Thursday, 18 November 2010

Excerpt Day – Bound By Trust © Lila Munro



Eastern Afghanistan

With the landscape blanketed by the dusky illumination that lives somewhere between night and day, Gage led his squad from their camp and began the arduous daily task of patrolling the valley below. The sun labored to peek up over the mountaintops to the north and hadn’t done anything to take the sting out of the air. His breath struggled out in white puffs every time he exhaled. After descending several hundred yards, he watched the bright orange ball of heat finish its ascent in a rush of violet and salmon popping over the horizon. It flooded the terrain with its rays, casting deceiving shadows across all they touched.


Sometimes if Gage closed his eyes, and pushed out of his mind where he really was, then looked around, he could almost believe himself in west Texas where he’d grown up. Aside from the hilly terrain, everything else was much the same—winding streams, alder and juniper trees, and gooseberry bushes dotted the countryside. It all created the illusion that no war raged here and everything was normal in the world. The clear night sky only aided in that false reality when he took his turn standing duty in the consuming darkness. He knew that back home his family saw the same things he did—the moon cycles, the Big Dipper, and Saturn.


Those constants helped keep him going when the days got so long that it seemed like he’d never see home again.


As he came down on more level ground, an uneasy feeling settled over him. A prickly sensation raced up his back, across his neck, and down his arms setting the hairs there on end. Even with the increasing warmth of midmorning, an eerie chill raced through his veins, freezing his gut. Hesitating and listening, he saw his point guard stop short and stand completely still. He figured Murray must have sensed it as well. They were out there somewhere, and they’d been waiting.


Before Gage had a chance to back up and assess the situation, the sound of automatic gunfire erupted and bullets rained down on him and the soldiers he was in charge of.


“ Take cover in the tree line!” His order was immediately obeyed as eleven of his wards heaved themselves low to the ground scurrying for the line of cedars that ran along the path they were on. PFC Murray continued to stand like a statue in the middle of the storm.


“ Goddamit, Murray, get the hell out of there.” Gage lay flat on the ground and watched sparks erupt from rounds bouncing off the rocks around the young soldier, who amazingly never flinched.


“ I’m sorry, Staff Sergeant, but I can’t do that!” Murray shouted back still not moving.


Gage inched closer, praying Murray would unfreeze and take cover before one of the ambushers made his mark. A few yards away, the sun caught the edge of something in the dirt at Murray’s feet and the object glimmered tauntingly.


Sweet Jesus. “Murray, is that what I think it is?” His voice rose above the cacophony of fire being returned over their heads back up the hill.


“ Yes, Staff Sergeant, it is. No disrespect intended, but you should be the one to get the hell out of here.”


Within the span of a few seconds, Gage remembered the young man’s distraught mother making him promise he would bring her son back alive and in one piece. He looked up and saw that Murray intended to step off the pressure release IED. The boy wasn’t even old enough to buy a beer, yet here he was about to give the last full measure in service to this country.


“ No! Stand still and that’s an order, Murray.”


The young man turned his head to protest just as Gage took a deep breath, said a redemptive prayer, and lunged up, running the last few feet.


Armor met armor and a deafening blow resounded throughout the valley. A plume of smoke and debris flew up and plummeted back down, and blackness fell.


Chapter 1

“Is that everything, Mrs. Melbourne?” A burly older man, with LOU imprinted on his pea-green uniform shirt, quickly scratched his signature across the bottom of the embark sheet.


Mrs. Melbourne. What she always would be, yet was no more.


“ Yes, I think that’s the last of it.” She accepted the clipboard from him and added her signature under his messy scrawl, finalizing her fate.


Almost six months had passed since her husband had come home in a flag-draped box. Sometimes it felt like an eternity since that early November morning when casualty assistance had knocked on her door, and sometimes it was still just as painfully fresh as it had been in those first few hours. The sadness that had settled over her for weeks on end had however, eventually, and unexpectedly, been replaced by hate and anger. Feelings she never fathomed she would feel. They stemmed from the harsh reality of Gage leaving her in a dire situation that wasn’t likely to get any better any time soon. The one thing she had learned from the whole horrible experience was that men were not to be trusted.


* * * *


Another week was gone. As Rafe sat on his porch, watching the sun give way to another Friday evening, he reflected on what he had accomplished since Monday. Aside from drilling the prescribed lessons into fourteen of the most hard-headed Marines he’d encountered in his life, not a damn thing. Unless bedding another willing bubble-headed local looking to latch on to the military gravy train was something to be proud of. It wasn’t just this week that was bothering him, it was his life. At thirty-eight he was at a crossroads—retire or re-enlist, quite possibly to go back to the fleet and return to Afghanistan. The Marine Corps was all he’d ever known, but lately he was feeling maybe he’d missed out on something when he made the decision not to marry as long as he was enlisted. The short-term flings had served their purpose up until now, but sometimes, like this afternoon at the company family day, it would strike him what was missing in his life. A wife to stand by him, and a flock of children trotting along behind them, thinking he was the greatest dad on earth. Maybe after twenty-years of drifting along it was time to toss out anchor and have some stability.


