#BlogTour — Enemy Within (The Executive Office) #3 by Tal Bauer + Character Interview & Giveaway
Welcome to MM Book Escape!
I am thrilled to have Tal Bauer here celebrating the release of Enemy Within, book three in The Executive Office series. Tal, graciously, provided me the opportunity to ask Sasha Andreyev some questions and I am really excited to bring that Interview to you today.
I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed asking the questions.
There's also a great excerpt to read, plus a giveaway to enter before you leave. Click on the button below the excerpt to read my 5 Star Review.
Sasha—may I call you Sasha or do you prefer Lieutenant Andreyev?
Sasha is fine. I am not, truly, member of Russian Air Force anymore. Sergey has reinstated me, but I serve with no unit.
I know you’re probably uncomfortable being here but after what you just endured this should be a piece of cake. :D
If it’s alright with you, I’d like to go back to your life as a young boy, for a moment. What was your childhood like? Where did these feelings come from of self-hate?
My boyhood was normal, I suppose. My father was in Russian army, so he was gone all the time. One time, he went to fight in Chechnya and never came back. My mother drank a lot. Brought many men home. I knew I wanted to be like my father. A strong man.
Everyone around me, everyone, talked about how terrible it was to be pidor. How being gay was the worst possible thing for a man to be. The jokes everyone said. The government – Putin, then – putting gays down. Being gay was to sign your own death sentence. Either the government would get you, or someone would find out and attack you. Or, you would take your own life. I was scared, from the first moment I realized that I …
What age were you when you realized you may be different from the other boys in respect to not liking girls “in that way?”
I was young. I do not remember what age. There was a boy in my school. He was older. Tall, slender. I used to watch him all the time. I wanted to know him, be close to him. I didn’t care about any girl I met. When I started to… fantasize… all my thoughts were about that one boy. I cried the first night, the first time I… I knew then that I was one of those bad people. One of those pidors. I thought the government would come and arrest me, take me away. A ten year old boy, guilty for being a perversion.
I tried to bury it. I tried to change. I though, I am stronger than this. I can ignore it.
I joined the Russian Air Force because I thought it would push this out of me. I thought I could be a hard man, like my father. I thought, if I just tried hard enough, it would go away. But… it never did. I always saw men who caught my eye. Saw men who made me want. Desire them. I hated myself, truly, I did.
You were the best of the best MiG fighter pilots in the Russian Air Force, a god amongst mortals, flying your dreams.
Truly amazing Sasha!
The morning of your attack, your wing mates—fellow pilots—turned on you and left you to die. I can’t even imagine the betrayal you felt, and continue to feel. It had to cut you deeply. My question is this…
Is it pride or fear that keeps you from pressing charges against them? Or both?
I do not want to be a symbol, or a cause. I do not want to have everyone looking at me, and saying, “oh, this man, this is the pidor who was attacked.” I do not like attention. I never wanted anyone to look at me. If they looked too close, would they find out about me? I hid, always. No, pressing charges, that would be too public. And, the Russian justice system… It is very corrupt. Or, it was, before Sergey’s actions. If I pressed charges, maybe the charges would be turned against me. I would be the one to go to jail, not them.
As horrible as these things are, they brought you to President Sergey Puchkov, and, I think you will agree with me, that your life definitely started looking much better.
From the minute Sergey met you, he gave you encouragement and acceptance. What did these things mean to you, especially at such a low point in your life?
I did not know how to handle these things. How did this man, the president, care about me? Why did he care? I was nothing. I was a failure. And, I was pidor. Sergey… I will never forget that night, when we met. Everything in my life was gone. Everything I had worked for. I had nothing. I wished I had died. What would I do? Where would I go? I was still pidor. I couldn’t stop it. I couldn’t change it. But Sergey—my president!—came and told me to be proud of myself. That I was a great Russian. I could not understand these things that he said. I broke down, and he held me. A stranger! He held me. I have never before, never, had such acceptance.
Tell us about Sergey, the man. The one who sits at your bedside—all hours of the night—and the one that sits and talks about his thoughts and ideas with you in front of a fire.
How to describe Sergey… It is impossible to put into words all that he is. Smart, wickedly funny, a joker. He is a dedicated man. He puts his heart and soul one hundred percent into something he believes in. He is also too Western. The American president, Jack Spiers, has influenced him more than he realizes. He thinks the world is a good place, that people will accept things and welcome equality. I think he is crazy about this, but maybe I am wrong.
