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