Ali pulled her car into the driveway and slipped it into park before running her fingers through her hair, feeling the dampness that remained from the post-practice shower. She trotted up the front porch step with an extra bounce in her step. “Hey babe!” Her voice echoed through the empty house. “Oh...what are you up to...” She wondered out loud. Ali had left that morning with a to-do list tacked to the fridge door for Ashlyn to find when she came up from her workout in the basement. She’d expected to find the Spec Ops team leader knee deep in chores but instead the house reverberated with a quietness that could only mean it was empty. As she made her way into the kitchen, she found the french doors open into the backyard and continued out onto the patio.
The detached garage door was open and she could hear the country music emanating out into the warm spring air. That same air must’ve carried her scent towards the garage because before she could make her way to the garage, Deacon and Finn were happily trotting over to greet her. “Hi boys” Ali gave them both a quick scratch behind the ears before leading them back towards the garage. “What’s Sarge up to, huh?” When she came in line with the garage door and found the Wrangler up on jacks, her eyes moved down to the floor. Ashlyn’s well-worn brown leather boots and bootcut jeans were the only visible parts of the soldier as a sing-along to Sam Hunt emanated from under the car.
Ali let out a soft chuckle at being detected even though there was music playing and her fiancé was wedged under a car. “Hey babe.” She gave the boot two soft kicks, urging her out from under the car.
Ashlyn hummed a few more bars as she tapped the drain plug back into place before wiping her hands on a rag and sliding back out from under the car on the mechanic’s creeper. She dodged a sloppy lick to the face from Finn before grinning up at Ali. “How was training?”
“It was-” Ali stopped mid-sentence when she really took the soldier in. The white t-shirt was stretched across her broad shoulders with oil smudges in multiple spots and her favorite khaki fitted hat curved tight, framing in around her eyes.
Ashlyn noticed the darkening of the chocolate colored eyes and smirked. “What?”
Ali let her grin stretch across her face and stepped over Ash’s waist to straddle her hips. As she slowly lowered herself, she reached down and removed the paddle holster from Ash’s belt. Setting aside the 9mm pistol, she sat down on the strong hips. “You look like you should be working on a tractor, not a Wrangler.” She cradled the strong jaw with her right hand and used the pad of her thumb to wipe at a smudge of engine grease from her cheek. “Your southern is showing.”
Ashlyn laughed softly and turned to place a kiss on Ali’s palm. “You know what they say...You can take the soldier out of the south..”
“But you can’t take the south out of the soldier. I know.” Her fingertip reached out to trace the scar over Ashlyn’s eyebrow lovingly. “Missing home?”
“I’m at home, Alex.” She fought to keep her eyes open at Ali’s gentle touch. “You’ve been home for a long time now.”
Ali felt her heart do a somersault. “You’re dangerous with that southern charm, Harris.” She tapped the defined chin before leaning back a little, resting her hands high on Ash’s chest. “Any chance you got any of the stuff done that I left on the fridge?” Ali asked with a bite to her lower lip. They were hosting a barbecue the next day and if those things needed to be done still, they would be seriously behind schedule.
“Yeah, babe. It’s done.”
“All of it?”
“All of it.” Ash smirked. “You thought I was out here screwing around with the Jeep without my chores done first? What would the point of all that military training be if I didn’t know how to follow orders?”
Ali groaned in relief. “Ugh...you’re the best.” She bent forward and claimed the soldier’s lips. “How’d you get all of it done already?”
Ash wrapped her arms around Ali, keeping her pressed against her. “The guys came by for a run and then stuck around to help. Sean even knocked out the grocery shopping. We’re good to go.”
Ali let her body mold against Ash’s and claimed a hungry kiss. “I picked a good one with you...”
“And I’ve got an idea what we can do with all this free time we have now..” Ash’s hand closed around one of the dog tennis balls lying on the ground next to them and made a precision throw, hitting the garage door opener to lower it back down. In one swift move, she rolled them both and pinned Ali to the garage floor. “You’re way too clean.”
A couple hours and a shower later, Ali sat shotgun in the Jeep as Ashlyn crooned along to another Sam Hunt song. With the top off the Wrangler, the dogs both soaked in the fresh air as Ashlyn wove through the long road that led to her unit’s headquarters. Pulling up to the 10 foot gate, she punched in a code and pressed her hand against the state of the art scanner. A second later, the gate separated just long enough for them to pull through. Even though she was now inside the secured gates, Ali still couldn’t see a building as she squinted through the trees.
“You’re sure I can be here?” She asked skeptically as she took in the scenery.
Ashlyn grinned and shoved the gas pedal to the floor now that they were on private land. “Yeah, definitely. As far as public record is concerned, this isn’t even government property...”
