Just a Little Series (Part 1) by Tracie Puckett - Read Online
Just a Little Series (Part 1)
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Summary

A compilation of the first four parts: Just a Little Crush, Just a Little Embrace, Just a Little Sincerity, and Just a Little Promise.

JUST A LITTLE CRUSH
When a class assignment requires seventeen-year-old Julie to shadow someone on the job, she's overwhelmed by the decisions she'll have to make. After all, she has no clue what she wants from life post-graduation. So when her Uncle Charlie, Oakland's Chief of Police, suggests Julie fulfill her twenty hours of required job shadowing at the local police department, she's thrilled at his solution. Thinking she'll spend her days filing paperwork behind a desk, she finds herself quickly agreeing to his proposition. But Julie's expectations are quickly turned upside down when she meets Luke, the young and handsome (albeit somewhat stubborn) officer she's assigned to shadow on patrol.

With every hour she logs with Luke at the wheel, her feelings stir deeper, and Julie can't help but wonder if what she's feeling has developed into more than just a little crush.

JUST A LITTLE EMBRACE
Gone are the days of police patrol. With ten hours to go before completing her job shadowing project, seventeen-year-old Julie Little's assignment has switched gears, and now she's required to start living the lifestyle of every man (and woman) in uniform. Under Luke's command, Julie is obligated to complete her remaining hours through early morning exercise training. And despite her distaste for physical exertion, Julie's crush on her mentor continues to grow by leaps and bounds with each passing day. And just when she's certain that she's making progress in her relationship with Luke, Julie learns that the new guy in town has taken an interest in winning her heart... and as far as she's concerned, there's only room in her heart for one man... even if he still hasn't figured out that they're meant to be.

JUST A LITTLE SINCERITY
Plans for the Oakland Fall Ball are officially underway, and it's up to seventeen-year-old Julie Little to pull off a night her classmates will never forget. But with the recent tragedies that have torn through her life, Julie can't stay focused on the task at hand. With the added stress of the dance, family, and fragile friendships, she continues to struggle with the pain that comes with love and loss. And with the fate of her love life hanging in the balance, a close friend finally lays it all on the line; Julie will never be happy... until she finally lets Luke go....

JUST A LITTLE PROMISE
In the beginning, all she wanted was a sense of direction. Now, she's fighting in the name of love.

Seventeen-year-old Julie Little is under constant scrutiny. Try as she might, she can't make a single move without her uncle's permission--and Charlie will stop at nothing to keep her from Luke (even if that means putting her behind bars for an hour or two). But Charlie's overbearing behavior is the least of her worries. Derek is consumed with guilt. Luke is struggling to overcome his past. And Julie is on a diehard mission to change things that are completely out of her control... even if that means betraying the man she loves.

Published: Tracie Puckett on

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Just a Little Series (Part 1) - Tracie Puckett

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job."

Being a policeman?

No, he said, his nose finally brushing against mine. Protecting someone you care about.

And just as his lips were a moment away from mine, Luke’s cell phone rang. He dropped his head, closed his eyes for a moment, and finally stepped back to pull the phone from his pocket.

He stared at the screen in disbelief.

Bruno, he muttered, rolling his eyes. He looked up at the front yard to see Detective Bruno waving his phone in the air. Luke accepted the call and the two men simultaneously brought their phones to their ears.

What? he asked with an edge in his voice. He listened to Bruno on the other end, all the while watching him from across the yard. He kept his head low and lips covered, so I couldn’t interpret what the Detective was saying on the other end. And without another word to me or the other man on the line, Luke hung up the phone and shoved it in his pocket.

I’ve gotta hit the road, Julie, he looked beyond my shoulder so as not to meet my stare. Have fun tonight, and good luck with the contest.

Whoa, wait, I said, taking his arm as he started away. What’s going on? You just got here.

Duty calls—

You’re not on duty, I said, and you won’t be for the next month—

Julie, he shook his arm free from my grasp, good night.

As he walked away, farther and farther from the fire, my heart fell from my chest.

