Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Can't wait for Football? Read Intercepted by Love, a Pro #Football #Romance from Rachelle Ayala

Intercepted by Love - A Pro Football Romance from Rachelle Ayala

What would you do if you threw away the Super Bowl on a last minute end-zone interception?

Meet Cade Prescott: backup quarterback for the Los Angeles Flash in their new Hollywood Stadium. He alone is responsible for his team losing the Super Bowl, so he escapes to a small college town in upstate New York to hide and lick his wounds.

Meet Andie Wales: Research librarian. She and her archaeologist family share a vivid interest in King David. In addition to his official history, she's also an expert on his love lives [plural, because of his multiple wives]. She works in a library in a small college town in upstate New York.

“… enchanting story of two people from completely different worlds” – Keli Morgan

~ Description ~
Pro quarterback Cade Prescott’s last play was to lose the Super Bowl for his team. To escape the bad press and recover from the disastrous season, he changes his appearance and hides away at a sleepy university town.

Andie Wales’s first love is researching ancient bad boy kings. She is blissfully unaware of the Super Bowl and modern day bad boys. When her dog meets and mates with Cade’s dog, Andie’s first concern is to get her dog to a vet. She gets waylaid by Cade and his hunky good looks and has no idea just how out of her league Cade is.

Despite his secrets, Cade feels differently about Andie and thinks he might be falling in love. Unfortunately, his past catches up with him, and he is forced to make a difficult decision. Can a professional athlete and a research librarian truly prove the axiom that opposites not just attract, but were meant for each other?

Intercepted by Love #1 is available at Amazon, Read FREE if on KindleUnlimited or buy for 99 cents
Parts 2, 3, 4 are also available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited
and #5 is set to release July 30 and bonus story #6 is in the works!

~About Rachelle ~ 

Rachelle Ayala is a bestselling author of dramatic romantic suspense and humorous, sexy contemporary romances. Her heroines are feisty and her heroes hot. She writes emotionally challenging stories but believes in the power of love and hope.
Subscribe to her mailing list for upcoming books and giveaways: http://bit.ly/RachAyala and find her books at online retailers Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple iBookstore, and Smashwords.
Books by Rachelle Ayala
Sánchez Sisters
Jewells in Love
Sports Romances

Want to Contact Rachelle?
Mailing List: http://bit.ly/RachAyala

Friday, June 26, 2015

Lucky #13 Dangerous Encounters - 13 heart-pounding Romantic Suspense Full-length Novels

Readers, I forgot to notify you of this awesome value. This boxed set is so big we can't price it at 99c, but Amazon (bless their heart) has price-matched it so far... [99c right now]. My Knowing Vera [Australian Romantic Suspense] is part of it, but there are 12 other hot, suspenseful romances to check out.

Get your heartbeat racing with 13 romantic-suspense novels from USA Today, bestselling, and award-winning authors. Nerve-wracking thrills and dangers, heart-melting romance and love--enjoy them all in this outstanding collection of DANGEROUS ENCOUNTERS....

99c [as of posting, prices may change, so get it now]
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00XV8N5XC
Google Play: http://bit.ly/1R4py8H

Watch our awesome trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smUfSr_NMNw 

Fallen Idol – USA Today Bestselling Author Nikki Lynn Barrett
Cross Examination – International Bestselling Author Denise Moncrief
Carnival Tricks - Jade Kerrion
Height of Danger - Nancy & Nolan Radke 
Six Days of Memories - Stacy Eaton – International Best Selling Author
Broken Lies - Sharon Coady
Don't Know Jack - Amy Manemann
Cypher – Award-winning, Bestselling Author Cathy Perkins
Murderous Lies – Bestselling Author Chantel Rhondeau
Tidal Falls - Jacquie Biggar
Suspended Animation - Sylvie Grayson
Knowing Vera – Award-Winning, Bestselling Author Rachelle Ayala
Special Agent Francesca – New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author Mimi Barbour

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Christmas in June? Christmas Flirt (Racy Lacy) is #Free on Kindle June 14-16 #lastchance

Free book alert! Last chance to pick up Christmas Flirt free for your Kindle.

Hey readers, as you're breaking out the sunscreen and headed for the beach, get a jump on the holly jolly season with Racy Lacy and Brandon Cole in CHRISTMAS FLIRT.

