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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Excerpt from HERO'S HOMECOMING by Rebecca Crowley

My military holiday novella HERO'S HOMECOMING hit digital shelves on Thursday, both on its own and as half of GIFTS OF HONOR, one of Carina Press's holiday collections. I can't explain how proud I am of this novella, and that it appears beside the incredible STARTING FROM SCRATCH by Stacy Gail. Today I'm sharing an excerpt from the first chapter, which is the first appearance of the hero, Chris, an infantry officer recently wounded in Afghanistan.

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Chris sat perfectly still amid the bustle and chaos of Manhattan, Kansas’s small regional airport. The normally quiet building, which consisted of little more than a check-in desk, a waiting area and a single departures gate, was teeming with holiday travelers delighted to have made it onto what would probably be the last flight to arrive before the blizzard dumped a predicted two feet of snow on the eastern part of the state.

Two children fought over a handheld video game. Their hassled mother halfheartedly scolded them, but
she was preoccupied with wondering aloud what was taking her sister so long to arrive to retrieve them. A group of soldiers discussed the trip to Washington, D.C., from which they were returning, and the marksmanship exhibition they’d taken part in there. Meanwhile another family—mom, dad and a young son—were walking toward him. He guessed from their earlier conversation that both were high school teachers in Dallas, returning to their mutual hometown for Christmas. Their voices hushed as they approached, and soon they came to a halt directly in front of him.

The father cleared his throat. “We just wanted to thank you for your service. We appreciate all that our
military does for our country.”

Chris nodded stoically. He knew he shouldn’t be ungrateful, but ever since he’d come back from Afghanistan he absolutely loathed the attention his uniform attracted. He hadn’t even wanted to wear his Army Service Uniform, but the hospital staff had encouraged him to wear something official in case he needed assistance and had to identify himself as military, and he couldn’t bring himself to put on his combat fatigues.

“That’s very kind, thank you.”

There was an awkward pause, and then the father continued, “Well, you have a merry Christmas.”

“You too,” Chris replied, and the family moved away. As soon as they were behind him, Chris heard the boy ask, “Why didn’t he want to shake your hand, Daddy?”

And in a whisper his father explained, “He just didn’t see it. He’s blind.”

Chris gritted his teeth against what was becoming an all-too-familiar sense of humiliation. Cringing, he let his sightless, useless eyes momentarily fall shut.

The hassled mother’s sister arrived. Chris heard the stress melt from the woman’s voice as she greeted her family, and he felt a twinge of jealousy. He’d insisted that he could travel home from the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio by himself, and had dismissed his parents’ offer to fly down and meet him there. He’d taken the two short flights from San Antonio to Dallas and then Dallas to Manhattan with no problem, needing only minimal assistance, and was feeling triumphant when he came through the arrivals gate in Kansas. It was only as he stood near the baggage claim, waiting to hear his name called in a familiar voice or for the recognizable scent of his mother’s perfume to waft up to his side that he began to feel uncertain.

Then his phone had buzzed in his pocket and he took his mother’s borderline hysterical call, in which
she tearfully explained that the pickup was stuck in a snowbank somewhere near Route 77 and the roads going south were quickly becoming impassable. He’d assured her that he was fine, everything would be okay and he’d get himself to a hotel in Manhattan until the weather cleared. Then he stood stock-still, wondering what the hell he was going to do, for so long that an airport employee eventually came over and asked if he’d like to be shown to a seat.

Calling Beth had been inevitable from the moment he hung up with his mother, but that didn’t mean he
hadn’t spent a solid half hour racking his brain for any possible alternative. He couldn’t bring himself to call anyone from Fort Riley, not yet—he couldn’t bear the shame of his disability, his colleagues’ valiant efforts at concealing their pity or his own guilt at having survived an attack that claimed the lives of three men under his command. He didn’t know anyone else in town and the thought of asking airport staff for a taxi number, having to find the right bills to pay the driver and then navigating a hotel lobby on his own was simply too daunting after the two plane journeys he’d already undertaken that day.

And—if he was really, cruelly honest with himself—he wanted to be with Beth again, even if only to sit beside her in hostile silence for a ten-minute car ride. It would be as close as he would get to saying goodbye.

After the suicide bomber had penetrated the compound, after the days lost to anesthesia and painkillers,
after he woke up to discover that his world had shrunk to a shifting palette of grays and shadows, he’d known he had to hurt Beth to protect her. It was only fair—they’d spent less than a week together, and he couldn’t ask her to tie herself to him and take on the burden that he had become, especially since he knew she would unhesitatingly, ungrudgingly say yes. He knew this decision would have consequences, and he comforted himself with the knowledge that he was doing the right thing by letting her go.

“Chris?”

As if on cue, the voice that had haunted his waking hours for months was behind him, accompanied by the soft swish of a heavy coat and the scent of vanilla. He swallowed hard against a rush of nerves as he hastily brushed off the front of his uniform, although he knew full well that if anything was seriously amiss with his clothing he would be the last to know. He ran his hand through his hair, picked up the collapsible white cane he hated more than anything from the chair beside him and wished for the millionth time that he could see for himself whether the facial scarring was really as minimal as everyone assured him.

Then he stood and turned to face the only woman who’d ever mattered.

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HERO'S HOMECOMING is available on its own: Carina Press * Amazon * Amazon UK * Barnes & Noble * ARe * Audible

Or as part of the GIFTS OF HONOR duology: Carina Press * Amazon * Amazon UK * Barnes & Noble * ARe

Rebecca Crowley inherited her love of romance from her mom, who taught her to at least partially judge a book by the steaminess of its cover. She writes contemporary romance and romantic suspense with smart heroines and swoon-worthy heroes, and never tires of the happily-ever-after. Having pulled up her Kansas roots to live in New York City and London, Rebecca recently relocated to Johannesburg, South Africa.

Find her on the web at rebeccacrowley.net or on Twitter at @rachelmaybe.
 

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