Jonah’s Compass

by Annabella Stone

Jonah Montgomery and Matt Garrett had it all: Army careers they loved; Team Panther, the men they bonded with as brothers, and each other. But under the shadow of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, everything fell apart when Matt was captured in Afghanistan.

Now five years later, a terrorist seeking revenge has come for Jonah. Will Matt take the opportunity a sniper bullet provides? Can Team Panther find their missing brother in time? Will they stand together or will the love, they still have for each other, falter under the weight of revenge?

Does their compass really point to true love?

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Excerpt:

2007

Jonah Montgomery stared down the scope of his .300 Winchester Magnum, bolt action sniper rifle. Scanning the streets of this little desert-like town. He watched as the team on the ground approached a building nearly a thousand yards away from his position. It was Jonah’s mission to protect them. This may be training; a try out for Delta, but he was determined to do his job to the best of his ability. He wanted to earn his place on Team Panther. It had been his goal since his best friend Jason joined the team two years ago.

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Even though they had ended up on different assignments. They kept in touch, had lunch or dinner together as often as assignments and deployments allowed. Traded declassified information about various terrorists back and forth. When orders came through for Jonah to report to Fort Bragg. To try out for Team Panther, it was Jason he called to thank for putting his name forward.

Jonah watched the team’s approach from the roof of an old run-down building at the edge of the training range on Fort Bragg. Every muscle in his body was cramped from sitting so still. The wind swirled around him, kicking up dust and blowing leaves on the street below. Scanning with his scope for anything suspicious. A glint of sunlight reflecting off a metal surface caught his eye.

“Possible weapon sighted. Top right window.” He said, relaying the information to Steele Given, today’s team leader.

“Take the shot on sight.”

Jonah dialed in the distance on his scope. Checked wind direction. A face appeared in the window, and an arm reached through the opening. Jonah exhaled and squeezed the trigger. No telltale red paint showed on the man’s face.

“Shit.” The word had just left his mouth, a boom and a blast of smoke rattled the training area.

 Jonah had to admit it: he’d screwed up and blown any chance he had of making the team. Seated on a bench in the locker room, his hands rested on his knees, head hanging low. He reminded himself that there was no shame in washing out of Delta, he’d done his best, but, shit, he couldn’t believe he’d missed that shot. He’d taken half-mile shots at every fucking high-value target from here to Baghdad. He could almost do it in his sleep, how the hell had he missed it?

There was nothing he could do about it now. He sighed as he picked at the drying mud on his combat trousers before he picked up a cloth, added more gun oil to it and finished cleaning his sniper rifle. The decision was in the hands of the gods, otherwise known as Team Panther. Jonah packed his rifle in its weapon case and headed for the showers. There had to be a bar near here where he could drown his troubles away.

The Corner Pyrate was packed with people out for an evening’s entertainment. Jonah took one look at all the people dressed in sequins, short skirts and dress jeans in the line outside the front door and headed around the back to the smoking area, lighting a cigarette as he walked. With a nod to the security guys, he passed through the gate in the patio-style fence that surrounded the enclosed area. People dancing were jammed onto the outdoor dance floor, vying for space with the smokers, who’d claimed the area for themselves.

He looked around for someone to have a drink with, maybe someone to help him forget the mess he’d made of today. Although it had been a while since he has visited Fort Bragg, there should be someone he knew about. Especially here in the Corner Pyrate, as most enlisted personal used it as their local watering hole.

A loud yell from the other side of the smoking area drew his attention. There they were, gathered around a high-top table, the men who had spent the last three weeks yelling and screaming at him as they put him through his paces. Team Panther. Fantastic. Not even the lure of drinking with Jason would drag him over there just yet.

He gave a wave in the direction of the other men before making his way to the bar to order himself a beer. He had just swallowed the first sip when a hand landed on his shoulder.

“You okay, Jonah?”

He thought Jason would be the one to drag him over to the table with the others. Well, shit, this was the last person he wanted to talk to, his nemesis from the training pits of hell, Matt Fucking Garrett. “Yeah, just having one before I head back to–”

“I’m not getting on your case for drinking,” Matt said. “After the past few weeks you’ve had, you deserve a drink. Wanna come join us? We promise not to screw with you.” There was a slight pause before Matt added, “Well, not too much.”

