Wounded Warriors #4
Always a Marine
Joe Hamilton has spent years conquering his demons, his war wounds. Some the medics could fix, and some were up to him. Now he’s retired from the Marines and on track to a satisfying future as a civilian. A husband. A father.
Sandy Cassidy is the woman Joe only dreamed about meeting. Miraculously she’s attracted to him. What is she hiding? Something that can prevent them from having a future together?
Release Date: June 25, 2019
Genre: Contemporary | Military Novel
~ A PINK SATIN ROMANCE ~
Joe Hamilton’s apartment
Joe Hamilton shrugged into his jacket and grabbed his car keys. Why he’d agreed to let Liz talk him into meeting another woman puzzled him. His sister’s constant matchmaking was done out of love, he was sure, but he was perfectly happy with the single life.
He gave himself one last cursory glance in the hall mirror, brushed a curl of black hair back off his forehead and left his apartment. He’d never get used to having hair again, not after fifteen years in the Marines. He’d almost forgotten he had thick, curly hair. The last photo of him with a full head of hair was his high school prom picture with the luscious and loose Rita Simmons. He smiled at the painful memory of sexy Rita. He’d been a virgin, but she knew her way around a young man’s body that night.
So taken by her, he’d proposed marriage after their hot, satisfying sex in the small hotel room he’d quickly paid for. The prom had been in the hotel ballroom and nobody seemed to notice when he and Rita disappeared. He hadn’t been disappointed, not by a long shot. Rita was everything he wanted in a girl. Pretty, funny, sexy and smart. She’d laughed when he asked her to marry him saying, “Sure, Joey, why not? I don’t have anything planned after graduation.”
Rita was royally pissed the next day when he told her he’d joined the Marines. Talk about ruffled feathers. She looked like a rooster that got soaked with a hose. He softened the blow by consenting to spend the last of the money he’d saved to buy her a car and took her engagement ring shopping. They spent every night together until he shipped out for basic training. He saw her twice more before he got deployed to Iraq. He was stupid with love and passion for good old Rita.
Then he got the proverbial Dear John letter one month later. He’d become nothing more than a cliché.
That’s when the drinking started, and he acquired the name Boozy in his unit. If it hadn’t been for Master Sergeant Beachy and Gunny Dempsey, his career in the Marines would have been short and ignoble. They’d whipped him into good enough shape to finish his tour of duty and he’d been one of the few not physically wounded when they got ambushed on their way to Baghdad to ship home.
He became a pretty pitiful and wasted alcoholic after that. Liz had rescued him even though she wasn’t much more than a kid. He gave up the booze and the nickname, rejoined the Marines and hadn’t had a drop of alcohol since. He lived with temptation. So why had she asked him to meet her and the girl-of-the-month at a bar? Out of the Marines, wounded on two different deployments, and holding a great job with a good future ahead of him, he was finally on the right path. Granted, he was thirty-three, but he felt young and strong. He could put off finding the right woman for quite a while.
If he was lucky, he wouldn’t like the latest woman, and the evening would be brief. He’d play the gentleman, satisfy Liz once again then move on. Maybe she’d get the message. He wasn’t seeking a wife. He was looking for a solid financial situation and stability. Maybe Liz thought he was just fine, but he knew better. He went to AA meetings twice a week and still had a sponsor to answer to. There was no way he’d jeopardize his recovery by getting mixed up with a woman. Joe welcomed an occasional roll in the hay, but something permanent? No way.
He pulled up to valet parking in front of the fancy bar-restaurant. He wasn’t going to park his brand-new Beemer on the busy street. It took too long to finish his education, finally achieve his bachelor’s in physics and math, and master’s in criminology—and then get to the place where he could justify owning his dream car. He tightened his grip on the steering wheel, gave it an affectionate pat and handed the keys to the valet. This baby was the current love of his life. The only love he needed.
* * *
Liz Hamilton stared at her friend and co-worker, Sandy Cassidy. “You have got to be kidding me!” Sandy must be joking. She wouldn’t really do such a thing, would she?
“No, I’m not kidding. You should try it.” The spirited redhead twirled a curl around her finger and took a sip of her Cosmo.
