Rhonda+Nelson+-+The+Soldier

BOOK: Rhonda+Nelson+-+The+Soldier
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The Soldier

by

Rhonda Nelson

1

Adam McPherson hovered in that murky place between awareness and sleep, clinging

desperately to the dream. He didn’t know why it was so important, why he so fiercely resisted

the pull of consciousness. But he knew when he awoke he’d be thrust unwillingly back into a

very real nightmare and the dream…

Ah, the dream was so much nicer.

Soft womanly skin, greedy feminine muscles tightening around him, the delicious draw and drag

between their joined bodies. Winnie’s hot, lush mouth against his skin, sliding over his neck, her

fingers in his hair. Her small foot moving up his right calf, eliciting a shiver as it brushed the

sensitive skin behind his knee.

Adam gasped awake as the wonderful dream abruptly ended and the harsh unfair truth of his

reality took its place. Though he knew his circumstances hadn’t changed, he couldn’t resist

glancing down at his mangled leg just to confirm that part of it was truly missing.

It was.

In the time it took to process that fact, several other truths clicked into place, as well. First, his

military career—or at least the high-octane kick-ass career he’d envisioned—could quite

possibly be over. Second, despite the achingly perfect fantasy, Winnie Cuthbert could never be

his. And third, the dream was a lie. Because he would never, ever be whole again.

Regret burned the back of his throat as he let the blanket fall once again into place. The panic

he’d worked so hard to keep at bay suddenly reared up and threatened to pull him down again,

back into that dismal place he’d found himself three and half months ago when he’d awoken

from surgery and realized that something had gone terribly wrong.

While that godforsaken roadside bomb hadn’t killed him, it had claimed a part of him he could

never get back.

Though he knew he should be thankful—as far as the injury went, it could have been a helluva

lot worse—it was hard to be appreciative when all Adam wanted was his old life back.

His old dreams. His old plans. His old body.

Three months in rehab—and counselling, of course, he thought darkly—at the Center For The

Intrepid, a state of the art clinic for amputees and burn victims in San Antonio, and a shiny new

top-of-the-line prosthetic later, he still hadn’t quite been able to come to terms with his new

circumstances. Oh, he put on a good show, though admittedly it had been harder when his

brother, Levi, had been home.

Home for the moment being Bethel Bay, South Carolina, a sleepy little backwater town nestled

just north of Hilton Head. Adam was currently staying at his parents’ bayside home until his new

orders came down. Orders that would ultimately decide his fate one way or the other. He’d either

go back and do what he’d been trained to do, or be reassigned in some other capacity, still

military, but only a shadow of the career he’d wanted and worked so hard for.

With Natalie Rowland-McPherson, his best friend and new sister-in-law, it had been easier to

pretend that he was fine. She might have seen through him, but she’d never said a word. He

smiled. Easy company, his Nat. He owed her a debt he didn’t know that he’d ever be able to

repay. Their playing cards, watching movies and generally talking trash had gotten him through

the roughest part of being back home.

Levi, on the other hand, could look at him and read every worry, fear and self-pitying thought

that he’d had since the accident. It was as awful as it was liberating. Thankfully, his brother

hadn’t tried to push him toward his so-called “emotional recovery.” He’d been content to simply

hang out before leaving for his new assignment in Germany.

They were gone now—had been for two weeks—and the darkness Adam had managed to keep

at bay for their sakes had descended with a vengeance. He knew that if he didn’t manage to

shake it off soon, he was going to be in serious trouble.

But this road, as arduous as it was going to be, was one he had to travel alone.

A soft knock sounded at his door, then his mother poked her head around the frame. Her hopeful

expression made him wince. His recent decline hadn’t gone unnoticed and the havoc it was

wreaking on his mom’s peace of mind made him feel like a selfish bastard. “Winnie’s here,” she

said, smiling.

Shit. Again? Adam thought as every muscle in his body tensed.

Why couldn’t she just stay

away? Didn’t she know what she was doing to him? How hard it was for him to keep pushing

her away when all he wanted to do was touch her, feel that smooth skin against his own?

After months of walking on eggshells around him, Adam didn’t know why Winnie had suddenly

decided to pretend like everything was normal—that he was normal—and started plaguing him

to death as she always had. He gritted his teeth.

She was absolutely killing him.

Winnie Cuthbert had been right under his nose for the past ten years, a fellow athlete, partner in

crime, peer and friend. And, though she’d always had a thing for him, he’d never been remotely

attracted to her until she’d hugged him goodbye at his and Levi’s going-away party. That simple,

innocuous touch had sizzled through him like a blast from a lightning bolt. In that instant, as

crazy as it sounded, Winnie had gone from simply being “a girl”

to The Girl.

The one he had to have.

Even though he’d fantasized about her repeatedly while he was in Iraq, Adam had tried to tell

himself that it was merely a fluke, that the almost indescribably potent attraction had to be a

figment of his imagination.

Then he’d come home—damaged, shaken and unsure of everything else in his life—taken one

look at her and had gone rock hard.

