Authors: Elaine Levine
ROCCO and MANDY
Red Team Wedding Novella
© 2016 by Elaine Levine. All rights reserved
Rocco and Mandy: A Red Team Wedding Novella Blurb
Pregnant and alone—not a situation Mandy Fielding ever expected to find herself in, especially not while living with the man who owns her heart and is her baby’s father. Rocco isn’t a whole man, and hasn’t been since his return from Afghanistan. Just where they go from here, she doesn’t know.
The past is more real than the present in covert operative Rocco Silas’ mind. His girlfriend, Mandy--the only woman he’s ever loved--adores his son as if he were her own. And now, she and Rocco are expecting their first child.
Rocco’s been in this spot before, and its ending was the stuff of nightmares. He’s coming to believe there’s only one way to break that terrible cycle…
For everyone who’s ever wondered if angels are real…they are.
For Barry, my own angel.
A Note from the Author:
Rocco and Mandy: A Red Team Wedding Novella
at the point where
left off. To maximize your enjoyment of this serialized story, I highly recommend reading the series in order, starting with
The Edge of Courage
and including the Red Team wedding novellas
before beginning this book!
When we last visited the Red Team…
Here’s a refresher for those of you who have read the previous Red Team books (skip this and go read them if you haven’t yet!).
* * * * * SPOILERS! * * * * *
And now, we continue with Rocco and Mandy’s wedding novella…
The closer Rocco got to the room he shared with Mandy, the worse he felt. The house was quiet and dark. He forced himself to go forward, trying to push through his deepening panic. He paused when he reached the suite of rooms he shared with her and his son. Rather than going into his room, he stepped into Zavi’s room.
The little nightlight in the wall near the bed showed his boy sleeping peacefully. Rocco smoothed a lock of Zavi’s dark hair from his face, then bent down to kiss his forehead. Three books were stacked on his nightstand. Rocco had a sinking feeling Zavi had asked Mandy for story after story while they’d waited for him to make an appearance.
He left Zavi’s room and went into his. Mandy was lying on her side, well away from his half of the bed, giving him room even in her sleep. He stood still and listened to the sound of her breathing, strong and slow. The room was too dark to see the copper color of her hair where it spilled across the pillows, but he knew it by heart, would know it across lifetimes. He wanted—so much that he shook—to get into bed with her, pull her against his side, and know that he was safe and she was safe and they were solid.
But he wasn’t safe. It was as if the black, burned skin that he used to see covering his own had somehow slipped inside him to blanket his soul. But unlike the unnatural skin he once feared was visible to others, this time he knew no one could see it inside his soul. No one could tell him it wasn’t there. Even Mandy, with her infinite goodness, couldn’t help him now.
The scarred flesh was as real in him as their child was inside her.
He shut his eyes and thought about their baby. His first wife, Kadisha, had been about as far along as Mandy was now when she killed herself. Tears pooled in his eyes. Why had she done it? She had shunned Zavi by that point. Had she also hated the baby they’d made because it was of his flesh? Or had she loved it so much that she wanted to save it from the pain she was in?
It mattered, that difference. It fucking mattered. He couldn’t bear thinking that his baby was alone in heaven.
Mandy kept her breathing slow and regular as if she were really asleep. She had heard Rocco come into their room—she’d been listening for him, too upset to sleep. He’d taken off before dinner, then stayed in the gym for hours. His brutal workouts had become part of his nightly routine.
She was running out of ways to reach him. Helping him was so much harder than helping an abused animal. Not only was his mind far more complex, but her heart was tied to the outcome—she couldn’t be dispassionate about her approach.
She listened for Rocco again, wondering why he wasn’t getting into bed. After a few minutes, when she heard nothing at all, she rolled over to see what he was doing and realized he was gone. She sat up. “Rocco?” she whispered, thinking he’d just stepped into the closet or the bathroom. He didn’t answer.
She got up to look for him. Maybe he went back into Zavi’s room, but only Zavi was there, sleeping soundly on his bed.
Rocco couldn’t even bring himself to sleep with her anymore. She held her arms around her stomach and started to cry—the silent tears she’d gotten so good at crying so no one would know she wept.
* * *
Mandy felt like an escapee as she walked the back way from the team’s compound over to her house on the adjoining property. Her dogs, Yeller and Blue, the golden retriever and blue heeler she and Rocco had rescued, ran around off-leash, loving the hike across Ty’s property, down a ravine, then up the hill on her land.
She crossed the front of her property to the area where her therapeutic riding center would be located. It had been close to completion last spring, before everything had happened. When Rocco had moved them from her property to Ty’s huge spread at the beginning of summer, she hadn’t thought they’d be gone as long as they had, but then, nothing that had happened in the last few months had gone according to her carefully laid plans.
The work that Rocco and her brother and the other members of their team did as consultants for the Department of Homeland Security was critical. She just never thought their lethal enemies—both homegrown and international terrorists—would have such a strong foothold in her little corner of Wyoming.
