25 Years Ago, Age 5
“You listen to me, Mary, and listen good. Men are dogs. Good-for-nothing, low-down, rotten liars. All they want is to get in your pants. No matter what they say, they’re incapable of love. You hear me?”
Mary didn’t know why a boy would want to wear a girl’s pants, but she knew better than to disagree with Mama so she said obediently, “Yes, Mama.”
“And if they say they want to help you, what do you do?”
“Don’t believe them.”
“Because they always have an ulteer motive.” Mary had no idea what that meant. She’d asked once and Mama had started yelling at her and telling her not to question her atority. Whatever that meant. So now she knew to simply answer the questions as she’d been taught.
“Right. They always have an ulterior motive. They never do nothing for free. Remember that. And when they say they love you, what do you do?”
“Nod and agree. Take what they’re willin’ to give until they leave.”
“Exactly. If you gotta open your legs to get what you want in this life, you do it. Money, drugs, a place to live…it don’t matter what it is…but never get attached. Hear me?”
Mary nodded immediately. She was confused once more, but kept her mouth shut. She didn’t know why opening her legs would make a boy give her money, but she knew better than to ask.
Her mom sat back on the couch and gulped down the clear liquid in the glass she’d been holding.
Mary bit her little lip and studied her mama. She was wearing the same clothes she’d had on the day before, and the day before that. She kinda smelled and didn’t seem to notice that she hadn’t eaten in a day and a half…or that she hadn’t fed her little girl in the same amount of time. She’d been drinking the clear, nasty-smelling stuff for two days. And Mary hadn’t seen Uncle Brad in two days either.
Mary wasn’t an idiot. She knew Uncle Brad wasn’t really her uncle, but since Mama asked her to call him that, she did. Brad was actually one of the nicer men who had stayed with them. He didn’t hit, and sometimes he even smiled at her. Alan had hit Mama and made her cry. Harry had sat on the couch and drank the clear liquid all the time. And… Mary couldn’t remember the name of the man before Harry, but he’d had a huge belly and burped and farted all the time. It was gross.
“Mama’s tired now,” her mama said. “Go to your room and play, okay?”
Mary nodded. She was tired of being in her room and she was hungry, but she agreed anyway. Mama was being kinda nice at the moment and she didn’t want to do anything that would make that change.
Maybe Mama would remember to cook dinner tonight. Last night, she drank the clear liquid until she fell asleep on the couch, and Mary was afraid to go into the kitchen to try to find something to eat.
21 Years Ago, Age 9
“You already did. Now get out!”
“You weren’t even that good. Newsflash, bitch, men don’t like it when you scrape their cocks with your teeth!”
Mary heard her mama arguing with Uncle Ron and immediately slid off her thin mattress onto the floor and got under her bed. She put her hands over her ears, but could still hear them yelling at each other.
“You’re nothing but white trash!” Uncle Ron yelled, then Mary heard glass breaking.
“That’s better than being a stingy asshole!” Mama yelled back.
“Stingy? I’ve done nothing but give you money since I moved in,” Uncle Ron replied. “I bought you booze. I bought groceries every week so you could fucking eat. You haven’t even once said thank you. Not once. I even paid attention to your brat, which is more than you ever do.”
“I knew you had your eye on her! Shame on you, lusting after a nine-year-old. You think she can suck your dick better than me?”
“Jesus H. Christ! I don’t have an eye on your daughter. Are you sick or somethin’?”
“Don’t bullshit me,” Mama told him. “I knew from the second I introduced you that you wanted her.”
“I feel sorry for you. No—I feel sorry for your poor daughter. It has to suck having you for a mom.”
“Fuck you! I’m the best thing that ever happened to her.”
“What a joke,” Uncle Ron said, then laughed.
“I’m not a joke!” Mama screeched. “You are. All men are! You were all too happy to move in here because you knew you’d get your cock wet whenever you wanted. But the second I ask you for help, the strings come out. I’ll buy you booze if you suck my dick, baby. I’ll buy you food if you let me fuck you up the ass. You’re all the same! You don’t give a shit about me, selfish bastard!”
“Maybe if you opened your goddamned eyes, you’d see what’s right in front of your face. You’re gonna ruin that sweet little kid. Mark my words. She’s gonna turn out just like you.”
“Of course she is. I’m her mama!”
“I’m outta here,” Uncle Ron said. “I’m sure you’ll find another sucker to take my place within the week. Don’t forget to feed your kid. She can’t live on alcohol and drugs like you can.”
