Cowboy SEAL Redemption

Navy SEAL Cowboys #2

[Jack Armstrong & Rose Rogers]

June 5th

Three former Navy SEALs
Injured in the line of duty
Desperate for a new beginning…
Searching for a place to call their own.

Jack Armstrong’s been slowly piecing his life back together after a career-ending injury bounced him from the SEALs. The only trouble is, his family’s on their way to his new haven in Montana…and Jack refuses to let them know he’s still hurting. Desperate, he makes a deal with local bad girl Rose Rogers: in exchange for some extra security, she’ll play the perfect loving girlfriend.

Rose doesn’t trust any man, much less some tough-as-nails former SEAL. But the more they settle into their ruse, the more things start to feel real, and the more Rose’s true fear surfaces―that she’ll never be good enough for love. But Jack isn’t about to lose Rose. He’s done running when things get tough, and he’s determined to prove―once and for all―that even the most troubled hearts can find their way to redemption.

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Book One

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Excerpt

Chapter 1

Jack Armstrong stood outside the stables of Revival Ranch almost wishing he were back in a war zone. He knew how to go about completing a mission.

He didn’t know anything about talking to a therapist.

He didn’t have to talk to her, of course. Gabe had reminded him of that at least ten times today. No one was pressuring him to take this step.

But here he was, and he couldn’t even pinpoint a reason. Maybe it had something to do with the way his nightmares had started to include people from his civilian life—Mom and Dad, Becca and her goat. Those definitely ate at him more than nightmares that were distorted memories of a day over a year ago, and the friend he’d actually lost.

Maybe it was watching Alex, his former SEAL brother, put weight back on, come back into himself after making regular appointments with Monica. Alex had gotten together with Becca, the co-owner of their ranch and partner in their foundation, and infused a lightness into their little world that hadn’t been there for a very long time.

Or maybe he was just in a rut. Summer equaled plenty of work around the ranch in general; plus, they were putting the finishing touches on the bunkhouse that Alex, Gabe, and he would move into. At the end of the day, he was bone-deep weary and his injuries ached and ached.

But he couldn’t sleep, and when he did, the nightmares often plagued him. He was tired. Exhausted. And if this was going to help…

Hell.

“If you’re waiting for a welcome dance, I’m afraid I don’t know the steps.”

Jack tried to smile at Monica, Revival’s on-site therapist. She’d appeared at the stable door, that kind smile on her face. Jack liked her enough as a person, and he really enjoyed her ten-year-old son, who helped around the ranch sometimes. But he’d been irritated this spring when Becca had announced she wanted an on-site therapist for their foundation. He wasn’t sure he’d gotten over that irritation, but he’d learned to deal with Monica the person.

Neither of them were here as regular people right now though.

“What am I supposed to do, just…walk in?”

Monica made a grand gesture. “Simple as that. Walk in. Grab a brush. I told Becca and Alex we’d handle the horse grooming this afternoon.”

Even though Alex had told Jack a little about how his sessions went, Jack still had this prevalent idea in his head of a couch in a corner and a shrink with a notebook. But Monica went straight to the horses they’d all used out on the ranch earlier in the day and got to work with grooming.

Jack could only follow suit. He grabbed the bucket of tools for his horse and started the tasks he’d learned only this spring. He may have grown up on a farm, but they’d never had horses.

Jack eyed Monica suspiciously, but she didn’t talk. She didn’t study him. She was doing nothing he expected a therapist to do. Her focus was all on grooming Becca’s horse, Pal.

“So, aren’t you going to ask me questions?”

“What kind of questions?”

Jack frowned. “I don’t know. About whatever we’re supposed to talk about.”

“Well, what would you like to talk about?”

“I don’t know,” he replied, wholly baffled. “Whatever I’m supposed to talk about.”

“There aren’t any supposed-tos, Jack.”

“Then how are you going to fix me?”

She raised her eyebrows at him over the back of the horse. “I can’t fix your PTSD.”

“Then why am I here?” he demanded, exasperation winning out over his confusion.

Monica took a few seconds of silence, as though she was considering the answer, but shouldn’t she have known? Wasn’t it her job to know?

“My job isn’t to be your life coach. It’s to listen to whatever you want to say or have to say. It’s to offer coping mechanisms if you’re having a particular issue, and it’s to maybe try to guide you a bit to your own epiphanies. But they have to be yours—your choices, your feelings. I can’t map them out for you.”

“That’s crap.”

She laughed good-naturedly. “Perhaps. But it’s working for Alex. So why don’t you tell me what changed your mind about this?” She waved a hand to encompass the stables. “You didn’t want me here.”

Jack scowled and focused on his horse. He hadn’t wanted Monica, or any therapist, here. Hadn’t thought it necessary. Sometimes, he still didn’t.

