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For four years, Grace Sullivan wrote to a Marine she never met, and fell in love. But when his deployment ended, so did the letters…Noah has always known exactly what he wants out of life. Success. Stability. Control. That’s why he joined the Marines and that’s why he’s fighting his way — literally — through college. Now that he’s got the rest of his life on track, he has one last conquest: Grace Sullivan. But since he was the one who stopped writing, he knows that winning her back will be his biggest battle yet.
AnnMarie Sullivan made one mistake in her freshman year and her entire college existence became tainted by it. Guys labeled her as easy and girls shied away. To cope, AnnMarie stayed away from Central social life and away from Central men until Bo Randolph storms into her life. Bo allows instinct to rule his behavior. If it feels good, do it, has been his motto. AnnMarie is everything he didn’t realize he wanted. He knows he should walk away, but he just can’t.
Twenty-five-year-old Sgt. Gray Phillips is at a crossroads in his life: stay in the Marine Corps or get out and learn to be a civilian? He’s got forty-five days of leave to make up his mind but the people in his life aren’t making the decision any easier. His dad wants him to get out; his grandfather wants him to stay in. And his growing feelings for Sam Anderson are wreaking havoc with his heart…and his mind. He believes relationships get ruined when a Marine goes on deployment. So now he’s got an even harder decision to make: take a chance on Sam or leave love behind and give his all to the Marines.
Winter Donovan loves two things: her sister and her sister's ex boyfriend. She's spent her whole life doing the right thing except that one time, that night when Finn O'Malley looked hollowed out by his father's death. Then she did something very wrong that felt terribly right. Finn can't stop thinking about Winter and the night and he'll do anything to make her a permanent part of his life, even if it means separating Winter from the only family she has. Their love was supposed to be unrequited but one grief stricken guy and one girl with too big of a heart results in disastrous consequences.
**Also includes the bonus epilogue for UNSPOKEN along with a preview of THE CHARLOTTE CHRONICLES—a spin off of the Woodlands series.
My biggest fear, huh? I don’t think I ever told you about my recruitment experience, did I? So the AF reps show up at high school on career day. Bo had skipped and gone somewhere to drink the day away. Lucky bastard. I would’ve cut class that day, too, but I had too many skips and was warned that if I had any more, they would withhold my diploma and make me go to summer school. That wasn’t going to happen.
Anyway, I end up talking with the Army and Marine recruiters. Their spiels are pretty similar. They ask me about my interests, and I tell them getting the hell out of Nowheresville is my priority. The Marine recruiter nods and says he felt the same way. He tells me I can earn money, get my college paid for, and make a lot of friends. The first one sounds interesting, the second intriguing, the third I could care less about. Turns out the last one is actually the biggest benefit of joining.
Later, the recruiter follows up with me. Gives me a huge laundry list of awesome things about joining. I tell him he doesn’t have to sell me anymore, that I’m ready to sign. Only I’m debating between the Marines and the Army. Then I make my biggest mistake ever. I admit that I’m not a fan of water. The Marine recruiter laughs and says, “You’ll be infantry, son,” and I sign.
When I get to boot camp they tell me the Marines are a branch of the Navy. The Navy, Grace. The Marine recruiter must have noted that I had an aversion to water, because every punishment I ever received was water-related.
The moral of this story is that I can’t go around telling people my greatest fear, because someone will use it against me. It ain’t water anymore.
I think what you feel on my letters is dust. I’m bummed that it is on my letters to you. They say it’s sand, but it’s finer than that. It’s like the particles that make up the sand, and it is everywhere. When you get home on leave and wash for the first time, you have to stand under the water for at least twenty minutes, all the while watching the black dust collect and pool at your feet, creating coffee-colored water that swirls down the drain.
I don’t think you can ever fully erase the dust from your belongings. It sticks with you no matter how long you let the water wash over you or how many times you wipe it away. Like the tension I have in being weaponless and exposed back home, the dust is one of the many things I’ll carry with me when I’m out.
I’m sorry that it is invading your space now through my letters. It’s like I’m spreading a contaminant. Am I Patient Zero, or are you?
I probably shouldn’t have volunteered for a third tour, but combat pay is hard to turn down. After three years here, though, I feel like I am a loosely contained conglomerate of those particles of dust.
“I heard you drove over to the TKE house and played ‘If You Love Me’ on a loop from your convertible until the sorority girl came out, with her white dress billowing behind her. Maybe there was a glass slipper left on the stairs. I can’t remember.”
Bo was laughing at this. “First, I don’t have a convertible and wow, I sound like a total douche bag. How is this rumor helping my reputation?”
“It’s not a douche bag move.” I took a sip of my coffee. “It’s totally a Lloyd Dobbler, Say Anything move. John Hughes could have scripted that.”
“You know, the moviemaker from the eighties.”
“You weren’t born in the eighties.”
“They’re still teen movies!”
“If I say you’re hot when you’re angry, will you hit me?”
I motioned that I would throw the cup of coffee in his face, which only made Bo laugh more.
“Okay, okay. Sorry. Tell me why this is appealing, because it sounds kind of pathetic to me.”
