Montana SEAL Protector by Debra Parmley

CHAPTER1

Mama always said being late was rude.

Ellen Young could almost hear her mother’s voice saying it again, though her mother had passed three years ago.

She clenched her jaw as she climbed the front steps of the Triple C Ranch house in Eagle Rock Montana hating the fact that she would start off being late. The last of the eight women to arrive, she’d been delayed in the Columbus Ohio airport for four hours, each minute making her more nervous with worry that someone would recognize her.

They’d given her a long blonde wig, which covered her dark hair, though it didn’t go with her dark eyebrows and eyelashes. Her clothing, black leggings, and a big grey T-shirt, were meant to make her look closer to sixteen than twenty-five, but she wasn’t convinced it was a good disguise. Since she often had to buy clothes in the children’s teen section, she wasn’t convinced this outfit made her look younger.

As a kindergarten teacher, she usually dressed for sitting on the floor with the children during story time, for games, finger painting, school glue, and glitter. Putting her in a woman’s business suit and a gray wig would have been a better disguise, in her opinion.

The Courage and Confidence Center, also affectionately known as Three C’s Ranch, was the newest center to open and the eight women were the first to attend. These centers in the U.S. were for women who had escaped domestic abuse situations or other attacks. They came to the centers to learn to defend themselves along with other skills to help them transition to living on their own. They were there to learn self-confidence and skills to help them when they left.

Ellen was lucky to be here. The wait list was long and not every woman got in. Something could derail them. A doctor had to certify she was clear of alcohol and drugs, and fit to travel, swim, ride horses and take self-defense classes. Her finances had to be in place, and there could be no upcoming court appearances. Once at the center, she would stay until her time was done. If she had to leave for any reason, other than an authorized day trip set up by the center, she couldn’t come back.

The nonprofit centers had generous donors, but the women had to make a financial contribution using a sliding scale based upon their income. Ellen had a small nest egg she’d been building during the three years she’d worked at Washington Elementary. She’d been dipping into it, to pay bills, since she couldn’t go back to teaching elementary school children. The children’s safety would always come first.

Rigby Mortimer was still at large.

She pushed the thought out of her head, reminded herself that Mortimer couldn’t find her here and that eventually they would catch him.

At the top of the steps, she walked to the big front door of the lodge, pushed it open and then walked into the great room.

One of the center’s employees had told the limo driver, Sam, that a Mr. Buck Harris would give her a ride up to the ranch house in his truck, and she should come on in once she got there. Dinner would already be in progress.

So, following directions, she walked in and then stood in the middle of the room, looking around at the log walls, large wooden beams, and antler chandeliers, wondering what to do next.

Buck, who’d insisted on carrying her bags in, left them just inside the front door, and went to the barn to park the truck.

On the left side of the room was a large brown leather couch, and two brown leather love seats. A large stone fireplace reached to the ceiling.

The dining area was on left side of the room toward the back, with log walls and heavy wooden beams from which antler chandeliers hung.

A woman who looked to be native American with dark eyes and long dark hair came out of the dining area to greet her. “Ellen, welcome!” She smiled and reached out her hand as she came closer. “I’m Leah White Crane. We’re so glad you finally made it.”

“Nice to meet you,” Ellen said as they shook hands. “I was pretty worried for a while,” she admitted.

“Yes, I imagine you were,” Leah said “For many of our ladies, the trip here is the scariest thing that has happened to them since the most recent act of aggression they’ve experienced. Would you like me to show you to your room first, so you can rest and freshen up, or would you rather join us for dinner now?”

“I’d like to join everyone for dinner now,” Ellen said. “I can shower later.”

Bad enough she was late. She needed to be with the other women, part of the class from the start, not off doing her own thing. That would not be a good way to start.

“Then follow me,” Leah said, “And I’ll introduce you to everyone.” She waved her hand at a desk to the right of the room. “Normally that’s where Cecelia, our secretary and receptionist sits. She’s at the dinner table with the others tonight.”

Ellen followed Leah to the dining room, taking everything in.

A long rectangular table which sat fourteen was nearly full. The other seven women had already arrived. Two more women were seated along with one man.

She noticed each chair had the three C’s logo carved into the back.

