$3,000 Big Romance Author Spring Giveaway

Big Romance Author $3,000 Spring Giveaway April 1-30th, 2016.
Big Romance Author $3,000 Spring Giveaway April 1-30th, 2016.

Attention all awesome people! This month is a cool time to be a reader. 101 of your favorite authors contributed to one massive giveaway! Giveaway rules are listed on the rafflecopter. International peeps can play! Got any questions? Feel free to ask. There are 100 ways to enter for a maximum possible 500+ entries per person. The giveaway lasts the entire month of April, so come back every day and hammer away at a few more entries until you’re all done!

ONE PERSON WILL WIN $3,000 USD! That’s the biggest giveaway I’ve seen recently! Tell your buds! Don’t miss out. You’ll kick yourself if you miss this one.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms & conditions are listed on the rafflecopter. Read it for full details. The winner will be chosen on May 1, 2016 and contacted via the email address they used to enter. CHECK YOUR EMAIL! The winner’s name will also be posted on the rafflecopter widget above.

Participating Romance Authors:

101 different authors came together to make this giveaway possible. If you’ve been looking for a new book boyfriend, or you’re literally famished between your fave author’s releases, check out some of my peeps! They write in various hot romance genres including contemporary romance, new adult romance, erotic romance, steamy romance, urban fantasy romance, dystopian romance, historical romance, futuristic/ sci-fi/ fantasy romance, Teen/ YA romance, inspirational romance and time travel romance!

Big Romance Author $3,000 Spring Giveaway April 1-30th, 2016
Big Romance Author $3,000 Spring Giveaway April 1-30th, 2016

H.M. Ward
Kim Golden
Drew Jordan
Christi Caldwell
Scarlett Metal
Chris Almeida & Cecilia Aubrey
Heidi McLaughlin
Jenny Gardiner
Stacey Joy Netzel
Merry Farmer
Mallory Crowe
Julia Kent
Jean Oram
Vella Day
Meli Raine
Sherri Hayes
Jayne Rylon
Sarah M. Cradit
Erica Ridley
Christine Zolendz
Beverly Preston
Marquita Valentine
Melissa Storm
Dana Marton
Amy Bartol
Michelle Fox
Magan Vernon
Ainsley Booth
Venessa Kimball
Sidney Bristol
K.M. Scott
J.M. Miller
Zara Keane
Eliza Knight
L.P. Dover
Sadie Haller
Patricia McLinn
Suzanne Rock
Katherine Lowry Logan
Erin Richards
Tori Scott
Danielle Stewart
P.T. Michelle
Suzan Tisdale
T.M. Franklin
Evelyn Adams
S.E. Hall
Lauren Hawkeye
Josie Bordeaux
Melanie Marchande
Raci Ames
Catherine Gayle
Sam Cheever
J.M Cole
Brooke Blaine
Ella Frank
Allison Bell
Cristin Harber
Jacki Delecki
Tawdra Kandle
Sydney Logan
Laura Kaye
Laura Kamoie
Evie Harper
P.J. Fiala
Taylor Law
Pamela DuMond
D.L. Roan
Jenni Moen
LG Castillo
Rachel Schurig
Nina Levine
Rachel Hanna
Cheryl Bradshaw
Jessica Scott
Beth Yarnall
J.T. Geissinger
Stacey Mosteller
Kylie Gilmore
Maryann Jordan
Cari Quinn
Lauren Royal
Renea Mason
Christine Bell
Felicia Tatum
Fabio Bueno
RaShelle Workman
Nana Malone
Annika Martin
Sophia Knightly
Nikki Lynn Barrett
Marian Tee
Sarah Castille
Allyn Lesley
Ambrielle Kirk
Jami Davenport
Bonnie R. Paulson
Laura Stapleton
Kennedy Layne


Must be 18 years of age or older to win. No cash value. Void where prohibited. Open to international & US residents. *The winner will receive an e-gift card via PayPal in the amount of $3000USD for this prize.* Winner must have: 1. an email account, 2. may be requested to fill out additional paperwork for tax purposes, and 3. must have a PayPal account to accept the prize. We are not responsible for fees taken by PayPal for this transaction, nor are we in any way responsible for VAT and/ or taxes. We are not responsible for items damaged or lost in the e-mail. This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook. We hereby release Facebook of any liability. By entering you agree that we are in no way to be held liable for anything pertaining to this giveaway. Winner(s) will be contacted by email 72 hours after the giveaway ends. You must claim your prize within 48 hours or it is forfeited and another winner will be selected. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send us an email!

Break My Fall On Sale Now!

ipad mini

It’s been a long time coming but Break My Fall is finally on sale.

I almost didn’t finish this book. I guess it means I’m never meant to write a sequel novel b/c this is the second time a “second book” in series has kicked my tail in an epic and unforgettable way. Guess I’ll never learn.

Oh yeah, I’ve got two contests running for two different iPad Minis. Celebrate Break My Fall & Enter to Win an iPad Mini

And for those of you on Pinterest, you can go here.

Anyway, I’ve put an exclusive excerpt up below and I hope you’ll order it this week if you can. First week sales dramatically influence author ranks on all the sites. Also, whether you loved it or hated it, reviews are incredibly important. If you’re so inclined, please consider leaving one wherever you buy ebooks.

iBooks | Amazon | Kobo | Nook | Play | Direct from Jess

Here’s the blurb

"A dark, compelling story filled with hope" – Carly Phillips, New York Times Bestselling author
"Break My Fall is pure emotion wrapped in Jessica Scott’s signature wit. Josh and Abby are the kind of characters who will stay with you long after you close the book." – Farrah Rochon,  USA Today bestselling author 
"Jessica Scott has a gift for writing characters that I feel in my heart. Break My Fall was no exception. I was all in from the first page to the last." Claudia Connor, New York Times bestselling author of Worth The Fall


I’m addicted to it. It’s how I feel alive. It’s the only thing that’s real any more.
And now I have to sit around and discuss it like it’s physics or calculus. I can’t do it. I can’t pretend that it’s some sterile academic topic. Violence isn’t sterile. It isn’t calm. It’s pulsing. It’s alive.
It’s my drug.
Until I met Abby, I never wanted anything beyond the next fight. Never considered that I might finally find a way back to the land of the living.
Now? Now I find myself dreaming of a woman with golden eyes.
But I can never be with her. Because I am not whole. And I never will be again.
But I cannot stay away.
And loving her might finally be what breaks me.  
Books in the Falling Series
Book 1: Before I Fall
Book 2: Break My Fall
Book 3: If I Fall (Forthcoming)

And check out this exclusive excerpt!


I’m a little drunk. I didn’t mean to get drunk but it was that or stare at my phone, sick with worry.
She texts me and tells me she’s okay. I want to meet up with her. I want to see her. To confirm that yes, she is okay.
I don’t, because I know she needed to do this. And I’m not going to let my own psychosis ruin something she needs to do herself. And a tiny sliver of shame slides over my spine. Of doubt that what we’d shared the other night was just a fleeting thing, a passing hookup destined for the memory banks to be recalled when I was too drunk or too fucking sad to avoid taking that stone from my ruck sack.
But I’ve reached the point of not knowing what else to do with myself. I can’t sit at the bar any more.
I step out into the darkness.
And I am not so drunk that I miss Abby walking up, momentarily caught in the shadows cast between the overhead lights.
I see her.
She is beautiful. A soft mix of shadows and light. A beacon in the dark haze of alcohol and fatigue.
She doesn’t turn away. Instead, she walks toward me. There is a hesitation in her movements.
“Hey.” My best pick-up line.
“How did things go with Graham?” I honestly want to know.
“He got his dad’s watch back.”
There’s something more, something she’s not telling me. She’s chewing on her inner lip, her hands stuffed in her pockets.
And just like that, the hypothetical violence we dissect in class is very real once more. “Is he okay?”
She tips her chin and looks at me, her golden eyes filled with sad questions. “You really are one of the good ones, aren’t you?”
I pause, her question breaking through the haze in my brain, and I have to think hard on what I actually said, in case it was something deeply inappropriate. It takes me back a little, pushes behind a defense for a moment. To a place I’m not comfortable being pushed. “For asking if your friend is okay?”
She swallows and doesn’t look away. It’s one of the things that draws me to her. She went into a shitty situation tonight. For a friend. As a soldier, that kind of loyalty speaks to me, calls to me. Draws me closer to her.
As someone lost, looking to find his way home again.
Or maybe for the first time.
But she doesn’t answer for a long time. “I’m sorry,” she mumbles. “It’s just you keep surprising me.” I suddenly badly want to feel her lips on me. Her fingers. Her body pressed to mine.
The allure of that siren call is fierce and compelling.
Then her gaze collides with mine and she steps into my space.
I’m drunk. But not so drunk that I can’t slip my hands around her waist and draw her closer. I resent the clothing between us, separating her skin from mine. I resent the streetlamp overhead, the city street that is not a private space.
“I’m a little drunk,” I whisper against her mouth.
“I can taste that.” Her words brush across my lips, followed by a fleeting sensation of her lips against mine. She is soft and sweet and tastes like mint and a thousand bright lights.
Her words send a cascade of imagery through my brain, a starburst of her body spread beneath me, her dark skin cast in shadows and light. My mouth on her. Her taste on my tongue.
I want this. Holy god, but I want.
“I don’t want to be alone,” she whispers.
I slide my hand over her cheek, cradling her face. For a moment I just stand there, savoring the feel of her skin beneath mine, the sensation of touching someone I care about. For a moment, it doesn’t matter that I’m broken, that I can’t love her fully and right like she deserves.
For a moment, she is enough.
I nip her bottom lip. Her breath huffs into my mouth and I want to swallow the sensation and savor it. I press my lips to hers. She opens for my hesitant touch, her tongue brushing against mine, twining, dancing, tasting.
An erotic twist of moist, delicate strokes.
She makes a warm sound in her throat. “I live very close to here.”
I am suddenly a very thankful man. “You don’t mind that I’ve been drinking? I might not be able to get it up.” The truth, hidden in an alcohol-laden confession.
“You’re not a violent drunk, are you?”
I lower my forehead to hers. “Not with women.”
She slides closer, her body aligned with mine. Until I can feel the inhalation of her breath.
“And we already know you’re very good with your mouth,” she whispers in my ear. Her breath is hot. My body shudders with arousal, dark and needy and far too long denied. I can almost imagine a shiver of sensation in the vicinity of my dick.
I smile and nip at her ear. “That was just a warm up.”
This time, it is Abby who shivers, her body trembling. I can feel the shift in her. The lithe, erotic tension twisting through her sinews, making them soft and supple.
She buries her face in my neck. “Oh god, just the thought of that is making me crazy.”
“Of what?” I whisper. “Can you say it?” I press my lips to her neck where the pulse is scattered and quick. “Tell me what you want?”
We are standing in the street, bathed in overhead light. She is pressed to me, her body as close as it can be while fully clothed.
And I have never been more aroused. More fully aware of someone else’s need, throbbing through her and into me.
It is powerful what I can do with my mouth, my words.
It is not enough.
It is everything.

Get your copy today!

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My Self Publishing Journey

Posting this tonight because I’ve been thinking back on how my life has changed since I decided to indie publish.

My friends who listened to me whine and lean on them knew how terrifying this was. How frustrating the last couple of years has been when I wrote what I knew were good books and sales were mediocre at best. Publishing almost broke me – I almost quit back in November of last year. And back in 2012 when I had a book that I just could not get right. Twice, I almost walked away from publishing entirely and I’m not someone who quits when things get a little rough. They have to be really, really bad for me to say fuck it. Like band in the 11th grade. I quit that.

At the end of last year, I made the leap to indie publishing. My first month with my first full length indie scared the hell out of me. I broke even with my operating costs but nothing spectacular. It was a new genre for me, too. I figured I would publish my last three contemporaries and make my production costs back and move on with my life, putting aside my time as a writer as a good experience but obviously not something that would ever be financially viable for me.

6 months in, I have made twice the amount that I have made my entire 4 year writing career with traditional publishers. I don’t say that to brag but to say that this is a path that has finally become financially viable to me. My new adult novel has sold more on its own at full price than any of my traditional books except for 2 (and those had .99 bookbub sales run on them). My first contemporary novel has made me more than my last advance in four months since it’s been on sale.

I am at a better point in my publishing career now than I’ve ever been. I have access to data to make decisions. I can make those decisions as need be.

I will always be indebted and grateful to my traditional editors and the houses that took a chance on me. They both taught me a huge amount about craft and about the changing nature of this industry. And I do hope that I get to work with them again in a way that’s mutually beneficial because my editor at Grand Central helped make me a better writer. But I can’t do it the way the industry is shaping up now. Contracts are getting worse for entry level and midlist writers, not better. And that’s hugely problematic long term.

For the first time in my career, I’m selling books on a daily basis. I’m finding new readers every single day. I’m not stressed about amazon rank trying to guess how many books I’ve sold or if this promotion or that is working or blog tours or any of that. I’m writing and advertising. That’s it. And it’s a hell of a lot more rewarding to see the returns on my labor than to be stressing about where the next check is going to come from.

That said, indie is not for everyone. I spoke with a friend at RWA this year and I advised her not to try to self publish. There is a lot that goes into this. I enjoy the business challenges and the problem solving and the crunching of the data. I thrive on it. It would destroy other people. Everyone should absolutely not self publish and I get really angry when I see people advocating self publishing as the One True Path.

But I for one am perfectly content to be without agent, without hunting that next contract and without stressing about hitting lists (though it would be nice, don’t get me wrong) and without worrying about industry mergers and who is getting fired this week. Not having that over my head? Yeah, totally worth it.

So I’m writing the next book and looking forward to what comes next in my publishing adventure. And that’s a place I hope every writer can get to, with whichever path works best for them.

Free & Cheap Beach Reads

Beach Reads

Beach Reads for Summer!

A group of us got together and put together a list of our discounted/free reads to pass along to our readers. Hopefully you’ll find something you like!

Kylie Gilmore’s The Opposite of Wild is FREE!

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Ex-cop Ryan O’Hare takes one look at buttoned-up control freak Liz Garner and just itches to loosen the woman up. Not that he’s into her. Because a woman like that comes with way too many expectations. Not to mention, she practically works for him, and he didn’t hire Liz to watch after his beloved Harley-stealing Gran so he could turn Liz loose in his bed. Still, there’s something about her, a hidden wild side, that makes him wonder what it would take.

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Stacey Joy Netzel’s More Than A Kiss is 99 CENTS!!

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Something about Sadie drew Zach—and it wasn’t just the amazing kisses they shared during the filming of his commercial. A twist of fate brings them back together in his office, where he discovers she’s a struggling reporter, and she learns he’s a reclusive self-made millionaire. Will his discovery of her mother’s gold-digger history raise enough doubt to undermine his belief in her and break her heart?

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11403457_10203375585224906_1884102258072907782_nJessica Scott’s Come Home To Me is FREE!!

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All Major Patrick MacLean wanted was Christmas with the woman and child who were his family in everything but name. But Captain Samantha Egan has come back from the war a different woman than the one who left – and she doesn’t know if she can love him anymore.

But neither of them counted on the determination of a little girl they both call daughter and if Natalie has her wish, her parents may have no idea what’s coming for them. It’s going to take Christmas miracle to bring these two wounded warriors back from the edge of a broken heart.

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11403340_379593105566975_8693340392296684556_nRochelle Paige’s Sucked Into Love is $0.99!!

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It’s just Jocelyn’s luck that she meets her match at a fake bachelorette party… She knows better than to get pulled into any of her best friend’s antics – especially when it means playing bachelorette for the night!

No man ever wants to be knocked off his feet by a woman he meets while she’s wearing a “suck for a buck” shirt… Andrew knows he wants Jocelyn the moment he lays eyes on her, but he’s never been one to poach on another man’s territory. Imagine his surprise when he sees her again, only to discover she isn’t married and was never engaged.

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11377346_10204060093318356_8799159795112672363_nHeather C. Leigh’s Relatively Famous is FREE!!

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Sydney Allen is trying to be your average 24 year old New Yorker. It’s hard to be average though when your mother is Evangeline Allen, an Oscar winning actress known as “America’s Sweetheart” to moviegoers across the globe. When Sydney meets the gorgeous but mysterious Drew Forrester at a rough MMA training gym one morning, her life changes. It’s time for her to decide if he’s worth sharing her secret with, or if she’s better off being alone forever. Or maybe she’ll find out that she’s not the only one hiding something.

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11390297_433079116873590_2498584727204811550_nMichelle Fox’s Operation: Burlesque is 99 CENTS!!

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Aspiring costume designer Ruby Palmer prefers to hide behind-the-scenes, keeping life at a distance. But when she signs on to work as a seamstress for the steamy Cirque D’Amour, the spotlight won’t take no for an answer, and neither will the circus’ handsome, enigmatic magician, Blake Cannon.

Before Ruby knows it, she’s sucked into an underworld she never asked to join, one filled with sleight of hand, intrigue and exotic destinations. It is a world that will kill her if it can…all in the name of love.

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11407297_1603368766547364_5742476948823063238_nZoe York’s Love in a Small Town (Pine Harbour #1) is FREE!!

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Rafe Minelli knows better than to tell his wife no, particularly since they aren’t married anymore. She can’t hightail it out of town, though, not when they’ve finally broken through the post-divorce cold war status quo.

Olivia Minelli needs to leave Pine Harbour. It’s just too hard to see Rafe moving on without her—even if he says he doesn’t want to. But when a new and exciting job falls into her lap, she needs to choose: protect her heart, or take the new job and risk getting emotionally entangled with her ex-husband. Again.

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11425124_1636530683259206_1520363715339828450_nLayla Wilcox’s Miami Dreams is 99 CENTS!!

