For over two years now, I’ve been writing about the Marines of Mike’s Place—some are set in Dallas, some are set in other locales, and all of them stay with me after I’ve finished writing about them. None more so than Brody Essex.
I introduced you to Brody during Her Marine. He was in Dallas on leave visiting the only ‘family’ he has—members of his former unit. He is Luke Dexter’s best friend. He was second in command of their unit. Damon Sinclair, Matt McCall, and James Westwood reported to him among others. After growing up in foster care, Brody never really felt connected to anyone or anything until he joined the Marines.
That alone was enough to make me really care about him as a character, but in Her Marine, he’s mislead by his friends to step in for Matt on a 1Night Stand, unaware that the guys knew it was his date, one he’d signed up for previously. Paired with an artist named Shannon Fabray, Brody hadn’t expected her to turn out to not only be beautiful, but also damaged.
Trained to recognize the symptoms and signs of PTSD, he picked up on a number of her cues and attitudes. He wanted to make things right for her, and it was his ability to put his own needs second while bolstering her confidence that endeared him further. But when he offered her his surrender? Yeah, I was a goner. Brody Essex stayed with me through every subsequent Marine that I wrote, because I always knew I would come back to his story.
In Her Marine Bodyguard, Brody is coming home—finally. Last year, I shared this free short with my newsletter readers and now I’m sharing it with you! Don’t miss out on Brody and Shannon’s journey.
(Always a Marine Short)
Brody, we’re just three months away from seeing each other again and I have a confession to make…I’m scared. Before you try to find a phone and call me, this isn’t a “Shannon needs comfort” letter at all. It’s more a, I had fantastic week with you and it’s been months and months, I’m worried that when you get here, what made us have so much fun won’t be there anymore.
I’ve gotten stronger, my art is stronger, my life is stronger for you being a part of it—but what if I’ve changed too much? I know I said this wasn’t a boo-hoo Shannon note, and it’s not. Just—I can tell you things and you listen better than anyone else and even writing the thoughts down in this email makes me feel pretty stupid for having them in the first place.
So, how about we start over…Hey, Brody. I’m going to Boston at the end of the week because….The Philmore Museum of Art is hosting one of my first truly professional shows on the East Coast!
I’m squealing as I type this because I know when I’m there I have to be cool, and suave, and utterly professional, while inside I’m doing a bouncy, happy-happy, joy-joy dance of glee. Liam helped make all the arrangements, he even got his bank to be one of the sponsors. How cool is that? He offered to let me stay at his place while I was in Boston, but even though he’s as nonthreatening as they come, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. So, I’ll be staying in a very lovely four -star hotel with this giant claw-foot bathtub. If you can ever arrange a private Skype call, I’ll be sure to get in the bath just for you.
I should totally delete the first paragraph—but I can hear you in my head. “Are you asking me or telling me?” I miss you. I’ll write soon—and I’ll send pictures from the opening.
Brody read the email message three times and shook his head. Hitting reply, he typed off a quick note.
I’m glad you decided you were having stupid thoughts before I had to say something. They aren’t stupid and neither are you. We’re going to spend a week in bed and when I decide that we’ve had enough of that, we’ll move to the floor. I can’t wait to taste you again. Clear?
Liam is Brenden’s guy, right? I don’t have a problem with you staying there, but if you do. Don’t. Congratulations on the show, I don’t know anyone who’s more deserving. You are going to knock their socks off—and then I’ll let you knock mine off if you’re very good.
Skype call means I get to see you in a bathtub? If I can pull it off, you better be naked and where I can see you….
After hitting send, he leaned back in the chair and rubbed his neck. He wanted to say a whole hell of a lot more, but it could wait until he had her in his arms. Dry heat blew into the room with the opening door and he glanced over to find a young private standing at stiff attention.
“Sorry, sir, I didn’t realize you were still here.”
“At ease, Private. Check your email.” He scanned through his other messages, including the latest two reports from Mike’s Place on the status of Ryan Brun. The sergeant had been in Brody’s platoon and lost both of his legs from the knee down to an IED. Before he’d flown back to the states, Brody had reached out to friends from his old unit. Captain Dexter, now retired, took up Sergeant Brun’s cause and got him moved to Mike’s Place. Brody had kept tabs on the sergeant, monitoring his progress from afar and answering any questions he could for both Sergeant Brun’s family and Brun’s case nurse.
It was the least he could do, since if Brody hadn’t been distracted by a question, he would have been the one that hit the IED.
Logging out of his account, he rose. He’d planned a surprise for Shannon, but since his leave had been canceled, he was doubly grateful he hadn’t told her about the surprise. He had two months left before he would head stateside. From there, he’d be at the Marine Barracks or Camp Lejeune for debriefing. Since that could take four days or four weeks, he’d told her three months.
