Authors: Ellen Wilder
Copyright © 2016 Ellen Wilder
All rights reserved.
This book is dedicated, as always, to my super supportive husband. Without you darling, I would never have the inspiration to write. Nor the ability. You are my rock and my reason. Love you to the moon and back.
Also to my three beautiful children. Mommy loves you.
About the Author
Deb Julienne: If it hadn’t been for you this book and this entire series wouldn’t be what it is today. Without your constant guidance, I never would have made it this far.
Amber Root: Thank you for letting me borrow your characters! Any Muller in this book is one of Amber’s characters. Once you get your story down on paper, it will be a hit! I know it. Also , thank you for keeping me calm and sane throughout this process.
Wendy Stenzel-Oleston: Thank you for all your support and keeping me going when I really wanted to stop.
Mary Hill: Thank you for the editing prowess and friendship. I’m determined to have the next book ready to make you cry when you read it the first time.
Carrie Marie: Thank you for reading sections of this book three or four times to make sure I got them right.
Karan Eleni: For making the beautiful cover of the book after the first five hundred covers fell flat!
Virginia Lee Johnson , Nicole Stromath, Lisa Seleska, and Kym Young: Thank you for book pimping help, weird conversations, and answering questions!
Love you all!
March 19th, 2012
Dr. Arianna Halsey rushed down the obstetrics hall of Bryton Hospital. It was midnight on a full moon. Beige walls whizzed past her, the staff raced around as chaos reigned supreme. The crush of people brought a wave of claustrophobia, almost as if she were swimming against a sea of hospital scrubs. Arianna blew out a breath as she skidded to a stop. Too much stress lately.
The door of the labor and delivery ward swung open.
A nurse stepped out. “Oh thank God, you’re here. Room two. She’s pushed twice and the baby is crowning.”
Arianna hastened through the double doors and into the delivery room.
“Where were you! I’m pushing.” The woman on the bed screamed.
As usual, the nurses had everything prepared.
She walked into the gown the nurse held out and then slid on the rubber gloves.
The nurse, leaned in and whispered, “there’s a gramzilla in the room.”
Arianna stifled a laugh and moved into the room.
A rolling stool sat at the edge of the drop down bed. She sat down, rolled forward, and touched the woman’s legs. “All right, give me one good push and let’s see what we can do to speed this up.”
“She’s been pushing.” The grandmother-to-be gave her a haughty glare then a bobble head duh as if she were the doctor. “The baby’s too big.”
Arianna ignored the anxious grandmother and patted Alexis’ leg. Getting no response, she patted again, coaxing Alexis to look her in the eye, to focus between them. “She is not too big, and you can do this.” Arianna gently massaged the skin from around the baby’s head. “She’s crowning. Two more good pushes and she she’ll be out.”
“Who is this doctor? She doesn’t know anything. I’m her mother, she needs a C-section like I did.” The mother hissed and threw up her hands.
“It hurts. I can’t do this.” Alexis tried to clamp her knees together and moaned from the bed as her back arched.
“I know it hurts, Alexis, but you can do it, push for me. You’re fighting gravity. Drop your chin to your chest, hold the back of your knees and mom you can help too. Hold onto the right knee as she pushes and with your other hand, bring her shoulder up and forward. She needs your help.” Arianna put her hand on Alexis’ right knee to help from that side.
She bared down.
“Ow, ow, ow! I can’t,” she screamed even as she pushed. Alexis leaned into the push and as she did her mother let go of her left leg to get behind her. The action was too fast for Arianna to take it in.
Arianna’s eyes grew wide as she tried to move out of the way. Too late. Alexis’ foot connected with Arianna’s shoulder and the rolling chair went flying across the room.
Arianna’s head connected with the wall and everything went black.
Trevor Vitalli glanced around the empty apartment at the beige walls. Beige, the same color as hospital walls. He shuddered. Everything he owned fit in the green military issue duffle bag in the corner. Twelve years of his life accumulated in the military and he was left with just one bag. He sneered and turned away. Why the hell did he want to look at that? It only reminded him of everything he lost. A career. Gone.
Here he sat. Home. Well, the city that used to be home. He hadn’t set foot in Bryton for the last eleven years.
Why did he come back here?
