I’m lucky enough to be promoting two stories this summer with editor Delilah Devlin, and the one thing they have in common, apart from being hot and sexy, is that they both feature a man in uniform.
In the High Octane Heroes anthology, due out this year, I focus on an American Air Force pilot in my short story “The Star.”
As this website so rightly says, “Heroes inspire lustful fascination.” They also garner the highest respect. To me, there is nothing sexier than someone, man or woman, answering the call of duty, on or off a battlefield.
In “The Star,” Lieutenant Peter Calder might be a man who can cut paper just by looking at it, but it was important for me to explore the man under the uniform — I do love a man in uniform (case in point – Smokin’ Hot Firemen my other man in uniform story is “Stoke“) but I knew that an anthology about heroes could only mean they were probably dealing with the sharp end of life.
There is, however, a duty though to keep the story as light as possible. It is after all erotic romance, but with war, there’s death. And it’s the death of Estella’s brother Dean that brings the American to the UK to pay his respects.
I shiver now as the wind blows, creeping under the battered umbrella and the collar of my coat. Sunset is breaking the horizon apart. “I better go Dean, I’ll see you soon.” I lay the small bunch of flowers against the fresh bundle that my mother had left earlier in the week before heading to the car.
That’s when I see him. The stranger standing beside my car. My heart picks up speed as he begins to walk toward me. He’s dressed in dark clothes, perhaps denims and a jumper with an unzipped parka that’s now wet from the rain, like his hair.
The tall, handsome, blue-eyed man stops a few yards from me.
He looks past me, to the spot I’ve just stood on, then back at me, those intense eyes, lit like the brightest sky, sending a rare shot of warmth to cradle the hope that’s almost dead inside of me.
I nod with understanding. The man who had only appeared as short sharp descriptions in even shorter emails, had become like family to Dean. He had said that Calder was the best comrade from another country’s army anyone could have.
“I’m sorry for your loss.” His American accent is a rich vibration of power.
I nod again, my voice hidden in the depths of my surprise.
“I got home from my tour last week. Bought a ticket and here I am.”
I try for a smile. “I’m Estella.”
“I know who you are, ma’am.”
My eyes fill with tears; I brush them away quickly. “Um, I’m sure my parents would like to meet you. Do you have time to visit them?”
“Your mom and dad are on my list,” Calder says. “So are you.”
And that’s when I lose it. “I really wish I wasn’t…” I whisper, “then Dean would still be here.”
Calder looks at the grave again, his shoulders squaring. “Even if he was…I know that I’d want to meet you, the way your brother talked about you, the way he cared for you even though he was thousands of miles away.”
Sometimes confessing the pain you have in your heart can lead to a sense of freedom and the path to healing.
“Were you there?”
“When it happened? No, I was flying in another part of the country with my own unit.”
I exhale deeply, eyes blurring, and come to a halt.
“Hey…” Calder’s hand goes to my shoulder as he faces me.
“If you say something like, it was quick and painless…” I draw myself away.
“I’m not going to say that…” he says darkly as we both know the awful truth. The casket had been sealed for a reason.
“Good, bullshit doesn’t help.” Tears sting the backs of my eyes as I try to walk away.
“Stop.” Calder turns me around, putting both his palms against my face. “You’re not sleeping are you?”
I lower my eyes
“You can tell me.”
“No,” I say shakily, “what you guys face is worse than whatever I’m going through.”
“Estella,” he says quietly, his thumbs brushing my cheekbones, the tears. “War zones are wherever you make them.”
Grief is a long, winding road. Some days you’re perfectly fine, then others, it’s dark, dreadful and the loss hits all over again as if you’re hearing the news for the first time. War zones are indeed where we make them, but we can plant seeds of hope on battle scarred land, just like Calder and Estella do.
If you’d like to find out how Calder and Estella get on in “The Star,” check out the High Octane Heroes anthology due summer 2013.
Want more? Tahira Iqbal is a multi published writer. You can find her work within various Cleis Press anthologies with her stories focusing on high stakes, high passion and keeping it all in high gear. For more details go to www.tahiraiqbal.com