War, trauma, destruction, death. Personal conflict and a love under threat from adversity and fate. Can they survive? Can their love?
US Marine Staff Sergeant Joe Anderson is home after having been missing for many months, a shell of the man he once was—tormented by guilt, consumed by rage and with a terrible hunger for revenge.
Corporal Katie Anderson nee Walker finds out how far she will go to help the man she loves. Is she willing to put her life on the line to stop Joe from his continuous journey toward mental destruction? Does she have the strength and the commitment? Does she love him enough?
On a military base in Afghanistan, Katie finds Joe and realizes that she has bitten off more than she can chew. Life in a combat zone is already tough. The Taliban have stepped up their attacks. There is no room for complacency, loss of focus or personal life issues. But are there worse things than the enemy lining her up in their sights to kill her?
Can Joe find peace or will he die trying? Can Katie find the tenacity to bring Joe back to his senses, convince him that revenge will only get him killed? Is Katie’s love strong enough to overcome Joe’s hate, rage, guilt and his unwavering obsession with retribution or will fate step in to destroy them before they can move toward healing Joe and healing themselves?
Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence and strong language and detailed accounts of battle injuries.
Publisher's Note: This book is the sequel to For the Love of a Marine.
General Release Date: 2nd February 2016
Katie Anderson stood at the kitchen sink, frothy bubbles from the washing up water in the bowl clinging to her slow-moving hands as she absentmindedly washed a cup. Her mind churned with anxious thoughts as she stared out of the kitchen window at the panoramic view. There, in a large garden with its brightly colored summer flowers in landscaped beds, was Joe Anderson, her husband of two weeks, lying on a blanket playing with a young baby—hers and Joe’s three-month-old daughter Josie.
She watched unhappily, as Joe laughed at some antic of their baby. A feeling of loneliness twisted inside her, bringing tears to her eyes, and a sudden powerful surge of memories swept into her mind. It was something she had been experiencing a great deal of lately—and something that she always found herself struggling to cope with.
She glanced down at the water, splashing the cooling liquid angrily with her hand, hating to revisit the past but unable to prevent herself from doing so. Glancing up and back out to the garden, the motion of her hands stilled as she remembered.
On Joe’s last deployment to Afghanistan, during a search and rescue mission for hostages taken by the Taliban, an ambush had occurred in which a number of his men had been killed, and Joe—along with two other members of his squad—taken prisoner. He remained missing for nearly a year until suddenly and without warning he had arrived home, a changed man from the one that Katie had both known and loved.
During the long months without him, Katie’s belief that he was still alive and that he would eventually come home to her and Josie remained strong and indisputable. His survival had been nothing short of a miracle until she came to realize—in a short space of time—that the gentle, loving side of her big, US Marine husband was gone, and what remained was a shell, hiding—she suspected—a secret of nightmarish proportions.
As the days passed, Katie began to realize that Joe’s capture had been something more than traumatic. On a number of occasions, she had attempted to talk to him about what had happened, but he had responded—uncharacteristically—with fury, turning into somebody she did not recognize. These episodes—when they occurred—stunned and shocked her because one of the things that she had always loved about her husband was his strength and calmness under duress.
Before his capture, she had rarely seen him angry or agitated, and during their short, intense relationship, she had grown to love his compassion and understanding. Now—and she hated to admit it to herself—the bouts of fury frightened her.
Nightmares repeatedly disturbed her husband’s sleep. Tossing and turning, he often moaned piteously, the noise increasing in intensity until eventually he jerked awake, drenched in sweat, the muscles of his body rigid with tension. When she attempted to comfort him, he shrugged her off, rejecting any offer of support and silently rose from the bed to disappear downstairs. On the one occasion that she had run after him—concern at his agitated state getting the better of her—again, he had impatiently dismissed her concerns out of hand.
He spent his waking hours restlessly pacing throughout the house and had taken up a fitness regime that was both rigorous and harsh, jogging up to ten miles every day and working out three times daily in a gym built in the basement.
Bumping into him following one punishing session, Katie had seen that he was dripping with sweat and exhausted, his face crimson with the effort he had obviously put into his exercise. She had voiced her worries but he had shrugged off her words with an almost cold indifference and turned away from her.
The rare times that they were together, Katie felt as though he treated her as if she were a stranger instead of his wife. He had proposed to her within two weeks of his arrival back home but his words—’Our baby needs her father’s name’—couched in cool, emotionless tones, instead of thrilling her, chilled her to the bone and he no longer told her how much he loved her.
On the few occasions that they had made love—the first move often having been made by Katie—passion still flared between them. However, there was nothing left of the tenderness or consideration which he had once shown her.
Joe’s physical injuries had healed quickly and he now sported a lean and well-muscled physique. However, despite his healthy physical appearance, Katie could not help but notice a distant, haunted look in his eyes.
Occasionally she had seen him abruptly stop what he was doing and stare off into the distance with the thousand yards stare, a phrase coined to describe the blank, unfocused gaze of a shell-shocked or battle-weary soldier.
