Former Army Sergeant Deacon Hunter is trapped.
Trapped in the friend zone. Longing for the woman who captured his heart when they were deployed in Iraq.
Former Army Sergeant Kelsey Ryder has scars, the kind of scars she hopes that no one ever sees. Working around the guys at the Pint, she’s reminded of everything she lost when she left the Army behind.
But some scars refuse to stay hidden.
One fateful night changes everything and neither of them know if their relationship will ever be the same.
All Deacon knows is that he’ll be there to catch her when she finally falls.
"Are you okay?"
"Mostly." I should present to be a rational adult and have a reasonable conversation. Anything is better than the status quo, right? “I guess…sometimes things get to me that shouldn’t.”
"Yeah. I get that." I look up at her words, the frustration in her voice echoing the tension clawing at my heart, locking the words I need in my chest. “It’s hard, though. To say when something hurts.”
I say nothing for a long moment. Letting her words sink in. Letting their possibility wrap around me.
Then I move. Silent and slow, I back her up against the wall. "You don’t have to be strong all the time," I tell her softly. Her mouth is there, just there. She is soft against me, soft in all the ways I remember.
Soft in a thousand ways that will torture me for the rest of a lifetime.
"Neither do you." She’s goading me tonight. Crossing boundaries I know she’s set in place. I can’t figure out what’s changed. If it’s the fatigue I see in her eyes or the mixture of that with too much to drink. I don’t know.
And part of me doesn’t care. Part of me only cares that she’s here. That her body is pressed to mine. That I’ve penetrated the space around her and she has not pushed me away.
God, this woman is fierce and amazing. She doesn't back down, doesn't break against the threat anyone else would read in my body.
"I will never forget what happened between us in Iraq. Or when we came home." I reach for her then, cupping her face. Sliding my thumb along her full bottom lip. Wanting so badly to taste her. To end this unnecessary distance between us. “But we don’t have to keep suffering alone. Apart. It doesn’t need to be like this.”
And goddamn her, she presses her lips to my thumb. A gentle kiss. A thousand sensual memories slash through me, ripping away any shred of my composure.
It takes everything I have not to lift her, to urge her legs around my hips and grind against her. I'm hard as a fucking stone. I know she can feel me, solid and hard against her.
She's my addiction. The one woman I dream about when I'm with someone else.
And she knows it. She has to know it.
Her barriers hurt us both.
"We spent four weeks together when we got home and I don't remember any of them. Except the nightmares." She cups my face, brushing her lips against mine. "I can't do that again. I can't get lost in the alcohol and the sex. Because it doesn't help me forget. It only makes it worse."
I lower my forehead to hers, her quiet admission gutting me, ripping through me. That’s why she’s kept us apart. That’s why she’s walked away and pretended there was nothing between us.
Her words hurt; they slice at me, reminding me of how fucking self-centered I was when I first got home, wanting to do nothing more than drink and fuck, then drink some more.
I had no idea how much she was hurting. Because I didn’t bother to look.
"I didn’t know." It’s a pitiful confession. So insufficient. I step back then, releasing her from the wall.
Letting her go when it's the last thing I want. She disappears up the stairs, quiet as a ghost.
I lower my forehead to the wooden shelf holding parts of Eli's extensive and very expensive whiskey collection. We're a long fucking way from that bloodstained container where Kelsey used to live.
But we might as well never have left.
A piece of my soul stayed back there, mixed in with the sand and the bullets and the blood.
Forever entwined with hers.
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