Home > The Last Letter

The Last Letter
Author: Rebecca Yarros

Chapter One


Letter #1

Dear Chaos,

At least that’s what my brother says they call you. I asked him if any of his buddies needed a little extra mail, and yours was the name I was given.

So hi, I’m Ella. I know the whole no-real-names-in-correspondence rule. I’ve been writing these letters just as long as he’s been doing what he does…which I guess is what you do.

Now, before you put this letter aside and mumble an awkward “Thanks, but no thanks,” like guys do, know that this is just as much for me as it is for you. Considering that I’d be able to have a safe place to vent away from the curious eyes of this tiny, nosy town, it would almost be like I’m using you.

So, if you’d like to be my ear, I’d be grateful, and in return, I’d be happy to be yours. Also, I make pretty awesome peanut butter cookies. If cookies didn’t come with this letter, then go beat my brother, because he’s stolen your cookies.

Where do I start? How do I introduce myself without it sounding like a singles ad? Let me assure you, I’m not looking for anything more than a pen pal—a very faraway pen pal—I promise. Military guys don’t do it for me. Guys in general don’t. Not that I don’t like guys. I just don’t have time for them. You know what I do have? Profound regret for writing this letter in pen.

I’m the little sister, but I’m sure my brother already told you that. He’s got a pretty big mouth, which means you probably know that I have two kids, too. Yes, I’m a single mom, and no, I don’t regret my choices. Man, I get sick of everyone asking me that, or simply giving me the look that implies the question.

I almost erased that last line, but it’s true. Also, I’m just too lazy to rewrite the whole thing.

I’m twenty-four and was married to the twins’ sperm donor all of about three seconds. Just long enough for the lines to turn pink, the doctor to say there were two heartbeats, and him to pack in the quiet of the night. Kids were never his thing, and honestly, we’re probably better for it.

If pen pal kids aren’t your thing, I won’t take offense. But no cookies. Cookies are for pen pals only.

If you’re good with single parenthood in a pen pal, read on.

My twins are five, which, if you did the math correctly, means they were born when I was nineteen. After shocking our little town by deciding to raise them on my own, I just about gave it a coronary when I took over Solitude when my grandmother died. I was only twenty, the twins were still babies, and that B&B was where she’d raised us, so it seemed like a good place to raise my kids. It still is.

Let’s see…Maisie and Colt are pretty much my life. In a good way, of course. I’m ridiculously overprotective of them, but I recognize it. I tend to overreact, to build a fortress around them, which keeps me kind of isolated, but hey, there are worse flaws to have, right? Maisie’s the quiet one, and I can usually find her hiding with a book. Colt…well, he’s usually somewhere he isn’t supposed to be, doing something he isn’t supposed to be doing. Twins can be crazy, but they’ll tell you that they’re twice the awesome.

Me? I’m always doing what I have to, and never what I really should be, or what I want to. But I think that’s the nature of being a mom and running a business. Speaking of which, the place is waking up, so I’d better get this box sealed up and shipped.

Write back if you want. If you don’t, I understand. Just know that there’s someone in Colorado sending warm thoughts your way.

~ Ella

Today would have been a perfect time for my second curse word.

Usually, when we were on full-blown deployments, it got really Groundhog Day. Same crap, different day. There was almost a predictable, welcoming pattern to the monotony.

Not going to lie, I was a big fan of monotony.

Routine was predictable. Safe, or as safe as it was going to get out here. We were a month into another undisclosed location in another country we were never in, and routine was about the only thing comfortable about the place.

Today had been anything but routine.

Mission accomplished, as usual, but at a price. There was always a price, and lately, it was getting steep.

I glanced down at my hand, flexing my fingers because I could. Ramirez? He’d lost that ability today. Guy was going to be holding that new baby of his with a prosthetic.

My arm flew, releasing the Kong, and the dog toy streaked across the sky, a flash of red against pristine blue. The sky was the only clean thing about this place. Or maybe today just felt dirty.

Havoc raced across the ground, her strides sure, her focus narrowed to her target until—

“Damn, she’s good,” Mac said, coming up behind me.

“She’s the best.” I glanced over my shoulder at him before training my eyes on Havoc as she ran back to me. She had to be the best to get to where we were, on a tier-one team that operated without technically existing. She was a spec op dog, which was about a million miles above any other military working dog.

She was also mine, which automatically made her the best.

