Vanguard Security_A Military Bodyguard Romance, p.1
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Bad Ballers Prequel - Free Copy
A Military Bodyguard Romance Series
Bad Ballers Prequel - Free Copy
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Have you seen this man?” I shoved a dog-eared photograph in the bartender’s face.
The local looked at me like I was a beast with three heads. The patrons in the crudely-built bar glanced up at me before returning their attention to the grimy cups in their hands. Some of them spat a few words to their companions. I had no doubt they were talking shit about me – an American soldier – a nuisance in their village, but I didn’t care.
I had one goal, and one goal only.
To find my brother.
Or whatever was left of him…
“Have you seen this man?” I asked again, raising my voice.
The Vietnamese man shook his head. “S-Sorry…” It was clear he had no idea what I was saying.
“Does anyone here speak English?” I surveyed the room, but no one moved.
I growled under my breath. Useless.
Seeing I would get nowhere with these people, I placed the photograph back in my breast pocket and headed out. As I did, I bumped into Martin, my bunk partner.
“Hey man, why the sour look?” He asked, raising an eyebrow in my direction. “We haven’t even been here more than thirty minutes. The women giving you a hard time already?” He joked, slapping me on the arm. “Give them some time, I’m sure they’ll warm up to your charm soon enough.”
I glared at him. “Drop it, Martin. I’m not in the mood.”
“Damn. Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” Martin, as persistent as ever, followed me as I tried to storm off. “It’s your brother, isn’t it?”
I whipped around and stared at him, my arms crossed over my chest, my feet planted in a wide stance. My jaw locked with irritation. I really didn’t want to have this conversation.
“Standing there like a brick wall won’t make me go away.” He said, leaning against a nearby utility pole in a nonchalant manner. “You go through this frenzy every time we set foot in a Vietnamese village. I’m sorry to tell you this, but your brother isn’t coming back. It’s been what, fifteen years? There’s no way he’s survived in the jungle for so long. I don’t care how good of a fighter he was.”
“Shut up.” I spat, my fists tightening as my rage threatened to get the better of me. I loved Martin, but sometimes, he just didn’t know when to let it go. “You don’t know anything about him. He’s out there. I can feel it in my bones. I don’t care what you or anyone else says. I’m going to find him.” Without another word, I stomped down the road, kicking up dirt in my wake. I didn’t bother to look back as I entered another run down building.
Part of the roof looked like it was ready to cave in at any moment. A hole in the front wall was patched with a crude plaster of American newspapers. When I stepped through the doorway, I found a group of women sitting in a circle, each of them kneading some kind of dough.
Their eyes widened as they saw me. Subtly, they scooted closer to the back wall, obviously thinking I was going to take advantage of them. “Look, I’m not here to hurt you,” I said, trying to be as gentle as possible, but my deep, gravelly voice no doubt sounded hostile because they huddled together. One woman was holding onto her daughter as if I would snatch her away forever.
Then again, I didn’t know why I was surprised. American soldiers always had a bad reputation when they were overseas. Murderers. Rapists. You name it. We’ve been accused of it. Only takes one bad apple to spoil the batch, I suppose.
I sighed and got down on one knee, hoping this would help soothe their anxiety. In this position, I once again pulled out my brother’s picture, holding it in their direction. “Have you seen this man?”
They looked at the photograph for a long, long time. A mouse scuttled along the corner of the room, its feet pattering against the dirt floor. That was the only sound that could be heard. That, and my heart beating a little faster in the hope that maybe, just maybe, this would be the time when someone finally recognized him.
“Have you seen him?” I asked again.
Most of the women gave me a blank expression. I sighed. This was hopeless. I was about put it away when one of the younger girls stopped me, her small, thin fingers wrapping around my wrist.
She looked like she was in her early twenties, her hair long and beautiful, unlike some of the others. Carefully, she wet her lips. “Is that your brother?” She asked. Her accent was heavy, but she spoke slowly, making it easy to understand.
“Yes! Have you seen him?” I asked eagerly.
She shook her head. “No… I am sorry.”
“Could you ask if any of them has seen him? It’s very important.” I spoke quickly, thinking I had found myself a translator.
She scrunched her eyebrows together. “I’m sorry… I don’t understand. Speak slow.”
“Sorry.” I took a deep breath and ran my fingers through my thick, dark hair, trying to calm myself down. “Can you ask them if they have seen him?” This time, I enunciated my every syllable.
She nodded, turning to the group and saying a few words in her native tongue. The picture was passed around so each woman could get a closer look, but no one recognized him.
