As Natural As Breathing (All They Ever Needed Book 1) by Thianna D.A wounded soldier questions his sexual orientation when he develops feelings for a happy, confident young man he meets at a party.
Logan Mannette has almost everything he ever wanted: loving parents, happiness, friends and security. The only thing missing is the love of his life, a love just like his parents'. When he meets Christian at a party, everything changes. Instantly attracted, he does his best to help this sad man and quickly finds himself feeling more than he has ever felt before. Raised in a domestic discipline household, he holds that ideal is what he wants but his interest in spanking has become a fetish and when Christian admits he wants to be spanked, Logan believes he might have found the perfect man.
Just as everything begins for them, Christian's past intercedes and one of his brothers makes waves about him dating a man. If not for Logan's support, he might have folded. But with the love of one amazing man, Christian finds that living his life rather than just existing is as natural as breathing.
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As Natural As Breathing (All They Ever Needed Book 1) (Sample Chapter)
Copyright © 2013 Thianna D
“I’m home!” Christian called as he opened the door and walked inside. Looking around, he expected it to look different. He had only been gone for ten months, but he felt years older. How could the house look the same?
“I’m back here, honey!” his mother called, and, with a forced smile, he dropped his dusty bags on the floor and went in search of someone he was half afraid he would never see again.
“Hi, Momma,” he said, walking into the kitchen.
His mother stood at the stove wearing her graying hair up in a bun and a blue and white gingham apron over her jeans and t-shirt…just like he remembered her. “Christian!” she gasped, dropping the spoon she had been wielding into a pot on the stove and, in one odd leap, grabbing onto him. Tears began to drip from her eyes. “Oh, honey. We didn’t think…” She paused, sniffling.
“I know, Momma,” he murmured, hugging her tight. It had sounded so exciting and felt so right to go to war. Then the reality set in, and he spent every day for months believing it was the day he would die.
“So, who did you think I was?” he asked when she pulled back, took a breath and went to fish the spoon out of her soup.
“Your voice sounds a lot like your dad’s, as you well know,” she reminded him chidingly. “Why didn’t you tell us…?” As she spoke, she turned and took a really good look at her youngest son. When she first realized who was standing in her kitchen, she had just been happy to see him, but now she had a hard time comparing him to the grinning man who had left for war. That Christian had smiled, his brown eyes twinkling constantly. This Christian’s eyes were hard, deep—not to mention that her baby boy’s face was now marred with scars. “What happened to you?” she whispered, putting the spoon down and walking over to him. Gently she reached up and dragged her finger over his longest scar, which started above his left eye, went straight down his cheek, and split his lips in two, ending finally just below his chin.
“Friendly fire,” he grunted, not wanting to talk about it.
Nodding, while realizing he wasn’t ready to talk through whatever had happened, she ushered him out of the kitchen. “Well, your room is just the same,” she said as they went toward the stairs. With every step he took, she took note of his limp, a limp he would have now for the rest of his life. He would never play ball, run, or do any of the things he used to. She could only hope that while his body was forever scarred, something could heal the man on the inside.
He gathered his three bags and followed her up the stairs and to his childhood bedroom. It took him four times as long as normal, as he had to drag his left leg up. How he hated being crippled, even worse than the scars he now carried. Nobody would want someone who could barely walk. Hell, he didn’t see how he could even support himself. It wasn’t like any of the companies would be after him like they had been before he left.
“Everyone is goin’ to be mighty pleased you’re home,” she told him as she opened his bedroom door and walked in. “Home for the holidays. The best gift you could have given me.”
“Thanks, Momma,” he said, putting his bags down.
“You should call Kelli. She has gone to church every day prayin’ you would come home.”
Grimacing, he nodded. “Thanks, Momma. When’s dinner?”
Shrewdly she looked at him, taking in his pallor and sunken eyes framed by puffy shadows, and knew he wanted to sulk. “Christian Wilhelm Darringer,” she said firmly. “I haven’t seen you since you left for the Middle East. Surely you can come down to the kitchen and keep me company.”
