If you haven’t yet read Five Years Gone, the excerpt for One Year Home is full of spoilers.
Get Five Years Gone here and read that first!
“Simply put: One Year Home made my heart happy. Through all of the ups and downs, angst and darkness, unexpected love and insurmountable odds, this powerful novel pulled at my heartstrings and left me breathless.” A Top Pick from Sara at Harlequin Junkie
“After I read Marie Force’s phenomenal Five Years Gone, I couldn’t wait to read One Year Home, and it is all I hoped and wanted it to be — a truly memorable, poignant and beautiful romance. I don’t want to say anything else about it, in case you haven’t read Five Years Gone, and you WANT to read Five Years Gone. You technically don’t need to read it in order to love One Year Home, but it makes the experience so much more meaningful if you do. These two books have a permanent spot on my keeper shelf and will be read again and again for years to come.” —Mary @ Frolic Media
“A fantastic read to me is when I finish and close the book and days later, I’m still involved in the story. With One Year Home (as well as Five Years Gone), I’m still deeply affected by the feelings from the journey Marie Force took me on. I’m not an observer of the story, I’m part of it. I’m right there with the characters, feeling all the deep feels. It’s a moving, emotional, and character driven read.” —5 stars from Comfy Chair Books
“Ms. Force has again written an outstanding and highly entertaining story. She managed to shatter my heart and put it back together again. One click this book and be prepared for the ride of your life.”—5 stars from Erin Lewis on Goodreads
“I’m not even sure where to start with my review, I just loved this book so much. This one will definitely pull at your heartstrings and have you feeling every emotion under the sun and probably some you didn’t even know you had. This story has me reeling from beginning to end. This will be one that will stick with me for a long time and I will be re-reading it.”—5 stars from Cat’s Guilty Pleasure
“Immerse yourself is a story that will take a hold of your heart. A truly unique story; written with pure literacy genius.”—review from Shh Mom’s Reading
“Marie is amazing at creating a world I never want to leave… She makes you feel a million emotions. She takes hold of your heart and never lets go.”—five stars from Shelleys’ Shelves and Reviews
“With One Year Home, Marie Force had me wondering until the very end if it was all going to fall apart for everyone or if it was all going to work out. I could NOT put this one down until I reached “The End”!”—5 stars from Wickedcoolflight blog
“Marie Force once again bring us all the emotions in this tale of love, family, strength and healing. One year home is a story that will stay with you forever.”—5 stars from Two Books in a Shelf
“One Year Home was worth the wait! Marie Force brought ALL the feels! This was a beautiful story that held me captivated. I loved getting to see life through John’s eyes and seeing how the next chapter in his life unfolded. This book will stay with me for a long time.”—5 stars from Books According to Abby
He came home a hero and lost the only woman he’s ever loved…
I have no idea how to survive without my beloved Ava. She had no choice but to move on with her life during my six-year deployment and has now married Eric. I hate him for taking her from me. I’d prefer to wallow in my depression and heartbreak, but the whole damned world wants a piece of the SEAL Team leader who helped capture the world’s most-wanted terrorist. I need help handling the relentless requests, and when Ava sends her new sister-in-law to manage the media circus for me, I’m prepared to hate her on principle. Her brother took my Ava. What else do I need to know about her?
It takes five seconds to realize Ava’s ex is going to be the most complicated and difficult client I’ve ever had, but the opportunity to represent the most celebrated man in the world could make my career. I’m determined to do the job, even if I dislike John from the moment I meet him. And I like everyone. So much so that my brothers worry about me being exploited by those who would take advantage of my unwavering love for others. But John… He’s in a class by himself, and his bitterness is a festering wound that I begin to wish I could somehow fix for him. The more time we spend together, the more our mutual disdain morphs into something that feels an awful lot like desire. There’s no way I can want this man, or so I tell myself, and when Eric finds out I’ve developed feelings for the man causing trouble in his new marriage, well…
That’s going to be a hot mess.
The hotly anticipated follow up to Five Years Gone is here!
