Read Home Sweet Home: A Sweet, Texas Novella Online

Authors: Candis Terry

Tags: #Contemporary Women, #PTSD, #Military, #Romance, #Contemporary, #short story, #Army Ranger, #Texas, #Fiction, #waitress, #hero, #soldier, #Sassy Woman, #novella, #Hometown

Home Sweet Home: A Sweet, Texas Novella

BOOK: Home Sweet Home: A Sweet, Texas Novella
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Home Sweet Home

A SWEET, TEXAS NOVELLA

CANDIS TERRY

Author’s Note

Dear Reader, When I first wrote “Home Sweet Home,” it was just the beginning of my adventures in Sweet, Texas. At the time, I was unfamiliar with the Wilder family, a crazy fashionista goat, an octogenarian cowboy Casanova, and an entire cast of lovable characters that eventually came with the series. Once in a lifetime you get lucky and you get a do-over. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to go back and take a deeper look at former U.S. Army Ranger Lieutenant Aiden Marshall and Paige Walker’s story.

Aiden has always been a courageous, confident man of action, but the deaths of his two best friends and having to leave his beloved four-legged friend back in Afghanistan have shaken him to the core. Paige Walker has loved Aiden all her life, and she’s anxiously waited for him to return home. When he finally arrives, he’s not quite the man she’d known before he left. Now it’s her turn to be courageous. And very, very patient.

I hope you’ll enjoy this extended version of Aiden and Paige’s story. It was so nice to get to revisit them, and Sweet, Texas, and fall in love all over again. In Rennie’s honor, a portion of the proceeds for this novella will go to several animal rescues, including a few here in my own hometown.

I love to connect with my readers, so be sure to pop by my Web site www.candisterry.com for all the latest happenings.

Happy reading!

Candis Terry

Dedication

This is dedicated to the men, women, and families of the Idaho Army National Guard at Gowen Field and the Mountain Home Air Force Base. Please accept my heartfelt thanks for your service and dedication. You keep us safe. You make us proud. God bless.

Contents

Author’s Note

Dedication
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
An Excerpt from Truly Sweet

An Announcement Page to The World of Sweet, Texas

About the Author

By Candis Terry

Copyright

About the Publisher

Chapter One

WHEN YOU GREW up in a town the size of a flea circus, anonymity was impossible.

There hadn’t been a chance in hell he could have slipped back in unnoticed even if being elusive had been a part of his profession and survival.

As an Army Ranger, Lieutenant Aiden Marshall had been to some of the most hellish corners on earth, and no one had been the wiser. Except for maybe the enemy. Yet the moment he’d cranked the key in the ignition of his old pickup, it seemed the entire population of Sweet, Texas, had heard the engine catch.

Today, he’d traded his fatigues for an old T-shirt and Levi’s, but the dog tags pressed against his heart verified he’d be a soldier till the day they put him in the ground.

He was damned lucky he wasn’t there already.

As he drove the winding road through pastures where longhorns grazed and clusters of prickly pear cactus shot up amid the tall grass, he did not take for granted the faded yellow ribbons hugging the thick trunks of the tall oaks that bordered the road. Those ribbons had been placed there for all the men and women who served. That selected group included him and two of his best childhood friends. All three of them had enlisted the same day. Survived boot camp and Ranger training together. Hit the sands of Afghanistan as one. Fought side by side.

He’d been the only one to make it back home.

The lucky one, everyone said.

He wasn’t so sure he shared the sentiment.

In the trenches, he and his buddies had added one more friend to their unit. One more who’d proven faithful, devoted, and trustworthy. One who’d offered comfort on long, dark nights and lonely days.

One more Aiden had been forced to leave behind.

The pressure in his chest tightened as he lifted his hand in a wave to the group of seniors in jogging shoes who waited to cross the road. On the way to his destination, he could not ignore the joy on the faces of those who waved or shouted “welcome back” as he passed by.

