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Heart Ties: Love Never Dies Novella

 

Heart Ties

Love Never Dies

Novella

Linda L. Barton

[email protected] by Linda L. Barton

All Rights Reserved

This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Special Acknowledgements

For my loving husband, Bob.

You are the driving force

in this writing adventure.

For it’s in your creative mind

where our stories are born.

Editing, Formatting, and Cover Design

Deadly Reads Author Services

Table of Contents

Title Page, Copyright,

Special Acknowledgments,

Prologue,

Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3,

Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6,

Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9,

Chapter 10

Follow the Author

Prologue

“I want you to promise me you’ll be careful over there.” Pushing a pea to the side of the plate with her fork, Rachel fought back tears. “I know how you love to take risks.”

Michael looked across the table at the woman he had loved for as long as he could remember. He knew she was frightened, but he also knew he must do his duty.

“Don’t you worry about me, I’m like a cat with nine lives,” the same playful grin that always made Rachel forget all her worries appeared on his lips. That was until the day Michael was notified his unit was shipping out to fight in the Pacific.

“Stop joking about this, Michael. I know how you are and it’s so dangerous,” tears wet her cheeks at the thought of what he would be facing.

“I know it’s dangerous, but I also know I must do this. Come on, Baby, don’t you have faith in me as a pilot?” Michael gazed deeply into her eyes hoping to ease her fears.

Realizing he was right, Rachel sighed. “Of course, I have faith in you, but I also know how willing you are to push things to a dangerous level. Promise me that you won’t take any unnecessary chances, okay?”

However, no sooner had the words left her lips, she knew they were spoken in vain.

“You know I can’t make that promise. Japan attacked us, and it’s up to men like me to stop it from happening again. You must remember how we all felt when we learned what happened at Pearl Harbor?” Anger burned on Michael’s face.

Rachel began to protest, but he continued.

“They must pay for what they did, and I plan on doing my part! So, I need to know you’ll be here waiting for me to return,” he reached out and took her hand in his, squeezing it gently.

Rachel knew there was no sense in pursuing this conversation any further. When they had first met that fateful day, she had learned once he made up his mind there was no changing it. They had met on the playground when his family had moved into the house up the street from hers. She had thought what a silly, little boy but over time, she knew they would be with each other forever. He would laugh whenever she spoke of how they had loved each other since the beginning of time and how their love would continue for all eternity. In her heart, Rachael knew their souls were connected in a way she could not explain.

“You know I’ll be waiting for you. It’s just that I’ll just miss you so much.” Another tear escaped the corner of her eye. Gazing deeply into his eyes, she struggling to force the growing sense of dread from her thoughts.

Michael returned her gaze and smiled. “That’s my girl. I promise you’ll see me again. Then we’ll buy a house and start having all those kids you seem to want. As a matter of fact, why don’t we get started on that right now?” Michael stood and pulled Rachel into his arms, pressing his lips firmly to hers.

***

Before the sun had risen, Rachel was up and getting the last-minute things together for Michael to leave. He was thrilled to find his favorite breakfast of biscuits with sausage gravy, scrambled eggs and a large cup of steaming hot coffee waiting for him on the table when he walked into the kitchen.

“Good morning, that looks delicious.” After sitting in his chair, Michael reached for his coffee cup. “I bet I won’t have good coffee like this while I’m gone.”

Rachel struggled to understand how he could be in such a good mood; this of all mornings. She knew he was excited to put his skills to work, but her heart was breaking.

“Would you like a glass of orange juice?” she struggled to muster a smile.

“Yes, I’d love some.” Michael reached for the salt shaker and sprinkled some on his scrambled eggs. “I must say, you do look quite lovely this morning. I hope it’s the glow of a mother-to-be after our night of passion.”

This statement causing a soft, pink glow to spread across her cheeks.

“Michael, that’s not a proper topic of conversation at the breakfast table,” she scolded, but the smile appearing on her face betrayed her true feelings.

As Rachel and Michael enjoyed their meal, they both wondered if they would ever sit together for a meal, or if this moment would become a memory of the possibilities of a life not shared.

Glancing up at the clock hanging above the sink, Michael set his napkin on the table, “Well, it’s getting late, and I need to go.”

Pushing away from the table

Rachel rushed into his waiting arms.

“Please don’t try to be a hero,” she cried, burying her face into his chest.

“Me, a hero, you’re the one who’s the hero. You’ve put up with me for all these years, and only a hero could do that,” a soft chuckle escaped his lips as he held her tightly against his chest.

“I’ll be home before you realize it. Now, give me one of those pretty smiles so I can take it with me,” gently placing two fingers under her chin, Michael lifted Rachel’s face, and gazed into her now tear-filled eyes.

“I have always loved you,” he reached up and wiped a tear now flowing down her cheek.

“And I have always loved you,” Rachel gazed into the face of the man that had always filled her heart with joy.

Hearing her words caused a feeling of tranquility to wash over Michael. He then pressed his lips against hers with such intensity, they both knew no matter what was to come their love would survive.

Chapter 1

“Mommy, I didn’t mean to do it! I didn’t want to die!” Six-year-old Shane bolted upright in his bed, tears flowing down his cheeks and soaked with sweat.

“You’re alright, baby. Mommy’s here,” Patricia sat next to Shane who was trembling with fear. “Did you have the bad dream again?”

“Yes; I was flying in the airplane, and it crashed into the water. I tried to stop it, but I couldn’t,” Shane whimpered, hugging his pillow. “Mommy, why did I have to die? I wanted to go home, but I died in the water. She was waiting for me to come home, but I couldn’t do it.”

Patricia was at a loss for words. Shane seemed to have this same dream at least twice a month, and she had no idea how to stop them. Patricia clearly remembered the first time he had the dream. He was three years old and had awakened screaming, NO over and over. Once she had calmed him down, he told her of how the water was cold and dark. He told her how he had tried to escape, but the water was all around him.

“I was mad, Mommy. I died. She would be sad because I broke my promise.”

***

“You said you were flying an airplane and it fell into the water. What kind of airplane was it?”

Shane closed his eyes. “I was in the war, and another airplane shot me. I saw my airplane was on fire. I knew it was bad. I did everything I could to keep flying, but the fire got bigger. My airplane shook real hard, and then I went into the water. I remember the airplane that shot me had a big red circle on it and it could fly real fast.”

“You were in a war? Why were you in a war?” Patricia felt her curiosity begin to peak.

“The bad people killed our people, and we had to stop them. Mommy, I was scared. I promised her that I would come home, but I died.” The expression on Shane’s face was one Patricia had never seen before.

“Don’t worry, it was only a dream. You didn’t die because Mommy wouldn’t let it happen. Now, you need to get some sleep because tomorrow is a school day.” Patricia took his pillow, fluffed it, and then laid it back down for him. Resting his head on the pillow, a broad smile appeared across Shane’s face.

“Mommy, I’m glad I chose you and Daddy. I knew you would love me,” turning on his side, he closed his eyes.

He was glad he had chosen us. What did that mean? Pushing the thought aside, Patricia kissed Shane on the forehead. “Goodnight, sweetheart.”

“Goodnight, Mommy.” he softly murmured, then pulled his blanket tightly around himself before falling off to sleep.

***

“Was it the dream again?” Steve rolled over to watch Patricia walk into the master bathroom to get a drink of water.

“I just don’t understand where it all comes from. He keeps having that dream where he’s flying an airplane in a war, and he gets shot down. He says how the water was cold and dark, and then he died. Steve, this isn’t normal, is it?” Patricia sighed as she walked to her side of the bed.

“I don’t know, but I don’t remember having dreams like that when I was a child.” Steve searched his memories from his childhood to no avail. “Well, there’s nothing more we can do about it tonight. Let’s get some sleep because the morning will be here before we realize.”

Patricia reached for the lamp on her bedside table and turned it off before she lay down, and then she rolled over to face Steve.

“You know what’s so strange, it almost sounds like Shane was really there. It’s odd how he speaks about the dream like it was real. Do you think he could have…” but before she could continue, Steve interrupted.

“Don’t be silly. It’s just a dream, that’s all. He’s a small boy with a big imagination. I’m sure he just watched something on the television about pilots in wartime. You know how he likes all that history stuff.”

Steve wanted to end this conversation. “Come on, it’s late, and we both need to be up early.”

Patricia knew he was probably right, but for some reason, she could not shake the strange feeling churning inside of her. “Goodnight.”

Chapter 2

Eight years later

“Come on, Shane. We won’t get caught and besides you know you want to go,” Billy glanced toward his bedroom door, hoping no one was eavesdropping on their conversation. “It’ll be fun, besides Davy, Chris, and Jacob is going. You have to go.”

Shane wanted to go to Miller’s Rock, but he knew his parents would never allow it without an adult there. “You’re right; we have been planning this for a long time. Okay, I’ll go. Was Jacob able to get the rope from his brother?”

Suddenly Shane felt a sense of dread stir in the pit of his stomach.

“Yeah, his brother is out of town for a few days, so we can use his repelling gear, and no one will ever know. I can’t wait to repel down Miller’s Rock,” Jacob said enthusiastically. He had gone with his brother a couple of months earlier, so he was looking forward to going again.

“This is going to be so cool,” Billy chuckled as he jumped on his bed and pulled the blanket over himself. “Come on, we need to get some rest for the big day tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I can’t wait either.” Shane pushed his doubts aside then zipped his sleeping bag closed and positioned his pillow under his head. He was tired, so it did not take long to fall asleep.

***

What are you up to?” a voice whispered in his ear with urgency. “You must not go tomorrow. It’s dangerous. If you go, you will die, my love. I need you to remember your promise to me. You promised that we would be together forever. This is our last chance. Please don’t go.”

***

“Wake up, sleepyhead!” Billy kicked the side of Shane’s sleeping bag, jarring Shane awake. “You better hurry up, or I’ll eat all the pancakes Mom made for us.”

Shane was surprised to see Billy up and dressed so early on a Saturday morning. Usually, he would stay in bed until nine or ten, but this morning he was up and dressed before eight o’clock.

“I’m not feeling good. I don’t think I should go,” Shane hoped to convince Billy he was sick. He did not understand why, but he just could not bring himself to go with them. He had wanted to go more than anything, but something changed overnight.

Unsure why, but Shane knew he needed to stay behind. “You go on without me. I’m going home.”

“You’re going home? We’ve all planned this for weeks, you can’t go home. Who’s gonna to hold the rope for me?” Billy wondered what could have changed his mind.

“Jacob can do it; besides, he knows what to do better than I do. I’m sorry, but I’m not feeling good. I must have what my sister had last week.” Shane watched as Billy’s expression changed from one of disappointment to disgust.

“Gross! Get out of here before I catch it.” Billy backed away from Shane, trying to put some distance between them.

“You’ll have fun today, and we’ll see each other at school on Monday, and you can tell me all about it.” Shane stood, and then bent down to roll up his sleeping bag.

