“This is bullshit, do you hear me, Jarvis?” Josh gritted out the insult, though Jarvis was his superior officer and as capable of discharging him the same as Luke had been.
“I admit, it’s unusual.” General Graham Jarvis looked down at the papers in front of him, a frown puckering his brow. That frown gave Josh some hope. Jarvis gave the term poker face a whole new meaning. “These are the reports from the ground staff?”
“Yeah. It stinks. I told you. I’ve been telling you that ever since news got out.”
“I know, and I trust your judgment, which is why I’m looking at information from another department. Intel that has nothing to do with me or my people. Intel which I shouldn’t have in my hands.” Jarvis cocked a brow, making sure the dig had hit home.
Josh conceded that with a sharp duck of his head, knowing Jarvis was right but not caring in the least.
“Luke is the best MP on this base. You know that, I know it. When he stopped working on criminal cases, it was a crappy day, and that isn’t nepotism speaking.
“He’d never do anything like this. Hell, the reason he transferred into his new division was because he thought he could help more people. Rape, well, it isn’t his style. Someone’s setting him up.”
“The army is about more than one man, Josh. I can’t start an internal war to save Lucas Gray’s career.”
“I know. But Luke is a lieutenant colonel, sir. With a sterling record, and an even better reputation. Everyone who knows him realizes he’s in the goddamn Forces to make a difference. Heading over to Libya and getting his rocks off by raping one of the prisoners isn’t the way he works. Whoever did
set this up; they didn’t take Luke’s character into consideration.”
“War changes people, Josh. You and I both know that.”
He snorted. “Yeah, we both know that, but this wasn’t Luke’s first rodeo.”
“That doesn’t change anything. In fact, it makes it more likely he was ready to snap.”
“I refuse to believe that. Luke was…”
When Josh broke off, the general studied his underling for a second, then started to tap his pen. “I know it’s different because this one is your husband—” When Josh froze, Jarvis grunted. “You think I didn’t know?” He cocked a reprimanding brow. “I know everything.”
“If you did, I’d hope you’d have put a stop to this travesty, sir. My husband is not a rapist.”
“Yes, well, the logistics of a man wedded to another man being a rapist of a female prisoner is rather confusing, or at least, it would be if you didn’t have that live-in…well, whatever she is. But that’s neither here nor there. Joshua, I can’t control this continent and another.” He frowned again, and only that stopped Josh from butting in. Jarvis stared down at the reports and began riffling through a few pages. His jaw worked as he filtered the information. “We’ll deal with this, though. The inconsistencies outnumber the discrepancies, and that’s saying something. Considering his unit is the MPs, they’ve done a shitty job of serving justice.”
“I don’t care about the discharge. Luke’s time was almost over anyway, and he wouldn’t have re-upped. But I want OTH replaced with Honorable Discharge. We both know that man deserves nothing less.”
“When I made my own inquiries about this, my assistant told me he’s appealing the discharge. Are you sure he wants out? The appeal contradicts that.”
“He doesn’t want to go on another tour. He’s too old for it. Hell, I am too.” Josh pulled a face. “Especially these covert ops. If he could have a desk job, maybe he’d stay, but his work takes him out in the field. No getting around that.”
“You’re right. It’s a damn shame to lose someone of his expertise to retirement, never mind discharge.” Jarvis rapped his knuckles against the thick file Josh had handed him an hour ago. “You’re lucky you got this information out. It’s sensitive material.”
“I pulled some favors.”
“That means you need to watch that department.” Jarvis eyed Josh. “And I mean that. Favors aren’t meant to be pulled when information will hurt national security.”
“You’re right, sir. I’ll deal with it.”
Jarvis scratched his jaw. “Leave the rest with me.”
Because he trusted him, a trust that wasn’t often bestowed upon anyone, Josh nodded. Jarvis was a man of his word. “Thank you, sir.”
“You’re welcome. I don’t know how long it will be until I can get his records changed, but don’t expect miracles overnight.”
“It would be a great Christmas present.”
Jarvis barked out a laugh. “So, you’re giving me six weeks to work a Christmas miracle?”
Josh’s lips twitched. “I’m sure you can do it, sir.”
“Subservience doesn’t suit you.” He leaned back in his chair, ignoring the squeak of the leather rasping against wood. “His appeal’s set to run before the holidays. So you might get your miracle.” He opened the thick file once more, stared down at the battered body of the woman Luke had been accused of raping. “Something’s not right here. The date of his appeal tells me that.”
“What? That it’s happening so soon?” Josh nodded. “I know. I thought that. Everything about this stinks, but for whatever reason, everyone’s happy to sweep it under the carpet. Luke has probably pissed a lot of people off by not quietly slinking away.”
“It was a covert mission, Josh. Only a handful of people know what that unit was over there for, and most of those are top brass. As for the rest, the ones who know for certain were over there. That’s a limited pool of information. Easy to control backlash.”
“It still stinks.”
