Two soldiers devastated by heartache, decide to rescue themselves with a fake marriage...
Baker City Hearts & Haunts Book 5
by Josie Malone
Genre: Paranormal Ghost Military Romance
Eight years later, she’s leaving the U.S. Army behind, trading her camos and combat boots for blue jeans and cowgirl boots. Now, the owner of Miracle Riding Stable near Baker City, Washington, Debbie intends to have a riding good time at her new home. Does having a new life mean leaving Major Rex Sinclair behind?
“Sir! We need to talk!”
Recognizing the low, feminine voice as that of the new noncom in charge of the warehouse he operated, Captain Rex Sinclair glanced over his shoulder at the woman in camouflage fatigues standing behind him. “No good conversation ever started with those words, Sergeant Ramsey.” He gestured to the seat next to him. “Pull up a stool before you tell me what an asshat I am, and I’ll buy you a drink. I’m having boilermakers. Want one?”
“No thanks. At least we agree on something, sir. Your behavior is execrable, sir and unbefitting an Army officer.” She sat down, next to him, carefully placing her regulation handbag on the bar. She narrowed the electric-blue eyes that haunted him twenty-four, seven and glared at him. “You bailed on me, sir. You know there’s an I.G. inspection at 0800 hours tomorrow. You should have stuck around, sir, and helped prep for it, not hightailed it before closing formation.”
“I’m getting a divorce and the call from the lawyer today pissed me off. My going to be ex-wife wants beaucoup bucks. Beyond child support for the kids, she isn’t getting a dime.”
“Everything pisses you off, sir. Ranting, raging and yelling obscenities at the top of your lungs is inappropriate, sir, when we have work to do.”
Rex winced, reaching for the shot glass of whisky in front of him. Sergeant First Class Deborah Ramsey was tired. He saw the exhaustion in her pale, lovely features. She’d undoubtedly been working ever since he stormed out of the warehouse. In the past month while assigned to his section, she always arrived before he did and stayed long after he left. She hadn’t gone to the barracks to change out of her camouflage fatigues before tracking him down at this ramshackle tavern. “You’re not letting this go, are you, Ramsey? Are you sure about that boilermaker? You probably need it.”
“No, thanks. I’m not drinking whisky and following it with a beer chaser.” She folded her arms and frowned even more fiercely. “It’s ‘sergeant’s business’ to train junior officers. You know that’s second lieutenants fresh out of college. If you need somebody to wipe your tail or your nose, it’s not me. Man up, sir!”
He tossed down the whisky and took a hasty swallow of the waiting beer, struggling to collect his thoughts. He’d been drinking since afternoon and now it was well into the night. “Cut me some slack, Sarge. My wife, soon to be ex-wife introduced me to what she said was my six-month-old daughter when I got off the plane three months ago. Made a big splash on national TV.”
“You’ve obviously mistaken me for someone who cares, sir. I don’t. Not about your piddly personal problems – .”
“I’d been gone for a year and a half. When I had a week’s R & R, she wouldn’t meet me in New York and now, I know why. She told me she couldn’t get anyone to stay with the other four kids, that the housekeeper was away on vacation. My wife lied to me. She was pregnant with someone else’s kid.”
“Again, I don’t care.” Sergeant Ramsey held up her hand. “You have choices, sir. Divorce her. Reconcile with her. But stop throwing tantrums. You’re grown. Put on your big boy panties and act like a commissioned officer up for promotion.”
“And it’s an ‘embrace the suck’ moment, isn’t it?” He finished his beer and signaled the bartender for a refill. “You deserve a better C.O., Ramsey. If you want a transfer, I’ll sign the request.”
“We can’t both run away, sir. You requested the job here in Texas instead of returning to California after your last combat tour – .”
“Everybody knows my business there. I wanted a fresh start.”
“Then act like it.” Sergeant Ramsey nodded at the bartender when she approached, carrying another two glasses, his next boilermaker. “What kind of white wine do you have?”
“Put it on my tab,” Rex said. “If the sergeant’s gonna keep ripping me a new one, she needs dinner to go with it. I know she skipped lunch and I’m pretty sure she hopped supper too. Better give us a menu.”
“It’s almost 2300 hours,” Sergeant Ramsey said. “Isn’t the kitchen closed?”
