Series: Burning Secrets #2
Published by Boroughs Publishing Group on May 1st 2017
Genres: Contemporary Romance, Military
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A veteran and his first love meet again. Can they help each other heal on the Florida beach?
Leo Villeneuve joined the Marines and shipped off to Afghanistan because that’s what the men in his family do. And, if he’s honest, he was running from the family upheaval caused by his teen summer love’s pregnancy scare. Hard to say who was angrier, his father or her mother. He spent months in an earthly hell of heat, dust and battle before being wounded both physically and emotionally.
Now the Marine is back on Palmira Island to open a new bakery for his family’s business. But even if his first love is still here, Leo’s not sure she’ll want anything to do with a veteran suffering from PTSD so bad that he walks in his sleep — and possibly worse. If only he could remember the night the local recruiting office burned down … and whether he had anything to do with it.
Jessica Clarke was the girl left behind when her young lover was whisked away by his wealthy family. She put her life back together, and helped run her mom’s bed-and-breakfast on Palmira Island. She still loves the inn, but now she must make it a success on her own, and against opposition from her sister, who wants to sell. Still reeling from their mother’s death, Jess discovered her fiancé was cheating on her.
And just when Jess thinks her life can’t get any worse, Leo is back on Palmira Island. An older, more manly, more secretive Leo. The flame between them burns brighter than ever, but why does Leo coax her close, only to pull away? And will he still want her when he learns her secret anguish?
It both thrilled and scared him that all of his feelings for Jessica had returned full blast. “Here’s the short answer: I served in Afghanistan. I survived a bombing and held a friend as he died. The U.S. government pinned some medals on me. Then I went to work at my family’s corporate headquarters. My dad wanted to expand into Florida, Palmira specifically, so I packed up my truck and drove down here.” That was enough information for now.
“I remember you talking about the Marines and how your dad was really into them. You weren’t sure whether you wanted to enlist,” she said quietly.
He scratched his arm, the one with the scars, and stared at his feet. “Yep. But I did. Family legacy and all that.”
He looked up, and she was staring at him, horrified. She put her hand on her forehead and stammered, “Oh! God. I’m an idiot. I just made the connection. That’s why your arm… I saw it today at the beach. Did you get injured?”
Leo nodded. He stepped closer and pushed his shirtsleeve up over his bicep, revealing the patchwork of mangled skin and tattoos. “Yeah. It was a roadside bomb in Farah. I was lucky. If I’d been sitting in the backseat I would have lost the arm—or worse. Two guys in my Humvee were killed.”
Jessica’s mouth opened then closed. Her bottom lip trembled, and she looked like she was going to cry. People were affected in different ways by his war wounds, and Leo had never gotten used to any of the reactions. “Is that why you got the tattoos? To cover the scars?” Something about her eyes made him want to talk, so he continued, not knowing whether he was revealing too much. “Some of ’em I got before the bombing. I got those touched up afterward, but it’s difficult to get tattoos over scar tissue. Some I got later, on the good skin. I did it to remember.”
He tapped on a detailed black-and-white tattoo of a dog tag and a ball-and-chain necklace that snaked down his forearm. “This one’s for my friend Steve. His tags,” he added softly. “He was in the back of the Humvee, took the brunt of the explosion that day. I got him out of the vehicle and pulled him to another Humvee, but I couldn’t save him. He died on the way to the field hospital. He was my best friend in the military, from North Carolina.”
His voice cracked, and she pressed her fingertips to his arm, tracing the raised scar edges. Nerve damage didn’t allow him to feel the full force of her touch, but his brain responded and sent sparks through his body and heart. His brow twisted into a scowl, because he wasn’t sure how else to respond. He hadn’t allowed many people to touch his scars, and here she was, stroking him softly as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
“You turned into a good man, Leo Villeneuve,” she whispered.
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