Month: June 2013

NAVY HOPE Chapter Ten

Navy Hope

By Geri Krotow

Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Books S.A.

Chapter Ten


How much harm could it do to take a three-mile run with Val? It was strictly professional, a way to get some insight into her vision for BTS.

No matter how many times Val told him to consider her as team leader, not boss, he knew he had to remember that she was his boss.


He felt shivers on the nape of his neck just before he heard the gravel crunch under her feet. So much for keeping her at a professional distance. His body had been reacting to her presence since he’d walked into that damned office.

Clad in black running tights and a neon pink hoodie, she reached him in three long strides.

“Good morning.” He greeted her cheerfully in an effort to keep his physical awareness of her private.

“Hey.” Val leaned over to re-tie her purple running shoe. Her slim hands worked quickly and expertly. He wondered how they’d feel on his body. Val straightened and narrowed her green eyes on him. He watched her take in his long-sleeved running shirt and shorts.

“You going to be warm enough?”

He laughed. “Are you kidding? I’m used to snow and ice in February. This is perfect running weather.”

Val grinned. “I know it seems mild, but these temperatures won’t really go up for several months. It’s not the cold as much as the damp that gets to me.”

“I’m sure I’ll be fine. I’ve managed so far.”

They started off slowly, and by the half-mile mark were moving in cadence with each other. Lucas found it a delight to run with a woman who could match his stride so easily.

“What made you come out here and start BTS? I read the website—” he motioned with one hand “—and I know you’ve dedicated it to the memory of your brother.” He shook his head. “I’m very sorry for your loss, Val.”

“Yeah, it was a hard time. Thanks.” She didn’t vary her stride or her focus on the rough trail. Apparently she’d answered this question a million times.

“I was at a point in my life where I needed something different, a break from the day-in, day-out grind of social work in a clinical setting.” She leapt gracefully over a log as he ran around it. “You may remember that my childhood wasn’t the best, and that my dad suffered from PTSD as a result of his service in Vietnam. My mother…she became a shell of herself, always so careful around Dad, trying to pretend everything was okay.”

“I haven’t forgotten anything you told me, Val.” He didn’t want to pull the pity card by telling her why he’d had to leave Penn State, and her, so many years ago. But he owed her an explanation at some point. She’d meant so much more to him than his actions had implied.

“It’s no surprise that I got my degrees in social work. I thought I’d solve the problems my family had.” She laughed, but with little humor. “It took a while, but I finally accepted that I wasn’t ever going to fix my parents, or re-do my childhood. I had to focus on making a difference for others.”

She pushed back her sleeves as she ran. He wondered idly what she wore under the sweatshirt. Or maybe not so idly… Desire for this woman had simmered for the past month, and what she’d confided in him only fanned the flames.

“The social work itself was rewarding, and I’m so grateful I had that chance to do it. But I felt it was my apprenticeship, felt I was supposed to do more. I didn’t have any idea what that would be, what would come next. Then Chet died.”

NAVY HOPE Chapter Nine

Navy Hope

By Geri Krotow

Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Books S.A.

Chapter Nine

“I’m Tanya, and I’ve been at BTS for almost two years. I’m a certified social worker and family counselor. My specialty was addiction therapy, but I got a bit burned out on it, so I came here, intending to stay for only a few months….” Tanya Ripley twisted a long, curly lock of hair around her finger.

“You mean like me?” Lucas teased, prompting a loud chuckle around the table. They were taking turns introducing themselves.

Val noticed that Lucas fit in with the group and wasn’t surprised. She saw Miles Mikowski nod at him.

“Hey, Lucas, I’m Miles. I’m still on active duty, stationed on Whidbey. I come over to San Juan to talk to the families about how I put my life together after I lost my leg.”

“I’m guessing that helps you as well as them.”

“Absolutely. Nothing like seeing a spark of hope in a kid’s or widow’s eye, hope that maybe they’ll be able to move on. I know this guy—” he playfully punched the man to his left “—because he’s put me through so much torture in his clinic.”

“I’m Drew, and I’m not usually here, since I run my own physical therapy clinic on Whidbey Island. I decided to get away overnight, and this is heaven because no one on this island knows me.”

To Val, Drew hardly resembled the handsome man he’d been when he’d first offered BTS free passes to use his clinic.

