Ravaged River(9)

By: Lindsey Cross



"She'll pulverize him."

"Or she'll be the one woman strong enough to help him move past his wife's death."

Malik's words gave her pause. Had Professor Latham chosen bachelorhood because, like her, he'd never been able to move on?

All of a sudden his earlier comments hit home. The professor had zeroed in on her situation because he had been in the same rut. He'd been stuck on a woman who died two decades ago, just like Hayden was stuck on a man who was dead on the inside.

Both of them needed to find a way to move forward.

"I have to work tonight, but he’s right. I’m planning on going to the Sigma Pi party tonight. I'll probably be there about ten thirty."

"I'll see you there." Malik's expression was warm, and his gaze lingered on her.

A wave of uncertainty washed over her. Was she really ready to move on? Could she?

Or did she want to pine for a man who had no interest in moving on for the rest of her life?

Hayden lifted her chin. "I'm looking forward to it."





4





Hoyt stalked from his Jeep to the large tan metal building that housed Task Force Scorpion's headquarters. The command center was located in the dead center of their newly acquired property. Hank James, Hayden and Hunter’s adoptive dad, had retired from farming and had acres to spare, so he made the huge donation to TF-S. Although their true headquarters was at Fort Granada about thirty miles away, this outpost allowed them more freedom of movement.

Hoyt couldn’t complain. He fucking hated sleeping in barracks. Half those bastards took a bath about once a week, and after about ten seconds of being locked up with the smell of unwashed armpits, spit cups, and cigarette smoke, he wanted to puke.

Besides, the mere thought of sleeping on the bottom bunk made him feel like he was slipping into a splintered pine coffin.

A hard chill hit him and Hoyt braced a sweaty hand on the heavy white security door. Tight spaces made him nervous. Hell, being inside his own bedroom made him nervous.

Their commander had called the meeting early, which more than likely meant Hoyt’s team mates were back from Afghanistan with new intel on Al Seriq, the terrorist leader of the Islamic State of Afghanistan, ISA, they’d been tracking for years. A mission Hoyt hadn’t been allowed to go on.

He needed a minute to get his shit together. He'd been skating on the thin ice of sanity for the past few months, and if he walked into this room with so much as a twitch, Colonel Grey would slap him with a medical discharge.

Which would mean no more military and no more legalized killing.

Shit. The only thing that would make him feel better was a hot Afghani roof and his sniper rifle hugging his shoulder. After so many months of inactivity, his trigger finger had one hell of an itch. There was something so satisfying about sighting an enemy combatant at long range and taking the fucker out before he could harm US troops. Besides, he had to get the hell out of Mercy. He'd done his best to avoid Hayden since the incident, but this small town seemed to shrink each day. He'd bumped into her twice. Each time her scent had enfolded him in a warm hug and her big Colorado-sky-blue eyes had nearly taken him to his knees.

Not that he'd even spoken to her. No, he'd all but run, acting like a freaking acne-covered pre-teen would near a super model. Hoyt let his head hang and scrubbed a hand down his clean-shaven jaw, his fingers bumping over the cavity of the scar that ran the length of the left side of his face. Shit, next to him, acne looked pretty.

Get it together, asshole. Hayden isn't yours anymore.

Hoyt checked the urge to slam his fist into the door and straightened. He just had to keep it cool for a few minutes. Download the brief on the mission and then hop on a C-130 to Kandahar. He punched the security code into the small silver pad on the right of the door, took a deep breath, and strode into the command center.

"Jesus Christ." Ethan Slade, recon specialist and gunnery Sergeant, straightened from the oval-shaped white table at the back of the room. His shaggy black hair was pulled into a low ponytail at his neck and a thick beard covered the bottom half of his face.

Hoyt cracked a twisted smile, knowing that it looked more like a feral distorted grimace. "Don't like my new haircut?"

Ethan had been on the reconnaissance mission longer than the rest of the team. This was the first time he’d seen Hoyt since Crowe Mountain. Since the incident.

Ethan eased toward him like he was getting up close to a hungry tiger. "Shit man, they said it was bad, but..." His words trailed off mid-sentence. "How are you handling it?"

Hoyt planted his feet and faced his friend, stuffing down the urge to come back with some smart-ass remark, trying to remember how to keep his shit under control. And not explode on his teammate. Not that he'd learned any communication strategies during his forced stint in the VA psych ward. They’d basically just shoved bottles of pills at him and told him to forget about being sliced and diced. Pretend like a weeks' worth of torture never happened.

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