“Sir?” The private—Masterson—had risen from his seat when Brody stood.
“Yes, Private?” Exhausted, Brody wanted to hit the rack and get some sleep.
“Nothing, sir.” The answer seemed odd.
“How new are you, Private?” Brody didn’t recognize him, but that didn’t mean anything. They had guys in and out all the time. He wasn’t always assigned to this base, not when his team handled first response and maintained their mobility.
“Been here two weeks, sir. Didn’t think I’d get an assignment in ‘stan, but I’m good with computers.”
Brody nodded. They would have a lot of breaking down and shifting of resources over the next several months as they continued destaging—not that they seemed to be going anywhere fast. Tensions in other parts of the world had them all on edge. Expect the unexpected. If Brody’s team got pulled and reassigned, they wouldn’t have much say in the matter.
“Hang in there, Private. Keep in touch with your family, stay grounded, be alert. It’s all you can do.”
“Yes, sir—but that wasn’t what I wanted to ask.” Which meant he had a question earlier.
Maintaining a neutral expression in front of one so green was a challenge, but Brody excelled at challenges. “Spit it out, Marine. I don’t have all day.”
His eyes widened a fraction and only years of training kept Brody from laughing. “Sorry, sir. It’s just—well, my sister she saw this sculpture….” The private trailed off and when it looked like he wouldn’t say the rest, Brody glared.
It did the trick. The younger man’s spine stiffened. “Sorry, sir. It’s an uncomfortable question, sir. But my sister would like your autograph, sir.”
He didn’t laugh, but he did scowl. “Do I look like I give autographs?”
“Um, no, sir.” The unspoken but trembled on the edge of his sentence.
So Brody gave it voice. “But? If you’re going to think it, Private, spit it out.”
“But you posed for it—sir.”
Yes, he damn well had. “And your point is?”
“No point, sir.” Masterson looked like he wanted to wet himself. “None, sir. Please forget I asked, sir.”
“Well now….” Brody scratched his chin. “That’s not going to happen because you did ask. Who was the autograph for?”
“My sister, sir.”
“And did you tell her you’d get it, Private?”
The kid swallowed. “Um, I said I’d try, sir.”
“Say it like you mean it.” He snapped at the waffling in the kid’s tone.
“I told her I’d try, sir. And I have tried, sir. I asked.” The offensive tone evaporated with the crisp language.
“And do you plan on disappointing your sister, Marine?”
“So, what are you going to do about it?”
The kid paused, real uncertainty flickering in his eyes. “I’ll ask again, sir. Would you sign an autograph for my sister, sir?”
He’d given Masterson hell, the least he could do was sign something for his sister. “How old is your sister, Private?”
Brody felt old. “What do you want me to sign?”
Panic ran a riot over the kid’s face.
“So you want an autograph and you don’t have anything for me to sign?” The Sahara wasn’t as dry as his tone.
“With your permission, sir?”
The private took off out of the room at double speed and Brody released the grin he’d been holding back. It wasn’t the first request he’d had from someone for an autograph because of that statue of hers. Missing her was like a raw ache in his gut. Two minutes later, the private pounded back into the room, and while he was sweating, he wasn’t breathing hard. Brody sobered and waited.
The kid held out a notebook. “My sister gave me this, sir. To keep a journal while I was here so I didn’t forget to tell her stuff when I got home. If you could sign this, sir, I’d appreciate it.”
Taking the composition notebook and a pen, he flipped it to a blank page and gave the private his privacy when he noticed the other pages filled with scrawled, nearly illegible words. Brody paused. “What’s your sister’s name, private?”
“Kimberly, sir. Kimberly Masterson.”
He nodded and scrawled a note on the page, then signed it. Holding the notebook hostage, he eyed the private, who swallowed hard once and waited. “This is between you and me, Masterson. Understood?”
“Oh, hell yes, sir. I don’t want anyone looking at me funny for asking an officer for an autograph.” His relief was palpable.
Nodding, Brody returned the notebook to him. “You’ll do fine, private.”
The kid snapped a salute and Brody returned it before he left. Outside, he swept his gaze over the base. Life went on. Three months until he would see Shannon again.
Felt a lot like three years.
He shook his head and a grin curved his lips. He had a picture of the sculpture she’d made. But he never saw himself when he looked at it—all he ever saw was Shannon, with her wild array of dark hair spread out on the bed, her face flushed and her eyes bright.
Three. More. Months.
Blowing out a breath, he locked it all down. He could do this.
It was time to get the hell back to work.
©2013 Heather Long