Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Monday, October 19, 2015
Love’s greatest cure is salvation of one’s soul
Twelve months earlier . . .
Sergeant Shane Sherman looked up from the report
he’d been filling out and gave Private Emma Jane Sloan his full attention.
“Sorry to bother you, Sir, but is it true you’re
heading stateside next week?”
“That’s correct. Back to civvies for me, Private.”
Private Sloan, a kid barely out of high school,
had stuck close to Shane from the moment she found out he was from her home
state of Alaska. She’d lost her stepfather in high
school and couldn’t afford college, so she’d signed up for the G.I. bill
hoping to study to be a nurse. She was
freckle-faced with bright red hair and blue eyes as clear as the sky, but she
was too young, in his opinion, to be in this war. She was unprepared for the
death and destruction at such a young age.
Because of this, Shane had worried she couldn’t hack it in Afghanistan and,
against protocol, had kept a close eye on her.
“It won’t be the same without you here, Sir,” she
mumbled quietly, but Shane could see the fear written across her face. Laying
his pen down, he stood from his desk in the infirmary and looked down at her.
She stood erect, at attention, just as she had been trained to do, yet it
seemed unnatural for someone so young. The civilian in Shane wanted to reach
out to the frightened girl, but military regulations forbid fraternization with
“You’ll be okay,”
he responded, hoping like hell that he was right. “Stay alert and keep close to
Tears pooled in her eyes, but she took a deep
breath and held them back. Seeing that, Shane had to bite his lip to keep from
wrapping her in a brotherly hug.
Jesus, she should be back home on a date, not
tending to the wounded.
“Will you write?” she asked with hopefulness in
her big, blue eyes. “I mean, will you keep in touch with the unit?”
“You bet. I’ll send the whole unit pictures of the
bears we have back home.”
Private Sloan smiled then dipped her head, shoring
up the nerve to ask him something.
“Um, I was wondering, when I come home, do you
think I could, ah, come up and visit you?” she finally asked, the crush she had
on him shining in her eyes.
Shane took a deep breath before he spoke; he
didn’t want to lead her on. He was twelve years her senior and didn’t see her
as a woman; he saw her as a kid sister. Most men would have seen the offer in
her eyes and jumped at the chance to sleep with an attractive, young woman, but
Shane wasn’t like most men. War had changed him. He’d intended to be career
military, but after ten years in the Army, he’d seen the senseless killing
firsthand and now couldn’t wait to return to Trails End and settle down with a
woman. He would find someone soft and warm, someone with a backbone who could
give as good a she got, and get on with
his life. No more sand, blood, or death for him. He’d go to work for Max
Hunter, build that cabin he always dreamed of
and raise a brood of kids. He’d live life
free and easy, away from blood and death, with a good woman by his side.
“My door’s always open to a former soldier. If you
need me for anything, you only have to ask,” he replied, hoping she understood
that she would always be a friend, but nothing more.
He saw her smile falter slightly, but she
recovered quickly, nodding her head.
“Thank you, Sir,” she answered, then stepped back,
saluted him, and waited for him to return the respect given.
Just as Shane raised his own salute, an explosion could be heard in the distance. The
popping sound of M240s reverberated in the smoldering heat, and Shane turned on
his heel and hit the ground running out of the triage tent with Private Sloan
Barking out orders as he went, he saw his team
begin loading into the RG 33 armored ground ambulance, ready to assist with the
injured. Shane headed for the driver’s seat while searching the melee for
Private Sloan. He found her wrestling with supplies and ordered her to ride
shotgun. Whenever they assisted ground forces under attack, he kept her close.
She was the youngest of his unit and the most inexperienced. She’d joined the
military to get an education, not to die at the age of nineteen, and he
intended to keep her alive so she could follow those dreams.
Shane threw the armored vehicle into drive and
took off behind a support platoon heading for the action. He could see mortar
fire in the distance and his heart rate sped up. The damage 81 mm ammo could do
to a body turned his blood cold, and he took a deep breath for what was to
He’d seen enough death and destruction to last two
lifetimes and wondered each time they
were called to action if his luck would run out. The sense of impending doom
was stronger now with his deployment over and his returning stateside just days
away. He couldn’t shake the feeling that if he didn’t tread lightly, something
would happen. Because of that, his survival instincts had kicked in harder than
ever before. For himself, as well as for the men and women under his command.
Keeping his attention focused on the vehicle in
front of him, he strained to see when a flash of light in the distance lit up
the cloudy sky. He braked hard when the truck thirty meters in front swerved
suddenly and then flipped as an explosion blinded him. He sat stunned as he
took in the devastation around him. The mangled heap that had once been a
military transport now lay smoldering with the bodies of injured soldiers lying
scattered on the ground.
Shane gunned the engine and drove the armored
ambulance in front of the men to protect them from further harm. Then he and
his men bailed out to help retrieve the injured.
Not about to allow Sloan to exit the vehicle while
they were under attack, he ordered, “Ready the IVs while we Evac the injured,”
as she sat wide-eyed in the front seat.
One by one they assessed who could be saved and whom
they’d already lost, then carried them back to the ambulance. Their mobile
Medivac could handle a triage of six, but Shane wasn’t leaving without their
fallen brothers, so he ordered his men to retrieve those who had died. They’d
made it thirty feet when the thunder of an IED shook the earth. Shane shouted
for his men to drop to the dirt then covered his own head and kissed his ass good-bye while seconds passed like hours. The
explosion that followed knocked him senseless, spewing shrapnel into the air.
Hot metal burned his arms and face as fragments rained down on his unit. He
could hear his men shouting as the dust cleared, and then bit by agonizing bit,
he turned his head toward the explosion that had rocked the earth. The heat
from the fire scorched his eyes, but he couldn’t look away. The RG 33, along
with Sloan and the rest of the injured, was obliterated.
The air was crisp the day
Private Emma Jane Sloan came home for the last time. Shane had stayed with her
the entire trip, escorting her back to Alaska. Her family was waiting on the
tarmac when the plane touched down; he knew them immediately. The shock of red
hair and bright blue eyes told him
exactly who her mother was.
From the window, he watched in solemn silence as
her mother placed her hand on her daughter’s coffin and wept. Shane turned his
head, unable to watch when she broke down, her legs giving out as her wails of
heartbreak bounced around the plane’s fuselage. It was a sight he wouldn’t
forget as long as he lived; a sight he knew was his fault.
He should have ordered Sloan to stay on base.
She’d had no business in Afghanistan and
he knew it. He should have pressed his superiors about transferring her, but he
hadn’t. She’d been determined to pull her weight and become a valuable soldier
in the Army, so he’d kept an eye on her instead of listening to that inner
voice that told him to transfer her to a desk job.
Her death was on him and no one else.
Shane deplaned as the honor guard readied
themselves to escort Private Sloan to the back of a hearse. As he made his way
down the steps, dark auburn hair the color of rich mahogany caught his
attention. Dressed in a black wrap dress and standing behind Sloan’s mother was
a petite woman with devastated pale-green eyes. When he made it to the bottom
step, the woman turned her anguished face
in his direction, and their eyes locked and held. A burn deep in his gut began
to eat its way up his chest, constricting his lungs, as her eyes seemed to
burrow into his soul, piercing his heart. Then her gaze softened as if she
could read his tortured mind, and her bottom lip began to tremble.
recognized her immediately; she was Private Sloan’s older sister. Sloan had
shown him her picture once and spoken briefly about the woman who was nine
years her senior. She’d told him with pride that she was a court appointed
child advocate who counseled and evaluated custody for children who were under
Child Protective Services' care.
