The novel is live at Amazon
“What a lousy day.” Kaitlin tied her tennis shoes, then rubbed the towel against her wet hair. She’d taken a quick shower to get the chlorine off her skin and out of her hair, then dressed in her usual jeans and half shirt.
She moved through a group of cheerleaders, covering her nose with the edge of the towel to block out the pungent mixture of way too much perfume. Instead of three matches, she’d swam five, to cover Janice’s ass again. By the time Kaitlin’s regular match arrived, she’d tired out and received third place instead of her usual first.
Unlike some people, nobody could accuse Kaitlin of letting the team down. During the last six months Janice flaked out on swim meets with some lame excuse, adding to Kaitlin’s hectic, full schedule. They needed a new team captain, one who wasn’t the coach’s little pet, and carried her own weight.
Speaking of responsibility, several baskets of laundry awaited folding once she got home. First, the grocery store. Frozen dinners though quick, tasted like rot. Keeping fit required good nutrition, which meant fresh cooked food. She’d make a roast. Yup, that worked. She entered the parking lot, sun beating down on her face.
“Show me more.”
She’d recognize that nasally voice anywhere. Janice, known for test driving every hormone driven guy at school, was with her latest boy toy. It was a miracle the girl hadn’t ended up with an STD, yet.
An onslaught of moans assailed her ears. Kaitlin shuddered. Ugh, disgusting. Sex was more than a joining of bodies. It was a private, precious gift between partners. Not a spectator sport.
“You got it, babe.”
Kaitlin froze, eyes wide. It couldn’t be. She turned to face the necking people. A vice squeezed her heart, making it difficult to breathe. Wide shoulders blocked her view of the girl’s face.
The lazy curl of his short black hair near the nape of his neck, confirmed Payne’s identity. Kaitlin’s heart sank into her stomach. How could he? Did the last two and half years mean nothing to him? What about his promises?
Payne lifted Janice, and trapped her against the wall with his muscled body. A body only Kaitlin should be held against. Invading her life by signing up for the few activities she enjoyed wasn’t enough? Janice had to steal her boyfriend too? Ever since they were little, Janice wanted whatever Katie had. Toys, friends, didn’t matter. If Katie had it, Janice threw a fit until she got the same.
Kaitlin tossed the soaked towel on the pavement, and stormed over to them.
“What happened to working on your Daddy’s farm today?”
“Katie!” Payne’s face paled as he untangled Janice’s arms from his neck. “It’s not what it looks like.”
“The hell it isn’t.” Kaitlin seethed, as her temper rose. “Get out of my face, slut.”
Janice lowered her barely there skirt with a smirk. “See you later, handsome.” She kissed his cheek, then sashayed away.
Payne rubbed the back of his neck. His lips curled into a sheepish grin. The one that usually made Kaitlin melt.
“That’s not dating exclusively.” She glared, hand on her hip. A stance that always sent their classmates scurrying out of the way like frightened mice. “How long?”
“How long have you two been screwing behind my back?”
“We’re not. Honest, Katie-bug.” He pushed away from the wall, moving towards her.
“Calm down, Kaitlin.” His fingers bit into the flesh of her arms. “You’re making a scene.”
“That’s all that matter to you?”
“Of course not.” His arms wrapped around her waist. “You know I’d never hurt you.”
“Let go of me.” She shoved against his chest. Arrogant jerk. How dare he think he could touch her after making out with another girl?
“Katie, let me hold you.”
“Hold this.” She drove her knee between his legs. He wouldn’t use that anytime soon.
Payne’s fingers loosened. He fell forward, writhing on the ground.
“Keep your worthless piece of tin.” She removed his promise ring, tossed it at him, then stormed away. Tears stung her eyes. She blinked them away, refusing to give anyone the satisfaction of seeing her weak. She climbed into her pickup, turned the key, then stomped the pedal, squealing the tires as she shot out of the parking lot.
