Authors: Nicole Leiren
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MORE THAN ONE NIGHT
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Copyright © 2015 by Nicole Leiren
Cover design by Viola Estrella
Gemma Halliday Publishing
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
For my husband and daughter, who understood and supported my need to spend countless hours tucked away in an imaginary world and who didn't think I was totally crazy because of it! I love you both so much!
There are so many people, friends and family alike, who have played a part in making this story become a reality, I couldn't begin to name them all, but I am grateful for each one of their influences in my life.
I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to:
My parents, who taught me the love of reading and the power of the written word. Your unfailing belief in me from the very beginning has taught me that believing in myself, working hard and never giving up makes even the most distant dreams seem possible.
My little sister who, whether she knew it or not, encouraged my creativity by insisting we play "make believe" ALL the time.
The Windy Cityzens from my RWA group for the mentoring and unfailing support you've given me since my very first meeting.
My critique partner, Vanessa Knight, for the countless hours you devoted to helping me and my manuscript make it to this point.
Dave—thank you for planting the seed for this story in my brain with your story telling. I hope you find your "Melodie" someday!
Dawn Dowdle and Gemma Halliday—thank you for your patience and understanding throughout this whole process. You've made my first time an amazing experience!
Finally, to the men and women who sacrifice time with their families to keep us safe and protect our freedom each and every day—you are the true heroes. Thank you!
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Naperville, IL—January 6
Melodie Alexander stood in the dressing room praying she'd thought of every detail. She needed—no, wanted—everything to be perfect. Tom deserved nothing less than her very best. Her simple dress, accented in delicate lace, fit her petite frame like a glove. Her best friend, Lydia, had taken extra care to style her wavy dark brown hair in an updo she claimed softened the angular lines of her jaw. Small combs worked to hold wayward strands in place. The roses, Tom's favorite, were held tightly in her grasp.
Drawing in a deep breath, she fought to calm her jangled nerves. This was not the way things were supposed to turn out. Not at all. Tom was her best friend. They'd made a pact. If neither was married by age thirty, they'd tie the knot. Only six months remained until the significant birthday. An errant tear threatened to slip from the corner of her eye, and she hastily dabbed the offending moisture.
Before thoughts of Tom distracted her any further, she glimpsed in the mirror for one final check of her makeup. The right hint of color tinted her otherwise pale and lightly freckled skin.
The door quietly opened, revealing her father. "Are you ready, baby?"
Ready? The nerves in her stomach began their familiar dance. Nerves, along with a purveying sense of dread, settled deep in her heart. Could she really do this?
Soft strains of classical music filtered into the vestibule as she approached the room where everyone awaited her arrival. As the doors opened, every eye riveted to her trembling frame. Her steps faltered slightly, the rapid beating of her heart making it difficult to remain calm. She clutched her father's arm, drawing from his strength as she had in her youth. Her breath caught as the emotions of those gathered overwhelmed her. The intensity of their focus prickled her skin, creating a fine sheen of perspiration. Her limbs, stiff with nerves, made each step laborious. For very few would she endure being the center of attention, but for Tom…anything.
The long walk over, she arrived at the front of the church. The comfort of her father's embrace enveloped her for a moment longer before releasing her to take his place by her mother. She wanted desperately to place a kiss on her beloved Tom's cheek. Instead, the minister cleared his throat, indicating they could no longer delay.
Turning toward the sea of faces, the fierce grip on her composure loosened despite the desperate fight to not lose the battle. Not here. Not now. She blew out a slow breath, certain her emotions mirrored theirs. Keen. Intense. Overwhelming. As if every ounce of love she'd ever experienced—ever could experience, ever would experience—was trapped between the four walls surrounding her, closing in on this exact moment in time. Today she couldn't hide behind the shelter of the fictional world she retreated to when life became too much. Oh, how she wished she could. It would be so much easier to believe this was just another book she was reading and not her life.
Exhaling deeply, she spoke to the waiting mass. "Thank you for coming today to remember Tom and the ultimate sacrifice he made for his country."
"We will now begin boarding Flight 203 with service to Dallas, Texas. All executive, platinum, gold, and uniformed military personnel are welcome to board at this time. Please check your boarding pass and step forward only when your group number is called."
There was a time when Daniel Bresland would've boarded with the men and women serving their country. He'd been so proud wearing the uniform responsible for transforming him from a boy into a man—a man willing to put his life on the line to fight for freedom and the American way.
Even though his frequent trips abroad during his stint as a civilian contractor earned him status to board with the initial group, he wouldn't dishonor the men and women still fighting a war many believed no longer necessary by considering himself worthy of joining them as they headed off to their next duty assignment. Saddam—dead. Bin Laden—dead. No nuclear devices found. Maybe Joe Public was right, and there wasn't a legitimate reason for being there. To a soldier, though, logic didn't matter. Soldiers followed orders. The soldiers who'd followed his orders had paid a steep price for a system trusting those in a rank above to make the best decisions.
He swallowed hard and pushed back the anguish threatening to rise to the surface of his carefully constructed façade.
Not my fault.
