Codename: Wolf by Eve London
The gray skies of a dreary December afternoon in Fort Drum, New York might not look like much to a someone who’d been stateside for a while, but to me it was the most beautiful thing I’d seen in almost a year. I’d been stationed in Afghanistan for twelve months. Stepping onto U.S. soil—even the concrete tarmac on base—gave me more of a rush than I was expecting.
“See you in a few weeks, Wolf.” Bernie elbowed me in the ribs.
“You’d better watch your back,” I joked. He and Ackers had gotten me good on the flight home. I’d have to figure out a way to pay them back for the prank when we all met up for Jonesy’s wedding at the end of the month. Until then, I was a free man. For the first time in twelve months, I wouldn’t have anyone telling me when to eat, when to sleep, hell, even when to take a shit.
I had the next two weeks all to myself, and I knew just how I wanted to spend them and who I wanted to spend them with. As I stepped into the barracks, I pulled my phone out of my pocket and flipped to the most recent picture Miley sent me. She’d taken it just a few days ago at work. Though we hadn’t met yet, hers was the face I pictured every night when I closed my eyes to fall asleep.
Miley stared up at me, a smile stretching across her lips. She’d pulled her long brown hair up into two pigtails and wore red and green striped pajamas with a pair of reindeer horns on her head. The non-profit organization she worked for had hosted a breakfast with Santa, and she was supposed to be Vixen.
We’d been writing to each other for almost a year. That’s when she sent a holiday care package to an anonymous soldier from Texas who happened to be me. It was one of those programs people back home take part in to help lift the spirits of the troops deployed over the holidays. She’d sent homemade gingerbread cookies decorated to look like cowboys, along with some other snacks and a stack of drawings from some kids in a community art class she was teaching. I’d sent back a thank you note to share with the kids, and we started writing back and forth from there.
She had no idea I was coming since I’d told her I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get away, but in less than forty-eight hours I planned to be standing on her doorstep, maybe even with a giant bow on my head.
* * *
“Any wordfrom your soldier now that he’s stateside?” my friend Jessica asked. She’d been peppering me with questions for the past forty-eight hours, ever since I got a text from Callum that his plane landed in New York.
“He has a few things to wrap up on base before he knows whether he can head home for the holidays.” The possibility of being able to meet the man I’d been corresponding with for the past year via email, letters, and the occasional fuzzy video chat made my heart leapfrog into my throat.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to meet him in person, because I did. I wanted it more than anything. I’d been wishing and hoping and keeping my fingers and toes crossed that he’d be able to come straight to Texas after his deployment. I was just nervous he’d be disappointed when he finally met me in person.
“So is he coming or not?” Jessica pressed. “You know how invested I am in your love life. I need to know.”
I laughed as I pulled the ribbon tight on one of the packages we were wrapping for a holiday event next weekend. “I’m not sure yet.”
“You want him to, don’t you?” She eyed me over the rim of a mug overflowing with mini marshmallows.
“Think you got enough marshmallows in your cocoa?” I plucked one off the top and popped it in my mouth.
“Hey, I offered to make you a mug of cocoa.” She turned to the side to protect her drink. “Keep your grabby hands to yourself.”
“Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. You know how much I love those cinnamon marshmallows your mom sends you.”
Jessica took a sip of cocoa. “So? Are you going to answer me?”
“I was hoping my stealth move might prompt a change in conversation.” I pulled another toy off the top of the stack and set it down on the table in front of me. My breath caught at the sight of the toy soldiers.
“You know I don’t give up that easily.” Jess bumped my hip with hers to push me out of the way. “I’ll wrap this one. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on with you and Wolf?”
“I never should have told you his nickname.” I shook my head as I grabbed another toy from the stack.
“There are probably a lot of things you shouldn’t have told me over the years, hon.” Jessica laughed as she pressed a piece of tape onto the candy cane wrapping paper. “I’m serious, though. Are you ready to meet him in person?”
Not wanting to meet her eyes, I focused on measuring a piece of gift wrap for the puzzle in front of me. “Of course I am.”
“But?” she prompted.
“But… what if he catfished me the whole time and instead of being a tall, incredibly hot guy from Broken Bend, Texas who’s serving overseas, he’s actually a short chick with a chip on her shoulder from Tampa who likes messing with people?”
“Wow, a short chick from Tampa? You’ve been giving this a lot of thought, haven’t you? And what do you have against Tampa, anyway? Or short people?”
“Maybe she’s six-feet tall from Portland. Either way, what if he’s not who I think he is?” My fingers shook as I tried to tie a bow.
“You know what I think is really bothering you?” she asked.
I didn’t answer, but I could probably guess.
Jessica stacked the wrapped soldiers on top of the growing pile of presents. “I can tell you’re rendered speechless with anticipation, so I’ll go ahead and tell you.”
Rolling my eyes, I set the puzzle on the pile and reached for the next gift.
“I think you’re afraid he’s exactly who you think he is. That would mean venturing outside your comfort zone and risking your heart for real.” Jessica arched a brow as she took another sip of her cocoa. “What do you think about that?”
I groaned. “I hate it that you know me so well.”
Her wide smile confirmed she knew she’d hit the mark. “Would that be so bad?”
“What?” Though my lower lip stuck out in a pout, I turned to face her.
“Falling in love? Getting to tell your kids you met their dad as a pen pal when he was stationed overseas?”
“Oh, now we’re having kids together?” Jess was such a die-hard romantic. I was surprised she hadn’t planned the whole wedding yet.
“Maybe you should start with a cat.” She set her mug down and grabbed a fresh roll of wrapping paper.
“He’s allergic to cats.” I tucked a doll into a gift bag and tried not to laugh at the look of utter horror on Jessica’s face.
“Allergic to cats? You may as well cut him loose now.”
“Why? I don’t even own a cat.” Technically, that was true. Though there was a stray in my apartment complex that kept coming around my door, and I’d started setting out a bowl of dry food for the poor thing.
“You can’t trust a man who doesn’t like cats.” Jessica nodded.
“Who doesn’t like cats?” The deep voice came from behind me.
My chest squeezed so tight I couldn’t breathe, and the scissors I’d been using to slice through the wrapping paper fell out of my fingers. They clattered to the table, and I slowly turned around. My gaze landed on the man standing in front of me. His dark hair was cropped close to his scalp on the sides and a little longer on top. He had on a plaid flannel shirt under a down vest and his brown eyes sparkled.
“Callum?” My voice came out as a squeak.
“Hey, baby.” He opened his arms, and I launched myself at him.
“Is it really you?” I wrapped my arms around his neck, smashing my chest against his hard-as-a-mountain pecs. What was he doing here? How did he find me? When did he have to go back? Thousands of questions hammered at my brain.
“It’s me. In the flesh.” He pulled back to meet my gaze. His eyes held volumes. We’d shared so much over the past eleven months. This man I’d never met knew me better than anyone. “It’s nice to meet you, Miley.”