A Warrior’s Journey Chapters 7- 8

 

Chapter Seven 

L.L. closed her curtains to make her room as dark as possible. Wearing a large tee shirt, she snuggled between the sheets as she reflected on the mud covered girls, mud riding, water fight and Cindy, their last victim. She snickered as she visualized Cindy’s face when Melissa sprayed her. She recalled the warm, tingling sensation when Shaun wrapped her in a muddy hug taking her to the grass with Julie giggling in her ear. She felt his strong muscles as he wrestled with her. She wanted him to kiss her even with his face caked in mud. She knew it was a matter of time before he did. She was concerned how she would deal with it. Something within her said go ahead. Let nature take its course. In her heart, she knew to be careful and keep her distance. She wondered if he was asleep or lying in his bed next door thinking of her. If she tapped on the wall, she was certain he would come to her. She was not ready for a relationship with him or anyone. It was too complicated. She was not ready to be with a man, especially Shaun. He had too many things to deal with in his life and so did she. They should just be friends and leave it at that. Living in the same house was going to be difficult. First and foremost, she was a lady and not going to mess up her life for him. She remembered she needed to contact her deputies about Bubba. In the morning, she would compose a flyer to fax to the patrol desk for all officers.

Shaun rested in only his shorts on top of the covers. He closed his eyes and smiled as he thought back to the girls and his Dad. It had been a long time since he relaxed and had fun. He knew one day he wanted children. He hoped they would be like Julie and Melissa. They had stolen his heart and were never giving it back. This pleased him very much. He was glad they had their minds off their father for a few hours of fun. Shaun thought of ways he and his Dad could spend time with the girls teaching them to ride horses, fish and drive the tractor. They could go flying, boating and swimming in the pool and lake. He could teach them to whistle.

They would start school soon and had so much life ahead. He pledged to make them part of the McVeigh family. The girls would grow up knowing they were greatly loved. After his nap, he would go to town to buy a new truck. He wanted to drive when and wherever without military limits. He thought of taking L.L. on a ride down to the river. He could see them sitting on the tailgate backed up to the river, drinking a beer, talking, getting to know all about the other…kissing her lovely lips. He wanted to take his time, explore her and feel her in his arms. He wondered when he kissed her if she would respond or try to push him away. He would just have to find out, and it would be soon. He would catch her with her guard down. Heaven only knows how she would react. Perhaps he would ask her to go with him to buy the new truck. He needed a ride and she was his choice for that ride. Before he drifted off to sleep, he thought of her standing in front of him with her wet clothing, hair in a tangled mess and her well defined body. Her curves could not be concealed as the tee shirt clung to her. He had never seen a more beautiful woman. What was happening to him? He just returned home from the Navy yesterday and met this woman who moved him deep inside. He did not believe in love at first sight. It was not love. It had been a long time since he held a woman in his arms. It was his sexual needs making him feel this way. She was smart, pretty, head strong and not at all interested in him. Or did she feel it too when they touched? He was definitely attracted to her body, her mind, those blue green eyes, tender lips and her laugh that made his skin tingle.

He was in a full run as he dove under the nearby parked hummer. Rounds were popping all around him as he reached for his rifle. He needed to return fire, but where? He had no idea where the enemy was positioned. He caught the muzzle flash in a second story window and squeezed off a three round burst. He shifted, leveled his sights on a rooftop and focused his eyes on the front sight blade as he gently squeezed the trigger. A red mist flew into the air as the head shot took out the enemy. He heard his teammates join him. The firefight grew. He was soaked with sweat when he opened his eyes. It was just a dream. Getting out of bed, he walked out of his shorts as he headed to the shower. He let the water wash away the cold sweat and dream. He turned the hot lever to full as steam filled the room. He thought of the most sensible color for his new truck. Black showed every speck of dust, white was too plain for his taste. Perhaps L.L. would help him choose. Suddenly the hot water turned to ice. He jumped to the corner of the shower to avoid its cold spray. He reached for the hot water lever to turn it. It did not budge. It was on full hot. What the hell? As he was about to turn off the water, he remembered. He and Ray had often harassed one another while in the shower of the neighboring bathrooms.  L.L. had probably just flushed her toilet and turned on the hot water in her sink. This temporarily robbed him of hot water. Had she known what she did? Had she heard him in the shower and intentionally cut off his hot water?

Wearing jeans stuffed in cowboy boots and a tight fitting tee shirt, she was humming under her breath. Her long, blonde hair was braided and held with a small hair clip. He gazed from the door. With her back to him as she poured the coffee in the filter, he studied her every inch. Her jeans looked painted on and her bottom caused something inside him to shudder. He saw the smooth, milky skin of her neck and felt the strong urge to quietly walk over and plant his lips below her right ear. Instead he soundlessly walked in and cleared his throat. She spun around almost dropping the pot she held in her hands. Her eyes flashed with a mixture of fire, anger and fear.

“Sorry, I did not mean to startle you, L.L.”

He was wearing a pair of faded blue jeans without a belt. They hung low over his hips beneath the olive green tee shirt with NAVY stenciled across the front. It fit snug across his torso. She saw the definition of his chiseled chest. There was not an inch of flab on his stomach, down to his narrow hips. As he stood next to her, she could smell the scent of soap and a hint of aftershave. She struggled to inhale as her breath caught.

“L.L., if you can spare a little time, I need your help this afternoon. I need a ride to the dealership. I’m going to buy a new truck and need someone to drop me off. Do you mind?”

“No, not at all. I need to fax a flyer on Bubba to the patrol desk to be read to the next shift during roll call before they hit the streets. It will take just a minute.”

They loaded up in L.L.’s truck. Shaun rolled down the window as soon as they began to move. L.L. turned off the air and dialed in a country music station on the radio. They drove to the highway with neither saying a word. From the corner of her eye, she could see him watching her. She felt his eyes traveling up and down her body. This made her uncomfortable. Her face began to blush. No man had made her feel like this in a long time. Part of her wanted him to look at her this way. The other part resented his outright ogling. He could be a gentleman one moment and the next he was like a predator.

