Friday, July 26, 2013

Promise Cove by Vickie McKeehan



One year earlier

Twenty miles southeast of Baghdad

The combat post was rural, more like a farming community stuck out in the boonies. The roads were primarily unpaved, dusty twenty-four-seven, and at the moment littered with burned-out equipment. The convoy they were riding in was going a sluggish twenty-five miles an hour in a hundred-twenty-degree heat. There was no AC, no hope of grabbing an artery-clogging, delicious- tasting, fast food burger with a pile of over-salty fries, or even indulging in an after-duty dip in a cool, sparkling blue swimming pool.

Because this particular stretch of road had seen its fair share of hostile action the past couple of days the entire unit had to be extra vigilant.

As they made their way up a rise, a grove of palm trees came into view. The wind picked up causing the fronds of the trees to bend and sway. The hot, arid breeze kicked up the loose grit, causing the tiny grains of sand to become airborne and burrow in and under any exposed pore and crevice of skin it could find. A thick layer of sand stuck to their faces, to their uniforms, and to their weapons. Homemade masks made from scarves and bandanas hid their sweaty faces and did little to protect them from the elements.

Dressed in full combat gear, the stifling heat inside the Hummer caused perspiration to pool down their backs. The prospect of a hot shower, a mere dream in the back of every- one’s mind, was as far off at the moment as the idea of ever getting to go home.

But even in a war zone confined in the cramped space of the Humvee, the soldiers did their best to make light of their predicament by laughing and cracking jokes. Sitting in the back seat, two officers kept up a steady stream of chatter. At least one did. Glancing up briefly when another new barrage of sand hit the windshield, Captain Scott Phillips barely noticed as he yanked the bandana from around his mouth so he could talk. And the Captain loved to talk, especially any bit of conversation that crept into his head that had anything to do with his wife, Jordan, and their baby daughter, Hutton, a daughter he had yet to lay eyes on firsthand or even hold.

As had become his habit, 1st Lt. Nick Harris listened as patiently as he could. What else was he going to do in such close quarters but listen to the Captain’s long-winded stories about home? Nick indulged him, not only because he was a captive audience but because, like most everyone in the unit, he genuinely liked Scott. The men who served under Phillips liked the no-nonsense way he ran his unit, liked the man who could routinely go from all-business to light-hearted in the blink of an eye.

And light-hearted usually meant Scott kept up a nonstop dialogue about his family back home. After spending a year of active duty with the guy, Nick felt certain he knew every nuance about the man’s personal life. There wasn’t much info Scott held back or didn’t share. When it came to his wife and newborn daughter, the man simply refused to shut up.

On the surface the two men had little in common. Scott was blissfully married while Nick, unattached, single and happy about it had a bevy of women waiting for him back in Los Angeles. But despite their differences, Nick’s affection for the guy overrode any annoyance over knowing every detail Scott chose to share. It seemed to Nick, Scott’s family life back home in California was an open book, which made him long ago accept the fact that Scott just liked to talk. Period.

Nick watched as Scott tapped his flak jacket and reminded, “I promised Jordan I’d wear this thing 24/7 as long as I’m over here. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it won’t do a damn thing to stop an IED.”

“There’s no stopping an IED,” Nick agreed amicably. “When we get out of this mess promise me you’ll come to Pelican Pointe for a visit, meet Jordan and the baby.”

Here it comes, thought Nick as he shook his head, Scott crowing once again about his hometown and the people in it. Nick responded the way he always did whenever Scott mentioned Pelican Pointe—he made some smart-ass comment—making sure to insult the Captain’s small town in a good-natured, guy kind of way. “Now why would I want to spend time in a Podunk town that sounds like a bird sanctuary? I’m a big city kind of guy, Captain. I’d go nuts in a small town. Besides, small towns are cliquish.”

“Pelican Pointe’s different.”

“I doubt that. Everybody knows your business in a small town.”

“When we get out of this mess, you come for a visit. I guarantee you’ll see for yourself what a great place it is, how great the people are. They’d do anything for you, Nick.” Without taking a breath, Scott went on, “God, I sure miss Jordan. And I haven’t even laid eyes on Hutton. I wish I’d been there the day she was born. I hate it Jordan had to go through childbirth without me. She’s almost five months old, can you believe it?”

“How does it feel to be a dad?” Nick didn’t have a clue about being a father, but it seemed the right thing to say at times like this when Scott got that distant look on his face, that wistful gaze in his eye, the look that said he was homesick and wanted nothing more than to get back home to his family.

“Being a father is great, I think. I’d like to be able to hold her though, you know. Pictures aren’t the same thing. You ever thought of having kids, Nick?”

A panicked look crossed his face. “Hell no. I can’t even see myself married.”

“Marriage is exactly what you need. Might settle you down.”

Nick couldn’t imagine it. “Marriage would be like a rock around my neck. Too many sweet things out there in the proverbial sea I haven’t sampled yet.” He wiggled his eyebrows up and down.

“Get yourself in trouble is what you’re gonna do. You need to think about finding that special someone. If you ever found a woman like Jordan, you’d change your mind in a heartbeat.”

Before Nick could argue, he heard the sound of a rocket blast pierce the air.

Someone yelled, “Look out, incoming!”

Nick heard an explosion, saw a blast of fire, and then a wave of smoke surrounded the vehicle so thick, he could barely see or breathe anything but fire and heat. Soldiers started running toward the lead Hummer. He heard more yelling. His lungs burned.

“Go. Go. Go!” someone shouted.

Chaos reigned as Nick watched the Humvee just ahead of theirs disintegrate into pieces. He saw burned metal fly through the air before he realized it wasn’t the lead Hummer at all. He turned to where Scott had sat beside him and saw his buddy’s face twisted in pain. Nick heard screaming.

“Promise me, Nick…”

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Sometimes, a promise kept can change your life.

Reeling from the violent death of her husband in war-torn Iraq, Jordan Phillips is at her wit’s end, left to fend for herself and her baby. Alone and desperate in backwater Pelican Pointe, she faces an uphill battle against a judgmental and hostile town as she tries to rebuild her life. But when a mysterious and handsome stranger with a tragic secret appears, her fragile new world threatens to come crashing down around her. A heartbreaking story of love and romance, Promise Cove will hold you breathless until the very last page.

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Genre – Romance

Rating – PG13

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