Home > The Last Letter(9)

The Last Letter(9)
Rebecca Yarros

I wanted to grab her, to hold her against my chest and block anything that wanted to harm her. My hands ached to sweep down the line of her back, to take away any of her suffering that she’d let me. I’d known this would be hard, but seeing her wasn’t anything I could have prepared myself for.

“It doesn’t matter if you want me, because I’m not here on your wishes. I’m here on Mac’s. This is all he asked of me, so unless you’re going to kick me off your property, I’m going to keep the promise I made.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Okay. Anything I need?”

“Anything.”

“When Ryan died—”

No. Anything but this.

“—he was on an op, right?”

Could she see the blood drain from my face? Because I sure as hell felt it. I heard the rotors. Saw the blood. Reached for his hand as it limply fell off the stretcher.

“Yes. It’s classified.”

Her hand gripped the open doorframe.

“So I’ve heard. I need…” She sighed, looking everywhere but at me for a second before straightening her shoulders and meeting my eyes. “I need to know what happened to Chaos. Was he there? When Ryan died? You were in the same unit, right?” Her throat moved as she swallowed, and her eyes took on a desperate plea.

Damn it. She deserved to know everything. That I wasn’t the man I wanted to be, that she needed. That I was the piece of shit who made it back with a beating heart while her brother came home draped in a flag. I needed her to know that I’d chosen to stop answering her letters because I knew that the only thing I could bring her in this life would be more pain.

I needed her to know that it was only Ryan’s letter that got me here, and the knowledge that it was the least I could do for my best friend. That I never meant to hurt her, never had the intention of smashing into her life like the wrecking ball I was—not when she lived under such breakable glass.

“Well? Was he?”

But what I needed didn’t matter.

I’ve never been able to give second chances when it comes to hurting the people I love. Letter number six.

If I told her those things, she’d shut me out, and I would fail Mac for a second time. I could tell myself that it was her choice, but really, it would be mine. I was the guy people looked for an excuse to get rid of, and truth was a gift-wrapped reason to kick me to the curb. There were two distinct paths ahead of me: the first, where I told her who I was and what had happened, and she promptly walked out of my life, and the second…where I did everything I could to help her, no matter what the cost.

Path number two it is.

“He was there,” I answered honestly.

Her lower lip trembled, and she bit onto it, like any sign of weakness had to be quashed. “And? What happened?”

“That’s classified.” I was a bastard, but an honest one.

“Classified. You’re all the same, you know that? Loyal as anything to one another and nothing left for anyone else. Just tell me if he’s dead. I deserve to know.”

“Knowing what happened to Mac…to Chaos…none of that would do you any good. It would hurt a hell of a lot more than it already does. Trust me.”

She scoffed, shaking her head as she rubbed the bridge of her nose. When she looked back up, the fake smile was in place, and those blue eyes had gone glacial.

“Welcome to Telluride, Mr. Gentry. I hope you enjoy your stay.”

She climbed into the SUV and slammed the door, throwing the vehicle into reverse to get out of the drive.

I watched until she disappeared into the thick forest of trees.

Havoc brushed against my leg. I looked down at her, and she stared back up at me, no doubt knowing that I was an imbecile for what I’d just let happen.

“Yeah, that didn’t go so well.” I looked up at the cloudless Colorado sky. “We did a number on her, Mac. So if you’ve got any pointers on how to win over your sister, I’m all ears.”

I opened the tailgate of my truck and started to unload my stuff.

It might be temporary, but I was here for as long as Ella would let me stay. Because somewhere between letter number one and letter number twenty-four, I’d fallen in love with her. Fallen for her words, her strength, her insight and kindness, her grace under impossible circumstances, her love for her children, and her determination to stand on her own. I could list a thousand reasons that woman owned whatever heart I had.

But none of them mattered because, even though she was the woman I loved, to her, I was just a stranger. An unwelcome one at that.

Which was more than I deserved.

Chapter Six

Ella

Letter #17

Ella,

The pace is picking up here, which is half blessing, half curse. I’d rather be busy than bored, but busy comes with its own unique set of problems. We keep getting pushed back for redeployment, but hopefully we’ll get the okay soon, and I’ll be able to keep that date we set for a Telluride tour, if you’ll still have me. Warning, I’m bringing your brother, and lately, he smells.

At least the time is going faster, same as these letters. I find that I don’t even wait to get one from you before I’m writing again. Maybe it’s the simple act of putting pen to paper, of not seeing you react to what I’m writing that makes it so easy, almost effortless.

You asked where I’d settle down if I ever wanted to quit being…what was it you called me? A nomad? I don’t know, honestly. I’ve never found a place that called to me in any way that I could see as special. There were houses, apartments, barracks. Cities, suburbs, and one farm. I’ve been around the world, but traveling with this crew means that I only see the parts of the world that hurt the most.