After all we’d been through, Luke was still running.

TWO

What in God’s name do you think you’re doing? Matt ripped a frozen pizza from my hands and tossed it in the trash.

Matt, I whined. I’m starving—

Then I’ll make you something to eat, he said. You can’t put that garbage in your body—

"That garbage is what I lived off of for sixteen years before coming to this house, I said. It hasn’t killed me—"

Yet.

I rolled my eyes and sank onto the barstool at the center island. I watched as Matt made his way through the kitchen, stopping at the refrigerator to retrieve a celery stalk and carrots before opening the cupboard for a simmering pan, two pots, and a handful of utensils.

Much to the surprise of everyone who knew him, Matt jumped right back into his normal routine after the Oakland PD carted Hannah, his unofficial girlfriend, off to jail. I, more than anyone, expected him to go into shock, break down, and completely exclude himself. But he didn’t; Matt only spent a day or two in the dumps. In no time at all, he’d picked himself up, brushed it all off, and moved on as though nothing had ever happened.

Just a heads up, Matt took a deep breath. I’m not gonna be able to make it to school Friday night.

Matt, if you bail on me—

Sorry, Julie, he said, dicing carrots. I’m scheduled for a shift at the bistro. I can’t call off.

Why did you sign up for the decorating committee if you knew you couldn’t do it? I asked, disappointed that he was the third person in a week to cancel. Your bailing leaves me with only two helpers to assemble the Fall Ball—

Sorry, he said again. I wish there was something I could do, but my hands are tied. You’ll figure it out; you always do. I’m sure someone will step up and volunteer.

Like who?

Ask Derek.

I’m not asking Derek.

Why not? he asked. He’s the perfect guy for the job. You say jump, he’ll jump.

Don’t be a jerk, Matt.

I’m not being a jerk, just stating the obvious. Matt tossed the diced vegetables into the pan. He watched in silence as they simmered, but he finally looked up to me long enough to shake his head. Honestly, I still can’t understand why you’d want to be friends with the guy. You remember what he did, don’t you?

Remember? How could I forget? He risked his life against his own flesh and blood to put me out of harm’s way. He leaned over Luke’s lifeless body and did everything he could think to do to help him, despite the fact that we’d given up hope that he’d pull through. He did all the things an amazing friend would do, and I was eternally grateful, despite what Matt, Charlie, and Luke thought about him.

I couldn’t help but smile as I remembered the sigh of relief Derek let out when the doctors came into the waiting room to deliver news on Luke’s surgery. He’d wrapped his arms around me, hugged me tight, and promised me that everything would be okay.

Yeah, Matt, I slid off the stool. "I remember perfectly well what Derek did. I’ll never forget; he was there for me when I needed a shoulder. He was being a friend. He was doing your job."

Without giving Matt a chance to defend himself, I stormed out of the kitchen. I walked through the house and out the front door, chancing the autumn breeze without a sweater or jacket. My bare arms tightened against the cool air as I walked to the house next door and rang the bell.

Hey, Derek opened the door wide enough to let me in. Aren’t you freezing?

I’m okay, I said, my teeth chattering as I stepped inside and closed the door. He stepped back and pulled a quilt off the couch and wrapped it around my arms. He came in closer, draped his arms around my body, and held me for a few long seconds.

Better? he rested his head on top of mine.

I nodded.

With obvious hesitation, he pulled away and headed for the kitchen. Can I get you anything?

Want to order a pizza? I followed him across the room with the quilt draped over my shoulders like a cape. I’m starving.

Matt confiscated the goods?

Again, I threw myself back on the couch.

Though I fought the urge to look, I let my eyes wander down to the floor. I fixed my eyes on the spot where Luke’s body had fallen, lifeless and bloodied. It was in that exact spot that I held onto him, begging for him to stay, praying that I wouldn’t lose him. And it was right there, right in that very place that I finally let myself accept that he was dying, that I may never hear his voice again.

Though the carpet had been changed, the wound had been healed, and the shooter had been locked away, nothing could change the memory of what happened the night Hannah pulled the trigger.

