ONE YEAR HOME by Marie Force
ABOUT THE BOOK:
He came home a hero and lost the only woman he’s ever loved…
I have no idea how to survive without my beloved Ava. She had no choice but to move on with her life during my six-year deployment and has now married Eric. I hate him for taking her from me. I’d prefer to wallow in my depression and heartbreak, but the whole damned world wants a piece of the SEAL Team leader who helped capture the world’s most-wanted terrorist. I need help handling the relentless requests, and when Ava sends her new sister-in-law to manage the media circus for me, I’m prepared to hate her on principle. Her brother took my Ava. What else do I need to know about her?
It takes five seconds to realize Ava’s ex is going to be the most complicated and difficult client I’ve ever had, but the opportunity to represent the most celebrated man in the world could make my career. I’m determined to do the job, even if I dislike John from the moment I meet him. And I like everyone. So much so that my brothers worry about me being exploited by those who would take advantage of my unwavering love for others. But John… He’s in a class by himself, and his bitterness is a festering wound that I begin to wish I could somehow fix for him. The more time we spend together, the more our mutual disdain morphs into something that feels an awful lot like desire. There’s no way I can want this man, or so I tell myself, and when Eric finds out I’ve developed feelings for the man causing trouble in his new marriage, well…
That’s going to be a hot mess.
The hotly anticipated follow up to Five Years Gone releases on Aug. 6!
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Read this excerpt from One Year Home.
Nothing has gone according to plan. From the second I was shot while capturing Al Khad, the most wanted man on earth, my life has spun out of control. I lost half my leg. I lost a month to an infection and then… I lost Ava, the love of my life, who is now married to someone else and on a European honeymoon. Eric. The guy’s name is Eric, and supposedly, she fell in love with him after I’d been deployed more than five years. Weeks after I saw her and learned that she’d fallen for someone else during my interminable six-year absence, it still hasn’t completely sunk in that we’re over for good. Thoughts of her, of us, of the life I wanted so badly with her, sustained me during the long years we spent apart.
That she’s gone forever is inconceivable. I’ve loved her from the moment I first laid eyes on her, eight years ago in a bar off base in San Diego. We ran into each other—literally—outside the restrooms, and that was that. We were together from then on, even when I wasn’t supposed to have entanglements or relationships that would keep me from doing a job that very few service members are ever chosen to do. My unit and its mission are so top secret that I can never share the details of what or how we do what we do with anyone. And since I returned to the US, a reluctant hero after Al Khad’s camp outed me in a video of the raid that led to his capture, everyone wants the details.
I’m overrun with media requests, so many that the navy public affairs officer assigned to me has stopped taking their calls, which means they come directly to me. How they got my number, I have no idea. I’ve got no choice but to hire someone to deal with it. That someone, recommended by Ava, happens to be her new sister-in-law, Julianne Tilden, who also happens to be the daughter of the New York governor. Good times. Not only do I get to deal with someone from Ava’s new family, the governor’s daughter is probably a pampered, privileged princess pain-in-the ass who has no concept whatsoever of what I’m dealing with.
I’m prepared to hate her on sight.
Her brother married my Ava. What else do I need to know about her?
If I wasn’t so desperate for relief from the relentless media demands, I would’ve wanted nothing to do with Ava’s new sister-in-law. Besides, what does it matter who deals with the press? As long as someone other than me does it.
I’m living in an apartment that Lieutenant Commander David Muncie, the liaison assigned to me by the navy, arranged when I was released from inpatient treatment. I’m told being released to outpatient status is a victory to be celebrated.
Whoo. Fucking. Hoo.
I don’t give a shit about anything now that Ava is gone. She was my reason for being, and I’m left with half a leg and a heart so broken, it might never beat normally again. What’s the point? I don’t know anymore, and I’m self-aware enough to realize I’m profoundly depressed. The medical professionals who deal with me on a regular basis see it, too, and have referred me to a shrink. I have his card. I just haven’t bothered to make an appointment.
What can he do? Unless he can dissolve Ava’s marriage and get her to come back to me where she belongs, I can’t see the benefit to wasting his time or mine.
The doorbell rings, and I drag myself off the sofa to let Muncie in, moving slowly on the crutches I’m still reliant upon. I spend part of every morning on the treadmill in the fitness room downstairs. I walk until my muscles tremble with exhaustion, until I’m soaked with sweat and certain I’ll never get back to where I was before I lost my leg and a month of my life to infection. Every day, I tell myself it doesn’t matter if I ever get back what’s been lost, and still I make myself take the elevator downstairs to spend an hour torturing myself on that goddamned treadmill.
“You’ve got a key,” I remind him.
“And you’ve got the ability to answer the door.”
I scowl at the comment that has become predictable after weeks in this Groundhog Day-like existence that’s my new reality.
At least Muncie brought coffees, one of which he hands to me after I’m back on the sofa. He’s learned the hard way not to speak to me until after I’ve had at least one, preferably two, cups of coffee. I’m a real joy to be around lately.
