Ariel Tachna is here today and she's talking in code about Talking In Code! Also, be sure to check out the giveaways below!
Talking in Code starts in media res. Eric, Tim, and Richard are already well and truly involved with each other, but the story includes references to moments before the book begins, moments that are not fully explored in the novel itself.
This is the sixth of those moments.
Tim caught Eric as he stumbled into the safe house in Cartagena, his M40 slung over his shoulder. Tim didn’t doubt he could have it against his shoulder and a bullet off to a target in less time than it took Tim to say his name. What was supposed to be an intelligence-gathering mission had turned into a firefight—not an entirely unexpected development, but never a welcome one. The team had scattered, going to ground around the city. Everyone had checked in from their assigned locations except Eric. And now he was here too.
“Newton is safe,” he told the team through their headsets, knowing Richard would hear him too. This was their first big mission since they’d pulled Eric between them and refused to let go. Richard might not say anything, but Tim knew how he worried. “Notify me of any changes. Otherwise rendezvous at the pickup point in twenty-four hours. Radio silence except in case of emergency.”
“Roger that,” Amato replied.
“Are you hurt?” he asked Eric.
Eric shook his head. Tim frowned. Usually he couldn’t get Eric to shut up, so to have him so silent now was a bad sign. “I said radio silence, not total silence,” he teased, but Eric gave no sign of hearing him.
Tim’s frown deepened. He knew Eric had moments of dissociation, but he’d never witnessed one before. Now that he had, he didn’t like it. “Talk to me, Newton.”
The tone of command—one he normally only used in the field—seemed to steady Eric. He straightened and unslung his rifle to set it carefully next to the door.
“Ten targets neutralized. Team extracted to safe positions. Reporting here as ordered in the event of unexpected opposition.”
“And the rest?”
“Shaky, sir. Having trouble focusing.”
“Sit. Let’s get some food in you before you have an adrenaline crash. Then we’ll see about the rest.”
Eric moved to the table obediently—too obediently for Tim’s peace of mind, but he’d have to take this one step at a time. They’d had missions go belly-up before. They could get through this. He scrounged through the cabinets and found cans of various vegetables that didn’t look too far past their expiration dates. He used his pocketknife to pry them open and dumped them all in a pan on the stove. It would probably taste horrible, but it would be nutrients they both needed, Eric especially. He left the concoction to simmer and went into the bedroom to see what the situation was there. The room looked half-trashed, items scattered around the floor like someone had left in a hurry—or tossed the place for whatever was worth stealing. He grabbed the things that might be useful—a razor, a bottle of mouthwash, a tube of toothpaste, some soap—and kicked everything else under the bed. No reason to make Eric tenser than he already was. As he’d suspected, they didn’t have a tub, but when he turned the water on in the sink, it was warm. Not hot, but not icy either. He could work with that. Getting rid of the dust, sweat, and gunpowder residue would do them both good. And with twenty-four hours to kill, they could take advantage of the bed when they had eaten and were clean. He didn’t have condoms, but that would just change how they made love, not whether they did.
He walked back into the front room to find Eric exactly where he’d left him, staring out into nothing, his hands clenching and unclenching on the table. No, not good. “Come on, Peaches. Let’s get cleaned up while the soup gets hot.”
Eric startled from the table into a defensive crouch, gaze darting around the room for threats and hand clasped around the hilt of the knife he kept strapped to his thigh. If he was less accurate with the knife than with a rifle, Tim still counted him as one of the deadliest men he knew.
“Newton, stand down,” Tim ordered.
Slowly Eric came out of the crouch, blinking a couple of times as he did. “Tim?”
“You’re dissociating. We’ve got to get you back in the here and now.”
“It’s a stress thing,” Eric said. “I’m okay in the field, but when I come out, it takes me a while to let the battle readiness go.”
“I’m familiar with the problem. Do you have tricks that help you let it go?”
Eric just shrugged, a less helpful response than Tim had hoped for, but at the same time, he understood. At Eric’s age, he couldn’t have identified his own coping mechanisms either. He’d just have to improvise. Richard always said it was his most useful skill.
Getting clean still seemed like the best place to start. If they were freshly bathed, they weren’t in the middle of a battlefield, so no reason to be on high alert. At least this time they were just covered in dust and sweat, not blood. “Let’s get cleaned up. We’ll both feel better for it.”
