THE DRUMMER excerpt
Once upon a time, I loved a boy who promised me forever.
Jonny Acero and I were good people despite our parents, not because of them. His grandparents raised him. His mother was one of those women who never had their act together, always making one wrong choice after another, and he didn’t know who his father was. He could only guess what the man looked like by his own characteristics that didn’t match his mother’s family.
My hoity-toity mother considered my high-school sweetheart the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, so when we got engaged on graduation night, she cut me off. I had to make my own way if I was going to ruin my life. Fine by me. I knew this was coming even if she didn’t. I’d had a job since I qualified for a work permit.
He did Jr. ROTC and enlisted in the Army for the GI Bill.
He proposed so I knew he’d be back.
While he was away at training, my best friend Moira and I got an apartment and I enrolled in community college in August. Achieving dreams required hard work.
Jonny wrote to me whenever he had a spare moment, talking about how the Army had to break you down to build you back up into a man that can handle war, into men that worked as a team to keep each other alive. About the hilarious antics of his fellow recruits. Boys will be boys. Mostly, he wrote about how much he missed me and couldn’t wait to make me his wife.
I couldn’t wait for that moment, either.
He returned just in time for Thanksgiving. I met him at the train station.
“Mic!” He ran to me at the same time I ran to him. I hopped into his arms and he kissed me with five months of longing. “God, I missed you. How was your first semester?”
That was my guy, always considerate. “Good! I’ve been getting gigs.”
His tanned face creased into a wide smile. “That’s awesome. I’m so happy for you, babe.” He picked up his duffel and I led him out to my car.
“Your grandmother is expecting us.”
“Of course she is,” he said happily.
“It’s so weird to see you with a crew cut.”
He ran his hand over the buzzed strands. “It feels weird, too, but we have to get used to it. This is my style until the Army is done with me.”
I plucked at his jacket. “Lucky for you I like a man in uniform.” And he did look good in it. “Where is your first assignment?”
I pointed the car toward our hometown.
“About that…” His smile dimmed for the first time since he got off the train. “I’m being deployed.”
Tension in my chest squeezed my heart. I tried to keep my voice light when I asked, “When?” Where?
“I have to report Monday after Thanksgiving.” Which was tomorrow.
“Four days with you.”
“I’m sorry, Michaela.”
I reached for his hand and squeezed it. “We knew what you signed up for. We have a plan.” This was my role, to make him not worry about me while he was at war.
He kissed my fingers. “I’d like to make a slight amendment to that plan.” I glanced at him with brows raised. “Let’s get married.”
“We are.” The tiny diamond on my left ring finger proved it.
“No, this weekend.”
I hit the brakes at a red light. “Are you serious?”
“I don’t want to wait anymore. I love you, Michaela, and I want the world to know.”
It shone in his face. This wasn’t about fear or locking me down. We were forever.
“Yes!” Someone honked behind me and I pressed the gas. Oops, holding up the green light. “Then we need to get to a courthouse.”
“Or we go to Vegas after dinner tomorrow. No wait time or blood tests.”
“You’ve really thought about this.”
He grinned. “I might’ve reserved a room in anticipation you’d agree.”
He’d done more than make a hotel reservation, as I learned the following evening when his grandmother drew me into her bedroom while the men washed the dishes.
She had a white box on the bed with aged corners. “My mother wore this. I wore this.” She swept a length of netting toward my head. “And now you.”
A headband settled on my crown and I glanced toward the mirror over the dresser. A veil, simple and classic. I blinked rapidly. “I—”
“Consider it your something old, Michaela.”
She turned me fully to the mirror and arranged the veil around my shoulders. “You’re family, dear. I knew when Jonny first started talking about the girl with the curls in ninth grade there’d only be one woman for him. Don’t cry. Men don’t understand happy tears.”
It was a simple white satin headband with fine tulle attached and delicate lace at the edges. Staring back at me wasn’t an eighteen-year-old girl that had barely stepped out of being a kid. I was a grown woman making grown decisions.
I hugged her. She carefully removed the veil and placed it back in its box. “Don’t forget this when you leave.”
“I won’t. Thank you.” I took the box out to the foyer to set on the entry bench next to my purse.
With the dishes washed and dried, we sat down in the living room with his grandparents and cousins, me on his lap from the lack of chairs. She was right, these were my family. I’d been invited over since we started dating and I’d always felt more loved here than around my own blood—my uncle the exception, but he lived on the other side of the country.
