COME HOME TO ME: A HOMEFRONT NOVELLA
Homefront Series, Book .5
PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED AS ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU
From USA Today Bestselling author Jessica Scott comes an all new novella about a woman who came back from war changed and the man who loves her enough not to let her go.
All Major Patrick MacLean wanted was Christmas with the woman and child who were his family in everything but name. But Captain Samantha Egan has come back from the war a different woman than the one who left – and she doesn’t know if she can love him anymore.
But neither of them counted on the determination of a little girl they both call daughter and if Natalie has her wish, her parents may have no idea what’s coming for them. It’s going to take Christmas miracle to bring these two wounded warriors back from the edge of a broken heart.
This story has been featured in Home For Christmas: A Holiday Duet with JoAnn Ross.
It was hell getting your heart ripped out right before Christmas.
And no matter how much scotch he threw at the problem, Major Patrick MacLean couldn’t make the bleeding stop.
Sam was gone. And she’d taken Natalie with her.
Patrick knew all the stages of grief—at least a few of them. The anger. The denial. Maybe not in that order, but he knew how to deal with Seriously Bad Shit.
Except that he hadn’t moved—not from the couch or from the bottom of the bottle that he’d crawled into at the start of the holiday half-day schedule.
On the coffee table in front of him, his cell phone vibrated violently.
He blinked rapidly a couple of times. The angry gadget was blurry and out of focus. He was on leave. He didn’t have to answer the damn phone if he didn’t want to.
At least, he didn’t think he did. He was on leave, right? He’d signed out, right? He rubbed his temples, trying to think if he’d called the staff duty. Hell, he couldn’t remember. He groped in the dark for the bottle as the phone went silent.
Except the damn thing started vibrating again.
Someone didn’t know how to take a hint.
He snatched the phone off the table, too irritated to look at the number. “Yeah?”
He froze, the haze burning from his brain instantly. The wound Sam had left on his soul ripped open again at the sound of Natalie’s voice. He closed his eyes, fighting to breathe against the tightness in his throat. Losing his family was worse, so much worse, than anything Iraq had thrown at him.
“Hey, sugar bear.” He cradled his head in his hands, his heart breaking at the sound of her voice.
Natalie wasn’t his daughter. Not by blood or legal paperwork.
But he was still her daddy. The only daddy she’d ever known, and in his heart, she was his.
She was his family. Sam was his family.
And they were gone. Just. Gone.
He cleared his throat.
“You’re up late,” he managed, hoping she didn’t hear how bad he sounded to his own ears. “Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”
“Something’s wrong with Mommy.”
Hello, Captain Obvious. He didn’t say that, though. He wasn’t sure the eight-year-old would appreciate the sarcasm. “Is she hurt?” he asked instead.
“She’s crying all the time. And she doesn’t talk to me.” Her little voice broke. “I don’t know how to make her okay.”
“Are you okay?”
“No.” A tiny, hitched breath. “I want to come home. I want to see you. Mommy… Something is wrong.” A sniff, followed by a muffled sob. “Can you come get me?”
“Honey, you’re all the way in Maine.”
Silence for what felt like an eternity. “Isn’t this why they have airplanes?”
He smiled at the deadpan voice. Nat had been working on her repertoire of smartass skills. Any other time, he would have been so proud. Except that his heart hurt at the sound of her voice.
“I—” His voice locked in his throat.
“Daddy, I’m scared.” Another quiet sniff. “Please come. This was supposed to be our first Christmas together since you and Mommy came home from Iraq.”
Damn. The kid was good at getting what she wanted. He’d told himself that she was too little to remember when he’d kissed her good-bye and gotten on that plane. That she wouldn’t remember the phone calls when she’d cried that she wanted him to come home. That she misted him when she couldn’t say missed right.
That maybe she was too little to notice that her mother had packed them off without so much as saying good-bye.
At some level, he’d rationalized that letting Sam go was the right thing to do. That if she wasn’t happy anymore, it was better that she left before they started hating each other. That things had changed between them, and he should remember the good times.
It was obvious since she’d come home that something was wrong, but he hadn’t pushed. He’d given her space, thinking she needed it to get things sorted in her head.
Except that space, apparently, had been the wrong thing to give.
He closed his eyes. And made a decision that was either going to damn him to hell or save the little girl and the family that he loved with all his heart.
It was still dark, the moonlight frozen on the path in front of her. The cold penetrated her bones and seeped into her soul. The only sound on the wooded path was the crunch of her boots on the frozen crust. The air froze in her nose and seared her throat, biting at her cheeks as she walked.
Captain Samantha Egan walked through the Maine woods where she’d grown up and felt like she didn’t belong there anymore. She didn’t belong anywhere. Not at Fort Hood. Not back home.
Everything felt wrong.
And she was cold. But it was more than cold from the temperature. No, it was the cold of something dead in the space where her heart had been. She was more used to the Iraqi heat—even in the dead of what passed for winter there—than the frigid central Maine subarctic temps.
She’d hoped that coming home to Saber Falls might jolt the dead space in her chest back to life. That the darkness would burn away in the bright sunlight sparkling off the frozen trees.
But it hadn’t. She’d been home for a few days, back from the war in Iraq for less than a month, and nothing she did felt right. Not being around Natalie. Not being around her mother or her old friends from high school. Especially not being around friends from high school. She’d tried to stop in and see her friends Garrett and Finn Rierson but her lungs had stopped working before she’d even pulled into the police station where Garrett worked. She’d kept driving, avoiding the reality of seeing them. Avoiding the reality of the loss of her best friend that threatened to cut off her air every time she thought about her. She breathed out as she rounded a bend in the snowmobile trail, turning back toward her mother’s house, trying to ease the automatic tightness in her chest when she thought about Mel.
