Authors: Emily Mims
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: This is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of
the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance
to actual events, locales, business establishments or persons,
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Copyright © 2015 Emily Wright Mims
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To all our wounded warriors—we love
parked her old Chrysler van in the parking lot of the sprawling San
Antonio Military Medical Center and squinted up into the bright
It’s all going to be all
she promised herself as she took a calming breath and
stepped from the van.
Tommy Joe Reece is coming
home today. You’ve looked forward to this for so long, and it’s
finally happening. Your sweetheart’s coming home to you. You can
marry him now and have the life you’ve always dreamed of with
Taking another deep breath, Christi strode
briskly across the parking lot, her tall, tooled Western boots
clacking against the asphalt, and marched determinedly into the
huge medical facility. She waved and nodded as she passed the busy
nurses station and was just about to open the door to Tommy’s room
when Sergeant Gail Holbrook, Tommy’s kind but no-nonsense physical
therapist, flagged her down.
“Christi? Can I have a word or two with you
“Sure.” The apprehension Christi felt earlier
roared back with a vengeance. From the look on Gail’s face,
whatever she had to say wasn’t going to be good.
Sergeant Holbrook pointed to a small
visitors’ room at the end of the corridor. The women sat down
across from one another, the smallish, curvy blonde in stiff new
jeans and a Western shirt a sharp contrast to the middle-aged
therapist with an Afro and DCUs.
“Thanks for taking the time to talk to me,”
the therapist volunteered. “I know you’re eager to claim Tommy and
get on the road.”
“No, I thank you,” Christi said. “Something
has you concerned or you wouldn’t want to talk to me.”
The sergeant nodded. “You’re right. Christi,
I’m worried about Tommy. He’s not in a good frame of mind right now
and he hasn’t been for a while.”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” Christi
said. “He hasn’t been in a good frame of mind since the euphoria of
actually surviving the shooting wore off and the reality of what
happened to him over there set in.”
“He’s talked about this to you? He swore to
me he hadn’t said anything.”
“He doesn’t have to, Sergeant. We’ve been
together since our senior year in high school. Tommy’s an open book
to me. I know what the man’s thinking almost before he thinks
The therapist looked curious. “Most patients
come in despairing but leave on a happier note once they learn how
to function from a chair and see just how much they are still
capable of doing. Tommy’s just the opposite. The longer he’s spent
in rehab, the more despondent he’s become.”
“Well,” Christi said dryly, “so far he hasn’t
regained a single skill he needs to function in the world that’s
waiting for him in Verde.” She held up her hand when Sergeant
Holbrook started sputtering. “Yes, I know you folks taught him to
take care of his own needs and how to get around and live an
average sedentary life in that chair, and goodness knows he needs
all that, but Tommy’s life as a cattle rancher isn’t your typical
sedentary city dweller’s life. Did you talk about how he’s supposed
to gather up a cow and calf and load them into a trailer? Did you
work on how he’s going to give a kicking calf a vaccination or
castrate a little bull or put out feed in the winter? Sergeant
Holbrook, that ranch is Tommy’s life. He promised his grandfather
on the old man’s death bed that he’d keep Reece Acres a working
ranch. He’s worried that he can’t do that.”
“I see.” Sergeant Holbrook thought a minute.
“Christi, I wish I had words of wisdom to impart in that area, but
I don’t.” She paused again. “Just don’t let Tommy get too down. Do
what you can to keep up his spirits.” She reached out and clasped
Christi’s hand, adding, “The other will come. Somehow, it will
Christi nodded and murmured thanks. But how
it would come, she had no idea.
She plastered a smile on her face, retraced
the steps to Tommy’s hospital room and pushed open the heavy door.
All three beds were empty, and Tommy Joe sat in his ultra-light
wheelchair, staring out the window at the San Antonio skyline.
Christi stopped a minute and just drank in the sight of him finally
out of hospital clothes and dressed in his beloved Western shirt
and jeans. Always broad, his shoulders and chest were wider and
more muscular than ever, courtesy of the months of intense physical
therapy learning to move his entire body weight with his upper
half. His fire engine–red hair had grown out from the
high-and-tight he’d worn in the Army and was again curling a bit on
his neck and around the tips of his ears. His winter Stetson sat
beside his coat on the foot of the bed, and Christi wondered if
he’d been able to put on his tooled boots. She also wondered what
she would see on his face when he turned around to greet her.
Would he be smiling and happy that he was
finally coming home? Would he be the outgoing and cheerful young
man she’d fallen in love with when she was seventeen years old? Or
was that smiling and happy young man gone for good?
