Authors: Harper Sloan
Tags: #Corps Security Boxset, #Contemporary, #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary Fiction
We met when I was eighteen and pissed at the world. She was bopping all over the room during freshman orientation, smiling at everyone who would look at her. She took one look at me and decided that we would be the best of buds. I think she saw the broken soul inside me and with her infectious happiness decided she would be my medication. She was by my side with every up and every down—and trust me, there were a lot of downs. She was my biggest cheerleader and supporter, and she singlehandedly brought light back into my life.
She picked me up when I had fallen, dusted me off, and helped me heal.
She did it again two years ago. No questions asked. She dropped everything, ran to my rescue, and helped me heal again.
We had lost that ‘sisterhood’ for a little while when I was married to Brandon. It wasn’t easy, but I was able to keep in touch with her with stolen calls and secret meetings. I knew she worried. She knew things weren’t good at home, but Dee, being Dee, came with a smile and the knowledge that if I needed her she would be there.
And she hadn’t lied; she dropped everything and ran with one word.
I know she feels somewhat guilty for introducing us. It’s unjustified, but it is there. I can see it sometimes in her eyes when we would be spend time together with a few bottles of wine between us. She hides it well, I will give her that, but I know my girl, and with a heart that big, she can’t help it.
I met Brandon when I was twenty-one, carefree, and looking to numb my world with drinking and parties.
He was the first man I gave a second glance to after Axel. It had been almost four years and I was ready to try and love again.
Oh, how blind I was.
Brandon was, on the outside, perfect. He was a few years older than me, and had already graduated from the University of North Carolina and established himself within his father’s accounting firm. He was successful and quickly on his way to even bigger things. He wasn’t overly tall, just shy of six feet, with a lean runner’s body. Sandy brown hair and brown eyes. He was the perfect boyfriend, showering me in romance, extravagant vacations, and gifts, always showing up to take me on surprise trips, doing all the little things we always think makes a man perfect. Six months after we met, that perfect boyfriend became my fiancé, and four months later, I became Mrs. Brandon Hunter.
Then the Brandon I had met and fallen in love with slowly changed. Gradually, he began distancing me from my family, friends and most importantly, Dee. He knew, of all the bonds I had, that hers was the strongest. I became a prisoner in my own life. I know my grandparents worried, but he was slick and always came up with the perfect reason we couldn’t come, or when the rare occasions came that we did, he was always called home for some reason. Dee was harder for him to brush off, but he did. Or at least he thought he did. He was good; I’ll give him that—the master of control and manipulation.
And he downright terrified me.
The beatings didn’t start until we had been married for about two years. I went to see Dee when I was supposed to be picking up his dry cleaning. I missed my best friend, and I had honestly thought I could be in and out before he noticed. But Brandon Hunter noticed everything.
They weren’t bad at first, a slap here and there for whatever offense he deemed beat-worthy. Eventually though it didn’t take much. I could sneeze, and if he didn’t like it, I was sporting a black eye the next day.
He had played his hand right and I was well and truly stuck. Cut off from those I loved and so terrified of his wrath, I wasn’t going anywhere.
Those were the years I prayed and prayed for Axel to find his way back to me. Every single horrible day I was at the receiving end of Brandon’s fist, I tried to take myself to another place. To a place where Axel was, ready to take me away and be my hero. But I eventually had to face the facts; my hero was gone.
Closing my eyes, I think back to the time my life was the happiest. Twelve years ago to be exact.
“I can’t believe this is our last night together for six months, I’m going to miss you so much, baby.” I look up into his bright green eyes. God, I love his eyes. I think I would be happy to just sit here and look at his handsome face for hours.
Get lost in him.
How will I make it without him?
This boy I love more than anything.
I lay my head back down on his warm chest, feeling his strong heart beating under my ear.
I’ve known this beautiful boy since I was fourteen, and Axel has been the love of my life for the last three years. Not a day has gone by without him in it. How am I going to go just one day without him, never mind six months?
“Babe, quit. It will be over before you know it and I will be back to get my girl,” I hear him rumble under my ear. He knows exactly what is running through my mind.