After stories and laughter and more dessert, we left, Jonny driving me to my apartment.
“See you in the morning, wife,” he said after kissing me at my door.
“A technicality.” He kissed me again before I pushed him away.
“Go! We have a long drive tomorrow.”
Moira was coming as a witness. We were driving together in my car, following Jonny and his best friend Liam, who was going to a local culinary school.
Jonny and I got the marriage license, then I went to the hotel to change and he went to the chapel. My hands shook as I did my makeup, but it was the good kind of nerves.
“It’s a shame we’re not twenty-one,” Moira said. “We can’t drink or gamble.”
“Since when do you want either?”
A shrug. “It’d be nice to toast your wedding, is all.” She twisted my spirals into something fancier than my everyday style.
“Jonny promised me cake and that’s all that matters.”
With no time to shop, I’d put together the best thing in white I had, a skirt and ladies’ jacket I wore to some stupid function my mother made me attend before she gave up on turning me into a society chick. Yet another day she cursed not putting me in private school.
Moira’s grandmother’s rhinestone pin was my something borrowed on my lapel. I wore light blue sandals. The veil went on last.
And only Jonny would see my something new.
“Oh, Michaela.” Moira raised her camera and blinded me with the flash.
“Geeze! Warn me about that thing!”
“Sorry, thought I had the flash off.” She checked her watch. “We should go.”
I was given a bouquet when we arrived at the chapel. Pink roses, surprisingly. I expected some cheap daisies or baby’s breath. Then I saw my husband-to-be in his dress uniform and he stole my breath.
The music started, the traditional march, and he looked my way. His eyes traveled over me head to toe and back, and his smile was devastating.
The vows were a blur of promises and I do. Then he kissed me, dipping me to the whoops of our friends. I held up my left hand to look at the simple gold band. Married.
Chapel formalities done, we hit the town, finding the best dinner we could afford, then a dance club, before saying goodbye to Liam and Moira.
Jonny took me back to our room. To our first night as husband and wife.
We’d made a promise to be virgins until this moment. There’d been plenty of making out and fondling over clothes up to now, but somehow two teenagers found the restraint to hold off until we said our vows. I was nervous, but I also trusted him to take care of me.
We drove home Sunday night after a weekend of learning each other’s bodies and sharing plans for our future. That I’d move to him after his deployment ended, and we’d start trying for kids after his enlistment was up. He’d be in the reserves and go to college to fulfill his dream of being a police detective. I was pursuing music, which he’d never once said was silly or impractical. I was taking every music class at the community college to hone my craft.
I drove him to the base Monday morning.
Three months later, there was a knock on my door.
On a Saturday.
It had to be a solicitor or Girl Scout. None of our friends ever knocked. I turned the volume down on the song I was playing while cleaning and unlocked the door.
Two men stood there in uniform.
My stomach dropped to the floor. Every military wife learns what it means when two men come to your door. I latched onto a spark of hope that Jonny was injured.
My knees hit the carpet.
I wish I could say I wailed and sobbed. That would’ve reflected how much I loved him. But my mind shut down. I was dimly aware of the chaplain helping me to the sofa. They asked who they could call. And then I threw up.
Eventually, Moira was there. His grandparents had been notified, too, of course.
Everything that happened that day sounded like it was far away.
Someone else’s life.
I woke up the next morning in my bed with Moira next to me.
Shuffled to the bathroom. Threw up.
It tasted like acid. I didn’t think I’d eaten since lunch yesterday. Why?
Then I remembered.
But I was still numb. Moira got me through each day until the casket came home. At least there was one. Some wives only got dog tags. But I didn’t want to know how much or how little was in that box. All that mattered was he was gone.
The love of my life. My only love. The only man to know all of me.
What was I without him?
The Drummer (West Coast Soulmates #4)
Lincoln Adams is only supposed to be a drunken mistake, the consequence of a little too much Christmas wedding eggnog. Once he’s asleep, I sneak out of his apartment expecting to never see the drummer again.
Except I left my guitar at his friend’s house. And my earring on his floor.
An earring he uses to leverage me into a lunch date where he starts chipping away at the armor erected around my heart while heating up my body with a need I’ve never felt before. I indulge in his body one last time.
Until a surprise mutual connection brings us together for a week of sharing and sensual delights.
What happens in Virginia can stay in Virginia—right?
This story is intended for readers 18 and over due to adult language, sexual content, and adult situations.