Title: The Chief
Series: Under Red Sky, Book Two
Author: J Calamy
Release Date: 11/30/2021
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Contemporary Thriller, LGBTQIA+, action/adventure, criminals, consulate, military, foreign service, genderfluid, gender-questioning, bisexual, pansexual, PTSD/post-traumatic stress, Cognitive Disability, TBI survivor, Over 40
Legendary counter-terrorism agent Natalie Chevalier is finally retiring. The first nonbinary Regional Security Chief in DSS history, Nat’s last post lands her on the gorgeous sapphire isle of Sri Lanka. All she wants is a few peaceful months before she retires, and an anonymous hookup with a gorgeous, bisexual surfer is the perfect start. Until Nat learns that he is her final assignment.
Alessandro Benitez travels the world buying gems, surfing, and raising his teenage brother Max. His is a charmed, luxurious life made possible by his position laundering money for Red Sky, the biggest crime syndicate in Southeast Asia. When Alex meets Nat, their scorching encounter leaves him questioning not only his precarious career choice, but also whether his life has been as charmed as he’d thought.
Tasked to spy on him and persuade him to defect by any means necessary, Nat struggles to follow orders as her relationship with Alex heats up, blurring the line between professional and personal. She can’t deny how much she wants to be with him, but helping him means treason and erasing her ceiling-shattering career.
While Red Sky destroys itself from within, Alex becomes trapped in a nightmare as everyone he knows either defects or turns up dead. His loyalty to the elusive boss of Red Sky is absolute, but he’s desperate to escape before he or his brother gets caught in the crossfire. As his world crumbles around him, Alex realizes Nat is the only person he can trust. While Nat’s feelings for Alex grow more complicated, the CIA’s desperate methods to bring down Red Sky call into question everything she once thought she stood for. Now she must expose her dirty boss and get Alex safely out of Red Sky before her reputation and her heart suffer the consequences.
J. Calamy © 2021
All Rights Reserved
Five a.m., the beach road cut ruler-straight through the blue shadows of the city, and Chief Natalie Chevalier ran, US Marines at her back, her mind a roiling mess. If Donovan hadn’t dragged her out of bed, she’d still be curled in a ball, nursing her hangover and wallowing in post-anniversary drop.
Jagged arrows of golden light interrupted the broken sidewalk under her feet, the tropical sun slicing between the grand old hotels and shining new high-rises. The light was a jab in the eye. Darker sunglasses. She needed much darker sunglasses.
“You run like a dude, Chief,” Donovan said. Nat didn’t slow down—while her mind tried to make heads or tails of what he meant. Blinking the sweat out of her eyes, she held up her hands in the universal gesture of what the hell?
Master Gunnery Sergeant Casey Donovan was the head of her Marines until an officer came to replace him, though if she had her way that would never happen. Tall and lanky, he was barely sweating, while she soaked through sports bra and shirt. She felt gross, pulling her head out of memories of the helicopter screeching like a banshee as it went down. It was hard to focus on this fresh-faced boy, even if he was a good friend. He looked her up and down, his lips pursed and a frown on his face.
“Your form,” he said. “You definitely run like a male.”
Oh, that. The Marines knew then. They knew, and it had made it all the way up their chain of command to Donovan. This was their…response. She cracked the first smile of the day. “That’s— Thanks, Gunny.”
“You’re welcome, Chief,” he said and fell back to the others. That was their version of support. The Marines had no more than a guess that her gender was…in flux. But the trouble with scuttlebutt like that was it was almost always true. Donovan’s ham-fisted backward compliment, which would have gotten him written up anywhere else, was the Marines’ way of saying they supported her. They don’t want to make it a big deal, but they have my back.
Feeling lighter, she ran at a steady, if not very inspiring, pace. The familiar crunch and thud of her footfalls, the occasional blinding cut of light—it was all part of her routine. She could do it without thinking. Sometimes, she’d come running into the embassy gate without even realizing she had left her apartment, caught up in her thoughts, still shaking off sleep.
