Authors: RD Jordan
Secrets of War
By RD Jordan
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, or other status is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2016, RD Jordan
All rights reserved
, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever known, not known or hereafter invented, or stored in any storage or retrieval system is forbidden without written permission of the author.
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amie Michael Merrick glared out the window of his office at the Drug Enforcement Administration off in Brightwood, Texas. Jamie had been with the DEA since he came back from the war eleven years ago, missing three fingers on his left hand and a partial leg amputation of his right leg. He’d been given the Medal of Honor upon his return home, something he didn’t think he deserved. Then the moment he stepped out of the spotlight, he’d been approached by his old buddy to join the DEA.
No one knew Jamie was a DEA agent and that was the way he liked to keep it. In the past two years, he’d been helping to shut down international drug lord, Santiago Taveras, who’d died mysteriously in an explosion in Guatemala. Now, he was after the drug lord’s latest successor, a Bolivian National, reputed to have business connections in the VA hospital here in Brightwood. Jamie had been hot on his tail but needed to find the soul sucking son of a bitch betraying his country from the inside of a VA hospital, no less.
The Merrick family was one of the richest oil family’s in America, his great, great, great grandfather had struck oil in Brightwood decades ago and his family had managed to remain a heavy hitter in the oil business even with the insurgence of overseas oil. Most people thought Jamie was a wealthy cowboy who spent his time traveling the world with a pretty woman draped on his arm.
The thought of this description made him chuckle a little and look over at the framed photo on his desk. He’d never framed a photo in his life, he’d gotten this one from Suzanne Stephenson, along with her Dear John letter when she’d left him seventeen years ago.
Suzy had been his sister’s best friend from the time they were ten years old. She had a monster crush on him for years, but he’d only ever seen her as his bratty little sister’s friend. Jamie was only two years older than they were, but he’d always been more mature for his age.
Then there had been the summer before his senior year. Suzanne returned from taking care of her great-grandmother in her final stage of life. When she came back, she was all woman. He’d always thought she was a great kid. Kind, smart, funny, loving, loyal and she could cook up a storm.
Then she’d showed up to his families annual back to school bar-b-que in a pardon the cliché…an itsy, bitsy, teeny, weeny bikini. Well, let’s just say, his perspective changed. The photo she’d given him had been from that day.
He remembered seeing her there and pulling on her pigtails as he sauntered up to her with his aviator glasses hung low on his nose. As a teen, Jamie had been filled with bravado and swagger. Not so much these days with the missing leg and all. “Looking good, Itty Bitty,” he’d said to her.
Even now, he could see her face plain as day, looking shocked he’d noticed her.
“You’re not looking to bad yourself,” she’d said shyly.
They’d spent the rest of the party together, talking, laughing, and playing super soaker war. When the party ended, he’d offered to drive her home so his sister, Izzy could keep making out with her current boy toy.
Jamie had never expected to have as many things in common with Suzanne as he had. But in that short drive to her house to make curfew, he realized he wanted to know more.
They’d spent the next day together, hiking, horseback riding and then an amazing picnic she’d made of the best food he’d ever put into his mouth.
From that day on, they’d been inseparable.
Jamie had known he was in love and wanted to make her his wife. Then when instead of doing what every other male in Brightwood did after graduating high school…joining the army. He wanted to go to college with Suzanne. His mother had told him he was a fool and going to waste his life. But all he’d cared about was being with his Suzy, the woman of his dreams. His air.
Until the day he’d come home late from football practice, and the housekeeper had handed him a note and a wrapped picture frame. The note simply said.
I’m ending this before we both make the biggest mistake of our lives. I need and deserve better.
Even though he’d promised himself he would never forgive her for the way she left him. He still kept his photo on his desk, as a reminder, there is no such thing as true love.
It’d hit him like a ton of bricks when he’d seen her walking into the VA hospital last week.
With the way the rumor mill worked around this town, he was surprised he didn’t know until then that she, her grandmother and sister had moved back to town after the death of her mother.
Someone at the VA hospital helped to run international drug operation. He’d been trying to get close to someone there, without them realizing the hospital was under investigation. Until he’d seen Suzanne teaching her music therapy class.