“Not yet. You have ten minutes to select a burger and fries.” The sturdy, gray-haired older woman handed over a grease-stained sheet of paper. “Choose fast, honey.” She glanced at Rex. “Might want to sop up some of that booze with food, Captain.”
“Good idea.” Rex waited until they had fresh drinks before he gestured to a table on the other side of the room. “Let’s move over there to eat. You can bring me up to speed on what still needs to be done for the inspection.”
“It’s hopeless, sir.” She followed him across the tavern, bypassing the men at the pool table. “I could only clean up so much of the mess in the month I’ve been at the warehouse. Your previous N.C.O.I.C. retired. Scuttlebutt is he didn’t want to put up with you a moment longer.”
Rex pulled out a chair and waited for her to sit down. “Unfortunately, there’s more truth than fiction to that story, Ramsey. We’re both fairly new at this base. How do we salvage the situation?”
“I don’t know.” She heaved a sigh. “If it’s like other posts where I’ve served in the last ten years, the senior Army officers won’t care about the crap-fest in our section. They’ll want optimum results whether it’s reasonable or not. So, I’ll get the proverbial ass-chewing tomorrow. It’s annoying, but it can’t be helped.”
“You’ve done your best to rectify a bad situation.” Rex gestured to her wine. “Drink up. I’ve got your six, Sarge. I know I haven’t been doing my share, but it isn’t reasonable to expect us to clean up something this broken in such a short amount of time.”
“It’s not the troops’ fault. They’ve done their best with the minimal, erratic leadership they’ve been receiving.”
“I know that as well as you do. You need more support from the non-commissioned side of the house, so let’s see what we can do to get it.”
She hesitated. “I’m not here for much longer, sir. This is a transition assignment. I’ll be shipping out to Afghanistan before the end of the year. I don’t have my orders yet, but they’ll be coming through soon enough.”
“You’ll be missed.” He paused, waiting for their meals to be placed in front of them. “Let’s eat and then we’ll work out a plan.”
“That’s do-able, sir.”
More than once during the next half-hour, Debbie Ramsey reminded herself to focus on the cheeseburger and fries in front of her, rather than staring at the broad-shouldered, dark-haired man in combat fatigues sitting across from her. It’s not my fault he’s a hunk and a half. She couldn’t help admiring his rough-hewn features, the strong cheekbones and, from an earlier combat tour, the broken nose. His previous noncom had told her Sinclair was injured from an I.E.D, but luckily all his troops survived the assault. If they hadn’t, she’d have heard about it. Army bases ran on gossip too.
She hadn’t expected him to admit he'd been irresponsible at the warehouse or to buy her dinner. Granted, he was in a ‘sticky wicket’ as her best friend would have said. Debbie knew that long before she’d heard him shouting at a lawyer through a closed office door today. The conversation ended with Sinclair roaring he wasn’t paying his ex-wife the alimony she wanted. He’d demanded DNA tests on all five of the kids she’d foisted off on him, especially the daughter born when he was away for more than eighteen months in Afghanistan, the one obviously conceived when he was out of CONUS and his wife’s mind and life.
Debbie swirled a French fry in a pool of ketchup. It wasn’t as if Sinclair was lying about his failed marriage. She’d heard yet another sad story from a different noncom. The captain’s wife was a serial cheater who’d slept around on more than one base and when her affairs resulted in pregnancies, Sinclair ended up with his name on the birth certificates. Still, he needed to do his job just like she did. If he yelled, ‘bullshit’ one more time when everything went from sugar to shit in less than a heartbeat, she’d tell him again to freaking ‘man up’.
After he slammed down the phone this afternoon, he’d stormed into the warehouse and raged at a civilian driver delivering a load who’d unfortunately parked in the wrong space. The poor woman burst into tears which meant it took even longer to get the semi-truck moved to where it should have been in the first place. Debbie had stepped in and smoothed over the situation.
It hadn’t gained her any points with the man in charge. Everyone around heard another stream of repeated ‘bullshits’ and ‘f-bombs’ before he swept out of the building, shouting his favorite words at full volume. She’d worked the rest of the day and most of the night, grateful not to deal with his tantrums or so-called supervision. When she couldn’t finish everything that needed to be done at the warehouse in time, she’d decided to tour the small town near the base and track him down at his favorite watering-hole.
“All right. We’ve eaten.” She sipped the remains of her favorite Zinfandel. “What’s it going to take for you to step up and do your job, sir?”