Then he remembered the bone-deep fear of watching Alex fall apart. Alex, their leader, a guy Jack had hero-worshipped in the beginning of his SEAL career, who’d devised this plan for them after the attack that had gotten them all removed from military life.

Even though the past few months had shown Alex getting better, Jack was still haunted by how gaunt and lost Alex had been.

Jack didn’t feel that bad off, but he knew he wasn’t right. He knew at some point he needed to find a purpose because, with each passing day, he felt like he had less and less of one.

“Alex is better,” Jack said, staring hard at the horse’s flank.

“He is. And you’d like to be?”

Jack ran the brush over his horse, focusing on the animal’s hair. “Yes.” He’d like to be, though he wasn’t sure he was ready for the work it would take to become better. Didn’t that take a certain amount of acceptance? He didn’t think he had acceptance in him. Not the driving force kind that Alex had found anyway.

“The first step is realizing it’s not a fix or a switch I can flip. Getting better is a process, and it’s not going to be comfortable or happen overnight. It’s hard, grueling work.”

“I was a Navy SEAL.”

“You were, and now you’re not.”

After a few weeks of sessions, no matter that they’d touched on a great many things—his military service, his childhood, his hopes for Revival—the words “you were, and now you’re not” repeated over and over in his head like a loop.

He felt worse after having talked to Monica a few times now, and that pissed him off because he was supposed to be better.

He stalked across the yard from stables to house after another session, grumpy as hell and not in any mood to talk to Alex or Gabe, but they were both on the porch as if waiting for him.

“How’s it going?” Alex asked, leaning against the railing, failing at casual.

Jack merely grunted and shrugged. He hated that they both waited after every session and asked if he was okay, if things were okay. He wanted to pretend he’d never been so stupid as to think therapy could fix him.

But he still went to every session, and he still went to where Alex and Gabe were waiting after each one.

“It’s not easy. Nothing important ever is. Think of it like BUD/S training,” Alex offered with the kind of straightforward pragmatism Jack couldn’t help but appreciate, said in a sympathetic tone Jack wanted to burn to the ground.

Jack grimaced. “I hated BUD/S training.”

“Exactly.”

Jack didn’t know why that soothed some of the jagged edges, but it did. Not all of them certainly, but at least some. “Pioneer Spirit?”

“Uh, well, Becca’s mom is coming over for dinner.”

“Say no more. We’re out of here,” Gabe said, jumping to his feet from his seat on a porch chair, at least in part for comic effect.

“And I wanted to let you guys know, whenever you’re ready, you can move into the bunkhouse.”

Gabe raised an eyebrow at Alex. “We? As in not you.”

“I’m staying put,” Alex said in that tone that brooked no argument.

Not that Jack or Gabe would argue, and Jack supposed it wasn’t a surprise. Alex and Becca had been hot and heavy for a while, even more so since Alex had gotten some help. It made sense.

It still felt…weird.

“We’ll meet you at Pioneer Spirit later though. Becca and I.” Alex shoved his hands in his pockets, rocking back on his heels. “So don’t get drunk before we get there, huh? It wouldn’t kill either of you to lighten up on that score.”

Gabe gave him a mock salute, and Jack tried to smile. He and Gabe had been spending a lot of time at the bar in town lately, but…well, Alex didn’t get to boss them around anymore. Especially if he was staying in the main house, while Jack and Gabe moved out to the bunkhouse.

“I better help Becca with dinner,” Alex said absently. “See you guys later.” He disappeared inside.

“He seem weird to you?” Gabe asked, frowning at the door.

Jack shrugged. “Not particularly. You ready?”

Gabe slung his arm over Jack’s shoulders. “I am always, always ready to drink my troubles away.”

“And I will always, always drink to that.”

***

Rose Rogers surveyed her kingdom: a dimly lit bar sparsely populated by old ranchers and young drunks with Hank Williams Jr. rasping from the jukebox that played mainly country classics.

For three years, Pioneer Spirit had been all hers, and it had yet to get old. For a little girl who’d grown up like she had, owning something, running something, was quite the coup, no matter that it was a run-down townie bar in the middle of nowhere Montana.

She didn’t dare take any of it for granted because it was miles better than anything that had come before.

Which was why she needed to figure something out to protect this. Her father being out of jail put too many question marks in the air. He’d always been a cruel man, but would he be a vindictive one? Would he have the opportunity?

She scowled. She wouldn’t give him the opportunity to hurt what or who she loved again. So she needed to find a way to neutralize the potential threat and not wince every time her bar door swung open.

But wince she did, every single time. This time, as every other time before, it wasn’t her father. Instead, Jack So-and-So and Gabe Such-and-Such marched in. The two men had become something like fixtures in her bar this summer, and she’d gleaned a thing or two about both from serving them and maybe, on one or two occasions, being a little charmed by them.

