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Mended Hearts: Bad Boy Action-Adventure Romance (Renegade Series Book 2) by Arabella Steedly (1)

Chapter 1

The fog swirled around in Jake's battle bruised mind when he sat up in bed, shook his head and rubbed his eyes with his fists. Surrounded by darkness, he patted the mattress of an otherwise empty bed. During his stint in Afghanistan, Jake had developed a second sense, a subconscious warning bell that saved his life more than once. His skin felt prickly — someone was creeping up on him!

Slowly, his hand brushed across the wooden bedpost reaching for his pistol, but the weapon was gone. Bewildered, he wondered how the intruder managed to sneak in and steal his gun without waking him up. He lay in the darkness, waiting to make his move when a door creaked open and a line of pale light filtered in. The shadowy figure who approached the foot of the bed appeared slight and pulled back the covers. Jake made his move. Grabbing the intruder, he pinned him to the mattress, holding on to struggling wrists. A woman screamed.

"Jake? God. Jake!" she gasped, terrified.

"How do you know my name?"

Something clicked inside his muddled brain reminding him never to hit a female. Instead, he held her down and prepared to take her prisoner unharmed. Reassured he had control, he continued to straddle her while he flipped on the bedside lamp.

At first, when Jake looked into her face, he didn't recognize the features. But suddenly he trembled when the fog began to clear. His heart skipped a beat when he realized where he was and who lay motionless beneath him.

"Oh, God, no!"

Breathless, Jake jumped out of bed and stepped back. His sweet Vanessa clutched the sheet to her chest and looked more terrified than the day months before when someone had shot at them on Main Street of Jake's Arkansas hometown. But here he was, lost in his own house thinking the person he loved was the enemy instead of protecting her.

"Oh, Jesus... Vanessa. I'm at a loss for words. Sorry... I'm so, so sorry," he muttered, as his eyes started to flood. "I thought I was on a raid... the Taliban. I was dreaming. "Jake shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs. Before he and Vanessa fell in love, he had often endured fitful nightmares, but after they became a couple, his PTSD had subsided. Why were the dreams occurring again out of nowhere?

After Vanessa scrambled to her feet still clutching the sheet, she stood beside the bed blinking back tears of her own. Jake held his breath and waited for what he feared would come next.

She's going to leave me, he thought.

Jake wondered why his chest didn't explode from his hammering heart. A wave of nausea washed over him, realizing he could have really hurt her if he had not snapped out of his trance. No doubt, Vanessa got up for a drink of water or to go to the bathroom, never expecting to return to a war zone. Jake panicked not knowing what he was capable of if he drifted away again.

That moment with the yellow light from their bedside lamp casting long shadows in the room seemed to last forever. The two of them looked at one another not knowing what to say. Jake saw his fear reflected in her own eyes, though, from a different perspective. The perspective of the woman he married only a few months before.

When Jake dropped to his knees in front of her, she let go of the sheet and touched his dark hair. Leaning his head against her belly, he struggled to catch his breath, tears smudged against her skin. Vanessa stood still and didn't utter a word. Daylight began to fall through the sheer white curtains billowing in the morning breeze. Jake did his best to get a grip as he wandered, bewildered toward the bathroom. He listened to her slight footsteps creeping out of their bedroom behind him, and his breath caught in his throat.

Is she headed for the front door... out of my life forever?

Jake was powerless to speak, or even walk to the porch to see if she had walked out the door. But seconds later, he was relieved to hear familiar sounds; cabinet doors opening and closing, the clank of the skillet against the stove burner.

Jake splashed water over his face. At least, she hadn't run away. He needed to go to her and try to explain what happened, but the words weren't there. Jake began coaching himself to stay calm, even though his hands were gripping the edge of the bathroom sink ready to rip it off the wall and throw it out the window. Instead, he took deep breaths and relaxed his shoulders. From experience, he learned anger was not the solution.

Walking into the kitchen, he found Vanessa making breakfast, and the aroma of fresh coffee wafted in his face. Jake watched her, working at the countertop in bare feet with her back to him. The oversized yellow t-shirt hung loosely over her shoulders; her dark hair cascaded down her back. "Jake we need to talk... sort this out. Why is your PTSD rearing its ugly head again? We can't sweep this under the rug like nothing happened," she said over her shoulder.