Having those pale-green eyes turned his way with
something akin to sorrow for him, reminded Shane that when he’d seen her picture, he’d thought she was sexy as hell. The
kind of sexy that told a man she’d get
off on being on her knees while his hand guided her mouth, but wouldn’t take
shit from him either. The kind of sexy that said she’d partner with him in life, bear his children gladly, and do it all while warming his bed with enthusiasm. The type of woman he’d wanted to find when he came
home after ten years in the military. However, that was then and this was now.
Everything had changed. What dreams he may have had were in a holding pattern.
He knew he couldn’t move forward with his life until he conquered his demons
and learned to live with the guilt.
Shane turned his attention away from hers and then
moved to stand with the other officers. When it was time to load the casket
into the hearse, he sharply raised his hand in salute to the girl who had been
more kid sister than soldier in his mind. As he
stood locked in place, watching as her flag-covered coffin slipped silently
into the back, he remembered Sloan’s blue eyes smiling, her face lit up with
laughter. He could hear her voice saying, “Sir,” as the doors slammed shut, and
his hands shook at the memory. Even though the weather was cool, sweat ran down
his back as he tried to gain control of his tattered
soul. He was hanging on by a thread and he knew it.
Once Sloan’s coffin was loaded, her mother and
sister turned toward the line of officers. What they did next almost took Shane
to his knees. Both women shored up their backbone in the face of Emma Jane’s
death and presented a united front to Shane and the other officers; saluting
back for their fallen daughter and sister.
Shane squeezed his eyes shut to block out the
sight. When he opened them again, he met soft, pale-green eyes. Eyes that held
sorrow and understanding. Eyes that told him she would forgive him for her
sister’s death even if he couldn’t forgive himself.
When those same eyes started moving closer to him,
their intent clear, Shane instantly broke from their pull and stepped back from
the formation. Then he turned without another glance and headed for the airport
and a bottle of whiskey.
Friday, August 7, 2015
Swirling blue and red lights danced across the bricks outside of St. Elmo’s Fire. The dancing lights only intensified Kade’s pounding head as he was shoved into the backseat of a police cruiser. Six hundred minutes. That’s all it took ex-SEAL Kade Kingston to find trouble his first day home. He’d managed to survive covert operations in the hostile mountains of Afghanistan, only to be brought down by a baseball bat.
“Jesus, what a clusterfuck,” Kade groaned, leaning back against the seat.
“My brother didn’t kill anyone,” Kyle shouted from outside the car. “He’s a war hero for Christ’s sake.”
“Kyle!” Kade barked from the open door before they closed it, “call Prez before they fly out.”
“I thought you said they were leaving for an eighteen month deployment?”
“They are, but I need them to know what’s happening before they leave.”
The door slammed on his words. Kyle put his hand up to the cruiser’s window as the officer climbed in the front, so Kade did the same. He and Kyle were close; had looked out for each other since the day they’d watched their mother walk away.
Kade held his brother’s eyes as the cruiser pulled away. When he lost sight of him, he closed his eyes to the pounding in his head. “Jesus. Six hundred fuckin’ minutes is all it took for trouble to find me. Seems like old times,” Kade mumbled.
Thinking back over the night, he knew if he had the first five hundred minutes back, he would have only had one drink instead of the multiple shots the bar patrons had bought to welcome him home. He’d have been clear headed then and would have forced Sutton into telling him what the hell was going on with him. As it stood now, he and his old friend were dead in the water—literally and figuratively.
Six hundred minutes, that’s all it took to lose everything he’d worked so hard for, including his freedom.
Eighteen months later . . .
“You’ve been listening to Born Under A Bad Moon by Thieving Birds. It’s the top of the hour at TK 101 and time to bring you up to the minute on breaking news, weather, and sports. First up, the murder trial of Kade Kingston came to a close late last night. A Jury of his peers found him guilty of the 2013 murder of Stan Sutton. Kingston, a local war hero and former friend of the deceased, is said to have stabbed Sutton during an altercation behind St. Elmo’s Fire bar. The stabbing took place on the same night Kingston returned home after serving twelve years in the Navy to care for his ailing grandfather. Witnesses said the two had words inside the bar, and then a short time later, when Sutton left, Kingston followed. Sutton was found stabbed to death behind St. Elmo’s Fire after Kingston stumbled back into the bar holding the murder weapon. Kingston pleaded not guilty, insisting there were three unknown men in the alley besides him. The prosecution argued the defendant had a prior history of aggression with the deceased and no evidence to corroborate his claim that three unknown assailants committed the crime. After eight hours of deliberation, Kingston was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to fifteen years at Renault Correctional Facility, a minimum-security prison an hour outside of Pensacola. Kingston’s former SEAL team was contacted for comment, but are currently on assignment and unable to respond. . .”
“That’s a travesty of justice if I ever saw one. Kingston’s trial was rushed through the courts quicker than a whore in a room full of Johns. A jury of his peers?” my dad scoffed as he angrily switched off the radio. “A jury of his peers would have been twelve men who’d fought by his side in Afghanistan. What the hell do civilians know about military men?”
“Nothing,” I answered my hold-nothing-back-speak-his-mind-don’t-shit-a-bullshitter father as I switched on the coffee pot in my office. My dad, a former Navy man himself, believed in Kingston’s innocence from the first moment we’d heard about the murder. He’d dealt with Kade on several occasions when he’d come into our auto repair shop over the years and didn’t believe for a minute that he was guilty.
“That’s right. Nothin’. If Kingston said he followed Sutton outside because he was acting like a man with the devil on his back, and found him being attacked by three men, then that’s how it happened.”
“But they found no evidence that anyone else was in the alley,” I argued, playing devil’s advocate like I always did when the topic of whether or not Kade Kingston was a killer was brought up.
“Then how do you explain the lump and the blood on the back of his head, Harley? Did he shove his own head into a wall to make himself look innocent?”
“No. He was attacked from behind just like he said he was,” I answered without hesitation.
“Damn straight he was attacked from behind. It was sloppy police work that convicted Kingston,” Dad seethed.
“Right. Sloppy police work and no witnesses to verify what actually happened in that alley.”
“It’s bullshit, that’s what it is. SEALs serve with honor and integrity on and off the battlefield. There’s no way he took anyone’s life unless it was during combat. You mark my words, Harley. When his team gets back, they’ll find out the truth about what happened that night. Kingston may have been a bit of a tomcat in his youth, but he’s no killer.”
I nodded in agreement because I hoped like heck that he was right about Kade’s former SEAL team coming to the rescue. Why? Because Kade Kingston was, or is, basically, the man of my dreams and had been since I was sixteen years old. Unfortunately, for me, he didn’t know I existed.
He was an all-around wild child who’d enlisted in the military straight out of high school. He’d been a badass and a blatant womanizer in his youth, but he was no killer. At least not in my father’s eyes—or mine for that matter.
The first time I met Kade was in high school. Or, more accurately, the first time I met Kade, he knocked me on my ass. It happened during a fight on the football field. One he’d started after an offensive lineman from my own Milton High School—a small town outside Pensacola where Whiting Naval Airfield was located—had cheap shot him during a play. Punches were thrown as both sides joined in the melee, which ended up on the sidelines just as my cheer squad had lifted me to the top of a pyramid. To this day, I don’t know how I managed to escape injury.
The fight crashed into our tower of pom-poms, so I, of course, came tumbling down, landing on top of the players. When the dust finally settled, a large lineman was pulled from on top of me and the hand that reached out to help me was attached to Kade. He’d been big in high school; looked more like a college player than the junior he was at the time. Suited out in his pads and helmet, he’d looked more like Goliath to my sixteen-year-old self. When I took his hand to stand up, he’d grinned sheepishly at me and mumbled, “Sorry,” as he helped me to my feet. To this day, I still remember how my heart skipped a beat at that smile being turned in my direction.