She’d hoped to open her center during summer, but now that season had come and gone.
She looked over the wide terraces of the valley where her stables, arena, and corrals would be located. The debris from the explosion had been cleared away long ago. The construction had started over, but had been paused once again when Fee was abducted. Now that she was safely back with the team, Mandy hoped it would resume soon.
In the meantime, Ty had made his stables available to her so she could continue training her horses. She’d even taken on a few hippotherapy clients. It felt as if much of her life was back on track—except one critical element: Rocco was still battling PTSD, and he probably would for a long time to come.
She knew he often visited her old barn when he needed time alone, which, increasingly, was more time than he gave her or his son. The old structure was a hazard. She wished he’d found another place to hang out. No one was in her house. He could have gone there. But he didn’t, and why he didn’t bugged her.
Curious about his secret hideaway, she stepped into the cool, musty interior, fearing the building would pick that moment to collapse. Her dogs were sniffing around the nearby corrals; she hoped they decided to stay outside. But no, they followed her inside. The stairs leading up to the hayloft were rickety. Some of the treads were loose—one was even missing. The dogs jumped over the wide gap and reached the upper level ahead of her. Thankfully, they weren’t running around wildly; the place was a danger to them as well. Perhaps they could smell the decaying wood and knew to be cautious.
The hayloft was bare except for a chair, a trunk, and a light powered by a long extension cord to an outlet outside. What a grim place to hang out. It was like looking at the inside of Rocco’s soul.
She touched her belly, where their child was growing. In just months, their baby would be born. The baby deserved to have the best life Mandy and Rocco could provide; a broken father was not the best they could do.
Over the last few months, she’d given Rocco room to try to figure out how to fix the broken pieces of himself. She looked around the depressing space. This was not mending him; it was breaking him further…and keeping that breakage hidden from her and his team.
She knew she could decide all she wanted that it was time for Rocco to stop looking backward and to start living in the now, that it would be far less painful to him and that his healing could begin, but knowing those things and convincing him of them were a million miles apart.
She went back downstairs and out into the warm September sun. She wanted to pull the barn down. Just level the whole thing and make Rocco face his reality, but that wasn’t the right approach either.
She sat on the front stoop of her house, pondering her options. She’d tried giving him space, time, patience, discussion, silence, and gentle understanding. She hadn’t wanted to risk ultimatums, because that would just drive his madness into ever more secretive hiding places.
Maybe she should visit the shrink in town. Ivy said he’d helped her work through some issues, and that he was a veteran, so he’d understand what Rocco was going through. She wandered over to the shade of a giant cottonwood—a tree that had been in her side yard ever since she could remember. Autumn was fast approaching. She was looking forward to the change in seasons, though the temperature shifts between one season and the next in this part of Wyoming were extremely variable. She never knew if each day would be hot like late summer or cool like autumn. The nights were the same, hot and cold. Like Rocco.
He was a storm of a man.
Their baby would be born in the spring. She had roughly six months to get their lives in order. She was in for one hell of a fight—and winning was her only option. In Rocco’s emotional absence, she’d become a surrogate parent to his son. It was time to start fighting for the life she wanted. And what she wanted was for them to be a family.
Looking up into the shaggy boughs of the old cottonwood, she had a brilliant idea. She went back up the hill to her house, then paced around the big front yard.
A tree would provide her house some privacy and would be a beautiful addition to her landscape. Mandy wrapped her arms around her stomach. It could be the center focus of a garden for Zavi’s mom. A place to visit with their memories of Kadisha. It would be a way for Rocco to make peace with his past as much as it would also open the conversation with Zavi about why his mother was no longer part of his life.
Mandy was done playing Rocco’s game by rules that changed with his mood. If she said anything to him about the garden, he’d nix her idea.
She walked in a circle, locating the perfect spot. Maybe she would include a fountain. It could be the center of the memorial, with a few trees surrounding it. The sound of the water would almost make it seem as if Kadisha was there with them, answering their prayers and questions. Like a mother would.
Mandy could work with a landscape designer to make it perfect. Peaceful.
And there would be no escaping the garden for Rocco, because it would always be there, in front of the barn, beckoning him to deal with what he most wanted to keep hidden.
This was indeed war…for Rocco’s very soul.
Rocco watched the security camera of the stables on his phone, waiting for everyone to leave. A young Army veteran had just finished his first hippotherapy session with Mandy. The kid held on to his walker with a white-knuckled grip. The tremors he suffered from made it look as if a cruel puppeteer jerked him around on invisible strings. Even so, Rocco knew the kid’s smile was genuine—he’d observed the whole session. The change in the guy’s demeanor as he left compared to how it had been when he’d arrived had been a one-eighty shift. There was hope in his eyes now, hope that had come from working with Mandy and her horses.