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Alive Day: The Homefront Trilogy, #2

Alive Day: The Homefront Trilogy, #2

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Alive Day: The Homefront Trilogy, #2

Longueur:
131 pages
1 heure
Sortie:
Aug 1, 2017
ISBN:
9781386418481
Format:
Livre

Description

Army infantry Captain Ethan Fletcher’s Air Force colonel father disapproved his choice of military branch, but Ethan didn’t care. He wanted his boots on the ground among the men he led, not to be flying high above the fray.

But after a particularly violent tour in Afghanistan costs the lives of some of his men—and nearly his own—his faith in service is shaken, his belief in himself shattered. The last thing he needs is some psych geek getting into his head, especially one who’s strong, stubborn, and sexy as hell.

Psychologist Mia Levin’s study of the 13th Infantry’s Echo Company could vault her career to the next level, and change the way the Army handles returning soldiers. But first she has to get past the unit’s overprotective captain—and keep him far from her fragile heart.

When a fender bender brings Ethan running to Mia’s rescue, the threads of a tenuous attraction begin to intertwine and strengthen into a bond that could heal them both—if they aren’t too far gone for love to reach.

Sortie:
Aug 1, 2017
ISBN:
9781386418481
Format:
Livre

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Alive Day - Rebecca Crowley

Running

One

The goat was dead.

So why was that idiot still shooting? The mangy corpse twitched and jerked in the dust as bullets pummeled it, thick, dark blood sluggishly pooling beneath it. Shit, this was really going to derail his next meeting with the village shura, and just when he thought they were beginning to make progress.

It was definitely M4 fire pounding the corpse—his troops, his responsibility, but he couldn’t figure out who was pulling the trigger or why they wouldn’t stop. He couldn’t see his men, couldn’t hear them, couldn’t look away from that patchy, flea-bitten hide, the lifeless eyes, all that blood…

Ethan jerked awake so violently his head spun, and he gritted his teeth, waiting for the room to stop careening around his skull. His neck ached from the awkward angle at which he’d been lying on the couch, and as soon as his thoughts rearranged themselves into a reasonably coherent order he registered the fuzzy, queasy curtain of drunkenness falling behind his eyes.

He looked at the half-empty whiskey bottle on the floor, and then at the digital clock on the TV. Five minutes past midnight.

He swore under his breath. All that alcohol and he’d only managed an hour’s sleep. He sighed heavily and reached for the bottle, ignoring his stomach’s protests, when the M4 went off again and then he was on his belly on the floor, covering his head with his hands.

Adrenaline sliced a clear-thinking path through his muddled brain. It couldn’t be an M4—he was at Fort Preston in Kansas. He’d come back from Afghanistan months ago. Unless someone on post was firing their carbine? No, the intervals were too erratic, and the sound was wrong, more of a lightweight crack than a sharp pop.

He thought again about the clock—of course. It was the Fourth of July, and fireworks were legal after midnight. They were still banned on post, but with less than a mile between his backyard and the gate to the county highway he’d probably be listening to this racket all night, adolescent farm kids settling into all that expansive prairie to drink beer pilfered from their parents’ fridges and watch Roman candles light up the darkness.

He couldn’t blame them. He’d been just like them, twelve or thirteen years earlier. His dad had been stationed at Robins AFB in Georgia when he was in high school, and he’d spent plenty of hot summer evenings around a bonfire by the lake, economically sucking on the single joint they’d managed to acquire, offering lazy grins to the succession of girls who tried to push their friendship into something more and who he knew he’d never see again after the next, perpetually imminent PCS, the constant re-stationing.

He hauled himself upright and sat with his back against the couch, remembering that blond, blue-eyed teenage overachiever with the whole world at the tips of his fingers.

He stretched to retrieve the whiskey bottle, those very same fingers trembling in the instant before he clamped them around the glass neck.

Before he could get the bottle to his mouth the echoing cracks rippled again, and he flinched so badly his head throbbed. The muscles between his shoulder blades were tight, his neck painfully stiff, and he couldn’t stop clenching his jaw.

This was going to be a long night.

Suddenly in urgent need of space and cool air, he lurched to his feet, the whiskey still snug in his fist. Noting and then dismissing the fact that he was only wearing salmon-pink boxers, he shoved his bare feet into his boots and clomped his way across the kitchen to the sliding glass door, not bothering to tie the laces.

He dragged open the door and inhaled deeply, trying to quell his rush of unease at the realization the fireworks were even louder outside. He took a hearty slug of whiskey and stepped into the high-fenced backyard, grateful all over again that not only did Fort Preston have Bachelor Officers’ Quarters, but the other half of his duplex had been empty for weeks. He took full advantage of the privacy and set off to prowl around the perimeter, the soothingly distracting yet safely repetitive activity giving some vent to his swelling anxiety.