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Recent widow Deena Montgomery answers a model call for a new lingerie line, thinking she is leaving a life built on lies behind her. Photographer Ben “Hottie” Hoddi wants to help her get the job, but doing so might reveal a secret in his past, and Deena has made it very clear that her new life demands transparency.

The sparks begin to fly as more experienced models vie for the spokesperson role. Can Hoddi help Deena without revealing his secret? Can the disillusioned and heartbroken Deena resist the charms of the handsome, magnetic photographer? Miami Beach never felt as scorching hot to Deena as under these spotlights.

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Allison Gatta’s Bargaining With The Bride is FREE!!

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Garret Adams can’t seem to figure out what’s wrong with his dating algorithm. He’s tried everything to make sure his company, Organic Chemistry, is the leader in match making, but there’s no denying something is missing. So, when his right-hand employee threatens to leave after her botched engagement, he offers to help her out. He’ll go through with her sham marriage if and only if she agrees to be his science project. The only problem?

Their attraction is one variable he hadn’t accounted for.

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Chris Keniston’s Aloha Texas is 99 CENTS!!

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Former navy diver Nicholas Harper likes his new world as captain of a dive boat in Hawaii. That is until a phone call from the past changes everything. Now his uncomplicated life suddenly becomes very complicated.

Powerhouse attorney Kara Lynn O’Conner’s world revolves around her small Texas town where life is easy and safe. Focusing on her career keeps her dark secrets locked away. That is until her newest case makes her face her fears.

When the past surges into the present will it be enough to keep Nick and Kara’s two worlds together?

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Olivia Jaymes’ Cowboy Command is FREE!!

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Sheriff Seth Reilly is doing a favor for an old Army buddy. He’s promised to watch over a woman whose life is in danger, but he didn’t plan on her being so young and beautiful. He’s tempted, but she’s a bundle of trouble. Seth likes his women calm and sedate. Presley is the kind of woman who would keep him up at night and make him crazy. Too bad he’s starting to enjoy it.

Passion flares between Seth and Presley, heating up the cold Montana nights. Knowing they only have a short time together, they vow not to fall in love. But when danger finds Presley, Seth will risk everything to keep her safe until she can testify. Will Presley get her old life back or start a new life with Seth instead?

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Sherri Hayes’ Behind Closed Doors is 99 CENTS!!

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Christopher Daniels enjoys the simplicity of his bachelor life. After his divorce three years ago, he swore off women. He has no desire to change that philosophy.

When Elizabeth Marshall moves into the apartment below his in the small Victorian house, she makes him reconsider the motto he’s lived by for the last three years: women are trouble. She is everything his ex-wife is not, and it doesn’t help that she is his fantasy come to life.

He is determined to resist her charms; however, when someone sends threatening messages to Elizabeth, he finds himself in the role of protector. Can he protect Elizabeth and still resist the pull she has on his body and his heart?

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11390270_981844081839220_2430734148707542947_nJean Oram’s Love and Rumors is FREE!!

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Hailey Summer needs more time. As the eldest Summer sister she’s always taken on the task of solving everyone’s problems—including finding ways to hold onto the family’s precious historic cottage. Only this time she’s stretched too far and is in danger of losing absolutely everything.

Only a fraction away from making the A-list food chain and fulfilling his promises, Finian Alexander needs help from the paparazzi to push his next ‘bad boy of Hollywood’ escapade into the limelight. Problem is the only photographer he’d consider partnering with slaps him every time he deserves it—which is increasingly often as he becomes more desperate.

Will Hailey and Finian give in to the easy way out of their problems, or will discover how alike they truly are when they hit the tabloids—together?

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Tawny Stokes’ The Other Fighter is 99 CENTS!!

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People I have nothing to do with expect me to settle my brother’s debt– and if I don’t pay with cash, I pay with my life. I’ll be dead very soon… but not if a certain sexy-as-sin fighter with a Prince Charming complex has a say in the matter. One who’s decided to help me out of this mess, whether I want him to or not.

I might escape all of this with my life. But I already know it won’t be so easy to hold on to my heart…

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11402971_1117701878258851_8725090194720444718_nMolly McLain’s Can’t Shake You is FREE!!

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One thing Carissa Brandt knows: spontaneity always gets her in trouble. Still, she’s gone and jumped head first into an impulsive summer renovation project with her fingers crossed. When her contractor turns out to be a cheat, it seems her only lifeline is the proffered hand of Josh Hudson–the sexy Marine who left her aching for more than their single night together three years ago.

Josh has two hard and fast rules: never mix business with pleasure and don’t look twice at women his friends have dated, much less loved. It makes life in a small town simple–or it would, if he wasn’t harboring a secret with the potential to destroy his good name and the reputation of a woman he can’t get out of his head.

When Carissa finds herself in a bind, Josh’s integrity–both personal and professional–won’t let her fail. Will working together finally extinguish the attraction lingering between them? Or will the smoldering embers of their passionate rendezvous ignite all over again and set aflame the friendships they cherish the most?

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11351321_10205782791862909_3628873295555797277_nMJ Frederick’s The Love I Want To Be In is 99 CENTS!!

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Single mother Brioney Mayburn has learned about responsibility the hard way, working as a maid in the motel in the small beach town of Avalon Island, Texas and looking after her younger brother. Local jack-of-all-trades Blue Maddox was her sister’s high school boyfriend, but stayed behind when she went off to college. He’s now drawn to Brioney, admiring her drive, her determination to give her daughter the best life she can. But will Brioney look past his beach-bum facade to see who he really is?

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11406788_774887152628288_8211579780677442725_nSabrina York’s Rebound (Tryst Island Series #1) is 99 CENTS!!

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Kristi Cross has had the hots for her friend, Cameron Jackson as long as she can remember, but she knows she’s not his type. She’s nothing like the women he dates. So when he suggests they play for a kiss over a game of Hearts, Kristi can’t resist. Even if she loses, she wins. Because she’s finally going to taste him.

Of course, one kiss can quickly become something altogether steamier, especially when both parties are on the rebound…

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11390116_10153106635889145_7275969598998729466_n-2Tawdra Kandle’s The Posse is 99 CENTS!!

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After her husband’s death, Jude’s left with her family’s beach restaurant and two nearly-grown children. The last thing she’s looking for is another chance at love.

However, if her husband’s best friends, the Posse, have anything to say about it, love is just what she’s going to get. When they decide the best way to take care of her is for one of them to sweep her off her feet, three begin to vie for her affections. But only one can reach her heart.

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10422059_1643101542625776_7519223778631482108_nK.M. Scott’s Temptation is 99 CENTS!!

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Cassian March, the public face of Tampa’s most exclusive nightspot, Club X, has a great life. Women, sex, and money are his for the taking, and no man indulges his desires more. Life is short, and he plays hard. He lives by only one rule—never let a woman get close.

Olivia Lucas needs a job, and if that means working at a club that specializes in making members’ wildest fantasies come true, then that’s what she’ll do. A girl’s got to pay the rent, right? She never expected to fall for the gorgeous owner of Club X, though, but a man like him would never go for someone like her. Or would he?

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Jamie Farrell’s Smittened is 99 CENTS!!

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Dahlia Mallard is determined save her ice cream shop by getting country music superstar Billy Brenton to attend her risqué flavor-tasting event. But the closest she can get to Billy is his drummer, the womanizing Mikey Diamond. The more she gets to know Mikey, the more she wants to save him from his bad boy ways. When he discovers she’s using him to get to Billy, will she still be able to have her ice cream and eat it too?

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June Newsletter: Look Forged in Fire & New Puppies!

First Look: Forged in Fire
Welcome to the newsletter!

Included in this one:

- moving news 
- a new family member
- signing at RWA in NYC
- Forged in Fire first look

Finally Settled in New York

For the last two months, the family has been getting ready for the move to New York where I'll be instructing at West Point. It's an exciting career move for me but involved a LOT of work beyond grad school. We had to tear down the pool, put in fill dirt, lay sod, paint, pressure wash the house...you get the idea. Suffice to say, it's been a very busy few months but we're settled now and mostly unpacked.

I like my office in the new house, though it was very much a work in progress. IMG_3267 
Here's what happened the day the movers left. 

A little later that day, some progress had been made. 

Gotta love Ikea and the Billy bookshelves. Easy to assemble and they look nice, too. Though after assembling 8 and a few other peices, I was a little tired. 

Two days later, the final space is done. Well, as done as it's going to get. I'm a messy office kind of person so this is cluttered but feels right now. 
It's a little attic nook so it's kind of perfect for me to get away from everyone to get stuff done. Unfortunately, that leaves Puppy Magic unsupervised. 


Carmen joined us last month because what else does a family getting ready to move up the East Coast need but another dog. 

In this case, an Anatolian Shepherd puppy. She's actually blending into the family quite well. Also, I may be a teeny bit biased because she's kind of a mamma's pup, which is nice. She's cute but man when she gets going, she gets fired up. It's funny to watch the big dogs with her. She's learning from them, that's for sure so I have hopes that she'll be a good dog in a few years. 



Signing information at RWA in NYC!

I'll be signing books at the Indie signing at RWA at the Marriott Marquis in Time Square Thursday July 23 from 3-430. There will copies of all my Homefront books available. I will NOT be at the literacy signing because like an idiot, I somehow forgot to sign up for it. I'll also be signing at the Grand Central signing on Friday July 24 from 945 - 1145. Hope to see you there!


Last month, I wasn't really sure if I was going to get Sal and Holly out on time. With the move and everything, I probably should have shifted it further to the right to take some stress off but hey, I thrive on stress. 

Anyway, I'm excited to announce that FORGED IN FIRE will be out on June 30th. If you all haven't been sucked into the vaccum that is the new 50 Shades of Grey book, you can preorder it at all retailers.

iBooks | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Google Play

Forged in Fire is most likely the final installment of the Homefront series. I've spent most of my writing career writing the books centered around Fort Hood and my fictional Fifth Brigade Combat Team. I won't say there will never be another one but as of right now, I don't have anything planned. So if you've been waiting for the series to be finalized before you started it, now's a safe time. 

I wanted to say thank you to everyone who has hung around for the entire journey with these characters. This series will always mean a lot to me and I'm so grateful that I had the opportunity to tell these stories. 

Rest assured that I'm not quitting writing nor am I about to start a lucritive career in writing dinosaur erotica (it's a thing, I swear). I'll probably always write about soldiers and coming home from the war, the books will just take a different form as I branch out away from what got me started. I'm just taking some time to figure out what comes next as I make the transition to West Point and back to Army life. There are a few other projects in the works but it will be a few months before I have another new release. 

Thank you so much for coming along for the ride with these books and making them possible. 

Forged-In-Fire--SAMPLE-iBooks 2

Keep reading for the first two chapters! 


