Chapter 1


I can’t believe I almost lost all this. When you have hit rock bottom and finally climb out of the hole you’ve been in, you have a whole new appreciation for life. I was in the army when an IED killed my best friend and mangled my leg. I was honorably discharged from the army and for a while I lost my way in life. I got heavily into drugs, even stealing from Sierra, my late best friend’s little sister. I’m not proud of it. Honestly, I’m embarrassed of everything I did. I had no family. Well, no family but Sierra. She and her husband saved me, though. They got me into rehab. Really, if I didn’t go, I think Ryder would have just killed me for how much I hurt his wife. But I did it. I got clean. That was over seven years ago and I haven’t touched anything since. Hell, now I hate to even take an aspirin.

Now, Ryder and Sierra have Ellie. She is a six-year-old beauty that has her ‘Uncle Johnny’ wrapped around her finger. Looking over at her as she comes down the slide, I can’t think how thankful I am that Ryder forced me into rehab. I wouldn’t give up a minute of the life I have now. I have a family now: Ryder, Sierra and Ellie.

I still haven’t dated. At first, I wanted to make sure I would be able to stay clean. Then when I thought I was ready to start dating again, I decided no one would want to see the mangled thigh and leg I have. Hell, I can barely look at it.

Ellie and another little girl with bright red pigtails come running up to me, screaming, “Uncle Johnny! Uncle Johnny! Can Faith eat with us?”

I can’t stop the smile that spreads across my face. Ellie knows I never tell her no. “Of course, as long as her mom and dad say it’s okay.”

Faith shyly points over to a man standing at the corner of the park. She mumbles to me, “My dad won’t care. He’s busy meeting a friend.”

The man she pointed at is talking to someone and my military training puts me on high alert. Watching, I see him pass something off to the other man before I turn my attention back to the girls.

I push the happy meal I had bought myself over to her. “So Faith, what does your dad do?”

“He’s a policeman.” She opens up her box of food and her eyes go wide and excited. “Hey! You got a girl toy.”

Chuckling at her excitement, I explain to her, “Yep. I usually get a girl toy for Ellie. But I’m sure she will be okay with you having that one.”

Ellie’s nodding her head as she takes a bite of her chicken nuggets. Faith opens the toy and holds the little doll in her hands, pressing it to her chest. “Thank you,” she tells me happily.

Ellie nudges Faith with her elbow. “Tell him, Faith. I told you he can fix anything.”

I watch her as her hands tighten on her doll and she looks at me worriedly. Her eyes immediately start to tear up and I think oh, no. I can handle anything but a girl crying. Hell, I have taken down six men in a bar fight, I’ve killed the enemy overseas without batting an eye. But a little girl crying – I can’t handle that. “What is it, honey? We can fix it, but don’t cry. Okay?”

She takes a deep breath and pulls her shoulders back. Right then I know this little girl is tougher than she looks. “I don’t want to go with my daddy anymore.”

My hands go still on the picnic table. There are so many thoughts going through my head. Does she not want to go with him because he’s told her no on something? Or she misses her mommy? Or has he done something really bad to her?

I try to keep calm to get more details. I steal one of her French fries. “So, why don’t you want to go with your daddy?”

She starts rubbing her shoulder and her upper arm. “He’s not nice to me.”

“Why do you think he’s not nice to you?” I try not to scare her, but I’m holding my breath waiting for her response.

She pulls her sleeve up, showing me her arm and shoulder. “He hurt me.”

She has a bright red bruise on her. It looks like a handprint. I pull out my phone and text Ryder. He and Sierra are at a doctor’s appointment, which is why I have Ellie at the park. I glance over at Ellie and she’s looking at her friend worriedly. I start punching in the text.

Come to the park. Now. Ellie’s fine but need you here ASAP

I hate to send it but I don’t really have a choice. I have a feeling things are about to get ugly and I need him here for Ellie. On second thought, I send another text to him.