Praise for Five Years Gone:
“I will never be the same after reading this book.” —5 stars from As You Wish Reviews
“There is not a doubt in my mind that this book will be one of the top books of 2018 for me.” —5 stars, Julie from Hey Girl HEA
“A gut-wrenching emotional roller coaster, Five Years Gone was an incredibly moving novel about the sacrifices we make for the ones we love.” —4.5 star review from Harlequin Junkie
“The stars take turns telling the fast-paced story from their points of view in Force’s hard-to-put-down tale.” —review from Booklist
“Five Years Gone is a story of loss, love, and above all strength. I am in awe with this book and cannot get it out of my head. MUST READ FOR 2018!” —5 stars from Crystal’s Book World
“Force entices with heartbreak, but inspires with tales of courageous sacrifice and hope. If truth is more powerful than fiction, Ms. Force blurs the line between the two.” —5 Stars from Isha Coleman
“An incredible moving novel. This story is all about the characters, and what wonderful, developed characters they are. Story is told in multiple POV and it gives you all the feels. This is a gut-wrenching rollercoaster that leaves you feeling for the characters …feelings of heartbreak as well happiness and hope. I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel to this brilliantly told story.” —5 stars from Lisa at Comfy Chair Books
SIGNED PRINT EDITION
One Year Home
If you haven’t yet read Five Years Gone, the excerpt for One Year Home is full of spoilers.
Get Five Years Gone here and read that first!
Nothing has gone according to plan. From the second I was shot while capturing Al Khad, the most wanted man on earth, my life has spun out of control. I lost half my leg. I lost a month to an infection and then… I lost Ava, the love of my life, who is now married to someone else and on a European honeymoon. Eric. The guy’s name is Eric, and supposedly, she fell in love with him after I’d been deployed more than five years. Weeks after I saw her and learned that she’d fallen for someone else during my interminable six-year absence, it still hasn’t completely sunk in that we’re over for good. Thoughts of her, of us, of the life I wanted so badly with her, sustained me during the long years we spent apart.
That she’s gone forever is inconceivable. I’ve loved her from the moment I first laid eyes on her, eight years ago in a bar off base in San Diego. We ran into each other—literally—outside the restrooms, and that was that. We were together from then on, even when I wasn’t supposed to have entanglements or relationships that would keep me from doing a job that very few service members are ever chosen to do. My unit and its mission are so top secret that I can never share the details of what or how we do what we do with anyone. And since I returned to the US, a reluctant hero after Al Khad’s camp outed me in a video of the raid that led to his capture, everyone wants the details.
I’m overrun with media requests, so many that the navy public affairs officer assigned to me has stopped taking their calls, which means they come directly to me. How they got my number, I have no idea. I’ve got no choice but to hire someone to deal with it. That someone, recommended by Ava, happens to be her new sister-in-law, Julianne Tilden, who also happens to be the daughter of the New York governor. Good times. Not only do I get to deal with someone from Ava’s new family, the governor’s daughter is probably a pampered, privileged princess pain-in-the ass who has no concept whatsoever of what I’m dealing with.
I’m prepared to hate her on sight.
Her brother married my Ava. What else do I need to know about her?
If I wasn’t so desperate for relief from the relentless media demands, I would’ve wanted nothing to do with Ava’s new sister-in-law. Besides, what does it matter who deals with the press? As long as someone other than me does it.
I’m living in an apartment that Lieutenant Commander David Muncie, the liaison assigned to me by the navy, arranged when I was released from inpatient treatment. I’m told being released to outpatient status is a victory to be celebrated.
Whoo. Fucking. Hoo.
I don’t give a shit about anything now that Ava is gone. She was my reason for being, and I’m left with half a leg and a heart so broken, it might never beat normally again. What’s the point? I don’t know anymore, and I’m self-aware enough to realize I’m profoundly depressed. The medical professionals who deal with me on a regular basis see it, too, and have referred me to a shrink. I have his card. I just haven’t bothered to make an appointment.
What can he do? Unless he can dissolve Ava’s marriage and get her to come back to me where she belongs, I can’t see the benefit to wasting his time or mine.
The doorbell rings, and I drag myself off the sofa to let Muncie in, moving slowly on the crutches I’m still reliant upon. I spend part of every morning on the treadmill in the fitness room downstairs. I walk until my muscles tremble with exhaustion, until I’m soaked with sweat and certain I’ll never get back to where I was before I lost my leg and a month of my life to infection. Every day, I tell myself it doesn’t matter if I ever get back what’s been lost, and still I make myself take the elevator downstairs to spend an hour torturing myself on that goddamned treadmill.
“You’ve got a key,” I remind him.
“And you’ve got the ability to answer the door.”