He chuckled as he thought of that, music therapy for a bunch of guys who knew the ins and outs of WMD’s better than they knew how to order a pizza. But to his surprise, he could tell from the classes he’d sat in on, the music seemed helpful, with the symptoms of PTSD.
Picking up the newspaper he’d been reading, the headline blared at him
Gunnery Sergeant Found Dead From Overdose in Mansfield Park!
Jamie had been on this case for a little over seven months and no closer to finding the head of this ring’s snake, only the aftermath of men who’d put their lives on the line to protect this country.
He’d tried to find a way in, something anything. But the VA was a place full of secrets and he knew the only way he would get in was to be brought in. As much as he hated it. Suzanne would be that in. Whether either of them liked it or not.
* * * *
Dr. Suzanne Stephenson strummed on the Boston grand piano, playing Chopins Études, Op. 10. The Boston grand pianos were impressive musical instruments due to their unique and proprietary design. This piano reflected tone, touch, and durability, consistent with its heritage. The soundboard itself crafted from solid spruce. At just over 7½ feet, this amazing instrument produced a musical performance of a much larger grand piano. Which was why Suzy had chosen it to play for her musical PTSD Therapy.
She’d had been back home in Brightwood, Texas for five months, and what a first five months it’d been. Born and raised in this small oil town in southern Texas, with a population of three thousand, she knew without a doubt it would be considered an all American town. Brightwood’s sons graduated high school then enlisted in the military. There were no visions of colleges and dorm rooms for them.
No, every little boy did his duty and protected his country. Which was why Brightwood Memorial Hospital was so filled with broken men. Men who were sick, physically and mentally.
This VA hospital was a leader in helping veterans in the community. From its humble beginnings as a soldier’s and sailor’s hospital to being nationally recognized as one of the best community hospitals, Brightwood partnered with patients to transition to a new era of healthcare by providing traditional and alternative healthcare for veterans.
While there is no cure for PTSD, many of the disorder's troubling physical symptoms can be minimized or even completely alleviated by a wide variety of therapies. Conventional therapies such as medication weren’t always as useful in healing the aspects of the illness referred to as injuries to the soul or spirit.
Music therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder provided one possible way to address the indefinable, yet very real damage. Physicians often scoffed at such “non-scientific” treatments. Nonetheless, reports of less frequent nightmares, insomnia, depression, and agitation provided data to support the theory that a PTSD sufferer's quality of life might be improved by this relatively simple, non-invasive technique.
Suzy had been playing the piano in a music therapy group for a little over two weeks helping with Veterans who suffer from severe PTSD.
Dr. Robyn Esposito had started the music therapy program, encouraging soldiers to learn to play the acoustic guitar, in these times of distress. Unfortunately, learning to play an instrument was not physically possible or effective for some soldiers.
Suzy offered to play the piano for them, after coming to say hi to her old friend, she’d sat in on one of the music therapy sessions. She’d done a little research on PTSD and the effects of music in therapy. Wanting to help in a more meaningful way than playing UNO with the seventy- five and older crowd, she made the suggestion to Dr. Esposito that she do the music therapy class. As a classically trained musician, she could play the piano for them, rather than them trying to play, they could listen. Listening to certain sounds may well stimulate and perhaps eventually, improve damaged neural pathways. Specifically, brain structures including the hippocampus, which has observed to be smaller in PTSD sufferers than in the general population.
As she finished the song, she was given a resounding sound of whistles in approval.
“Thank You. Thank you.” She nodded her head, standing and taking a bow. She checked her watch and realized she went over her hour of therapy. She guessed the music was therapy for her too. “I’m so sorry guys. I seem to have gone over my time. Group dismissed,” she said jokingly.
As the classroom emptied out, Suzy gathered her things and covered the piano. Then she realized someone stood in the back of the room watching her. She raised her gaze as he stepped away from the wall and swallowed heavily as she stared at him.
uzy stared at this tall, striking dark haired man in a grey vested business suit. With broad shoulders and narrow hips, he stood in hand tooled leather books. Even at this distance, those deep set cold black eyes were formidable. So was he…a sexy beast.
Yes, avoiding your past in a town of two thousand people was nearly impossible.
