Authors: Carey Decevito
The Broken Men Chronicles
Copyright © 2016 by Carey Decevito
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used, or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles.
A Heart’s War / Carey Decevito – Kindle edition
Cover photography by Eric David Battershell
Cover design by Clarisse Tan, CT Cover Creations
Cover Model: Stefan Northfield
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
This book is available in print at most online retailers.
For those who give so much of themselves in their everyday life. Although your efforts may seem thankless more often than not, remember that the impact you’ve had in shaping someone’s tomorrow will never go unnoticed.
I can’t believe this series has reached its end! I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have been able to achieve this milestone were it not for the amazing team of people I’ve surrounded myself with over the course of this past year.
Eric David Battershell, has it already been five covers already? Thank you for sharing your art with the world. Your talent with the camera, your dedication and your friendship has meant so much more than you’ll ever know. I can’t wait for us to jump on our next adventure together. Believe me, there will be more!
Clarise Tan, your attention to detail, the way you’ve taken Eric’s shots of the guys and masterly worked them for this series has been amazing. We’ve had so many laughs and I love your zest for the work that you do. Girl, you’ll always be my go-to person for my covers. My dear sister from another mother, I can’t wait to see what we come up with next.
Stefan Northfield, you’ve been absolutely amazing to work with. Thank you for your support, your kind words and encouragement. When I looked through thousands of images to find what I needed for this book’s cover, I never expected for your image to inspire Theo’s journey like it has.
To Marisa Caldwell, Laurie Cooper and the Pub-Craft team, you guys have been a force to be reckoned with. Thank you for being there when needed, and sometimes on short notice. Whenever I need a hand with something, whether it be advertising, editing, a book tour, or any random task I just can’t seem to find the time for, you guys are there for me.
My dearest readers, words seem insufficient to express my appreciation your loyalty and support for this series in particular. This may be the end to
The Broken Men Chronicles
but rest assured, this isn’t the last you’ll be reading from me! Thank you for your readership, your kind words, and constructive feedback.
And last but certainly not least, I owe a debt of gratitude to my husband and our two daughters. Without your love, your patience and understanding, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I love you all so very much, and thank you for allowing me to pursue a long-wished for dream. You’re my love, my life, my inspiration.
A fiery blast came from our left. The vehicle I was crammed into took a sharp right before weightlessness set in; the deafening sound of crunching metal, shattering glass, and firing weapons making my ears ring. My head felt as if it was about to explode.
Shouts, screams from the men around me, those I was responsible for, their sounds were what living nightmares were made of.
Suspended for eternity is how it felt when in fact, within seconds it was over.
“Donnelly,” I coughed out, stuck sideways against my door. My vision was blurry, my head pounding. Everything was tinged with red. “Donnelly,” I repeated, chocking on the dust and smoke floating inside the vehicle. I tried wiping blood from my eyes. Whether it was mine or someone else’s, I couldn’t tell. When I got nothing from Donnelly, I addressed the group. “Everyone okay?”
I blinked a few times, the ringing in my ears dying down enough for me to be able to make out the horrific chaos that surrounded us outside. The erratic thumping in my chest, not to mention the prickling of the small hairs on the back of my neck, told me that danger still lurked.
I hoped that our Humvee was the only one in our convoy that had been hit, but with the size of that blast, I knew it was wishful thinking. We needed to get out, help whoever was left, and get the hell back to base.
I tried to move, biting my lip hard enough to taste the coppery flavor of my own blood as the debilitating pain in my legs manifested itself, letting me know that I was in bad shape.
“Damon.” I leaned forward as much as I could, trying to get around his seat without blacking out, to rouse my teammate, one of my best friends. It wasn’t until my eyes were firmly focused on him that I noticed his head hanging at an unnatural angle, his chest unmoving. I reached as far as I could, finding that spot by his carotid to make sure what I was seeing was right. My rations from that morning’s breakfast began to weigh heavy and my gut clenched, bile beginning to rise, when I had my confirmation. “Oh fuck!”
The man lay against what should have been the window to his door – dead.
Beside him, the newest addition to our team – a woman we’d dubbed Tiny, for evident reasons – lay across the middle console, aortic blood spraying lightly as the last of her life force drained away.
Blood. There was so much of it. Keeping my sanity in check became harder as panic consumed me.
I can’t be all that’s left. I can’t be alone in this hell.
So I turned to the last of my team members: Rick Donnelly. Just like with Damon, we’d been close, he and I. A true brother in this godforsaken sandbox, who’d kept me level-headed throughout our many deployments since BUD/S. He’s a little crazy, but I suppose that’s why he’s a master with explosives.
“Rick!” At first glance, Donnelly appeared unharmed, as if he were sleeping. The sweet sound of his groan cut through the automatic gunfire around us enough to dispel my ever-growing sense of helplessness. Barely.