Christi cleared her throat, and Tommy
expertly turned the wheelchair to face her. His bright blue eyes
shone out of his too-pale, faintly freckled face. He had his boots
on, and he was smiling—
Christi saw with relief as she moved forward and bent over to place
a warm, tender kiss on his lips.
Tommy reached up and pulled her close,
crushing her lips against his as he gave her a hard, passionate,
promise-filled kiss, a kiss like the ones she had missed so much in
the last months. He cradled her head as his lips tasted and touched
and devoured hers with passionate thoroughness. Her insides curled
at the sensual onslaught, and Christi thought maybe Sergeant
Holbrook was wrong. Maybe Tommy’s frame of mind would be just fine
once she got him out of here.
“Are you ready to go?” she asked softly,
smiling down at him.
can hardly wait to get home with you. Let’s get out of here.” Tommy
Joe let out a happy whoop and wheeled past her, snagging his hat
off the bed. Christi picked up the duffel that held what few
possessions he had with him in the hospital, and together they made
their way out to the old van.
“Where’s my truck?” Tommy demanded. His happy
smile faded, and he stared daggers at the van.
Christi tried to hide her irritation. “Back
in the shop. Brake job. So, chill.”
“Where’d you get this old thing?” Tommy
asked, baffled. “And why?”
“Used car lot in Marble Falls, and I got it
because we need two vehicles you can drive. My stick-shift Mustang
wasn’t gonna be one of them.”
“Aw, Christi honey, you didn’t need to sell
your Mustang because of me,” Tommy said as she opened the car door.
“Besides, I’m not driving yet. Damn it!”
“That will come,” Christi said lightly.
She waited while Tommy swung himself up into
the van before she folded his wheelchair and stashed it in the
back. At first Tommy was plainly happy to be out of the hospital
and excited to be going home, chattering about this and that as
they hit the highway, but as the van ate up the miles he became
quieter and seemed lost in thought for a lot of the two-hour drive
back to his ranch a few miles outside of Verde, Texas. He was
especially quiet as they drove through the town, passing the
courthouse on the square and crossing the tall bridge suspended
high over the Verde River.
“You want to stop at the café and give a
shout out to Rory and Lisa?” Christi asked. “Now that they’ve
kissed and made up, Rory hangs out at the café so much Lisa’s
threatening to put him to work. He’ll have to quit his career as a
“Not today, thanks,” Tommy said. “I’ll see
Uh-oh, Christi thought. That wasn’t like
Tommy at all, not to want to see his best friend. Nevertheless, she
nodded and soon they were past the picturesque little town and
barreling down the highway toward Reece Acres.
Tommy’s hands were now clinched into fists,
and his jaw tightened more every mile they drove, but his eyes lit
up and a wide smile filled his face as Christi pulled up to the
gate with the metal mailbox and simple wrought iron sign bearing
the name of his ranch.
“God, it’s good to be here,” he said
“And it’s good to have you here.” Christi
stopped the van long enough to open the gate, drove through and
stopped again to pull it shut, but rather than drive on she killed
the engine and turned to Tommy. “I just want to take a minute and
welcome you home properly,” she said. She unbuckled her seat belt
and leaned across. “Welcome home, Tommy Joe.”
She took his face in her hands and placed her
lips on his, softly at first and then with increasing passion. She
captured Tommy’s mouth with her own and let her months of lonely
yearning fuel the way she tasted and touched the man she loved. She
teased and played and nibbled, and she felt Tommy’s lips melt under
hers. When his lips parted, she snaked her tongue between his teeth
to begin the kind of sensual duel they had so passionately shared
so many times in the past. She could feel his fists slowly
unclench, and he ran his hands up her arms then snaked them around
They kissed and touched for another long
passionate moment, and Christi was about to climb over the console
and sit in Tommy’s lap when he stiffened and pulled away. “Later,
okay?” he asked almost gruffly before he blinked and stared out the
“Sure thing,” Christi said. Pulling away, she
started the van so that he didn’t see the tears welling up in her
Why had he turned her away after kissing her
so passionately in his hospital room? She forced back the tears and
hoped Tommy hadn’t noticed, pasting on a smile. There would be
other kisses. The important thing was that he was home.
Or, was he? In his mind and his heart, where
it really mattered, had Tommy really come home to her today, or was
his soul still somewhere in that hospital in San Antonio? Christi
glanced over at the man in the passenger seat staring blindly out
the window, and she had to wonder.
* * *
Tommy glanced over at the tear-filled eyes of
the woman he’d loved since he was seventeen. He’d hurt Christi just
now, and he would give anything to go back to that damned gate and
kiss her senseless. But he couldn’t. It was all he could do to hold
it together and not break down screaming and crying like a