I’d noticed him, of course, before the game started; he was hard to miss considering he towered over the other players. But when he’d helped me up and our eyes met, as he smiled that sheepish grin, I was determined to learn his name.When the game was over, I asked a cheerleader I knew from his high school and that’s how I learned his name. And his reputation. But that didn’t stop me. He may have been known as a troublemaker, one most parents wanted their daughters to stay away from, but that grin and apology told me all I needed to know. Deep down, he was a good person; he was just misunderstood.
I’ve always believed you can’t change the core of someone. Either you’re born with a good heart or you’re not. Kade may have had a rough childhood—according to the papers, he’d been raised by his grandfather after both his parents took off—but rough or not, I was certain that deep down at his core he was a good man. I saw that about Kade immediately. So I didn’t care about the rumors and went looking for him before his team loaded their bus. Unfortunately, when I found him, he was in a group of players celebrating their win with a girl wrapped around him. Disappointed, he had a girlfriend, and secretly crushed he hadn’t had the same reaction to me when our eyes locked, I’d walked away. I never forgot about him, though. Any time I ran into someone from his school, I’d inquire about him. Each time we played his school in any sports I looked for him at the games. It was always the same, though: he’d be surrounded by his friends and have some curvy girl hanging all over him.
High school ended for Kade a year before me and he left Pensacola. I thought I’d never see him again and moved on, but even so, he always hung in the recesses of my mind, popping up from time to time when I would think about the type of man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Every man seemed to pale in comparison to the memory of that boy with the grin.
Years passed by and I’d almost forgotten about my muse when he popped back into my world for a brief heart-stopping moment. My dad owned an auto and bike repair shop just outside Milton near Whiting Field. Kade owned a bike and he’d driven into the forecourt of my dad’s repair shop looking for a part for his bike. He’d been on leave from the Navy. He was Special Forces by then, which made him even more of a badass than he’d been in high school, and was heading to Whiting Field to fly out for another mission when he stopped in. I was in the office handling the accounts receivable when I heard the deep rumble of his pipes. I stood to see who had arrived and watched with fascination as he slung his long, muscled leg over his bike. I recognized him immediately and froze in place; a trance like state overcame my body as I tried to remember to breathe. He approached my dad and shook his hand. While they were talking, he’d turned his head and caught sight of me at the window. He’d paused in mid-sentence when he saw me, almost as if he recognized me as I did him. A slow grin pulled across his mouth and he jerked his chin in acknowledgment before I could duck in humiliation at having been caught drooling like a lovesick fool.
When he turned back to my dad, I drank in his body and all that had changed since high school. From the top of his dark-brown, cropped short hair, to the strong shadowed jaw with a day’s old growth, further down to his lean waist, supported by muscled thighs, all the way down to his standard-issue military boots. His eyes were as dark as his hair and they told a story. A story that said he’d been exposed to horrors that most would never encounter in their lifetime. But his smile . . . his smile was still the same sheepish grin that haunted my dreams. His dark looks and haunted eyes, coupled with his powerful body and natural masculine grace, spelled out badass perfection in Navy fatigues. And everything about him made my body hum.
I went to move so I could introduce myself, but once again, as if the fates were determined we never officially meet, he left before I could. He’d looked at his watch and stopped my father while he was talking, pointing at the time. He clapped my dad on the back then looked over his shoulder at me one last time before climbing on his bike. He drove away as I stood rooted to the spot, and that was the last time I’d seen Kade before he was arrested for the murder of Stan Sutton.
“Did you hear? He’s going to that prison where you train your dogs,” Dad mumbled, breaking me from my thoughts.
“I caught that,” I replied as I switched on my computer to get ready for another day at Dirty Harry’s Auto Repair.
“You know a man like Kingston would be a good candidate to help rehabilitate one of your abused dogs.”
“He would, but he’s got to prove to the prison counselor that he isn’t a threat before he can be considered for the program. That could take up to six months.”
“Do your old man a favor and see if you can push it through faster.”
“I can try, Dad, but Kade has to want to help. If his heart isn’t in it, he won’t be successful with the dog he’s assigned.”
Placing both hands on my shoulders, my father leaned in, becoming deadly serious for a moment.
“A man like Kingston, one who’s used to leading soldiers into battle, isn’t gonna shy away from the challenge of rehabilitating a dog. Promise me you’ll try to push it through. Kingston’s been stripped of his identity and his rights. Placed behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. He’ll withdraw and focus on the wrong that’s been done to him, Harley. He’ll lose himself in the hate; you gotta keep him in the light until this mess can be straightened out by his team.”
“What makes you so sure that his team will come?”
“Leave no man behind, baby girl. It’s a code among all military men. SEALs are intensely loyal to each other, all the way down to a newborn baby. Once a SEAL, always a SEAL. They won’t leave him behind to rot in prison; you’ll see, as soon as they can break free, they’ll be here. In the meantime, you work on getting him approved for IDTP and keeping him focused on something besides hate.”
IDTP was a dog-training program I had heard about on the news years ago. I’d sought them out and became a volunteer. You see, I’d wanted to be a Veterinarian growing up; had planned to attend veterinary school after high school. But I never attended because my mother became ill my senior year and I’d stayed home to care for her. Then my father needed me. My mother had always handled my dad’s books and when she became ill, I had to step in. After graduation, my friends left Milton for college and never returned while I stayed behind working in my father’s garage and caring for my dying mother. I wouldn’t have changed a thing; being with my mother at the end of her life was the only place I wanted to be. However, in the time since my mother’s passing, only two things had changed in my life.
One) I’d been married for two years at the age of twenty-four to a man who was more of an escape than the love of my life. I’d met Mike at a time when I was restless and missing my mother fiercely. He was two years older and he made me laugh so we naturally assumed marriage was the next step. I’d seen my friends leave and start their lives while I was still in the same house with the same job, watching my life speed by without me. So when Mike casually said we should get married, I accepted. Fortunately, we’d both seen the error in marrying for the wrong reasons and divorced amicably. In fact, we were still friends to this day.
I still felt restless though, as if trapped in an endless cycle of time passing me by while I watched others live their lives. At least I was wise enough now to direct my restless frustration in a direction that helped others as opposed to jumping into another loveless relationship.
I still felt restless though, as if trapped in an endless cycle of time passing me by while I watched others live their lives. At least I was wise enough now to direct my restless frustration in a direction that helped others as opposed to jumping into another loveless relationship.
Two) Three days a week, I traveled to Renault Correctional Facility and helped inmates train abused and neglected dogs so they can be adopted by good families. The Inmate Dog Training Program saved one canine at a time while also teaching inmates life and job skills that would help them when they reentered society. I’d been volunteering for five years now and it gave my life a purpose besides balancing books.
“Well? Will you try and rush through Kade’s acceptance to the program?”
Nodding my head in agreement, I grabbed my father’s hands and squeezed once before replying.
“I promise, Dad. I’ll drag him kicking and screaming into the program if I have to.”
My dad didn’t have to ask me to intervene, though, as soon as I’d heard he was heading to Renault, I’d already made a mental note to request Kade for IDTP. He’d be a perfect candidate. Someone like Kade would take great care of a dog that had known nothing but a life of neglect and abuse. And the dog would give Kade something to focus on besides the fact that he was behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. Now, all I had to do was push it through and pray I could actually talk to the man when we finally came face to face.
Six months later . . .