"I'm not sure, Vanessa. I'm scared."

Now, he had to deal with the pain knowing he manhandled his wife, the love of his life. Sure, he had PTSD from his military service, and it caused him problems in the past. But he had never acted out the dreams. Jake inhaled and tried to explain, but the words stuck in his throat. How could he tell Vanessa his dream scared him as much as it must have scared her? And if he dared to admit his fear that the nightmares might return, she may lose her trust in him, and sleep elsewhere from now on.

"I'll call the VA chaplain who helped me back in Arkansas. Maybe he can recommend someone here," he told her.

Jake felt shameful watching his wife make breakfast for him after what he had done. Finally, after neither one had spoken another word, he walked back into their bedroom.

I'll go... just leave...

When Jake returned to the kitchen, he was fully dressed, holding a suitcase in his hand. He figured it was better to hurt a little now than to saddle Vanessa with a man that clearly had dangerous issues that might do more than a little emotional damage. What frightened Jake the most was that he was a skilled soldier, quite capable of really hurting her. This time he snapped out of the trance. But what about the next time...

When Vanessa turned around and saw the suitcase, her eyebrows shot up. Jake cleared his throat. "I'm going to leave, Vanessa. I don't understand what happened to me this morning. I mean, you and I both know I'm prone to nightmares, but never this bad. I wish I knew why they've come back."

She searched his face from across the room. "I think you need to give yourself some time. See what the counselor says." Her sparkling blue eyes blinked back tears.

"What I did was... I can't risk hurting you! I'm just incredibly fucked up. I'm so sorry." Jake rubbed the back of his neck.

Vanessa pulled the pan full of scrambled eggs from the stove and set it on a trivet. Stepping around the kitchen island, she walked toward him and pulled the suitcase from her husband's grip. Reaching for his face, Vanessa cupped his cheeks in her hands and pulled him closer. Jake didn't resist her kiss as she pressed her soft lips to his, a heated reminder of what he would be missing if he walked out the door.

"I'm not letting you leave me like this, Jake. We have some issues that we need to deal with. Did you hear me? WE have issues. I'll be damned if I'm going to let you run off and hide in a bunker or cave half-way around the world." She kissed him again, slower this time and whispered, "And live in regret that we might have been happy if we just stuck it out." She reached down and picked up his suitcase. "You don't need to tell me what happened. Or what made you freak out thinking someone was attacking you while sleeping in our bed. But you do have to deal with the situation, and that means dealing with me, too!"

"Are you giving me orders now?" Jake attempted a weak smile.

"Damn right, I am." She chuckled.

"Going to start ordering me around?"

"Only if you let me."

"I'm scared that I might hurt you without realizing it. I'm not sure what I was going to do this morning," Jake began, but she shut him up with another kiss before pulling away and gazed into his eyes.

"I think breakfast can wait. How about I show you what you can do to me right now, big boy?" she teased, tugging at his arm, pulling him toward the bedroom.


Don't be a fool... Go make love to your wife...

Jake took his time with her, enjoying the way she tasted, the way she felt beneath him. Vanessa was a special woman. What he did this morning would send most new brides away screaming, but not her. It only made him love her more now that she was willing to work on this with him rather than running, rather than letting him run. Afterward, they lay in bed and talked about what happened, what triggered the dream.

"Stress. It's the stress of everything that's happened to us, Jake. The shootings, the barn fire, the move and now hurrying to finish the work so we can open for business." Vanessa propped herself up on one elbow and caressed his sculpted chest.

"Probably, but it's impossible to live a stress-free life. And I can't allow myself to lose control like that again. I had no idea where I was this morning, sweetie. I didn't even recognize your voice when you called out my name. I could have hurt you!"

"But you didn't... remember that. Somewhere inside of you, maybe not consciously, but something held you back. Something stopped you from hurting me!"

