Today’s snippet comes to us from Jessica Scott. In my opinion no one writes better military romance than Jessica. Part of this is because she is still active duty military and has first had knowledge about what her characters are going through.
By the end of the day, Emily didn’t think she was going to have the stamina to do anything but curl up into a little ball of misery and die, but the weight pressing on her chest demanded she do something to ameliorate it. She’d long ago discovered the link between endorphins and her anxiety levels, and knew that if she didn’t go for at least a little run she was going to have to drink to get through the rest of the week.
And Emily did not drink. At least not much.
She certainly wasn’t going to fall into the same routine as her father. A martini at lunch, another after work, all with top shelf liquor, of course.
No, she didn’t need that. There were other, better ways to cope.
She pulled into the parking lot at the gym, ignoring the chime of her cell phone. She couldn’t deal with anything else from work today.
Wisniak had been admitted to the fifth floor psych ward earlier that morning. He hadn’t said anything during the entire process.
Once, he’d told her that all he’d ever wanted to be was a soldier. A leader of men.
He’d built this ideal up in his head of what he was supposed to be. He’d never been good at anything. He’d thought he could be a good soldier.
But he wasn’t living up to his own idealized image. He was so traumatized by his past and by his own perceived failure as a soldier that every day was a struggle.
What he did to himself was far worse than anything anyone in the unit could do to him. His sense of failure was staggering in its depth.
She simply counted her blessings that he’d come to her when the thoughts had gotten too dark this time.
It could have been so much worse.
Walking into the locker room, she changed quickly into an Under Armour t-shirt and running shorts. After stretching, she straddled the treadmill as she entered her weight and time. She wanted—no, she needed—to go hard and fast. Her family members worked out with trainers to maintain their appearance, and when that failed they went under the knife.
Emily worked out simply because she’d learned to love it.
Popping her ear buds in, she cranked up the hard core techno she’d learned to love before her sister had looked down her nose at it. Finding her rhythm, she focused on her breathing and just ran.
In. Out. Her breath was rhythmic and steady. Her arms swung and with the constant motion, the tension in her chest melted away. She glanced in the mirror to the gym behind her. There were several guys lifting weights. One man’s expression was so intense and scrunched up it was almost comical. He was the kind of guy who would make very loud noises just to prove his own badassery on the weights.
He probably made that same face in bed when he was coming. She giggled despite herself and saw a couple of heads turn in her direction. She looked down, embarrassed that she’d drawn attention. She wasn’t there to get stared at.
She clicked to the next song and then added incline. Her lungs protested the extra effort but she needed it. Needed the pain. Needed the pride that came in beating her previous standards. It was never good enough to simply show up. She had to do her best.
Soldiers were counting on her. Soldiers like Wisniak, who needed an advocate to stand strong for them.
She’d seen firsthand what happened to soldiers who lacked an advocate. It was why she’d joined the army in the first place. She’d lived a life of spoiled privilege.
Memories rose unbidden, taunting her with their relentless familiarity. Try though she might, she couldn’t un-hear her father’s biting words when she’d told him she had joined the army.
“Are you trying to embarrass me?” he’d asked.
“No, Father. I’m making this decision for me.”
“For you? What about Bentley? What about Chloe?”
Bentley might have been her fiancé three hours before, but she was no longer bound by that loveless pledge. And Chloe?
Emily had walked the halls of the veteran’s hospital and every word out of her best friend’s mouth had shriveled a piece of Emily’s soul. There was false compassion there. A need to be seen as caring or empathetic. But every word her best friend had uttered had dripped with a disdain, a simpering pity, a desire to be somewhere else.
For Emily, every patient they’d visited had been a different kind of well. A need to find some way to help. Listening to spoiled sons and daughters of privilege whine about their lives had suddenly seemed so…trivial.
“I’m sure Bentley and Chloe will be just fine without me.” She didn’t mention that she’d caught her best friend with her mouth on her fiancé’s erection in the pool house earlier that afternoon.