“You won’t hear me argue.” Jarvis sighed. “I make no promises about holiday miracles, but I’ll do my best. Go on, get out of here.”
For the first time in what felt like a lifetime, Josh grinned. Jarvis’s best meant more than most. “I’ll get out of your hair, sir.” Saluting, he stepped out of the office and into the small reception area where one of Jarvis’s assistants was working at his desk. Dana, his own PA, sat there, waiting primly, working on something on her smartphone.
A prim Dana was something to watch. It never boded well, especially if she was glued to her cell the way she was. Almost as though she read his thoughts, she looked up, a silent question aimed his way.
He raised his hand, lifted a finger and silently told her to keep quiet. She nodded, but got to her feet, and together, they left the anteroom. The corridors weren’t exactly a hive of activity, but it took five of the ten-minute walk back to their office for the walkways to clear and to enable them to talk.
“How did it go?” she asked the instant they were alone.
“He’s looking into it for us.”
“Well, hell, that means Luke is innocent.”
Josh firmed his mouth. “I knew he was, but yeah, it does. As good a man as he is, Jarvis wouldn’t help unless the facts backed us.”
“It also means Jarvis knows something about Harrison that we didn’t.”
That made him frown. “What do you mean?”
“It’s well known that Jarvis doesn’t like Luke’s commanding officer. Thinks he’s incompetent. So, this is either a chance to get back at him or to finally blacken his name with something he already has on him.”
“It wouldn’t come as a total surprise to realize Jarvis has something on Harrison. The man’s a jackass. He never could keep a clean house. How the hell he reached his rank I do not
Dana snorted, then smoothed a hand down her neat chestnut bob. It was a tell. One he’d reminded her about, but one she couldn’t control. “I can do some more digging if you want?”
He smiled at his hacker extraordinaire. “No, you’ve already done more than you should. Jarvis asked me how the hell I got all those reports. Any more, and it will look more suspicious than it already is. He thinks there’s a leak, either that or some folk are unreliable over at the Tripoli base.”
She smirked, her eyes twinkling behind the thick rims of her glasses. “Didn’t tell him your PA was a hacker?”
“No, I didn’t.” He grumbled, “Keep it down!”
Though her grin was shit-eating, she simply shrugged. “It’s one of the reasons I’m in the program, sir. People know. Jarvis is too set in his ways to think anyone with ovaries is capable of more than being a secretary. The man’s not the biggest jackass on the base, but he’s close.”
Josh wrinkled his nose. “Well, jackass or not, I’m glad he thinks your ovaries get in the way of your competence. If he knew, you’d be his PA, not mine.”
“Aw, that’s loyalty for you,” she teased. “Anyway, I wouldn’t leave. I like my job.”
“Good.” His retort was curt, but together they walked down the corridor where his offices were. It was also close to the building’s exit. As they approached the outer door, he came to a decision and murmured, “I’m going home.”
That had her brows lifting. “It’s only eleven.”
“Luke should be back by now.”
“Oh. You didn’t want to welcome him? I could have rescheduled the meeting with Jarvis.”
Josh wriggled his shoulders when tension started to gather there. Guilt and shame mixed with the longing he felt to see his husband. “The meeting with Jarvis was too important to reschedule. Who knows when his schedule might have opened up again. Plus,” he admitted, “I didn’t want to be on the welcome committee. Not when our daughter is there. Little ears pick up on too much.” He looked at his watch. “My mother should have collected her by now. I asked her to take Lexi out for the afternoon.”
“Don’t be too hard on him. He’s had it rough these last couple of months.” She tapped the folders in her arms. “We’ve got the proof of it.”
Josh cocked a brow at her. “Which part of this conversation made you think I’d be angry with him?”
She studied him a second, then blushed. “Oh.”
“Yeah. Oh.” He grunted. “You obviously don’t have kids at home.”
“Well, no, but you know that already.”
“Don’t sound so unimpressed,” he mocked and shoved his hand in his pocket. As he fingered his keys, he continued, “Take the rest of the day off. You’ve earned it. You’ve halted a miscarriage of justice in its tracks.” He pulled a face. “Not that you’ll get the honor of it but you’ll have my gratitude until my dying day, which is some sort of recompense, I hope.
“Luke’s many things, but…he isn’t a fucking torturer. He can’t kill the goddamn rattlers in the land at the side of our house so he sure as hell couldn’t hurt a woman who was looking to him for protection. That’s why he was in the army. He wanted to protect people. He was trained to kill, we all are, but it was a last resort for him. Always was, always will be.” He sighed. “The only reason he wasn’t dishonorably discharged was because he was a commissioned officer. Otherwise, this might have gone differently. He might be in prison now. Left to rot because some sort of cover-up is going down.” He swallowed back his fury and in a hoarse voice, one that bled with his rage, stated, “Thank you, Dana. Thank you for stopping that from happening to my husband.”
She patted his arm, a weak smile curving her lips. “Thank me when this is over. This is only stage one.”