Naughty girl Lacy Reed gets more than she bargained for when her naked selfies turn up on her boss’s phone. What will it take for her Christmas wish to come true?

Warning: hot, steamy, and hilarious

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Christmas in June? Work in Progress: A Pet for Christmas by Rachelle Ayala - Chapter Two

Hi Everyone, This is Chapter Two of A Pet for Christmas, a sequel to last year's A Father for Christmas, where Kelly and Bree, mother and daughter, meet a homeless veteran, Tyler Manning, and make their wishes come true.

I posted Chapter One last week, but from now on, I'll only be posting to my Mailing List. Please subscribe to my list http://bit.ly/RachAyala for Chapter Three, etc.. thanks!

Since the story of how Kelly, Bree, and Tyler's met is already published, it might be better to read A Father for Christmas first. You can get it HERE for 99c or read free with Kindle Unlimited.

Chapter Two of A Pet for Christmas
[Disclaimer: these chapters are first draft and not edited. The final version will have changes.]
# # #
(Kelly) Thursday evening, California
“You want to talk about it?” Mother asks as I’m drying dishes. It’s getting late and the guests have left, one by one. Only Mr. Wong, Bree, Ella, and Jaden remain in the living room watching TV.
I place the dried dish onto a stack and pick another one from the water. “There’s nothing to talk about. Tyler can’t be home until he completes his mission.”
“That’s what you tell yourself. Aren’t you and Bree more important than his mission?”
Mother doesn’t miss a thing. After I hung up the video call with Tyler, I retreated to her bedroom for twenty minutes, crying. I couldn’t stop the tears, even though everyone knows I’m not the crying type. It’s everything piling up. We have a tough case to crack at work—some really slippery operators that are hard to nail, and with me being out at the doctor’s office to get checked and monitored, I’m always behind on my paperwork.
I’m hiding even from myself. It’s not work that has me down, but the nagging feeling that I’m not enough for Tyler—that I can’t help him or reach him—that he needs Afghanistan more than me and Bree.
Mother stops washing the dishes and turns her entire attention on me. “Bree’s hurting, too. Isn’t it time you do something about it?”
“What do you want me to do?” I snap at her. “Break it off with him? We have a baby coming.”
“I’m well aware of that,” Mom says. “Although I wish you two had waited.”
That does it. I’m out of here if she’s going to deliver another sermon about how we should have slowed things down. I take off the apron and hang it up. “Look, I’m sorry about ruining the party, but Bree and I need to get going. Ella and Jaden can finish up here, and you should be out there with Mr. Wong.”
“Call him, Cam,” Mother says. “Ella already put Bree to sleep in the guest room. You just want to leave because you don’t like what I have to say.”
“Mom, it’s not that. There’s nothing I can do about it now.”
“You need to be honest with him,” Mom says. “You can’t do it alone. He needs to man up and take care of his own family before running around the world taking care of others.”
“I’m strong.” I take a deep breath to convince myself I’m holding on. “I had Bree by myself, and I can do it again.”
“Oh, Kelly.” Mother dries her hands and places them over my shoulder. “I know you can do it alone, but is it fair? If you’ve never told Tyler just how much you need him and he thinks you’re handling everything just fine, why would he come home to help?”
My throat closes and I blink back tears. I can’t let my mother see my despair. I already broke down and called him, but he’s not wavering from his mission. I shouldn’t be so selfish. The people in Afghanistan have it way worse than me and Bree.
And then there’s the truth. I don’t want him to come back because I need him. I want him to come to me because he wants to be with me.
“Tyler doesn’t need any more guilt. He’s had more than enough to last five lifetimes. The last thing I should do is guilt him into coming home.” A pain shoots over my abdomen as my womb tightens. I clutch and grimace before realizing my mother is looking at me.
“Another contraction?” Her face creases with concern. “Sit. No more work for you. Go to the living room. I’ll get Ella and Jaden to finish up.”
“I should get going.” I give her the customary goodbye hug and pluck my car keys from the hook.
“No, I don’t want you driving when you’ve just had a contraction. You’ll stay with me tonight.”
“But, what about Mr. Wong?”
“What about him? We started dating, that’s all.”
Great. It’s her subtle way of telling me she disapproves of the way I handled Tyler. Yes, I should have waited until marriage, but my biological clock was ticking and Tyler didn’t want to get married until he got his finances in order. At least this time, I know who my baby’s father is.