When she’d been looking for a new start, she’d chosen a place where she could make a difference and put all that East Coast Ivy League education to good use.
She glanced over as the door to the workout floor swung open.
Sergeant First Class Iaconelli filled it, his gaze sweeping the room.
It had only been eight hours since the confrontation in the office but she’d forgotten how big he was.
He no longer wore his uniform. Instead, his body was on full display in a long-sleeved t-shirt that hugged his arms and accented his broad chest. The outline of his dog tags pressed against the black fabric. It was strange that he wore the long-sleeved shirt in the warmth of the gym and in the heat outside.
She was amazed by the sheer power of the man. He did not simply fill the doorway. He owned the space.
She looked away, focusing on the rhythm of her legs, hoping he wouldn’t notice her. His being here completely defeated the reason for her workout. She’d needed a run to escape the harsh slap of his words—that she did not belong. She refused to let him get to her.
But instead, she’d run right to him. How had she never seen him there before? Gym rats were creatures of habit. Same machine. Same time. Same routine. She stared straight ahead but the specter of Iaconelli moved into her field of vision. He stood behind her, his reflection blocking out a large part of the workout floor.
She could pretend he wasn’t there and continue her run or she could face him and pray there would not be another confrontation. She might be a novice at Conflict Management 101 but she was getting better at it every day. She refused to be bullied by this man or anyone else. She glanced down at her time. She’d only gone about two miles in fifteen minutes. She’d wanted to go another half hour at least.
Iaconelli simply stood behind her. Waiting. Solid. Stoic.
She ignored him and kept running.
She even reached forward and pushed the speed faster. Her legs pumped, her lungs threatened to explode.
Still she ran, refusing to let the big man intimidate her.
She ignored him when he climbed onto the treadmill next to hers. Standing beside her, she felt the heat from him merely standing there. His was an oppressive presence.
He seemed determined to interrupt her run.
But she was determined to finish. No matter how much he silently demanded that she stop.
He was a beautiful man. She wished he wasn’t. Somehow it was easier to get into pissing contests with these testosterone-driven men when she wasn’t thinking about them naked.
And it was so, so easy to imagine this man naked. The long-sleeved t-shirt hugged his skin, leaving little to the imagination. Was his body as hard as it looked?
Sweat beaded on her forehead as she ran. She could practically feel the irritation coming from him.
Of course, Iaconelli would be the first man she’d actually thought about that way in a long, long time. A man who looked like he’d rather throttle her than talk to her.
That way? Oh Lord. What was she, twelve? She shuddered and shook off her thoughts. She was no longer the girl who couldn’t say the word “penis” without turning fifty shades of red. No, she’d gotten over any inhibitions the day she’d found her fiancé with his dick where it didn’t belong.
She was a soldier now and soldiers didn’t blush when they said the word “dick” or “penis” or any other creative turns of phrase.
If she thought Iaconelli was a beautiful man, she wasn’t going to apologize for that.
She glanced down at the timer. Deciding she’d proven her point, she slowed down to a jog.
When her breathing had slowed enough that she wasn’t gasping, she hit the emergency stop button and turned to face him.
Stay sober. Get deployed. Lead his platoon. Those are the only things that matter to Sergeant First Class Reza Iaconelli. What he wants is for everyone to stay out of his way; what he gets is Captain Emily Lindberg telling him how to deal with his men. Fort Hood’s newest shrink is smart as a whip and sexy as hell. She’s also full of questions—about the army, its soldiers, and the agony etched on Reza’s body and soul.
. . . open his heart to love?
Emily has devoted her life to giving soldiers the care they need—and deserve. Little does she know that means facing down the fierce wall of muscle that is Sergeant Iaconelli like it’s just another day at the office. When Reza agrees to help her understand what makes a soldier tick, she’s thrilled. Too bad it doesn’t help her unravel the sexy warrior in front of her who stokes her desire and touches a part of her she thought long dead. He’s the man who thinks combat is the only escape from the demons that haunt him. The man who needs her most of all.
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