Giving her a soft smile, he nodded. “All right, Momma. I can do that. Just let me change my clothes.” He wanted to get out of his fatigues and into street clothes, hoping it would make him feel more human. Deep inside, he knew it would not make a difference, but he had to do it anyway. Even though he would have to attend therapy sessions once a week to deal with everything that happened, he wished he could just forget the whole damned thing.
Once she left, he ignored his bags and opened the closet. Each of the pieces of clothing inside seemed to tell the story of a different person. That Christian had a future; he had friends; he had a life. What happened to that Christian?
Once in a pair of blue jeans and a button-down shirt, he pulled on his cowboy boots. A small smile lit his face as they slipped on. How he had missed his boots. Many days while huddled in the dust awaiting orders, he would wish for them. And now he had them on. Not that it mattered. He was broken. Forever scarred.
His smile fading, he stood up and made his way downstairs, but not before grabbing a couple of pain pills out of his bag. Going down the stairs was even worse than going up and by the time he reached the bottom step, he felt exhausted.
“Take each day at a time,” his nurse had told him. He felt he needed to take each minute at a time. Any more than that and he might explode.
Smiling at his mother’s voice, he limped into the kitchen. She beamed at him as he walked in. “I just was on the phone with Dina Thompson. Do you remember her son David? Well, he just returned from serving two months ago and when I told her you were home she suggested the two of you get together for some drinks. I thought…”
“No, Momma,” he said firmly, shaking at the thought. “I don’t want to see anybody but family for a while.” Not looking at her, he got a glass from the cupboard and filled it with water, gulping down the pills. The last thing he needed to see was someone else destroyed by that goddamned war.
“We will talk about that later,” she said brusquely, and he knew that meant she intended to have her own way. Damned bossy woman. A small grin tugged at his lips. How he had missed that. “Now, soups on and the meatloaf is gonna take a couple hours, so why don’t we go settle in the parlor?” She walked away and his shoulders shook with laughter as he followed her. Annabelle Gingham Darringer was a Georgia Peach, had been raised in the South, and even though she moved up to Yakima, Washington, when she married his father, she still spoke like a southern woman.
“Who all is coming tonight?” he asked, taking a seat after she took hers.
“I left a note with Joel’s secretary and he will call as soon as he gets it. I think you should call Kelli. She lives in Tri-Cities, of course, but once she hears you are home, you know she will run every light, break every speed limit to get here.”
“I know, Momma, I just don’t think I’m ready to see too many people.”
Sighing, she nodded. “All right. Well, then it will be just the four of us this evening.”
“Your daddy and his new boss.” Her voice didn’t change that much and any casual observer would have thought nothing of her tone or expression, but Christian knew her well.
“Not liking his new boss, I take it?”
A whoosh of air left her lips. “I am sure Dr. Mannette is a nice enough man, but he has been working your father somethin’ fierce lately. Joel took on this contract of expanding the children’s center at the hospital, but he had no idea that Dr. Mannette and his wife were fully in charge of the project. It is Dr. Mannette’s money that is funding it and his wife is an artist and she drew up the plans for it. Lately, he works full days on his other projects and then well into the night at the hospital. Some days I just want to poke Dr. Mannette in the eye,” she proclaimed, her head up, her eyes blazing.
Chuckling, Christian leaned back, only a small wince leaving his lips as his back twinged. “Poor man if he ever crosses you.”
“Tosh,” she said, blushing slightly. “He has a very good reputation and even I had to see him once when my sciatica flared up. Best bedside manner of any doctor ever. And good-looking to boot. But that does not excuse him overworking my husband.”
Fighting his grin, Christian nodded. Knowing his mother as he did, he had the feeling she rather liked the doctor and probably felt badly about haranguing him so.
The phone rang, allowing him a few moments to relax while she ran to answer it. As she happily proclaimed to whoever was on the other end that her baby boy was back from the war, he closed his eyes and leaned back. Even though he had a little time to decide what to do next, he wished he could figure it out now. At some point someone would ask him and he hated not having the answer.
Dinner ended up just being the two of them as his father and Dr. Mannette got hung up at the hospital. The food was amazing, better than he remembered, and he ate three helpings. “So much better than rations,” he moaned, feeling overly full.