I guess I want somewhere where I feel connected. Connected to the land, the people, the community. A place that sinks its hooks into me so deep that I have no choice but to let the roots grow. A place where the earth touches the sky in a way that makes me feel small without feeling insignificant or claustrophobic. Cities are out—remember, I’m not a people person—so maybe a small town, but not so tiny that you can’t get away from the mistakes you inevitably make. I’m a pro in the mistake category and have learned that people generally find it easier to kick me out than forgive.

As for the name thing, how about this: on the day I show up in Telluride to get the Colt-approved tour, I’ll tell you my full name. I’ve never hated an OPSEC policy as much as I do right now, but in a way it’s a little fun. I’ll be able to introduce myself to you, and in the meantime, you’ll wonder if every stranger who comes to your door might be me. One day, it will be.

And seriously. Christmas is in less than a month. Buy the kid a puppy. And hug Maisie for me. Let me know how chemo goes this month.

~ Chaos

“Who the hell does he think he is?” I snapped as the door slammed shut behind me. Maybe I slammed it. Whatever.

I let the anger flow through me, hoping it would overpower the grief welling up in my throat. Chaos had been with Ryan. A part of me had known already—seeing as his letters had stopped when Ryan died—but guessing and knowing felt incredibly different.

I lost Ryan and Chaos and had been handed Beckett Gentry like some kind of messed-up consolation prize with a hero complex.

For God’s sake, Ryan. You know I never needed saving.

“Who?” Ada asked, popping her head out of the kitchen.

I kicked off my muddy boots and headed toward Hailey, whose eyebrows would have been in her hairline if she could have jacked them up any higher.

“Gentry!”

“That is one giant bite of man candy, even with the one-word answers,” Hailey said, flipping another page in her Cosmo magazine.

I snorted, half at her opinion and half at the fact that she still read Cosmo. That she was still in a phase of life where Cosmo held the secrets of the universe. I’d moved on to Good Housekeeping and Professional Women’s Magazine, where there were no quizzes on how to tell if he was into you.

I was twenty-five with six-year-old twins, one of whom was in a fight for her life, and I owned my own business, which took up every spare minute of my time. No guy was into me. I tugged on Ryan’s dog tag, the one that had come back with his things, moving it up and down the chain in nervous habit.

“What? He is. Did you see that scruff of beard? Those arms?”

Yes and yes.

“What does that have to do with anything?”

She looked over the pages of her magazine. “If I have to tell you that he looks like he’s about to take Chris Pratt’s role in the Marvel universe, then you’re way far gone, Ella. Those eyes? Unh.” She leaned back in the chair and stared dreamily at the ceiling. “And he’s here until November.”

November. That man was going to be on my property for the next seven months.

“He has that whole super-strong, broody, secret pain kind of look. Makes a woman want to pull him close and—”

“Don’t finish that sentence.”

“Oh, give the girl a break. That boy is something to look at,” Ada agreed, leaning against the reception desk. “People skills could use some work, though.”

“That boy is special ops.” I said it like the curse it was.

“And how would you know that? Because of his dog? I still have my reservations about having a dog on property, but she seemed well behaved, and Labs can’t be that aggressive, right?” Ada looked over the desk to see what Hailey was reading.

“One, Labs can absolutely be that aggressive, hence why she’s a special ops dog, or was. Whatever. He’s her handler.”

“Don’t be jumping to assumptions just because you feel a little awkward that there’s an attractive, single man within walking distance,” Ada warned, flipping the page of the magazine herself.

“I’m not—how would you know he’s single?” Had they already Facebook stalked him? Did guys like him have Facebook? Ryan never did. He said it was a liability.

“No one checks in for seven months with only their dog if they’re not single.”

“Yeah, well, it doesn’t matter. Ryan sent him.”

The magazine hit the desk in a flutter of pages as both women stared at me. Ada was the first to react, sucking in a shaky breath.

“Talk.”

“I guess Ryan wrote one of those death letters and asked him to come to Telluride and watch over me. Seriously. Ryan’s been dead three months, and he’s still giving me his opinion on the men I should have in my life.” I forced a laugh and shoved the emotions back in the neat little box they belonged in.

The worst thing about going through so much in such a short time? You can’t afford to feel anything about…anything, or you end up feeling it all. And that’s what got you into trouble.

“You’re sure?” Hailey asked.

“I didn’t read the letter or anything, but that’s what he said. Given the way he looks, the dog…the way he moves.” He’d assessed me from top to bottom within seconds, and it hadn’t been sexual. I’d seen him categorize the details in his brain as clearly as if he’d actually had a computer open. “He moves like Ryan. His eyes scan like Ryan’s…like my father’s.” I cleared my throat. “So hopefully, just like my father, he’ll get bored and move on quickly.” That’s what men did, right? They left. Ryan had been honest about his intentions, whereas Dad had lied through his teeth. Jeff had been no better, spinning pretty little stories to get what he wanted and running the minute he’d realized there were consequences. The lies had always been worse than the leaving.

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