Since Memorial Day is just around the corner, and HERO’S HOPE is kind of a memorial, in itself, it seemed appropriate to acknowledge the sacrifices of the men and women who defend our freedoms, and their families, who let them go, never knowing if or when they’ll see their husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, siblings, children again.
While there are also much more personal reasons I chose this specific scene to share, I mainly chose it because it shows clearly the sacrifices both military members and their families make when duty calls. To me, it’s a tribute to both, and a memorial to the losses suffered by both.
“A Duty to Protect” – Excerpt from HERO’S HOPE (Underground, Book 4)
He moved to the sofa in the living room, boots in hand, and pulled them on. He was just lacing up the boots when the sound of movement caused his head to snap up. Tamia stood in the bedroom doorway, a worried, wary expression on her face, as she knotted the belt of her robe. Damn; he was busted.
“Where are you going?” She took a step forward. “I didn’t hear the phone. What’s happened?”
Apparently, he was out of easy exits. He sighed, and met her concerned mahogany eyes. “I have to go.”
“Where? It’s the middle of the night, Rick! Tell me what’s going on.”
“Nothing major.” He tried to diffuse the situation with a shrug he hoped like hell looked casual. He couldn’t explain where he was going, and they both knew the phone hadn’t rung. He could see it in her face. Just like he could see she wasn’t buying his attempt at nonchalance.
“Bullshit. If it was no big deal, you’d wait until morning. And you sure as hell wouldn’t be acting like James-fucking-Bond.”
Okay, so avoidance wouldn’t work – he pretty much knew it was a lost cause, with Tamia. Suspicion ran in her blood. Time for a different tack, like simplicity.
“Something’s been bugging me since my Comms shift. I want to run it down.”
Her gaze burned into him, full of questions he couldn’t answer without incriminating himself. He winced as he pinpointed the exact moment she figured out what he was saying by the sudden intake of her breath. “You can’t go back out there, yet!”
“I have to. I have a hunch about something, and I have to look into it. Besides, it’s my call who takes what assignments. This is something I have to take care of personally.”
Tamia’s eyes were so full of disbelief he flinched away from her accusing gaze. “You are insane!”
Rick stared at his hands as he tried to come up with a defense against the fear in her eyes. God, he hadn’t wanted a cigarette this bad in months! His secret ate him alive, and he couldn’t stand the terror on Tamia’s face. He’d give anything to wipe it away; but even the truth wouldn’t be enough. All telling her the truth would do was put her in danger. He looked up at her somberly. “It’s surveillance, babe. It’s what I was trained to do.”
She looked as if she might argue, before she sealed her lips in a thin line and turned away. He could read her pain loud and clear in the protective way her shoulders hunched, and the turn of her body, as if she couldn’t bear to let him see how much she was hurting. That single motion punched him hard in the solar plexus and made breathing difficult.
“Why you?” Her voice was quiet, and flat, as if she was fighting to maintain her neutral tone. “You’re not cleared for the field, yet. Jen hasn’t signed off on your medical clearance. Let me go, instead.”
He straightened as fear plunged through him. “No way.”
“Why not? I have the same training, the same ability…”
“Tamia.” He rose to his feet. “I’m not going to argue with you about this. Now, I have to go.”
She shot a glare over her shoulder capable of freezing fire. “So it’s do as you say, not as you do?”
“Hey.” He could see where this was going a mile away. “It’s not like that—”
“No? So what if I was the one running out in the middle of the night to follow mysterious leads?”
He couldn’t answer her; he already knew he’d incriminate himself. Hell, there was no way he could convince her he respected her if he voiced his feelings about her being out on the street in her current condition. “I—”
“Don’t bother. I already know the answer. If it was me, or anyone else on this whole damned team, trying to take on a mission before medical clearance was signed, you’d have us confined to Comms duty until our asses went numb.”
He closed his eyes. God, how did he dig himself out of this one? “This is different. I know my limits.”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “That’s lame, Rick.”
She started toward the bedroom, already shedding her robe as she went. He swallowed hard. “What are you doing?”
She shot a determined, narrow-eyed look over her shoulder. “I’m taking your place.”
Shock and fear plunged through him. The threatening transmission was meant to hurt him, but Tamia was Colbert’s ultimate target, for no other reason than her death would kill him. Images flashed through his mind of what could happen if he let her go off on Colbert’s trail in his place. His stomach knotted. No way in hell. “Absolutely not.”
Her chin rose defiantly. “Why not?”
“Because…” He sought desperately for any reason she might accept, other than the truth. His gaze fell on her belly, and the threatening words of the transmission sliced through him again. I know about your family. You took mine, and I’m coming for yours. Rick fought the constricting band of fear. “Because you’re pregnant.”
It was only the truth, but he knew it was the wrong thing to say, even before Tamia’s eyes narrowed and a dark scowl settled on her face. “You so don’t want to go there, Carinson.”
He winced. When she called him by his last name, it meant he’d crossed the line. It was pretty clear she wasn’t going to back down; well, neither was he. This was too important. She was too important. Better she be pissed at him; it would make what had to happen easier for her.
“Look, my leads will go cold, if I stick around arguing this. I have to go. Keep everyone on task, okay?”
Her face paled, and the pain of her fear was a feeling he knew would never fade.
“What are you planning?” Her voice was barely audible, now, and he never wanted to spill his guts so badly in his life. As a torture technique, Colbert couldn’t have planned anything more effective. But there was no way he could tell her what was about to go down.
“You’re getting paranoid.”
She jerked back as if he stuck her, and anger roiled in her eyes. “Dammit, Rick. I thought you were dying, in Texas! What would you do if our situations were reversed?”
Memories flooded him of Tamia just after Porto Alegre, bloody and unconscious, then wreathed in tubes and machinery. The fear returned full force, but he shoved it aside. He wasn’t falling into the memory trap.
Nor could he make her a promise he already knew he couldn’t keep. As he looked into her eyes, he saw the resignation, before she sighed, and turned her back to him again. “Go, already. Just don’t make me regret this.”
And, as she disappeared into the bedroom, Rick grabbed his thick winter camouflage coat from the closet. He would prefer his leather jacket, but it was below freezing out there, and he was in for a long, cold night. He glanced back at the closed bedroom door, and his gut tightened. It felt all wrong. And yet, he couldn’t change his mind. Not if it meant losing Tamia.