Her Lifeline: (A Romantic Suspense)

BOOK: Her Lifeline: (A Romantic Suspense)
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Her Lifeline

By Danica Chandler

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment. It may not be resold or reproduced in any way.

 

Copyright © 2014 by Danica Chandler

 

Cover art by Danica Chandler

Reader discretion is advised - contains adult content.

 

Without a purpose -

Nick Miller is lost. Discharged from the United States Army after fifteen years of service, he is tossed out onto the streets with no job, no family, and no real plans for the future. With a failing economy, he fears that the country he once fought for will now turn its back on him, leaving him homeless, hungry, and without a purpose. Physically and emotionally scarred, Nick wants a place to call home.

Alone and worried -

Amelia Tucker, alone with a young son and a disabled father, has taken on the sole financial responsibility of her family’s ranch in Texas. She refuses to let it be sold, but she finds herself falling behind on much of the work that was usually done by her husband who has abandoned them. With the bank and an unexpected bookie knocking at her door, she knows she needs help.

Desperate times -

Desperation brings Amelia and Nick together when he answers her want ad for a ranch hand. The pay is low, but it provides Nick with what he needs – a roof over his head, food on the table, and a place where he is wanted. Amelia is relieved to have an able bodied man around again, though the worry of losing the ranch still hovers over her.

Passion grows fast, and Amelia’s quick attraction to the tall, dark, and handsome man she hired hits her blindside. They are unable to resist each other, both realizing they are saving each other from the things that once darkened their lives. With Nick’s dark past and Amelia’s financial woes, they know there is a long road ahead in healing each other’s lives.

When her family is put in danger, Nick and Amelia pull together and prove that what they feel for each other is real. Nick is her lifeline, and Amelia is the only woman he has ever loved.

 

 

For all of the readers out there. Much love.

Prologue

 

Nick Miller sat at the bar, staring into the mirror across from him. Bottles of vodka and whiskey reflected back, offering a shimmering glow against the dim lights in the room. The bartender stood in front of him, holding the bottle of Maker’s Mark up, ready to pour more of the alcohol into his glass.

“Need a top off?”

Nick nodded and tapped the rim of his tumbler, mesmerized at the amber liquid as it flowed into his cup. The bartender, Jim he thought was his name, smiled, though his expression looked more concerned than anything else.

“You okay, buddy?”

Nick shook his head and sipped on the whiskey. “I’m getting there. Give me a few more minutes.”

Jim walked away, leaving him alone with his thoughts and his rough reflection staring back at him. Just a few days ago he had been clean cut, clean shaven, and completely sober. Now he was like the rest of the people who occupied the bar with him. His eyes were sunken in. His dark hair was disheveled and sticking out in different directions, and his facial hair was coming in thick against his tan complexion. In a few more days he’d have a full beard, which was something he hadn’t had in a long time.

It felt like sandpaper as he raked his fingers down his chin. How could things change so drastically in just a few days? He was a walking cliché. He was a man with honor, dignity, and a life he could be proud of. One little piece of paper folded up in an envelope ruined it all. Something so simple that he wished he could just rip up, throw in the trash, and pretend he never saw made his world topple over on him like a wall of bricks. He had paid his dues, worked hard, served his country, and now he was discharged onto the streets, homeless, jobless, and most of all, hopeless. Fifteen years with the United States Army. Fifteen years only to be discharged due to budget cuts against the military. It was a bitter pill to swallow and the whiskey was allowing it to go down just a tad bit smoother.

Finishing his drink, he fought with himself about having more. The burning sensation was perfect, serving as the best medicine to numb every single emotion he was feeling. Where to go now? What to do? Nick had completed three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and was put into intense war situations and never thought twice. He followed orders without blinking an eye. Now thrust into civilian life long before he was ready, for the first time since he could remember, he was terrified.

 

Chapter One

 

A pounding sensation was the first thing Nick felt when he woke up. Rolling over, he buried his head in the pillows and let out a deep groan. The alarm clock on the nightstand said nine-thirty AM and he did a double take to make sure he was reading it correctly. Rubbing his temples, he kicked the covers off and stared up at the ceiling. It had been years since he had slept that late and it didn’t feel good. His memory began to come to and small flashbacks of the night before reminded him of all the whiskey he had drank. How could he be so stupid? It wouldn’t be a bad estimation to say he had downed almost a whole bottle all by himself.

Sitting up, he winced at the discomfort. It was as if someone was playing the drums inside his skull, and each time his pulse thumped, a sharp pain shot down his neck. Kicking his legs off the side of the bed, he rested his feet on the floor and took a long look around the motel room. It wasn’t the Marriott, that was for sure. Reaching for his pants, his assumption that he had finished a whole bottle of whiskey became a reality when he noticed that his wallet was thinner. Surely the motel didn’t cost that much.

Ambling toward the bathroom, he took a hard look at himself in the mirror. The same man from the night before stared back, only looking rougher than before. This was not the path Nick wanted to take. He should have been on his way back to the Middle East for another tour, not stuck in a fleabag motel somewhere in Texas. Damn budget cuts. How many of his brothers were going through the same thing as he was? How many were going to be unemployed, begging for work?