We’ve been lying here in his tiny twin bed for hours, just getting lost in each other. I know he hates being in this house.
His foster family isn’t a bad foster family. Well, as far as they come, I guess. He might as well be a meal ticket for them, but they leave him alone. I get the impression that they are counting down the seconds before he leaves for basic training and they get his body out and a new one in. They wouldn’t want their check to be short—greedy assholes. His foster parents have never liked me. I don’t think I will ever understand why, but Axel thinks it’s because I have been around the last three years, taking up space and eating their food. Who knows? I just can’t wait for him to be free of them.
I can’t believe my beautiful boy is leaving for the Marines tomorrow. Marines . . . God, Ax is really leaving. I haven’t let myself think about what could happen to him when he leaves. Axel was born a fighter, a survivor. Nothing would happen to him, and I just had to believe that.
He starts to shift under me, sliding out from under my body and rolling onto his side to face me. I look into his bright, twinkling eyes again, smiling up at him. He really is perfect. Thick, messy black hair is sticking up in disheveled waves from me running my hands through it. His strong cheekbones and powerful jaw always remind me of how ruthless he can be. I run my finger down his perfectly straight nose and then run it along the thick lips I love to get lost in, tracing first the top and then the bottom. His lips twitch, and that lazy grin I love so much pops onto his face.
“What are you thinking about, Princess?”
“God, Ax, just about how much I’m going to miss you. You promise to come back to me?” I ask him, the tears coming back into my eyes, and the melancholy that has been a constant presence since his graduation Friday night returns.
“Just try and keep me away,” he says, leaning in to take my lips in a toe-curling kiss. His tongue licks my bottom lip, and then he catches it in between his teeth, lightly biting down. I open my mouth to let him in and capture his moan down my throat. Pushing his shoulder, I roll him underneath me, feeling his already hard cock nestle within my wet core.
“Mmmm, babe, already?” he groans.
“Always, Axel. I’m always ready for you,” I say as I lift up and help guide him inside my body.
As I begin to move with a perfectly mastered rhythm over his lean, hard body, I think to myself how hard it’s going to be to drop my boyfriend off at the bus tomorrow knowing that it’s going to be six long months before I see him again.
Little do I know, the last time I look into these eyes will be when he turns around to wave while walking up the steps to the bus, the bus that takes my heart with it.
A heart that never returns to me.
* * *
Like I said, I haven’t always been this weak woman. I don’t think anyone wakes up and says, “Hey, today I think I will be weak, broken, and completely fucked up!” I certainly didn’t. I think I have worked hard to become who I am today. With the help of Dr. Maxwell—and Dee, of course—I have slowly become the me I once was.
It hasn’t been easy, and I still have my moments. I can’t hear my full name without it taking me back to the dark years with Brandon. I started taking the steps to finalize our divorce about six months ago. The same time I had finally healed enough to start moving on. I started my own web design company, something I have always loved to do, and it seemed like the perfect choice. I felt comfortable being able to work out of the house Dee and I shared. Safer.
Brandon isn’t making things easy for me. One would think with a clear, black and white police report and hospital records showing what the marriage to him did to me that I wouldn’t have any issues with a quick divorce. But no . . . nothing ever came easy for me. I’ve been fighting with him the whole time—through lawyers, of course. I haven’t actually seen him since the day I was released from the hospital two years ago.
That was also the day that Dee and my duo became a trio.
The day I met Greg.
Where Dee is my sister; Greg is my brother.
Bonds so tight they would be almost impossible to break.
Greg is our protector, whether we want him or not. He looks out for us and doesn’t shy away from Friday nights spent in watching chick flicks and eating junk food.
