When Meg Cameron, a Marine MP, returns from a war zone, she and her husband Ben are faced with the toll war, guilt and loss have taken on their marriage. Ben is also fostering a police dog named Kip who lost his handler and his spirit to a perp with a gun. While Ben tries to help his two wounded warriors find healing, Meg struggles to fit back into her civilian life. Meg debates returning to active duty, a move that would surely end in another deployment. Ben's fears climb. What if her pain and confusion take her back into harm's way again, and he lost her forever?
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Meg shot out of bed. It was the middle of the night. Where was she? The room was cold. Not Baghdad! She shivered. She was home. In her bedroom. Immediately her heart rate eased off its frantic pace. She slid her feet to the floor and stood.
She shivered again and stepped silently away from the bed. The sexy red shirt was probably still on the kitchen counter. She groped blindly in the ink-dark closet she shared with Ben, hunting for her bathrobe. Unable to locate the robe, she settled for a soft chamois shirt of Ben’s that came nearly to her knees. She wrapped it about herself and crossed the room to the window.
Ever since that first night so far from home, she’d had daydreams about her first night back home. Daydreams of sleeping in their luxurious, king-sized bed where she could spread out and get really comfortable. Sleeping the whole night through without the sound of war at her doorstep. And being able to reach out and touch Ben any time she wanted to.
But it hadn’t turned out anything like the daydreams that had gotten her through their year of separation. After a year on an army cot, she wasn’t used to sprawling, or sharing her bed. Ben seemed too close, too possessive, even in his sleep. His arm draped across her middle, his breath in her hair. It felt claustrophobic.
Meg had gotten used to sleeping the way soldiers have always slept, half on alert and ready to respond in an instant. She’d grown accustomed to having people awake and moving about, on guard while she slept. But home was eerily still with just the little creaking sounds of a settling house and no one keeping watch.
She’d been dozing fitfully, and now that she thought about it, she decided it must have been Ben’s dogs barking that woke her. Which was puzzling. There had been a constant cacophony of dogs roaming loose in the streets, day and night, in Baghdad. Stray dogs barked all the time, but she’d gotten used to them. So, why tonight had the barking brought her bolt upright in bed in a cold sweat reaching for a rifle that wasn’t there?
Hugging the chamois shirt closer, she stared out over the yard that was so familiar, and yet in a weird way, so unfamiliar. The dogs had already quieted again. Some stray animal must have gotten them going. Maybe a raccoon moseying about, hunting for something to eat.
Scout hadn’t barked unless he was alerting someone that he’d detected unseen danger. He hadn’t barked when he’d stepped on a hidden detonation plate either. Meg shuddered and hugged herself harder.
That hadn’t been her fault.
“Not my fault,” she whispered the mantra aloud in the hushed dark room.
Everyone in her unit had insisted that Scout’s death was not her fault. Scout’s handler hadn’t blamed her either. But she’d clung to her self-recrimination and had a melt-down over the dog’s death in her commanding officer’s arms. Unexpected and inexcusable desire had flared up between her and John, and she had wanted to lose herself in the passion of it and forget about Scout.
That desire had been her fault.
“You all right?” Ben slipped his arms about her waist and bent his head down next to hers.
Meg’s heart slammed into overdrive at Ben’s sudden closeness. “I’m—I’m fine.” It appalled her that she hadn’t heard him getting out of bed. It appalled her that her mind had been so full of John and the forbidden things she’d felt in Baghdad that she’d become completely unaware of her surroundings. A shocking breach in good soldiering.
“I thought I heard you crying.” Ben pulled her back against his chest and rocked her gently. “What’s wrong?”