Corporal Nicholas ‘Saint’ Santiago needs to go home to reclaim the man he used to be. To be the man he was before Operation Enduring Freedom slowly hardened his heart. He needs to reconnect to the values and the reasons he is doing what he does. Saint also needs to try to forget the courageous woman he fell in love with.
Petty Officer Angelina Jones’ life changed the moment Saint saved her life. She survived the blast but now has to deal with the fact that she will never be whole. She can’t believe that anyone would want her the way she is now. Digging up her courage, Angelina moves forward hoping against hope that she can live a full life again.
Crossing paths again brings their emotions to a full boil. A coincidence that will have them both reaching for their dreams.
Nick received the Dear John letter a couple of months into his deployment. Worn out, tired and miserable in the conditions there, he’d looked forward to her letters. She was tired of a boyfriend on the other side of the world and wanted someone to go to the movies with, arms to hold her at night. She didn’t want to hear of war and death. She wanted someone to lean on, someone there. Nick felt as if she had broken his soul.
His buddies called him Saint. Nick wasn’t by any means. He swore and drank and smoked. The guys called him Saint because no matter what else he did, Nick was always faithful to her. Not that it mattered any more. She had just been the final tear in the cloth of his soul. The emptiness inside him was frightening.
Leila had never been one to carry the light. The crevices of her mind were dark, her eyes holding an ancient, unhappy soul. They were drawn together like a moth to a flame. At times, she couldn’t even bear to be around him, his joy more than she could sometimes stand. High school sweethearts, they epitomized the ideal that opposites attract.
Perhaps she had seen the darkness now inside him, the absence of the joy that drew her. The combination of him and her, looked at in that light, was frightening in the extreme. She must have dreaded it. For self-preservation, if nothing else, she had to let him go.
A shout from Hamilton brought him back to the here and now. “Hey, Saint, do you see any trouble coming?” On guard at the west wall, Nick shook his head. Not that it was much of a wall, a couple of sandbags holding up a makeshift bullet riddled wooden fence, an illusion of safety and security.
“No, it all looks clear.” Well, as clear as normal, Nick thought. The Seabees and the Army Corp of Engineers had done their best to give them a clear line of site, but the rubble of buildings and piles of rock where there used to be a town never seemed to go away. Rebels constantly hid there, randomly firing at their FOB, a forward operating base in Helmand Provence, making it almost impossible to build a more secure perimeter.
Nick could see kids playing in the dirt. In the distance the locals were harvesting the poppy fields. Some of the largest poppy fields in the world were right outside the walls of the FOB. Beautiful when in bloom, they were more pervasive and did more damage than the terrorists.
“When aren’t there threats?” Every damn day there were threats. “Why, is there a problem?”
“The brass is making noise. When they do something stupid, we end up paying for it.” Hamilton sounded disgusted. As Hamilton spoke, shots were fired over and through the fence, adding more holes to the dilapidated barrier. Nick and Hamilton hit the ground, rolling toward the sandbags to return fire through the cracks. “See what I mean?”
“Yeah it’s been a while since they shot at us, at least a couple of days.” Nick’s sarcasm caused Hamilton to laugh.
“Probably someone is coming to pick up something from the poppy fields and they want to keep us from seeing who.” Hamilton glanced at him. “You doing okay?”
“Gettin’ there. It was just a shock, ya know?”
“Yeah, damn women. The least they could do is be faithful while we’re out here fighting.”
“Yeah, it sucks. I just can’t help thinking it’s my fault.”
“Fuck. How the hell could it be? You weren’t even there. The bitch knew you were gone, were going to be gone.” They fired shots, aiming at the muzzle flash in the distance. More Marines headed their way, sprinting from cover to cover. Perez came running, bringing out ammo and providing more fire power.
Another crack and Perez went down with a cry.
“Fuck! Medic! Man down!” The cry went out, passed through until the call went to the corpsman, while Nick tried to stem the blood flow. Hands pushed his away. Nick looked up. Petty Officer Jones, better known as Doc, had bandages ready.
“Help me roll this on until we can get him out of here.” Her voice sent a ripple through him. Nick had always ignored the attraction he had felt for her. He’d had his girl back home, and fraternization out here could get him thrown in the brig. Not to mention the brig out here was a hell hole.
Nick was leery about approaching Doc now. The Dear John letter had been a shock. He had known Leila for years. Hell, they had been friends since they were little. Her betrayal was unexpected. Nick didn’t even really know Doc. He could trust her with his life, but he wasn’t ready for another go around with his heart, no matter the attraction he felt.
Nick looked toward the fence line, rifle at the ready. Shots were firing sporadically around him. That’s when he saw it, the trail from a grenade launcher, unmistakable. Shit!
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