Excerpt: Return to Devotion

Chapter One

Rita Ashbrook lifted her arms above her head and stretched slowly, pushing out with her legs. A deep, relaxing breath filled her lungs.  Sunday mornings in their bed … her own little heaven.  In their busy lives, uninterrupted sleep mornings only came around once a week and she withheld the urge to moan, afraid of waking the sleeping hunk beside her, her husband Gary.  He deserved to sleep in, too.

She lowered her hands to her sides, and then, softly dragged the back of her knuckles across his cheek.  It was stubbly with whiskers, and ruddy from months without sun but it was still one of her favorite spots on him to caress.  That, and his hair … she reached up to run a few fingers gently through his dark waves.

Her Bo, together over twenty years now.  She introduced him by his real name, Gary, when he was meeting others.  But she’d nicknamed him Bo when they’d first met, and that’s how she thought of him.  He seemed to like her pet name for him.  Their own little intimacy.

The phone on the bedside table rang.  She jerked, darting a look at Bo, then back at the phone.  She snatched it up to quiet it, then realized too late that when she spoke, it would probably wake him anyway.  “Hello,” she said in an urgent whisper.

“Staff Sergeant Gary Ashbrook, please.”

She blinked.  Her breath caught in her chest.  She looked over at Bo who was starting to stir.  Why would the Army be calling on a Sunday morning at … she glanced at the alarm clock beside the phone … nine am, unless they had news she didn’t want to hear?

She considered telling the voice that Bo was asleep, Bo was away, anything to delay the inevitable.  However, Bo had figured it out.  “For me?” he croaked.

Heck, he probably knew from her reaction that it was the Army.  He held out his hand.  They locked gazes for a few seconds and she placed it in his open palm.

“Staff Sergeant Ashbrook.”  His voice was raspy from unuse.  “Yes, sir.”  His eyes roamed the far wall, came back and rested on hers for a split second, then moved on.  “Uh, when was that?”  He pursed his lips and nodded his head.  “I see.  Yep, I’ll be there.”  He held the receiver away from his ear, suspended for a moment before he handed it back to her.

She took it and concentrated on getting it back into the cradle.  She didn’t even want to ask.  Telling her out loud would make it real.  Unavoidable.  Irreversible.  She laid back down and closed her eyes.  She didn’t even realize that she had tears streaming down her face until he leaned over her and used his thumbs to wipe the tears away, then laid his lips on hers.  “Shhh, baby.  It’s okay.  You know the drill.”

Yes, she knew the Army Reserves drill.  And she wanted to scream.  She wanted to pound her fists on his chest.  He’d done his duty.  They’d called on him enough.  Let someone else do it.  Someone younger.  Someone fresher.  Someone who hadn’t already been there twice before.

“I’m going back to Kabul.  I’ve got about three weeks.”

But she couldn’t scream, shouldn’t cry.  He was right.  She was the wife of a soldier and he did what he did to serve his country.  She couldn’t worry him about how her heart was tearing apart.  He had a job to do, and he had to do it.

So instead, she got up and left the bedroom.

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