On one end of the beach road was her building, where she lived in a tiny apartment with spectacular views and sporadic power outages. Work was exactly two point two miles away, or thirty minutes if she timed it right. The sensible flats and suit jackets, the discrete pearl earrings, armor, and gun: all waited in the embassy. She could leave her place with nothing but her phone and wallet.
Today, she felt every step—forty-two-year-old knees and ankles, enough of a hangover to make the shards of sunrise painful. She had suffered through the anniversary alone, drinking far too much bourbon for a Sunday night. The waves smacking the seawall mostly drowned out the occasional laughter of the men at her back. She didn’t pay them any mind, as used to them as she was to the road. Ever since she took the posting in Sri Lanka, she had a couple of Marines with her wherever she went. Three years of Marines. Jesus. Served her right for all those jarhead jokes she’d made when she was in the Army.
She had never been a fast runner. Not at twenty, as a shiny new buck sergeant, not at thirty, when she made the biggest bust of her career, and not now. Why am I even doing this? I retire this year. Out here torturing myself for no reason. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. She wiped the sweat off her forehead again. Hard enough to get men to follow a woman, but worse if they thought she was slipping.
“Y’all don’t have to run this slow,” she said over her shoulder. “I know those jackrabbit legs want to go on ahead.”
They took off, their legs swallowing the sidewalk, already racing each other, and Nat was alone with her thoughts again. Crashing helicopters and the primordial jungles of Congo. Damn she missed it all. Days like today depressed her. Meetings and paperwork—the well-earned plum posting for a wounded her0—as dull and out of the way as can be.
She turned down the side path, cutting around to the Cardamom Hotel, to Lakshmi’s. She’d had a rough night. She wanted a donut.
“Chief Chevalier!” Lakshmi waved from the kitchen. Nat waved back over the scrum at the counter. “It’s already waiting for you!” Lakshmi said, pointing to the side before she disappeared in a cloud of steam. The little paper bag was there, with the last decent cup of coffee of the day. The to-go cup had a piece of tape over the mouth to keep the flies out. Nat peeled it back and took a long sip. Strong, not too sweet, a little cinnamon in there because Lakshmi loved her. She would miss this so much when she was gone.
“Nobody loves you but me!” Lakshmi called. Nat blew her a kiss and made her way up the shady side of the street to the embassy. The intersection was hair-raising enough to wake the dead, so she didn’t touch her coffee until she had made it across, dodging tuk-tuks and diesel-spewing trucks and all the high-end new cars. They made a wall of cacophonous honking and revving with the brrrrrrrt! of the tuk-tuks over all. As she watched, a red tuk-tuk, all tricked out in chrome, zipped around a taxi, popped through a gap left by a new Honda, and sped past her so fast she was glad she held her coffee away from her body. Colombo was booming since the end of the civil war, and the cars, along with the gleaming high-rises, were the evidence of how fast it was growing.
Nat took in a deep, happy breath. The whole concept of being somewhere after a war instead of in the thick of it was already a dream. A plum posting. A well-earned plum.
Her joy lasted until she reached the gates. The Marine on duty and she were midconversation when a Blackhawk whump-whumped in overhead. The construction of the new embassy meant the detour took the bird right over the front gate, its rotors blasting the poor locals in line for visas, wrecking carefully pressed suits and saris, and nearly tearing off the awning.
“My fucking awning!” Nat hauled the radio off the Marine’s desk and cut straight over the entire network. “The pilot of that bird will be in my office at parade rest in ten minutes, log and manifest in hand. Chief out.”
Meet the Author
J Calamy is a disabled vet and foreign service wonk who spends a good part of the year bouncing down dirt roads in the back of Range Rovers with men with guns. Coffee, romance novels, and embassy scuttlebutt are her last remaining vices.