A heart-wrenching new military romance from USA TODAY bestselling author Carmen Jenner.
Available exclusively on Amazon and KU
Amazon US: http://amzn.to/1TgTU7v
Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/1TiqZDz
Amazon CA: http://www.amazon.ca/dp/B01FOQJ780Amazon AU: http://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B01FOQJ780
Jake Tucker is broken. At twenty-two, he went into the Marine Corps a naïve, troubled youth. Nine years and four tours later, Jake finds himself back on US soil, though his mind remains firmly planted in the sands of Afghanistan with the men he left behind.
Wounded, chewed up and spat out by war, Jake has only his dog, Nuke, PTSD, and survivor’s guilt to keep him company. He’s lived every day for nine years wondering when it will be his last, but there’s little comfort in the fact that he’s still standing when his platoon isn’t.
Ellie Mason doesn’t have time for broken. She’s too busy trying to put food on the table. And keeping up with the demands of her autistic son, Spencer, is sometimes like fighting behind enemy lines. As if navigating the minefields of single parenthood isn’t enough, Ellie finds herself drawn to the quiet Marine who’s just as lonely as she is. But she’s loved damaged men before, and it left her wounded.
Set against the picturesque backdrop of Fairhope, Alabama, Ellie and Jake find themselves running toward the sound of chaos.
Love is war.
Only the strong survive, and surrender is inevitable.
I ease her down on her feet, before the bed and take a step back. I want this, God do I want this, but I’m terrified. Elle’s eyes roam over me and she takes in a deep breath, and I won’t lie—it hurts like hell. I don’t want pity, and I don’t want the woman I care about looking at me like a monster just sprouted from my back. She reaches out a hand and trails her fingertips over my scarred flesh, feeling the hard, ugly edges. I flinch a little, and she pulls away as if she’s been burned.
“Did I hurt you?” she whispers.
“Angel, it hurts just looking at you.”
She smiles and continues her exploration of my body, openin’ old wounds with every scar she touches, and yet it’s as if she’s tenderly sewing them shut at the same time. I haven’t felt the touch of a woman for a very long time, and never again did I think I would, especially not one as perfect and kind-hearted as this.
“What did they do to you, Jake?” Her eyes are bright with tears, and I grab her hands and hold them flat to my chest.
“I don’t want your pity, Elle.”
“You think that’s why I’m here?” she says, staring up at me with those incredible eyes. “You think that’s all this is between us?”
“I thought about it.” I nod. “I can’t see much other reason that a woman like you would want someone like me. I’m a freak and a drunk, and you? You’re so goddamn beautiful it hurts.”
“You been drinkin’, Jake?” Obviously, I already know the answer, but I ask anyway because I need to get him talkin’. I don’t like the way his eyes seem to look right through me.
The corners of his mouth turn up in a bitter grin. “Yeah, I been drinkin’.”
I pick up the bottles of pills strewn all over the floor and set them on the counter. “How many of these did you take?” I snap.
I discard the pills in the trash because they wouldn’t do no good after they’ve been rollin’ around in glass. “You shouldn’t drink when you’re on meds.”
“It don’t fuckin’ matter anymore.”
I snap my gaze back to his and grit my teeth. “It matters to me.”
“Because I care about you,” I say. “We care about you.”
His eyes get all squinty and he slurs, “You don’t even know me.”
“Is that what you think?” I snap, losing all patience with him. “That I don’t know the man I’ve been letting into my house? I know you, and the Jake Tucker I know—the Jake Spencer knows—is not this Jake.”
He smiles that twisted grin again, and so help me, I’ve never wanted to put my hands on a person in anger so much in my life. I want to slap that smirk right off his beautiful face.
“Maybe this is the real Jake; maybe I’m just another asshole you hardly know tryin’ to get in your panties.”
I stare at him in shock, and I won’t lie, it takes a moment to recover, but like any southern woman worth her salt, I’m a master in the art of backhanded compliments and southern charm. “Then you clearly ain’t as smart as I thought you were, ’cause this Jake? He don’t stand a chance of getting anywhere near my panties, but the other may have. Looks like now we’ll never know.” His cocky smile falters. “Now, stop feeling sorry for yourself and get up.”
He laughs, but there’s no humor in it. “What do you know about it? You can’t even see what’s right in front of you.”
“Oh I see it,” I huff. “I’m real familiar with how mean a bottle of Johnnie Walker can make a man.”
