Their Masquerade(4)

By: Dixie Lynn Dwyer

Mariah smiled up at him. L.T. felt his stomach contract. The emotions, the jealousy, hit him instantly.

What the fuck? She’s Michael’s sister. Why the hell would I feel jealous?

“Who’s this?” Axel asked, with an attitude. One look at his buddy, and L.T. could tell Axel was in protective mode.

He walked closer, placed his hand on Mariah’s shoulder, and placed himself between her and the stranger. The stranger looked none the happier about it.

“Oh, how rude of me. Sorry, Axel, guys. This is Detective Randy Rimarez. He worked with Michael.”

They each shook the man’s hand hello, but then Randy took position next to Mariah.

“How are you doing? Do you still need some help back at the house? I don’t mind at all,” Randy told her, taking Mariah’s hand and caressing the top of it. L.T. watched, his gut clenching as he stared at the man. Randy wanted Mariah. But what man wouldn’t find the platinum blonde attractive? She was stunning, and her innocence drew all types of men toward her. That’s why Michael had been so protective.

“Oh, you don’t have to help out. But please come by and have something to eat. The neighbors sent over so much food,” she told him and then turned toward L.T. and the others.

“You guys are definitely coming over. Right?” she asked.

The men responded immediately, but L.T. was caught staring at her. The sound of Mariah’s sweet voice always snagged his attention. But being nearly ten years older than her, ultimately an old man comparatively, after all he’d gone through, he quickly nodded and then turned toward Jeb. He was going to have to ensure that the Randy guy knew Mariah was off-limits and also speak with Jeb about what was needed.

“L.T., are you okay?” Jeb asked as they moved away from the others. He glanced over his shoulder at Mariah and his men, who now placed themselves around her, causing Randy to have to stand a few feet in front of her. They knew how to protect their own. And Mariah was theirs to protect, for Michael. He would expect them to watch over her. She was too young and innocent to take care of herself. She needed them.

“I’ll get through this. I just can’t believe Michael is gone.”

“I know. Listen, there’s something I wanted to mention to you and the guys. But I don’t want Mariah to know. Do you think we can get together tomorrow?”

L.T. heard the concern in Jeb’s voice. Something was up. Jeb was retired military and retired from the police department. He was a smart man with great instincts.

“What is it?”

“Not here,” Jeb whispered as he looked around, and even toward Randy.

Randy seemed to pick up on Jeb’s glance, and the man didn’t look happy.

Instantly, L.T. didn’t like Randy.

“Okay. Just tell us when and where and we’ll be there.”

Jeb placed his hand on L.T.’s shoulder and it took every ounce of his control not to pull away. He didn’t do physical contact well. He avoided it as much as he could.

“Thank you.”

The reverend entered the room and L.T. knew it was time for everyone to take a seat as the final prayer was said for the wake. Tomorrow morning would bring the funeral and the final farewell to Michael. He didn’t know how he was going to get through it. He just knew that he should focus on Jeb and Mariah and try to help them get through it.

He walked toward the row behind her as Jeb sat on her right and Deacon sat on her left. Quentin and Axel sat on either side of him. They all automatically surrounded her to protect her. As the prayer began, L.T. closed his eyes and focused on his own memories of Michael. Another lost soul. Another good guy leaving the earth too soon. It made him question his own existence and his own mortality. Was there more he wanted in this life? Was there a woman to share what time he had left with, or had his sole commitment to the military, and now his job, taken precedence over everything? He couldn’t help but to stare at Mariah’s platinum blonde hair that flowed down her back in healthy waves. But as the reverend mentioned Michael’s name again, L.T. cleared his head. This was his best friend’s baby sister. He couldn’t give a woman like her what she needed. Besides, he couldn’t even make love to a woman without his team with him.