Title: Somewhere To Begin
Author: Mika Jolie
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: September 20, 2016
There are wounds that never show on the body.
For twenty-nine years, Colbie Bennington does as expected with an eternal smile stained on her lips. The biggest chances she’s ever taken can be counted on one hand, three fingers to be exact—her battered red chucks, painting her toenails a vibrant blue, and her wedding dress. Always the dutiful daughter and a Stepford fiancée, she has never acted on impulse, never been in love.
She’s never lived.
On her wedding day, Colbie ends a toxic relationship, drops the fake smile, and says, “I can’t do this anymore.”
Navy SEAL Zander Serrano returns home broken and burdened with a volcano of remorse. Too trapped in a mental war to be at peace and too damaged to be at war, he shuts the world out. The last thing he expects is to feel, especially for a runaway bride with her own baggage.
Two empty hearts marred in different spots find themselves drawn to one another. Each with their own scars. Some, the world can see. Others, unseen to the naked eye.
They say two broken people should not be together. But for Colbie and Zander, their attraction is undeniable, unexpected.
Can two souls with fractured parts be the best cure for each other’s wounds?
Starting over is never easy, but sometimes in life, everyone needs somewhere to begin.
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“Somewhere there’s a war.”
~ Mika Jolie
Afghanistan, six months ago . . .
Zander’s body hit hard against the concrete. Bones cracked. Muscles snapped.
Another massive blast shook the building, blowing everything up in its path. Walls screamed. Lights flickered. Tables jumped. Chunks of the ceiling caved in. A cacophony of sounds hit his ears like a tidal wave—the crunching of metal, the tinkling of glass shattering as the explosion blasted its way out of the complex, the sound of a shrill and deafening alarm warning of danger.
“Evacuate. STAT. Bomb. Bomb.” The raucous blaring of the overhead radio jarred through his head.
Black dust hung in the air, burning Zander’s throat and invading his lungs. They were ambushed by enemy fire, facing a barrage of bullets from all directions. Every cell in his body reeled at the immediate assault.
Too close. Much too close.
Human instinct told him to counterattack. Ignoring the initial urge, he waited and gathered his wits. Years as a Navy SEAL taught him never to invest in the first option that crossed his mind.
SEALs held back to see what else showed up.
He spotted a shadow darting around the corner of an adobe wall, assault rifle in hand. Zander drew his semi-automatic pistol. With only a split second to decide, he squeezed the trigger and watched the body collapse.
A deathly silence loomed.
Choking on the lack of oxygen, he released a breath, rolled onto his chest, and scanned the room. Blood dripped from his forehead into his eyes, blurring his vision but not enough to obliterate the horror staring at him. His friends lay like rag dolls in the position of death—lifeless and dismembered, flesh and brains erupted in liquid halos, a plethora of shattered bones—arms outstretched, burning flesh, cracked skulls, brains blown out.
Death tinged the air.
He coughed and swiped his mouth. Through cracked lips, he spat a glob of blood mixed with saliva onto the floor, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Squinting, he inspected the room through the swirling dust for Ben.
A few feet away, his best friend, wet with gore, slouched against a wall. His face was twisted in a grimace, his skin pale and clammy as molten-red fluid pumped from his stomach.
The desperate plea sent chills down Zander’s back. Nausea rolled in his stomach. He closed his eyes for a moment and swallowed hard, pushing back the vomit from his parched mouth. “I’ll get us out. Don’t move,” he cautioned when Ben motioned at the wound on his thigh. They were brothers—not cut from the same cloth, but they’d shed blood together. “I promise—” His words cut short by another deafening explosion.
In the chaos, he analyzed the environment and assessed the risks. Two doors. Four windows. Enemies to the right and left. They were ambushed—a well-organized attack—leaving his band of brothers dead or critically injured. The chance of surviving was nil, but he’d die trying.
Zander flicked his mind to autopilot mode—survival instinct—willing himself out of his surroundings. Becoming invisible was a powerful mental skill he’d mastered over the years when shit got real. He was trained to control the situation, to never react on emotion and to judge every move with logic.
