Authors: Lani Lynn Vale
Life was spontaneous and harsh. Preparation was needed. One never knew when something bad was going to happen. If you’re prepared for something, regardless of what that threat is, you’ll live. If not, you’ll die. It’s that simple.
Even the most innocent of things could be bad news.
Shoving the wallet back into her purse, I reached forward and took the keys, scanned the vehicle for anything else that she might need, and jogged back to the Jeep only to find it empty.
“Shit,” I said as I scanned the area.
A flash of white caught my attention and I turned towards the woods.
I found her not far away staring at the remains of the deer. She hadn’t made it far. Forty yards at most.
“You were supposed to wait in the car,” I chided her once I got close enough.
She glared at me. “I know. I just wanted to make sure she wasn’t out here suffering.”
I blinked, surprised by the act. “You were going to put her out of her misery if she was?” I asked in surprise.
No woman I knew would’ve done that.
“Yes,” she said as she turned. “I know what it’s like to suffer. Or, at least, see that they’re suffering. It’s not a fun way to go.”
Her best friend. I wondered what he’d died from. Cancer maybe?
“Are you ready to go, darlin’?” I asked. She nodded and turned her back on the dead deer.
“How’d you find the deer?” I asked conversationally.
She looked like her mind had taken her somewhere she didn’t want to be, and I didn’t want her to have to think about that if I could help it. Why I cared was beyond me, but irrational or not, if I could help her, I would.
“My daddy. He taught me everything he knew. He used to be an Army Ranger. He taught me how to track. Shoot. Protect myself. Any knowledge he had to give, he taught to me,” she smiled.
Opening the door, I gestured with my hand for her to get in. She looked up, hiked up her skirt, and started to climb in.
I was going to hell.
I just sat there and watched as she climbed in; her white satin skin flashed as she hoisted her leg onto the step. I didn’t help a bit.
I was enjoying the show too much to offer assistance.
Once she was settled, I slammed her door, walked around the car, and adjusted my crotch before I hauled myself into the Jeep. Starting the vehicle, I pulled onto the highway and made a U-turn into the direction she’d once been going. “Why didn’t you just shoot her?”
She looked at me as if I was stupid. “What exactly is a twenty two pistol going to do? That’d just irritate her and make her run from me. I wanted to finish the job, not exacerbate it.”
I grinned at that comment.
She was right.
Today I don’t feel like doing anything. Except you. I’d do you.
One week later
I was in love with him.
There were no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. The man had a hold on my heart from the moment we’d met, and hasn’t left my thoughts since.
After taking me to the funeral, he took me home and then refused to leave because he was worried I had sustained a concussion in the wreck.
He’d cleaned my wound fully when we got to the funeral, deemed it a ‘scratch,’ and sat in the back of the chapel.
I’d been an emotional wreck, and at some point, he’d slipped in next to me in the empty spot to my right when I wasn’t looking. From there he’d held my hand, and then moved to holding me as I cried in his arms.
When we’d arrived at my apartment, he’d gone about making me dinner, and then we’d rented a movie on cable, while I tried my best not to dwell on the disaster of the day.
While there, we’d talked about our age gap. Our parents. My deceased Jeep. Anything and everything. He was very open and he told me anything I wanted to know.
He was twenty-three to my twenty. We spoke about what I did while I was going to college. What my goals were once I was done with
He’d laughed when I told him I wanted to be a mystery shopper and open my own business, but once he’d ascertained my seriousness, he’d quickly changed his opinion. I was damn well going to accomplish my dream.
He’d even shared with me his biggest embarrassment.
He couldn’t dance. Not even a little bit. Which he’d demonstrated when I’d jokingly started to dance with him when the song
U Got It Bad
came on while we were cooking dinner.
I still had the bruises on my feet to prove it.
He’d given it a valiant try, but in the end I’d been laughing too hard to continue.
Finally, we’d fallen asleep together on the couch, about halfway through the movie, and he’d woken me up every hour on the dot without the aid of an alarm clock.
