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Worth the Fall(8)

By´╝ÜClaudia Connor



Matt grabbed T’s other elbow, trying to give him the leverage he needed to swing his leg up. The whiz of a bullet singed the hair off the back of his hand. Teddy’s body swung twenty feet off the rocky terrain. Their ride home picked up speed.

Matt stretched a little farther to get ahold of T’s belt. With a surge of strength, T went from dangling over a desert death to landing face down in Mason’s crotch.

“No, thanks, Wilson. You’re not my type.”

Thirty seconds later and safely away, the pilot’s voice crackled. “I almost left your stupid ass, T-man.”

Teddy leaned back against the safety of the helo. “Couldn’t let the fuckers take down your baby bird, could I?” He looked at Matt, flashing a devilish grin that pretty much summed up his friend. “Just making things interesting.”

Matt raised his fist to bump T’s. “Hooyah.”

Bunkmates. Teammates. Best friends.

Until that friend had come home in a body bag.

Matt stared at the ocean below his condo balcony, fighting the gory memories, teetering between punching the wall and crying like a baby.

When he finally closed his eyes against the stars and drifted into sleep, he dreamed of a nameless angel who smiled and danced and carried new life inside her, a little girl with curls and a yellow bucket, and chocolate ice cream on smooth, tan shoulders.





Chapter 3


The morning sun reflected off the meandering, free-form pool. Ornamental grasses and tropical flora offered intermittent patches of shade.

“Mommy, can we get in?” Gracie asked.

“Sunscreen first.” Abby dug in her beach bag for lotion, then started at Annie’s shoulders and worked her way down. The others sat waiting, feet dangling in the water.

She glanced around for Wicked Witch of the White Pants, not really expecting to find her at the family pool. Her mind strayed to the tall man with horrible taste in women. But wow. He had looked good in that shirt. Stark white dress shirt against his dark complexion, cuffs rolled up, his hands so big that one had covered Charlie’s entire back. And he hadn’t been at all concerned with clinging chocolate fingers.

“Hey.”

Abby froze, then peered up at the man blocking out the sun with his big body. He stood close enough she had to crane her neck to see his face. And he continued to stand there, not saying another word. Oh. Yeah. Probably waiting on her.

“Hi,” she finally choked out.

“Mind if I sit?”

“Um, sure.” But he was already halfway down, not waiting for her mumbled response.

He wore dark blue swim trunks and a gray T-shirt with the word “Navy” stretched tightly across his chest. A huge presence in a small space. The lounge chairs were packed so closely together their knees practically touched. He smelled nice—not a heavy cologne smell but a more subtle man-product scent, like aftershave. The kind of smell that woke up more than your nose.

“Hey!” Jack joined them, all smiles to see his football-throwing friend.

She finished Annie and went for Jack. “Sunscreen,” she told him, pulling him closer.

True to his honest and forthright nature, Jack blurted the first thing that came to mind. “Your girlfriend is mean.”

“Jackson Moore!” Abby admonished.

“Well, she is,” he insisted, trying his best to dodge her efforts to lotion his crinkled nose. “Is she your friend? Because you don’t have to be friends with people that are mean, but you can’t hit them. Right, Mom?”

“Right.” Abby held the back of Jack’s head to keep him still. She really needed to teach her son not to voice every thought.

“No, she’s not my friend,” he said.

Abby gave him a quick skeptical glance.

Jack smiled. “That’s good. I don’t like girls either. What’s your name?”

“Matt, and you’re right. She is mean. But some girls are nice.” He said the last part looking right at her.

Good grief. He must catch a million unsuspecting girls with that movie-star handsome face.

Gracie climbed up beside Matt, clamping a small, wet hand onto his shoulder. She leaned around so they were nose-to-nose. As if hearing her wasn’t going to be enough, she had to make sure he saw her too. “Hi.”

Abby gave Jack’s back a pat. “Okay, you’re free.”

“Are you going to tell me your name?”

Matt’s deep, smooth voice matched his soft brown eyes, and she couldn’t help wondering why he was here. With her.

Gracie wobbled on the uneven slats of the lounge chair, then steadied herself by grabbing on to the sunglasses strap hanging around his neck. “Her name’s Mom.”

Matt laughed and caught his glasses. “Hi, Mom.”

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