Jane's Long March Home

BOOK: Jane's Long March Home
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Jane's Long March Home
Falling for a Hero [1]
Susan Lute
Crazy Hair Publishing (2011)

2nd Edition.

There’s no place like home, and to Gunnery Sergeant Jane Donovan, home is the US Marine Corps, until she makes a mistake. A tragic mistake that costs an orphaned kid from the poorest part of Madrid his life. Now, because of a little insubordination and disorderly conduct on her part, she’s about to lose the one thing she values most, leaving her with one option. Put her future in the hands of Dr. Chase Russell, or become a civilian. The choice is hers.

Chase Russell has royally screwed up. Busy chasing a lucrative book deal that would legitimize his theories about treating war veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and let’s face it, give him a certain amount of fame too, he missed a client’s cry for help and subsequent admission to the hospital for a failed drug overdose. In the aftermath, he leaves his lucrative practice in Chicago to start over on a lovely, neglected Central Oregon ranch, looking for the peace and sanctuary he craves.

When the Marine arrives, nursing a cranky hip and an even crankier disposition, he wants nothing to do with her, but the fun is just beginning. Between helping two runaway kids, and taking the stubborn Marine through play therapy, what’s an ex-counselor to do, but make sure this hero finds her way home.

RT Book Reviews

A heartwarming story about a veteran suffering from PTSD. Jane Donovan speaks for all the dedicated servicemen and women who are truly devoted to being Marines. Readers will feel as if they know these characters personally; they will experience the pain of war, while celebrating the strength and courage that is found to bring lives back from the brink of failure. A truly riveting story with beautiful characters and a plot you won’t soon forget.

Dear Reader,

Sometimes a story will get lodged in your heart and refuse to be routed. Jane's Long March Home is one such story.

I was raised in a military family, so I suppose it's natural the Marine Corps would wind up as backdrop in a lot of my writing. After working as a Labor and Delivery nurse, it was a short jaunt from there to penning stories about men and woman with indomitable wills that serve them well as they struggle to understand who they are meant to be; and in understanding, how their lives are made fuller by the love of that one person who totally gets who they are.

That's how Jane was born-

Gunnery Sergeant Jane Donovan made a mistake. She let a street urchin inside her defenses, and because she did, she’s about to lose the one thing she values most. The life she’s forged for herself in the Corps.

Busy chasing a lucrative book deal that would legitimize his theories about treating war veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Chase Russell missed a client’s cry for help and subsequent admission to the hospital for a failed drug overdose. In the aftermath, he leaves his lucrative practice to start over on a lovely, neglected Oregon ranch, looking for the peace he doesn't believe he deserves.

When the cranky Marine arrives on his doorstep, he wants nothing to do with her, but the fun is just beginning. Thrown together, their attraction is irresistible, and ultimately, what’s an ex-counselor to do, but make sure this hero finds her way home.

I hope you enjoy meeting Jane and Chase as much as I have enjoyed writing their story.

Happy Reading!

Susan Lute

www.susanlute.com

This book is dedicated to my village: Darla, Wendy, Ginger, Kim, Nancy C.B., Jessica, Linda S, Linda Y, Kristina, Delilah, Jessa, Terri, Lissa, Talana, Nancy K. You never gave up hope. Thank you.

RCRW, PASIC – you are too cool for words.

Most of all this book is dedicated to David, whose unwavering love and support has not dimmed one iota over the years; to Darren, who saw promise and opportunity when I couldn't; to Damon, who shares my wanderlust and reckless spirit; to Sari, whose heart soars and dreams alongside mine; and especially to Alexis and Dakota, who will be the next generation to go out into the wilderness and conquer.

I love you all!

 

 

 

RT Book Reviews ~
“A heartwarming [and] truly riveting story with beautiful characters and a plot you won’t soon forget.”

 

 

Night Owl Reviews ~
“A timely story that will appeal to those seeking a sweet story of finding yourself again.”

CHAPTER

I

H
ands under her armpits pulled Gunnery Sergeant Jane Donovan back from the hard surface mashing her face. Through a haze of alcohol, she heard her Corporal’s voice amidst the sounds of the bar. “Come on, Gunny. It’s time to hit the sack.”

The disembodied words were filled with patience and something else. Pity. Jane swore. That was the last thing she wanted.