I scowl at the comment that has become predictable after weeks in this Groundhog Day-like existence that’s my new reality.
At least Muncie brought coffees, one of which he hands to me after I’m back on the sofa. He’s learned the hard way not to speak to me until after I’ve had at least one, preferably two, cups of coffee. I’m a real joy to be around lately.
I never used to be this way. Before the deployment from hell, I had a nice life with Ava. She was all I needed to be happy, and I was all she needed. Until I disappeared without a word to her for six years, giving her no choice but to move on without me. I blame Al Khad for screwing up the loveliest thing in my life. I certainly don’t blame Ava for surviving. I just wish she hadn’t fallen for someone else. Eric. Her husband’s name is Eric. I hate his fucking guts, and I’ve never even met him.
I had this picture in mind of what it would be like to see her again. I didn’t imagine her telling me she’d found someone else, that she was in love and engaged and planning a life with him. Six weeks after that fateful meeting with her, I’m still reeling from having to let her go, because that’s what she wanted.
Life is so goddamned unfair. I gave more than six years and half a leg to the quest to bring a ruthless terrorist to justice, and what do I get as a thank-you? The rest of my life without the only woman I’ve ever loved.
“Are you going to shower before Julianne gets here?” Muncie asks from his post at the dining room table where he’s set up his laptop.
“What time is it?”
Julianne is due at ten, and I haven’t showered or shaved in days, even after sweating my ass off on the treadmill. I look nothing at all like the well-groomed naval officer I used to be before life kicked me in the balls. Maybe she ought to see the new me, the me who doesn’t give a shit about anything, even personal hygiene, so she’ll know what she’s getting if she decides to take me on as a client.
Because I’m still unsteady on the prosthetic, it’ll take me every second of the thirty minutes I have if I’m going to shower and change. I pull myself up on the crutches and hobble into the bedroom.
Muncie follows, puts the coffee on the counter and then leaves me to shower in the handicapped-accessible stall. I’m technically handicapped now. Heartbroken and handicapped. That’s me. Oh and heroic, too, if you believe the bullshit being spewed about me from coast to coast. The country is grateful. I appreciate that, but I wish they’d leave me the hell alone to wallow in my depression.
Only because it’s possible that I stink, I take the damned shower. I shave days’ worth of scruff and wash my hair. It’s gotten long—longer than it’s been since Afghanistan, when it grew past my shoulders for the first time ever. When I woke up in the hospital after I lost my leg, the hair was gone, too. I never asked who decided it needed to go. I had much bigger problems then, like figuring out how I was supposed to live without my leg.
I’m still trying to figure out how I’m supposed to go on without Ava. Standing under the warm water, I think about that first night with her, my favorite memory to wallow in when I was deployed. I could transport myself out of whatever hell I was in at the moment and be with her, my favorite place in the world to be. After I talked her into leaving the bar with me that first night, we drove around in my truck for a couple of hours, talking, laughing, listening to music and swapping life stories. She told me hers. I told her the version of mine I was allowed to share, ninety percent of it complete bullshit, such as the part about my father the general, who’d moved us from one town to another as kids.
There was no father and no “us.” I was raised in the foster system and have no family. My lack of personal connections, coupled with my former physical agility, made me an ideal candidate for the elite SEAL team that deployed to hunt down Al Khad. And we finally got the slippery bastard who’d eluded us for years before that fateful night.
But I don’t want to think about him. I want to think about her. And us. The first thing about her I noticed was that she was young. Just barely twenty-one at the time, whereas I was twenty-nine. She was way too young for me, and I should’ve kept walking right on by her. That’s the only regret I allow myself where she’s concerned—that I sucked her into my life without all the information she needed to decide for herself. I never told her, for example, that I could be deployed for years at a time, and that if that happened, I wouldn’t be able to contact her at all while I was gone.
I realize that makes me sound like the biggest dick who ever lived, but I wasn’t allowed to tell her. I wasn’t even supposed to have her in my life. And yes, I struggled with the deception. I agonized over what would become of her if the worst should happen to our country. My only excuse is that I loved her so damned much—and loved being loved by her—that I would’ve done anything to have her in my life, even if that meant lying to her every day of the two years we spent blissfully together.
I told myself then that I was doing it for the right reasons. I was protecting her from having to worry about something that might never happen. But that’s a bunch of crap. I was protecting myself from the possibility of losing the only person who’d ever truly loved me, the only person who ever belonged only to me and me to her.