Suzy knew a one on one with Marine Gunnery Sergeant, Jamie Merrik would be hard. She’d been told by her best friend, Izzy all about how he’d had his Special Ops sniper career cut short after an ambush attack in Iraq, leaving him with several horrifying injuries, including losing his left leg and three fingers on his hand. He most likely suffered from PTSD, although from what she’d been told, he was in denial about the PTSD.
Suzy remembered Jamie as a happy guy with supreme musical talents. While she’d been a master at the piano, he’d played the guitar like he was born with it attached to his hands.
Dr. Esposito had told Suzanne , Jamie’s current state of mind was pretty fractured, having spent six months at the Brightwood Memorial hospital, a year ago. Then now, he had two weekly therapy sessions where he was considering going through the music therapy program.
She needed to keep him as a patient in her mind, not the man she’d once thought she would marry and have babies with.
She stood very still, like a woman confronted with a spitting cobra and waited while he approached her with the long quick stride she remembered. Her chin lifted as her eyes narrowed and she drew in a quick breath, as he strode toward her.
He never looked left or right, his gaze remaining on her the whole way. There was a controlled sensuality in every movement of his well built body. So elegant and arrogant, and Suzy couldn’t remember a time she hadn’t loved him. “Hello, Mr. Merrick. Is there something I can help you with?” she asked.
Tilting his head to the side, eyes fixed on her, he replied, “There is,
.” His voice deep and gravelly. “But first, can we cut the formalities? It’s not like we don’t know each other…
Suzanne stopped at his cold reply and stared at him for a moment searching the reaches of her memory trying to remember why or how she’d ever loved him in the first place. Being this close to him, it all came rushing back. Jamie was the only son of one of the richest oil families in the United States, who was also a four generation military family. His sister Isabell had been her best friend and the way things were going since her return, she still was.
She could tell by the look in his eye they’d both gone back to that time in their minds. A time when they’d been what they thought was madly in love. Completely inseparable, Jamie Merrick the son of the wealthiest most powerful family in town, and Suzanne Stephenson the poor smart girl from the wrong side of the tracks, who’d become best friends with Isabelle and eventually, was the star crossed lover to Jamie.
Jamie was what most would call the black sheep of the family. He chose his friends based on their character, not their wealth. With a big heart and a soft touch for people down on their luck. He was an introvert, which made it hard for him to make a connection to people, consequently he was intimidating to a lot of people. He didn’t seem like the kind of man that could be approached.
His family owned a three- hundred acre ranch on the outskirts of town, with a sprawling mansion. Jamie lived on his own ranch just at the edge of town raising cattle now. He’d served two tours in Iraq before suffering his injury and returning home, and once upon a time a long time ago, he’d been the love of her life.
“I figured since you snuck into the room, instead of announcing yourself, we were keeping thing professional.” All of a sudden feeling very self-conscious about her appearance. How did he still manage to do that to her? Make her weak in the knees and star struck at the same time?
He stared at her from under the brim of his white Stetson. Jamie was nothing if not a cowboy. He didn’t smile but his eyes did. He was wearing jeans and an old weathered flannel shirt crisply ironed and tucked neatly into his hip hugging jeans.
Despite the actual size of his wallet, he looked like an everyday Joe.
Still as sexy as she remembered him to be. Tall and broad shouldered with the physique of a Hollywood western film star. Jet-black hair in a conventional short cut. He wasn’t conventionally handsome anymore, with a long scar down the left side of his face from whatever had happened to him in the war. His face still looked very masculine, with deep set eyes, high cheek bones and a mouth so sumptuous it made Suzy’s lower lips quiver.
“Is this really how we are going to start this Suzy? I mean, it’s been seventeen years. I’m sure things have changed for you. I know they have for me.” He raised his pant leg to show her his prosthetic.
“Well, I’m glad you’re alive, even if you are missing a couple of parts…” She stopped when she realized how that might sound. “I mean I—I…”
“It’s okay. I know what you mean,” he said stopping her stammering with a chuckle. “What brings you back to our small back woods town, that’s what you use to call it, right? I mean after being pediatrician to the stars from what I saw on TMZ, you were taking care of Kanye and Kim’s baby.”
