I spent years molding myself into someone better...

 

After the accident, entire parts of my life missing. Memories, my career, my leg… My one and only best friend who has run off and gotten married. Didn’t she know I was in love with her?

With nothing left, I give up and block everyone out. That’s when my family brings Keely here to get me back on my feet. She’s regimented and won’t put up with my lousy attitude. Sure wish Keely used the same tactics on her daughter. That girl is out of control.

I won’t put up with the kid’s bad attitude and put my foot down. That’s when the three of us turn into something more. The family of my own I never thought I’d get. The life I was so sure I’d lost out on.

A struggling single mom is the last woman I’d expect to heal a loner’s soul and rebuild their confidence. Except as Keely unlocks my heart, the secret she’s kept to keep her child safe may destroy me.


** This book deals with themes that include PTSD and darker emotional scenarios.

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COLTON

It had to have been one hell of an op last night because my brain is slow to come back online. It’s unlike me to be this groggy. More often than not, I replay the mission in those moments that sleep and awake merge. Finding the slightest missteps so that they aren’t repeated. Congratulating myself on techniques I’ve managed to improve on. Right now, I can’t fit all the pieces in place of what the team did.
But, in all honesty, who cares? I’ve been in the Navy for years. Going out on any assignment is as routine as the next. After debriefing each one melds together with the last. One more night in the classified record books. One more blip in a professional life I’m cautious to gloss over so that my mother’s mascara doesn’t run.


There’s a faint, but constant beep, beep, beep in my ear that’s starting to piss me off. It’s like the countdown on an old-style arcade racing game before hitting the gas with your driving foot. In five, four, three, two, one, I’m opening my eyes and whichever buddy is playing on my xBox is getting a pillow tossed at him. The least those ball breakers can do is turn the volume down if they’re not using headphones.


I suck in a breath, ready to tell the fucker to get the hell out. There’s an elephant sitting on my chest, making me not want to breathe. Ah hell, this is like the time I got into hand-to-hand combat and wound up with bruised and cracked ribs. Those wounds were easier to hide from Momma than the kind made by bullets or shrapnel. The doc at triage had to have given me some good pills to take the edge off. I’ll pop a few today and then toss the rest down the toilet. If there are no narcotics in my system, they’ll be quicker to clear me to go back out with the team. Sitting around is a boring bitch.


My aching head lolls to the side. The light coming through the slats of the shades is blinding. I’ve overslept and my XO is going to hand me my ass for not showing up on time. As if I’ve had way too much to drink, colored spots dance across my field of vision. It’s hard to focus so I blink, wanting to squeeze my eyes shut tight, but the lids are doughy. When I can finally make out a figure across the room, it adds to my confusion.
Colette, my closest friend, sits by a large window that spans the wall. She’s leaned back against one arm of the chair with her long legs tossed over the other, engrossed in a book. Biting the nail of her pinky, Colette crinkles her button nose and turns the page. Then she replaces the finger between her lips where it started out. She has on light blue linen capris and a loose fitting white shirt that does nothing to hide the swell of her breasts. Her bra strap shows where the neckline has fallen off her shoulder. The other hand twirls her straightened locks.


I’m certain that what I’m seeing is a mirage. Although, there are worse ways to wake up than with an eye-full of lingerie model. What I wouldn’t do to run my hands through Colette’s hair. The woman is near perfection with her clothes on. Thank goodness the postal service delivers those catalogs in my care packages to remind me of what’s underneath. Photo editing software aside, there’s not one imperfect part of her I wouldn’t kill to touch.


I’d kept those feelings to myself for a long time. It was only after taking a bullet to the shoulder that I got the gumption to tell her. Our friendship became awkward after that. I’ve tried to play it cool. Give Colette space and time to figure out for herself that I’d never hurt her. Since then, the distance during deployments has helped. There’s only so much privacy in the barracks overseas. Our conversations stuck to neutral topics like our shared nieces and NEWHOUSE; the charity that Colette is founding with my oldest sister, Brier, who happens to be married to Colette’s brother.


