Thirty-four year old Vicki Laramie must learn to trust before she can love, but she might die trying.While Vicki’s children grapple with the death of their father -- a man whom she’s successfully fabricated as loving, a lie her rebellious teenager recognizes -- she must find a way to support her family and find a role model for her boys. She never intends to fall for Staff Sergeant Chase, her best friend’s son, who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She’d much rather choose a safer man to love, but her children have a voice in the decision she makes. With two deaths to deal with, a suitor after her money, a rebellious son, and Sergeant Chase’s repeated attacks, she can only hope to survive the danger she faces. If she doesn’t, her children will be left without either parent.
|Cover art provided by Shaunna Gonzales|
My senses distilled, the clean lemon scent of Janine's home intensified. This specter existed as no spirit at all... but a soldier in army fatigues wearing the ranking emblem of an officer on his chest. His frame seemed to fill the whole corridor. Intimidated by his size, if not his rank, I gave him my immediate and full attention.
"Can I help you?" His voice rumbled with authority. He positioned himself, taking the defensive, his booted feet shoulder width apart, his elbows inches from both walls, blocking the space.
I managed to regain a smidgeon of composure. "I should ask you the same." My voice sounded self-assured. I wondered where it came from while feeling so inferior to him.
"Why? This is my home."
I lost my balance, stumbling back a couple of feet, my surprise giving way to embarrassment. My hand went to my hair to comb it before I remembered it stayed in place as a messy bun. I dropped my hand wishing I knew what to do with it.
"Oh... you're Kelly." I stammered, unsure of myself, my jaw going slack. I struggled in desperation to right it.
Now I see the resemblance to his pictures. Janine needs newer ones and dang, he doesn't quite look the same as the picture I have. He's... wow. Take a picture Vick.
"You are?" he asked, still very much in charge.
"Huh?" I couldn't think of anything else to say. His charismatic presence stupefied me. I hadn't blinked, lost in the depths of his eyes.
He folded his arms making his biceps bulge under his fatigues. I dared to raise my chin in defiance. I'd give him no more, at least not until he retreated an inch. He didn't give it to me. I retreated, feeling foolish in comparison to his alpha-male claim of the hallway.
"Interesting name." His timbre reflected a pleasant nature. Of course standing toe to toe with him in Janine's hallway of small-antiquated proportions disintegrated my defense.
"It's nice to meet you, Kelly." Smooth girl. You are so dead.
"I'd like to say the same." His cautious mantle of soldiering remained on guard.
"Then why don't you?"
"Because I don't know your real name." His eyes betrayed his annoyance for a split second before a shield of secure soldier mastery descended.
"Vicki." I lowered my chin waiting for him, my body poised, expecting his response.
He failed to give me one while his eyes bored holes through me.
"Kelly, meet Vicki, our neighbor." Janine called from her room, her voice reflecting her personable nature. Did she really need to make introductions this way? Did she peek around the corner to watch this? I couldn't be sure with the wall of solid muscle between her doorway and myself. I imagined Janine's face as she overheard our stilted conversation. The humor of the situation flooded over me, bringing a smile to my lips.
Kelly's answering smile altered his expression, and his body language. Almost duplicating his masculine smirk in the photo I possessed, softening the solid mass of muscle without diminishing his potent dynamics.
"Excuse me. I came to see Janine." I didn't dare push past him.
"Mother?" He called over his shoulder, still guarding the hallway. "Do you feel up to having a visitor?"
"I always feel like visiting with Vicki," Janine answered from her room.
Kelly stepped aside, placing himself against the aging wallpaper as though afraid I might give him some dreaded disease if I happened to brush against him. I did brush against him as I passed. Dang he's big. I entered Janine's bedroom to find her reclining on several pillows. She appeared tired, her skin lacking its usual healthy glow.
"Janine, are you feeling all right?" I asked in concern.
"Better now. I called you this morning when I fell. As luck would have it, I fell against the telephone table, knocking it to the floor with me. Kelly came home quite unexpectedly and helped me to bed."
"I'm sorry," I apologized, feeling guilty for going to lunch. "It took longer at the bank than I thought. After, Farley insisted on taking me to lunch. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Would that be Farley Wilson?"
"Yes, you know him right?"
"Early forties, nice dresser and a smooth talker. He missed his calling as an insurance salesman," Janine answered appearing a shade worse.
"You look tired. I shouldn't bother you with my issues. Will Kelly be here long?" She seemed more fragile than usual.
"Actually, he's been busy seeing to my needs and hasn't said yet."
"I'll let you two get to catching up." I patted her hand and retreated the way I'd come. So much for asking her for her opinion of Farley.
Kelly stood at the kitchen counter, draining a jug of milk. He must have heard me approaching. He lowered the jug, wiping his lips with his sleeve. For a brief instant he wasn't a soldier, but a young boy caught in the act. A sheepish grin filled his features. Then his expression changed, his eyes capturing me as if holding me in animated suspension.
Yum. Delicious tingling filled me. Wow, what has he done to me? I thought I'd outgrown this silly attraction to a man in uniform. Not. I focused on my feet, willing them to keep moving toward the door. The traitors stopped and turned toward him. My mouth joined the mutiny.
"Nice to meet you, Kelly. Your mother's mentioned you often." I sensed a smile curl my lips hearing my way too formal effort at breaking the ice. Can't you do any better, girl?
Is it animalistic charisma emanating from him or danger? It didn't matter which. I'd always proved a sucker for both. Vick, you need to remove the sign on your forehead beckoning these guys. That's two in one day. He said no more, and I hurried out the door, my knees masquerading as jelly.
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