A military police officer on the verge of a new beginning. A beautiful woman devoted to her career and her dream of putting down roots. The hardest thing they’ll ever do is to take a chance on love . . .
Navy Chief Master at Arms Jackson “Jax” Faraday is at a crossroads. He has to decide whether to reenlist or get out while he’s young enough to make a difference in the civilian world. Either choice could mean leaving behind his girl: his K-9 partner, Bella. But when she’s injured during a training session, Jax’s only concern is making sure she’s okay.
As the Navy base veterinarian, town local Risa Reynolds is right where she belongs: close to her parents in a farmhouse full of animals—with room to grow. She’s seen enough to put military men are on her “not happening” list, because they always leave.
But when a tall, hazel-eyed sailor arrives in her clinic with his dog in his arms, Risa finds herself falling hard. And all kinds of rules will get broken when Jax, a man who sticks to the straight and narrow, learns that there’s no predicting the twists and turns of the heart . . .
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He should have been worried about his future. Time was running out for him to make a decision—stay in the Navy or get out—and the detailer was breathing down his neck. But the decision to throw away the past twelve years wasn’t easy.
He wanted more.
If NCIS—Naval Criminal Investigative Service—would make a decision on his application, that would be great. But what if they turned him down? Did he stay in for twenty years and retire? Then what? Start over at the bottom? Go home to a one-stoplight town with a police force that spent all its time dealing with bored teens wreaking havoc or frustrated couples fighting? Work security for one of the nearby casinos? All viable options, just not what he wanted.
He wanted to make a difference.
He shoved away the nagging questions. He had more pressing concerns. Like what was wrong with Bella, which was why he was at the base training center, even though his shift was officially over.
“Come on, Bella. Give me your best for an hour, and then I’ve got a treat for you.” He wagged the Frisbee to get her attention. Instead, Bella whined and flicked her ear.
“Hey, Jax. Heard we had a win in the courtroom today.” Chief Casey Thomas drove his Jeep up next to the chain-link fence.
“Stone? Yeah, he’s going away for a good couple of years for that little video stunt of his. Not that it makes up for what he put Lieutenant Riley through, but it’s a start.”
“Me and a couple of the guys are going to grab some grub and head out to the beach. Enjoy what’s left of summer. Come join us.” Casey drummed his fingers on the outside of the driver’s door, giving away he had more on his mind than a night’s celebration.
“What’s up with you, man? You seem agitated.” He and Casey went back a ways; spent some time in the sandbox together. Normally the guy was as easygoing as cool beer slipping down your throat on a summer day. “Got my orders in today.” Casey slid out of the vehicle and walked
through the gate. “I’m heading to Pensacola.” “Isn’t your ex-wife there?”
“Near enough.” Casey squatted down and scratched Bella’s ears. “Did you hear back on your application yet?”
“You know what they say: No news is good news.” At least he hoped that’s what it meant.
“You know what you need? To find a nice lady who can take some of your stress away and make you forget your worries.”
“The only lady I need in my life is Belladonna.” “She’s a little hairy and full of attitude.”
“Aw, but you forget. She loves me unconditionally and always has my six.” “Not lately.” Casey stood and looked out at the obstacle course. “The new handler had her out this morning, running her through basic commands, and she ignored them all. I know you two have a tight bond, especially after two tours, but you’re leaving soon. She’s got to get used to new people.” Bella had been more than his partner while deployed; she’d been his anchor, his pillar of strength, his confidant, and his hope when all seemed lost. She wasn’t just his K-9 partner. She was his family, and the idea of leaving her was ripping him apart inside. Chances were she could sense
his mood and the turmoil going on inside.
“Which is why I’m passing on your offer.” Jax released the German shepherd’s leash. “Thought I’d do some special one-on-one training with her and see how it goes. Find out if it’s the new guy or her.”
“She wouldn’t be the first dog to burn out.” Casey looked down at the dog, who hadn’t moved. “Of course, if she’s declared unfit for duty, you could adopt her. But then, what would you do with her while you’re in Glynco for NCIS training?”