She looked at him and did her best to stay calm as she spoke.

“Shaun, you are staring at me and I really don’t like it.”

“I’m sorry, L.L. I lost my manners for a moment. It has been a long time since I’ve been in the presence of a lady. I think it’s sexy for a woman to drive a truck. It does something to me.” He looked out the passenger window and kicked himself for acting like a fool. He could not take his eyes away from her. He decided to change the subject so asked about her career.

“What made you choose law enforcement as a career, L.L.?”

“When I was growing up, I learned something about myself. In school there always seemed to be a guy around like Bubba. They bullied others who would not or could not stand up to them. I found myself standing up for them. I was in the principal’s office for fighting almost on a daily basis. My degree is in business management. Thinking about sitting behind a desk, wearing a dress and pushing papers for a living made me sick. I love being outdoors in the world. I felt being a deputy was where I wanted to be. My family was not pleased when I informed them of my decision to join the force. My mother did not work outside the home. It was her calling and she loved it. She did not understand how I could earn a college degree and not use it in the business world. I can’t tell you how many times we had that discussion.”

“When I was in the academy, we had a FBI instructor who taught interview and interrogation classes. I will never forget his first few minutes in that classroom. He wore a suit and tie and looked the part of a typical FBI agent. That quickly changed.  He pulled his stool close to the front row of students. He did not say a word for a long time. He looked every student in the eye as if he could see into our minds and read our thoughts. Then he stood and made an announcement.”

“I was a street cop in New Orleans for six years before I joined the FBI. I served in the quarters on graveyard shift. I saw and did it all. I’m going to ask all of you a question. Before I do, I want to see your hands in you laps. When I finish asking the question, I want you to pick up your pens and write your answers without hesitation. You will have five seconds to write. When I call time, I want you to place your hands back in your laps.”

He asked. “Why do you want to be cops? Write,” he commanded. Five seconds later he called time.

“Down the road you will be at a dinner, a backyard cookout or a family and friends gathering. Someone is going to single you out. In front of others, out of sheer curiosity meaning no harm, they will ask why you chose law enforcement as a career. Now imagine this setting and give the answers you just jotted down.”

L.L. continued, “He pointed to cadets and asked them to read their answers. Most were canned answers and sounded shallow when voiced. Most fell into the category “I want to help people”.

“So, writing tickets to men and women on their way to work and rushing to get kids to school is your idea of helping people will be the response of those listening. You will look foolish as you stutter and stammer without a clear and reasonable answer. Those who wanted to embarrass you will had succeeded. Sure, you can state issuing tickets to speeders helps drive down accidents thus helping society. Since all of you are joining my law enforcement family, I want you to make me proud. I want you to answer this difficult question with honesty and clarity. Here is the best answer I’ve heard in my career. You will never forget what I am about to teach you. You will use it even after you retire 30 plus years from this day.”

“Someone did something to someone else. It is wrong and someone needs to do something about it, now”.

“Here is an example. An 85 year old grandmother goes to the mall pharmacy to buy her medications. She parks her old car in the handicap space near the front door. In her purse has $35 in cash as she heads for the door. Suddenly a young man at a full run comes from behind and grabs the strap of her purse as he passes pulling it away. The strap catches her elbow. Before it breaks free, she is knocked viciously to the hot asphalt parking lot. Her hip is broken as she lies on the pavement on this hot summer day. Her skin is burning. She cries out and the whole world comes to a sudden stop. Citizens see the crime and the poor victim lying in pain on the ground. Some call 911 while others rush to her aid. They get a blanket from a car and gently slide it under her body to prevent the burning. They minister to her and comfort her as best they can. These people do this out of love. Others in the crowd see the lady receiving care look across the parking lot at the dirt bag sprinting away with her purse. Some stand there afraid to move. Some run to catch him. He is tackled and restrained by a citizen until the officers arrive to take him to jail.”

“In my world, we all fall into one of two categories. This world is made of Firemen or Policemen. Firemen, nurses, doctors, ministers, teachers and all the other similar professions dedicate their lives to giving or ministering to mankind. These people quickly rush to the aid of the lady. Cops, coaches, servicemen and women, carpenters or whatever we do for a living are all cops at heart. We see the dear lady cared for and the man responsible for her suffering is fleeing. We are compelled to capture him, take him to jail and on to court where citizens judge his conduct. In my opinion, we are all either cops or firemen. Cops are special. We can be firemen when needed. Firemen can chase down bad guys to make a citizen’s arrest also. Now when someone asks why you are a cop, you respond, ‘Someone did something to someone else. It’s not right and someone needs to do something about it, now!’ If they get it right away, great. If they seem confused, tell them about the old lady. You’ll know by their reaction if they were jacking with you or sincerely trying to understand your career choice.”

“I like to engage these people in such settings. I enjoy telling this story and asking, are you a cop or fireman?” L.L. looked to Shaun as she spoke. “I don’t need to ask who you are. I already know. You are a cop at heart. Twelve years as a SEAL speaks volumes.” A pleasant smile came to her lips as she looked back to the road.

“Wow! That is the best answer one could give to explain why you do what you do! I will remember that answer as long as I live.” L.L. slowed her truck and signaled for the turn into the Ford dealership. She pulled to the front door. Before they could exit, a saleswoman approached L.L. and handed her a business card.

“Are you interested in trading your truck for a new one today?”

“Nope. I love my truck and plan to keep it for many more years. Besides it’s paid for and I enjoy not having a truck note. Shaun here wants to buy a new truck today.” The lady spun around and handed a second card to the tall, cowboy looking man as she offered her hand.

“Do you have a special type of truck in mind, Shaun?”

“Yes I do. I want a F-250 King Ranch with the diesel engine. I want every option available and an extended warranty. I just don’t know the color. I will pay cash and have done my research on the cost. I am not going to haggle here all day long. I expect your price to be as low as you are willing to go. I will let you know if you have a deal. If you play me, we will go to another dealership and try again. You have one shot. I recommend get the rock bottom cash price from your sales manager. By the time you return, we will have made a color decision. If the price is right, we will do the paper work. I want to be on the road in an hour, no more.”

