His Road Home
by Anna Richland
Released October 13th, 2014
Special Forces medic Rey Cruz needs to find a fiancée, fast, to avoid insulting a matchmaking Afghan warlord. Finding a picture online of a girl he barely knew back home, he fakes an engagement photo, thinking no one else will see it. But when Rey is injured while rescuing a local boy, the image no one was supposed to see goes viral.
Seattle marine biologist Grace Kim is shocked to find out she’s engaged. When she’s offered a plane ticket to visit her “fiancé,” she takes it, looking for the answer to one question: Why did he lie? A traumatic brain injury means Rey can’t tell her, until they figure out how to communicate. Touched by Rey’s funny texts and determination, Grace offers friendship—a big step for someone who prefers whales to most company.
And when Rey is finally sent home, Grace agrees to help him drive his classic car cross-country over Thanksgiving—a once-in-a-lifetime road trip that leads to what feels like real love. In front of his friends and family, she plays the caring fiancée, but what place will Grace have in Rey’s new life once he’s ready to be on his own again?
Reynaldo Cruz looked terrible. Two fat rolls of bandages stopped above where legs and feet should fill the bed. Tubes emerged from the wrappings and disappeared under the sides. He’d lost both legs, that was obvious. He also had an oxygen tube taped under his nose and an intravenous line in his hand. Dark hair stuck to his head, and his tan skin shined as if coated with lotion or sweat. His eyes were closed.
She’d studied the pictures she could find, including one of him on the Pateros football team as a junior in 2003 and one printed in the Quad City Star Tribune when he’d completed basic training. Ten years ago, he’d been a skinny boy in an oversized army hat, but the arms and shoulders of this man were too muscled to be labeled boyish. Her stomach lurched over the contrast of his upper body filling the space between the bed rails and the empty mattress at the foot of the bed.
When the nurse looked over her shoulder and connected with Grace, she jerked her head at the bed, as if she’d been waiting for Grace to enter. Maybe some visitors fled without stepping inside, but taking the easy route wouldn’t give her answers about the engagement photo. To get her life back, she’d have to come all the way in.
Despite the monitors arrayed around the top of the tilted bed, the room was quieter than she’d expected. No repetitive beeps, just the generic white noise of electronics and humming ventilation.
“Hello.” She swallowed and tried again, but the new greeting sounded too loud.
The man in the bed fluttered his eyelids and turned his head, and then his mouth fell open and his skin flushed to his hairline. She might have no earthly idea why he’d fabricated an engagement, but even with the robe and hairnet, he recognized her.
“Surprise, Sergeant.” The nurse stood. “Your fiancée’s here!”
The whole world believed the lie.
Standing at the head of the bed, if she focused on his face, she could keep the bundled stubs out of her peripheral vision. “Hello, Reynaldo.”
The nurse gathered a tray of dishes. “Buzz if you need me.”
After the other woman left, the silence absorbed the energy Grace’s nerves had supplied on the way to the room. She could almost graph how the longer she stood five feet from the bed, the smaller she became. Eventually, if neither of them spoke, maybe she would disappear.
On a paper taped to the wall, someone had written SSG Reynaldo Cruz, Pateros, WA and a string of numbers and letters that must have meaning to army people.
Enough time passed with her studying the room and him staring wordlessly that any change felt awkward, but she tried again. “I’m Grace Kim. But you know that, don’t you?”
The disposable paper cap created a desperate urge to scratch her scalp, a feeling almost as sharp as the one that overcame her when her cubicle-mate talked about his kids’ headlice, but she kept her hands at her sides and waited for the man in the bed to reply.
He nodded, and his lips flexed like a ling cod until he managed to say, “Rey Cruz.”
“This is awkward, isn’t it?”
“No.” This time his voice was deeper and stronger than she’d expected, and he nodded, which confused her.
“You don’t think so?”
He closed his eyes and blew out a huff of air while he made a twisting gesture with his hand, as if screwing in a light bulb or flipping things.
“You meant yes?”
He nodded again.
She pulled a chair beside the bed and looked over the rail at his head and shoulders. The edges of a tattoo peeked below the sleeve of his blue hospital gown. “I had two flights full of babies, so let’s cut to the chase. Why’d you claim we’re engaged?”
“Long.” His lips moved, and eventually a word emerged. “Stor-stor-story.”
“I have a week off that I didn’t want. Go ahead and tell me.”
He rolled his eyes and lifted empty hands, palms up. “No.”
Idiotic laughter, as sudden as the tears she’d almost released downstairs, bubbled close to the edges of her control. Of course he must have some sort of brain damage. “So how are we going to clear up this mess if you can’t even tell me how it started?”
I always love a HEA story but His Road Home by Anna Richland is exceptional!
Author Anna Richland treats a very serious subject with sensitivity, humor and a great deal of honesty. I do wish more of the trials our returning veterans was delved into more deeply, but I realize how difficult this would be in a short amount of time and was not the focal point of the story.
Rey, but mostly his interpreter in Afghanistan, creative a very interesting situation that could lead to nothing but trouble and I saw it coming from the very beginning!
Grace handles the situation as her name implies, with as much grace as any woman could be expected to, and with so much more compassion that many would be able to muster with such surprises coming off of the internet!
Anna Richland uses her mastery of the written word to great advantage in His Road Home. I am going back to her previous novel, which introduced Rey Cruz and I will be watching for future stories that she releases.
On a more personal note, I am the wife of a disabled veteran from the Vietnam conflict. I can’t thank you enough, for bringing the stories of our fallen and unsung heroes to your books. The dedication in His Road Home brought me immediately to tears. Thank you as well for mentioning Fisher Houses and Doctors Without Borders / MSF. Both are worthy of note for the great works they do.
I highly recommend His Road Home by Anna Richland and give it five, steaming cups of coffee (my gold stars). May this coffee be taken in the spirit it is offered and know that I would give it many, many more were that an option.
~ Patricia, Room With Books ~ © Oct 24, 2014
Anna lives with her quietly funny Canadian husband and two less quiet children in a century-old house in Seattle. Like the heroine of her debut paranormal romantic suspense novel, First to Burn, Anna joined the army to pay tuition, a decision that led to a career on four continents.
She donates a portion of her book proceeds to two charities: the Fisher House Foundation, which provides free accommodations near military hospitals for families of wounded soldiers in the US and Great Britain, and Doctors Without Borders, which delivers emergency medical care in more than sixty crisis zones world-wide.
To sign up for Anna’s newsletter and find out about her next release, The Second Lie (The Immortal Vikings, Book Two), visit her website at www.annarichland.com
Anna Richland will make a $50 DONATION to The Fisher House Foundation in honor of a veteran of the winner’s choice.
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