I never used to be this way. Before the deployment from hell, I had a nice life with Ava. She was all I needed to be happy, and I was all she needed. Until I disappeared without a word to her for six years, giving her no choice but to move on without me. I blame Al Khad for screwing up the loveliest thing in my life. I certainly don’t blame Ava for surviving. I just wish she hadn’t fallen for someone else. Eric. Her husband’s name is Eric. I hate his fucking guts, and I’ve never even met him.
I had this picture in mind of what it would be like to see her again. I didn’t imagine her telling me she’d found someone else, that she was in love and engaged and planning a life with him. Six weeks after that fateful meeting with her, I’m still reeling from having to let her go, because that’s what she wanted.
Life is so goddamned unfair. I gave more than six years and half a leg to the quest to bring a ruthless terrorist to justice, and what do I get as a thank-you? The rest of my life without the only woman I’ve ever loved.
“Are you going to shower before Julianne gets here?” Muncie asks from his post at the dining room table where he’s set up his laptop.
“What time is it?”
Julianne is due at ten, and I haven’t showered or shaved in days, even after sweating my ass off on the treadmill. I look nothing at all like the well-groomed naval officer I used to be before life kicked me in the balls. Maybe she ought to see the new me, the me who doesn’t give a shit about anything, even personal hygiene, so she’ll know what she’s getting if she decides to take me on as a client.
Because I’m still unsteady on the prosthetic, it’ll take me every second of the thirty minutes I have if I’m going to shower and change. I pull myself up on the crutches and hobble into the bedroom.
Muncie follows, puts the coffee on the counter and then leaves me to shower in the handicapped-accessible stall. I’m technically handicapped now. Heartbroken and handicapped. That’s me. Oh and heroic, too, if you believe the bullshit being spewed about me from coast to coast. The country is grateful. I appreciate that, but I wish they’d leave me the hell alone to wallow in my depression.
Only because it’s possible that I stink, I take the damned shower. I shave days’ worth of scruff and wash my hair. It’s gotten long—longer than it’s been since Afghanistan, when it grew past my shoulders for the first time ever. When I woke up in the hospital after I lost my leg, the hair was gone, too. I never asked who decided it needed to go. I had much bigger problems then, like figuring out how I was supposed to live without my leg.
I’m still trying to figure out how I’m supposed to go on without Ava. Standing under the warm water, I think about that first night with her, my favorite memory to wallow in when I was deployed. I could transport myself out of whatever hell I was in at the moment and be with her, my favorite place in the world to be. After I talked her into leaving the bar with me that first night, we drove around in my truck for a couple of hours, talking, laughing, listening to music and swapping life stories. She told me hers. I told her the version of mine I was allowed to share, ninety percent of it complete bullshit, such as the part about my father the general, who’d moved us from one town to another as kids.
There was no father and no “us.” I was raised in the foster system and have no family. My lack of personal connections, coupled with my former physical agility, made me an ideal candidate for the elite SEAL team that deployed to hunt down Al Khad. And we finally got the slippery bastard who’d eluded us for years before that fateful night.
But I don’t want to think about him. I want to think about her. And us. The first thing about her I noticed was that she was young. Just barely twenty-one at the time, whereas I was twenty-nine. She was way too young for me, and I should’ve kept walking right on by her. That’s the only regret I allow myself where she’s concerned—that I sucked her into my life without all the information she needed to decide for herself. I never told her, for example, that I could be deployed for years at a time, and that if that happened, I wouldn’t be able to contact her at all while I was gone.
I realize that makes me sound like the biggest dick who ever lived, but I wasn’t allowed to tell her. I wasn’t even supposed to have her in my life. And yes, I struggled with the deception. I agonized over what would become of her if the worst should happen to our country. My only excuse is that I loved her so damned much—and loved being loved by her—that I would’ve done anything to have her in my life, even if that meant lying to her every day of the two years we spent blissfully together.
I told myself then that I was doing it for the right reasons. I was protecting her from having to worry about something that might never happen. But that’s a bunch of crap. I was protecting myself from the possibility of losing the only person who’d ever truly loved me, the only person who ever belonged only to me and me to her.
I run my fingers through my hair until all the soap is out and then turn my face up to the water. I should’ve married her when I had the chance. What were they going to do? Drum me out of the SEAL team or out of the navy itself? After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to train me for the kind of mission that led to the capture of Al Khad, they wouldn’t have let me go easily. However, they could’ve demoted me or even court-martialed me for failing to stick to the rules that were spelled out to me in the clearest possible terms when I agreed to join this particular team in the first place.
It would’ve gutted me to be demoted or court-martialed. Until I met Ava, the navy and the SEAL teams had given me the first real family I’d ever had, and the thought of disappointing my commanders had been unbearable to me. That’s why I didn’t marry her when I knew I should have. I worried so much about her being left unprotected that I’d given myself an ulcer, which was another thing she never knew about. I’d told her I had reflux, and that was why I had to watch what I ate.
