Authors: Aliyah Burke
Tags: #military, #contemporary romance, #mf, #coast guard, #african american romance, #military hero, #north carolina coast
Mama calls you
He couldn’t help but smile at her
innocence. “Does she call you anything else?”
Okay, Torrie. I’m going
to let my friend, Teak, carry you up to the other boat.”
Her small arms tightened around him.
Duke? Is that your
I’ll bring Duke, and
we’ll be right behind you.”
I promise,” he vowed,
even as he wondered how he’d figure it out.
It took a little bit for him to pry
her hands loose from his neck but eventually Teak got her and they
moved to the metal steps leading back up to his boat. He looked at
the dog and saw those teeth again.
Duke,” a small voice
cried and the dog ran to the metal rungs and whined, desperate to
get back to the child’s side.
It took some maneuvering but finally
he made it up with the dog. Duke ran to Torrie and Torrie reached
out for him. He took her without thinking and kept her head averted
as the body of her mother was lifted up onto their deck and carried
her to the survivor compartment. While the men did what they could
to find any information left on the boat, he sat Torrie in his lap
and cleaned off the dried blood.
She sat in silence, watching him with
wide eyes and Duke at their feet. He couldn’t begin to explain his
relief when he didn’t see any cuts on her. She refused to be
separated from him and so he held her the rest of the way in. It
had been hard for her to say Justice, so Torrie called him Jus-is.
Kelly at the helm, Teak worked on the radio, informing them what
they’d ended up with and the small survivor child in his
It was past eight when they made it
in. He took Torrie and Duke off first and headed inside. She was
sleeping against him and the dog didn’t stray far at all, thanks to
an impromptu leash. Carly O’Neil, a representative from child
services, was waiting along with his commanding officer.
Torrie woke when the woman tried to
take her from his arms. She screamed bloody murder and held him
Let her go, she’ll calm
down,” the woman said.
He looked over the woman and asked,
“What about her dog, Duke?”
She sniffed. “Animal Control will take
No, this dog is the last
link to her mother. You can’t take that from her.”
We don’t even know if
that is her mother,” Carly hissed.
She said it was, that’s
enough for me. I can’t believe you’re seriously considering taking
away her dog as well.”
Duke!” Torrie screamed.
Shhh, it’s okay, honey.
No one’s taking Duke from you.” Glancing to his commanding officer,
Justice stared at him. The man shrugged, indicating it was out of
his hands. Jaw clenched, Justice brushed away some curls from her
head. “I’ll take Duke with me, that way when this gets straightened
out, she can have her dog back.”
Lieutenant, are you
Sir, I think she’s been
through enough for the day, don’t you?” The man nodded and Justice
turned his attention back to Torrie. “You have to go with Carly
right now, Torrie.”
No. Stay with you. Stay
I’ll come see you
tomorrow, okay? I have to go back to work.”
Tears fell from her eyes and panic
filled them. “Stay with you!” she cried.
I’m sorry, Torrie. Not
It broke his heart but he handed her
away, keeping a firm grip on the makeshift leash around Duke. She
screamed and reached for him, tears streaking down her face, her
Carly tried to hold her tight but
Torrie kept pushing her away and hitting at her. “I’ll be in
touch,” she said before she headed out the door.
Duke began barking and pulling on the
leash. Every fiber in his Justice’s being longed to run after them
and pull Torrie back into his arms. “Come on, boy,” he said and
walked in the opposite direction to his office where he filled out
paperwork, then headed to his car.
He loaded up the barking and growling
dog without care of what may happen to it. Then he began to drive.
When he parked his car, he was barely conscious of getting out and
walking to the door.
Kassidy started when the doorbell
rang. It was nearing eleven at night. She set the spatula down
she’d been using to pick cookies off the sheet, wiped her hands,
and stepped to the door. Peering through the curtain, she inhaled
sharply when she saw who stood there.
Opening the door she said, “Justice?”
The rest of her question faded when she saw a dog at his
Can I… we come
Kassidy dropped down and said, “Hey,
pup.” Duke was a beautiful black Labrador Retriever. Her heart
melted when he licked her palm. “Sure, bring him on in, just be
careful since I don’t know how he is with other dogs.”
They stepped inside and within
moments, Kassidy was content that there would be no trouble. Libby
and Duke got along fine and so she put them out in the backyard to
run around. Then she faced Justice and said, “What’s going
The strain and pinched look to his
eyes set her hair on end. What had happened for him to show up
looking exhausted, physically and emotionally, and with a
We found a boat dead in
the water. A murdered woman, the dog, and a young child, she can’t
be more than three.”
Oh my God. What
I don’t know.” He sank to
the couch, pulled her close and dropped his head to rest against
her belly. She slid her hands around and held him. “She cried and
begged me not to let her go.”
I’m sure you did all you
could to save her life.”
Not the adult. The child,
Torrie. Kassidy, I just stood there and let them take her from me,
she cried out to me, reached for me, and I let them take her
His heart-wrenching pain tore at her
soul. “I take it Duke is her dog?”