The sudden lull in weapon fire provided me with the opportunity to call his name out again. I knew insurgents were still around and we needed to get gone fast.
As I tried to rouse Donnelly, I became aware of approaching footsteps. I prayed for it to be our men but I knew that in all likelihood we might not be so lucky. The radio silence alluded to that fact.
“Dammit, Rick, wake the fuck up! We need to get out of here.”
The man managed another groan but didn’t move despite my grabbing on to his fatigues and shaking him.
I heard shouts outside our vehicle; both English and foreign. Just as another bout of gunfire hit, the distinctive sound of our M-16’s against AK-47’s, everything drew to a halt. The sound of gurgling close to the rear of our vehicle and the rapid fire of Pashto sent me into a full-blown panic. This felt too much like the end.
Seconds later, I was ripped from my seat, the searing pain in my legs escalating to a blinding level, making me
As soon as two men laid hands on Rick, he kicked into action.
Fully extricated and now able to better see my surroundings, I heard weapons still firing intermittently in the distance, screams and pleas of mercy came from all directions, none of them in my native tongue though.
I tried to fight my captors but the injury to my legs had me useless against the two able-bodied men that held me. Before I knew it, my hands and ankles were bound with rope, a gag was shoved into my mouth, tied by a torn piece of cloth, and an old rice bag that smelled of sweat and mildew was slipped over my head.
In this moment, thoughts of my future, my family, my friends flashed through my mind. If I survived this ambush I knew before long, I’d be praying for death. I just didn’t know how right I would be.
With a hit to the back of my head I fell into darkness.
“Welcome to Jacksonville, North Carolina, folks! The current temperature…” The flight attendant’s voice startles me awake from my flashback. My breathing is erratic, my skin is crawling and clammy as I force myself to take in my surroundings and calm myself. Suffice to say, my nightmares were back. If I’m being honest, they hadn’t really disappeared. But, with my imminent return home, they’d grown in frequency.
The elderly lady sitting next to me cowered in the furthest corner of her seat, her eyes wide, face pale. Her expression of fear morphed to one of sympathy as she eyed my fatigues, evidently processing my attire along with my behavior as soon as “I’m sorry,” had left my mouth. Patting my arm, she turned to face forward without a word. It’s too bad there weren’t more people like her. I didn’t need anyone claiming to understand what I’d been through. I didn’t need their pity. And I certainly didn’t need their praise and thanks.
I hadn’t been home in ten years. Half of that time hadn’t been by choice, either. I had owed it to my country to serve with distinction. Or, that’s what I’d believed at one time.
A hero is what most everyone dubs me. The thought itself makes me cringe. Where’s the honour, the glory, even the pride in it? Did anyone who killed, who witnessed death in all its violent forms, who slept every night with one eye open, wondering if they’d live to see the next day, think of themselves a hero? I can’t
speak for anyone else but the short answer for me is no.
Grabbing my rucksack, I head for the exit. The flight attendant sends a flirtatious smile my way. “Have an enjoyable stay, sir.” I walked off the plane with only a curt nod as an acknowledgment.
After a quick stop at luggage claim, I exit the airport with nothing but my rucksack and a large duffle strewn over my shoulder, words of praise from passers-by having fallen on deaf ears. The pats on the back made me want to shrink away. It all made me want to scream, but those that haven’t been where I’ve been, that haven’t done what I’ve done, or seen what I’ve seen didn’t know any better, did they? They held on to this romanticised version of what the media portrayed. If they only knew that the boogey man came in the form of a man, woman, or child and not with pins sticking out of their heads, or blades for fingers.
No, there was no glory in being considered a hero for my country. Those considered heroes in my book are the ones who fought and lost their lives, that have made the ultimate sacrifice. Those who were now six feet under, if their families were lucky enough to have a piece of their loved ones shipped back to them for a proper farewell.
My scars, both physical and emotional, run deeper than they appear. They serve as a reminder of those I’ve lost in the line of duty, those I had been in charge of, sworn to protect and bring back to their families. Alive. Those I had failed.
I hailed a cab and jumped in as soon as one pulled up in front of me.
I don’t know, home?
Where the hell was home, really? Everyone thought I was dead.
“Hey buddy,” the driver said. “Did you hear me?”
“Is there a bar around here? I’d kill for a cold beer and a decent burger.”
“I know just the place.” The mid-fifties man’s eyes crinkled in the mirror.
Despite the curious looks the driver threw my way, the drive was made in silence and I was grateful. As the tree-lined streets and lights from oncoming traffic whizzed by, I found myself thinking about a plan of attack to reintegrate myself into what most people would call a normal life.