Shaun took L.L.’s hand and led her to the new trucks parked by the street. She did not realize she was holding his hand as they walked to the big, white truck. It was natural to walk while holding his hand. Why does he make me feel like I’ve known him all my life? They broke free as Shawn opened the driver’s door to sit behind the wheel.

“You’re really something. I would not have guessed you are such a hard-nose business man. That young lady’s head was spinning as she hurried to see the manager.”

“L.L., it’s very simple. I know what I want. I know how much the truck is worth. I’m not here to play games or waste time. She needed to hear my ground rules and cut to the chase. What is your favorite color?”

“Green is my favorite color. What does that have to do with picking the color of your new truck?”

“I want your input on the color, plain and simple. I trust your taste better than my own.  Green you say. I like green too. It reminds me of your eyes when the sunlight catches them. At night, they look blue. When you are angry, they sparkle with a hint of fire. It fascinates me. Yeah, that’s it right there. I see that fire in your eyes starting to grow. I love it! Are you getting mad at me? For asking your help to pick out a color, L.L.?”

L.L. felt a mixture of anger and joy. I don’t know whether to hug him or slap him. He is so arrogant and sweet at the same time.

Without a word, she walked back to the showroom with Shaun laughing as he followed ten paces behind. He enjoyed making her uncomfortable. She was accustomed to being in charge. He rattled her. He knew she was aware of it. L.L. went to the ladies room while Shaun took a chair in the lobby. She quickly washed her face with cold water to clear her head. Why was she feeling like a little school girl around him? He’s just a man! Why do I let him get under my skin so quickly? Is he just interested in my body? Does he want to take me to his bed and check me off his list of things to do now that he’s home? Does he want to date me and have a long term relationship or just casual and convenient sex?  Well, I’m not his little toy! He will learn who he is dealing with! Two can play this little game. You want to play with me, Shaun? Well, I can play too!

Shaun watched her walk across the showroom toward him. She carried herself in a graceful, cat like manner but she had an edge to her as well. It sent out a signal. ‘Don’t mess with me or you will regret it’. As she sat across from him, the saleslady returned with a slip of paper in her hand. Her face beamed as she approached Shaun.

“Mr. McVeigh, I have good news. Did you make a color selection?”

“Yes I did. We picked the green one by the street. Do you have a good price in your hand?”

“Yes sir I do. Can we go to my office to write our sales proposal?”

“Sure. L.L., will you join us?”

“Why not? I want to see how this deal goes down. If it is good, I may use your system on the next truck I buy.”

The saleslady sat at her desk in her tiny, glass enclosed office. Shaun and L.L. sat on the opposite side of the small desk. She hammered on the laptop keyboard and hit print. She quickly pulled the draft from the printer looking over it before handing it to Shaun.

“You did very well, Ma’am. I agree with the price. I will be back in one hour to take delivery of my new truck. Do I need to sign anything before we leave?”

“Yes. Sign the proposal and I’ll have the paper work and your new truck ready when you return.”

Shaun led L.L. through the front door and to her truck.

“Where are we going, Shaun?”

“Do you know where Strawn’s is?”

“Oh, you bet I do. I try to stay away from there. I do confess, I love their Strawberry pies.”

“Then let’s get something to eat. For years, I’ve thought about their cheeseburgers and hash browns.”

They took a booth and placed their order. L.L. opted for a small garden salad with iced tea. Shaun ordered a large, loaded burger and a tea.

“Jake tells me you are a pilot. Will you go back to flying now that you’re home?”

“Yes. I haven’t had any stick time in years. I want to get back into it right away. Jimmy and I are going to do a little ground school this afternoon. Maybe we will have time to do some air work and touch-and-goes. Have you ever taken lessons or been in a small plane?”

“I never gave lessons any thought. I went up once in the patrol plane with our department pilot. We were searching for an escapee from a work crew. We spotted him in a tree line about three miles from the highway where he had been working. He was wearing those bright orange coveralls and not smart enough to roll in a muddy ditch to camouflage himself. He stuck out like a sore thumb. We circled over him directing the ground officers to his location. He received another six months in jail and lost his trustee privileges.”

“Y’all want some pie and coffee now?” the pretty, young waitress asked.

Shaun looked at L.L. as he ordered two slices of strawberry pie and two cups of coffee.

“You trying make me fat, Shaun? I’ll have to run an extra two miles in the morning!”

“It will be worth it. Besides, one can’t come here knowing how good these pies are and walk out not having some.”

When they returned to the dealership, the new green F-250 was parked by the front door. The thin layer of dust was washed off and the water spots were removed by hand towels. The saleslady was out the door the moment L.L’s truck pulled into the next space.

“Mr. McVeigh, I have your paperwork in my office ready to be signed. We filled the fuel tank, checked all fluids and tire pressure. Your truck is ready for the road.”

Five minutes later, L.L. followed Shaun south on Hwy 1 toward the plantation. They pulled into the horseshoe drive in front of the big house.

“I’m going to see Jimmy now and get back to flying. When I’m finished, I want to take the truck out for a spin. Would you like to join me?”

“I want to check in with Cindy and the girls. When you finish with Jimmy, let me know. I think I could enjoy a ride in a nice new truck.” Cindy and her daughters were sitting on the back porch shelling speckled butter beans and shucking sweet corn when L.L. joined them. L.L. picked up a bowl Melissa was using and helped shell the beans. From the back porch, she watched Shaun walk down the dirt road to the hangar. The large doors were open and L.L. could see the big, yellow crop dusters sitting in the shade. Shaun disappeared into the darkness. L.L. shifted her eyes to Cindy who was smiling.

“Nicole told me you had a thing for him. Watching you watch him proves she’s right.” L.L.’s face blushed bright red as she lowered her eyes to the bowl in her hands.