Katie couldn’t begin to guess—much less fully understand—what might be going on inside his mind and why he had become so unfamiliar. On one final occasion, when Katie had approached him since he was alone to ask, Joe had held up a hand in a warning gesture and with a now-familiar anger and usual avoidance of the subject had answered that he had nothing to say and even if he had, he didn’t want to discuss it.
Although she did not profess to be a psychologist or psychiatrist, through her career as an army combat trauma medic, a CTM, Katie had heard numerous sad stories of combat veterans who had been exposed daily to the stressors and trauma of war suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder—PTSD. As part of her training, she had participated in a short course on that very subject and now she suspected that Joe suffered from the very same condition, triggered by his experiences in Afghanistan.
Maggie and Jack—Joe’s parents—had approached her privately to voice their own concerns about their son but at Katie’s tearful response had not brought up the subject again.
Despite Joe’s cold manner, his physical efforts to keep his distance from her and the other changes in his personality, Katie still loved him—more than ever—and her wedding day had been the happiest of her life. She was less sure that Joe still loved her, however, and this suspicion—when she allowed herself to dwell on it—caused her a great deal of emotional turmoil.
Joe might have fallen out of love with her, but she was left in no doubt that he absolutely adored his daughter. She never knew that a man could become so involved with his child. He obligingly changed what he called ‘nasty’ diapers, fed Josie when required and always managed to get the little girl to produce the obligatory burp whenever requested. He never complained at having to get up with her in the middle of the night and he played with her constantly, smiling, laughing, and baby talking like any normal father.
Katie sighed, glancing down at the diamond and white gold wedding ring on her finger.
She loved Joe—wanted and needed him—but intuition, well-honed over the years by her military experience, had alerted her to the inescapable fact that something was wrong. She knew that until her husband faced whatever demons might be haunting him, found some way of talking about his experiences and venting his hurt and anger then their marriage—their very life together—was at risk.
Staring once more out of the window, Katie saw Joe walking back up the garden toward the house, Josie in his arms. As preoccupied with her thoughts as she was, she couldn’t prevent herself from admiring his body clad in faded, torn jeans that clung to his muscular legs and a black T-shirt that outlined well-developed muscles in his abdomen and chest. Her stomach muscles clenched with a mixture of emotions when she noticed the wide smile on his face, the way his strong arms gently held their baby, and she wished—with a powerful yearning—that he would hold her again and kiss her with that smiling mouth.
Perhaps things would change tonight because, for the first time since he had arrived home, she and Joe were going out. It was to a Marine ball at one of the local hotels and Katie was as excited about it as she was nervous. It could be that some dancing and relaxation would help break the impenetrable mental barrier that Joe appeared to have erected around himself.
Katie forced her gaze away from her husband and up to the wall clock. It was 1800 hours and Josie’s feeding time, so, moving to the fridge, she opened its door and removed a ready-made bottle of milk, which she placed in a saucepan half-full of water to warm up. Right now, she had her baby to feed, bathe and put to bed.
Joe entered the French windows and walked through the lounge, all the while cooing and smiling at his daughter. After crossing the hallway, he slowly entered the kitchen and immediately felt his eyes drawn to Katie as though she were a magnet.
He admired the way her tight jeans clung to her hips, bottom and long legs like a second skin and loved the way her white T-shirt outlined her feminine-muscled upper body. Continuing to stare at her, he felt a familiar ache of sexual arousal begin in his lower stomach and travel downward to coil in his groin, almost causing him to groan aloud.
He desperately wanted to make love to his wife—needed to. But Joe had no idea why he didn’t follow through with those feelings—why he couldn’t give her what she wanted anymore—a need he often saw in her eyes when he caught her staring at him.
He had no problem with the physical act of having sex with her but his inability and what he classed as his failure to show her any of the love or tenderness that had always been a part of their lovemaking was almost torture. He had sworn to himself that no matter the temptation, he would not make love to her because—in his eyes—that would be tantamount to using her for his own primitive satisfaction.
Joe often remembered their days in Afghanistan—how they had loved each other, hadn’t been able to keep their hands off each other and were not afraid of showing their feelings—and he felt a desperate sense of loss and confusion. He was fully aware that over the last few months his mind had somehow erected a barrier, forcing normal emotions deep down inside and leaving behind an almost callous indifference. The only demonstrative feeling he felt safe with was the love that he could show his baby daughter.
Joe suspected that Katie knew there was a problem. He understood that his unfeeling attitude was hurting her deeply as well as his parents but he could not bring himself to tell either his wife or mother and father the details of what had happened to him in Afghanistan.
He was unable to face the memories himself and a rational part of his subconscious frequently screamed for help and support but he’d never actively sought help before and he was not about to seek it now. He resolved to himself that he would sort out the issues personally—and sometime soon—before he destroyed his marriage and Katie’s love for him.
He had a vague sense of unease, however, that the solution might be worse than he could imagine.