Under Control

By: Qwillia Rain

Chapter One



Bethesda Naval Hospital

Bethesda, Maryland

“Time to leave, Gunnery Sergeant,” the nurse said. Her crisp command accompanied the squeak of her rubber-soled shoes as she pushed a wheelchair into Vance Justiss‟s hospital room.

Looking up from his chair near the window, Vance didn‟t bother smiling. He had no reason to. “Packed and ready, ma‟am,” he replied. He maneuvered himself out of the chair with his good arm and tucked a crutch beneath it. As his training demanded, he maintained his balance and proud bearing, despite the fact his left arm was secured against his chest in a blue sling and his left leg was immobilized by an air cast from midthigh to ankle.

“If you‟ll take a seat,” the nurse patted the chrome-and-vinyl device.

“No, thank you, ma‟am,” he declined. “I‟ll be fine.” He was a Marine Force Recon.

No fucking way he was being rolled out of the room in that contraption. “If I could have you—”

2

Qwillia Rain

A young marine barreled into the room, coming to a quick stop in the doorway.

“Sorry I‟m late, gunny,” the younger man said, offering a crisp salute that Vance returned. The kid smiled at the nurse and moved to grab the packed duffel bag on the foot of the bed. “Lennox is in the car, and transport home is waiting.”

“Stationed at Pendleton, Gunnery Sergeant?” the nurse asked Vance as she kept pace with them down the hall. She hovered on his left side, ready to catch him if he stumbled.

Not damned likely he‟d let her get hurt trying to support his weight, no matter how his injuries ached. “Yes, ma‟am,” Vance confirmed.

“The doctor says your physical therapy is scheduled to begin at the end of the week.”

“Yes, ma‟am.”

“You‟ll be back on your feet in no time, gunny.” Vance watched the kid on his right grin. The unit was always on Corvus about his inability to curb his enthusiasm, but Vance knew the newest member didn‟t pay much attention to the harassment because he just kept smiling.

“No doubt, Corvus.” Vance ignored the pain each step shot through his body.

Push past it, soldier. The damage to his left hand and leg was permanent according to the doc. There was nothing he could do about it. The only thing he could do was get back on his feet so he could honor his word and finish what he‟d started.

He had a promise to keep, and he refused to do it on crutches. He just needed to make it through the next few weeks, to get beyond those first few minutes every morning when memories of his last mission—Aimee‟s screams and the concussion of the explosion—soaked his body in cold sweat. It was difficult to face his failure to protect her, an innocent civilian. The fact that she was a young woman he‟d kept safe periodically over the years when their paths crossed as her missionary parents moved throughout the Middle East only made it harder.

Diablo Blanco Club: Under Control

3

Those were the mornings when the nightmares had his heart slamming against his ribs, and his disgust at what he‟d done caused bile to rise in his throat. Shadowy moments when thoughts of the weight of his .38 in his hand and the chill of the steel against his temple seemed to offer the comfort of a final escape. It was always the same when he entertained thoughts of ending his life. Despite the feelings of hate and disgust, three reasons kept surfacing to keep him sucking air in the here and now.

One, Ben would never forgive him if he took the coward‟s way out.

Two, he had to keep his promise to Aimee.

And three, marines weren‟t quitters.

And damn it, he was still a marine.

Four months later

San Diablo, California

Voices buzzed and hummed throughout the central lounge of the Diablo Blanco Club. From his place behind the bar, Ben Murphy grinned as he watched a pretty blonde in a gray silk dress lead her lover—a man nearly twice her size—up the stairs by a length of silver chain settled around his throat.

The twenty-foot bar was nestled between the two sweeping granite staircases that led to the second-floor playrooms. Ben relaxed against the polished teak counter and took note of the various entertainments playing out around the room. Just like any other nightclub in San Diablo, the Diablo Blanco Club provided distractions to its members. But unlike other nightclubs, the distractions were not in the form of canned music or live bands. This particular club had its own brand of “shows.” Tonight was no different.