Leah began the introductions. “Cecelia, here at this end of the table, is our secretary and receptionist.”

Ellen realized the woman was blind. She spoke loud enough so the woman would know where she was. “Nice to meet you, Cecelia.”

Cecelia turned her face toward Ellen. “It’s my pleasure,” she said. “Let me know if you need anything. I’m almost always at my desk.”

“Thank you, I will,” Ellen said.

“Now, the other ladies, on this side of the table, we have Penelope who goes by Red, then Karla and Neecie,” Leah said. “On the other side of the table we have Chyna, Tamara, Jo-Ann, and Janelle.”

“Nice to meet you, ladies,” Ellen said.

The women all responded with greetings.

“Moving on down this side,” Leah said, “is Emma Ives, our cook, and George Ives, our maintenance man. They have a house not far from here, on the property.”

“Nice to meet you, Ellen,” Mrs. Ives said.

“Likewise,” Ellen smiled. “Dinner sure smells good.”

George Ives patted his wide belly. “You know she’s a good cook. This is one sign. Welcome, Ellen, pull up a chair here next to me and dig in.”

“Thank you, Mr. Ives, I will.” She pulled out a chair on his end of the table and sat.

“None of that Mr. and Mrs. now, we are just George and Emma,” he said.

Ellen smiled. You couldn’t help but feel comfortable around George. There was just something about him.

Buck walked in and Leah said, “You’ve already met Buck Harris, our ranch foreman, he lives over the stables.”

“Yes, we’ve met,” Ellen said. She directed her attention to him. “Thank you for bringing my bags in.”

“Good to see you again,” he said. “I’m just here long enough to load up some biscuits.” He leaned over the table and started putting meat in between two biscuits before wrapping them in his napkin.

“Why you can’t sit at the table long enough to eat a biscuit or two, I’ll never know,” Emma fussed at him.

“I’ve got horses to take care of,” he said.

“And you’ve already had to come pick me up,” Ellen added.

“Now that was no trouble, young lady,” he said. “Don’t you worry about that.”

“Oh, good,” she said.

“Now if a certain red head hadn’t taken it upon herself to ride without asking permission,” he looked down the table at Red. “I wouldn’t have had a mare to go find and the same red headed young lady would not have had to go to the hospital in town.”

“It won’t happen again,” she muttered. “And I was fine.”

“Make sure it doesn’t,” he said.

Interesting. I wonder what happened?Ellen tilted her head to look down the table at Red. Clearly the woman had apologized as much as she was going to.

Leah, noting Ellen’s expression, chimed in. “Red decided to ride one of the horses without asking Buck. The horse took off, she’d never ridden one before.”

Buck interrupted. “She thought it would be like those motorcycles she rides. Just kick start it and it goes. But horses don’t like to be kick started and the horse threw her. She got knocked out.”

Leah said, “She got hurt because she didn’t follow the rules. After we found Red unconscious, we had to take her to the hospital to be checked out and make sure she was okay.”

Red was pushing her food around on her plate, with a sullen expression, not looking at Leah.

Leah, watching her, said, “I imagine if someone went up to one of your friends’ motorcycles and decided to climb on and ride it, they would not take that lightly.”

“No,” Red shook her head and frowned. “They wouldn’t. Someone would get a load of hurt.”

“Just as you shouldn’t do that with a motorcycle, you shouldn’t do that with someone’s horse,” Leah said.

Now she addressed all the women at the table and her voice turned stern. “Ladies we have rules here for a reason. I suggest you follow them. You certainly wouldn’t want to be kicked out before your time is up because you failed to follow the rules. If you have a question about any of the rules, come to me and we’ll discuss them. If it applies to the horses, talk to Buck. He’s the one who takes care of the horses and has the final say.”

Buck paused in the doorway holding his biscuits and directed his attention to Red. “I could always use some help with the horses,” he said. “If you want to learn.”

Red seemed to perk up hearing that.

“But I don’t want people messing around in the barn if I’m not there,” he said. “There’s a lot of dangerous things out there.” Then with a nod to all, he was out the door, heading back to his horses.

Ellen wondered if Red would take him up on that. She hoped so. It looked like Red was interested in the horses.