He determined sitting around alone on a Friday night being philosophical wouldn’t solve his problem and went inside to take a shower. One more night out wouldn’t hurt anything before he began his quest for the perfect mate. Hell, it might even help.


* * * *


A wave of uncertainty had washed over Madi as she drove her Lexus past the Hopkinsville city limit sign that morning, but had since begun to ease in spite of the daunting awareness that she’d left everything she knew behind. After what had seemed like the longest six hours of her life, she was traversing the bridge over the Mississippi and crossing the Missouri state line. The coffee and creamer colored water roiled with the overflow of the spring rains reminding her of the discord in her life that constantly churned faster than the Mississippi was running. She cursed her husband again for her circumstances. Damn him for leaving her like this.


Propping her elbow on the door, she rested her jaw in her palm, took a calming breath, and tried not to let the tears start falling again. Crying more wouldn’t fix anything, it wouldn’t bring him back and it wouldn’t help get her where she was going.


She glanced in the rearview mirror to make sure Jared was still behind her. Since that awful day in November, when casualty assistance had knocked on her door, he’d taken her under his wing. He and Gage had been best friends since basic training, they were almost inseparable. She couldn’t count the times he’d been there for her in the last few months, as a shoulder to cry on, a sounding board, hell, sometimes as a proverbial punching bag when the anger was so strong she wanted to throw things. He’d been there through it all and now he was helping her move. God bless him. He was a wonderful man and would make some woman an exemplary husband someday. Provided he could find one that could take the punishment of being an Army wife.


Rolling the windows down, she hoped the fresh air would help clear her head and lighten her spirit. The spring breeze billowed through the car and assaulted her with the smells of the season: newly cut field grass and wildflowers. She glanced out at the gentle hills flying by that were just awakening from their winter slumber. The foliage was bursting green with the dogwoods interrupting the solid canvas nature provided with a splay of white flowers occasionally. The redbuds added a dash of purple here and there. Her life was here now, and it was time to start over and learn to live again. She took a cleansing breath and told herself that the last ten years were a memory now and she had a second chance, a new lease on life. One she wanted desperately to embrace, no matter how scary it was.


Her mind drifted to the memories of coming home and announcing her intent to marry a soldier. Her father, Thomas, had been fit to be tied. He couldn’t understand why she would want to live her life constantly moving and being left behind wherever the military saw fit to plant them for a few months. He had been further infuriated to learn that his daughter was pregnant. Not to mention, he just plain didn’t like Gage. He’d always believed him to be an arrogant womanizing ass, and the fact that he was responsible for his daughter’s condition had only served to prove his point as far as he was concerned. He was thoroughly convinced he would leave her high and dry one day. Looking back now, the phrase, ‘it takes one to know one,’ took on new meaning.


When he and her mother had balked at their plans to marry, in spite of their protests, they’d eloped. Upon returning the next morning, her father had proceeded to call her everything he could think of except Madison, then threw her out with only the clothes on her back, and told them both to never set foot on his property again. The only time she’d talked to her father after that was six months later when she was going through her first deployment and was having second thoughts about her decision and wanted to come home. He didn’t hesitate to tell her she’d made her bed and would have to lie in it. That was the last contact she’d had with him. Only a few days later she’d lost her baby. Her mother, grandmother, CeCe, and sister, Meredith, had come to her while her father stayed behind, angered by their failure to heed his wishes that they cease contact with her. CeCe had given him an earful and, although Thomas was her son, they were at odds with each other over the differences of opinion until they had both died just prior to Gage last fall.


She wondered if the family feud still raged under the direction of Saint Peter. Yes, she was pretty sure a brawl continually played out on the other side of the pearly gates between Thomas, CeCe, and Gage. They were surely arguing who was right, who was wrong, and whose fault it was that she was living a nightmare now. When she played out the scenarios of them in her mind, she liked to imagine CeCe was winning.


Her father had been right in one assumption. Here she was a widow at thirty-three, left high and dry. The SGLI money had helped some, but she was shocked to discover how far in debt they were, and for things she didn’t even know Gage had purchased. He actually owned a pontoon boat that he kept at Cumberland Lake. He had credit cards she didn’t even know existed that were maxed out, and for what she had no idea. And since her name wasn’t on any of them, she wasn’t afforded the luxury of the companies giving her itemized bills even with her limited power of attorney. She’d let the bank repossess his truck without remorse. But it pained her to have to let her horse go back to the breeder when she discovered that Gage owed that man a small fortune for Casanova. Sometimes she wondered what else he’d kept secret from her and if she really wanted to know.


