JESSICA THERRIEN

From Imagination To Publication

Saturday, March 21, 2020

THE MERCENARY'S DAUGHTER - Chapter One

Hey! I'm releasing my next book, The Mercenary's Daughter, in 10 days. Here is the first chapter for anyone who wants to give it a try :)


When Special Ops recruit, Tara Kafee is dishonorably discharged, there's only one place to go—Home.


But there’s more waiting for her there than she’s ready for.

It’s been four years since she’s been back and ten since her mother walked out on the family never to be heard of again.

She’s determined to rekindle things with her father and keep him close. That is, until he goes missing.

Soon after stumbling upon a safe room full of weapons, fake passports, and a mission’s dossier marking a target in Cuba, she reluctantly accepts the help of her angsty teenage brother. He’s the only one she can trust, so together, the two set out for Havana.

Tara is determined to get her father back, whatever it takes, but things are never easy when you’re the mercenary’s daughter.



MARCH 31, 2020




CHAPTER ONE

SOMETHING BROKE IN ME the day my mother left, and maybe that’s why I hardened on the outside, trapping all my hurt behind an iron curtain of indifference.
It wasn’t something I could take back. She was the one who’d walked out.
As I sat in the car in front of a stream of cool air, I tried not to think of her. She didn’t deserve my thoughts, but it was hard not to wonder where she was. And why? Always why?
 What kind of a woman leaves her twelve-year-old daughter without a word? It had been ten years, and I still couldn’t come up with an answer.
As I killed the engine to my Jeep, I smothered all thoughts of her and stole a glance in the rearview. Thankfully, I had Dad’s full lips and olive skin tone, but Mom’s soft brown eyes still stared back at me through every mirror. I raked my wavy locks of dark brown hair off my forehead.
I was a feminine-looking girl, and as a Marine that always proved to be a mind grenade to the random stranger. Being a soldier wasn’t what I would have chosen to do with my life, but I ended up good at it, anyway. Maybe because it was the perfect way to release my rage.
After being let out of juvie for the third time, it seemed like my only option. Well, my only legal option. I’d barely finished my GED so there weren’t exactly a slew of Ivy League colleges beating down my door. And frankly, jumping out of planes seemed a lot more fun than the prom I’d missed a few months earlier. 
But the real reason I enlisted was Dad. More specifically, it was the look on his face as we left the detention center. He tried his best to hide it, but it was clear he didn’t know what else to do. There was a hopelessness in him. The look affected me so much that on the drive home, I’d literally blurted out my plan to join the military like it was a well-thought-out decision. After seeing the life rush back into his eyes, I knew I had to follow through.
Which was one of the reasons I was still in my car while he waited in the bar to see me for the first time in nearly four years. I wasn’t looking forward to facing him. Not after what happened.
After three years in the Marines, I’d been one of the first women to make it into Special Ops. I’d almost completed the training. It was a big deal, but just like everything else, I’d found a way to screw it up. At twenty-two I was bounced out on a dishonorable discharge. Great job, Tara.
I blew out a deep breath and grabbed my purse from the passenger seat. It was now or never.
The Miami heat was oppressive, but nothing compared to the desert. Triple-digit temps in full military gear was an entirely different kind of torture. This seemed almost pleasant in comparison. Stepping off the curb, I tugged at my white T-shirt, using it to wipe my forehead, and tucked my cell phone into the back pocket of my ripped jeans as I crossed the cracked, worn parking lot. Combat boots were probably a little much in this weather, but I liked the familiar way they hugged my feet.
As I passed a set of tinted car windows, I caught a glimpse of the tattoo on my upper arm: a picture of an eagle landing on a globe, with the words Semper Fi in a banner below. I pulled my sleeve down to cover it up. I’d gotten it with a few other recruits right after getting through boot camp. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now it only reminded me that most of my closest friends had been lost along the way. I told myself it was a tribute, but the truth was, it made me sick to look at it.
Sidestepping a constellation of crushed glass, I headed to a bar called the Ugly Tarpon Saloon. The door handle stuck to my palm as I gave it a yank, and I wiped the residue on my jeans, opening the door with my foot.