My girl was seventy pounds of perfect Labrador retriever. Her black coat stood out against the sand as she stopped just short of my legs. Her rump hit the ground, and she held the Kong out to me, her eyes dancing. “Last time,” I said softly as I took it from her mouth.

She was gone before I even retracted my arm to throw.

“Word on Ramirez?” I asked, watching for Havoc to get far enough away.

“Lost his arm. Elbow down.”

“Ffffff—” I threw the toy as far as I could.

“You could let it slip. Seems appropriate today.” Mac scratched the month of beard he was rocking and adjusted his sunglasses.

“His family?”

“Christine will meet him at Landstuhl. They’re sending in fresh blood. Forty-eight hours until arrival.”

“That soon?” We really were that expendable.

“We’re on the move. Meeting is in five.”

“Gotcha.” Looked like it was on to the next undisclosed location.

Mac glanced down at my arm. “You get that looked at?”

“Doc stitched it up. Just a graze, nothing to get your panties in a twist over.” Another scar to add to the dozens that already marked my skin.

“Maybe you need someone to get her panties in a twist over you in general.”

I sent a healthy shot of side-eye to my best friend.

“What?” he asked with an exaggerated shrug before nodding toward Havoc, who pulled up again, just as excited as the first time I threw the Kong, or the thirty-sixth time. “She can’t be the only woman in your life, Gentry.”

“She’s loyal, gorgeous, can seek out explosives, or take out someone trying to kill you. What exactly is she missing?” I took the Kong and rubbed Havoc behind her ear.

“If I have to tell you that, you’re too far gone for my help.”

We headed back into the small compound, which was really nothing more than a few buildings surrounding a courtyard. Everything was brown. The buildings, the vehicles, the ground, even the sky seemed to be taking on that hue.

Great. A dust storm.

“You don’t need to worry about me. I’ve got no trouble when we’re in garrison,” I told him.

“Oh, I’m well aware, you Chris Pratt-looking asshole. But man”—he put his hand on my arm, stopping us before we could enter the courtyard where the guys had gathered—“you’re not…attached to anyone.”

“Neither are you.”

“No, I’m not currently in a relationship. That doesn’t mean I don’t have attachments, people I care about and who care about me.”

I knew what he was getting at, and this wasn’t the time, the place, or the ever. Before he could take it any deeper, I slapped him on the back.

“Look, we can call in Dr. Phil, or we can get the hell out of here and move on to the next mission.” Move on, that was always what came easiest to me. I didn’t form attachments because I didn’t want to, not because I wasn’t capable. Attachments—to people, places, or things—were inconvenient or screwed you over. Because there was only one thing certain, and it was change.

“I’m serious.” His eyes narrowed into a look I’d seen too many times in our ten years of friendship.

“Yeah, well I am, too. I’m fine. Besides, I’m attached to you and Havoc. Everyone else is just icing.”

“Mac! Gentry!” Williams called from the door on the north building. “Let’s go!”

“We’re coming!” I yelled back.

“Look, before we go in, I left you something on your bed.” Mac rubbed his hand over his beard—his nervous tell.

“Yeah, whatever it is, after this conversation I’m not interested.” Havoc and I started walking toward the meeting. Already I felt the itch in my blood for movement, to leave this place behind and see what was waiting for us.

“It’s a letter.”

“From who? Everyone I know is in that room.” I pointed to the door as we crossed the empty courtyard. That’s what happened when you grew up bouncing from foster home to foster home and then enlisted the day you turned eighteen. The collection of people you considered worthy of knowing was a group small enough to fit in a Blackhawk, and today we were already missing Ramirez.

Like I said. Attachments were inconvenient.

“My sister.”

“I’m sorry?” My hand froze on the rusted-out door handle.

“You heard me. My little sister, Ella.”

My brain flipped through its mental Rolodex. Ella. Blond, killer smile, soft, kind eyes that were bluer than any sky I’d ever seen. He’d been waving around pictures of her for the last decade.

“Gentry, come on. Do you need a picture?”

“I know who Ella is. Why the hell is there a letter from her on my bed?”

“Just thought you might need a pen pal.” His gaze dropped to his dirty boots.

“A pen pal? Like I’m some fifth-grade project with a sister school?”

Havoc slid closer, her body resting against my leg. She was attuned to my every move, even the slightest changes in my mood. That’s what made us an unstoppable team.

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