Mom pushes open the kitchen door and calls, “Ella, can you please finish the dishes?”
“Sure.” My younger sister pops into the kitchen. One look at me and her lips turn down. “Are you okay? You look pale.”
“I’m tired. It’s been a long day. Thanks for getting Bree to sleep.”
“Poor thing.” Ella lowered her voice. “She prayed and  asked God to give her a real father. She says God is bigger than Santa, and she’s sure He can find her real father no matter where he is in this universe.”
# # #
(Tyler) Friday morning Afghanistan, Thursday evening California
Like most buildings in Afghanistan, the community center was a compound surrounded by mud brick walls and topped with coils and coils of razor wire. It was easy to develop a siege mentality. Here, no one had welcoming lawns or spacious driveways. Instead, sturdy gates and doormen were the rule in this war torn region.
The compound had been built by an NGO-sponsored team five years ago to hold an educational building and medical clinic. Unfortunately, the kidnapping and murders of the last team of doctors and nurses effectively put a halt to the clinic. The place was in shambles when Tyler had arrived in the spring, but after months of hard work, he’d at least secured the premises and installed basketball courts, an artificially turfed soccer field, and set up a weight room. Initially, the villagers sent their boys over for sports and fun, but as the Taliban insurgents made inroads in the north and east, families began sending their sons to keep them safe. At least a dozen boys never went home. They set up makeshift cots for them in the gymnasium which was still under construction and missing the folding bleachers as well as the polished wooden floor.
“Mr. Manning. Here’s your morning tea and breakfast.” Arman, a twelve year old boy who spoke English, clambered into the office and set a tray on the desk. His mother was a British woman who’d married an Afghan, but he was secretive about the current whereabouts of his parents.
“Thanks, Arman.” Tyler gestured for the boy to sit and chat. “How was your day?”
The boy simply nodded. “Fine, sir. Anything else you require?”
“You’ve filled my water jug. I think all is good. Let me know when the supply convoy arrives.” He handed Arman an egg and a plump red pomegranate. “Here, have some.”
“Thanks, sir.” He gave Tyler another nod and retreated. Outside, the pre-dawn prayer call howled through the wind. Tyler sipped the smoky black tea and peeled the hard boiled egg. Once he’d straightened out the supply situation and hired another director, he was going home.
He picked up the picture of him, Kelly, and Bree taken a few months ago on a family trip to the beach. Every morning, he and Bree had taken a walk on the beach and found shells and bits of rock. She even found a sea urchin skeleton and a couple of sand dollar pieces. Of course, Kelly always made Bree put everything back, even though the beach they frequented had no restrictions against collecting. Her explanation was that Bree should learn to leave nature the way it was for future generations to enjoy.
It hadn’t stopped Tyler from sneaking a few pieces of sea glass and limpet shells he’d found and buying Bree a glass jar at a gift shop filled with shells, sand dollars, sea urchin skeletons, bits of sea glass, and driftwood.
He kissed the photo over the glass. Looking at how happy they were made his heart ache and his chest tight. She and Kelly were the best things to happen in his sad life, but the truth was? They were too good for him. What had they seen in a shell shocked homeless vet prone to flashbacks?
And how in the name of God could he be a father to a precious little boy when another boy had died because of him?
Tyler pulled the curtain back on the window. The prayer meeting in the courtyard finished, and the men and boys stood and brushed off the ever present dust from their clothes. The terrain outside was mountainous and desolate. Even the sparse bushes were grayish green sprinkles among rocks large and small.
He turned away from the window and opened a folder on his desk. A piece of paper, possibly a receipt, slipped and fluttered underneath the heavy, steel military grade table. Tyler bent down to retrieve it, when a loud explosion shattered the silence of the compound, blowing the windows out and shaking the earth.
Glass, debris, and plaster rained down on the desk Tyler was under, and a series of thunderous booms left his ears deafened. There was silence for a long moment as the dust settled, before the screams of panic and chaos shrieked through the courtyard.
