More Than One Night

CHAPTER ONE

THE SOUND OF a champagne cork popping echoed in the small kitchen.

“Woohoo! We are going to have so much fun, former Warrant Officer Long. It’s going to be just like old times.”

Charlie Long smiled at her friend Gina’s exuberant prediction.

“Save some of that perkiness for later. You don’t want to peak too soon,” Charlie warned as she passed a long-stemmed flute for filling. “We have a big night ahead.”

A night that included lots of French champagne and some fine dining, if Charlie had any say in it.

“Don’t worry, I’m pacing myself. I have lots of perkiness in reserve.” Gina’s grin was infectious, a perfect match for her cherubic face and blond corkscrew curls.

Charlie raised her glass. “To good friends with spare rooms and big hearts.”

Gina lifted hers in turn. “To the rest of your life. To having a home that’s all yours. To meeting a guy who doesn’t know how to field strip a Steyr F88 rifle and who isn’t going to ship out when things start getting good. And to never, ever having to wear khaki again.”

Charlie laughed and clinked glasses with her friend. “Amen to that.”

She felt a little disloyal as she threw back the first mouthful of champagne. The army had been good to her. It had been her family, of sorts, for almost half her life. Even though she was ready to move on, she didn’t regret the years she’d given in service to her country. They’d made her who she was—defined her, really—for good or bad.

She felt the now-familiar lurch of nervousness as she contemplated life without the framework of the army.

So many possibilities to reinvent herself and her life. So much change. So much opportunity.

“How long do you think it’ll take the airline to find your luggage?” Gina asked as she took a jar of olives from the fridge. After her own discharge two years ago she’d taken a job as manager of a busy catering company and her fridge was full to the brim with gourmet goodies and leftovers.

Charlie shook her head. “Who knows?”

As omens went, losing the bulk of her worldly goods on the first day of civilian life wasn’t a great one. When Gina had collected her from the airport this afternoon, they’d stood and watched the luggage carousel snake round and round for a good half hour before admitting defeat and reporting the two suitcases lost.

“Damn it,” she said as a new thought occurred. “What will I wear tonight?”

They had stopped by a mall to allow Charlie to pick up a few bare essentials to cover her for the “twenty-four hours” the airline had predicted she’d be without her baggage, but she hadn’t even thought of buying something for tonight. She glanced down at her worn jeans, dark gray T-shirt and hiking boots. Not by any stretch of the imagination could they be considered suitable attire for the fancy-pants restaurant they had booked for dinner.

“Relax. You can borrow something of mine.”

Charlie surveyed her shorter, slighter friend doubtfully. “I’m not sure that’s going to work.”

Size apart, there was also the small but important fact that she and Gina had very different taste in clothes. Charlie preferred tailored and neat and nondescript. Gina liked sparkly things that left the world in no doubt that she was a woman.

“We’ll find something, C, don’t worry,” Gina said confidently.

The look in her friend’s eyes made Charlie a little nervous. “Nothing crazy, okay?”

“Would I do that to you?”

Half a dozen incidents from their shared past flashed across Charlie’s mind. “Yes.”

Gina laughed and twisted open the jar. “Have an olive and stop stressing.”

They stood at the counter