn’t lose her mind in Omaha, she explores the country with her husband, several clairvoyant hamsters, and an ever-growing herd of rabid plot bunnies. She also has substantially more time on her hands these days, as she has recruited a small army of mercenaries to search South America for her nemesis, romance author Lauren Gallagher, but don’t tell Lauren. And definitely don’t tell Lori A. Witt or Ann Gallagher. Neither of those twits can keep their mouths shut…
Connect with L.A. Witt
To celebrate the release of Once Burned, L.A. is giving away reader’s choice of two eBooks off of her backlist (exclusing Once Burned)! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on April 14, 2018. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following along, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!