Release Date: November 2, 2017
Genre: BDSM Romance
Chapter 1Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Greco sat in his vehicle, staring down at the envelope in his hand. Captain Kurt Martin had given it to him eight months ago. It was a letter to Kurt’s wife, Grace. Life in a combat zone was unpredictable, which Kurt knew all too well. They’d both watched too many soldiers shipped home in a body bag. Because of this, it wasn’t uncommon for a soldier to make a video or write a final letter to their loved ones back home. Just in case.
Most of the time, the letter was in the soldier’s personal effects. Their next of kin would discover it upon going through their loved one’s things. Kurt didn’t want that. He’d made Alexander promise that if anything should happen to him, Alexander would deliver the letter to Grace in person.
A chill raced down Alexander’s spine as he recalled the morning that had taken Kurt’s life and left Alexander with an injury that would end his military career. There had been an incident in a nearby village. They’d needed a doctor, so Alexander had loaded up his gear and joined the convoy heading out.
Everything was going as planned until they were packing up to leave. Someone yelled and then all hell broke loose. An IED exploded, sending him and several others flying. He hadn’t been hurt bad from that first explosion, but it had knocked the wind out of him. Before he could get up and move, however, another explosion hit. Debris began falling from all directions. He couldn’t move fast enough to get out of the way.
When the dust settled and the area secured, Alexander was pulled out of the rubble, his left leg crushed. A doctor who couldn’t stand for more than an hour at a time was of no use to the Army.
Kurt hadn’t been so lucky. One of the IEDs exploded right in front of him. He hadn’t stood a chance.
For ten years Alexander had been an army doctor. Over that time he’d lost soldiers—men and women he considered friends. It was par for the course in a war zone. But nothing had prepared him for losing Kurt, a man he considered his brother.
Alexander closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose to keep the tears at bay. Kurt was gone, along with six others in their squad.
An SUV drove past, the driver sending him a curious look. He’d been sitting in the same spot for twenty minutes with the windows rolled down letting in the breeze. Even so, the sun was beating down on his car.
Releasing a loud breath, he folded the envelope and tucked it into his shirt pocket before rolling up the windows and climbing out of the vehicle. His leg throbbed a little as he stood. He waited for it to subside as his body adjusted to the new position.
A car door slammed down the street followed by the sound of a kid laughing. Alexander shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. After locking up the car, he crossed the street to the address he’d been given. He needed to keep his wits about him and not get distracted. He had a promise to keep.
Alexander ascended the steps of the beige two-story house. It had taken him over a month to locate Grace. By the time Alexander was released from the hospital and gotten his discharge papers, she was no longer living at the address Kurt had given him. She’d happened to mention to one of her neighbors that she was going home to be close to family. From his conversations with Kurt, he knew Grace was from St. Louis. That narrowed it down, but St. Louis was a big city. It had taken time and the help of a private investigator to finally locate her.
A wide porch ran the width of the house, but aside from an empty clay pot, it was bare. And although the yard was neat and well kept, it didn’t look as if she spent much time outside. There were no flowers planted, no chairs or lawn ornaments.
He took in every detail, memorizing it. Alexander knew he was stalling. He also knew it wasn’t going to get any easier the longer he put it off, and he owed it to Kurt. He’d given his word.
The sound of his knuckles against the old wood door bounced off the semi-enclosed space. He shifted his weight even though he knew it would do nothing to ebb the discomfort he was feeling. Or prepare him for facing his brother’s widow.
Several minutes went by and no one came to the door. He was about to give up when he heard the sound of the deadbolt being unlocked. The door creaked open a few inches, and the small chain made a clinking sound as it moved and stretched. It was dark inside the house compared to the brightness outside, so the only thing he could see was a stray lock of blond hair.
“Can I help you?” a timid voice asked.
“Hello. I’m looking for Grace Martin. I was told she lived here.” He used his most soothing doctor voice—the one he employed when he had to deliver bad news to a patient.
The woman on the other side of the door didn’t respond. Maybe the private investigator had been wrong. Maybe Kurt’s widow didn’t live there.
“My name is Alexander Greco. I served with her husband and I was hoping to speak with her. I can come back if she’s not home.” His words trailed off as he heard the chain being released and the door opened wider.
“What did you say your name was again?” The woman’s voice was a little stronger this time.
