Mmm...first encounters. I love it when characters in both movies and novels meet for the first time. It sets the tone for what's to come. Sometimes there's snap, crackle, sizzle...or maybe there's that slow burn of borderline contempt that you just know is gonna be fun to watch.
Is it Lust at First Sight...or Maybe Not Quite?
Sometimes heroes fall and take the ones they love down with them. In today's segment, we're witnessing the first meeting between an estranged husband and wife after their world blew up in Afghanistan. He's a returning Marine, partially paralyzed, who wants to let his wife go. She's an investigative reporter who doesn't give up easily--not on the human trafficking story she's immersed in and definitely not on her husband.
She pulled a gold necklace from beneath her blouse. “We’re married. You’re my husband and I’m your wife.”
“It’s not true, we never filed the papers.”
“It is true.” His denial stabbed through her chest and pierced her heart. “We had the legal papers sent to my PO Box in New York, remember? You signed them…all I had to do was take them to the courthouse.”
“What happened in Greece and in Afghanistan no longer matters today.” He swallowed hard, kept his gaze averted. “If our marriage were legal, you would have used it to your advantage by now. You’re lying.”
“Maybe I was all bullied out, ever think of that?” Worn out, all of the fight beaten out of her, she removed her wedding ring from the chain and slipped it onto her finger. She loved this ring with its gold band and diamond encrusted Greek infinity symbol.
“Do not put that on. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. You really don’t want this marriage and I know I damn well don’t.” He rubbed his hand over his eyes.
For the first time in her life, she had no idea what to do. She had been the loud-mouthed reporter in a war zone who had fallen for the sexy Marine with a bad attitude.
Months of carrying on their relationship in secret had ended with them taking a leave to Greece with a few close friends and getting married by a Greek priest on a cliff on Mykonos. She had skipped down the makeshift aisle of stones. They’d laughed through their vows with the sunset at their backs while their friends had cheered. Now he wanted to deny it had ever happened. He wanted to erase it.
In a war zone, secrecy had made sense. Hell, it’d been essential to their survival. If insurgents had discovered that a commanding officer’s wife was in town...well, it would have been bad. But now...here...him wanting to pretend it had never happened hurt worse than the bullets she’d taken in the back.
“You had to be a glory-seeker, it’s in your blood, right?” He clenched the arms of his wheelchair. “Go back to the war zone and get another Emmy, babe. It’s what you do. Damn it, I loved danger, too, but I can never go back and we both know you can’t stay away. I’ll hold you back and you know it. You’ll hate me for that one day.”
“I’m not a glory-seeker. Stop saying that. It’s not true.”
“That’s what you were doing that day, working for that Emmy. I told you not to leave the city, I couldn’t tell you why be—”
“—Because it was classified. I know.” She grabbed his wrist. “I had to do that story about Marishka. It was important. Someone had to tell it.”
“And it had to be you.” His eyes shot accusations at her.
“You were thanking God it was me later that afternoon when I dragged you from that Humvee. You said it,” her eyes flooded with tears she refused to shed, “you said thank God it was me that crawled in there, that it was me that dragged you away, that it was me who…” She couldn’t finish.
“I wish I were dead.”
“Don’t ever say that.” Her hand trembled against her forehead.
“It’s true.” His eyes spit accusation at her. “If you had listened to me, your crew would be alive, Peter would have met his only child, and I would be dead. That has got to be better than this.”
“And Dalton would be fatherless, your parents would have lost their only son, and I’d be a widow.”
“Spare me. I see the guilt in your eyes. You know I’m right.”
“Go to hell.”
“I’m already in hell. You should’ve left me to die.”
“Stop talking, would you please just stop talking?” She swallowed the sob and looked everywhere but into his face.
“Divorce me. No one will ever know about us. I swear to God. You’re not obligated to me.”
“Screw you.” She wanted to shake him, make him see that he was wasting away like this. She’d been so lonely without him, had ached for him, and had been tortured by his silence. “I’m done giving into your wishes. I left you alone for five months and went through my own personal hell because of it. No more.”
