With: Angi Morgan
I’m not certain I’ve ever shared why I wrote THE MARINE’S LASTDEFENSE. My cousin’s son shared with me that the only thing that saved his sanity after serving in Iraq was his dog. He had severe PTSD with night terrors. The stroking of his dog calmed him and helped him through his transition back into society. I also had a fan tell me a story of a woman who married Marines hoping they would get killed in action (that’s horrible, right?). But if they didn’t die, she’d divorce them and have a guaranteed income from the government (some rules just don’t make sense).
Anyway… Originally, the dog in the book was a mutt named BEAR. My daughter was at Baylor (Go BEARS!) and knew her next dog would be named Bear. It sounded cool. Then my physically challenged rescue died suddenly. Dallas had seizures we thought were under control with medication. But at eight months, she had a massive seizure that led to what a stroke (we assume). I love all my dogs, but Dallas was special and deserved to be a character in a book. Along with the gratitude to those rescuers who look past physical handicaps and love the dog.
It would have been very easy for the Hickory Creek Animal Shelter to euthanize a small puppy that was blind in one eye, too small, and had a skin/fur impediment caused from the trauma to her body. But they didn’t. When they showed her to me…I was in love with her fearlessness and curiosity. She was perfect for Jake, my lost Marine. But it did make it very hard to write the book while I was crying and mourning.
“You go see if you can find that ghost,” his partner had ordered when they’d arrived. He’d leaned his head against the headrest and shut his eyes. “I’m going to keep the heater running on these old bones, . You love the cold, don’t cha, ”
“Sure, Owens. I could stay out here all freakin’ day.” Okay, maybe his reply had been a slight exaggeration. Then again, he hadn’t actually replied, just mumbled after he’d left the car. He would continue to accept the late shifts, practical jokes and crank calls, just like he had this morning.
“I’m a freakin’ machine.” No one could break down the machine at work.
The ghost was probably a drunk trying to get out of the snowfall, but it had to be checked out. What if the call was just a staged joke? Could Owens have arranged for a “ghost” to be at the spillway?
It was the perfect setup. Someone could pop out of the bushes, try to surprise him and he might even lose his footing. “I will not fall and have that humiliation blasted across the internet. I’ll never hear the end of it.” Those guys knew he’d be the one out here verifying ghosts don’t exist. And he wouldn’t put it past any of them to have cooked up this entire charade.
As long as they dished it out, he’d take it. The cold, searching for a ghost, whatever, he’d keep at the job. He wanted the job. He had nothing else but the job. He wouldn’t let it slip through his fingers like the rest of his life.
An early-morning search of the underbrush around White Rock Lake beat picking up Friday-night drunks from Deep Ellum any night of the week. Homicide detectives wore civilian clothes, a definite improvement from the street cops. Man, he was glad to be out of a uniform. Any uniform.
His years as a Marine M.P. didn’t seem to make a difference to his coworkers. Maybe they thought he was more qualified to deal with drunks than legitimate homicides.
The beam from the flashlight reflected off a pair of red eyes. The animal didn’t bolt. Jake took a step closer to the fence and heard the low whine of a dog.
A black Labrador was under the brush on the other side of the six-foot security fence. Located just below a large yellow-and-orange danger sign, warning that the lake’s spillway was nearby.
The leash must have tangled around a limb, pinning the dog to the cold February ground. The pup yelped, whining louder, visibly shaking from the cold. He dropped back to the ground, obviously tired from his struggle for freedom.
“Hang on, now. How’d you get over there?” Just to his right the section of fence was raised off the ground, easy enough for a dog or person to crawl under.
Jake clicked off the light and dropped it in his pocket. Going over the icy fence was a lot cleaner than crawling under like the dog had. He shook the chain-link fence, verifying it could hold his weight, and scaled it in a few seconds, landing on the spillway side with both feet firm, in the melting snow.
“So you’re the ghost those drunks reported?” He knelt and offered his hand for the Lab to sniff. It quickly licked his fingers. “You’re friendly enough. What are you caught on?”
The stubborn dog refused to budge even with encouragement and a gentle tug on his collar. His young bark did some tugging of its own on Jake's heart, earning a smile from a jaded soldier. He hadn’t thought he had one left.
He pushed farther into the bushes, conceding that the only way to get the dog loose was to get wet himself. The poor mutt shivered hard enough to knock his tags together. Jake could relate, having been there a time or two.
Working his tall frame closer, his slacks were soaked as the slush seeped through the cloth. The snow that dropped on the back of his neck quickly melted from his body heat and dampened his skin. He slipped his hand around the dog collar and tugged again, receiving a louder howl and whimper.
