Since going MIA, Justin Blackwood spent his captivity fighting for the chance to return to the woman he left behind, his fiancée, Erica. Rescued twelve years later, he returns home to discover his best friend and fellow soldier, Clint Michaels, is now her husband.
Clint has loved his best friend's girl for as long as he can remember. He finally has her love, but bears the burden of a secret that will tear them apart. Now with Justin's miraculous return, he's torn between the love he has for his wife and the honor of brotherhood.
"Teacup! Teacup, stop begging. You know the rules. If you don't behave, Clint's going to throw you outside when he gets home."
Erica Michaels nudged the hundred-sixty-pound, black Fengjing pig with her thigh to move her out of the way. Erica's husband had bought the pig to raise for food, but she'd fallen in love with the wrinkle-faced little piglet, and that was the end of any thought of eating her. Now the behemoth thought she was a lapdog, and also thought begging at the kitchen counter was accepted.
Clint didn't need to know that she sometimes gave in to the pig's pitiful pleas.
Teacup snorted her disgust at Erica, went to the kitchen door, and plopped down with a groan. Erica grinned as she started chopping fresh tomatoes for Clint's nachos.
Tonight was their fifth anniversary, and she was making all his favorites. Nachos with fresh tomatoes, jalapenos and grilled chicken, followed by the main coarse of roasted rack of lamb and, for dessert, pecan pie with homemade vanilla bean ice cream.
Her stomach growled just thinking about dessert. With a giggle, she lifted another tomato and began chopping. Things had been going so well this last year. They'd struggled since before they got married to get the ranch off the ground, but now everything was falling into place. Clint's bulls were producing award-winning calves and, as soon as the snow completely cleared, she had a list of students who wanted to start riding lessons.
Her watch beeped the hour. Six o'clock. Clint would be home soon, and she was behind schedule. She wanted the nachos done when he walked in. He'd had to go into Helena for an appointment, but had called when he was done to tell her he was on his way. The roads were clear, so he should be home any minute.
After wiping her hands on the towel hanging over the handle of the oven, she went into the living room and flipped on the evening news. She grabbed the lighter off the mantle and lit the tapers on the dining room table, then headed back into the kitchen.
The news anchor's voice came to her, and she idly listened to the updates on the war while she chopped jalapenos. She couldn't believe America was back in that God-forsaken place.
"We have a special report tonight," he said in a voice she'd been listening to for years and still found extremely sexy. He'd had a special report every night since American forces reached Baghdad days earlier. "Three U.S. soldiers will finally be coming home after going MIA in enemy territory during the first Gulf War in 1991. But unlike many in past conflicts, these three men won't be in coffins draped with the American flag. No. Twelve years later, First Sergeant Richard Williamson, Specialist Justin Blackwood, and Corporal Zachary Collingsworth were found alive in an undisclosed location inside Iraq. Details are sketchy, but one correspondent embedded with troops on the front line tells us there's plenty to celebrate in Baghdad following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime..."
The blade slipped and slashed into Erica's thumb. She let out a yelp and dropped the knife, but her brain wasn't on her wound. Justin Blackwood. The name echoed in her head as she ran for the living room. The frontline reporter was talking, but Erica didn't hear what he said. On the screen was a picture of the three US solders. And there, in the middle, was Justin.
Justin, her heart cried. Her Justin! He was alive.
Sinking to her knees in front of the television, she stared at him. He was older-God, it had been twelve years. His face was leaner than she'd ever seen it. He had lines bracketing his mouth and eyes...but it was her Justin. Her fiancé. Her lover. The man she'd thought was dead. She would know those midnight blue eyes anywhere.
The picture disappeared from the screen. She spun around, grabbed the remote from the coffee table, and flipped to another news channel.
"Unconfirmed reports say that the three United States Army soldiers were imprisoned in Baghdad. The Army is not releasing any confirmation other than their names and that they are in good health. Colonial Thompson plans to hold a press conference tomorrow, after more information is obtained from the rescued POWs.
"Once again, three United States Army soldiers, MIA since 1991, have been found...alive. First Sergeant Richard Williamson, Specialist Justin Blackwood, and Corporal Zachary Collingsworth."
Erica raised her hand to her mouth as tears poured down her face. Teacup nudged her shoulder and grunted. Erica turned to her beloved pig and wrapped her arms around her neck, hugging her close. "Oh. My. God. Oh my God. Ohmygod. Justin... He's alive."