Two months later
I could hear the voices at the doorway of my hospital room, and while I recognized both, one of them stood out.
One of them caught me off guard.
That same voice elicited anticipation from within me. I’d never gotten serious about any woman, but she was one I thought might have potential, the only one I could see myself getting serious with.
Katie was a nurse I’d met while visiting another SEAL in the hospital, and we had hooked up anytime I returned stateside. For whatever reason, she hadn’t been a hit-it-and-quit-it for me, and we’d kept in touch via email and sometimes Skype—whenever I was graced with a decent internet signal on my deployment.
“How is he?”
“He’s…doing better.” The hesitation was clear from Nurse Ratched’s tone. That woman earned her nickname. Her bedside manner was non-existent—not to mention, she could give the Navy medics a run for their money when it came to the “I start an IV by shoving a needle in your arm and then dig around to find a vein” thing.
“They’ve been working me nonstop, and I just now got a chance to come see him.” Katie sounds nervous.
I’d be lying through my teeth if I said I wasn’t nervous as shit for her to see me.
“He’s been awake for a short time, but he might still be a bit groggy,” Nurse Ratched warns. What she doesn’t realize—or doesn’t care to notice—is the fact I rarely press the button that automatically dispenses pain medication via my PCA pump. After hearing “Pain is just weakness leaving the body” over and over from the start of BUD/S training—Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training—and throughout my career as a SEAL, it’s engrained in me.
Not to mention, feeling pain means I’m not dead, and I have to admit I’m still shocked I made it out alive.
The tentative footsteps entering the hospital room draw my attention from where a muted Jeopardy plays on the television. Katie comes into view; her blond hair pulled back in a clip, she’s clad in plain scrubs. Luckily for her, the door to the room is to my right, so she’s greeted by the unmarred side of my face.
Unlike the left side. Much unlike the left.
Drawing to a stop at the foot of my bed, she offers a gentle smile. “Hey, handsome.”
I attempt a slight smile—at least as much of one as I can offer. The scarring and muscle damage in my left cheek creates more of a lopsided grin now. When I turn toward her—allowing her a full view—I see it.
It’s all written there on her face. It’s in those widened, hazel eyes.
“So, uh…” she falters, stammering as if we’re acquaintances and not two people who’ve gotten to know one another—intimately, if nothing else. “How are you feeling?” She winces as she realizes how lame her question is.
But I answer just the same. “I’ve had better days.”
Her laughter sounds stilted. “I can imagine.” Her eyes dart to the left side of my face before jerking away, as if she’s looked directly at the midday sun. Wincing. Painfully.
“It’s good to see you, Katie.” My tone is far too polite.
She needs to go. I know this, and so does she. Obviously, she was only into me for my looks, and I should’ve known better. After all, I was the manwhore who slept my way through quite a few single women before all this happened.
I never had any complaints—all of them knew the score. A SEAL. A guy who’d deploy to some random part of the world no sane person wants to visit. A guy who chose his country over himself. A guy who killed sometimes as much as he saved.
For those reasons, I was also a guy who didn’t do attachments—a fun guy. I’d never slept with a woman who turned into a “bunny boiler” or flipped out on me in some equally psychotic way. We always parted on good terms, amicably, thanks to the charm instilled in me long ago, courtesy of my mother.
But it isn’t until this moment that I realize how vain and callous I’d been. Shallow. Because at times like this, people need support—need to be appreciated and loved for more than their looks.
Life is totally giving me a big fat fuck you right now. That much is certain.
“Yeah, it’s…great to see you home.” She clasps her hands together; her expression so overly bright it’s painful. “And doing so well, too.” Her energetic tone grates on me.
“Well”—I blow out an exaggerated breath—“I’m actually pretty beat, so I think I’m going to rest.”
It’s an easy out. I know it, and she knows it. I’m giving her the reprieve she’s searching for, so she doesn’t have to look at the damage. More specifically, she doesn’t have to look at the left side of my face.
Relief washes over her features before she stifles it. She might have been quick but not quick enough.
“Oh, of course.” Her words come hastily, almost frantic. “I’ll let you rest.”
I close my eyes, partly to shut her out. “Take care, Katie.” Goodbye, Katie. Have a nice life.
“Bye, Hendy,” she says softly before her footsteps fade away.
Only then do I open my eyes. Training my gaze on the television, I press the button to increase the volume slightly.
“Who is Rembrandt?” I murmur.
And I continue doing so—rambling off answers and answer attempts—until exhaustion finally overtakes me. All the while, in the back of my mind, it’s confirmed; it’s a done deal. The damage to my face is far too extensive for anyone to see past it. I was right—I wasn’t completely off-base when I first caught sight of my reflection in the mirror.
My face is the sight of horrors, and no one will be able to see past it.
Not even me.
Phoenix /fēniks/: (in classical mythology) a unique bird inhabiting the Arabian Desert that burned itself on a funeral pyre before rising from the ashes with renewed youth to live through another cycle.
This isn’t mythology, it’s war, and Hendy is left in the hands of Hell’s cruelest gatekeepers.
His team is killed before his very eyes, and despite his efforts to save them, he’s captured and subjected to merciless torture—losing virtually every piece of his identity but his pulse.
After his rescue, he returns home from Afghanistan, saddled with facing the daunting task of healing his physical scars as well as the invisible ones—his emotional demons.
Dr. Presley Cole isn’t one to shy away from a challenge. Embarking on a new journey, she makes it her mission to prove to Hendy that his life isn’t over; that he’s worthy of love.
Because sometimes even a phoenix needs help to rise…
Out of the Ashes.
NOW LIVE ON AMAZON
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