At least that's what the review board had determined, along with the army shrink. They had all forgiven him and said he wasn't to blame.
Too bad he couldn't forgive himself.
His phone buzzed, and he glanced at the screen. If it were anyone else, he would've ignored the call. "Hey, Princess."
"Hi, Daddy. I miss you already!" The sweet voice of his eight-year-old daughter, Annie, made him smile. Even though he'd just spent a week in Mississippi with her, his heart constricted thinking how much time would pass before he'd see her again.
"I miss you too. Are you being good for Mommy?" The question really should have been 'Is Mommy being good for you?' but he'd promised himself never to speak ill of his ex-wife, even if her parenting skills ranked well below adequate. Oh, she loved Annie. He didn't doubt that for a second. Unfortunately, her love of the bottle often pushed their daughter to a sad second place in her life. Now that he was a civilian again, joint custody was on the top of his list of goals for the rest of the year.
"I'm always a good girl."
He could practically see her smile and bright blue eyes. "Yes, you are. I'm getting ready to board the plane, but I'll check in with you later. I love you."
"I know, and I love you too."
"Now seating all passengers, all rows. Please board at this time for an on-time departure."
Daniel handed his boarding pass to the gate agent. As he walked down the jet bridge, a vehicle backfiring from outside triggered the memory he fought hard to keep buried. Cold sweat beaded on his forehead.
An explosion, the ringing in his ears, the screams
—memories refusing to be buried with time. Each horrible detail from that day always travelled with him. Today, the trip was made even longer by a connection in Chicago rather than flying direct to Dallas. He needed a drink. Not the best way to drown his sorrows as it only masked his guilt. It would have to do until he could meet up with Alana, a fiery redhead he could lose himself in. An image of her, dressed in nothing but red lingerie and holding a bottle of Jägermeister, flashed in his mind. She would make him forget and ease the pain. He sighed. It was never long enough.
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Melodie boarded with group three as instructed and made her way to row twelve. She carefully looked at the diagrams to make sure she sat in the proper row and seat—12B to be exact. Her research on the seating for an MD-80 had yielded confusing results. The seats, two on one side and three on the other, were labeled
. The lack of a
seat would make for some fun future research. This was it. She was finally doing what Tom had always encouraged her to do: Go on an adventure. Her mother had fussed, but she always fussed. Going on a trip alone was well outside her comfort zone—well outside the pages of her favorite books. Tom had been gone for over six months. It was time.
She buckled in and properly stowed her purse under the seat in front of her when a Southern-tinged voice interrupted her internal checklist.
"Excuse me, ma'am. I'm in seat
She drank in the tall glass of sweet tea standing beside her. His thighs were at eye level, providing a close-up view of muscled legs sporting faded and ripped jeans. She focused on the area where those jeans fastened.
Down, girl! What's wrong with you?
The fabric of his T-shirt clung to his abs and chest as though his body had been poured into the shirt like a mold—an incredibly ripped mold. This man belonged on the cover of a sports magazine. She moved her eyes upward.
His cocky expression sent an easy-to-read message. I'm sexy, and you know it.
Heat suffused her face as she fumbled with the buckle on her seat belt. She stood quickly, not accounting for the close quarters inherent in airplanes. A fraction of a second later, she was up close and personal with the subject of her study due to a less-than-graceful fall. "Oh…" Her breath hitched when the solid mass of chiseled flesh countered her softness before balance could be restored.
"I'm sorry." Her apology sounded lame, maybe because the tingling in her body from their collision made her a lot less sorry than she should've been. She avoided his intense blue eyes until she could finally get her uncooperative feet under her enough to step out of the way, allowing him to pass.
What the hell? He's eye candy. Tom was boyishly cute. This man…well, "boy" wouldn't be a word ever used to describe him.
"No apology necessary, ma'am."
His Southern accent caused her body to swoon in the seat. City boys, sadly, didn't talk that way. She refastened the seat belt and tried to regain composure, not an easy task. Her skin tingled everywhere their bodies touched, making her feel alive, more alive than she'd felt in months. Deep breath in, deep breath out. Instinct surfaced and issued a deafening shout in her ear.
Avoid this man.
She bristled from the internal warning. Where exactly had instinct gotten her thus far? Alone and hiding from life. Time to act on her promise for change. Gathering her confidence, she turned and extended her hand in his direction. "I'm Melodie. Melodie Alexander. And you are?"
The earlier heat from her face expanded to cover most of her body as his gaze swept across her with unabashed curiosity, increasing the prickled skin to full-fledged goose bumps and the thudding in her heart to triple time.
"I am in need of a drink." The charming tone of his voice had changed to a pained admission.
Crash and burn. All newfound courage and bravado vanished in a fraction of the time taken to build it. The heroines in the books she read never got shut down by the handsome hero or, if they did, a quick-tongued and eloquent comeback would leave the hero overwhelmed with his need for her. A quick glance out of the corner of her eye revealed her proverbial hero staring out the window. No overwhelming need, not even a second glance from Mr. Magazine Cover.
Life is different outside the pages of a book.
Her old friend, insecurity, resumed its foothold on her heart. Strike one for the new, adventurous woman.