“I’ll do my best not to lose it from now on, Ramsey.” Rex lifted the glass of beer. “I’m worried. I miss my kids. I need a guaranty I won’t go back to California. It’s hard to deal with Averill cheating on me when I never chippied on her. Not in fifteen years.”
“That’s a better track record than most men have.” Debbie met his golden-brown gaze. He’d shown his vulnerability and she could do the same. “Tell you the truth, sir. I’m apprehensive about going back to the sandbox this time. I don’t have anyone in CONUS to look after my business matters.”
Debbie shook her head. “My grandparents have health issues, and I don’t want to burden them. They’ve been looking after my horses and I’m not sure if they’ll be able to handle them for the next year and a half.”
“Maybe.” He paused and studied her. “We could help each other out.”
“How do we do that?”
“I need a new wife when my divorce is final in September. If I’m married, I won’t do something stupid and get reeled back into more drama. And if I’m your husband, you can trust me to look after your concerns.”
“Are you serious?” She stared at him, hoping her jaw didn’t hit the table. “Sir, that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. You may want a wife on paper, but I can’t see how a ‘paper’ husband could help me.” She paused, recalling her turbulent life before she enlisted. Then again, it could resolve a few issues I don’t like to remember.
“Well, at least you didn’t refuse.” He chuckled, finished his beer, and then stood. “Come on, Ramsey. Let’s call it a night. I have a few months before my divorce is final and you leave the States. I’ll convince you it’s a life-saver for both of us.”
“Not happening, sir.” Still, the idea made her smile.
They’d deliberately honored the thirty-day waiting period required by Texas after his divorce was final before they married. Rather than let anyone know their plans, she’d used two weeks’ leave to visit her grandparents before she shipped out. She’d told them about Rex Sinclair, so they’d know how to contact him if she didn’t make it home. Then, she met him in Las Vegas.
She’d always wanted an “Elvis” wedding and luckily, Rex was willing to go along with the plan without bitching about the kitschy ceremony or the minister happily singing Elvis songs. Of course, she laughed her backside off when Rex demanded equal time and the opportunity to reserve a honeymoon suite at the luxury Bellagio Hotel and Casino. Turnabout was fair play as the saying went. They’d spent two days together after the ceremony enjoying gourmet meals, gambling, dancing and of course making love in their suite.
She always woke up early, a leftover habit instilled in childhood when she lived on her parents’ ranch in Montana. Debbie eased out of the king-size bed leaving him to sleep. She had to pack and be downstairs in an hour to catch the shuttle to the airport. On her way to the ensuite, the vintage sapphire and diamond claddagh wedding set on her left hand caught her eye.
He’d told her it belonged to his grandmother, and she’d made him promise to give it to his ‘real’ wife, or save it for his oldest daughter, because his granny and Averill were always at loggerheads. After a quick shower, Debbie opted for comfortable civilian clothes, jeans, a light blue sweater, and flip-flops. She braided her hair, added makeup, and returned to the bedroom.
He must have heard her soft footsteps because he opened his eyes and sat up, the blanket still covering his lower body. “You’ll be gone by the time I get back to the base, won’t you?”
Debbie nodded. “Yes, but I’ll call whenever it’s possible.”
When he held out his hand, she crossed to him. She leaned down and kissed him. “Stay safe.”
“That’s my line, Ramsey. I’ll see you when you get home.”
“You know it, Sinclair.” And she kissed him again. “I’m counting on it.”
Ghost of the Past
Baker City Hearts & Haunts Book 4
Former Marine, Durango Hawke never thought he’d spend years trekking through the jungles of South America looking for his missing brother, or that duty to his family would cost him the love of his life.
Heather McElroy grew up dreaming of a country music career but followed her childhood sweetheart into the military instead. Now, back in civilian life, it’s finally time to put herself first.
When Durango leaves on his latest rescue mission, he assumes she’ll be waiting when he returns.
Will chasing her dreams cost Heather the love of her life?
**Don't miss the rest of the series! **
Josie Malone lives and works at her family business, a riding stable in Washington State. Teaching kids to ride and know about horses, she finds in many cases, she's taught three generations of families. Her life experiences span adventures from dealing cards in a casino, attending graduate school to get her Masters in Teaching degree, being a substitute teacher, and serving in the Army Reserve - all leading to her second career as a published author. Visit her at her website, www.josiemalone.com to learn about her books.