Authors: Alexa Riley
atie Lovely signs
up her class for a project, writing letters to Marines serving overseas, but a calculation error means she has to participate along with the class.
She isn’t prepared for what happens after she gets the first letter.
Sergeant Major Mark Gunner is serving his last tour and looking forward to getting out of the Marines. When he gets a letter that captures his heart, everything suddenly changes.
Their worlds connect and letters flow, creating a love unlike any other.
But when their time is up and the letters stop, will his claim remain?
: This is a super quick, sweet, and dirty read with a small Valentine twist. *whispers* Don’t worry, it’s a happily ever after!
© 2016 by Alexa Riley. All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, email to [email protected]
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
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. There’s one name left.” I look up to see Timmy standing in front of my desk with a piece of paper caught between two fingers. His blond shaggy hair hangs over his eyes, in dire need of a haircut, but this seems to be the style nowadays. I can never keep up with the trends of high-school students.
“Are you sure everyone got one?” I look around the room to see everyone else already starting to write their letters. I signed my class up for Adopt-a-Marine as part of their Civics project. Everyone was excited to do it, mostly because I don’t think any of them had ever written an actual letter before. I’ve been with this group of students as their seminar teacher for two years now and still have another two years to go before a new batch will be assigned to me. Hopefully by that point, most of these kids will be off to college.
When the idea of doing Adopt-a-Marine was mentioned, the whole class seemed super excited, which is showing now with everyone already eagerly writing their letters. I wasn’t sure how they would respond to this project, but so far, so good.
“Cindy,” I sigh, forgetting that she transferred out two weeks ago. “I’ll take it.” I hold my hand out to take the paper from Timmy. I hadn’t planned on doing one myself, thinking I’d have my hands full keeping everyone else’s letters straight, but I wasn’t going to let one of the names we got assigned go unanswered. The thought of someone not getting a letter makes my heart ache.
Our letters may not be life changing for the Marines, but I think they’d help. I don’t like the idea of some of the men from the unit not getting their letter when everyone else did, so taking a name is the least I can do.
Looking down at the scrap of paper, a warm feeling rushes through my system as I realize then just how hard this might actually be. I’m not really sure what to write, but if twenty of my students can do it, surely I can, too.
“Looks like you’re stuck with me, Sergeant Major Mark Gunner,” I mumble to myself. Sheesh. I hope I don’t bore the poor guy to death with stories about my cat or what I’ll be baking over the weekend.
Pulling out a notepad from my desk drawer, I decide to keep it simple. Start things off light and it should be easy enough. I give myself a little encouraging pep talk and hope for the best.
ear Sergeant Major Gunner
It looks like you got stuck with me as your pen pal. I hope I won’t bore you with my stories about my latest baking experience, but maybe I can make that up to you by sending some of my homemade goodies. You’ll just have to tell me what you like and don’t like. Raisins? Nuts? White chocolate chip? Let me know and I’ll send you a whole box of something.
I guess I should start off with a little bit about myself. As you might know, your unit got assigned to my class as part of the Adopt-a-Marine project. One student transferred out a few weeks ago, so now you got me. The teacher.
I’ll start with telling you a little about myself. I’m a twenty-four-year-old teacher in South Carolina. I went to Clemson University—go Tigers! But you probably might want to know that I know nothing about the football team there. Except that I’m supposed to say ‘Go Tigers!’ I teach English, and this is my second year in the trenches of high school. I spend my weekends trying out new recipes, or with my nose shoved in a book. I love the color pink, can’t stand when someone chews with their mouth open, and could spend days cuddled up on my couch and be utterly content. Some might call me a homebody.
Wow! This feels like I’m filling in a dating website application. As you can see, I ramble when I get a little out of sorts, and writing a strange man seems to have done that to me.
I look forward to your letters and making you a little less strange to me.
Stay safe, and thank you for everything you do for our country.
Ms. Katie Lovely
he bell rings
as I sign my name at the bottom of the page. The students hurriedly pack up their belongings, wanting to get to lunch.
“Everyone, drop your letters on my desk and I’ll mail them out today,” I shout, half of them not paying attention to what I’m saying, but they all do as I say as they make their way out of the classroom, dropping letters into the box on the corner of my desk as they pass.
Sitting down in my chair, I look at the letter I wrote, and for some reason I have the urge to crinkle it into a ball and start over. It’s silly that I’m embarrassed to write a man I’ll never even meet, but I’ve never been great with men. I can barely talk to one without my fair skin turning cherry red to match my hair.
I’m always awkward and falling all over myself. I’ve learned to avoid men at all costs, even here at the school with male teachers. Some have asked me out, but I’m quick to shake my head. I’ve tried to get past it, but I never seem to be able to get comfortable enough to try to date. I’ve got to be the world’s oldest virgin, something I’ve resigned myself to at this point. I’m content and okay with where I’m at in life, but maybe it’s time to push myself a little more.
My shyness has gotten the better of me over the years, but maybe this will be something to break me out of my shell. I’ll never meet this man. I shouldn’t worry about it. What’s the worst that could happen? He doesn’t write back? The thought makes an unreasonable ball of nerves grow in my stomach, making the lunch I packed for today suddenly seem unappetizing.