Tyler grabbed the AK-47 he kept behind his desk. He loaded a magazine and looped a bullet belt over his shoulder. Every step he took was measured as he stalked from his shattered office. He sighted the hallway, made sure it was empty before stepping into the chaos of the courtyard.
Body parts were strewn where the prayer meeting had been just a few minutes before. The entire side of a wall had been blown out and fire raged over the hulk of a heavily decorated truck. Its gaudy bling and colorful fringes were going up in black smoke.
“Taliban. We have to go, Sir, hurry!” Arman, the boy who’d brought Tyler’s tea yelled, wide-eyed and covered with dust. “Farik didn’t pay Zakah before he left.”
Zakah was an Islamic tradition of giving alms to the poor, but in these regions, it meant religious young men bearing guns and shaking down the villagers for food and money they could ill afford to lose.
The fact that this was a Taliban attack meant Tyler was outgunned and on his own. No other villager would intervene, and out here, the Afghan National Army was a joke now that the Americans had withdrawn most of the troops.
“Okay, gather the survivors into the tunnels,” Tyler ordered.
“I don’t think there are any,” Arman said. “Everyone was lined up for breakfast. I’d gone to my bedroom because I already ate your egg and I wanted to hide the pomegranate.”
Tyler followed Arman down the corridor of the main clinic toward the vault where they used to store the medicines. A series of explosions continued to rattle the compound.
“Grenades!” Arman shouted as Tyler turned the combination to the vault.
Tyler swung the heavy door open and ushered Arman in. “Go ahead. I have to check that there’s no one else alive.”
“They’re all dead. The cafeteria was next to the gate.” Arman’s teeth chattered. “No one survived.”
“I have to look, now go, and I’ll meet you where this tunnel ends.” Tyler pushed Arman into the vault and secured the door.
The rapid fire of machine guns greeted Tyler as he peered around a wall into the courtyard. Five men armed with machine guns kicked at the bodies lying where the cafeteria had been. Tyler slipped the magazine in place and mowed down the men. By shooting, he’d given his position away, but he had the advantage of surprise.
Shouts rang as the other Taliban regrouped. Tyler clung to the sides of the building and ran down an embanked walkway to the dumpster area. He sighted another group of insurgents holding a grenade launcher. Tyler sprayed them with bullets. Gunfire came from another direction, and bullets pockmarked the walls behind him, buzzing over his shoulder like angry bees.
Tyler stepped into a recessed doorway and waited. No one came within his sights. Minutes ticked by as the enemy preferred to wait him out. Sweat dripped down his face, and his eyes were sore from the acrid dust. A flash of fire from the right alerted him. They had set fire to the storage room. With the ammunition in the basement, it was only a matter of time before the entire compound blew.
Arman was down there alone in the dark tunnel. Had Tyler just sent him to his death?
He slipped through the doorway and through the clinic, grabbing two emergency supply backpacks. The acrid stench of the fire chased him. Tyler sprinted for the vault, fumbling the combination and missing it.
His hands shook, and his eardrums rattled with the frantic pulsing of his blood. The fire approached, crackling and sucking the air from the room. Tyler opened the vault on the third try. He shut the door behind him and strapped a headlamp to his head.
“Arman, where are you?” he called as he ran toward a manhole cover to the secret tunnel. It had been moved aside. Good.
Tyler looped the backpacks over his back, along with an AK-47 and the remaining ammunition and climbed into the hole. After pulling the cover closed, in case anyone chased after them, he climbed down the metal loops.
“Arman!” he yelled.
“Over here, sir.” A tiny voice piped from his left. “It was dark so I didn’t know where to go.”
Even though Farik, the previous director, had only shown Tyler the tunnel once, he had memorized the location relative to the manhole. Grabbing the boy, Tyler stepped around a pipe and kicked through an old wooden door.
Together than ran, stumbling and tripping, while coughing at the smoky dust. The tunnel led outside the wall of the compound and supposedly exited into a cave. Tyler should have checked it out when he’d first arrived. Too late now. They ran and ran, their breaths ragged.
A deep rumbling in the earth was the first indication that the storage basement had blown. It was as if a massive monster had awakened underground.
Tyler and Arman were thrown onto their faces as dirt and rocks tumbled over them and the tunnel collapsed.

