Warrior (First to Fight #1) - Nicole Blanchard


I thought it was just one night with my brother’s best friend. The boy I had dreamt about since he gave me my first kiss, under the lights of the Ferris wheel.

I knew he was about to leave for a year – no chance for a future.

But our one night together would create memories for a lifetime.

Our paths crossed again, but I had lied, and he was no longer the man he once was. He was warring against demons. Against the silence that was threatening to swallow him. And I had kept a secret from him, one he would never forgive me for.

But my secret was about to be ripped open. Displayed for the world on national news. And I had only one way to repair the damage.

I had to trust the man I lied to.

The man I never got the chance to make a life with.

The only man who could save what we had created together.

“I’M GLAD YOU were able to take some time to come see your momma before you took off again.”

I wrap her into a bear hug, the kind I used to use to piss her off with as a kid because she’d always been so much smaller than me. “You saw me a few months ago.” I kiss her hair and inhale the scent of her perfume. Something inside me hitches, but I shove it away. “Besides, I remember you yelling at me to get the hell out when I was eighteen. So, really, you’re the reason I joined the Marines in the first place.”

She laughs, but it’s watery. I don’t know what to do other than squeeze her a little tighter. She takes a deep breath and then pushes me away. We both ignore the fact that her eyes are still rimmed with red. “Get out of here. Jack’s been calling all afternoon. I swear it’s like the two of you are sixteen again.”

I kiss her once more. “Save me some of the ribs and rice, woman.”

“I’ll fix you a plate before your father eats it all. Now go.”

The creaky front door slams behind her and I hear her yelling at my dad about anything that will distract her from the fact that I am deploying in just a few days.

Ah, home sweet home.

My shoulders slump and I wipe off the smile I’d slapped on when the plane touched down in Jacksonville. A shrink would have a field day with my mental state, but it’s nothing I haven’t been through before, so I drown out those thoughts with our homegrown country station. The sooner I get to Jack’s, the better. The last thing I need is to be alone in my head right now.

Driving around my hometown is a surreal experience. I clearly remember growing up here, going to school here, but the person I was then and the man I’ve become couldn’t be more different.

I pull up to the lake house and momentarily contemplate passing on his offer to hang out when my eyes fall on movement in the doorway. My breath catches in my throat when I realize it’s Jack’s younger sister, Olivia. Her eyes meet mine and I realize I’m not the only one who’s done some changing over the years I’ve been away. Was she always such a knockout?

My hands clench on the steering wheel until Jack appears in the doorway behind her as a much needed reminder that I should keep my distance. I hop out of the truck and make my way over to them. Olivia stays back with her arms wrapped around her waist as Jack walks over and gives me a one-armed hug.

“Good to see you, man,” he says. “It’s been way too long.”

“Yeah,” I say, my eyes still on Olivia. “It has.”

“Do you mind helping Olivia with the food? I’ll pull out the chairs and shit. Logan should be here soon.”

“Sure, man. Whatever you need.” I make it a point not to look at Olivia until Jack leaves the room.

She bites her lip and smiles. “C’mon, I’m making bacon wrapped shrimp. It’s pretty awesome, I’m not gonna lie.”

I chuckle. “I’m sure it is.” I follow her in and immediately feel at ease. “God, this place hasn’t changed at all.”

Constructed just about entirely of wood, the house is really more of an expanded cabin with floor to ceiling windows that look out over the pristine surface of McCormick Lake. Through them I can see Jack wrestling with the patio furniture. I squint my eyes at the dark