By the time the taxi pulled up to the curb, I still had no idea how to approach the situation that was my return from the dead. Perhaps my answers lay at the bottom of a beer bottle too many, or better yet, with my brother. He’d always been one to help me think things through in a rational and practical fashion.
But how will P take it?
I stood with my two bags, a summary of my life for the past decade, staring up at the pub in front of me.
The place seemed fairly new. I didn’t recall seeing it before leaving, that’s for sure.
The sound of laughter, the smell of food and liquor assaulted me as I opened the door. The place appeared pretty quiet for a Friday night. It was just what I needed.
Starting toward the bar, I heard, “Son of a bitch!” making me freeze mid-stride. It might have been a little more than three years since, but that voice was one I’d never forget.
My head turned in the speaker’s direction, the place having gone dead silent. A man came barrelling toward me, a flying fist connecting with my jaw before I could shield myself. My body rocked backward as I dropped my bags in shock.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Paxton demanded. “You’re supposed to be dead!”
Not exactly the homecoming I was expecting. “Good to see you too, bro.” I rubbed my jaw.
Fuck that hurt.
Before I knew it, Paxton was on top of me, swinging like a mad man, yelling, cursing me out until I was forced to defend myself. Couldn’t a guy catch a break? Couldn’t I have at least had the chance to explain?
I was pushed onto a table, which collapsed, causing my brother and I to fall in a pile of splintered rubble to the floor.
“You just left!” Paxton landed a punch to my gut, knocking the wind out of me.
“I didn’t have a choice!” I shouted back, blocking a hit before rolling us over so I was on top. I managed to get to my feet, swiping the back of my hand over my split lip to check for bleeding as I braced myself for another go, if that’s what he wanted.
“Get the fuck out of here!” My brother picked himself off the floor, then came at me again.
I landed a hit to his jaw and another to his stomach. “I just got back and that’s all you have to say? The least I deserve is a chance to explain.”
We thought we buried you!
My brother’s words sent reality crashing through me. I hadn’t forgotten about the heartbreaking news that had been delivered to my friends and family what felt like a lifetime ago. No one forgets that. But then again, I never gave thought about how my sudden reappearance would be taken either.
Next thing I knew, Paxton was being held back from another approach, and so was I.
When my breathing calmed, I said, “I’m cool,” to the guys who had me restrained. Their grips loosened to release me altogether.
“What happened to you, man?” I recognized the guy on my left as Ben Carpenter.
Shaking my head in response, I rubbed the back of my neck, peering down at the floor before meeting Ben and my brother’s gazes. Everyone seemed to have calmed down, but they were also awaiting my answer.
So I relayed my story. Well, the bits I could share, anyway. I told them about our ambush, how I had been captured, wished I had died, but had survived instead. When it came down to why no one was told that I was alive and well, I didn’t have much in the way of an explanation because everything was classified to the
th degree. “It would have been too risky for everyone. You have no-”
“Don’t tell me I have no idea!” Paxton spat. “
have no idea of the shit we’ve been through.”
“Pax!” A woman came to stand beside him, her hands on his chest. According to the information that I’d been able to dig up, I knew this was Alissa, my brother’s wife…and my new sister-in-law.
“Don’t!” The pained look on his face had her eyes tearing up. “His own nephew nearly died and he wasn’t here. He hasn’t even met his niece. He knows nothing of our lives and he expects us to welcome him back with open arms?” Paxton’s eyes bore into me. The betrayal they held was like a searing knife to the heart. “You deserted me!”
After a moment, I managed to choke down the ball of emotions that clogged my throat. “I knew.”
His eyes widened. “What?”
Our gazes remained locked. “I said I
. I know that you and Julie didn’t work out… about the divorce. I know what happened with Jasper, Alissa coming into your life, and when that beautiful little princess of yours was born. Just because I didn’t stay in touch doesn’t mean I don’t care. I’ve kept tabs on my family the entire time I was away because that’s the only thing I could do. I don’t think I would have survived if I hadn’t been able to do that.”
The look of shock and relief in my brother’s eyes filled me with hope. “As messed up as this all is, I believe you.” He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger as if trying to rid himself of a sudden headache. “I need a drink after this bombshell. Want one?” That classic Lowell grin spread onto his face before he took his wife’s hand and led her toward the bar. “It’s the least I can do for that busted lip. When did your face get so hard?”
I chuckled, falling into step beside them.
Same old P.
I was glad he hadn’t changed. “Training.” I patted him on the back. “By the way, your left hook could use some work, it’s weak.”
“Two Jack’s and a raspberry martini for my wife, Derek.” Alissa curled into Paxton’s side as he eyed my face, that sure-of-himself grin still present. “Let me know if I still need practice when that jaw barely opens tomorrow and you can’t see out of your right eye.”