Authors: Melissa Schroeder
Tempt Me, Semper Fi Marines, Book Two
© 2014 by Melissa Schroeder Published by Harmless Publishing
DIGITAL ISBN: 9781939734143
Edited by Victoria Kennedy and Noel Varner, Cover by Brandy Walker
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
First digital publication: May 2014
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used factiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
To Les. We made it through six months of retirement and I haven’t stabbed you. I call that a success.
The heavy smell of antiseptic hit Zoe Jones before she was fully awake. She scrunched up her nose trying to avoid the stench. She had always hated how it turned her stomach each and every time. She tried to swallow but found her throat dry.
The beeping of the machines was the second thing that she noticed. Drawing in a deep breath—then immediately regretting it—she opened her eyes and found her sister’s pretty husband sitting in the chair beside her hospital bed. The lights were dim, but she could see a little sun trying to peek through the slats on the blinds.
“Oh, there you are,” Gee said. “Feeling any better?”
She tried to shrug, but a spike of pain radiated from her shoulder. “Holy crap.”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Gee said.
“Thanks, Santini. I can see why my sister loves your bedside manner.”
“It’s not my bedside manner she’s interested in.” He wiggled his eyebrows. It was so foolish of him, just like he always was, but she knew he did it to make her feel better. And he succeeded. There was one thing her sister said about Santini men and that was they knew all kinds of ways to keep a woman happy.
Zoe smiled and then winced when her mouth hurt. Damn, she was broken. She couldn’t even smile or shrug.
“Have the cops been back by?”
He shook his head. “Your sister made sure they understood that they needed to leave you alone.”
Of course Kianna did. She was always taking care of Zoe, making sure she didn’t screw her life completely up. And no one, not even the Savannah PD, would take on her sister. She was scary when she went into protection mode.
“I owe her.”
Gee made a face and even with that goofy look he was pretty. Blindingly pretty. But, then, all the Santinis were.
“Well, before you say that, you might want to rethink how much you really owe her.”
His mysterious tone sent a wave of uncertainty threading through her. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Before he could answer, she heard a voice in the hallway.
“I don’t care what you say, I
family. I am her mother, in a sense, and you
let me in to ICU.”
Joey Santini’s voice echoed down the hall. Hell, they probably heard her all the way out to the Savannah Riverfront shops.
“Oh, no,” Zoe whispered. She narrowed her eyes as she looked at her brother-in-law. “I am going to kill you.”
“Listen, wasn’t my idea. Kianna called Mom. Then Mom got it in her head that she needed to be here. And Dad couldn’t stop her from coming down.”
“Your father. The former Marine? He couldn’t stop her?”
The argument Joey was having with whoever was in charge continued in the hallway and seemed to increase in volume with each passing millisecond. Gee shrugged. “Dad said he’s been on suicide missions that were easier than saying no to Joey Santini.”
“That’s because the man is smart,” Joey said from the doorway.
Zoe looked over at the woman and found Joey smiling at her. Papa was right behind her standing in the doorway. Her blonde hair had a few gray strands here and there, but it was hard to see them. She might have had a few lines on her face, but it held a vitality that had nothing to do with age and everything to do with the woman. From the moment Zoe met her a year earlier, the older woman had impressed her. She was so small, but she had all the men in the family at her beck and call.
“Mom,” Gee said, rising, and hugging and kissing his mother. The boys always showed her such love and admiration. It made Zoe miss her mother even more.
Joey returned the affection, then handed Gee over to his father. She focused on Zoe. “Oh, baby, look at you.”
She sounded genuinely pained as she rushed to Zoe’s side. And for the first time since she’d woken up in the hospital broken and battered from the car wreck, she felt her eyes burn with tears. Joey didn’t hesitate. She sat on the bed with Zoe and took her uninjured hand into hers.
“Everything is going to be okay. Don’t worry.”
Zoe was trying very hard not to cry and Joey must have picked up on it. “Boys, why don’t you go on out of here and find me a cup of good coffee?”
“They have some down at the cafeteria,” Gee said.
She rolled her eyes and winked at Zoe before turning around. “I do not want cafeteria coffee. Bring me
coffee. It’s Savannah, there has to be a good coffeehouse somewhere.”
Gee opened his mouth, but Papa had dealt with Joey for years and showed it by shaking his head. He came over and gave Joey a kiss on the cheek. Then, he leaned down and surprised Zoe by kissing her forehead.
“Just agree with her and your life will be easier,” he whispered.
She wanted to smile, but remembered her split lip. Instead, she just nodded.
“Let’s go, boy,” Papa said to Gee. He had to be the only person other than Joey who would refer to the massive airman as boy.
When they were finally alone, Joey patted Zoe’s hand. “Now, they say you’ll be out of ICU this afternoon. You really don’t need to be here now that you’re awake. And, you should be out of the hospital in a few days.”
