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Authors: Soraya Lane

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BOOK: The Returning Hero
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Brett laughed and held up his coffee cup. “Deal,” he agreed. “You want me to make you anything for brekkie while you nurse your head?”

She groaned again, sipping more coffee. “I’ll just have toast, thanks. Cold toast with jam, something easy on my poor stomach.”

The way Brett was watching her told her he was thinking about something, waiting to ask her something. Please don’t bring up the kiss. The last thing she needed right now was to deal with that particular conversation, especially before she’d eaten anything and had time to process it.

“Jamie, I don’t know if you remember, but when we were at the bar, and then when we came back here last night…”

She gulped when he paused, and then he said, “You mentioned that you never told Sam how scared you were coming home to an empty house in the dark.”

Phew. She could deal with this conversation if she had to. It might have been difficult to talk about, admitting to that, but given what the alternative topic could have been, she was relieved.

“My dad was a soldier, and he died on deployment, too.” Jamie kept her gaze trained on her coffee, not wanting to look at Brett. “When he died, my mom went on a bender that lasted a few years, and I was home alone when we were burgled. I hid until they left, but I guess I’ve never really gotten over that fear of it happening again. Which is why I’m obsessed with locking doors and being inside before sundown, and my security alarm was always on before Bear came back to live here.”

Brett was still staring at her, concern written all over his face. “So I’m guessing you told Sam about what happened, but you never told him how much it still scared you. Because you always knew that he’d be going away and leaving you alone. That there was nothing he could do to change that.”

Jamie nodded.

“I can’t believe he was away for months at a time, and you had to be a prisoner inside your own house every night. You should have told us.”

She sighed and moved closer to him, staying on the other side of the kitchen counter and leaning forward. “I just always had that fear of going to sleep and not knowing if someone could have gotten into the house while I was out. There’s nothing Sam could have done for me, except worry like crazy from the other side of the world, and that wouldn’t have been good for either of us.”

“But you’re sleeping okay now?”

She shook her head, not wanting to tell the truth but wanting to lie to Brett even less. “Last night was the first time since before Sam deployed that I’ve slept through without waking. I’ve been better with Bear here this last month, so I’m not complaining, but being alone isn’t something I’ve ever been good at. I freak out at every sound and then can’t fall asleep again.”

Brett stared into his coffee cup, which she was sure must have been empty by now. “Did you sleep better because I was here with you, or because of the alcohol?”

Jamie grinned at him. “Last night might well have been a combination of both, but I have no intentions of turning into an alcoholic just to sleep through the night. Plus I have no plans of turning into my mom.”

He smiled, but he wasn’t laughing at her joke. “Let me stay for a few days, let you catch up on some sleep while I’m here.”

His voice was lower than usual, an octave deeper. She shook her head. “You don’t have to do that. I’ll be fine.”

She might have been telling him no, but inside she was screaming out for him to stay. Having Brett here would make her feel safe, let her relax and just sleep solidly for a few nights at least, but she didn’t expect him to do that.

And her intentions weren’t pure, either. Because ever since she’d starting thinking about Brett in a certain way last night, remembering how soft his lips had been, how sensual it had been pressed against his body, she’d thought of nothing other than having him here. Keeping him close. Wondering if something could happen between them, and whether he wanted it as much as she did, even if she did know it was wrong.

She took a deep breath. “I don’t want you feeling sorry for me.”

That made him smile. “I most definitely don’t feel sorry for you,” he said. “And it’s no big deal. If you want me to stay, just say so. Besides, sleeping isn’t exactly easy for me these days, and I slept through the night last night, too.”

“If I’m honest, Brett, having you here for a few days sounds idyllic.” She wanted to stay strong, but she also wanted a man in her house again. Wanted the company of someone she could actually talk to, who wasn’t afraid of the truth. Of what had happened to her husband. Because she had no one else to talk to, and no one else to turn to. She’d lost her dad and then her husband to war, and she was tired of being alone. “But only if you’re sure.”