I met Greg the day I was released from the hospital after a week stay, healing from Brandon’s final beating. Dee was there to pick me up. She pulled up in a minivan with the back loaded up full of boxes. Looking back now, I can laugh, but the look on her face when I asked her why she had the boxes was priceless. She looked me dead in the eyes with the fiercest expression she could muster and said, “Girl, if you think I will leave you here with that piece-of-sorry-shit husband, you are nuts. Nope, no way. We are packing you up and hitting the road. The world is our oyster or something like that.” She then explained that she had the local sheriff meeting us there to make sure Bastard Brandon didn’t try anything. Dee was ready for anything. She told me not only would the law be there to look over things, but she had one of her friends meeting us there. She didn’t get into detail, and I didn’t care. I wanted it over.
When we pulled up to the house I shared with Brandon, he was of course there and raging mad. I sat in the passenger’s seat shaking like a leaf. Dee came around and helped me out, using her tiny body as a shield. I kept my eyes down until they met two huge booted feet in my path. Following those boots up thick thighs, a rock-solid chest, and powerful arms, I looked up into thunderous blue eyes. He was a huge man, easily a foot over my five foot three. With his expression, I immediately shrank back, hoping it hadn’t been noticeable, but nothing escaped this man’s eyes. He carefully schooled his expression and tucked me under his thick arm by throwing it over my shoulders.
As he guided me into the house, he softly said, “Don’t you worry, baby girl. We’ve got you now.” I don’t know what it was, but when I met Greg that day, all it took were those words to instantly set me at ease.
An hour later, we had six years of my life boxed and loaded.
I left it all, only taking my clothes, important documents, pictures from my childhood, and small treasures I had hidden away from my life before Brandon.
I haven’t looked back since.
I may feel alive, but today I’m alive with one bitch of a hangover. Looking at the clock, I shake my head at the time. How the hell did I sleep this late? That’s right—Dee. Dee is how I slept this late. Crazy chick got home last night and thought we should spend the evening with Jack. One of these days she is going to remember that, Jack and I, we are not friends. Never have been, never would be. Nights spent with Jack always bring me to the same spot—hung over, and pissed off. Damn, Dee. She better have breakfast ready this morning, er . . . afternoon.
What did I let her talk me into last night? The last thing I remember is Dee coming home from work with a big-ass brown bag in her arms, screaming “Liquor delivery, bitch!” I guess that’s what happens when you have been friends with someone for so long. She knew I needed her, and damn it, I needed Jack. So her announcement was met with red-rimmed eyes, ratty sweats, and a best friend on her third carton of ice cream.
She knew me, and she knew I would be hurting this weekend. So instead of letting me drink myself stupid alone, she grabbed two glasses and proceeded to get wasted with me. Helping me forget, helping me numb my mind, and just being there.
Walking over to my desk, trying to clear the fog from last night’s bender, I look down at my desk calendar and triple-check the date. Yup, it’s still August 8
, my thirtieth birthday. Also the twelve year anniversary of what is still the worst day of my life. Getting into the shower, without the aid of Jack, I can’t stop my mind from wandering back in time.
“GRAM!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. “Gram, oh my God, GRAM!! There’s blood, so much blood, Gram! What do I do? Why is there so much . . . Why is there any?” I’ve reached complete hysterical breakdown proportions with my wailing.
This can’t be happening! There is no way God would be so cruel to take this too!
I crash down onto my knees, doubling over and curling into myself, screaming and praying . . . praying and screaming. Sobbing big, huge, gasping sobs.
Pop’s voice finally reaches my grief-filled mind, picking my small frame up and carrying me out to his truck. “Here we go, my little one. Buckle up and have no worries for your beautiful heart. Pop’s got you now.”
Shaking my head, I come back from that horrible day. My eighteenth birthday is still, twelve years later, marking all the birthdays that follow with heart-stopping pain.
I promise myself. One day I will be able to wake up on my birthday and smile. I can’t wait for that day.
Feeling slightly more human than I did a half hour ago, I throw my fluffy robe over my naked skin and take off to find my best friend.
I walk into the kitchen and smile down at the note from Dee.
Yo! Made you some grub. Eat . . . and shower because I bet you smell like yesterday’s shit. I had to run into the office, but be ready . . . I’ll be home around noon. We have some serious shopping and pampering to do! That’s right, not getting out of it! LOVE-me!