Authors: C.P. Smith
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Romantic Suspense, #War, #Military, #Suspense
Copyright © 2015 by C.P. Smith
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976.
First edition: Oct 21
I want to thank my readers who understand that one look, one touch, or one word can be all it takes to fall irrevocably in love, and who make getting up and sitting at a computer each day worthwhile. My words are nothing without you. From the bottom of my heart I thank you for your support!
To the humane society for all their hard work saving displaced and abused animals. No life, be it human or animal, should be spent in fear or pain. To those who are innocent and currently incarcerated for a crime they didn’t commit, I wish this fictional story could become your reality.
Swirling blue and red lights danced across the bricks outside of St. Elmo’s Fire. The lights only intensified Kade’s pounding head as he was shoved into the backseat of a police cruiser. Six hundred minutes. That’s all it took ex-SEAL Kade Kingston to find trouble his first day home. He’d managed to survive covert operations in the hostile mountains of Afghanistan, only to be brought down by a baseball bat.
“Jesus, what a clusterfuck,” Kade groaned, leaning back against the seat.
“My brother didn’t kill anyone,” Kyle shouted from outside the car. “He’s a war hero, for Christ’s sake.”
“Kyle!” Kade barked from the open door before they closed it, “call Prez before they fly out.”
“I thought you said they were leaving for an eighteen-month deployment?”
“They are, but I need them to know what’s happening before they leave.”
The door slammed on his words. Kyle put his hand up to the cruiser’s window as the officer climbed in the front, so Kade did the same. He and Kyle were close; had looked out for each other since the day they’d watched their mother walk away.
Kade held his brother’s eyes as the cruiser pulled away. When he lost sight of him, he closed his eyes to the pounding in his head. “Jesus. Six hundred fuckin’ minutes is all it took for trouble to find me. Seems like old times,” Kade mumbled.
Thinking back over the night, he knew if he had the first five hundred minutes back, he would have only had one drink instead of the multiple shots the bar patrons had bought to welcome him home. He’d have been clear-headed then and would have forced Sutton into telling him what the hell was going on with him. As it stood now, he and his old friend were dead in the water—literally and figuratively.
Six hundred minutes, that’s all it took to lose everything he’d worked so hard for, including his freedom
“You’ve been listening to ‘Born Under A Bad Moon’ by Thieving Birds. It’s the top of the hour at TK 101 and time to bring you up to the minute on breaking news, weather, and sports. First up, the murder trial of Kade Kingston came to a close late last night. A Jury of his peers found him guilty of the 2013 murder of Stan Sutton. Kingston, a local war hero and former friend of the deceased, is said to have stabbed Sutton accidentally during an altercation behind St. Elmo’s Fire bar. The stabbing took place on the same night Kingston returned home, after serving twelve years in the Navy, to care for his ailing grandfather. Witnesses said the two had words inside the bar, and then a short time later, when Sutton left, Kingston followed. Sutton was found stabbed to death behind St. Elmo’s Fire after Kingston stumbled back into the bar holding the murder weapon. Kingston pled not guilty, insisting there were three unknown men in the alley besides him. The prosecution argued the defendant had a prior history of aggression with the deceased and no evidence to corroborate his claim that three unknown assailants committed the crime. After eight hours of deliberation, Kingston was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to fifteen years at Renault Correctional Facility, a minimum-security prison an hour outside of Pensacola. Kingston’s former SEAL team was contacted for comment, but are currently on assignment and unable to respond. . .”
“That’s a travesty of justice if I ever saw one. Kingston’s trial was rushed through the courts quicker than a whore in a room full of Johns. A jury of his peers?” my dad scoffed as he angrily switched off the radio. “A jury of his peers would have been twelve men who’d fought by his side in Afghanistan. What the hell do civilians know about military men?”
“Nothing,” I answered my hold-nothing-back-speak-his-mind-don’t-shit-a-bullshitter father as I switched on the coffee pot in my office. My dad, a former Navy man himself, believed in Kingston’s innocence from the first moment we’d heard about the murder. He’d dealt with Kade on several occasions when he’d come into our auto repair shop over the years and didn’t believe for a minute that he was guilty.
“That’s right. Nothin’. If Kingston said he followed Sutton outside because he was acting like a man with the devil on his back, and found him being attacked by three men, then that’s how it happened.”
“But they found no evidence that anyone else was in the alley,” I argued, playing devil’s advocate like I always did when the topic of whether or not Kade Kingston was a killer was brought up.
“Then how do you explain the lump and the blood on the back of his head, Harley? Did he shove his own head into a wall to make himself look innocent?”
“No. He was attacked from behind just like he said he was,” I answered without hesitation.
“Damn straight he was attacked from behind. It was sloppy police work that convicted Kingston,” Dad seethed.
“Right. Sloppy police work and no witnesses to verify what actually happened in that alley.”
“It’s bullshit, that’s what it is. SEALs serve with honor and integrity on and off the battlefield. There’s no way he took anyone’s life unless it was during combat. You mark my words, Harley. When his team gets back, they’ll find out the truth about what happened that night. Kingston may have been a bit of a tomcat in his youth, but he’s no killer.”
