Authors: Kelsie Leverich
Table of Contents
The Valentine’s Arrangement
The Valentine’s Arrangement
Copyright © 2012 by Kelsie Leverich
Cover design by Okay Creations
Edited by Tanya Keetch (The Word Maid)
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of Kelsie Leverich, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
To Military Spouses
Because you get it.
Three more days and this hearts and flowers shit would be over. Three more days and the boxes of chocolates filled with things that should definitely not be paired with chocolate would be cleared from the shelves, the cheesy ‘Be Mine’ balloons would deflate, and those damn stuffed gorillas, holding giant hearts, singing ‘Wild Thing’ would be put to rest.
It was almost Valentine’s Day in upper state New York and the typical achromatic atmosphere at Fort Drum was replaced with shades of pinks and reds; complete with love banners and window decorations filled with hearts and chubby babies holding arrows. It was Ronnie Clark’s personal week of hell.
Needless to say, Ronnie was not a fan of the lovey, dovey mushy shit; in fact, that was putting it graciously.
It was getting late, and Ronnie was listening to the soft tick of the second hand on her watch as she softly pressed the needle dipped in black ink into the hip of some lovesick barracks brat who had finally landed herself a Private. You would think these girls would learn, right? Soldiers are lonely, and yes, they look damn good in uniform, but the young single ones are dangerous. They fall hard and fast and pull you in with their puppy love eyes and promises of forever. These girls know it too; they are looking for it, and once they find it, it’s a ring on the finger, a judge officiated ceremony, and more often than not, it’s matching ink declaring their love for one another. Blah blah blah…
“Alright Kara, I’m almost done with this locket. Are you sure you want me to put Craig’s name under it? Names are not fun to cover up and I charge double to do it. I’m giving you your chance now,” she said as she wiped the ink on Kara’s hip, smearing it across the Celtic locket. Branding was not Ronnie’s thing, but in this town, she was lucky if she went an entire work week without getting stuck doing at least one.
“Yes, I’m sure.” She narrowed her eyes at Ronnie before she turned them to her eager new husband that was holding her hand.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Ronnie mumbled under her breath. Oh how she wished she could just slap some sense into this girl. Sure, Craig was every shade of hot and even Ronnie had an image of him without his uniform on begging to be brought to the forefront of her mind, but he was not tattoo worthy. No man was. No man was that damn permanent.
“Your 6:30 sketch consult is here,” Harold said, popping his tiny ass head into Ronnie’s room.
Ronnie slathered some ointment on top of the freshly branded flesh. “Tell him I will be there in a few, I’m just finishing up this girl’s latest mistake.”
“Ronnie!” Harold admonished, but he knew good and well that Ronnie said and did what she wanted and even he couldn’t stop her. She was too good of an artist to let go anyway. She was the best he had ever seen.
Ronnie lifted her head and raised her eyebrows at Harold, challenging him. He just shook his head and walked away.
“Alright, keep it clean but don’t mess with it too much.” She covered the girl’s tattoo with a non-stick bandage and taped it down before turning and cleaning up.
“Harold will check you out.” She stood from her chair and headed out of the room without as much as looking back behind her.
Most would call her rude, but she liked to think of it more as ‘real’. She didn’t sugar coat anything and she wasn’t going to pretend to like you if she didn’t.
Ronnie sashayed to the front of the tattoo shop. She had one last client tonight and then she could slip off her heels and go home. Sure, she was going home to nothing, and not because her fiancé was still deployed and overseas, but because her fiancé was now an ex-fiancé and her solo living arrangement was now irreversible. Apparently her fiancé had a problem keeping it in his pants while he was gone, and his squad’s female medic just so happened to be the lucky one to help him with his little, and she did mean little, dilemma. Okay, maybe she was being a smidge too hard on him…nah.
The shitty thing about it all, well other than her fiancé sleeping around on her, was that she found out from someone else. His best friend, who just so happened to be deployed with him called and told her what was going on. When she confronted her fiancé about it he didn’t even deny it, just acted like she should forget about it. He was half way across the world, how could she possibly think he could wait that long? Fucking prick.
“Kale Emerson?” Ronnie said, scanning the waiting room. There were only two people there, one was Harold’s intern who was waiting to do his nightly bitch work, and the other one was a fuckingly handsome Captain America impersonator. He was tall, broad, and his well-defined arms were bulging through the thin material of his shirt. His sandy brown hair was cut short, barely enough on top to run your hands through, and of course he had to have blue eyes that seemed to grab onto hers with a force that held her captive. And for the first time in a long time, she felt vulnerable.
Kale Emerson turned around as a melodic voice sang out his name. Standing next to the front counter, was a brunette bombshell in the sexiest purple heels he had ever seen on a woman’s feet, making her damn near as tall has he was. Her legs went on forever and her almost black hair hung down past her shoulders and curled at the ends. Kale would like to say he saw her deep brown eyes first, but lying wasn’t his strong suit and so help him if those lips weren’t the first thing on that gorgeous face that caught his attention. They were plump, full, and cherry red and they parted into a smile when his eyes finally locked on hers.
Kale sauntered up to the counter and outstretched his hand. “Hi, I’m Kale. I have an appointment with Ronnie.” The woman looked at his hand but didn’t make a move to place hers in his.
“You’re looking at her,” she said bluntly.