Easy anger flicked to life. The same anger she’d taken such pains to obliterate with the alcohol clogging her brain so she wouldn’t remember.

Twisting away from the hands helping her into a nearby chair, She banged her fist on the table. Her vision cleared for a brief moment.

Corporal? She vigilantly searched her intoxicated memory. Yeah...Johnson.

“Johnson. I need a drink. Have a drink with me.” She recognized the slurring, thick voice as her own, but just didn’t give a damn. All that mattered was making the searing memories go away. “Come on...buy you a drink.”

“No, Ma'am. I have orders to take you home and then escort you to a meeting with the CO at oh-seven-hundred.”

Why couldn’t they leave her alone? Anger pushed her beyond any oblivion the alcohol had provided. “Not going anywhere.”

Lashing out, she aimed a fist at the Corporal’s chin. It took too much effort to bust the young Marine down to size. When he easily stepped out of reach, she over compensated, twisting awkwardly, the mind-numbing stab to her hip a cruel reminder of why she was trying to drink herself into a stupor in the first place.

When the killer pain finally evaporated, she was lying on the NCO Club floor, staring at shined-to-perfection dress shoes.

“Okay. Let’s get you home.”

No fight left, she gave in to the hands lifting her, allowing the blackness nipping her heals to catch up.

Five hours later, Jane roused, flat on her back, staring at the bedroom ceiling as drums in her head synchronized with the pulsing throb of her miscreant hip. A battering sense of loss stirred up nausea in her stomach.

She’d been dreaming of that awful day again. The drum roll increased proportionately with the bitter anguish that never went away, no matter how often she drowned herself in booze.

Maybe, if she lay perfectly still, the piercing pain of her failure would disappear...for just one damn moment.

It didn’t. The pounding in her head got louder.

“Gunnery Sergeant. It’s oh-six-hundred.”

Corporal Johnson. A vague memory of trying to knock the Corporal’s lights out sent a wash of shame and regret over Jane, compounding the bleakness that was her constant companion.

“Go away, Johnson. That’s an order.” Her voice croaked dryly, evidence the amount of whiskey she’d consumed was not particularly compatible with human tissue or sanity.

The bedroom door cracked open. Johnson bravely stuck his head through the opening. “I have orders from the CO. You’re to report to him at oh-seven-hundred.”

Jane groaned, rolled onto her stomach, the better to block out the Corporal’s baby face with his you’re-my-superior-so-I-won’t-sit-in-judgment-of-you expression. Well, the kid should pass judgment. She certainly judged herself guilty. She’d failed to do her duty. There was no way to go back and change that day now.

“Go make coffee. I don’t need you to hold my hand while I shower.”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

Before the bedroom door closed, she called the young man back. “Johnson?”

“Yes, Ma'am?”

“I’m sorry about last night.”

For the first time, the junior Marine smiled. “No problem, Ma'am. You didn’t even come close.”

Grimacing when the soft click hid the Corporal’s cocky grin, she carefully maneuvered to a sitting position. The pounding in her head combined with the pain in her hip as if competing in a wild disco dance contest. Her roiling stomach desperately attempted to keep up.

Battling her unstable gut, she dropped her aching head into shaking hands, and took slow deep breaths.
One step at a time,
she bleakly advised her battered body. That had been the best she could do since waking in a Turkish Military Hospital.

A cold shower and three strong, black coffees later, she was on her way to see her CO. Medication dulled the abuse from the night before, and her body's response to the injuries that still hadn't completely healed. Sunglasses protected burning eyes from the sharp southern sun. Her watchdog, Corporal Johnson, acted as chauffeur.

Colonel Hawke motioned for them to enter. The lifer Marine was as lean and fierce as his name. A frown etched his sharp features, his pen tapping against the papers stacked in neat piles on the utilitarian desk.

“That will be all, Corporal.”

“Yes, Sir.” His expression stoic, Johnson quietly exited the austere room.

“I don't need a babysitter,” she growled at the man who had been more of a mentor than Commander over the last five years.

“I'll be the judge of that. Have a seat, Gunny.”

Grateful for the respite offered her aching hip more than she was interested in obeying orders, Jane did as she was ordered. There wasn’t much the Colonel could say that she hadn’t already figured out for herself.