“Good riddance!” Mama screamed.
Mary heard a door slam and she held her breath. The words weren’t anything she hadn’t heard before when Mama had fights with the uncles, but she was kinda surprised that Uncle Ron had brought her into the argument. Most of the men didn’t care about her, and Mary had learned to stay quiet and out of the way.
She waited for her mama to come in and give her the speech she now had memorized. She’d been giving her the same tired speech for as long as she could remember.
“Mary?” her mama called. “Get out here!”
Sighing, Mary rolled out from under the bed and headed for the door. She knew if she didn’t, Mama would just come looking for her and drag her out.
“Men suck! Got that?” Mama asked when Mary was standing in front of her in the small living area of their trailer.
“All they want is to get you in bed. They’ll take, take, take, and take, and won’t give a flying fuck what you want.”
“If a boy tells you he loves you, what does he really mean?” she demanded.
“That he wants to sleep with you.” Mary was old enough now to know that when a boy slept with a girl, they weren’t actually sleeping. They were having sex. She knew all about that too. Mama had described what that was in detail two years ago. It sounded gross to her, but Mama seemed to like it enough.
“And once he sleeps with you?” her mama demanded.
“Exactly. Now go away. My head hurts.”
Without another word, Mary headed back to her room. Ignoring her growling tummy, she grabbed her thin comforter, the one Uncle Thomas got for her, and her pillow, and crawled back under her bed. Under there, she could pretend that she was someone different. That she lived in a big house, had a mama and poppy who loved her and said nice things to her. That they sat down at a big table heaping with food every night. She also pretended that she didn’t have a different uncle living with them every month.
Sometime in the last four years, Mary had realized that her mama wasn’t normal. Other kids had parents who would cook for them, wash their clothes, and wouldn’t sit around the house all day drinking vodka.
The big thing she never understood was, if her mama didn’t like men, why did she keep inviting them to move into the trailer with them?
15 Years Ago, Age 15
Mary shut the door as quietly as possible as she entered the trailer. Turning, she went to go to her room, but stopped dead in her tracks.
Mama was standing there. Her eyes were bloodshot and she swayed on her feet.
She was drunk. Again.
Not that it was any big surprise, but Mary had hoped she’d be passed out by the time she got home.
“You sleep with him?” Mama asked belligerently.
“Could’a fooled me. You look like a slut. Got a pile of makeup on your face. Your dress is short. What, he told you he loves you and you gave it up, right? After everything I’ve taught you.”
“No, Mama. We went to the dance, hung out with friends, and he brought me straight home.”
Mary took a step back as her mama came toward her.
Her arm flew up and she slapped Mary right across the face.
Mary brought a hand to her cheek and stared at her mama in shock.
“Don’t lie to me! You’re sleepin’ around, I know it. Men suck. Why won’t you get that through your stupid brain? You can’t believe ’em when they tell you they care about you. You can’t believe ’em when they say they want to help. They don’t. All they want is to stick their dick inside you and get off.”
“Brian’s not like that,” Mary said softly. “He likes me. He’s nice.”
“The hell he is,” Mama sneered. “They’re all like that. Mark my words. In the end, he’ll hurt you, and I’ll not give you an ounce of sympathy. I’ve warned you time and time again that you can’t trust men. That they’ll screw you over every single time. If you want to fuck him, fine, but don’t pretend that you’ll get anything out of it other than some mediocre sex. He’ll leave you. They always do. Now, get out of my face.”
Mary hurried around her mama to her room. She’d had a good time at the school dance and her mom had ruined it.
Brian was a junior, and two years older than her, but he’d done nothing more than kiss her. He’d said he liked her and enjoying spending time with her. He made Mary laugh and, more than that, she felt safe around him. She didn’t need to worry about other boys trying to cop a feel or bullying her. Brian hadn’t groped her when he’d kissed her and hadn’t pressured for more. Her mom was wrong about him. She knew it.
14 Years Ago, Age 16
“I’m sorry, Mary, but it’s over,” Brian said in a cold tone she’d never heard him use with her before.
They were standing in the middle of the hallway at school. Mary had met him in their usual spot before lunch. She’d gone up on her tiptoes to kiss him hello, but he’d stepped away and said the last thing she’d expected to hear.
Especially since the night before, she’d given him her virginity.