Sergey is… beautiful, in every way. He is a good man. What kind of heart does he have, to love everyone like he does? To accept me? How could I not fall in love with him, when he was so perfect? He showed me friendship, and cared for me – me, without hiding. He is best man I have ever known.
When did you know that you were falling in love with him?
He used to sit by my bedside while I was recovering. He would talk to me, listen to my thoughts, and want to know more. He seemed to like to be with me. I thought, no, this is a trick, he just feels sorry for me. It is pity. But, he kept coming, and coming, and spending more time with me. Offered me a job. Again, I thought, this is pity.
But I wanted it. I wanted every moment he had. Every time he was near, I felt better. I looked forward to him being with me. I craved him, his attention, his acceptance. I knew this was dangerous, but I still did.
I wanted to make him proud. Wanted to be worthy of his attention. The more time I spent with him, the deeper I fell for him, until he was everything. He was everything in my world.
When you and Sergey visited Ethan and Jack in the US for the State Dinner and Ethan hinted that he knew of your feelings—tried to sooth your worries—did you think the same could be possible for you and Sergey, or did you just think Ethan was crazy for even mentioning it?
Never, I never thought it would be possible for him and me. I was jealous when Jack and Sergey danced together, but I also knew it could never happen.
The day of your final mission comes and you’re taking your MiG over the Arctic, knowing it may be the last time you ever see Sergey again. If the situation had been different and you knew you would be coming home, would you still have kissed Sergey at the airstrip?
No. I never should have kissed him. It was mistake, huge mistake. He should never have known how I felt. I never wanted him to know. But he was chasing me, telling me he didn’t want me to go, he didn’t want me to die. I snapped, and I kissed him.
Were you prepared—in your heart—to never see Sergey again? Forget about the mission, I would like to know what Sasha, the man whose loyalty, love, and devotion to one man, seems limitless.
Of course I did not want to die. But, doing this for Sergey, so he could become president again? That was a good thing. I always knew I would never be allowed to stay by Sergey’s side forever. If I died for him, that would be better than being sent away, no? I would give him everything, always.
I often wondered why you never considered—within the close group (Aleksey, Vasily, Ilya, and Anton) that they would be okay and give you and Sergey the same treatment they gave Ethan and Jack. They tease and joke and have fun but it’s all in the name of fun…wasn’t it?
All my life, everyone said it was bad. Being gay was a bad thing. Why would I suddenly think people think this is okay, when every single thing I have ever heard is different? My comrades in the Air Force tried to kill me. Trusting anyone after that… is not easy.
I, also, wondered if you never had any friends that you felt you could share some of your burdens with. That’s when I realized when people start getting close to the truth of your heart, you cut them off. You get defensive and don’t want to hear what they have to say.
Is that because you don’t want to acknowledge it yourself, or you don’t want others to realize they’re right? Or both?
Both. I must keep people away, so they do not know the truth. If they know the truth, then would they beat me, like my comrades did? No one could ever be close.
Except Sergey. He knew. And Ilya, I think, knew. I think Sergey told him. But Ilya never said anything. He treated me like he treated anyone else. I didn’t want to know if he knew or not. If he did not know, and I told him, would he change? For once, I had friends. But I kept everything to myself, still.
I don’t want to get into the mission too much because I’m sure it’s classified, but I must say that your survivor skills, your quick thinking, your ability to out-maneuver, are all truly, truly astounding and you ARE a hero. You endured torturous conditions that most mortals would never live to tell about.
What kept you pushing forward?
I thought I could see Sergey again. Maybe he would allow me to help him still, even after I kissed him. Maybe he would let me still fight for him, with Aleksey, Anton, and Vasily. I could keep my distance. But I would still be near him. And, if there is anyplace I want to be in the world, it is by Sergey.
You encountered reindeer herders, tribesmen that saved your life on more than one occasion. They had some inspirational and spiritual wisdom they shared with you. Did any of that hit a nerve or did you consider it nonsense?
At first I thought it was nonsense, but then Kilaqqi said something that was impossible for him to know. How could he know what was deep inside me just by finding me in the snow? He made me think. He still makes me think. I would like to find him again.
Your love for Sergey is beautiful, selfless, and knows no bounds. Your pride and stubbornness, while understandable—even commendable—were very frustrating. Do you think you will ever be able to push that to the side and give yourself a chance at happiness with the man you love?
I do not know. I want what is best for Sergey, always. Is that me? How could it be me? I would ruin his presidency. How could he ever love me? How could any of what I want ever come true?
Last question—thank goodness, right?
What’s next for Lieutenant Sasha Andreyev, Russia’s Gold-Star Medal Hero?