Grenades exploded around Kade as he watched Sutton slump to the ground. The smell of cordite burned his lungs and eyes as he tried to reach his fallen brother. Two enemy soldiers had taken him out; one held Sutton’s arms behind his back while the other shoved a knife deep into his chest. Reacting to the sight of his fallen brother, Kade’s boots hit the pavement as his long legs ate up the distance from the bar to where Sutton lay dying. His thundering shout alerted the enemy of his approach, but he was prepared to handle them both. With his eyes trained on the man holding the knife, he didn’t see the third man until he felt the blow to the back of his head. Crumbling to the ground, dazed, he watched Sutton reach out his hand as blood dripped from his mouth. Moments later, his eyes closed slowly for the last time while Kade lost his own battle with consciousness.
Bolting upright, drawing deep breaths into his lungs, then letting them out slowly, Kade tried to shake the dream he’d had almost nightly since Sutton’s murder. It was always the same; two deadly nights intertwined into one: the night they’d infiltrated a cave in Afghanistan, where grenades flew and bodies piled up, and the night Sutton ran out the back door of St. Elmo’s Fire like he’d seen a ghost.
Turning on his cot, he placed his feet on the floor of his 6x8 cell. He looked around at the dimly lit cage, he called home, and his mind drifted back to that fateful night like it always did when he woke from the dream. It had been two years since Sutton’s murder and a little over six months since he’d been found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit.
He’d left Pensacola and joined the Navy to escape his wild youth, only to land right back in the thick of it without even trying. A former rebel without a clue, he was lucky he didn’t have little Kade juniors running all over Florida. After too many narrow escapes, he’d only seen one option to keep from being another sad statistic of a broken home: join the military and make something of his life instead of ending up dead by the time he was thirty from booze, drugs, or both.
His father had abandoned them when he was five and his brother Kyle was two. His mother couldn’t hack being a single parent at the age of twenty-five so she’d walked out as well. She’d left to relive her youth with only a phone call to his paternal grandfather saying, “I’m outta here, come get the boys.” She hadn’t bothered to look back in twenty-seven years. His dad had made an appearance once every five years or so to borrow money from his grandfather, until one day he didn’t. No one had heard from him in ten years and Kade’s guess was, he overdosed without I.D on him and was buried somewhere in a John Doe's grave.
This was why Kade had acted out in his youth. Nothing screamed abandonment issues and reckless behavior like being left high and dry by your parents. He’d felt that betrayal to his core and let everyone see it until the day he shipped off to boot camp. Except for his grandfather and brother Kyle, who he’d protected fiercely while growing up, he had nothing but bad memories of his childhood in Pensacola and had not intended to return. No, he’d intended to be career military and had worked his way up to Chief Ensign 2nd Class when he’d gotten a phone call from his brother, saying Pops, his grandfather, had cancer, and he needed to come home. Hearing that, he’d taken a 30-day leave of absence and hopped on a plane. When he arrived home and saw his fragile grandfather in a hospital bed, he knew he couldn’t turn his back on the man. He owed his grandfather more respect than a visit once a year while he fought for his life. So, after twelve years in the Navy, and his re-up just a few short months away, he returned to base and informed his commanding officer of his plans and filed for discharge. Sixty days later, he’d packed his bags, said good-bye to his team, and returned home to Pensacola and the life he’d left behind.
When he returned and stepped off the plane, he realized the angry young man he’d been when he left, hell-bent on never returning, had been trained out of him. He was now a lethal fighting machine with the patience of Job, one who had buried his demons through discipline. Being home for good had surprisingly felt right, and for the first time in his life, he pictured a family with a white picket fence instead of a career protecting his country.
That dream had been short lived.
He’d gone out with his brother for one drink his first night back, but one shot after another had been bought for him by bar patrons as a thank you for his service, and he’d over indulged. When Sutton came into the bar, a man he’d gone to high school with, he remembered he’d pissed the guy off when he’d nailed a girl he was sweet on. The result of his youthful indiscretion had ended in a fight that Kade had easily won. Wanting a clean slate now that he was home for good, he’d tried to talk to Sutton. Instead of allowing Kade to buy him a drink and shake hands for old times’ sake, Sutton had been on edge, belligerent, wanted to be left alone. He sure as hell didn’t care that they had feuded in high school, so Kade had backed off. But Kade’s training told him something was off with Sutton; that he might be in trouble. Out of habit, he kept an eye on his old friend and noticed immediately from across the bar when Sutton turned ghostly pale. Before Kade could turn to see who or what had spooked his friend, Sutton had left quickly out the back door. Kade being Kade, which meant he was a SEAL to the core, he’d followed Sutton out of concern. Followed him right into an ambush he hadn’t seen coming because his focus was off from one too many shots. Now, Sutton was dead and Kade was in prison for a crime he didn’t commit
The police had pinned the murder on him from the moment they’d arrived, and Kade had been helpless to stop them. No bail had been set since he was a flight risk due to his military training, and with his grandfather sick, they couldn’t afford to hire a defense attorney. He’d been left to the mercy of a public defender who was wet behind the ears and didn’t believe in his innocence. And why should he? Kade had handed himself over to the police on a silver platter.
Stunned by the blow to the back of his head, he’d stumbled back into the bar, holding the murder weapon. Between the booze and his dazed state, he hadn’t been thinking; he’d been in seek-and-destroy mode and the knife was his only weapon. The killers hadn’t returned of course; they’d left him to take the blame for Sutton’s murder instead. And the police had all but tied a bow around his neck as a present to the States Attorney.
Stretching his tight limbs after being forced to sleep on a cot that was too short for him, Kade moved to his sink and turned on the water. Considering some of the desolate places he’d slept during his career, a cot with minimal padding, and a blanket to boot, was civilized in his book. Hell, he had running water, a toilet that flushed, and three squares a day. If it weren’t for the fucking bars, lack of women, and not being able to see how his grandfather was doing, Kade would think he was on vacation.
“You up, King?”
Turning at the sound of Cooter Hays’ voice, Kade responded. “I’m up, old man.”
Cooter was a lifer, had been inside since 1985 for the premeditated murder of his wife’s lover—a murder that most men could understand. You don’t piss in another man’s backyard; if you did . . . all bets were off.
Cooter’s cell was next to Kade’s; when they were locked in, the man kept him company with his tall-tales whether Kade wanted to hear them or not.
“Did I ever tell you about the time my cousin Jim-Bob and I stole the sheriff’s car and took it for a joyride?”
Moans could be heard from the surrounding cells. Cooter’s story about the time he stole the sheriff’s car when he and his cousin were thirteen had been told no less than twenty times since Kade had been in prison.
Smiling, Kade responded, “No, Cooter, I don’t think I’ve heard that one.”
The resounding “Fucks” made Kade chuckle. No one would say a word in defiance to The king, as they had dubbed him, if he wanted to hear Cooter’s story again. Once word spread he was an ex-SEAL, he was given a wide berth. Not even Fat Bastard, the prison godfather, had looked at Kade sideways.
“See, Jim-Bob had this crazy idea. He figured if we stole the sheriff’s car and then drove it down to Atlanta, we could ditch it, take a bus back home, and no one would be the wiser.”
“What’d he do that made you want to steal his car?” Kade asked with a grin in his voice.
“The bastard caught us shooting off fireworks in the park and took them from us.”
“That’s all?” Kade asked. “You just shot off fireworks?”
“Well now, it mighta had somethin’ to do with the fact that we shot them off in the back seat of his cruiser.”
“It mighta,” Kade agreed.
“Or . . . it mighta had somethin’ to do with the fact he wasn’t alone and had his hand shoved up Mrs. Murphy’s shirt.”
On cue, Kade laughed at the story. Then he genuinely laughed when more groans could be heard from around the cellblock.
The sound of the steel door being buzzed open alerted everyone to morning roll call. Kade finished dressing, then walked to the front of his cell so he could be seen and counted. When his cell buzzed open, he dipped his head so his six-foot-four frame could clear the opening, then waited as old Cooter shuffled out of his cell into the common room.
