SEAL Lieutenant Commander Nick Talley keeps promises, but taking care of a teammate’s sister is a vow he should’ve made. How can a man tortured by the past, help a woman fight her tough future?
Ironman qualifier, Jill Connors, is counting the days until her brother brings handsome Nick home with him. But a buried IED takes her brother’s life and a drunk driver steals her competition hopes. Will Nick want a woman with only one foot?
Love has a way of healing the wounded…one muddy step at a time.
Steps. Shit, there had to be a dozen of them leading up to the hospital entrance. Coming straight from the funeral, Lieutenant Commander Nick Talley was still in his naval dress uniform. He’d be damned if anyone caught him using the wheelchair access. As he hoisted himself up the steps, one grunt at a time, a SEAL motto ran through his brain—The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday.
Today was proving to be a helluva hard day.
Wiping the sweat off his lip, he took a deep breath and flinched. His ribs were just bruised, but hell, he’d broken bones that hadn’t hurt this badly. Plus, he ached in places no one could see. At the top of the steps, he steeled himself for what he’d find inside. The glass doors opened, and the pungent odor of disinfectant hit his nose. He hated hospitals almost as much as gravesites. Did fate have to keep punching him in the balls?
At the Information Desk, a little old lady who resembled his Granny Mo—blue hair and all—was head down in her crossword puzzle. The tag stuck off-kilter to her yellow sweater read: “Hi! I’m Lucille. Can I help you?”
“Excuse me, ma’am. I’m looking for a woman they brought in this morning. Car accident.”
“Heavens!” She smiled up at him, pressing her gnarled fingers to her chest. “Seeing a handsome man in his blues does my heart good. Real good. My husband was a Navy man too, God rest his soul. Now, what was the patient’s name?”
“Let’s see.” Squinting at the computer, she dragged her arthritic fingers slowly down the list of hospital patients. “Yes. Here she is. Oh.” Her lower lip trembled. “Dear.”
A fist strangled his vocal cords. “She didn’t survive the accident?”
“Now, don’t think the worst. She’s had surgery, which means her visitors are restricted.” The woman rose and came around the desk. Taking his arm, she said quietly, “You might not be able to see her today unless you are an immediate family member. Are you family, Lieutenant Commander?”
Nick didn’t answer. He knew better than to lie to his elders.
“I thought not. But she is important to you?”
Jill Connor was a dying man’s last wish and a promise Nick shouldn’t have made. “She’s the only thing important to me right now. I have to see her.”
Lucille nodded and gave his arm a gentle squeeze. “All right then.” She wrote on a visitor’s card and handed it to him. “Take this to the nurse at the station on the third floor. She’s a bit of a stickler about visitors, but this note should get you in. Good luck, Lieutenant Commander. I hope your lady friend gets better fast.”
Once inside the elevator, he glanced at the visitor’s card. Lucille had scrawled, “Brother of patient.”
Nick’s heart pounded. His hand shook. The ringing in his ears started up, and his vision began to tunnel. Shit, it was happening again. The card filled with blood and splattered the linoleum tiles beneath his feet. “Son of a bitch!”
He dropped the card and ground it under his heel. Blood soaked up his pant leg as if it were a thick straw. No matter how hard he stomped, he couldn’t stop the flow. He was panting when the elevator opened on the third floor.
A man got on. “Good afternoon.”
Nick nodded, picked up the card, and smoothed out the wrinkles on his pants. No blood in sight. Visions attacked him when he least expected them, and there wasn’t a damned thing he could do about them.
The nurse glanced at the “brother” card and buzzed him in without question. People saw what they wanted to see, and a decorated hero usually went where he wanted to go. Nick scrubbed his hands thoroughly at the washing station and was grateful that no blood circled the drain. He followed the nurse down a long corridor that reeked of cleaning supplies, and to him, death.
“This is her room,” the nurse said.
He hung back while the nurse messed around with the IVs going into tanned, muscular arms. A swimmer’s arms. How many times had he fantasized about them wrapped around his back?
Nick couldn’t take his eyes off the frail woman in the bed. Shadows pooled under her closed dark lashes. Brown freckles sprinkled across her nose stood out as a sharp contrast to her impossibly fair cheeks. She had random bruises too, most likely collateral damage from the airbag. The dark hair he’d only seen pulled up in a ponytail fanned out across the stark white pillow. Damn, she was beautiful, even now. But so small.
The picture he carried in his wallet had captured a stop-your-heart gorgeous athlete with tanned skin, a wicked glint in her green eyes, and a first place medal around her neck. The times they’d spoken by Skype, she’d seemed larger than life. This person in the bed clung to life.
“Your brother is here,” the nurse said softly. “Can you open your eyes?”
Jill stirred in her sleep.
The nurse turned to him. “She’s tired. If she does wake, don’t be surprised if she’s a bit fuzzy-headed. That’s normal. She’s been through a terrible trauma and might not know about the foot yet.”
Nick’s gaze swept across the off-white cotton blanket. Near the bottom of the bed, where the pillows had been piled up, he saw something he’d never wanted to see. Holy hell! Jill’s right foot was gone.
“Don’t stay long,” the nurse admonished on her way out. “If she’s thirsty, you can give her a few ice chips.”
Nick was alone with a woman he’d never met in person.
Kimberley Troutte is a Southern California girl, born and raised. She lives with her amazing hubby, two awesome sons, one old dog, a wild cat, four very large snakes and various other creatures the man/kids/dog inevitably drag in.
Kimberley has been an accountant, substitute teacher, caterer, financial analyst for a major defense contractor, real-estate broker, aerobics instructor and a freelance writer. With a B.A in Business Economics and a M.S. in Systems Management, she was destined to write romance.
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