By C.A. Szarek
A bullet whizzed by his head and he ducked. “Son of a bitch!”
“Jesus, Jess, are you hit?” Chuck breathed.
“No, but it’d be nice if you covered my six, dammit.”
The guy had the nerve to laugh, but he patted the side of his rifle, an MK-16. “Bertha got it.”
Too bad the laugh was obliterated by utter shock, and the red starburst on his friend’s forehead demanded all Jess’ attention.
His fellow Ranger gaped and keeled over. Blood spatter hit Jess’ face, and he hadn’t realized it. Then the yelling from the rest of their team started, and returning fire and—
“Dammit!” He popped up, panting. His bare torso was covered in sweat. Jess’ brow was too, if the dripping in his eyes was any indication.
Eyes…dammit. The instant vacancy in Chuck’s brown ones would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Freaking dreams. Well, his stupid therapist called them night terrors—like he was five years old. Scratch that, no kid should have to see what Jess had.
Problem was—where he’d come from, three tours of duty later—it’d happened. Seeing dead kids. Dead women. Innocents in a country ravaged by war. Been there. Done that. Add fodder for the nightmares. That’d just f’d him up even more.
Discharge after his own injury had made it worse. He was home. Too bad the desert felt more like it than the bungalow his great aunt had left him in podunkville west Texas. Damn good thing he had it, though. He hadn’t wanted to go home to Tallahassee. Just couldn’t. Pity in his family and friends’ eyes would’ve bothered him more than the supposed PTSD.
Jess opened and closed his prosthetic hand. He’d fallen asleep with it on again. What was left of his upper left arm —a few inches past his biceps—ached.
He threw his legs over the side of the bed and groaned. Unhooking his new arm only took a few seconds. After being kicked loose from physical therapy for almost six months, he was an old pro. He rolled his shoulder and winced.
Damn, that hurts. Tingles shot upward, but it felt good, too. Jess sighed and glanced at his cell. He pushed the button to light the thing up, and the time glared—03:26 hours.
Would he ever get a good night’s sleep?
Might as well shower, he was covered in sweat anyway.
Noise at the front of the small house made him tense and want to reach for a gun. Then there was thumping and a tumble that could be someone rooting around. Jess had a feeling he knew what it was, and sighed instead of getting his Glock.
Cursing under his breath with enough variety to make his whole team of Rangers proud—not to mention a trucker or two—he padded out to the front door and whipped it open. Ran his gaze along as much of the wrap-around porch he could see in the dim light the lamp over the door threw out.
A whine snatched his attention to the three front steps.
Jess’ eyes darted to the blondish ball of fur at his feet. “You!”
The dog wagged her tail.
He ignored the big brown eyes and the adorable few pieces of fur that overhung one, partially obscuring it.
“You don’t live here,” Jess growled at the dog.
“Shelby!” The female voice startled him, but he did his best not to show it.
Show was the right word because when he glanced at the owner of said blonde mutt, he saw that his neighbor. Lindy, or Lindsey or something with an L, was barely dressed.
Her oversized tee had Princess Leia printed on it, and stopped mid-thigh. What a nice pair they were, muscular, as if she exercised by running after her stupid canine. The other pair—her breasts—was fantastic, too. They had a good bounce going on as she ascended the stairs to his porch. No bra, because he could see the outline of her nipples.
His neighbor’s long red hair was loose and messy, and dancing with her movements.
Jess had never noticed how hot she was before.
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Monroe,” she breathed and grabbed the small dog. “Bad, Shelby!”
The little furball wagged her tail.
She hiked Shelby to one hip, which made that shirt ride up.
He had to swallow and avert his gaze. Her underwear would be showing at any moment. Unless she wasn’t wearing any. Which would be better and worse.
“She cried and had to go out. Woke me up from a dead sleep. I let her out then she ran over—” His pretty neighbor’s eyes rose from her dog, but instead of landing on his face, they darted to where his left arm used to be. Stayed locked there, too.
“Just get your damn dog, and keep her away from my place,” Jess growled.