Was he in Texas? His last duty site was Fort Hood. The army had offered to arrange travel for him, but since he was basically from Texas, Nick had shot down their offer. It didn’t matter either way. He didn’t have a place to go or somewhere he could actually call his home.

The shower felt good against his skin and alleviated his headache. His past injuries acquired during different missions ached and though he was only in his late thirties, there were days when he felt like an old man. Drinking ungodly amounts of liquor probably weren’t helping the equation.

His three-day-old beard was even thicker than the night before, but Nick just didn’t feel like shaving. Raking his hands through his hair, he maneuvered it into somewhat of a style. It didn’t matter – as soon as he walked outside it would spike out. It always seemed to have a mind of its own, and it was a matter of time before he’d just slap a baseball cap on it anyway.

Nick was so used to getting into his uniform, but he had to remind himself that he was now a civilian. There was no reason to put it on. Dressing in a black polo, jeans, and cowboy boots, rather than waiting, he put on his old and faded baseball cap to contain his hair. Taking one last glance at himself in the mirror, he was starting to hate who looked back. He tossed what little belongings he had into a duffel bag and headed out the door.

“Checking out, sir?” The front desk girl clicked her gum as she typed on the computer.

“Yes ma’am.” He slid his key across to her.

“Okay, you’re good to go, Mr. Miller. Have a good one.”

Mr. Miller.
Nick cringed at the sound of that. For so long he had been known as Sergeant Miller. He didn’t blame her – she had no idea, but it was going to take some getting used to. Tipping his hat, he went out onto the sidewalk and took a deep, long breath. What in the hell was he going to do now?

 

****

 

Amelia Tucker scanned over her bank statement, feeling a sharp pang of butterflies course through her stomach. Keeping up with the entire family ranch on her own was proving to be more of a challenge than she had thought. When she first divorced her husband, she was relieved that he wasn’t able to take it, but now she was in over her head. It would have been shameful to allow him to have it since it had been in the family for years, but now that she was going bankrupt, losing everything was inevitable.

Her father was still alive, but his health problems had proved to be too much to handle everything. It was a shot to his pride to admit it and had taken him several years to not be so stubborn about going out and working, and now with their financial problems, he was halfway out the door in an attempt to work the pastures and animals again.

“Amelia, hon, are you still going over finances?” Her father walked into the kitchen, limping as he made his way to the table.

“Dad, where is your cane? You know you need it.”

“I don’t need that thing. Why are you still looking through the books? The numbers haven’t changed.”

Amelia let out a deep breath and fought back the burning sensation behind her eyes. She couldn’t cry in front of him. She was the strong one. Her older brother had left town to pursue a big city life and it felt like abandonment, but Amelia knew they couldn’t hold him back.

“I’m just trying to think up a sensible solution, but there’s not any.”

“Sure there is,” her father replied. “I can hop back up on that tractor and get to work. The doctors don’t know me.”

“But I do. And you’re not gonna do that kind of work.”

“It’s a shame that boy of yours isn’t older. We could get him out there working too. I started plowing and working younger than him.”

Amelia thought about her son. Only seven, and already they were mapping out his future on the ranch. What if he was like her brother and didn’t want that life? What if he wanted to get out? She felt guilty in swaying his path, but the young boy had never objected or said he didn’t want to do it. In fact, he was complete opposite, always wanting to try things out on the ranch before he should have.

“I know, dad. Noah does feed the horses and cattle. But I want him to get to be a kid too. He shouldn’t have to worry about working right now. He’s a child.”

“I know. We’ll figure something out, Amelia. Stressing over the bank statement is just going to make you sick.” Her father stood up and went back toward the door. “I really admire the fight in you, hon.”

“Thanks, dad. I’ll get what I can done. Until then, we need a miracle.”

She skimmed through the statement one more time and closed it up in her notebook, burying her face in her hands. Walking out on the back porch, she took in the fresh air, fighting the urge to cry again. She couldn’t count how many times within the past year she had cried just on a whim, from her divorce, to their financial woes, to her son and all of his questions and confusion about everything.

She quickly put a lid on her emotions when Noah came running up from the back pasture, followed by three of their hound dogs. He stopped suddenly at the porch, his bright smile melting Amelia’s heart.

“Hey mommy! What’s wrong?”

Dang, the kid was so good at reading her. “Nothing, Noah. I’ve gotta make a trip into Austin this afternoon. You wanna tag along?” With it being summer, Noah didn’t have school and Amelia tried hard to keep him occupied.

“What about grandpa?”

“What about him? He’s gonna be just fine. Go put some clean clothes on and lets get going. We need to be back in time for supper.”

She loved the young boy’s excitement and wished it would rub off on her. For now, the worry of everything weighed heavy on her and she hoped there would come a day when it wouldn’t hurt to smile again. She had to stay strong for Noah and her dad, but right now, all she wanted to do was curl up in a ball and stay away from it all.