“I hate you.”
“I love you,” she whispered.
“I wish I’d never met you.”
“Me, too, damn it.” She looked at him, no longer strong enough to stop a tear from escaping. “But we did meet. We loved each other. We got married on a cliff in Greece with our friends by our side and we laughed through our vows because we were so goddamn happy. I’m not leaving here until you acknowledge that. You married me. You loved me.”
“The man you loved died a long time ago.”
Frustration clawed inside her skull, aching for the right words that would break his resolve. She rubbed trembling hands over her hips and struggled for clarity. This was one argument she intended on winning...and it had been a long time coming.
“None of us are who we were. Do you think I’m the same person I was before seeing my best friend killed? Before stepping over Marishka’s body and the bodies of her murdered children? Before seeing you face down in the dirt? Do you think I don’t see corpses in my sleep? Do you think that hasn’t changed me?” she asked.
“You look the same.” His gaze flicked over her before sliding toward the window.
“Maybe I’m still walking on both of my feet, but that doesn’t mean other parts of me aren’t paralyzed.” She scrubbed her fists against the tears and hated herself for being weak. “I’m pissed at you for denying me access to you in Frankfurt. You have no idea—none—how much I needed to be with you when you were hurt and you made me out to be a liar. I’m your wife, for God’s sake.”
“Stop saying that word.”
“You’re a selfish bastard.” She shoved her hands through her hair and counted silently to twenty. “Say what you want, I don’t care because I’d rather fight with you than mourn you. I’d rather you hate me than feel nothing.”
“I do hate you.”
Blowing a strand of hair from her face, she grabbed the ouzo bottle, opened it and slammed cabinet doors looking for a glass.
“I know you’re lying,” she said.
“Get the hell out of here,” he yelled.
“Where are your goddamn glasses?” she asked between clenched teeth.
“How would I know? I’ve been here less than six fucking hours.”
“Who needs a glass, right?” She took a long swig of the liquor. The alcohol burned her throat but felt damn good. She took another swig before meeting his gaze.
“Is that how you’re dealing with your guilt? Drinking it away?” he asked.
She held the bottle out toward him. “Want a taste?”
He looked at her through narrowed eyes, muscle working overtime in his jaw.
“C’mon, babe, look at it this way…maybe a taste will kill you,” she said.
For the first time since entering the room, a flicker of humor shot through his eyes. With a shrug, he grabbed the bottle and drank without breaking eye contact.
“I’m still alive,” he said.
“Sorry to disappoint you…again.” Needing to touch him, she reached for the scar that zigzagged across his forehead.
He flinched away from her touch.
“You need to leave. You don’t owe me anything,” he said without looking at her face.
She caught her lower lip between her teeth and studied his bent head before answering. “This isn’t about owing you anything.”
He met her gaze then, annoyance flashing in the brown depths. But there was something else there, too...pain so intense she took a step back.
“What is wrong with you?” he asked. “Just because I’m in this chair doesn’t mean that you can bully me.”
“Am I bullying you?” She grinned at the idea of bullying him. He’d always been the badass Marine with more arrogance than necessary. Her independence clashed with his attitude more often than not, but that had been a good thing. Maybe...just maybe...he’d missed it. “I brought you fast food and alcohol. We even had a fight. I think you like that I’m here. I’m livening things up. You looked pretty bored when I walked in.”
He grabbed her hand before she could snag another fry. He squeezed her fingers so hard she thought her bones would snap. “Look at me. I’m not the man you married. I’m not even a Marine anymore. Look at me.”
She only saw the man she loved who stared back with desperation in his eyes. She saw his hair thicker and longer than she’d ever seen it before and liked it. She saw his teeth sink into his lower lip and wanted them sinking into her skin. She only saw Michael.
“You’re still the sexiest man on the planet,” she said.
“You’re delusional.” He dropped her hand as if the mere touch of her skin sickened him.
“Maybe I am.”
“What are you getting out of this?”