“I don’t know what you and Nicole are trying to do to me. Y’all are seeing things that don’t exist. He is a good looking man. Any woman would enjoy watching him walk. It does not mean I have a thing for him, as you say. We are friends. That’s all we will ever be. I feel like part of his family, like another sister. I would never let my feelings go beyond that. It could screw up my life and I like my life just the way it is.”

Cindy stood and stretched her back as she spoke,”OK girls, it’s time for a short nap.” With little resistance, they pouted as they followed their Mother into the house.

L.L. paused and considered what she was feeling for Shaun. Was she so transparent?  Nicole and Cindy both picked up on her facial expressions when Shaun was around. She had to confess she liked him. He was the most handsome man she had ever seen. Getting involved with him had the potential to complicate her life. I’m happy now with my career and living here. I’ll tell him I am only interested in being good friends, like a brother and sister.

Cindy eased the screen door quietly closed as she came back on the porch.

“What’s worrying you L.L.? I see a frown on your face. I’ve never known you to look so frustrated.”

“You and Nicole have noticed I find Shaun interesting. He is a Navy SEAL and been in combat. He is attractive and I like his sense of humor. But I can’t let things get out of hand with him. I love Nicole like a sister and Jake like a father. Getting involved with Shaun would change all of this. I am not going to risk it. I love living here with them. Sure, he is easy to look at and fun to be around but I will not let our relationship grow beyond a brother and sister.”

“You just keep telling yourself that, L.L. My money is on Shaun. He will rope you one way or the other. I see the way he looks at you. He is already in love regardless of you accepting it or recognizing it.”

L.L. bit her bottom lip as she continued to shell beans and watch Shaun and Jimmy roll a small, white plane out of the hangar. They walked around it a couple of times talking and pointing. They opened the large door on the right side and clambered in. Shaun sat in the rear tandem seat behind Jimmy. L.L. heard Shaun yell the word ‘Clear’ just before the engine started. She saw the little flaps on the wings go up and down as Shaun tested the controls. They taxied to the dark green, grass landing strip and stopped. The engine revved and the plane began to roll. The tail wheel came off the ground. In less than 200 feet, the airplane broke free of the grass and was airborne. L.L. and Cindy watched as the plane climbed and turned east toward the river.

An hour later, the beans were cooking on the stove when they heard the rumble of the plane heading back to the strip. Cindy and L.L. took their glasses of tea with them as they went to sit in the large porch swing. Shaun brought the plane in low and slow as he approached the end of the landing strip. As the wheels touched and rolled a short distance, he increased the power to the engine and off the ground it went again. He climbed several hundred feet and turned left. He made ten such touch-and-goes before he landed and taxied to the hangar.

Moments later Jimmy and Shaun walked to the porch each sipping a cold beer.

“How’d he do, Jimmy?” Cindy asked as the men sat on the porch steps.

“Just like falling off a log! The boy still has the smooth touch it takes to fly. If I didn’t know better, I would swear he was flying all these years rather than fighting on the ground.”

Shaun patted Jimmy on the back.

“I had the best instructor. You taught me the basics well. Matter of fact, you pounded them into my head. How could I forget what you taught me?”

“Well, your head is hard as a rock. It took all the patience I could muster to get through it!”

The screen door slammed as Julie and Melissa came out of the kitchen.

“Hi Shaun!” they said at the same time. “Is that truck out front yours?”

“Yes, I just got it today. L.L. picked out the color. Do you like it?”

Julie and Melissa climbed in between L.L. and their mother on the swing. Julie asked, “Are you going to take it down to the creek?”

Shaun laughed, “No, it’s too nice to take mudding.”

“Will you take us for a ride in it?” Melissa asked.

“Sure, how about it L.L.? Do you want to go?”

“Not this time. We have supper on the stove. I need to keep an eye on it. Perhaps after we have dinner, we can take a quick spin.”

“I’ll go too,” Cindy said as she stood. She led the girls around the house and they climbed into the big, new truck. Shaun fired it up and off they went. Julie sat in Cindy’s lap and Melissa on the console armrest. Shaun took them to the highway and headed south.

Julie leaned forward to see around Melissa. With a giant smile on her face she said, “When I grow up, I want one just like this, Shaun!” “Me too!” Melissa chimed in.

An hour later, they pulled into the back yard near the porch and got out. After supper was finished and dishes washed, Shaun went to the hangar and returned carrying an ice chest. He lowered the tailgate and slid the box into the bed. He closed the gate and signaled for L.L. She climbed into the cab and buckled her seat belt.

They listened to current country hits on KRMD-FM as they drove south on Hwy 1. They rode the back roads of South Caddo Parish wandering into North Desoto Parish. Making a loop, they traveled along narrow, country farm roads and dirt roads. They passed through large woodlands and over clear water creeks. Eventually Shaun worked his way back to the plantation as the sun was setting. He drove passed the house and out to the Oxbow lake. They parked the truck and lowered the tailgate. Shaun pulled down the step concealed in the tailgate and flopped his feet on it as he sat. He pulled out a couple of cold beers and handed one to L.L.

“You are killing my diet! Pie and now beer. I’ll have to add another mile in my morning routine before I go to work tomorrow.”

“Well, enjoy it now and pay the price later,” he responded with a big grin on his face. She leaned back against the tailgate looking out over the lake. On the far side, near the bank, a large, gray Crane stood silently as he hunted for crawfish. Quickly his long ,narrow beak dove into the brown water coming up with a large crawfish trapped in his mouth. He raised his head swallowing the fish in a single gulp. Fireflies began to drift in from nowhere. Their little lights blinked and flashed reminding L.L. of Christmas lights back home. She thought back to when she was a little girl. She and her brother ran around the yard catching them. They punched holes in the lid of a recycled mayonnaise jar to place the flies inside. It glowed as it sat on her nightstand at night. She knew they would be dead by morning, so she opened her window and released them. They hovered nearby for a moment as if saying thank you before they flew away.

