Corps Security:The Series

By: Harper Sloan

To my daughters

M, T, & A



I love you three little ladies to the moon and back!





PROLOGUE

God . . . please let him be late. Traffic? Boss needed help? Hell, at this point, I would even pray for his shoe being untied.

ANYTHING to give me just five extra minutes.

Taking a frustrated breath, I remember that I gave up pleading to the heavens years ago. Ten years to be exact. The day he walked out of my life. The day the sun stopped shining and my world turned gray. The day my dreams turned into nightmares. I miss my dreams, I miss the sun, and I miss him. So fucking much, even though I know I shouldn’t. After all, what good does it do to miss a ghost?

Come on . . . Come on. . . . I silently beg the light to change. Why is it that, the only time I’m running late, every single light catches me? “Fuck! Just fucking change!” I just know if I am not home in the next ten minutes all hell will break loose. Finally, as soon as the light turns green, I slam on the gas. All I need to do is hurry and everything will be fine.

Right?

I roll into the driveway at 5:45, throw the car in park, and rush into the house. Thankfully I had enough foresight when I left earlier to start the slow cooker. “Okay, Okay . . .” I mutter to myself while rushing around the kitchen island to the table. If I don’t hurry . . . Nope, I can’t go there. There would cause me to lock up in fear, and cutting it this close, I can’t lock up.

“Deep breath, Iz . . . Just breathe,” I remind myself, setting the bowls of chili down. As quickly as I can manage, I set the table, making sure the glasses are spot free and the silverware is perfectly aligned. I am not going to make those mistakes again. Rushing back to the kitchen, I make sure I’ve washed and dried all the cookware and signs of my slow cooker use. I have just enough time to make sure that my ‘face,’ as he so lovingly calls it, doesn’t look like I just rushed my duties.

At 6:05 on the dot, I hear the garage door rolling up. Breathe. A few moments later, he walks in. Of course he would never run late. God forbid he would make it home a minute past his normal scheduled time. The world might end, the sky might fall, and pigs might start flying.

No, not my husband; he is never off his game.

“Good evening, Isabelle. How was your day?” he asks while unloading his arms of his coat, briefcase, and keys. He makes sure his coat is hung perfectly; wrinkles wouldn’t dare mess with him. Even they know not to poke the bear. After he disposes of his cell, wallet, and other pocket shit, he finally looks up at me with his cold, dead eyes.

Permission to speak has silently been granted.

“Good evening, Brandon. Things were normal as always today. Did some laundry, ran the errands you asked me to do, and got home around three. I know you said your parents are thinking of coming this weekend, so I wanted to make sure I had enough time to get the spare room situated before I started dinner.”

Lies. All lies . . . Just enough to hopefully make him think I wasn’t out.

“Hmmm,” he states while rolling his sleeves up. “So”—he looks up with his evil smirk and those dead eyes—“that wasn’t you I just saw speeding down Oak Street like the bats of hell were on your bumper, Isabelle?”

Fuck. Me.

“Brandon, I swear it’s not what you think,” I squeak out. Shit, this is going to be bad. “Dee stopped by. She’s in town and just wanted to say hi, catch up a little. I haven’t seen her in six months—”

His smile stops me cold. Immediately, I start backing away. Oh shit, I know that look.

“Now, now . . . Isabelle. What have I told you about Denise? Hmm? If I remember correctly, it was something along the lines of you are not to talk to, call, or take calls from her, and you are definitely not to FUCKING SEE HER!”

He’s stepping closer now. Frantically, I look around for an escape, but he’s blocking my only exit.

“You have been told, and I would have thought you learned this lesson six months ago. Isn’t that how long you said it’s been? What do I need to do for you to get it through your dumb fucking head? Jesus Christ, you’re a stupid fucking bitch.” His eyes are so cold as he steps right into my space. “What part of you being mine—and only mine—did you not understand the last time I was forced to explain this to you? I will not share you with fucking anyone. Do you hear me, Isabelle?” He sneers my name like its very presence on his tongue disgusts him. I’ve hit panic mode now. He has me backed into the wall, no escape in sight. “No fucking person in this goddamn world is allowed you. Only. Fucking. Me!”

