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Written On His Skin by Simone Stark (1)

Chapter One

He almost didn’t open the letter.

In seven tours of Iraq and Afghanistan as an Army medic, Special Forces operator and commanding officer, Sergeant Theodore LaRoux knew the drill. He’d seen the stacks of letters before—written by kids for school projects and by pious churchgoers who thought writing to a soldier would secure their place behind the pearly gates.

During his first tour, he’d made the mistake of writing back to a seventh grader who’d obviously tossed the reply and gone on with his life. It wasn’t like Roux could blame him. He’d like to get on with his own life, too, far from the unrelenting dust and the boredom and the dread that lingered every day in this fucking nightmare of a place.

But he learned his lesson, that reading letters written to some nameless, faceless Any Servicemember wouldn’t do anything but remind him that no one real was writing to him. And that no one cared enough to write back.

That he was on his own.

Since then, he’d left the letters for the greener guys. The ones who bitched about the heat of the Afghan sun and the cold of the desert nights. The ones who, Special Forces or not, thought about home more than they should. The ones who had pictures of their girls up all over the goddamned tents.

The ones who believed that someone gave a fuck on the other end.

The ones who believed in home.

He wasn’t even certain how the letter landed on his cot in Yemen, but there it was when he returned—covered in dirt and grime and gun oil—from a two-week-long shitstorm of a mission that should have ended in the capture of a high-ranking ISIS operative, but instead ended with two of his best operators medevaced out of this hellhole.

Maybe it was because of them that he did it.

Or maybe it was because he was tired and filthy and had a moment of weakness.

Or maybe it was because it was sitting in a pool of light, like it had been left by fucking angels.

No. Not left by angels.

Written by one.

Dear

I’m sorry that I don’t know your name. It seems like a strange thing to write a letter to someone you don’t know. Not just someone you don’t know—someone you don’t even know the name of. Strange and, honestly? Kind of wonderful.

You could be anyone. I could be anyone. And suddenly, we’re more than anyone. We’re someone. To each other. Letters are magic that way, don’t you think?

Seven tours in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. SERE training. HALO jumping. Firefights in the desert he was sure he’d never survive. And two paragraphs of a letter from a stranger had his heart pounding faster and harder than it ever had.

Her handwriting was fucking beautiful. All arcs and swoops, like nothing he’d ever seen. No measured loops. No perfunctory print. A masterpiece of script that seemed to prove she was writing honestly, without hesitation. It made him wonder what else she would do honestly and without hesitation.

Fucking hell. He was hard as steel, and all because of her handwriting.

He didn’t know if all letters were magic, but this one was. Absolutely. And then he read the next sentence, and he was under its spell.

I could tell you all my secrets.

His mouth went dry, and his knees—his fucking knees went weak. Roux sat on his cot, the technicalities of staying upright suddenly beyond him. The military should bottle this woman. She was the most dangerous weapon he’d ever encountered. Devastating and highly addictive.

I should tell you that I don’t have many secrets, but for a moment, on paper, before you read any farther, right now, there’s so much possibility! I could be terribly, excruciatingly fascinating!

I should also tell you that I’m not terribly fascinating. I’m not excruciatingly fascinating, either.

Sorry.

I’m just Abby.

He hated that just. The way it broke up the truth of her. And as he stared at the word, wishing he could will it away, the truth of her rioted through him.

She wasn’t just Abby.

She was his.

You see? Now that I’ve told you that, I don’t know what to say. It was much easier to write when you didn’t know that part. But my secret is out. I’m Abigail Trent. Anyway, my friend Julie volunteers with some of the military spouses up at Ft. Collins while troops are deployed. We’re in a book club together, and she picked the book this month. It was about the military, loosely, so she asked us all to join the campaign to write letters to…well…you, I guess.

Spouses. Holy shit. What if she was married?

He stiffened at the thought, at the idea that someone else was touching her. Was caring for her. Was holding her in the night.

Fuck that. There was no way she was married and he felt like this.

I was—am—happy to write. I like letters…they’re magic, remember? What else can I tell you?

Everything. He wanted everything.

I’m a veterinarian in Boulder, which is pretty much the job I’ve wanted since I was three years old and my next-door neighbor’s cat had kittens. After that, the floodgates opened, and I never looked back. I live with a cat and a dog, which I don’t think makes me that abnormal, but my mother thinks my living with more than one pet scares people away. She despairs of me ever finding what she refers to as “appropriate human companionship.”

Roux relaxed, relief flooding through him. Not married. No boyfriend.

And so fucking honest, it was beautiful.

So—yeah—I’m very pro animals. Basically, if it has fur, I want to touch it.

He ran a hand along the months-old growth on his jaw. He had fur for her. And she could touch it all she wanted. His cock throbbed at the thought. At the idea of her soft hands—they were soft as silk, he was certain of it—on his cheek, his chest, his legs. In his hair.

He wanted this woman’s touch like he’d never wanted anything in his life.

Anyway, I’m not sure whether these are going to Ft. Collins soldiers—it’s possible your spouse is part of the program Julie works with?—or maybe these are going to troops from other places? You’ll have to fill me in on where you’re from and where you are when you write back. If you have time to write back, of course. I can’t imagine how busy you must be…wherever you are.

“Wherever I am, I’m never too busy for you,” Roux vowed softly, his fingers running over her gorgeous handwriting.

You shouldn’t feel like you have to write back.

Though, of course, I’d like that.

Of course he was writing back.

Always,

Abby

Always Abby was right.

Always and forever.

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