I run my fingers through my hair until all the soap is out and then turn my face up to the water. I should’ve married her when I had the chance. What were they going to do? Drum me out of the SEAL team or out of the navy itself? After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to train me for the kind of mission that led to the capture of Al Khad, they wouldn’t have let me go easily. However, they could’ve demoted me or even court-martialed me for failing to stick to the rules that were spelled out to me in the clearest possible terms when I agreed to join this particular team in the first place.
It would’ve gutted me to be demoted or court-martialed. Until I met Ava, the navy and the SEAL teams had given me the first real family I’d ever had, and the thought of disappointing my commanders had been unbearable to me. That’s why I didn’t marry her when I knew I should have. I worried so much about her being left unprotected that I’d given myself an ulcer, which was another thing she never knew about. I’d told her I had reflux, and that was why I had to watch what I ate.
Whenever I need to escape from my new reality, I let my mind wander back to the most perfect night of my life, the night I met Ava in that nasty bar where Sanchez had chosen to celebrate his promotion. She’d been there with a friend who was interested in one of the navy guys who hung out there. Never in my wildest dreams had I expected to meet the woman of my dreams in such a place. But there she was, walking into the ladies’ room as I came out of the men’s room and nearly took her down.
She’d been so fresh and pretty and perfect. I told her when I saw her again recently that I knew I should’ve let her go and gone on with my life that night. The reason I didn’t was because the first second I laid eyes on her, I was a goner. One second with her and it was already too late to go on as if I’d never met her.
That first night had been like something out of a dream or a movie or someone else’s life, because perfect things didn’t happen to me. At least they never had before. But everything about Ava and me together was utter perfection, the kind of thing that comes along once in a lifetime if someone is very, very lucky. I was lucky once, and sometimes, the loss of her, of her love… I wonder if I’ll survive it. Losing my leg was nothing compared to losing her.
I talked her into coming home with me that night, and we fell into bed like we’d been together for years rather than hours. She said she’d never done anything like that before, had never gone to bed with a guy she’d only just met, but we both knew right away that this was different. The first time I sank into her sweetness, I was ruined for anyone else. I haven’t been with anyone since her and can’t imagine ever again wanting a woman the way I still want her.
Before I was injured, I would get hard as stone just thinking about that first night and the way we came together like two meteors on a collision course with destiny. Since the injury and infection, not much is happening down south. I wonder if that’s another thing that’s lost forever.
The day after I met Ava, I did something I’d never done before in twelve years in the navy and have never done again since—I called in sick to work so I could spend the entire day in bed with her. She skipped her Friday classes, and we stayed in my bed for days, sending out for food so we could fuel up and go back for more. By the time we emerged on Monday morning to rejoin our lives, she had become my life and I had become hers. That’s how fast it happened. I went from single to committed to her over the span of one momentous, sexually magnificent weekend.
I lose myself in the memories of what it had been like to love her. I remember every nuance of her body, every reaction I could draw from her effortlessly, because I spoke Ava fluently. I knew her better than I know myself. I knew what made her sigh and what made her scream and could make her come so many times, she’d be senseless afterward. I close my eyes and vividly remember the snug fit of her pussy around my cock as it contracted with one orgasm after another. She was so incredibly responsive.
But even those erotic thoughts of the woman I love don’t stir an ounce of desire in me, leaving me to wonder if I’ve lost my manhood along with my leg.
Muncie knocks on the door, interrupting the beautiful images in my mind with a cold, harsh dose of my new reality. “What’re you doing in there? She’s going to be here in ten minutes.”
“Fuck off.” How dare he interrupt my thoughts of Ava? The memories have retreated into a past so sweet, I wonder what point there could possibly be in trying to go on without her. It’s occurred to me—on more than one occasion since she made her choice—that I could take too many of the pain meds I was given when I left the hospital and make it all go away. Who would care? Ava is gone, and my two closest friends in the world were killed in the Al Khad raid. It would be so easy to take the pills, to slip away, to finally find some peace.
I haven’t done it for one very important reason. I’d never do that to Ava. I wouldn’t ruin the rest of her life by taking mine and leaving her to think it was her fault. So even though losing her nearly killed me, I force myself to continue on so my death won’t destroy her happy new life.
Screwed up, right? Believe me, I know.
