read the prequel--permanently free on the blog Prequel
About the book....
Coming home again isn't always easy. Colonel Michael Cedars and reporter Hope Shane fell in love in a warzone, but then the world blew up and splintered their lives in two.
Sometimes heroes fall and take the ones they love down with them. A Marine accustomed to giving orders, Michael struggles to find his role in civilian life. Wounded, he faces new battles as he learns to walk again, struggles with wartime ghosts, and questions his abilities as a husband.
But theirs is a love worth fighting for—and Hope Shane doesn't surrender. An investigative reporter, she's hot on the trail of a human trafficking ring. Danger intensifies as she gets closer to the truth, but the human traffickers know her weakness.
Will Michael become her Achilles Heel? Will her reckless disregard for rules shatter the fragile bonds of their marriage once and for all? Is he still the hero she married or has he become a liability that could get them both killed?
For the first time in her life, she had no idea what to do. She had been the loud-mouthed reporter in a warzone 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 warzone, 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 warzone 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.”
“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?”
“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!”
“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? I don't know why you're here. Why won't you go?"
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. 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.”
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? Do you know how shallow and ridiculous that sounds? I'm your wife—for better or worse and everything in between, remember?"
“When I see you that’s what I want, are you satisfied now? Is that the confession you wanted to hear? 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 like being tortured with all that I can't have. Why can't you understand that?"
Silence quaked in the room.
She put both of her hands on his knees, conscious that he couldn’t feel her touch. God, he felt good. She'd dreamed of touching him again for so long. “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.”
"Stop it, Hope."
"I love you."
"Stop saying that."
"You still love me, too, I know it."
"You don't know anything."
She moved onto his lap and caressed her hands over his shoulders as if touching a rare piece of art.
“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. His free hand squeezed her breast through the thin material of her blouse but, instead of hurting, it ignited her blood.
She matched his intensity with her own and upped the ante. She plunged her tongue into the recesses of his mouth until he moaned.
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.
Her hands roamed through his hair, over his face, along his shoulders. Michael had survived. He was here, his mouth hot and wet against hers.
She fought back a Hallelujah.