In the peaceful northern California foothills town of Flynn’s Crossing, Serena Williamson works tirelessly to help vets receive counseling and support. Even with funding being eliminated and only months left for the services to survive, Serena is determined to continue helping those in need; cutting programs isn’t an option.
She discovers, however, that sometimes redemption comes with a price—in this case, save a mysterious loner based on the requirements of an equally mysterious donor. He looks like a vet, but she can’t find him in any database. Soon enough, that doesn’t matter; she’s already filed him in her heart. Dane Ashland doesn’t want to be helped. Haunted by memories and internal demons, and with his secrets hiding in plain sight, he knows he is better off alone, keeping his past to himself. Dane builds a physical fortress that he hopes will block out the rest of the world.
But with his internal pain already evident to everyone in Flynn’s Crossing, Serena steps in, hammer in hand, and soon he is relying on her in ways he never thought possible—and for far more than some work on his house. Dane worries that she won’t stay with him once she finds out about the past he so desperately wants to hide—even though Serena may offer him the redemption he needs to reclaim his life. Now he must try to overcome his self-loathing in order to help her save a future that could help so many others.
And here's an excerpt!
Prologue - Two Years Ago
The explosion was sudden, and in that second it seemed time stopped and everything – truck parts and flying debris, voices, even light – disappeared for a few long breaths. When it all came screaming back, there was pain so profound that he wondered if he could survive it. He could hear sobbing, realizing with shock that it was his own.
He never cried.
To his right, two soldiers who he had come to regard as friends were gone, vanished, leaving behind a haze of red and fragments no longer resembling anything human. Where the truck had been mere seconds before, there was a twisted wreck of unidentifiable metal and burning tires.
Dane attempted to stand, to run for cover or maybe into the fire, he wasn’t sure which. His legs were slow to respond and rifle fire pinned him in a crouch against the stucco wall. Heat added sweat to the blood dripping in his eyes. Confusion left him relying on years of experience and well-honed self-preservation to survive.
Around him, the others were also trying to make sense of it. This quiet sector had been peaceful for months. Then three days ago, it exploded. Friendly locals could no longer be trusted. Fighting continued day and night, and resources were slow to reach them. They were on their own for the time being.
And now an IED and a bloodbath.
Blood seeped into Dane’s boots from his legs, though at least they were still attached and he could feel his toes. His buddy Anderson to the left was seriously damaged, and it sounded like he was screaming for someone to shoot him. The good guys or the bad guys – maybe both? His legs were gone, a hell of a way to consider living.
None of this should have happened. This was supposed to be a safe area. Two years in Afghanistan and while he had seen plenty of bloodshed, Dane hadn’t seen anything like this agony. How many were dead, how many missing limbs, how many otherwise scarred for life, sometimes in ways that weren’t obvious? More of the injured were now crying out as they became aware of the extent of their wounds.
Slowly, Dane crawled under fire to an open doorway and welcoming darkness, clutching the gear that had instinctively stayed in his hands as the truck rolled from the explosion. The men in the best shape were dragging any wounded they could reach into hiding. The radioman was screaming their position back to headquarters and the static reply sounded like ‘…at least two hours’.
Two hours until help arrived?
Dane felt his vision fade and fought not to pass out, though that would have been a blessing. The combination of pain, disbelief, and noise made him feel disconnected from the scene. Time passed, he wasn’t sure how long. His bleeding seemed to slow, and someone passed him field dressings to cover the worst of his wounds. He wasn’t sure if he was one of the lucky ones or if it was just a matter of time.
Out in the street, three soldiers remained, two either dead or unconscious, and the one legless guy, Anderson, still screaming for someone to shoot him. Enemy blasts kept anyone from venturing out too far, and his squad was returning fire and trying to protect him. His voice rose and fell, and right now, he was yelling at the top of his lungs. “Just shoot me!”
Dane saw it all in slow motion. He wiped the wet from his eyes and readjusted his helmet. He crept to an opening blasted in the exterior wall. His hands, slick from his own blood, fumbled for a minute. He didn’t ask himself what he was doing, going on instinct and training. He lifted his gear, sighted, adjusted for the distance, and squinted into the light.