I get out of the shower and fumble through the process of drying off and getting dressed, which I’ve had to relearn along with just about everything else since I lost my leg. Even with the prosthetic, my balance is precarious, and I still have a great deal of pain—real and phantom—in my missing leg.
By the time I’m dressed in jeans and a button-down that’s come from a dry cleaner thanks to Muncie, I’m completely depleted and sweating. So much for the shower.
I hear Muncie talking to someone in the next room, which means she’s here. Though it’s the last freaking thing I feel like doing, I drag myself up on the crutches and make my way to the door to meet this woman Ava swears is the best at dealing with the media and the staggering amount of bullshit that has become my life lately.
I pull open the door, and the first thing I see is a red dress and three-inch black fuck-me heels at the end of a stunning pair of legs. I may be heartbroken, but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice a great pair of legs when I see them. I let my gaze travel up the front of her until I connect with big, startled doe eyes.
I can’t believe Ava sent me Mary Fucking Poppins.
He’s so scary looking that it’s all I can do not to shrivel up in a ball or bolt for the door to get away from him. If I’d run into him on the street, I would’ve moved out of his way so there’d be no chance of coming into contact with him. And that’s not like me at all. I talk to everyone I encounter, which drives my brothers crazy. They swear I’m going to end up dead one of these days because I’m too friendly to strangers.
I can’t help it. That’s just how I am. But this stranger is different, and I quickly realize he’s not about to do anything to make this easier for me. He’s also incredibly handsome, but I barely notice that. The scary requires my full attention.
Muncie breaks the uncomfortable silence by clearing his throat. “Captain John West, meet Julianne Tilden.”
Mustering courage and determination to get through this with my professionalism intact even if I’m quaking on the inside, I take several steps forward and extend my hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Captain West. Thank you for your service.”
He shakes my hand and offers a brusque nod as he lowers himself carefully onto a love seat. “Have a seat.”
I take one of the straight-back chairs that faces the love seat.
Muncie produces a take-out cup of coffee, cream containers, sugar and fake sugar. “Wasn’t sure if you drank coffee or how you take it.”
He seems very sweet, and I offer him a warm smile, greatly relieved that he’s there in case the scary captain decides to go postal on me. “Thanks. I can’t function without it.”
“You and the captain have that in common,” Muncie says with a pointed look for John as if to say, Get your head out of your ass and be nice.
At least I hope that’s the message he’s sending, because it would be very nice if he would get his head out of his ass and be nice.
I stir cream and sugar substitute into my coffee. “What can I do for you, Captain West?” He’s not going to make it easy for me? I can play that game, too.
“Deal with the bullshit.”
“You’re going to need to be more specific, I’m afraid.” I take a sip of the coffee and thank God once again for whoever thought it would be a good idea to dump hot water over ground cocoa beans. Did they know at the time what a service they were doing for all of mankind?
“I’m getting killed with calls from the media. Everyone wants interviews. They want me to write a book. One company asked me to model underwear for them. It’s nonstop and totally insane, and I can’t deal with it.”
“How are they contacting you?”
“Somehow, they got my personal cell number.” As he says those words, a phone on the coffee table vibrates with an incoming call. “That’ll be the first of at least a hundred calls today.”
“Well, that won’t work. Do you mind if I take the phone and manage the calls for you?”
He hesitates, glancing at the phone with such yearning that I feel my heart soften toward him.
“I’ll get you a new one and make sure she has the new number,” Muncie says.
That’s all the captain needs to hear. “Take it. It’s all yours.”
I take the phone off the coffee table. “Does it have a code?”
“Zero five twenty-five.”
I write that down in the notebook that’s always with me. I sleep with it under my pillow. It has all the most important information about my clients in it. My siblings make fun of my notebook, but a lot of the details contained in there are ultrasensitive, and I’d never keep them on a smart phone that can easily be hacked. We had a seminar at work about that topic last year. It scared the crap out of me and everyone I work with. Quite a few of us have switched to paper and pen since then.
Captain John West is my only client at the moment. The powers that be at the firm were so excited to land him that they bent over backwards to get coverage for all my other clients so I can give the man of the moment my full attention. After ten minutes in his presence, I want to give him back.