“How are you holding up, Drew?” She didn’t want him to feel he had to share more than he wanted, but except for Lucas, everyone at the table knew his story.

“I’m okay.” Drew shot a look at Lucas. “Since you’re not from here, you probably don’t know that my wife was lost at sea almost a month ago. She’s a Navy pilot.”

“I’m so sorry.” Lucas’s expression remained neutral, open.

Drew shrugged. “We weren’t doing well before she left, and I feel something of a fraud playing the tortured husband.”

Val noted that he didn’t say “grieving.”

“Have you heard any more about the accident?” Lucas posed the question no one else asked.

“She’s still alive. No evidence of that, but I know it.” Drew spoke with a conviction that stopped everyone from eating, sipping, chatting.

“Trust your gut, Drew.” Maggie spoke up. “I knew my husband was gone before the Navy knocked at my door. I felt it in my bones. If you don’t feel that, then she’s still here.”

Drew nodded, his eyes downcast.

“Where did you study physical therapy?” Lucas guided the conversation to less emotional territory.

Drew told him. Her team chimed in and the low din of their chatter resumed.

Val soaked up the camaraderie she’d only dreamed of cultivating a couple of years ago. The concept of working with a team, the sense of belonging at BTS, were as important as the families they served.

“So, you’ve signed a six-month contract, right, Lucas?” Winnie Ford sipped her water. She brought Sam, her therapy dog, to BTS once a month, and this was her week. She didn’t usually stay overnight but her husband was home with their daughters. There were five apartments at the resort reserved for counselors, and two for transient support staff like Winnie.


“Well, if you change your mind, I’m sure Val would entertain an extension.” Winnie winked at Lucas.

This drew another laugh. Yes, Lucas was going to fit in without a problem.

“Don’t scare him, Winnie. Have you seen the pile of case files on my desk?” Val emphasized her point with her fork midair. When Lucas’s grin turned into a smirk, she looked at her fork. It had a noodle hanging from it.

The team broke into more laughter.

“Okay, I deserved that.” Val hid her embarrassment by focusing on her dinner.

“Get used to this, Lucas. We don’t keep the kid gloves on for anyone.” Maggie beamed at him as if he were her own son. Val stifled a groan.

“I knew it was going to be an interesting job when I was on the ferry over.” Lucas paused, making eye contact with everyone around the table before he went on. “I almost tossed my cookies in the storm!”

“Storm?” Winnie looked puzzled. “Didn’t you come over today?”


Val cleared her throat. “That wasn’t a storm, Lucas. That’s Puget Sound in the winter.”

At the group’s sympathetic “awws” Val rolled her eyes. Leave it to the good-looking doctor to turn her team of hard-charging gals into mush.

It was going to be a long six months.

NAVY HOPE Chapter Eight

Navy Hope

By Geri Krotow

Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Books S.A.

Chapter Eight

“I didn’t hear you open the door,” Val said, trying to remain unaffected by Lucas.

“I like to be a bit mysterious.” He stood next to her, relaxed and smiling.

She laughed. “Doesn’t it feel like you’re being scrutinized like a bug when you apply for a new position?”

“It’s all part of the process,” he said with a shrug. “Nothing more than I went through for my security clearances. I wouldn’t want someone treating me or my family unless I was sure they were totally legal and qualified.”

“Still, it must be a little uncomfortable for you, since I know way more about you than you know about me or anyone else who works here.” She spoke to him as she tended the grill. Better than make eye contact with him.

“Are you trying to tell me you lead a double life as an assassin or something?” As she swallowed a giggle, he leaned against the deck railing. She felt his stare through the darkness. The deck light’s beams didn’t reach far in the winter night.

“Nothing like that, no.” She prayed that the night and the smoke from the steaming salmon hid her blush, or that he attributed it to the heat of the grill or even her glass of wine. Which she hadn’t touched.

“I suppose neither of us is the same person we were all those years ago, Lucas.”

“Not at first glance, no. But despite our life experiences, and everything that’s shaped us to this point, I’d like to think our basic personalities are the same.”

She looked at him.

“How could they be?”

“You sound like a woman who’s been through a lot.”

“No more than you.” She paused. “I read your résumé. I know you were in some tough places when you were a SEAL.”