Now I was looking out my window, practically jumping up and down on my toes, as I watched him pull over and flip the kickstand down on his shiny, black motorcycle. I’d never been on one before, but the moment he’d said that he had a bike, I knew I wanted to ride on it with him.
I smiled wide when I saw him tap the pink helmet that was strapped to the back of the bike, knowing instinctively that he’d purchased that especially for me.
I stared out the little peephole and waited for him to walk up the steps to my apartment.
Then I watched as he looked at the hole in the door for what seemed like ages before he knocked. Did he know I was sitting there watching him?
He looked so cute in his black jeans, black boots, royal blue t-shirt, and backwards baseball cap. Even with his shirt tucked in and his hair perfectly cut, he looked badass.
I had a sneaking suspicion he wasn’t telling me all of what he did other than ‘security’. My best guess was that he was in the military.
His security was probably more like National Security.
He’d said that he didn’t’ want to think about his job when I’d asked him what he did for a living, and I’d given him that option in hopes that he’d open up about it.
However, I knew a trained person when I saw one.
I saw the way he watched a room when we entered it. How he always made sure to have his back to a wall.
His gait was different too. His steps light but purposeful.
The words he spoke sounded sure, with no hesitancy. He never seemed nervous. The man was in complete control of everything he did.
Unhinging the chain, and then twisting the deadbolt, I opened the door wide.
“Hey!” I smiled nervously.
His lip tipped up into a half smile, drawing my attention from his eyes to his mouth.
And what a wonderful mouth he had.
“Blaine,” he said with a rumble.
He didn’t ask if he could come in, instead just walking right on in and taking in my place like he did the first time.
It wasn’t too shabby for a twenty year old on a fixed income. I had a one bedroom apartment in a not to bad part of town. As in, my car only got broken into once a month instead of every night.
That was why I was careful not to leave things outside that were important. If they just saw a clean car with nothing in it, they wouldn’t waste their time.
“I forgot to tell you how much I liked your couch,” he rumbled, looking at my second-third hand couch with a half-smile.
I’d gotten it from my grandmother once she’d moved into a retirement home, who’d gotten it from her best friend when she’d moved in with her children. It was a massive floral explosion of colors. It’d had a cover on it when I’d gotten it, but I’d taken it off because it smelled like old people, despite its numerous washes, and I hadn’t had the money to replace it yet.
“Thanks,” I said, taking in the rest of the room from a visitor’s point of view.
It really wasn’t much, but if nothing else, I had comfort and coziness.
There was a bright zebra printed bean bag in the corner that I’d made into my reading nook. A large brown recliner that was in front of the TV, with a bright green blanket covering the fact that it was just as ugly as the couch.
Then there was the tiny, little kitchen decorated in John Deere memorabilia.
Cheesy, yes, but I liked what I liked.
“I like it. John Deere Green is my favorite color,” Elliott rumbled.
I tossed a grin over my shoulder at him. “Sounds like you’re my soul mate.”
His face changed, growing serious.
With steady, deliberate steps, he made his way to me and stopped less than a hairsbreadth away from my lips.
He brought his hand up, cupping my face. “I know two things. One, I’m in love with you. Hopelessly, irrationally, and insanely in-fuckin’-love with you,” he emphasized that statement with a deep kiss that left me breathless. “Two, I’d do abso-freakin’-lutely anything for you. Anything. I’d even fucking dance with you in front of a million people. If that doesn’t say something, I don’t know what will.”
“How about I only make you dance on Christmas?” I teased.
“Deal,” he said fiercely.
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. But if the white runs out, I’ll drink the red.
2 years later
Christmas number one
This wasn’t how the first Christmas as a married woman was supposed to go.
I’d stupidly dreamed of this day since I was a little girl.
I was supposed to have my prince charming make Christmas cookies with me, and help me hang Christmas lights. Then we’d open presents together Christmas morning, and he’d give me a puppy that we’d name Steeler.