“Guilty. Come on back. We can talk in the design room.”
Kale followed Ronnie through the narrow hallway, lined with framed drawings of cryptic angels and dragons, among other things. The entire place smelled like antiseptic cleaner, but Kale could still smell the hint of vanilla and musk that lingered in the air as Ronnie passed through. She was wearing a tight black shirt that dipped low into a V in the back, showcasing a delicate dream catcher tattoo that started at the base of her neck and ended at the curve in her spine. The entire tattoo was done in shades of black; the only color was the turquoise beads dangling from the dream catcher. It was stunning; he had to refrain from reaching out and tracing it with his finger.
“Right in here.” Ronnie stopped in front of a door leading to a large room and gestured for him to go on in.
“Ladies first,” he said, reaching his hand out toward the open space in the door.
Ronnie’s thick black eyebrows arched up and her full lips curved in a sexy ass smirk. “I’m no lady,” she said, then turned toward the room and glided in.
Kale followed her past the black sofa and flat screen TV to the back of the room where a large glass table with black leather desk chairs took up the back wall.
Ronnie sat down at the table, crossing her legs, and her shoe slipped off her heel causing it to dangle from her toes. Fuck, those heels were hot. Kale had been home from Iraq for all of six days. He had yet to sleep with a woman and this one sitting in front of him was becoming tempting.
Kale lived alone. He had no family to go home to so coming back to Fort Drum for R&R was the only option. If he had his way, he would have just stayed with his squad and continued to lead his troops, but he didn’t have his way and it was mandatory he took his leave. He waited until after the holidays, allowing all of his men with families and kids to make it home for Christmas and the New Year, leaving him with the only option to come home now. Six days down, eight more to go then it’s back to the sand pit and Kale couldn’t wait.
One perk about getting the hell out of that country was the women. It had been eight months since he had been in the States, and it had been eight months since he has had sex. Casual sex was Kale’s forte. He didn’t do relationships or commitment, just sex. Kale didn’t have time to worry about putting someone else ahead of him; hell, he didn’t even have time to put himself ahead of him. His soldiers came first, they always have. He loved his country and he loved his job, and for him, a woman just didn’t quite fit into that equation. No woman he has ever been with has been able to change his opinion, but that didn’t stop him from needing a woman to get underneath him from time to time. Now was one of those times and he wanted Ronnie to be that woman.
“Alright let’s get down to business,” Ronnie said, sliding a sketchpad in front of her from the middle of the table. “What do you have in mind?”
Her voice broke through his mental slush pile and brought him back. “I want a memorial tattoo.”
Kale leaned back in his chair. “I want a poem, a soldier’s prayer. I want it tattooed on my back and I want it to look like my skin is ripping, revealing the words.”
Ronnie wrote notes on her sketchpad.
“And I want the names of my fallen brothers to be after the prayer.”
Ronnie looked up at Kale and an emotion flashed across her face that he didn’t quite understand. It wasn’t pity, was it awe?
“That’s beautiful,” she said quietly. Kale didn’t know the first thing about this woman, but he gathered she didn’t throw out compliments much. “How does the poem go?” she asked, her eyes returning to her sketchpad preparing to write.
“Lord, I ask for courage.
Courage to face and
Conquer my own fears and
Courage to go where
Other will not
I ask for strength.
Strength of body to protect others and
Strength of spirit to lead others.
I ask for dedication.
Dedication to my job, to do it well.
Dedication to my country,
To keep it safe.
Give me, Lord, certainty,
For those who trust me
And compassion for those,
Who need me, and Please Lord,
Through it all, stay by my side
And may my fallen brothers
Walk with you now, Lord.
Kale cleared his throat after he finished the names of his fallen soldiers, and rubbed his hand over the back of his head. Their eyes met and Kale’s mood shifted back. One look at her and he couldn’t seem to think of anything but touching her. Yes, it apparently had been a long time because he felt like a twelve-year-old boy who just saw his first pair of boobs.
“I can have this ready for you tomorrow, when would you like to get started?” Ronnie asked as she closed her sketchpad and stood up. Kale stood up as well, his body leaning a little closer to her than he intended and she took an immediate step back.
“Tomorrow will be fine.” Kale shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans to keep himself from grabbing her tiny waist and pulling her against him. That thought kept taunting him and he was damn ready to do it.
“Okay.” She narrowed her big brown eyes at Kale, confusing the hell out of him. Ronnie walked back to the door and stopped, turning around with a hand on her hip. “You can stop mind fucking me now.”
Kale’s eyes came close to popping out of his head. “Excuse me?”
Ronnie rolled her eyes. “Let’s get this straight, Soldier. I’m not sleeping with you. You can get it out of your pretty little head, and I suggest you do so before I stick a needle to your skin.” She turned back around, her sexy heels clicking out of the room.
Holy shit, he was sexy. And the way he was looking at her? He was threatening to make Ronnie come undone right there in the design room. She was used to having men gawk at her. She worked in a man’s industry and had been subject to more than her fair share of pathetic one-liners and roaming eyeballs, but the way Kale looked at her was different, she didn’t know what it was, but it was different. He was unashamed as he took her in, but he wasn’t vulgar or offensive about it. He was just…hot. But he was a soldier and Ronnie sure as hell didn’t do soldiers, not anymore.