“I was. And that helped me figure out that I wanted to be in a profession that gave back to others who’d served. It didn’t hurt to find something I could still practice when I’m sixty-five. I left active duty once my initial commitment was up and went to med school.”

“Yet you still work with wounded vets.”

“It’s in my blood at this point. It was also a matter of opportunity. I scored a scholarship from the National Health Services and then owed time at Walter Reed. This is, in fact, my first job away from a government facility.”

Val laughed. “Well, BTS isn’t Walter Reed, that’s for sure. But your clients will be just as traumatized, Lucas. I haven’t offered you an easy desk job.”

“I don’t want one.”

She studied him in the dim light. “No, I suppose you don’t.”

Lucas didn’t do easy. Never had.

NAVY HOPE Chapter Seven

Navy Hope

By Geri Krotow

Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Books S.A.

Chapter Seven

Just as she’d done with the rest of the staff who’d become her family at BTS, Val invited Lucas to a welcome dinner in her farmhouse home. It was the oldest original building on the property and she’d refurbished it with modern conveniences, while retaining its century-old hominess.

Maggie and the other gals were taking care of the trimmings—salad, bread, dessert. All Val needed to do was grill the Sockeye salmon to perfection and chill the chardonnay. Three of the staff were recovering alcoholics, so she made up a huge pitcher of iced tea with fresh mint clipped from her kitchen windowsill pots.

As she brewed the tea, she reflected on how much she’d learned since she’d first opened BTS. From her own experience and her career as a social worker, she’d thought she understood the effects of addiction on an addict and his or her loved ones. But until she saw counselors working with the families who tackled their addictions head-on—making no excuses for having lost a family member in the war—Val hadn’t recognized the depth of commitment required to achieve recovery.

She was grateful she could enjoy a glass of wine and stop. Her father hadn’t been so fortunate.

A quick knock at the door was followed by Gloria, one of the counselors, coming in with a round casserole dish in her pot-holder-covered hands. Gloria lived in one of the on-site apartments, closest to the farmhouse.

“Hey, Val! Here’s dessert. Maggie’s bringing the ice cream.”

“Mmm, that smells fantastic. Your marionberry crisp?”

“Of course!”

They laughed. For these welcome dinners Val liked to serve local fare. Marionberries were unique to the islands of the Pacific Northwest, a cross between a blackberry and raspberry. They were delectable in pies and crisps.

Lines appeared between Gloria’s perfectly plucked brows. “Do you still have that heavy cream in your fridge from our dinner last week?”

“Sure do.”

“Great. If you don’t mind, I’ll whip up some of it before we eat. I’ll keep it in one of your stainless bowls until we’re ready for it.”

“You know where everything is. Thanks for taking care of it. I’ve got to get the salmon going.”

“Go ahead, I’ll answer the door for you.”


Val slipped out to her deck with a glass of the chardonnay, a Washington State label she enjoyed. The night was dark as charcoal, typical for early evening in mid-winter. The northwest stayed light until almost eleven at night during the summer months and she missed the lengthened twilight. Still, snuggled in her favorite hoodie and sheltered by the tall fir trees that surrounded the resort, she was comfortable.

The deck was her refuge after a long day at BTS, and her favorite place to have breakfast when the weather cooperated.

The stars twinkled in the small patch of sky she glimpsed through the high branches. It was a time for new beginnings, but not with Dr. Lucas.

She lit the gas grill and waited for it to heat before she placed two large salmon fillets in a fish basket and set the contraption on the grill. After ten minutes or so, she grabbed her pot holder and started to turn the basket over.

“I’m good at the grill if you’d like a hand.”

Val paused mid-flip and turned toward Lucas. His voice was already familiar. Or more accurately, still familiar.

You’re in trouble. 

NAVY HOPE Chapter Six

By Geri Krotow

Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Books S.A.


Chapter Six

He liked the way she tossed her head as though she could wave a wand and make everything easy, no regrets.

Back in college, they’d met in math class, a pre-requisite for both of them as she pursued social work and he was taking a pre-law curriculum. He’d loved teasing her about how much money he was going to make dealing with the world’s problems, while she’d be trying to solve them on a pauper’s pay.