Please email me with any comments and feedback. As I noted above, the rest of the chapters will only be posted to my newsletter. Please join my newsletter http://bit.ly/RachAyala to follow this story, if interested.

Happy Reading, and have a wonderful, awesome summer. - Rachelle

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Going on Vacation? To the Beach? Pick up The Remingtons: Romances from Melissa Foster's Kindle World

Surf's up and it's time for some fun in the sand and the sun. If you haven't read Kerry and Finn's vacation romance, Leap, Laugh, Love, get it now [http://bit.ly/LeapLaughLove], and jump in the water -- if you dare!

Hey there Romance Lovers!
Fun and fast beach and vacation reads just in time for summer fun on your Kindle.

From Rachelle Ayala comes a surprising vacation romance between a professional surfer bitten by a shark and an emotionally scarred Army Ranger in Leap, Laugh, Love

Zoe York presents a gritty New York City cop with a sexy fashion reporter looking for click-bait but finding love in Love on the Record

A sweet and steamy story about a florist named Daisy and a real estate mogul named Ben headed for a developmental collision comes from Elena Aitken in Love Me, Love Me Not

Kaira Rouda delves into the world of high fashion and rock and roll with her love at first sight romance between a small town aspiring model and a jaded celebrity in Spotlight on Love

Meanwhile, Ella James presents survivor's guilt and a grieving widower finding his future with feisty bartender running from scars of her own in Love on the Rocks

From Melissa Storm comes a sweet girlfriend adventure where Siena Remington and best friend Lousie Stark arrive in Texas and meet up with a star bronco rider in A Texas Kind of Love

Stacy Eaton dishes up a hard-boiled drama of a physician determined to uncover why a woman he meets at a bar is satisfied with a series of meaningless one night stands. But can he take the challenge he sets up in Cured by Love?

Finally, the super sweet Amy Manemann scores with a romance between candy rivals and accusations of a stolen salt water taffy recipe in Pulled by Love.

So, there you have it! Eight brand spanking new romances in one Fabulous Remington World based off Melissa Foster's Series: The Remingtons

SEE THE BOOKS HERE -->> http://bit.ly/RemiKindleWorld

Note: Remington World romances are NOT written by Melissa Foster, the world owner. They are fan fiction stories using Melissa's Remington family characters. To read the originals, please pick up Melissa's stories.
-->> http://bit.ly/MFRemington

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Christmas in June? Work in Progress: A Pet for Christmas by Rachelle Ayala - Chapter One

Hi Everyone, June is the time for weddings and graduations, vacation planning and barbecues, and it feels really strange to be thinking about Christmas trees, tinsel, gifts, and reindeers. I'm excited, however, to announce the sequel to last year's A Father for Christmas, where Kelly and Bree, mother and daughter, meet a homeless veteran, Tyler Manning, and make their wishes come true.

This year, Kelly and Tyler are expecting a baby. Bree is worried no one will love her after the baby comes, so she wishes for a pet for Christmas. Meanwhile, Tyler is in Afghanistan running a charity when he is attacked and goes missing. How will Kelly hold her high-risk pregnancy together while praying for a chance at a Merry Christmas? [Story is sweet with ZERO steamy scenes].

So gather around, as I post my draft chapters to you, dear readers. I'll try to keep on a weekly schedule, but rest assured, the story will be published some time in September.

Since the story of how Kelly, Bree, and Tyler's met is already published, it might be better to read A Father for Christmas first. You can get it HERE for 99c or read free with Kindle Unlimited.