The military offered him a place to live anywhere and he’d ended up back in Bryton. Back with his family. His overbearing, meddling family. The only people he knew in this town anymore, were family. And he barely knew any of them. His parents and grandparents visited him from time to time. But more than half his time served was lost in the desert in Iraq.
At least in Bryton, he wouldn’t have to deal with the sandstorms, heat, and freezing temperatures of the desert. He’d spent the first month there sick from the rapidly cycling temperatures.
His hand twitched and hit metal. Trevor scowled at the brace, as if it would come to life.
God, he hated that thing
. It looked like something out of Star Trek. Four plastic fittings with straps, two above his knee, and two below, connected by a metal joint to control the movement. The knee itself was open. A throbbing pain radiated through his leg. He sucked in a deep breath and rubbed the area next to his knee cap. It didn’t help. He bent it trying to ease the pain, but it refused to subside.
He reached for his pain pills, stared at the bottle, gritted his teeth, and tossed them back on the end table.
The phone rang and he jumped. Twelve years of training, twelve years of following orders hadn’t prepared him for civilian life. It didn’t prepare him to come home to a family he’d barely seen over those years. He’d been home for two weeks and he’d yet to even visit his parent’s house. His mother stopped by every other day, but he hadn’t stepped foot in his childhood home. Too many people, too many memories.
Trevor stared down at his phone. His mother. He shook his head. Nope, not ready to deal with her again. She was the real reason he was home. When he’d suggested to his mother he wasn’t coming back to Bryton she did everything in her power to make sure he did. He smiled. Not many people could ignore a guilt trip from Jackie Vitalli.
Before he left for the military, the last words he’d said to his father were ‘Fuck you.’ During their visits nothing had been said about the conversation they had before he left. It was almost as if it were forgotten. But now sitting in Bryton, knowing his father lived less than three miles from him, set a black cloud over his head. The conversation echoed in the back of his mind. He’d wake up in a sweat. Flashbacks of war, flashbacks of patients, and flashbacks of the conversation with his father.
He reached up with both hands and raked them through his hair. Already it had grown past his usual regulation length. It was heavy and alien.
His sock covered feet touched tan plush carpeted floor. Soft. Too soft. How long had it been since he’d been around carpeting? Military barracks used flooring of wood, stone, tile, concrete, or even the bare ground of whatever hellhole he’d been stationed in. But never carpet.
The doorbell rang.
Trevor started. There was another civilian thing. Bells and sirens were warning. They rang when you were about to miss chow or get your ass shot off, not to tell you to pay the pizza guy.
He pushed up using the arms of the chair as a brace and groaned as he forced himself to his feet. Four weeks out and he still needed a cane to walk. Fucking bullshit. Trevor growled as he picked it up and hobbled to the door.
He opened the door to find Brennan O’Riley. Pops as he and his siblings always called him. A flood of emotion hit him and he took a step backward. He wasn’t their true grandfather. He was his grandfather’s business partner. The kids grew up with Brennan as much of a grandfather as Gramps. Maybe even more of one.
“Aye — the boy I’ve been missing finally returned.” His Irish accent was still as clear as Trevor remembered it.
He smiled and stepped forward, flinging his own arms wide. “It’s good to see you, Pops.” The one man who cared about him no matter what. Whenever he needed advice or just a shoulder to lean on, Pops was the one person he knew he could go to.
“It’s good to see you too, me boy.” Pops drew Trevor to him and gave him a tight hug. “Are ya gonna invite me in or am I standin’ here for the rest of the visit.”
“Come in.” Trevor stepped aside and leaned on his cane. He relaxed a bit. Usually, he hated when people saw him with the cane. They looked at him like he was broken. Felt sorry for him. He was supposed to be strong, not weak. He hated the thought of people thinking of him as weak. But with Pops it was different. The one person he was comfortable enough with.
“Sit down, boy. Your knee can’t feel too good.” Pops walked over and sat down gingerly on the couch. He ran a hand over the bald top of his head. There was still hair in a half crown around the base of his skull.
“I’ll be fine.” Trevor put both hands on his cane and stood with it in front of him. He frowned. Pops’ hair was still streaked with black the last time he’d seen him. The shock of all white hair, caused him to gape.