“I read online that you graduated from Penn State, and then went to Catholic University in D.C. for your graduate work. How did you end up here, so far out west?” He was curious but also didn’t think it was fair for her to ask all the questions.

Her eyes narrowed and she bit her lower lip.

Pay dirt.

She was here because of a man. He didn’t see a ring, but a bare hand meant nothing.

“Family circumstances.” She smiled. Professional, smooth and completely impersonal. Yeah, he’d hit a button.


“I’m not trying to spar with you, Lucas. I really did end up here because of family issues, most of which you’ve probably read about on BTS’s website.”

Before he could offer condolences on her brother’s death, she’d regained her composure, and he watched her as she collected several files from her desk and handed them to him.

“Here’s everything you need for the first week. Your client load, information about the island, the ferry schedule and some travel brochures for Whistler and Vancouver. Do you ski?”

“I love to, but I rarely have time anymore.”

She smiled. “I know what you mean. Life gets in the way, doesn’t it?” She pointed at the folder labeled Fun. “You’ll find information on skiing at Whistler in British Columbia, and Mount Baker on the mainland. You’ll need breaks from the work and even the island.”

“I’m used to a very intense work schedule.” Did she really think he’d need a break from a resort?

“Sure you are. But you’re on my team now, and one of my requirements is that you be as relaxed and happy as possible while you’re here. You’ll project that well-being and confidence to our clients, and they deserve nothing less.”

“Got it.” Actually, he did, and he was impressed by Val’s depth of commitment. As the owner and boss of BTS, she certainly called the shots with her staff in a very different way.

This wasn’t going to be anything like Walter Reed.

Starting with the hot woman in the tight white pants. The girl he’d had the most memorable sex of his life with all those years ago.

She’s your boss.

Holy shit.

He needed space. He’d only been here fifteen minutes, and he already had island fever.

More like Val fever.

He tried to focus on something else. His gaze caught on a pair of woman’s running shoes next to Val’s desk.

“You still run?”

“Yes.” No invitation for him to join her, though.

A good run around the island that was going to be his home for the next six months would calm his nerves and get rid of the sensations caused by shaking her hand.



A need he’d rationalized ignoring because he wasn’t “ready” yet.

The truth was that a man in his mid-thirties was pretty much ready at all times. For a physical relationship. But sharing emotional intimacies? Nope, he wasn’t going to pay that price.

Lucas did what he always did when his head warred with his instincts.

He decided to throw himself into his work.

“When do I start?”


NAVY HOPE Chapter Five

By Geri Krotow

Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Books S.A.

Chapter Five

He looked around the room, and Val imagined it seemed small, insignificant compared to the wards where he’d practiced medicine at Walter Reed. “It’s great to be here.”

“You never became a Navy JAG, after all?” His résumé had only stated that he’d served as a SEAL for five years.

“No, it didn’t work out. When I left Penn State, I had…a family crisis I had to take care of. I couldn’t manage law school that soon after college, so I opted for active duty right away.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” The words slipped out as if she had no control of her mouth. “Never mind,” she added. “It’s history and none of my business.”

“It was your business, and I should have told you—” He looked past her to Maggie. “I’m sure we’ll have a chance to talk about it over the next six months.”

She hadn’t wanted anything to do with a man interested in the military, not after what she’d watched her father go through with his PTSD from Vietnam. As much as it had hurt, she knew way back when they dated that she’d never see their relationship through, not if he was going into the military.

He’d had his life figured out, and that was one of the reasons she’d fallen in love with him. What she lacked in drive and direction, he’d had. What he’d lacked in knowing how to have fun, she’d shown him.

They’d shown each other….

“I’m Maggie, the admin.”

“I’m sorry.” Val wanted to go to her desk and hide behind her computer screen. “Maggie’s my right hand here at BTS.”

“Welcome, Lucas. I have the key to your suite, which I’m happy to say is our most recently remodeled. You have the best of everything, including a gas-insert fireplace.”

“That sounds wonderful.” The way Lucas spoke evoked a sense of warmth and security she hadn’t felt in a very long time.

What was the matter with her? Lucas wasn’t the first handsome man who’d walked into Beyond the Stars. He was, however, the first male counselor she’d employed. Not by choice; it was just a coincidence that the other three counselors were all women who’d been available at the right time.