Hawke’s scowl morphed into a frown. “When was the last time you had a decent meal?”

The night before all hell broke lose.
She turned surly to hide the uneasiness joining the nausea in her stomach. “My eating habits aren’t your problem, Sir.”


You
are my problem, Gunny.” Any softness in the Colonel’s stern expression disappeared. He leaned on his arms, hands clasped on a file she presumed was hers. “You’re a grenade ready to self destruct. Drinking too much. Starting brawls in bars.”

Putting steel in her spine, she pinned her gaze to the left of the Colonel’s head. Through the window summer sparkled, but she had no appreciation or appetite for the illusion of pastoral peace.

Filling her vision was a bomb strapped to a child's chest.

“Yes, Sir.”

“That boy's death was not your fault. We have people who can help you deal with this.”

“I don’t need help, Sir.” She'd spent uncountable months, first in a Turkish hospital, then when her condition allowed traveling, at Bethesda Naval Hospital, talking to shrinks and counselors. Nobody had been able to “fix” the broken Marine.

The Colonel's tone took on a hard edge. “You've got new orders, Gunny.”

Jane's scattered attention snapped back to Hawke’s narrowed gaze. “Sir?”

“You're to report to Eagle's Outpost in Oregon for special assignment. Your orders are to get well, physically and emotionally.”

Uncontrolled anger slammed into Jane. For the first time in her military career she considered disobeying a direct order.

Before she could mutiny, Colonel Hawke's uncompromising stare told her this assignment was not negotiable. “If you don’t go, I will bust your ass right out of the Corps.”

CHAPTER

II

One week and one day later...

IF
this didn't work, the life she was so desperate to get back was headed down the toilet.

Jane parked her black Jeep next to an older white pickup. Well used and somewhat battered, it looked like she felt. Worn out and barely able to turn over her motor.

An unrelenting hammer pounded in her head, barely touched by the ibuprofen she’d swallowed earlier. Shoving a shaking hand through her unevenly cut hair, she bit back the bile threatening to crawl a burning path into her throat.

Okay, it was terror, but no one needed to know that but her.

Focus Gunny.

She took in the house, and the rundown, neglected buildings littering the yard around it. There was a long bunkhouse-like structure to one side; beyond that a huge barn and corrals that needed more than a little repair and paint.

A struggling lawn wrapped around the house. Juniper trees and an occasional tall pine grew on the hills behind the ranch house. Overhead, the sky was a clear blue. The air smelled clean - no, new and fresh, as if in this place, life had promise.

She had a hard time remembering the last time she’d felt that way. For a summer evening in early June, it was unseasonably warm in the Central Oregon high desert that bordered the Crooked River. That's what she’d heard on the radio as she’d navigated her way through the nearby town of Lone Pine.

She couldn’t bring herself to care one way or the other. There wasn't anything she wouldn't give not to be here, but she was. For one thing and one thing only - to get the help she needed to resume the life that had been shattered by a terrorist's bomb.

She used to be good at her job, at living a soldier’s life. The best, in fact. She wasn’t anymore. She’d made a holy mess of things, and the Colonel had given her one last chance to get her shit together.

Quelling the symptoms of being too long on the road without adequate food or sleep, she counted back the days. Eight since she’d had any alcohol or a cigarette. Eight long days since the Colonel had given her his last ultimatum.

Get yourself squared away. If you don't, you can kiss your upcoming re-enlistment goodbye.

The words rang like a death knell in her ears. On this ranch, out in the middle of small town America, as far from the familiarity of a Marine base as it was possible to get, she'd been ordered to find what she’d lost. Somehow, she had to get her Marine
ooorah
back.

A movement by the long building caught her eye.

“Get out of the rig, Jane,” she muttered, sweat slicking the palms of her hands where they gripped the steering wheel as if it were her last lifeline. “You’re not going to save your ass by sitting here.”

By sheer determination, she uncurled her fingers and climbed out of the Jeep. Squaring her shoulders, she cautiously approached the older man watching her. He pushed his cowboy hat to the back of his head revealing short silver hair and bushy brows over canny, hazel eyes. Seams were cut into his weathered face from more than a few years spent under a hot sun.

“Can I help you, Miss?”

