Natalia had gone out to check the mailbox. What she found brought the nightmare she thought she’d left behind back in full. A single letter, postmarked Washington DC, three years previous. Inside, a handwritten, blood-stained letter written by Tobias. How had they found her? Who had sent it?
She had opened it to see who it was from. When she recognized the writing, she screamed. But she was alone. Trent had not come home yet.
Out here in the jungle, I often wonder about you and our child. Will you still be there when I come home? Will you understand that what I did, I did out of love? Remember that I will be coming back for you, to make you mine. I will find you no matter where you go.
One more question before I close. Do you miss me, Darling?
Folded into the letter were the Toby’s Dog tags and a field death certificate. Whoever had sent the letter had taken pains to find out where she was. They had struggled to make sure she received this last letter. But they had not thought to ask whether it was appropriate.
It unnerved her to think that someone had sent his last letter to her. She was the last person who’d want any of this. He had been cruel to her. He had destroyed her life. Sending the letter to her had reopened those old wounds and made her relive the nightmare.
Four years went down the drain in just three minutes. It had taken her four years to get away from the pain, She had been doing good. But, now, this. Why? Had she done something wrong?
She curled up into a ball in a corner. There she stayed, crying. She no longer had the strength to hold herself together. Her peace of mind had been shattered.
Trent arrived to find her in the fetal position, rocking back and forth. He knew something was very wrong. She had been fine when he left that morning. What had happened to make it change? Then he saw the letter.
“Dear God!” He was sickened by what he read. “Who in their right mind would send such a letter? And how did they learn where you were?”
He dialed the phone quickly. Damage control had to be done. Natalia needed to be pulled back. “Ma? Yes. We have a problem. It’s best if you and dad came and saw it for yourselves. This is troubling. Yes. Hurry.” He hung up and returned to his beloved Natalia. “Hold on, Baby.Help is on the way.”
He took her in his arms and gently rocked her like a baby. He hoped that the safety of his arms would get her to relax. He needed her to relax. He needed her to untense her muscles, her body.
She slowly relaxed. as she did, she began to sob. He let her.She needed to let it out. All of it.
Trent’s mother and father arrived quickly. HIs mother went to where Trent held Natalia. HIs father picked up the letter and read it. Trent looked up to see the fury in his father’s eyes as he picked up the phone.
He dialed a number, then waited. “Let me talk to the commanding officer. Who the fuck do you think it is? Put me through. Yes.” He waited for the soldier’s commander to answer. “Sir, what is the meaning of sending my future daughter-in-law a letter from the man who raped her?”
“What is the young lady’s name” came the answer.
Charles Goodacres scowled. “Natalia Morrow. The letter was from one Tobias French. It had his dog tags in it.”
There was a pause. “I am sorry, Sir. We did not send that letter. It had been marked as a no-contact. Someone took it.”
Charles bit his lip, trying to keep his temper under control. “And did that someone have a name?”
The answer was immediate. “Yes. A certain Corporal Mark Standish. He has also seemed to disappear as well. Gone AWOL.”
Charles gritted his teeth. “Damn.”
Trent bent close to Natalia’s ear. “Honey, do you know someone named Mark Standish?”
Her eyes went wide with fear and she nodded. Trent looked up at his mother. But Charles took control. “Was he involved in what happened to you?” Again her eyes went wide and she nodded. He looked at his wife. “Call the sheriff. That little asshole is still around town somewhere.”
Mark Standish thought himself clever. He had tracked Natalia down. He had watched as her relationship with Trent had begun and become strong. Then he moved in to destroy it. Or at least, destroy her. And he did a good job of it, he thought.
A hand grabbed him from behind, one clamping over his mouth. “I’ll bet you thought that was clever, fucking with the mind of that poor woman. It wasn’t. No one has that right, you punk. Just know this. I have been watching you. Every move.”
Mark jerked his mouth from beneath the hand. “What she to you? Hell. She ain’t nothin’ but a whore.”
The voice became dark. “You and your buddies raped her. She was no willing participant in your little escapade.”
Mark sneered. “She wanted it. Besides. I didn’t fuck ‘er. Toby did. I just helped hold ‘er down.” He started chuckling. “Was fun to watch.”
Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain. “Stupid fuck. You ruined her life. Not once, but twice. I think that forfeits yours.” There was a sudden pain that streaked across his neck, then he began choking on his own blood.
He never got a good look at his attacker. By the time he stumbled enough to see who was behind him, the man was gone. By the time he staggered out to the street in search of help, it was already too late. He had lost too much blood.
The first person to get to him was Sheriff Talbot. The uniform let him know that the dead man was a soldier from the base. a note in his pocket seemed almost like a signed confession. his ID was still in his back pocket and none of his money was gone from his billfold. Who had killed him, and why?