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a reason to live

By:cp smith



Prologue


Love’s greatest cure is salvation of one’s soul





Twelve months earlier . . .



“Sergeant Sherman?”

Sergeant Shane Sherman looked up from the report he’d been filling out and gave Private Emma Jane Sloan his full attention.

“Yeah, Sloan?”

“Sorry to bother you, Sir, but is it true you’re heading stateside next week?”

“That’s correct. Back to civvies for me, Private.”

Private Sloan, a kid barely out of high school, had stuck close to Shane from the moment she found out he was from her home state of Alaska. She’d lost her stepfather in high school and couldn’t afford college, so she’d signed up for the G.I. bill hoping to study to be a nurse. She was freckle-faced with bright red hair and blue eyes as clear as the sky, but she was too young, in his opinion, to be in this war. She was unprepared for the death and destruction at such a young age. Because of this, Shane had worried she couldn’t hack it in Afghanistan and, against protocol, had kept a close eye on her.

“It won’t be the same without you here, Sir,” she mumbled quietly, but Shane could see the fear written across her face. Laying his pen down, he stood from his desk in the infirmary and looked down at her. She stood erect, at attention, just as she had been trained to do, yet it seemed unnatural for someone so young. The civilian in Shane wanted to reach out to the frightened girl, but military regulations forbid fraternization with subordinates.

“You’ll be okay,” he responded, hoping like hell that he was right. “Stay alert and keep close to Sergeant McElroy.”

Tears pooled in her eyes, but she took a deep breath and held them back. Seeing that, Shane had to bite his lip to keep from wrapping her in a brotherly hug.

Jesus, she should be back home on a date, not tending to the wounded.

“Will you write?” she asked with hopefulness in her big, blue eyes. “I mean, will you keep in touch with the unit?”

“You bet. I’ll send the whole unit pictures of the bears we have back home.”

Private Sloan smiled then dipped her head, shoring up the nerve to ask him something.

“Um, I was wondering, when I come home, do you think I could, ah, come up and visit you?” she finally asked, the crush she had on him shining in her eyes.

Shane took a deep breath before he spoke; he didn’t want to lead her on. He was twelve years her senior and didn’t see her as a woman; he saw her as a kid sister. Most men would have seen the offer in her eyes and jumped at the chance to sleep with an attractive, young woman, but Shane wasn’t like most men. War had changed him. He’d intended to be career military, but after ten years in the Army, he’d seen the senseless killing firsthand and now couldn’t wait to return to Trails End and settle down with a woman. He would find someone soft and warm, someone with a backbone who could give as good a she got, and get on with his life. No more sand, blood, or death for him. He’d go to work for Max Hunter, build that cabin he always dreamed of and raise a brood of kids. He’d live life free and easy, away from blood and death, with a good woman by his side.

“My door’s always open to a former soldier. If you need me for anything, you only have to ask,” he replied, hoping she understood that she would always be a friend, but nothing more.

He saw her smile falter slightly, but she recovered quickly, nodding her head.

“Thank you, Sir,” she answered, then stepped back, saluted him, and waited for him to return the respect given.

Just as Shane raised his own salute, an explosion could be heard in the distance. The popping sound of M240s reverberated in the smoldering heat, and Shane turned on his heel and hit the ground running out of the triage tent with Private Sloan following.

Barking out orders as he went, he saw his team begin loading into the RG 33 armored ground ambulance, ready to assist with the injured. Shane headed for the driver’s seat while searching the melee for Private Sloan. He found her wrestling with supplies and ordered her to ride shotgun. Whenever they assisted ground forces under attack, he kept her close. She was the youngest of his unit and the most inexperienced. She’d joined the military to get an education, not to die at the age of nineteen, and he intended to keep her alive so she could follow those dreams.

Shane threw the armored vehicle into drive and took off behind a support platoon heading for the action. He could see mortar fire in the distance and his heart rate sped up. The damage 81 mm ammo could do to a body turned his blood cold, and he took a deep breath for what was to come.

He’d seen enough death and destruction to last two lifetimes and wondered each time they were called to action if his luck would run out. The sense of impending doom was stronger now with his deployment over and his returning stateside just days away. He couldn’t shake the feeling that if he didn’t tread lightly, something would happen. Because of that, his survival instincts had kicked in harder than ever before. For himself, as well as for the men and women under his command.

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