Smiling indulgently, Annabelle sent him to bed, knowing he must be tired, plus she needed a little time to herself to go over every expression that had crossed his face. Somehow she knew there was something he hadn’t told her. When they were notified five months ago that he had been hurt in a bomb blast and was in bad shape, they half-expected him to never return. The military man who talked to them made it sound hopeless. Nobody even told them he was coming home and she still hadn’t quite accepted it. Part of her was afraid this was all a dream and she would wake up only to find his room empty.
Squaring her shoulders, she stood up. Not a shrinking violet in any way, she was not about to turn maudlin. She would help him with whatever he needed and one day make him tell her what really happened. Nodding to cement her decision, she walked into the kitchen to clean up.
For four days, Christian had relative peace. Sure, his dad woke him up that first night, thrilled to have him home. But otherwise, he spent most of his time either in his room or out walking along the river bordering their property. Walking the river had always calmed him and it still did, even though he became frustrated as he hadn’t realized how many sticks and branches he had to walk over with his bad leg. Somebody needed to clean up this path.
Grimacing as once again his mother called out to him, he stopped and turned around. She had left him alone, but whenever she called his name out like that, he knew he had to answer. “Coming, Momma!” he called back, walking toward the house. As he walked into their backyard, she beamed at him.
“Kelli just called!”
Freezing, he tried to breathe, but found his chest tightening so hard that it was almost impossible. Closing his eyes, he tried to think of something less stressful than his high school and college girlfriend finding out he was home. Kelli had been the ‘it’ girl. Popular, cute as hell, full of energy, and for some damned reason she had fallen in love with him. They planned to marry one day.
But that was before everything happened. Now he was half a man. There was no way she could love him, not this scarred beast who could barely walk. He wouldn’t be able to carry her around anymore on his shoulders nor could he stand by her side without feeling like a damned ogre. Not to mention that other issue. Twenty-six years old and his life was already over.
“What did she say?” he managed to say between short breaths.
“Well,” Annabelle laughed, “There was a high-pitched scream and the phone went dead. So, I can assume we will have a determined young woman descending on us very soon.” Nodding, he managed to continue across the lawn and into the house, grabbing a glass of water and one of his pills to help with anxiety. “Oh, and David Thompson is coming over for dinner tonight. You will stay down here and get to know him.” It wasn’t a request.
Sighing, he leaned against the stair rail, waiting until the medicine took its toll. Kelli and David all in one night. Wasn’t he lucky? Well, at least his two brothers lived across the country. He wouldn’t have to see them and their families until Christmas.
Forty minutes later he sat in the parlor gazing out the window at the river that seemed to call to him when a continual ding dong ding dong ding dong resounded through the house. “Kelli is here!” his mother called, making him nod. Standing up, he limped to the front door, bracing himself as he opened it.
“CHRIS!” she screeched, launching herself at him. Her arms wrapped around his neck and her legs around his waist as he toppled over backwards.
“Fuck!” he yelled as he hit the floor, the gentleman in him forcing the worst disaster onto his own body as he landed square on his ass.
She blinked in surprise and stared at him for a moment. “Sorry?”
Groaning, he shook his head. “I can’t really do that anymore, Kelli.”
“Oh,” she whispered, climbing off him. Holding out her hand, she grasped on to his and watched as he used the wall to pull himself up. This wasn’t the Christian she remembered, but she was sure he was the Christian she loved, so she overlooked his anger. Wrapping her arms around his middle, she hugged him. “I’ve missed you so much.”
Grimacing, he gave her a semi-hug in return. “Hi, Kelli. Why don’t we go sit down?” He took her tiny hand in his—he had almost forgotten how small it was—and walked toward the parlor. Because of the fall, his limp was far worse, but she just trotted at his side, seemingly oblivious.
“Sorry I knocked you down,” she whispered, sitting on his lap when he sat in one of the armchairs rather than on the sofa next to it.
“You didn’t know.”
