One Year Home
(Navy Captain John West #2)
by Marie Force
Published August 6th 2019 by HTJB, Inc.
He came home a hero and lost the only woman he’s ever loved...
Navy Captain John West has no idea how to survive without his beloved Ava, who moved on with her life during John's six-year deployment and has now married Eric. He’d prefer to wallow in his depression and heartbreak, but the whole damned world wants a piece of the SEAL Team leader who helped capture the world’s most-wanted terrorist. He needs help handling the relentless requests, and when Ava sends her new sister-in-law to manage the media circus for him, John is prepared to hate her on principle. Her brother took his Ava. What else does he need to know about her?
Julianne Tilden realizes right away that Ava’s ex is going to be the most complicated and difficult client she’s ever had, but an opportunity to represent the most celebrated man in the world could make her career. She’s determined to do the job, even if she dislikes John from the moment she meets him. And Julianne likes everyone. So much so that her brothers worry about her being taken advantage of by those who would exploit her unwavering love for others. But John… He’s in a class by himself, and his bitterness is a festering wound that she begins to wish she could somehow fix for him.
The more time John and Julianne spend together, the more their mutual disdain morphs into something that feels an awful lot like desire. There’s no way she could want this man, or so she tells herself, and when Eric finds out she’s developed feelings for the man causing trouble in his new marriage, well….
That’s going to be a hot mess.
He’s so scary looking that it’s all I can do not to shrivel up in a ball or bolt for the door to get away from him. If I’d run into him on the street, I would’ve moved out of his way so there’d be no chance of coming into contact with him. And that’s not like me at all. I talk to everyone I encounter, which drives my brothers crazy. They swear I’m going to end up dead one of these days because I’m too friendly to strangers.
I can’t help it. That’s just how I am. But this stranger is different, and I quickly realize he’s not about to do anything to make this easier for me. He’s also incredibly handsome, but I barely notice that. The scary requires my full attention.
Muncie breaks the uncomfortable silence by clearing his throat. “Captain John West, meet Julianne Tilden.”
Mustering courage and determination to get through this with my professionalism intact even if I’m quaking on the inside, I take several steps forward and extend my hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Captain West. Thank you for your service.”
He shakes my hand and offers a brusque nod as he lowers himself carefully onto a love seat. “Have a seat.”
I take one of the straight-back chairs that faces the love seat.
Muncie produces a take-out cup of coffee, cream containers, sugar and fake sugar. “Wasn’t sure if you drank coffee or how you take it.”
He seems very sweet, and I offer him a warm smile, greatly relieved that he’s there in case the scary captain decides to go postal on me. “Thanks. I can’t function without it.”
“You and the captain have that in common,” Muncie says with a pointed look for John as if to say, Get your head out of your ass and be nice.
At least I hope that’s the message he’s sending, because it would be very nice if he would get his head out of his ass and be nice.
I stir cream and sugar substitute into my coffee. “What can I do for you, Captain West?” He’s not going to make it easy for me? I can play that game, too.
“Deal with the bullshit.”
“You’re going to need to be more specific, I’m afraid.” I take a sip of the coffee and thank God once again for whoever thought it would be a good idea to dump hot water over ground cocoa beans. Did they know at the time what a service they were doing for all of mankind?
“I’m getting killed with calls from the media. Everyone wants interviews. They want me to write a book. One company asked me to model underwear for them. It’s nonstop and totally insane, and I can’t deal with it.”
“How are they contacting you?”
“Somehow, they got my personal cell number.” As he says those words, a phone on the coffee table vibrates with an incoming call. “That’ll be the first of at least a hundred calls today.”
“Well, that won’t work. Do you mind if I take the phone and manage the calls for you?”
He hesitates, glancing at the phone with such yearning that I feel my heart soften toward him.
“I’ll get you a new one and make sure she has the new number,” Muncie says.
That’s all the captain needs to hear. “Take it. It’s all yours.”
I take the phone off the coffee table. “Does it have a code?”
“Zero five twenty-five.”
I write that down in the notebook that’s always with me. I sleep with it under my pillow. It has all the most important information about my clients in it. My siblings make fun of my notebook, but a lot of the details contained in there are ultrasensitive, and I’d never keep them on a smart phone that can easily be hacked. We had a seminar at work about that topic last year. It scared the crap out of me and everyone I work with. Quite a few of us have switched to paper and pen since then.
Captain John West is my only client at the moment. The powers that be at the firm were so excited to land him that they bent over backwards to get coverage for all my other clients so I can give the man of the moment my full attention. After ten minutes in his presence, I want to give him back.
But I won’t do that for two reasons. One, everyone who is anyone in my business would literally kill to be me right now, and two, Ava asked me to take care of him, so I will. I adore Ava. She’s made my brother Eric happier than he’s ever been, and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her. This is a big deal to her—John is a big deal to her. She was in love with the guy for eight years, more than six of them spent wondering where he was while hoping he would return to her.
