|Название||The Dangerous Jacob Wilde|
|Автор произведения||Sandra Marton|
|Серия||Mills & Boon Modern|
For all he knew, they would have.
Jake had thought it over and decided it was time to show his face—and wasn’t that one hell of an expression to use, he thought grimly.
It wouldn’t come as a surprise to his family. They’d all been at the hospital, waiting, when the transport plane first brought him back to the States. His sisters, his brothers, even the General, reminding everybody he was John Hamilton Wilde, General John Hamilton Wilde, United States Army, and he damned well wanted a private room for his wounded son and the attention of the best surgeons at Walter Reed.
Jake had been too out of it to argue but as the days and weeks crawled by, as he came off the painkillers and his head began to function again, he’d laid down the law.
No more special treatment.
And no more family visits.
There was no point, no reason, no way he wanted to watch Em and Lissa and Jaimie trying to be brave, his brothers pretending he’d be back to himself in no time, his father being, well, his father.
That was one of the reasons he’d taken so long to come home, even for a visit.
“You’re an idiot,” Travis had growled.
But he didn’t want to be fussed over, poked at, stroked and soothed and told nothing had changed, because everything had. His face. His sense of self.
Was he even a man anymore?
It was a damn good question.
A better one was, How did you dance between the reality that everything was normal and the brutal knowledge that it wasn’t?
Forget that for now.
Tonight, his job was to put on a good show. Smile, as long as he didn’t terrify anybody. Talk, even though he didn’t have anything to say civilians would want to hear.
Behave as if time had not passed.
He’d figured coming to the ranch by himself would give him the chance to acclimate. Immerse himself in familiar things. Smell the clean Texas air and listen to the coyotes making their beautiful music in the night.
All of that without an unwanted rush of emotion engulfing him in a place like an airport.
Every solider he knew said the same thing.
Coming home was tough.
You went off to war, you were carried away by the excitement of it, especially if you’d been raised on stories of bravery and battles and warriors.
He sure as hell had.
Their mother was dead, gone when Travis was six, Caleb four, Jake two. Housekeepers, nannies and a stepmother, who’d only stayed long enough to bear three daughters, had raised them.
The General, the rare times he was home, regaled them with stories about their ancestors, a hodgepodge of men who’d marched on Gaul with Caesar, raided the British Isles from longboats, crossed the Atlantic in sailing ships and then conquered a vast new continent from the Dakota plains to the Mexican border.
The stories had thrilled him.
Now, he knew they were nonsense.
Not the part about the warriors. He’d been one himself these last years, fighting alongside honorable, brave men, serving a nation he loved.
But his father had left things unsaid. The politicians. The lies. The cover-ups.
Jake stood on the brakes. The Thunderbird skidded, slewed sideways across the dirt road and came to a hard stop. He crossed his hands on the steering wheel, wrist over wrist.
He could hear his heart thumping.
He was heading straight back into that dark place he’d sworn he wouldn’t visit again.
He waited. Let his heartbeat slow. Then he opened the door and stepped from the car.
Something brushed against his face. A moth.
Good. Moths were real. They were things a man could understand.
He took a long gulp of cool night air. Tucked his hands into his trouser pockets. Looked up as clouds hid the stars, as cold and distant as the polar ice caps.
Minutes passed. The stars came out from behind the clouds, along with the moon. He got back into the ‘Bird and drove on until, finally, he could see the outline of the house, standing on a rise maybe an eighth of a mile away.
Light streamed from its windows.
Panic twisted in his gut.
He pulled onto the grass, stopped the car again and got out.
There was a stand of old oaks to his left, and a footpath that led through them.
Jake set out along the path. A breeze carrying the gurgling sound of Coyote Creek winding, unseen, alongside, accompanied him. Dry leaves crunched under the soles of the cowboy boots he’d never given up wearing.
There’d been a time he’d loved nights like these. The crystalline air. The distant glitter of the stars.
Back then, he’d look up at the sky as he just had and wonder at the impossibility of standing on a planet spinning through space.
His hand went to his eye socket. The taut skin below it.
Now, the only thing a night like this meant was that the cold made his bones, his jaw, the empty space that had once been an eye, ache.
Why would the eye hurt when it didn’t exist anymore?
He’d asked the doctors and physical therapists the question half a dozen times and always got the same answer.
His brain thought the eye was still there.
Jake’s mouth twisted.
Just went to prove what a useless thing a man’s brain could be.
The bottom line was that it was cold and he hurt and why he’d got out of the ‘Bird and set off on this all-but-forgotten ribbon of hard-packed dirt and moldy leaves was beyond him. But he had, and he’d be damned if he’d turn around now.
The trail was as familiar as the gate, the road, his old Thunderbird. It had been beaten into the soil by generations of foxes and coyotes and dogs, by ranch hands and kids going back and forth to the cold, swift-running waters of the creek.
Jake had walked it endless times, though never on a cold night with his head feeling as if somebody was inside, hammering to try and get out.
He should have taken something. Aspirin. A couple of pills, except he didn’t want to take those effing pills, not even the aspirin, anymore.
By the time he emerged from the copse of trees and brambles, he was ready to turn around, get in the car and head straight back to the airport.
There it was.
The house, the heart of El Sueño, a brightly lit beacon. Sprawling. White-shingled. Tucked within the protective curve of a stand of tall black ash and even taller oaks, and overlooking a vast, velvety lawn.
Somewhere in the dark woods behind him, an owl gave a low, mournful cry. Jake shivered. Rubbed his eye. The skin felt hot to the touch.
The owl called out again. A faint, high scream accompanied the sound.
Dinner for the owl. Death for the creature caught in its sharp talons. That was the way of the world.
And, goddammit, he was getting the hell out of here right now …
You can’t run forever, Captain.