Going back to Fort Leonard Wood wasn’t her first choice, her job and friends were in Kentucky, her life was there. However, with most of the insurance money gone, she couldn’t afford to buy a house anywhere near Fort Campbell. Not to mention she didn’t make enough on her own giving music lessons to pay the amount of rent it would take to live in a decent neighborhood. Thank goodness CeCe had willed her house to her mother to be used anyway she saw fit. Meredith had her own place in town and had no desire to live in what she considered the boonies, and her mother had the farm that she and Madi’s father had worked a lifetime to maintain. That left her to use it if she wanted.


At this point though, it wasn’t about what she wanted so much as what she had to do to survive. She had enough money left to get by until she could take in enough piano students to live, but that was the extent of her not-so-fortunate fortune. But none of that ate at her as much as the thing that was really killing her—she was leaving her baby, Shannon, behind. Gage had insisted she bury her there as there was so much upheaval between their families over her existence to begin with. Little did she know when she’d agreed, some day she would be forced to leave her precious daughter.


Close behind her, Jared wondered how she was holding up so far. He’d tried to get her to let him drive her and have another friend follow to take him back to Fort Campbell when they had her settled, but she wouldn’t have it. She seemed to think she’d inconvenienced enough people already. No one was as inconvenienced as she had been.


Madi wasn’t aware of it, but he and Gage hadn’t been as close as they once were for a long time. Not after he’d discovered all that Gage had been keeping from her. He’d been threatening to tell her everything when his friend promised to let her know himself. Now he was gone and she’d had the misfortune of finding out the hard way about all the bills and hidden assets. As for the rest, poor Madi would never be the wiser. It was days like this that hatred boiled to the surface of Jared’s emotional pot. The past few months had been harder on Madi than she cared to show, but he knew from the dark circles under her fern green eyes that they had taken their toll. It pained him to see her struggling, and he wanted to help her through it, yet he felt helpless to do anything. The best he could do without crossing the invisible line was be her ear when she needed it.


Dusk was beginning to fall when the two pulled under the awning of the motel in town where they would stay until Monday morning. Madi didn’t see any point in them having to endure sleeping on the floor at CeCe’s house before then. Her things wouldn’t be delivered until Tuesday. One night in a sleeping bag wouldn’t be so bad, but there wasn’t any need in suffering an entire weekend of roughing it. Besides, they had plans for the weekend that didn’t involve sitting in an empty house with nothing to do for three days. A few of their friends who had been transferred to the base had found out they were coming in and wanted them to join them at the Staff NCO club on base for drinks and dancing. Madi was surprised she was actually getting excited at the thought of being able to go out again and live a little. The fear of what people would think of her, and the rumors that would ensue, kept her from having a life back at Fort Campbell. Gage had kept her suppressed for so long she’d nearly lost herself in trying to be what he wanted. But now she was ready to move on whether people thought it was appropriate or not. Although she wasn’t ready for a relationship, she was ready to feel alive again. And not having a relationship didn’t necessarily mean she couldn’t have a man.


Once settled in her room, Madi got in the shower letting the hot water cascade over her. It soothed not only her road weary body, but eased her worn spirit. She wished it were as easy for her burdens to float away as it was to watch the dirt-laden suds slide down the drain and disappear. Clean and dressed, she sat on the side of the bed and looked at her left hand. The silver band she’d worn there for ten years gleamed under the light of the cheap lamp sitting on the nightstand. She twirled it around her finger, debating with herself. Should she or shouldn’t she? Was she really ready? Twisting the ring slowly, she worked it over her knuckle and laid it on the table. She’d thought when she finally did take it off, she would feel sad and guilty, but neither emotion surfaced. She just felt free.


© Lila Munro

Bound By Trust

Author: Lila Munro

Publisher:Whiskey Creek Press

Genre: Contemporary

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The Widow After her husband Gage is killed in combat, Madi Melbourne finds out just how hard being a widow can be. She’s been left destitute, piecing together a life she never knew Gage was living, and as the puzzle takes shape, she begins to fall apart.

Her Savior Rafe McCarthy has always been known as the unit playboy. Having never married and being childless, he finds himself examining his life and looking at the what-ifs. Then a beautiful widow moves in next door and he begins to discover something he never knew existed inside of him.

Learning to trust… How can he convince her to trust again and place that trust in him? Will he be able to live up to the responsibility he has taken in teaching her to love again?

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