I bite my lip as I gather all the letters, dropping them into their assigned envelopes for each one of the Marines. I wonder how long it will take to reach them. A nervous excitement fills me, and I try to think of it as an adventure.
Now, we wait.
, Sergeant Major.
I look over to see the corporal holding a letter in his hand, and I’m confused as to why he’s giving me mail. “Check that address, Riggs. I think you’re mistaken.”
“Begging your pardon, sir. I’ve double-checked and it’s for you. Sergeant Major.”
The young corporal is nervous as most of the guys are around me. I’m an almost forty-year-old Sergeant Major with five tours under my belt, so I can see how he might be afraid to tell me I’m wrong.
The sad part is, I know I’m right. Three years away from the big 4-0 and I don’t have any family back home who would send me anything. All my friends are the guys I’ve served in combat with, and we don’t really do the whole letter thing.
“Alright. Leave it with me.” I’ll just have to make sure it gets to the correct person since it must have been labeled incorrectly. “Dismissed, Riggs.”
“Yes, Sergeant Major.”
I walk over to my desk, turning the letter over in my hands.
I’m on my last tour before retirement, deployed in Yemen with a group of about eighteen men. I’m in charge of all of them, and my job is to get everyone home safe. It’s not something I take lightly, and as soon as this is finished, I’m looking forward to hanging up my boots. I’ve been enlisted and working up the ranks since the day I turned eighteen and could enlist in the Corps. I was raised in an orphanage in the Midwest, and when the high-school recruiter came by telling me I had a way out, I was all too eager to jump at the chance. Now, twenty years later, my time is up, and I’m ready to do what I want to do.
I take a seat in one of the chairs next to a makeshift desk and look over the envelope and see my name perfectly spelled out in beautiful handwritten script.
Thinking it might still be a mistake, I open it up and read the letter. I feel my face start to ache from the smile plastered on it as I read the words intended just for me.
I remember that our platoon is registered as pen-pal responsive. Our names were put on a list through the Marine services, so if people wanted to send care packages or write, we would receive such items.
I don’t care that she did this out of some obligation or class project. Or that it was sent to us for any reason in particular. She’s utterly adorable, and I can’t describe how it feels to have someone write me a letter. I’ve never gotten anything like this before, and it surprises me how much I love it. What’s even more surprising is how much I enjoy
“Katie Lovely. You sure do sound like it,” I say, running my roughened fingers over her signature. I spend a few minutes re-reading the letter and trying to picture what she looks like. I bet she’d be the prettiest thing I’ve seen in the last twenty years.
Picking up a pen and paper, I decide to write her right now before I chicken out. I’ve never really had any sort of way with women, opting to grunt when asked a question. I can lead an entire troop of Marines, but I’d rather just not bother when it comes to the opposite sex and dating.
I hope it’s okay if I call you that. It seems we’ll be getting to know one another, and I’m usually pretty direct with people. You can call me Mark; nobody ever calls me that. I think it would be a nice change, if you’d like to.
I’m a Sergeant Major in the Marine Corps, and I’ve been in for almost twenty years. There’s not a lot to me beyond that.
I spent some time in South Carolina down at Parris Island when I was eighteen. It’s where I did my boot camp. It’s hot as hell down there. I’d love to go back and visit someday, but maybe not in the summer time. Too many memories of heat stroke and cockroaches the size of my hand!
Although I think I might take doing it all over again if I had to choose between that and teaching high school. I don’t know how you do it. Do you like it?
I’ve never been married and don’t have any kids. You? I don’t think your letter sounded like a dating site application. I actually thought it was the best thing I’ve ever received. It would make me really happy to get another one from you, Katie.
I can’t tell you much about where I’m at or what I’m doing, but I can tell you that I’ll be glad when I can come back home. I’m looking at places to vacation at for a while when I’m out—any suggestions? I’ve traveled the world, but I think a nice place to relax and call home sounds about perfect. I’m a homebody myself, which is strange because I’m never home.
Do you have any pets? I miss having a pet. There’s a stray dog that comes around here sometimes, but it’s not the same.
Let’s get serious for a second. Cookies. I’ll take anything you want to send me, but if I get to pick, I’m a chocolate, chocolate chip kind of guy. I’ve got a weakness for desserts, and the more chocolate, the better. I don’t know that I could share, though. I’m a pretty possessive kind of guy. Especially when it comes to things I like.
I think that’s all I can come up with for now. This is the first letter I’ve ever written to someone, so I hope I’m doing it right.
Can I ask you a weird question? What do you look like? It feels strange not knowing you and yet talking as friends. Maybe being able to picture you will help.
I’m about six-five with short dark hair. I’m pretty big all over, but I’m quick, so don’t let the size fool you. Hope that helps.
Can’t wait to hear from you,
SGM Gunner, USMC
for a second about what to write in the postscript. I want to put something that makes her smile, but then I’m afraid I might come on too strong. She seems like a nice girl, and I don’t want to scare her off.
Deciding to leave it blank, I seal the letter up and put it back in the self-addressed return envelope.
Now, I wait.