What happened to cause that? Duh, stupid. Twelve years is a long time. He’s not going to get any younger.
Pops shook his head and motioned to the couch. “Sit down, before you fall down. You don’t have to pretend to be strong in front of me.”
“I am strong.” He straightened his back and let lose his grip on the cane, standing at attention.
“Stubborn, just like the rest of your family.” Pops stood and clicked his heels to attention, with no sign of his ninety plus years of life. “I outrank you, sit down.”
Beaten at his own game, Trevor hobbled over to the chair and slowly lowered himself down. “So what brings you by today?”
Pops sat back down. “You’ve been home two weeks and you haven’t stopped by. I figured it was time to do the stopping.” His expression softened, he reached over and clasped Trevor’s hand. “It’s good to see you home alive, boy. You don’t know how worried I’ve been over the years.”
“There have been some moments.” Trevor nodded. His gaze went to the beige walls, not looking, staring blankly. “I joined the military because of you.”
“Aye, I kick myself every day for filling your head with my heroic stories. I should have been more like Don and added a heavy dose of reality.” His voice cracked, his shoulders hunched, and he stared at the floor.
“I listened to both of you. My decision wasn’t made purely from your tales.” Trevor patted the old man’s hand.
Pops gave him a sad smile and glanced around the Spartan room. “You’re lacking decoration.”
Trevor laughed. “I was thinking the same thing. Mom said I still have some stuff in storage at the house, but I haven’t been over there to look through it.”
“You haven’t been home yet either.”
“Nope. Hanging out here and going to physical therapy.” He looked at his hands. “I’m not even sure if the rest of the family knows I’m home.”
“I don’t think they’ve been told yet. I think your mother wanted to surprise everyone with you showing up on a Sunday morning.”
Trevor snorted. “I get three texts a day from Mom reminding me we have brunch every Sunday.”
“She’s excited you’re home.” Pops patted Trevor’s hand.
Trevor crossed his arms, averting his gaze from Pops. He stared at the blank wall. “I’m not ready to be in the same room with all of them yet. I don’t know how to deal with them anymore. They’re still my family, but I don’t know them.”
“Aye, it doesn’t mean they won’t be wanting to see you.”
“Pops, I can’t just walk in there. You know the conversation I had with my Dad before I left.” He opened his hands.
Pops leaned forward. “I believe you’ve had conversations after that, where neither your words nor your actions were brought up.”
“That was different. I was in another place. Now, sitting here knowing I’m home, makes it worse to think about.”
He shook his head. “When the time is right you’ll know when to go over there.”
“You think they’ll leave me alone for six months until I get used to civilian life again?” Trevor snorted.
“I highly doubt it will take you six months.”
Trevor glanced at his watch. “I have to leave for PT in fifteen.”
“I guess I should be getting on. Did you want me to drive you?”
Trevor shook his head. “I’m good, I can still drive. Sometimes, it hurts a bit, but I’ve been doing it.”
“I repeat, stubborn. Look up stubborn in the dictionary and there’s a picture of the Vitalli family.”
He smiled. “I think you’re right.” Trevor forced himself to his feet and hobbled over to where the old man stood. “I’ve missed you.”
“The feeling is mutual, my boy.” Pops gave Trevor a long, warm hug and then headed for the door.
Trevor leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes. The physical therapy office was packed. The receptionist told him his doctor was running a good thirty minutes behind. The waiting area appeared small even when it was empty, but with people packed in like sardines it was suffocating.
He yawned. His sleep schedule changed multiple times since being discharged. After his surgery nurses woke him up at all times of the night to give him medications or to check his vitals. Since he’d been home he’d been avoiding the pain meds. His pain level increased and caused for sleepless nights.
Someone flipped the light switch off. The lights came on in a hurry and he turned to see a little boy standing sheepishly while being scolded by his mother. The bank of fluorescent lights burned his eyes. He closed them again.
Could these jokers move any slower?
He straightened his knee. It throbbed and he cringed.
How long would he sit in this beige purgatory before he was called back?
A soft growl, like the clearing of a throat or a stifled cough, broke through his fog of sleep.
Trevor’s training kicked in. He was on his feet and giving a salute, which would have passed even the toughest inspection before he was even fully awake.