Rustamaya, Iraq
Lieutenant Sal Bello stood at the edge of the t-wall barrier and watched the sun sink below the cement barricades that were the only thing protecting his tiny little outpost from the wild west of Fallujah and the men who wanted to slit their throats. 
Beside him, his platoon sergeant, Sarn’t Louis Delgado spat into the dirt. “This has got to be the dumbest fucking thing we’ve ever done.”
“Mutiny isn’t really on the menu of options right now,” Sal said. He wasn’t sure how he felt about his new platoon sergeant. Delgado had been on the job a week. A week since his old platoon sergeant Murph had been evac’d back to the States for a ruptured appendix of all things. 
Delgado made a noise. “So we’re just sitting here, waiting for what?”
“For orders from higher.”
Another noise followed by a thick silence. Sal flipped his father’s lighter through his fingers, the metal hot from being tucked in his pocket and the hundred plus-degree heat. 
“What’s that?”
Lieutenant Sal Bello closed his fist around the lighter, concealing it from his platoon sergeant. “Nothing.”
He couldn’t say why he carried his father’s lighter with him to war beyond the fact that his mother had asked him to take it. Maybe it would bring him more luck than it had brought his father. 
But he wasn’t comfortable sharing his mother’s superstition with his new platoon sergeant. It felt weird to think about his mother when he hadn’t eaten a solid meal in four days and his MRE crackers were running thin. 
The adhan rang out over the cement barriers. Sal stiffened, holding his breath until the last note of the call to prayer echoed over the city and the inhabitants that were just waiting for the opportunity to slit an American throat or two. 
He couldn’t say he blamed them. He’d be ready to fight if an invading army took up residence in his hometown. 
There was a sudden burst of energy from the tiny gate where their one Humvee provided heavy weapons coverage down the main avenue of approach. He frowned, then walked toward the truck to listen to the radio chatter. 
“Roger, Warhorse Main.” Private Baggins finished scribbling his note as Sal walked up. “Sir, we’ve got to send in accountability of all our boys.”
Sal paused, a sick feeling unfurled in his gut. “Didn’t we just do that?”
Baggins nodded as he pulled out a granola bar. Damned hobbit always had food stashed. “We’ve got two guys missing over in Second Platoon’s AO, sir.”
The radio crackled again. Delgado leaned on the door of the truck. Sal’s skin was slick and cold as the command post sent orders to secure the area and started mustering troops to start the search for their missing boys. 
He grabbed the hand mike from Baggins. “Warhorse Main, this is Chaos Blue. We’re close to the area. We can secure the main approach.”
“Negative, Chaos Blue.”
“Warhorse Main, I say again, we are the closest element to the objective.”
“Stand down, Chaos Blue. Your mission is to hold your position.”
He looked at his platoon sergeant. Delgado met his eyes and said nothing. 
“We’re missing two of our boys.” The lighter was hot in his hand, heavy as lead.
He looked down at the inscription. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.
He looked back at his platoon sergeant. It burned in his belly to be told to stand down when they were literally two blocks from where the soldiers had been taken. 
Delgado pulled the charging handle on his weapon and released it, loading a round into the chamber. “You’re talking about mutiny, sir. At the very least, disobeying a superior officer in a time of war.”
He didn’t know who was missing. He’d find out later. All that mattered was that someone from their formation was gone. Most likely taken. And if they didn’t move fast, they were going to have a repeat of the bridge in Fallujah where the insurgents burned the Blackwater contractors. 
Over Sal’s dead body. 
He looked up at his platoon sergeant. 
“We’re going.” There was steel in his voice. 
A slow smile spread across Delgado’s face. “Roger that, sir.”
He looked down at the lighter once more. For I am the meanest motherfucker in the valley.
He wasn’t supposed to hate the enemy. He was supposed to be here winning the hearts and minds. 
But that kind of thinking got men killed. And Sal had little room in his heart for anything else. Hate was easy. Hate was power. 
Hate wrapped around his heart and coated it in fire and steel and kept him from thinking about the families that lived in the neighborhood or the fathers that would likely die because of merely being in the wrong place and wrong time. 
And as they rolled off their base toward the checkpoint where their boys had been snatched, rage toward the whole stupid, pointless war burned itself into the fiber of who he was.  
Fort Hood,
Four years later
Captain Sal Bello sat in command and staff, his fingers seeking out the lighter in his pocket, and wondered when the meeting from hell was going to be over. The sergeant major's voice was distant and far off. Sal struggled to pay attention. Something about missed appointments and too many soldiers on sick call. 
Sal would have given anything for his first sergeant to be in this meeting instead of Sal, but Delgado was picking one of their superstars up from jail. Again. 
And damn it if it wasn't one of the platoon sergeants this time. For some stupid incident at a bar last night. Pizzaro was pretty much on his last leg with Sal, but Delgado was determined to convince him Pizzaro was just going through a bad spot since his divorce had been approved last week. 
Delgado always had Sal’s back. If he said Pizzaro was going through a rough spot, then that’s what it was. 
He just wished this meeting would end so he could be done dealing with this stupidity and get back to what was really important. 
Training his men for war. 
The lighter was smooth and warm beneath his fingers. It calmed him. Gave him patience for the bullshit that garrison life involved. Crap like these meetings, where they went over every single missed appointment instead of training men to put rounds on target. 
Half the time, Sal felt like he wasn’t even in command. He just sat in meetings all day. 
Because that was what God had intended for him, right? He was a warrior, not a personal assistant. If someone couldn't make it to a appointment, why was that Sal’s problem? 
“Captain Bello.”
Sal paused where he was turning the lighter over in his hand. “Sir.”
Lieutenant Colonel Gilliad’s voice penetrated Sal’s focus on the lighter. “What was my guidance regarding missed appointments?”
Sal ground his teeth and refused to look up at his battalion commander. It was borderline disrespectful but Sal just about out of fucks to give. And that was saying something considering he’d been in command for less than ninety days. “That if we have any more missed appointments, we’re going to have to personally explain each and every one to the brigade commander.”
It burned on a fundamental level that as a company commander, a man who was supposed to be a leader of men, he was reduced to little more than glorified babysitting in garrison life. 
They should be on the range, blowing shit up. Learning how to control hallways and buildings with two- to four-man teams. 
But they couldn't even get to the goddamned doctor's office on their own. 
Sal ached for the war. The simplicity of it. The madness and the dirt and the evil chaos. 
It was at least a devil he knew. This garrison life…he didn’t know how to do this. 
“You disagree with my guidance, captain?” Gilliad asked. 
For a brief instant, Sal imagined there was a good angel on one shoulder that slapped her hand over his mouth and kept him from speaking. 
But the devil on the other shoulder shot her before she ever lifted her hand. 
“Yes, sir, I do.” Sal finally looked at his battalion commander. “Sir, we’re wasting our time with this stupidity. Appointments? Really? Next thing, you’re going to tell me that someone won’t deploy if they don’t have their government travel card.”
Gilliad’s eye twitched. Beside him, Sarn’t Major Cox looked like he wanted to throttle someone. Probably Sal. 
Silence ticked by. Another moment and an uncomfortable cough from one of the lieutenants who worked in operations. 
The lighter in his hand was smooth and warm. The letters reminded him of what he was. And what he wasn’t. 
Finally, LTC Gilliad spoke and the calm in his voice was razor thin. “While I appreciate your candor, Captain Bello, it behooves you to remember rule number one in this battalion.”
Sal knew rule number one all too well. Do what the boss tells you. Sal ran his thumb over the well-worn words engraved into the stainless steel in his palm. “Roger that, sir,” was all he said. 
The meeting continued dragging on as LTC Gilliad went up one side of Headquarters Company for having the worst stats in the battalion. Sal almost felt sorry for Captain Martini but then he remembered all the reasons why he hated officers like Martini. 
And no, hate wasn't too strong a word. 
Officers like Martini lived inside the lines. They didn’t wipe their ass without first checking it with the boss. Even when his first sergeant was arrested, Martini refused to color outside the lines.
The meeting was almost over. He just had to keep his mouth shut for a few more minutes. Sal turned the lighter in his hand, focusing on the strength in the words etched beneath his fingertips. 
They all stood when the boss left the room and Sal was halfway down the hall before he could no longer pretend he didn’t hear Sarn’t Major Cox calling his name. 
He closed his eyes and stopped. 
Because of all the senior leaders in the battalion, Cox was the one person Sal actually respected. 
And that was a rare, rare thing these days. 
“Walk with me, sir,” Cox said, falling into step with him.
So Sal walked. 
Because good NCOs were next to god and even wiseass captains with bad tempers listened to them if they were smart.
They stepped outside into the brilliant Fort Hood morning sunlight. It was blinding, reflecting off Cooper Field across the street at the Division Headquarters. 
They walked in silence for a few minutes. Sal had been around long enough that he knew Cox would speak when he was ready. 
Cox sighed heavily. But he shocked the hell out of Sal when he reached out and gripped his shoulder. “I’m not sure what your malfunction is, sir, but I strongly recommend you figure it out. Go to therapy, start drinking. Get a puppy. Something. The boss is losing his patience with you.”
“Roger, sarn’t major.” He really wasn’t in the mood for a pep talk about getting his attitude in check. He knew this already. Hell, everyone knew this.  
He just didn’t care. He was tired of dealing with all the drama of garrison life. He was not a counselor. He was not a divorce attorney and he damn sure wasn’t a personal finance manager. And yet, garrison life seemed to assume that he was all of those things. 
“Where’s Delgado?”
Sal frowned. “Picking up Pizzaro from jail.”
Sal bit back a smart-ass reply. “Roger that, sarn’t major.” 
“And how long before I see that packet on my desk?”
Sal stiffened. He’d been waiting for this conversation. Hoping to avoid it, honestly. He had misgivings about Pizzaro but Delgado wasn’t wrong. “I need platoon sergeants, Sarn’t Major. I can’t have lieutenants running around Fort Hood unsupervised. God only knows what trouble they’ll get into.”
“Partying isn’t the problem, commander, and I think you know that. It’s the getting arrested part that’s causing problems.” Cox let the silence hang. 
Sal finally couldn’t stand the silence any longer. “Sarn’t Major, you know this is bullshit, right? We’re wasting time in meetings over missed appointments and you’re busting my balls over one of my platoon sergeants in a bar fight?” 
“Captain Bello, I like you. But if you don’t figure out really quick that there is more to commanding soldiers than teaching them to shoot a motherfucker in the face, you’re not going to be commanding soldiers very long.”
“What else is there?” Sal asked. Yeah, he was feeling belligerent. He hated the idea of having to break in a new first sergeant and he damn sure didn’t like feeling like this was going to be a permanent change instead of a temporary one.
“Leadership is about preparing your men for war.”
“That’s what I’m trying to do, Sarn’t Major. That’s why I need men like Pizzaro on this next deployment.”
“I’m not going to tell you how to run your company, sir, but I think you need to take another look at what’s happening inside your formation. Pizzaro is a symptom of a larger problem.” Cox jammed his finger in Sal’s general direction. “If you want to take these boys downrange, get on board with what the boss wants. You might command your men but don’t forget that your job is to execute his commands. That’s the way the army works, son.”
Sal slipped his hand into his pocket and felt the cold comfort of the worn out steel lighter. 
It reminded him of what he was. 
And what he wasn’t. 
And reminded him that men like Cox, men who understood what the war would demand of them, were rare. They were not the enemy. 
First Sergeant Holly Washington knocked on the battalion sergeant major's door. Her stomach was in knots but not because she was afraid of him. 
No, it was something much more personal. 
She'd served with Sarn't Major Cox many moons ago. And today, standing outside his office, the memories were piling up, beating against the wall she'd carefully constructed to keep them at bay. 
One day they were going to break free and she was going to have to have a come-to-Jesus with her past. 
But today was not that day. 
“Get your sorry ass in here, First Sergeant,” came Cox’s reply. 
She sucked in a deep, bracing breath and stepped into his office. 
He’d aged. It had been almost ten years since she’d seen him last. His hair, what was left of it, was whiter now, graying at the temples. His face more lined and darker from the sun. 
But his eyes. His eyes were still the same. Glittering and dark and filled with an intensity that most people found downright terrifying. 
She had been one of those people, once upon a time. 
Until the night her world had gone to hell and the only person standing by her side when the debris had been cleared was then First Sergeant Cox. 
He ignored her. Kept typing whatever he’d been working on before she stepped into the office. 
She didn’t move. Not one inch. 
Finally he removed his hand from the keyboard and clicked the mouse. “Close the damn door.”
She kicked it shut with her boot. 
And found herself buried in an enthusiastic hug that lifted her off the ground and crushed the air from her lungs. 
But it did nothing to tear away the smile that spread across her mouth. 
“Holy shit it’s good to see you, kid,” he said when he finally put her down. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
“Good to see you, Sarn’t Major,” she said. And it was. Too damn good. 
“Really glad you told me you were coming here,” he said after a while. “Sit down, tell me about things. You in-processed?”
“Finishing up.”
“Out at Stillhouse.”
She braced for the inevitable family question and was grateful, so damned grateful when he skipped it. 
He remembered. He knew. 
And he was as good a man as she remembered for not bringing it up. 
“Well, I’ve got a hell of a job for you.”
“So I gathered from your e-mail,” she said, sitting on the small, dingy couch in his office. “You know I like a challenge.”
“Oh you’re about to get the challenge of a lifetime,” he said, and his grin was pure evil in the way that only a sergeant major’s could be. “You’re taking my support company. The support battalion still can’t seem to find me some leadership so I’m finding my own.”
“I thought we were friends,” she said dryly. Support companies had a dangerous mission no matter where they were in country. They were always on the roads, making sure the front line fighters had the beans, bullets, and bandages they needed to keep fighting. 
They also came with their fair share of problem soldiers. 
He shook his head. “I wanted you in my ops cell but I need your ass in one of the line companies.” He leaned forward, his expression shifting. “I had a first sergeant arrested a couple of weeks ago for threatening to kill his kid. Another one just had a heart attack.”
“Sounds like you’ve been having a blast,” she mumbled. 
“Never a dull moment around here, that’s for sure.”
Holly nodded and said nothing, the situation hitting far too close to home. 
“Anyway, you’re going to have your hands full. You’re my senior first sergeant now that Sorren went and had a heart attack.”
She narrowed her eyes. “I’m sure the boys are just going to love that.” She didn’t try to restrain her sarcasm. Not around Cox.  
“You’re probably going to get into a dick-measuring contest on day one but it’s nothing you’re not used to.”
Holly raised both eyebrows and smirked. “I think I’m offended.” 
“No you’re not,” Cox said. And he wasn’t wrong. She’d known him too long. And more importantly, he’d known her too long. He knew exactly what she was likely to do when someone tried to break bad with her. 
It was always fun to watch the shock when the guys realized she wasn’t going to take their shit. 
“Anyway, I need your help. The other first sergeants can’t seem to get their legal packets done. I need you to help me there. We’ve got some real pieces of work that I need out of my Army.”
Holly shook her head. “I think I’m supposed to have some obligatory remark about how you’re being sexist by assigning me to work on paperwork.”
He flipped her off and she almost choked on the laugh. “God, it’s good to see you,” she said when she stopped laughing. 
“And you know why I need your help. We’ve got to clear out the formation. And I think Delgado in Diablo Company is deliberately shielding his men.”
Holly lifted one eyebrow and fought the wave of anger that rose quickly from the dark recesses of her memory. She was used to the feeling. It was her constant companion these days, as the officers around her seemed to care more about numbers than the men and women they led. 
And that caring meant putting bad soldiers out of the force. Soldiers who could not or would not soldier needed to find another job. 
“Do you need proof?”
“I need the packets done, Holly. We’ve already fired the entire chain of command in every company. We’re going to war with the Army we have. We’ve got to make the best of it.” 
Holly nodded and folded her hands together, leaning forward. “So are any of the commanders worth a damn?”
“You’re going to have fun with Diablo Company. Bello is a loose cannon depending on what day of the week it is. He’s chafing under garrison life and the way the commander wants to run things. And his first sergeant…I’m not sure I trust Delgado.”
“And you can’t fire him, huh?”
Holly couldn’t help the wry look that she knew called bullshit on Cox’s statement. He didn’t miss it because a slow flush crept up his neck as he laughed. 
“Nice,” she said. 
“I need your help with Delgado and Diablo Company. Captain Bello thinks his first sergeant is right about everything; he doesn’t listen to but a very few people. And he’s got some baggage.”
“Don’t we all?”
“His is a little unique. Ask him about it sometime.”
Holly sighed. She loved Sarn’t Major Cox like a father but the man really liked putting her in tough situations. “Couldn’t you just tell me and be a pal?”
Cox shook his head. “Nah. What would the fun be in that? I’m going to love watching you put him in his place.”
“I shall endeavor to make a scene, if only for your enjoyment, Sarn’t Major. But understanding his psychological trauma and hang ups doesn’t affect whether or not I get to do my job.”
Cox didn’t smile. Instead his mouth got that twisted half grin that told Holly she was already in over her head. The only question was how deep. 
“You’re not going to tell me about this guy, are you?”
“I think Sal Bello is someone you have to experience for yourself,” he said. 
She shook her head and rolled her eyes. “Whatever you say, Sarn’t Major. You need me to run two companies with one potentially crazy-eyed captain, I’ll do it. But only because it’s you asking me to,” she added after a moment.
“I knew you’d be a sport.”
“How much am I going to regret what you just signed me up for?”
“Not sure. But it’s going to be fun to watch. I’ve wanted to see you in action since I first found out you got promoted to master sergeant.”
“I live to keep you entertained.” She stood, recognizing the gauntlet for what it was and started toward the door. 
Cox may have been there when her life had gone to hell but he’d never babied her. He’d never held her to a lesser standard. He’d pushed her harder after that night. Never let her quit even when she wanted to. 
She turned back to face him, bracing for his next words. 
“I’m glad you didn’t let the son of a bitch win,” he said quietly. “We need leaders like you. Now more than ever.” 
Her throat tightened and she nodded briefly. “That’s why I’m here,” was all she could manage.  
Sal was contemplating throwing his computer out the front window when his first sergeant knocked on his office door. Sal had been nervous when he’d been told he was taking command in a unit where the entire chain of command had been fired, but when Delgado had been assigned as his first sergeant, Sal knew he’d be able to focus on command instead of having to babysit his first sergeant. 
NCOs like Delgado were rare, too rare. 
Delgado walked into the office and toed the door shut. 
“So does Pizzaro at least have a good story?” Sal asked. 
Delgado shook his head and braced his hands on his hips. “Not really. Something stupid about a fight at Ropers again last night.”
Sal leaned back and braced his hands on the top of his head. “We need him when we go downrange, Top. You know that. But this is getting out of control.”
Delgado shifted and his sleeves inched up, revealing a glimpse of the tattoos that he knew extended to full sleeves and then reached across Delgado’s upper back. 
Delgado shifted. “I’ve got this, sir. I’ll get his ass in line. We can’t go downrange missing a platoon sergeant because we decided that NCOs doing what NCOs do is suddenly upsetting to the higher ups.”
Delgado wasn’t wrong. Raising hell was part of being a soldier. Sal leaned forward and slid a sheet of paper toward his first sergeant. “Then what are we going to do about this?”
It was the blotter report—the official notification by the civilian police to the military that a soldier had actually been arrested last night. Pizarro’s name was highlighted in yellow at the top of the block of text. “It’s in official channels now. We’re not going to be able to protect him.”
The muscle in Delgado’s jaw clenched. “I’ll get it taken care of.”
“Do I want to know how you’re going to get this taken care of?” 
“It’s better if you have plausible deniability, sir,” Delgado said. 
Sal grinned. “Roger that, Top.” 
He had an idea that the blotter report was going to turn up missing and Sal honestly wasn’t worried about it. Pizarro hadn’t killed anyone, hadn’t gone on a drunken rage. He’d gotten in a bar fight. Sal had been in so many he’d lost count. 
If Pizarro’s report turned up missing, then so be it. It didn’t matter if Pizarro was blowing off steam or how so long as no one got hurt—it mattered that he was on a plane in six months heading back to Iraq and the simple chaos that was the war. 
Sal needed warriors. “Get his shit locked in tight, Top. This needs to stop. If the boss decides to get involved, I’m not sure how much interference I’m going to be able to run.”
Delgado nodded sharply. “Got it, sir.”
“Good. Now what’s going on with the range next week?”
“We need to get the support company to get their soldiers in line. Can you talk to their commander? I’m liable to choke their acting first sergeant.”
“I’m afraid to ask why my XO hasn’t handled this.”
“He’s too busy getting some pussy from one of the platoon leaders in the special troops battalion. Needs some damn salt peter in his energy drink to get his head back in the game.”
Sal grunted. “I’ll take care of that one.” 
“Worry about the XO after you kick the support company in the balls first. We need that ammo lined up sooner rather than later and if I go back over there, I’m going to drop-kick someone in the teeth.”
Sal stood and grabbed his headgear. “I’ll take these files to battalion then head over there and see what I can’t get straightened out.”
“Roger that, sir.” Delgado paused. “Are we really only shooting from the prone, sir? We’re going to be kicking in doors in six months. We need to be shooting on the move, not knocking down paper targets.”
Sal stilled and tried to come up with a diplomatic answer. Tried and failed. “The boss wants our stats up before we deploy. Our stats involve paper targets.” 
The rage burned beneath his heart and it was matched by the anger in Delgado’s eyes looking back at him. “Those stats aren’t going to bring our boys home, sir.”
Sal paused, knowing his first sergeant was right and hating the feeling of impotence that circled his guts for not doing more to fight the entire stupid range. They were wasting ammo on shooting paper targets when they needed to be doing more, so much more, to prepare for the war. “I know, Top. I’m working on alternatives but unless we get more ammo, we’re screwed.”
They were going downrange undertrained and unprepared and there was nothing, nothing Sal could do about it. For a commander in the world’s most powerful army, the sense of helplessness tore at him. 
They stepped into the main office. Pizarro stood at parade rest near Delgado’s office. His black t-shirt sported a white skeleton with a sombrero and was ripped across the chest. Pizarro’s black hair was shaved close to his scalp in a cut that matched Delgado’s—a high and tight that was just inside of authorized. 
A small blond female stood next to him, also at parade rest. 
“Who’s this?” Sal asked Delgado.
“Sergeant Rachel Freeman. From the support company,” Delgado said. “Not arrested, most likely because she lacked a penis,” Delgado said dryly. 
“Why did you pick her up?” Sal asked. 
“Because she was there and part of our battalion,” Delgado said. 
It didn’t quite pass the sniff check—Delgado didn’t do things like that out of the goodness of his heart. Which meant there was more to the story. Sal would get it out of him later. Delgado was too good at staying one step ahead of the soldiers and their fuck fuck games. 
Sal didn’t have to question Delgado’s methods. He knew they worked. There was no one better at kicking ass and getting young soldiers ready to face the crucible of combat. “Send her back to her company and let her commander deal with her.” Sal paused, wishing his life was less soap opera and more combat training, but every time he turned around, there was some new drama unfolding. 
And half of it was coming from his battalion commander. Things were getting ridiculous. It was like the senior leadership was already pretending they were back to being a peacetime army instead of an army still at war. 
“I’ll be back,” Sal said. 
“Roger, sir.”
Pizarro said nothing as Sal walked past him. The female sergeant avoided looking at any of them. He couldn’t tell if she was embarrassed or pissed or a mixture of both.
Or at least it was while Pizarro’s divorce had been processing. Amanda Pizarro hadn’t been the kind of woman who put up with her husband fooling around. Which was probably why Delgado had to pick Pizarro up from jail as opposed to him calling his now ex-wife and posting bail. Now the fact that a sergeant first class was hooking up with a sergeant didn’t really matter to anyone unless there were other problems. 
Sal sighed and headed to battalion. 
Maybe someday, he’d get to go back to war. It was so much easier than pretending he was even remotely qualified to deal with the kids, marriage, and family problems. 
Oh, he'd do it. But only because it would get him one day closer to getting on the plane and going back to the only thing he was good at: war. 
“First name, Top?”
First Sarn’t Holly Washington looked down at the skinny private in the admin office. It was a sad commentary on her life that she had to think about her first name. It had been Sarn’t or Firs’ Sarn’t so long sometimes she forgot. 
“Holly,” she said after a moment. 
“Date of rank?”
“Can’t I just fill out the form and you enter it after I leave?” She had other things to do than sit here and wait while the skinny admin clerk hunted and pecked her name, social security number, and boot size into the personnel database. 
“It’ll be easier if I just add it with you here, Top,” the private said. 
Holly bit the inside of her cheek and prayed for patience as the ungodly slow soldier continued to enter her information into the database one agonizing key strike at a time. Didn’t they teach typing in high school anymore? 
She pulled out her government-issued Blackberry and pretended to check her e-mail while scanning the new soldiers in the personnel office. A private first class sat in the office, looking guilty as all get out. Of what, she had no idea, but she definitely recognized the signs. “What’s the deal with that guy?” she asked the private. 
“He was AWOL as of yesterday.”
Holly turned back around. “Why?” Soldiers usually went AWOL for a reason. It wasn’t usually a very good reason but they all didn’t just decide not to show up on a whim. 
“Not sure, Top,” the private said. 
Then it could be anything from porn addiction to gambling, to just not wanting someone to yell at you. “Is he flagged?”
“Not yet,” he said.
She had no clue about any of these guys or what the unit culture was like. She’d heard it was in a shit-ton of trouble and trying to get things straightened out but she couldn’t get a good read on things from just seeing how the brigade admin office worked. 
She stood there and felt her frustration rising as the private hunted and pecked his way through her form. If she was ever the acting headquarters company first sergeant, that kid was going to a typing class. How the hell did he work in admin and not know how to type? 
Holly turned at the voice that boomed through the admin office. The five soldiers who’d been shooting the shit at the counter stiffened visibly at the sound. Two slithered out the side door and the other three made themselves scarce. Kind of like roaches scattering in the light.  
“What the hell? Is the Antichrist about to enter the building?” she muttered. 
But Quetto was busy typing away, his shoulders hunched. He had the look of a mouse in the corner of a cage holding very still so the snake wouldn’t see him. 
’Course, that plan didn’t work when the snake had heat vision and could see the very visible pulsing of the mouse’s heart beneath its fur. 
Kind of like the cold sweat on Quetto’s neck right then. 
She expected to see General Patton himself walk through the door the way the soldiers were acting. Holly turned, more than a little curious about the kind of man that would inspire this much panic in young troopers. 
Instead, a tall, broad captain with wide shoulders stalked into the admin area. His hair was shaved close to his scalp and really, did she expect anything less in this unit? 
But it was his eyes that she noticed more than anything. Piercing brown, they were dark around the edges and lighter in the middle. 
Dark black letters stitched above his heart told her the captain’s name was Bello. So this was the infamous Diablo commander. 
She watched him approach and holy hell, was this one well put-together captain. Which didn’t help the situation at all—that her hormones stood up and took notice. 
She yanked her thoughts off that detour and focused on work. If Cox was right, the big captain needed to be pushed back a notch and be reminded that he was not running this battalion. And, well—since Sarn’t Major Cox had asked for her help and all, there was no time like the present to get started. 
He scanned the admin office until his gaze landed on his prey. She found herself wondering if Quetto knew that’s what he was right then. 
Bello dropped two packets on the counter in front of Quetto’s desk. “Hey, I need you to process these two packets for the lawyer like ASAP.”
Quetto stood sharply. “Roger, sir. I’ll get right on that as soon as I get Firs’ Sarn’t Washington in-processed.”
Bello’s eyes narrowed and he looked down at her. Literally looked down at her from a vantage point that was a good four inches above her. 
She felt the weight of his visual inspection and lifted her chin. He was going to make it easy, huh? 
“You don’t happen to be taking over the support company, do you?” he said. 
Holly raised both eyebrows, ignoring the question and focusing instead on the blunt rudeness of the way he’d just looked her up and down. She wondered if this was going to be the guy she got into it with him to prove she wasn’t going to take shit from any of them.
It was like prison rules: find the biggest, baddest dude and pick a fight. This guy looked like a prime candidate. She just wondered if he’d also be the guy to knock her teeth in. 
Maybe today. But she damn sure wasn’t going to take his looking her over like she was one of his soldiers. “Wow, are you always this charming or do you just have a bad case of the Mondays?”
Bello scowled and wow was it a fierce look. Had she been a little bit younger or maybe a little bit wiser, she might have been intimidated. But she’d been around guys like this too many times. They looked like assholes but you just had to get past the sandpapery exterior. “It’s Wednesday.”
She flattened her lips into a dry line. “Sense of humor AWOL?”
Bello grunted. 
Oh he was special. 
“So is that your acknowledgment grunt or a fuck-off grunt? I’ll have to start writing down translations of the grunts, if this is your major form of communication.”
He looked at her like she had a dick growing out of her forehead, then shook his head and turned back to the private who was pretending to type.  
“Let me know when those are processed? I need to meet with the lawyer before the end of the week.” His gaze flicked to the combat action badge over her heart before he turned his attention back to the unsuspecting Quetto. Quetto nodded quickly and went back to his typing. His hunting and pecking was all that much more peckish as he tried really hard to focus. “Are you the support company first sergeant or not?”
“Maybe I am, maybe I’m not.”
Bello sighed. "Jesus Christ, if you’re going to be a pain in the ass about things…”
Holly bristled but kept her cool. “Wow, you really are cranky. Sarn’t Major was right.”
Bello turned to go, paused, then turned back to her. “I need the damn ammo delivered to the range. I need your company to stop smoking all the goddamned weed in Killeen and do your damned jobs. Is that polite enough for you, First Sergeant?”
Holly arched one brow. “Oh, aren’t you just a bright little ray of sunshine?”
Bello ground his teeth and jammed his hands in his pockets but not before she didn’t miss them clenching by his sides. “I’m not really sure where you’re coming from, Top, but in case you missed the memo, you’re taking over a unit that’s going to deploy in less than six months.”
Oh hell no, he didn’t just imply that she didn’t give a shit about the impending deployment. “I assure you that I am very much aware of the timeline.”
Bello swore and stormed out of the office.  
Holly looked at the empty space where he’d stood a moment before. 
Working with him was going to be a real treat. And Holly was definitely up for the challenge. 