At sixty-eight, Cooter was the oldest prisoner on the block. Which, in Kade’s opinion, afforded him respect. Kade let him lead while he followed the plump man with gray hair and a hunched back.
“Kingston,” Gerald Daily, one of the prison guards, shouted. Kade paused at his name, turned, and looked back at the man.
“You’re to report to Hinkle before breakfast.”
“Why? My regular counseling day is Wednesday.”
“Don’t know, didn’t ask.”
“Gotta rid you of those demons, boy,” Cooter chuckled.
Looking back at the old man, Kade flashed a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I don’t have any demons, Cooter.”
“If you believe that then you’ve got more than I thought,” the old man grumbled.
That hit closer to home than Kade wanted to admit, and for the first time since meeting the old man, Kade let his anger show.
“Yeah? You’d have demons, too, Cooter, if you killed as many men as I have.”
“Well, I’d say that’s the most honest thing you’ve said to me since walking into this place.”
“Save it old man,” he growled low, “I don’t need to be psychoanalyzed.”
Furious for losing control, he shoved past the old man and headed toward Daily, who handcuffed him in preparation to leave the cellblock. After a ten-minute walk through locked door after locked door, which put an exclamation point on his sudden foul mood, they reached Hinkle’s office. Daily knocked, waited for the counselor to answer, then opened the door and escorted him in. Kade was surprised to find a woman sitting in Hinkle’s office when he cleared the door. He was even more surprised when she stood, turned, and faced him. Christ, she wasn’t just a woman; she was Kade’s wet dream, one he’d dreamt about on and off since high school and was completely off limits because she was married.
Harley Dash Jordan.
Kade scanned her long legs, large, soft breasts, dark blond hair that had been kissed by the sun, and big brown eyes that reached into his very soul and his breath froze just as it had every time he’d looked at her. She was beyond tempting to any man, but to him, she was a highly anticipated Christmas present he could never unwrap. He hadn’t seen her in eight years, but his reaction was still the same. Lust surged swiftly, like the current of a fast moving river, the moment those brown eyes hit him, and he took a step back.
He’d fantasized about Harley after he’d seen her on the football field his senior year. He knew she was too innocent for the likes of him so he’d let her be instead of pursuing her like every molecule in his body told him to do. But that hadn’t stopped the wet dreams. Then, years later, once he’d straightened out his life; he’d seen her at her father’s garage on his way out of town and cursed his rotten luck he wouldn’t be back for more than two years. When he had returned, he found out she was a month away from getting married and he’d cursed his rotten luck again. Now, he wanted to howl at the moon that she was standing in his presence when he hadn’t had a woman beneath him in over two years.
“Take a seat Kingston. There’s an opportunity to participate in a worthwhile program I want to discuss with you.”
Shaking his head before they could tempt him with forbidden fruit, fruit that would make his time here unbearable, he answered immediately.
“Whatever it is, the answer is no. Not if she’s involved.”
Saturday, July 25, 2015
Monday, April 13, 2015
To date, I have published twenty historical romances filled with “danger, passion, humor, and huge hulking heroes that take your breath away.” That, incidentally, was a quote from a review of my novel “Highlander’s Woman.” I, of course, wouldn’t have a clue about huge hulking men who took your breath away. I just created them.
My name is Nicola Grace Royse—though I write under the pen name Grace Martin—and I’m a romance novelist slash romance junkie slash eternal believer that love conquers all. I have been since I was old enough to understand a woman swooning would capture a knight's attention. I’m also a tiny bit dramatic in my thinking. For example, a purple flower is not a purple flower, but a violet colored masterpiece given to men from God in order to capture a lady’s heart. As I said, I’m dramatic.
As a child, I played with dolls and dreamed up magical lands where Prince Charming carried Barbie away on his trusty steed. As a teen, I didn’t date much because of my overprotective twin brothers. I had to satisfy my need for romance by devouring passionate novels where Barbie finally graduated to Guinevere and Ken became the Knights of the Round Table. Then, one day, I picked up a book about Scottish Highlanders. They were big, they were bold, and they wore a kilt with nothing underneath. If I could have transported myself back in time to the Highlands of Scotland and those sexy Scottish clansmen, I wouldn’t have hesitated. The mere thought of being manhandled and thrown over the shoulder of a gigantic Scotsman with a sexy brogue . . . well, it damn near occupied my every waking dream.
My love for the past earned me a bachelor’s degree in education, with a focus on medieval history. My love for history and the romance of it all, along with a healthy appetite for reading, found its way onto a word document one boring weekend in June when I was twenty-two. And the rest, as they say, was history.
All those years I played make-believe, read historical romances, and daydreamed about the perfect man who one-day would sweep me off my feet had translated into a bestseller by the time I was twenty-five. Unfortunately, for me, though, my strapping Highlander, Lowlander, or plain old Prince Charming had never made an appearance.
I’m thirty-two, and never been married—hell, I’d never even been close. Which, by the way, was a sore spot with my mother. She liked to blame my single status on the unrealistic characters I’d written about in my books.
“Nicola Grace Royse,” she always said, “men like that don’t exist, for goodness sake.”
I’d like to point out that my brothers still weren’t married either, yet she never seemed to worry about their single status.
“They’ll marry when they stop being boys and start being men,” she explained. I, however, had my doubts on whether or not they’d stop being boys.
My brother’s aside, I held out hope that one day I could prove my mother wrong. You see, like all good daughters in their twenties, I knew more than my mother did. Now, in my thirties, my biological clock ticked away, and the only thing I had to show for the last ten years was my books. Sadly, I’d come to the frightening realization that my mother, in fact, may have been right all along.
Part of the reason I haven’t found a man who appeals to me is because men aren’t raised to be men anymore, in my opinion. Gone are the take-the-bull-by-the-horns, never-say-die men legends are made of.
So, I write my own legends.
Men who are fearless, handsome, great between the sheets, love their women with all their hearts, and take care of them or die trying—Scottish Highlanders.
“Are you my Laird or my husband in this moment?”
“I am one and the same, wife.”
“‘Tis true. But right now, I prefer the gentle hand of my husband than that of my Laird.”
“Aye, you’ll get my gentle hand and my strong back, my love, as I drive into ghaeahtabaejt’apppppppppppp pppppppppppppp
“Oh, come on. Get off the keyboard, Snape!” I shouted at my feline child.
Snatching the offending orange tabby (who reminded me of Garfield on a good day) off my desk, I placed him on the floor just as the sound of liquid spilling and glass breaking grabbed my attention. My other cat, Simi, who was solid gray in color with big green eyes that reminded me of emeralds, had taken Snape’s place on my desk, knocking over my cup of coffee.
“Seriously, guys? I only had one coffee pod left and that was my favorite mug, you annoying cats.” Simi’s responding meow caught my attention so I answered, “Yes, I’m talking to you. Who else would I be talking to, huh?”
Lifting Simi into my arms, I kissed the ornery cat as I stood up to grab some paper towels. My office was located off my kitchen in the three-bedroom house I’d bought and renovated with the help of my brothers. Nestled in a quiet older neighborhood in midtown Tulsa, the Arts and Crafts bungalow had once been the home of my favorite romance author’s distant cousin. On his father’s side, twice removed—or so I’m told. Of course, hearing that, I just had to buy it. The large wraparound porch on the quiet street was a huge selling point as well. I could see myself sitting on a porch swing with a cup of coffee and a notebook plotting my novels as I watched the sun set in a clear Oklahoma sky.