But I won’t do that for two reasons. One, everyone who is anyone in my business would literally kill to be me right now, and two, Ava asked me to take care of him, so I will. I adore Ava. She’s made my brother Eric happier than he’s ever been, and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her. This is a big deal to her—John is a big deal to her. She was in love with the guy for eight years, more than six of them spent wondering where he was while hoping he would return to her.
By the time he did, she was in love with Eric and they were planning a life together. I know how hard it was for her to see John again after all that time. I can’t for the life of me imagine what it must’ve been like for him to hear she’d found someone else and was engaged to be married.
“Why are you staring at me?” he asks gruffly, startling me.
I realize, to my horror, that I had in fact been staring at him. “Sorry,” I mutter.
He rubs his face. “Did I cut myself shaving again, Muncie?”
“Not this time, sir.”
“I, um, I apologize. I didn’t mean to stare.”
“So you said.” He seems to return the rudeness by taking the opportunity to blatantly stare at me.
I try not to wither under the glare of the most intense blue eyes I’ve ever seen, but I wilt a tiny bit waiting to find out what fresh hell he has in store for me next. “You sure I didn’t cut myself shaving, Muncie?”
The lieutenant commander laughs. “Nope. All good.”
I glance at the captain and note that his scowl has softened somewhat, not into what anyone would call a smile, but perhaps the starting of one.
“Your brother married my Ava.”
And there it is, the proverbial elephant in the room. “Yes, he did.”
“What’s he like?”
Oh, for God’s sake. I hadn’t expected him to ask me that and have no idea what to say.
“Is that a hard question? I take it you’ve known him awhile.”
“All my life, in fact.”
He leans forward, full of intensity and quiet rage. That’s the only way I can think of to describe the vibe coming from him.
“Captain…” Muncie’s word of warning goes ignored.
“He’s… He’s a good guy, one of the best guys I know. He’d do anything for anyone, give you the shirt off his back.” I hate the cliché, but it does the job—and it’s true. In a crisis, Eric would be the first person I’d call.
“What does he do for a living?”
“What the hell are high-end investments?”
“Five million dollars or more.” At his look of distaste, I feel the need to say more. “He can spend a year fully investigating a potential investment, only to have the acquisition committee in his company turn it down. It’s very complex work.”
Judging by his expression, that doesn’t help with the distaste. “Sounds like a heck of a way to make a living.”
“He likes it.” I take a deep breath and tell myself to get control of this meeting. “Back to the media inquiries.”
“How old is he?”
“Did you ask me here to discuss my brother, Captain West, or are you interested in my professional services?” I force myself to look him dead in the eye and not to let him see that he intimidates me.
He stares back at me for a long moment before he blinks. “Both, I suppose.”
“I’m only interested in the professional inquiries, if it’s just the same to you. While I empathize with your situation, I love my brother, and it doesn’t feel right for me to be discussing him with you.”
He doesn’t like that, but too bad. I’m here to do a job, not defend my brother.
“You empathize with my situation? Really?”
“Captain…” The note of warning in Muncie’s tone isn’t lost on either of us.
“Yes, I do empathize with what you’ve been through, and like the rest of America, I’m deeply grateful for the role you played in bringing a terrorist to justice at great personal and physical expense.”
He begins to clap, slowly and dramatically.
Heat creeps into my face, which is infuriating. The last thing I want him to see is that he gets to me.
“Did you practice that little speech on the flight out here?”
“No.” I wish I could punch him and still have a job afterward. The partners were thrilled when I told him who my potential client was. Land him, they’d said, and we’ll consider you for junior partner. “I made it up right here.”
“Nice to see that you’re good on the fly.”
“I’m outstanding on the fly, which is how I became one of the top young PR professionals in New York.”
His cell phone rings, which is when I realize I’m gripping it tightly. With him watching me in that intense, intimidating way of his, I take the call. “Answering for Captain West.”
It’s a producer for NBC Nightly News, wanting to book an interview. “Let me take down your contact information and get back to you.” The name and number go in my trusty notebook.
“And you are?” the producer asks.
“Are you working for Captain West?”
“Please hold for one moment.” I put my hand over the phone so I won’t be overheard. “It’s an NBC News producer. She wants to know if I work for you.”
He holds my gaze for a long moment, during which I honestly have no idea what he’s thinking. He gives nothing away. “Tell her you do.”
I offer him a brief nod and return to the call. “I’ll be representing Captain West for media inquiries going forward. May I give you my number so you can reach me directly?” I recite the number for my work phone and tell her again I’ll be back in touch. I end the call and glance at my new client.