“Sandy! That’s dishonest.” Liz still couldn’t wrap her mind around it.
“Oh, pooh. It’s a great way to get dinner out at a nice restaurant, two or three nights a week. It gives me something to do. Who says everybody online is looking for a serious relationship? Anyway, they can afford it.”
“How can you know that? Do you run them through a credit bureau ahead of time? If you haven’t even met them before, how do you know what they can afford? Anyway, I’m disappointed in you. Like I said, it’s dishonest.” This conversation was all it took to change her mind about introducing Sandy to her big brother, Joey. She crossed her fingers in hope he’d be a no-show. He got annoyed with her trying to fix him up all the time as it was. He’d never agree to another introduction if she hooked him up with Sandy.
“I don’t understand why you’re so bent about it. It’s not your money, and it’s only one dinner out, not a lifetime commitment for crying out loud.”
How had Liz not known Sandy was this shallow? They’d worked together for over a year and she’d been completely blindsided by this revelation. “Sandy, is that the reason you’re always trolling around on those dating websites? You could get all the dates you want. I was planning to introduce you to my big brother, but not now.”
A spark of interest lighted Sandy’s golden-brown eyes. “Is he rich?”
“No! He just retired from the Marines.”
“Ooooh, a Marine. Tell me about him.”
“No way, I love my brother. I only introduce him to the right kind of girls.” And Sandy clearly demonstrated she’d be the wrong kind of girl for Joey Hamilton.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, all I do is accept a dinner invitation. I let them pick up the check because they’re usually gentlemen and expect to pay.”
“When you accept an invitation to dinner with a man you’ve met on a dating site, and then you don’t insist on going Dutch, they’re expecting more than a meal with a glamorous girl.”
“And that’s my problem why? Anyway, if I really like the guy, I’ll go out with him again and maybe he’ll have his expectations met.” She winked.
Liz reached back through her mind for any clues she may have missed in her encounters with Sandy at the advertising agency. She was very pretty, sharp on the job, and had a good sense of humor—but this? She never had a clue. “Don’t any of the men you meet wonder why somebody like you is looking for romance on the internet?”
“Some of them ask me.” She crossed her legs and the fluttery skirt slid higher on her perfect thighs. The tattooed bartender appreciated the show.
“And?” Liz gestured gimme with her fingers. “What do you tell them?”
“I say I’m tired of looking for eligible men at church socials or depending on introductions from friends.” She shrugged and squeezed her lips into a pout. “It’s out of the question to look at work. That’s a good way to end my career.”
Liz had to give her credit for having that much sense. As far as she knew Sandy had always been circumspect at the agency. Most all the men they worked with were married, and except for some playful flirting, everyone knew the limitations. She enjoyed some of the good natured back and forth herself.
“Tell me about your brother. What’s his name?”
“Joey, but I’m not introducing you to him.”
“Why not? We might hit it off and I’ll end up as your sister-in-law.”
“God forbid! He may be a big strong Marine, but he’s tenderhearted where women are concerned. He got dumped by his fiancée while he was deployed in Iraq years ago, and he’s been gun shy ever since.”
“Why’d she dump him?”
“My opinion? She was stupid.” And Joey was lucky.
“You say that because he’s your brother. How old is he? What does he look like?”
“He’s thirty-three, smart, handsome and fearless. Why am I telling you this? I’m not introducing you to him.”
“Does he look like you?”
“There’s a family resemblance. Why?”
“Because you’re sexy and beautiful, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“Pffft. I look like a million other women.” She heard the bartender snort.
“I won’t debate it with you. How tall is he? Does he have black hair like you? Are his eyes blue too? How come I’ve never seen him before?”
“I told you. He just got out of the Marines. He got his degree and went to work for a private security outfit in Burbank.” Shut up, Liz!
“You’re killing me! I want to meet this guy. When can I meet him?”
Liz made a show of glancing at her watch. “How about an hour from never? I told you you’re wrong for him.” Oh, boy, she was so wrong. The last thing she’d ever do was let Sandy get her hooks into her sweet big brother.