“I’m looking for Dr. Chase Russell.”

“You have business with the Doc?”

Jane hesitated, then nodded. There was not an inch of give in the old man’s expression. Fear stirred her nausea. He was going tell her Russell wasn’t here and send her away.

“You’ll find the Doc out back, behind the house.” The old codger pulled a rag from his pocket, swabbed at the back of his neck, before turning to go inside the faded building.

“Thanks, Mr...?”

He glanced at her. “Gus’ll do.” And with that, he was gone.

Jane followed the grass around the house. Roses bloomed next to its side. Startlingly colorful petunias nestled beneath their thorny stems. Rounding the corner, she found a punching bag suspended from an ancient, gnarled apple tree. A man, hopefully it was Russell, was giving it the old one-two punch.

He looked like he’d had plenty of practice. His muscled chest glistened with sweat. Workout pants hung indecently low on narrow hips. A growth of dark stubble shadowed a strong lower jaw.

Jane’s stomach turned over, but this time not with the nerves she’d been fighting all morning. A twig snapped under her boot, causing him to look in her direction. Hair wet from hard exercise hung to his shoulders. Eyes the color of cinnamon checked her out, slowly making the trek from her face to her feet, taking in her black tank, and the jeans tucked into her favorite lace-up boots.

When his gaze came back to her face, her skin flamed. The corners of his lips lifted into a welcoming smile. Her breath caught in her chest.

“I’m here to see Dr. Chase Russell,” she stuttered.

Pulling off the boxing gloves, he hung them from the top of the bag before giving her his full attention. His sweats hung low, revealing the band of his briefs.

Jane jerked her gaze back to his face.

Remember why you’re here.

He held out his hand, “That would be me.”

Crap!
“I’m Jane Donovan.”

She put her hand in his. Awareness bolted up her arm.

“What can I do for you, Jane Donovan?”

Clearing her throat, she smartly gave him her military identification. “Gunnery Sergeant Jane Donovan. Colonel Matthew Hawke sent me.”

“My uncle?” That heart stopping flirtatious smile fled. “Why would he send you here?”

Surely the Colonel had told him. “He said you’d help me.”

“With what?” Suspicion coating the words, Russell dropped her hand like a hot potato and stepped back. Not the welcome she’d expected.

Heat climbed into her face. “I’m having trouble sleeping. My conduct isn’t...good. I don’t care anymore.”

It was more than she wanted to reveal, but that last part scared her more than anything.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
She was beginning to hate the clinical designation.

A hint of understanding lit knowing eyes. Just as quickly it disappeared. “I’m sorry. You’ve got the wrong guy.”

“Dr. Chase Russell. I googled you. You’re the author of
Strategies For The Country’s New Walking Wounded.”
She hoped he didn’t hear the desperation creeping into her voice.

He took another step away. “That doesn’t mean I can help you.”

“The Colonel said-” She had to get his cooperation. “He said you were a little unconventional, but an expert in these matters.” The information she’d uncovered on the internet confirmed the Colonel’s assessment.

That drew a scowl from the man. “Wait here while I call my uncle.”

All her life Jane had worked hard to be on her best behavior, especially when she was a kid, hoping one of the nice couples who came to adopt one lucky child would pick her. Until her failure in Madrid, she’d succeeded.

The sight of the man she’d been told was her only salvation turning his back on her, pushed Jane to the verge of disobeying. Big time. Which was why she’d been sent to the ranch in the first place - to resolve her inability to hold it together.

That thought was all that kept her from immediately following Russell into the house. He'd better hurry, because she didn’t have the patience to wait long.

*

Chase hung up the phone wondering how he was going to deal with the situation his uncle had thrust into his lap. He steeled himself against Matt’s request, more an order, to let the Gunny stay.

He wanted, no required, solitude.

Though he’d told his uncle over and over he couldn’t keep the Marine, it hadn’t made a damn bit of difference. You-don’t-run, you-stand-and-fight Colonel Matthew Hawke, a many times decorated war hero, had one way and one way only, to do things. That was charging straight through the middle. And right now, he wasn’t happy his nephew had walked away from a successful Seattle practice to move to a remote Oregon ranch.

You can’t run from what happened to Nate forever.