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First Look: After the War

So After the War is finally off to copyedits. I’m nervous about this one, gang, for a couple of reasons.

First, Sean and Sarah are the first characters I ever wrote and though this version has been edited and revised a lot, it’s still a version of the first story I ever put on paper. I started them way back in 2007, when my husband was deployed for the second time and I was in officer candidate school. The first scene I wrote in this book ended up in Shane and Jen’s book Because of You. I remember the first day I wrote the first line. I was sitting in Building 4, waiting for class to start. One of my classmates who’d deployed was ripping one of his platoon mates a new one for something that seemed so trivial at the time. But it wasn’t. It was something he’d seen matter downrange. And that was the spark that started everything: what does war do to men and women who lead soldiers, knowing they are going back to war.

Second, this is probably the darkest book I’ve ever written. I don’t expect everyone to love it. There is a dark issue explored in here, the realities of war that I haven’t tackled directly before. So I expect there will be mixed reviews of this one, if not outright hatred of this book.

Third, Sarah is probably the most difficult character I’ve tried to write. Without spoiling it, she’s made choices that people probably won’t agree with and may even despise her for. But they are choices that women in the military – especially mothers in the military, have to make all the time.

Fourth, I wrote this book out of fear. My husband was on his second deployment. We knew what that meant. His first tour in 04 was bad. When we decided to stay in, we knew it meant he was going to war and that I too, would get my turn. We stayed knowing we had two little girls counting on us. So this book is an exploration of those choices and the fear that comes with them along with the pride and fulfillment that comes with being a soldier.

I hope you’ll read this book, if for no other reason than it’s taken me almost 8 years to get it right. I hope it resonates with you and I hope that even if you hate it, you’ll think about it long after you finish it.

I’ve included the first two uncorrected chapters below or you can download the sample file for kindle here or ibooks/nook/kobo here or if you want a pdf, you can get the pdf sample here.

You can preorder it at all the major ebook retailers.
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I hope you enjoy.



Al Fallujah
Late 2003

“LT, stop!”
Lieutenant Sean Nichols looked away from the fire and at the soldier holding him back. “Let me go.” A direct order, laced with violence.
Specialist Kearney shook his head. “Getting yourself killed isn’t going to do anyone any good, sir.”
Sweat ran from beneath Sean’s helmet and into his eyes, fogging the lenses of his eye pro. He dragged his gloved hand beneath his glasses and took in the chaos around him. Thunder from the fifty cal vibrated through his chest. The heat burned through his flesh to the bone. At the end of the street, one of the aircraft overhead let go with the main gun and pushed the approaching militia back.
The entire fucking city was burning. Smoke from the fire seared his nostrils and tore at his lungs.
Greeted as liberators, my ass.
Chatter and intermittent screams flooded the airwaves over the radios as everyone tried to get medical and fire support.
But the truck in front of them was all he could see. He started toward the truck again.
“Stop, goddamn it!” Kearney smashed his palms into Sean’s chest, knocking him back a step. “They’re already gone.”
The front end of the truck was melting into the asphalt.
The war surrounded them. Hot. Violent. A brilliant flash blinded him followed by a wave of heat and sound that drove his skin into his bones
He hit the deck, Kearney slamming into the pavement next to him.
Ammo started cooking off from inside the burning truck, tearing through the thin skinned Humvee and slamming into the concrete around them.
Gravel bit into the skin of his cheek as a round ricocheted off the concrete. Sean closed his eyes, and for a moment, all he could see was the fire. He hoped Kearney was right. He hoped Jack and his boys had died in the initial blast. There was silence as he pushed to his knees. Or at least the appearance of silence. It wrapped around him and made the battle seem far away
He looked up, his brain slowly registering the beat up white sedan weaving through the wreckage and burning trash toward them. He punched Kearney in the shoulder and pointed. Kearney nodded once, his lips moving. Sean felt the vibration from the M249 on his vehicle where his gunner opened fire. The sedan rolled to a stop near the burning Humvee.
He reached for the hand mike on the seat of his truck as all the sound came rushing back.
“Punisher Main, this is Warlord Blue. MEDEVAC follows.” Sean read off the lines required to get the MEDEVAC bird in the air. The number of wounded. Their location. The information rolled off his tongue line-by-line, ingrained with practice. His voice locked in his throat and he forced the words through the blockade.
When he was done, he doubled over, throwing up the little liquid and food he had in his stomach, heaving his guts out on the streets of Iraq. Heaved until his ribs ached and his throat burned from the bile or the smoke, he didn’t know.
When he was empty and hollowed out, he felt it again, slamming into him. The cold violence in the pit of his stomach. The rage churning in the empty space his soul had just abandoned.
His hand tightened around the butt of his weapon and all he wanted to do was kill.


On another base in the center of Baghdad, Lieutenant Sarah Anders answered a knock on the door of her CHU.
Her company commander stood on the top of the rough wooden step. The chaplain stood behind her.
Sarah’s heart caught in her throat. She took a single step backwards, shaking her head slowly, denying the hard, ugly truth of what those two visitors meant.
“No,” she whispered.
She fell to her knees.
Far away, she heard someone screaming.
It was a long time before she realized it was her.


Fort Hood

“You are officially the worst friend on the planet.”
Captain Sarah Anders smiled at the sound of a familiar voice. Captain Claire Montoya stood behind her trying to look offended and failing miserably. Sarah squealed as she hugged her friend close.
“You are the only thing good about being at Fort Hood,” Sarah said, holding on a little too tight. “God but I missed you.”
“Funny way of showing it, you ass,” Claire said, with a grin. “How long have you been here?”
“Long enough to get settled. I was going to call,” Sarah said, knowing Claire wasn’t actually offended. She was that kind of friend. The one you didn’t talk to for ten months because of a deployment and when you finally did, you picked up right where you left off.
Claire waved aside Sarah’s half-baked apology. “How’s the munchkin?”
“She turned five while I was gone.”
“Wow, that goes by fast. Wasn’t she just in diapers a second ago?”
“Feels like it. Now, though, sometimes I feel like she’s going on fifteen. She can be so dramatic.” Sarah pulled Claire into her tiny nook that passed for an office. She was new here which meant she had a shitty desk in a shitty space, but she wasn’t going to complain.
“Bet you can’t wait for puberty, huh?”
“I’m sending her to boarding school and volunteering for another deployment,” Sarah said. “Man, I missed you. How have you been since the epic disaster also known as Colorado?”
Claire pulled up a chair. “Oh, fine. Got thrown out of this brigade and sent over to the Cav Regiment. Ai-ee-ya, and all that,” she said pointing to the patch on her left shoulder.
“You sound like you’re enjoying it.”
“Of course I’m enjoying it,” Claire said with an evil grin. Claire was a warrior, through and through. There was nothing she enjoyed more than leading soldiers in combat. And she was damn good at it, too.
“And how’s Evan?”
A warm flush crept over Claire’s face, matched by the smile that transformed her. “He’s good.” She held out her hand, revealing a square cut diamond ring.
Sarah bit back an excited sound. “Now who’s the shitty friend? You didn’t tell me you were engaged!”
Claire flushed but the smile never left her lips. “Well, he pretty much had to hold me down to get me to agree.” She shrugged. “He’s…a good man.”
“I’m happy for you,” Sarah said,
Claire folded her arms over her chest. “Okay, so spill. What the hell happened? You were leaving for Iraq the last time I saw you, and now you’re here. Which means mostly not good things as far, as I can guess.”
Sarah looked down at her desk, the shame of failure a hot flush on her skin. “I got fired.” She looked up at her friend. “Training accident in Arifjan. I never even got to take my team into country.”
“Shit.” Claire sank back into her chair. “Is that why you’re limping?”
Sarah nodded. “Yep. Fuel exploded. Boss didn’t want to hear that it wasn’t my fault even though I was literally topping vehicles off. Contractors deliberately failed to properly ground the fuel stop.”
“So what you’re saying is you’re lucky to be alive, and instead you’re bitching about being fired?” Claire said dryly.
“Well, when you put it that way,” Sarah said. She grinned and shook her head. “The boss was looking for a reason to fire me and he found it.”
“Well, I’m not going to complain if that means you’re here. I have a shortage of female friends who can put up with me.”
“Ha! That’s just because you’re terrifying.” Sarah let the conversation drift away from her failure as a commander. She couldn’t face the memories, not today. Not when she needed to get her head in the game and focus on her new job here at Fort Hood. If she was planning on staying in the Army, she needed to get used to riding a desk on the staff.
One of the lieutenants in the ops stuck her head in Sarah’s cubicle. “Excuse me, ma’am?”
She glanced over Claire’s shoulder at LT Picket and felt positively ancient. The Army was a young soldier’s game, and at thirty, Sarah hadn’t been a young soldier in half a lifetime or more.
“What’s up, LT?”
“Ma’am, Major Wilson directed me to hand this to you.” The lieutenant looked like she expected Sarah to rip her throat out.
Sarah hadn’t had a run in with Major Wilson yet, but that didn’t mean the battalion executive officer’s reputation didn’t precede her. She was not a warm and fuzzy kind of leader, apparently. She ruled by fear and intimidation. Always a fun mix with a superior officer.
“Thanks. What is it?”
Pickett folded her hands at the small of her back at the position of parade rest. “You’ve been appointed as the investigating officer for an incident that happened this past weekend. A fight between a lieutenant and a sergeant in Chaos Company over in Death Dealer battalion. Drunk and disorderly with assault. Some sergeant got drunk and was involved in a fight with his company XO. Now the brigade commander wants answers.”
“So much for getting integrated with the battalion’s logistics mission,” Sarah said. Being an investigating officer took time, time she could be using to establish herself as a valuable asset to the logistics planning team. Now she was going to be out chasing sworn statements and picking through lies, instead of doing her job, which was working logistics for the upcoming deployment to Iraq. Fights weren’t usually serious incidents, contrary to what most folks outside the Army thought. Why was this one being investigated?
Sarah frowned. “What kind of unit has officers and enlisted men fighting on the weekends?”
Claire smiled. “Oh, trust me, Death Dealer battalion is special.”
“And you know this, how?”
Claire leaned back in her chair. “Evan is the ops officer there. Trust me, when I say special, I mean ‘entire chain of command was relieved a few months ago’ kind of special.”
“Oh wow. That’s really serious.”
“You have no idea. New command teams are on board, but they’re busy trying to clean house and get the unit prepared for the next deployment coming up in—” she glanced at her watch “—seven months. I haven’t met any of the new commanders beyond Bandit Company but Sarn’t Ike says they are an interesting mix of characters.”
“Well, that ought to be interesting then.” Sarah flipped open the folder to look at the memorandum appointing her as the investigating officer.
Cold prickled over her skin. Her stomach twisted into knots violently as she read the name of the company commander again and again. It had to be a mistake.
Had to be.
“Dude, what’s wrong?” Claire’s voice came from very far away.
She said nothing, handing Claire the paperwork, her heart caught in her throat.
“Oh shit.” Claire’s expression hardened as her eyes scanned the paperwork. She looked up at Sarah. “Sarah—”
Sarah covered her mouth with her hand, a thousand memories storming forward all at once, flashing back to a terrible time years ago. Before she’d met Jack. Before she’d lost the man who’d filled the dead space inside her with love and laughter and understanding. Things she’d thought she’d lost forever when Sean Nichols had walked out on her.
The man she’d been engaged to marry. The man who’d left her when she refused to give up her career to be his wife.


