I really enjoyed another of this author’s book and particularly a few of the side characters so I was thrilled to death that she pointed out that she had written a new novella featuring one of them, Army Special Forces medic, Rey Cruz. This story focuses on Rey’s come back after he is critically wounded in Afghanistan and must recover from a traumatic brain injury along with learning how to operate as a double leg amputee. Rey learns that life isn’t over and there is a new bend in the road for him that offers a new adventure, a new romance and a new life.
The story opens with Rey and the others in his unit serving in Afghanistan. A kindness to a local powerful Afghan leads to him scrambling for a good reason why he can’t accept the man’s daughter in repayment. So Rey produces a picture of a girl from his high school. It seems like a harmless lie until it all blows up in his face, literally.
Marine biologist, Grace Kim, learns she has a fiancé when her family gets wind of it through the news of her fiance being critically injured in a bomb blast and coming home a hero. Grace has no idea what any of them are talking about. She vaguely remembers the Cruz family from her small town home. It all has to be a mistake. She lets the assumptions lie about her status and heads to Walter Reed hospital where the one person who can explain all this is recovering.
Rey gets one glimpse of Grace Kim’s grim expression and knows he needs to explain, but his words won’t come. The doctors tell him that his condition has left him with a neurological thing called aphasia where his neurons tangle up the words so he can’t get them out. Oddly, even when he is crabby at her, Grace stays by him for a week. Grace is nothing like he assumed and so much more than he could have imagined. He doesn’t want to lose her in his life when her week-long visit ends. Grace is the one who figured out that he could still communicate through texting. She is his life line and so much more if he can just work hard and become worthy of her
And so back home, Grace doesn’t know what she’s doing, but the appointment with Rey each night for them to exchange texts is the highlight of each day. Even out on one of her research cruises, she won’t give this time with Rey up. He actually likes to hear her ‘fishy’ stories and all about her research and she loves it as he shares about his progress through therapy relearning so much and adjusting to his new circumstances. They take the next serious step when it is Grace that Rey asks to drive his muscle car home and share a road trip with him. Grace is afraid that she can’t be strong enough to be with a man of special needs even though she has come to love Rey, but she sure wants to try.
This was an incredible story and I’m so glad to have read it. It puts so many things into perspective and reminds me of how much I have for which to be thankful. The author really did her homework. This story is told with authenticity and respect. Respect for both their ethnic cultures and for the world of a military vet with disabilities. I love the hopeful tone that tells the truth, but leaves room for a success story. My heart broke for Rey’s roommate who lost his wife because she couldn’t handle the drastic changes and I understood Grace’s hesitation to go all in, admitting it was a weakness in her and not something lacking in Rey. The romance develops at a good pace. The beginning when Grace was so confused was pretty humorous and the difference in their personalities just added to the fun.
I loved the peek-in with the characters from First to Burn and I’m happy to learn there will be more from that series and another novella to follow-up on Rey and Grace. Though this has ties to the other book, it can be read as a standalone.
The story includes a lovely Thanksgiving scene and the final coming home is at Christmas so it might also be considered a heartwarming holiday read which was another reason I picked it up.
All in all, it was a good strong story and romance and I would recommend it for anyone who loves Contemporary Military Romance.
My thanks to Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review.
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