“I can’t…I’m changed. We’ll never be able to be like we were.” He looked at his legs. “Not like how you remember me anyway. I’m different now.”
“So am I. We’re all different.”
“It’s more than that and you know it. You and me...sex...there will be...expectations.”
“I see, so I should pretend you don’t exist because you feel awkward about sex? You must not think much of me, Colonel.” She bit out his rank between clenched teeth.
“When I see you that’s what I want, are you satisfied now? Right now I would like to throw you up against that counter, rip those jeans from you and fuck you. I remember how we were together. That’s what I want. I can’t do that. Do you hear me? I can’t have what I want and seeing you is torture for me. I can’t have you.”
Silence quaked in the room.
She put both of her hands on his knees, conscious that he couldn’t feel her touch. “You keep talking about what you’ve lost, but you haven’t lost me. Don’t you see that? You may not be a Marine anymore and you may not be able to walk anymore, but you have me. I love you. I need you. Can’t that be enough? And you have your son. What about him? He needs you, too. You haven’t lost him.”
“I wish you hadn’t come here.”
“Too bad, I’m here. Deal with it.” She moved onto his lap and moved her hands over his shoulders. “What’s the problem?”
“Stop this,” he whispered.
“You want me to kiss you. You want to kiss me back.” She could see it in his eyes, the need, the desire, the question. “Is that what you want, Michael?”
“What would that prove?”
“Does it have to prove something? Can’t a kiss be a kiss?”
“Typical man.” She leaned within a fraction of his lips. “Don’t you remember high school? Don’t you remember when a kiss meant everything?”
In a sudden move, he grabbed the back of her head and ground his mouth against hers. She knew the intensity was meant to shock her so she matched it with her own. She sat on his lap and plunged her tongue into the recesses of his mouth until he moaned. His free hand squeezed her breast through the thin material of her blouse but, instead of hurting, it ignited her blood.
The Michael she knew still lived inside this man. She felt him in the warmth of his mouth, the strength of his hands on her body, the restrained power of his touch.
She couldn’t stop touching him, hands moved through his hair, over his face, along his shoulders. Alive. Here. She fought back a Hallelujah.
Back cover blurb...
Sometimes heroes fall and take the ones they love down with them. Colonel Michael Cedars and reporter Hope Shane fell in love in a war zone, but then the world blew up, and splintered their lives in two.
Michael Cedars returns home from Afghanistan wounded and unsure where he fits in this 'new normal' of civilian life. Unsure if he'll walk again, he questions his abilities as a man, husband, and father. Accustomed to giving orders, he's thrown into a world where he doesn't know the rules anymore and no one is respecting the officer in the room.
Hope isn't one who gives up easily—not on her marriage and not on the innocent victims of a human trafficking ring she's investigating. As the danger of her story intensifies, she struggles with her own post-traumatic stress disorder and a husband who resists her love.
Danger intensifies as Hope searches for truth and justice. Everyone she loves is at risk. Will her reckless pursuit of the human trafficking ring jeopardize their lives?
Michael knows she needs him, but doubts his ability to be the hero she still believes him to be. Is he still the man she married or has he become a liability that could get her killed?
Reviews are saying...
"Ah-mazing! Mind blown. This is an epic love story entangled in a nail-biting suspense.Highly recommend!"--Novel Grounds Reviews
"Amber Lea Easton writes novels for your keeper shelf! This is a gritty, ripped from the headlines story. I found myself rooting for Hope and Michael's true love story to prevail--this is a definite must read."--Jodi from Lincoln, Nebraska.
"Regular romance and suspense fans get more than enough here to be satisfied by the great chemistry between the main characters and the intriguing story lines. However, if you--like myself--want a little bit more out of a book than you will find it in the well-handled and insightful passages about human trafficking and PTSD, issues that are handled with care rather than in an exploitative or decorative manner. Easton clearly cares about what she writes and it pays dividends, her book is surprisingly impressive and certainly recommended." Christopher Fisher Books, UK