Ali just shook her head in amazement. Her eyes soaked in the building as it came into view, appreciating how different their respective ‘offices’ were. Ashlyn pulled the Jeep into park and unclipped both of the harnesses Ali insisted the dogs wear when the top was off before they both jumped out and started exploring the acreage.
“Welcome to my second home.” Ashlyn winked before stepping up to the door. This time she pressed her palm flat to a second scanner and stared directly into a retinal scanner. The cylinders unlocked with a loud click before Ashlyn pulled the door open and let Ali enter first.
Ali bounced on her toes to give the Sergeant a quick kiss before walking through the door and soaking in the state of the art facilities. “Ash...” She blinked a couple times. “Jesus...you see it in the movies but...” She bit her lip as she took it all in, wandering through the various spaces, all open expect for the locker rooms. When she came across the big steel cage with Harris hanging overhead, her bark of a laugh rang through the big empty space. “Oh my god...Mikey?” Her fingers ran over the glossy poster of their World Cup kiss taped to the door of Ash’s locker.
Ashlyn chuckled and shrugged. “Could’ve been any of them...”
Ali gently pushed open the cage door and stepped inside. Her fingers skimmed over the shirts neatly hung as she walked towards the bench. A swatch of color caught her attention as she looked everything over and she strode towards the tactical helmet that sat upside down on the workbench. Her breath caught in her throat as she picked up the helmet and gazed down. “Oh my god...”
Ashlyn leaned against the door from of her locker and smirked, knowing what had caught the brunette’s attention. “Yeah...Jake caught that on his phone...”
Ali felt her eyes get glassy as she stared down at the tattered picture Ashlyn kept tucked inside her helmet. She was instantly transported back in time to the Copper Mug bar she had invited them to the day they met. The picture was a candid of the two of them sitting side by side on the stools as Kelley O’Hara played pool in the background but by the look in their eyes, Kelley might as well not have been there. Even back then, they were completely engrossed in each other. “This...Ash...” Her fingers ran over the blood smudge that still remained on the picture from Ashlyn’s fall. She took a deep calming breath, exhaling slowly before she turned and met the bright hazel eyes. “I love you.”
Ashlyn felt her heart stutter briefly at the intensity starting back at her. “I love you too, Al.” She took a steadying breath of her own. “Now...let’s teach you how to shoot.”
Ali pressed a kiss to her fingertips before transferring it onto the picture, then she turned her attention to the gun rack. “I want to shoot this one!”
Ashlyn laughed loudly as her fiancé reached for the sniper rifle. “Easy, champ. You gotta crawl before you walk.” She walked up behind Ali and grabbed a .22 Glock handgun. “That’d be like skipping foreplay...”
Ali didn’t bother hiding her pout but didn’t push the issue either. “Fine...”
Ashlyn grabbed a paddle holster, sliding it onto Ali’s hip before slipping the gun into the holster. She draped a pair of earmuffs around Ali’s neck before tucking multiple extra magazines into her back pocket and grabbing a pair of earmuffs of her own. “Okay. Let’s do this.”
Ali let out an excited squeal and followed her soldier outside to the shooting range they had set up. She hung on every word as Ash explained the basics. The competitor within was now front and center. If she was going to shoot, she was going to be the best shooter possible.
With the basic explanation out of the way Ashlyn stepped up behind her, molding their bodies together. She hooked her right foot around Ali’s and tugged it back, widening her stance. “Better. Now go ahead and grab the gun.” Her eyes followed Ali’s every move. “Good.” Her lips so close to Ali’s ear were making it hard for both of them to concentrate. “Now remember, tight grip. Otherwise, the safety will engage and it won’t discharge.” Her arms circled around Ali’s, hands covering the smaller manicured ones. “That’s it. Right arm is locked straight. Left one is bent and cupping the bottom of the grip for support.” She watched Ali make the minor adjustments. “Okay. Now, when you’re aimed and ready, pull the trigger at the end of your exhale. Nice and smooth, like we talked about.”
Ali gave a slight nod and did a mental check of all the things Ashlyn had told her. Weight on back foot: Check. Right arm extended: Check. Tip of the finger centered on the trigger: Check. She eyed in on the sights and took a slow deep breath, doing her best to ignore the warm hands on her hips. As the last of air left her lungs, she gave a steady pull of the trigger. The jolt of the gun was an adrenaline rush that she’d only ever experienced two other times: on the pitch and in her fiancé's arms. It was an instant addiction. As she looked down at the target her body felt electrified. The bullet hole on the paper target sat slightly right and high of where she was aiming but she couldn’t wait to try again. “This. Is. Amazing.”
Ashlyn laughed and gave Ali’s ass a gently smack. “You’re a natural. Go again.”
As Ali looked down the barrel, she couldn’t help but wonder out loud. “Do these come in any other colors?”