I should've stayed in. If I had known when I decided not to reenlist in the Marine Corps I’d be spending the next five months sleeping on my mother’s couch—and applying for the most menial jobs when I used to lead men—I would’ve stayed at Camp Pendleton. Going on interviews, shuckin’ and jivin’ for people, and ultimately not getting the gig was the ultimate kick in the dick.
Vets get preferential treatment, they said. You can do the same job you were doing in the military with more pay and less bureaucracy, they said. I’m sure somewhere for some people that’s right.
I loosen the knot in my tie as I walk across the manicured lawn in front of the tiny ranch-style house my parents have called home for most of my life. Before I take the keys out of my pocket, the front door swings open and my mother comes out. She grabs me—all sixty inches of her—and hugs me with all the strength she can muster. Pushing me back, she looks me over as I do the same. She’s wearing a pastel blue tracksuit, and her long, dark hair is grayer than I remember. Her deep olive skin is still wrinkle free, and her eyes are the exact replica of my own light brown ones. She smiles with relief in her features that only a mother will have—happy to have her baby back in her arms. Precious, the vicious German shepherd who looks more like a dire wolf, is at her side. The damn dog snarls at me as I sling an arm over my mother’s shoulder and place a kiss on her temple.
“Precious, don’t snarl at your brother,” my mother chides, taking a treat out of her pocket and tossing it up in the air for the dog to catch. Precious—she named a vicious German shepherd Precious. Just one of the many reasons I love my mother.
“How’d it go, sweetie?”
“I guess it went okay. At this point it’s a waiting game.” I shrug because what else is there to say?
“Don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s okay to take some time off and concentrate on what it is you really want to do. Besides, me and your dad love having you home again.” She pulls me into another tight hug. One of those embraces that transcends muscle and bone, that goes soul deep, that only a mother can give. One that says everything is going to be all right.
Precious lets out a couple of high-pitched barks before growling again, and this time I growl back because I had her first and Precious needs to learn his place. “Seth Theodore Cody, did you just growl at my dog?”
“He growled at me first.”
A startled laugh escapes her mouth before she tries to give me a stern look.
“Be nice,” she says, wagging a finger at me.
“I will if he will.”
“You will if he . . .” She roots through the outside pocket on her ginormous purse and pulls out a pair of sunglasses. “You will be gone before my dog. Remember that, Seth.” She walks past me with the vi- cious canine at her side, his head held high like he’s the chosen one.
“Sure, Mom. Where you off to?”
“The dog park with Aunt Mari and then to PetSmart so the baby can get groomed.” She runs a hand through the dog’s thick fur. “Isn’t that right, Precious?” She scratches between the dog’s ears.
“See you when I get back, mijo. Te amo.”
“Love you too, Mom.”
Out of habit, I watch as my mom and Precious get in an older red SUV and pull out of the driveway before I go into the house.
“That dog would kill us both if he thought he’d get your mother all to himself,” my dad grumbles from the recliner situated in the cor- ner of the living room.
“I have some buddies who can take care of that problem for us. Precious will disappear without a trace.”
“And your mother would lose the last remaining marbles in her head.” I let out a loud bark of laughter, knowing the only reason my dad would let those words fall from his mouth is because my mom isn’t here. “We’d best learn how to accept the beast. Speaking of your friends, Aiden called a little while ago. Said he tried your cell, and it went straight to voice mail.”
“Thanks, Dad. I’m going to get changed and then give him a call,” I say over my shoulder, already walking down the hallway toward my room.
I dig the phone out of my pocket, hit the power button, and flop back on the double mattress that was great when I was sixteen—but at six feet, with another eighty pounds of weight, I’m not sure how it even holds me anymore.
The phone rings two times before he picks up.“Aiden Frost,” an irritated voice snaps into the phone.
“Fuck, man. This new client is already busting my balls. I needed you like yesterday.”
I lift my head and slam it back on the pillow a couple of times.
Aiden and I served together, fought shoulder to shoulder, protected each other’s six. He got out after his dad died to be more available for his mom.
Unlike many of our friends who got out and immediately joined mercenary groups, or what the government calls private military com- panies, Aiden opted to start his own business catering to the rich and spoiled. He’d extended a job offer when I first got out, but I’d scoffed; I wasn’t a glorified babysitter. But that offer didn’t sound so bad now.
Twenty-four hours on, twenty-four off. Housing, food, and travel all included. Yeah, that sounds like a train I can totally jump on right now.
“Who is it? And for how long?” I’m unable to stop the eagerness from slipping into my voice.
“Sin City and for the unforeseeable future. Their lead, singer Sinclair James, is dealing with a stalker whose behavior has been esca- lating over the last eight months. The other members in the band, who each think they are Billy Badass because they have had a fight or two in high school, have the illusion they can keep her safe. They’re still try- ing to function like a garage band with little resources and no fan base. Thank God I know their PR rep, Venetria McCullough. She recognized the crazy and gave me a call. This fucker is getting close enough to touch, and three wannabe rock stars have no idea how fucking treach- erous the world can be.”
He lets out a frustrated breath.
“So, you took the job thinking it would be the typical spoiled mu- sician gig, and it turned into . . .”
“A mess. Sinclair is good people, you know. All of them are ac- tually really good people. They are huge, man, and they have people everywhere around them all the time. I’ve spent the first month or so filling in the gaps in their security. Creating emergency response plans and exit plans. I got contingency plans. I’ve been working with my guys on putting a barrier between them and the ravenous fucking vul- tures who want a piece of them. Now it’s all fine-tuning. That’s where you come in.”
“This ain’t exactly my wheelhouse, A.”
“Bullshit. Remember the security detail you ran for the ambassa- dor in Yemen? That’s the expertise I need here. I need a motherfucker who runs into the gun fight. Who has a level head, can shoot the wing off a fly at a hundred yards and, if push comes to shove, can throw hands. This girl will be like the baby sister you never had. She’ll make you want to move mountains to keep her safe.”
I joined the military to protect and serve. I wanted to be the thing that scared the bad men of the world and made good people feel safe. Aiden just hit on all of that. He knows me better than most. We met at eighteen on the first day of bootcamp.
I wasn’t lying when I said being a bodyguard isn’t exactly my wheelhouse, but having a mission? Protecting people, that for whatever reason, are unable or unqualified, that shit is ingrained in my DNA.
I roll nonexistent options through my head. The decision is swift and easy.“When do I start?”