Jonah turned back to the bar and glanced at Matt from the corner of his eye and almost dropped his beer, but before he could make a complete idiot of himself, he plunked it on the bar counter, liquid sloshing over the lip of the pint glass. He’d noticed already that Matt was smoking hot in uniform, but holy crap, with that jet-black hair and those sparkling blue eyes, throw in a dark five o’clock shadow, a pair of distressed jeans sitting low on his narrow hips and a tight t-shirt? Right now, Matt Garrett was sex on a stick. Get a grip Montgomery, Jonah thought. The chances that Matt Garrett plays for your team are somewhere between slim and none, so get over it right now.

Jonah looked up at Matt, he rolled his shoulders, shaking off his internal warning that, letting his attraction show, would make everything FUBAR. “Somehow I don’t believe you guys will hold off on the bullshit. Hell, I’d be all kinds of disappointed if you did. But sure, I’ll risk it.” Jonah slid off the barstool and grabbed his beer and followed Matt into the crowd, dodging people as they made their way over to the team.

Half an hour and numerous insults later, Jonah stood, his shoulders and one foot against the wood paneled wall behind him as he nursed his second beer. He watched the dynamics of the men around him. He looked over at Jason LeHar, his best friend in the world. Jason was the reason Jonah even got an invitation to try out for a place in Delta Force Panther. He knew it; shit, everyone knew it.

He’d known Jason since he was seven years old, and it was strange seeing his reserved, stoic friend so close to other men. Having lost most of his family when he was young, Jason had never made friends easily and he’d worried for a long time that Jason would hold his Delta teammates at arm’s length, rather than allow them to get close. To see him laughing and joking as he chased Micah Kennedy around the table was a relief.

Jason and he had been so close as kids that the others in their shithole little neighborhood on the outskirts of Shreveport, Louisiana, had nicknamed them J.J. It was much easier than saying Jonah and Jason because when you saw one, the other wasn’t far behind. Jason was a tracker, a skill learned in the Bayous, and he seemed to effortlessly adjust to fit any terrain from the concrete jungles of a city to the sandy deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan.

An old Marine who lived on their street had taught Jonah and Jason how to shoot. After an egging incident the Halloween they turned twelve, he’d told them that their idle hands needed something to do. It turned out Jonah was a great shot, while Jason, due to his tracking skills, made a fantastic spotter. When they joined the Army at eighteen, the Marine lamented the loss of their skills to the army green uniform, while smiling with pride in the audience as they both graduated Basic Training

Micah Kennedy was Jason’s current partner in crime, if the noogie to the hair was anything to go by. Jonah wasn’t sure if he was happy or jealous that Jason had made a new brother in the six-foot two-inch man from South Georgia.

Micah, the same as the others on the team was also wearing the clear uniform of the night, distressed jeans and a tight t-shirt. A tribal tattoo peeked from under his sleeve, and the dark chain of his black ops dog tags was visible when Jason hauled him back by the collar to make sure he reached the last remaining seat first.

“Ow, shit. What the hell Jason?” Micah said, his shoulders slumped. Jonah watched as a gleam sparked in Micah’s eyes before he sat on Jason’s knee, his white teeth flashing in the dim light of the bar as the others laughed at his outrageous behavior.

Jonah wasn’t sure what to make of Griffin St. Clare yet. This was the first time he had seen the man outside the training field. Grif was quiet, sitting back and watching the antics of his teammates around him with just the occasional lewd comment thrown in for good measure. A black bandana secured his shoulder-length hair at the nape of his neck, along with his jeans and t-shirt. His belt buckle had a Sturgis logo from two years ago. Sipping his beer while his eyes shifted, he saw everything happening around him. Grif was the ultimate warrior, both on guard and restless. Jonah couldn’t help but wonder what his story was. Rumor had it he could fly anything with wings or rotors better than any Nighthawk pilot, and that balancing a bird on a rock the size of a rooftop was a regular occurrence for him.

