Authors: A.D. Justice
Steele Security, Book 4
Copyright © 2016 A.D. Justice.
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over designed by Cover Me
Cover photo by Eric Battershell Photography/FITography
Cover model Alfie Gordillo
June 22, 2001
I’ve watched you sleep for the past few hours, and I’ve racked my brain trying to remember what my life was like without you in it. We’ve known each other as long as I can remember, and I can’t recall a time when I didn’t love you. There hasn’t been a single day gone by I didn’t know exactly how much you meant to me. You’ve never kept secrets from me. Your heart has always been an open book, reserved only for me to devour every word, thought, and feeling.
When we first met as kids, I was only looking for someone to play with after school. The day I knocked on your front door changed me forever. You became my partner in crime, my best friend, and the love of my life. Remember how we were inseparable? Every day, we rushed to do our chores or homework, so we’d have more time to spend together. You were, and still are, the coolest girl in the world. You could hang with me on the bicycle. You’d hold frogs and touch snakes. Every other girl would run away screaming, but never you. Nothing could make you leave my side.
As we got older, those things weren’t as important to me anymore, and I saw you in a whole new light. You still had just as much spunk about you. Remember the time at the middle school dance when you punched that girl for flirting with me? I still laugh about that to this day. As if she was ever any threat to you. You said I belonged to you, even if I didn’t realize it yet. You said you wouldn’t put up with another girl disrespecting what we had. There are no words to describe how turned on I was when you said that. I knew I loved you then, but an awkward thirteen-year-old me didn’t know how to tell you.
Then came the high school years. Yes, you remember those well, don’t you? Our class schedules separated us, so I didn’t see you as much during the day. The first semester of our freshman year, I thought I’d die from being apart from you for so long. Every day after school, I waited for you outside so we could go home together. Absence really did make the heart grow fonder, and I knew without a doubt it was time to tell you exactly how I felt. That day, I waited in the rain for you to come out of the school. I had my speech memorized down to the last syllable.
Then you walked out, and I watched in horror as David Richards put his arm around you and announced to the school that you were his girlfriend. You know me…there was no way I could let that stand. So I decked him. Punched his lights right out. The look on your face was priceless
you were shocked, awed, and dumbfounded all at once. You were shocked that I had finally admitted my feelings for you. Awed that I did it in such a public display. And dumbfounded that it took me so fucking long to realize what you’d always known. When I kissed you that day, you changed me again. You ruined me for any other woman. Your kiss, your taste, and your sweet scent
no one else on earth could compare to you.
So began our dating experience. We defied the odds, didn’t we, babe? We showed everyone in this one-horse town that our love was real and lasting. Neither of us has ever even been on a date with anyone else. Never kissed another person in the intimate ways we kiss. Never made love to another and shared the special bond that we have together. Even after more than four years of officially dating, I can honestly say that I don’t regret one minute of the time I’ve spent exclusively with you. Four years of football games, school dances, junior and senior proms. Weekend dates, weeknights sneaking out my bedroom window just to make out with you. Making plans and dreaming big
Sometimes I look back and miss the “us” we used to be, even just a short year ago. The things we’ve been through have taken a hard toll on you, and I blame myself for that. You can blame me, too. I can take it, and I deserve it. More than anything, I wanted to be the one to always protect you, love you, and provide for you. Our life together was supposed to be perfect. Wonderful. Magical. Beautiful.
I failed you. I failed us. I’m sorry, baby. I’m sorry I couldn’t be the man I should’ve been, the man you needed me to be. Because of my failures, you’re all but estranged from your family, especially your dad. The stress of everything has just been too much on you, and my presence here is only adding to it.
We fight every day now over things we’d normally laugh about. We’re slowly tearing each other apart, bit by bit, and I’m afraid there will be nothing left of the Heather I fell in love with before much longer. When he died, I think he took the best part of us with him. I can’t keep putting you through this hell every day, baby. It’s killing me to watch you slowly die right before my eyes. When you look at me, I know you blame me for not being able to protect him like I should have.
Saying all this to you in a letter is a really shitty thing to do, I know. I openly admit that I’m a coward when it comes to losing you. On one hand, I’m afraid that if I tell you I’m leaving, you’d cry and ask me to stay. And I would. For you, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do. On the other hand, I’m petrified that you’d tell me to go, because then I’d know that your love for me has truly died. Love that has been alive and growing since the day we met. That means I’m taking the coward’s way out, so I can keep your love with me.
I’m apparently also selfish, because I can’t stand to think of doing this any other way. But I’m not so selfish that I don’t want you to be happy. I want you to find someone who makes you the Heather I once knew, before I brought so much pain and suffering to your life. Find someone who puts that spark in your eye, the spring in your step, and the smile on your face. Give him all of you, everything you possess, and hold nothing back so that you can be whole again. Put me in the past, where I belong, and don’t look back.
Know that you have my love
all of my love, all of my heart, and all of me. Forever.
Until death do us part,
the folded letter on the empty pillow beside his wife’s head and stared at her intently one last time. Over the years, he’d memorized every line, curve, and tiny freckle on her face. He knew her better than anyone else did. Better than her family members who’d done everything in their power to drive them apart. Better than her friends who’d tried to convince her to date other people before settling for him. Better than their teachers who thought they knew everything but had no idea how deeply Braxton and Heather’s love ran.
Part of him wished they’d listened to at least one of the naysayers before they’d reached such a low point. Maybe if they’d broken up, dated other people, or just took a break from their all-consuming relationship, the sorrows they’d experienced wouldn’t have ever happened. Maybe if they’d actually waited until they were adults, instead of pretending to be grown-ups, everything would’ve turned out differently.
But that wasn’t the way of things. Being young and foolish, they’d made mistakes and tried to fix them. In doing so, Braxton realized they’d only made their follies worse. In his mind, the only way either of them would make it out alive was if they did something they’d never tried before. They had to split up and never look back.
In the weeks leading up to that day, Braxton had talked secretly to a recruiter about his choices and completed all the steps to enlist in the Army. By the time Heather awoke that morning, he planned to be long gone, far away from her so he couldn’t hurt her again.
He paused at the door, and his hand gripped the knob as his heart shattered into a million pieces. “Eighteen, married, and divorced.” He shook his head in disbelief. “How did we come to this?”
When Braxton walked out the door of the tiny, one-bedroom apartment they had briefly shared as husband and wife, he reflected on how it was the second hardest thing he’d ever done. He closed the door behind him quietly, ensured it was locked, and walked away from the woman who held his heart in her hands, who had been his best friend for as long as he could remember, and whom he’d failed in the worst way. He tried to block the visions of Heather waking and finding the letter on his pillow rather than seeing him lying there. He didn’t want to think about her reaction when she read his words, regardless of what it was. The thought of her crying, brokenhearted, and feeling abandoned hurt him as much as the thought of her being relieved that he was gone.
As the bus pulled away from the station, he leaned his head on the seatback and closed his eyes. “I love you, baby. Until death do us part.”