Chapter One of A Pet for Christmas
[Disclaimer: these chapters are first draft and not edited. The final version will have changes.]
# # # (Kelly) Thursday afternoon Thanksgiving, California # # #
“Tell me about my father.” My five-year-old daughter, Bree, taps the oak dining table with her fork and knife right after we’ve said grace. Her blue eyes are large and expectant.
Everyone gathered around my mother’s Thanksgiving table gawk at her before turning their faces to me.
“We just spoke to him on the video call.” I try to avoid the question on everyone’s faces. “He’s helping children in Afghanistan, remember?”
The baby in my belly kicks and reminds me how exhausted I am with Tyler, my fiancĂ©, traveling again. He assures me he’ll be home for Christmas. I can only hope.
“Not Tyler.” Bree pouts and her eyebrows narrow with that determined look of hers—the kind that tells me she’s not about to be put off. “I want to know about my real father.”
Uh oh. This is not the type of thing I want to be discussing with company. My mother knows, and so does my sister and her boyfriend, Jaden, but we also have church friends gathered around, including Mr. Wong, the widower who just started dating my mother. The turkey is waiting, as are all the trimmings, dressing, candied yams, potato salad, butternut squash casserole and cranberry sauce.
“Tyler is your father.” I pat her shoulder, gently. Last year, right before Christmas, Bree asked Santa for a father. She met Tyler Manning, a war veteran, soon afterwards sitting under the giant Christmas tree at a mall in San Francisco. We both fell in love with him, and I assumed the rest would be history.
Bree blinks and looks away from me, or at least my face since she’s staring at my protruding belly. “I want my real papa. The kind who puts babies inside mamas. We didn’t know Tyler when I was a baby.”
Various throats clear around the table as my mother’s guests pretend not to hear Bree’s request.
“Pass the turkey, please.”
“I’ll have a helping of mash potatoes.”
“Anyone want yams?”
Beside me, Bree rattles her plate with her fork and pouts. “A real father would be here for Thanksgiving.”
So should Tyler. I’m disappointed too, but now’s not the time or place to go into it. I serve a scoop of mashed potatoes onto Bree’s plate. “Sweetie, Tyler misses you and wishes he could be here. You know that, don’t you?”
Bree crosses her arms and shakes her head, making her blond curls bounce. “He promised he would give me the biggest drumstick.”
“You can still get the drumstick.” I take the platter from my sister. “See, here? Just for you.”
Bree grabs it, looking happy for a split second, before her lower lip protrudes again. “When my baby brother gets here. He’ll take the drumstick, won’t he?”
“A turkey has two drumsticks,” my mother interjects and rubs Bree’s head. “I’m sure you and your brother can share.”
“Only Tyler’s his real daddy, and he’ll get everything.” Bree stares at her drumstick as if it’s the last good thing she’ll ever get.
“He’s your real daddy, too,” I remind her. “You asked Santa for him, and you found him under the Christmas tree.”
Bree flings the drumstick on her plate and climbs off the chair. “You’re not supposed to find a daddy under the Christmas tree. They told me at school.”
She stomps down the hallway to the guest bedroom she stays at whenever I work late. Great. I wonder what else the kids at school have been talking about. She’s only in kindergarten. However, these days, they know everything, although I doubt they understand artificial insemination, which is why I’ll never be able to find Bree’s biological father.
The baby inside me, Tyler’s baby, kicks and turns as a wave of exhaustion crests over me. Some days, I don’t believe I can do it all—hold down a full time job chasing insider traders for the government, be a mother to Bree, and hold onto my high-risk pregnancy.
“Are you okay?” My mother grips my arm. “Any contractions?”
“I’m sorry Bree ruined everything. Please continue with your dinner. I’m going to rest.” I didn’t want to let her know about the contractions and tightness around my womb. I’d been spotting off and on during this pregnancy, and while I haven’t been ordered on bedrest yet, I have to monitor myself by counting contractions and kicks every day.
“It’s okay.” My mother rubs my back. “Everyone here is family or friends. We understand.”
“Thanks. Maybe I should call Tyler again and let Bree speak to him. May I be excused?”
“Of course. It’s hard to talk to him when all of us are around. Obviously, Bree heard something from school.”
I nod and smile to everyone around the table and push myself away. I can’t expect Bree to understand the stress Tyler is under. He still suffers from PTSD caused by his combat days, and even though he hides it from me, I’m only too aware why he’s chosen to travel so much.
“Bree?” I stop in front of the bedroom door. “We can’t call Tyler until after six our time.” Afghanistan is twelve and a half hours ahead of California. “He’s sleeping right now.”
“I don’t want Tyler. I want my real father.” Bree flips through a storybook. “My real papa will buy me a dog and play with me all the time. He’ll read me stories and take me to the zoo.”
“Oh, sweetie.” I sit on the daybed next to her. “You have so many people who love you. Me, Nana, Ella, and Tyler.”
Bree continues flipping through the storybook. It’s my mother’s old Barney Beagle book, a story about a dog waiting at a pet shop for his very own special person.
Bree stops on a page where a girl with a fancy coat takes Poodle home with her.
“See how happy they look.” She echoes Barney, the little beagle, who is left overnight in the store without a boy or girl. “Will Tyler bring me home a puppy?”
“Maybe,” I say idly.
Bree used to call Tyler “Papa” when we first got together last year just after Christmas. Everything was great back then. Tyler had been a homeless veteran, but had just landed a job as spokesperson for Warspring, International, an organization that raises and distributes funds for charities benefiting children who are orphans because of war.
He moved in with us, and we talked about marriage. We were so perfect together, me, Tyler, and Bree that I got careless about birth control. Once we found out we were pregnant, Tyler redoubled his efforts on finding speaking engagements to earn money to save for a down payment on a house. I don’t know why I never noticed, but little by little, he began traveling more frequently and staying away longer.
“Bree,” my sister, Ella, calls from the dining room. “Nana says you can have dessert first. How about a hot fudge brownie in strawberry ice cream?”
“A brownie!” Bree drops the storybook and bounces off the bed. “I want a brown puppy just like Barney Beagle. Mommy says my real daddy will bring me one for Christmas.”

