Jessie spied the truck through the window of her training studio—nothing ostentatious, just a solid, late-model truck that any number of men might drive. Like the man who stepped out of the cab now, his dark hair shorn close to his head. He was leaner than he had been five years ago, and as he rounded the truck to the other side, he limped noticeably. Her heart did a little flip-flop of… nervousness? Anticipation?
Marcus Stone had been the love of her life from the time they were in seventh grade until the day she finally broke it off five years before, when they were twenty-two. She had, finally, started dating other men. Once in a while.
If he had called for any other reason, she would not have agreed to see him. But as he came forward, that reason came into view.
Staff Sergeant Thor.
Thor had been a combat dog, attached to a SEAL unit engaged in a top secret mission in Afghanistan that had gone wrong. Three SEALs had been killed, five more badly injured. Thor was one of them.
So was Marcus. Jessie put a careful box around that knowledge, set it aside. She would not be drawn in.
Instead she focused on the dog. He was brown and gold German shepherd, with long fur, the kind of dog people always wanted to approach, to pat on the head, his long dark nose and soft-looking fur drawing on some ancient need in the human spirit.
Sgt. Thor was in no mood for the hungry pats of children. He wore a harness attached to a leash gripped tightly in Marcus’s powerful hand. The dog’s shoulders were hunched warily as they began to cross the parking lot. Thor, too, limped visibly. When coaxed, he moved forward a few steps, then halted again. Marcus didn’t yank on him or otherwise try to make him move, just waited patiently, standing alongside, then tried to urge the canine along a little more. Thor moved, but it was a creeping move of apprehension, belly close to the ground, head low.
“Poor baby.” She grabbed a bag of chicken breast tidbits off the counter, and headed outside to meet the pair. “It’s all right,” Jessie called, coming outside. “He doesn’t have to come inside yet. I’ll come to him.”
Thor’s handler nodded, raising a hand in acknowledgment. “Come easy. He can get pretty aggressive if you approach too fast.”
Visit the author: Barbara Samuel
Barbara Samuel (also known as Barbara O’Neal) is the bestselling author of more than 40 books, and has won Romance Writers of America’s RITA award an astounding six times. Her books have been published around the world, including France, Germany, Italy, and Australia/New Zealand, among others. One of her recent women’s fiction titles, The Lost Recipe for Happiness (written as Barbara O’Neal) went back to print eight times, and her book How to Bake a Perfect Life was a Target Club pick in 2011.
Whether set in the turbulent past or the even more challenging present, Barbara’s books feature strong women, families, dogs, food, and adventure—whether on the road or toward the heart.
A native of Colorado Springs, Barbara lives there with her partner, Christopher Robin, an endurance athlete, along with her dog and cats. She is an avid gardner, hiker, photographer, and traveler who loves to take off at dawn to hike a 14er or head to a faraway land, or curl up with the animals in the garden and read. Her daughter-in-law is in the Air Force and has served in Afghanistan. Barbara loves to connect with readers and is very involved with them on the Internet.