Taking another sip of his beer, Jonah observed as the prowling giant that was Steele Given made his way through the crowd of people toward the back hallway and the toilets. Holy crap, even the drunken patriots of the Corner Pyrate knew to get out of his way. The ones stupid enough not to move, Steele either shoved or lifted out of his way. A growled “Move” had others scurrying in the opposite direction from the huge man.

Steele moved with the grace of the massive jungle cat the Delta Force team was named for. How the hell could a man that big be so silent when on the hunt? From what Jonah had noticed over the past few weeks, Steele was closest to Matt. They often planned the missions and gave out orders while in the field. Everyone listened and obeyed, no questions asked. Steele could read a situation and pull a plan out of his ass like no one Jonah had ever seen.

That just left Matt Garrett, the bomb disposal expert from Texas. Tall, dark, and oh-my-god smoking hot. Stop. You idiot, you sound like a teenager with their first crush. Matt Garrett was fearless; he could sit up close and personal while disarming bombs that would have had Jonah running as fast as his legs could carry him in the opposite direction. That countdown timer ticking down was a challenge to Matt. It seemed the shorter the time he had to work, the steadier his fingers got. Every plan Steele came up with, Matt could find the holes and plug them. More than once, Jonah was awed at the speed Matt could take a plan, rip it to shreds and put it back together again, making it usable and as safe for the team as possible.

While all the men on Team Panther had the skill and the knowledge to make a kill shot, the one crucial element missing from their tight-knit team was a sniper. Jonah wanted to fill that spot; it would have been amazing to work with Jason again and to get to know these guys as brothers and teammates. He still couldn’t believe he missed that damn shot earlier. That had to have blown his chances.

“You’re quiet tonight?” Jason’s voice in his ear made Jonah flinch inside, though he refused to show any outward sign that his friend had snuck up on him.

“I can’t believe I missed that shot. I should have been able to do that blindfolded,” Jonah said. He couldn’t have stopped the downward turn of his lips or the frown line furrowing between his eyes if he tried. Shit, maybe it was time to stop drinking. Beer always made him melancholy; it’s the exact reason why he stuck primarily to whiskey. After another beer or two, he would crash, sleeping against the wall, drooling like an old drunk while he snored like a freight train. That would just give the guys another reason to burst his balls.

“Don’t be too hard on yourself, Jonah; we all miss sometimes.”

“Fuck, Jase, I haven’t missed an easy shot like that since I was fourteen. I know fucking better than to allow myself to get distracted.”

“What distracted you?”

“No clue, but something had to, and I want to run through that exercise again tomorrow,” Jonah said before adding, “If I’m still here tomorrow.”

“You’re here now, aren’t you?” Matt’s voice broke into the conversation.

 Jonah raised an eyebrow in query at the man who eavesdropped on their private words. “Huh?”

“The fact you want to run the exercise again tells us you are the right fit.” Matt nodded his head at the other men around the table. Jonah noted all eyes turned to them before Matt continued, “Everyone screws up or makes a bad shot; not everything will always be perfect. We submitted the paperwork, and it’s not official until the Brass signs off on it, but for now, Welcome to Panther.”

Jonah’s mouth fell open. Holy shit, he did it. Accepting the backslaps and words of wisdom from the men around him, the stress he had felt all evening left him. Jonah could enjoy himself tonight.

Jonah had been training with the team for months. While he’d been called on for a couple of solo recon missions, this was his first official mission with Panther. He and Matt split from the rest of the team earlier today. Matt would act as spotter instead of Jason, who was tasked with tracking their target.

Matt led the way in silence, stopping periodically to check his map. He made scheduled clicks on his radio, to inform the team they were still on target. Jonah’s eyes drifted south, watched the flex of camouflage covered muscles in front of him, as they climbed the steep mountain track, and traced the narrow V of Matt’s hips down over his ass. Jonah’s mouth watered seeing it bunch and move as they climbed the rough terrain.