Colette smiles as she looks up and gazes across the room. God, she’s beautiful. She puts her feet on the floor, closes the book, setting it behind her, and uses both hands to accept a styrofoam cup. Steam from a fresh pot of coffee rises from the top. It makes my dry mouth even pastier. The muscles in my face pull into a frown. Or at least that’s what I think they’re doing. I’m still in a daze and my body reacts sluggishly.
A hand tucks an errant strand of hair behind Colette’s ear and brushes across the light cocoa skin on her cheek. She flushes as a man with red-brown hair leans in to kiss her.


Something boils up inside me recognizing Devon. Although, at least it’s not my oldest brother, Adam, turning this great dream into a nightmare. At one time, we’d both been out to win Colette’s affection. I wonder what Adam will have to say about his best friend going after a woman he’d been determined to take from me? Guess big-bro figured out Colette was out of his league… And, given the looks that are passing between two people who are acting like lovers, I am too.


My sigh comes out similar to a wounded animal groaning.


Colette turns her attention to where I’m lying. Her eyes widen and her lips part. “Oh my God! Colton?”


It’s me, I think. Gimme a minute to pull this stake out of my heart and I’ll be right with you.


There’s an odd sensation that whatever’s going on is quite real and I shouldn’t have been spying on them.


“Colton, are you okay?” The hot coffee spills over Colette’s hands.


Yup, fine. Nothing my game face won’t hide. The sarcasm is better left unsaid.


She’s swearing, shaking the heat away. Brown droplets splatter down the front of her shirt. Devon tries to hand her napkins to clean up. She pushes him away and shoves what’s left in the cup toward him.


“C, Can you hear me?”


“I can hear you fucking fine. Stop yelling,” I grunt with a low, hoarse voice that doesn’t sound like my own. I’d rather my eyes weren’t working like before. But hey, no fixing that now. At least the jealousy that had been brewing cooled when she shoved him away to get to me.


“Devon, get my phone! Where’s my phone?” Her panic makes me do the same. Those stupid video game pings go off rapid-fire, almost as if they’re in sync with how fast my heart beats.


I lift an arm, questioning what the noise is all about. Colette grabs for my hand, knocking a pulse ox monitor off of my index finger. The tones take on a different pitch. She pinches it back on and pushes a button to stop the noise.


“Here, babe. It’s already dialing Miss Lily Anne.” Devon holds her cell phone to her ear. Colette snags it with the hand that silenced the dinging. She’s crossing her arm over her chest in a way that looks uncomfortable, but she doesn’t let go of the death grip on my hand.


Take that! I win. She’s mine.


“Devon, get a nurse in here now!… Momma, get up here with Miss Rose. Colton’s awake.” Ending the call, she tosses the device to the foot of the bed. Her pretty façade crumbles. “It’s okay. Everything’s going to be okay.” It’s as if she needs to convince herself.


I try to scrub my face and a tube from an IV bangs against it, shocking me more than the gentle way Devon’s holding Colette from behind.
“Where am I?”


“In the hospital,” he says.


Well, that would make sense. I have a vague recollection of what these machines and tubing are for but am having a hard time putting everything together. Except for the fact that I wasn’t talking to Devon. He should have let Colette speak.


“What for?” I ease my head from left to right, taking in the unfamiliar surroundings. It feels like marbles are rolling around between my ears. Aware now of the IV, I touch my skull trim. It’s a little longer than I’m used to and my head’s bandaged in some areas.


“Hey, relax.” Devon moves forward to grip my wrist.


“Still playing doctor?” The remark comes out low and savage, making Colette shrink back.


“Colton, how can you say that?” Disappointment flows off her in waves.


“No, Colette. It’s all right. I’m getting the nurse.” He moves to the side but doesn’t make it far.


“Why am I here?”


“You fell. Hit your head,” she replies with hesitation.


Before I ask the next question a barrage of people cram into the room. Colette slips back against the wall. What’s left of her calm exterior breaks. If the way that Devon holds her as Colette trembles isn’t an indicator that I’ve lost everything, the flash of brilliant diamonds on her left hand as she hides her anguish from me is.


Or so I think until the doctor walks in and the rest of my world crumbles.

Copyright ©2019 Jody Kaye

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a creation of the Author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, establishments, event or locales is coincidental... That's right, I made it all up!

This excerpt is taken from an uncorrected proof of the book. Mistakes are possible... In other words, I'm human too.

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©2019 Jody Kaye