She’d told Mama they were going to the basketball game and instead he’d rented a room at the rundown motel across town. He’d apologized and said he wanted their first time to be more romantic, but he didn’t want anyone to recognize them and get her in trouble.
The actual act of having sex hurt, but Mary had pretended to enjoy what they’d done. Brian had seemed distracted, but Mary hadn’t thought anything about it. He’d held her close afterward and eventually they’d left to go back to the high school. He’d said that he wanted to make sure people saw them at the game together so she wouldn’t get in trouble.
Mary had loved that he was looking out for her. That he’d wanted to make sure her reputation didn’t suffer. That was why his words now didn’t make any sense.
Her brows came down in confusion. “What?”
“Me and you. It’s not working out.”
“But…you told me last month you loved me,” she said.
He scoffed. “I thought I did, but I was wrong.”
“I don’t understand,” Mary said, wanting to beg for him to take it back, but she had more dignity than that.
“We’re too different,” Brian said. “You’re poor and live in that shithole trailer. My parents would never approve of us being together.”
“But you told me that they liked me. That they were happy you were with me.”
“I lied. There’s no way they would ever approve of you. You’re too white trash for me. They didn’t care that I sowed my oats with you, but that’s all this was.”
Mary felt her heart break in half. He couldn’t be saying what she thought he was. He’d been so nice to her. So tender and caring. He’d stuck up for her when other boys at school made fun of her.
She’d thought he loved her. That they were going to get married after she graduated.
“You’re too young for me anyway,” Brian continued callously. “When I go off to college, you’ll still be here. You can’t afford tuition, and you’ll still be living in your shithole trailer with your whore of a mother. You guys are the laughingstock of town. No one is gonna marry the town hooker’s daughter. Did you think I’d wait for you, that we’d get married?”
“You said you loved me,” Mary repeated, too hurt to even address the whore comment.
“I only said that because you wouldn’t give it up.”
“Give it up,” Mary echoed, staring at Brian.
Brian leaned in and tapped her on the nose before straightening. “Yeah. It took longer than I thought. The guys all thought for sure you’d be an easy lay because of who your mom is, so who would’ve thought your legs were all but chained closed? But I gotta say, once I got them pried open, you were one hot lay.”
Understanding finally dawned, and Mary clenched her teeth before saying, “You said you loved me so I’d sleep with you?”
“Yeah, Einstein. There’s no way I was gonna stick with you much longer anyway. The game had gotten old and there’s a new batch of freshman cheerleaders I wanna take for a ride before I graduate.”
“Fuck you,” Mary said in a low, controlled voice.
All her mama’s warnings echoed in her head. Her entire life, she’d thought her mama was a drunk, bitter old woman. But she’d learned a harsh lesson—Mama was right. Men sucked. All of them. The boy she thought loved her, and who she’d wanted to marry and have babies with, had used her.
Thank God, she’d made him use a condom, even when he’d complained that it dulled his pleasure.
“No thanks,” Brian said flippantly. “I’ve had my fill. You were a fun diversion, but way too much work. I gotta go. Andi is waiting for me in the lunchroom. I have it on good authority that she wants me, and who am I to deny a bitch my cock?”
And with that parting shot, he spun on his heels and walked away. Leaving Mary standing in the middle of the hallway.
Mary stared after him, her heart slowly hardening.
Despite everything her mom had told her. Despite seeing man after man parade in and out of their trailer, she’d still believed in fairy tales. She’d lain under her bed many nights, dreaming of her own Prince Charming. Dreaming of a man telling her and showing her without words how much he loved and cared about her.
But at that moment, watching Brian walk away the day after he took her virginity, after admitting he did it just to see if he could, Mary felt her heart shrivel up. She’d never believe tender words of love again.
Mama was right. She’d never trust another man as long as she lived. Never.
8 Years Ago, Age 22
Mary turned to look at the woman who’d spoken.
She’d recently moved to Dallas after getting her college degree and was sick of sitting in her apartment by herself. She’d found the small hole-in-the wall bar and decided to go out for a drink or two. It didn’t matter that she didn’t have anyone to go with.
She’d been sitting there for about twenty minutes before the other woman plopped herself down on the barstool next to hers. She’d ordered a Midori martini before sighing and giving her commentary on men.
Mary grinned. Now here was someone after her own heart. “Agreed.”
“I swear to God, I don’t know why I keep trying.”
“Because they make you feel good in bed?” Mary offered.
The other woman laughed. “Yeah, there is that.” She turned to Mary and held out her hand. “I’m Rayne. Rayne Jackson.”
