Authors: Harper Sloan
Tags: #Corps Security Boxset, #Contemporary, #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary Fiction
What happened to the seventeen-year-old, stars-in-her-eyes girl I left behind twelve years ago? Sure, she was sad I was taking off for basic training, but she knew I was coming back for her. We had plans, dreams, and a future all mapped out and ready to roll. Why is
acting like the wounded party here? She wasn’t the one who arrived home six months later, tired but elated to finally have his girl in his arms again only to find her gone. And she was gone, vanished into thin fucking air. There was not a single trail to lead me back to my girl.
I remember the day I rolled back into our hometown of Dale, Georgia. I was so excited to finally get my arms around my girl. Things with the Marines had been intense, but I was home for a little while. I had a new family now, a band of brothers with an unbreakable bond. I couldn’t wait to bring Izzy into that fold, making my family complete.
Basic training was nothing like I’d expected it to be. I’d known I would be the perfect candidate for the Marines when I signed up; I’d just never imagined excelling at such a rapid rate. Arriving one day, then the next being pulled into a conference room and being handed one hell of a life changer. I was good, damn fucking good, and they wanted me. Only problem was, like with most everything deep within the government, I wasn’t to tell a soul. Top secret to the highest degree. I received my first letter from Izzy the same day, reminding me how hard it was going to be to go dark on my girl; she knew me though, and she knew what this gig meant to me. I wrote her one hell of a hearts-and-flowers letter and mailed it off the same day I left for special training, knowing it would have to see her through until I was home. When I finally got a call home, I had been gone for three long, hard months. I can still feel the shock I felt when the operator informed me that her number had been disconnected. With no one to ask, I just had to pray that my girl knew me and knew our love enough to be there when I came back to her. I couldn’t worry; I had to have my head about me. So with all the hope of a naïve teenage dreamer, I believed everything would be fine.
Izzy and I, we were what some would call a fairytale, if you believed in that shit. I met her the first day of my sophomore year. She had been a scared little freshman, a fish completely out of the water and terrified out of her mind. But did she let it show? No, not my Izzy. She marched right into Dale High with her shoulders back and her head high. Her pale green eyes were trained right ahead, ready to take on the world. And I had taken one look and knew she would be mine. From that moment on, she was mine and I was hers.
She came from a great family. Her parents were the kind a kid dreams of, accepting everyone and anyone, regardless of where they came from. They didn’t mind that their only child, their only daughter, had fallen in love with a foster kid from the wrong side of the tracks; she loved me, so they did too. I was shocked when I learned about their deaths. Adam and Holly West were amazing people, and I knew Izzy had to be feeling that deep.
In my love-soaked mind, I still believed she was waiting; now I just wondered where that was. I knew she had some extended family, but no one seemed to know where they lived. And trust me, I asked. All of her friends just said that she had been devastated; when they had spoken to her at the service for her parents, she’d been silent. They said that she had turned completely into herself, like a zombie. She’d just sat there and looked off into space. That killed me more than anything, knowing she had been hurting and alone.
I became frantic in my search. I had just a little time before I had to return to training. The only thing I was able to find out was that she was in North Carolina, or South Carolina, living with her mom’s parents. Only problem was, no one knew her mother’s maiden name. With no more answers and my time back home gone, I headed back to base, confused but still determined to find her.
I didn’t catch a break for four long years. I had pulled every string I had, and every penny I didn’t, to find her. When I got the news, I felt like I had been shot straight through the fucking heart.
My girl was married.
Isabelle West-Hunter had been married just four months earlier. My info was light, but I was assured that she looked happy and healthy.
From that point on, my heart was completely closed to anyone. Locked in a fireproof safe and sunk to the deepest depths in my body. I wouldn’t make that mistake again. No one would be making me a fool for caring, especially not a bitch like Isabelle West.
At some point I must have fallen asleep against Maddox; his arms haven’t let up their strong hold. I woke up about ten minutes ago when Greg came storming back in the office; he hasn’t stopped pacing since. What is going on now?