When I hit the bestseller list, everyone thought that I’d take off for New York or Chicago. But there was no way I’d ever leave my family. Born and raised in a state where the skies are blue, people look you in the eyes when you walk down the street, and hold God, family, and country close to their hearts, I knew I’d never be happy in a fast-paced big city. So I stayed, even though my agent recommended I move.
Speaking of why I stayed—brothers only a sister could love.
Just as I walked into the kitchen to grab some paper towels to clean up Simi’s mess, my side door banged open and my brothers, known to all as Bo and Finn, came walking in. They treated my house as their own and came over unannounced whenever they felt like it. They owned their own construction company, specializing in home renovations, and had a large crew they supervised. This gave Bo and Finn the freedom to work when they wanted, and ample time to keep tabs on me, which, for some reason only known to them, they thought was necessary.
“Do either of you know how to knock?”
Bo, who liked to call himself the oldest of our threesome, responded with, “If we knock, we lose the element of surprise.”
“Element of surprise for what?” I asked, confused.
“Really, Nic?” Finn sighed with exaggeration as if speaking with a small child. “How else can we kick some guy’s ass for messing with our baby sister if he has fair warning?”
“Explain to me again why I put up with you two?”
“It’s the fraternal bond,” Finn explained, “and the fact that we’re so damn charming.”
Did I mention that not only were they my twin brothers, but I also happened to be born at the same time? Finn and Bo liked to refer to themselves as the twins since they’re identical, and that I just came along for the ride. However, technically, we’re triplets. Though, most days I don’t claim either.
I rolled my eyes at my frustrating, but lovable, brothers and I grabbed a handful of paper towels. I wasn’t about to agree with either of them—it would only feed their egos. However, they were right. They were charming in a Nordic, overbearing, Neanderthal kind of way.
Finn and Bo were tall, broad, and classically handsome with strong, square jaws, heavy brows, and big blue eyes that melted women’s hearts around the world. They could thank our Norwegian heritage for their good looks. All three of us had light blonde hair and fair skin, though I ended up with light-green eyes as opposed to their blue. Basically, Bo and Finn were Vikings, plundering and pillaging helpless maidens and trailing heartache in their wake.
As I walked to my desk to clean up the spilled coffee, Bo opened my refrigerator and started searching for food. I kept a well-stocked pantry and fridge just for my brothers. They were bottomless pits and it was easier to keep food in the house than it was to listen to them complain about my empty fridge.
Just as I finished picking up the broken glass, I heard the TV mounted over the rock fireplace in my living room turn on.
Instantly alert and slightly alarmed that they appeared to be settling in for a day of binge eating and sports, I turned towards my living room to get them out of my hair. I had too much work to do on my novel and wanted to write in peace. Besides, they had their own homes in which to veg, they didn’t need to do it on my new leather sofa. I hadn’t even vegged out on my new leather sofa yet. If anyone was getting crumbs on the cushions while devouring a bag of chips, it was going to be me.
Rounding the corner, I entered my living room with its kickass view of Swan Lake. Swan Lake wasn’t really a lake but a park directly across the street with a large pond that was home to swans.
Ready to insist that Frick and Frack make haste leaving my home, I stopped suddenly, the TV catching my attention. There was a news report showing police standing in a field on the west bank of the Arkansas River and a body bag being placed on a coroner's gurney. As shocking and sad as that was, it was, however, the man occupying the screen that caught my eye as much as the body bag. He was tall, dark, and dangerous-looking as he scowled at the cameras. He had a policeman’s shield clipped to his belt and I could see his weapon holstered at his hip. His hair was dark-brown, maybe even black, and styled in a not-so-standard issue policeman’s cut. It was longer than most men wore all over, but not on purpose. You could tell he just didn’t have time, or the inclination, to care if he kept it clipped short. Dressed in jeans, boots, and a black Henley Thermal covered in a black leather jacket, he stood out among the crowd of police officers. He was, in my opinion, the perfect romance novel hero and my writer’s mind started taking notes while the woman in me came alive.
“The body of a young woman was discovered overnight in a shallow grave. Police are withholding the name of the victim until family members are notified. This is the third body of a woman found in a shallow grave in the past sixteen months. The first two victims, twenty-five-year-old Lisa Kerns Flanagan of Bixby and twenty-nine-year-old Rosemarie McKenzie of Broken Arrow, were both found in shallow graves three months apart in 2014. Police are cautioning women to be aware of their surroundings when entering their cars and homes. The News on Six contacted the Tulsa Police Department, asking them to comment, but they have yet to respond. We’ll keep you up-to-date on any further developments concerning the discovery of what appears to be the third victim of whom police have dubbed “The Shallow Grave Killer,” here, on News Channel Six.”
“Those poor women.”
Intrigued on a creative level, since the story included an honest-to-goodness romance hero, I dashed to grab my notebook from my cluttered desk in order to write down the specifics of the case. I began this habit many years ago when I first started writing. There were pages of news reports, internet folly, and interactions with strangers to help spark my creativity. As I flipped through it, looking for a blank page, I sighed when I saw how full it was. I had a never-ending supply of other people’s lives to fuel my stories. Sadly, my own life, or lack thereof, gave me no inspiration. A writer writes what he or she knows, but since I had no real life experiences other than my books and friends, I had to steal snippets from other people’s lives to fuel my imagination.
“Meow,” Snape said from the comfort of my office chair as stood there, writing down my impressions of the cop and the terrifying murders of three women.
“Don’t mind me, Snape, I’ll just stand here and write. I wouldn’t want to disturb you while you lick your butt."
When I reached down to tickle his ears before I continued writing, a thought occurred to me and I paused. Maybe the reason I didn’t have a life, other than my books, was because the only conversations I'd had in months were with my cats and brothers. Not that you could qualify grunting and chewing as conversation per se (my brothers, not my cats).
I’d been so tied up writing, plotting stories, going to book signings, and researching Scottish history, that I couldn’t remember the last time I went out with my friends or on a date.
“How did this happen?” I asked in amazement. “I’ve turned into a spinster cat lady with no friends. Haven’t I, Simi?”
“Meow,” Simi agreed from her spot on my windowsill.
“Yeesh, you didn’t have to agree so quickly,” I argued on a sigh. “That’s it. After I finish this book, I’m taking some time off to have a life. I’m gonna get drunk, let my hair down, maybe even get laid by an honest to goodness man. That’s if I can find one that—”
“Bo!” Finn shouted from behind me, interrupting my private talk with Simi and Snape, “Nicola’s talking to her cats again.”
“What’s she saying this time?” Bo hollered back.
“Apparently, she thinks she’s gonna get drunk and then get laid.”
“Excellent, I could use a good workout. I haven’t beaten the shit out of a guy in years,” he answered.
“Would you guys grow up already? I’m not sixteen anymore,” I explained, exasperated as I pushed past Finn.
Finn followed on my heels, laughing, as I went into the kitchen in search of my phone to call Kasey.
“Sixteen or sixty, Nic, it’s our job to scare the shit out of your dates.”
“Considering every man I’ve met is as ridiculous as you and Bo, I don’t think you need to clean your brass knuckles just yet.”
“We polish them nightly, Nicola. As Dad always says, it’s better to be prepared than caught off guard.”
“Boys in men’s clothing, that’s what the two of you are,” I laughed as I picked up my cell phone and looked up Kasey’s number. “I have a book to finish today, so you two children have to leave. I can’t concentrate while you’re here.”
Once I’d found Kasey’s number, I hit call and put the phone to my ear as Finn roughed up the top of my head. Shoving his hand away, I grinned, and then turned my back on him while I listened to the call connect.
“May I ask who’s calling?”
“You know damn well who this is. My number's programmed under the name Amelia Earhart.”
“And just like you, she has gone missing.”