This had been the right time for Lucas. For a male counselor…

But male didn’t begin to do justice to his aura of self-confidence and obvious physical strength. He had to be six feet tall, well over Val’s five-feet seven inches, and his shoulders seemed wider now, his body more filled out. Gone were the gangly, adolescent limbs. Though still slim, he projected a man’s strength.

His hands—God, his hands! Long, strong fingers she had memories of…

He was perhaps the most attractive man she’d ever met.

She all but ran to the coffee counter in the office corner. “Would you like a coffee or tea?”

“Water’s fine, unless you have green tea?”

“Of course.”

She dropped a capsule into the coffeemaker that doubled as tea brewer.


She jumped and turned when he spoke. He stood directly in front of her. Too close.

Not close enough.

“Water’s in the fridge?” He bent down to the mini-fridge next to her and opened the door. The shelves glistened with their array of diet sodas, half-and-half and a bottle of pure water. He raised his brows and Val knew he was judging the amount of diet soda on the shelves. She wanted to slam the door shut with her foot.

“I have a bit of an addiction.” Why should she explain her love of diet soda to anyone, much less a new hire?

Lucas grabbed the water and stood up.

“That stuff’ll kill you.” He twisted off the top of the plastic bottle and guzzled half of it in three swallows. She couldn’t help noticing the tanned skin of his throat, his face, his hands…

Tanned skin in January. Maybe he’d turned into one of those metrosexual types, used tanning beds.

Not judging from his callused hands and five o’clock shadow.

He’d always liked the outdoors. The wrinkles at the corners of his eyes reflected it, too.

She ignored the misplaced elation that he might enjoy the outdoors as much as she did. What difference did it make?

“I exercise and eat well,” she said. “Our bodies detox the bad stuff.”

“Uh-huh.” His gaze captured hers over the tilted water bottle, his bemused expression the same one she’d known so well.

As if some magic door had been opened, Val saw herself walking hand in hand with Lucas across the Penn State campus. In that memory, he’d laughed at something she said and leaned in to kiss her.

She’d thought herself in love with Lucas when she was nineteen. He’d said he loved her, too.

Their chemistry had been undeniable, as unquestionable as their youth.

Their mutual innocence.

“Let me get you some final forms to fill out, and Maggie will walk you to your suite.” She had to put some space between them or she was going to make a huge mistake.

They’d parted after sophomore year, promising they’d write all summer. She’d hardly been able to wait until classes started again. Despite her feelings about getting involved with someone in the military, she’d willingly overlooked the fact that he was so keen on the Navy.

Then he’d vanished into thin air. Only one short note had arrived in her mailbox the second week of her third year, to tell her that he needed to take some time off, that she shouldn’t worry about him, that he was sorry but their relationship wasn’t going to work out.

She hadn’t seen him again—until ten minutes ago.

NAVY HOPE Chapter Four

Chapter Four

By Geri Krotow

Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Books S.A.


“He’s here.” Maggie’s announcement broke Val’s concentration on the resort’s schedule for the next six months.

January was still busy until mid-month, when all the kids had to be back in school. Spring had a steady stream of clients, leading up to the most heavily booked month yet, June. June heralded the end of school, and was BTS’s busiest month last year, as well. This year would be even busier. Six months out, Val was already stressed about it.

“Thank God. We have four families arriving in the next few days, each for the week-long program.”

Maggie leaned further over her desk, her nose an inch or so from the window.

“Jeez, Maggie, stare much?”

“You didn’t say he was a looker, Val.”

“A looker?”

Maggie moved back from the window as the white painted door burst open with the help of the wind and the sheer force of the man who walked into Val’s office.

Lucas Derringer.

He was as tall as she remembered, but much more…grownup.

Val stood and began to walk to the counter that separated their desks from the main entry. Her foot caught on the handle of her favorite tote, and she fell headlong onto the floor.

She stifled a groan, pushing herself up to a standing position in two short moves. Thank God for her yoga practice and regular runs.

“Are you okay?” The deep voice sounded different than she recalled. Older, wiser.

“I’m fine, just getting ahead of myself.” She did her best to smile as if she hadn’t come within three millimeters of chipping her front teeth.

“It is you. Val?” His coffee-colored eyes reflected his amusement—and appreciation?