By the time he did, she was in love with Eric and they were planning a life together. I know how hard it was for her to see John again after all that time. I can’t for the life of me imagine what it must’ve been like for him to hear she’d found someone else and was engaged to be married.
“Why are you staring at me?” he asks gruffly, startling me.
I realize, to my horror, that I had in fact been staring at him. “Sorry,” I mutter.
He rubs his face. “Did I cut myself shaving again, Muncie?”
“Not this time, sir.”
“I, um, I apologize. I didn’t mean to stare.”
“So you said.” He seems to return the rudeness by taking the opportunity to blatantly stare at me.
I try not to wither under the glare of the most intense blue eyes I’ve ever seen, but I wilt a tiny bit waiting to find out what fresh hell he has in store for me next. “You sure I didn’t cut myself shaving, Muncie?”
The lieutenant commander laughs. “Nope. All good.”
I glance at the captain and note that his scowl has softened somewhat, not into what anyone would call a smile, but perhaps the starting of one.
“Your brother married my Ava.”
And there it is, the proverbial elephant in the room. “Yes, he did.”
“What’s he like?”
Oh, for God’s sake. I hadn’t expected him to ask me that and have no idea what to say.
“Is that a hard question? I take it you’ve known him awhile.”
“All my life, in fact.”
He leans forward, full of intensity and quiet rage. That’s the only way I can think of to describe the vibe coming from him.
“Captain…” Muncie’s word of warning goes ignored.
“He’s… He’s a good guy, one of the best guys I know. He’d do anything for anyone, give you the shirt off his back.” I hate the cliché, but it does the job—and it’s true. In a crisis, Eric would be the first person I’d call.
“What does he do for a living?”
“What the hell are high-end investments?”
“Five million dollars or more.” At his look of distaste, I feel the need to say more. “He can spend a year fully investigating a potential investment, only to have the acquisition committee in his company turn it down. It’s very complex work.”
Judging by his expression, that doesn’t help with the distaste. “Sounds like a heck of a way to make a living.”
“He likes it.” I take a deep breath and tell myself to get control of this meeting. “Back to the media inquiries.”
“How old is he?”
“Did you ask me here to discuss my brother, Captain West, or are you interested in my professional services?” I force myself to look him dead in the eye and not to let him see that he intimidates me.
He stares back at me for a long moment before he blinks. “Both, I suppose.”
“I’m only interested in the professional inquiries, if it’s just the same to you. While I empathize with your situation, I love my brother, and it doesn’t feel right for me to be discussing him with you.”
He doesn’t like that, but too bad. I’m here to do a job, not defend my brother.
“You empathize with my situation? Really?”
“Captain…” The note of warning in Muncie’s tone isn’t lost on either of us.
“Yes, I do empathize with what you’ve been through, and like the rest of America, I’m deeply grateful for the role you played in bringing a terrorist to justice at great personal and physical expense.”
He begins to clap, slowly and dramatically.
Heat creeps into my face, which is infuriating. The last thing I want him to see is that he gets to me.
“Did you practice that little speech on the flight out here?”
“No.” I wish I could punch him and still have a job afterward. The partners were thrilled when I told him who my potential client was. Land him, they’d said, and we’ll consider you for junior partner. “I made it up right here.”
“Nice to see that you’re good on the fly.”
“I’m outstanding on the fly, which is how I became one of the top young PR professionals in New York.”
His cell phone rings, which is when I realize I’m gripping it tightly. With him watching me in that intense, intimidating way of his, I take the call. “Answering for Captain West.”
It’s a producer for NBC Nightly News, wanting to book an interview. “Let me take down your contact information and get back to you.” The name and number go in my trusty notebook.
“And you are?” the producer asks.
“Are you working for Captain West?”
“Please hold for one moment.” I put my hand over the phone so I won’t be overheard. “It’s an NBC News producer. She wants to know if I work for you.”
He holds my gaze for a long moment, during which I honestly have no idea what he’s thinking. He gives nothing away. “Tell her you do.”
I offer him a brief nod and return to the call. “I’ll be representing Captain West for media inquiries going forward. May I give you my number so you can reach me directly?” I recite the number for my work phone and tell her again I’ll be back in touch. I end the call and glance at my new client.
The first thing I do is slide my company’s retainer contract across the table. “Before we go any further, I need you to sign this.”
He leans forward to retrieve the document, and after studying it, he says, “Two hundred dollars an hour?”
“I assure you, I’ll earn every dime of it.”
“Yes, you will,” Muncie mutters.
I really like him.
“Who’s paying for this?” Captain West asks Muncie.
“We’ve got it covered. Sign the form.”
He signs it and hands it over to me. “Now what?”
“Now we need to talk about what you’re willing to do—and what you’re not willing to do.”
