“Are you packed?” my sister, Mia, asks through the phone. Her voice is husky with sleep, which makes sense since it’s the middle of the night back home in Portland, Oregon.
“I leave tomorrow, Mia. Of course I’m not packed.” She snickers. I just finished up my last debriefing meeting, my last day as an officer in the Navy. I grip the zipper of my flight uniform and sigh. “It’s not right.”
“I know,” she says quietly. “But you’re safe and whole, and you could be dead, Landon, so I’ll take it.”
I frown, staring at myself in the mirror as I unzip my uniform for the last time. I’ll never wear it again, never pilot a plane again.
What the fuck am I supposed to do now? The Navy gave me options, but if I can’t fly, there’s no sense in it. Flying isn’t just what I do, it’s who I am.
“You’re overthinking,” Mia says.
“I’m a pilot, Mia. This is what I love. It wasn’t supposed to end like this.”
“You’re alive,” she says.
“Am I?” I murmur, then shake my head and wince at the neck pain that still nags me from time to time. Ejecting from an F-16 will cause a crick in the neck. And a loss of an inch in height that may never return, along with an entire Naval career.
Son of a bitch.
“This has been the longest four months of our lives, Landon. We’re all anxious to see you.”
“I’ll be home in a few days,” I reply as I pull a T-shirt over my head and throw the last of my belongings in a box that the Navy will have sent to me from Italy.
I loved being in Italy for the past few years, and God knows I didn’t plan to leave it like this.
But I am. Maybe Mia’s right; at least I’m alive and I can walk and live a normal life.
I just can’t fly.
And that’s what hurts more than any injury from the crash.
“What time should I come get you from the airport?”
“No need,” I reply, regretting calling my sister and waking her up. I just didn’t know what else to do when I came in here and was faced with boxes and the end of a career I love. “I’ll get there.”
“It’s okay, really. I’ll see you in a few days.”
“Be safe,” she says. “And, Landon?”
“It’s going to be okay.”
I force a grin and a nod, though she can’t see either. “Of course it is.”
We say our good-byes and I sit on the edge of the bed, scrub my hands over my face, and take a deep breath. I hope she’s right.
I take a deep, cleansing breath and push my hands through my blond hair, scrutinizing my makeup. I don’t wear much, and I’m certainly not as talented with it as my best friend, Addie, but it’ll do. My green eyes are accentuated nicely, lips are pink, and heart is beating faster than ever.
“You’ve known him your whole life. It’s not like he’s new,” I remind myself in the mirror. “You’re just going over to say hi. It’s no big deal.”
I don’t look convinced, so I narrow my eyes and lean in. “He’s just an old friend. Suck it up, buttercup.”
Landon is my other best friend, Mia’s older brother. Addie, Mia, and I grew up together, and I’ve been in love with Landon for as long as I can remember. God, one look at him usually sends the giant birds in my stomach into overdrive. He’s handsome—understatement of the year—and sweet and . . . damn.
I shake my head at my reflection and turn away to grab my purse and set out to Landon’s parents’ place, where he’s been staying since arriving home a few days ago. Landon was in the Navy since he graduated from college. He was a pilot, until an accident a few months ago that resulted in him ejecting from the plane.
I’ve never felt fear like I did the day we received the call that he’d been hurt. And the past few months of him being on the other side of the world have been torture. I couldn’t see him to make sure he was okay. He had to recover, then go through the process of being discharged from the Navy before he could come home.
Thank God he’s back now. I gave him a couple of days to acclimate, but I just can’t stay away anymore. I need to see him.
And I’m nervous as hell.
I park at the curb by his parents’ house, gather my courage about me, and walk up the sidewalk to the front door, knocking with more conviction than I feel.
There isn’t any movement in the house, making me frown. It’s early enough in the day that he should be home.
I knock again, and just when I’m about to give up and leave, the door is yanked open and there he is.
Did I mention that he’s half freaking naked?
“What are you doing here?” he asks, his voice rough with sleep, snapping me out of my openmouthed stare.
“Were you still asleep?” I ask, squaring my shoulders and schooling my face to seem as though I see half-naked men every day.
Which I don’t. Certainly not tall, dark-haired men with ice-blue eyes and olive skin and washboard abs.
“It’s early,” he mumbles, and scrubs his hand over his face. He’s not asking me in. He doesn’t look happy to see me.
He hasn’t even hugged me, which probably isn’t a bad thing considering that he’s half-naked and I’d probably do something stupid like tackle him to the ground and molest him.