Ten minutes later Kaitlin pulled into the store parking lot, cut the engine, then slapped the middle of the wheel. She’d thought they built a lasting commitment. Indignation burned low in her stomach. Two and a half years, wasted. She climbed out and locked her door.
She’d paid for the stupid prom dress and everything. A dress she’d bought to surprise him and make their night memorable. How dare he ruin what they shared and destroy her trust? What gave him the right to toy with her emotions? She’d done everything he asked. Public sex was the only issue she refused to bend on. Her parents raised her to respect her body, not flash it to the world.
Peter Nolan, who’d taken her in after her mama died, got home around nine, leaving four hours to complete dinner. Talk about cutting it close. She entered the store, and snatched a cart with a huff, swiping at the unwanted tears.
Moving down the aisles she tossed a couple onions in a bag, then dropped them in the cart, along with carrots, three potatoes, and a small beef roast. Pete always appreciated a balanced meal. She wheeled her cart toward the checkout, stopping long enough to pick up the latest book by her favorite author. An exciting paranormal romance was always a welcome distraction, to help chase away the blues.
Payne hated when she read, especially paranormal books. He considered it a waste of time, like everything else she did. He’d told her so many times. Kaitlin gritted her teeth. He could go to hell. She dropped the book in the cart, then got in line behind the old man with a single carton of milk, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. After what seemed like hours, she paid for her purchases and drove home.
She plopped the groceries on the counter, then booted up her laptop. Two days was too long without word from her daddy. Any number of dangers could’ve happened during that time. She didn’t watch the news because she didn’t want to see reports of soldiers getting blown up by suicide bombers, or patched up from less serious combat wounds. Kaitlin didn’t need a second-hand report of what her daddy faced every day to add to her worries about him.
Keith loved to play soldier, probably because of the adrenaline rush it gave him, or perhaps the sense of doing something to make a difference in the world? He was a man of honor, a hero. He’d never betray her trust. She’d planned to introduce him to Payne, soon as her daddy returned from his last deployment. Not anymore. Payne didn’t deserve to meet him. Stupid Payne. Stupid Janice. They could have each other.
Kaitlin ripped the foil from it’s box, covered the pan, then slid it into the oven. No sense moping over her lying, cheating, good-for-nothing, ex. It wouldn’t undo his betrayal, or mend her heart. Not that she’d ever let him see her pain, or anyone else for that matter.
Crying never changed anything. Her mama’s death taught her that. Kaitlin caressed the cross dangling around her neck, then inhaled a slow, deep breath. Watching Marie grow weaker by the day was pure hell, but Kaitlin hadn’t wanted to lose time with her, even skipped school a few times when Marie got too sick for Kaitlin to leave her side.
Her shoulders drooped. After learning her daddy couldn’t come home, she’d stepped up to care for her mama, taking on the household chores as well. Near the end, when it got too much for Kaitlin to handle alone, Pete forced her to accept his help, then move in after Marie passed away. Cooking and cleaning were the least she could do to show her appreciation.
Unlike the other kids at school who liked to party, she preferred being out in the parks, or the hiking the trails. It gave her time to think about the future, or reflect on the past. Parties held no interest for her. She’d gone to one. A night that would haunt her forever. She banished the unwanted memory of that long ago night, then straightened in her chair, logging into her email.
I know my absence is hard, baby. Hang in there, okay? I promise it’s almost over. Stay brave for me a little longer.
I can’t believe my little girl graduates in less than six months. You’ve grown up on me.
Congratulations on your last swim meet. I’m so proud of you.
When I return this time it’ll be for good. I promise. See you soon.
P.S. I’ll be out of reach for the next few days. New mission. Don’t worry, nothing will keep me from coming home next week.
She chewed her bottom lip, hoping his last mission in Iraq went off without any kinks. She kissed her cross. At least he wanted to be a part of her future. Long as she had him, she’d be fine.