 

****

 

After a quick meal at a local diner, Nick was shocked to find a rental car place in the small town he had still had no recollection of getting to. The man at the counter stared at him as if he were from Mars, and if it wasn’t for the fact that Nick had gotten used to it, he’d have confronted him. Some things never changed, just like the way people acted in little towns when a new face came around.

“You got a map I could buy?” Nick asked, still unsure of how far he was from Fort Hood. He had no intention of going back there, but it would give him good perspective on which direction Austin was in. That’s where he wanted to go – a bigger town where the chances of finding a job would be greater. The money in his pocket was quickly dwindling away, so he’d have to find something quick before he spent his last dime on motel rooms and fast food.

The old man slid one across the counter along with the keys to the small sedan he was renting. “Where you from, Mister?”

Nick wasn’t sure how he could answer that. Smiling, he said the first thing that came to mind. “Not here.”

“Yes sir, I know that. Been here my whole life and never saw you. You up to some sneaky business?”

Nick opened the map and with some searching, found the name of the wide spot in the road that was becoming his own personal hell. It was halfway between Fort Hood and Austin, so he didn’t have too far of a drive to get where he needed to go.

“If you’re up to something, Mister, I will call the cops before you leave town. I can take that car back.”

Nick couldn’t blame the man for being suspicious. He was a stranger, didn’t have much information, and hadn’t shaved in days. He was trained to keep an eye on men like that in the army, but he still felt somewhat offended by the assumption.

“Sir, I’m just trying to get to Austin. Just got discharged from Fort Hood. I’m passing through and about to get out of your hair.”

“I apologize. Thanks for your service and I hope you find whatever it is that you’re looking for. The address of where you can drop the car off is on the keychain there. It should be close to some hotels and things right there in the city.”

Nick twirled the keys on his fingers. He didn’t normally flash around the fact that he was military, but he also didn’t want to be accused of being a criminal. He had a feeling it would happen more times than not within the next few months.

“Thanks for the map and the car.”

Walking out into the parking lot, he scoffed at the vehicle. At least it had four wheels and a motor, but he had to question if it’d make the trip to Austin, even if it wasn’t that far of a road trip. Turning the key in the ignition, he was surprised that it started right up. His next stop was Austin, and though he wasn’t feeling too optimistic about his future, Nick hoped it would prove better luck to him than the past few days. It had to.

 

****

 

Amelia was glad to be home from her trip to Austin. They didn’t live far from the city limits, but dealing with the thick traffic and busy life always overwhelmed her. Noah usually didn’t make it any easier with his wanting to stop everywhere, but at least she got her errands done. The horse feed was purchased, along with other things and she dreaded looking at the shrinking bank balance she obsessed over way too much.

Stopping at the mailbox, her heart skipped a beat when she saw an envelope inside with no return address or stamp. Tucker was scribbled in black marker. Noah had already ran up to the house and for a moment, she thought twice to open it up. Curiosity was killing her and inside was another hand written note.

 

Mr. Tucker,

It’s been awhile since I have heard from you. As you know, I need payment for the loan I gave you. Interest on the amount is growing and if I don’t hear from you, I will be forced to take further action in acquiring payment from you. You know exactly that I mean by acquiring payment, and if you do not respond soon, I will have to take action on things we discussed in our arrangement. This does not necessarily mean monetary payment. It could mean other things that I will have to go elaborate on later if it gets to that point. I really hope it doesn’t.

Don’t make me regret doing business with you, and I won’t make you regret not paying me back.

 

Amelia stared down at the note as if it was written in a different language. There was no return address or name, not even a phone number. Her father must know exactly who this was and it felt as if someone had just stabbed her in the chest. How could he go get a loan without talking to her first? How much was it for? Panic set in and she tried to fight it off. Thankfully, Noah had gone out back to the barn. Now was the perfect time to confront him.

Her pace quickened down the driveway and she took the stairs up the porch two at a time, slamming the letter down on the table beside him.

“How was Austin, Amelia?”

“Can you tell me what this is about?” She pointed down at the letter and flicked the TV off, trying to read his body language as his eyes scanned the note.

His face went white and it took him a few minutes to say anything. “I didn’t want to tell you, Amelia. With the way you stress over finances, I didn’t want to add anything to your plate.”

“Who is it? It sounds like they mean business. And a hand written note? They had to have come by the house to put it in the mailbox.”

“It’s a guy in the city. Another rancher referred him to me.”

Amelia snatched the note away and read it again as if the words had changed since the last time. “How serious is this, dad?”

He raked his hand through his hair, hesitating. “Serious enough that we better give him something soon.”

It wasn’t the answer Amelia was hoping for. She was furious and wanted to lash out at her dad, but the words wouldn’t come. All she could do was stare at him, her anger coursing through her but her mind was unable to connect everything together. What in the hell were they going to do?

BOOK: Her Lifeline: (A Romantic Suspense)
2.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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