“A penny for your thoughts.”

Shaun was standing close. She felt her face blush.

“I was thinking of fireflies and how we caught them as kids.” She took a step and before she realized it, she was tightly wrapped in Shaun’s arms. He pulled her to him, strong but gentle. His face came down to hers and his lips touched her softly. A warm sensation traveled from her lips through her body. Things moved within her she hadn’t felt in years, if ever. Her mind told her to pull away and stop as her body told her to savor it to the fullest. She felt his hard muscles relax as he ran his tongue between her lips. She felt them part without a thought of hesitation. He nipped lightly on her lower lip as he took himself deeper into her mouth. He explored and caressed her until her knees began to weaken.

He wanted to hold her in his arms from the moment he first saw her. She smelled of honeysuckle, apple blossoms and innocence. He knew he caught her off guard and was pleased to know she had not slapped him. She was responding as he hoped. Her pouty lips were soft and moist. He felt her shudder as he probed within her mouth. Deep within, one of them moaned as electricity coursed through their bodies. He felt her slender body next to his and recognized her breast pressing against his chest. He realized he could get lost in her. He wanted to so badly.

She quickly pulled her head back. With her hands on his chest, she pushed them apart.  The push was tentative, a mixture of determination and hesitation. He had done what he wanted so badly to do. He had kissed her, touched her lovely body, held her in his arms and tasted her. She had not resisted but responded in kind. He knew she too felt the connection. He was happy now.

Holding him at arm’s length, she looked in his eyes. His heart skipped as she spoke in a soft, sleepy voice. Her blue green eyes flashed mystery and fire.

“Shaun, we can’t do this. It is wrong for us to be together. I love your family like my own. I like you very much as a friend, like a brother. I can’t handle you on a higher level. It would mess up my life and your family. You just returned home and haven’t yet settled in. I am afraid you are way over due to be with a woman. I feel you are attracted to me for the wrong reasons. I am not willing to be used by you. Please don’t do that again, Shaun. Let’s just keep our relationship on even footing, as friends, OK?”

He smiled a little as he ran the back of his hand down her cheek. She was tall and almost eye to eye with him. He stepped back a short distance and took her hand. He asked her to walk with him. His hand was large and strong as he laced his fingers between hers as if he had done so a million times. It was familiar and felt so right to be touching as they strolled down the dock to the lake. At the end, he leaned against the rail still holding her hand and began to speak.

“You are correct. I haven’t settled down or dated others. You should know something about me. I know me. I know what I felt the moment we met. I knew you were special. You would change my life forever. I knew I wanted you from that very moment. It was all I could do to keep my hands off you each time we are together. I can’t get you off my mind and I don’t want to.”

“I understand we are moving a little fast. I know it is confusing. We did not plan this. There is something special between us. I have never felt this way before. When we kissed just now, I knew it was right and I will not let it slip away. Did you feel it too?”

“I don’t know what to think. My head is spinning. I can’t think straight. I felt something.  Not sure what it is or what it means. I confess I am attracted to you. But I can’t let that get in the way of my life and yours. I will not let another man hurt me again. I know myself too. I think you should meet others and date, sort out your life. I am happy with my work. We don’t need to make this more complicated. I love living on the plantation. I can’t handle being in a relationship at this stage in my life.”

Suddenly, she was in his arms again. He kissed her powerfully driving his tongue deep into her mouth. She lost her breath. Her knees went weak. She heard herself sigh. A light moan came into the kiss as she opened to him. He knew she wanted him. She just didn’t realize it. He would show her. It was only a matter of time and he was willing to give it to her.

She pushed him back with more force this time as she broke away taking in a deep breath.

“Take me back, Shaun.”

She turned and started to walk to the truck. He quickly took her arm and spun her to him. He ran his fingers deep in her hair as he planted a soft kiss on her lips.

“Do you regret kissing me, L.L.?”

Without thinking, the words came from nowhere. “No. I mean yes. I don’t know. I don’t now what I feel. I admit I was curious. We are playing with fire. I don’t want either of us to get burned. Please take me back to the house, Shaun.”

Chapter Eight

Shaun awoke covered with sweat and breathing heavily. He was in another bad firefight. His team was being assaulted from every side. Several of his men received minor wounds. He was doing his best to formulate a plan of action. It was well before sunrise. As he cleared his thoughts trying to come back to reality, he heard L.L. singing in the shower on the other side of his wall. He wondered about her. How did she look rubbing warm soapy water over her body with her hands? He wanted to be with her, hold her next to him. He felt his body pulse. He needed to get out of bed and get her off his mind. He went to relieve himself and smiled as he flushed the toilet. The second the water began to refill the toilet, he heard her yell.

“Son of a bitch! What the hell?” she screamed. He smiled holding back the laugh about to erupt. He did not want her to know it was intentional. He wanted to do it again sometime. By the time Shaun showered, dressed and headed to the kitchen, L.L.’s truck was driving pass the house on her way to work. He joined Jake in the kitchen for a cup of coffee and the newspaper. They said little other than good morning.

“What are you going to do today, son?”

“I have another session with Jimmy. We are flying the Super Cub around a while. Doing more stalls, air work and touch-and-goes. I will go solo after that. How about you?”

“I’m going to take the girls fishing at the Oxbow this morning. When we all get back, maybe we can go for a ride on the 4 wheeler or you can give me a ride in your new truck. We can take the girls with us.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Cindy and Nicole came in to start breakfast and greeted the men. Shaun noticed the coloring and swelling was clearing up on Cindy’s face. She could spread her smile into both eyes and cheeks now.

They were almost finished with breakfast when they heard the front door open. Shaun immediately knew who it was. He remained seated as she walked in the kitchen stopping at the swing doorway. She was a tall woman. Her hair was a mixture of snow and pepper. She was heavy and round but moved with the grace of a dancer. Her mahogany skin was smooth as silk with large brown eyes that missed nothing. She first looked to Jake and Nicole as she said good morning. Her eyes traveled to Cindy and a look of confusion came to her face. She nodded and said good morning to her. She slowly scanned to Shaun and her right hand went to her enormous bosom.