“Well, that’s about to change, starting today. I realized just now that I talk to my cats more than I talk to humans. As of today, after typing the words “The End” on “Highlander’s Pride,” I’m taking six months off to do nothing but reconnect with my family and friends.”
"Well, I’ll notify People Magazine that the hermit Grace Martin is coming out of hiding,” she chuckled.
“Fuck you,” I laughed.
“Fuck you, too,” Kasey giggled. “If you’re serious about taking a break, meet me for coffee at Gypsy’s, Tuesday at five thirty. Be there or be square.”
“Coffee it is. I’ll call the rest of the girls.”
“No need, we have a standing date for coffee every Tuesday and Thursday. We do Yoga on Thursdays at Om-klahoma before coffee, if you want to come.”
“I’m sorry I’ve been MIA, Kasey. It seems I got lost in fiction. But I’m turning over a new leaf as of today. From now on, I’m going to experience life as much as I write about it.”
“Baby steps, Nicola. You’ve been living in a cave for a while, you might need to adjust to the light first,” she laughed. “Just show on Tuesday and all will be forgotten.”
“I’ll be there, you can count on it. Why, a rugged Highlander couldn’t keep me from coming,” I vowed.
“Right, we both know that’s a lie,” she laughed.
Ha, she knew me too well.
“Ok, short of a kilt-wearing Highlander came forward in time to throw me over his shoulder, I’ll be there.
***“Vaughn! Get your ass in here.”
Detective Dallas Vaughn looked up from his desk and smirked at his partner, Bill Reed.
“Guess he heard,” Reed chuckled.
“Guess so,” Vaughn answered.
Vaughn rose from his chair, grabbed his gun, and shoved it into his holster as he made his way towards his lieutenant’s office. The lieutenant’s door was closed, further indicating how pissed off he was, seeing as they had been able to hear him bellowing from behind closed doors. Vaughn knocked and then entered before Lt. Dan Cross had a chance to answer.
“You wanted to see me?”
Lt. Cross was a huge black man with a bald head that sat on top of a squatty neck. A former linebacker for the University of Tulsa, he kept his bulk while moving up the ranks. He had a degree in criminology and a sharp mind, but he also had a temper.
“Didn’t I tell you to keep your fuckin’ distance from Hernandez?”
Vaughn leaned against the door frame and crossed his arms over his wide chest. At six foot three, Vaughn wasn’t a small man, but he was leaner than Cross. Lean, like the former wide receiver he had been for the University of Oklahoma. Vaughn also had a degree in criminology. However, unlike his boss, he had no desire to work his way up the ranks. He preferred hunting down the bad guys to administrative duties.
“It was just a coincidence that I happened to be invited to a party at his next-door neighbor’s house.”
“You don’t have any friends, Vaughn. How in the hell did you get invited to the Assistant District Attorney’s house?”
“Tickets to next year’s Oklahoma—Texas game.”
Cross narrowed his eyes at Vaughn, and just when Dallas thought his boss would blow his top, a slow grin pulled across his mouth.
“Are you telling me you bribed the ADA so you could sit in his backyard and watch his scumbag, wife-murdering neighbor?”
Vaughn’s lips twitched, but he held his smile. “No, I offered to give him my Oklahoma—Texas tickets because I heard he was serving hamburgers. As for Hernandez,” he growled the name, “he’s an innocent until proven guilty scumbag, wife-murdering neighbor.”
Hernandez, the owner of Hernandez Plastics, was under indictment for the murder of his wife. According to Hernandez, she slipped while holding a knife and it somehow managed to bury itself into her heart. Originally, from Honduras, he was a flight risk and they all knew it. Vaughn had been keeping closer tabs on Hernandez than the law allowed, according to the restraining order Hernandez had filed against Vaughn.
Technically, he stayed far enough away from the man. However, when Hernandez willingly came into Vaughn’s space in the ADA’s front yard, the restraining order was null and void. That’s how Hernandez ended up with a black eye and a busted lip. Vaughn was just defending himself, per the witness statements.
“Were the hamburgers good?” Cross asked.
“Rare, just like I like them,” Vaughn replied.
Both men grinned at each other for a moment, but Cross lost his jovial attitude quickly.
“All right, enough about that scumbag. Get your ass out of my office and go find me that goddamned Shallow Grave sonofabitch.”
Vaughn’s eyes went blank at the mention of the killer. Dallas had had to notify the family of Stacy Lynn White-Cline when the dental records came back as a match this afternoon. He was itching to find that bastard. Dallas could still hear her mother’s wailing in his head.
“I’ll find him,” Dallas vowed, “then I’ll send him straight to hell.”
“You’ll find him and hand him over to the DA, that’s what you’ll do,” Cross bit out, leaning across his desk.
Dallas’ jaw tightened, and he nodded once. Turning on his heels, he gritted his teeth, trying not to think about the single mother and the way they’d found her two nights earlier. He knew from experience, after six years in homicide, if you didn’t leave that shit at the office you’d burn out quickly. Unfortunately for him, he never listened and burned a candle at both ends.
Vaughn was a bit of a maverick and did what he had to do to solve a case. If it meant long hours, so be it. All he'd ever wanted to be was a cop. To catch the bad guys and make it safe for law-abiding citizens, no matter the means. He was thirty-four and had a failed marriage under his belt because of his dedication to the job, that, and because Brynne couldn’t keep her legs closed to other men. Most days he was tired, frustrated, and needed a vacation. However, he had no reason to go home and the world was getting sicker by the day, so he kept working.
With another body in the morgue, and the only evidence they had being the fact that the first two women frequented dating sites, according to their families, and traces of crude oil were found on their bodies, the trail was stone cold on the Shallow Grave Killer.
Making his way back to his desk, he searched for Sian Davies, a rookie detective, Dallas’ mood was as gray as the walls in their office. Every officer in his division was in a bad mood with the discovery of a third victim and wanted in on the case so they could nail that sonofabitch to the wall. Dallas and his partner, Bill Reed, were lead investigators on the case, but half his division were out running down all possible leads.
Catching Sian at the coffee pot, Dallas called out to her. “Sian, I need you to call over to Missing Persons and ask them for a list of women between the ages of twenty and forty. I don’t trust this new computer software, since it has more bugs in it than the Kremlin. Ask them for a hard copy and make several copies when you get it.”
Nodding her reply, he watched as she moved to her desk and pick up the phone before he sat down in his chair.
“Let me in on what you’re thinking?’’ Reed asked Vaughn as he sat down.
“All three victims were blonde. Two could be a coincidence, but three feels like an MO. I want to compare any missing women that match the descriptions of our three victims and see if they were visiting online dating sites.”
Nodding in agreement, Bill Reed, a twenty-year veteran of the Tulsa Police Department and father of four, powered up his computer and stood with his coffee cup.
“Better refuel. Sounds like it’s gonna be a long night,” Reed mumbled, motioning to Dallas’ empty cup.
“I’m not drinking that shit and you know it. You pull up the files on the Shallow Grave Killer and I’ll run over to Gypsy’s.”
Reed turned back to Vaughn with a smile on his face. He knew that if he mentioned coffee his partner would cringe at the crap they served at the station.
“I want extra cream in my coffee, none of that skimmed crap either. June’s got me on a low-fat diet and I’m wasting away as it is.”
Dallas’ brows shot up at the wasting away comment. Reed was six-foot-one and pushing two hundred and seventy-five pounds. There wasn’t anything “wasting away” about the man.
“You’ll get your cream, big guy, but if you tell June it’s your head, partner. Your wife scares the hell out of me,” Dallas chuckled.
“June scares the living shit out of me too, Dallas. She makes the Shallow Grave Killer look like a kitten.”
