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A Hero’s Pride

By:April Angel


Chapter One



Kayla glanced at the open email on her laptop screen. It was a message from her best friend about the blind date she’d arranged for her. Why, oh why did she say yes to getting set up? And with some guy that was the buddy of her best friend’s boyfriend no less. She’d met a few of his friends, and they were more the player type. Not her style at all. Then there were all the times her mother had attempted to fix her up. The experiences left her wary of the word “date.” She knew better than to allow herself to be talked into dates, especially with her bad luck when it came to men. But in a moment of weakness, she’d agreed.

Dammit.

There was no backing out at this point. Her date, Ryan Mitchell, would make the effort to meet her halfway. According to Sue, her best friend and perpetual matchmaker, Ryan was undergoing some kind of physical therapy. He was going down to Florida for some medical tests anyway. It gave them the opportunity to meet there before she headed over to her parent’s private island off the Florida Coast, Isla Dorada—The Golden Island.

Beads of nervous sweat trickled down her back at the thought of what was coming. She glanced around her cabin and sighed. All the girls were still asleep. Their last day at the sleep-away camp had been a mixture of happiness and sadness. Kayla eyed the luggage lined up by each bunk. Tomorrow they were scheduled to leave, and she wouldn’t see them again until the following summer.

Her shoulders slumped. Maybe she should rethink this whole blind-date thing. Her phone vibrated in the pocket of her shorts. She stood and walked out of the cabin before taking the call.

“Hey, mommy.”

“Kayla, really? ‘Hey, mommy.’ What are you, twelve?”

Well she felt twelve. She’d been sleeping in a cabin with five twelve-year-olds. So maybe the childishness of the girls had rubbed off on her.

“What’s up mom?”

Her mother hated every one of the volunteer activities Kayla did. The daughter of a well-respected and wealthy Spanish family did not roll around on the ground with kids for weeks during the summer. If it were up to her mother, she’d be off in the French Riviera meeting a suitable man. The man would no doubt be one of her father’s best friend’s sons and some dull character to boot. Or, if her mother had her way, she’d be organizing charity balls. Nothing as mundane as playing in the woods with a bunch of little girls.

“Kayla, tell me you’re done with your little…summer project.”

If it were up to her mother, Daniella Santomas, Kayla would have had a completely different life. But even though they didn’t approve of some of her decisions, her parents were still there for her.

“Maybe I’ll stay here and live in the wild with the girls, mom. That should be fun.”

She loved adding wood to the fire.

The sound of her mother’s exasperated inhale came across the line.

“You know sometimes I think you say things just to see my reaction.”

No, really?

“Anyhow, I’m calling to ask if you’re still going to do it?”

It had been her mother who called Sue and begged her to set up Kayla with someone. According to Sue, her mom had insisted that Kayla meet a new man before her birthday to bring her luck. Sue had laughed when she’d described the conversation to Kayla. Her mother had given poor Sue so many requirements that Sue had told Kayla’s mom she was better off buying Kayla a dog—something her mom had not found amusing.

Kayla shook her head. “Yes, I am.” She didn’t divulge any of the details of her planned date. So far all she’d set up was dinner at the hotel they were both staying at overnight, not in the same suite of course, unless things progressed in that direction out of their own accord. Sue had said Ryan was a nice guy who was ready to start dating after a major life change while in the military. So Kayla hoped he would be a good fit for her new dating motto: No More Frogs.

“Well, I know this is a good start. And if nothing comes of it, I hope you’ll consider seeing one of the men your father and I have been trying to get you to meet.” Her mother sounded hopeful. Time to burst that bubble.

“I don’t think so Mom. We’ve discussed this before, and I’m not changing my mind.”



She’d gone ahead with the extreme blind date idea because she was a divorced woman. She’d had the worst luck choosing her own men since then. None of the frogs, and there had been plenty of them, had been worth her time. The truth was that she’d promised herself that for her next birthday, the big 3-0, she’d start things off on a clean slate. And what better way to wipe the slate clean than to have the first date of her new age with a nice, hunky man someone else had chosen for her?