# # # (Tyler) Friday morning Afghanistan, wee hours # # #
Sweat ringed Tyler’s head and he rolled, tangled in the damp sheets, unable to sleep. The chill of a Kabul winter did nothing to cool the heat coursing his veins. The sports compound he was in charge of was in the northeastern part of the Kabul province of Afghanistan near the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains separating Afghanistan from Pakistan.
Minutes and hours ticked by, and he still had a million things he needed to do. Much needed supplies had been delayed, and money was missing from the books. The center director had quit, and key staff members hadn’t shown up for work. Instead of running a sports camp for boys, the walled compound had filled up with refugees from Taliban controlled areas. After the US withdrew the bulk of its forces last year, the Taliban have taken control of several districts in the north.
In any case, Tyler couldn’t turn needy people away, and after months of being back in Afghanistan, he had to conclude that the sports idea was infeasible when there were so many children in need of basic shelter, food, and medical treatment. About all he’d accomplished was replacing the sacks used for street soccer with a few real balls for the children to use.
Not that he’d given up. He still held matches for the residents and taught them how to exercise. Playing sports was healthy, and even the tiniest smile was a reward for his efforts.
Which were never enough. Ever.
He wiped his palms over his face and breathed to calm his galloping heart. It was Thanksgiving in the States, and he’d chatted with Kelly and Bree by video call right before turning in. Kelly had put on a cheery smile, but her eyes were tired, even though she’d assured him she was doing great. Bree, however, had barely looked at him, only answering when Kelly told her to say “hi” and “bye.”
Then there was the baby. Kelly said her checkups were normal, and there was nothing for him to worry about. Her mother and sister were eager to let him believe everything was okay, but deep in Tyler’s gut, he knew something was off.
Bree. His darling girl—the daughter he’d promised to adopt, hadn’t asked him for anything, not a trinket, a souvenir, a flower, or a piece of candy. She also hadn’t called him “Papa.”
Everything was not fine, no matter what Kelly said, and of course, it was all his fault. He loved Kelly and Bree more than his own life, but lately, he could do nothing right.
Tyler’s gut clenched, and he stared at the ceiling in the cold, dank office of the refugee center. What was he doing in this hellhole? The place that stole his life? What had he done to deserve the guilt?
You killed a little boy. You shot him dead. You’re a killer. A monster. You’ll never atone for it. You let your buddies die.
The continual rattling of machine gun fire stuttered as background noise to the deafening explosions of mortar fire. His brigade was under attack. He had to call in for air support. Where was his com unit? Why couldn’t he connect? He repeated the request. They were taking heavy fire from several machine gun nests hidden in the rocks above the hillside. An unidentified vehicle barreled at the checkpoint, not halting on command.
The roar of an explosion shocked his eardrums as a giant column of orange flames and thick, putrid smoke ascended in an upward column. Another explosion rocketed the entire compound. Heat flashed in a ball of flame and walls crumbled.
His skin melted off his body, and he was deaf except for the pounding of his heart. A wall of orange surrounded him, yet he felt no pain.
Good. He deserved to die. He let others die. He killed a kid.
Die, asshole, die.
A electronic rendition of “Jingle Bells” played merrily in the hellhole he was in. Tyler kicked and his limbs twitched. He bumped his head and the springs on the cot squeaked. Tyler opened his eyes and sat up.
Again, “Jingle Bells” chimed. It was his phone. Stumbling to his feet, he hit his knee on the desk and knocked the phone onto the floor. His shirt was plastered to his sweaty back, and the room seemed to tilt and turn.
Patting on the dusty floor, he found his phone. Missed call from Kelly. At four in the morning? Of course it was afternoon for her, but she knew the time difference.
What if something had happened to the baby? He checked his wifi connection and called her from the video conf app.