Do you work
No. I have a day
So go see her, allow
yourself to see that she’s fine and taken care of.”
You don’t understand, I
She looked down at him and encouraged
him to meet her gaze. “Like what, as in adopting?”
When I held her in my
arms, Kassidy, I don’t know how to explain it. She wrapped her arms
around me and looked at me with trust. Despite everything she’d
been through, she trusted me. I’ve never felt like that in my life.
I wanted to protect her, keep her safe from harm,
She kissed his forehead. “Go into the
kitchen, I’ll be right there, just have to let the dogs back
She watched him go, his steps more of
a scuffle. The dogs entered together and headed as one to the water
dish. On impulse she dished up some food for Duke and set it down
for him, sending Libby away with a wave. Then she went into the
kitchen where Justice sat at the table, his head upon his arms.
Fixing him a sandwich, she placed it at his elbow along with a
glass of tea.
Justice, look at me.” He
did, his eyes no less turbulent. “Are you sure you want to go
What do you
If that woman was her
mom, it doesn’t mean there isn’t other family who could take her
in. I don’t want you to get attached and have it yanked
What if there isn’t
anyone for her? I lost my dad but I had my mom and my sister. I
could be a father to her.”
Why don’t you go see her
tomorrow and talk with the woman you left her with. See what the
steps are so if, and I mean if, it turns out she has no one willing
to take her, your name is at the top.”
His gaze was as direct as his
Would Torrie in my
She slapped her hand over his mouth.
“Not important, Justice. Now, come on, why don’t you go shower and
lay down. I have a few more batches of cookies to bake.”
He meandered out of the kitchen only
to return briefly to press a kiss to her cheek. Then he was gone
again. When the sound of the shower reached her, she lowered her
shaking body into a chair and covered her face with her
Who would have thought he’d want a
little girl he’d rescued. “What was he thinking?” she asked
And yet, despite her confusion, she
couldn’t help but recall the way his expression had softened when
he’d talked about the little girl. The timer got her up from the
seat and when she exchanged the sheets, she peered into the living
room and smiled at the sight of Libby and Duke curled up on the
couch together, their heads side by side.
I have a feeling I know
where this is going.”
The final two sheets in the oven, she
scooted back to her bedroom for a quick peek on Justice. He lay
sprawled on his stomach across the bedspread sound asleep. She
leaned against the doorframe for a few moments and watched him.
After a bit, she pulled a blanket off the mahogany chest and
covered him with it before leaving him alone to sleep.
She finished with the cookies and took
the dogs out one more time before calling it a night herself. With
only the hall light on, she looked at Libby and said, “Keep an eye
on him, Libs. Keep him out of trouble.”
The dogs curled up on the dog bed in
Not much later, Kassidy slipped
between the sheets and found that Justice had readjusted himself as
well. His warm body curled into hers and she willingly sank into
him. He still held her come morning when her alarm went off. She
hustled to shut it off and peeked at Justice who continued to
slumber. Making her way out of the bed, she strode to the front of
the house, shutting the door on her way.
The dogs were by the door and she let
them out to the backyard and fixed them each a dish of food. Once
the coffee was started, she headed back and took a shower, dressing
in the bathroom and trying not to wake Justice. He was up in the
kitchen when she finished and his smile warmed her from the inside
Morning, beautiful.” He
took a drink of his coffee. “Thank you for last night.”
I’m so sorry for what you
had to go through, Justice. I wish I could make you feel
I’m getting ready to go
see her this morning.”
Unsure that was the wisest thing for
him to do, she merely nodded. “Would you like some breakfast
I’d love some.” He
gestured toward the dogs. “They seem to get along.”
Yeah, they do. I fed him
when Libs got hers.”
She grabbed the eggs from the
refrigerator then reached for a bowl. There was silence between
them until she poured the eggs into the skillet.
You think I’m crazy for
thinking like this.” The way Justice said it made it a statement,
not a question.
Partially, yes. Not
totally.” She worried her lower lip and took a deep breath. “You
know better than anyone about your motives for what you do,
Justice. As long as it is what you truly feel called to do, deep in
your soul, then do it.”
There was no answer and when she took
stock of his expression it seemed lost in thought, so she left him
alone. Breakfast passed in mostly silence. That didn’t bother her.
She ran over her schedule for the day, planning the best way to
maximize her time. Justice did the dishes while she got ready to go
to work. He was in there wiping down the counters when she
You know you don’t have
to leave right now. I know it’s early.”
He strolled toward her and wiped his
hands off on a towel. “I can go home.”
She shrugged. “Up to you. There’s a
yard here for Duke to play out in if you want to stay.” From her
pocket she withdrew a key and slid it toward him on the counter.
“There’s a house key if you want to take me up on it.”
How are your plans for
the day? It’s kind of early for the library, isn’t it?”
We have a
And in the
She had a list of things she needed to
see to. “What’d you have in mind?”
Thought we could make up
for missing our date yesterday.”
I would love to but I
have plans for the evening.” The light in his eyes dimmed but he
smiled and nodded.