Published by Forever, Grand Central
Source: Grand Central-Forever, Publisher
Copy for review provided by Grand Central-Forever, Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Can a battle-scarred warrior . . .
Stay sober. Get deployed. Lead his platoon. Those are the only things that matter to Sergeant First Class Reza Iaconelli. What he wants is for everyone to stay out of his way; what he gets is Captain Emily Lindberg telling him how to deal with his men. Fort Hood's newest shrink is smart as a whip and sexy as hell. She's also full of questions—about the army, its soldiers, and the agony etched on Reza's body and soul.
. . . open his heart to love?
Emily has devoted her life to giving soldiers the care they need—and deserve. Little does she know that means facing down the fierce wall of muscle that is Sergeant Iaconelli like it's just another day at the office. When Reza agrees to help her understand what makes a soldier tick, she's thrilled. Too bad it doesn't help her unravel the sexy warrior in front of her who stokes her desire and touches a part of her she thought long dead. He's the man who thinks combat is the only escape from the demons that haunt him. The man who needs her most of all . . .
Here I am giving another Jessica Scott 5 stars. This one was just as compelling and well written as the ones before. This series is solid as a freaking rock. Jessica Scott, I freaking love you, you never fail to deliver a book that will make me think hard, feel deep and turn me on.
Reza. I’ve been waiting (somewhat) patiently for Reza and his story. Not only did I get Reza’s story, I got educated on just how bad the mental health and suicide problem is in the Armed Forces. It’s been brought to our attention more recently that this is an epidemic in the military. As a civilian, I feel helpless, to help them. How can I help? We support the Wounded Warrior fund but more needs to be done to recognize the signs that someone is struggling. The problem is that many times, a soldier does not want to admit there is a problem. Whether it’s depression, PTSD or a drug or alcohol problem. They are made to be warriors and warriors are not weak. But what happens when it’s just too much? Reza Iaconelli is what happens when it becomes too much. Coping with personal problems from a battered and broken childhood and 6 deployments where he lost men he trained and led. Deep emotional wounds that only alcohol could numb.
We are also introduced to the soldiers who have problems, who are struggling with wanting to stay in the Army, the ones who don’t belong in the Army and all they want is to get out. We also meet the soldiers who so badly need help. We meet the doctors who wade through the system , the queues, the sheer number of packets/patients that the doctors are tasked to evaluate and make life changing decisions. It’s…overwhelming. And at odds in the middle of all of this, in standoff of sorts are the doctors/mental health professionals and commanders. The commanders are trying to train and build soldiers and that mindset can be counterintuitive to what a doctor is trying to accomplish. In this book, we are shown both sides of the coin.
“– Roughly half of active-duty troops who die by suicide never served in Iraq or Afghanistan. But there is growing evidence that war trauma weighs heavily on those who did. In one indication of deep emotional stress, the suicide rate among U.S. troops deployed to Iraq between 2004 and 2007, a period of intensified fighting, jumped from 13.5 to 24.8 per 100,000, according to a report issued in 2009 by the Army surgeon general.
— Some 8,000 veterans are thought to die by suicide each year, a toll of about 22 per day, according to a 2012 VA study. The VA acknowledged the numbers might be significantly underestimated because they’re based on incomplete data from 21 states, not including Texas or California. Even so, the data documents an increase of nearly 11 percent between 2007 and 2010, the most recent year of data in the study.”
Ms. Scott could not have written a more perfect heroine for Reza. Emily was AWESOME and she was exactly what he needed, exactly when he needed it. Together, they complemented each other, he was rough and tough and she was refined and subdued. Emily made Reza realize some very important things about himself as a leader and how he led and trained his men. Emily, could’ve tried to “fix” Reza. She didn’t , she let him take his own path and it worked. I have to say that whenever I read one of Ms. Scott’s books, I always feel like I’ve been educated a bit. This installment is no exception.
Reza felt Emily hesitate before she climbed the hill toward the MOUT site behind him. His gaze fell to his gloves on her hands, and an unexplained warmth spread somewhere in the vicinity of his belly as he watched her.
He wasn’t entirely sure what the hell had happened to him. Not so long ago, he’d gone up one side of her and down the other for keeping information about a soldier from him. Not so long ago, he’d told her she did not belong in the army.
Now she was out at the range with him, wanting to know about the world he lived in.
A world he didn’t want her to know. The scars on his body were testament to the ragged ugliness of war.
She’d watched movies about combat. He’d led men in combat. Bled with them.
What on earth had possessed him to bring her out here?
He knew what it was and it pissed him off. If she was going to deploy, maybe something she learned today would save her life later. He hated to think of her in a bunker with rockets landing all around. His stomach twisted hard. He wouldn’t be there to keep her safe.