The tension was thick and Kelli, used to her boy-and-best-friend who had spent every moment touching her, looking lovingly into her eyes, and worshipping the ground she walked on, was slightly confused. “Chris, what’s wrong?”
What’s wrong? How could she ask him that? He fought the enemy for months and his fellow soldiers for a week before the accident—not to mention the last few months. There was no way he could just pick up where he left off; couldn’t she see that? “A lot has changed,” he grunted, not wanting to hurt her, but knowing she would run screaming at some point anyway. He looked into her soft green eyes and wished he could still be the man she fell in love with. But he could never be that man again. Forcing his eyes away from her gaze, he looked out the window.
Huffing, she put her fingers underneath his chin and lifted it until his eyes met hers. “I know you have been through a lot, Chris. I’m just glad you are home.”
Giving her as much of a smile as he could, he hugged her and she curled up next to him. Neither of them knew what to say and for ten minutes they sat there. It impressed him that she didn’t say anything for ten whole minutes. Kelli must have learned patience while he was away. “I’m glad you are back,” she finally sighed. “There are tons of holiday parties and I really didn’t want to go alone. Now, my boyfriend can come with me.”
Grimacing, he shook his head, though since she had pressed her face into his neck, all she felt was his chin going back and forth over her hair. “Kelli, I don’t really feel like being sociable. Plus, I still can’t walk all that well. And…”
She pulled back and cocked her head. “Didn’t they take care of you since the accident?”
“Yes, Kelli,” he said in a dull voice. Oh sure, they had taken care of him. Physical therapy that had not brought the use of his leg back and caused him extreme amounts of pain. But even that had been better than the emotional therapy where he was treated like a sick man they needed to fucking fix. And all because of one stupid moment where he had to act like some damned good Samaritan. “Every day I’ve had physical therapy, and regular therapy three times a week since I was healthy enough.”
“Well then,” she said, grinning impishly. “You just need to get back into the swing of things. A little Christmas magic will help. I bet you are hiding away here hoping nobody finds you, aren’t you?”
Chuckling because she was partly right, he rolled his eyes at her. “Maybe, but honestly, Kelli, it hurts to move.”
As her eyes softened, he felt bad. Kelli always believed there was magic around the holidays that helped people along the path where they needed to be. Christian had always accepted that as a Kelli thing, but hearing it just made him more depressed. He should just break up with her right now instead of letting her try and try again until she finally got angry and broke up with him. “Kelli,” he began and her expression grew pensive.
“Chris, I know what you are going to say and I disagree. But,” she said in a rush, “I guess we need for you to figure this out for yourself. So, why don’t we go back to being friends? Like we were before we dated?” Grinning, she leaned back and batted her eyelashes. “You know you won’t be able to resist me for long.”
Laughing, he pulled her into a hug. “Ah, Kelli, I did miss you.” Christian couldn’t help but wonder if she meant it. If she did, maybe it would be nice to have her as a friend again. She understood him more than anyone on the planet.
Letting out a little giggle-snort, she hugged him back. “Of course you did. I’m Kelli.”
Strangely enough, it seemed natural to fall back into friendship, even though they dated for eight years before he left. She told him about her new friends, their old friends, how she was making a go of selling her own fashions, and how confused she was. “It’s like I want to go see the world and yet every time I try to leave home, I can’t stand it.”
“You were meant to soar, Kelli,” he said honestly. “I always knew you would go to New York and become a major fashion icon.” He smiled. “And at one time I figured I would be your lackey.”
“Of course you would,” she grinned back. “Somebody has to carry all the heavy fabric.”
When Annabelle walked into the parlor, she took in the sight of her son seated semi-comfortably on a chair with Kelli perched on the chair arm talking animatedly with her hands while her son played idly with her long blonde hair. While she had seen this kind of scene many times before, it looked odd somehow. She just couldn’t put her finger on why.
“Hi, Mrs. Darringer,” Kelli sang as she looked up and saw her.
A motherly smile crossed Annabelle’s face. “Hello, Kelli. So good to see you again. How are things with your business?”
“Slow,” Kelli grimaced. “But I am getting known…I think.”