Matt is a teammate dumbass. Yes, he might be freaking hot as shit, but he’s still a teammate. Jonah reminded himself for about the millionth time since he joined the team six months ago. This pull towards Matt Garrett would get out of hand in a hurry  if he gave it an inch. Better to keep his mind on other things than the beauty that was seeing Matt Garrett’s ass in motion.

After being dropped by the helo earlier that morning they had humped almost fifteen clicks following non-existent trails and tracks that led them to the hidden position, they now surveyed. Jonah let out a low whimper as he stretched the muscles in his neck and back.

“We’ll dig in here.” Matt said, “that last transmission from Jason said Omari, should hit that track below us sometime tomorrow. If we keep going, we may not find another location as good as this one.”

Jonah nodded his agreement and went about setting up his sniper nest. He gathered weeds and other local foliage creating a crude ghillie suit to camouflage the nest from any possible observant tango in the area. After a meal made up of MREs. Jonah thought they should be called CREs, Crap Ready to Eat, rather than Meals Ready To Eat, he settled in with Matt to watch the trail below.

“Why don’t you catch some Z’s, I’ll take first watch.” Matt said.

Jonah wriggled and shifted, punched his pack with his fist. The small confines of sitting crouched in a sniper nest was a tight fit. His back pressed up against Matt’s in the small space. Jonah closed his eyes and dropped into a light combat sleep.

A slight nudge from Matt two hours later had Jonah inhaling a breath, pine and gun oil. How the hell did Afghanistan smell of pine trees? Well shit, the idle thought that Afghanistan didn’t, but Matt did, had Jonah’s eyes popping open, his reflexes already alert. Instead of the leaves and grasses of the sniper nest cover he had closed his eyes to, his nose was buried in Matt’s neck. The little huffs of air on every exhale, raising goosebumps on Matt’s tanned skin.

Keeping his movement to a minimum, he inhaled once more, drawing that enticing scent deep into his lungs before pulling his face back and raising his eyes to meet Matt’s. Matt raised his hand; to wipe some drool off his shirt collar. An eyebrow raised in query had heat climbing Jonah’s neck, he hoped it was too dark for Matt to see the flush on his cheeks.

Moving so as not to disturb the nest, Jonah tried to get the blood flowing in his limbs before he swapped places with Matt. Matt did a radio check in, before turning off the radio to save the battery. He pulled out the backup satellite phone to check for any messages before settling down for his turn at some Z’s.

Jonah stilled as the ghost of Matt’s breath skimmed his neck and a whispered “Night Jonah,” sent a shiver down his spine.

Peeking down at the hand Matt had tucked under Jonah’s knees to keep warm in the rapidly cooling desert night, his gaze traveled the curled-up length of Matt’s body to his face, looking into the drowsy eyes of his spotter, he whispered back “Good Night Matt,” before turning back to the job at hand. Standing by for their High Value Target, to put in his appearance for a date with the grim reaper.

It would be so damn easy to forget that Matt was just trying to keep warm, that breath against the back of his neck meant nothing more than the restriction of the tiny confines of a sniper nest. Jonah ignored the whispered internal voice that reminded him, it never felt like this when Jason was sleeping at his back as they waited for their target to arrive. Matt’s hand shifted higher under his thigh, Jonah’s muscles twitched. I am so screwed.

Jonah scanned with his scope as he waited for their target. He noted locations of every lump, bump, grass and pieces of foliage as he munched on a little packet of chocolate left over from his breakfast MRE. The silence surrounding this little rocky outcrop in this corner of nowhere, Afghanistan, was peaceful. The hours spent sitting with Matt were easy and although they didn’t speak much, other than to relay details of wind speed, distances and any other pertinent information necessary to their job, the quiet between them was comfortable.

After what seemed like days of waiting, but had been a little less than 24 hours, Matt muttered the words Jonah had been waiting for,

“Target acquired.”

Jonah turned his rifle scope in the direction Matt provided and waited for their Tango to enter his crosshairs.

“Wind?” he asked softly slowing his breathing, adjusting his scope, fine tuning his view as he listened to the directions given by his spotter.

“One-minute right.”