“Oh dear Lord! Oh dear Lord! Jake told me you was coming home.” She began to walk to Shaun as she stretched out her arms to him. Shaun quickly stood and met her. He wrapped his arms around her lifting her off her feet. He spun her around in a full circle as he planted a kiss on her smiling cheek.

“Put me down you fool! You’ll pull your back and I’ll have to deal with it. Now put me down, Shaun McVeigh. You mind me now, boy!” He lowered her holding her tightly as he gently kissed her forehead. Her face filled with color as she pushed him back at arm’s length. She fanned her face with her hands looking him up and down with a frowning expression. “You lost that weight I put on you the last time you were home. You are too skinny. I am going to put it right back on you, Shaun. You know I am,” she said in her low voice as she smiled.

“I’ve prayed many a night for you, young man. My prayers have been answered. Thank God he brought you home to us.”

“How is John doing, Bonnie?”

“That boy has finally got his head on straight. He finished Med school and is taking care of folks down at the V.A. He volunteers at the neighborhood clinic in Cedar Grove. I’ll bring him by soon and fix everybody a big ole supper like I used to.”

“I can’t wait to see him and have that supper I dreamed about every time I opened a pack of MRIs.”

Jake stood and hugged Bonnie. “Thank you for your prayers, Bonnie. I know God answers those you lift up. Bonnie, this lovely lady is Cindy Easterly. She and her two little girls live here now.

Cindy was up and extending her hand to Bonnie.

“Mrs. Whyte, I’ve heard so many good things about you! It’s great to meet you in person. I went to High school with your son, John. I always knew he would grow up to be a fine man.”

Bonnie gently slapped Cindy’s hand away taking Cindy aback. Bonnie then wrapped her large arms around Cindy pulling her into a loving hug.

“Miss Cindy, we don’t shake hands in this house. We hug instead.” Bonnie pecked Cindy’s forehead with a gentle kiss seeing the bruising on her face told her all she needed to know. She was a woman in need of family and love.

Cindy’s eyes began to water as she hugged Bonnie back. A bond, one that would never be broken was instantaneous between them. It touched Cindy deeply.

When Bonnie was on duty, she was commander of the house. She ordered all present to finish their breakfast. “I’ll get a cup of coffee and sit with y’all a while.”

As Bonnie took her first sip, Julie and Melissa bounced into the dining room and stood next to Cindy. Melissa climbed on to her Mother’s lap while Julie stood between her mother and Bonnie.

“Well, if I was going to paint a picture of little angels, I would just have to paint one with you two in it.”  Julie smiled as she looked up at the big, dark woman she had never seen before.

Cindy said, “This is Ms. Bonnie Whyte.”

“Nice to meet you, Ms. Bonnie.”

“Come here girl and have a seat. Let me get a better look at you.” Bonnie pulled Julie on to her lap as she ran her soft hand over Julie’s golden curls and down her small back.

“How old are you, Julie?”

“I’m four and will be five next month.”

“Well, when the time comes, I’ll bake your birthday cake. What is your favorite cake, honey?”

“I love Chocolate. It’s the best!”

“Right you are, sweetie! I just love a homemade chocolate cake. You can help me make it if you want.”

Melissa slid down from her mother and stood next to Bonnie. “I like chocolate too! Can I help?”

Bonnie moved Julie to her left leg and pulled Melissa on to her large lap as if it happened every morning.

“Yes, sweetheart, you can help Bonnie make your sister’s birthday cake too.”

“I’m three and I will be four on January second.”

“Well, looks like we will have to make you a cake when the time comes. Won’t we?”

“Yes ma’am.”

Cindy went to the kitchen to fix their plates while Bonnie got to know the little ones better.

After they finished, they helped clear the table.

Jake walked to Bonnie as she washed the dishes and put his arm around her shoulder. “With the house filling back up, do you think you could now come four or five days a week instead of two?”

“Now Jake, we had this conversation some time back as I recall. I told you I want to slow down at my age. I’ve worked here for over 30 years. It was hard work at that and you know it, Jake.”

“I know, Bonnie, and you know how grateful we are to have you with us. You are part of our family and always have been. If you can’t swing more days, at your age as you say, perhaps you can help us find someone to help you.”

She frowned and looked out the window where she saw Cindy and the girls on the porch swing. His eyes followed hers as he smiled at her. She flicked her wet fingers in his face with warm soapy water.

“Get out of my kitchen, Jake! I’ll give it some thought.”

He leaned over and kissed her temple as he said, “We love you Bonnie Whyte and always will.”

“I said go, Jake.”

He stepped out of the kitchen to the porch as he wiped his face with his sleeve and balanced his coffee with his other hand. He snickered as he sat in the other rocker next to Nicole.

“Looks like she ran you out of her kitchen again. What did you do this time?”

“I asked her to start coming four or five days a week instead of the two she normally works. I told her we needed her more now that the house is filling up. She splashed dishwater in my face and told me to get out.”

Nicole laughed as she said, “You’ll never get her to stop coming here. Now that Cindy, the girls and Shaun are here, I bet she’ll be here most every day. This place wouldn’t be the same without her.”

“I know. I told her if she couldn’t, we could hire another housekeeper to help her out. That’s when she splashed me.”

“You’re lucky she didn’t dunk your head in the sink.”

She was at ease as she drove her unit down Linwood and hooked a left on the Stonewall Frierson Road. She needed to be back on the job. She needed to clear her head and decide how to deal with Shaun McVeigh. He was clearly interested in her. More than a quick fling in the sack. When he kissed her, alarm bells sounded in her head. She was angry at herself for responding the way she did.

I’ll just have to stay out of his reach and give him time to settle in. Maybe he’ll go out, find someone else, pester them, take his mind elsewhere and give me some peace of mind. I start my martial arts class after work this week. I’m looking forward to working out and staying away from him. It couldn’t come at a better time.

