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 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.