Jax dropped the leash and Frisbee on top of his backpack and looked into the brilliant blue sky. He’d been playing the “what if” game for two months now with no answers in sight.
“Let’s deal with one problem at a time.”
“If you change your mind about tonight, you know where to find us.” Casey waved as he hopped back into his Jeep and drove off.
Jax squatted down and ran his hand down Bella’s back. “Okay girl, let’s get the work over so we can play.” Truthfully, everything they did was work. The game of Frisbee honed the dog’s speed, agility, and tracking ability just as much as anything else they did. She simply liked it better than the obstacle course. Not that Jax blamed her.
Jax stood up and gave the hand signal for sit.
The dog looked at him, then closed her eyes with a deep sigh. “Bella, sit,” he commanded.
She rolled over onto her side and laid her paw across her nose. Casey really nailed it with his description. The dog was full of attitude—bad attitude—and a military working dog that didn’t follow orders was of no use to the service.
Jax went through the commands again and again, getting no response. The two of them had worked together for almost six years, since Bella’s first assignment, and she’d transferred with him from the Middle East to the Sub base. In all that time, she’d never ignored an order from him. He bent back down and gave her a cursory inspection, but he didn’t find any obvious reason for the dog to balk. Concerned, Jax sat down on the ground next to his partner.
“Bella girl, talk to me. What’s going on in that brain of yours? Is it the heat? Don’t you like the new guy? Tired of the same old routine? Trust me, I’d understand if that was the problem. Maybe we should call it a night, and tomorrow go see Doc and make sure you’re okay.”
Bella scooted closer and laid her head on Jax’s lap, her tail thumping in the grass.
“You gotta be okay, girl.” Absently, he scratched behind her ears as he thought of the past six years. “I don’t think I could handle it if we’d come this far and something happened to you.”
Jax leaned forward and picked up the Frisbee. As he talked about nothing to the dog, he tossed the toy up and caught it, making no demands on Bella. Pretty soon she was sitting, her gaze following the disc.
“Ah ha. Okay, I get it. There are times when I don’t feel like working either. I’ll make a deal with you. Five minutes of play and then a lap around the course. Deal?”
Bella barked in response.
Jax laughed and jumped to his feet, relieved to see her respond like her old self. He threw the Frisbee, and Bella took off at the speed of light. She caught the disc and returned it.
They repeated it again and again.
“Okay, last one and then we work.” Jax threw it with all his strength. The disc flew up. Bella chased, but instead of running straight across the lawn, she ran up the stairs of the dog walk. When she got to the top, she jumped and caught the disc in her mouth. But as she came down, she twisted. The scene before him unfolded in slow motion. He ran, reaching for Bella. Almost there. He dove to catch her but it was too late. Bella crashed to the ground a couple of feet in front of him, letting out a yelp that made
Jax’s stomach cramp. He crawled to her side.
Thank God she was breathing. He ran his hands over her body. Nothing protruded and there was no blood, but she was crying.
Carefully, Jax scooped her up and ran for his truck. “Hang on, baby.
Everything’s going to be okay.”
And he prayed like he hadn’t done since his last night in the desert. Just like now, Bella had been at his side and they’d been pinned down by enemy fire. He’d prayed that night that they’d make it home alive and in one piece. He prayed now that his dog would live, because even though she technically belonged to the U.S. Navy, she was the love of his life.
Gail Chianese’s love of reading began at the tender age of three, when she’d make her grandpa read Fourteen Country Rabbits over and over and over again (and correct him when he skipped parts). While she’s branched out over the years by reading mystery, women’s fiction, and urban fantasy, she always circles back to romance in the end. That’s probably because she’s married to her real life hero. Her wonderful hubby has served in the US Navy for the past twenty two years and he’s done things he can’t tell her about. But it doesn’t stop her from being extremely proud of him and the sacrifices he makes for her, his family, and his country. He’s also uber-supportive of her dreams and of their three children. Living in Mystic, CT and a member of Connecticut Romance Writers of America, Gail loves to hear from readers.