“Goddamn it, Sean, I thought you were getting your men under control?” Lieutenant Colonel Gilliad jammed a finger in Sean’s chest and Sean deliberately kept his expression blank.
Captain Sean Nichols stood in his battalion commander’s office, hands at the small of his back in a parade rest stance. It was the preferred position for getting a wire brush run over his fourth point of contact. While the visual might have been funny any other time, at the moment, Sean wasn’t in the mood for a joke.
“Sir, I’m working on it. There’s a lot to unfuck in this unit, sir.”
“How exactly are you working on it? The lawyer tells me your company is the farthest behind on legal packets.”
“Sir, we’re processing the medical and mental health before we start the legal proceedings.”
The muscle in Gilliad’s throat pulsed visibly as he stood, leaning over the desk. “And now you’ve got sergeants picking fights with the officers?”
Sean ground his teeth. He was going to whip Kearney’s ass six ways from Sunday when he got ahold of him. And Sean’s executive officer? Oh LT Smith was going to be lucky to still have a job if Sean had any say so. But like everything, firing any lieutenant, let alone that particular lieutenant, was complicated. “Sir, I’m still trying to get the answers as to what’s going on there.”
“Yeah, well you’re out of options on that one. I’ve asked the brigade commander to direct an investigation on this clusterfuck since you can’t control your formation.”
Gilliad slapped a folder against Sean’s chest. Sean kept it from falling and dropped it by his side, feeling like now might not be the best time to read it and take notes. Not with flames shooting out of Gilliad’s ears, anyway.
“Roger that, sir.”
Gilliad sank down into his chair with a heavy sigh. He looked up at Sean quietly for a moment. “I hired you because you came highly recommended. I’m not sure what the problem is with this particular sergeant, but you need to get him under control or you need to throw his ass out of the Army.”
Sean ground his teeth. He really was going to kill Kearney. “Sir, he’s working through some difficult family issues.”
“Noted. Don’t care. He gets arrested one more time, and I’m coming for you. You want to put your ass on the line for this guy, you’ll deal with the consequences when he fucks up.”
“Roger that, sir.”
“Get the hell out of my office.”
Sean saluted sharply and left the office quickly before his mouth decided that discretion was not the better part of valor.
“That was fun.” First Sergeant Morgan fell into step with Sean outside the colonel’s office.
They stepped outside of the headquarters, and Morgan paused to pluck a fresh cigar out of the breast pocket of his uniform.
“A blast. We should do it again tomorrow.” Sean pushed his sunglasses on to shield his eyes from the brilliant Texas sunlight. The trees overhanging the battalion headquarters offered shade, but the heat was oppressive, and it wasn’t even summer yet.
“Heard from the XO yet?” Morgan asked.
“Nope. Where the hell did we get these lieutenants? Clown college?” Sean shook his head. “Fucking Tweedle Dum and his merry band of miscreants.”
“I love that you call your XO Tweedle Dum, sir,” Morgan said dryly. “It warms the cockles of my twisted little heart.”
Sean grunted. He’d nicknamed LT Smith Tweedle Dum out of sheer frustration. He and his buddies were all part of the same class at West Point. All but one had a mother or a father currently on active duty but somehow, they were the least competent officers Sean had ever seen. He’d never encountered more unprofessional behavior in his entire career.
God save him from lieutenants who thought they knew everything because they were related to someone who did.
“Probably time to strategically apply some pressure to their fourth points of contact. You’ve given them the benefit of the doubt, and, well, they’re not really rising to the occasion, are they?”
Sean shot his first sergeant a sidelong look that said no shit. “Does Kearney have a good story for this one?” Sean wished he hadn’t quit smoking. It might have been six years ago but, right now, he’d give anything to relieve the tension winding around his chest, and a cigarette seemed just the thing. Something. Anything to take the edge off.
Sean sighed heavily. “He still at the company?”
“Yep. Bleeding on the conference room table.”
“Well, it ought to give the medics something to do,” Sean said dryly. “Have them stick him with an IV and patch him up.”
“Want me to draw up the counseling packet? He needs a boot in his ass.” Morgan clipped the end off his cigar and flicked it into the bush. “Maybe taking some time and money will smarten him up.”
“I doubt it,” Sean said. “And no, we can’t do a damn thing right now. The boss appointed an investigation.”
“What’d he go and do that for?” Morgan held the lighter to the tip of his cigar. “Kearney’s problems are pretty simple.”
“Guess he doesn’t believe me when I tell him that Kearney and his wife just enjoy making each other miserable.” Sean scrubbed his hand over his mouth. “How do we fix this, Top? This is five weeks running we’ve had boys arrested.”
Morgan blew out a smoke ring. He did his best thinking when he was smoking. “First, we need to figure out what the hell happened last night. Kearney getting into a fight with the XO is bad juju, but the more I think about it, the more I’m with the boss. We need someone else to take a look at this because clearly there’s some bullshit going on that we’re not seeing.”
“I love how you read my mind.” Sean grinned. “Want to snuggle?”
“Just because I read your mind doesn’t mean we’re going to be taking long showers together,” Morgan growled.
Sean laughed at the long running joke between them and some of the tension that had been squeezing his chest eased back. He released a deep breath.
They walked in silence to their company headquarters, a small, one story brick building, with bushes cut in the guitar pick shape of the First Cavalry Division patch. All of the company ops were lined up in the same building.
There was a lone female standing on the front steps. Her hair was tied back in a severe bun, her eyes masked by dark Wiley-X sunglasses.
“Lost?” he said.
She didn’t turn right away. There was something familiar about the curve of her neck, the line of her jaw. It nagged at him, just out of reach.
She turned, her face shadowed by the sun. “I’m looking for Captain Nichols.”
He stopped, his heart pounding hard in his ears. He stood for a moment, convinced that lack of sleep had him hallucinating. That he was hearing and seeing things he’d long ago tried to forget. He knew that voice. Hadn’t heard it in half a lifetime at least but it blasted him with a sense of knowing.
She shifted then, turning until the sun no longer cast a shadow over her features and reality slammed into him. A thousand brilliant points of pain exploded somewhere in the vicinity of his chest. The sounds from the world fell away, leaving him in a vacuum filled with memories and the silent regret of long ago mistakes.
“Yeah, Sean. It’s me.”


It had been nine years since she’d seen him. Nine years since his words had sliced into her skin with bitter anger and hurt and loss. Nine years since their lives had fallen apart, and she’d relegated Sean Nichols to a memory she tried to forget.
But in one moment, the intervening decade fell away, and she was suddenly that twenty-year-old sergeant again, her heart bleeding in her hands as she tried to put her life back together.
She swallowed the dryness in her throat, determined to keep things professional, then get the hell out of Dodge as fast as she could. This was not allowed to get messy. She’d done messy with him once before, and she’d be damned if she was going to repeat that mistake.
She couldn’t see his eyes behind the sunglasses, but for the briefest moment, his lips parted. A hint of emotion, then it was gone, his mouth pressed into a hard, flat line. His hands clenched into fists before they disappeared into his pockets.
He jerked his chin toward her nametape. “Anders?”
She nodded briefly. “I was married.”
“Apparently.” It was amazing how much bitterness could be packed into a single word.
“Well, now that the interpersonal hostilities are over, I’m the investigating officer for the incident in your company last night.”
“I figured that one out just now, thanks.”
She took a deep breath. So much for keeping things professional. She wasn’t going to get drawn into an argument with him. But the standoff continued. Neither of them moved and a thousand memories swirled between them, snapping like live things.
He’d changed. A lot. His shoulders filled out the gray ACU uniform much better than when he’d been a younger man. His jaw was stronger. His tanned skin was creased from the bright sun of Fort Hood and Iraq if his combat patch was any indication. His dark brown hair was longer than she remembered him wearing it when they’d been young sergeants together all those years ago.
So much for hoping he’d gotten a paunch and gone bald. Guess voodoo dolls didn’t work after all.
The first sergeant standing next to Sean cleared his throat. “Anyone going to bother with introductions? Or am I supposed to guess what this awkward interpersonal hostility is all about?”
Sean sighed heavily. “Top, meet my ex-fiancé, Sarah Delany.”
Sarah stuck her hand out, annoyed that he’d deliberately misstated her name. She’d been Delany once upon a time but hadn’t been in a long time. “Captain Anders, nice to meet you, Firs’ Sarn’t.”
Morgan’s hand was strong and solid and felt like eighty-five grit sandpaper.
“Ma’am.” Morgan stepped around Sarah and unlocked the door to the orderly room, his cigar still smoking. “Well, you two kids play nice.”
She had the distinct feeling he was laughing at them, but she said nothing instead as the silence closed around them.
“Married?” he asked, his eyes going to where her left hand was wrapped around the strap of her bag. There was no ring on her left finger. Her hand felt more naked than it had in years.
“Seven years ago.”
“Kind of fast wasn’t it?”
She felt the old anger surfacing between them, crawling over her shoulder to whisper terrible things in her ear. “You have no right to question what I did with my life after you left me,” she whispered.
His smile was cold and hard. “So that’s how you remember it? I left you?”
She stepped away, out of his space, and sucked in deep breaths. His words hurt. They were supposed to. “Not much to misconstrue, honestly.”
His smile could have cracked glass. “Pretty selective memory you’ve got going there, Sarah. Let’s not forget who said no.”
“You know what?” She held up one hand. “I’ll get the MP and police reports from your first sergeant. It’ll be better if we interact as little as possible, since things obviously haven’t changed that much.”
She walked away before the situation devolved more than it already had. She stalked past the battalion headquarters and went straight for her car, surprised by the force of the anger threatening to choke her.
She’d taken a long time to get over him. Longer to get past the anger and the hurt.
She needed a few minutes, just a few, to put everything back in the box where it belonged. Chained and bound at the bottom of the void where she could pretend the life before she’d met her husband didn’t exist.
Because Sean Nichols was nothing more than a bad memory. One she was determined to leave exactly where he belonged.
In the past.


Sean let her go.
It was a long time before he unrooted himself from the spot and walked into his company ops.
He’d handled that about as poorly as he always handled everything with Sarah. He never had a chance to ask her how she’d been. The change of name had rocked him off his axis—and it was a name he knew, all too well.
That name carried far too many memories, far too much guilt and sadness.
It couldn’t be.
It just couldn’t be.
Kearney sat at the conference room table. He avoided Sean’s eyes, deliberately playing with his cell phone. Sean stopped at the edge of the counter.
“Did you ever meet Jack Anders wife?”
Kearney looked up sharply. “Talk about your random question, sir.”
Sean didn’t respond to the sarcasm from his sergeant. With a sigh, Kearney set his phone down. “Yeah, I met her once when we’d convoyed down the Baghdad with Anders’ platoon.”
“She was a soldier?”
“Yeah, another lieutenant.”
Sean felt the blood leaving his head. He needed to sit down.
“What made you bring that up?”
“Nothing.” He walked into his office and shut the door, needing a few minutes to pull his emotions back from the edge of the abyss.
He’d spent more than a few hours over the years wondering where Sarah had gone and how she was. The whole time, apparently, she’d moved on with her life. In the first years after she’d left, he’d often thought of what he’d say if he ever saw her again. Some days, the stupid part of his heart that never got over her would ask her how she’d been. She’d smile the way she used to, and they’d finally talk about how things all went to shit when she’d turned down his marriage proposal.
Other days…other days were darker. Other days, he imagined railing at her. Demanding to know why she’d said no when they’d been so damn good together.
But he’d never imagined this. Never imagined that she’d moved on with her life. That she’d remarried. Never in his wildest dreams would have thought that she’d been married to Jack. Holy fuck.
He sat at his desk, turning that revelation over and over in his mind. He scrubbed his hand over his mouth as old memories mixed with new.
Morgan rapped on the edge of the doorframe. “Medics are getting an IV bag from the medical company. How long do you want to leave Kearney out here?”
Sean folded his arms over his chest and sighed. “Restrict him to the barracks, and let sleep the rest of it off.”
Morgan nodded then stepped further into the office. “Looks like you had a lot of catching up to do with that other captain.”
“Don’t suppose I can ask you not to pick that scab right now?” Sean rocked back in his chair.
Morgan said nothing for a long moment. “Kind of curious about what has you this fired up, honestly.”
Sean folded his hands together on his desk. Breathed deeply through his nose and deliberately changed the subject. “So have we gotten ahold of the XO yet?”
Morgan lifted one brow. “Apparently he’s on his way.”
“Any reason why it’s taken him so long?”
“Apparently, he was still drunk when he woke up and claims he didn’t want to get a DUI.”
Sean leaned back in his chair. “Let me know when he gets here,” he said simply. Then, “Did you get the paperwork done up on Kearney?” He needed to keep his mind focused on work.
It would be far too easy to disappear on a long winding trip down memory lane.
“Yep, already done.” Morgan sighed. “Look, whatever is going on between you and that captain, you need to put it away. We don’t have time for you to be pining away like a lovesick puppy. We have privates –” He glanced over his shoulder where Kearney sat at the conference table. “And sergeants for that shit.”
Sean looked up at the big first sergeant, grinding his teeth to keep his better judgment from escaping. Morgan meant well and he wouldn’t be saying anything if he didn’t see the train wreck that Sarah had turned him into. The unit couldn’t handle any more command or leadership disasters. They had more than enough already.
“I’m working on it, Top,” was all he said after a moment.
Morgan studied him quietly then left him alone. Alone with the silent recrimination in his thoughts and the swirling memories that took him back to another life. To a life before the war, when he’d still believed his own bullshit that he’d be man enough to bring everyone home. That he’d be able to go to war and come home with his honor intact. That Sarah loved him enough to leave the Army behind.
Funny how a decade at war changed everything.

Selz, Free Samples, and Preorders

For the last couple of months, I’ve been experimenting with selling directly through my selz store and I figured I’d write an update about what I’ve done and how it’s been going.

The biggest problem as an indie author is how do you find readers if you don’t have a built in name. I’ve got a core cadre of dedicated readers (and than you from the bottom of my heart for sticking with me) but if I ever hope of making a living at this, I need to grow my reader base.

So back in February, I set up my selz store. It was incredibly easy to do and there are a lot of customizations that I’ll probably do in the future but right now, I’m still trying it out. I started simple: added in digital copies of my current indie novella and just let it cook. It didn’t do much but I wasn’t overly concerned.

bfore I fall 3d2When it came time to get ready to launch my new series with Before I Fall, though, I needed a plan that didn’t involve shotgun blasting Facebook ads and having little to no click through. So I uploaded a three chapter sample to selz. There are separate files for kindle and epub and pdf and they are clearly labeled so readers don’t get confused. I also started targeting specific, popular authors on Facebook with the ad linking them to my selz page.

The results were pretty damn good. This is by far the most effective marketing I’ve done to date. There is a very strong correlation between the number of preorders and the number of samples downloaded. For every click through to the site, I end up with a 30% conversion rate – which means 30% of the people who visit end up downloading the sample. I can’t track exactly whether or not the sample leads directly to a purchase but the numbers of samples lines up very closely with the number of preorders. So I cannot say that my free samples on selz is causally related to the number of preorders on all my new releases but only that the free samples are definitely helping drum up traffic.

And the only thing is costs me is the advertising money on Facebook. Which if you haven’t done their Facebook for Business program for ad optimization and you have a set amount of money to budget for it, I highly recommend it. I have no problem paying for advertising if it leads to actual sales and learning to maximize Facebook is well worth the time and money.

The other benefit to using selz is that you have customer information. Obviously, you don’t want to go adding people to your mailing list without their permission (trust me, I did this accidentally once and I still want to die of embarrassment every time I think about it) so if you do want customers to sign up, make sure they opt in. But being able to contact them and say hey, the entire book is available if you’re interested definitely helps.

I won’t be pulling away from the major retailers any time soon. The vast majority of my readers are on Kindle, iBooks and Nook and I fully intend to make my readers’ lives easier by making sure they can get the books where they’re most comfortable. But selling directly is also something I plan to continue so long as it remains easy for my readers to do. I wrote about how selling directly benefits me financially to sell directly as I retain a higher percentage of each sale.

It also gives me flexibility to offer readers unique access. homefront 3d finalFor instance, Homefront is available right now from me directly. It’ll be on sale on April 7th from all the other retailers.

And I’m offering up signed copies for a pay your own price promotion to raise money for Project Sanctuary on Back to You and It’s Always Been You (and we’re running low so if you want these, don’t wait).

And I’m going to figure out how to bundle print and digital so if anyone wants to buy a print copy of Before I Fall from me, they’ll be able to get the digital book from me directly, too. Look for that soon.

The only drawback is that sometimes, people’s credit cards block the transaction because selz.com is located in Australia- meaning you’ll get a processing error message. But if that happens, readers can pay through paypal. All in all, though, I’m incredibly happy with my selz experiment and I definitely plan on continuing it.

It’s all part of this brave new world of indie publishing. One of the things I truly love about being indie is having the flexibility to try new things, adapt and adjust if things aren’t working.

Selling Ebooks Directly

Read it beforeeveryone else.

So for the last two months, I’ve been using my jessicascott.selz.com to offer up free samples of my indie books as well as to offer up DRM free versions of my indie ebooks.

Why bother? Buying from Amazon is literally one click and the book is on your gadget. iBooks is even easier b/c the iBookstore is native to your iThing. And honestly, those are the places where I buy a lot of my books, too.

But? As an indie author, I’m also a businesswoman. And while it’s true that the vast majority of my ebooks sales will continue to come through ebookstores like iBooks and Amazon, I wanted to have another way to reach readers. There are a couple of reasons for this.

One, the royalty rates are better. If you buy a $4.99 ebook from me on Amazon, I make 3.49. If you buy it from me directly, I make $4.90. Pretty big difference. Plus, if you buy directly from the author, I get paid that week. Amazon payments take 60 days, Nook takes 60 days (I think) and traditional publishers take 6 months.

Also, the day may come when the terms and conditions of selling directly through some of the major retailers might be untenable. I hope that doesn’t happen but I want to be established on my own platform if that day should come.

There are some drawbacks. I’m basically running customer service now so when folks have trouble, I’m answering the questions. Which I don’t mind but it may turn out to be a hassle down the road. I’m not sure.

The other drawback is returns. Basically, if someone requests a return of an ebook brought through selz, I can’t refund the money because there’s no way for me to know if the file was deleted or not. I have enough trust in my readers to think that’s not going to happen but that may also be another reason why this doesn’t work out.

Right now, though, it seems to be worthwhile for me to offer an alternative way for readers to buy my books. I’ll be offering up signed print copies for purchase later this year, too. Oh and right now, I do have print copies which are pay what you want. All the money from those books goes to benefit Project Sanctuary while supplies last.

So check it out, if you’d like. I think it’s a pretty neat tool available to authors.

And if you’d rather still buy elsewhere, by all means, please do. Whatever works best for you, the reader, is my goal.

iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | GooglePlay | Amazon | selz.com

Homefront Sneak Peek


So I hope y’all are excited about Homefront as I am. Here’s an early look at the new book. It’ll be out on April 7th and available at all the usual locations but you can buy it early here .