She listened to Brett’s big intake of breath, watched the way his body stiffened then softened back to normal again. When they weren’t serving, Sam’s two best friends had been as much a part of her life as her husband had, and she missed having them all around. It was like she’d lost all three of them at once.

“Then I’ll stay. As long as you need me here, I’ll stay.”

She dropped her head to his shoulder. “He would have liked you being here, you know that, right?”

Brett shrugged, but she could tell he was finding this as awkward as she was. “You know, he made me promise to look out for you if anything ever happened to him. I just never figured that we’d actually be in that position.”

Jamie smiled. “I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me, Brett.”

Brett was her friend. Nothing more. She just had to keep reminding herself of that, because falling in love with her husband’s best buddy? Not something that could happen. Not now, not ever.

Brett could have been the man of her dreams—
once
. But now wasn’t the time to look back. Now was about the future. The one she had to build without her husband by her side. No matter how much she was thinking about
that
kiss.

“Well, if you’re staying you’re definitely not sleeping on the sofa.”

He shrugged. “Whatever’s easy for you. I don’t want to be any trouble.”

Jamie poured herself another cup of coffee and gestured for him to pass his cup over for more. “You never did say how long you were back for? What your plans were?”

Brett took the now full cup from her and looked at her over the counter. “I’m kind of done with the army.”

She felt her eyebrows shoot up. “What do you mean by
kind of?

“I mean that I’ve served my time and now I’m retired. Honorable discharge.”

“Wow.” Jamie hadn’t even considered that he might have left the army, that he was done with a role he’d been in for so many years. “Did it have something to do with what happened?” She didn’t want to bring it up again, but she also wanted to know.

The relief that hit her body, knowing that there was no chance she could lose Brett, too, was like a physical weight lifting from her shoulders. The last thing she’d need was to worry herself silly the next time both Brett and Logan were deployed. She’d lost too many men in her life to deal with the possibility of losing another.

“I was burned pretty bad on my leg and back, so my injuries were enough to put me out of action for a while, but to be honest I think I’ve given enough to the cause. I don’t think I could have gone back on deployment again after what happened, after what I went through. It’s changed how I’d react to a situation.”

“So you’ll be staying with the army, though?” she asked. “Doing something with dogs still?”

Brett shrugged. “I need to spend some time figuring my life out, what I want to do, where I want to be.” He took a sip of coffee, a thoughtful look on his face as he stared out the window. “Right now I can’t imagine a life that doesn’t involve working with a dog all day, being deployed or training for the next task-force operation. So I just need some time to process everything.”

“Can you take your time deciding?”

He nodded. “Yeah, I can. I need to focus on recovering fully, then I can figure out what I’m going to do long-term. Start over, I guess.”

And he was going to be doing a lot of that figuring out here, if she had anything to do with where he would be spending his time while he was in Sydney.

“So when you say you hurt your leg and back badly…” she began, not wanting to push him but desperate to know.

“It means I should be doing physio stretches and exercises every day,” Brett confessed, “starting this morning.”

“Well, it just so happens that I have a heap of work to do, so how about you do what you need to do and I’ll sit in my office and try to get this book finished.”

Brett grinned. “Deal.”

* * *

Brett smiled at the physical therapist through the computer screen. It wasn’t ideal, but he’d been through rehabilitation and all the hard grunt as far as his leg was concerned, and now it was just a matter of gaining the muscle strength that he’d lost and getting his body back to full capacity.

“So you’re not pushing yourself too hard yet?”

He laughed. “Not doing enough is more the problem.”

“Well, best I can advise you is to do your stretches daily, and start doing some light jogging if you’re up to it. Then you can slowly get back to the point where any type of exercise will be okay.”

He gave her a salute. “Yes, ma’am.”

She grinned. “Pleased to see you have your spark back. Obviously someone’s been looking after you now that you’re back home.”

Brett glanced up, looked at Jamie working through the open window of her office. “I’m just pleased to be back,” he told her.

“Okay, show me your leg stretches, both sides, and then you can get back to doing whatever it is that’s making you smile.”