I can’t wait to see you next week. I miss you so much. I keep reminding myself it’s the last time. I worry about you every time you go back over there. Please stay safe. I’m proud of your bravery. I wish we could spend more time together.
Like you said, I’m almost an adult. Although Pete is good to me, I’d rather have you here. We’ve already missed too much time together. I don’t want us to be apart any longer. I hope you keep your promise.
When we go hiking, I’ll show you the newest set of eagles I found. They’re adorable. So are the wolf pups. Let’s spend the entire two weeks camping together in the wilderness, okay?
Excitement bubbled up at the thought of seeing her daddy face-to-face for the first time in two years. She couldn’t wait to see his reaction in person to the nature shots she’d taken with the camera he’d bought her during his last visit. He’d see the money well spent.
Kaitlin flipped to a fresh page of her notebook, lying next to the laptop.
To do list:
1} Return to the eagle’s nest. Snap some background pictures.
2} Go to the wolf den. Capture some stills of the pups to add to the album.
She chewed the end of her pen. It’d be the perfect way to finish her album. Placing the pen down, she grabbed her travel book and entered the living room, set the timer, then fell onto the couch with the book held to her chest. She flipped to where she’d left off.
Borneo seemed a majestic place with lots of potential. With the diverse plants and animals up in Mount Kinabalu National Park, she’d capture some breathtaking stills. Maybe they’d see some of the orangutans? They’d check out Danum Valley too. She couldn’t wait to experience it in person.
The travel guide had all sorts of useful tips about what to pack, how-to articles on avoiding monkey attacks, and mosquito bites. Kaitlin scribbled notes into her planning guide, stressing the need to stock up on the preventative measures listed, along with the rest of the supplies. You could never have too much Aloe-Vera gel on hand.
Some people thought she was silly to prepare now, instead of waiting until after graduation. She’d rather be safe than sorry.
They’d start their journey as soon as she graduated, and her daddy retired, so they could spend quality time together without stress. After the past three years, she needed a vacation, just the two of them. She’d saved every penny, minus her prom funds. All that overtime came in handy.
This vacation was her first, and she intended to make the most of it. She’d never guessed so much work went into planning one. Good thing she started planning sooner rather than later. Everyone at school thought her nuts for not wanting to go to Paris. She’d had enough heartache, thank you.
She flipped the page and scanned the articles, learning what to watch out for, especially the popular scams. Flashes of all the possibilities entered her mind.
They would visit China, and Japan too. She’d love to see a few tigers. Talk about a killer photo opportunity. She grinned. Visiting a real Scottish castle sounded awesome. With luck the lighting would be perfect in all the famous Scottish highlands.
They had to visit Glenfinnan too. She bounced in place as she scribbled notes, adding a reminder to get other travel guides, and brochures specific to where they’d visit.
“Already?” Kaitlin glared at the little rectangular device that interrupted her daydream, then placed her travelers guide on the table.
“Fifteen minutes before he gets home. Good thing it’s nearly done.” She stretched her arms over her head, then rubbed her lower back, looking around. A few pictures hung on each wall.
Most were of her daddy and Pete from their days together in boot camp. She smiled at how handsome, and happy they looked in their uniforms. Over by the forty-six inch flat screen TV located dead center of the main wall, lay a bookcase full of DVDs she’d watched a hundred times trying to forget how much she missed her daddy.
Kaitlin walked into the kitchen. A soft breeze floated through the window above the sink, caressing her face. Opening the door, she waved the moist steam away. The food sloshed in the pan as she used the thick oven mitts to pull it out.
Carefully placing it on the stove, she peeled back a corner of the foil, allowing the majority of it to escape before she stabbed it with a meat thermometer.
She poked a chunk of potato with a fork, lifted it to her lips, blew on it, then slid it in her mouth. Carrot juices, and seasoning salt clung to the potato she rolled on her tongue.
“Perfect.” She nodded. “Just the way Pete likes it.” Her stomach rumbled, protesting her missed lunch. She’d force herself to eat, despite her lost appetite.