More fireworks crackled in the distance. He wondered whether they were visible from here, but didn’t dare take his eyes off the grass. He took a swallow from the bottle, and then another, and then another, until he was raising it in methodical, rhythmic intervals. Right, left, right, left, swig. Right, left, right, left, swig. He tried to find comfort in the repetition, to let the throat-burning spirits wash warm and relaxing over his fevered brain, but one of the bottle rockets whistled as it soared up into the sky and he stopped short, squeezing his eyes shut.

He pressed his back against the tree and tucked his chin into his chest. That fire mission should’ve been at least seven hundred and fifty meters out, but shrapnel poured from the sky like hail, big chunks of smoking plastic and singed metal whistling through the air. Something embedded in the ground an inch from his boot with a muffled thunk. He pried one eye open. Holy shit, was that a prosthetic arm?

Ethan pressed the heels of his hands into his temples, letting the empty bottle fall onto the grass. Each time the sound of fireworks ripped through the air it seemed to resound in his skull, ricocheting off the bone, yet as much as it quickened his breath and tightened his chest the thought of going back inside, of the stuffy confinement of the house, of the nearness of the walls and ceilings and doors, was even more untenable.

He retrieved the bottle from the grass and turned it around and around in his hands. He used to be a moderate drinker, preferring the control of sobriety to the chaos of inebriation and its cringing aftermath, but this last deployment to Kunar Province had changed all that. Now he wanted oblivion, a black unconsciousness, the void where even the most vivid memories and nightmares couldn’t reach him.

He turned toward the small shed at the far end of the yard, positioned against the back wall of the rectangular fence. It was brand new, all right angles and freshly sealed pine, as immaculate and optimistic as the rest of this newly built section of post housing. For the first three nights in this house he’d had dreams there were insurgents hiding inside the shed, and he’d crept into the backyard at four o’clock in the morning to fling open the door with his sidearm raised. On the fourth night he started to fill the shed with empties, deciding the tinkling glass would be an early-warning system.

He stalked to the shed and looked inside. Bottles were dense on the ground, and in some places he’d started to stack them into a second level. He grabbed a handful, shut the door and walked halfway back to the house. Then he turned, attempted to recreate his varsity-lettering four-seam fastball grip on an empty Jack Daniel’s bottle, and hurled it at the shed.

It shattered, which he found mildly satisfying, but as he leaned forward and squinted into the darkness he saw that it hadn’t scarred the wood. He picked up a second bottle and threw it even harder.

When the shed’s door remained irritatingly pristine after his third attempt, he took several long strides closer. It wasn’t cheating if he was the only competitor—and as far as he was concerned this was a mission, not a game.

Army strong, he muttered, and launched the bottle at the shed.

It was a direct hit, but he’d misjudged the range. A host of glass shards bounced toward him, and although he leapt back to get out of the way, one of them glanced off his calf and another whispered over his forearm.

He hissed a curse as blood welled from the stinging slice above his wrist. He lowered his mouth to the wound and laved his tongue over the cut, but it was bleeding faster now. He prayed he wouldn’t need a stitch—how would he explain—

Are you all right?

His head snapped up so fast he had to take a stumbling, steadying step backward. A woman with glossy black hair that reflected the moonlight like a still pond peered over the fence, her fingertips curled over the edge.

He blinked several times, even gave himself a little shake, but she was still there, her dark eyes narrow with concern, her expression patient.

What are you standing on? he blurted dumbly, unable to think of what else to say. These fences must be seven feet high.

The barbecue grill.

Is that safe?

It’s fine—a little wobbly. Is your arm okay?

He ignored her question, so stunned at her sudden appearance that he barely noticed the blood trickling down toward his hand. I thought that side was empty. How’d you get in there?

I moved in this morning.

You’re an officer? What company?

I’m a civilian. I’m starting a ten-week assignment with the Department of Defense.

So you’re a contractor.

More or less. You’re bleeding pretty badly.

Finally he glanced down at his arm. Oh.

I’ll get my first-aid kit. Open your side and I’ll be right over.

She disappeared behind the fence before he could protest, and then he heard her sliding-glass door open into the house.

Awareness hit him like cold water coughing out of a camp shower after a long, sweltering patrol. How long had she been watching? Had she seen him pacing around the backyard like a caged animal? Did she catch a glimpse of the empty-bottle stockpile in the shed? Oh God, he wasn’t even wearing any—

I’m back. He heard the scrape of metal against wood as she unlatched the door on the

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