Bullets continued to plow through the room like metallic hail, chipping the pavement around him. Some passed so near to his face he could feel the air being cut in front of him. He snatched one of the fired rounds from the ground and rolled it between his soil-covered fingers. So light, so cold, a trinket designed to take the only thing that really mattered, life.
He shook hands with death, acknowledged it, and whisked it away like a bunch of fruit flies caught in a heavy gust of wind.
Time to kill or be killed.
Relaxing his grip, the bullet slipped through his fingers. The empty casing hit the concrete, making a hollow clinking sound. Zander planted his hands on the floor and pushed himself up. A stifling sensation, as if shaving with a flamethrower, shot through his body.
His legs wobbled.
Gravity yanked him down.
Winded, he dragged himself to a sitting position. Back pressed against the wall, he peered at his legs. Below his knee, blood turned his khakis a deep Tuscan red.
Quickly, he stripped off his jacket, tied it around his thigh, and scanned the area. Not a sound could be heard, either close at hand or in the far off distance. Even his own breath seemed to die as soon as it left his mouth. It was an eerie sort of tranquility as if the world was encased in a cocoon or a bubble, and there was no way out. So instead of being soothed, his senses heightened.
He spotted an M4 carbine inches away. Stretching his arm, he grasped the handle and hauled it toward him. Gun in hand, he belly crawled along the floor, scraping his fingernails across the puddle of his own blood. Sweat and sanguine fluid poured in warm rivulets down his face. He went from body to body, patting down the corpses of James, Pete, and Scott for identification.
Something. Anything to commemorate their existence.
Because SEALs often worked behind enemy lines, a dog tag or something that could give away their identity was considered a huge unnecessary risk. He knew it, but he’d hoped. Pushing back the thought he’d have to identify every one of them later—if he survived—Zander wormed his way from one side of the room to the other and sat next to Ben.
His elbows burned from the effort. None of that mattered. “Put your arms around my shoulder.”
Ben glanced at him. His blue eyes dazed, his skin pale as a ghost.
Shit. Not Ben, too.
Zander rose to his feet, his teeth cutting on his bottom lip. The injury down his thigh protested, and he staggered a little. Ignoring the fire blazing through him, he dragged Ben’s weight down the hall. Tiny lead pellets traveled at twice the speed of sound through what remained of his left leg, the pain intensifying with each dragging step, jarring and brutal. He winced as the pain burned without mercy, penetrating to the cells that should have been protected by smooth skin but most likely lay open and raw.
He was a soldier.
He trained for war, stood for justice, and fought to win.
With all the strength he could muster, he pushed his weight up against the doorway, dragging his left leg along with him. After leaning Ben’s body against the wall, he palmed the door open and picked out the details of his target. A group of insurgents stood in a circle, plotting. They thought they’d won.
Every movement became robotic, more machine than man. The rush of combat spiked his psyche with crazy excitement and hyperalertness. Curling his finger around the trigger, he aimed and squeezed. A hail of bullets jingled in rapid succession, pushing through the air with elegance, striking bodies with extreme precision.
Flesh tore. Arteries split. Indistinguishable faces marked with red splatter extinguished without a wisp of silvery smoke.
For a moment, silence loomed. Time stood still and yet it raced. Sand shifted under his combat boots. Suddenly he heard the sound of blades in the sky. With a deadly whoosh, the helicopter launched its missiles. A storm of dust came stinging, numbing the air with an acrid smell of death.
Exhausted, he leaned against the doorway, drowsiness coiling insidiously within him. An uncomfortable premonition—a feeling in the pit of his stomach as if he was looking death right in the eye—swept over him.
Another earsplitting sound rumbled in the distance. Clouds of fire belched upward. Weightless, he collided with the ground, drenched in his own blood. He sucked in a breath as every muscle throbbed in pain. The faces of his parents, his sister, his brothers, and home dangled in front of him as the gate of hell opened. Eyelids fluttered shut. One last memory of roughing it in a football game with his band of brothers crossed his mind.
A smile curved his lips.
And then everything faded into an abyss.