He continues berating me, his eyes bugging out and his spit hitting me in the face. “You’re nothing but a stupid fucking slut! Isn’t that right, Isabelle? I should have walked the other way that night at Fire. I should have known a bar slut from a mile away. But no! It’s all your fault my dick wouldn’t walk the other way.”

He rears back and slaps me hard across my cheek. I squeeze my hands into fists, digging my nails into my palms to keep from screaming out. I can feel the blood running down my neck from the cut his ring must have caused on my jaw. I may be stuck, but I’ll be damned if I will let him break me.

“What did I fucking say, Isabelle? NO DENISE! No afternoons chatting like little fucking bitches. You’re to be here, cleaning my fucking house, cooking my fucking dinner, and spreading your fat fucking thighs for my dick!” He reaches out and grabs a bowl of chili, throwing it with all his strength against the wall. I watch chunks of meat, beans, and sauce run down my happy yellow walls. “And what in the fuck is this shit? I told you, you fucking bitch, I wanted lasagna. Does that look like lasagna?”

I should have seen it coming, but my attention was still focused on my happy yellow walls and the globs of dinner rolling down. I was just turning back to him when his fist hit my temple, momentarily making my vision blur. At least that seems to have knocked some sense into my sluggish brain. I dart to the right, quickly trying to escape the second fist I know will soon be following. Too late—always too late—I catch the second one in the ribs, knocking the breath right out of my lungs. Brandon grabs my thick hair, and with a twist of his wrist, I’m right back at his mercy.

Mercy I know he doesn’t have.

Throwing me into the hallway with what feels like the strength of ten men, he’s quick to follow with a kick to my stomach. “You stupid bitch. You just can’t listen. I own you, all of you. No one else. No one else touches what is MINE. Especially not fucking DENISE! I warned you what would happen. No, I promised your dumb ass what would happen if you went near her again.” Kick—Slap—Punch—Kick. “You’re never going to learn are you?” He’s panting with exertion, and it’s taking everything I have not to let the blackness overcome me. Even if I know numbness would be following quickly.

I lose track of how long he stands over me, screaming and beating, alternating between his feet and his fist.

Freedom—that’s all I crave now.

I close my eyes and pass out.

* * *

When I wake up, the house is dark. Every bone, muscle, and hair on my head hurts. I can’t take a deep breath without wanting to die. I can feel wetness on various parts of my head and body. Fuck. It’s never been this bad. I can’t hear anything out of my left ear. What the hell happened to my ear? Fuck, I need to move. Clutching my arm around my middle, I slowly climb to my feet. I take a look around out of my very swollen eyes and see that dinner is still sitting on the table. The broken bowl, chili dried to the wall, and even the spotless cups are sitting there mocking me. With a slow and silent step, I glance into the living room. No sign of Brandon. Shuffling—more like dragging myself to the kitchen, I see that his keys are gone. Holy shit! He’s not here. Never, not once in six years, has he left me alone in the house after a ‘lesson.’

I walk along the wall, holding on for support until I reach my purse, unzipping the side zipper; I reach in and take out my phone—the phone Brandon doesn’t know I have. I’m not allowed to have a phone, and he disconnects the house phone and takes it with him when he leaves. I can barely see enough to turn the phone on. I slide my finger across the screen and unlock it. Finally, after a few wrong buttons, I place the call.

“Hello? Hello, Iz? Iz, are you there? Is everything okay? IZ??” I can hear her. She’s practically screaming. But I can’t get the words out. She knows I wouldn’t be calling this late. Hell, she knows I wouldn’t call at all.

I take a shallow breath and rasp out the only word I need to bring my salvation.

“Help . . .”

Then the blackness pulls me under.





CHAPTER 1

Izzy

I haven’t always been this weak person . . . this broken woman. I used to dream, and when I did, I dreamt big. I had plans, plans of a future so bright it would blind you. I can still remember the day those dreams, those grand plans, and that future as bright as the sun went poof.

I just didn’t know it at the time.

At the time, I thought everything would be okay. After all, what seventeen-year-old girl doesn’t think she’s invincible?

That, coincidently, was the same day I decided fate hated me. No, she didn’t hate me . . . She loathed me. People say that karma is a bitch, but I have news for you. Karma doesn’t have anything on fate when she is after blood. Not a single thing.

