Return With Honor
by Jane Carver
Marine Sergeant and Cherokee Native American Jud Longtree returns to his small hometown as a favor to his mom but old troubles pop up immediately. “That Injun Jud Longtree” is a grown man now, more than capable of handling himself. But the minute he shows up in Bleaker, murder and mayhem do as well.
Lottie Amberville, the high school counselor, takes an instant dislike to Jud. She knows his story—but it’s the public one. Is any of that story true?
Police Chief Theo Vance sees only trouble when Jud Longtree shows up. While Jud’s moved on, the Chief hasn’t. His memory is long and not willing to change.
High school principal Matthew Jetter, Jud Longtree’s mentor and savior, is the key to the mystery. Unfortunately, he was murdered.
Jud is attracted to Lottie and they team up, along with Lottie’s friend, Ashley Johnson and her son, Cooper, to solve not just one murder, but three.
Re-Release Date: March 7, 2017
Genre: Contemporary | Military Romance
Jud Longtree had the oddest feeling his life was about to change when a black-haired beauty passed him in a dead out run, headed toward two young men who’d just emerged from the door of a shop further up the sidewalk. From the looks of the two so intent on fighting, they wouldn’t even see her until one of them knocked her flat. Better to break up the fight than see the lady suffer. So he lengthened his stride and got to them as the first one took a swing.
His thought was to step between the guys and force the weaker one away. Less than thirty seconds into the melee, he realized that both knew how to box as well as wrestle. Jud ducked as a fist the size of a small ham swung at the light-haired shorter teen, missed and came straight for his jaw. His body swayed to one side, close but out of the line of contact.
The two ducked and swung, contacted, grunted and cursed fluently. The taller, but more slender boy got the other in a headlock and proceeded to batter his opponent’s head until blood leaked out of the visible ear.
The one in the weaker position jabbed the taller boy in the kidneys, each blow accompanied by bellows of fury. “Let go, Peter!”
“Quit arguing with me then, damn it!” Another blow caught him in the ribs. “Ow, Walter!”
While Jud stood back, now hesitant to interfere in local affairs, the woman had moved to the other side of the fighters, and she looked determined to break up the two. With those wide eyes, forehead wrinkled in worry and tight straight lips, she appeared as angry as the combatants. “Shit, this is gonna get ugly,” he muttered in dismay as she yelled at him.
“You knock them apart, and take Peter.” She pointed to the taller thinner boy. “I’ll take care of Walter,” she said, pointing to the one in the headlock.
“Are you crazy?” He could imagine her wading in between them like an eager puppy, ready to play, and being seriously injured. He wouldn’t let one of his men in Iraq do something like that, and he wasn’t about to let her either.
She had other ideas. “On my count.” She literally rolled up her sleeves and began a loud quick countdown. “One. Two. Three.”
Jud figured he had no choice. Help or pick up the pieces. Her willingness to become involved fascinated him at the same time it annoyed him. As she yelled three and pulled her shoulders back, he dug in his heels and tackled the taller boy. He and Peter went over, Jud landing on top, his weight heavy enough to break the boy’s concentration.
“Hey, mister, what the hell are you doing?” Peter tried to throw Jud off, but he flipped the kid over onto his stomach, caught both hands and held them in a tight grip. Other than his mouth—he cussed like a Marine—the rest of the kid was down for the count.
Jud looked for the woman just in time to see the boy she called Walter fly through the air. Tall, dark and beautiful had just thrown him over her hip in a classic martial arts move. The kid landed on his stomach, not four feet from Jud. Before he could whistle his appreciation, she ran over, put her knee in the kid’s back, caught his thumb and bent it back. A gurgling scream rumbled out of the boy’s throat, but he didn’t move.
“High five, big guy.” Sweaty, with a breathy grin, she held up one hand, palm out to Jud, and waited for him to join her celebration.