Hard not to be charmed because she didn’t know men like them. Their little trio, because Alex Maguire often joined their group as well, had never once sexually harassed her or any of her waitresses, and they’d never gotten in a fight or damaged property.

Not once. They seemed to live up to the fictional idea of honorable military men, and on top of all that, they were building some charitable foundation at the Maguire ranch.

Rose kept waiting for one of them to turn out to be a turd, but they were unfailingly polite, excellent tippers, and sometimes even made her laugh or become interested in their stories—very much against her will.

Gabe was a flirt, but it wasn’t that kind of persistent attention she usually nipped in the bud. It was friendlier, somehow. Maybe because he was never handsy, never pushy. Just flirtatious comments whenever she came around. He was also a very equal-opportunity flirt. Any woman who’d ever been in her bar had been charmed by Gabe Cortez, including a few elderly ladies who’d been left blushing.

God help the woman who fell for that mess. Either mess, really. Because both Jack and Gabe clearly had a whole lot of mess underneath their polite, friendly facades. Gabe masked it with smiles and flirtation, and Jack masked it with…well, a stoicism Rose admired.

Until he got drunk. Then she’d catch little glimpses of a guy with a sense of humor. Honestly, if she hadn’t spent the past few years watching her sister’s husband prove to be an upstanding guy, she’d think they were both serial killers, but she’d finally accepted that not all men were her father.

Even if most were rotten.

Still, Rose couldn’t say she minded these two decorating her bar stools. Handsome to a T, the lot of them. Jack and Gabe were like two sides of the same Navy SEAL coin. One tall, dark, and too handsome for his own good, the other Mr. All-American fair-haired fighter for justice. With a limp.

She wasn’t sure if it was the limp or the stoicism that got to her the most, but Jack was a bit of a problem. In that, if he didn’t show up on his normal nights, she wondered why. In that, she often caught herself watching him when he was in the bar.

One time he’d gotten really drunk and told her an elaborate story about cow tipping. She’d believed it, hook, line, and sinker, and she never believed liars. But he’d laughed hysterically when he’d realized he’d fooled her.

She’d been pissed for weeks, but ever since, she’d known there was just something different about Jack whatever his last name was.

Someone like her had no business finding him intriguing. She was rotten to the core, snarky and mean at whim, and he was the kind of guy who said please and thank you and had sacrificed life and limb for his country.

Maybe that’s why she was fascinated. Besides, it was a nice little fantasy. The big, strong military man who would protect her from any harm.

Silly, foolish, and utterly untrue, but irresistible nonetheless considering, a few years ago, she wouldn’t have even been able to fantasize about such a thing.

“You want those two?” Tonya asked, nodding toward Jack and Gabe as she poured cheap whiskey for a group of ranch hands.

She wanted one of them anyway. “You take them.” Rose put two bottles of beer onto a tray and nudged it toward her waitress.

Tonya slid the whiskeys to the man waiting to take them to his friends. “I’m just going to put their tips in the tip jar, so if you’re doing that out of charity—”

“Charity doesn’t exist here,” Rose replied, flashing a menacing smile. Tonya’s husband had been hurt in a ranching accident and they were struggling to make ends meet. She was a good bartender, would make a good manager if Rose could ever back off a little without feeling panicked. Rose would make sure Tonya took all the tips at the end of the night regardless.

Tonya grumbled, but she hefted the tray to take to Gabe and Jack. Rose watched her go. Gabe and Jack smiled politely at Tonya, and she laughed at something Gabe said. Rose couldn’t hear it from where she stood, but it was likely a marriage proposal. Gabe threw those out like candy.

Her gaze fell to Jack, and for a second, she allowed herself the happy pleasure of just staring at his face. A classic handsome, really—what might have been wholesomeness if not for the beard and the haunted blue eyes.

Blue eyes that were now staring straight at her. She flashed him a grin and he lifted his bottle in a little salute.

Sometimes she really considering corrupting Jack the Navy SEAL—at least a little bit.

The sound of the door opening, just a faint squeak under the din of the bar, eradicated that consideration in an instant. She flinched, her gaze immediately moving from Jack to the door.

But it wasn’t her father standing there. And what would she do if it turned out to be? She rubbed the knife she carried in a little hidden holster on her belt. She kept a revolver behind the bar in case of emergencies. She could protect herself against her father.

And still fear had sprouted like a weed since hearing he’d been released. That old, shaky fear, those old, defeatist thoughts.

She took a deep breath. She’d gotten this far. Nothing would get in her way again. She’d protect everything she held dear no matter the cost, and she wouldn’t allow herself the luxury of falling for any fantasies.

Girls like her didn’t get the happy ending, but she’d make sure she was safeguarding her sisters one way or another.

She glanced back at Jack, who was still staring at her, a puzzled frown on his face.

“Not for you,” she muttered to herself, and got back to work.