“Man, this sucks. It won’t be the same without you there.”

“Sure, it will. Heck, you won’t even miss me. Well, I guess I’ll get out of here before I give this flu bug or whatever I have to you,” Shane lunged toward Billy and blew at him.

“Hey, keep your germs to yourself!” Billy laughed, taking a step back. “Okay, I’ll see you at school on Monday.”

Shane picked up his bag and then tossed the pillow he had used toward Billy. “You may want your Mom to wash the pillow case.”

Billy smacked the pillow aside with a disgusted scowl on his face. “Dang you, I better not get sick.”

“Hey, please be careful today, okay?” Shane could not seem to shake the feeling of doom churning deep in his gut.

“I will, but you need to get your germs out of my room,” Billy snickered as he held the door for Shane. “Go home and get well. I’ll see you Monday.”

***

The news report telling of the death of two boys while they were repelling down Miller’s Rock earlier that day caught everyone by surprise. The reporter had stated that it appeared the rope was not properly secured and two boys from the local Junior High School had fallen seventy-five feet to their deaths.

Sitting in stunned silence, Shane watched as the reporter spoke of how two of his friends had died. The reporter had stated how Christopher Malin and William Clements fell to their deaths when the rope they were using had failed.

“Mom, Dad, I was supposed to be there with them, but I changed my mind,” Shane looked at the shocked faces of his parents.

“I don’t understand how that happened to them. Billy was so excited…” Shane stared at the television with the pictures of Billy and Chris filling the screen.

Steve was dumbfounded. On the one hand, he was angry that Shane had planned to sneak off to Miller’s Rock. He knew better, but then again, Steve was thankful Shane had changed his mind and not gone.

“Son, sometimes things happen in life that just make no sense. Billy and Chris made a choice to do something very dangerous, and it went horribly wrong. I want to tell you how relieved your Mother and I are that you didn’t go because it could have been you. You need to remember never to take a chance with your life because we only get one time around. Do you understand what I’m saying?” Steve saw the sad and confused expression on Shane’s face and wondered if he actually understood.

“I think so. I’m tired, I think I’ll go lay down until dinner.” Shane stood and walked toward his bedroom without saying another word. He wanted to tell his parents about the voice that had warned him in his dream, but he knew it would upset them. It had been a long time since he had one of his dreams, so to admit they had come back was something he wanted to spare his parents.

***

The hum of the fan from the desktop computer broke the silence in the room. Shane had tried to sleep, but the image of Billy and Chris on the television screen had made it impossible.

It could have been me, the thought burned in his mind as he rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling.

Close your eyes,” the voice whispered in his ear.

“What, who said that?” Shane lifted his head and looked around the room.

Close your eyes, so we can talk.” Unsure as to why, Shane obeyed.

Suddenly, he found himself transported to a different place. Somewhere far away from his bedroom. He was now in a large room with a strange glow, filling every corner.

Shane struggled to locate the source of the light and who was speaking to him. “Where are you?”

I’m here, my love,” the voice filled the room and gently wrapped itself around Shane. “Do you remember your promise?”

“My promise, I don’t know what you mean.” Shane frantically looked around the room, trying to find the source of the voice.

You need to remember, my love. Please, this is our last chance to be together for all eternity,” a touch of sadness echoed in the voice.

“Who are you? I can’t see you,” Shane strained to see through the light.

That doesn’t matter right now.”

“Are you real or am I crazy?” He felt an agonizing sorrow consume him, but he did not understand why.

No, my love,” the voice spoke with urgency. “You need to remember your promise to make the right choices in this life, do you understand?

Shane had no idea what the voice meant by his choices. “I don’t understand. Are you an angel like my mother says you are? Why can’t I see you?”

All your questions will be answered in time. First, you must learn from your past mistakes because your eternal soul depends on it.”

Shane cried out, “Please, I don’t understand.”

Remember that I am always with you, and promise me you will not let your pride delay your eternal journey.” With those final words, Shane felt pulled from the strangely, illumined room.

Bolting upright, he looked around his room. “Was that real, or a dream?”

Sitting on the edge of his bed, Shane tried to understand what it all meant. He knew it must have been a dream, but a small voice deep inside his soul told him otherwise.

***

“Dinner’s ready,” Patricia tapped lightly on the bedroom door.

“Okay, I’m coming.” Shane glanced around the bedroom one last time. Shaking his head, he stood and followed his mother down the hall. “That was weird.”

Chapter 3

As the years progressed, Shane continued to have visits from the mysterious woman in his dreams. He would enjoy their time together, but once he awoke, she became a distant memory in the far reaches of his mind. He also noticed how at times he would feel a gentle nudge if he ever found himself in a potentially dangerous situation. At those times, he wondered if it was her.

One day, Shane had decided to tell his mother about the strange feelings that would come over him and the voice who warned him of potential danger. He had wondered if she would think him crazy, but she had told him to always listen to his inner voice. She said it would help protect him from making wrong the choices.

“Son, I have always listened to my inner voice, and it has saved me from harm many times. I believe loved ones who have passed on to the next existence watch over us and warn us of danger.”

Shane had appreciated his mother’s words, but he felt there was something more to this voice. It seemed so familiar, and the feelings it stirred inside of him were a mixture of pure happiness and agonizing pain. He could not explain it, but he found himself looking forward to the times when the inner voice would visit him. He would never tell his mother, but he also could not explain the feelings of love and devotion he had for this mysterious visitor.

***

The voice had remained silent for several months until one night when Shane was sixteen years old. He had made the decision to join a group of friends for a night of drinking and troublemaking. After lying to his parents that he was going to watch a movie and stay at a friend’s house for the night, Shane soon found himself facing a dangerous decision. He knew it was wrong to go. How by doing it would betray the trust his parents had in him, but he could not let his friends think him a coward.

“Dean’s here,” Patricia tapped on his bedroom door. “He’s waiting in the driveway.”

There was something off about Dean. He never wanted to come in the house, so she was disappointed when he was the one who came to pick up Shane for the movies.

Not wanting any probing questions, Shane rushed out of his room and went straight to the front door, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Mom.”

“Whose house will you be staying at tonight?” Patricia did not like the feeling she had growing inside of her.

“Don’t worry, I’m staying with Jeremy. We’re picking him up next,” this lie caused a pang of guilt to stab Shane’s heart.

“Oh, that’s fine then. Have fun and remember to behave yourself,” Patricia watched him rush out the door and said a silent prayer he would be safe.

“I will,” quickly closing the front door behind him, Shane rushed out to the car before she could say anything else.

***

The boys had decided to meet in the parking lot of the abandoned truck stop that had closed a few years earlier. It had become a favorite place for the local kids to hang out because it was just outside of town but away from the watchful eye of the city police. They had been there for a couple of hours, and had drunk and smoked until none of them had their senses about them. Suddenly, Dean Bales, who was new to town, jumped up on the roof of his car.

“Come on, guys. My grandfather always keeps beer in a refrigerator in his garage. He goes to sleep early, so he’ll never know we were even there. He normally has at least a case or two. Grandma doesn’t let him drink in the house, so he stays out in the garage whenever he wants to drink.” Dean laughed at the idea of his grandfather sitting at the work bench on his old wooden stool, drinking his beer.

“Do you really think we can get in and back out without being heard?” Jeremy snickered as he threw an empty beer can into the bed of Scott’s truck with it landing inside of the empty ice chest.

“I know we can,” Dean opened his car door and got in. “Come on, who’s going with me?”

“I will,” Jeremy walked over to Dean’s car and got into the front seat.

“I’ll come,” Scott jumped out of the bed of his truck.

“What about you, Shane?” Dean said as he started his car. “Are you going or staying here?”

Shane did not like the idea of stealing beer and especially from someone’s grandfather, but he also did not want them to think him a coward.

“I’m in,” he finally relented then climbed into the backseat with Scott.

What are you doing, my love?” the voice whispered in Shane’s ear with a hint of fear.

“What did you say?” Shane looked over at Scott.

“I didn’t say anything. Man, you must be hearing things,” Scott chuckled as he lit a cigarette then took a long drag on it.

Why are you going with them?” the voice persisted; however, this time much louder and with more force. “You can’t let your pride destroy you in this life.

As Dean parked the car across the street from his grandfather’s house, Shane felt a profound sense of dread wrap around his body with such force that he could barely breathe.

“Are you okay?” Scott said as he tossed the cigarette butt out of the car window.

“I’m not sure. I feel dizzy, and I can’t breathe,” Shane tried to steady the sickening feeling churning in the pit of his stomach.

“Don’t puke on my seat.” Dean twisted in his seat to look at Shane. “Maybe you need to go home and sleep it off?”

Shane hated to admit it, but he knew if he did not get some fresh air soon he was going to pass out.

“You’re right, but let me get myself pulled together a bit first.” Shane opened the door and hung his head out into the cool night air.

“Come on, I’m beginning to lose my buzz. Let’s go get that beer,” Jeremy got out of the car and then gently closed the door so as not to make any unnecessary noise.

“Are you sure you’ll be alright?” Scott stepped out of the car and stood on the curb next to Shane.

“Yeah, I’ll be okay. I guess I should have eaten before I came tonight,” Shane groaned as he slowly got out of the car. “My house isn’t that far from here, and I think the walk will do me some good.”

Thankful he had gotten a ride from Dean earlier, Shane was glad he would not have to explain why he walked home and not drove his own car. He just hoped his parents were asleep, so he could sneak into the house and get to his bedroom without alerting them.

Chapter 4

The sound of his bedroom door flying open, startled Shane awake. “What the hell?”

“Oh, thank God, you’re home!” Patricia rushed into the room with tears streaming down her cheeks. “I was so afraid something horrible had happened to you. Your father is on the phone with the police about the shooting.”

“Shooting, what shooting? I don’t know what you’re talking about, Mom,” Shane felt his heart skip a beat.

“Two boys decided to help Dean rob his grandfather. They were in his garage stealing beer out of a refrigerator when Mr. Bales heard the commotion and surprised them. He didn’t know they were just kids and that one of them was his own grandson when they charged at him. That poor old man shot and killed his own grandson while trying to defend himself,” Patricia’s voice cracked as tears continued to stream down her cheeks. “He said the other ones got away, so he didn’t know who they were, but the police are gathering fingerprints and hope to find them soon. Please tell me you weren’t one of them. Your poor father had to inform the police that you left our house earlier last night with Dean.”

Shane could not believe what he was hearing. After rubbing his eyes, Shane looked up into the tear-filled eyes of his mother, “Mom, I hate to admit it, but I was with them last night.”

Gasping, a look of horror appeared on her face. However, before she could say anything, he pressed on. “I didn’t go with them into the garage, I promise. I was going to, but I got sick, so I left them and walked home. Mom, I’m sorry that I lied and caused you to worry. I wish I could change what happened.”