She answered immediately. “I woke you. Are you okay?”
“Are you okay?” He ran his hand over his sweaty forehead and tried to calm his breathing. “How’s the baby?”
“He’s doing okay. I just had to hear your voice.” Her face was distorted, being so close to the phone, and if he wasn’t mistaken, she was sitting on the toilet at her mother’s apartment, because he recognized the towel rack hanging behind her.
“Are you sure? You’re not bleeding, are you?”
“Only the usual.” She blinked and sniffled, wiping the corners of her eyes.
“Usual? What does that mean? Has your water broken?”
“No. Just spots, not the type to worry about, according to the doctor.”
“Kel, you don’t have to hide it from me.” Tyler wanted to reach across the miles and hold her. “Get it checked out. I mean, you’re hiding in the bathroom. Why?”
“Because of Bree.”
“Bree? What’s happened to Bree?” Tyler’s voice hitched. “Is she okay?”
“She’s fine. Ella’s playing with her.”
“Then, why are you hiding in the bathroom?”
“Because I want to talk to you alone. Everyone’s out there having Thanksgiving dinner. I don’t want to ruin it for them.”
“Ruin?” Tyler’s chest tightened, and he found it hard to breathe. “Is there something I should know about?”
Kelly swallowed hard and nodded. Her hazel eyes were dark and watery. “I need you to come home. I really do.”
Shit. Something had to be very wrong. Kelly was a strong woman. She’d always insisted she could handle it all: the pregnancy, working, and raising Bree. Still, through it all, she was as beautiful as ever. Her warm honey brown hair was longer than he remembered, and tangled. But she had circles under her eyes and she looked exhausted.
All he wanted to do was to pull her into his arms and make all the pain go away—except he’d put it there. He and his effed up stress disorders or whatever the weenies stateside wanted to call them.
Tyler swallowed hard and touched the screen. “I should be home soon. Right after the convoy arrives with the supplies for the winter. I need to take delivery and transfer the funds.”
“Okay, I can’t wait. There are things we need to talk about.”
An electric spark jiggled over his shoulder blades. He was already on alert, every minute and every second, anticipating a bombshell or attack. “What is it? Is something wrong? Is it me?”
“We’ll talk when you get home. I’m sorry I woke you. I just had to see you.”
“Something happened. You sure the baby’s okay?”
“He’s fine. It’s Bree I’m worried about.”
“Is she sick or has something happened at school?”
Kelly bit her lip. “She’s been bugging me to find her real father—the one who donated the sperm.”
Hot flashes scalded over Tyler’s already heated skin. “Are you saying there might be a problem with the adoption?”
Kelly did that eye flip females often did when he wasn’t getting something.
Dammit. Why doesn’t she just spit it out? She was through with him and his problems, his jumpiness and inability to focus. Worst of all were the nightmares and violent episodes where he found himself running out in the middle of the night looking for insurgents. Life with him was one never ending rollercoaster of pain and worry.
“Kel? Tell me. Are you upset with me?”
She blew out a breath. “You promised me you’d stop running, but you’re still out there running.”
“We agreed that I should come here. I have to fix this. I started the charity and people depend on me. Once it’s stocked for the winter, I’ll be back. Promise.”
Kelly didn’t understand how harsh the Afghan winter could be. The mountainous passes were dangerous enough with bandits and terrorists, but in winter, they could be impassable. He had to secure the compound and supervise in the delivery of supplies, or corrupt officials would steal everything and the people would suffer.
“Sure, Tyler. We agreed.” Kelly stiffened her upper lip. “I’m sorry I’m being selfish. I just miss you so much.”
“I miss you, too.” He couldn’t help the cracking of his voice and the lump growing in his throat. “I love you so much. Give Bree a kiss from me. I love her, too. I’ll be back before you know it.”
She moved her mouth up to the camera and made a kissing sound, and as stupid as it was, Tyler also kissed his phone camera. It was pathetic.
“I love you, Tyler. Take care of yourself.” She wiped her eyes and pressed her lips together. “See you soon.”
“Yes, real soon. Love you, Kel.”

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