“I’m sorry we could not help you, sir.”
“It’s okay. Thank you for your help. What’s your name? I might need your help again.”
“Trang Le.” She smiled. “And what is your name?”
“Kirk Houston.” I held out my hand for a handshake, but she just tilted her head in confusion. “Never mind. Oh… and my brother is Jacob Houston. If you could ask around… that would be much appreciated.”
She smiled and nodded.
With nothing else to gain from this place, I got up and left, leaving the women to their work.
Back on the main road, I was about to head for our ship when I noticed something reflecting the sunlight.
Golden brown hair that flowed in deep ringlets. Tanned skin. Hips that were meant to be held. A soft giggle floated through the air. Sweet and carefree. I had heard that sound before, countless times, in fact. It couldn’t be… could it?
I closed my eyes, picturing her. It had been so long. My mind must be playing tricks on me… because when I opened my eyes, she had disappeared.
She always disappeared.
Chào buổi sang.” I greeted my surrogate family as I joined them for a traditional Vietnamese breakfast of Cháo, my personal favorite.
It was a type of rice porridge. Very simple, but since I was paying the family a rather generous amount for hosting me, they always spruced up the dish with a bit of boiled chicken, bones and all. Apparently, it was the best way to get the tastiest broth.
I had tried to learn how to make the dish during my f
“Ăn ngon nhé,” Chau said, inviting everyone to finally dig in. The children grabbed their bowls and started to ravenously shovel food into their mouths. Chau took her time to adjust her position, her legs carefully folded into a pretzel before she grabbed her own bowl.
Eventually, I did the same. It was still a little strange for me to be eating on the floor, using an old rug as a dinner table, but it was their culture and I wasn’t about to insult it, especially when I depended on their hospitality to do my job.
I was an American journalist. Back home, I had been stuck in an office, writing opinion articles on politicians and school reforms. Busy work, at best. I was sick of it. So, six months ago, I decided to come to Vietnam and do some real journalism. I wanted to expose myself to the truth so I could tell the world what was really happening overseas. The Vietnam War had ended over thirty years ago, so why was the American government still actively sending troops against the Viet Cong? There was something our politicians weren’t telling us and I was going to find out exactly what that was.
By the time I snapped out of my trance, dinner was over and Chau already had a load of laundry in her arms, looking at me expectantly. “Sidney?”
“Xin lỗi.” I apologized quickly, scrambling to my feet.
She shoved the hand woven basket into my chest, giving me commands to wash everything in the river and then hang it to dry.
I nodded, walking down to the river by myself. When I first arrived at the village, some of the natives were constantly staring at me, their eyes full of suspicion and hatred. It had taken some time to adjust, but finally, people were starting to get used to me, making it a little easier to fit in.
Down at the river, I joined a group of women who were already doing laundry. They had such a skill for it. Massaging the clothes onto the rock, their strong hands looking like they were made for the task. Others were slamming their garments into the washing stone, getting out the last bits of stubborn dirt and soap. The sound was rhythmic, echoing through the nearby jungle. The twittering of exotic birds only added to the melody. Sometimes, I felt like I could be out here all day long.
The only problem was, I kind of sucked at doing laundry. Maybe I was just so used to putting all my clothes in a machine, pressing ‘Wash’ and not having to think about it for an hour. Either way, my clothes never came out as clean as the others’, no matter how much elbow grease I put into it.
As I massaged the clothes into the stone, I listened to the nearby murmuring of gossip. A few of the women were commenting on a tall, handsome American soldier who had barged into the village’s “bakery”, asking about his lost brother.
The description made me freeze. A lost brother? Dark, wild hair? A prominent birthmark on his right cheek? It all sounded strikingly familiar.
But, it couldn’t be him… could it?
My heart tightened at the thought as a sense of longing crept into my soul. How long had it been now? Almost ten years…
I shook my head. It didn’t matter at this point. We had gone our separate ways and that was just how the ball rolled.
I sighed and hoisted the basket of laundry onto my shoulder. It was now about two times heavier than before, but I carried it without complaint, not wanting to appear weak. After all, there were ten-year-old girls who carried even bigger baskets all by themselves.
Once I got back to the house, I started the task of hanging the clothes to dry. As I did, I had a good view of the main road. My heart froze when I saw him.
No. It couldn’t be him.
I blinked, feeling like I was staring at a ghost. He had barely changed…
Even after all this time, he still had those piercing blue eyes, that iconic hair of his…
Unable to face him – or more specifically – to face my past, I retreated inside. Chau would have my head for leaving the laundry undone, but I just couldn’t bear to see him. To see the man who had broken my heart ten years ago.