He shook his head and grimaced, unprepared to share her victory. She was as crazy as the two kids lying on the sidewalk. Besides, they had attracted a crowd, and this was not how he wanted to meet the folks of Bleaker, South Carolina, again. Seemed he had no choice though. He ignored the woman’s hand and hauled the kid to his feet, both hands still locked in his steel grip. She stayed down, a smart move on her part since she had no way to subdue the boy once she let him up.
“What the hell is going on here?” A man wearing a vest with Jasper’s Hardware stitched across the left breast pocket pounded down the wooden walkway and skidded to a halt when he caught sight of the quartet. “Holy shit!” He cupped a hand near his mouth and yelled over his shoulder, “Mabel, call Chief Vance.”
Five or six people now stood near, gawking and grumbling, a few with fear in their eyes. Less than a minute passed before Jud heard a siren. Vance to the rescue. Nothing much has changed around here, I see. He swung the boy around to face the street as a black and white unit pulled up to the curb, spewing gravel from beneath worn tires.
Now that the law had shown up, the woman stood and let the other boy get up. Jud saw him curl his hands into fists at his side, while light blue eyes narrowed, and his square jaw jutted out. The kid wanted to strike her. Jud shot a warning glance his way, and the kid wiped the aggression off his face.
Chief Vance climbed slowly out of the older model Chevy cruiser, his age probably more an excuse for not hurrying than caution. He casually made his way to the front of the car then stopped, his stance and hand on the gun butt at his waist showing his position of power. His glowering gaze skimmed the crowd, his blue eyes missing nothing.
A chill ran down Jud’s spine that not even two tours in Iraq could create. This man was as dangerous today as he had been when Jud was a kid. But when push came to shove, he was a man now, and Vance would not intimidate him.
“Peter. Walter. You two come over here.” Vance motioned first the taller boy then the shorter one to his side. Peter, the one Jud still held cuffed with his hands, jerked in his grip. He let the boy go so he could join the police chief. The shorter one called Walter leaped off the curb and stood shoulder to shoulder with Vance. Jud could easily see the resemblance between the two. Square jaw, high forehead, pale hair cut the same, straight nose and those light blue eyes.
Vance jerked a thumb to the shorter boy on his right. “This here is my grandson, Walter.” He nodded to the other boy without taking his gaze off Jud. “And this is Peter Dansing, the mayor’s son. You remember his daddy.” He said that as a statement of fact, not a question.
Yeah, Jud remembered Jack Dansing. A nasty piece of shit when they were kids and probably just as bad now if his son’s actions were any example.
Now that he stood alone, Jud knew it was only a matter of time before the crowd recognized and turned on him. As surely as an IED—improvised explosive device—could blow up a troop carrier in a war zone, this commotion had destroyed his hope of slipping into town, taking care of business, then leaving as soon as possible. He had left under harsh circumstances, and memories here in the Smoky Mountains were long. Despite the dense Native American population in these parts, how many Cherokee Indians came through town every day, much less lived there?
“That lady there,” Vance pointed to the feisty woman who had helped him stop the fight. “That’s the high school counselor, Lottie Amberville. She works with your mother.”
Jud turned his upper body toward her and tipped the edge of his tan camo cap. “Ma’am.” He put his gaze back on Vance as soon as possible. No telling what the man would come up with as an excuse to get him out of town.
“Miss Amberville, this is...”
“Longtree.” She nodded toward his last name stitched over the pocket of his military blouse. One brow arched, her eyes searched his face, seeking information he refused to give her. She tipped her head forward and squinted at him.
Jud waited in silence, his hands down at his side, his face void of expression. If she worked for the school, she knew his mom. If she knew his mom, she probably knew his history. Or at least the public version.
Despite her obvious beauty and the spirit she had demonstrated during the fight, he saw in her eyes the reputation he deliberately left behind twenty years ago. Did she believe the stories about him and the locals? Did she believe the stories about him breaking his mother’s heart and threatening the high school principal?
“Jud Longtree.” She stepped closer and let her gaze travel down his body then back up to his face.
She wanted to speak out in anger, he could tell by how stiffly she held her body. How hostile her gaze. But rather than spit out her dislike, she clamped her mouth shut with an audible snap.