“If he had his druthers, he wouldn’t do anything,” Muncie says.
I never divert my gaze from the captain. “Why is that?”
“I don’t want to talk about it, but the navy has decided to make me their new poster boy for recruitment. I just want to retire and ride off into the sunset, but they’re not going to let that happen.”
“What’s the minimum that he can do?” I ask Muncie.
“They haven’t given us a minimum. They want him to take full advantage of the opportunities he’s being offered, whatever that means.”
I redirect my attention to the captain. “What’re your physical limitations?”
If looks could kill, I’d be a goner. “I have no physical limitations.”
“So you can travel?”
“Yes,” he says through gritted teeth.
“Here’s what I suggest… We book a New York media tour, including morning shows, nightly news, late night, and then we come back out here and do an LA leg.”
As soon as I say the word “leg,” I wish I could take it back. Not that the word is incorrect, but I don’t want him to think I’m fixated on what he’s lost. And why would he think that exactly? Shut up, Julianne. I hate that inner voice that constantly critiques me. It’s my mother’s voice. She made a career out of critiquing my every move until the blessed day I left for college at Barnard and could breathe for the first time in my life.
He doesn’t respond to my suggestion.
I clear my throat. “Would that work for you?”
I glance at Muncie, who shrugs as if to say damned if I know what his problem is. Great. He’s been dealing with him for months, and he has no clue. What chance do I have?
I open my notebook and uncover my favorite gel pen. “Let’s cover what you will and won’t talk about.”
“I won’t talk about the raid, the mission or anything to do with Al Khad.”
“That’s what they’re going to want to know.”
“Despite the fact that Al Khad’s camp released the video of the raid, the mission is still classified on our end. I’m not at liberty to discuss the particulars, and even if I was, I wouldn’t.”
“Can you talk about what it was like to be deployed for more than five years?”
“Yeah. It sucked.”
“You have to say more than that.”
“What else should I say?”
“What did you do for all that time?” The question is one that I’ve had since I first heard the story about him and how he’d deployed the day Al Khad’s organization had taken out a US-based cruise ship with suicide bombers, killing four thousand innocent people. My sister-in-law, Ava, who’d been John’s live-in girlfriend at the time, waited five years in San Diego for him to come back before returning home to New York to start over.
“We looked for Al Khad.”
“Where did you look for him?”
He thinks about that, seeming to decide what he should say. “Our search spanned several countries that’re hostile to Americans, so we had to embed and blend in with the locals to get information. That took time and patience, among other things.”
“When you joined the navy, did you know you might have to deploy for so long without any word to your loved ones at home?”
“Other than the girlfriend I wasn’t supposed to have, I didn’t have loved ones at home, which is why I was initially chosen for the unit. In an interview, I could only say that I didn’t have loved ones at home. I can’t say I had a girlfriend.”
“What does it matter now?” I ask. “Cat’s out of the bag.”
“It matters. I don’t want her dragged into this.”
“Yes, that’s true.” I respect that he’s protecting her, even now. “I agree that we’re better off not arousing curiosity about her. The press would be relentless in their efforts to locate and interview her.”
“Which would be inconvenient and disruptive to your brother.”
Infuriated all over again, I stare him down. “It would be inconvenient, disruptive and intrusive for Ava. I’m sure you’ll agree she’s already been through enough.”
Muncie makes a sound that might be laughter, but he quickly coughs to cover it up.
“I agree,” John says. “Ava’s been through enough, and that’s entirely my fault.”
My heart breaks a little for him, because even though he tries to hide it, the pain of losing her is as obvious as his blue eyes, prominent cheekbones and sexy lips.
God help me, but the man is sexy—and completely off-limits to me for so many reasons, it would take me days to list them all in my notebook.
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About the Author:
Marie Force is the New York Times bestselling author of contemporary romance, including the indie-published Gansett Island Series and the Fatal Series from Harlequin Books. In addition, she is the author of the Butler, Vermont Series, the Green Mountain Series and the erotic romance Quantum Series. In 2019, her new historical Gilded series from Kensington Books will debut with Duchess By Deception.
All together, her books have sold more than 7 million copies worldwide, have been translated into more than a dozen languages and have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list 29 times. She is also a USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestseller, a Speigel bestseller in Germany, a frequent speaker and publishing workshop presenter as well as a publisher through her Jack’s House Publishing romance imprint. She is a two-time nominee for the Romance Writers of America’s RITA® award for romance fiction.
Her goals in life are simple—to finish raising two happy, healthy, productive young adults, to keep writing books for as long as she possibly can and to never be on a flight that makes the news.
Join Marie’s mailing list on her website at marieforce.com for news about new books and upcoming appearances in your area. Follow her on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/MarieForceAuthor, on Twitter @marieforce and on Instagram at www.instagram.com/marieforceauthor/. Contact Marie at email@example.com.
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