You okay? Derek sat down in the opposite chair and flipped through a thick phone book.

Fine, I said, eyeing him as he thumbed through the yellow pages. What are you doing?

Looking for the number.

I pulled my cell phone from my pocket, held down the second button, and speed dialed Giovanni’s Pizzeria. I tossed the phone to Derek and pulled the phonebook from his lap and set it aside.

"Only you would have food on speed dial, he grinned, lifting the phone to his ear and smiling at me the whole time he placed the order. Twenty minutes, he said when the call ended. What do you want to do in the meantime?"

I bit my lip and looked down at my feet.

I’d spent weeks contemplating whether or not I’d ever bring it up again, but part of me yearned to put together the parts of the puzzle that were still a little hazy. In fact, he was just about to explain everything right before Hannah showed up and put a bullet in his plan. He’d offered to show it to me once before, to do whatever he could to help me understand.

You said you had a box…an explanation of some sort? He nodded in confirmation. I’d like to see it, I met his gaze again, if it’s still okay?

His eyes widened, but only for a moment. He drew his brows together, watched me with sad blue eyes, and then he finally nodded.

Yeah, absolutely, he whispered, but he still sat motionless in his chair. He didn’t seem to be in any hurry to make a move, so I looked on and waited for him to find the courage he needed. A moment passed before he patted his knees, stood up, and headed to the bedroom at the back of the house. I got up and followed him, watching from the threshold as he pulled a blue shoebox from the top of his closet. He stared at the box—expressionless—for a few long seconds.

You don’t have to worry, I stepped into the room.

Derek turned back and managed a halfhearted smile. I beg to differ.

I reached forward and took the box from his hand. Taking a step back to find the corner of his bed, I sat down and started to open the lid.

Julie, Derek said, and almost so quietly that I’d barely heard him. He took a spot on the mattress next to me and put his hand on top of mine. Please remember that—

You’re not him, I squeezed his fingers. Believe me, Derek. I know.

With a deep breath and heavy heart, I pulled the lid off the box. I looked inside and sifted through the pile of pictures, newspaper clippings, and envelopes. I skimmed the articles that quoted my father on the night he busted up a drug ring and made the arrest against Derek’s dad. I chose to pass on reading the familiar clippings that outlined the gory details of my parents’ murder. The trial articles were nothing I hadn’t read a million times, and the last thing I needed was to relive those memories all over again.

But as I reached the bottom of the box, I pulled a faded picture off the pile and stared at it with great intensity.

I was three, Derek pointed to the young boy in the arms of Conan Milton. And Dad, he took a deep breath. Well, this might be the only picture we have together. He was pretty much absent… even in the early years.

I nodded and lifted the picture higher to get a better view.

That’s how I remember him, Derek continued, always gone or strung out.

Is this your mom? I asked, pointing to the vivacious blonde in the photo.

Derek grinned, Beautiful, huh?

I nodded and studied the familiar characteristics in her expression. Though Derek had his father’s eyes, his traits seemed to strongly favor his mother’s.

You look like her.

And though the similarities were there, I had trouble believing that the woman was his mother. She looked nothing like how I’d pictured; I’d always imagined her as weak and frail, helpless against her husband. After all, I’d convinced myself that any woman who’d be dumb enough to marry a murderous psychopath couldn’t be much of a winner herself.

She was amazing, Derek said, almost as if he’d just read my mind. Julie, she was loving, kind, soft-spoken, but she never knew how to stand up for herself. She always found herself in bad situations, getting mixed up with the wrong kind of people.

Did she know… about your dad… the operation he was running?

Not because he told her, he took the picture from my hands to study it for himself. And not in the beginning. But his lies started piling up as the money rolled in. She wasn’t stupid; she knew what was going on. But by then, I was five, and she was pregnant with Hannah.

Why’d she stay with him?

She’d made a commitment, and she promised to see that commitment through to the end—no matter what.

That’s… admirable.