Janelle sat rubbing her forehead.

Leah’s voice, softer now, asked, “How is your headache?”

“The aspirins helped,” Janelle said. “And it went away, but it feels like it’s trying to come back.”

“There’s nothing planned after dinner tonight, so you can relax.” Leah smiled at her. “Hopefully with rest you’ll feel better in the morning.”

* * *

The next morning,Ellen sat with the rest of the ladies in class waiting for their first self-defense class. A former Green Beret would be teaching them. One of the Brotherhood Protectors, a local bodyguard service which hired highly skilled military veterans had sent one of their men to teach the classes.

When their instructor walked in, all the women took notice. Barrett Williams was a very built guy. Ellen had never been around men who worked out like he must have done to maintain his strong physique. She found him more than a little intimidating.

He took roll call to learn their names and looked at each woman for a moment, like he was memorizing who they were. He was a man who paid attention. It seemed he paused a few moments longer looking at Chyna, whose green eyes had widened in what appeared to be sudden hero worship.

Chyna was a small woman, like Ellen, and she noted that she and Chyna were the smallest women in the group. Hopefully they’d be paired together for the physical fighting. Ellen wasn’t keen on the idea of fighting someone bigger and stronger than her.

That part of the class wasn’t going to be easy. Ellen had spent her days teaching small children that it was not okay to fight. Now she had to learn how to fight. She’d never hit another person in her life. No one had ever been physical with her before she’d been attacked in the parking lot.

Her sister Elizabeth was ten years older than Ellen. They hadn’t grown up fighting over toys or getting physical with each other. Elizabeth was always taking care of other children and animals. So, it was no surprise she’d gone into nursing. Theirs had been a loving, peaceful home, full of helpers and healers. Something Ellen wished all children could be blessed with as they grew up.

She watched, listened, and noted the way Chyna followed Barrett with her eyes.

Oh, that girl has it bad. And it’s going to get in the way of her learning what she needs to learn. If she’s not paying attention that could be bad if she’s my fighting partner. I wish I could tell her to pay attention.

Ellen had always been a serious student and loved taking classes. This one, though intimidating, could one day save her life.

Red was talking now, saying, “None of these girls look like they could kick my ass or like they’d even want to.”

“Women,” Barrett corrected her.

Good. He’ll stay in control of the class. Red is apparently going to be one of those kinds of students. The kind that make you carry extra aspirin to fight off the headache dealing with a difficult student can bring.

“You’d be surprised the damage even a small woman fighter can do, especially if she has the training,” he said.

As he went on, she turned her full attention to what he was saying, ignoring how handsome he was and how Chyna was reacting to him.

Red’s mouthiness continued. She wasn’t the type to stop. But it pulled no reaction from him. Barrett was fully in control of his class and let Red and the others know it.

Ellen couldn’t help but admire that.

She made herself focus on his words, trying to ignore the other women and to turn her internal thoughts off as well. It was essential to remember everything in case she was ever in a bad situation again. It was no small thing to live with a stalker out there whose intent was to do her harm. She had to be ready for anything.

He’d just told them the first half hour would be for conditioning. Push-ups, sit ups, squats, planks, some yoga, and tai chi.

Well, she wouldn’t need to join a gym. Used to being active at her school, she’d never wanted to spend the money to join one. Now she’d get training from this uber fit military guy. The exercise would be good for her, so she wouldn’t complain about that.

Though Red would. And she was.

I hope he gives her extra push-ups if she keeps that up. He’s having to spend too much time dealing with her. We could be doing sit ups already.

She kept her reaction internal and the expression off her face. She was good at being the quiet person in class. It kept attention off her, just the way she liked it.

Leah White Crane had entered and was sitting on a chair in the back observing.

Ellen wondered if having her in the classroom would tone Red down and if Leah would be attending all their classes.

Now he was asking them to line up for a jog to get warmed up.

“I’m already warm,” Judy said in a low voice that Ellen could hear, and then she fanned herself. With her brown hair and freckles, Ellen could imagine what Judy might have looked like as a child. A mischievous one.

Tamara, beside Judy, giggled, and Ellen imagined her too.

Funny how adults in a class show signs of their younger days with their behavior.