He was pleased he’d decided to use video messaging to contact her, because otherwise another day would have passed without him doing the exercises. Before he’d come to see Jamie, he hadn’t missed a day, but she’d been more than a little distracting. The fact that she was working and could look out at him wasn’t exactly helping his powers of concentration, but he needed to block her out.

How many times had he had to just focus and get on with a task for work? Ignoring one woman shouldn’t have been a struggle, but it was.

Brett ran through the exercises, lifting both legs separately, tightening and releasing and then jumping up and down as he’d been shown to do.

“What do you think?” he asked, slightly out of breath once he’d finished the series of reps.

The physical therapist nodded. “Good work. Just keep it up and extend yourself a little bit more every day. You’ll get a feel for how hard you can push your body.”

They said goodbye and he stood up, slowly stretching before doing some fast sprints back and forth across the lawn. His leg twinged when he stopped too quickly, but he kept it up, taking care not to strain anything. Bear was watching him from the edge of the grass like he was crazy to be using so much energy in the heat, and he had a feeling Jamie might be watching him, too. He didn’t indulge himself in looking in her direction, not yet. Because staying focused was already proving to be a task he wasn’t excelling at.

When he finished he dropped to the ground to do two sets of crunches, then press-ups, before shutting his eyes and just lying in the sun. Maybe he was getting old, or maybe his body had just been through a more serious trauma than he was letting himself admit. But he was definitely ready for a shower, or a swim in a cool pool would have been even better.

“You look exhausted.”

Brett opened his eyes and stared up at Jamie. He rolled to his side and pulled up to a sitting position.

“I thought you were chained to your desk for the rest of the day?” he asked.

She sighed. “Watching you out here wasn’t helping to keep me stuck in there.”

“If you’d rather I went…”

“No,” she replied, holding out a towel and a bottle of water before he could continue. “What I want is to forget about work and just enjoy the day.”

He wiped his face and neck with the towel, before twisting the top off the water and guzzling it down.

“When’s your deadline?” he asked as she flopped down to sit on the grass with him.

“End of the week,” she said, as Bear came over and leaned against her, looking for attention. “I’ll make it, I just can’t concentrate today. Or at all, lately, if I’m completely honest. My brain just doesn’t want to switch into the right gear.”

Brett watched as she tried to push the dog away, laughing as he leaned on her and wouldn’t give up. In the end she gave up and Bear laid upside down beside her for a belly scratch.

“For someone who keeps saying she doesn’t know a lot about dogs, you’re sure developing a good friendship with this one.” Bear had his eyes closed now, in heaven at all the attention he was receiving.

“It’s not that I don’t love him, because I do,” Jamie said, smiling with her eyes as she stared at him. “I just haven’t ever had a dog before, and I wasn’t confident with telling him what to do. Or what to expect from him.”

“Love is a pretty good start,” Brett said, wishing he’d chosen his words better as soon as they came out of his mouth.

“Yeah? Well I’ve never found it hard to love, so maybe we’ll be okay after all.”

Brett stayed silent, wasn’t sure what to say. Just because he was thinking about last night, wishing that he hadn’t been so damn honorable and pushed her away when she’d kissed him, didn’t mean he needed to bring it up. The only consolation was that she didn’t have anything to regret now that she was sober, because if he’d let things go too far she might not have the same smile on her face that she did right now.

“As much as I’d like to enjoy the day with you, I think you need to get some more work done.”

She groaned. “Have you been secretly talking to my editor?”

Brett grinned. “No, but you don’t need this deadline hanging over your head, and you’ll feel so much better for doing at least some of it today.”

“You’re right, I’m just procrastinating.”

Brett sat up properly and stretched his legs out in front of him. “I’ll make you a deal.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Let me hear it.”

“I’m going to head out, run a few errands and pick up some groceries. We can cook something nice for dinner, and you can forget all about your deadline, once you’ve worked for a few hours.”

BOOK: The Returning Hero
6.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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