“Are you staying for dinner?” she asked, her eyes darting to her son and then back to Kelli.
“I can’t,” Kelli sighed. “Megan has had something planned for months and if I bail out, she will throw an ever-living fit. It won’t matter that it is because Christian is back. Nope. I will hear about this for the rest of eternity.” Turning, she wrapped a tiny arm around his neck and kissed his cheek. “Speaking of which, I had better get going. If you feel up to it, call me on Saturday. Maybe we could go Christmas shopping or something.”
He nodded. “I’ll think about it.”
Rolling her eyes, she hopped off his chair. “You’d better. Otherwise I will be left to shop alone and you know how dangerous that can be.” When he tried to get up, she gently pushed him back. “Rest your legs. I can show myself out.” Nodding, he leaned back and watched as she trotted out of the parlor, her heels click-clacking on the wood flooring.
Relieved as he was that Kelli was willing not to be boyfriend/girlfriend, right now at least, he felt guilty for not breaking things off completely. She truly did deserve better. He offered to help with dinner but was glad when his mother refused. “You just rest, honey. Are you in pain?”
Grimacing, he nodded. “Kelli attacked when I opened the door. Fell flat on my back.”
Before she could say anything else, the doorbell rang. Turning, she left and he listened as the door opened and her voice turned happy. While he couldn’t hear the words, he knew whoever was at the door was someone she knew well. “Christian!” she called as she walked back. “You have a visitor!”
Looking up, he sighed inwardly as David Thompson walked into the room. Small and yet strangely imposing, he also gave off the air of someone who was up to something. “Hey, Christian,” he grinned, walking over with his hand held out.
“David,” he nodded in reply, shaking it. “I see you haven’t changed much.”
Snorting, David plopped down onto a nearby chair and put his feet up on the coffee table. “Nope. I’m still me. All one hundred and fifty pounds of loveable me.”
Slightly amused, Christian found himself relaxing. David was still David, even after the war.
“So, I hear your tour didn’t go so well,” David said in a lower voice once Annabelle had left.
Frowning, Christian shook his head. “I hated it and would prefer not to talk about it.”
“Yeah, I can understand that. Some of those bastards have a fucking chip on their shoulder. You all right?” It was just like David to hit the nail on the head but do it in a way so as not to upset the person he was talking to.
“Have to be,” Christian shrugged.
“What would you have me do, man? My body is scarred, I can’t walk, I don’t even fucking know who I am anymore.”
David nodded. “Sounds about right. Fuck, Christian, you just got back. And don’t tell me,” he said interrupting when Christian was about to say something, “about how you haven’t been ‘in the war’ for months. We both know that probably the months since the accident were worse than the ones before.” He raised an eyebrow. “Or am I wrong?”
Grunting, Christian just shook his head at him. “What the hell are you getting a degree in, psychology?”
“Fuck no,” David snorted. “Would drive me nuts. I’m a high school teacher.”
“I always knew you were fucked up.”
Snickering, David nodded and they chatted about old times and the current football season, anything to pass the time without talking about the war. It was like David knew just what he wanted and needed to talk about. But then, when he thought about it, David had always been that way. Maybe he could do the friend thing if his friends would be like David and Kelli.
They were halfway through dinner when Joel finally showed up and it turned out to be a very laid-back evening, nothing like he would have expected.
The rest of the week went by slowly. He had two physical therapy appointments. Of course, he needed to find a local therapist that the damned Air Force would pay for, but he wasn’t really interested in hearing again how unnatural he was. Wasn’t like he really liked guys. Not that he hadn’t found some attractive, but he wasn’t about to tell anyone that. Hell, he hadn’t done anything except defend a guy in his unit who was being hazed because he was gay. The hand grenade that was thrown near his quarters came a week later when he was the only one there.
At night, he heard the explosion and felt the shrapnel embed into his skin and woke up unable to breathe.
Saturday morning, he woke up with a headache and did not even want to get out of bed, but he felt jumpy. The night before, he had had the nightmare three times. Usually it only hit him once. Maybe he just needed to get out of town for a few hours. Kelli had offered to go shopping.