Patricia was silent for several moments, not wanting to accept his words. Finally, she wiped the tears from her eyes and swallowed before speaking. “I’m thankful you didn’t go into the garage as well, but I’m not happy that you were planning to in the first place. Your father and I have always trusted you to make the correct choices, but you let yourself and us down this time. I’m going to talk with your father about this, and we’ll decide on your punishment.”

Reaching out, she gently touched his arm. “You’re lucky it wasn’t you that died last night. I cannot believe you boys would do something so foolish. I’m sure once the others are caught it won’t be too good for them. Now, get out of bed and get yourself cleaned up. I’ll make some breakfast then we will need to go to the police station. I’m sure you’ll need to give them a statement.”

Patricia stood and walked toward the bedroom door then stopped. Inhaling deeply, she placed her hand on the doorknob and spoke without turning to face Shane. “Thank you for being honest with me. Now get out of bed and get yourself cleaned up. I love you.”

Shane watched as she walked through the door, closing it behind her. He knew he had betrayed her trust. He knew he should have tried to talk them out of going. He had allowed his pride to stop him from making the right choice. Realizing what was facing him, Shane wanted to just pull his blanket over his head and disappear forever.

“Well, there’s no getting out of this,” Shane groaned as he walked into the bathroom to shower and get ready to face his punishment.

***

As the warm water flowed over his head, Shane wondered how differently things would have gone had he joined them in the garage. He could not believe that Dean was dead at the hand of his own grandfather and the pain it would cause his family.

Lost in thought, Shane heard a voice fill his mind. You almost let your pride destroy you last night.

“What did you say?” Shane held his eyes tightly closed, wondering if it were his imagination.

You nearly let your pride destroy you last night. You didn’t heed my warning as you traveled to the man’s house, but deep inside, you knew what you were about to do was wrong, the voice filled his mind drowning out the sound of the water flowing over his head.

“Did you cause me to get sick?” However, no sooner had he uttered the words, he knew better.

No, it was your actions that caused your illness. You knew it was wrong, but you could not admit it to your friends because of pride,” a touch of sadness now filled the voice.

“You’re right, but I just couldn’t bring myself to tell them it was wrong,” shame now consumed his soul.

That has always been your weakness. It will be your eternal burden to carry if you don’t learn to have faith in yourself and trust your instincts. However, you first need to finish your bath, and then we will continue our conversation, the sadness in the voice was now replaced with a playful tone.

The words ‘finish your bath’ reminded Shane he was still standing in the shower.

“Oh, crap,” he groaned, realizing the water was now cold against his skin.

He reached for the knobs to turn off the water when a thought flowed into his mind. I wish whoever this is, would let me see them. At least, I’d know I do not imagine it all.

Grabbing a towel off the rack then wrapping it around himself, Shane walked into his bedroom. However, nothing could have prepared him for what awaited him. There across his room, standing by his desk was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Long, dark auburn hair framed her porcelain-skinned face with sparkling emerald green eyes. She had the cutest patch of freckles spread across the bridge of her nose, and lips as red as a rose. Frozen in place by the vision standing before him, Shane reached up and rubbed his eyes, convinced they were playing a trick on him.

“Hello, Shane. Please come and sit. We have much to talk about, and I’m sure you have many questions.” With a playful smile on her lips, she motioned for him to sit on his bed.

Unsure if he should sit or run, he paused a moment, trying to gather his thoughts. After a few awkward moments, the words seemed to explode out of him, “Are you the one I’ve heard all these years?”

Smiling at the expression on his face, she slowly nodded her head, “Yes, I am the voice in your head.”

A rush of emotions filled Shane. For as long as he could remember her voice had whispered warnings in his mind. His heart beat wildly in his chest as he fought for the words he wanted to say. Finally, unable to choose the perfect ones, he just blurted out, “Why are you here now?”

“Because you asked me to,” she calmly responded.

“I don’t remember asking…” Suddenly he realized what she meant.

Her eyes held his gaze, seeming to penetrate his soul.

“Were you in the shower with me earlier?” his face now took on a slight shade of red.

“Yes, but not in the way you mean. Only our minds were together, so you have no need for embarrassment,” a smile came to her lips.

“Who are you and why are you here?” An uneasy feeling came over him. “You’re not here to take me, are you? I’ve watched movies about angels who come to take people when they die. Am I going to die?”

“You won’t before your time if you make the correct choices. Do you remember when you were younger and you wanted to go with your friends to Miller’s Rock? You knew your parents would have forbidden it, yet you still planned to go. If your friends would have heeded their inner voices, they would still be alive today.”

“So, you’re my guardian angel. Is that what you’re saying? My mother has always spoken of how guardian angels are sent to protect us, but she never said they would appear to people as you are,” he gazed at her with a confused expression on his face. “Can I touch you?”

Realizing how his request must have sounded, Shane turned away, his cheeks growing an even deeper red.

“No, you can only see me. I’m here in spirit only. After all these years, I thought it was the time that I formally introduced myself. My name is Rachel.”

“Rachel? That’s a beautiful name. I don’ know why, but I’ve always liked that name. So, what happens now?” Shane felt transfixed by the vision before him. He could not explain it, but a new sensation seemed to flow throughout his body –pure love. Was he in love with her, but how could that be? Shane could not explain it, but he felt a deep and intense love for this beautiful spirit before him. As he gazed into her eyes, his mind struggled to push the feelings aside, but his battle was in vain because they were undeniable.

“What happens next is entirely up to you. You must choose your own path in this life, but I want you to know that I will always be with you. I must go for now; your parents are waiting for you in the kitchen.”

Shane began to speak, but she held a finger to her lips. “Hush, you have important things to do before we are together. Please search your heart and remember your promise.” Blowing him a kiss, a swirling mist began to wrap around her, pulling her into a soft glowing light.

Not wanting her to go, Shane ran toward the fading vision of the woman he knew he had loved since the dawn of time. “Wait, please don’t leave yet. I have so many questions.”

Convinced his plea had gone unheard, Shane stood motionless, trying to summon her return with his mind. As he stood in the spot where mere moments before the vision of his dreams had been, he felt a complete sense of loneliness fill his heart. It was one of such intensity, he was convinced it would stop his beating heart.

“Shane, breakfast is on the table,” his father tapped on the bedroom door while trying to restrain his anger.

“I’m coming.” Shane pulled on a pair of blue jeans and grabbed a shirt from his dresser drawer. He was not looking forward to facing his parents, but he knew he had to make things right with them and hopefully begin to regain their trust.

Chapter 5

“I don’t understand why you won’t ask her to the prom,” Chad forced his algebra book into his over-stuffed locker. “I know she’d say yes because Sandy told me she really likes you.”

Shane was in no mood for this conversation again. He was aware that Cathy Davis liked him and would gladly be his date to the senior prom, but he just could not seem to bring himself to ask her. It was not how she looked or anything like that because she was a beautiful girl. He just had no desire to date anyone. Whenever one of the girls at school would show any interest in him, he always found himself comparing her to the mysterious auburn-haired woman who had appeared to him the previous year. Shane had pleaded with her to come back and talk with him, but she would only visit him in his dreams.

“I know you’re right, but…”

“But nothing, you need to stop living in that fantasy world of yours,” Chad closed the locker and then turned to face him. “Hey, we all have our dream girls, but you need to realize she’s not real and turn your attention to a real girl.”

Shane chided himself for telling Chad about Rachel. He had sworn not to tell anyone about her, but for some reason, he decided to share his secret with Chad. He knew he could trust him not to tell anyone or tease him about it, but his heart wished he had kept it to himself. “I know, you’re right, but I just can’t seem to let her go.”

“Shane, you’re my best friend, and I hate to see you wasting yourself on some fantasy woman. So, pull yourself together walk over to Cathy, and ask her to the prom,” Chad chuckled as he slapped the stunned-faced Shane on the shoulder.

“Okay, okay, I will. Now quit your damn nagging. Hell, the way you nag at me you’d think you were my mother.” Shane rolled his eyes, and begrudgingly walked toward Cathy and Sandy who were standing next to the water fountain talking with two other girls.

***

As prom night approached, Shane began to wonder if he could go through with it. How could he be with a girl when his heart belonged to another? His mother was thrilled he was going, and she had even picked out Cathy’s corsage for him. Patricia had laughed when Shane said he would get Cathy a bouquet of daisies, so to save him from complete disgrace she had told him she would order the flowers.

As he pulled up in the driveway at Cathy’s house, Shane felt a huge knot tighten in his stomach. While walking to the front door, he had the strongest desire to get back in his car and leave. The front door seemed to grow with each step like the gaping jaws of a great beast about to swallow him. Reaching the door, Shane suddenly found it impossible to press the doorbell.

Shane had no idea how long he had been standing there when the door suddenly opened wide with a tall, dark-haired man standing there in the doorway. As Shane looked up into the man’s eyes, he wondered if he should run or stay.

“You must be Shane, come on in. Cathy will be ready in a couple of minutes,” the man stepped back from the door, allowing Shane to enter.

“Thank you, Sir,” were the only words Shane managed to say as he entered.

“Let’s go into the living room and get to know each other. Her mother is helping her get ready. You get two women together and time doesn’t seem to matter to them,” Cathy’s father glanced toward the staircase. “So, you’re Steve Michaels’ son? I like your dad. I met him a few years ago, so how’s he doing these days?”

“He’s doing great. Sir, I was wondering what time do you want Cathy home tonight?” Shane tried to hide the fear churning inside of him. He had heard that Cathy’s father was very strict, so he wanted to know the rules beforehand.

Hearing this question turned a stern expression to one of relief on her father’s face. “I’d heard you were a decent young man, but your concern for my feelings has proven you are someone I can trust with my daughter. I had wanted her home by midnight, but I think one o’clock will be fine. I hope you don’t disappoint me, Son.” He looked deeply into Shane’s eyes, searching for any deceit.

“Thank you, Sir. I promise to have her safely home by one o’clock. You have my word on that.”

“Good, I’m glad we understand each other. So, how do you…. ah, here she comes,” he announced, looking toward the staircase with a smile on his face.

Shane was surprised how he felt at the site of Cathy as she came down the stairs. It was as though she was caught in one of those slow-motion scenes in a movie when the beautiful woman enters the room.

He marveled how she seemed to float down the stairs and how there appeared to be a soft glow around her.

“Hi Shane, you look very handsome tonight.”

“Ah…what…, thank you,” Shane stuttered, feeling every bit the fool.

“Shane and I have been getting to know each other, kitten. Now I want you two to have a wonderful time, but first, we need to get some pictures.” Reaching for the camera lying on the coffee table, he motioned for them to stand next to each other.

“Hurry up, Marcia! These kids have a special night ahead of them.”

“I’m coming, George. Don’t start without me,” Marcia breathlessly hurried down the stairs. “We need to take several pictures because Shane’s mother called and asked if we would be sure to get plenty of them for her, too.”