“Yes, it’s me.” She stepped forward and held out her hand. “Dr. Derringer? Nice to see you again.”

He grasped her hand in his. She felt strength, warmth, tingle.

Tingle. Crap.

“Welcome to Beyond the Stars, Lucas.” She stared at him, unable to believe that the résumé chock-full of degrees and experience belonged to the same young man she’d known.

His hesitant smile answered her before he spoke. “Penn State’s a big place, and it was so long ago—I thought you might have forgotten me.” Fat chance.

“Your resume says you finished your degree at Temple.” She crossed her arms. She’d recognized his name at once. But his resume hadn’t matched the Lucas she’d loved as a wide-eyed sophomore.

“I did. My first two years were at Penn State, as you obviously remember.”

“I do.” She would’ve kicked herself for how forlorn she sounded, if she hadn’t already bruised herself by tripping like a clown.

“Is this going to be a problem?”

She looked into the sexiest eyes she’d ever seen and saw concern, honesty, integrity. Just as she had all those years ago.

“No, of course not. It’s good to have you here.”

As long as she kept her memories of the past in the past.


NAVY HOPE Chapter Three

By Geri Krotow

Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Books S.A.

Chapter Three

“I appreciate your time, sir, but Beyond the Stars is non-profit and I intend to keep it that way.”

Val rolled her eyes at Maggie, her assistant, as she listened to the umpteenth investor who wanted to buy out her resort and make her a very rich woman.

“It’s not about the money, it’s about the military families who need healing. I’m sorry to cut you off, but I’m late for a meeting.”

She stopped herself from slamming down the phone, setting it back on its base with a quiet click.

“Meeting?” Maggie’s blue eyes twinkled in her flushed face.

“Yeah, with you. We always have a meeting on the schedule, right?”

They both laughed and Val let the sound wash over her.

“Thank God my brother left me the money he did,” she said. “Much as I hated accepting it at first, it’s been the cushion we need, so we didn’t have to make this a commercial resort.” She’d argued with her brother’s widow over not taking the money, but her sister-in-law insisted it was what Chet had wanted. He’d left his family well-insured, prepared for the worst-case scenario.

“You’re doing well with the grants from the various veterans’ associations, plus the fundraising we do. And as long as families leave with something positive after their week at Beyond the Stars, what more can you ask for?”

“For the rest of the world to leave us alone.” Val tapped her fingers on the side of her soda can. “I want this place to stay special, to be the safe haven it’s meant to be. I know we need to press to keep the private donations coming in, but it brings in some unwanted attention, too.”

“You’re doing great, Val,” Maggie said again. “Your brother would be so proud of you.” Maggie fanned herself with a Beyond the Stars brochure. “He died too young, honey, a true hero. This is what he would’ve wanted you to do. I have no doubt that the families who come here are blessed with some peace.”

“I’m not denying that, Maggie. I just have to make sure our finances stay in the black.” Val’s heart ached whenever anyone mentioned Chet. She’d never get over losing her baby brother to the war in Afghanistan. But Maggie was right. Beyond the Stars made a difference for other Gold Star families.

Maggie continued to fan herself.

“You okay?” Val asked. She didn’t like the beet-red tone of Maggie’s skin.

Maggie groaned. “I’m perfectly healthy. These personal ‘power moments’ are all part of a normal menopause, according to Doc Maura.”

Val wanted to give Maggie a big hug but knew it might embarrass her. It had taken two years to convince Maggie she was right for this job. To work on an isolated island at the edge of the North American continent, with the goal of benefitting the families hardest hit by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“What about ginger tea? I heard ginger might help.”

Maggie laughed. “If anything really worked, I’d be rich off the cure for hormone hell.” Maggie flapped her hands as if she were shooing away flies. “Don’t you worry about my problems. By the time you get to this point in your life, there’ll be a cure for hot flashes.”

Val smiled. Maggie wasn’t here for the paycheck. She was here because she was a Navy widow, a Gold Star family member. She’d lost her husband and been left with three teenage boys to raise. This was back during the first Gulf War, when the support system for Gold Star families hadn’t been as strong as it was today.

They went back to their usual routines at their respective computers.

“You sure you’re ready for this?”

Maggie’s voice broke through Val’s desperate attempt to keep her mind off the man who’d be walking into her office thirty minutes from now.

