Today we’re dishing up a double dose of holiday goodness – two excerpts from GIFTS OF HONOR, the military holiday anthology that released last Thursday from Carina Press!
For Sully, the hero in the first story, STARTING FROM SCRATCH, the best thing about being home for the holidays is the warm welcome he receives from this friends and neighbors in the small town of Bitterthorn, Texas. Wounded in battle, Sully’s memory has huge gaps in it, and the biggest gap of all is his ex-wife, Lucy. The town’s waiting to see if a Christmas miracle will bring these two together, but for some reason Sully can’t help but think the greatest miracle around is Lucy’s rare and radiant smile.
“I keep forgetting you’re not you anymore.” Much to her horror, her voice cracked under the weight of unshed tears. So much for putting on a brave face.
“Or, maybe I should say we’re no longer us. There’s a you and a me, but if I can’t get my head around the fact that there’s no us anymore, this whole thing is going to end in a huge train wreck.”
“How can you equate making out with a train wreck, especially when it’s this good? I’m so hot for you I might spontaneously combust, and if the way you were responding was any indication, you feel the same way.”
“That’s the problem. We don’t feel the same. Right now you’re horny as hell—”
“—whereas I’m struggling because I’m still in love with my husband, Sullivan.”
For a moment he was the picture of a man who’d been hit with a brick, before he took a step back. Lucy’s heart sank. Damn. He may as well have hung a sign around his neck that proclaimed he was now searching for the nearest set of hills to head for.
“Okay. I get that.” He nodded, sounding almost reasonable. “The thing is, I’m Sullivan, so I don’t understand why you’re suddenly applying the brakes.”
“Do you really want me to still be in love with you? Do you want to hold my heart in your hands? Do you want the responsibility of not shattering it, and treating it as the only real gift I’ve ever given anyone? Answer honestly.” Please say it’s what you want. Please…
He sighed in frustration and looked away.
Really, hope was such a useless thing. Why it kept trying to make her believe in miracles was beyond her.
In HERO’S HOMECOMING, Chris returns from Afghanistan blind and traumatized – and refusing to be a burden to Beth, the woman with whom he’d hoped their whirlwind R&R romance might grow into much more.
“I know you decided that I’m not the person you wanted to come home to,” she said softly, her face pressed into his shirt. “And although I’m still fuming about the way you handled it, I can deal with that. But I’m not sure what I would have done it if you hadn’t come home at all.”
A rush of guilt shattered the moment like a stone hurled at a pane of glass, and he thrust Beth away from him, holding her at arm’s length.
“Why?” he asked, all too aware that his frustration was audible in his tone. “Why do you care about someone who left you flat? Why not just move on and forget about it?”
“It doesn’t work like that,” Beth replied, sounding more astonished than annoyed. “Whether you like it or not, you were a big part of my life—you still are, in many ways. That doesn’t just go away like this.” She snapped her fingers. “And no matter how we ended things, I think you’re an amazing guy who will be an incredible husband and a great father, and I would never begrudge another woman that happiness.”
His jaw was slack as he absorbed her words. “You still think I could be those things? Honestly? Even though—”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she retorted more sharply than he expected, and jerked out of his grasp. “You’re the one who changed your mind, not me. Being blind isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card. Don’t console yourself that I was any less hurt when I found out you were wounded.”
Chris gripped the edge of the counter as he struggled to understand the significance of what Beth was saying. There was no pity in her statement—just the opposite. She didn’t seem to think that his disability had any impact on the standard of behavior to which she held him.
What would it take for her to understand how taxing it would be to live with him? How boring and tedious it would become to constantly have to help him with the most basic tasks? That he wasn’t his old self and might never be again—that he was a warrior who couldn’t fight, a soldier who couldn’t defend, an impotent,helpless shell of himself.
He was about to say as much when the mortar exploded outside. Instinctively he bundled Beth to his chest, covered her head with his hand and hit the deck.