Shane had no idea what all the commotion was about a prom. As far as he was concerned, it was just another school dance. Now that’s just great, mom will have some pictures to show everyone she knows too, he groaned silently.

After about five minutes of endless picture taking, George set the camera back on the end table. “Okay, that’s enough for now. You kids go have fun, be safe, and I’ll see you at one o’clock.”

George then turned to look at Shane. “I want you to be careful with my little girl and treat her like a lady.”

Shane met her father’s gaze, “I will, I promise.”

***

The evening began with dinner at a local restaurant with Chad and Sandy, and then they all went to the prom. Shane was surprised at how much fun he had with Cathy. As the evening progressed, he was surprised to have a new feeling growing inside of him for Cathy – love.

Chapter 6

The next few months flew by for Shane. He was thrilled the day of graduation, and now he was looking forward to his plans of joining the military. He had first thought of joining the Air Force or Navy and working toward being a pilot, but at the last minute, he decided to enlist in the Army. Shane could not explain it, but for some reason, he wanted to keep his feet on solid ground.

“Shane, have you heard anything I’ve said?” Cathy folded her sweater and put it in her suitcase and then zipped it closed. “We are still going to meet Chad and Sally this evening, aren’t we?”

“Huh, what did you say?” Shane turned to look at Cathy who stood there with an annoyed expression on her face.

When Cathy received, the letter stating she had been accepted into nursing school, she knew her dream would finally come true. She had wanted to be a nurse for as long as she could remember so now that the time had arrived for her to leave for school, she was excited to get started. “Shane, where is your head today? If we don’t hurry, we’re going to be late.”

“I know, I’m sorry, so what time are you planning to leave in the morning?” Shane hated the idea of them being apart.

“I need to be ready by six o’clock in the morning, so I must get home early tonight. You know that I’m going to miss you, right?” Rushing into his waiting arms, Cathy breathed in the scent of his cologne.

“I know, and I’ll miss you as well, but we’ll see each other in a few months.” Shane tenderly kissed her neck.

“Well, enough mushy stuff. Come on, I’m starving!” Shane grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the door.

***

“Come on you two; it’s still early and besides everyone is going to be there,” Chad said as the waitress returned to gather up their dirty dishes, and then placed the ticket on the table.

“This is the last time we’ll all be together for a long time, and I promise we’ll have you home by midnight!” Chad looked at Cathy with a pleading expression.

“I don’t know. I really need to get home and get some rest before tomorrow,” Cathy glanced over at Shane for support.

“She’s right, Chad. Besides, we’d like to have a little time alone before she leaves in the morning,” Shane turned toward Cathy, giving her a playful wink.

Snickering, Chad realized any protests would fall on deaf ears. “Well, I don’t want to keep you two from any private time.”

Shrugging his shoulders, Chad walked over to Cathy and gave her a hug, “Take care of yourself and keep in touch, okay?”

Sally then wrapped her arms around Cathy’s neck, forcing Chad to step aside. “I’m going to miss you, too. Things just aren’t going to be the same around here without you. You’d better write and tell me everything you’re doing, okay?”

Cathy and Sally had been friends since grade school, and they had gone through each important step life had thrown their way. Cathy could remember when their mothers had taken them to buy their first bras then when they had their first real kiss from a boy.

“I will, and we’ll talk every night,” Cathy fought back the tears now wetting her cheeks. She knew things would never be the same because she saw it before when her brother had moved away. It always seemed that old friendships would fade away over time as they went in different directions to be replaced with new ones.

Chapter 7

The days seemed to drag on after Cathy left for school. The only thing making it bearable were the nightly phone calls and the excitement of preparing for basic training. Shane knew he should have gone to college first, but he could not bring himself to wait. Besides, he could get his degree while serving.

His parents had begged him to go to college first, but Shane told them this was what he wanted and that he had waited his entire life for this opportunity.

“You both know how much I want this,” groaning, he stuffed the last of his things in his pack. “I’ve never wanted anything more.”

Patricia’s heart was broken at the thought of him possibly being sent to fight in the Middle East. “I know, dear, it’s just that it would be so much easier on you if you waited and got your degree first.”

Shane knew she was right, but he had made up his mind. This was something he had to do and waiting was not an option.

“Son, I know this is important to you, but I want you to promise your mother that you’ll not take any unnecessary chances. I know how you love to dive in before thinking.” Steve patted Shane on the back, with a tear escaping the corner of his eye.

“Come on, Dad, you know I’m bulletproof,” Shane chuckled, but once he saw the worried expression on their faces, he realized the depth of concern for his safety. “I will, I promise.”

***

The weeks in basic training seemed to fly by for Shane. He loved the hard work and structure, as well as the brotherhood of his fellow recruits. When they were finally allowed to contact their families, Shane jumped at the opportunity. He had called his parents first. It was nice to talk to them, even though, his mother would not stop crying.

“Come on, Mom. I can’t understand a word you’re saying. Is Dad there? Are you on the speaker phone?”

“Yes, I’m here, Son. You know your mother is a softie,” Steve’s voice cracked, as he wiped a stray tear from his eye. “We’re just so glad to hear from you. I saw Chad the other day, and he was asking about you. He said he was looking forward to you coming home for a visit.”

“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it too. If everything goes right, I should be able to come home for Christmas.”

“That would be fantastic,” Steve chuckled at watching Patricia dance and squeal with delight.

Hearing his mother, Shane could not help but smile. “And I expect some of Mom’s delicious ham and pecan pie.”

“Don’t you worry about that, Son. I promise to have all your favorites ready when you come home,” Patricia said enthusiastically.

“My mouth is watering already just thinking about it.” Shane closed his eyes with the image of his mother in the kitchen preparing the holiday feast playing in his mind. “I need to cut this short because I still need to call Cathy. I love you both, and I’ll call again soon.”

“We love you, too. Take care, and we’ll talk soon,” Steve and Patricia called out.

Quickly dialing Cathy’s phone number, he listened to it ring several times before going to voicemail. “Damn! Where are you?”

Shane knew she was probably studying late, but he was disappointed they did not get to talk. “Oh well, I’ll try again later.”

Shane had tried three more times to get a hold of Cathy, but now instead of ringing her phone went straight to voicemail. “What the hell is going on?”

He decided to call her parents first thing in the morning and see if they knew why she was not answering her phone.

***

“Oh Shane, it’s terrible!” Mrs. Davis cried. “Cathy was walking home from the library when she was struck by a drunk driver. She’s in the intensive care unit, and they don’t know if she’s going to survive.”

Her words hit Shane with such force his knees buckled beneath him, causing him to drop to the floor.

“When did this happen?” His words were a pained whisper.

“It was last night around 8 o’clock. The car drove right up on the sidewalk where she was walking. We’re scared she’s not going to make it,” Mrs. Davis fought back more tears stinging her eyes.

With a consuming sense of dread, Shane knew he had to get home as soon as possible. “Don’t think that way, Mrs. Davis. Cathy’s a fighter; she won’t give up. Please tell her that I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

***

It had taken several hours to get the paperwork taken care of so he could leave, but Shane finally managed to hop on a flight home. It had felt like an eternity with Mrs. Davis words spinning in his mind. How could this happen? She was so excited to be in nursing school and looking forward to helping people.

Shane was relieved to see his parents standing there when he got off the airplane. Patricia ran up to him and wrapped her arms tightly around his neck. “I’m so glad to see you.”

“I’m happy to see you too, Mom. I only wish it was under better circumstances,” his voice was filled with sorrow as he held his mother tightly.

“Come on, let’s get you to the hospital,” Steve gently patted Shane on the shoulder. When their gazes met, Shane nodded and then followed his father out to the car.

***

Not a word was spoken on the drive to the hospital for which Shane was grateful. He had no idea how he was going to react once he saw Cathy, so he was thankful not to have to participate in idle conversation.

As they pulled into the parking lot of the hospital, a sharp pain shot through his body. It had been four years since he had been to this hospital when his grandfather had died from a heart attack. Shane reached for the door handle then said a silent prayer the outcome would be better this time.

“Come on, Son. You need to get up there and see her,” Steve held the door open and waited for him to gather his strength to face this painful ordeal.

Life can throw some crappy curves at you, Shane thought to himself as he got out of the car.

When he had left for basic training, Shane had often wondered what would happen if he was sent to the war. Seeing the returning soldiers who had lost limbs and forced to live with other life-altering issues, he wondered how he would handle such loss. However, nothing could have prepared him for something such as this.

“Uh, yeah, you’re right.” Taking a deep breath, he followed his parents to the hospital entry.

***

“Oh, thank God you’re here!” Mrs. Davis cried out as she ran up to Shane, throwing her arms around his neck.

Standing in the hospital hallway outside of Intensive Care Unit with Cathy’s mother clinging to him, Shane glanced at her family members gathered in the small waiting area. Shane could tell by the heartbroken expressions it would not be good news.

“How is she?” Holding his breath, he dreaded the coming answer.

“They don’t hold out much hope,” Mr. Davis said as he walked over to Shane and took his hand in his. “You need to get in there now.”

With a heavy heart, Shane nodded then walked toward the double doors. He felt as though all the sorrow in the world was smothering him. Pushing the door open, he looked ahead to the small room where Cathy was fighting for her life.

Entering the room, Shane felt as though someone had dropped kicked him in the gut. He had been taught what he would face in war, but nothing could have prepared him for this. The image of Cathy lying in bed, motionless, was beyond comprehension. Her battered and bruised body was barely recognizable. The site of wires and tubes attached to her caused a sense of helplessness burn inside of him. The slow beep of the heart monitor gently sounding in the background caused him to pray for a miracle he knew would never come.

The brightly lit room failed to remove the darkness, crushing his will to live. Each step, a battle against death, drained all hope of her survival. Taking the final two steps, Shane sat in the chair, leaning his head against the cool, metal of the bed’s sidebar.

“You’re so frail,” the pained whisper escaped his lips. Shane reached for her hand and paused. “I’m afraid you’ll shatter into a million pieces.”

After gathering his strength, Shane reached up and rested his hand on hers.

“Hi, babe, this sure is a strange way to get me home early for a visit,” tears wet his cheeks. “It sure would be nice if you’d wake up and let me see those beautiful eyes of yours.”

Reaching up to wipe his tears, Shane felt the slightest movement of her hand.

Jumping to his feet, Shane leaned in closely, “Cathy, can you hear me?”

Her eyes flickered, as she struggled to awaken. Holding his breath, he waited.

“Shane? Is that you?” her voice, a strained whisper.

“Yes, it’s me. I’m so glad to see you, baby,” his heart fluttered when he felt her hand gently clasp his.

“I want you to know how special you are and please never forget that, okay?” she gazed into his eyes.

“Okay, but you don’t need to worry about me now. You need to focus on getting better. I need you, your family needs you. Please don’t stop fighting.” Urgency filled him as he felt her grasp weaken.