Jake wrapped his arm around her and pulled her closer. Vanessa laid her head on his shoulder and listened to what he told her. "I'm going to make a few calls and find someone local to talk with about this. I'll find a clinic that provides continuing care for vets with PTSD. I stopped going after I met you because I was better. The nightmares stopped. So, of course, I thought I was handling it." He peered through the bedroom window. "Until a few hours ago."

"Do what you need to do, Jake. Just remember I'm with you." She shifted under the sheet and touched his face. "Yes, last night frightened me too, but we will work our way through this together. You aren't alone anymore, Jake. I'm your wife. You must let me in."

"Yes, you're right." He kissed her on the head.

"Let's go then. I’m starved, and we have things to do around here."

"Sure, let's do that," he agreed, brushing a few strands of chestnut hair away from her face.

Jake made his calls while she heated up the food and fixed fresh coffee. It would be almost two weeks before there was an open appointment at the VA clinic. So, the thought of what might happen in the meantime terrified him. But what could he do but be patient?

After breakfast, he helped her tidy up and made excuses to go outside. He needed fresh air to clear his head. Gathering up the trash, he set the bags beside the door, and said, "I'll be glad when we're out of this rent house." Jake had already moved the sailboat Vanessa gave him for a wedding present over to the lake on their new property. "I think I'll go work on the boat a bit this morning. I'm still not finished re-staining the teak wood trim... unless you need me to do something else."

"No, nothing else." She grinned at him. "I'll go with you... check on the tile guys. They're supposed to finish in the bathroom today... but you can wander down to the lake. You need your space."

"Thank you." Jake forced a smile.

He and Vanessa had already suffered through serious drama before they married, prompting their move to Florida. Now, they were resettled a thousand miles away from the dangers they faced while living in Arkansas where they both were almost killed.

When do we get to relax... When does it get better?

While carrying the trash bags to the street, Jake remembered how on one sunny afternoon during a trip to town a gunman took a shot at Vanessa and missed, but his aim was true when he shot him in the head. Then after Jake’s recovery, Vanessa had narrowly escaped being trapped in his burning barn — a fire that was set by an arsonist. After the attempts on their lives, they were lucky to have survived.

Jake had hired a P-I, but after several months the private investigator came up with more questions than answers. Jake was grateful for one thing, though. After he sold his Arkansas property, he paid Kessler, the local loan shark, off in full. At least that nightmare was behind him. At first, it appeared their new start was going well. But now...

They barely spoke as they rode in Jake's pickup to their new place, but Vanessa clutched his hand. Pulling into the driveway, Jake parked in front of their new home. Leaning over, she kissed him on the cheek and got out.

"I love you, Vanessa." He wrapped his arms around her.

"I love you too. Do I need to worry about you on the boat alone?"

It was the first time that he considered her unselfishness, and that broke his heart even more. He hurt her so deeply perhaps not physically, but no doubt his outburst would leave a lingering scar. And her only concern was for him. One of the many reasons he loved her so much.

"No, Vanessa. I'll be fine... but thanks..."

Her eyes searched Jake's face looking for a sign she had something to worry about. Satisfied, she nodded and patted him on the chest before she headed toward the old farmhouse.

While walking along the path to the lake, Jake noticed how their yard looked like a home improvement store parking lot with stacks of lumber and blocks arranged here and there. At least he had one thing to be thankful for. The clinic was nearing completion, and soon Vanessa would open her new practice and began generating income. Funds were getting a bit low, and the stable was still in the planning stages, but it was not their priority.

The lease on their rental house was almost up. Just a month before, they purchased a small very used camper to live in for a few weeks until the house was complete. Jake didn't have a problem staying in the cramped camper, but he wasn't sure how long it would be before Vanessa started to complain. Another reason he was pressing the contractor to finish the renovation of the house as well as the clinic.

Even though things seemed to be going well, perhaps Vanessa was right, and the stress of another move was what created the upsurge in his PTSD. Jake once read about the term fugue state, a disorder where a person would become disconnected from reality and would forget who they were.

After this morning, he was beginning to worry that his PTSD was morphing into a new more terrifying phase. He hoped that all he needed to do was speak with a professional. "I don't want to chain myself to the bedpost for two weeks," Jake said to himself. "But I will if I must."


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