Hot Velocity(3)

By: Elle James

The rest of the trip back to their post seemed like they were moving in slow motion. The medics worked furiously over Gunny and the other men who’d sustained injuries.

“Is he going to make it?” T-Rex leaned over his gunnery sergeant, thoughts on that sonogram photo of the man’s fourth child. The boy he’d always dreamed of having. For the first time in a long time, T-Rex closed his eyes and prayed.

Chapter Two

“Time to line up,” Sierra Daniels called out to the toddlers on the playground outside the Grizzly Pass Community Center. Some of the little ones headed her way. Others ignored her completely and continued to play with their favorite outside toys or apparatus.

Sierra couldn’t be angry with them. They were children with the attention spans of gnats, and so adorable she loved each one of them like she would her own. If she had any kids of her own. She sighed, pushing back against that empty feeling that always washed over her when she thought about how much she’d wanted to hold her own baby in her arms.

With a shrug, she called out again, forcing her voice to sound a little sterner. “Okay, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to line up for a game.” Though they were all under six years old, they seemed to have a keen sense of who they could push around and who they couldn’t. Sierra was 100 percent a pushover when it came to children.

Once all the boys and girls stood in front of her, Sierra instructed, “Let’s play follow the leader. Hands on the shoulders of the one in front of you, like this.” She placed the hands of one of the little girls on the shoulders of another. When each child had his or her hands on the one in front, Sierra led the little girl who was first in line around the play yard, weaving back and forth, creating a giggling, laughing snake of toddlers.

The community center had once been a US Army National Guard Armory. Eventually, the Montana National Guard moved its meeting location to a larger town and turned the building over to Grizzly Pass. It was now used as a community center for local events and the Mother’s Day Out day care program. There were also several offices in the building rented out to local businesses.

Sierra had been ecstatic to land a job as a caregiver to the small children who were too young to go to public school. Jobs were hard to come by in the small community, and she’d needed one when she’d filed for divorce.

She and the other caregiver, Brenda Larson, worked together to corral the little ones and see that they were happy, fed and learned something while they were at the center.

Brenda was inside with the babies and infants. The two women traded off between the babies and the more mobile toddlers.

Sierra led the children around the yard one more time and had angled toward the door to the armory when a truck pulled up and the driver honked the horn.

Her fists clenched and she tried not to glare at the man stepping down from the vehicle. The children picked up on her moods more than she’d ever realized. If she was sad or angry, tiny Eloisa would pucker up and cry her little eyes out. It broke Sierra’s heart to see the tiny girl with the bright red curls shed a single tear, much less a storm of them. She refused to give in to the temptation to yell and throw rocks at the man walking her way.

She pasted a fake smile on her face and waited until he was within twenty feet of her before she said in a patient but firm voice, similar to the one she used with her class, “Please, stop where you are.” Her smile hurt her cheeks, but she refused to release it.

Clay Ellis crossed his arms over his chest. “Get your things. You’re comin’ home.”

“I don’t live with you, Clay,” Sierra said, her voice singsong in an attempt to fool the children into thinking she was fine and that the angry man wasn’t scaring her, and therefore they shouldn’t be frightened either. She glanced down at the thirteen children gathering closer around her knees.

Eloisa stared from Clay to Sierra, her bottom lip trembling.

Oh, no. Sierra wouldn’t let Clay’s bad temper impact the little ones. “Come on, everyone. It’s time to go inside.”

“Like hell it is.” Clay stepped forward.

Eloisa screamed and flung her arms around Sierra’s legs, burying her face in Sierra’s slacks.

She laid her hand on the bright, soft curls and faced her ex-husband. “Clay, I’ll have to ask you to leave. You’re frightening the children.”

He didn’t leave. Instead, he walked up to her, grabbed her arm and pulled. “Quit playing around with these brats and get home. I’ve put up with enough of your nonsense.”

Sierra dug in her heels, refusing to go anywhere with the jerk. She’d put up with enough of his verbal and physical abuse. “We aren’t married anymore. You have no right to boss me around, now or ever. Let go of me.”

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