Remember this: when Death comes after you, you look him in the face and say, “Not today.” And you repeat that EVERY SINGLE DAY until you’re back here, where you belong.
As for the rest of it—you have to stop, Tony. You’re breaking my heart.
I can’t stop. You’ve gotten inside my heart. I can’t get you out.
The silence is killing me. I’m sorry. I’ll never mention my feelings again. I swear. But please write to me. Something. Anything.
Tony hurried into the APO, his key at the ready in his shaky hand, and pulled up short when he saw someone—McClain, wasn’t it?—already there. The kid was getting his mail out of his slot and seemed to be taking his sweet time about it. Tony hovered, growing more agitated by the second, as the kid pulled out several envelopes and rifled through them, looking for one in particular, which turned out to be a bubblegum-pink number.
The envelope also seemed to have been drenched in several gallons of vanilla perfume, a fact that was not lost on McClain. In raptures of delight, he gave a little whoop, pressed the envelope to his nose, slammed his box shut and wheeled around with a shit-eating grin on his face.
That was when he saw Tony.
His smile withered a little. “Sorry, Captain.”
Tony, who understood how important letters could be and how they held the entire universe in their folded pages, was in a mood to be sympathetic. He smiled. “Don’t worry about it.”
McClain hurried off, his treasures pressed to his chest, and Tony worked on getting his key into his mail slot, an effort that took three tries. He finally got the little metal door open and felt a wild swoop of relief as he peered inside and saw…
There it was!
He snatched out the single white envelope and flipped it over to work on the flap, desperate to know if Talia had forgiven him and—
It wasn’t from Talia. It was his last letter to her. And written across the envelope, in red pen in Talia’s handwriting, were the four most terrible words he could imagine reading.
Refused. Return to Sender.
A lead weight settled in his gut, so sickening and dizzying that he had to slump against the wall of mail slots to avoid dropping to the floor in an undignified heap.
That was it, then.
He’d never hear from Talia again. She had her gut feelings, but he also had his.
And right now, his gut was telling him that his number was up. The mission tomorrow, a joint patrol with his brother’s unit, was going to be his last.
There was no way he was going to make it back alive.
Knowing it was a nightmare didn’t make it any less terrifying.
It always started out so sweet—so achingly, indescribably sweet—and that was part of the problem. In the dream, he wasn’t yet a skinny former POW struggling with PTSD and God knew what other mental deficiencies. He was still a soldier.
“You want me, don’t you?” she murmured.
It was Talia. It was always Talia.
She was right there, right within the reach of his searching arms, but her face was shadowed and obscured by those flowing black curls, and, try though he did, he could only catch a flash of her laughing gray eyes. His eyes strained into the gloom, trying to see. If he could only see her, just one freaking time, he’d be the happiest man to ever put his pants on one leg at a time.
But she slipped away and the darkness edged closer.
Only her sounds guided him. The clink of her silver bracelets. The laugh, which was throaty and knowing. The seductive purr of her voice in his ear.
“You want me, don’t you, Tony?”
The frustration churned inside him. He lunged for her and missed, stumbling blindly now and turning in a clumsy circle, only to realize that her low voice was coming from somewhere else—some direction he could never quite pinpoint. A place he could never reach.
“Tony? Tell me.”
“I want you. You know I need you. Where are you?”
She made it sound so easy, but it wasn’t easy at all. Because he could see suddenly, and the seeing turned his bones to melting chips of ice. There she was. Far away from him, in the middle of a road in Kandahar, where it was rocky and dusty and the passing convoy of Humvees and the swooping copters overhead didn’t know how precious she was.