“Yes, I am. He’s probably married or at least involved, and even if he’s single, I’m not looking.”

Maggie snorted. “Honey, that’s the exact attitude I had before I met Mike.”

“If it didn’t happen with Bob, it’s not going to happen.” She’d ended the relationship with her long-term boyfriend from Seattle two years ago. “I was comfortable with him. We had so much in common. But it wasn’t enough to keep us together when I moved here.”

“‘Comfortable’ was your first mistake, Val. The man who’s best for you won’t be the one you’re most comfortable with. He’ll be the one who sets your teeth on edge and makes you a better person, all at the same time.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“Do you really think this man won’t remember you?”

This wasn’t the conversation she wanted to be having before their new employee showed up. He’d been a college boyfriend…briefly.

He broke your heart.

Yes, he’d broken her heart—but wouldn’t any boy have back then? She’d been young, he’d been her first, and it wasn’t as if he was ever anything other than wonderful to her.

Except when he didn’t come back junior year. He’d disappeared from her life with virtually no explanation.

“It’s in the past, Maggie. Fifteen years ago. Anyway, how many people remember who they dated in college?”

You do. And it’s been a while since you dated. You’re too isolated out here. Not to mention that if you ever want some kids of your own, sooner is best.”

“Tell me something I don’t know, Maggie. But just because I’m plowing through my thirties doesn’t mean every eligible male is a potential father for my babies.”

Maggie giggled.

Val knew she’d want male companionship again. And yes, a family. But not yet. Beyond the Stars was too new, and she couldn’t foresee a time when she’d willingly leave San Juan Island for the mainland. She’d invested her entire life in BTS and was determined to see it flourish.

“I need to get this schedule straight before he shows up.”

“I’ll leave you alone. For now.” Maggie’s voice was soft, but her steady gaze let Val know that this conversation was far from over.

NAVY HOPE Chapter Two

By Geri Krotow
Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Books S.A.

Chapter Two

As the boat continued its lurching journey, Lucas focused on Valentina DiPaola, owner and director of Beyond the Stars military family healing retreat, and once his first real girlfriend after high school. They’d been together for an entire semester before he’d had to leave unexpectedly at the end of sophomore year. His family in Philadelphia had shattered, thanks to his father’s drinking and his mother’s nervous breakdown. He was the oldest child and his little sister had needed him to be a steady care provider. His dreams of joining the military had been delayed but he’d managed to finish his degree locally, then serve in Navy Special Forces for a couple of tours before he started medical school.

He’d never told Val what a mess his family was. That wasn’t something he’d been willing to do when he was twenty, and when he’d matured enough to realize he had nothing to be ashamed of, it didn’t matter anymore. She was long out of his life; too much time had passed.

He was grateful that Val hadn’t rejected his application for this counselor’s position. She’d communicated through her assistant from their very first reply to his email inquiry about the open counselor’s job.

He thought she’d nix it when she read his résumé and found out who he was.

But she’d been more concerned that he wasn’t a counselor but in fact a psychiatrist. There’d been a brief flurry of questions about his being overqualified for the position, but when he’d agreed to the full six-month employment period she’d hired him. She’d explained that the six-month term was a benefit to both parties: Beyond the Stars was located on San Juan Island, a remote part of the country accessible only by ferry or airplane. Val knew she couldn’t expect employees to sign on for longer, at least until they’d seen the place. It was beneficial to him as the employee, since he’d be free to leave at the end of six months, which Lucas planned to. The time on San Juan was his respite from what he considered his primary calling.

His specialty was helping war veterans, especially those with PTSD. The six-month leave of absence from his job at Walter Reed was a sabbatical of sorts. He wouldn’t be dealing with vets at Beyond the Stars but instead, the families left behind by those who’d died in the service. The wartime widows, widowers and surviving children.

Gold Star families.

You’ll be working for a woman again.

That was how he’d fallen in love with Betsy; she’d been the hospital’s Head of Psychiatry when he’d done his residency. Long hours, intense cases at a wartime pace made emotions run high and created an insistent need for release.

Betsy had been there. Ten years older than Lucas, she seemed to want the same things he did. A partnership, and not just on hospital rounds or in bed. A lifetime commitment.