“Are you hurt, boy? Is that why can’t move? All right, then. I might as well send my coat to the cleaners, too.” He stretched onto his belly, sliding forward until he could reach the hind quarters of the dog, which had gone completely still. “What’s wrong besides me calling you a boy when you’re clearly a girl?”
Nothing felt out of place or broken. The pup’s whine was consistent. The harder he pulled her toward freedom, the more the dog pressed backward.
The leash was caught on something or the pup was injured. He pulled hard and he still couldn’t get the leash free. Blindly he followed the leather to an icy death grip of fingers, causing him to instantly retreat. His jerky reaction scared the dog, causing her to struggle harder in the dark.
“It’s okay, sweetheart. Take it easy and I’ll get you out of here.” Jake kept a firm grip on the collar, snagged the flashlight from his pocket and flipped the switch to take a closer look at the body.
The glassy look of the dead took him back to Afghanistan. He’d experienced that look more than once in his military career. Male or female, it always twisted his gut.
Then it hit him…the smell of death. Faint, most likely because of the cold, but there wafting into his brain and triggering more memories that he wanted to forget. Once experienced, he could never forget.
The call hadn’t been a prank. The woman’s coat was covered in white. She’d been there all night. He’d flattened the crime scene getting to the dang dog, which wouldn’t or couldn’t leave her side.
“Hold on there, girl. I’m not going to hurt you. Give me a second here.” He couldn’t remove the leash from the body. So he’d have to disconnect the dog.
Expensive leash with a word etched into the wet leather. “Dallas? That your name or just a souvenir?” He kept a grip on the Lab with his left hand and unsnapped the leash from the dog harness with his right.
He crooned, attempting to calm the shivering mass of fur. He peeled his jacket off in the cramped space, the sharp broken twigs poking him with every shrug. He draped Dallas and shoved his coat under the dog’s legs. He took one last look into a frozen face. There was something about her, or the situation.
Something he couldn’t put a name to. Or maybe just a habit he’d started with the first investigation he’d had as a military cop. He didn’t want to make the vow. He had a clean slate but couldn’t stop the words, “Whoever did this won’t get away. And I’ll take care of your pup, ma’am. That’s a promise.”
Unable to move, Dallas didn’t struggle much covered in his jacket. Jake pulled her free, shimmying under the fence instead of scaling it, dragging the pup under after. Then he sat on a fallen tree, holding Dallas in his lap. He began to feel the cold as the wind whipped through the secluded jogging path that viewed the spillway overlook and hit his wet clothes.
Dallas made a unique noise halfway between a howl and whine.
“It’ll be okay, girl. We’ll find you another owner before too long.” He stroked the pup’s head and she quieted just a bit. Her tags indicated a rabies vaccination and that she’d been chipped, but they’d need animal control to access the information.
Jake tried his radio. Nothing. He took his cell from its carrier on his hip. Nothing. He moved up the hill until he had reception and dialed.
“Dallas 911. What’s your emergency?”
“This is Detective Jake Craig, badge 5942. I have an expired subject. Bus required at Garland and Winstead parking lot WTR 114 marker.”
“An ambulance has been dispatched to your location. Do you need me to connect you to homicide?” the dispatcher asked.
“Thanks, but we’re already here.”
“Understood Detective Craig.”
Protocol required him to ask for the ambulance, but he knew it wasn’t necessary. The woman frozen to the ground a couple of feet away was dead and had been most of the night. He’d seen the dead before. Many times over and under too many circumstances to remember them all. He didn’t want to remember.
Life was easier when he didn’t.
The pup tipped her soggy face up at him, and then rested on his thigh. Jake looked around the crushed crime scene as he dialed his partner’s cell. “I don’t know about you, Dallas, but it’s going to be a helluva long day.”
If you haven’t read The Marine’s Last Defense…I hope you’ll give it a try.
Here’s what someone thought
"Marines Last Defense grabs you on the first page and the action never lets up. Oh man- this is a great story brimming with page-turning excitement. The further into it I got – the faster I wanted to read. I loved the steadily building attraction between the characters as they tried to clear her name and deal with the killer who was on their trail. The book is fast-paced action at its best. The author brings very gripping tension to her stories and this one heads the list. The emotions, the fear, the action, the hope these two people experience is enthralling and you will be rooting for them. Clear your schedule for a while because once you pick up this story- you will not put it down.” ~Deanna
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USA Today Bestselling author ANGI MORGAN writes Intrigues where honor and danger collide with love. Her work is a multiple contest finalist and Publishers Weekly best-seller. She drags her dogs –and husband– around Texas for research road trips so she can write off her camera. They now have a map with highlighted roads they’ve traveled. Every detour somehow makes it into a book.
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