Cross My Heart by K.D. Friedrich
Cross My Heart by K.D. Friedrich Publication Date: January 19, 2015 Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Synopsis: Struggling with the emotional and physical scars of war, Marine Pete Cross returns to his hometown, Heart Falls, New York, bitter and broken. The last person he wants to see is the stubborn tomboy from his past, Cara Sands. The guy code of ethics demands he keep his hands to himself where his best friend’s sister is concerned, but Cara never got that memo. Apparently, neither did Pete’s libido, because his desire for her is stronger than ever.Cara has no clue where the man she loves went, but she’ll do whatever it takes to bring him back. Pete tries to push Cara away with bitterness and anger, but she yanks him right back with understanding and patience. Her persistence drags them closer to an outcome that might destroy them both or show him, once and for all, the power of second chances.
About K.D. Friedrich
K. D. Friedrich is a writer of Contemporary and Paranormal Romance. By day, she crunches numbers, but by night, she's busy creating interesting worlds and compelling characters, hot alpha heroes being her favorite. In 2013, she placed second in the Golden Palm contest for Paranormal Romance. She's an overprotective mother (her daughter's words), lifelong New Yorker, and an obsessed reader of everything romance.
Pete limped over to a green garden hose that lay in a heap beneath an old spigot. He opened the water valve, then reached down and picked up the nozzle lying at his feet. He then rinsed off his hands, and face, before turning the stream on his head. He came up shaking off water like a wet dog.
Cara strolled over to him. She handed him the cold beer. Condensation traveled down the long neck, wetting his fingers, just as several drops of water trickled down his bare chest. He nodded his approval, took an immediate swig, and then glanced back over to his work. “Damn, it’s so good.”
“A cold beer does hit the spot.”
He shook his head with a grin. “Not the beer, the work. There’s nothing like hard labor to get the blood pumping.” He dropped the hose.
Feeling mischievous, she eyed the dripping sprayer lying on the grass. She closed the distance between them, reached down and grabbed the cold steel.
Pete caught her movement. He froze. He glared at her but mischief sparkled in his eyes. “Don’t do it?”
She lifted the hose higher.
“You’ll regret it,” he promised.
Never. The sight of Pete’s moist muscles well outweighed the threat of retribution. She squeezed the handle without hesitation. Water shot out, hitting Pete’s beautiful naked chest. He dropped his beer. His hands flew up, shielding his face from her attack.
“Why you little…”
“Huh-uh … who has the power, baby?” she teased. “Who has the power?” She repeated the line he used to use when they were young. When they would play and taunt each other, uncaring of the looks others would give them.
She squeezed again, almost hitting below the belt. He fought against the stream as bursts of their uncontrolled laughter filled the yard. After managing to grab a hold of her wrist, Pete was able to seize the aquatic weapon from her grip.
“Mistake number one, Cara, weapons can be turned on their owners.” He sprayed her. The blast drenched her shirt.
“Stop!” she screamed. Their merriment echoed over the grassy field, well past the distant tree line of the woods.
“Revenge is mine.” He attacked again, shooting at her held up hands, not caring for her surrender. “Get over here.”
The flow stopped. Pete had one arm wrapped around her waist. Breathless from laughing, their gazes locked tight. The only sounds were the chirp of crickets, their breathless sighs, and her pounding heart. His skin glistened, attracting the sliver of daylight, which peeked through the trees. He licked his lips and leaned closer.
“What are you doing?”
“I don’t know,” he whispered. He stared into her eyes. “God, you’re beautiful, Cara.”
She had an infectious laugh. Her smile uncorrupted by the evil infecting many parts of the world. Unfortunately, sin infested Pete. His hands stained with the blood of hundreds, maybe thousands of people he had never met, his head branded with their agonized screams and inbreed hatred.
Doctors tried to labels his issues. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, survivor’s guilt, uncontrolled aggression, anger, paranoia, words used to simplify his convoluted state of mind. Life and circumstance had twisted him, altering the man who left all those years ago into a mere shell of his former self. He used to laugh without restraint. Smiles came easy all those years ago. A distant dream molded into a living nightmare. He hadn’t slept a full night in months, waking up drenched in sweat and screaming as he tried to break free from the demons, which refused to let him go. Not a second went by when he didn’t feel the dreadful glare of the enemy. He walked on American soil now. No insurgents hid in the mountains. No weapons aimed at his back. According to psychiatrists, he needed to think like a civilian. They didn’t understand. You cannot mold someone into a combatant, train a man to kill, and then expect him to revert into a day after day, nine-to-five sort of guy. One minute you’re charging the field with bullets whizzing by your ear and then poof … you’re typing memos for more copy paper.
It ain’t gonna happen.
It was like trying to domesticate a rabid wolf. Soon or later, your efforts were going to swing around and bite you right in the ass. Pete would rather hike across the desert with an M16A locked in his hands and a full pack strapped to his back than sit at a desk all day tapping keys and peddling papers. Not the kind of man worthy of a woman like Cara Sands, not the kind of man worthy of anyone.
John lunged toward the tray of meat. Cara smacked his hand. “We always say grace in grandmom’s house.”
John raised a brow. “It’s your house now.”
“We will always respect the rules of grandmom’s house. Whether she’s here,” Cara glanced up, “or there.”
John rolled his eyes, but Pete offered her a nod. He understood respect for tradition. Above all else, he understood the responsibility for keeping those customs alive for those who no longer have the ability to do so.
Cara had loved her grandmother Loretta like a mother. Tougher than leather and sharper than a knife, Loretta Sands became the mother Cara needed. He’d liked the old woman as well. No one fucked with grandmom. She offered fierce loyalty to those she loved and a strong hand to those she didn’t. The very same values she instilled in Cara and John.