People like her simply didn’t recognize the world for what it was: a cruel, hard place that would crush the best of them. It was a world that required exactly what they were about to do: train.
If he couldn’t protect her, he could train her. At least a little. A little was better than nothing.
If she backed away from the shoot house, he wouldn’t let her go. She needed to do this, to see this in training where it was safe. No matter how much he wanted to protect her from the smoke and chaos of war—even a mock war like they were getting ready to wage today—the simple fact was she was going to deploy. Better to learn what she could here today rather than head to the desert with zero training. The threat of violence was a very real thing in his daily life and if she was going to deploy, she needed to understand that.
He watched her as she approached, careful to keep his expression neutral.
Part of him wanted her to run, to turn away from the violence of his life.
But another part of him, the dark part, wanted her to join him in the muck and the mire. That darkness held a powerful lure, a quiet shame mixed with the pride: he was good at what he did.
She flexed her hands in those gloves and his guts clenched. Down, boy.
“You ready for this?” he asked as she stopped next to him.
She peered up at him intently through her army-issued protective glasses. They were at least three sizes too big. “Is one ever really ready for something like this?” She didn’t look nervous but he heard the stress in her voice.
“Would it help you to know that I’m looking forward to this? This is the fun stuff I signed up for.” Not the killing parts. No, not those. But the force-on-force mock fights? That was the fun stuff.
“Fun? Are you serious?”
“Hey, Sarn’t Ike, check this out!” One of his old lieutenants, Miller, ran up from the entrance to one of the blown-up windowless buildings of the mock city. He lifted his shirt, showing a brilliant purple and red welt on his side.
“That shit’s going to hurt like hell tomorrow,” Reza said with a low whistle. “Did the medics check you out?”
“I’m not fu— Nah, I’m good,” Miller said, stopping himself once he realized there was an officer present. “Ma’am.” He saluted and Emily returned the courtesy.
Reza almost shook his head at the sharp perfection of her salute. She obviously hadn’t learned the half-assed officer salute that so many officers passed off as real customs and courtesies. He watched her expression change from horror to pure curiosity.
“Some of the guys were screwing around, Ma’am. Doesn’t hurt that bad.” Miller had turned about as red as the bruise on his side.
“How did that happen?” she asked, peering closer.
Miller glanced at Reza for permission and Reza nodded. Unless he was mistaken, that bruise had come from an epic case of fucking around and he didn’t mind Emily hearing that. She needed to see the fun side of the guys in addition to the fucked up stuff inside their heads. Maybe if he could get her to see them as people, she’d stop thinking of them as victims.
“Couple of the guys cornered me. I let my guard down and well…there you have the results.”
Reza grinned, feeling the warm comfort of familiarity slip around him as Miller ran back toward his boys. This, Reza knew. This was the only thing that kept him from crawling back into the bottle. A chance to lead his boys again.
He wasn’t in charge today. No, that day was still a long way off. But he wanted—no, he needed—to be back with guys like Foster and Miller. With captains like Teague.
“Just follow me and stay close. It might get a little loud.” Reza watched as she tried to get her bearings over the sounds and the movement and the noise.
People who had never been to combat didn’t understand the chaos on the battlefield. It was oh so easy to second-guess the actions of the men and women on the ground when the videos captured everything, but in the thick of the fight? Yeah, it was never as easy as the video games and armchair quarterbacks made it seem. There was too much smoke, too much yelling, far too many people.
One wrong choice and the squeeze of the trigger ended a life. It might be fun, what they did in the shoot house, but that fun ended the minute they rolled with real rounds in the chamber.
“A little loud?” She was shouting. “I’m not sure it can get any louder.”
“If you’re still talking to me in a few months, I’ll take you out on an op in the tunnels. You want to talk about loud.”
“We do tunnel training because we never know when we have to go below the cities, or literally in tunnels.”
Her eyes widened slightly as though she was only just starting to grasp the variety of situations his boys faced. It was fascinating watching the scales fall from her eyes. She took everything in. Watched with a fascination that told him she wasn’t missing anything.
Her brows drew down in a slight frown. “What?” he asked.
“Nothing. You’re just…You’re different out here.” She tipped her chin at him. “More intense. You really do enjoy this stuff, don’t you?”
The strange feeling in his belly unfurled completely, spreading warmth wide through his blood. “There is nothing better than leading men in combat,” he said over the noise.
Nothing until he held that experience up next to the possibility of touching Emily again.
What would he give up for a few more minutes alone? To touch her the way he wanted, to feel her soften beneath his mouth and his fingers.
An explosion ripped through the noise and he ducked, more on instinct than anything else. When he looked over at her, her jaw had tightened in determination.
And Reza fell a little harder.