The first thing I do is slide my company’s retainer contract across the table. “Before we go any further, I need you to sign this.”
He leans forward to retrieve the document, and after studying it, he says, “Two hundred dollars an hour?”
“I assure you, I’ll earn every dime of it.”
“Yes, you will,” Muncie mutters.
I really like him.
“Who’s paying for this?” Captain West asks Muncie.
“We’ve got it covered. Sign the form.”
He signs it and hands it over to me. “Now what?”
“Now we need to talk about what you’re willing to do—and what you’re not willing to do.”
“If he had his druthers, he wouldn’t do anything,” Muncie says.
I never divert my gaze from the captain. “Why is that?”
“I don’t want to talk about it, but the navy has decided to make me their new poster boy for recruitment. I just want to retire and ride off into the sunset, but they’re not going to let that happen.”
“What’s the minimum that he can do?” I ask Muncie.
“They haven’t given us a minimum. They want him to take full advantage of the opportunities he’s being offered, whatever that means.”
I redirect my attention to the captain. “What’re your physical limitations?”
If looks could kill, I’d be a goner. “I have no physical limitations.”
“So you can travel?”
“Yes,” he says through gritted teeth.
“Here’s what I suggest… We book a New York media tour, including morning shows, nightly news, late night, and then we come back out here and do an LA leg.”
As soon as I say the word “leg,” I wish I could take it back. Not that the word is incorrect, but I don’t want him to think I’m fixated on what he’s lost. And why would he think that exactly? Shut up, Julianne. I hate that inner voice that constantly critiques me. It’s my mother’s voice. She made a career out of critiquing my every move until the blessed day I left for college at Barnard and could breathe for the first time in my life.
He doesn’t respond to my suggestion.
I clear my throat. “Would that work for you?”
I glance at Muncie, who shrugs as if to say damned if I know what his problem is. Great. He’s been dealing with him for months, and he has no clue. What chance do I have?
I open my notebook and uncover my favorite gel pen. “Let’s cover what you will and won’t talk about.”
“I won’t talk about the raid, the mission or anything to do with Al Khad.”
“That’s what they’re going to want to know.”
“Despite the fact that Al Khad’s camp released the video of the raid, the mission is still classified on our end. I’m not at liberty to discuss the particulars, and even if I was, I wouldn’t.”
“Can you talk about what it was like to be deployed for more than five years?”
“Yeah. It sucked.”
“You have to say more than that.”
“What else should I say?”
“What did you do for all that time?” The question is one that I’ve had since I first heard the story about him and how he’d deployed the day Al Khad’s organization had taken out a US-based cruise ship with suicide bombers, killing four thousand innocent people. My sister-in-law, Ava, who’d been John’s live-in girlfriend at the time, waited five years in San Diego for him to come back before returning home to New York to start over.
“We looked for Al Khad.”
“Where did you look for him?”
He thinks about that, seeming to decide what he should say. “Our search spanned several countries that’re hostile to Americans, so we had to embed and blend in with the locals to get information. That took time and patience, among other things.”
“When you joined the navy, did you know you might have to deploy for so long without any word to your loved ones at home?”
“Other than the girlfriend I wasn’t supposed to have, I didn’t have loved ones at home, which is why I was initially chosen for the unit. In an interview, I could only say that I didn’t have loved ones at home. I can’t say I had a girlfriend.”
“What does it matter now?” I ask. “Cat’s out of the bag.”
“It matters. I don’t want her dragged into this.”
“Yes, that’s true.” I respect that he’s protecting her, even now. “I agree that we’re better off not arousing curiosity about her. The press would be relentless in their efforts to locate and interview her.”
“Which would be inconvenient and disruptive to your brother.”
Infuriated all over again, I stare him down. “It would be inconvenient, disruptive and intrusive for Ava. I’m sure you’ll agree she’s already been through enough.”
Muncie makes a sound that might be laughter, but he quickly coughs to cover it up.
“I agree,” John says. “Ava’s been through enough, and that’s entirely my fault.”
My heart breaks a little for him, because even though he tries to hide it, the pain of losing her is as obvious as his blue eyes, prominent cheekbones and sexy lips.
God help me, but the man is sexy—and completely off-limits to me for so many reasons, it would take me days to list them all in my notebook.
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
~ Calvin Coolidge