Native Tongue by Lucy Felthouse

Native Tongue by Lucy Felthouse

Native Tongue

by Lucy Felthouse

Ebook ISBN: 9781311483973

[ Military Multicultural Romance, MM ]

When Captain Hugh Wilkes fell for his Afghan interpreter, Rustam Balkhi, he always knew things would never be easy. After months of complete secrecy, their return to England should have spelt an end to the sneaking around and the insane risks. But it seems there are many obstacles for them to overcome before they can truly be happy together. Can they get past those obstacles, or is this one battle too many for their fledgling relationship?

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Chapter One

Captain Hugh Wilkes drummed enthusiastically on the steering wheel of his car as he drove it up the M3 towards London. He sung loudly and tunelessly along to the song on the radio, too, but it didn’t matter. No one could hear him.

He’d surprised himself by being so chilled out about the volume of Friday evening traffic. He wasn’t the most patient of people, so the slow progress should probably have been increasing his blood pressure, if not leading to full on road rage. But, although he’d have loved to be actually achieving the speed limit, not bumbling along at a mere fifty miles per hour, Wilkes was just glad the traffic was moving at all. Britain’s roads, the motorways in particular, soon came to a standstill if there was so much as a tiny bump between two vehicles. So any progress was better than none.

Besides, what could he do about it? His only other options to get to London from his base in Wiltshire were a train, or stealing a plane, helicopter or tank. The latter might just cause a little bit of bother, and mean the end of his army career, not to mention criminal charges. The former meant cramming in amongst sweaty, disgruntled commuters. If that wasn’t bad enough, he’d be charged an extortionate amount to do so, probably wouldn’t even get a seat, and would likely be subjected to delays.

At least driving took him from door to door, with plenty of personal space. And if there were delays, well, he could sit them out from the comfort of his own vehicle, with the climate control set to the perfect temperature, and the radio blasting some of his favourite tunes.

The next song was even better, and Wilkes’ tuneless wailing became more enthusiastic, as did the drumming on the steering wheel. He was in one hell of a good mood, and if he was truthful with himself, he knew it wasn’t just the fact the M3 was moving at a nice pace. It wasn’t the Friday feeling, either. Sure, both of those things were contributing to his happiness, but the main reason he was grinning like a buffoon was the thought of what awaited him in the capital. Or rather, who.

Rustam Balkhi. His gorgeous Afghan boyfriend, whom he’d met out in Afghanistan while they were working together for the British Army. Now, with their tour of duty over and the forces’ presence pulled out of the country, the two men had returned to England. Wilkes had gone back to his regular army life in Bulford Camp, near Salisbury. Balkhi was in London, where he’d recommenced the medical training he’d postponed to become an interpreter for the Brits.

The past few weeks had been somewhat of a whirlwind. Wilkes’ return to the UK had been straightforward, but Balkhi had had to jump through some hoops in order to get back onto his medical course. He’d been willing to start from scratch, but it’d seemed like an awful waste of time, so Wilkes had spoken to his superiors, who’d explained to the university what important work Balkhi had been doing. Fortunately, they’d been persuaded of Balkhi’s commitment and character, and allowed him to pick up where he’d left off. That settled, Balkhi had to pack up, travel back to the UK, find somewhere to live, move in… and all before the start of the next academic term.

Wilkes had felt terrible. His return had taken place a few weeks before Balkhi’s, so although he’d been granted some leave for R&R, he hadn’t been able to either spend it with Balkhi, or to use it help him with his relocation. By the time Balkhi had set foot on British soil, Wilkes was back to work. And, given nobody knew about the two of them, or even that Wilkes was gay, he couldn’t exactly ask for more leave in order to help his boyfriend move into his new flat.

Life had conspired against them ever since, so this was the first opportunity they’d had to see each other since saying goodbye in Afghanistan all those weeks ago. They’d communicated via email, text message and phone calls, but it just wasn’t the same. Especially since they’d gone from seeing each other every single day for the best part of six months to not setting eyes on each other for weeks on end.

Wilkes had struggled terribly in the interim. Life had been tough enough while they were still out in the desert. After weeks and weeks of trying desperately to ignore their growing attraction, they’d finally given in to it. It had been stupid and risky, but, having quickly realised there was more to their attraction than the physical, they’d decided to carry on their relationship in secret while they were in Afghanistan, see how it went, and figure things out once Wilkes’ tour of duty was over. Balkhi had always intended to return to the UK for his studies, so they would, at least, be living in the same country.