Hard evidence, indeed.

Given everything else that had happened to him, there was a measure of relief that had come

with his affirming reaction, but regret had been quickly on its heels.

He didn’t have time to want Winnie, anymore than he had time for the wallowing pit of self-pity

he’d fallen into.

Adam had to focus on getting his career back.

Furthermore, Winnie wasn’t some acquaintance on the fringes of his life, someone he could

simply walk away from later.

She was a hometown girl with until-death-do-you-part dreams.

And though the attraction was

more than anything he’d ever experienced before, Adam’s dreams were still firmly the same.

None of them involved settling down in Bethel Bay. He was married to his career. And

nothing—not even losing part of his leg—was going to change that.

Winnie was warm and funny, charming and loyal. She could bake like nobody’s business, could

shoot a basketball from half-court and catch only net. She had a wicked sense of humor and a

pair of legs that made a man’s mouth water at the thought of them wrapped around his waist. She

could run a 5K barely winded and she was the only person who’d ever been able to get a hit off

his slider. She enjoyed just about every sport—including football

—and looked even better when

she sweat.

In short, she would have been perfect for him, before the accident.

If he’d been looking for

something permanent. But he wasn’t—then or now. All he could think about at the moment was

getting back in the field, proving that it would take more than a roadside bomb to keep this

soldier out of the game.

A niggle of something unpleasant, another protest he didn’t want to contemplate, hovered in the

back of his mind, but he determinedly batted it away.

He didn’t have time. That was the reason he didn’t need to pursue this unholy attraction.

Nothing more.

Additionally, though Adam knew Winnie genuinely cared for him, he still occasionally caught a

flash of pity behind those dark blue eyes. And that was intolerable.

His jaw clenched.

He would not be pitied.

Not by her. Not by anybody.

A fragment of the dream he’d had this morning surfaced once again, sending a fresh shard of

longing through him. He bit back a groan. His loins caught fire, an altogether unpleasant

sensation when his mother was still standing in the doorway, dammit.

“Tell her I’m in bed,” he finally said, then he rolled over and pretended not to see the dejected

look on his mom’s face. Although, he did have to get out of bed sooner or later, Adam thought.

Merely thinking about getting his career back sure as hell wasn’t getting him any closer to that

goal.

“If that’s what you want,” she finally murmured, a soft sigh of disappointment in her voice.

Adam resisted an ironic laugh. No, it wasn’t what he wanted.

What he wanted was standing at

the front door, probably wearing something cute and sporty, a clear sheen of gloss on those

distractingly gorgeous lips, her black curly hair in delightful, sexy disarray.

How in the hell had he missed that? Adam wondered again for what felt like the hundredth time.

How had he not seen her? And why in God’s name did he have to see her now?

As for what he wanted…

He wanted to reenact the dream he’d just had in the flesh, every single depraved scenario. And

damn, how he wanted to kiss her, just feel the soft slide of those beautiful lips beneath his.

Though he knew it wasn’t entirely reasonable, he imagined that she’d taste like sugar, like one of

those damned delectable cakes she’d continued to bring to him from her bakery. He didn’t trust

himself to look at her for any length of time without acting on this unrelenting need.

He couldn’t. But damn how he wanted to.

He wanted to thread his fingers through hers and tug her to him, feel her lithe, warm body

aligned with his. He wanted to breathe her in and eat her up. He wanted to slide in and out of her

feminine heat until every unpleasant thought was banished permanently from his head. He

wanted to take her until he died or his balls burst, whichever came first.

Adam chuckled darkly. Either scenario worked for him, so long as he could have her. He

released a pent-up breath.

But he couldn’t follow that road.

He’d sacrificed part of his leg for his career and he’d be damned before he let an injury take it

away from him.

He was still a soldier, dammit.

2

“I’M SORRY, DEAR,”Mrs. McPherson said when she returned to the door. “He asked me to

tell you that he’s still in bed.”

Winnie Cuthbert felt her eyes widen. “But it’s ten o’clock.” Panic hit. “Did he have a bad night?

Is something wrong?” Had the nightmares returned? she wondered. She knew Adam had

suffered night terrors for the first few months after the accident, but she’d thought they’d

stopped.

Mrs. McPherson’s eyes were kind and guarded. “Not that I know of.”

“Oh.” A little punch of pain landed in Winnie’s gut. So, he just didn’t want company—her

company, specifically. Winnie chewed the inside of her cheek, struggling to keep her goal in

focus. This wasn’t about her and what she wanted. This was about Adam and what was best for

him.

And what Adam wanted more than anything in the world was to return to his Special Forces

position in the US Army. Unfortunately, while he had been assured he would be able to return to

active duty, whether he’d be able to return to Iraq, in his previous capacity, was still in question.

In two weeks he would go through some sort of physical and mental evaluation which would

determine that outcome. But instead of taking advantage of every minute to train and prepare, the

idiot was still laying in bed.

BOOK: Rhonda+Nelson+-+The+Soldier
10.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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