Here’s the blurb:

He’s always loved her…
First Sergeant Gale Sorren waited a war and half a lifetime for a chance to get stationed near the ex-wife who left him years ago. When he finally musters the courage to see her, the life he imagined she was living was nothing close to the reality.

She’s never stopped loving him…
Melanie never stopped worrying about Gale each time he headed off to war. But he’s never been there when she needed him and she’s had fifteen years to steel her heart against him.

But when Gale moves to Fort Hood, he finally has a chance to make things right with Melanie and the daughter she raised without him.

Can Mel trust her heart to a man who has always let her down?

If you’d like to read the entire thing today, you can buy your copy directly from me here.

If you’d rather wait and get it through your preferred ebook store, it’s available for preorder wherever you buy ebooks.

iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | GooglePlay | Amazon


Tal Afar
Late 2006

Shit days were nothing new. In fact, Sergeant First Class Gale Sorren was on a thirty-six day streak, and there was no sign that they were coming to an end any time soon. But he had to keep going.
No matter how much he might want to take a knee.
The funeral detail was somber and professional, the flight line dead silent now that the aircraft had killed its engines. His throat closed off. His eyes burned. He held his salute as the caskets moved slowly past, one after another in slow procession. His arm trembled from holding it for what felt like a lifetime, but there was no way in hell he was going to drop it.
Three of his boys were heading home tonight.
There was no sadness. No raging grief. Only a sober, silent tribute to the fallen.
The rage would come later. Much later. For now, there was too much work to be done.
He dropped his salute and listened to his boys remember their brothers. Recounting their heroism. Their bravery.
Gale said nothing. There were no words that could get past the block in his throat. So he let his men remember their friends while he stood watch.
He stood there, long after the rest of the battalion had left the airfield. The Air Force security guard came and went and came again. The kid finally gave up trying to get him to move hours later.
It was probably for the best.
A stone skittered across the blazing asphalt. He watched it tumble to the edge of the tarmac and land in a pothole.
He glanced over at the source of the stone’s movement. Tellhouse, one of his fellow platoon sergeants, walked up. Tellhouse was a sergeant first class like Gale. Promotable, too, which meant they were both going to be looking for other jobs soon. Gale didn’t really want to leave his boys mid deployment because he got promoted out of his position.
Gale liked Tellhouse for the most part. Except for his temper. They needed to work on that. After all, there couldn’t be two of them enrolled in anger management training. Sarn’t Major would crush the both of them. The problem was they both tended to get pissed off about the same things at the same time.
Tellhouse pushed his eye-protection up higher on the bridge of his nose. “First Sarn’t needs you at the company.”
Gale made a noise and tried to summon an ounce of give-a-shit over what the First Sergeant wanted. Maybe if the fucker left the office once in a while, Gale wouldn’t be strung out trying to take care of three platoons instead of just his own. Thank God Tellhouse was competent or Gale might have lost his shit a long time ago.
Finally, he shifted his weight and moved.
Maybe someday he’d find the grief for his soldiers.
But that day was not today. Not when they had a mission gearing up in about six hours.
He breathed out deeply and fell into step with his fellow NCO. The walk was solemn and silent and filled with things neither of them could say. The war was nothing new. Both of them had spent more than their fair share of time in Hell.
But sometimes, days like this just got the best of you.
He stepped into the dark interior of the company ops. Funny how a few pieces of plywood and a couple of extension cords suddenly made an office. He stopped short, though, when he saw the battalion command sergeant major standing with the first sergeant. Not extremely out of the ordinary, except that Gale had the distinct impression Sarn’t Major was waiting for him.
Gale swallowed the tight knot in his throat that wouldn’t seem to budge. “What’s the occasion?” he asked, looking between the two senior NCOs.
First Sarn’t handed him a sheet of paper. “You got a Red Cross message.”
The knot in his throat swelled, blocking his airway as he looked down at the handwritten note.
The room spun out at the edges when he saw Jamie’s name.
The words blurred together. Hospitalized. Stitches. Psychiatric ward.
He breathed deeply and looked at his NCO leadership. “When can I leave?”
It was the sergeant major who spoke. “I can’t let you go. Your daughter’s life isn’t in immediate danger. She’s safe. Your ex-wife didn’t request your presence.”
A loud buzzing filled Gale’s head, blocking out the sound of the sergeant major’s words. “My daughter’s in the hospital,” he finally managed. “I need to be there.”
Sarn’t Major shook his head, his expression flat and emotionless. “That’s not going to happen, Sarn’t.”
Gale couldn’t say what happened next. An urge to do violence slammed through him. He imagined driving his fist into the sarn’t major’s face and beating the lines off that sun-worn leather skin. All the rage, all the fury, boiled up in a single violent flash.
The next thing he knew, he was back outside. Tellhouse’s hands were driving into his chest, holding him against the wall. “Stop. Sorren, fucking stop.”
Tellhouse’s words finally penetrated the fog. Gale blinked rapidly and looked at the other platoon sergeant. He stopped struggling to get free.
Tellhouse took a step back but still kept his body between Gale and the door. Gale stood there for a moment, reality crashing through the haze of violence, grief, and rage. Helpless, potent rage. “I need a few minutes,” was all he could manage before he executed an about face and walked away.
Then there was no rage. No more red-tainted visions of violence. This was something more. Something he couldn’t name and couldn’t process.
Jamie was in the hospital. His daughter was in the fucking hospital and Melanie hadn’t requested his presence.
He barely felt the gravel beneath his boots as he walked back to his CHU. He was stuck half a world away in a fucking war that he no longer even hated, and there was nothing he could do.
He closed the door to his CHU. Locked it behind him with a solitary, metallic click.
He stood for a moment in the Spartan emptiness. There was a light coat of dust on the old leather chair he’d gotten from a major on his way out of country.
A box of unopened Pop Tarts had fallen over.
All around him was dust and dirt. There was an explosion somewhere in the distance. A pop of gunfire at the test fire pit. The war was fucking everywhere.
He stood there in the center of his CHU. There was something broken inside him when he couldn’t even cry over his fallen soldiers anymore.
Something broken that he was unable to name, that he couldn’t be there when his little girl needed him.
The air conditioner in his CHU kicked on. His cheeks were suddenly cool.
He lifted one hand at the unexpected sensation.
His fingertip came away wet.
He unclenched his other hand. The Red Cross message was still there, crumpled at his fingertips.
The Red Cross message that told him his daughter was in the hospital.
The wetness on his cheeks grew colder, spread down his neck as the words on the paper blurred.
He dropped to his knees, doubled over as the violent, unrestrained grief ripped him apart.


Fort Hood, Texas

If there was a hell, First Sergeant Gale Sorren was certain this was it. In fifteen years, he’d never been assigned to Fort Hood, and while he’d been begging to be assigned here for years, he remembered with punishing clarity why people had recommended he avoid the home of America’s First Team for so long.
It was fucking hot and it wasn’t even summertime yet.
He’d thought he knew hot. Hell, he’d spent enough time at Fort Benning and in Iraq to be intimately familiar with just how hot the planet could get.
But somehow, Fort Hood took hot to a whole new level. It was a dry heat, his last sarn’t major had said when he’d given Gale the news that he was getting his assignment wish and being sent to Hood.
It was just past the ass crack of dawn and the sun slowly slipping over the horizon, and it was already a hundred degrees. And it wasn’t even summer yet. Next to him, his commander, Captain Ben Teague, was busy being a smart ass. It was his totem animal, or so he said.
“I wonder if the sarn’t major would let us run in just our PT belts.”
Gale shot him his best are you high expression. Teague grinned and raised his hands. Teague was Gale’s commander and technically that made him Gale’s boss but the commander/first sergeant relationship was… How had Sarn’t Major Cox put it once when Gale had threatened to kill one of his platoon leaders for getting drunk with the soldiers back at Benning? It was an arranged marriage. A unique description, Gale supposed.
“I’m thinking that might get us both fired,” Gale said mildly.
“No, not really. It’ll get the sarn’t major’s boot surgically implanted in my ass.” Gale stopped a soldier and told him to tighten his PT belt around his waist. The new Corps sergeant major had a thing about uniform violations and a loose PT belt was a cardinal sin these days. “Besides, it could be worse.”
“We could be patrolling Sadr City in this weather in full kit.”
“You know—” Teague snapped his fingers— “that is an excellent point.” He shoved his hands in his pockets as they walked toward the PT formation area. “I really wish we didn’t have mandatory fun today.”
They were both in ACUs. Gale resented the hell out of any morning that didn’t start off with PT, but he damn sure resented it when he was forced to skip PT to go to breakfast. What kind of animals started their days with food? Give him coffee and a good six-mile run any day of the week. “Don’t get me started.”
“At least there’ll be coffee.” Teague frowned and glanced at him. “There will be coffee at this kind of thing, right?”
“Do I look like I have the slightest idea what we’re doing today?” Gale needed to be spending time with his formation, not doing whatever the hell they were going to do this morning. He was still getting to know his troops and their issues—and there were a lot of them. Issues, that is. “It’s not like I spend my free time checking the battalion’s social roster.”
“Hell, I don’t know what you do on the weekends other than bailing kids out of jail.” Teague glanced over at him and Gale braced for more sarcasm. “Do you even have free time—oh hey.”
Instantly his commander’s expression softened. Gale followed his line of vision to see Teague’s other half, Major Olivia Hale, talking to the battalion commander.
“I know what you do with yours,” Gale mumbled and tried not to be jealous of the new and shiny love between his commander and the battalion’s lawyer. Major Hale nodded at Teague in acknowledgment and turned back to her conversation with the battalion commander.
It was the subtlety of her gesture that convinced Gale that she and Teague had a good chance at making things work. They were a good fit. She kept Teague honest in more ways than one, and they were both very good at keeping things professional at work.
It was a nice change from all the drama Gale dealt with on a daily basis. Angry spouses, cheating soldiers, and everything in between. Life in the Army sometimes felt more like a reality TV show than a professional organization.
He peeled away from his commander and headed to the front of the formation where his platoon sergeants were talking with each other. Sergeant First Class Iaconelli was the headquarters platoon sergeant, and while Gale had his misgivings about a recovering alcoholic on the team, Iaconelli had proven to be a rock since he’d come to work for him.
“Are we set for the range tomorrow?” Gale asked Iaconelli.
Iaconelli nodded. “Roger, Top. Final checks today before lunchtime.”
“Make sure we pull some camo out for shade.” When one of the other platoon sergeants started to protest, Gale talked over him. “We don’t need to practice being hardcore in the heat. We need to be able to shoot, and we can’t do that if soldiers are dropping from dehydration.”
Iaconelli nodded. “Got it, Top.”
Gale jerked his chin, and Iaconelli stepped away from the formation. “You talked to Foster today?”
Foster was on convalescent leave for surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He was also struggling with an addiction to methamphetamines. “Roger. He called in like he’s supposed to.”
“How is he doing?” If Gale had serious misgivings about Iaconelli, he had even more about keeping Foster in the ranks, but these men meant a lot to Teague. He was keeping a very close eye on both situations, however. If the time came that he needed to recommend the commander take action, Gale would do what needed to be done.
“He sounded steady. I’m going to swing by and check on him after PT.”
“Good. If you get even a hint that something is wrong, I want every pain pill counted.”
“Roger, Top.” There was resentment in Iaconelli’s answer, too obvious for Gale to ignore.
“Something you want to say?”
Iaconelli looked out over the formation, grinding his teeth until the muscle in his jaw looked about to snap. “It’s hard enough staying sober without everyone looking at you like you’re using all the time.”
Gale studied the other man silently. “Are we still talking about Foster?”
Iaconelli didn’t look away. “It doesn’t matter. But maybe give him the benefit of the doubt?”
Gale folded his arms over his chest. He wasn’t looking for a fight with one of his platoon sergeants. If Iaconelli needed to get this off his chest, then so be it. Finally, when Iaconelli let the silence stand, Gale spoke. “The fact that he’s still in the Army and recovering from surgery while he’s trying to get clean is benefit of the doubt.”
“You don’t know him,” Iaconelli said.
“And you do. And that closeness blinds you to the reality that he’s got a long hard slog ahead of him to stay sober.” No point in pulling his punches, regardless of whether they were talking about Iaconelli’s personal issues or Foster’s.
“Oh I’m very much aware of the road he’s on.” After another moment, Iaconelli turned and stalked back to the formation. Whatever was eating at him wasn’t going to come out today. But soon. The situation needed watching. Closely.
Gale let the other man go. He didn’t need to get into a dick-measuring contest with his platoon sergeant. Foster wasn’t one of Gale’s boys. He was just another soldier, another face in the crowd. If he soldiered, Gale would let him continue to soldier. If not, he was going home. Gale had a war to train his men for and he needed every single body able and fit to fight.
Another soldier who was distracting from the mission of prepping to head back to Iraq wasn’t going to garner much sympathy from Gale.
The cannon sounded, and Gale called the formation to attention and present arms as reveille trumpeted over the installation. They saluted the flag, and there was a moment of somber pride as the colors were hoisted up at the division headquarters. When it finished, Gale turned the troops over to Iaconelli, who took charge of the formation for PT.
Teague fell into step with him as they headed toward the parking lot.
“So. You call your ex yet?”
Gale sighed but said nothing. He never should have told Teague that Melanie lived in Harker Heights and that he was still summoning the courage to call her.
“I’ll take that as a no?”
Several weeks had gone by since Gale had reported to Hood. He’d told himself that he needed to get situated first. That there would be time.
But he was lying to himself. Because the truth of the matter was he was afraid. Afraid of seeing the daughter who’d nearly died almost two years ago. Afraid to look at her and see the hate and the blame and the guilt looking back at him. Oh, he knew he wasn’t going to win any parenting awards for stalling. He should have been on the first plane smoking and to hell with what the sarn’t major had said.
But he hadn’t been. He’d damn near been court-martialed back in Iraq and it had taken Sarn’t Major Cox almost eighteen months to save his ass. The fact that Gale was on his second tour as a first sergeant despite the assault said a lot about how well connected Cox was. Only Cox and Tellhouse knew his history from downrange in this unit and Gale intended to keep it that way if he could.
But even the charges and the job didn’t excuse Gale’s action or lack thereof. He told himself that Skype calls and text messages were enough, that she was okay. That Mel had a handle on things.
But even those were convenient lies. Fear was a powerful thing and yeah, he was afraid. He’d finally gotten his wish of being stationed near his ex-wife and their daughter and he was paralyzed by fear. Fear of what it meant to live in the same town as Mel and Jamie. Fear that if he tried to be a dad after all these years that he would fail miserably. Or worse, that Jamie no longer needed him because he’d been gone too long.
He was afraid to face the bitter truth: that Melanie didn’t need him after all these years.
Maybe she never had.


Melanie Francesco stirred her coffee while the captain next to her made idle conversation about one of the local pawnshops burning to the ground.
Melanie was reasonably certain that the fire had not been an accident, but she wasn’t in a position to comment. She was a liaison between the business owners and the real estate council and random speculation like that could cause problems for her office.
She fought the urge to check her cell phone for the tenth time that morning. She told herself that Jamie was fine. She’d dropped her off at school that morning after the requisite fighting about whether or not the sky was blue or if the sun was actually going to come up tomorrow. Because all they did was fight.
The fights were exhausting, but it was the fear that kept Mel up at night. Fear that Jamie was slipping away again and Mel wouldn’t be there to save her next time.
The captain moved away, leaving Mel alone. She stole a quick glance at her phone. No text but no missed calls from the school either. Relief crawled over Mel’s skin. Jamie was still in school then.
She tucked her phone back into her purse as she spotted a friendly face—someone she wouldn’t mind actually talking with—and made a straight line for Major Olivia Hale. “I didn’t know you’d be here.”
“Mandatory fun and all that,” Olivia said with a smile. Melanie envied the woman—even in ACUs, which were not exactly made for women’s bodies, Olivia looked stylish and effortlessly well put together.
Melanie smiled back. “Life isn’t the same without you on the Council harassing the slum lords trying to screw over soldiers.”
“It was one of life’s true pleasures,” Olivia said dryly.
“There is no one to play the Faux Outrage Drinking Game with me anymore. The monthly meetings are epically more boring.” She sipped her tea, watching the room. “How’s life down in the new unit?”
“It’s good. I have a sense of purpose again.” Olivia smiled warmly.
Melanie set her tea on a nearby table. “So what are we doing here? And I’m not interested in the official bullshit line, either, so don’t waste your breath.”
Olivia grinned wickedly and it was the smile that Mel remembered all too well. The smile the other woman used when she was about to rip someone a new one. “Well, since you put it that way.” She took a sip of coffee. “We’re trying to build relationships that will strengthen the community. We’ve got a massive problem with soldiers being involved in misconduct off post and we want to get civilian agencies involved before the police get involved.”
And just like that, all the pieces clicked into place. “So you’re bribing the landlords with shitty coffee and donuts in the hope that we’ll call you guys instead of the cops?”
“More or less.” Olivia set her coffee down and retrieved a folder from the table. “We’ve got this handy little quick reference guide with all the unit phone numbers. Kind of a cheat sheet of names and numbers to call. We even laminated it to make it durable. Isn’t it nice and shiny?”
Mel shot her friend a wry look. “Is this even legal?”
“I’m not going to offer an official opinion on what I think of this program.”
“Why don’t you approve?” Mel asked, keeping her voice low.
Olivia sighed. “Because it enables some people’s misconduct to be hidden away and covered up. I prefer we work things through official channels. Transparency and all that.” Olivia’s smile could have cracked glass. “Community outreach with the realtors keeps problems handled through informal networks instead of the Bell County legal system.”
Melanie opened her mouth to speak but the words locked in her throat.
The tea in her stomach turned bitter and cold as her guts twisted with recognition and surprise at the last person she’d expected to see here today.
Her heart slammed against her ribs as anxiety and something else knotted in her belly. For a moment, she thought about turning away. About hiding from the man who’d just walked into the room like he owned it.
But it was too late.
Because across the conference room, near a tray of donuts and a box of coffee, her ex-husband’s eyes met hers.
The world tilted beneath her feet. He was supposed to be stationed at Fort Lewis, halfway across the country. And instead he was here. In this room. At this moment. As a first sergeant?
Closer than he’d been in over two years. His jaw was iron, his shoulders broad and strong. It was criminal how good that uniform looked on him. And damn it, she was not going to notice these things about him.
But despite herself, she noticed everything about him. His dark brown eyes were hard and filled with shadows now. Colder than she remembered. A smarter woman might have been intimidated by him. A younger woman might have already been wringing out her panties. But she remembered him for the boy he’d been. The boy she’d loved.
The boy she’d left.
He was not that boy anymore. And she was no longer the scared uncertain girl trying to find her way in the world.
“Are you okay?” Olivia’s voice came from very far away.
“Yeah. Excuse me a sec?” She hated bailing on her friend but this was not a conversation she wanted to have with an audience.
She offered a tense, flat line in place of a smile as he approached. Defenses up, that’s what she needed. She could not do this with him right now. “I’m not exactly sure what the correct greeting is,” she said, doing her damnedest to keep her voice level.
As though they were perfect strangers, talking about unimportant things.
The hush between them swelled into a living thing, pulsing with raw and ragged emotions.
“I can explain.” His voice was rough and deep.
“How long have you been here?” Her words were too sharp on her own ears. She sucked in a deep breath, trying to stave off the riot swirling in her belly. No matter how much time they spent apart, every single time they were around each other things went to shit in a rapid, predictable manner. She really wanted to avoid that at the present moment.
“Long enough.” Gale cleared his throat and had the decency to look embarrassed. “I should have called you.”
“And yet you didn’t, so there we are.” She turned, looking for her cup, needing space, needing distance between them before she broke apart into a million ugly pieces in front of her peers and coworkers and a half dozen random strangers.
Gale’s hand was rough and strong on her shoulder. “Mel…”
“Don’t.” She moved away from his touch, barely keeping her voice low. “You don’t have permission to touch me.” Mel bit her lips together, inhaling a deep, hard breath. Gale lowered his hand and they stood there at an impasse.
A few months. No call. No note. Nothing. Hadn’t tried to see Jamie. Just move to town and don’t say a word.
That told her all she needed to know about where she and Jamie stood in his priorities. Just like always, the Army won. She bit down harder, trying to divert the pain in her heart to the pain in her lip. “Jamie will be happy to see you,” she said finally.
She didn’t mean to throw Jamie in the middle but that’s the way things were with them. It was the way it had been since…since always.
He stiffened. His hands flexed by his sides. Like he needed to do something with them that hopefully didn’t involve her.
“I meant to call.” There was a rough edge to his voice. A blade, like cut steel, ragged and raw.
“I’m sure you did.” Her words were brittle. She headed for the door in what she hoped was a relatively inconspicuous manner.
She needed a few minutes to put everything back in the box she marked “Gale” and did her best to ignore.
Because she’d be damned if she was going to cry over this man one more time.