Those in his community knew none of the lingering anguish that kept him awake night after night. They were just happy he’d made it home. In one piece was an added plus.

Too bad he felt anything but whole.

His hometown had been hit hard by the loss of several upstanding soldiers. Men he’d been honored to serve with. As a survivor, he felt none of the joy and all of the guilt. Harder than strapping on his weapons and facing the enemy were the visits he’d paid to those heroes’ families upon his return. Looking them in the eye and expressing his sorrow for their loss, admitting he’d been unable to save his friends—their loved ones—had been devastating.

He should have seen it coming.

Should have been able to detect the IED that had blown up beneath their feet.

But he hadn’t.

And they’d died.

Over and over, Aiden wished he could trade places with them.

But he could not.

All he could do was offer an apology and his condolences to their loved ones. In his mind, that was too little, too late. Inadequate. Absurd. Yet it did not surprise him that these kind people took him into their embrace and offered him consolation he did not deserve. After all, they’d raised great men who’d given their lives for their country. Still, the losses—the memories—emotionally ripped the heart from his chest and the breath from his lungs.

Surviving was not all it was cracked up to be.

He had nothing left to give. To anyone. But that didn’t make the reason for his current destination any easier.

Not at all.

On Main Street, beneath the old water tower where local businesses displayed patriotic signs and the flagpole in Town Square flew a pristine Stars and Stripes, Aiden eased his truck into the gravel lot beside Bud’s Nothing Finer Diner.

Over the years, the good people of Sweet had tried their best to make the town appeal to tourists. The apple orchards—like the one his family owned—had blossomed into bed-and-breakfasts, art galleries, antique shops, and wine rooms. Judging by the near-empty streets, the place still had a long way to go.

In a space near the diner’s front door, he cut the truck’s engine, leaned back in the seat, and inhaled the aroma of thick, juicy burgers and sweet-potato fries that floated in through the window on the warm summer breeze.

Nostalgia clogged his throat and made him wish he could reverse time. Like Marty McFly, he wished he could go back to the future and change the course of events. But everyone knew wishes were a waste of time, and reality often ruled with a heavy hand.

Bud’s Diner was little more than a yellow concrete box, but since the day Aiden had been old enough to sit at the counter, he’d enjoyed the extra thick milk shakes and homemade eats that made his mouth water. Even when he’d been halfway across the world, he’d craved that tasty connection to the place he loved.

Bud’s was the first place the townsfolk came together to mourn, celebrate, or discuss local politics. It was a gathering spot for the elders to play checkers and the younger set to go on a date. Within its red vinyl booths, there had been proposals of marriage, reconciliations, and rumor had it that in 1964, Betty Jean Crawford had gone into labor and had nearly given birth because she wouldn’t go to the hospital until she finished her Diablo burger and chocolate milk shake.

Today, all bets were off. Aiden had an unpleasant task ahead of him. Regret burned like a bonfire in his chest as he snatched the keys from the ignition and stepped out of his truck.

Through six tours and countless missions in the Middle East, his mouth had watered for a slice of home. He was about to ease his craving.

Even if he had to wash it down with a sour note.

The bell above the door announced his arrival to the ranchers and community members who huddled inside around tables nicked and scarred by years of diners with eager appetites. Marv Woodrow, a World War II vet, stood on feeble legs and gave him a salute. Bill McBride, a Vietnam vet, stood and gave him a one-armed hug and a fist bump. The rest also welcomed him home as he made his way toward the busy counter. Graciously, he accepted their warm welcome though the soldier and man of lost friends inside him rebelled.

Why he was still here when his friends were not was a part of the puzzle that would never fit.

He glanced around the diner at the wood-paneled walls and the Don’t Mess with Texas décor. As wonderful as the greetings had been, there was one person he’d looked forward to seeing the most. Even though he wouldn’t enjoy giving her the news he had to deliver.

Back in the kitchen, a good-natured argument surfaced.

