Jake Tucker is broken. At twenty-two, he went into the Marine Corps a naïve, troubled youth. Nine years and four tours later, Jake finds himself back on US soil, though his mind remains firmly planted in the sands of Afghanistan with the men he left behind.
Wounded, chewed up and spat out by war, Jake has only his dog, Nuke, PTSD, and survivor’s guilt to keep him company. He’s lived every day for nine years wondering when it will be his last, but there’s little comfort in the fact that he’s still standing when his platoon isn’t.
Ellie Mason doesn’t have time for broken. She’s too busy trying to put food on the table. And keeping up with the demands of her autistic son, Spencer, is sometimes like fighting behind enemy lines. As if navigating the minefields of single parenthood isn’t enough, Ellie finds herself drawn to the quiet Marine who’s just as lonely as she is. But she’s loved damaged men before, and it left her wounded.
Set against the picturesque backdrop of Fairhope, Alabama, Ellie and Jake find themselves running toward the sound of chaos.
Love is war.
Only the strong survive, and surrender is inevitable.
“You been drinkin’, Jake?” Obviously, I already know the answer, but I ask anyway because I need to get him talkin’. I don’t like the way his eyes seem to look right through me.
The corners of his mouth turn up in a bitter grin. “Yeah, I been drinkin’.”
I pick up the bottles of pills strewn all over the floor and set them on the counter. “How many of these did you take?” I snap.
I discard the pills in the trash because they wouldn’t do no good after they’ve been rollin’ around in glass. “You shouldn’t drink when you’re on meds.”
“It don’t fuckin’ matter anymore.”
I snap my gaze back to his and grit my teeth. “It matters to me.”
“Because I care about you,” I say. “We care about you.”
His eyes get all squinty and he slurs, “You don’t even know me.”
“Is that what you think?” I snap, losing all patience with him. “That I don’t know the man I’ve been letting into my house? I know you, and the Jake Tucker I know—the Jake Spencer knows—is not this Jake.”
He smiles that twisted grin again, and so help me, I’ve never wanted to put my hands on a person in anger so much in my life. I want to slap that smirk right off his beautiful face.
“Maybe this is the real Jake; maybe I’m just another asshole you hardly know tryin’ to get in your panties.”
I stare at him in shock, and I won’t lie, it takes a moment to recover, but like any southern woman worth her salt, I’m a master in the art of backhanded compliments and southern charm. “Then you clearly ain’t as smart as I thought you were, ’cause this Jake? He don’t stand a chance of getting anywhere near my panties, but the other may have. Looks like now we’ll never know.” His cocky smile falters. “Now, stop feeling sorry for yourself and get up.”
He laughs, but there’s no humor in it. “What do you know about it? You can’t even see what’s right in front of you.”
“Oh I see it,” I huff. “I’m real familiar with how mean a bottle of Johnnie Walker can make a man.”
“That the reason you never talk about why Spencer’s daddy ain’t around?”
“Yeah, that’s the reason,” I say folding my arms over my chest. “Because, it’s a long painful road that I walked away from and one that I don’t wanna have to revisit. And considering where you been, Jake Tucker, I thought you might know something about that.”
“What’s his name?”
“It don’t matter.”
“It matters,” he says through his teeth. “Believe me, it matters.”
“Why? You gonna go to Charleston, find him, and beat the crap outta him for hurtin’ me? The best thing you can do for me is to not become him.” I take a deep breath and wonder why we’re talkin’ about me at all when there’s clearly more important things going on right here. “Why didn’t you show up at my house yesterday? And why are you drinking in the middle of the day?”
“Day, night, it don’t matter. The nightmares don’t stop unless I’m three fuckin’ sheets to the wind.”
I sigh and grab the washcloth from a rack. Running warm water over it, I wring out the excess and crouch down to his level. “Give me your hand.” He shakes his head. “Give me your goddamn hand, Jake.”
He doesn’t extend it out to me, but he doesn’t pull away either when I grab his forearm. I get a good glimpse of the damage he’s done. He don’t need stitches, far as I can tell.
I gently start wiping at the mess and get to my feet a few times to rinse out the washcloth. As the blood is washed away, his scars become more pronounced. This is the first time I’m seeing him in a shirt that doesn’t have long sleeves. It makes me want to cry because his skin is a patchwork of pain. It tells a story of hate and unimaginable cruelty, but there is splendor in it, too. There’s a tale of courage, survival, immeasurable strength, and beauty in the face of such ugliness. They tried to destroy him, and they failed.
I trace my finger over the deepest scar on his forearm and blink back tears. Jake’s whole body stiffens. I decide it’s best not to push him any further by touching him again, but that don’t mean I’m going to go easy on him either. “So, you got any rubbing alcohol? Or did you drink that too?”