Chase pictured the woman he’d left outside. Remembered the potent awareness that kicked him in the gut the minute he’d laid eyes on her. He’d welcomed it. Frankly, considered the tug on his senses natural when clamping eyes on a beautiful lady. It was the first healthy reaction he’d had since Nate’s hospitalization.

She’d stared back, cool blue eyes not missing a thing. Her full lips, so kissable, were an unsmiling slash across an angular, lean face. Blonde hair hung in chopped layers to her graceful neck. Of their own accord, his fingers itched to touch the silky strands.

Slender and tall, she exuded barely concealed, restless energy, and wore attitude like a boxer with a string of wins under her belt. With the sudden punch of desire to see how soft she was under that tough exterior, his pulse had lurched off the charts.

Chase didn’t want to disappoint his uncle, but it was too late for that, wasn’t it? He couldn’t let his favorite relative use the sympathy building in his chest as leverage.

He was drained dry with nothing left to give. All he wanted was the sanctuary this lovely, neglected ranch had to offer.

Gunnery Sergeant Jane Donovan would not find what she was looking for here, and there was nothing he could...or was willing...to do about that.

When he turned to go tell the Marine she couldn't stay, there she was, just inside the kitchen door. Quick appreciation pricked him at the unconscious, proud angle of her sharply sculpted chin. So briefly he almost missed it, a bruised little girl peeked out of the baby blues staring him down.

She’d obviously heard his side of the conversation. Chase swore under his breath. “I’m sorry you’re caught in the middle here. I can give you names of a couple of colleagues I trust.”

Her chin angled higher. “The Colonel says you’re the one, Sir. That you have skill in dealing with my condition.”

She took a shaky breath. A flicker of admiration that had less to do with her stunning face, and more with her courage, sprang up in Chase’s gut. She was braver than he was.

“This is important to me, Sir.”

He had a sinking feeling it was going to take more than telling the Marine to leave to get her off his ranch. That left them on opposite sides, in an old fashioned standoff.

He sighed in resignation. “I’m not your superior officer. Don’t call me Sir.”

*

Jane crossed her arms and hitched a hip against the door frame. Frustration rippled through her, but she wasn’t about to tell the man refusing her request for help how close she was to having a full blown panic attack. She’d had enough of them in the last six months to recognize the signs, and her future in the Corps depended on her staying calm and rational.

She shoved aside her fear. Jane knew what her problems were. She could list them as easily as any of the medical professionals she’d seen over the last six months. Insomnia. Nightmares when she did sleep. Fracturing memories that wouldn’t fade. Trouble concentrating. Irritability that could flare into temper at the drop of a penny.

Their assessment? Not stable enough to be reassigned, or to reenlist.

Something had to be done. She'd had no success at making the problems go away. Nor could she seem to hold it together so she could get through one day without breaking apart.

The only solution was to make the irritated man glaring at her understand how much she needed his 'special skills' to get her life back. Without resorting to begging, if possible. Not that she wouldn’t do that too, if it was absolutely necessary.

Perhaps a sneak attack through the back door would win him over. “You’re not really going to boot me out, are you?”

His scowl was not a good sign. “Is there any chance at all I can get you to leave?”

She took her time digging a piece of nicotine gum out of her front pocket, popped it out of its packaging and into her mouth. She glanced over her shoulder and shuddered.

“It’ll be dark soon.” It was in the dark when her worst ghosts came out to play.

Until Madrid, Jane had never been afraid of the dark. Not even at the orphanage where her drug-addicted mother had left her when she was four years old. In all the years she’d lived there, she’d welcomed the comfort of night.

After everyone went to sleep, she’d creep out of bed, find her way down shadowy halls to the dining room so she could snuggle in her favorite chair, and read the books Sister Mary Margaret kept for her there. When her eyes would no longer stay open, the nun would come along and send her to bed.

It was quite by accident that when she graduated from high school and enlisted in the Corps, she found the one thing she never expected to have - a family of her own. She couldn’t lose that now, but how was she going to make Russell understand the dark was no longer her friend without sounding like a terrified little girl when she told him.

She settled for practicality instead. “It’s a long way back to Parris Island, and I’m tired.”

The scowl abruptly retreated from his handsome face. “You can stay the night. Use the first bedroom upstairs on your left.”

BOOK: Jane's Long March Home
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