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Reluctant Renegade
Author: Garrett Leigh








Five Years Ago.

This place was hotter than hell.

It was the kind of summer night best spent with my head in a beer fridge, ignoring the bustle of the barracks. The stench of so many men cooped up together. The ground-shaking roar of military jets blasting off from the runways half a mile out, and the itch in my gut that still didn’t quite make sense.

Come on. You’ve ignored it your whole life. What’s another twenty-five years?

Okay. So I’d been wondering what Jammo’s hot, tanned skin felt like since I was a baby? Eh. No. But sometimes it seemed that way. That this . . . thing inside me had been there forever.

And that’s how I’d found myself here, skulking down Agios Antoniou Street in Paphos, instead of hiding in my bunk, searching for something I wasn’t sure I even wanted.

You do want it. You think about it all the time.

Not true. I had a thousand other things to think about. My stepson. My baby daughter. A soon to be ex-wife who hated my guts for walking away from a marriage that had scarred me for life.

A deployment to West Africa that would take me from my kids for the next six months.

You shouldn’t be here. Go home.

As if I had one. Lauren had already moved out of the shitty bungalow we’d shared in Rutland. Taken the kids to her elderly mum’s place in Swindon. Our house was empty. I’d just signed the paperwork to return it to the army.

It wasn’t a new feeling, to be rootless. It was as familiar to me as being alone, and the bemusement that settled in my bones as my gaze fell on the concealed alley at the end of the crammed party strip.

Didn’t mean I liked it, though. Or that I had any clue what to do with it.

That’s tomorrow’s problem. Save your angst for your nine o’clock Easy Jet.

Right. Because I was going “home”. To fucking Swindon, to camp out at a Travelodge for three days in the hope that my estranged wife would let me spend six minutes with a toddler she’d conceived with someone else and a baby who screamed every time she saw my damn face. Which meant I had twelve hours left to do this, an adventure I was fairly certain would take ten seconds flat if I ever found the stones to go through with it.

I pushed through every thought that wasn’t the zip in my blood or the tremble in my hands and approached the alley, blocking out the ingrained apprehension of poorly lit suburban spaces. There’s no militia here. No snipers or IEDs. Just me, an optimistic semi, and the low thrum of an imminent panic attack if I didn’t get this over with.

And hey, maybe the fact that it was dark would do me a favour. I’d never had much luck hooking up in daylight.

Not that I’d tried any time in the last half decade. Or ever, if I was being honest, though I couldn’t deny this was the third time I’d made the walk down Agios Antoniou Street with a belly of raw hope and nerves.

Maybe tonight I’d make it all the way to the re-enforced door down the bottom. Past the boarded-up vape shop and the bouncers who loitered outside.

Or maybe I’d walk on by, leave party town behind, and spend the night by the water. Get drunk by myself and fall asleep on the rocks, waiting for the fierce Mediterranean sun to wake me up and send me on my way.

Based on past experiences, a lonely bender seemed the most likely outcome, but as I turned into the alley and neared the door at the end, it opened, and it stayed open as a disinterested bouncer assumed my destination and waved me inside.

The door shut behind me. A quiet click. A gust of sticky summer air that faded to a different kind of heat. Sultry. Smoky. Elicit, though I couldn’t say why. This place . . . it was just a club. A bar. Whatever. On my multiple reconnaissance missions, I’d seen women come and go.

And men.

Lots of men.

I took a shaky breath and let my booted feet carry me further inside, following the lights to a lobby that split off in two directions: the noisy club and the quieter bar I’d heard about. Getting lost in the crowd of a rowdy party had its appeal, but instinct drew me towards the bar. I had no clue who I really was, but I knew enough to be sure I’d grind my fucking teeth all night to the racket booming out of the club.

The bar was to the left. I slipped through the peeling fire doors and slunk over the threshold, breath caught in my throat. Attuned to my surroundings, I sensed the presence of a few dozen people, maybe more, but no eyes on me. Course there wasn’t. This was a big moment for me. No one else gave a shit.

Beer. I narrowed my thoughts to the need for a cold bottle in my sweaty hand and approached the bar, sinking onto the first stool I saw, dropping my elbows on the sticky wood, shoulders hunched, already trying to disappear.

“Why can’t you be more interesting? You sit in the corner like a fucking gnome. My friends think you act like a serial killer.”

Okay. I didn’t need that voice in my head tonight. I bought two beers and downed one in two long swallows before wrapping my trembling fingers around the second. Icy lager bubbled into my system, but it did nothing to cool me down. My heart still hammered at twice the pace it was supposed to and my skin tingled so much I felt like I was about to have a bloody seizure.

Calm down. It’s a beer. Nothing else has to happen.

But . . . I wanted it to.

More than that. Something inside me needed it to.

Clutching my beer, I braved a look around, taking in my surroundings for the first time since I’d sat down. The bar was nondescript. The same as every other bar on the island, except the ones on the military bases where I spent most of my time. Low lights. Dark wood. Couples. Groups.

Single men.

I let my gaze drift over them. One glanced up and caught my eye, but it felt wrong, and I returned my attention to the bottle in my hand, letting my focus drift to the moody house music filtering from the speakers mounted on the walls. To the bead of anxious sweat trickling down my spine.

“Why can’t you be more interesting?”

Bloody hell.

This was a bad idea. If my ex was going to haunt me the whole time, I might as well have taken an earlier flight. Or thrown myself off the nearest rocky cliff. Because that’s how it was starting to feel, this scratchy feeling inside me. An all-or-nothing desperation I couldn’t shift until I’d done something about it.

The thought of getting on that plane, the same hollow human I’d always been, made me want to hurl myself into the sea.

“Hey.” A warm hand skated over my shoulders. “You all right down there?”

I blinked. To the best of my knowledge, I wasn’t down anywhere, except maybe in my miserable feelings, and they abandoned me the millisecond I zeroed in on the dude sliding onto the stool beside me.



I got whiplash as my brain reset itself on his long limbs and swathes of tanned skin. His tawny hair and eyes that shone with the hue of a blue moon.

Despite the low light in the bar, it was hard to miss how gorgeous those eyes were. Hypnotic and deep.


It took me far too long to compute that he’d asked me a question. By then, he’d bought two bottles of water and slid one to me.

I relinquished the beer I hadn’t drunk and gripped the clear glass instead. It felt colder. Purer. And I latched onto that feeling while I struggled to acclimatise to sitting beside the hottest bloke I’d ever seen.

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