Eric followed him into the other room, but he didn’t relax his wary guard in the slightest. Tim undressed slowly, setting aside each piece of his fatigues neatly, both out of habit and to telegraph his harmlessness to Eric. He could take Eric down if he had to, but Eric still had his knife and would do some damage before Tim could subdue him. He hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
Eric watched him intently until he was down to his T-shirt and shorts. Then he shook himself like a horse covered in flies and started undressing as well.
“You can put your knife on the chest by the bed. That way you can reach it if you need it, but you can still get cleaned up.”
Eric tensed, making Tim curse silently. He shouldn’t have brought it up. Eric searched the room with his gaze, but finally he’d satisfied whatever fears drove him and set his knife on the table. Tim turned the water on in the sink and splashed his face with it before straightening and rubbing it up his arms. They had the few things he’d scrounged from the floor and the toothbrush he had in his toiletry kit. The Army had given them the location of the safe house and the means of gaining entry, but they clearly hadn’t expected them to actually use it—or else someone had used it since they’d last authorized its use and then left in a hurry. He hoped the others were faring better, but he wouldn’t hold his breath. They could handle it for twenty-four hours. And when they got home—the Caymans weren’t far—he would indulge in a long bath, preferably with Richard and Eric beside him.
“Your turn,” he said to Eric as he stepped away from the sink.
Eric washed his face and hands, then stripped his T-shirt off and swiped at his chest and under his arms.
“I have a clean T-shirt in my pack if you want to use yours as a towel,” Tim offered.
Eric shot him a grateful look before dipping the sleeve of his T-shirt in the water and rubbing the soap over it. He scrubbed his neck and chest compulsively. Tim let him for a few minutes, but when it became clear to him that Eric was rubbing at spots that weren’t there, he took the T-shirt and caught him in a kiss instead. Eric relaxed against him immediately.
That was good to know. Kissing worked. What else would work?
“Shall we go eat something?” Tim suggested, because they needed to eat and he’d already started heating something up.
“What do we have?” Eric asked, sounding like himself for the first time since the mission had gone south.
“Stew,” Tim said. “Nothing fancy, just whatever I could dump in the pot. Hopefully it’ll be edible, but it’ll tide us over even if it’s not.”
“My mom called it dump soup,” Eric said. “Dump everything in the pot and see what came out. Never the same twice, never fancy, but almost always better than I expected. Even if it’s awful, it’ll be better than MREs.”
“Let’s hope it lives up to your experience, then,” Tim said. He thought about pulling his pants back on, but he wanted Eric to stay relaxed, not tense back up because Tim was putting back on his fatigues.
The stew was bubbling when they went back into the kitchen, so Tim turned the heat off and served two bowls. He handed one to Eric and took the other over to the table. Eric followed and sat down across from Tim. He ate mechanically, but he wasn’t as tense as he’d been before.
Clean, check. Fed, check. He wasn’t sure Eric had come down enough to sleep, but Tim had a few ideas for wearing him out. “We should rest if we can. Richard knows where we are. We’ll make the rendezvous point tomorrow. For now there’s nothing to do but wait.”
“I don’t wait well outside a sniper’s nest,” Eric admitted.
“I’m aware. Let’s see if we can find a way to make that easier tonight.”
“Did you have something in mind?” Eric asked, brightening.
“Do you?” Tim replied. “You’re the one who has to settle.”
“I don’t suppose you have condoms in your bag along with an extra T-shirt.”
Tim laughed. “No, they aren’t considered essential gear for a reconnaissance mission.”
“They should be.”
“I’ll remember that next time,” Tim said, still chuckling. “Come on. Let’s clean up in here and go to bed.”
Eric rose and helped Tim wash out the bowls and put the leftover stew in the tiny icebox. They could heat up the rest for another meal, maybe even two, before they left for the rendezvous point. When they started toward the bedroom again, though, Eric’s tension returned. Tim frowned. That wasn’t what he’d expected.
“Eric, what’s wrong?”
Eric scrubbed a hand over his face. “I know we cleaned up, but I still feel grimy. I’d shave, but that razor is probably dull and rusty, and I’d catch who knows what from it.”
“I can fix that,” Tim said. Richard had teased him about the razor in his boot since they were in boot camp, but he hated being scruffy, and it doubled as a knife if necessary. Maybe not in a fight, but functionally he’d used it to cut all kinds of things.
“You have hand sanitizer in your pack?” Eric teased.