That she did, Dallas thought as he headed for the door. He’d be tempted to put her in a room with the bastard as part of his punishment if he didn’t love the woman so much. Then again . . . she might enjoy it.
Saturday, February 14, 2015
Motherhood the second time around was far from easy. You’d think, since I’d been through it once already, that it would be a piece of cake. Maybe if they weren’t from Jack’s loins that would be true, but Keller and Kaiden were their father’s sons. Meaning they ignored me, did what they wanted, ordered me around, and shook their heads when I tried to argue with them.
Having two little Jacks in the house along with dealing with the big bad original, you’d think I would run screaming for the hills. However, just as it was with their father, I was helpless at first sight to do anything but fall in love with them. And just like their father they were possessive of my time and brooded when I left them alone for too long. Just like they were doing now after returning from a long weekend in Alaska for Jack’s cousin Max’s wedding.
Jack and I had taken the trip without the boys, leaving them here with their big sister. They, of course, were making me pay for abandoning them for a few short days. Keller and Kaiden were now three, and they weren't precocious little boys who drew on walls and gave me sloppy kisses, but future lawmen in the making. They scowled at me when we arrived home as if I had been a bad mother. Then they proceeded to let me have it just like their father did when he thought I’d gone too far with a story. I had no doubt that if they could have put me into timeout they would have done it; such was the heinousness of my crime by leaving them behind. What made it worse was they didn't even blink an eye at their father for leaving. Instead, they’d run to him while glaring at me all while verbally abusing me with, "We told you not to leave," at the top of their little boy lungs. I gawked at them while Jack picked them up, chuckling at their reception. He mumbled, “You’ll get used to her not following instructions." This was because when we tried to leave three days earlier they had, in fact, shouted, “You aren’t leaving, Mommy!"
Honestly, when he'd left the room with the boys if they'd looked back and given me two fingers to the eyes as if saying, “I’m watching you,” I wouldn’t have been surprised.
Now I was at home with them, and Jack was at the office. They were giving me a good taste of their cold shoulder. Currently sitting at the table eating their lunch, they would talk and yell at each other, but they would barely look at me. Done with being ignored I sat down with my own sandwich and decided it was time to reason with the two. I’ll remind you that they are their father’s sons so reasoning isn’t exactly the word I’d use, more like creative manipulation in order to bring them around to my way of thinking. Not that it’s ever worked with Jack . . . but they're three, and there’s a first time for everything.
“If you two will stop being mad at me for going on a very short trip, Mommy will first take you to the park and then let you visit Daddy at work.”
The boys turned and looked at me, then looked back at each other, and I watched their beautiful blue eyes sparkle with excitement as something unspoken passed between them.
“Ok, Mommy,” they both replied smiling.
Huh, that was easier than I thought.
“Then finish your lunch and we’ll head into town when you’re done,” I told them, smiling now that my little men were happy with me again.
An hour later we were in the park, and I sat on the park bench where Jack and I had spoken four years earlier when I’d first moved to town. I kept an eye on the boys as I worked on an article for the paper about the new principal, who had been hired to replace the retiring Principal of Gunnison High School. The new guy, one Sam Steele, was forty-five, divorced and quite a handsome man with broad shoulders, a head of thick light brown hair, and stunning green eyes. I’d met him once to interview him for the article, and I’d also soon heard that all the single women between the ages of thirty-five and forty-five were chomping at the bit for an introduction.
As I watched the boys swing, a shadow blocked the light of the sun, and I looked up to find Sam Steele standing there smiling down on me.
“Hello, Mr. Steele,”
“Sam,” he answered.
“All right,” I replied. “How are you settling in over at the high school?”
“Your former principal ran a tight ship. My transition with the staff in preparation for the new school year has been easy,” he responded taking a seat next to me.
“How do you like our fair city?”
“Can’t complain. The welcoming committee has been more than...welcoming,” he smiled.
“I’ve heard. You’re a shiny new toy,” I explained, then laughed because I knew how he felt. Small towns don’t get many newcomers, so when they do, and especially if they are single, they get a lot of attention.
Sam chuckled in response as I looked back at the boys to make sure they were still behaving themselves. They’d stopped swinging and were now running towards me.
“Are those your boys?” Sam asked as he watched them approach.
“Yeah,” I smiled, but then frowned when I saw the look on the boys’ faces. They were scowling at me again. Clearly they were going to hold on to this grudge longer than I thought.
When they made it to the bench, they immediately grabbed my hand, saying, “We want to go see Daddy.”
“Oh, ok, well, it was nice to see you again, Sam. Let me know if I can assist the school in any way. Maybe if I lend a hand now, you’ll overlook the two hooligans when they grace your halls,” I laughed.
I’d barely gotten that out before the boys were pulling me down the sidewalk towards Jack’s office, so I waved at Sam as he smiled.
When we entered the reception area, the boys took off down the hall as I greeted Dorothy, the receptionist. I took off after the boys, expecting them to head towards Jack’s office, but I found them begging Barry to show them one of the isolation cells instead. He shook his head no, but then they leaned up and whispered into his ear. He laughed at the boys while I stood there wondering what in the heck they were about.
“Come on boys, let's go find your father,” I told them, but Barry shook his head and buzzed the boys through, so I followed them.
We walked the long hallway down to a single cell that they only used for dangerous criminals so they wouldn’t be around the general population. I had seen this cell up close and personal when Jack and I had first started dating, and the boys had heard the story about how their father had locked me up.
“Is this the cell that Daddy put you?” Kaiden asked.
“The same one,” I informed him.
They walked into the cell, so I followed them in and just as I cleared the door, they darted behind me and grabbed the cell door and closed it.
“Boys, what are you doing?” I cried out as I moved to the door and tried to open it. They smiled their impish little smiles, then turned around and took off running down the hall.
“Keller, Kaiden?” I shouted at their retreating backsides and watched as they were buzzed back through the door.
“Barry,” I shouted at the camera in the ceiling, hoping he was watching from his position in the control room. Nothing.
Not about to panic that I’d been locked in the cell yet again, I walked to the cot and sat down until help arrived. I knew the boys would run straight to their father, so it was just a matter of time before Jack came and let me out.
Five minutes later I heard the door buzz open, and in walked Jack holding both boys hands.
“It’s about time,” I hollered.
When they reached the cell, I expected Jack to laugh and open the door, but all three of my men stopped and crossed their arms, staring at me.
“Open the cell, Jack,” I demanded.
“Did you sit on our bench and laugh and smile at another man?”
“What? Where did you—“
“Yes or no, Jenn?”
“You set me up,” I gasped at the boys.
Everyone who knew Jack knew he was possessive and easily jealous where I was concerned. He kept it in check enough that it didn’t annoy me, but I had no idea the boys had figured that out.
“Baby, answer the question,” Jack grumbled, but there was a bit of a twinkle in his eye.
“I can’t believe you boys set me up,” I repeated.
Keller and Kaiden’s little faces pulled into grins that matched their father’s, and I knew then they were getting back at me for leaving. So I crossed my arms and glared at them both just as I would Jack, letting them know, in no uncertain terms, that they could not order me around.
“Boys, it looks like your mother needs time to think about her answer. Who wants ice cream?”
“You wouldn’t!” I shouted.
“Babe, I would.”
“I’ll never speak to you again.”
“Sweetness, that’s not much of a bargaining chip.” Then he looked down at the boys, put his hands out in high five, and, after celebratory slaps, all three of them turned on their heels and headed for the door.
“Boys, I’m... I'm so sorry I left you behind. I promise, OK? I’ll never leave you again," I whimpered, hoping my sad voice would appeal to their love for me.
Jack stopped when they reached the door and looked back at me, smiling, and then he called out, “Baby, this hurts them more than it hurts you, promise.”
And then they were gone.