The hole in her heart was matched by the hole left in their lives from the war.
Nothing felt right but work. Work and being around the soldiers she’d deployed with were the only things that didn’t feel wrong.
Even then, being around the guys from work wasn’t the same now that they were all home. She was the odd woman out as the men went home to their wives and the women went home to their husbands and kids.
She pulled her hat down over her ears, trying to keep out the penetrating cold.
Sam had gone home to her daughter. To the man who’d been a part of her life for the last nine years.
And she’d felt nothing.
No joy at seeing Natalie. No happiness at being with Patrick.
Oh, she’d smiled and said all the right things. But inside, something special was broken. There were no words for the utter lack of any feeling. Everything was mechanical and stilted. Off.
Especially with Patrick.
He was a good man. A man she’d loved with everything she was.
But things weren’t the same anymore. Something had changed during her deployment. She’d stopped calling as much, unable to bear hearing her daughter’s voice on the phone. The pain in her heart when her daughter cried for her ripped out her soul, made her question everything she was doing in the war, in the Army.
But it was different with Patrick. She’d stopped calling him, too; not just Natalie. She hadn’t been able to deal with hearing about the homework or dinner or all the other normal things he did while she was deployed. He managed her being gone so much better than she’d done without him.
It wasn’t like he hadn’t deployed, too. She’d been the worried other half on the other side of the world before.
Maybe the war had taken her ability to feel any happiness at all ever again. The deployment …the deployment had broken her ability to feel anything for him, and she couldn’t say why, only that now she looked at him and felt…nothing. She’d hoped, prayed, that seeing him would make her feel again, would breathe life back into the dead spot in her chest.
But that first night home, when he’d slid into the bed next to her, she’d feigned sleep and denied them both. She sucked in a deep breath, letting the cold burn in her lungs until her eyes watered.
He was no warrior saint. What she’d done—or rather what she hadn’t done—had hurt them both. She’d seen his hurt and the anger and frustration just there beneath the surface.
But it hadn’t cracked the frozen glass encasing her heart.
She couldn’t say what had happened to the love she’d felt for him. But after a week of pretending, she’d broken the news.
“I’m going home for Christmas,” she’d said as he’d stripped in the bathroom after PT.
He’d turned slowly, his dark brown eyes filled with expectation and a thousand questions. “Okay?” he’d said cautiously.
“I’m not coming back,” she’d said, her voice as flat as the emotions in her chest.
The veins in his neck had bunched, standing out against his skin. “Back to me or back to the Army?”
She looked away from the penetrating concern in his eyes. Patrick was a good man. A strong man. A man who had loved her daughter and who had loved her.
And she wasn’t capable of loving him back anymore.
It was better to end it now. Cauterize the wound before it festered and grew in hatred and anger. Maybe they could figure out how to be friends.
Maybe someday, when things weren’t all wilted and frayed inside her.
“I’m sorry,” was all she had managed.
Walking through the woods now, she couldn’t say when things had gone wrong. She couldn’t put a mark on the calendar that she could pinpoint and say here’s when things went to shit in her life.
She’d hoped coming home would fix things. That the fog would clear away and she’d feel something again. But the fog was still there.
And it still felt like she was looking at life from very far away.
So she walked. Through the woods as the sun slid higher over the frozen Maine trees and hills, hoping that something would snap her out of it.
There was no reason for her to feel this way.
She’d made it home from the war when others hadn’t. She had a daughter who was healthy and a man who’d taken care of their lives while she was deployed. A career that she was damn good at.
She’d come home.
She just didn’t know what that actually felt like.
She didn’t know if she’d ever feel again.
But she had to keep going. Had to put one foot in front of the other. She just needed to suck it up and snap herself out of it.
Because she had a daughter to raise. And the war was far from over.
For her, it would never be over. The ghosts would be with her, no matter how far she walked or how hard she tried to pretend they weren’t.
Her toes burned from the cold. She needed to get warm. Maybe Mom and Natalie wouldn’t be up yet so she could sit by the fire and just let the heat seep into her bones.
Natalie was an early bird, though. All those mornings of getting up for daycare since she was a baby had set the little bugger’s internal clock for the ass-crack of dawn. Maybe, though, maybe today she’d sleep in.
It was Christmas, right? Miracles could happen.
Sam had promised her a trip to see Santa. Damn, but she didn’t want to drive the hour to Bangor to the mall. She used to love coming home to Central Maine for a visit, but she damn sure hated the thirty-minute drive for the nearest real grocery store or the hour plus to Bangor.
But she’d promised and, well, a promise was a promise.
So if the weather held, she’d bundle her little bear up and head to the mall.
But first she needed to get warm. Badly.
She opened the sliders to her mother’s back door. She’d always loved her mom’s house. The back of the house faced away from the road and civilization in general. It was peaceful.
She kicked the snow off her boots and slid the door shut behind her.
There was movement in the kitchen. The light was on now. Probably Mom. Guess Natalie’s early riser tendencies were genetic. “Mom?”
Silence greeted her question.
Then froze as the shadows near the kitchen sink moved and morphed into the man she’d abandoned.
Patrick stepped into the pale morning light.
Jessica Scott is an Iraq war veteran, an active duty army officer and the USA Today bestselling author of novels set in the heart of America’s Army. She is the mother of two daughters, three cats and three dogs, and wife to a retired NCO.
She's also written for the New York Times At War Blog, PBS Point of View Regarding War, and IAVA. She deployed to Iraq in 2009 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)/New Dawn and has had the honor of serving as a company commander at Fort Hood, Texas twice.
She's holds phd in morality in Sociology with Duke University and she's been featured as one of Esquire Magazine's Americans of the Year for 2012.
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