"Stupid, he said definitely. I think the word you were looking for was stupid. She had a million opportunities to leave, to run as far and as fast as possible. But she never did. Her unconditional love for my father wasn’t admirable, Julie. It was pathetic and selfish."

He reached into the box and sifted through all the articles I’d chosen not to read. He dug through to the very bottom and pulled a piece of white stationery from the pile.

She left this note, he opened the note. The night your parents were murdered… she knew what he was going to do, and she couldn’t stop him. She knew he’d either kill himself or end up in prison until he took his last breath. She couldn’t fathom living another day without him. He passed the note to me. The police found it on the nightstand next to an empty pill bottle.

Two words and nothing more: I’m sorry.

That’s it? I asked, watching him. He took the note and tucked it back inside the box. His eyes filled with tears at the memory of his mother’s suicide, and I couldn’t begin to find the right words. He took a few jagged breaths and worked to hold back the tears welling in his eyes. Not knowing what else to do, I took his hand and squeezed his fingers. All I could muster were whispered apologies. I’m so sorry, Derek.

And with one slow blink, the tears let loose and trickled down his cheek. I assumed that his heartbreak was nothing more than an effect of unveiling the memories of all the things he’d loved and lost, but the longer I held his hand, the more I felt as though there was something more behind his tears.

I keep going back to what you said that night, he said, and he used his free hand to wipe his face. He closed his eyes and dropped his head, and I simply held on tighter. "I keep hearing your voice on constant replay, and I can’t shake it. His blood runs through your veins, Derek. His evil courses through your body."

My heart felt heavy as he pulled his hand from mine. There was nothing I could say or do to take it back; I’d been hurt, and I was angry. I was caught up in the moment, and I said things that could never be unsaid. And I’d hurt him….

It haunts me every day, he said, and his voice was still heavy with remorse. "I know I can’t change who I am. I can’t change the circumstances, and I hate that I can’t start over. I am who I am, and that’s never going to change. I grew up knowing what kind of monster he was, and I never wanted to turn out like him."

And you didn’t, I took his hand again. I thought he’d pull away, but he didn’t; he took another jagged breath and let me hold his fingers beneath my own. "I should’ve never said those things, Derek. I was hurt and confused. I hated that I’d trusted you and that you hadn’t given me the same respect. I was angry that you hadn’t trusted me with the truth. But you have to know how sorry I am. I never meant to hurt you. I’d do anything to take it back—"

But you were right, he said, and his voice had never sounded so honest. "My dad murdered two innocent people, Julie. My mom killed herself, and Hannah is sitting in a jail cell awaiting trial for attempted murder. It is just like you said. It’s in my blood."

What?

Being a killer.

"You’re not, I turned into him. I lifted his chin, making sure he had no option but to meet my gaze. That’s not who you are."

I try to tell myself that, he took a deep breath. I could see the struggle written in his expression, the pain building in his eyes. He didn’t believe that he was anything but a product of his raising. He didn’t trust himself enough to believe the truth. But every time I see you with Luke, he continued. Every time I sense you thinking about him, part of me wishes he would’ve just died the night Hannah shot him.

Get rid of the box, Derek, I said quickly, trying not to let his last words rattle me. "You are not defined by the things your family has done. I know who you are, and this isn’t you talking. That box… everything in it… it’s holding you back. It’s trash. You need to stop holding on to it. Let—it—go. You need to move on. We both do."

How can you be so sure, Julie? he asked, and I could see that he truly needed an answer. "If I don’t know, then how can you? How can you really know who I am?"

Listen to me, I held him tighter than I ever had. "I trust my instincts, Derek. And let me tell you something; I rarely see the good in people, and all I can see is the goodness in you. So if you can’t trust yourself, then trust me. I know you’re different. I believe in you."

THREE

You wanna tell me what that was all about the other night? I threw a sideways glance in Luke’s direction as he took long strides across the dark parking lot.

Meaning? he suddenly walked faster.

I ran up beside him to keep up with his quick pace. He was on a mission; he wore his serious, stern expression—one that told me he meant business. He kept his eyes fixed straight forward and didn’t