Home > The Last Letter(8)

The Last Letter(8)
Rebecca Yarros

“Havoc.”

“Havoc,” she said, her face softening when Havoc tilted her head at the mention of her name. “Well, okay then. Larry, why don’t you show him to his cabin?”

Larry whistled as we walked out. “That was a close one.”

“Seemed like it,” I agreed, opening the truck door. Havoc leaped inside in a single, smooth motion.

“Wow. She’s got some jump in her.”

“You should see her take a wall. She’s incredible.”

“A Lab, huh? I thought all those dogs were shepherds and stuff. A Lab seems too soft for that kind of work.”

“Oh, trust me, her bite is way sharper than her bark.”

A few minutes later, I drove the truck along the tight, paved road that wove through most of the property. The Aspen cabin was on the western side, near the edge of a small lake. Havoc would be in heaven. Having studied the area, I knew there were acres between the cabins, the property designed to give visitors what the place was named for—solitude.

Havoc and I climbed up the front porch steps, and I turned the key in the lock. No electronic cards here. It fit with the cabins, the mountains, the seclusion. Larry waved to me from his Jeep as the door swung open, and then he pulled away, leaving us to explore our temporary home.

“This is not a cabin,” I told my girl as I stepped into a small foyer complete with hardwood floors and one of those bench things where shoes were kept in baskets. To the left was a mudroom that was no doubt the hub of ski season, and on the right, a half bathroom.

The walls were painted in the same soft hues as the foyer of the main building, the floors dark and welcoming, the rugs clean and modern. The kitchen appeared on the right as I walked farther inside, a welcoming combination of light cabinets, dark granite, stainless-steel appliances.

“At least we can cook,” I told Havoc as I glanced over at the dining area that sat eight.

Then I looked past the kitchen to the living room and my jaw dropped.

The living room was vaulted to the second story in a classic A-frame and ran the width of the cabin. Floor-to-ceiling windows brought in the afternoon light as it filtered through the trees and reflected on the lake. The mountains rose above, the snow marking the tree line at the peaks.

If I’d ever imagined somewhere I could make a home, this might have been it.

I’d never seen a more beautiful sight.

“Knock, knock!” a sweet, feminine voice called out from the front door. “May I come in?”

“Sure,” I called, walking to the center of the cabin where the hallway led straight to the door.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, shutting the door and coming into view.

My heart just about stopped. Ella.

Scratch that—she was the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen.

Her face was thinner than the pictures I had, the circles under her eyes a little darker, but she was exquisite. Her hair was piled on her head in some kind of knot, and she wore a blue Henley—the exact bright blue of her eyes—under a darker blue vest. Her jeans molded to her body perfectly, but it was easy to see that she’d lost weight since…everything. She wasn’t taking care of herself.

Her smile didn’t quite reach her eyes, and I realized she was still talking to me.

“Hi, I’m Ella MacKenzie, Solitude’s owner. I heard Hailey put you in this cabin, and we’ve had an issue with the stove that she’d forgotten about, so I wanted to offer you another cabin if you don’t want the hassle of a repair team in here tomorrow.”

An awkward moment passed before I realized that I needed to respond.

“No, it’s fine. I’ll be out tomorrow most of the day, anyway. They won’t be in my way. Or I can look at it myself.”

“I wouldn’t dream of you doing that.” She waved me off, looking around the cabin in a quick inspection. “Is everything else okay with your cabin?”

“Very. It’s beautiful.”

She nodded as she glanced toward the lake, not realizing my eyes were on her. “This one is my favorite.”

Havoc shifted at my side, drawing Ella’s attention.

“And what do you think about the cabin?” she asked.

Havoc tilted her head and studied Ella. First impressions were everything with her, and if she didn’t like Ella right off the bat, there was little hope of recovering.

“May I?” Ella asked, looking up at me.

I nodded stupidly, like I was a junior high boy locked in a room with a girl he crushed on. How the hell was I going to lie to her? Hide who I was? How had I gotten this far without a plan?

She rubbed Havoc behind her ears and immediately won her over.

“You don’t mind her being here? There was a miscommunication when I made the reservation.” My voice was gruff, my throat tight with everything I wanted—needed—to say to her.

She’d kept me alive.

She’d given me gravity when everything went sideways.

She’d opened the window to show me another life was possible.

I’d destroyed her world and abandoned her, and she had zero clue.

I was just a stranger to her.

“Not at all. I hear she’s a service dog?” One last rub, and Ella stood, coming up to just about my collarbone. I’d always been big, but something about how fragile she seemed made me feel huge, like I could put my body in front of the storm headed her way and protect her…even if the storm was of my own making.

