Heart of the Season
Loving Hearts #2
July 27, 2015 - eBook & Print; December 12, 2016 - Audiobook
With a little help and a holiday miracle, can a determined animal rescue worker find and save a missing dog in time to give a wounded warrior the Christmas he desperately longs for?
Jeannie Montgomery runs an animal shelter in Kabul, where she not only rescues strays, but also helps Western military personnel bring their newfound pets home when their tour of duty is up. Jeannie's heart nearly breaks when she receives an email from a stateside marine, pleading for her help with finding his dog. As she begins communicating with him via Skype, an instant attraction sparks between them, strengthening Jeannie's resolve to do whatever it takes to fulfill his Christmas wish.
Zachary West lost his leg in an IED blast in Afghanistan. Since returning to Phoenix, he's been living in self-imposed isolation, hiding his scars from the world, but he hasn't forgotten the furry friend whose warning saved his life. More than anything, he wants to have Akilah home with him in time for Christmas. Jeannie seems to be the answer to his prayers. Her optimism and tenacity give Zach hope for Akilah, while her loving kindness helps heal his battered heart. He wants to believe that she's the one he's been waiting for all his life, but how can a gorgeous woman like her ever love a broken, scarred warrior like him?
The Story Behind the Story
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Your purchase of Heart of the Season benefits both the Semper Fi Fund and Nowzad Dogs. The Semper Fi Fund provides financial assistance and support for post 9/11 wounded or critically ill members from all branches of the U. S. Armed Forces and their families. Nowzad Dogs operates the first official animal shelter inside Afghanistan. For more information, please visit my charities page.
Hero: Zach West
Heroine: Jeannie Montgomery
Pet: Akilah "Kiki"
Key Supporting Characters: Alexis Montgomery, Ethan Montgomery, Jason Strickland, Robbie Garcia, Laura Thompson, Colonel Armstrong
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Awakened from a nightmare, Zachary West bolted upright on his bed. Cold sweat poured off his forehead and trickled down his face. His heart pounded as though it might leap out of his chest and his breath rasped in and out far too quickly. Pain shot through his left calf. He unconsciously reached for it, his hand grasping nothing but the sheet, reminding him it no longer existed. Before he could get his thoughts and emotions under control, a vivid flashback assailed him.
The scorching midday sun beat down on his Kevlar helmet. He thought his body would surely fry from the intense heat. His skin felt dry and taut, and he nearly choked on the dust churning up from his comrades' boots as they traversed the well-worn foot path, guns at the ready. There had been reports of insurgents in the area, so everyone was on alert. With one hand still on his rifle, he grabbed his canteen and took a quick sip. The lukewarm water did little to soothe his cracked lips and parched throat.
His dog trotted happily ahead, her nose raised, scenting the air. Her eyes darted back and forth. She was every bit as vigilant as any good Marine. He smiled at the thought. She was no trained military dog, only a stray who'd found and adopted him, but she acted like she was one of them.
Several paces ahead, the dog stopped in her tracks. When he reached the place where she stood, still unmoving, he skirted around to her left, nearing an old, worn tire by the side of the road. He had taken no more than a few steps past her, when she began barking furiously. He looked over his shoulder to see what had her so worked up just as an explosion shattered the silence and rocked the earth.
The force of the blast propelled him several feet through the air. He landed on his right side, feeling as though every ounce of air had been sucked from his body. When he was finally able to drag in another breath, his brain attempted to assess the damage. His ears were ringing, he couldn't feel his left leg, and there was a searing pain in the left side of his face.
The shouts of his fellow Marines echoed as though from a distance. His dog barked even more frantically than before. He heard someone call for a medic. Then he was being rolled onto his back and something was strapped to his leg.
“Hang in there, buddy.” The face of Gunnery Sergeant Robbie Garcia, who was like a big brother to him, swam through his blurry vision as the other man pressed gauze to his cheek. “Chopper's on the way.”
He hovered on the edge of consciousness a moment longer. His last thought before everything went black was that his dog was still barking.
With superhuman effort, Zach tried to focus and reorganize his thoughts. Finally, he recalled the relaxation exercises his therapist had taught him and began breathing deeply while meditating on calming thoughts. Soon, the pain in his missing leg subsided to a dull ache, and his heart returned to a normal pace. Zach sagged back against the headboard. His eyes roved around the sparsely furnished studio apartment he'd called home since returning to Phoenix from the rehab center. It wasn't much, but it reassured him that he was in no danger.
The nightmares and flashbacks had started when he was still in the hospital following his injury. The dream was always the same, a replay of the day his life and body were irrevocably altered. His therapist had said that nearly getting blown to hell would do that to a guy. Since starting therapy, they came less frequently, but still more often than he'd like, and he was pretty sure he knew why. He had left something very important behind in Afghanistan, and it wasn't his leg.
Editor: Jillian Leigh @ First Look for Authors
Cover Designer: Jaycee DeLorenzo @ Sweet 'n' Spicy Designs