“I can’t believe you haven’t seen Say Anything.” I shook my head in disbelief.
“I’m pretty sure I was too busy killing people in Call of Duty to watch that movie.”
“In Say Anything, Lloyd Dobbler stands outside his love’s window and holds up a boombox that’s playing their song. In the rain. It’s very romantic.” I held up my arms to mimic the gesture.
He looked at me skeptically.
“It’s a sign of his true love,” I argued.
“I think true love is signified by more than some dippy guy standing outside in the rain playing music for a girl.”
“What’s an act of true love, then?”
“Throwing your body on a grenade so your buddies don’t become pieces of shrapnelized flesh.”
“My God, did you do that in the war?” I was shocked. I’d seen Bo without his shirt on and didn’t recall seeing any marks. Maybe I’d been blind? I shuddered at the thought of him being hurt.
“No,” he sighed, “but I know a guy in a different unit that did.”
“Okay, but that’s not something you could do for a girl here.” I frowned.
“True love means that you’d be willing to sacrifice all for another person.” That was pretty profound. Bo believed that?
“So maybe Lloyd was sacrificing his ego for Dianne in the movie,” I countered.
“Possibly. Still seems like a passive, weak-ass move.” Bo rubbed a finger across his chin and relaxed back in his chair.
“What should he have done?”
“To express his love?”
“Yes!” I exclaimed, leaning toward him. My hands were planted on my legs and I felt poised to jump him, either in frustration or desire.
“Actions speak louder than words. Or singing, as the case may be.”
“He was out there, in the rain.”
“But he wasn’t doing anything. You show a woman you love her by what you do for her, from opening her door to making sure that bumps in the road of life are smoothed out. That she wants and worries for nothing. That when you think about sex, it’s her face in your fantasies, her body you’re touching, her lips you’re kissing. That every day you remind her that she’s the first thought in your mind when you wake up and the last thought before you drop off to sleep.”
“I'm going to kiss you now.” His voice was deep and rough, and it matched the rest of his thoroughly masculine body.
“I know,” I whispered back. And I wanted that kiss from Gray, even though he ordinarily wouldn't be my type at all. I wanted it more than I wanted to breathe. When his mouth molded against mine, it felt like bliss—as if my whole cold body had been submerged into a warm bath. If I thought I had been engulfed before it was nothing like I felt at that moment. My entire world—my thoughts, my feelings, my senses—were full of him. I tasted the mint and hops on his tongue. I inhaled the scents of cinnamon and bergamot and ocean of his faint cologne into my airways. I felt the calloused palm on my waist and then lower against the exposed skin of my thigh. His dense muscles were drawn tight under his skin and the fabric of his t-shirt and he felt as strong as a citadel. The moan that had been building since he first backed me into the wall escaped. It had been so long since I’d had the touch of a man’s hand on any part of me, and I nearly wept at the pleasure of it.
Every square inch of my body felt sensitized, as if I’d been an unlit Christmas tree and I’d just been plugged in. I wanted to feel his hands all over, not just on that patch of thigh. I needed his touch in those secret places, those places I thought had calcified. I’d thought I’d been waiting for the smooth hands of an accountant but the longer, rougher fingers pushing the hem of my shorts up couldn’t belong to a man who worked in an office.
His tongue and mouth broke from mine to leave a hot, wet path from my mouth, across my jaw line, and down to my neck. My leg lifted of its own accord and he took it as a sign to hitch me up higher until both my legs either dangled off the floor or wrapped around him. I chose to wrap my legs around him and was rewarded with a thick hard column pressing into my sex. We both groaned at the contact and I could feel his sound against my neck. The reverberations sent minor shocks throughout my nervous system. Holding me up against the wall, he began thrusting against me rhythmically, every impact of his hips making me hotter and wetter than I thought I could get.
I gripped him tighter with my legs and dug my hands into his hair, using every bit of his body as leverage. He held me up with ease, as if I were a feather. One hand was under my right butt cheek and the other was exploring my left side, pulling out my T-shirt, only to find the tank underneath. Needing his mouth back, I tugged on his hair and he took the hint immediately. He fastened his lips over mine and we devoured each other, still rubbing our lower bodies against each other as the bass from the dance floor pounded the floor boards.
Whimpering, I begged in moans and small cries for more. A familiar but almost forgotten tension was winding its way from between my legs outward. All thoughts of storage rooms and hallways and strangers were lost in the swirl of bright lights bursting behind my eyelids.
“I got you, baby,” he growled against my mouth. “Just let go.” And so I did. I closed my eyes and let those long-dormant feelings wash over me, spreading from the inside of my legs to the nerve endings in my toes and fingertips and the very top of my head. And he kept grinding and grinding and grinding against me, whispering in my ear how I was the hottest thing he’d ever held, how he couldn’t wait to taste me, how he’d die if he couldn’t be inside me tonight.
Jen Frederick lives with her husband, child, and one rambunctious dog. She's been reading stories all her life but never imagined writing one of her own. Jen loves to hear from readers so drop her a line at email@example.com.
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