Authors: Jeannie Moon
©Copyright 2015 Jeannie Moon
The Tule Publishing Group, LLC
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
When I started planning Maggie and Will’s story, there were a thousand different ideas hitting me at once. And as the characters emerged, a picture came into focus—one that let me know this wasn’t going to be your everyday romance.
I did a lot of research for this one, including interviews with veterans, amputees, and PTSD survivors. I spoke to counselors, nurses, physical therapists and prosthetists. I learned something new every day, and brought their expert knowledge to my characters. My thanks to those who helped me is eternal, but I am especially grateful to my friend Tina Shrigley, a trauma therapist, who let me know again and again, that I was doing right by my characters and those who suffer from PTSD.
This very emotional story pushed me to my limit in many ways, but it also tried the patience of the wonderful team at Tule Publishing as I worked to get it right. My thanks to Lindsey Stover, Meghan Farrell, and Danielle Rayner, as well as my editor, Sinclair Sawnhey, for letting me push some boundaries. My wonderful copy editor and friend, Jennifer Gracen, can always be counted on to make me look good, and Lee Hyat gave Maggie and Will a wonderfully breathtaking cover.
I hope you enjoy Finding Christmas. I have plans to write stories for Grace and Claire, Maggie’s sisters, as the twins are in desperate need of their own happy ever afters. In the meantime, please visit my website at jeanniemoon.com to connect with me on social media, sign up for my newsletter, or check out what’s coming next.
I wish you all a beautiful holiday season. May love surround you.
For my Aunt Anne and my Aunt Catherine
who held the love and laughter of the Christmas season
in their hearts all year round.
“At Christmas, all roads lead home.”
hey want to
give me a parade?
Maggie Benson walked next to her younger sister, Grace, as they made their way toward the lights of the high school football field. As much as she was annoyed with the fuss the town wanted to make, it was good to be home.
parade. It’s the annual Christmas Boat Parade. They want you to arrive with Santa. Sort of like he’s bringing our hero home as a gift for the whole town.”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake. I’m not a hero. Far from it.”
“Of course you are!”
“No, I’m not.”
“Maggie, you’ve served your country honorably in a war zone. You’ve done some amazing things. You’re an inspiration.”
“It’s nonsense.” Maggie certainly didn’t want to be anyone’s inspiration. Not the way things ended for her.
She felt many things, but she didn’t feel like a hero. Maggie felt broken, empty, and for the first time in her life, she was scared. This was her first visit back since her crash two years ago. Two long years since she’d laid eyes on the harbor, the town square with the gazebo, and the shingled house on Lighthouse Drive that her family had called home since Grace, and her twin Claire, were babies.
After leaving town twelve years ago to go to college, Maggie made a point to come home regularly. Whenever she was able to get leave, she would fly from the ends of the earth to see her parents and her siblings. They were close and she missed them. But everything changed two years ago over the Middle East when a lucky shot disabled her plane.
She’d been a hotshot naval aviator, an adrenaline junkie who didn’t think there was anything wrong with being catapulted off the deck of a ship in a flying bomb. Yet even she wasn’t crazy enough to eject over territory where being an American could get you killed, but being a woman could be even worse. So she flew a failing, crippled jet towards the carrier, fairly sure she’d be able to get the plane on the deck. But it was a day nothing went as planned. A fire broke out in the cockpit, and Maggie had no choice but to eject.
It was a blur the second the explosion sent her already injured body out of the cockpit. She remembered her chute opening, and her body splashing into the Med. So much happened in such a short period of time, but she didn’t remember very much of it. Weeks of memory were nothing but a haze of images, nausea, and pain.
Maggie had never been afraid of dying. She knew when her time came, she’d have lived a life she could be proud of. No, death was never the issue. War made Maggie afraid of surviving.
And that’s exactly what happened. She survived.
Even when she didn’t want to.
Now her town wanted her to be in a parade because she didn’t die. Great.
“Earth to Maggie?”
Her sister’s hand waving in front of her face brought her back to earth.
“Sorry,” Maggie said. “Side trip.”