He worked hard, and left her to her own devices as long as she stayed out of trouble with the law. Kaitlin dished up the roast, then carried the plates to the table. Pulling the tea out of the fridge, she placed it on the table, along with two cups, and carried his dirty breakfast dishes to the sink. Leaving dirty dishes lying around must be a guy thing since Payne did it too.
If only she’d listened to Pete about Payne. Tears welled in her eyes. She pinched the bridge of her nose, refusing to waste tears on the jerk. Her hands tightened around the grainy handle of the meat fork. Payne obviously didn’t care about her the way she’d thought. She threw the meat fork into the sink, and took deep, calming breaths.
Aromatherapy was her mama’s favorite trick for calming down, and healing people. She swallowed against the lump tightening her throat, and rubbed the heel of her palm against her chest. She filled the sink with hot water, and lavender dish soap.
The smell reminded her of happier days around Marie’s presence. Kaitlin focused on the dishes trying to distract herself from the painful memories. Once the dishes were rinsed, she covered the rest of the food, and slipped it into the fridge. Nothing wrong with leftovers. Pete could take some to work for lunch the next day.
Staring out the small kitchen window, her mind wandered. After she and her daddy returned from vacation, she’d find her own place. A cozy studio apartment, with a small kitchen nook.
She’d finish her photography lessons in college. Long as she kept her GPA up college wouldn’t be a problem. If only she could settle on a minor.
A loud knock at the door startled her from her thoughts. Stupid Payne, she’d show him a few more moves Pete taught her. Maybe then he’d get the message. No one else would be at the door.
She stomped to the door, yanking it open, to give him a piece of her mind. The words died on her lips. Three uniformed men filled her vision. Her gut twisted, that wasn’t a good sign. Did something happen to her daddy’s group? Please let him be okay.
Icy fingers seized her heart, making it difficult to breathe.
“Ms. Sinclair?” The Chaplain removed his hat, stepping towards her. “Mind if we come in?”
A lead weight settled in her stomach, as the world closed in around her. No, It must be a mistake. The room spun. She stumbled back.
“Easy now, I got you.” The Officer stepped inside, steadying her by the arm. She’d seen him with her daddy at the base a few times, but couldn’t remember his name. The NCO, stepped inside, closing the door.
“Ma’am, I’m afraid we have some bad news.” The Chaplain sympathy filled gaze settled on her. The sympathy in his eyes only made things worse.
“No, this isn’t happening..” She shook her head, heart racing as she hugged her waist, backing away from them. “I’m having a nightmare. That’s all.”
“First Sargent Sinclair made the ultimate sacrifice during his last mission.” The NCO bowed his head.
Her heart shattered into a million pieces. Her daddy was supposed to come home, wrap her in his arms, and never leave again. He’d promised nothing would keep him away. He never broke his promises.
“Keith was a true hero.” The Officer whispered. “Because of him many other innocent lives were spared.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Her hands balled into fists. Didn’t he understand her world was falling apart? She didn’t want to hear what a hero he was. She wanted him home, safe.
“His memory will live on in the hearts of every person he’s ever touched. Always remember that.”
“That doesn’t change the fact he’s dead. Does it?” She slapped his face, then pounded her fists against his chest. “Stop saying what a damn hero he was.” The man stood there, arms around her. Her anger exploded with every strike to his chest. She sobbed louder, her arms grew heavy.
“I can’t believe he’s gone.” Her body shook like a leaf in the wind during a furious storm. His hand rubbed up and down her back.
“Don’t touch me.” She jerked back, spinning away from him. So many things she wanted to tell her daddy, to share with him.
They were supposed to do things together, other places they planned to see. Now… Kaitlin sank to the floor, hugging her knees to her chest as the full brunt of the news hit home. She tightened her arms.
I hope you enjoyed my first chapter. I’d love to hear what you think about it. Good and bad, feedback is important. XD