Serving overseas is a lonely duty… Captain Charlie Sparks faces an impossible task—assigned to a security detail for the sister of a fallen Marine. The last thing Charlie wants is this beautiful woman in the middle of a base in Afghanistan no matter what holiday she plans to help them celebrate. But no one asked for his opinion, and worse, she’s everything he adores in a woman and more… Mourning what might have been is a terrible burden… Jana Grimaldi had a plan—a plan to help her brother when he came home, but his death in Afghanistan left a hole in her heart and a desperate desire to do something. With the help of Congressman Sparks, she heads to Afghanistan to bring Thanksgiving to the men and women who served with her brother. Nervous and uneasy, she finds an unexpected—and familiar ally in Captain Sparks… Not all wounds heal… Charlie was one of the first people to reach out to Jana, communicating via email when her brother died—but coming face to face in the lonely desolation of the holiday connects these two wounded souls… Can Charlie and Jana find hope amidst the heartbreak this Thanksgiving?
“Miss Grimaldi?” A deep, smooth, masculine voice pulled her back to the present and the officer dressed in the deep dark tan and olive MARPATS waiting inside the door. He stood easily over six-foot. The uniform did little to disguise his broad shoulders or thick muscular arms.
Rising, she adjusted her bag and held out her hand, fumbling for a greeting. “Hi. Captain…?”
“Sparks.” Quiet hesitation arrested his features and a muscle ticked in his jaw.
The congressman’s brother was her escort.
Her heart thudded against her ribs and her nerves stretched taut. Captain Charles Sparks gave the order that led to her brother’s death—a communication failure. She understood all the terms, the reasoning, and the apologies. Even his letters expressed his heartfelt condolences and apologies. Letters she’d answered, and he’d returned regularly.
He grasped her hand and the world seemed to shrink away, as though someone dropped her in a drum and banged it loudly from the outside. His words had provided a desperately needed source of comfort—straightforward, blunt, and without any pretty excuses. A mistake had been made, one costing a good man his life. He didn’t ask for her forgiveness. He’d never asked her for it, no matter how many exchanges they’d had.
Staring into his coffee-brown eyes, she knew he hadn’t forgiven himself. And that’s why Congressman Sparks offered his help and asked for mine. Weak-kneed, she sat abruptly. Her fisted grip on the captain’s hand pulled him forward a step.
Concern rippled across his face. “Ma’am? Jana?”
Unexpected grief locked her throat and tears filmed her vision. She held up her other hand and he wavered. Fighting the urge to sniffle, she squeezed her eyes shut and concentrated on breathing. Grief might be the one emotion everyone had in common, but acceptance came in its own ways, on its own time. Understanding the concept intellectually and experiencing it, however, were two completely opposite things, because the crappiest part of her grief lay in how she couldn’t control it.
“I’m okay.” She fought to get the words out. “I’m sorry.”
“No,” he said, his voice gruff. “I should apologize. I thought you received my e-mail about being your escort.”
“I haven’t looked at my e-mail since leaving Dallas, I’ve been so focused on getting here.” Moistening her lips, she struggled to bring her tumbling emotions back into focus. It would be easy to hate the man, to blame him for what happened, and to let anger take over her grief.
But easier didn’t make it right or fair.
Belatedly, she glanced up, surprised at her white-knuckled grip still firm on his hand. He didn’t pull away or try to let her go, but sadness clouded his eyes—sadness, and quite possibly regret. “I didn’t mean to fall to pieces on you, Captain Sparks.”