Her best friend, Monique, who was also an elementary school teacher, said she could tell these things by watching adults. Now she had Ellen doing it too.

Those two would’ve been the gigglers. Red would be interrupting for attention and getting into trouble. Chyna would be the stary eyed romantic one.

She hadn’t watched the other women to guess how they might have been, yet.

When they moved on to doing planks, even Ellen had to pause and swallow hard at the sight of Barrett showing them the proper form.

Oh, my goodness, that’s hot. Okay, Ellen, focus now and learn how to do them right.

They finished planks, then moved on to push-ups, which she barely got through and finally it was time for water and instruction.

“Situational awareness,” he announced as the topic.

The phrase wasn’t one she was aware of, and it made her want to reach for her phone to look it up. But her cell phone was turned off now that she was at the center. She wouldn’t be using that old number again. She also couldn’t look anything up. She didn’t even have a laptop. The only way to look something up was to go to the computer room, get permission and sign up for her time. The realization made her frown.

As he explained what it meant, she desperately wanted to take notes. That was how she learned best, writing things down. She glanced over to Leah, who looked at her and raised an eyebrow.

Ellen gestured like she was writing with a pen on paper.

Leah shook her head and pointed to Barrett, clearly wanting Ellen to pay attention.

Turning beet red, and feeling chastised, Ellen turned back to face Barrett. She sat listening, as still as a statue and hoped she could remember everything he said.

A rebellious little part of her thought, Why the hell can’t we take notes? It wouldn’t hurt anything or anyone.

She’d never not been allowed to take notes before, and it didn’t feel good to her. For the first time in the class, she felt like she truly didn’t belong there. Her happy bubble now popped and deflated, her new goal was to just make it through this class and any others and then graduate from the program.

If I only had a notebook and pen.

Then she realized she didn’t even have a notebook with her to write in.

Well damn. The minute we get to go buy toiletries that is going to be on my shopping list. Notebook and pen.

The fact that she was swearing, in her head, would have been remarked on by any of her close friends and family. Because Ellen did not swear. Not out loud. Her mother was a preacher’s daughter, and, in the house Ellen was raised in, no one ever swore.

She’d picked up a few words in college, but she wouldn’t say them out loud.

Her world was one spent with little children and swearing did not belong in that arena which had been a safe and sweet one until Rigby Mortimer came along.

She’d never guessed the new assistant janitor at Washington Elementary was a crazy person or that he was obsessed with her. Since meeting him, she swore in her head. It was a way of releasing stress.

He’d made her safe, sweet world one of terror.

And now no one knew where he was.

She wished she could go back to her old world, the one before she met Rigby Mortimer. The one where she never felt like swearing and felt safe.

But that world was gone, destroyed by his crazy obsession with her. There was no going back.

Her only consolation was that now he wouldn’t know where she was. Way out here in Montana, so far from Ohio, he’d never find her.

Barrett had gone on to talk about OODA loops and some Colonel in the Air Force who had come up with OODA, this Colonel that Ellen was now going to have to look up, because she couldn’t remember what Barrett had said.

That was one problem she’d had since Rigby Mortimer had grabbed her in the parking lot of the school and tried to take her away in his truck. She’d lost the ability to concentrate without thoughts of the attack creeping into her head.

Maybe if I explain to Leah later why I need a notebook… and hey, I’ll bet the other women probably need one too.

Red suddenly smacked her hands together, making Ellen jump, as she shouted “Bam, upside the head!”

Barrett ignored her and kept talking as if nothing had happened. Then suddenly he was giving them homework and the class was near its end.

I’ll bet he’s glad this class is over. I wonder if he regrets signing up to teach us. That would have worn me out. I’ll take teaching the little ones any day over teaching adults who interrupt constantly.

Somehow, a chorus of five-year-old’s didn’t wear her out the way someone like Red could. She’d never been so worn out by a class in her life. Physically and mentally. She wanted to take a warm shower and a long nap.

Sometimes thinking about Rigby Mortimer made her feel tired or maybe it was the fact that she still had dreams that woke her. Then she had trouble going back to sleep because he’d seemed near enough to grab her. Ellen couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept for more than five hours, and this had gone on for months.