I nodded in agreement because I hoped like heck that he was right about Kade’s former SEAL team coming to the rescue. Why? Because Kade Kingston was, or is, basically the man of my dreams and had been since I was sixteen years old. Unfortunately, for me, he didn’t know I existed.
He was an all-around wild child who’d enlisted in the military straight out of high school. He’d been a badass and a blatant womanizer in his youth, but he was no killer. At least not in my father’s eyes—or mine for that matter.
The first time I met Kade was in high school. Or, more accurately, the first time I met Kade, he knocked me on my ass. It happened during a fight on the football field. One he’d started after an offensive lineman from my own Milton High School—a small town outside Pensacola where Whiting Naval Airfield was located—had cheap shot him during a play. Punches were thrown as both sides joined in the melee, which ended up on the sidelines just as my cheer squad had lifted me to the top of a pyramid. To this day, I don’t know how I managed to escape injury.
The fight crashed into our tower of pom-poms, so I, of course, came tumbling down, landing on top of the players. When the dust finally settled, a large lineman was pulled from on top of me and the hand that reached out to help me was attached to Kade. He’d been big in high school; looked more like a college player than the junior he was at the time. Suited out in his pads and helmet, he’d looked more like Goliath to my sixteen-year-old self. When I took his hand to stand up, he’d grinned sheepishly at me as if the whole incident was his fault and mumbled, “Sorry,” as he helped me to my feet. To this day, I still remember how my heart skipped a beat at that smile being turned in my direction.
I’d noticed him, of course, before the game started; he was hard to miss considering he towered over the other players. But when he’d helped me up and our eyes met, as he smiled that sheepish grin, I was determined to learn his name. When the game was over, I asked a cheerleader I knew from his high school who he was and that’s how I learned his name. And his reputation as a wild child; but that didn’t stop me. He may have been known as a troublemaker, one most parents wanted their daughters to stay away from, but that grin and apology told me all I needed to know. Deep down, he was a good person; he was just misunderstood.
I’ve always believed you can’t change the core of someone. Either you’re born with a good heart or you’re not. Kade may have had a rough childhood—according to the papers, he’d been raised by his grandfather after both his parents took off—but rough or not, I was certain that deep down at his core, he was a good man. I saw that about Kade immediately. I didn’t care about the rumors and went looking for him before his team loaded their bus. Unfortunately, when I found him, he was in a group of players celebrating their win with a girl wrapped around him. Disappointed he had a girlfriend, and secretly crushed he hadn’t had the same reaction to me when our eyes locked, I’d walked away. I never forgot about him, though. Any time I ran into someone from his school, I’d inquire about him. Each time we played his school in any sports I looked for him at the games. It was always the same, though: he’d be surrounded by his friends and have some curvy girl hanging all over him.
High school ended for Kade a year before me and he left Pensacola. I thought I’d never see him again and moved on, but even so, he always hung in the recesses of my mind, popping up from time to time when I would think about the type of man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Every man seemed to pale in comparison to the memory of that boy with the grin.
Years passed by and I’d
forgotten about my muse when he popped back into my world for a brief heart-stopping moment. My dad owned an auto and bike repair shop just outside Milton near Whiting Field. Kade owned a bike and he’d driven into the forecourt of my dad’s repair shop looking for a part for his bike. He’d been on leave from the Navy. He was Special Forces by then, which made him even more of a badass than he’d been in high school, and was heading to Whiting Field to fly out for another mission when he stopped in. I was in the office handling the accounts receivable when I heard the deep rumble of his pipes. I stood to see who had arrived and watched with fascination as he slung his long, muscled leg over his bike. I recognized him immediately and froze in place; a trance like state overcame my body as I tried to remember to breathe. He approached my dad and shook his hand. While they were talking, he’d turned his head and caught sight of me at the window. He’d paused in mid-sentence when he saw me, almost as if he recognized me as I did him. A slow grin pulled across his mouth and he jerked his chin in acknowledgment before I could duck in humiliation at having been caught drooling like a lovesick fool.
When he turned back to my dad, I drank in his body and all that had changed since high school. From the top of his dark-brown, cropped short hair, to the strong shadowed jaw with a day’s old growth, further down to his lean waist, supported by muscled thighs, all the way down to his standard-issue military boots. His eyes were as dark as his hair and they told a story. A story that said he’d been exposed to horrors that most would never encounter in their lifetime. But his smile . . . his smile was the same sheepish grin that haunted my dreams. His dark looks and haunted eyes, coupled with his powerful body and natural masculine grace, spelled out badass perfection in Navy fatigues. And everything about him made my body hum.
I went to move so I could introduce myself, but once again, as if the fates were determined we never officially meet, he left before I could. He’d looked at his watch and stopped my father while he was talking, pointing at the time. He clapped my dad on the back then looked over his shoulder at me one last time before climbing on his bike. He drove away as I stood rooted to the spot, and that was the last time I’d seen Kade before he was arrested for the murder of Stan Sutton.