I know we are still at Carnal. I can hear a faint thump of the bass coming up from the floor below us. The buzz I was enjoying is long gone, packed off and headed to Mexico with a one-way ticket.
Maddox is a quiet man. He keeps his soothing humming and vise grip, but the quiet is what I need. He isn’t forcing me to talk, even though I know he must have questions. He has to think I am certifiable. One second I am smiling and the next fainting at his feet. As far as first impressions go, I think that one will be lasting.
Greg finally stops his pacing and muttering and looks over at me. I can see the anger bleed off of his face; instantly, calm and understanding finally dawn.
“Come here, baby girl.”
A new sob bubbles up as I quickly climb off of Maddox and rush forward into Greg’s protective arms. I can’t even count how many times this man has been my rock, my strength and support, picking up my pieces and not stopping until he has successfully glued each piece back together.
I hear the door click and immediately straighten from my folded position on the floor. The look of pure wrath in Locke’s eyes has me pausing before completing my way up from my seat. He is not a man who shows emotion—ever. Fuck, I can’t even remember the last time I was able to tell what he was thinking, let alone what he was feeling. There is no question right now though. He is throwing fire right into my eyes. It didn’t take much of a leap to reason that he was pissed at me.
Yeah, well get in line motherfucker.
I just marginally calmed myself down over the last forty-five minutes or so. For the most part, I’m over my initial anger. I feel reasonably sure that I’m calm enough to be in the same room with the only girl I have ever loved and try to hear her out. My mind demands answers. I want to know why. Why she didn’t wait . . . Why she had married another.
No, my calm isn’t going to come back completely. I’m still worked up for another reason altogether and it has nothing to do with anger. I can’t get over seeing her stunning face, the face that has consumed my dreams and haunted my memories for way too fucking long. Even with my rage at seeing her openly touching the men I consider brothers, I still couldn’t stop my dick from trying to break out of my pants. All it took was one look at her tight, sexy-as-sin body wearing next to nothing and I found myself having to immediately adjust myself. So hard my dick was aching in a way I haven’t felt in many years. I didn’t even know who she was then and the attraction was that strong, just like it always had been.
When I walked up to the bar, coming up on that firm ass encased in skin-tight red fabric, I turned feral. I was like a raging bull being set free with one target in sight. My eyes traced her spine, each delicate little bump on her exposed skin, and my only thought was getting her to a bed and following that line with my tongue until I was buried deep between her creamy thighs.
And then she turned around and I froze in my tracks. Lust left in a snap, and instead of rushing this hot piece of ass off to the nearest empty room, I wanted to throw her over my shoulder, drag her off, and demand answers. I have been waiting for this moment for twelve long fucking years. The last thing I’d expected her to do if I ever saw her again was faint to the floor.
“What the fuck are you glaring at, Locke?” I spit out at him. I don’t feel like dealing with more of this bullshit. I’m just itching for a fight now.
“I’m looking right at you, motherfucker. It shouldn’t take a big leap of ‘clue the fuck in’ for you to realize I’m looking right at your dumb fucking ass,” he snarls at me with such ferocity that I’m momentarily rendered speechless.
“What the hell? Is there a reason you seem to think I pissed all over your shit?”
He looks right at me, cocking his head to the side, and I find myself shocked on my ass once again tonight when he opens his mouth. “I just sat in there and held some chick I do not know, a chick who not even an hour ago looked like she was on the top of the fucking world, happy with life, and spending time with her friends. Her smile died. Do you understand that, Reid? One look into your eyes and that big bright smile just died. The life went completely out of her eyes and her body gave out. Do you fucking get
I just sat there and let her basically crawl into my fucking body with nothing but fear oozing out of her. Fear YOU seem to have put there. That happy woman from earlier is long fucking gone and I would love to know how you are the reason.”
Shock holds me silent. Shock and confusion.
Sniffling to my left distracts me and I glance over at Dee. She is looking at me with part confusion, part anger, and a whole lot of hurt.
Shaking my head, I look back over at Locke. “I couldn’t fucking tell you since I haven’t seen nor heard from her in twelve years. Bitch up and disappeared, so if you want answers, you are asking the wrong fucking person.”
