September 19th, 2016
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Kidnapped in a foreign country, Lana Burns’ faith in herself and the world has been shaken to the core. Once home, she finds her world mangled by nightmares and depression. Refusing to give in to fear and torment, she searches for answers. Now she must escape a dark mental place before it swallows her whole.
Former Force Recon Marine Aaron MacPherson made it through war without a scratch, but he doesn’t count thick scars carved into his mind, threatening to unhinge his happiness forever. His equilibrium teeters on the edge, his battle moving from combat to everyday life. One wrong word from a total stranger sends him on a path to destruction.
Both Lana and Aaron have seen hell, and group therapy might show them the way out. Forging a link between them could prove perilous to their hearts. When danger strikes without warning, Aaron and Lana must use their bond to create a way to survive the night.
Manetti Therapy Associates
Colorado Springs, Colorado
As the big guy in the plain brown T-shirt, jeans, and athletic shoes walked into the group therapy room, Lana Burns went on alert. Her skin prickled and her breath shortened. She hated the reaction, automatic, like the flip of a switch. The man swaggered into the room with an air of total self-confidence and competence, and maybe a small order of arrogance on the side. His military-short, light brown hair was shot with red highlights as the overhead lighting glinted on his head.
One part of her reacted to his virility like most other healthy young women would. His clothes betrayed a lean, muscular body built for action. He was over six feet tall and moved with an animal male grace that screamed power and purpose. And more than all that, his face had a brutal sort of masculine beauty. No one would call him handsome. Scary, maybe. Intimidating, most certainly.
Before she could spend much time admiring him, she noted the way his watchful gaze scanned the room, as if he expected an attack from all quarters. Fear returned with laser intensity inside her.
She was alone in here with him. The soothing baby-blue room with six hard plastic chairs formed in a circle didn’t comfort her. She’d thought she was safe with other people at one time, a busload of people to be exact. She’d been wrong. Dead wrong.
Though she couldn’t prove it by his actions, she literally felt the jumpiness inside the man coming toward her, the ugly need for violence. He could be lethal, unwavering in his need to capture and conquer. He didn’t smile. He was all hardness.
Struggling with a desire to jump from her chair and run, she closed her eyes, and for a second she sat on a cold, damp dirt floor, the smell of filth in her nostrils and hunger growling in her stomach. Her body tightened, muscles betraying her. She cursed in her head, her mind filled with obscenities. A man’s cruel words cutting her like a knife.
Leetle girl, what kind of cunt do you have? I’ll bet it’s real tight. Come here.
“Stop.” The word was out of her mouth like a gunshot as she opened her eyes.
Halfway across the room, the big guy halted and stared at her with curiosity. “What’s wrong? You all right?” he asked.
His voice rumbled deep. One of those incredible voices that mixed a soothing quality with sexual undertones. Against her will, her body betrayed her, tingling with an odd, disturbing attraction that shot through her like lightning. Oh, now I know I’m screwed up. Terrified and aroused? All at once? She’d heard it was possible, but she’d never believed the two reactions could occur at the same time. The harsh look on his face disappeared as he stared at her, and even though her face burned, she couldn’t look away from him.
Surprised by the concern in his voice, she couldn’t speak. Before she could find a response, Addy Linden, counseling therapist, strode into the room from the opposite direction. Middle-aged and short, she wore frumpy formless tops with long sleeves even in summer and long pants too big for her. Her make-up free face and long gray hair put her around fifty-five perhaps, but Lana couldn’t judge age worth a damn.
“Hello, Lana. Welcome, Aaron. Good to see you again. Come in,” Addy said, her huge smile a ray of sunshine.
Relief flooded Lana. She’d met with the therapist once last week before she was placed into the group therapy session. It was nice to see a friendly face. Mrs. Linden seemed genuine and competent.
Lana smiled. “Hi, Mrs. Linden.”
“Addy please. Don’t stand there, Mr. MacPherson. Have a seat.”
MacPherson didn’t smile, but he lowered himself into the chair across from Lana. Good. She didn’t want him anywhere near her. He sat with his legs spread wide and his arms crossed. She caught a glance at a tattoo on his left bicep, but from this distance she couldn’t read the insignia and lettering beneath it. It looked military. Her father had been in the Army for four years way before she was born and her parents had moved to Montana. She hadn’t had much contact with the military until she’d moved to Colorado Springs. This city had military out the wazoo. The Air Force Academy, Fort Carson, Schriever Air Force Base, Cheyenne Mountain, and Peterson Air Force Base. The city bristled with testosterone.
The guy cleared his throat, and Lana realized he’d caught her staring at his tattoo. When her attention shot up to his face, she didn’t see one hint of softness or welcome in his eyes. Green eyes of startling emerald stared right back. Had she imagined the softening earlier when he’d asked if she was okay?
What type of post-traumatic stress could he possibly suffer? A big, intimidating man like him? She reminded herself that anyone, no matter who they were, could find Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on their doorstep in the right situation.
She tore her gaze away as Addy pulled another chair into their circle and sat.
Addy smiled. “You’re both early.”
“I’m always early,” the man called MacPherson said quietly. “Almost always.”
“Good.” Addy held a large notebook, and she opened it and started making notes. “What about you, Lana?”
Lana didn’t know why the therapist asked. “Usually I’m early. Too early, really.”
“Sometimes it makes sense to be arrive ahead of the pack. Scope out the enemy ahead of time,” the man said.
Lana’s mouth dropped open. “Enemy?”
A hint of a smile, a tiny quirk of his mouth, came before he said, “Sorry. Bad joke.”
“Lana Burns, this is Aaron MacPherson,” Addy said with a wry smile. “Aaron was in the marines twenty years. Military speak is in his bones, right, Aaron?”
Aaron stretched his legs out and crossed them at the ankles. He slouched and folded his hands over his flat stomach. “Yes, ma’am.”
Addy snorted. “Oh, Lord, please don’t call me ma’am. I feel like an old woman.”
Aaron nodded. “Yes, ma...I mean Addy.”
He stood and walked across the few feet between Lana and him. He held out his hand as he towered over her.
“Pleased to meet you, Ms. Burns,” he said.
She didn’t get the chance to rise to her feet before he was there. As he towered over her, that little spike of fear roared to life. She shook his hand, and as his palm and fingers encircled hers, a tingle raced up her arm. His expression was neutral, but curiosity burned in his eyes. The tingle also danced in her lower stomach, and she recognized it immediately as purely primal.
MacPherson’s sheer masculine presence sent those two sensations through her again. Avoidance and attraction. No, no, no. She couldn’t afford an entanglement. It would never work in this environment, and she couldn’t date or act on attraction when she didn’t have her act together.
His eyes were cool and still watchful as he released her hand and turned back to his seat. It was almost as if he waited for something, and that made her even more nervous than she’d been earlier when he’d walked in the door. She sensed danger around him, and that uncertainty meant she had to stay away from him. She shifted on her chair as the hard plastic seemed to dig into her muscles.