“Alexander Greco, ma’am. I was a doctor at the forward operating base where Grace’s husband, Kurt, was stationed.” He paused, his memories pulling him in a direction he didn’t want to go. “We used to go on our morning runs together.”
The woman opened the door wide, letting him get his first real glimpse of her. She was dressed in jeans and a faded Army T-shirt. He’d seen a picture of Kurt’s wife. She was beautiful. The woman in front of him wore no makeup and had her hair pulled up in a messy ponytail. It didn’t matter. Grace Martin was still stunning.
She tugged at the bottom of her shirt. “You served with Kurt.” This time it wasn’t a question.
“Yes, ma’am.” Alexander wondered if Kurt had mentioned him to her. From the change in her features, he was assuming he had.
Grace glanced over his shoulder and furrowed her brow as though she were deep in thought. “Would you like to come in?”
“If it wouldn’t be any trouble.”
She stepped back, allowing him to enter.
The inside of the house was much as he imagined. She was probably renting, which explained the stark white walls and lack of pictures.
He followed her down the hallway past what looked to be a modest living room to the kitchen. It was old with laminate countertops and cabinets that looked to have been painted several times over. Along one wall was a small table with three chairs. It wasn’t overly stylish, but it had a homey feel to it.
“Can I get you something to drink?” she asked.
“I’m good. Thank you.”
She glanced around before lowering herself into one of the wooden chairs.
Alexander pulled out a chair and sat down, making sure not to crowd her. The last thing he wanted to do was make her feel uncomfortable. “My apologies for not calling ahead of time, but I didn’t have a working phone number for you.”
Grace averted her eyes and swallowed. “That’s because I don’t have one.”
He leaned closer out of pure instinct. “You don’t have a phone?”
She looked down. “Not a landline. I have a cell phone for emergencies.”
Alexander relaxed a little. He knew her family was from here, but a woman living alone should at least have a phone, some way to call for help should she need it. Maybe that sounded old-fashioned, but he didn’t much care. He was who he was.
A heavy silence filled the air for several moments as he searched for how to start. While Kurt had talked about his wife, Alexander didn’t really know her and she didn’t know him. He and Kurt had gotten to know each other during their time overseas when Kurt had been injured a few days after Alexander’s arrival at the base. They’d bonded over their love of baseball and good pizza. Of course, they’d had differing opinions on both.
She met Alexander’s gaze for a second, and then looked away again. “I’m okay.”
The corners of his mouth lifted despite the seriousness of the situation. She obviously knew her husband well. Kurt had been a protector, just as Alexander was. It was probably another reason why they’d gotten along so well. “Kurt talked about you a lot.”
Grace nodded. “He mentioned you in a couple of his emails. He said . . . he said you were a good friend.”
“He was a good friend to me as well.” Alexander paused. “He asked me to come see you. To find you should anything happen to him.”
Alexander saw the moisture well up in her eyes and his heart broke. The urge to reach out to her was strong, but he held back. He didn’t want her to be in pain, but he also knew it was inevitable. The letter Kurt asked him to deliver most likely contained his last goodbyes. Alexander didn’t know how he’d handle seeing her break down in front of him, but he would do it for his friend. He owed Kurt that much.
“Were you there?” she asked, her voice barely loud enough for him to hear even sitting so close.
He felt the muscles in his throat constrict. “Yes.”
She gripped the edge of the table, her fingers turning white under the pressure. “The men who came . . . they wouldn’t tell me anything. Just that he . . . that he died in combat.” She glanced up at him then, her eyes pleading.
As much as he didn’t want to talk about that day, he would. He’d answer whatever questions she had. For Kurt. For her.
Grace’s heart felt as if it would beat out of her chest as she waited for her guest to answer. Once his name had registered, she recalled Kurt talking about Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Greco several times. Her husband trusted him, which was what had led her to inviting him inside. If Kurt had trusted him, then she knew she could, too.
“We were in a village when we came under fire. There were explosions all around us.” He paused and she held her breath waiting for him to go on. “It all happened very quickly.”
Quickly. She closed her eyes as her chest constricted. It had happened quickly. He hadn’t lain there and suffered. “Thank you.”
The pressure of a hand on hers caused her to open her eyes. “I have something for you.”