“Excuse me? This is the chick who left you? The same one you claim is a cold, heartless bitch? Because I have to say, Reid, the woman who just broke the fuck down in my arms is not a cold, heartless bitch. That woman is feeling the weight of the world on her shoulders.”
“What the fuck are you talking about? This is the same shit with Greg, talking yourselves in goddamn circles. Maybe if you want me to buy a fucking vowel, you could give me a fucking hint,” I roar right back at him.
“All right, you want to know what the fuck I’m talking about? There is a woman in there who looks like her world just ended. She looked like she had seen a ghost. Lost and scared. So scared she is shaking. She was trembling so violently she would have fallen to the ground had I let her go. So I will ask you one more fucking time, you sure that is the chick who left
I hear another gasp off to my side. Swear to Christ, this bitch needs to calm her tits.
“What the hell does it matter now, huh? It’s been twelve fucking years. I don’t think two fucking minutes of her time is too much to ask. I’m sure her husband wouldn’t mind.” I know I’m shooting low, but I am so livid I can’t even see without red closing in my vision.
Another gasp at my side.
I look over at Dee. “Are you fucking okay?”
Her jaw is opening and closing repeatedly. She looks like a damn fish out of the water struggling to breathe. I do not have time for this shit.
“Seriously, do you need something? Water, a chair, a fucking Midol?”
Her mouth snaps shut and a thin line forms before she marches right into my space, coming up on her toes in attempt to meet me eye to eye. “Listen here, you . . . you big bully, you will not sit here and be a little shit. You have no clue what is going on, but I promise you this. It is bigger than your need to ‘chat.’ Do you understand me?” She follows that burst with a few pokes to my chest.
“No, little girl, I do not fucking understand you, not one little bit. So maybe your ass can clue a bastard in?” I feel like the walls around us could have fallen with that burst of anger from me. Any second my head is going to explode. I can feel it now.
Sighing softly, washing the frustration and anger off her face and looking up at me with sympathy, she says, “I can’t, Axel. This isn’t my story to tell.”
Wait a minute. “How do you know my name? I haven’t gone by Axel in a long fucking time, sweetheart, so if anyone knows what’s going on, my guess would be you.”
“Of course I know what’s happening, but like I said, this isn’t my story to tell.” She points over at the closed door. “It’s hers. It always has been. I just never thought I would see the day it would need to be told.”
Again with that cryptic shit. I feel like I just walked into the Twilight Zone.
Shaking my head in exasperation, even with my confusion, I can’t stop the rage that bubbles up every time I think about just who we are fighting over. “All right, fine. Don’t fucking tell me, but let me ask you this. Does her fucking husband know she is out dressed like that, flirting with anything that speaks to her?” I can’t stop the shit that is slinging from my mouth at this point and I’m past the point of caring what I’m saying. The only thing I’m seeing at this moment is that report I read eight years ago that told me my girl hadn’t waited.
“You son of a bitch . . .” she sneers at me.
Before I can even register what is about to happen, I catch a small hand right over my cheek. Damn, that bitch is strong for such a little thing. Before righting my head, I spit the little bit of blood her slap created onto the floor.
I look over at her shocked face. “What the fuck was that for?” I rumble. Looking past her, I see Beck and Locke with shocked eyes and fucking smirks on their faces. Coop lets out a loud laugh before quickly stifling it. It looks like she isn’t the only one thinking I deserved that for some unknown reason.
“Oh shit, shit . . . I am not sorry for that, get that straight right now, but you need to watch your mouth and what you say about Iz. Until you know what’s going on, you have no room to say anything. Not one damn thing.”
I am at a complete loss right now. Obviously I will not be getting anywhere with this crew tonight. They seem to have decided to band together to protect the little coward hiding behind locked doors. Reaching behind me and pulling out my wallet, I take out one of my cards and hold it out to Iz’s protector. “Here. Give her this and have her call me.”
“I’ll tell her but I won’t make any promises to you. If you understood what you are asking of me, well . . . you would just understand where I’m coming from.”