Authors: Tara Mills
In Love and War
Copyright © 2013, Terri L. Muhich
Cover Art by Steven Novak
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations in articles and reviews. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are products of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
Published in the United States of America by Sherman Hills Press
To all the noble hearts in our midst
Table of Contents
Daylight was fading fast when Dylan Bond sat down at his computer and shot the smuggled USB driver home. As he slowly peeled back layer upon layer of evidence, the room fell dark around him. The only illumination left came from the computer screen. The unnatural glow sharpened and defined his features, the planes of his face, the clean line of his nose. Dylan
’s eyes, lost in shadow, flashed black, all pupil, the lapis blue of his irises obscured by the lack of light.
the sleeping golden retriever sprawled next to him Dylan reached out with his stocking-covered foot and gave the animal’s belly an affectionate rub. “You wouldn’t believe what I’m reading. This scumbag started setting things up over three years ago.”
’s eyes flickered and closed. His tail flopped on the floor a couple of times while his satisfied groan rose and fell with the tummy rub.
Dylan turned back to the screen and opened the next document. He leaned in and continued to read, though he quickly sobered, his outrage growing with every new paragraph.
Ariela Perrine’s face fell when she saw the dark blue, checked necktie hanging from the doorknob. Pressing her ear to the wood, she could hear the unmistakable sounds of an action flick on the television inside. What was she supposed to do now? Were they actually watching the movie or was it just playing in the background? Her gaze dropped to the necktie once more and she bit her lip, undecided.
. She was home now. If those two wanted privacy, they could move things into Jean’s bedroom.
She knocked three times—hard, so they'd hear her over the movie
and announced, “I’m home. Zip up.”
“Hang on!” Jean shot back.
Time seemed to drag while Ariela waited, though it was probably no more than two minutes. Feeling impatient to get inside and leave the memory of her latest failed date on this side of the door, she gave another hopeful rap. “Are you decent?”
Ariela dropped the looped necktie over her head, accessorizing her smirk, and went in. Jean and Ron were still making wardrobe adjustments when she hung her purse on a hook behind the door and flopped into the easy chair with a dejected sigh.
Jean tucked her legs beneath her
on the sofa and sank against Ron. He snuggled her even closer and she sighed even though she was frowning pointedly at Ariela.
You’re back early. What happened? I thought you were going dancing tonight. Didn’t you like Randy either?”
Ariela sent her roommate a long look. “Where would I even start?”
Withdrawing into the cushions, she turned to the television. “What are you watching?”
Ron glanced over.
“Never heard of it.”
She struggled to figure out what was going on for ten minutes, but having missed the beginning, she couldn’t catch up. What was the point? “I’m starving. I’m going to find something to eat.”
Jean stared at her. “You just
I couldn’t eat. The guy ruined my appetite. He never stopped talking, not even when his mouth was full. I swear, it was like watching a front-load washing machine, except with a washer you’re not in danger of getting hit by something flying out of it.”
looked revolted. “Tell me you’re joking.”
He was disgusting.”
“So, how much did you drink?” Jean
knew her so well.
“Two glasses of wine
. When Randy asked why I wasn’t eating, I told him I was coming down with something. Thank god I thought of it. It saved me from having to kiss him later. There was no way he was getting anywhere near me with that tongue of his.” Just the idea was enough to make her shudder.
Ron chuckled and broke in.
“There’s pizza on the counter—help yourself.”
” Ariela popped up to go investigate. “Anything I have to pull off of it?”
Shrooms,” said Jean.
. “Mushrooms?” She hated the ungrateful whine in her voice.
Jean arched an eyebrow at her.
“Hey, we didn’t order pineapple because you bitched so much last time.”
? Oh…I did. Sorry.” Ariela gave her friends a fake perky smile. “Mushroom pizza? Fantastic.”
Sputtering on another chuckle,
Ron stood and stretched, letting out a deep groan with his full extension. “Well, I suppose I should clear out. I have an early morning.”
flipped up the top of the cardboard pizza box, though it didn’t block her view of Jean’s theatrical pout through the kitchen doorway. Amused by it, she reached in and tore a slice of pizza free and peeled back the cheese so she could pick off the mushrooms. She flicked every single one she found back into the box.
“See you later, Ron,” Ariela called as the couple kissed goodnight.
There was a pause before he answered. “Be good, Ariela.”
“I’m always good,” Ariela muttered under her breath.
She was tired of being good. She wanted to be bad, to be a rabble rouser, to get into a little trouble for once in her life. Too bad it didn’t come naturally. She needed someone to corrupt her. Yes, a bad influence to shake up her boring routine would be great.
Jean wandered into the kitchen and took a glass down from the cabinet. Going into the fridge, she held up the carton.
’d rather have juice.”
looked over the shelves. “Don’t see any.”
Figures. Guess I’ll have milk too.”
She was off to a good, rebellious start. Well, at least she was getting her calcium. Tomorrow, she’d better get to the store
to pick up more of her favorite cranberry blends.
Jean set Ariela’s glass down
in front of her and took her usual chair at the table. Reaching into the pizza box she helped herself, playfully wiggling her eyebrows as she bit the mushroom at the very tip clean off.
quivered in distaste. “Do you mind? I'm eating here.”
“So am I.