“I want you to know how much I’ve treasured our love and I will keep each memory with me. Please don’t take any unnecessary chances with your life because of this. Please remember your promise.” A tender smile crossed her lips, then she closed her eyes for the last time.

“Oh, my God, please, no!” Shane cried out. “Please don’t take her.” Shane felt his heart attempt to stop beating in his chest. Tears filled his eyes.

Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a shadowy form standing by the window across the room. Turning quickly, he realized no one was there.

“You need to step back,” the young nurse gently pushed Shane aside. “I need you to go back to the waiting room.”

“No, I’m staying. She needs me. I need to stay with her.” Not wanting to accept she was gone, Shane refused to release her hand.

“Shane, it’s time to let her go. Come on, let’s go home.”

The sound of his mother’s voice pulled Shane back from the brink of insanity.

“She’s gone, son. You need to let her go.” Clasping his hand, she gave it a gentle squeeze.

He knew his mother was right. Cathy was gone, but then it hit him. He was alone. How could his happen? They had so many plans for their life together. Looking down, he gazed at the girl who filled his heart with joy and love. The one he thought would become his wife and share his life, but that was not to be. Lifting her hand to his lips, Shane pressed his lips to her still warm skin, “Goodbye, you’ll always be in my heart.”

***

Shane was glad to have been busy since the funeral. The pain of losing Cathy had tortured his mind. He had buried himself in his work and now was ready for a new phase of his life. After completing his basic and extensive MOS, Shane was prepared to begin his career as a Ranger in the United States Army.

It had been several months since he had gone home. He knew his parents wanted to see him, but the thought of going home without Cathy was something he just could not bring himself to do.

“Please come home for a visit,” Patricia pleaded. “We’d like to see you before you ship overseas.”

“I know, but…”

Steve had heard enough and interrupted, “But nothing. There is no reason you can’t come and see your mother. She’s worried sick about you. You barely write, and we’ve only spoken a handful of time since the funeral.”

“Dad, you know I’ve been busy.” Shane knew his excuse was a lie, but he did not want to admit the real reason why he stayed out of touch.

“Son, I know it’s been hard on you losing Cathy that way, but I don’t believe she’d want you cut off from those who love you.” Steve struggled to stay calm, but seeing the pain on Patricia’s face was overwhelming. “Damn it, I won’t take no for an answer. Am I understood!”

Shane knew there was no sense in arguing. He had to push back the pain and go home. “Okay, I’ll get it all scheduled. I’ll let you know when I’m flying in.”

Cries of joy filled his ears as his mother grabbed the phone receiver, “Thank you, this means more to me than you know. I’ve missed you so much.”

“I know, Mom. I’ve missed you, too. I need to go; I’ll talk to you as soon as I have a date. I love you both, goodbye.”

Setting his phone on the table, Shane rubbed his hands over his shaved scalp.

He knew it was best to go home before shipping out, but his parents worried expressions were unwelcome.

***

Nothing could have prepared him for the homecoming celebration at the airport when he landed. When he exited the plane, shouts of “Welcome home, Shane!” greeted him.

“Look at you. You’re so handsome in your uniform,” Patricia rushed up to Shane, wrapping her arms around his neck.

“Hi, Mom,” burying his face in her hair, he breathed in her perfume.

“Oh, my, you’re so muscular,” Patricia giggled, this causing the group gathered around to laugh.

“Stop embarrassing him. Of course, he’s muscular. Our boy is a man now; he’s a Ranger,” Steve winked playfully. “It’s good to see you, Son.”

“Hi, Dad, it’s good to be home.”

Chapter 8

Nine Years Later

The sun climbed above the Afghan mountains, signaling the beginning of another day with its oppressive heat. A last cool, gentle breeze swept through the small valley where Shane and the rest of his unit waited on a ridge overlooking a small village.

“Well, that’s the last of the cool air,” Thompson groaned.

“Yeah, it sure makes you appreciate the cooler nights after spending a few days here,” Ramsey shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position. “Look at Campbell over there. He’s tugging at the bit to get some action. Poor kid has no idea what’s ahead of him.”

All the men turned and looked toward Campbell, who smiled sheepishly. This was his first mission, and he was excited. To finally use his training as a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment’s Delta Unit, a.k.a. Delta Force was long overdue.

Shane leaned back against a large rock, trying to stretch a kink out of his back. A warm feeling washed over him as he watched his brothers, huddled together, preparing for the rescue mission ahead. This was not Shane’s first, but something about this mission unnerved him. He could not quite put a finger on it, but he felt as though something unexpected was to happen.

Dropped in under the cover of night, they had walked nearly ten miles through treacherous conditions until they reached their target. Shane was thankful for the dark moon even though he enjoyed how the moonlight would paint the ground in this distant corner of the world. The last thing they needed was to be discovered by the jihadists patrolling the area.

When Shane’s unit received their latest orders, he prepared for the worst. They were to rescue three soldiers captured during a transport of supplies the previous month. Shane knew this would be a difficult mission. He knew they would not be in the best medical condition, if even still alive.

Even though he trusted his brothers with his life, Shane could not shake his growing sense of dread. Finding a somewhat comfortable position, Shane decided to go over the rescue plans again in his mind. He had lost too many good men over the years, so he did not want to leave anything to chance. Clearing his mind of such thoughts, Shane focused on the task ahead.

Time seemed to slow as they waited and watched. The Intel indicated the prisoners were held in a ramshackle building on the edge of the small village. Shane had never liked to go into the civilian villages. The chance for collateral damage was far too great. The use of innocent people as a shield showed no honor.

“Okay, we need to relax and keep an open eye on the activity down there. A more accurate head count is required of the hostiles in the village. We need to be fit and ready tonight when we go in, so we’ll take turns getting a couple hours of shut-eye.” Shane knew it would be difficult to sleep. However, the need to be sharp and on their game was of the utmost importance.

“Okay, Sarg., me and Campbell will take the first watch,” Ramsey snickered then elbowed Campbell in the side playfully. “Let’s see how good you are at identifying those Taliban assholes.”

The shocked expression on Campbell’s face caused the group to break out in muffled laughter. They all knew he was new at this sort of counter-terrorism operation, but they also knew he was well trained and capable of fulfilling his duty.

“Sounds good to me. Michaels and I can use some beauty sleep. Hell, he can use all of that he can get. The poor guy keeps chasing off the gals with that mug of his,” Thompson chuckled as he hunkered down for some much-needed rest.

“That’s not his problem. The gals take one look at me and just don’t want to settle for less,” Ramsey teased.

Thompson shrugged, not wanting to add to his friend’s playful beat down. “To be honest, I seem to remember a little hottie telling you she wasn’t interested in rolling in the sheets with your sorry-ass not long ago.”

“Come on, guys, no gal with a lick of sense would want to hook up with any of us. We aren’t the stay home in the little white house with a picket fence sort of guys,” Shane interrupted, hoping to put an end to the playful banter.

Shane had always liked Chuck Thompson. They had met a few years back on a joint mission, and instantly became friends. His quick wit and crazy sense of humor were the things Shane enjoyed most. Thompson always seemed to have a way of pulling him out of the dark recesses of his mind where he appears to go, far too often.

“Hell, whose talking about a house with a picket fence? I’m talking about a little fun in the sheets,” Ramsey taunted.