“That the reason you never talk about why Spencer’s daddy ain’t around?”
“Yeah, that’s the reason,” I say folding my arms over my chest. “Because, it’s a long painful road that I walked away from and one that I don’t wanna have to revisit. And considering where you been, Jake Tucker, I thought you might know something about that.”
“What’s his name?”
“It don’t matter.”
“It matters,” he says through his teeth. “Believe me, it matters.”
“Why? You gonna go to Charleston, find him, and beat the crap outta him for hurtin’ me? The best thing you can do for me is to not become him.” I take a deep breath and wonder why we’re talkin’ about me at all when there’s clearly more important things going on right here. “Why didn’t you show up at my house yesterday? And why are you drinking in the middle of the day?”
“Day, night, it don’t matter. The nightmares don’t stop unless I’m three fuckin’ sheets to the wind.”
I sigh and grab the washcloth from a rack. Running warm water over it, I wring out the excess and crouch down to his level. “Give me your hand.” He shakes his head. “Give me your goddamn hand, Jake.”
He doesn’t extend it out to me, but he doesn’t pull away either when I grab his forearm. I get a good glimpse of the damage he’s done. He don’t need stitches, far as I can tell.
I gently start wiping at the mess and get to my feet a few times to rinse out the washcloth. As the blood is washed away, his scars become more pronounced. This is the first time I’m seeing him in a shirt that doesn’t have long sleeves. It makes me want to cry because his skin is a patchwork of pain. It tells a story of hate and unimaginable cruelty, but there is splendor in it, too. There’s a tale of courage, survival, immeasurable strength, and beauty in the face of such ugliness. They tried to destroy him, and they failed.
I trace my finger over the deepest scar on his forearm and blink back tears. Jake’s whole body stiffens. I decide it’s best not to push him any further by touching him again, but that don’t mean I’m going to go easy on him either. “So, you got any rubbing alcohol? Or did you drink that too?”
“Why haven’t you found a woman to love yet, Jake?”
I stiffen. Her question catches me off guard. I don’t know how to reply to that. I have found someone, but she deserves better than to spend her life with a freak.
“I like being alone.” That was a lie. “Who in their right mind would have me?” is what I want to say, but I don’t. I don’t tell her how much I loathe myself, or that I wish I was dead, or that at night I lie awake wondering if this was part of Aasif Bashir’s plan in disfiguring me—that he’d hoped that one day I’d roam the earth a free man and yet never know the freedom of a woman’s touch again.
I don’t tell her that I hate being alone because I can never shut off the voices or quiet the sounds of war that ring in my ear long after the dust has settled and the blood has dried. I attempt to fill the void with distractions: Nuke, Ellie, Spencer, pouring myself into something physical until my limbs shake from misuse, but it doesn’t mask the stillness. That’s always waiting for the moment I shut everything off. And it never becomes any less haunting.
“I hate it,” she says, as if she’s echoing my thoughts. “Being alone. When you climb into bed and everything’s so still you could hear a pin drop? There’s something in that silence that screams all my greatest fears.”
“What are they?” I say, too quickly.
“My fears?” she asks with a sigh. “That I’ll be alone forever. That Spence will grow up and leave like all kids do, or that he’ll enlist and my life will be filled with endless days and nights of that sound. Of nothing.”
I feel like she just cracked open my skull and pulled the words from my head, but two hearts as lonely as ours? Well, that’s a dangerous thing. Deep down I know as much as she does that I’m no good for her, and yet I’m still too selfish to push her away.
“You shouldn’t be alone,” I whisper.
“Neither should you.” She leans back into my embrace, and I kiss the top of her hair because I never dreamed I’d be lucky enough to do that again to any woman, let alone to this angel who came crashing into my life and made all the pain that came before her seem worth it.
I survived war, I survived torture at the hands of the Taliban, but I won’t survive Ellie Mason, not with my heart still intact.
About the Author
Her dark romance, KICK (Savage Saints MC #1), won Best Dark Romance Read in the Reader’s Choice Awards at RWDU 2015.
A tattoo enthusiast, hardcore lipstick addict and zombie fangirl, Carmen lives on the sunny north coast of New South Wales, Australia, where she spends her time indoors wrangling her two wildling children, a dog named Pikelet, and her very own man-child.
A romantic at heart, Carmen strives to give her characters the HEA they deserve, but not before ruining their lives completely first … because what’s a happily ever after without a little torture?
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