Find out in Enemy Within, book 3 in The Executive Office! Out at Amazon, Smashwords, and other ebook retailers!
Thank you, Sasha, for being here and answering questions that were personal and I’m sure not easy to explore again. You are a remarkable and courageous man that deserves a lifetime of happiness and love. I hope you find everything you are searching for and I wish you the best of life.
Thank you very much.
about the book
Publisher:Self-Published—Release:3/28/2017—Heat Level:4 Lots of Sex—Pairing: Male/Male—Length:176K—Genre:Romance,Thriller/Suspense—cover artist:Natasha snow designs
The White House, infiltrated.
The president, running for his life.
A traitorous general, intent on burning the world to the ground.
When everything falls apart, who do you trust?
President Jack Spiers fled Washington DC on the heels of a devastating attack on CIA headquarters, masterminded by one of America’s own, former General Porter Madigan. While the world believes Jack was killed in the bombing, he embarks on a wild infiltration mission, smuggling himself into occupied Russia to rescue the love of his life: former Secret Service Agent and First Gentleman Ethan Reichenbach.
Reunited, Jack, Ethan, and deposed Russian president Sergey Puchkov, along with President Elizabeth Wall—the only person left in Washington DC who Jack trusts—must work together. They piece together a desperate plan, hunting Madigan to the ends of the earth and the bitter frigidity of the Arctic, where Madigan’s world-shattering doomsday plan comes together.
Outnumbered, outmaneuvered, and outgunned, Jack, Ethan, Sergey, and the rest of the team struggle to put a stop to Madigan and his army. In the desolate extremes of the Arctic, their resolve, their strength, and even their love is tested, pushed to the absolute limits as choices must be made: choices that pit the fate of the world against the love in their hearts, and the loves of their life.
As the world crumbles around them, Jack and Ethan find themselves waging a war on two fronts—against an enemy they can see, and another, hiding within their ranks.
Who can be trusted when the enemy is within you?
The sounds of the convoy coming alive in the frosty morning started clattering through their patch of snowy forest. Grumbled Russian, slamming doors and squeaky metal hinges, the crackle of logs in a fire, and the clang of pots and pans that Vasily insisted on bringing from Volga.
Jack nuzzled at Ethan’s neck, and the roughness of his beard, grown thick in the five days they’d been on the road, scratched over Ethan’s skin just before Jack dropped a kiss beneath his jaw. “Morning, love.”
Ethan smiled down at him, de-cocked his pistol, and slid it into his hip holster beneath their blankets. He wrapped both arms around Jack as Jack turned and faced him. “How are you? Are you warm enough?” As Ethan spoke, his breath clouded the air between them.
“I’m good.” Jack peeled off his gloves beneath the blankets and snaked his warm hands up under Ethan’s jacket and sweater. His gentle, searching fingers found the long line of ragged stitches in Ethan’s side.
“Sorry. You know we need to check them.” Carefully, Jack felt around the stitches, testing the skin, and then rested his palm over the top of the mostly-healed wound. “No heat. No swelling. No pus. No infection.” He smiled. “You had me worried after yesterday.”
Ethan ducked his head, his cheeks warming. While rummaging through an abandoned barn, he’d walked right through a rotted-out baseboard and fallen into a cellar, into the rough, loose earth. Not his finest moment. They’d wrangled some supplies, but he’d come away filthy and bruised, his ego smarting. Jack’s worried eyes and his gentle ministrations after they’d stopped for the night had helped sooth the ache.
Jack’s gaze darted over Ethan’s face, searching. He frowned. “Did you get any sleep?”
“Liar.” Arching an eyebrow, Jack sat back but kept his hands under Ethan’s clothes and on his skin. “You should let me watch over you at night, too.”
“I’d rather do it. I have you close to me.” He patted his hip and his holstered weapon. “I have constant protection on you all night long. There’s no way anyone can get to you. Not without going through me.”
“Literally.” Jack smiled, but it faded fast. “I’ll drive during the day again. Rest, and let me watch over you.” He squeezed Ethan’s hip as if to emphasize his point.
Ethan nodded, and the corners of his lips quirked up. This was new, this give and take of caretaking and watching out for each other. In DC, at the White House, there had been their jobs and their duties and the world to react to. They took care of slights and wounds inflicted by the press, their suits and ties a kind of armor against the world. Out in the wilderness, in the forest, they’d fallen into a different kind of caretaking. A sharing of two lives, each supporting the other’s existence. It was primal, in a way, how they had fused together. Half of his life was in Jack’s hands, and instead of feeling vulnerable, it was the most natural feeling in the world. “Deal.” Leaning forward, he pressed a kiss to Jack’s lips.