Cara took John’s hand. She reached out to Pete. He hesitated for a moment. The scene reminded him of the prayers they would say before a mission.
“Come on, Pete.” She motioned her finger, inviting him to join her.
In the end, he surrendered, slipping his hand in hers. The heat of her palm offered him a strange comfort, a reassuring silence he had long forgotten. He tightened his grip on her fingers. A sweet blush spread over her cheeks as she flashed him a soft smile. She closed her eyes and gave thanks for the food on the table and for the return of old friends.
Lowering his face into the crook of her neck, he brushed his lips over her sensitive flesh. She shivered at the contact. Waves of tingling current traveled throughout her body. Parts of her exploded with vivid life. Other areas lost function, like her knees and her capacity for speech.
“God, you smell so good, Cara, just like I remember.”
His scent reminded her of the forest at night, sweet, yet untamed, dangerous.
Without warning, he captured her lips. Trapped between her aching breasts and the hard planes of his chest, her hands tensed, curling into his bare flesh. His mouth took charge, demanded submission.
He offered no escape.
She sought no release. Why would she want to? She’d dreamt of this moment for six long years.
The kiss set fire to her soul. She surrendered to the flames, helpless to extinguish them. She wanted more of him. More of his caresses, more of his taste, more of the incredible pleasure she found within his arms. She savored the bitter blend of whiskey and sin coating his lips, a powerful combination that made her dizzy. He held her in place, deepening the possession, and that was what the embrace meant to accomplish. Within those moments, he owned her.
Yes, Cara desired Pete Cross like no other. No one had ever come close to him and no one ever would.
Pushing his hips deeper into the sensitive junction between her thighs, he let the hard ridges of his erection give her a hint of what to expect should she surrender. She moaned, wanting more, while he trailed his mouth over the curve of her chin, nipping at her throat.
“My sweet, Cara,” he whispered. His endearment warmed her heart. While his caresses fed the blaze screaming beneath her skin. “One touch and I forget. One touch and I forget everything.”
He needed to let her go. He saw no other possibility. Years of death, violence, and anger had stripped away whatever layers of hope once blossomed in his soul. All that remained was a faithless man who’d lost his fight. Cara deserved better. He put on his shoes, slipped out the door, and closed it with a gentle click.
Dawn broke through the trees as he stepped outside. The gentle chill brushing his face didn’t compare to the coldness centered in his chest. He grabbed his cell from his pocket and searched for a cab service. He considered walking the fifteen miles or so to John’s. When on a mission, he’d hiked twice as far in the blistering heat with a forty-pound pack on his back. Yet sharp pains shooting through his knee put an end to his ambition right quick. With two companies to choose from, he dialed the first number available. After sputtering the address to their dispatch, he plopped on the curb and waited.
Memories of Cara’s concerned gaze popped in his mind. When he had opened his eyes and saw her staring at him, he’d lost whatever control remained. Drenched in sweat and lost in the terror of a nightmarish flashback, his rage had consumed him. Cara had considered him a strong man, someone who held himself together for the most part. Now she knew the truth. He had become a blubbering weakling who screamed like a child afraid of monsters. Embarrassment, shame, and fear — all those wonderful emotions a man like him resented — teased and tortured his fading pride until he’d snapped from the onslaught.
He’d turned on her, used her attraction as a balm to soothe his wounded pride. He had become one insecure bastard. Why else would he require proof, evidence that his manhood remained intact in her eyes? Why would he care how she saw him? Sure, self-hatred found a home in his heart years ago. He did spend years in hell, leading other men to their deaths. Yet, for some reason, Cara’s respect remained crucial. Like superglue, her bloated view kept his shattered existence together.
Shit, he’d live with her contempt and deal with her anger, but he refused to accept the pity swimming in her eyes. She’d ogled him as someone would a helpless child in need of a hug. Damn it, he didn’t need a reminder of his limitations, not from her.
Remnants of her cherry lip balm clung to his mouth. He licked his lower lip hoping to taste her and wasn’t disappointed. Spearing his fingers through his hair, he groaned in frustration, his body harder than steel. Her scent rose off his skin. He closed his eyes, allowing himself to enjoy her soft aroma. He did this often when stationed overseas. The memories helped him through countless lonesome, cold nights.
Pete’s anger hit the limit. “You want to know why I was with Cara?” He spun on John. “For the first time in years, I felt alive. She breathes life into me. Makes me want to fly, but at the same time, she brings me to my damn knees. With her, the buzz in my head, all the pain, and the agonizing ache right here,” he said, pounding his fist above his heart, “doesn’t exist. You want to know if I love her? My life is nothing without her. I fell in love with her fifteen years ago, man. I have loved her every day since, and I will love her until the day I die. I’ve been a fucking coward. I held back, not wanting to disrespect you or Pop, figuring she was better off without me. Instead, I hurt her. I’ve lost so much. I can’t lose her, John. You can either accept her and me together or move the fuck out of the way, because I’m not giving her up for anyone.” He swiped his shirt from the floor.
John ogled him. For a second, Pete thought he spotted the corner of John’s lip start to lift, before it fell flat once again. “You love my sister? You fucking love her. So you’ve been lying to me for fifteen years.”
“No … I’ve been lying to myself, forcing myself to believe I can live without her. After last night, I’m through pretending. I won’t give her up.”
John shook his head. “Why didn’t you tell her that before she ran out of here? She was pretty mad when she left.”
“I wasn’t ready to burst out with the big L word, bro. Not in front of you, at least. I know I messed up … again.”
“She’s one stubborn woman. You’re gonna have to beg for forgiveness.”
Pete lifted his chin. “So are you.” He watched John for a second.
“Yeah, but I’m her brother. She expects me to act like an asshole.”