She hoped being at the center would help her with that problem.

At least the homework isn’t hard to remember. Since I can’t write the instructions down.

Their homework was to learn how to find and remember numbers on buildings they were in, just in case they needed to call the police and report where they were. It was something which had never occurred to her before.

In her previous life, a lot of things hadn’t occurred to her. She’d sailed along without a care in the world, without any idea that bad men were out there waiting to grab her.

They were all going on an outing Saturday, the women’s first shopping trip to town for any toiletries and things they needed. As the women had just arrived from all over the country, just like her, making their way in disguise, they hadn’t been given a chance to buy things they needed or wanted. Like Epsom salts or bubble bath which were on her list. Both of which sounded very good right now. She hoped a relaxing bath in the evenings would help her to start sleeping better.

This shopping trip will be a strange one, all of us together.

She glanced around the room at the other women. Chyna had taken a small notebook out and was probably writing down the assignment.

Good. I can ask her if I can copy her notes later. I hope she took good notes.

Leah was explaining about the shopping trip. There was a special arrangement in place with the store and a few of the Three C’s employees would go along as supervisors.

That must be for security since Buck would be going and a couple of those Brotherhood Protectors guys. Like the one teaching our class. This simple trip to the local drugstore isn’t so simple.

She sighed.

Are we going to have to be like spies in the movies? Always on the run, looking over our shoulders? This is not the quiet life I wanted. A little house with a white fence, flowers in the yard and my children playing beneath a tree. Half a day at school teaching Kindergarten and the rest at home with my little family.

That she couldn’t have that dream now, or maybe ever, made her sad.

* * *

Travis “Ballistic”Bannerman had lived and breathed being a Navy SEAL for ten years. Through two marriages, two divorces, the birth of one son, and the death of his second ex-wife. For each of the ten years he’d had incredible luck as a SEAL and that luck along with his training and skills had led to the nickname “Ballistic” which had stuck. Many times, bullets headed his way could have and should have killed him. It was too bad his good luck didn’t extend to his love life.

Shirlene, his first wife, had a thing for Navy men and couldn’t stay out of other men’s beds while he was deployed. Their marriage hadn’t even lasted one year or made it past the first eight-month deployment. Though he’d warned Shirlene that he could be sent overseas, on a mission he couldn’t talk about, somewhere even his mother wouldn’t know he was at, his wife had claimed she could handle it. But the fact was, at the end of the day, she couldn’t.

When confronted about the other men, she’d shouted, “I had to talk to someone! You were never there!” The having to talk to someone, that part he got. It was the getting naked and jumping into bed with all those other Navy guys that he could not tolerate.

His second marriage he’d thought would last forever. Linda only wanted him, and she was a great mother. But then, out of the blue, she’d wanted a divorce. He’d loved her with his whole heart and hearing that she couldn’t spend another day married to him had broken his heart. But he still loved her, so, he’d given her what she wanted.

Then he’d walked away and thrown himself into the work of the teams. Twice divorced, he was done with marriage. Now he would just concentrate on the job. In some ways being a SEAL had saved his life. And his teammates who understood him were the brothers who helped him to make it through.

What he didn’t know at the time of the divorce, was that Linda was dying of cancer. When she moved in with her mother, he’d thought she was just going back to the home she’d grown up in, to recover from the divorce which had wrecked them both.

She’d kept her secret until it was too late. Too late for him to be at her side, holding her and telling her how much he loved her. Too late to help her with their son, as he grew. Why the hell she’d thought this was the best thing to do, he’d never know. And by the time he’d found out about it, it had been too late to argue with her. She’d broken his heart a second time when she passed, leaving things that way.

Now he would concentrate on his son and being the best father he knew how to be. He felt that he’d let Linda and Scotty down. He would never let his son down again.

Scotty was growing faster than he’d realized.

He now had full custody of his son. Linda’s mother couldn’t take care of him anymore, but she’d been taking care of the boy while he cycled out of the teams.

Travis had given his chosen career up for his son and walked away.

Now Travis planned to spend the rest of his life raising his boy and making sure his son knew how much he was loved and how much Travis had loved his mother.