“Pick up your own danged pickles, Bud. I’ve got my hands full of Arlene’s sweet-potato fries, a Diablo burger for Curtis, and Walter’s patty melt.”

“But the pickles are burnin’ in the fryer, girl.”

A feminine sigh of exasperation lifted above the lunchtime chatter and forks clanging on plates. At the sound, the pressure in Aiden’s chest tightened even as a rare smile pushed at the corners of his mouth.

Before he could breathe, the owner of that sassy tone marched out of the kitchen with her thick, honey-colored ponytail swinging in rhythm with the sway of her hips.

“Here’s your melt, Walter.” She set an overflowing plate down in front of the old guy at the end of the counter. “Don’t be surprised if that hunk of meat finds its way back to the cow before Bud gets movin’ back there.”

Aiden picked up the plastic-coated menu he could recite blindfolded and watched her work. Quick hands and a sweet smile despite the snap in her words. A pair of jeans hugged her slender thighs and a yellow Bud’s Diner T-shirt molded to her full breasts and small waist.

A flurry of memories rushed back. Memories of sweet kisses, hot sex, and the delectable scent of her warm, sun-kissed skin. Good thing he was sitting down. Just looking at her while she swiped a towel over the counter had his lower half standing at attention.

Catching a glimpse of a new customer from the corner of her eye, she drawled, “I’ll be right with ya, darlin’.” Two seconds later, she tossed the towel in an out-of-sight workspace, pulled her order pad from the pocket of her apron, and made her way toward his end of the counter.

“What can I …” Pencil poised, her blue eyes lifted, and that beautiful, plump mouth slid into a warm smile. “You’re back,” she said in a slow whisper.

A quick heartbeat passed while her gaze ate him up.

Before he could blink, she launched herself into his arms.

FROM THE MOMENT she’d figured out the difference between boys and girls, Paige Walker had known what she wanted in life.

And what she wanted was Aiden Marshall.

He’d been a rough-and-tumble boy who’d cleverly escaped her amorous elementary-school intentions when she’d tried to talk him into kissing her behind the cafeteria. She’d finally caught him in high school, where he became the scholar and she the willing student in their kissing lessons. He’d been her first love and the only man she’d ever let into her heart or her body. Together, they’d learned how to love, disagree, and how to kiss and make up. They’d whispered promises in the dark and made things happen during the day.

They’d been together almost every day until the darkest day in America crashed down in the nightmare no one had ever expected. The following week, Aiden, Billy Marks, and Bobby Hansen enlisted in the Army.

After that, everything changed.

When Aiden had left for boot camp, he made her no promises and warned her he wasn’t much of a letter writer. Once he’d been approved for Ranger training, his previously infrequent letters dwindled. And over the past couple of years, he’d barely sent more than a quick note or two. Though he’d told her not to, she’d promised him that she would wait.

And she had.

Now, as his strong arms curled around her and tucked her in close, she knew all those lonely nights she’d waited with worry and fear burrowed into her heart had been worth every second.

Aiden was home.

Safe.

Sound.

Home.

Paige pressed her cheek against his faded T-shirt and listened to the steady heartbeat in his chest. She inhaled the fresh scent of his soap and his underlying masculine heat. With a sigh, she leaned her head back and looked up at him while her fingers molded around his hard, defined biceps.

A man like Aiden was impossible to ignore unless you had severely poor eyesight, or you just didn’t care for a guy with a movie-star face and a body honed for elite military missions. On top of all that, he had the most amazing mouth—soft, manly lips that knew how to give a girl a kiss she’d remember until one day—years later—she could kiss him again.

Today, he’d discarded his army fatigues and settled into a worn pair of Levi’s that accented his long, muscular legs and cupped his generous package like a lover’s hand. He looked so good, she wanted to lay him down on the counter and feast on him like an all-you-can-eat Sunday buffet.

BOOK: Home Sweet Home: A Sweet, Texas Novella
6.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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