A PROMISE MADE
No mission has ever scared former Navy SEAL turned marine rescue firefighter Brad Silverman. Yet his best friend’s final directive will do it: take care of Scarlett. However, Scarlett Harrison has always been Brad’s one who got away. She’s off limits. No matter how much he still loves and desires her.
A SECOND CHANCE
Widowed two years, Scarlett’s finally back in her hometown of St. Louis. Even though she’s known Brad since high school, she’s reluctant to accept his or anyone’s help. Living under his roof shows that releasing him from the friendzone might be her best move yet—but she’s not sure she can take another heartbreak. Can they put the past behind them? Can they both take the biggest risk of their lives for this second chance at love?
The sun wasn’t supposed to be shining on days like this. Rain would have been better—big, dark and stormy rain clouds would at least have matched Brad’s anger and ire. Hard-slapping raindrops would also hide any slip of emotion, although men stoic in their Navy dress blues didn’t shed tears. Yet the fight to hold them back was one of the hardest-fought battles of his life. A seagull took flight, finding his friends so they could play on the warm ocean breeze that blew across Coronado and made its way gently across the bay to San Diego. The breeze made the mid-eighties day perfectly palatable. Already Todd’s elderly parents had been waiting over forty minutes for the Navy chaplain to begin the service, but Father Joseph couldn’t begin until the casket arrived.
That was still a hundred yards away, being slowly carried along the assigned route.
Brad stood at attention, sweating under the dark uniform that locked in the heat. He waited at the end of the line, the pallbearers made up of the current members of Todd’s SEAL team, a role Brad had forfeited when he’d turned down the promotion. Brad had opted out of the transfer, and once his six-year enlistment ended, he’d head back to St. Louis. Todd had signed back up without any hesitation or backward glances. There’d been no talking him out of staying a SEAL. Less than a year later, his best friend was dead.
Brad could still remember the conversation when he’d told his friend—both he and Todd at a local dive, sharing a pitcher of beer over several games of pool. Todd was between overseas deployments, training for the mission ahead.
“You were finally going to be on my team. The guys and I were ready for it.” Todd had taken a deep drink of the sudsy draft. Brad could still picture how he’d had to wipe his lip of the foam.
“Couldn’t do it,” Brad admitted. “I wish you’d followed me out.”
“Thought about it. But I’m not cut out for civilian life. My country needs me.”
“Scarlett needs you. She loves you.”
“Yeah. But trust me, she understands.” Todd drank more beer. Turned serious. “I need you to do me a solid. A favor. I’m shipping out in a few weeks.”
On the same mission Brad would also have been on, had he chosen to say yes. “Anything, man. What are friends for?”
“Good. I know I can trust you. You’ve always had my back. Got a letter. For Scarlett. Should something happen. Gonna snail mail it to you. I hope you’ll never need it, but if you do, give it to her when the time’s right.”
Scarlett. Todd’s wife. Brad’s secret high school crush. But once Todd had called dibs, that had been that. Brad had stood as best man at Todd and Scarlett’s wedding. Tried to forget how he felt about her. Told himself that thinking he was in love with her was nothing but a stupid obsession. A weakness to overcome. Something that would change when he found “the one.” Only the one had never shown up, and his feelings hadn’t changed. No woman compared.
The breeze shifted and Brad ignored the discomfort of standing at attention this long. On missions, he’d sat quiet and still for hours, but this was different, and the pain was wearing him down. He’d received the package a few weeks after that night in the bar, and inside was a sealed envelope addressed to Scarlett, along with some handwritten, one-page notes addressed to Brad upon which Todd had scrawled his last wishes—detailed instructions that Brad would now follow with military precision. In a twist of irony, today would be his last day in uniform. Tomorrow he’d fly back to his base, pack his things, and move home.
The honor guard carrying the casket came into sight. Behind, Scarlett walked, her certain step and emotionless expression designed to hide her grief. Brad could hear the thumps now, the sound of metal hitting the top of the casket as each of Todd’s naval brethren removed his trident and set the metal badge atop the casket. The rhythmic thumping got louder as the casket came closer. “There’s Mommy,” he heard Todd’s two-year-old daughter say. She was too young to fully understand what was going on and too small to walk the distance. “Shh,” Todd’s mother soothed, holding Colleen tight.
Brad straightened further as the trident-covered casket came within his reach. The pallbearers slowed, and with a thump, Brad added his own trident. Then they went past and up onto the dais, where dignitaries waited to honor the life of a SEAL gone too soon, but one whose heroic actions had saved the lives in his unit. Like precision clockwork, everyone moved into place and the service started.
Brad had seen Scarlett briefly last night after he’d flown in. Todd’s parents wanted him buried in St. Louis, but Scarlett had relayed those weren’t his wishes. Instead, inside the rental casket was an urn containing his ashes. Brad’s gaze caught hers, and he shot the full force of his sympathy toward her. She was a proud woman, Todd had warned in the missives he’d sent. She would resist all outside help. But Todd had given Brad a job. Thought his best friend could somehow succeed in helping when all others failed, as Todd clearly believed they would.
Brad stared at the casket, at Todd’s weeping parents, and at the drained, sad face of Todd’s wife. Scarlett. No amount of telling her he was sorry would help now. He might be leaving the Navy, but he had to complete this last mission as assigned.
He owed it to his friend.
He owed it to his friend’s daughter.
And he especially owed it to Scarlett.
The fact they were here today was entirely his fault.