When Mohammed Hassan Omari, a top adviser in Al-Qaeda, who planned terrorist attacks, then had others carry them out across the western world, crossed into the view of his scope,

 “On Target.”

“Fire when ready.” Matt replied.

Jonah exhaled and gently squeezed the trigger, his long rifle fired. The large caliber bullet ripped through Omari’s chest and the body crumpled to the ground. Taking a life was never easy, even at this distance. His scope ensured he remembered every detail of the face of the man who would join the projection reel of others flickering through his dreams in the nights to come. But in removing this one man from the equation, hundreds of more lives would be saved. Jonah figured he could live with that.

The shot echoed around the valley, but no other people emerged from the trees, no return fire came in the bullet bursts searching for the sniper position. Jonah watched Matt skid and slide down the hillside to the body, while he covered him from above. Matt opened a DNA kit and took samples to use later for positive identification.

When Matt was clear and had returned to the shoot zone, Jonah and Matt worked together to break down their camp and remove any evidence of their little stay. Before they hot footed it to the extraction point over five clicks away. A Black Hawk would take them to the nearest base, to meet with the rest of their team, then they would travel onward together on a flight to the good old US of A for some down time, until Uncle Sam came calling with a new mission.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Gay Book Reviews on Gay Book Reviews wrote:

OMG!!! I truly fell in love with all these men that make up Team Panther and BW Security. I cannot wait for the next book to come out, that is for sure. This book is solely based around Jonah and Matt but what I love most about this book was even though it is their story, there is still points of views from others that make up these teams.

Jonah and Matt met when Jonah joined Team Panther. Though Jonah was attracted to Matt, he did not think that there was a chance that the two could get together. For one, he did not know if Matt was gay. And for two, Jonah did not want to put the both at risk of being found out about if Matt is gay because of DADT is still in affect when they meet.

The thing about attraction is, sometimes you just cannot resist your attraction to someone if you are meant to be together no matter the consequences. So when Matt makes it clear finally that he wants Jonah, the two men embark on a journey together. And things are going great between them for so long, or at least until it is not.

When the unthinkable happens and the two are not only outed but the strain ends up splitting them up, Jonah and Matt go their separate ways. Years later it seems as if fate is about to once again intervene and bring these two back face to face once again, along with all the men that make up Team Panther and BW Security.

It is fated way of trying to right a wrong but only if both men are willing to be open and honest with the other and both men can stay out of the line of fire.

This was one heck of an amazing book. I truly cannot wait until the next book comes out because I want more of these two men and the other members of both teams. Annabella Stone did such an incredible job on capturing the reader’s attention and not letting it go until the end.

Amy Dufera on Amy's MM Romance Reviews wrote:

just finished reading Jonah's Compass by Annabella Stone.
It was her debut book and I was pleasantly surprised.

Jonah and Matt were in the Army together during the years of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Thus, they kept their relationship a secret, even from the others in their unit.
But, when Matt is captured, everything changes. Their secret comes out and they are forced out of the army. When they returned home to their apartment, it wasn't long before Matt left without a word.
Five years later and they are reunited when Jonah's life is being targeted. This brings back the whole team for fight together again. And Jonah and Matt can get their 2nd Chance together if they are willing to do so.

I really enjoyed this story.
I loved Matt and Jonah. They are truly a sweet, loving couple. I love how they can ground the other and create peace for each other.
Their unit provided lots of brotherly moments, and some good laughs.
The combat action, which is usually something I don't like, was quick enough that I did enough it. And it included some very sweet moments too.
And the suspense of who to trust vs not trust was very well done.

Overall, I am thrilled to have discovered this book and this new author. And I am anxiously awaiting the next book in the series.


About the Author

Annabella Stone

First and foremost I am a reader who had stories in my head that were driving me crazy. When I mention it to an author friend of mine, she told me to "write them down," and what do you know, Jonah's Compass was born, during NaNo 2017, and published in April 2018.

I live in Ireland with a crazy pack of 6 dogs and a daughter who is turning out to be so like me, I don't know if I should be scared or proud.

Along with my love of dogs and books, I'm a graphics nerd who also enjoys hiking and dog-shows.


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