She’d let him down gently, but he could still hear the roaring in his ears as she’d explained that she was accepting a position in another city; she needed a change.

Taking their relationship to Chicago with her wasn’t part of the plan.

It’d been a mistake to get involved with his boss, a mistake he wouldn’t make again. Judging by her lack of interest in him other than the professional, Val didn’t care about their previous attachment. He hoped she was married and completely unavailable. She still used her maiden name, but a lot of married women did. Even if she was single, he was only here for six months. After that he needed to get back to the real world, wherever and whatever he decided that would be.

The deck shifted beneath his feet and the vibration of the motor ceased. As the ferry docked, he turned to walk back to his car, ready to drive onto the tiny island that would be his home and workplace for the next half year.

NAVY HOPE Begins Today!

Welcome to my June online read at Harlequin’s website, NAVY HOPE! Each day I’ll post a chapter, for 12 total chapters. If you want to read this on the Harlequin website, too, or comment on their community pages, you can start here.

I hope you enjoy this glimpse into my Whidbey Island Series!




Navy Hope

By Geri Krotow
Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Books S.A.

When Val DiPaola founded Beyond the Stars, a therapeutic resort for families of fallen soldiers, she never imagined she’d be hiring her ex. Although Val’s moved on since Lucas Derringer walked out of her life fifteen years ago, she’s never forgotten him. She can’t deny that his experience treating vets with PTSD and his background as a Navy SEAL make him perfect for the job. But the minute Lucas steps onto San Juan Island in Puget Sound, Val knows she’s in trouble. Because she wants him to be part of her life again—professionally and personally.

Only, a lot has happened to both of them since college. At Beyond the Stars, Val and Lucas teach their patients that hope and love can grow from heartbreak. Can they convince each other of the same thing?

Navy Hope is part of the Whidbey Island series, published in Superromance. Find more books in the series here!


Chapter One


Lucas Derringer felt as though he was on a clandestine SEAL mission. He wasn’t in a hot dirt bowl ready to take down Taliban fighters, nor was he in a sweaty swamp waiting for the right moment to rescue yet another operative who’d been captured by a tyrannical drug lord. He hadn’t done any of those things in over a decade. Now he treated the men and women who did, as a psychiatrist with post-combat mental trauma expertise.

Who knew that taking a break from his usual routine would trigger such a storm of anxiety?

Instead of fighting for his country in some godforsaken place, Lucas was on a Puget Sound ferry in the middle of what his new job description called “God’s Country.” The wind blew cold as it cleared the morning fog and revealed the majesty of fir-topped mountains that spilled down to the rocky shore. Gulls and eagles soared above him. He’d never seen a more beautiful sight.

He’d never felt more nauseous.

Being away from the sea and airplanes for so long had robbed him of his immunity to motion sickness. He suspected that not being the one piloting the ferry was part of the reason he’d been seasick—and thrown up over the side rail. If only he could’ve simply crossed a bridge after his grueling drive from D.C. But San Juan Island was too far from the mainland and a ferry was his one option.

He’d turned into a landlubber.

Focus on the beauty. This is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. You’re getting everything you’ve ever dreamed of.

Except for the one woman he’d expected to settle down with. Betsy.

He fought the urge to pull out his cell phone and start scrolling through his Facebook newsfeed, to see if any of his friends had posted photos of her wedding. He understood the importance of facing his feelings, not running away. Hell, his whole career was based on that concept.

Betsy had made her choice and it hadn’t been Lucas. When she’d left she’d said she didn’t want to settle down, but he knew better. They weren’t a good fit; for one thing, they were too much alike.

But he’d loved her.

That was three years ago. Before he’d had a chance to get used to being a doctor.

Yesterday she’d married a man she’d met right after their break-up. Another doctor.

He was over her but his pride still stung.

“Son of a bitch,” he muttered into the wind as he grasped the ferry’s railing and willed his stomach to stop heaving. Puget Sound during a winter squall was no match for his out-of-practice traveling skills.

His job in D.C. was three thousand miles away. He could start relaxing—as soon as this blasted ship docked.

Think about something else.

The new job.

The new boss.

Ironically, the most important woman in his life at the moment was a woman he hadn’t seen since they were just kids, sophomores in college. Did she remember him?

You know she does. You’ve never forgotten her.