Wilkes couldn’t help smirking as he thought about some of the situations they’d gotten into together. A trip to Camp Bastion and accidentally bumping into each other in the shower area had started it all off, followed by taking advantage of the relative privacy of an accommodation block. Then there’d been the blowjobs in the briefings tent, the insanely risky clinches in Wilkes’ tent… Christ, how had they never been caught? Heat flushed his cheeks at the erotic flashbacks, and he had to shove them forcefully from his mind and drag his attention back to the road before he caused an accident.

They’d always known things between them were never going to be simple, not even on returning to the UK. Neither man was “out.” And although it had been far too dangerous for Balkhi to come out in Afghanistan, there was no reason he couldn’t be openly gay here. Wilkes, on the other hand, had the reactions of his family, friends and colleagues to consider. He was certain all the people that mattered would quickly get over the shock of discovering his sexuality and accept it, but he still couldn’t shake the worry that it would adversely affect his career. His immediate superior, a homophobic old bastard by the name of Major Graham Hunter, often made his life unpleasant as it was, and that was without knowing Wilkes batted for the other side.

Each song on the radio that finished signalled another bunch of miles less that he had to travel before he reached his destination. So, although each respective tune wasn’t necessarily better than the last, it was worthier of celebration. Before long, Wilkes exited the M3 and passed through the fashionable, expensive areas west of London—Twickenham, Richmond, Battersea. Then Clapham, and a turn towards the river eventually brought him into Stockwell.

He didn’t know the area, but Balkhi had explained what a great location it was—close to a Tube station, giving him easy access to the university hospital on the south bank of the Thames. Even better, it was outside of the congestion zone, and the accommodation came with its own parking space, meaning Wilkes could drive right up to the block of flats without incurring any charges, or have the hassle of finding somewhere to leave his vehicle.

His heart pounded as he flicked on the reading light, then grabbed a piece of paper from the passenger seat, which detailed his journey. He hadn’t needed it up until now—being fairly familiar with London—but a glance towards the bottom of the page gave him the details he needed to locate Balkhi’s block of flats. So close—he could see the damn building, but apparently needed to be on the opposite side to gain access to the car park. A set of traffic lights and a junction later and he was rolling over a speed hump… finally!

Meticulous as ever, Balkhi had even told him which part of the car park was closest to his place. If he could find a space in that section—although the flats had spaces, they weren’t allocated—then he wouldn’t have so far to carry his stuff. Not that it mattered—he was plenty strong enough and didn’t have anything heavy, anyway. Years in the military had taught him how to pack light. And he’d have carried an elephant if it meant he got to see Balkhi.

Spotting a slot, Wilkes headed for it, pulling in carefully, then turning off the reading light and the engine. Taking his phone from his pocket, he fired off a text message.

Just pulled into a parking space downstairs. I’m here! H x

Balkhi would have to buzz him into the building—apparently they’d had issues with anti-social behaviour in the past, so the only people that could access the building now, even the communal areas, were those with keys.

Returning his phone to his pocket, Wilkes began gathering his belongings from the front of the car, before exiting and moving around to the boot. Popping it open, he retrieved his weekend bag, then closed up and locked the vehicle. Looking around—fortunately the car park was well-lit, so he could see where he was going—he spotted one of the doors that stood between him and his boyfriend. He strode purposefully towards it, not wanting to waste any more time—they only had the weekend together.

As he reached the outer door, he realised he wouldn’t need to be buzzed in, after all. Standing just on the other side, visible through the glass, was Balkhi. The Afghan swung the door open so quickly that Wilkes had to jump back to avoid being smacked in the face.

Balkhi gasped. “Shit, sorry!”

“It’s okay,” Wilkes replied, shrugging.

Then, unexpectedly, there was silence. Wilkes’ heart pounded again. Crap—what was going on? Since when did the two of them have nothing to say to each other? Then he realised—it wasn’t that they had nothing to say, it was that they had so much to say that apparently neither of them could decide how to begin. There was also the fact they were in public to consider.

Wilkes cleared his throat. “You going to invite me in then?”

“Yes, yes, of course. Come on!” Balkhi led him to a tiny lift in the corner of the vestibule and pressed the button for the third floor. When it arrived, they stepped in, waited to be delivered to their floor, keeping a respectable distance between them at all times, then exited. Another door stood between them and the flats. Balkhi pressed a keyring-type thing to a sensor, then pulled it open.

A moment later they were in front of flat number sixteen—Balkhi’s place. Finally. Once they were inside, once they had some privacy, they could say what they really meant, and do what they really wanted to do.

Balkhi couldn’t get that damn door open quickly enough, in Wilkes’ opinion.

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