Release Date: November 9, 2018
A runaway bride, searching for happily ever after.
A Navy SEAL, who doesn’t believe in such things.
A bar, in the middle of nowhere, and fate, who’s been awaiting this day.
When I left my groom at the altar, I didn’t care where I went, or who I met along the way.
When I walked into a roadside bar in Nowhere, California, I wasn’t planning on staying.
When I sat down beside Jason Reynolds, I had no idea who he really was.
My world turned upside down.
Now all I want to do is save him.
I tried to ignore her. The beautiful train wreck who’d crashed my pity party.
I tried to fight temptation. Her sweet smile and smart mouth threatened my misery.
I tried to walk away. My blackened soul didn’t deserve her bright, hopeful light.
My team calls me Tin Man for good reason.
Love has no place in my life.
As a young girl, I’d stand before my closed bedroom door, wishing a Barbie Dream House would appear on the other side.
“No way,” my dad would sneer, a cigarette between his lips. “Not unless I hit the ponies tonight.” Despite his habit of gambling our grocery money, neither ever happened.
As a gangly teenager, I’d stand in front of a mirror, wishing for bigger boobs and a fuller bush because I’d just seen Candace Michaels naked in the locker room after third period P.E. class. You could say I was stunted in comparison. My only solace was knowing those envious breasts would sag one day.
As a community college graduate, I stood before the liquidated store I’d just purchased thanks to a small business loan, providing employment to the two most important people in my life, wishing to God I’d always be able to pay their salaries. Theirs before mine, it turned out, on occasion. No matter. There was currency in independence.
I also wished I could twirl a baton, participate in a flash mob, and eat cake every day without gaining weight. But, as my dad always said, I could wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one filled up first.
His best and only advice.
Through it all, I’ve stared at nineteen different sheets of paper, always questioning what I’d written, wishing many times over I was a poet. That I carried within me a grace to evoke tender emotion, along with the guts to expel the toxic ones, using nothing but a pen and the alphabet. Oftentimes I missed the mark, yet I sent the messages anyway.
Yes, I’m an old-school letter writer. A throwback to another generation. It’s not by choice, believe me. This obsession started years ago, and I only write to one person.
Lately, I’ve avoided it. There’s been nothing to say.
But now, in the middle of the night, I suddenly have plenty to say. To write.
The man lying in bed next to me gives me pause. I know he’s asleep before I turn to look, his breathing slow, but his body tense. Ready for the unexpected. A learned habit that might never leave him. There’s something precious in seeing him sleep, the weight of a nation briefly lifted. In repose, he becomes more man than machine, despite himself.
More real. More reachable.
Careful not to jostle the blankets, I slide the remote from his slack hand and turn up the volume on an informercial to cover the sound of my movements. No easy feat, given he has catlike reflexes and can hear footsteps two doors down. Smiling, my heart expands. Those are only a few of the many skills that make him straight-up cool, in and out of a uniform.
So far, so good, the light from the TV guiding me as I crawl out of bed and grab paper and pen from the dresser. Not bothering to cover myself, I stand in the same spot and write what’s in my heart, the words clambering to come out. It’s all I can do to make my cursive scroll legible. Most of my letters are like this. Born of furious inner thoughts.
Dear… I begin, then pause on the next looping letter.
I always write friend.
The safety of our anonymity now gone, I write his name instead, personally addressing him for the first time. He feels like two different men to me, both of whom I love, but neither of which I deserve.
It’s odd to use your name. I might never get used to that. I might never write you another letter either. It feels wrong now, as I look at the face of a man who’s been my sounding board, my guiding light, my surprise of a lifetime. Soft with sleep, his burdens at rest, it’s a face that proves every sappy love song right. Love—and let’s be honest, a daily dose of sex—really is all you need. And pizza.
Love, sex, and pizza. The ultimate threesome. But I digress.
Everybody has one, you know. A love story. Even the non-believers, one of which is the man embedded within my soul. Some of the stories are good, some bad. Some of them, for the very lucky, are even great. Those are the ones that last, defying a low survival rate.
I’ve always wished mine—I mean, ours—to be a lovely tale that played out like a metaphoric fable, where hummingbirds sipped nectar from orange blossoms on dew-dampened spring mornings, our love growing from the softest flutter of paper-thin wings, to a steady beat so sure and strong, you could tell the time and temperature by it. What appeared outwardly fleeting could easily withstand the rigors of Mother Nature. Bring on the hurricane. We’ll wait for the rainbow.
Go ahead. Laugh your fine, cynical ass off. I was thirteen when I dreamt that gem up, and while you might be hero material to me and many others, you’re no fairy tale prince. God knows, I’m no princess, so I’m laughing right along with you. We’re the sorriest pair of hummingbirds ever.
But the thing is… I don’t care how it really happened.
Just that it did.
I continue to bleed words of love, and then regret, onto the page, desperate to say everything I need to. Confess my sins the only way I know how.
The rustling of sheets interrupts me, and I quickly slide the paper into the drawer, reaching for his discarded t-shirt at the same time.
Slipping it on, I cover my nakedness and grin at the scowl that crosses his gorgeous face. Rolling to his side, his unguarded eyes beckon me.
“C’mere.” Patting the bed, his voice is rough with sleep.
Without hesitation, I let him envelop me in his strong, capable arms.
Nuzzling my hair, he asks the question I’m prepared for. “What were you doing? It’s zero dark thirty.”
“Nothing.” Burying my face in his neck, I kiss him and fight tears, feeling far more secure than I should. The taste of his skin is achingly familiar, and I let my lips linger. The privilege, I know, is temporary. “Just shaking off a dream.”
“Mmm,” he rumbles, and it’s the sexiest sound I’ve ever heard. “A good one or bad?”
The answer is complicated.
“Both,” I finally admit, the tears falling unbidden. I hide them, and the darkness allows me my privacy. “Tighter,” I whisper, and he just seems to know, the band of his arms flexing.
My breathing is shallow, but my love is deep, and I selfishly ask for more. “Tighter. Please.”
Screw hummingbirds and orange blossoms.
This is the love story—the sad, but true story—I’m meant to be in.
I live with my high school sweetheart husband in the desert Southwest. Awesome in the winter, not so much in the summer.
My life long goals are to think before I speak, smile more and swear less, and actually weigh what my driver’s license states I do.