Joey rose from the bed and adjusted the blinds to let a little light into the room. Zoe winced from the light.
Joey nodded. “Then, of course, the doctor said you can travel back with us to Virginia.”
For a moment or two, Zoe wasn’t sure she heard the older woman right. “Wait, what?”
“You’ll come up with me and I will help you heal.”
Zoe opened her mouth, then closed it again. She really didn’t know what to say to that. She knew Gee’s mother was a force of nature that no one would even think about fighting, but Zoe couldn’t get her brain to function. Maybe the accident knocked her silly.
“You’ll come up to our house. I have a studio where you can work and we can spend time together.”
That sounded divine—almost too good to be true. It tempted her, but she couldn’t give in. She needed her space, and she knew she wasn’t going to be good company for a while.
“I thought about maybe going up and see Retta or down to Valdosta with Gee and Kee.”
Joey shook her head. “No. You’ll come up with me. First of all, Gee and Kee have too much to handle right now. Retta…she has work. And, I am sure if you ask my boys, no one can take care of you like Joey Santini.”
“But…just like that, you’re going to take care of me?” Zoe asked, still trying to come to terms with the reality in which she now lived.
“Yes. You need to be babied.”
That stung. Sure, she had messed her life up…again. But it didn’t mean that she needed to be treated with kid gloves. “I don’t need to be babied.”
“Oh, Zoe, sweetie, you need to be taken care of. Getting messed up in the middle of an investigation like that and then attacked through no fault of your own, you deserve a break.”
The memories she had avoided came seeping back from the dark recesses of her mind and the tears welled up again.
Without a word, Joey came back to the bed and took her hand, sitting on the mattress again. “You’re going to be okay. You need to heal.”
As the tears she had fought so hard to hold back streamed down her face, the only thing she could do was nod.
“Good.” Joey leaned forward and kissed her forehead in much the same way as Papa had. “And, besides, Vicente has promised to tell you horrible things about Gianni so you have things to taunt him with.”
That made her laugh, and this time, her split lip didn’t hurt so much.
“There you go.” Joey grabbed a tissue and handed it to Zoe.
Zoe wiped away the tears. “So, you came down here with the idea that you were taking me home?”
Joey smiled and nodded. She was such a tiny woman but there was no mistaking the strength beneath that surface. She had raised four boys and supported her Marine husband for all those years.
“I want to be you when I grow up.”
Joey laughed and patted her hand again. “No, honey, you should want to be you, because you’re pretty damned special. Now, let’s talk art. What have you been working on?”
And just like that, she lay in the hospital bed and talked about her sculptures and paintings with the realization that she didn’t have to be alone for a while. And for once, the thought didn’t bother her as much as it once did.
* * * *
Jesse Johnson turned on his windshield wipers as the first drops of rain hit the car. It figured he dragged his ass out to the boonies for dinner and he was going to have to deal with a storm on the way home.
“Why are you eating with the Santinis?” Jack asked over the phone.
“They invited me over and I’m not stupid. Joey Santini makes a fabulous lasagna.” A home cooked meal was hard to come by these days. He was a damn good cook, but working long hours at the Pentagon didn’t afford him a lot of time in the kitchen. Also, being single kind of defeated the purpose of a big meal.
“So, you’re saying that she lured you there with the promise of food.”
Jesse turned on their street and came to a stop in front of their house. “Yes.”
“That seems reasonable.” Jack grunted and said nothing else.
They had all been a little worried about Jack since he returned from a mission over a year earlier—he always seemed out of sorts and uncomfortable around people. Then there were the phone calls. Ones like this where he didn’t say much at all.
Jesse clicked off the speaker and held the phone up to his ear. “What’s up?”
His silence continued for a few moments. “Nothing. Was thinking about heading out your way for a visit.”
He huffed into the phone. “Well, I have unresolved issues.”
What the hell did that mean?
“What kind of issues?”
“That damned dog. I swear to God if it comes in my garden one more time and eats my tomatoes, I’m going to shave its butt.”
“That dog. My neighbor’s dog. He gets in my yard all the time.”
“And you can’t come visit because of that?” Jesse asked. This was a bit worrisome. The fact that his brother was weirding out over his tomatoes was, well, weird. He knew Jack had made some changes in his routine to accommodate the PTSD he had been dealing with the last few years. The fact that he was becoming obsessed about the plants bothered Jesse.
“I have no one else to watch my garden and there’s a good chance she would let everything die.”
“She? The dog?”
Jack’s sigh was filled with irritation. “No. Dr. Richmond.”
“And who is that?”
“Good God, Jesse, aren’t you paying attention? I’m talking about my next-door neighbor, the vet. Her dog gets in my garden.”
Again he had to wonder just what the hell they were talking about. “That’s not a euphemism, is it?”
“For what?” Then it apparently dawned on Jack what he meant. He made a disgusted sound. “You need help.”