The commander acknowledged Deck's salute. “Congratulations on Hell Week, Mathews. At ease.”
“Thank you sir.” Deck soft-gripped his hands behind his back and waited to see why the commander had sent for him. He refused to read too much in to it. He was too tired to do more than just respond appropriately. If the commander wanted hand springs, Deck was fucked.
“I'm glad to see your swim time improving,” the commander said, a subtle reminder of how close he was to not making it and that the commander knew all. The senior officer sat behind his desk. Sitting next to him was Chief Davis from Phase One and a civilian, possibly a contractor GS-13. Deck could just see him out of the corner of his eye. He could be a SEAL in street clothes, but if so he had impressively bad posture.
Deck nodded his head. “Sir.”
“I served briefly with your Uncle Ted in Desert Storm.”
“He's family, sir, even if he is a Marine.”
The commander tapped a knuckle on a manila folder on his desk. It probably had his whole family tree. All the way back to Lt. Jacob River Mathews, a cavalry officer during the revolution. “I'm sure all the Mathews are saying the same about you.”
“That they are sir.” The branch in-fighting had died down after 9/11, and there was a general sense of acceptance among his relatives and the different branches of the military. Until the Army played the Air Force in Football, and then all civilities were blown to shit.
“We have a special project we would like you to consider.”
He'd just been told to jump; now he had to figure out in which direction and onto what. “Sir?”
“Some political heads have commissioned a war memorial for the new special warfare building at MacDill in Tampa.”
“Wasn't that built five years ago, sir?”
“Seven. We've done our best to put it off as long as possible.”
The civilian in the corner laughed and slouched a bit further in his seat. Deck glanced at the man and then looked back at the commander. He wished he hadn't looked. The man’s sexy smile had his whole body twitching with awareness. Deck locked down his response but fought off the retreat to full stone. If he overreacted, Davis would suspect something was up. He carefully moderated each movement.
“You going home to Idaho for the holidays, Seaman?”
“Yes sir. My father retired north of Mountain Home Air Force Base.”
“Why Mountain Home?” asked the sloucher in the corner.
And since it was better to err on the side of regulations, Deck turned slightly to address the stranger. “Sir, it was their last station, and Mom couldn't be bothered to move again.”
He laughed again and stood up before taking a step toward Deck. “Now I could definitely get used to a hottie like you calling me sir.” Bold as brass, in your face.
It was a test. Had to be. And Deck wasn't going to fail now. “Thank you. I'll remember to pass the compliment along to my mother.” He looked back to the commander, who was scrutinizing Deck's response. Davis scowled and shifted in his seat like he'd gotten too much sand in his shorts. “Commander, you mentioned a war memorial?”
“Yes. This is Mason Cartwright. He is the artist in charge of the project. He says he needs a model for the sculpture.”
What the fuck? “Mr. Cartwright, you should consider using Lt. Kaoru or Petty Officer Lange. Both are recent SEALS that have honorably contributed to the history of—”
“I need a live model. Er, lack of tact. Sorry. Kaoru and Lange were both brave and honorable men. But I need to work with a 360 visual, not a flat photograph. Plus, to be quite honest, I need someone who won't freak out if I stare at his ass.”
Definitely a test, and one he would fail miserably if he had to pose nude in front of this gorgeous man. He had to figure out a way to get out of this without drawing too much attention. He had a horrifying visual of standing nude and erect while Mason carved his body out of wood while the commander took notes of how often his dick twitched in response to Mason's smile. Torture. Think, Deck. Think.
The commander had his record down to his sock size, so he couldn't claim a religious reason for declining, and he had always believed in the adage of protesting too much. “Having someone stare at my ugly ass isn't the scariest thing I've done this week. Not even close.”