Mary shook her hand and said, “Mary Weston.”
“I think I like you, Mary Weston,” Rayne said.
They grinned at each other, and Mary held up her bottle of beer in a toast. “Here’s to men sucking.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Rayne said, and clinked her glass with Mary’s bottle.
4 Years Ago, Age 26
Mary closed her eyes as another bout of nausea overtook her. She felt Rayne’s hand on her back as she leaned over the toilet and dry heaved.
“Easy, Mare,” Rayne said as she tried to soothe her. “When you’re ready, let me know and I’ll help you back to bed.”
It took ten more minutes before Mary felt like the nausea had passed. Rayne helped her limp back to her bed and she fell onto it with a sigh. “I hate this,” Mary said.
“I know,” Rayne agreed.
“Not the cancer,” Mary argued. “That asshole said he’d be here tonight.”
“Men suck,” Rayne murmured.
“I know. I can’t believe I fell for his bullshit. Why didn’t you kick me in the ass, Raynie?”
“Because I really thought he was going to be the one,” Rayne answered, wiping Mary’s brow with a damp cloth.
“My mama told me a long time ago that if a man says he loves you, he’s full of shit. That I should never get attached and only use them for a good time.”
“That’s not true,” Rayne protested. “I mean, yes, some men suck, but there’s got to be some good ones out there.”
“I don’t think so. I mean, who tells a woman dying of cancer that he’ll be there every step of the way and after the first sign she’s struggling, he bails?”
“Reggie Milsap,” was Rayne’s dry response.
Mary chuckled, even though that made her head hurt even more. “Yeah. Him.”
“Remember that promise we made to each other a few years ago?” Rayne asked.
“That we’d wait to walk down the aisle until we both had men who had proven they were reliable, loved us for real, and we could do it together?”
“I meant that,” Rayne said, her eyes piercing in their intensity.
“I’m not letting you use cancer as an excuse to get out of it either.”
Mary chuckled again, but protested. “It’s really kind of silly, Rayne. I mean, I don’t think I’m ever going to get married. I can’t trust anyone enough to go that far. And I would never want to hold you up from marrying someone you loved.”
“Yeah, okay, I wouldn’t want to hold you up either, but don’t give up on finding someone. Men suck, but I’m holding out hope for a hero.”
Mary rolled her eyes. “You and that song.”
Rayne grinned. “How’s this…if one of us finds someone that we really, really like, and there are no prospects for the other on the horizon, we’ll go ahead and get married. But if the other is dating or something, then we’ll wait.”
“Deal,” Mary said immediately. She knew there wasn’t a chance in hell of her falling in love. It didn’t exist. She’d been proven right time and time again. Reggie Milsap was simply the latest to dash her ridiculous hope that her mama was somehow wrong.
Mary knew Rayne would eventually find someone, she had no doubt. Rayne was a good person inside and out. She was adventurous, brave, funny…Mary could go on and on about her best friend. How could a man not fall in love with Rayne?
But her? Even if she lived through this bout with breast cancer, she knew deep in her bones no man would be able to get past the shields she’d put around her heart. She was too snarky and came across to others as a complete bitch. She couldn’t help it. It was easier to keep people at arm’s length than to risk them hurting her. Because they always hurt her. Always.
So she used sarcasm and snark as a shield. Mary knew the day she got married was the day she believed in fairy tales again. And it would be a cold day in hell before that happened.
Ford “Truck” Laughlin and Mary Weston have weathered their share of storms over the last couple years. Truck’s job, Mary’s health. His bossiness, her bitchiness. All while dancing around their intense attraction. Mary’s tried to push him away for his own good but Truck won’t let her give up…on herself or on them. Just when she decides they deserve a fair shot, disaster strikes.
Truck has wanted Mary since the moment he saw her. The prickly woman pushes all his buttons and looks beyond his scarred exterior, something few women have managed. His plan to take their relationship to the next level is stalled when he’s injured on a mission. And he’s barely feeling like his old self again before the couple is dealt another blow, one that could permanently end their chances…and their lives.
**Rescuing Mary is the 9th book in the Delta Force Heroes Series. Usually my books are stand-alones, but in this case, I feel you would get more enjoyment out of the story if you read the other books first, since Mary and Truck’s relationship evolves throughout the series. If nothing else, I recommend reading the first book in the series, Rescuing Rayne, where their relationship began.
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