The call from Hank Patterson, a SEAL vet, and the head of the Brotherhood Protectors, when it came, was like a tap on the shoulder from a guardian angel. One vet looking out for another. The Protectors talked and as they were from various US military branches and stayed in touch with men they’d been on missions with, word often spread quietly that another good guy was getting out and needed to find a new life path. Hank offered that option and as a result his guys were tight, and always worked well together.

Travis would join the Brotherhood Protectors and move with his son to Montana.

He and his boy would make a new start out west, in the land of horses and cowboys, amid good old fashioned American values, like his father and his grandfather had taught him. He could think of no better place to raise a child.

* * *

Ellen was dreaming again,this time in the unfamiliar bed in her new room at the center. Unlike the shelter she’d been staying in before, she had her own room here, and there was no one to hear her or to wake her from the bad dreams she often had.

Rigby Mortimer was leaning on his mop, just outside the door of her classroom. “I can carry those for you,” he said.

Again. No matter how many times she turned him down, he was always wanting to carry things for her.

“Thanks,” she said. “But these aren’t heavy at all. I’ve got them.”

Still, he moved in front of her, to open the door which led outside. Pushing it open, he stood holding the door, while she walked through.

“Thank you,” she said.

“See you tomorrow,” he said.

“Good night,” she said.

She was halfway to her car when she realized he’d made a mistake.

Tomorrow is Saturday, so he won’t see me tomorrow. But I’m not going to go back to correct him.

She set the milk crate on the ground and popped her trunk. Then she bent down to get the milk crate and set it inside.

As she closed the trunk and turned around, there he was.

Rigby Mortimer stood in front of her, blocking her path to move away.

Why is he standing so close?

He smiled at her. “I’m taking a dinner break, now,” he said. “Come with me. I’ve got a roast and vegetables in the crock pot and it’s too much food for me to eat by myself.”

“Oh,” momentarily surprised, Ellen didn’t know what to say. “No, I can’t. Thank you though.”

“Sure you can,” he insisted. “You’re hungry, aren’t you? You skipped lunch today.”

How does he know I skipped lunch?

As if he’d read her mind, or the expression on her face, he said, “You had that meeting with the principal and then you stayed to redecorate your classroom. You stayed a lot longer than usual, tonight. That apple on your desk must not have lasted long. You must be hungry. I have a chocolate pie from the diner for dessert.”

How does he know I had an apple on my desk? Janitors must see everything. Of course, he would have seen the apple peel in the trash when he cleaned my room. But he hasn’t done that yet.

Her stomach growled, giving away that she was hungry.

“See?” he smiled. “I’m right. You are hungry and I have a good hot dinner waiting for both of us.” He stepped back and gestured to her. “Come on. I’ll drive.”

“No, I can’t.” She moved around the side of her car and unlocked it to get in.

“Then you can follow me,” he said. “We won’t have to come back for your car.”

“I’m not going to follow you,” she said. “I can’t have dinner with you.”

It was as if a flip switched inside him.

He grabbed her wrist, and yanked her around, making her drop her keys and purse. “Yes, you can,” he said. “I’ve gone to a lot of trouble for you.”

“Let me go!” she yelled and tried to pull her wrist away. “I’m not going to have dinner with you! Not now, not ever!”

What was wrong with him?

Instead of letting go, he yanked harder, pulling her against his chest, as his other hand grabbing her ponytail. “Never is a long time, sweetheart,” he said. “But forever starts tonight.”

He started pulling her toward his truck, which she noticed was parked much closer to her car than it had been this morning when she got to work.

Twisting and turning she tried to get away but his grip on her ponytail controlled her head and the direction they were heading. She couldn’t get him to let loose of that ponytail.

Twisting and turning in the sheets, she fought in her sleep to get away.

In the room next door, Red smashed her foot into the wooden furniture and cursed, loud. “Damn logs! Why’d they put that table there?”

Her yell woke Ellen, who sat up in the tangle of sheets, sweating.

Oh my God. I’m still dreaming of him, even here.

She’d hoped once she made it to Montana, far away from the city where she’d been attacked, she wouldn’t have any more bad dreams about that night.

She closed her eyes.

Please, God. I just want those dreams to go away.