“Well, you can sit there and think of all the women waiting for you when we get done here. I’m going to get some rest,” Shane pulled his helmet down over his eyes, trying to hide his amusement at this crazy conversation. It only took a few moments before he drifted off to sleep.

~~~

“Meic, wake up. The sun is up, and it is time to eat,” Rhosyn grabbed the thick blanket and pulled it back, exposing the muscular body of her beloved husband.

“Woman, do you want me to catch my death? Come here.” Grabbing Rhosyn by the waist, Meic pulled her down on the straw-stuffed matting on the dirt floor, clutching her tightly in his arms.

“Stop, my love, I have much to do today. Arlana and Keeva are going to help me prepare the wool for weaving. Our sheep have provided us an abundance this year.”

“Weaving; you find that more important than pleasing your husband on this cold morning?” Meic buried his face into her thick, auburn hair, breathing in the scent of the spices and herbs she used when bathing.

Rhosyn wiggled in his grasp, trying not to laugh. “You need to get up and prepare for the day. We are in need of meat to prepare if you want to have food stored before the snows arrive.”

Realizing there was no sense in continuing with this playful moment, Meic released his grasp on Rhosyn and jumped to his feet. Flashing a mischievous smile, Meic offered an outstretched hand. “You will pay for this seduction tonight, my love.”

“I should hope so. If it were not for the sun burning through the morning fog, I would have liked to stay beside you.” Rhosyn took his offered hand then stood. “I fear our child is hungry. Look he moves.”

Grasping Meic’s large hand, Rhosyn placed it on her growing belly. The sensation of butterflies teased his palm until suddenly, a strong kick brought joyful laughter to both proud parents.

“My son will be a mighty warrior and hunter like his father,” Meic beamed with pride.

“Let’s just hope he’s not late at starting the day as his father,” Rhosyn teased as she turned and walked to the hearth.

Kneeling next to a large kettle of porridge hanging above the fire, she took the large wooden spoon and filled a bowl then handed it to Meic. “I have several turnips and onions, so with some of the meat you bring home today, I’ll make a nice stew. You always like my stew.”

Taking the bowl of porridge, Meic sat on a stool next to the small table. Before taking a bite, he reached for the jar of fresh honey and added some to the porridge.

“Meic, what are you doing? The day is begun, and still, you have not come outside to greet it.” Albion, Meic’s friend since childhood, shouted in his deep, guttural voice.

“Come inside and join me for this feast my beautiful wife has prepared.”

It only took a moment before the wooden door swung wide, and Albion stood there, blocking the rays of the sun with his massive frame.

“You know me, I never refuse the offer of a feast,” Albion licked his lips. Joining Meic at the table, he held out an empty bowl.

“My goodness, does not my friend, Keena feed you? I must speak with her.” Rhosyn filled the bowl with the hot substance and handed it back.

Lifting the bowl to his face, Albion inhaled deeply. “I must say you are a lucky man, my old friend. Your woman is the best cook in the village.”

Taking a large mouthful, Albion rolled his eyes and groaned with pleasure. “Yes, you are one lucky man.”

***

Once they had finished eating, both men placed their bowls on the small table then stood.

“Albion, let us go hunting. My lovely wife has a need for meat to prepare a stew for my dinner. She has also informed me we need to prepare for this winter. She has reminded me it will not be long before the time of the snows,” Meic winked at Rhosyn playfully.

“Well, I say we must obey. I don’t want you to face the wrath of your woman should you not provide her with the meat she requests. We both know not to cross a woman heavy with child,” Albion chuckled.

Rhosyn was about to protest when Meic took her into his arms. “Take care of our son, my love. I shall return before the sun disappears behind the mountains. I will bring you enough meat to last us until the snows melt.”

“I await your return. Please be careful,” Rhosyn wrapped her arms around Meic’s neck, and they shared a passionate kiss.

“Come on, you two. This is not the time for passion,” Albion slapped Meic on the shoulder. “We are wasting the day’s light with such things.”

Pulling away from her embrace, Meic looked at his old friend who stood by the door and smiled. “You only say that because your wife is bored with your sorry attempts to satisfy her, my old friend.”

Albion was about to protest when a smile crossed his lips. “You may be right. Her moods have been dark lately. I guess I should pay more attention to her needs.”

Both men stood in silence for a moment, then burst out laughing.

“Get out of here, you two, before you say more than I want to hear,” Rhosyn giggled.

“I’m sorry for offending you,” Albion felt his face grow warm. “It was not my intention to…”

“Her offended? It would take more than that to offend my woman,” Meic winked as he held the hut door open for his friend. “I shall return in a few hours.”

Meic then followed Albion outside. “You have a good woman there, my friend. I see she is heavy with child. It should not be long now.”

“True, our son should be ready to come into the world any day now. He is strong. He kicks with great force, and by the size of her belly, I would say he is going to be large, too.”

The two men exchanged worried glances. Even though Rhosyn was a strong and healthy woman, she was small in stature. Each man knew that having a large child could be difficult for a first-time mother, especially if the child was bigger than most.

Wanting to ease their feelings, Albion slapped his friend on the shoulder. “Your wife and son will be fine. Rhosyn will give you a son that will grow up to be a great man like his father.”

Forcing his concern aside, Meic enjoyed the idea of having a son he could teach the ways of the hunter and warrior. “Well, at least one of us needs to provide a son to grow up and be a leader. My dear friend seems to only have daughters.”

Albion stopped and looked at his friend. He was about to protest the statement when he suddenly burst out laughing. “True, I guess I’ll just have to keep working on that.”

“Well, then it’s best we go hunting so you can return and begin.” Meic chuckled when Albion nodded his agreement.

***

The sun set low in the sky when Meic and Albion returned to the village. It had been a good day, as the Gods had provided a bountiful hunt.

“Meic, hurry, your child comes. Keena and several of the other women are with her.” Darby cried out with urgency. “Rhosyn cries out for you.”

Meic looked over at Albion, who gave him a reassuring wink. “Go, I will tend to the meat and join you later to meet our newest member of the clan.”

Without saying a word, Meic dropped the deer he had slung over his shoulders and ran toward their hut. His heart beat with such force, he felt as though it would burst from his chest.

Screams of agony filled the air the closer he got, causing Meic to fear the worst. He had heard the cries of women during the birthing time, but this sounded much worse.

“Rhosyn!” Meic cried out as he reached the door to their small hut.

He was about to enter when the door swung wide.

“Move out of my way,” Meic growled.

Keena placed her hand on his chest and pushed him backward. “You do not need to go in there in this state of mind. You need to control your emotions and be strong for Rhosyn. The child is too big and is trapped inside the womb. She has lost much blood and grows weaker by the moment. We have tried everything we can to deliver the child, but our efforts have been in vain. She and your child are in the hands of the Gods now.”

What did she say? The words seemed to spin in his mind.

“Meic, do you understand what I’m telling you?” Keena could see the confusion in his eyes, but she did not know of any other way to tell him.

A dark force seemed to wrap around Meic, choking off all hope for life. After a few moments, he nodded his understanding.

“Please try to remain calm. Rhosyn is weak, and the loss of blood has caused her to be pale.” Keena reached out and took Meic by the hand, and then led him inside.

Nothing could have prepared him for the vision of his beautiful wife lying on the bedding where just hours before they had slept. Her auburn hair was matted and wet from sweat. Her normally porcelain complexion was now blotchy and pale. Meic fought the desire to sweep her up into his embrace to prevent the God, Bile from taking her to the Otherworld.

“Come to me,” Rhosyn said in a strained whisper.

Without a second thought, Meic found himself kneeling beside Rhosyn with her hand in his.

“I’m so sorry, my love,” tears filled her eyes.

“You have no need to be sorry. Women have problems with birth all the time. Our son just wants a grand entrance.” Meic gently squeezed her hand, forcing a smile.

He was about to speak again when he felt a hand rest on his shoulder. Turning to see who it was, he found himself gazing into the eyes of the Ovate. “Meic, I’m sorry, but Rhosyn and your child are nearing the time for their journey to the Otherworld.”

On the verge of protest, Meic heard a soft voice fill his ears. “My love, do not be angry. It is my time to leave this life and prepare for the next. Please understand that I do not wish to leave, but the Gods desire more from you.”

A tear escaped the corner of her eye. “Please let me feel your lips on mine once more.”

Meic had never known such sorrow. How could he go on without her? Why would the Gods take her and their child away from him? He should have stayed home. Maybe there was something he could have done to prevent this from happening.

Leaning forward, the moment their lips met her lifeforce slipped from her body. In his entire life, Meic had never experienced the sensation that flowed through his body at that moment. It was as though an unbreakable bond was forged between them. A powerful link that would last for all time.

Chapter 9

The murmuring sound of voices awakened Shane from his sleep.

“Hey there, Sleeping Beauty,” Thompson grinned.

“We’ve got a head-count of the hostiles.

There are seventeen of the bastards,” a wicked grin shown on Blair’s face.

“How about the villager’s,” Shane stood, stretching the kinks out of his back.

“I counted twenty-three men, eighteen women, and a handful of kids,” Campbell’s eyes sparkled with excitement.

“Well, damn, I was hoping for smaller numbers. Have you identified where our people are being held?” Shane felt a tightening in his stomach again.

Ramsey pointed toward the village. “I’d say they are being held in that shack next to the tree. I’ve watched the jihadists hanging around there like bees to honey. As you can see it gives us a clear path in and out without having to go into the central part of the village.”

A sense of relief filled Shane. Ramsey was correct. The small shack was located on the northern edge of the village, so if everything went as planned, they would be in and out before anyone realized it.

Nodding his head, Shane patted Ramsey on the shoulder. “Good job, men. Once it’s dark, we’ll go get our people.”

***

A gentle breeze swept down the rock wall on the northern side of the village. Shane and his men were in position, waiting for the right moment to act. They were thrilled to find a path leading to the far side of the village. While the terrain was rocky and difficult to negotiate without making too much noise, Shane knew it would help with their escape.

“Ramsey, do you see the lookout up in the rocks on our left?”

Nodding his understanding, Ramsey pulled away from the group. After a few minutes, he returned with a grin on his face. “He won’t be a problem. I sent him to his virgins.”

Shane glanced over at Ramsey, shaking his head in disbelief. Ramsey always managed to take care of any unforeseen problems. The only problem was he seemed to enjoy it far too much.

“That’s good to know,” Shane smirked.

“Hey, there’s some activity going on down there,” Thompson glared in the direction of the shack. His body positioned as though ready to pounce.

“What the hell are they doing?” Shane watched as two jihadists scanned the area before opening the door and disappearing inside.

“I’ve got a bad feeling,” Michaels groaned.

“Yeah, me too,” Blair winced.

Realizing the jihadists were probably up to no good, Shane decided it was time to act. Giving the signal, they headed toward the shack.

The night seemed unusually dark. The moonless sky and scattered clouds kept them shadowed in darkness. As they approached the shack, they heard muffled cries. This, of course, brought the unit to heightened alert.

With pounding hearts and fine-tuned senses, the unit quietly entered the shack. However, nothing could have prepared them for what they found.

The dank and poorly lit room could not conceal the sickening act taking place in the back corner.

Shane quickly scanned the room for other jihadists. None were seen. Only two severely beaten and unconscious American soldiers chained to the wall.

You must save her. The familiar voice filled his mind.

Not wanting to be distracted, Shane struggled to focus on the room and its occupants.

Do not ignore me. You must save her. She was taken from you a long time ago before her time. The voice now spoke with intensity.

Not understanding what the voice meant, Shane shook off her words and focused on the task at hand.

The coppery smell of blood and reeking sweat filled the stifling air in the small room. Returning his attention to the activities in the far corner, Shane suddenly felt his blood begin to boil in his veins.

A woman strapped to a table trembled with fear. Completely nude, Shane could see she was once beautiful beneath the bruises, cuts, and blood.

A filthy, blood-soaked rag filled her mouth, stifling the cries as the vile creatures violated her helpless body. One stood at the head of the table, cutting off large chunks of her once long, blonde hair. The other stood at the end of the table, striking her breasts with a leather strap as he prepared to enter her.

Hurry, my love, when they are done they will kill her, the voice boomed in Shane’s mind.

