Fight or flight kicked in in exactly the opposite way Zach had planned.
He’d chosen flight and just a few steps away from the hospital blinkin’ fightreared its head. Big time.
The mission was simple. Bring the flowers. Apologise. Go back to the rehab hospital and tell everyone he’d made peace with his past.
He could’ve lied. Could’ve said anything.
But something deep in his chest was demanding the truth. No mystery what that was. His heart.
The second he’d locked eyes with Isla he knew walking away would be impossible. Every bit as painful as realising his leg was missing. Maybe more.
Again, it was hard to get a full glimpse of her as she was on the far side of a gurney surrounded by medical personnel and wasn’t the tallest of women—petite even—but he could’ve picked her out of a crowd of thousands.
She was glowing from the inside out. Beautiful. The same untameable curly hair trying its best to escape the clasp she’d bundled it into. The same dark brown eyes full of empathy and warmth. Capable. Assured. Just…the most perfect woman he’d ever met.
There was no way she’d want a man like him. Put through the war machine for one last tour only to come out as damaged goods.
He’d promised to come back for her. Promised to give her everything she’d ever wanted. A home. A family.
And that was the plan. From the moment he’d landed in Helmand Province it had been chaos. Local tribal clashes, families caught in the crossfire, horrific injuries keeping him and anyone else he could grab at the operating table as long as he could stay awake. Snatched hours of sleep were for survival and nothing more. There were no spare moments. No time to send addresses. Email links. Nothing at all.
And that hadn’t been the plan. Of course she’d laughed when he semi-proposed to her before he left, but he’d made a silent vow to himself that he would make good on that promise and just nine short days into his tour he knew he would fail.
He wasn’t the strong, able-bodied, vital man who’d pulled Isla Reid into his arms and kissed her as if she were the very thing that kept his heart beating.
The first two months in hospital he hadn’t mentioned her name. Couldn’t. It was only in one particularly painful rehab session it had come out. A painful wolf howl scoured raw with loss and the ache of knowing all he’d ever wanted for her was beyond his reach.
He couldn’t believe he’d let the PTSD shrink talk him into coming here. Make amends for leaving her hanging. The guilt had been near enough eating him alive but at least the gnawing, aching sensation of loss took his mind off the other things that were missing.
His ability to have children.
He stared at the roses for a moment as if he was holding a fistful of weeds. What had possessed him to come and say sorry and goodbye with the symbol of love? Life might’ve been unnecessarily cruel to him but it was no reason to grind salt into Isla’s wounds. If she had any.
Who knew? A woman that beautiful could’ve more than easily moved on by now.
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