Rebel with a holiday… Ryan Edward Brun—Rebel to his friends—has always loved Christmas. Whether raising money for Toys for Tots, delivering presents dressed up like Santa Claus or driving his platoon crazy with Christmas ‘surprises,’ he never lacked for Christmas spirit—until he lost his legs to an IED.
Operation Good Cheer… Noel Torres has watched over Rebel for months, holding his hand when he wanted to give up, and bullying him when he got lazy. But with Christmas right around the corner and decorations filling every room in their wing of Mike’s Place, the barren oasis Rebel surrounds himself with breaks her heart. He won’t call his family, he’s not sending out cards, he won’t pull any pranks—she decides to get this Marine back into the holiday action.
An elf on a mission… With the help of some kids, a few good Marines, and Santa Claus, Noel is determined to give Rebel a very Marine Christmas…
Jingle Bell Rock blasted through the speakers and more than one voice jammed out to the familiar tune echoing the song up and down the hall. The music invaded his room even after one of the nurses had closed the door for him. Rebel thumbed the volume louder on the television, hoping to mute the insidious little ditty before wormed further into his brain.
A cramp fisted in his thigh and Rebel dropped the remote and dug his fingers into the recalcitrant muscle. Gritting his teeth, a hiss of air escaped—his only concession to the pain radiating up and from his calf to pinch in his quadriceps. It’s all in your head, Marine. Suck it up. Because he had no damn calf muscle to cramp.
He had no damn calves.
Staring steadily at the news report offered him a grim distraction. Trouble in the Baltics and civil war raging in an African nation earned top news bites. Somewhere, someone always hurt worse than he did. Swinging his legs over, he tried to flatten his foot against the floor. The thunk of his faux foot on wood didn’t have the same effect.
The sound of the door opening added fresh punch to his misery as Frosty the Snowman piped in to follow the luscious, caramel skinned torturer who looked after him.
“Close the damn door,” he regretted the snarl the minute it passed his lips, but his quad wouldn’t let go and the pain had begun to radiate up his back. Flattening his prosthetic foot had zero effect and the socket friction on his skin added to the aggravation.
“Good afternoon to you, too.” Noël Torres pushed the door close with a thump, but the damn song had already begun to replicate like a virus across the walls of his mind. “Cramps?”
Even though she asked the question, she didn’t wait for his answer before crossing the room and adding her nimble fingers to the job. Seizing his thigh in both hands, she dug her thumbs right into the center of the knot, brutalizing him with a fresh wave of agony.
“You know the drill, Rebel.” Snappy and crisp, her mocha colored eyes clashed with his. “Breathe.”
He could no more ignore the order than he could the heady scent of her perfume. No expert in such matters, it was an exotic, distinctly feminine scent he associated only with Noël and for the last year, it had been his salvation. Deep breaths calmed his racing heart as her thumbs continued to apply pressure to the violent spasm seizing his muscle and bit-by-bit, it eased.
“Breathe.” She ordered him. “In for four. Hold. Out for four.”
Struggling to follow the command, he kept his attention on her. Dressed in deep yellow polo shirt that truly brought out her skin tone and her long black hair pulled back in a severe ponytail, she looked all of twelve years old.
Yeah, if twelve looked hot and edible… He scowled at the new direction his mind wandered and Noël squeezed his thigh. A burning lance of sensation stabbed him and then the muscle let go entirely and he wanted to weep.
“You’re holding your breath again.” She frowned, but she’d shifted her grip on his thigh and begun to massage it.
Reminded, he exhaled a hard sigh. “Hurts like a bitch.”
“Of course it does, you’re tense and getting worked up. You know your mood has as much of an effect on your recovery as your exercise regimen.” Disapproval hung off the last two words and Rebel sighed. “And don’t you take that impatient note with me, did you really think they wouldn’t tell me you skipped physio three days this week?”
“I was tired.” He tried to look around her, but she only shifted, transferring her firm grip to begin kneading the taut muscles of his other thigh.
“Bullshit. Your physio is not an option. Get a grip on your panties, Marine. You don’t get to play the, ‘I’m too tired’ card. We put a pin in that one three months ago.”
Three months before, he’d been in the midst of a black depression and slept day in and day out. He refused to go to therapy, refused to engage with his psych evaluation, and damn near ended up on forced medication. Noël hadn’t allowed him the luxury of mind-numbing drugs, instead, she’d all but dragged him out of bed, helped him into a wheelchair and took him for a walk in the park—pushing him around like he were a baby in a pram.
Humiliating—but effective. He went back to therapy the next day—and she’d smiled at him. The soothing stroke of her fingers unlocked the tension in his gut.
“How was your trip?” Maybe distraction would work.