I wish I knew what it was that set fate on the path of my doom. Maybe it was just being born? I like to think I was at least okay there. My parents loved me, they prayed for me, and I was everything to them. So, no, I don’t think that was the day.

Or it could have been the day I stole Maggie Jones’s pudding cup. But Maggie was a bully, never nice, and always stuffing her face, so I like to think I did her a favor.

I once stole a chocolate bar from the grocery store, but seriously? Fate would have been after every little teenage shit if that were the case. Point fingers all you want, but where I come from, it’s like a rite of passage.

No, I think fate decided she hated me the day I walked into Dale High School freshman year and my path collided with Axel’s. It would make sense that the reason she hated me was the reason for all my pain. The reason I’m convinced fate will never shine in my favor again.

Why would she? She took it all away. Wiped out every single thing I have ever loved in one swift kick.

One day, I might figure it out, the reason fate hates me, Isabelle West. But until that day, I damn sure will be careful with my dreams and my plans, my heart and my soul.

Fate might hate me, but that doesn’t stop me from hoping that one day she forgets about her favorite chew toy. When that day comes, I hope karma has some fun with that bitch fate.

2 years later

I can feel the sun warming my skin. I love this blissful state between sleep and just waking up. It reminds me of being numb. You haven’t hit the switch to turn on your mind, giving it permission to process and remember. You are just there. I love waking up feeling the sun warming my skin; it reminds me that I am alive. Alive and surviving.

I sigh and roll over in bed, laughing when I see the stupid body pillow dressed like a man with an oddly lifelike face drawn on the top. Dee insisted that I needed it in my life. Her theory was that if I didn’t want a man at least I wouldn’t sleep lonely, whatever that meant. I stopped trying to understand all that is Dee years ago. She has been my best friend for the last eleven years. She is the sister I never had and I know without a doubt in my mind that she would always have my back.

We met when I was eighteen and pissed at the world. She was bopping all over the room during freshman orientation, smiling at everyone who would look at her. She took one look at me and decided that we would be the best of buds. I think she saw the broken soul inside me and with her infectious happiness decided she would be my medication. She was by my side with every up and every down—and trust me, there were a lot of downs. She was my biggest cheerleader and supporter, and she singlehandedly brought light back into my life.

She picked me up when I had fallen, dusted me off, and helped me heal.

She did it again two years ago. No questions asked. She dropped everything, ran to my rescue, and helped me heal again.

We had lost that ‘sisterhood’ for a little while when I was married to Brandon. It wasn’t easy, but I was able to keep in touch with her with stolen calls and secret meetings. I knew she worried. She knew things weren’t good at home, but Dee, being Dee, came with a smile and the knowledge that if I needed her she would be there.

And she hadn’t lied; she dropped everything and ran with one word.

I know she feels somewhat guilty for introducing us. It’s unjustified, but it is there. I can see it sometimes in her eyes when we would be spend time together with a few bottles of wine between us. She hides it well, I will give her that, but I know my girl, and with a heart that big, she can’t help it.

I met Brandon when I was twenty-one, carefree, and looking to numb my world with drinking and parties.

He was the first man I gave a second glance to after Axel. It had been almost four years and I was ready to try and love again.

Oh, how blind I was.

Brandon was, on the outside, perfect. He was a few years older than me, and had already graduated from the University of North Carolina and established himself within his father’s accounting firm. He was successful and quickly on his way to even bigger things. He wasn’t overly tall, just shy of six feet, with a lean runner’s body. Sandy brown hair and brown eyes. He was the perfect boyfriend, showering me in romance, extravagant vacations, and gifts, always showing up to take me on surprise trips, doing all the little things we always think makes a man perfect. Six months after we met, that perfect boyfriend became my fiancé, and four months later, I became Mrs. Brandon Hunter.

Then the Brandon I had met and fallen in love with slowly changed. Gradually, he began distancing me from my family, friends and most importantly, Dee. He knew, of all the bonds I had, that hers was the strongest. I became a prisoner in my own life. I know my grandparents worried, but he was slick and always came up with the perfect reason we couldn’t come, or when the rare occasions came that we did, he was always called home for some reason. Dee was harder for him to brush off, but he did. Or at least he thought he did. He was good; I’ll give him that—the master of control and manipulation.

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