Suzy laughed at the absurdity of being tagged the Pediatrician to the stars. From the moment she heard it, she knew it was going to be overblown. She’d graduated from Harvard Medical School and taken a very prestigious internship with the world’s top pediatrician in Beverly Hills California. He’d been so impressed by her, he’d made her a partner in his firm the moment she passed her boards, and the rest as they say was history.
Until five years ago, when her mother had passed away from brain cancer. It’d come out of nowhere and been devastating to Suzy and her sister Jade, who’d been twelve years old at the time. One moment, she’d been diagnosed with stage four brain cancer and given three to six months to live. Then within a month, she was dead.
Suzy still wasn’t sure how long her mom had known she was sick, or why she hadn’t sought help before she had, but being a doctor she knew there had been symptoms that should have told her mom early on, she needed help.
“With my mother passing away, granny and I decided we needed to get my little sister Jade out of that Hollywood life before it was too late,” she replied looking down at her feet.
“Yeah, Izzy told me about your mom a couple years back. I’m real sorry for your loss,” he said while rubbing the back of his neck.
“Thank you,” she replied, waving it off.
“How is Momma Geri doing?” he asked smiling. Attempting to keep the conversation light.
Geraldine Stephenson was born and raised in Brightwood. Her parents had worked for the Merrick family on one of their many oilrigs. She was known as the best pie maker in town, who said what came to her mind, and loved all the kids.
“She’s a handful as usual,” Suzy answered as she laughed. “You should go by the house sometime, she would love to see you.”
“I’ll have to do that. Listen, I stayed behind because I wanted to ask you if I could take you to dinner?”
Adjusting the strap of her bag on her shoulder, Suzy took a deep breath and let it out. “I don’t think that would be a very good idea.”
When her grandmother had told her, they needed to bring Jade back here, where she was raised before they lost her to the Hollywood life. Suzy had been dead set against it, and this had been one of the many reasons why.
The past, the people in this town, the ugliness…all of it. She hadn’t wanted to go backward, until she’d caught Jade coming in after curfew, drunk. Right then, she’d promised herself she would do whatever she needed to do to make sure her sister had a good life.
In the two months she’d been back in town, she’d been busy opening her baby boutique Cuddles Couture. It was her third store, she had two others, the first was in Calabasas, California, and the other in Manhattan. She’d decided long before the move, she wasn’t going to practice medicine in Brightwood, she wanted things to be simpler here to have a slow and peaceful life until Jade went away to college.
What she needed was to be far from her life in LA, the years of success, and triumph had been the best. But there was more lies and pain that she needed to leave behind.
Yes, she’d returned to the past by coming here, but she’d promised herself and her family on the day they left in the moving truck, they would only move forward.
Jamie Merrick was the past.
* * * *
Suzy made for a sexy music therapy teacher, Jamie could see how a solider wouldn’t mind listening to her play. She’d been about fifty pounds overweight when they’d been teenagers and not very careful about her hair or makeup, and to Jamie, she’d still been gorgeous. While she still was clueless about how to dress her body, she had grown into a sensual, graceful and curvy woman. She was a treat for the ears and the eyes. But that wasn’t why he was here, And it never would be.
“Come on, what could be the harm in two old friends getting together to reminisce? I have something I want to ask you,” Jamie coaxed, attempting to not get angry at the way she was behaving. He didn’t want things to go south before he got to what he’d come here for.
“There really isn’t anything to reminisce about.” She shook her head. “Besides, I really have to be at the boutique.”
“So now that I am a peg legged psycho Marine, I’m not worth of your time?” he asked agitated. He’d been told it was one of the symptoms of his PTSD. One minute, he would be fine, the next he would be pissed off for no reason. But Jamie wasn’t the type of man to lean on diagnoses and pills. He saw the way women looked at him now that he had one leg…With either judgment or pity in their eyes. Most of the time, he didn’t care, he’d come to realize women were really only good for one or two things and one of them wasn’t loyalty. But he was having none of that, coming from Suzy.
“I didn’t say that. Have a great evening Jamie,” she said scoffing and shaking her head. She was in no mood for the Merrick family attitude, now or ever.
Just as she was about to go out the door, Jamie yelled, “That’s sure is what it sounded like, doc!”
“Well, it’s good to know some things never change about the Merrick clan,” Suzanne retorted slamming the door behind her.