“She’s a retired military working dog.”

“Oh.” A dark look crossed her face before she blinked that fake smile back into place. “Well, as soon as my son figures out you have a dog, you might have a visitor. He’s been after me to get one, but now…well, it’s just not in the cards, or in my schedule, to train a puppy.”

Colt. A jolt of anticipation raced through me at the thought of finally getting to meet him.

“They can be quite the handful,” I said, running my hand over Havoc’s neck.

“Were you…are you her handler?” Ella asked, studying my face.

God, I could look into those eyes forever. How was Maisie? What treatment was she in now? Was the tumor shrinking? Was it almost operable?

“I was and am. We served together, and now we’re out together—on terminal leave, actually. It’s not official for another eight weeks. We’re both working on the whole domestication thing, and I promise neither of us will pee on the carpet.”

The smile that flashed across her face was brief but real.

I wanted it back. Wanted to see it every day. Every minute.

“I’ll keep that in mind. So she’s trained in explosives, I’m guessing? Were you EOD?”

Here it was, the moment that would define my entire purpose here. Her smile would fade, and I’d no doubt get a well-deserved hand across my face.

“She’s trained in explosives and scenting people. She’s only aggressive on command and really loves anyone who will throw her favorite toy.”

“Explosives and people? That’s rare, right?” Her forehead puckered, like she was trying to remember something.

“For most dogs, yeah. But Havoc was a special operations dog, the best of the best.”

Ella’s features flattened, and she stepped back, bumping into the raw wood support pillar that separated the dining area. “Special ops.”

“Yes.” I nodded slowly, letting her put the pieces together.

“And you just retired? You’re really young to get out, knowing what adrenaline junkies you all are. You just…quit?” She folded her arms under her breasts, her fingers rubbing her bicep in a nervous tell.

“My best friend died.” My voice was barely a whisper, but she heard the truth of it.

Her eyes flew impossibly wide, the blue even more startling against the sudden sheen of tears I saw gather there before she blinked them away. She glanced at the floor, and within a millisecond her spine straightened and she had walls up twelve feet high.

She wasn’t just guarded. She was shut down.

“And that’s why you’re here.”

I nodded again, like I’d turned into a bobblehead since she walked in.

“Say it. I need you to say the words.”

My call sign is Chaos. I miss you and your letters so damn much. I crave your words more than oxygen. I’m so sorry about Ryan. I don’t deserve to be here. He does.

The options played through my head. Instead, I steered to the safest truth I could give her without ripping her to shreds or blowing the most important mission of my life.

“Ryan sent me.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Mac…Ryan. He sent me to watch over you.” The way it came out, I could almost believe that I was here as the guardian angel, the one who would sweep in and save her from the shit I had no control over. I couldn’t cure her little girl’s cancer. I couldn’t bring her brother back. In that regard, I was actually the demon.

She shook her head and turned away, making a beeline for the front door.

“Ella.”

“Nope.” She waved me away—the second time since I’d met her—and reached for the door handle.

“Ella!”

Her hand paused on the handle, the other bracing against the door’s trim.

“I know it’s too much. I know I’m the last thing you expected.” In every single way. “If you don’t believe me, I have the letter he left me.” I reached into my back pocket, pulling out the envelope I’d folded and unfolded so many times that the creases were marked.

She turned slowly, leaning back against the door. Her eyes were wary, her posture tense. She wasn’t a deer in the headlights. She was a wounded, cornered mountain lion, all sleek lines and knowing eyes, ready to fight me to the death if I got too close.

“Here.” I walked closer and offered her the letter.

She didn’t even look at it.

“I don’t want that. I don’t want any part of it, or you. I don’t need a walking, talking reminder that he’s gone. I’m not weak, and I don’t need a babysitter.”

“I’m so sorry he’s not here.” My throat tightened, nearly closing on the emotions I kept on tight lockdown.

“Me, too.” She opened the door and left, and I raced after her like the idiot I was.

“I’m not going anywhere. You need anything, and it’s yours. You need help? You’ve got it.”

She let loose a mocking laugh as she descended the steps.

“I don’t want or need you here, Mr.…” She opened the door to her SUV and pulled out a paper. “Mr. Gentry.”

“Beckett,” I answered, desperate to hear her say it. My real name.

“Okay, Mr. Gentry. Enjoy your vacation and then head home, because like I said, I’m not in need of a babysitter or anyone’s charity. I’ve been taking care of myself since Ryan ran off and joined the army after our parents died.”

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