“Hey, sis.” A familiar voice approached from behind. Sandy’s eyes went wide with appreciation. “Sorry I’m late.” He slung a long arm across Liz’s shoulders and kissed her cheek.
“Joey! I didn’t think you were coming. You said you wouldn’t be finished moving into your apartment until day after tomorrow.” There he stood, handsome and smiling, dressed in chinos, a black muscle shirt under his sport jacket.
He grinned. “I got done early.” Smiling at Sandy, he asked, “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?”
Sandy grinned and thrust out her hand. “Sandy Cassidy. Liz was just telling me about you, Joey.”
“It’s Joe. I haven’t been Joey since high school.”
Liz wanted to strangle Sandy when Joey raised his eyebrows and flashed his smile-to-die-for. God, her brother was so good looking! This was a bad idea. Why did he have to show up? He’d told her there was a good chance he wouldn’t make it tonight. She clenched her teeth. How was she going to get him alone and tell him to steer clear of this redheaded gold digger?
“Are you playing matchmaker again? We discussed that at length during Thanksgiving dinner.” He shook his head and turned to smile at Sandy. “Liz has been trying to fix me up for so long I’m annoyed with her. I’m taking Sis out for dinner and dancing tonight. Why don’t you join us?”
“Oh, I don’t want to impose. If I did join you, I’d insist on paying my own way.”
The brazen witch! So innocent! It was all Liz could do not to kick her. I’ll fix her!
“Sandy was just telling me she always pays her own way. She doesn’t want to give men unrealistic expectations by letting them pick up the tab. Isn’t that a wise thing to do, Joey?” She glared a warning at her co-worker. “Right, Sandy?”
Joe grinned. “I can see where it would avoid awkward situations at the end of the evening.”
Sandy’s expression was all innocence and wonder again. “You have no idea.” She took a deep breath and her ample breasts swelled beneath her clingy silk blouse.
Yes, Liz would definitely strangle Sandy at the first opportunity.
“Too bad you can’t join us, Sandy. She gazed at her brother. “Sandy already has plans for this evening.”
Joe tipped his head, a look of genuine regret on his face. “Ah, that’s too bad. I love Latin dancing and sometimes I’m embarrassed to always have my little sister as my partner.” He squeezed Liz’s shoulder and planted a brotherly kiss on her head.
“Oh, I’d much rather go dancing with you and Liz than sit through a boring movie with my girlfriend.” She snatched her cell phone off the bar and started a text. “I’ll let her know I’ve made other plans.”
“Won’t she be disappointed that you’re blowing her off?” Liz stared into Sandy’s face. Was there no stopping this woman?
Sandy waved her hand. “No. It wasn’t really firm. She’ll understand.”
Joe grinned. “Great!”
Liz clenched her teeth to hold back a scream begging to come out. “Um…Sandy, when you finish that let’s hit the ladies room before we leave.”
Sandy pocketed her phone. “We’ll only be a minute, Joe.” She stuck out her ample bosom and smiled.
If there was a way to accomplish it without spending the rest of her life in jail, Liz would make sure Sandy never made it out of the ladies’ room alive. Liz fumed at the way Sandy made a point to add a little extra swing to her hips then glance over her shoulder to make sure Joey was getting the full effect. He was. From the look on his face he liked what he saw. Maybe Liz would just go home, leave a note of apology to her brother and slash her wrists.
Liz pushed the door open and faced a line of chattering women waiting. Forget laying down the law to Sandy in this crowd. “Do you want to wait in this line?”
“No.” They stepped into the now deserted hall. “I can wait.”
Liz stopped her. “Sandy, I’m warning you. Keep your hands off Joey. You are so wrong for him. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.”
Sandy raised her eyebrows. “In case you haven’t noticed, Joe is a big boy. A very big boy. He doesn’t need his baby sister looking out for him.” She made a beeline back to the bar and tucked her hand inside his elbow. “We’re ready to go, Joe. I’m no expert in Latin dancing, so you’ll have to teach me.” She pressed her big boob against his arm.
Joey, the big dope, raised an eyebrow and said, “I’d love to.”