A question hovered in the forefront of Ethan’s mind, weighing on his thoughts. Every morning, he felt the weight of his secret resting over his heart: two rings, made before the world fell apart around them. Some moments, asking Jack was on the tip of his tongue, ready to tumble from his lips with his next breath. He forced himself to swallow the words. Not yet. It wasn’t the right time. Not yet.
Jack leaned into Ethan, and his hands wound around Ethan’s back beneath his sweater. “At some point, we won’t be sleeping in this jeep anymore,” he whispered into their kiss. “We’ll have room to stretch out… share a sleeping bag…”
Smiling, Ethan pulled off his gloves and brought his hands up to Jack’s face, his thumbs caressing Jack’s cheeks. “We don’t need a sleeping bag…” One hand snaked around Jack’s neck, and the other dropped to his hip.
In a flash, he flipped Jack, laying him on his back across the bench seat. Jack wrapped his legs around Ethan’s waist as Ethan slid his hands through Jack’s blond strands.
Jack grabbed his shoulders and pulled Ethan closer, his legs tightening and holding Ethan in place. He captured Ethan’s lips, kissing greedily as his hips rocked upward. Even through the layers they wore, Ethan felt Jack’s hard cock, pressing against his own.
“I want you,” Jack breathed. “I want you to make love to me.”
Ethan’s blood burned, searing through his body from his head to his toes, and part of him wanted to tilt Jack’s head back and ravage his throat, work his way down, unwrap him like a present until he found his cock. Suck him deep. Work him open with his tongue until Jack begged for more, and then sink his cock into Jack’s warm, tight body. Jesus, he wanted Jack. So much.
The springs on the jeep’s suspension squeaked with their rocking, and the tires groaned and crunched against the snow on the ground. In the distance, low chuckles sounded, and one catcall.
Deflating, Ethan dropped his forehead to Jack’s chest. He rode Jack’s deep, heaving breaths and listened to his racing heartbeat. “I don’t want an audience when I make love to you again.”
Jack’s legs dropped, one falling over the back of the front seat, and the other squishing against the window. His hands stroked over Ethan’s back and tangled in his hair. “I don’t want to have to be quiet.”
“Jesus.” Ethan gripped Jack and surged against him, thrusting against his hard cock once more. “That’s not helping.”
Smiling, Jack rocked his hips up once and then scooted backward, propping himself up on his elbows as Ethan sat back and tried to straighten out his clothes. A prominent bulge strained the front of his cargo pants. He ached, nearly painfully hard for Jack.
From the center of the camp, Scott called, “Coffee’s ready if you are!”
Rumbling laughter, deep and throaty, from nearly all the men.
Shaking his head, Jack started to pull himself together next to Ethan and fished out his balaclava from the pocket of his cargo pants. Outside of the jeep, he wore a full-face balaclava and, on their drive, he kept everything but his eyes covered. Ethan insisted, and Scott and Sergey both backed him up. The members of their convoy, of course, knew who Jack was, and just after Jack had shown up, Sergey had delivered a scathing speech in Russian to his people that had had even Ethan flinching, though he didn’t understand a word that had been said. But, they were traveling through a war zone, parts of Russia that were contested in the coup, under attack from Moroshkin’s forces, and that had been bombed by the United States and other nations, all trying to stop Moroshkin.
Who knew what was out there, or who was out there. Jack was, to the world, brain dead in Bethesda Naval Hospital. A front-page picture of him alive and well in Russia would go over as well as a nuclear bomb.
“Scott came by?” Jack tucked his undershirt into his pants, taking a moment to readjust. His cheeks were dusted crimson, a faint flush that Ethan wanted to nibble.
“Yeah.” He tore his eyes away from Jack and fanned the bottom of his sweater, trying to cool his body.
“How’d the scouting go?”
“The route is clear for the morning. More abandoned villages. They found fuel and some supplies. Vasily is cooking eggs.” Ethan reached out, and his fingers traced Jack’s spine through his sweater and jacket. “And you should talk to Sergey.”
Turning, Jack stared at Ethan.
“I think Scott’s worried about him.” A tight, strained smile, curved his lips. “And that’s saying something.” Scott’s trust in Sergey, and in their Russian allies, extended from meal to meal. Day to day, hour by hour. If everything came apart, Scott would be the first to say “I knew it”.