A smile came to her face as she remembered how he flushed his toilet to cut off her hot water. He did that on purpose. He would learn two can play this game.

After Cindy and Nicole left for work, Jake met Bonnie in the kitchen.

“Can you spare a couple hours with me? I promised the girls I would take them bream fishing this morning.”

“I have plenty to do here, Jake. I don’t have time to go off fishing with you again. On second thought, I better go to keep an eye on them. I don’t want to be digging fishhooks out of their fingers. I’ll go but not longer than two hours. Now I have all of the upstairs to deal with thanks to you and your boarding house.”

Shaun and Jimmy worked through all of the stalls and spin recoveries they planned.  They landed and Jimmy got out. Shaun took off and stayed in the pattern for another hour. He did full stop landings, back taxis and touch-and-goes until he was as sharp as ever.

They refilled the fuel tanks and washed the bugs off the leading edges and windscreen. Jimmy fired up the Ag Cat and headed off to the south cotton fields. Shaun saw Jake, Bonnie and the girls fishing down at the lake. He hopped in his truck to join them.

He parked near the dock and dropped the tailgate. He pulled the old fishing line from his reel and replaced it with new line. Taking his casting rod and tackle box, he joined the group. They were all sitting on the dock dangling their legs over the water. The ice chest was filled with large mason bream. As he sat his tackle box on the dock, Julie and Melissa both yelled, “I’ve got another one!” Fishing poles raised and the big bream flipped out of the water. Melissa steered hers to Bonnie who ducked to keep from being slapped in the face by the fish on the line.

“Wow sweetie, that’s twice you almost got me! Now settle down and swing him back to me gently. Julie swung her fish to Jake who quickly took the bream off the line, tossed it in the chest and baited her hook.

“There you go, Julie. Catch another one.”

“Looks like fried fish and hush puppies for supper tonight!” Shaun exclaimed.

Bonnie placed her hand over her brow to block the morning sun as she responded, “Yep, but I’m not dressing ’em. That’s a man’s job, for you and Jake.”

“I’ll clean them as long as you promise to cook them, Bonnie.”

“Then we have a deal.”

Shaun tied on a black and silver tiny torpedo and cast out into the lake near the grassy bank. He flicked a couple of times, just enough to make the bait wiggle on the surface. He let it rest in the water for a moment before he flicked it a little harder. An explosion erupted. The bait was suddenly attacked by a large mouth bass. The fish jumped completely out of the water with the bait clamped tightly in his mouth. He then dove deeply into the dark brown water. Shaun set the hooks and held on. The drag on the reel  screamed as the fish took the line deeper into the channel of the old river. Shaun set the drag and pulled the tip of the rod higher. The rod tip bent down toward the fish as it changed direction. It was heading straight for him and the line was going slack. Shaun reeled as quickly as he could. He knew the fish intended to gain slack, come out of the water and shake the bait free. Shaun was ready for him. As the big bass broke the surface, he pulled the rod to the side and held the slack. The fish dove again and the line tightened. The rod dipped and swished from side to side. It took a few more minutes of battling the bass before Shaun could pull him from the water. Shaun grasped the lower jaw of the bass and lifted him to the dock. He pulled out the bait hooks and held the bass for all to see.

“Looks like a ten pounder, Shaun,” Jake said calmly.

“Yes, he is every bit of ten.” Shaun eased him into the icy water in the chest. As he quickly closed the lid, the bass exploded again. The box shifted a few inches as the bass slammed into the sides of the box. The lid popped up once. Shaun closed it and placed his tackle box on the top to keep it secure.

Melissa and Julie squealed throughout the fish battle. They were amazed at the sight of such a ferocious fish. They had never seen one so large or strong. The bream they caught were fighters too but nothing compared to this big bass.

“Julie, do you want to try to catch a big bass?”

“Yes!” as she jumped up and handed her pole to Jake.

Shaun cast the bait on the other side of the dock and handed the rod to Julie. “Crank this little arm here to take up the slack. That’s it. Let it rest a moment then lift the tip of the rod a little to make the bait twitch. That’s it. Good. Let it sit for a moment. Then do it again. Keep the line tight. You never know when you’re going to get a strike.”

Melissa caught the largest mason bream they had ever seen. Her cork went out of sight and her line went so tight it took all her strength to hold on. The cane pole strained and bent down to the surface of the water. She yelled for help. Bonnie sat next to her rolling with laughter.

“You can handle him, honey! Just play him out. Don’t try to pull him up till he gets tired of fighting you. Hold on. Hold on now, You got him. Just keep playing him. That’s it.  That’s the way.”

The fight lessened and Melissa raised him from the water. He was at least four pounds. She swung the line to Bonnie who quickly caught him and removed the hook. She stood and moved the tackle box to raise the lid of the ice chest. When she dropped him in the box, another explosion occurred. The bream and big bass seemed to join forces as they tried to escape.

Julie was watching the action when the bass took her bait. She felt the tug on the line and yelled to Shaun, “I’ve got one, Shaun!”

“Reel in the slack and yank back on the rod tip. That’s it. That’s it! Now play him.” The bass dove for deep water as Julie set her feet further apart and battled the fish.

“Just play him, Julie. You’re doing great! Now reel him in slowly. Keep it up! You got him!” The bass dove once again for the deep water but Julie held on and kept him under control. She squealed and laughed as she fought him. Shaun stood by in case she needed his help. But she was able to bring the big bass to the dock. Shaun grabbed the fish by the jaw and pulled him from the water. It was another ten pound large mouth bass.

Jake pulled his cell phone from his pocket and took a couple shots of Julie and the fish. All hell broke loose when Shaun loaded him in the box.

Jake announced, “I think we should call it a day. We have more than enough for supper. Don’t you think, Bonnie?”

“That we do! We have enough for two messes. Boy, this is going to be some good eating!”