The site before him awakened the hunter inside Shane. He glanced over at Thompson, who gave him a knowing wink. The two men had no idea they were moments away from their deaths. A flash of light from the lone lightbulb off the razor-sharp blades was their only warning. However, the blades found their mark, before they realized what had happened.

Shane chuckled when he saw the shocked expression on the face of the one at the foot of the table. A shaky hand touched the handle of the razor-sharp blade that had just buried itself into his throat. His mouth opened wide, silently protesting his impending death. Bright, red blood stained his lips. His eyes had lost all sign of life before he crumbled to the floor.

“Damn, you both hit your marks before they even knew what was happening,” Campbell grinned at the sight of the two dead terrorists.

“Thompson, Ramsey, Michaels, and Campbell, get the two over there ready to get the hell out of here. I’ll get the woman.” Shane motioned toward the two soldiers chained to the wall who were now awake and struggling to free themselves.

Rushing over to the table, Shane looked around for her clothing. Seeing her uniform tossed in the corner, he scooped it up and hurried to her side. Shane’s heart broke at the way she had been treated. Her body quivered from the pain, but her eyes burned with anger.

Not wanting her to scream, Shane leaned close, whispering in her ear, “You need to be quiet. I’m here to take you home. Can you help me get you dressed?”

The expression of rage on her face suddenly transformed into one of relief and concern. She knew the others would be checking on her and the other two hostages soon. Nodding her understanding, she let him know she would do as requested.

After pulling the rag from her mouth, Shane helped her sit up on the edge of the table. The site of the marks on her body from the abuse made him burn with rage. Whimpering, she put on her shirt then reached for the pants.

“Can you help me stand?” her voice was weak and shaky.

“Sure.” Shane took her by the arm and helped her off the table. “Here let me hold those for you.”

Letting her lean on him, Shane held the pants so she could put her foot into them. A whimper escaped her lips, but she pushed onward and lifted her other leg. Once she had on her pants, Shane held out her boots for her to slip on her feet. Shane then quickly tied them.

“What’s your name?” Shane looked up into battered, blue eyes.

“Connie.”

Smiling, Shane met her gaze, “It’s nice to meet you, Connie. My name is Shane.”

“It’s nice to meet you too. Can we get the hell out of here, Shane?”

“Come on, the lady here wants to go.” Shane glanced over at the others gathered by the door.

“Wait, I need to do something before I leave.” Without saying another word, Connie turned and looked down at the dead jihadist by her feet. Before Shane realized, she had stomped her boot into his lifeless groin. “Take that, you son-of-a-bitch.”

It took all the restraint Shane could muster not to burst out laughing at the expression on Connie’s face. “Well, I guess he deserved that.”

You have saved her, my love. You can now release the guilt you have carried since she was taken from you all those years ago, the voice now was soft and full of love.

“What did you say?” Shane looked over at Connie who was walking toward him.

“I didn’t say anything.” She glanced around the room, wondering if someone else was there.

“Uh, nothing, I guess I’m just wound tight. Come on, let’s get the hell out of here.”

Taking Connie by the arm, they quickly joined the others by the door. Glancing outside to assure it was safe, Shane motioned it was time to go. With the stealth of tigers, they all rushed to the path leading out of the village. Thankful for the moonless night, they made their way along the rocky path and up to the LZ where hopefully their ride was waiting.

The morning sun cast a warm glow across the summit, illuminating the Black Hawk waiting to take them to safety.

“There’s our ride,” Shane released a sigh of relief.

Realizing that Connie was struggling to walk, Shane picked her up in his arms. “You’ve walked enough, soldier.”

Wanting to protest but realizing that he was right, she decided to accept the help without complaint. “Thank you for saving me. I don’t know how much longer I could have held out. All I kept thinking was how I would never see my little girl again.”

Hearing her words caused a lump to form in Shane’s throat. “Well, your little girl will have her mommy home soon.”

***

The sound of the rotor blades was music to Shane’s ears. In all the years, he had been doing these sorts of missions this one touched his heart. He glanced down at Connie who was resting against his shoulder.

When they had reached the helicopter, Shane had tried to hand Connie to the medic, but she tightened her grip on him and refused to let go. Not wanting to upset her further, Shane set her inside and climbed in next to her. No sooner had he taken his place than she laid her head on his shoulder and fell off to sleep. Feeling tired himself, Shane rested his head on the wall and closed his eyes as they lifted off the ground.

You did well, my love. You have saved her so she can continue with this life. I know you have carried the grief of her death throughout your lives since that time. I too had grieved, knowing our child would never know the joy of the life we had given her. Our souls touch each other throughout time. We come in, and out of each existence with lessons, we must learn before we can move onward. Rest, my love, you have earned it.

Shane sat motionless for several minutes, trying to understand her words. Suddenly, it came to him…the dream.

He had pushed the dream aside of the man and wife from the small village many years ago. He had thought it odd to have such a dream, but he had just attributed it to stress from the mission. When the voice had urged him to save the girl, he had never imagined she was connected to him.

Feeling Connie shift, Shane felt a strange sensation overcome him. It was as though he had known her before. As though, she was once important to him.

“Could it be?”

Yes, my love, she is the child taken from you at birth. Her soul was only to have a short time in that life. She chose that brief existence. You see, souls are bound together in one way or another. They touch each other’s lives in many ways. You have saved her so she may return to her children.

Shane sat with his eyes closed and thought of her words as the memory of the dream flowed back into his mind. Looking down at Connie, who was sleeping soundly, Shane felt a warm feeling consume his being.

“You would have been my child,” the words escaped his mouth as a whisper.

For the first time in years, Shane felt joy. To know his soul was linked to Connie’s made him feel as though he had a family of his own. Closing his eyes again, he drifted off to sleep with a smile on his face.

***

Shane was glad to feel them touch down at the base. In the commotion, he did not get a chance to talk with Connie. Before realizing it, the medics had scooped her up and rushed her off to the field hospital.

“Damn, that was one for the books. It’s going to make an interesting report,” Thompson groaned.

“Yeah, it was. I’m just thankful we got them all out alive.” Shane glanced in the direction of the field hospital.

“You alright?” Thompson wondered what had Shane so distracted.

Not wanting to share what he had learned, Shane merely nodded and headed toward their quarters to clean up.

Chapter 10

The next few days went by uneventful for Shane. Thankfully, he was able to visit Connie a couple of times before she was shipped out to Germany for further treatment. They had promised to stay in touch, but Shane knew how that always seemed to work out.

“I want to thank you for saving me. I don’t know how much longer I could have held out.” Her tear-filled eyes glistened from the light above her bed.

“Stop talking like that. I saw how you stomp the shit out of that jihadist,” Shane chuckled at the expression that appeared on her face.

“Yeah, it did feel good. I just wish he would have been alive to feel it.” Realizing what she had just said made a smile appear on her lips. “I would have loved to have been the one to kill him after…”

“Hey, put all that behind you. You’ll be back stateside with your daughter before you realize it.”

A softened expression replaced the one of anger. “I cannot wait to see her. It’s been so long.”

Shane wondered what it would be like to have a family waiting for him. He knew his lifestyle would be difficult on a wife and children, which is why he never allowed himself to get too close to anyone. However, now he felt as though he had a family. Connie and her daughter would never know the special tie they had to him, but he would, and that was enough.

***

Six months had passed since Connie left, and true to her word she had written to him on a regular basis. He enjoyed the pictures of her daughter and the packages of cookies and goodies they would send. Heck, he had gotten rather popular on base because of the goodie boxes he would get from Connie and his mother.

“Damn, I’m going to have to go on a diet if they keep sending these,” Ramsey grinned as he crammed another chocolate chip cookie into his mouth.

“No kidding, I’ve had to loosen my belt a couple of times,” Campbell chuckled.

Shane loved to see the pleased expressions on his friend’s faces. There was nothing better than something special from home.

Lifting a ziplock bag filled with peanut butter cookies, Shane found what he was waiting for. He had to smile at all the little stickers on the pink envelope. There were rainbows, kittens, puppies, and bright, colored flowers. Shane could not help but chuckle when he saw the expressions on Ramsey and Campbell’s faces.

“Look at the pretty envelope,” Ramsey teased.

“Open it up. I love hearing what’s going on with them,” Campbell shoved another cookie in his mouth and waited.

Shane had to admit he was excited too. He enjoyed hearing about everything they were doing. From music classes to ballet and baseball. He knew she was not his granddaughter, but he felt like a member of the family.

“Well, I’ll be damned, Connie’s getting married.” Shane pulled a simple invitation out of the envelope and held it out for the others to see. “She said she’s remarrying her ex-husband. They realized they still loved each other and wanted to be a family again.”

He then pulled out a small piece of stationary paper and read the neatly penned words.

My dearest Shane,

I know this doesn’t give you much time, but we would love to have you join us on our special day. You see, it would never be happening had it not been for you. You came into my life and not only saved it but filled a void I never knew was there. My father died when I was young so it would mean the world to me if you could give me away. Like I said, I know it may be difficult to get here, but if you can manage it, I’d be grateful. Besides, my daughter wants to finally meet you, and Jeff wants to shake the hand of the man who saved me.

Our love, Connie

Holding the letter in his hands, Shane felt a lump grow in his throat, and his eyes moisten with tears.

Glancing at the invitation again, he realized it was only two weeks until the day of the wedding. “Damn.”

“What’s wrong, bad news?” Ramsey wondered what had Shane so upset.

“She wants me to give her away at her wedding.” Heartache filled him as he realized there was no way he could go.

“Wow, that’s great. When is the wedding?”

Not wanting to say the words, Shane just handed the invitation to Campbell.

After reading the date printed on the invitation, Campbell understood what had Shane upset. “Maybe you can work it out so you can go?”

Bailing out of a mission was something Shane had never done, and he wasn’t going to start now. They were scheduled to leave out in three days, and he would be there to perform his duty.

Seeing the expression on Shane’s face let Campbell know there was no way he was going to back out of the mission. “I understand, but you know she’s gonna be disappointed.”

Shrugging his shoulders, Shane took the invitation from Campbell and tucked it back into the envelope. “I’ll let her know how sorry I am that I can’t make it. She was a soldier, so she’ll understand.”

Smiling faces and the chatter filled the monitor screen. Shane had hated to make this call, but he knew Connie would want to know as soon as possible that he was not going to make it to her wedding.

“Oh, Shane, thank you for calling. I hope this is to tell me that you’re coming to my wedding,” Connie’s face beamed with joy.

A pang of guilt struck Shane like a bullet. “I’m sorry, I wish I could, but we have an important mission at that same time.”

The look of joy now transformed into one of disappointment and then understanding. “While I’d love to have you here with us, I also understand how important it is for you to do your job. Heck, it’s because of you that I get to marry Jeff again. You brought my family together.”

Shane felt his eyes moisten. Watching her daughter playing in the background of the screen let him know just how important his work was to ensure his fellow soldiers were safe and able to return home.

“I want you to know how special you are to me. I felt it the moment we met. We have a special bond; an unbreakable bond. While I won’t be able to walk you down the aisle, I want you to know that I’ll be there in spirit,” the words flowed from his heart.

Seeing the pained expression on his face brought tears to Connie’s eyes. Reaching out and touching the monitor screen, the words she said filled Shane’s heart. “I felt the same way the moment we meant, and I still do. You and I have a bond that cannot be denied. You will always hold a special place in my heart. I firmly believe that we were meant to meet, even though, it was under the worst of circumstances. I want you to know how special you are to my family and me. You are part of us and always will be.”

With tears streaming down his cheeks, Shane somehow managed to choke out the words, “Thank you.”

Everyone was silent while Shane and Connie gazed deeply into each other’s eyes. Finally, after a few moments, Shane broke the silence. “Well, I need to go. I have an early morning.”