Melanie kicked the front door closed and sorted the mail: junk, bills, Jamie’s latest catalogue from that store in the mall that Melanie hated. She was, of course, the worst mother in the world because she wouldn’t let Jamie shop there. Mel was all for women owning their own sexuality and all that but she drew the line at hyper-sexualizing her daughter. If they both survived Jamie’s adolescence, maybe Jamie would thank her later.
She had her doubts, though. She put the envelopes in stacks, almost on autopilot until she came to a tan, card-sized envelope with a Fort Lewis return address. No name but then again, she didn’t need to read the name to know who it was from.
Her heart fluttered a tiny bit as she opened the belated birthday card. It was a squirrel holding a sign and wearing pink heart sunglasses. Happy Birthday Mel. – Gale.
In the fifteen years since their divorce, he’d sent a card every year and every year he’d screwed up the date. Still, it was a nice, if empty, gesture. He’d missed far more than just birthdays since their marriage had fallen apart all those years ago.
If she hadn’t seen him today, maybe she would have smiled at the stupid squirrel. But she had seen him today. Had been sorting through her reaction all damn day. She wasn’t angry. She wasn’t sad.
She was… she didn’t know how to handle the news that he’d moved to Killeen. She’d never expected that. How had he even gotten here? The last time Jamie had asked her dad to move closer to them, he’d said something about burning in hell before the Army sent him to Hood.
And yet, here he was. He’d caught her off guard. Completely off guard. And she hated that more than anything.
There was a thump on the ceiling. Then the sound of feet moving from her daughter’s bathroom down the hall to Jamie’s bedroom. It was a normal sound. Nothing about it should have set her heart to pounding rapidly in her chest. But there was something off. Something that set the hair on the back of Melanie’s neck on edge. She’d ignored her gut once before.
And she would never make that same mistake again. She rushed upstairs to find the bedroom door locked.
“Open the door, Jamie.” Her voice was deadly calm. She was proud of herself, actually. She managed to smother the kick of panic that sucked the air from her lungs.
“Just a sec, Mom.”
“I’m going to count to three, then I’m kicking this door in.” She’d done it before. Jamie knew better. She knew not to lock the door. Fear gripped her throat, her voice tightening. “One.” More scrambling. “Two.”
The door swung wide, and her daughter rushed to fill the space. “What’s up?”
Melanie inhaled deeply. No drugs. No smell of antiseptic or rubbing alcohol. Jamie stood there, one arm behind her back. “What were you doing?”
“Homework.” Jamie blinked innocently.
Melanie didn’t buy it for a second. “What’s in your hand?”
“Nothing, Mom.”
Fear licked at her spine. Jamie was lying. Again. She grabbed the arm Jamie held behind her and shoved the sleeve up.
Pale scars crisscrossed Jamie’s forearm, but no fresh marks. Relief slithered over her skin.
Jamie yanked away, her mock innocent expression shuttering closed into the belligerent look Mel knew all too well. “I’m fine, thanks,” she said.
“You’re not allowed to block the door.” Melanie folded her arms as they prepared for the all-too-familiar battle.
“I can’t have any privacy?” Defiance looked back at her from Jamie’s eyes, eyes that looked so much like her father’s, except they were lined with a heavy black liner that no matter how many times Mel kept throwing it away, her daughter kept coming replacing.
Melanie sighed heavily, praying for patience. “You know the answer to that question.”
“You know, you treat me like a criminal. I might as well act like one.”
Melanie held out her hand. “Phone.”
“You have no right—”
Her temper snapped beneath the weight of the fear. “I have every right. You live in my house, you live under my rules. When you go to college, you can make your own rules.”
Jamie slapped her cell phone into her mother’s outstretched hand. “I can’t wait.”
The texts were blank. All that meant was that Jamie had gotten better at deleting them before Melanie caught her. She was hiding something. Mel just couldn’t figure out what.
“Come do your homework at the table.”
“I’m fine in here.”
Melanie lifted her eyes toward heaven, grinding her teeth. “It wasn’t a request, Jamie.”
Jamie made a disgusted sound and slammed the door shut with a bang. Melanie briefly considered for the hundredth time taking it off the hinges entirely.
But that wouldn’t really do any wonders for trying to rebuild trust like their therapist kept trying to get them to do, now would it?
She walked straight into the kitchen. She started to pull salad out of the fridge, then stopped. She leaned against the counter and focused on breathing slow and steady. Tears burned behind her eyes. Every single day was a new version of the same old fight.
Makeup. Phone. Homework. And those were the easy fights. They took up most of her energy, keeping the real fear buried. Waiting. Lurking in the dark for the right moment to strike back and remind her that she’d almost lost Jamie once.
That it could be happening again and Jamie would be able to hide it this time.
No, their therapist didn’t really understand the fear that Mel lived with. The fear of the tiny nicks in her daughter’s flesh. The blood that had circled down the drain, that left a faint stain that taunted Melanie with the epic levels of her failure as a parent.
The fear that her daughter was only pretending to be okay but was slowly spiraling out of control again, and there was nothing Melanie could do to stop it.
Not for the first time, she wished she’d found someone to share the load with. But the few times she’d dated hadn’t really gone anywhere serious. She had her hands full with Jamie. Most men, even the good ones, wouldn’t stand for being second place. She didn’t blame them, honestly.
But damn, she was tired of being alone.
Mel lowered her hands. Jamie stood near the wide arch that led into their living room, her books clutched to her chest. For once, she didn’t look like she was ready to fight at the drop of a hat. For a brief moment, she saw her little girl, looking at her with worry in her eyes when she’d caught Mel crying once. For a moment, it was just Jamie standing there.
Mel would do anything to hold onto that moment. To make it last longer than a few heartbeats.
Melanie lifted her chin and straightened. Took a deep breath and tried to change the tone of their evening. “Sorry. Rough day at work. Any preferences for dinner?”
“Macaroni and cheese?” Jamie said hopefully.
“Sure.” She wasn’t going to win any Parent of the Year awards for feeding her kid mac and cheese out of a box, but then again, your kid ending up in the hospital for cutting herself pretty much already ended any chances of that.
Oh, she knew on an intellectual level that what Jamie had done wasn’t her fault. That it was a mental health issue and blah blah blah.
But that didn’t stop the guilt that rode on Melanie’s chest. That burned beneath her heart every single day. Why had she missed the signs? What could she have done better? Why did she and Jamie have to fight so much?
It felt like they’d been fighting since the day she’d been born.
Jamie paused where she’d been setting her books on the kitchen table. She looked sideways at Mel and said cautiously, “It must have been a really bad day at work.”
“It was.” She couldn’t come up with the words she needed to tell her daughter about Gale. How would Jamie react? Mel honestly didn’t know. Jamie hadn’t seen her father since before his last deployment.
Melanie offered a faint smile that she wished she felt and tried to hold onto the oh-so-fragile peace between them. “So how’s school?” She knew she was supposed to ask questions that didn’t involve responses like “fine” or “good.” But she didn’t know what to ask anymore.
“Fine. Sold any houses this week?” Jamie asked. Such a neutral question.
As though Mel hadn’t just been treating her like a suspect a few minutes before. Like Jamie hadn’t just caught her mom standing in the kitchen fighting tears. “I’ve got a closing on Thursday.”
“That’s good, right?”
“It is.” Mel pulled a box out of the pantry. Food was another thing they fought about. Mac and cheese was one of the few fail-safe dinners. The doorbell rang. Mel paused and looked toward it. The UPS man was the only person who ever came this late in the afternoon. “Start the water?” she asked.
For once, Jamie didn’t argue. Mel wasn’t going to second-guess the moment’s peace. She was sure there would be another fight before they went to bed. It sucked. There was no other way to put it.
She opened the door looking down, expecting her latest book.
Instead her gaze fell on a pair of dusty combat boots. Boots that damn sure weren’t supposed to be on her doorstep.
And they damn sure weren’t supposed to belong to Gale.

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ALL FOR YOU is probably my favorite of my books. You know those books that you write wide open, thinking no one will ever read it because it comes from a raw, uncensored place? That’s ALL FOR YOU. I’m so glad my editor took a chance on this book and on these characters. I love their story.

You can read an excerpt below and if so inclined, pick up a copy on sale this week for .99 at

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Hope you enjoy!


Camp Taji, Iraq

Sergeant First Class Reza Iaconelli had seen better days. He closed his eyes, wishing he was anywhere but curled up on the latrine floor in the middle of some dirty, shitty desert. The cold linoleum caressed his cheek, soothing the sensation of a billion spiders creeping over his skin. He had to get up, to get back to his platoon before someone came looking for him. Running patrols through the middle of Sadr City was so much better than being balled up on the bathroom floor, puking his guts out.
He’d sacrificed his dignity at the altar of the porcelain god two days ago when they’d arrived in northern Baghdad. It was going to be a rough deployment; that was for damn sure. Dear Lord, he’d give anything for a drink. Anything to stop the madness of detox. Why the fuck was he doing this to himself? Why did he pick up that godforsaken bottle every single time he made it home from this goddamned war?
The walls of the latrine echoed as someone pounded on the door. It felt like a mallet on the inside of a kettle drum inside his skull. “Sarn’t Ike!”
Reza groaned and pushed up to his hands and knees. He couldn’t let Foster see him like this. Couldn’t let any of his guys see him like this. “You about ready? The patrol is gearing up to roll.”
Holy hell. He dry heaved again, unable to breathe until the sensation of ripping his guts out through his throat passed. After a moment, he pushed himself upright and rinsed out his mouth. He’d definitely seen better days.
He wet his brown-black hair down and tucked the grey Army combat t-shirt into his uniform pants. Satisfied that no one would know he’d just been reduced to a quivering ball of misery a few moments before, he headed out to formation, a five- to seven-hour patrol through the shit hole known as Sadr City in his immediate future.
He was a goddamned sergeant first class and he had troops rolling into combat. They counted on him to do more than show up. They counted on him to lead them. Every single day.
Maybe by the time he reached thirty days in country, he’d stop heaving his guts up every morning. But sick or not, he was going out on patrol with his boys.
The best he could hope for was that he wouldn’t puke in the tank.

Chapter One

Fort Hood, Texas
Spring 2009

“Where the hell is Wisniak?” Reza hooked his thumbs in his belt loops and glared at Foster.
Sergeant Dean Foster rolled his eyes and spat into the dirt, unfazed by Reza’s glare. Foster had the lean, wiry body of a runner and the weathered lines of an infantryman carved into his face, though at twenty-five he was still a puppy. To Reza, he’d always be that skinny private who’d had his cherry popped on that first run up to Baghdad. “Sarn’t Ike, I already told you. I tried calling him this morning but he’s not answering. His phone is going straight to voicemail.”
Reza sighed and rocked back on his heels, trying to rein in his temper. They’d managed to be home from the war for more than a year and somehow, soldiers like Wisniak were taking up the bulk of Reza’s time. “Have you checked the R&R Center?”
“Nope. But I bet you’re right.” Foster pulled out his phone before Reza finished his sentence and started walking a short distance away to make the call.
“I know I am. He’s been twitchy all week,” he mumbled, more to himself than to Foster. Reza glanced at his watch. The commander was going to have kittens if Reza didn’t have his personnel report turned in soon, because herding cats was all noncommissioned officers were good for in the eyes of Captain James P Marshall the Third, resident pain in Reza’s ass.
Foster turned away, holding up a finger as he started arguing with whoever just answered the phone. Reza swore quietly, then again when the company commander started walking toward him from the opposite end of the formation. Reza straightened and saluted.
It was mostly sincere.
“Sarn’t Iaconelli, do you have accountability of your troops?”
“Sir, one hundred and thirty assigned, one hundred and twenty-four present. Three on appointment, one failure to report, and one at the R&R center. One in rehab.”
“When is that shitbird Sloban going to get out of rehab?” Captain Marshall glanced down at his notepad.
“Sloban isn’t a shitbird,” Reza said quietly, daring Marshall to argue. “Sir.”
Marshall looked like he wanted to slap Reza but as was normally the way with cowards and blowhards, he simply snapped his mouth shut. “Who’s gone to the funny farm today?”
The Rest and Resiliency Center was supposed to be a place that helped combat veterans heal from the mental wounds of war. Instead, it had become the new generation’s stress card, a place to go when their sergeant was making them work too hard. Guys like Wisniak who had never deployed but who for some reason couldn’t manage to wipe their own asses without someone holding their hands abused the system, taking up valuable resources from the warriors who needed it. But to say that out loud would mean agreeing with Captain Marshall. Reza would drop dead before that ever happened.
Luckily Captain Ben Teague approached, saving Reza the need to punch the commander in the face. The sergeant major would not be happy with him if that happened. Reza was already on thin ice as it was and there was no reason to give the sergeant major an extra excuse to dig into his fourth point of contact.
He was doing just fine. One day at a time, and all that.
Too bad guys like Marshall tested his willpower on a daily basis.
“So you don’t have accountability of the entire company?” Marshall asked. Behind him Teague made a crude motion with his hand.
Reza rubbed his hand over his mouth, smothering a grin. “Sir, I know where everyone is. I’m heading to the R&R Center after formation to verify that Wisniak is there and see about getting a status update from the docs.”
Marshall sighed heavily and the sound was laced with blame, as though Wisniak being at the R&R Center was Reza’s personal failing. Behind him Teague mimed riding a horse and slapping it. Reza coughed into his hand as Marshall turned an alarming shade of puce. “I’m getting tired of someone always being unaccounted for, Sergeant.”
“That makes two of us.” Reza breathed deeply. “Sir.”
“What are you planning on doing about it?”
He raised both eyebrows, his temper lashing at its frayed restraints. His mouth would be the death of him some day. That or his temper.
Right then, he didn’t really care.
He started ticking off items on his fingers. “Well, sir, since you asked, first, I’m going to stop by the shoppette for coffee, then take a ride around post to break in my new truck. I’ll probably stop out at Engineer Lake and smoke a cigar and consider whether or not to come back to work at all. Around noon, I’m going to swing into the R&R Center to make sure that Wisniak actually showed up and was seen. Then I’ll spend the rest of the day hunting said sorry excuse for—”
“That’s enough, sergeant,” Marshall snapped and Teague mimed him behind his back. “I don’t appreciate your insubordinate attitude. Accountability is the most important thing we do.”
“I thought kicking in doors and killing bad guys was the most important thing we did?” Reza asked, doing his damnedest not to smirk. Damn but the man tried his patience and made him want to crack open a cold one and kick his boots up on his desk.
Except that he’d given up drinking. Again. And this time, it had to stick. At least, it had to if he wanted to take his boys downrange again.
The sergeant major had left him no wiggle room. No more drinking. Period.
“Sir, I got it. I’ll head to the R&R Center right after formation. I’ll text you…” He glanced at Foster, who gave him a thumbs-up. Whatever the hell that was supposed to mean. Wisniak was at the R&R Center, Reza supposed?
“You’ll call. I don’t know when texting became the army’s preferred technique for communications between seniors and subordinates. I don’t text.”
Reza saluted sharply. It was effectively a fuck off but Marshall was either too stupid or too arrogant to grasp the difference. “Roger sir.”
“Ben,” Marshall mumbled.
“Jimmy.” Which earned him a snarl from Marshall as he stalked off. Teague grinned. “He hates being called Jimmy.”
“Which is why you’ve called him that every day since Infantry Officer Basic Course?”
“Of course,” Teague said solemnly. “It is my sacred duty to screw with him whenever I can. He was potty trained at gunpoint.”
“Considering he’s a fifth generation army officer, probably,” Reza mumbled. Foster walked back up, shaking his head and mumbling creative profanity beneath his breath. “They won’t even tell you if Wisniak has checked in?”
“I practically gave the lady on the phone a hand job to get her to tell me anything and she pretty much told me to kiss her ass. Damn HIPAA laws. How is it protecting the patient’s privacy when all I’m asking is if the jackass is there or not?”
Reza sighed. “I’ll go find out if he’s there. I need you to make sure the weapons training is good to go.” Still swearing, Foster nodded and limped off. Too bad Foster wasn’t a better ass kisser; he’d have already made staff sergeant.
But Marshall didn’t like him and had denied his promotion for the last three months because Foster was nursing a bum leg. Granted, he’d jammed it up playing sports but the commander was being a total prick about it. It would have been better if Foster had been shot.
“Damn civilians,” Reza mumbled, glancing at Teague. “I get that the docs are only supposed to talk to commanders but they make my life so damn difficult sometimes.”
“They talk to you,” Teague said, pushing his sunglasses up on his nose and shoving his hands into his pockets.
“That’s because they’re afraid of me. I look like every stereotype jihadi they can think of. All I have to do is say drka drka Mohammed jihad and I get whatever I want out of them.”
“A Team America: World Police reference at six-fifteen a.m.? My day is complete.” Teague laughed. “That’s so fucking wrong. Just because you’re brown?”
Reza shrugged. Growing up with a name like Reza Iaconelli had taught him how to fight. Young. With more than just the asshole kids on the street. He’d learned the hard way that little kids needed a whole lot more than attitude when standing up to a grown man.
“What can I say? No one knows what to think of the brown guy. Half the time, people think I’m Mexican.” He started to walk off, still irritated by Marshall and the unrelenting douche baggery of the officer corps today. They cared more about stats than soldiers. It was total bullshit. The war wasn’t even over yet and it was already all the way back to the garrison army bullshit that had gotten their asses handed to them from 2003 on.
“Where are you heading?” Teague asked.
“R&R. Need to check up on the resident crazy kid and make sure he’s not going to off himself.” He palmed his keys from his front pocket. Reza slammed the door of his truck and took a sip of his coffee, wishing it had a hell of a lot more in it than straight caffeine.
He ground his teeth. Things would have been different for Sloban if they’d gotten things right. If he’d gotten sober sooner. But no. He’d dropped the ball and Slo had paid the price.
He’d rather have his balls crushed with a pall peen hammer than deal with the R&R Center. He hated the psych docs. They were worse than the bleeding heart officers he seemed to find himself surrounded with these days. Just how he wanted to start off his seventy-fourth day sober: arguing with the shrinks.
Good times.