“I have a straight razor in my boot.” He pulled it out and handed it to Eric. Eric slid it out of the leather sheath and walked over the cracked and dingy mirror.
“I don’t think I can do it. My hands are shaking too bad.”
“Will being shaved help you relax?” Tim asked.
“I think so.”
“Do you trust me to do it for you?”
Eric froze. Damn it, Tim couldn’t do anything right today where Eric was concerned. Then Eric took a deep breath and shook himself free of the shock or stupor or whatever had held him silent. He offered the razor to Tim. “Just don’t slit my throat. Deal?”
Eric settled on the toilet seat. Tim worked the sliver of soap they had into a lather and spread some on Eric’s cheek. He could barely even feel the hint of stubble, but he’d already accepted this was about Eric’s triggers and how to address them, not about reality. He wiped his hands so his grip wouldn’t slip and steadied Eric’s face with his other hand. Eric relaxed instantly into the touch, the most relaxed Tim had seen him anywhere other than in bed or on the firing range. That reassured him.
Slowly he ran the razor along the curve of Eric’s jaw, careful not to nick him by mistake. He had a basic first aid kit in his pack, of course, but it would be ridiculous to come back from the mission with no injuries except from shaving.
Eric didn’t so much as twitch beneath Tim’s hands as he worked, his body invested with the same preternatural stillness Tim had observed when he was in the sniper’s nest. Tim had never understood how someone so otherwise restless could be so still with a weapon in his hand. He even thrashed in his sleep most nights. It looked like he’d found another way to make Eric be still.
He finished that cheek and used Eric’s wet T-shirt to wipe away what was left of the soap. He ran his hand carefully over the newly shaved skin to make sure he hadn’t missed any spots, but Eric’s skin was as smooth as Tim had ever felt it.
Eric nodded. Tim almost prompted him for a verbal answer, but when he met Eric’s gaze, it was fully focused and hot with desire. Well, that was unexpected. Not unwelcome, though.
“Let me finish the other side, and we can go to bed,” Tim said, his voice deep with promise.
Tim forced himself not to rush as he shaved the other side. Now that he realized how much this turned Eric on, he read the stillness in the air differently. He lingered over each pass of the razor, drawing it out, letting the blade slide sensuously over Eric’s skin. He grazed his knuckles over Eric’s cheekbone, watching Eric’s gaze darken even more. Oh, yes, he could get used to helping Eric back from a bad mission like this.
He finished with that cheek and bent to nibble at Eric’s lower lip. He could call a halt now and no one would notice that he hadn’t shaved Eric’s upper lip, chin, or neck, but this had passed beyond helping Eric and into foreplay. The only question was how long Eric would let him draw it out.
Not much longer if the way Eric clung to him was any indication, but Tim straightened and rubbed soap over Eric’s chin. “Almost done.”
Eric winked at him. “Nah, we’re just getting started.”
Talking in Code blurb:
Some things crumble under pressure. Others are tempered by it instead. For three former soldiers, a tragedy might be the catalyst that binds them together—stronger than ever.
Richard Horn and Timothy Davenport met in the SEALs twenty years ago and have been lovers ever since. Now running their own paramilitary organization, Strike Force Omega, they work in the shadows to protect their country and its people. When Tim falls for Eric Newton, a deadly sniper and strategist on their team, Richard accepts that Tim’s heart is big enough for two men. He respects, admires, and even desires Eric enough to accept him into their relationship—and their bed—but he’s never been fully a part of what Eric and Tim share.
Then Eric is captured by terrorists and Tim is gravely injured in an op gone wrong, bringing Richard’s world crashing down around his ears. Even if he gets his men out alive, Eric must face the aftermath of months of physical and psychological torture—and without Tim to lean on, Eric’s PTSD is tearing him apart. Richard has to figure out the third leg of their triangle fast, or Tim won’t have a life to come back to.
When Ariel Tachna was twelve years old, she discovered two things: the French language and romance novels. Those two loves have defined her ever since. By the time she finished high school, she’d written four novels, none of which anyone would want to read now, featuring a young woman who was—you guessed it—bilingual. That girl was everything Ariel wanted to be at age twelve and wasn’t.
She now lives on the outskirts of Houston with her husband (who also speaks French), her kids (who understand French even when they’re too lazy to speak it back), and their two dogs (who steadfastly refuse to answer any French commands). The cat pretends they’re all beneath her, no matter what language they’re speaking.
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