Their Masquerade(3)

By: Dixie Lynn Dwyer

But Mariah had that way about her. She was very pretty, but she was also innocent and sweet. Something a man his age, with his history of hard experiences, should stay clear of.

It was his turn to approach the casket, and with one look at Mariah, he felt the emotion clog his throat.

L.T. stared in shock as he knelt in front of the casket. It was closed, and for good reason. The man had been tortured and shot multiple times. They couldn’t let Mariah know the details they’d discovered, thanks to Sandman. His comrade, his best friend, Michael Langcaster was dead. Three fucking years. Three years in that Godforsaken hellhole in the middle of Iraq with mortars firing off around five of us, roadside bombs, sneak attacks by the enemy, and Michael dies on American soil, execution-style? What the fuck?

He looked to the left. There stood Mariah and her uncle, Jeb. Michael’s only family, his baby sister, twenty years old, was dressed all in black, tears streaming down her cheeks, still in shock. They all were.

L.T. glanced over his shoulder as he stood up and prepared to give his respects to Mariah and her uncle, next. His brothers. What was left of his team, Axel, Quentin, and Deacon, lined up behind him to say good-bye to Michael.

“Mariah, I’m so sorry for your loss. I…I just can’t believe that he’s gone,” L.T. stuttered. He was so taken aback by this. He couldn’t believe it.

Mariah nodded her head as the tears rolled down her cheeks. She pulled L.T. into a hug, and he thought he would lose it. She was youthful, beautiful, and so damn sweet and innocent. Michael had protected her like a good big brother. L.T. was worried about her safety now. He and his team would need to ensure her protection. It’s what Michael would have wanted.

“It is a shock, L.T. I still can’t believe he’s gone. Thank you for coming, and for helping out with the arrangements,” she whispered and then pulled back.

He felt a twinge of regret from the loss of her embrace. He wasn’t a cuddling kind of guy. In fact, he preferred remaining disconnected from people. It made things easier when he had to leave on a mission or when the person disappointed him and left. It stemmed from his intense training in the Marines and their special division.

He stared down into her eyes. The color was always so blue and bright, but not today.

She stepped away to give a hug to Axel, as L.T. shook Uncle Jeb’s hand.

Axel was a big man. Six feet three, huge muscles, tattoos down his arm. When that man approached, people moved out of the way immediately. He was the epitome of intimidation. But then again, they all were.

L.T. watched as his men, his good friends, one by one greeted Mariah and then Jeb. Quentin wrapped her in his arms so tightly, he lifted her off the floor, causing her to not quite chuckle, but almost sob. The tears flowed. Quentin was always greeting Mariah the same way, each time they came to visit. Which hadn’t been too often. Quentin was a wild one, and had always had that special charm that all the ladies liked. Mariah wasn’t resistant to it either.

She stepped back and Deacon, the quietest, most compassionate one of the group, placed his arm around her waist and pulled her into his embrace. She laid her cheek against his chest. Her head barely made it to any of their upper chest levels. She was average height, about five foot five, and in college.

This was going to really set her back emotionally.

“We appreciate you men coming out here. Just last week, Michael said that you all were so busy with work, and that you planned on coming out next week for the camping trip,” Jeb stated.

L.T. felt bad about that. It had been months since they’d all gotten together. Michael had mentioned being involved with an intense undercover case. He hadn’t had much personal time at all.

L.T., Axel, Quentin, and Deacon worked closer to Dallas. There was a lot of retired military living in the surrounding areas.

He listened as the others talked about the camping trip and the plans that now wouldn’t happen. Michael was gone.

Just then another man approached. He was Hispanic, well dressed, and completely focused on Mariah. L.T. caught his men watching the scene unfold. It didn’t sit right with him, as the man pulled Mariah into an embrace, his hand way low on her back, borderline the top of her ass, as he hugged her.