“You’re not getting any younger, Kaylani Gabriella!” Ah shit. Her mom had used her full name. Things were about to get ugly. Her mother’s sharp intake of breath was followed by her usual rant. “Let me tell you that by the time I was your age, I had already married your father, had you and your brother, and was the CEO of my own company. I have tried so hard to help you meet the right men…”

Kayla let her mother speak, completely ignoring what she said. Instead she looked around the campsite. She’d miss the girls and the other counselors. She’d been volunteering at the camp for a few years, and the day the girls left always got to her.

“Mom… Moooom.” She grinned. Her mother wouldn’t appreciate being interrupted in the middle of her you-need-to-get-yourself-a-man speech. “I need to check on the girls. We’ll talk when I’m home. I love you,” she added, hoping it would soothe her mother.

The hitch from the other end of the line made her smile. Her mom always went sappy when Kayla told her she loved her. “I love you too, my bebe. That is why I want to see you happy.” Her mom’s voice turned soft. “Good luck with the blind date, and remember that no matter what happens, we are here for you.”

Kayla shut off the phone. She’d had shitty luck when it came to men, but her parents were great. Sure they were a little snobby, but nobody was perfect.



* * *



Ryan Mitchell sat on his bed with a huff. He was sweaty and tired, and he needed a shower. His prosthetic had been the only thing on his mind, until now. For the past few days all he could think of was the blind date coming up tomorrow. He stripped off his clothes and glanced down at his prosthetic leg in the mirror.

Insecurity, something he’d never felt before he was injured, filled him. Social functions had turned into gruesome exercises of pity. So he’d stopped interacting with most people. And now his brothers had ganged up on him. Even the army counselor had told him he needed to do something to move on. Ever since he’d come home with a missing leg, he’d lost all interest in dating. It had taken some serious nagging to get him to relent and allow a friend of Cal’s to hook him up.

A knock on his door sounded just as he was reaching for a towel. “Come in.”

His brother, Calvin, gave him the once over. “You all right, bro?”

Cal sat on Ryan’s bed as if nothing were wrong, but Ryan knew his brother wanted to make sure he was ok after all the exercise they’d done playing basketball. Ryan was still trying to get used to the new leg, and this was the first time he’d played hoops with the guys since getting it.

“I’m fine.” He clenched his jaw, hoping the pain would diminish once he soaked in hot water. At least that’s what the physical therapist had told him. He’d rather sew his lips shut than admit to being in pain and end up in a hospital with his mother hovering over him again.

Cal grabbed a green, squishy stress-relief ball from the bedside table, threw it up in the air, and caught it. Then he did it again, settling back into Ryan’s pillows. Why Ryan decided to live next door to his brother, he had no clue.

“Was there something else?”

“So…the blind date. That’s tomorrow after your tests, huh?” Cal tossed, caught, and squeezed the ball in his grip. The soft material made a whining sound with each crush of the rubbery material.

“Yeah.”

His brother stared up at the ceiling and continued to torture the squishy ball. “So…I understand you don’t want her to know the extent of your injuries. Not backing out, are you?”

Ryan might have tried to relieve Cal if he wasn’t lying on the bed all sweaty. “No, now get off my bed. You’re putting your funk on my blanket.”

Cal caught the ball in his hand and smirked. “Dude, seriously, you need to get laid. The stick up your ass needs to be removed soon. It’s messing up your game. You’re not going to relax until you get some. I’ve heard she’s pretty, so don’t scare her by being all grumpy like you have been lately.” He strolled to the door. When he reached the bedroom entrance, he turned toward Ryan. “You sure you don’t need any painkillers?”

Ryan didn’t fault his brother for his concern. They’d all had a hard time dealing with his situation when he’d come home half dead, but it was getting old.

“I’m good.” Inhale. Exhale. Taking slow steps and ignoring the shooting pain, he made his way to the bathroom and shut the door.

“Call me if you need anything,” Cal shouted. Ryan heard the stomping of his brother’s heavy steps as he headed toward the front door.

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