North Carolina, Early Morning
T minus 16 days ’til Christmas
Ashley bit into a crispy marshmallow treat as she waited for her laptop to boot. The sticky sweetness exploded in her mouth and she moaned out loud. Maybe eating one of the little goodies for breakfast was a questionable course of action, but she was out of toaster pastry. She took another bite and licked her lips. Adding the chocolate and caramel toppings had been inspired. She didn’t even want to think how many inches eating her latest batch would add to her hips, though. Maybe she’d take an extra walk around the block to work some of it off.
Her home page popped up with a news alert about an explosion in Afghanistan that had killed seven U.S. Marines and Ashley’s heart pushed a logjam of emotion into her throat. “Oh, no,” she moaned. Her fingers went limp around the remnant of crispy treat she held and it fell to the floor.
“It’s okay,” she whispered out loud. “He’s fine. It’s not him. He’s in Germany. He’s still safe in Germany. He has to be.”
She clicked on her e-mail icon and tapped a red fingernail against the side of the keyboard while it took its sweet time loading.
And there it was. An e-mail from Nick. And the timestamp was only a few hours ago.
Hey, babe—Different phone, different everything. I’m going to try to call but if we get cut off it’s just because coverage is so spotty here. Nothing to worry about. I don’t want you ticked off at me, maybe thinking I hung up on you.
Ashley’s heart crowded her chest again. So, he wasn’t safely in Germany. She’d known this was going to happen. But knowing something would happen and realizing something had happened, she discovered, were two entirely different concepts. She steadied her breathing, knowing he hadn’t mentioned where he was because he couldn’t. And that meant he’d gone to someplace dangerous.
Her hands weren’t at all steady when she clicked back over to the news story. Maybe they’d identified the casualties. Am I horrible because I want it to be someone else’s name I read? Is this wishing someone else’s heart will be broken just so mine isn’t? She skimmed the announcement; no names appeared in the frustratingly short article. Tears streamed, and she did nothing to stop them.
Frantically, her gaze danced over the Internet page again, trying to find something—anything to prove this wasn’t about Nick and his men.
Thank you to the Lord, my God, who inspires me to be a better person, and without whom the words I write would mean nothing.
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
~Holy Bible, John 15:13
Military personnel and their families place their lives and their ways of life in peril 24/7 so our lives are safe. This book is dedicated to U.S. military service personnel and their families everywhere. Thank you all for ensuring that the rest of us can live the lives we choose.
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