” Jean laughed and dabbed her mouth with a napkin. “You know, I think I like cold pizza best.”
“I get into moods.”
Using her freshly polished fingernails, she picked off a tiny chunk of black olive and wiped it on the inside of the box.
“It’s not a booger, Ariela.”
Jean kicked back in her chair and contemplated her roommate.
Ariela lowered her second slice of pizza. “What?”
Ariela slowly shook her head. “Oh no, no, no, no. Tell me.”
Jean breathed in and out first.
“Fine. It’s just…well…I figured Randy was going to be a bust. And he was—just another dud in a pattern of duds for you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Face it. You go out with losers, knowing they’re losers and they’re going to disappoint. It’s like you set yourself up on purpose.”
gave a dismissive snort. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I’m just saying. You know what you want, and you refuse to go there.” Jean took another bite of
“I go out with the guys who ask me.”
“You turn down any guy who might be interesting.”
“I haven’t met any of those.”
“You don’t want to.” Jean tossed her crust back into the empty box and wiped her hands on her napkin. “I think you’re afraid to fall in love.”
Ariela scoffed at the idea, unconvinced.
“Is that right?”
We’ve been friends a long time. I know you better than you think. You’re afraid to end up like your mom.”
Sitting up, her eyebrows raised, Ariela deflected the charge.
“I don’t think this is how a psych session is supposed to work. I believe
supposed to be the one talking and you’re supposed to take notes and nod occasionally and say things like ‘hmm,’ and ‘I see. Very interesting.’”
“I’ve just made
some observations over the years, that’s all. Maybe it’s time to admit you don’t go deep with men. You keep them shallow, where they can’t hurt you.”
Ariela laughed. “Okay then, point me in the right direction, because I’m obviously mucking things up on my own.”
“Be serious.” There was an understanding look in Jean’s eyes. “You can’t run away forever.”
It was well over six hours since Dylan gave any thought to his aching back. All sense of time and discomfort were lost in a flurry of mental activity. Armed with damning evidence, he was in his zone, a master of political commentary as his words flowed across the screen.
‘—and unfortunately for the American people, Senator Norton has never acted on any legislation before his financial terms have been worked out first. The Carpenter Bill is a prime example. It makes this jaded journalist pine for the days when money was passed discreetly under the table, instead of brazenly and unapologetically in the open.’
With a dramatic flourish, Dylan
lifted his hands off the keyboard and kicked back in his chair with an exhilarated smile. “Take that you bastard. Hope it stings like a bitch.”
dated his column and sent it in.
Reaching for his long-neglected beer, he took a swig and his face contorted with a wicked grimace. “Warm and flat.” He shuddered and rolled back his chair, grunting stiffly to his feet. Only now did he notice the daylight streaming in the windows.
Jesus. What time is it?” He scrubbed his tired eyes with the heels of his hands.
Max sat up and scratch
ed himself, his attention centered on his human. When Dylan swept up the open bag of cheese puffs on the desk and shook the last two into his hand, the dog’s tail beat the floor in double-time. Chuckling at the animal, he popped one into his own mouth and tossed the second to him. Max snatched it out of the air and swallowed it whole.
“You could at least
to taste it for my sake,” he said dryly.
The dog followed him
into the kitchen and parked himself directly behind Dylan when he threw open the refrigerator door.
The pickings were slim.
Dylan pulled out a container of forgotten lunch meat and opened the lid. He took a cautious sniff, jerked his head back, and sent the bologna sailing across the room. It landed in the trash with a satisfying
. Max stretched up and gave the garbage an interested look.
“Don’t even think about it
,” he warned.
Shit, there was nothing to eat. He slammed the refrigerator door and str
etched through his spine, finally attuned to the stiffness he’d managed to ignore while working. Rubbing his lower back in a distracted fashion, he looked at the dog.
’ve gotta get something in my stomach. How does a breakfast sandwich sound?” Max wriggled with excitement and pounded his tail on the floor. Laughing, Dylan patted his leg and invited the dog over. “Yeah, like you know what I said.” Max leaned his weight against his thigh while he rubbed his ears. “Come on boy.” He grabbed the leash off the counter and snapped off the kitchen light.
Two blocks away, Jean shuffled into the kitchen and found Ariela curled over a mug of coffee, a magazine open on the table in front of her. When Jean saw the headline,
Are you getting enough Niacin?
she gasped in alarm. “Oh my god. Put that away!”
Ariela glanced up with a frown.
“Why? It’s just a health article.” She returned to her reading.
Jean snorted. “
I know. That’s what worries me.” She got a bowl down and reached for the cereal.
But as Jean silently predicted, it wasn’t long before
Ariela made another of her ridiculous suggestions.
have green tea on hand. It’s supposed to be good for you.”
“You don’t like tea.”
Without looking up from the page, Ariela shrugged. “I could learn. I
Jean groaned. “
Not this again. Do me a favor, stick to the makeover tips. Stop reading those health updates. I don’t need you imagining you’ve got a wheat allergy next. And I’m through, I mean it, I’m through with all those stupid fad diets.”
“You make it sound like I’m a hypochondriac or something.”
Jean slowly turned and gave her roommate a significant look.
Ariela rolled her eyes. “
I’m not that bad.”
Debatable. So, what time is Mrs. Corley coming in?” Jean pulled out a chair and sat at the table.