When they returned to the house, Jake and Shaun made short order of cleaning the fish.  Bonnie relaxed in a lawn chair by the pool and watched the girls float around on air mattresses. Regardless of the work she needed to do upstairs, she was happy to spend time with Julie and Melissa. She would come back early tomorrow morning and help Jake with the girls. She was not in the mood to tell him just now. She looked out by the hangar and watched Shaun and his father. She loved them so much. For all of her life, they were her family. It was not a surprise they moved Cindy and the girls in with them.  She thought back to when Shaun was born. His mother needed help with him. She would not trade those years for anything.

L.L. received a call on the radio asking her to contact the dispatcher in Desoto Parish Sheriff Office. She quickly pulled out her cell and hit speed dial. She learned Bubba Easterly was served divorce papers including a court directed restraining order. He was not allowed to come within 500 feet of Cindy and the girls. He was ordered to stay away from all the property of the McVeigh plantation. L.L. was informed he was upset but promised the deputies he would obey the order. Judge Jimmy Clark authorized the restraining order effective until he could hold a hearing to grant visitation rights. This would take 30 days.When she finished the call, she parked beneath the old oak tree near Hwy 1 and ruminated. She felt Bubba had the sense to honor the order but if he was drinking who knows how he would react. If he did something stupid, it would be when he was drunk after his work day on the farm. She decided to pass the word on the plantation and keep her guard high for the next several nights.

At supper time, they all enjoyed Bonnie’s company and the meal she prepared. As Bonnie got up from the table to begin clearing the dishes, Cindy and L.L. intervened. She was ordered out on the back porch to have coffee with the men.

She grumbled, “Ain’t nobody ever ordered me from my kitchen here before. I remember when Nicole used to sit in my lap and color in her little book. Now she thinks she’s in charge.”

“What was that, Bonnie?”  Jake asked as she flopped down into the large rocking chair.

“None of your business, Jake McVeigh! Just drink your coffee and day dream like you always do. I got things on my mind and I ain’t in no mood to discuss ’em with you right now.”

Jake grinned and toasted her with his coffee cup before he sipped again.

Shaun picked up the conversation where he had been when Bonnie joined them.

“I need to fly to Dallas in the morning. I may be gone for a couple of days. One of my men was released from the hospital yesterday. His wife emailed if I could visit him, it would lift his spirits. He may have to take a medical retirement this time. He has been in and out of hospitals for the last ten years. I think this injured leg will take him off the battlefield.

“Are you ready to fly the Bonanza or will you take the Super Cub?”

“I think I’ll take the Cub. It will take about 45 minutes longer but I think I need a little dual time with Jimmy in the Bonanza before I’ll feel comfortable going up alone.”

Jake went in the kitchen to fill his coffee cup. When he returned, he sat next to Bonnie.  He hoped whatever was under her bonnet was settled by now.

“Bonnie, I want to ask you something.”

“OK, fire away, Jake. I bet I already know what you’re going to ask but I’ll hold on till you finish.”

“Do you still live in that small house off Line Avenue in Cedar Grove?”

“You know I do. You came by last week and dropped off that barbecue, don’t you remember? I been in my house for over 20 years. What kind of silly question is that to be asking me, Jake? Are you feeling alright? Do we need to put you back in the hospital and have you checked out again?”

“No, Bonnie. I’m fine. Sorry, but it was a stupid way to start off.”

She blurted, “Then why not just come out with it? I don’t need you pussy footing round me. I’m as grown as you! Just tell it like it is, Jake, and be done with it!”

“Ok Bonnie. I was wondering if you would consider staying here with us for now. I’m not sure how long Cindy and the girls will be here. It would be good for you, and us, if you stayed. You have your own room downstairs. This has been your home as much as it has been mine for all these years. Would you give it some thought? Besides, I worry about you living in that part of town. Every day there are shootings or break-ins. I would feel better knowing you were safe here with us.”

“Jake, nobody messes with Bonnie Whyte in Cedar Grove! They all know me. I am well respected in my community! I teach Sunday school at Calvary and I’ve been the president of my neighborhood watch group twice in the last ten years. Don’t worry about me, Jake. I know you want me to be safe. I have lived there all these years and never had a problem. I do hear ’em shooting down the street on Friday and Saturday nights but they never come to my end. They know I carry my 32 special all the time and they know I don’t play.”

“Let me put this another way, Bonnie. Let me buy your house at the current market price. Move back here with us and help me out. I still have five empty bedrooms no one uses. I am comfortable in saying I think Cindy and the girls will be here for at least a year.  When, and if, they leave, they will keep their rooms. They will always be in our family.  Who knows, over the next few years, Ray, Nicole and Shaun may settle down and have families. There will always be family in this house. If you don’t want to sell your house, why not let your sister move in and stay there? You told me she lives in the heart of the crack houses where gang members spray painted her house last year.”

“I don’t know, Jake. I do worry about that girl. She still teaches at Linwood and needs to live near the school till she retires year after next. I know I’m welcome here, Jake. I still have some of my things here in my bedroom. I’ll have to talk to her about this. I do appreciate you on this, Jake, I surely do.”

“Great! Then it’s all settled.”

“Nothing is settled till I say it is!” she said as she stood and went back in the kitchen to inspect. It was spotless and everything was in order. She opened the refrigerator and counted eggs, bacon, jellies and milk. I’ll pick up some on the way home and bring it back in the morning.

L.L. sat on Cindy’s bed as she told her about Bubba being served today.

“I want you to keep up your guard, Cindy, at least for a couple of days. When you drive to work, watch your mirror. When you pull in the office parking lot, look before you bail out of your car. He’s not supposed to get within 500 feet of you. He is not allowed to call, text, email or snail mail you for the next 30 days. If he crosses any of these lines, I want you to call me ASAP. You got it?”

“Thank you, L.L., for watching out for me and my family. Ray is always in the office at the crack of dawn, well before I get to work. I already watch my back. When I go shopping, I look all over the parking lot to see if he is there waiting. I carry my cell in my hand if I’m not here or at work. I have you on speed dial.” She leaned over and hugged L.L.

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