Inside it was pretty much like every other bar in Florida. Sure, there were pockets of culture to be had, but most of the state was painfully nondescript and littered with dumps like this, all fashioned with the same d├ęcor: bits of random crap on the walls, maybe a couple pool tables and, of course, the ever-present line of booths packed with overly tan drunks slurping half-empty beers. 
The place smelled of dribbled bourbon and tangy old popcorn, but they must have been known for their food, otherwise Dad wouldn’t have picked such a scummy place to meet for lunch. Thankfully, I didn’t see him at any of the tables, which meant I hadn’t kept him waiting. 
 A woman with tire-streak eyeliner passed me as I plopped down into a vinyl-clad booth, where a light poof of cigarette-stink burped from the cushions. To my right, a group of college boys sat along tipsy-legged tables and gave her their best “How you doin’” chin pump. I ignored them and threw my feet onto the torn cushions as the bartender across the room gave me a hard squint. Only a year over the legal drinking age, I still encountered my fair share of skeptics. 
I turned and stared him down, and after a moment, he looked away. Years ago I learned that most people preferred to avoid conflict. I’d been using that to my advantage ever since.
“Hey, Terror,” a voice came from the entrance of the bar.
A half smile bent my lips. There was only one person who called me that. 
“Hey, Harry,” I said, instead of Dad, volleying his verbal jab.
Dad was a tall, attractive man with short, graying hair. A salt-of-the-earth sort. The kind of guy who didn’t smile much, but when he did, it meant something. And gosh, I missed that smile. I scooted out of the booth as he approached, and just the feel of his strong hug and the smell of Old Spice made me regret staying away for so long.  
 “Good to see you, Tara,” Dad finally relented. He had a firm, solid voice, like a heavy door with a good swing, and my smile widened at the sound of it. 
“You, too...Dad. I’ve missed your face.” 
As we sat down, he held up two fingers, signaling the bartender, who gave him an understanding nod. Then came the concerned look I was expecting. I’d seen it a hundred times, but it still made my heart skip with guilt. He rested his elbows on the table, hands cradling his chin, and I braced myself for the oncoming dissection of my life.
“So, how’s my little girl?” he asked. 
I stiffened. He wanted details about the dishonorable, of course, and I should have thought of something to tell him, but I wasn’t ready. No matter whose fault it was, shame still colored my cheeks. Instead, I opted to skirt the issue with a brush off.
“Fine. I guess,” I answered.
Thankfully, he didn’t push.
“You look good,” he said, giving me the full once-over. “Except for the wardrobe.”
His words were a hint. No uniform. I pretended not to notice.
“This? It’s combat chic.”
He let out a deep breath. “Everything’s a joke—”
“Dad, really?” I leaned back in the booth. “Do we have to just start right in?”
“I’m your father. Someone’s got to do it.”
“Really?” I asked, eyeing the bar. “Because I’m twenty-two now, which kinda makes me an adult.”
“An adult who’s apparently still pushing boundaries.”
I sat up straighter, picking up on the disappointment in his voice, but he had no idea what I’d been through. I knew what he was thinking, that I’d gone wild, broken rules. Typical loose-cannon Tara. But it wasn’t like that. “The dishonorable discharge…it wasn’t…” I couldn’t bring myself to tell him. Silence hung in absence of my confession. 
“What matters is you’re back home.” Dad nodded. “Safe. That’s all I care about.”
I hesitated, feeling the need to explain, but the words died in my throat as I remembered the unwelcome hands on me, the force of strong arms holding me down. The details of my discharge went deeper than I’d let on over the phone. I hadn’t even told the whole truth to my superiors. I couldn’t prove it, so what was the point? The shame of admitting what actually happened kept me quiet.
Dad shook his head, clearly still dwelling on the topic. “It’s a bummer, you know? You could have had a great career. Now what?”
“I’ll figure it out,” I said, my voice spiking with conviction. “You grew up in the ’70s. Wasn’t everyone wandering around, trying to find themselves?”
 wasn’t.” 
“’Course not.”
Dad frowned, the lines on his whiskered face deepening. “I’m serious, you’re just gonna wing it from here? No grand plan?”
“Nope,” I flashed him a cheesy fake smile. “The whole world’s my oyster.”
But I wasn’t kidding about the first part. There was no grand plan; there wasn’t even a short-term plan. I had no idea what was next. Despite the sardonic front, having no set direction did bother me. I’d banked everything on a career in the Marines and now that was over. I dug my thumbnail into the wooden table avoiding Dad’s eyes.