Whenever I need to escape from my new reality, I let my mind wander back to the most perfect night of my life, the night I met Ava in that nasty bar where Sanchez had chosen to celebrate his promotion. She’d been there with a friend who was interested in one of the navy guys who hung out there. Never in my wildest dreams had I expected to meet the woman of my dreams in such a place. But there she was, walking into the ladies’ room as I came out of the men’s room and nearly took her down.
She’d been so fresh and pretty and perfect. I told her when I saw her again recently that I knew I should’ve let her go and gone on with my life that night. The reason I didn’t was because the first second I laid eyes on her, I was a goner. One second with her and it was already too late to go on as if I’d never met her.
That first night had been like something out of a dream or a movie or someone else’s life, because perfect things didn’t happen to me. At least they never had before. But everything about Ava and me together was utter perfection, the kind of thing that comes along once in a lifetime if someone is very, very lucky. I was lucky once, and sometimes, the loss of her, of her love… I wonder if I’ll survive it. Losing my leg was nothing compared to losing her.
I talked her into coming home with me that night, and we fell into bed like we’d been together for years rather than hours. She said she’d never done anything like that before, had never gone to bed with a guy she’d only just met, but we both knew right away that this was different. The first time I sank into her sweetness, I was ruined for anyone else. I haven’t been with anyone since her and can’t imagine ever again wanting a woman the way I still want her.
Before I was injured, I would get hard as stone just thinking about that first night and the way we came together like two meteors on a collision course with destiny. Since the injury and infection, not much is happening down south. I wonder if that’s another thing that’s lost forever.
The day after I met Ava, I did something I’d never done before in twelve years in the navy and have never done again since—I called in sick to work so I could spend the entire day in bed with her. She skipped her Friday classes, and we stayed in my bed for days, sending out for food so we could fuel up and go back for more. By the time we emerged on Monday morning to rejoin our lives, she had become my life and I had become hers. That’s how fast it happened. I went from single to committed to her over the span of one momentous, sexually magnificent weekend.
I lose myself in the memories of what it had been like to love her. I remember every nuance of her body, every reaction I could draw from her effortlessly, because I spoke Ava fluently. I knew her better than I know myself. I knew what made her sigh and what made her scream and could make her come so many times, she’d be senseless afterward. I close my eyes and vividly remember the snug fit of her pussy around my cock as it contracted with one orgasm after another. She was so incredibly responsive.
But even those erotic thoughts of the woman I love don’t stir an ounce of desire in me, leaving me to wonder if I’ve lost my manhood along with my leg.
Muncie knocks on the door, interrupting the beautiful images in my mind with a cold, harsh dose of my new reality. “What’re you doing in there? She’s going to be here in ten minutes.”
“Fuck off.” How dare he interrupt my thoughts of Ava? The memories have retreated into a past so sweet, I wonder what point there could possibly be in trying to go on without her. It’s occurred to me—on more than one occasion since she made her choice—that I could take too many of the pain meds I was given when I left the hospital and make it all go away. Who would care? Ava is gone, and my two closest friends in the world were killed in the Al Khad raid. It would be so easy to take the pills, to slip away, to finally find some peace.
I haven’t done it for one very important reason. I’d never do that to Ava. I wouldn’t ruin the rest of her life by taking mine and leaving her to think it was her fault. So even though losing her nearly killed me, I force myself to continue on so my death won’t destroy her happy new life.
Screwed up, right? Believe me, I know.
I get out of the shower and fumble through the process of drying off and getting dressed, which I’ve had to relearn along with just about everything else since I lost my leg. Even with the prosthetic, my balance is precarious, and I still have a great deal of pain—real and phantom—in my missing leg.
By the time I’m dressed in jeans and a button-down that’s come from a dry cleaner thanks to Muncie, I’m completely depleted and sweating. So much for the shower.
I hear Muncie talking to someone in the next room, which means she’s here. Though it’s the last freaking thing I feel like doing, I drag myself up on the crutches and make my way to the door to meet this woman Ava swears is the best at dealing with the media and the staggering amount of bullshit that has become my life lately.
I pull open the door, and the first thing I see is a red dress and three-inch black fuck-me heels at the end of a stunning pair of legs. I may be heartbroken, but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice a great pair of legs when I see them. I let my gaze travel up the front of her until I connect with big, startled doe eyes.
I can’t believe Ava sent me Mary Fucking Poppins.
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Marie Force is the New York Times bestselling author of contemporary romance, including the indie-published Gansett Island Series and the Fatal Series from Harlequin Books. In addition, she is the author of the Butler, Vermont Series, the Green Mountain Series and the erotic romance Quantum Series. Duchess By Deception is the first in her new historical romance Gilded Series, that will continue with Deceived By Desire in September 2019.
Her books have sold more than 8.5 million copies worldwide, have been translated into more than a dozen languages and have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list 30 times. She is also a USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestseller, a Speigel bestseller in Germany, a frequent speaker and publishing workshop presenter as well as a publisher through her Jack’s House Publishing romance imprint. She is a three-time nominee for the Romance Writers of America’s RITA® award for romance fiction.
Her goals in life are simple—to finish raising two happy, healthy, productive young adults, to keep writing books for as long as she possibly can and to never be on a flight that makes the news.
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