Base to McCormick. McCormick, come in! Retreat! Retreat!
Even disguised in his commanding officer’s voice, the warning signals firing off in Travis’s head couldn’t get through the static of full-blown desire that was short-circuiting every common-sense impulse in his body.
Tess was wrong. He wasn’t laughing. And he sure as hell wasn’t thinking of her as his sister!
This girl was a natural. Every move he made, she answered back with her lips and a chorus of hot, sexy moans that hummed in her throat. He wanted her closer and she’d obliged. No, she’d taken charge with innocent abandon, crawling on top of him, spreading her knees beside his hips, rubbing her breasts against his chest and sinking that white promise of satisfaction against his throbbing groin.
He dragged his lips to her throat to taste the drumming beat of her pulse beneath his tongue. “Trav—” she gasped, arching her back and inviting his lips into the unbuttoned gap of her shirt.
Retreat, soldier! Retreat!
But his mind was lost in the moment—lost in his reawakening sense of power, of virility. He was lost in a woman—his old friend, Tess. And he suddenly knew his life would never be the same again….
As my brother headed into a war zone for the second time in his life, I found it difficult to get started on this story with a wounded military hero the way I’d originally envisioned it. But after some introspection (and good talks with my family and the families of other military personnel—you guys rock!), I decided the focus wouldn’t be on the thrills and dangers inherent in such a career—though that still plays a key role in the story—but rather on the joys and challenges of coming home after being in the action.
Many military spouses, parents, siblings and children I spoke with talked about how some things never change when a loved one is away, serving his or her country, while other things change greatly. Expectations must be flexible, and often family members and service personnel must adapt to new roles while apart, and again when reunited.
Dealing with such changes became the focus of Basic Training. Tess and Travis have returned to the town where they grew up—and on the surface, it seems like old home, old friends, old times. But they soon realize that she’s no longer just the girl-next-door, and her Marine Corps hero is more than the hunky best bud he used to be.
I hope that readers can feel the happiness, pride and relief of family, friends and community welcoming home one of their own. I also hope you’ll enjoy the journey as Tess and Travis evolve into their new roles—deeper, bolder, sexier and closer than two friends have a right to be.
For the 110th Engineer Battalion.
Prayers and pride for those soldiers and their families.
And for my favorite Captain, in particular, be smart, watch your back and take care. Love you.
TRAVIS MCCORMICK had come home.
“Travis,” Tess Bartlett whispered. She tucked her suitcase into the closet of her old bedroom and hurried to the window to see with her own eyes the return of the conquering hero.
He’d come so far. Been through so much.
Tess was almost ashamed to admit that she’d barely ventured away from the homefront. After college, one thing after another had seemed to draw her back to Ashton, Virginia. She’d come home when a cancer scare had left her widowed mother feeling vulnerable and alone. Then, she’d done her physical therapy internship here and stayed on when the hospital had offered her a generous salary to become a member of their staff.
She had her own apartment, her own career. She had old and new friends who were an integral part of her life. And when push came to shove, she could even finagle herself a date on a Saturday night.
But in one way, Tess had never moved on. Tess had never shared a bond with anyone, not even her sister and mother, like the one she shared with Travis. She’d lived so much of her life vicariously through him. He was a military hero with skills and knowledge she could only guess at. As a Marine, he’d traveled the world. Fought beside the bravest warriors and strategized with the best military minds.
And yet she’d always, always believed he was glad to come back to Ashton to see her, his little buddy Tess.
Over the years of their friendship, he’d confessed triumphs and tribulations that were their secrets alone. He never hesitated to offer a hug or a wink or a smile. He’d stood beside her and taken the heat when their youthful practical jokes had gotten them into trouble. And she’d stood beside him and listened and held his hand when that strong United States Marine hadn’t been quite strong enough.
Would their friendship take up where they’d left off before he’d been called up for a covert assignment more than a year ago? She was thrilled that he was finally coming home to Ashton after spending most of that year in a hospital and therapy. But she knew he wouldn’t be thrilled that he’d been injured while training for that mission—before ever shipping out overseas.
Despite the circumstances, was he looking forward to reconnecting with an old friend for a few weeks as much as she was?
Hidden by the glare of the afternoon sun off the water from Chesapeake Bay, Tess peeked through the curtains of the second-story bedroom window in the house where she’d grown up, next door to the McCormicks’ bayside colonial. She and her older sister, Amy, had timed their annual summer get-together with their mom to coincide with the U.S. Marine Corps captain’s homecoming. They were all invited over that evening for a welcome-home party, but Tess couldn’t wait that long to see him with her own eyes. She couldn’t wait to reassure herself that the boy next door—her classmate, teammate, and longtime friend—had finally come home after a full year.
She was thirty-three years old, had known Travis for more than half her life, and she still couldn’t stop that little hitch in her breath each time she saw him. Damn the man. He was that good looking. Each reunion stirred her blood—as if she were discovering that well-sculpted hunk of testosterone for the first time. Discovering those clear blue eyes, that sexy crop of dark blond hair hugging the perfect shape of his head, and those shoulders broad enough to lead men and seduce women with equal success.
Tess closed her eyes and diligently ignored the heated rush of hormones that tripped along her pulse. She and Travis had been friends for far too long. She knew his taste in women—everything from busty and mysterious to slim and flirty. Blondes, brunettes, redheads all qualified—just as long as they weren’t afraid of their sexuality, and weren’t hung up about the whole commitment thing.