John lay in his bunk, the light bulb in the room's single lamp angled to hit the pages of the battered paperback novel he already planned to keep hidden beneath his pillow during the day and secretly devour each night. No way was he putting his closest connection to Summer back on the shelf for someone else to pick up.
He'd already sat up for hours to read it. It was slow going since he'd gone over the good parts two times. Jazzy had been right. The book was way better than porn to fuel the imagination, but it was the woman herself that had John insane.
John found himself picturing Summer looking like the heroine in her novel--a petite, curvy brunette with brilliant green eyes and a sharp wit. He knew the sharp wit was there in Summer just from reading her emails. Now, he had become obsessed with discovering if she looked like the heroine also. A double-edged sword, that. What if when he finally did see her, he found her unattractive? What then? Was it better to continue to fantasize in the dark, literally under the covers of his rack, or learn the truth sooner rather than later?
He wanted more than just his imagination. But how the hell did he get a photo of her? Should he ask? John remembered Morales saying his girl had sent him pictures of herself in a bikini. Hmm. Had he asked her to send those or did she send them on her own? And what did the fact that Summer posted no photo anywhere on her website mean?
What if she was hideous?
No, that wasn't possible. He somehow knew she would be exactly as he imagined her, and he found that image extremely attractive.
Then there was another thing that bothered him. Through their emails he had gotten to know her, the real woman, not just Summer the public persona. He wanted to know her real name.
His eyes opened wide as an idea came to him. Summer had sent Jazzy a get-well gift. She'd had it shipped directly from the store. Shouldn't there be a packing slip in it with her real name on it? With Jazzy being laid up, John had offered to take the cardboard shipping box and throw it out for him. It was probably still right where he'd left it, leaning next to the garbage bin in the MWR. John scrambled to pull his uniform pants over the boxer briefs he wore.
Ignoring the glances of those inside, he skidded into the room and headed directly for the trash, and there it was, the box he'd hoped to find. He didn't take the time to look for the paperwork then. He just grabbed the box and ran for the privacy of his own room.
There, behind the closed door, John pushed open the sides of the box. He saw a white form below the clear plastic which had wrapped the DVDs of Jazzy's favorite television series. With hands that shook, John opened the paper, and there in the top left corner was the name Maureen Mullen.
He smiled. Maureen. That sounded more like the person he had gotten to know. Somehow this amazing female managed to be both the warm, kind-hearted Maureen as well as the sexy and sultry Summer.
John had to reconcile himself that those two personas were actually contained within one incredible woman, an opinion he'd formed without ever meeting or even seeing a picture of her.
This online romance stuff was tough.
Romance? Shit. Had he really just thought that word? And was that what this thing with Summer--Maureen--had become? A romance?
All of John's obsessive thinking did nothing but raise more questions and supply no answers. One thing was clear--both Summer and Maureen occupied his thoughts more often than was healthy. Day and night, during missions, at chow, during his workouts at the camp gym, in bed...
He rose from the mattress and headed again for the place where he spent increasing amounts of time, the MWR.
At this ungodly late hour there was no line. John picked one of the two available machines and logged in.
Smiling, he found an email waiting for him from Maureen--he was beginning to think of her as that already. It wasn't much, just a hello and wishing him a good day, but simply finding it made him feel as good as if he had just won a million bucks.
He would have to watch it or the guys would know something was up. John realized he was smiling way more than usual, and Jazzy for one would definitely notice. They were a close group of men, but when it came to his love life, John was a very private person.
His love life...damn. He hadn't had one of those in a long time. To his amazement, he wasn't that upset he was thinking about having one now. But did she feel the same? He had to find out somehow.
Hitting Reply, he decided enough was enough. He wanted some answers before he got any more involved with this woman. Maybe his determination was caused by sleep deprivation. Or perhaps what had happened to Jazzy reinforced what John already knew--every moment could be his last.
John took a deep breath and plunged in headfirst.
I have a confession to make. I have read your book and I enjoyed it immensely. I think about your heroine--so smart and sexy--and wonder if you modeled her after yourself.
Since we have been corresponding, I think about you too and wonder. Things like, what do you look like, what does your voice sound like?
While I am confessing, I will also tell you that I looked at the packing slip in the box you sent Jazzy and found the name Maureen. Does anyone call you by your real name? If so, would you mind if I did?
Anyway, it is very late here. I look forward to talking with you tomorrow.
He hit the Send button and sat back from the shock that he had basically just confessed to this woman who should be a veritable stranger but wasn't, that he was attracted to her.
John hadn't exactly come out and said it, but with his track record of running and hiding from relationships, it might as well have been a love letter.