What I wasn’t supposed to be doing was eating the Christmas cookies I’d made, by myself, in my tiny one bedroom apartment
Nor was I supposed to sleep in my bed, by myself, with my husband halfway across the world.
However, I knew one thing.
I married a soldier.
That was the way of life for an army wife. I knew what I was getting into, and I loved Elliott with all my heart and soul. I’d do absolutely anything for him. Even spend our first Christmas, as a married couple, alone while he risked his life for The United States of America.
Tomorrow, at least, wouldn’t be as bad as today. I’d be going to my parents’ house in the morning, followed by Elliott’s parents in the afternoon. I wouldn’t be alone, and that was, most likely, due to my husband, God love him, who hated the fact that I’d be by myself.
I’d planned to spend it by myself since our parents were so far away from where Elliott was stationed, but they’d all convinced me that it would be better for me to come back home. I’d tried to argue that I had a ton of things to do for my new business, but they’d pushed and pushed until I’d finally given in.
So why, if I had to drive five hours across Texas tomorrow, was I not sleeping when I had to get up in an hour?
Because I was going to be Skyping with my hot husband any minute.
I looked down at the Christmas pajamas I was wearing and grinned.
They actually came out of the kid’s section.
Yes, I was small.
Yes, I shopped in the kids’ section at times. So shoot me.
The sound made me smile, and an excited squeal started to bubble out of my throat.
Clicking answer on my computer, I fairly bounced on my knees as I waited for it to connect.
And then it did. There he was. The light of my life. The man that got all my hormones raging with a single smile.
“Hey, baby,” he said in his deep rumbly voice.
I smiled at him. “Hey, hot stuff.”
He grinned that heart-stopping grin that set my belly to tumbling. “I like it when you call me hot stuff.”
He looked good. Happy.
So many other times he’d looked sad, but something about him today made me think that he was pleased.
“Hey, did you get my care package?” I wondered.
He nodded. “Yeah, we did.”
I rolled my eyes.
When Elliott and I had first started dating, I hadn’t realized he was in the army. Then he’d been given the orders that he was to deploy
for six months, and the cat had slipped out of the bag. However, by that time, I was so entrenched in everything Elliott that I didn’t care. If he was happy, I was happy. I’d wait my whole life for him to come back to me.
I jumped into the role of army wife and started sending him care packages, letters, notes, multiple emails, and love all from thousands and thousands of miles away.
Lots and lots of love.
Then he’d told me about his unit, and I’d started taking care of them as well.
“Did you like it?” I wondered.
I heard a voice from the background. “Loved it!”
I rolled my eyes. There was never any privacy. Ever. But I still loved each and every one of them.
“Shit, baby I’ve got to go. They’re calling us up,” Elliott said suddenly.
My heart dropped. I’d only had him for less than a minute.
I want you to stay!
I thought sadly.
“Okay, baby. Be careful,” I said instead, knowing he didn’t need to hear what I really felt.
He smiled sadly. “I will. Merry Christmas, B.”
“Merry Christmas, E,” I repeated back.
He winked, and then he was gone.
And I was all alone.
“Do you think she bought it?” Sam, my captain, asked.
I looked over at the five other men in the room with me and smiled. “Hell yes she believed it. Just don’t tell her you saw her in those pajamas.”
They all laughed.
My brothers. My best friends.
We’d been in the same Army Ranger unit for four years now, and Blaine and I’d been dating for all four of those years.
It was only in February of this year that Blaine and I’d tied the knot, and each of them had stood up with me.
They were the best friends a man could ask for, and did silly shit with me just so I could surprise my wife on Christmas.
Such as decorating a hotel room like our command post in the middle of Iraq, and then staying in their dusty clothes long enough to sell the tale.
James stripped off his brown shirt and went to the bathroom to wash up while talking. “All right, I’ve got to go. My mom and sister have my little girl, and I’m dying to see her.”