With tear-filled eyes, Connie nodded her understanding. “Be safe, okay? I’ll send you a bunch of pictures of the wedding.”

“Okay, I look forward to getting them. Goodnight, and congratulations.” Before she could respond, Shane disconnected the call. He knew he should have waited, but he did not want her to see him cry.

***

The sound of the rotor blades always seemed comforting to Shane. They had left the base and would fly about a half an hour to the drop zone. Then they would hike roughly six hours to the meeting location.

Resting his head on the wall, Shane decided to use this time to go over their plans again.

You need to take care, my love. You are headed into great danger.

Shane knew she wanted him to be safe and would always warn him not to take any unnecessary chances.

“Don’t worry, I promise not to take any chances,” he mumbled under his breath.

“What did you say?” Ramsey looked over at Shane, wondering what was going on with him.

“Nothing, I was just talking to myself. Just going over the plans in my head again.”

An expression of concern filled Ramsey’s face, “Yeah, I’m having a bad feeling about this one, too.”

Not wanting to continue with this conversation, Shane shifted in place and closed his eyes again.

Ramsey began to speak but thought better of it. He decided to follow suit and get a little rest before they landed.

***

“Sir, we’re almost to the LZ.”

Coming out of his thoughts, Shane leaned forward and glanced outside. The sun sat low in the sky, letting him know they would enjoy the cover of night for their hike. “Good, come on guys, we have a long walk ahead of us.”

The mood of the group was a mixture of excitement and concern. This was an important mission as they were to pick up a valuable informant. A few weeks earlier, he had provided them with information about a camp of the jihadists planning to plant IED’s along a main route used by the locals as well as the US military. The US had used the Intel to destroy the camp; however, the informant now feared the handful of survivors may have discovered he was the one to betray them.

Once they were all on the ground, and the helicopter was gone, Shane turned toward his men, “We have six hours to get there. At least we’ll have some moonlight to guide us. Let’s head out.”

Checking the gear one last time, the group headed out into the darkening sky.

Shane found his mind wandering as they walked through the rough terrain. He was glad the moon cast a glow on the ground. He hated to admit it, but this wild, untamed part of the world had its moments of beauty.

“There it is, Sir,” Campbell pointed to a rise of rocks ahead of them on the right.

“Good, let’s get ready,” Shane quickened his pace.

A cool breeze blew over the men while they waited. It had been around ten minutes when a small flash of light from below the rocks caught their attention.

“There’s the signal,” Ramsey shifted, getting to his feet.

Straining to see through the darkness, Shane cursed the clouds now blocking the moon. Not convinced there were no hostiles in the area, he decided they had no choice but to leave their secure spot.

Each man focused on their surroundings and ready for anything. Each step, taken with care. Each breath, slowly exhaled so as not to disturb the night air. Each man knew the unexpected could happen at any moment. As they drew closer, each prayed this extraction would go off with a hitch.

Stopping in place, the night air caressed Shane’s face. He could not explain it, but something was wrong.

Straining through the darkness, he saw what he had feared. The clearing of the clouds illuminated the path ahead of them.

“Son-of-a…” the words escaped Blair’s lips.

The sight of the informant strapped to a large rock with his throat cut and his tongue pulled through the opening was beyond belief. Each member of the unit knew what would happen next.

Before they had a chance to take cover, the sound of gunfire broke the silence of the night.

Quickly, jumping behind a rock formation, Shane wondered how many insurgents they were facing. The clouds had moved in the sky, shadowing the area where Shane and his men had taken up defense.

“Damnit, Campbell’s hit,” Ramsey grunted. “Hold on, kid.”

Taking aim at the gun flash from the jihadists, Shane pulled off a few shots. Each hitting their mark.

Shouts of rage and cries of the dying filled the air. Shane had no idea how long the gun fight had lasted, but suddenly silence came from the direction of their attackers.

“I think we got them,” Thompson slowly stood, looking in their direction.

“How’s Campbell? Is anyone else injured?” Shane struggled to stand, but his legs buckled beneath him.

“Campbell’s gone. Michaels is wounded, but it looks like he’ll be okay. A round grazed that hard head of his.” Ramsey held a gauze pad against the wound to slow the bleeding.

“I’m okay, but you’ve been hit,” Thompson moaned as he kneeled next to Shane.

In all the excitement, Shane never felt the bullet enter his chest. He had noticed his breathing seemed strained but had assumed it was caused by the adrenaline rushing through his body. “Well, damn…”

“Crap, you’re losing too much blood.” Thompson applied pressure to the wound, trying to slow the blood loss. “Blair, grab a chest seal out of my pocket.”

Not wasting a moment, Blair quickly retrieved the gauze and opened the package. His heart pounded in his chest at the sight of the blood soaking through Thompson’s fingers. “Here it is.”

“I need you to open it and get the cleaner cloth out. We need to clean the area of the excess blood. I want you to hand me the seal then I need you to quickly clean the area. Are you ready?”

Blair nodded his understanding.

Their gazes met, each wondering if they could save their friend. “Okay, now.”

It happened so quickly that Shane never felt the square seal slapped onto his chest. Thompson held his hand over the seal, pressing it firmly.

“His breathing sounds a little better,” Blair sighed, knowing it was going to be touch and go from here on out.

“Ramsey, have you called for evac yet?” Thompson leaned forward, trying to get a better idea of the ease at which Shane was breathing. He was sure the bullet had punctured a lung. He just prayed it had not nicked his heart.

Shane grew paler with each passing moment, and his skin appeared clammy. “Damnit, if we don’t get him back to the base soon, there’s a good chance he won’t survive.”

“Yes, they said they’ll be here in five minutes,” Ramsey fumbled through his pocket for a packet of combat gauze. “Damn, I can’t get Michaels wound to stop bleeding.”

Realizing he was no longer needed, Blair moved over to Ramsey. “Here, let me get that for you.

Reaching into the pocket, Blair pulled out the packet and then opened it. Handing the gauze to Ramsey, he sat next to Michaels. “Man, that’s gonna leave one hell of a scar. You’re not gonna look so sexy without a shirt anymore.”

Struggling to smile, Michaels grunted through the pain, “Hell, I’ve heard chicks love scars.”

“Huh, I guess you’re right. Well, with this one you’re sure to get all the pretty women then,” Blair struggled to distract Michaels from Ramsey forcing the gauze into the wound on his shoulder.

After a couple of minutes, Ramsey leaned back and grinned, “There you go. You’re stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey.”

It had always amazed Ramsey how well the combat gauze worked to stop bleeding. On first inspection, it simply appeared to be regular dressing; however, it was infused with a unique clay substance that clotted the blood. Once you found the source of the bleeding, you needed to unroll the gauze and layer it onto the escaping blood. While doing this, you must press the gauze firmly until you fill the wound. As the clay substance soaked up the blood, it would congeal, thus stopping the bleeding. Then the packed gauze would protect the wound from foreign objects just as dirt and such.

Shane had watched the commotion between Ramsey, Blair, and Michaels. He knew he should feel pain, but he only felt a warm, calm feeling move over him.

My love, you have done well.

Shane wondered why she had come to him this time. He opened his mouth to speak, but the voice interrupted.

We have been through so many lives together. We have known great joy, and we have known great sorrow. Each of us had lessons to learn before we could move on to the next level.

The sound of the rotor blades in the distance echoed in Shane’s ears. He could hear Ramsey shouting something about moving toward the helicopter, but he wanted to stay where he was.

It is time for you to release this life, my love. It is time to join me on our next path.

The sound of her voice filled him with joy. It was as though all the angels in heaven were singing, letting him know it was time to leave this earthly existence.

Let go, my love. Let go of this life, and all the pain will be gone.

A lightness filled Shane’s body. Reaching out and placing his hand on Thompson’s arm, Shane opened his eyes and met his gaze. “Goodbye, my old friend. Please check in on Connie from time to time for me, and make sure she gets the money I left for her and her daughter.”

“Don’t talk that way. The helicopter is here, and you’ll be back at the base in no time.” Thompson struggled to stop the tears now wetting his eyes. He knew his friend was dying, and there was nothing he could do.

Grasping Thompson’s arm, Shane struggled to speak, “Promise me.”

“I promise.”

“Over here! We need to get him loaded first.”

Shane knew there was commotion all around him, but he felt as though he was somewhere else; somewhere calm and far away. He never felt them lift him up and load him onto the helicopter. He never felt the medic working on him. He could hear everyone talking in excited tones, but they seemed so far away.

My love, it’s time.

Shane knew what she meant. It was his time to die. He had always wondered what he would feel at that time. He had seen so much death. He had seen the fear in a dying man’s eyes as he surrendered his life to the unknown. He had witnessed the rage of having one’s life stolen from them.

However, Shane felt neither of those emotions. He thought back over his life. He had made so many choices in his life; some good, some not. The image of his parents flowed into his mind and his heart filled with gratitude.

“Don’t give up, Shane! Keep fighting!”

The steady drumbeat of the rotor blades cutting through the air called out to him. Shane knew someone was talking to him, but their voice seemed to grow further and further away.

“I’m ready,” lost in the sound of the rotor blades, his words went unheard by those working frantically to save his life.

“Crap, we’re losing him!”

Shane knew this was the end for him. As the sensation of being in the body grew weaker, Shane felt a new feeling consume him. He could not explain it, but it was as though he was no longer contained in his physical body. He was something different, something more.

Suddenly, in his mind’s eye, a light began to form with a figure standing within it. “Is that you? Have you come for me?”

Shane could not explain it, but he felt complete love and joy fill his soul. It was as though a long, arduous journey had come to an end.

“Yes, my love, it is I.” The image of a beautiful auburn-haired woman moved out of the light and stood before him.

“I remember you. You’re the beautiful woman who came to me all those years ago. You’re the one who has spoken to me and warned me of danger.”

“Yes, my love. I have always been with you.”

“We’ve been together in other lives, haven’t we?”

A smile crossed her lips. “Yes, many times. You have known me by several names.”

Suddenly, a rush of images filled Shane’s mind. He was aware that it only took an instant, but he watched as several lifetimes played out in his mind.

“Do you understand now?” Her eyes glistened with joy.

Shane paused, unable to choose his words. He had never known souls were connected through time. He had heard about reincarnation, but he never really understood its true meaning. However, now it was all so clear.

“Oh, I’m so sorry to have made you wait for me. I just never fully understood.”

Reaching up, her hand gently touched his face. “Do not feel sorrow, my love. Each soul has a path it must follow and lessons to learn before they move on to the next.”

“Yes, but you waited for me to learn how to release my pride and anger.” Shane took her hand and pulled it to his lips, kissing it gently.

“We had promised long ago to find each other in our different lives. We have loved each other for longer than time. This next path is one we have always wanted to travel together.”

The smile on her face warmed his heart and filled him with joy. Shane heard the cries for him to fight his death, but they now seemed distant and unimportant.

“I’m ready to leave this life. I have completed this lonely journey, and I’m ready to move onward with you.”

A welcoming glow of light filled Shane’s mind, and at that moment, he knew pure joy.

***

Life is full of many experiences. Some bring us joy and others bring us sorrow. However, through this journey, we call life there is one thing we need to learn…that we are all connected. Our souls will come in and out of existence. We will cross paths, and then move on. However, there are some souls destined to spend eternity together. Connected by the power of pure love, those souls will find each other throughout incarnations. Then once both have learned to release themselves of the bounds of earthly emotions and desires, they move onward together. This is the promise of eternal happiness we all hope for ourselves.

This is Heart Ties.

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Heart Ties: Love Never Dies Novella

Death. Is it the end or merely a new beginning? From a child, Shane felt as though at one time he had been someone else. His dreams haunted him with the memories of a different life and his death. Is there more than this life? Do our souls move on, or does our life-force cease to exist? Sometimes in this life, our souls touch another, and we find ourselves helplessly drawn to them. This is a special gift, not to be denied. This is Heart Ties.

  • ISBN: 9781370617753
  • Author: Linda L Barton
  • Published: 2017-05-31 05:35:14
  • Words: 19113
Heart Ties: Love Never Dies Novella Heart Ties: Love Never Dies Novella