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He leaned against the counter, crossing his arms as he studied her. The movement pulled the white stretchy fabric tight across his broad chest, and she found herself paying more attention to the corded muscles in his arms than the flicker of concern in his laser-blue eyes. “You always have a problem sleeping or is it more recent?”
This was ridiculous. She couldn’t think straight. He doesn’t feel anything for you. He doesn’t want you, she reminded herself sternly. The thought had the same effect as standing under an ice-cold shower. At least she could think clearly again. “Jack Junior took a while before he learned nighttime was for sleeping. I think it messed with my internal clock,” she answered, adjusting the temperature on the oven. In truth, she hadn’t slept through the night since Jack went missing. She’d been able to deal with the fear during the day, but it haunted her at night. But like her lusting after him, it wasn’t something he needed to know.
“What do you do to help you sleep?”
Pray. Imagine what it would be like when you came home. Figure out how I’ll go on if you don’t. “Warm milk with a banana.”
“I’ll have to remember that.”
She wondered if he meant for her or for him. If he was having trouble sleeping, it was something she needed to know. Despite how peaceful and sweet they’d look lying together in the big bed, Grace knew enough about PTSD to be cautious and had returned Jack Junior to his crib. The military trained their warriors to cope with being captured. And Jack was one of their best. But that didn’t mean warriors didn’t break. He hadn’t been fine when he left.
“Are you having trouble sleeping?” she asked, placing the pie in the oven. He didn’t answer right away, and she glanced over her shoulder.
His gaze slid up her legs to her face. As if embarrassed to be caught checking her out, he uncrossed his arms and shoved his hands in his jeans pockets. It was somewhat heartening to discover he wasn’t totally immune to her.
“No, not at all. Why?”
“So you’re not having nightmares or flashbacks?”
“Is that why you didn’t leave Jack Junior in bed with me?”
“No, of course not. I didn’t want him to fall out or for you to roll over on him.” He raised a brow and held her gaze. She sighed. “Okay, so the thought crossed my mind.”
“If you were worried about it, you should’ve asked me. For the record, I don’t have PTSD.”
“It’s a little early to say that for sure. There can be a delay in symptoms.”
“We’ll have our pie, and then we’ll talk about—”
Stunned, she interrupted him. “You want to talk about it?” She’d begged him to open up to her last time, to help her understand what was going on with him. But every time she did, he’d shut her down.
“Honestly? No. I’m one of the lucky ones. I survived. I came home. But you have legitimate concerns, and we should discuss them.”
This was the man she’d fallen in love with, the one she’d prayed would come back to her. At that moment, the desire for him to remember her, to remember them, was painful. She had to remind herself she was lucky to have him home at all. She forced a smile. “I appreciate that. Thank you.”
Opening the cupboard, she took out a plate. He reached around her and took out another one.
“I said we’ll have our pie and talk. That’s the deal. Take it or leave it,” he said when she went to object.
“I told you—”
“Yeah, I know what you told me, but I don’t believe you. I’m home now. You don’t have to worry about me anymore.”
“How did you know?”
“Let’s just say you wouldn’t make a very good poker player.”
“Is that right? Well, how do you explain the fact I beat you every time we played?” She grinned at his shocked expression.
“Huh. I wouldn’t have taken you for a poker player. What did we play, Five-card stud, Texas Hold’em?” he asked as though he didn’t believe her.
She took the pie out of the oven. “Strip poker.”
“Sorry, I missed that.” He leaned into her, his warm breath ruffling her hair. “What did you say?”
“I think you heard me just fine,” she said in a breathy voice, trying not to melt into his lean, muscled body.
“Maybe I’m in shock. You don’t strike me as the strip-poker type.”
“What type do I strike you as?” she asked, placing first his slice of pie, then hers, on the plates. She handed him his. “I have ice cream if you’d like. Häagen-Dazs dulce de leche.” She wondered if he remembered the brand was his favorite.
“Do you even have to ask?”
“Yeah, I remembered,” he said quietly.
As she took the container from the freezer, he said, “Bridge. I would’ve figured you for the type of woman who played bridge. When I first saw you, that’s who you reminded me of—wealthy women who do lunch and are involved in good causes. Elegant and refined, polite and cultured.” Grace kept her back to him so he wouldn’t see the face she made. He could be describing her mother. “You’re also sweet and have a great sense of humor. And you’re a wonderful mother. Our son is lucky to have you.”
She blinked back tears, pretending to fight with the ice cream lid. She didn’t want him to see how his words had affected her. “Thank you.”
They were lovely words, but that’s all they were. She didn’t think the qualities he ascribed to her would be enough for him to fall in love with her again if his memory didn’t return.
Excerpt from CHRISTMAS IN JULY ©2014 by Debbie Mason. All rights reserved.
Length: 416 pages
Publisher: Forever (June 24, 2013)
Grace Flaherty had given up hope of ever seeing her husband again. After all, it'd been over a year since he went missing in combat. So when he strides through the door of her bakery in downtown Christmas one sunny afternoon, she can hardly believe her eyes. But her happily-ever-after is going to take some effort - because Jack has no memory of his family.
All Jack Flaherty remembers about Christmas is that he couldn't wait to leave town. Now he's a local hero with a wife and son he doesn't know. Even as he struggles to rekindle the romance with his wife, he knows in his heart what he wants: a second chance at love.
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