“So,” Grace said. “What do you think?”
“I just wanted a quiet holiday, Gracie.” Maggie stopped walking and looked up at the starry sky. It was less than two weeks until Thanksgiving, but it had gotten cold; the chill coming in from the bay went right through her. Suddenly a cheer went up from the crowd, with chants of
Matt! Matt! Matt!
cutting through the night air.
Her brother was the star running back on a team that seemed impossible to stop. The All County Football Championship was a mere two wins away, Matt was leading his team, and the entire town was buzzing with excitement.
“So, what do you think?” Grace pressed.
“I know Mom is happy to have me home, but did she have to tell everyone?”
“Yeah, she kind of did. She’s over the moon, Mags. We all are.”
Maggie took in her sister, who with her silky nut brown hair and big brown eyes was as pretty as she was smart. Four years younger than her, the twins couldn’t be more different. Grace was a hospice nurse. People talked about Maggie being a hero? Gracie should be in that parade. Helping the terminally ill to their rest, giving comfort to families whose loved ones were dying—that was pretty amazing in her book. Maggie didn’t know how she managed it. Her other sister, Claire, taught children with special needs. Her father was a county police officer who ran the local CYO basketball league, and every season kept the team of boys who were considered the most at risk for himself. Dad loved those boys and they loved him right back. People thought Maggie was something special just because she wore a military uniform, but it was people like her sisters and her dad—who helped the sick and dying, who taught children with special needs, who coached disadvantaged kids—
were the ones who should be getting the cheers. Not her.
The athletic complex was built at the bottom of a hill, with large expansive bleachers for the home team fans built into the side of the slope, and a set of bleachers for the visiting team on the other side of the field.
Rounding out her siblings was Matt, her little brother who wasn’t so little. Seventeen and the undisputed All-American boy, he’d committed to play football at Army the following year. His goal? To be a helicopter pilot.
Mom wanted him to be an accountant, and there was no small blame laid at Maggie’s feet for her brother wanting to enter the military.
The deep voice warmed Maggie’s heart.
Looking to her right, she saw her father waving frantically. She hadn’t seen her parents in over a year, begging them to let her recover on her own. She felt guilty about that. They only wanted to make things easier for her, but what she had to go through wasn’t easy. However, seeing her parents for the first time in forever, Maggie felt overwhelmed. She’d missed her family, and it was only now, when she saw them again, that she realized how much.
Still taking care because of a sometimes wobbly gait, Maggie went down the bleacher stairs as fast as she could. It felt like forever, but once she was wrapped in her father’s waiting arms, it was like she’d never left home.
“Aw, Maggie. It’s so good to have you home,” he said.
Maggie turned and wrapped her arms around her mother, who said nothing. Mom just cried. She could feel her tears as they embraced, and if she had any regret about staying away, this was why. She’d hurt her parents by pushing them out of her life. She’d hurt so many people.
Her mother stepped back and looked at her from arm’s length. “You look wonderful, Mary Margaret. As beautiful as ever.”
Maggie didn’t feel beautiful, but her mother’s words still warmed her heart. Fiddling with her watch, her fingers brushed the burn scar on her left arm. The change in the skin’s texture still surprised her, even two years later.
Innately, her mother touched the scar, and kissed her cheek again. No words were necessary. With her mother, the love just came through.
“Mags! Maggie! Hey!”
Looking toward the field, just as the teams broke for halftime, she saw her brother jumping up and down and waving his helmet like a madman. She left her parents and sister and couldn’t get down the steps fast enough and into her
brother’s waiting arms.
God. She’d missed him.
“I’m so glad you’re home,” he said, crushing her in his arms. “Are you okay? How are you feeling?”
“I’m okay. The best I’ve been in a while.”
“How’s the leg? Or… ah.” He turned his eyes away. “I don’t know what to ask.”
“It’s better.” That was the truth. She was a long way from the mess the rescue team had fished out of the Med. “I’m mostly used to my regular prosthetic. And I actually have a blade, so I can start running if I want. It’s an adjustment.”