In one short month, cheerful army nurse Madeline Bright has become the darling of Prairie Springs, Texas. And if ex-pilot Jake Hopkins isn't careful, she might just conquer his heart. She's young, pretty and blithe-spirited...he's older and jaded. But being around Maddie brings back too many painful memories. Jake still feels guilty about failing to save Maddie's brother in an army helicopter crash years ago. So no matter how much Maddie wants to be in his life, for her own good, Jake can't allow that. He'll never have a normal, stable life. And sweet Madeline deserves nothing less.
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August 31, 2008
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Excerpt from At His Command by Brenda Coulter
Texas attorney Jake Hopkins was severely allergic to two things: peanuts and a sweet young army nurse named Madeline Bright. TravisWylie, Jake's law partner, took the peanut problem seriously because he'd once had to call 9-1-1 when Jake suffered a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction during dinner at an Austin restaurant. But while Travis readily acknowledged that certain women possessed a knack for turning a man every which way but loose, he steadfastly maintained that Jake couldn't be allergic to a member of his own species.
Jake knew better. There was nothing imaginary about the symptoms he suffered whenever he was in close proximity to Maddie. All he had to do was clap eyes on the chestnut-haired, blue-eyed beauty and his pulse raced, his throat closed up and his brain stalled out. Since that was pretty much what happened whenever Jake got too close to a peanut, he figured the evidence spoke for itself.
It had been four years since the sudden onset of his peanut allergy, and in that time he'd learned to give a wide berth to foods containing even a trace of the offending legumes. In the past month, he'd trained himself to be just as assiduous about avoiding Maddie.
"Madeline," he said aloud, correcting himself as he swung his black BMW convertible into the grocery-store parking lot. Using her nickname was flirting with emotional intimacy, and Jake wasn't that kind of man anymore.
Maybe he never really had been that kind of man. His wife had hinted at that more than a few times when she was alive. Or maybe he and Rita just hadn't been a good match to begin with. Jake had known she was dissatisfied, and sometimes he wondered if she would have gone so far as to divorce him if a freak boating accident on Lake Travis hadn't ended her life.
Poor Rita. For three years she'd clung to the stubborn belief that being married ought to temper Jake's passion for flying helicopters. She'd wanted him out of the army and out of the sky, but Jake was a second-generation West Point graduate, and a life without flying wasn't any kind of life at all.
He'd had to adjust his thinking on that after he'd awoken at a combat support hospital in the Middle East and learned he'd never walk again, let alone fly. He'd been transferred to the Army Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany for more surgery, and a week later they'd drugged him up and loaded him on a hospital plane headed for Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Noah Bright, his copilot-gunner and his best friend for fifteen years, had already been shipped home to Texas in a flag-draped casket.
Jake spent several weeks at Walter Reed. During that time, Rita visited twice. After she'd gone back to Texas, she drowned when a ski boat she was riding in capsized.
Jake had missed her funeral, too.
After numerous surgeries and skin grafts, Jake was finally sent home to Texas, where despite the gloomy predictions of his doctors, he learned to walk again. He wasn't terribly graceful about it, but with the help of a cane he could get around okay. Once he was, quite literally, back on his feet, his father had suggested law school.
It was a cruel irony that if Rita had lived and stuck it out with Jake, she would now have everything she'd wanted. She'd be living deep in the heart of Texas with a newly minted civilian attorney who had ruthlessly trained himself not to think about helicopters. Jake didn't even look up when one flew overhead, which was no small achievement, considering where he lived. Ensconced in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, the town of Prairie Springs hugged the east side of Fort Bonnell, the largest military installation in the United States--and home to the cavalry brigade that had trained Jake and Noah to do air combat in Apache attack helicopters.
Impatient with himself for dwelling on the past, Jake shook his head and successfully flung those depressing memories out of it. But Maddie--Madeline--remained.
He hated that he was having so little success fighting his insane attraction to her. He was no good for Madeline Bright, and it wasn't only because of what he'd done to Rita.
"And at five minutes before six o'clock, it's still a sweltering 102 degrees in downtown Austin," a radio announcer boomed over the end of an old Trisha Yearwood song. "I don't have to point out that that's a little warm for the third day of September."
"Then don't point it out," Jake muttered, irritably punching the radio's Off button and wondering what the current temperature was here in Prairie Springs, thirty miles northwest of Austin. He loved his convertible, but when he'd left home a few minutes ago he'd been compelled to close the Beemer's roof and throttle up the air conditioner.
He zipped past the handicapped parking spaces and found a spot near the end of a row. His bum leg was giving him trouble today, but the more it hurt, the more determined Jake was to walk like it didn't.