You told me you didn't want to be exclusive if I wasn't going to continue sleeping with you."


"I told you that so you would sleep with me again! Instead, you jump into the sack with this...this G.I. Joe? This guy looks like he stepped right out of a commercial for the marines. Jeez! I know I don't have six-pack abs, but I never dreamt you were that shallow."

"I didn't sleep with him for his body."

"Then why'd you do it?" he asked.

Because she was in love with him. Already. She couldn't understand how it'd happened so fast. After starting to date Geoffrey, it'd taken her six months to decide she might sleep with him-- if the planets were perfectly aligned and if the timing was right and if the mood struck her. Luke had been the complete opposite.

This had to be her punishment for thinking so harshly about her mother's inability to get over her father. "I..." She turned helplessly to Luke, and he took that as an invitation to step in.

"Look, this isn't a good time to discuss it. Why don't you head home and give Ava a call later on?"

Geoffrey's eyes glittered with a passion Ava had never witnessed before. Throwing his coffee on the ground, he stepped up, nose to nose with Luke. "You think you can order me around after--" his voice cracked "--

after taking what I want more than anything?"

Luke raised his hands. "I'd rather this didn't get ugly. You don't have to prove yourself to either one of us."

"It's already ugly, so f**k you! You leave!"

Luke tilted his head in warning. "Calm down."

"Or what? You'l make me?"

"If I have to."

Geoffrey finally turned away. "Would you listen to this cocky son of a bitch?"

"You're provoking him," Ava said.

"And he didn't do anything to provoke me?"

"I've done enough to ruin your day," Luke said, "so let's not make it worse. Go home and call her later. That's what you need to do."

"Tell him to leave instead, Ava," Geoffrey pleaded. "People make mistakes. We'l get past this. Maybe this was the trigger I needed to realize how much I care about you. I should've pushed for more intamacy long ago and...and returned to your bed before someone else could take my place."

No. She was glad he hadn't pushed. Maybe she would've given in and settled. Jonathan had been able to see that she was adrift and susceptible, but she couldn't. Not until now. Now her eyes had been opened. After sleeping with Luke, she wouldn't be able to tolerate Geoffrey's touch. Their relationship had been yanked out of limbo and was suddenly over, because Luke had shown her how dispassionate she really was when it came to Geoffrey.

But she couldn't let Luke know that. Because letting him know he possessed even a piece of her heart gave him power--the kind of power her father had always abused. And she wouldn't become her mother, no matter what she had to do to avoid it.

"I'd like you both to go," she said softly. Then she held her head high and walked back to her former life, knowing it would no longer include either one of them. Geoffrey inspired too little in her; Luke inspired far too much.

Kalyna sat at Luke's kitchen table with her feet propped up on the opposite chair, nursing a cup of coffee as she read Phil's letter.

Hey, Luke--

Yeah, it's me. Surprised? I guess if you've received one letter from me, you've received your quota for life. But, hell, you're no better. I probably wouldn't be writing this if it wasn't for that last phone call. I figured I'd at least try to explain where I'm coming from.

Okay, so you think I'm stupid to agree to another tour. You're right, it's hard on Marissa having me gone. But she knew I was going to be a marine when she married me. And...things between us, they're not so good. I know you don't like to talk about it. (It's true--I can imagine you standing there, shaking your head, but you change the subject every time I bring her up. She's the one thing we can't discuss, not without getting into a fight, which is why I decided to put my thoughts in a letter.) So...basically, I'm hoping the time away wil give me and Marissa a break from the constant conflict. We were in love, once. I think. But I'm afraid that's gone. I can feel it slipping away from us.

So maybe I'm running away from my problems, like you said. Shit, that's possible. I don't want to face what's coming--I'd rather deal with bullets than that kind of pain. That's why you gotta cut me some slack for making this choice, buddy. I'm a marine. I'm good at my job. I feel successful here. But I'm a failure around Marissa. It's not that she isn't a good woman. We're just too different. If you talk to her, tell her I'm sorry, okay? Maybe she'l believe it coming from you. And...I don't know if I should add this or not, but...what the hell. As long as I'm being honest I might as well. I understand the sacrifice you made so we could be together. I've ignored it all these years. I didn't want to feel like I was the selfish one who took what he wanted. But I know you were in love with Marissa, too, back in high school. You stepped aside, and I thank you for that. And for staying out of the way, for giving me a real shot. Now I almost wish it had gone down differently. I'm sure you would've made her a better husband, would've made her happy somehow.

But history is history. We can't change the past. And regret wil eat you up if you let it.

Just wanted you to know I'm not a complete prick.

Phil

Marissa...Kalyna glanced at the return address.... Marissa Hughes.

Phil said Luke had loved her once. But he couldn't have loved her too much, or he wouldn't have given her up.

Her cell phone rang.

Thinking it was probably her sister again, Kalyna took her time digging it out of her purse. She was surprised she had enough battery power to receive another call. She'd left her car charger in Jerry's semi and had thought her phone would be dead by now.

But it wasn't dead yet. And the call wasn't from Tati. It came from a restricted number.

The police?

Taking a deep breath, she answered. She had to sound heartbroken, credible. She knew the routine. Only it wasn't the police. It was Major Ogitani.

"Kalyna?"

"Yes?"

"I'm afraid I have some bad news."

Kalyna didn't bother bracing herself. She'd been expecting this.

"What is it?"

"I just returned one of many messages I've had from Ava Bixby at The Last Stand."

"Oh, yeah? What did she want?"

"She had some very interesting things to say."

That bitch. Ogitani and Ava were both bitches. Neither of them was any good to her anymore.

"Let me guess. She thinks I injured myself."

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