I’d always envied people who knew exactly what they wanted to do with their lives. It was only by chance I’d found the military, but it worked for me. Ironically, the skills I’d acquired on the streets, what had gotten me arrested in the first place, was what made me so good at being a soldier. Funny how when you’re one of the “good guys,” pointing a gun at someone suddenly makes you the hero. Dad was right to be worried. I didn’t know what to do with myself. 
“Tara?” he said loudly as the bartender set down two steak sandwiches and a basket of fries.
I looked up and snapped back into focus. “Yeah?”
“I asked if you knew where you’re staying?”
“I...thought I might stay at the house,” I said, grabbing a fry.
Dad paused, finishing his bite. “Maybe you should stay with a friend.”
A friend? The suggestion felt like a betrayal. He was the only one in the world who cared about me and suddenly I wasn’t welcome home? 
“Why?” I asked in shock, my eyebrows raised in genuine misunderstanding.
“It’s been four years. You’ve barely spoken to Mitch. Never wrote,” Dad rubbed the back of his neck. “He’s a little…angsty about it.”
 I pressed my lips together and nodded. “No sweat. I should have my pick of homeless shelters, maybe find an unlocked car to crawl into...”
Dad’s eyebrows sank into a deep furrow. 
“I’m kidding. I’ve got places I can crash,” I said, hiding my hurt feelings with an eye roll. “But come on, does he have to turn into a whiny little girl about everything?” I blew away my wood shavings and looked up. My brother and I had our own issues, but I did miss him. “How’s he doing, anyway?”
“Good,” Dad answered. “He’s enjoying his senior year, already got accepted to a few colleges. Looks like it’ll be MIT, though.” 
“MIT?”
“I know. There’s an admissions counselor who calls every couple of months. They’re pretty much courting him at this point.”
“Wow,” I said, savoring the flavor of real food. “That’s great.”
“Didn’t get those brains from me. Makes me wanna go get a paternity test.” We both smiled, and Dad leaned back into the vinyl booth seat. “He’s been helping me finish an office I’m putting up in the backyard.”
“Really? Kid barely knows how to hold a hammer.”
“It’s not much, some finish work, light electrical. But you’d be surprised. He’s grown up a lot in four years.” Dad smirked. “The little brother you left is taller than you now.”
“Jeesh, that’s hard to swallow.”
Dad nodded. “So, listen...I’ve gotta run, but you’re coming to dinner tonight, right? We’ll talk more then.”
“Oh, so I can come to dinner but can’t sleep in my room?”
“I just don’t want you guys to fight,” he said, throwing some cash on the table and making another gesture to the bartender.
“Us? Fight?”  
“Never,” he teased. “We’ll see how it goes.” Dad smiled and pulled keys out of his pocket. “I’m heading back to the office. You need a ride somewhere?”
I laughed. “I have a car, Dad.” But the fact that he didn’t know made me realize how much distance had grown between us. “I’m gonna see about a job.” 
“Job? With who?”
“Vince.”
Dad’s eyes went wide. “Jesus, Tara—”
“It’s not like that, Dad,” I cut him off. Although I couldn’t deny, deep down I was looking forward to seeing my old fling. “Really. Vince is totally legit. He’s running his dad’s business now. Tropical fish.”
He seemed to use every muscle in his body to nod. “I see. Well...if he’s turned his life around, then...maybe.”
“Yeah, maybe. I think this could be good for me.”
As we got up from our booth I felt bad for making him worry. I shouldn’t have mentioned Vince. 
“Six o’clock, sharp. Pot roast,” he said, gripping his keys.
I threw my napkin onto my empty plate. “Yummy. I do love me some pot roast.”
“And hey...go easy on your brother,” he added. “He has a point. You could have written.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll cut Nancy some slack.”
He gave me a warning look. “He hates it when you call him that.”
“Uhh, yeah. Why else would I do it?”
Dad reached out for a hug, and I wrapped my arms around him, releasing the burden of all those months overseas and the years away. No matter what issues we had to work out, I was finally home. He kissed the top of my head like he always did, and although I didn’t mention how comforting it felt to be near him, how scared and alone I’d been in a world of sand and heat, how hard I’d fought, how much I’d missed him, I didn’t pull away.
“Missed you, Kiddo,” he said for me. “Glad you’re home.”
Maybe being discharged was a good thing, I thought as I watched him exit the bar. It was a second chance. A chance to not make my mother’s mistakes. I could be a better daughter. A better sister, even. This could be a fresh start.

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