“He hasn’t wanted to talk to me.” Swallowing, Jack leaned back with a sigh. His hands dropped to his lap, and he picked at the wool fibers of the balaclava. “He’s kept his distance since Volga. I’m not sure I’m the person he wants to see right now.”
Nodding slowly, Ethan frowned. Sergey’s harsh accusations, thrown at Jack at Volga air base, had been the last direct contact the two had. “After all this time, you think he’s pulling away because of…”
Because of their love? Because he and Jack were together? Because Sergey had been loved by a gay man? Was this some kind of reaction, a fear that falling in love with another man “was contagious”, as he’d hurled at Jack?
“He’s pulled back before.” Jack sat forward, slipped the balaclava over his head. He tugged it down around his neck. “I want to do the right thing by him. I don’t want to piss him off.” He frowned, deep lines furrowing his brow. “But, no matter what else is going on, he’s devastated about losing Sasha. I remember what it felt like when I thought you were dead. I can at least try to talk to him about that.”
Ethan’s chest constricted, and his heart almost seized. Was it only a week ago that he’d thought Jack was dead and gone as well? Never, ever, again. He’d do everything in his power to keep Jack safe, keep him from ever coming to harm. And, he’d never lose faith like that again, either. The darkness that had swallowed him on his race from Saudi Arabia to Russia. The emptiness, the silent scream within his soul. The way he had wanted to die, had begged the world to kill him.
Together. They’d face everything together from now on. No matter what.
Adjusting the balaclava, Jack leaned over and pressed a chaste kiss to Ethan’s lips. “Time to face the music, love.”
Ethan pulled out his own balaclava, tugged it down around his neck, and gripped the door handle. They piled out of the back of the jeep, and Ethan caught the smothered grins and barks of laughter sent their way. Scott raised a dented metal mug toward them both. Jack headed for him, and for the small fire on which Vasily was cooking.
One of the Russians who went out with Scott every morning, Aleksey, slid up to Ethan. Middle-aged, Aleksey had been a federal police officer in Sochi and had fought back with Sergey against Moroshkin and Madigan’s forces the night of the coup. Now, he was one of Sergey’s officers in the insurgency. He had a small beer gut and a thick salt and pepper mustache beneath ruddy, pockmarked cheeks, a quick, sharp smile, and perpetually messy hair.
His eyes glittered as he clapped Ethan on the back. “You are good Russian lover!” he crowed. “Quick!”
Others laughed, and Ethan spied Jack smothering his grin and rolling his eyes as he took the coffee Scott offered. Scott shrugged and hid his smile in his next sip.
Ethan clapped Aleksey on the upper arm, smiling along with the others. When he and Jack had first met the men in Sergey’s insurgency, they’d worried about how they would be received. Two men in love in a country where only months before, Sasha had almost been killed for being gay. Another man, Evgeni Konnikov, had been murdered.
Sergey’s men, however, had been nothing but accepting. They were believers in Sergey’s government, after all, and Sergey had made equality a foundational platform of his politics and administration.
They just showed that acceptance through good Russian ribbing and teasing. The more ribald the better.
“If we had actually got going,” Ethan began, winking first at Jack and then sending Aleksey a grin, “we’d be here for days.”
More laughter. Aleksey wagged his finger in Ethan’s face and squeezed his elbow before handing him a cup of bitter, sludgy coffee. Vasily waved him and Jack over, and he scooped the last of the eggs into a scavenged plastic bowl they shared. “I save for you,” Vasily said, pointing to them both.
Jack thanked him. As they ate, Ethan spotted Sergey standing in front of his jeep, his hands resting flat on a spread-out map of Russia draped over the hood with his head bowed low. He looked up, and his piercing gaze fell on Jack. There was a moment where his face flickered, something dark passing through his eyes, but it was gone before Ethan could catch it.
And then, Sergey folded up his map and climbed into the driver’s side of his jeep. He kept his eyes downcast, not once looking at Jack again.
Other Books in the Series
Meet the Author
is an award-winning and best-selling author of LGBT romantic thrillers, bringing together a career in law enforcement and international humanitarian aid to create dynamic characters, intriguing plots, and exotic locations.
Tal is a member of the Romance Writers of America and the Mystery Writers of America.
Pronouns: They/them & he/him
3/27 Love Bytes Reviews
3/28 Joyfully Jay
3/28 Gay Book Reviews
3/29 Oh My Shelves
3/29 Back Porch Reader
3/30 Divine Magazine
3/30 MM Book Escape
3/31 Alpha Book Club
3/31 Bayou Book Junkie