Beneath his U.S. Navy SEALs T-shirt, Seaman Barry Ballantine’s heart thudded against his breastbone. He wondered if he would recognize anything about his mountain hometown of Sweetness, Georgia. The last time he’d seen it, the entire town had been reduced to matchsticks. He’d been fifteen when the F-5 tornado had landed, ravaging the small downtown and outlying homes. He passed a new sign announcing Sweetness 3 Miles, and geared down his Jeep for the steep, steady climb that would eventually take him into what used to be the center of town.
The landscape on either side of the newly paved road began to look familiar. He wondered if any other former residents had moved back to Sweetness, if he would know anyone, or if anyone would know him. His friends from high school had scattered after the twister, some of them landing in Atlanta, like his family, but not in the same neighborhoods or the same schools. Everyone had started over somewhere else, but he’d never felt like he belonged anywhere but Sweetness.
When he rounded a curve and looked up, a grin spread over his face. The white water tower, the only structure spared by the twister, still stood on the top of a ridge heralding “Welcome to Sweetness” in black letters. Its surface was marred with bits of graffiti—apparently climbing the tower and proclaiming love with a spray can was still a popular activity. He’d always thought he’d do the same someday, but hadn’t yet been inspired before the tornado had struck and his family had left town.
Oh, there’d been plenty of pretty girls around when he’d lived in Sweetness, and because he was a jock, they’d seemed eager enough to spend time with him, but there had never been anyone particularly special then…or since. He’d joined the Navy after high school and the transient lifestyle had been exciting, but solitary. Becoming a SEAL had been a professional and personal pinnacle, but the deployment and covert missions didn’t lend themselves to a long-term relationship. He’d never let his mind go there.
He saw a flash of color out of the corner of his right eye, on the shoulder of the road. Too late, he realized it was a runner—a female runner—just as he plowed through a puddle of water, drenching her head to toe.
Visit the author: Stephanie Bond
Stephanie Bond was born on the U.S. Army base in Fort Riley, Kansas. Her father Willis Bond served in the First Infantry in the Vietnam War. (Go Big Red One!) The author of over 60 romance and mystery novels, Stephanie is honored to contribute to the SEAL OF MY DREAMS anthology.