“I don’t really think you understand the gravity of the situation, Captain.”
Captain Emily Lindberg bristled at the use of her rank. The fact that a fellow captain used it to intimidate her only irritated her further.
Add in that he was standing in front of—no, he was leaning over—her desk trying to back up his words with a little threat of physical intimidation and Emily’s temper snapped. Captain Jenkowski was built like a snake—tall and solid and mean—and he was clearly used to bullying his way through docs to get what he wanted.
Well not today.
She inhaled a calming breath through her nose and spoke softly, deliberately attempting to keep her composure. “I’m sorry, Captain, but I’m afraid you’re the one who doesn’t understand. Your soldier has experienced significant trauma since joining the military and his recurrent nightmares, excessive use of alcohol to self–medicate, and inability to effectively manage his stress are all indicators of serious psychological illness. He needs your compassion, not your wrath.”
“Specialist Hendersen needs my size ten boot in his ass. He sat on the damned base last deployment and we only got mortared a few times. He’s a candy pants wuss who has a serious case of I do what I want-itis and now he’s come crying to you, expecting you to bail his sorry ass out of a drug charge.” Emily could practically see smoke coming out of the big captain’s ears.
Once upon a time she would have flinched away from his anger and done anything to placate him. It was abusive jerks like this who thought the army was all about their ability to accomplish their mission. The mouth breather in front of her didn’t care about his soldiers.
It was up to folks like Emily to hold the line and keep the army from ruining yet another life. There had already been more than fifty suicides in the army this year and it was only April. “What Hendersen needs, Captain Jenkowski, is a break from you pressuring him to perform day in and day out. My duty-limiting profile is not going to change. He gets eight hours of sleep a night to give the Ambien a chance to work. And if you don’t like it, file a complaint with my boss. He’s the officer in charge of the hospital.”
“You fucking bitch,” he said. His voice was low and threatening. “I’m trying to throw this little motherfucker out of the army for smoking spice and you’re making sure that we’re stuck babysitting his sorry ass. Way to take care of the real soldiers who have to waste their time on this little weasel instead of training.”
The door slammed behind him with a bang and Emily sank into her chair. She had a full three minutes before her next patient and it wasn’t even nine a.m.
A quick rap on her door pulled her out of her momentary shock. “You okay?”
She looked into the face of her first friend here at Fort Hood, Major Olivia Hale. “Yeah, sure. I just…”
“You get used to it after a while, you know,” Olivia said, brushing her bangs out of her eyes.
“The rampant hostility or the incessant chest beating?” Emily tried to keep the frustration out of her voice and failed.
Emily smiled grimly. “Well that’s helpful.”
Moments like this made her seriously reconsider her life in the army. Of course, her parents would be more than happy for her to take the rank off her chest and return home to their Cape Cod family practice. The last thing she wanted to do was run home to a therapy session in waiting. Who wanted to work for parents who ran a business together but had gotten divorced fifteen years ago? At least here she was making a difference, instead of listening to spoiled rich kids complain about how hard their lives were or beg her for a prescription for Adderall so they could stay up for two days and prepare for their next exam.
Here she could make a difference. Do something that mattered.
Her family wouldn’t understand.
Then again, they never had.
“Can I just say that I never imagined that I’d be going toe-to-toe with men who had egos the size of pro football linebackers? Where does the army find these guys?”
“Some of them aren’t raging asshats,” Olivia said. “There are a lot of commanders who actually care about their soldiers.”
An Outlook reminder chimed, notifying her that she had two minutes. Emily frowned then clicked it off. “It must be something special about this office then that attracts all the ones who don’t care.”
She’d recently moved to Fort Hood because it was the place deemed most in need of psychiatric services. They had the unit with the highest active-duty suicide rate in the army. She was trying her damnedest to make a difference but the tidal wave of soldiers needing care was relentless.
Add in her administrative duties on mental health evaluations and sometimes, she didn’t know which day of the week it was.
“Does it ever end?” she whispered, suddenly feeling overwhelmed at the stack of files on her desk. Each one represented a person. A soldier. A life under pressure.
Lives she did everything she could to save.
Olivia shrugged. “Not really.” She glanced at her watch. “I’ve got a nine o’clock legal brief with the boss. You okay?”
She offered a weak smile. “Yeah. Have to be, right?”
Olivia didn’t look convinced but didn’t have time to dig in further. In the brief moment she had alone, Emily covered her face with her hands.
Every single day, Emily’s faith in the system she’d wanted to help weakened. When officers like Jenkowski were threatening kids who just needed to take a break and pull themselves together to find some way of dealing with the trauma in their lives, it crushed part of her spirit. She’d never imagined that confrontation would be a daily part of her life as an army doc. She’d signed up to help people. She wasn’t a commander, not a leader of soldiers. She was here to provide medical services. She’d barely stepped outside her office so all she knew was the inside of the clinic’s walls.
She’d had no idea how much of a fight she’d have on a daily basis. Three months in and she was still shocked. Every single day brought something new.
She wasn’t used to it. She doubted she would ever get used to it. It drained her.
But every day she got up and put on her boots to do it all over again.
She was here to make a difference.
A sharp knock on her door had her looking up. Her breath caught in her throat at the sight of the single most beautiful man she’d ever seen. His skin was deep bronze, his features carved perfection. There was a harshness around the edge of his wide full mouth that could have been from laughing too much or yelling too often. Maybe both.
And his shoulders filled the doorway. Dear Lord, men actually came put together like this? She’d never met a man who embodied the fantasy man in uniform like this one. The real military man was just as likely to be a pimply-faced nineteen-year-old as he was to be this…this warrior god.
A god who looked ready for battle. It took Emily all of six-tenths of a second to realize that this man was not here for her phone number or to strip her naked and have his way with her. Well, he might want to have his way with her but she imagined it was in a strictly professional way. Not a hot and sweaty way, the thought of which made her insides clench and tighten.
She stood. This man looked like he was itching for a fight and darn it, if that’s what he wanted, then Emily would give it to him.
It was just another day at the office, after all.

“Can I help you, Sergeant?”
Reza glanced at the little captain, who looked braced for battle. She was cute in a Reese Witherspoon kind of way, complete with dimples and except for her rich dark hair and silver blue eyes. If Reza hadn’t been nursing one hell of a bad attitude and a serious case of the ass, he would’ve considered flirting with her.
Except that the sergeant major’s warning of don’t fuck up beat a cadence in his brain, so he wouldn’t be flirting any time soon. Besides, something about the stubborn set of her jaw warned him that she wasn’t someone to tangle with. She didn’t look tough enough to crumble a cookie, and yet she’d squared off with him like she might just try to knock him down a peg or two. This ought to at least make the day interesting.
Reza straightened. She was the enemy for leaders like him, who were doing their damnedest to put bad troops out of the army. People like her ignored the warning signs from warriors like Sloban and let spineless cowards like Wisniak piss on her leg about how his mommy didn’t love him enough.
This wasn’t about Sloban. He couldn’t help him now and that fact burned on a fundamental level. He released a deep breath. Then sucked in another one. “I need to know if Sergeant Chuck Wisniak signed in to the clinic.”
“I’m sorry but unless you’re the first sergeant or the commander, I can’t tell you that.”
Reza breathed hard through his nose. “I’m the first sergeant.”
Her gaze flicked to the sergeant first class rank on his chest. He wasn’t wearing the rank of the first sergeant, so his insignia was missing the rocker and the diamond that distinguished first sergeants from the soldiers that they led. Sergeants First Class were first sergeants all the time, though.
Her eyes narrowed. “Do you have orders?”
Reza’s gaze dropped to the pen in her hand and the rhythmic way she flicked the cap on and off. He swallowed, pulling his gaze away from the distracting sound, and struggled to hold on to his patience.
“First sergeants are not commanders. We don’t have assumption of command orders.” He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Ma’am, I just need to know if he’s here. Why is this such a big deal?”
“Because Sergeant Wisniak has told this clinic on multiple occasions that his chain of command is targeting him, looking for an excuse to take his rank.”
“Well, maybe if he was at work once in a while he wouldn’t feel so persecuted.”
The small captain lifted her chin. “Sergeant, do you have any idea what it feels like to be looked at like you’re suspect every time you walk into a room?”
Something cold slithered across Reza’s skin, sidling up to his heart and squeezing tightly. “Do you have any idea what it feels like to send soldiers back to combat knowing they lost training days chasing after a sissy-ass soldier who can’t get to work on time?”
A shadow flickered across her pretty face but then it was gone, replaced by steel. “My job is to keep soldiers from killing themselves.”
“And my job is to keep soldiers from dying in combat.”
“They’re not mutually exclusive.”
Silence hung between them, battle lines drawn.
“I’m not leaving here without a status on Sarn’t Wisniak,” Reza said.
Captain Lindberg folded her arms over her chest. A flicker in her eyes, nothing more, then she spoke. “Sergeant Wisniak is in triage.”
“I need to speak with him.”
Lindberg shook her head. “No. I’m not letting anyone see him until he’s stable. He’s probably going to be admitted to the fifth floor. He’s extremely high risk. And you’re part of his problem, Sergeant.”
Reza’s temper snapped, breaking free before he could lash it back. “Don’t put that on me, sweetheart. That trooper came in the army weak. I had nothing to do with his lack of a backbone.” Reza turned to go before he lost his military bearing and started swearing. She’d already elevated his blood pressure to need-a-drink levels and it wasn’t even nine a.m.
He could do this. He breathed deeply, running through creative profanity in his mind to keep the urge to drink at bay.
Her words stopped him at the door, slicing at his soul.
“How can you call yourself a leader? You’re supposed to care about all your soldiers,” she said, so softly he almost didn’t hear her.
He turned slowly. Studied her, standing straight and stiff and pissed. “How can I call myself a leader? Honey, until you’ve bled in combat, don’t talk to me about leadership. But go ahead. Keep protecting this shitbird and tie up all the counselors so that warriors who genuinely need help can’t get it. He doesn’t belong in the army.” He swept his gaze down her body deliberately. Trying to provoke her. Her face flushed as he met her eyes coldly. “Neither do you.”

Emily sucked in a sharp breath at Iaconelli’s verbal slap. In one sentence, he’d struck her at the heart of her deepest fear.
It took everything she had to keep her hands from trembling.
Her boss Colonel Zavisca appeared in the doorway, saving her from embarrassing herself.
“Is there a problem, Sergeant?”
Sergeant Iaconelli turned and nearly collided with the full-bird colonel, who looked remarkably like an older version of Johnny Cash.
Sergeant Iaconelli straightened and his fists bunched at his sides. “You don’t want me to answer that. Sir.”
“I don’t think I appreciate what you’re insinuating.”
“I don’t really give a flying fuck what you think I’m insinuating. Maybe if your doctors did their jobs instead of actively trying to make my life more difficult, we wouldn’t have this problem.”
“What brigade are you in, Sergeant?” her boss demanded.
She watched the exchange, her breath locked in her throat. The big sergeant’s hands clenched by his sides. “None of your damn business.”
Colonel Zavisca might be a medical doctor but he was still a the senior officer in charge of the hospital. Emily had never seen an enlisted man so flagrantly flout regulations.
“You can leave now, Sergeant. Don’t come back on this property without your commander.”
The big sergeant swore and stalked off.
Emily wondered if he’d obey the order. She suspected she already knew the answer.
Her boss turned to her. “Are you okay?” he asked. Colonel Zavisca’s voice was deep and calming, the perfect voice for a psych doctor. It was more than his voice, though. His entire demeanor was something soothing, a balm on ragged wounds. His quiet power and authority stood in such stark contrast to Sergeant Iaconelli.
Men like Sergeant Iaconelli were energy and motion and hard angles. And he was rude. Colonel Zavisca was more like some of the men at her father’s country club except without the stench of sophisticated asshole. He was familiar.
“I’m fine, sir. Rough morning, that’s all.”
Emily stood for a long moment, Sergeant Iaconelli’s words still ringing in her ears. He had no idea how much his comment hurt. She didn’t know him from Adam but his words had found her weakness and stabbed it viciously.
In one single sentence, he’d shredded every hope she’d held onto since joining the army. She’d wanted to belong. To be part of something. To make a difference. He’d struck dead on without even knowing it. Her family had told her she’d never fit into the military. She fought the urge to sink into her chair and cover her face with her hands. She just needed a few minutes. She could do this.
The big sergeant didn’t know her. His opinion did not matter. Her parents’ opinions did not matter.
If she kept repeating this often enough, it would be true.
Her boss glanced at the clock on her wall. “It’s too early for this.”
She smiled thinly. “I know. Shaping up to be one heck of a Monday. Is triage already booked?”
He nodded. “Yes. I need you in there to help screen patients. We need to clear out the folks who can wait for appointments and identify those who are at risk right now of harming themselves or others.”
“Roger, sir. I can do that. I need to e-mail two company commanders and I’ll be right out there.”
“Okay. Don’t forget we have the staff sync at lunch.”
Even this early, the day showed no sign of slowing down and all she wanted to do was go home and take a steaming hot bath. She’d been trying to work out a knot behind her left shoulder blade for days now and things just kept piling up. She needed a good soak and a massage. Not that she dared schedule one. She’d probably end up cancelling it anyway.
“There’s that smile. Relax. You’re going to die of a heart attack before you’re thirty. The army is a marathon, not a sprint.”
“Roger, sir.” She waited until he closed the door before she covered her face in her hands once more. She could do this. She just needed to find her battle rhythm. She’d get into the swing of things. She wasn’t about to quit just because things got a little rough.
Her cell phone vibrated on her desk. Oh, perfect. Her mother was calling. Not that she was about to answer that phone call. She couldn’t deal with the passive-aggressive jabs her mother was so skilled at. Besides, she was probably just going to press Emily to give up on—as she put it—slumming in the army and come home.
She’d worked too hard to get where she was and she damn sure wasn’t about to go limping home. How could she? Her parents had looked at her like she was an alien when she’d told them about Bentley. As though she had somehow been in the wrong for her fiancé’s betrayal. As though, if she’d been woman enough, he never would have strayed.
If she ever went home again, and that was a really big if, she would do it on her own terms. She’d walked away from everything in her life that had been hollow and empty.
She was rebuilding, doing something that mattered for the first time in her life. Every day that she avoided calling home or being the person her father and his friends wanted her to be was a victory. No one in her family had supported her when she’d needed them. She might not have found her place yet in the army but just being here was a start. It was something new and she wasn’t about to give up, no matter how much Monday threw at her.
Tuesday really needed to hurry up and get here though, because as Mondays went, this one was already shot all to hell.

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