She looked at him, confused. The men who’d come to tell her that her husband had died in combat had given her Kurt’s personal effects.
“Your husband gave me a letter. He asked that I deliver it personally.”
Grace resisted the urge to touch her collar—the one Kurt had placed around her neck before his last deployment. It had been her only comfort the day the soldiers had knocked on her door in full dress uniform to inform her that her husband was dead. She’d lain in bed for two days before a neighbor and fellow Army wife had come to check on her. It would be so easy to sink back into that black hole. She’d been tempted several times since that day. It was only her family that had stopped her.
She’d been so lost in her thoughts, her memories, that she almost missed the envelope Alexander held in his hand. He seemed to hesitate and then held it out to her.
Reluctantly, Grace took it and placed it in her lap. With a single finger, she outlined her name written in her husband’s chicken scratch. A smile tugged at her lips but was swiftly followed by a gut-wrenching ache deep in her chest. She’d always teased him about his handwriting. She’d never . . .
“Kurt asked me to make sure you weren’t alone when you read it, but I can go in the other room if you’d like some privacy.” His words were soft, comforting.
She shook her head, or at least she thought she did. So many emotions were rolling through her she couldn’t be certain. He didn’t move, though, so maybe she had.
Grace had no idea how much time had passed before she garnered the courage to pick the envelope back up and turn it over. She carefully broke the seal and removed the two sheets of paper inside. Once they were in her hands, the words staring back at her, she froze. “I can’t do this.”
Alexander reached out again. He grasped her free hand in his and held on tight. It was as if he could sense how much she needed his strength.
She wiped the tears from her cheeks with the back of one hand and held Alexander’s fingers in a death grip with the other. He was the only thing keeping her grounded.
Her hand shook as she began to read.
I had dreams for us. Big dreams. We were going to go on a road trip across the country and stop at all the interesting towns along the way. We were going to go on that Alaskan cruise and watch the whales playing in the bay. Hike the Grand Canyon and make love under the stars. So many things we wanted to do together once my tour was up.
But if you’re reading this, it means we aren’t going to get to do those things together and I’m sorry about that. Something has happened to prevent me from returning to you and you know that only death would keep me away. You are my heart, my soul. You are everything good and beautiful in this world, my Grace.
When I sat down to write this letter, I knew in my mind what I wanted to say, but now the words won’t come. I don’t want to say goodbye to you, Grace. I don’t want you to have to say goodbye to me, but you have to. I know it will be difficult at first, but you are strong, Grace. You always have been.
You have to move on. You have to live.
With that in mind, I am giving you my last orders, my sweet submissive.
I want you to move back home to St. Louis. Your family is there and you will need their support. Let them love and comfort you.
I know you will need time to grieve. I want you to take that time, but I also don’t want you to hide inside yourself. You have to live, remember? Make new friends, travel. Do all the things that you and I talked about doing together.
And lastly, I want you to find a new Master. I know you’ll most likely go home to St. Louis, so before my deployment I did some digging and found out about a local club there called Serpent’s Kiss. It’s run by a woman named Katrina Mayer. I think it will be a good place for you and she can help you and make sure you find a good Dom who will take care of your needs.
I know what you’re thinking, Grace, but I’m asking this of you. I’m asking you to move on. To let me go. I will always love you. Never forget that. Never doubt that. But as much as I wish it weren’t so, I can’t be there to care for you anymore.
Alexander is a good man. If you need anything, ask him. I have no idea if he is in the lifestyle or not, but I trust him.
Please do not mourn for me too long, my Grace. You have a lot of life left to live.
He couldn’t mean it. He couldn’t.
She heard someone call her name, but it sounded far away.
This time the voice sounded louder. Closer.
A hand shook her arm, causing the letter to fall to the floor. She reached for it without checking her balance. Only a set of strong arms wrapping around her torso kept her from face-planting onto the floor.
Those same arms helped her to right herself, but all she cared about was the letter. She had to read it again. Surely she had misunderstood. She couldn’t . . .
Grace scanned over the words again, but they were the same as they had been the first time. Kurt wanted her to find another Master. The rest she could do, she was already trying to do as best she could, but that? How?
Something made her look up. Alexander Greco knelt beside her on the floor, deep concern etched into his features. He must have been the one who’d called her name.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
No. She wasn’t all right. But she nodded anyway. Whatever was she to do?