Houston! Martin! Y’all are handling the mid-watch tonight,” our Captain barked at us right before we started getting ready for bed.
I nearly shot back a response, about to point out how unfair it was that Martin and I always seemed to be stuck with the crappiest watch times. But before I could open my big mouth, Martin grabbed me by the elbow and towed me away. He was a bit too proper for his own good if you asked me. Always following rules and kissing up to the Captain.
“Why do you always do what that old goon tells you to?” I asked once we were in the village.
“Because he’s my Captain, and it’s my duty,” he responded, sounding like an automaton.
I rolled my eyes. I had never been one to blindly follow orders like that.
We were quiet as we walked toward the jungle. Once we entered the tree line, we broke into a steady jog, our feet thumping against the treacherous terrain. After months of training, our eyes had grown accustomed to seeing at night, making it easier for us to organize ambushes and other specialized missions.
Soon enough, we arrived at our posts, relieving the current soldiers. Now, they were going to enjoy a full night’s sleep while we had to stand here all night, staring at the lightning bugs.
I hated watch duty.
Beside me, Martin looked like a statue. He held his gun across his chest, ready to use it at a moment’s notice. His stance was wide; his feet looked like they were rooted to the ground. Martin was a good soldier, there was no denying it, but sometimes, he was a little too perfect.
I assumed a similar position, but I just couldn’t focus. As I scanned the surrounding area, all I could think about was my brother. Was he somewhere out there, fighting for his life? Had he been captured by the enemy and kept as a prisoner? Was I holding on to false hope by looking for him all this time?
A frog-like sound shot through the jungle. I knew that, in reality, the sound came from the Blue-eared Barbet bird calling out to its mate.
A response came shortly after.
I detected movement in a nearby tree as the birds fluttered around, chasing one another through the foliage. I watched them for a moment before I noticed something glowing in the moonlight.
It was a white orchid, blooming at the base of the tree. Its white petals danced in the lazy wind.
The sight of it brought back memories I had never quite forgotten, but ones I had tried to keep under lock and key over the years.
She looked stunning. The most beautiful girl I had ever laid eyes on. Her white dress perfectly complimented her tan skin, making her look like a modern-day goddess.
To my surprise, she had actually taken my advice and left her hair down. Her natural curls flowed down her back, all the way to her tapered waist. Her golden highlights shimmered in the dying sunlight as I took her hand in mine, kissing it gently. “You look gorgeous…” I whispered, still feeling like I was stuck in some beautiful dream.
She giggled, the sound music to my ears. “You know I hate it when I blush…”
“I can’t imagine why. I think it’s adorable.” I ran my fingers along her cheek in a soft caress. She nuzzled into my hand, and I almost expected her to start purring like a kitten.
I felt like I wanted to take her into my arms and never let her go. To protect her from all of the evil in the world and preserve her innocence for all eternity.
“If you just keep staring at me like that, we’re never going to get to prom on time,” she said, poking my arm.
I chuckled. “I wouldn’t mind… as long as I still get to spend the night with you.” I winked, teasing her a bit. “But just one more thing before we go.” I grabbed the corsage I had be
She gasped, holding her hands up to her mouth.
I carefully opened the box, trying my best not to ruin the flower. My fingers were shaking with nervousness as I tied the ribbon around her wrist. It was probably no big deal, but in a way, I felt like this moment took our relationship a step further.
“Not nearly as beautiful as you…” I whispered as I wrapped my arms around her, pulling her closer. Our faces gravitated together. She closed her eyes and tilted her head slightly to the right. I tilted mine to the left.
The second my lips touched hers, a deep warmth spread through my entire body.
She was the one.
The love of my life.
“You aren’t falling asleep on me, are you?” Martin’s voice broke me out of my trance. Her beautiful face disappeared from my vision.
“No… Just thinking.”
“You’ve been kind of distant all day. Care to talk about it?”
“I know it sounds crazy, but I think I saw someone I knew back at the village. A girl.”
Martin chuckled. “That’s impossible. You’re just horny, like the rest of us. Your mind is playing tricks on you.”
I shook my head. “I swear… I saw her.”
“What would she be doing here?”
“That’s what I can’t figure out.”
“If you ask me, it’s all in your head.”
Our attention immediately shifted toward the sound, forgetting all about our conversation. We tightened our grips on our guns, giving each other silent signals before we stepped forward.