Once and For All (American Valor #1) by Cheryl Etchison
Releases on May 24, 2016 by Avon Impulse
From debut author Cheryl Etchison comes the first in a military romance series about the men of the 75th Ranger Regiment’s 1st Battalion.
Rule #1: Military and matrimony don’t mix
But if there’s one person Staff Sergeant Danny MacGregor would break all his rules for, it’s Bree-his first friend, first love, first everything. Maybe he likes playing the hero. Maybe he’s trying to ease ten years of guilt. Either way, he’ll do whatever he can to help her.
Wish #1: A little bit of normal
Bree Dunbar has battled cancer, twice. What she wants most is a fresh start in a new place where people aren’t constantly treating her like she’s sick.
By some miracle her wish is granted, but it comes with one major string attached- the man who broke her heart ten years before.
The rules for this marriage of convenience are simple: when she’s ready to stand on her own two feet, she’ll walk away and he’ll let her go. But if there’s one thing the military has taught Danny, it’s that things don’t always go according to plan…
Order the Book:
Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines… Oh my!–
Undoubtedly, those serving in America’s military forces make for great romance characters in romance whether they’re male or female. And in my opinion, those serving in Special Operations units are even more appealing. SEALs, Special Forces, Marine Recon, PJs, members of each demonstrate bravery, loyalty and a mental toughness most civilians could never comprehend. So why did I choose to feature the men of the 75th Ranger Regiment in the American Valor Series?
Rangers are often the first ones behind enemy lines, hence their motto “Rangers Lead the Way”. Their objectives at the beginning of the Global War on Terrorism included parachuting in behind enemy lines, taking control of hydroelectric dams that powered entire regions, seizing airfields so American military transport trains had a place to land and performing hostage rescues. Most of their missions take place in the dark of night, through the green glow of night vision goggles. But as the war in Afghanistan and Iraq continued, their objectives changed as well and they’ve spent much of the past decade kicking in doors and taking names, literally.
At their core, the men of the 75th Ranger Regiment are known for their bravery, their physical endurance, and do their best work in the dark.
What’s not to love?
Bree Dunbar tugged on her pageboy cap in hopes of hiding the obvious. Having beaten cancer for the second time, she’d woken up feeling stronger, more confident than she had in months. A little rebellious, even. Which is why she’d said goodbye to the wig and hello to her stylish new cap. Only now that she was out in public it didn’t seem like the smartest of moves.
People weren’t just noticing her, but staring. Stopping dead in their tracks with mouths gaping open in an “I’m not even trying to hide the fact that I’m staring at you” kind of way. With her earlier confidence now wavering, she felt more than a little…exposed.
She closed her eyes and took a steadying breath. “Screw it. Doesn’t matter,” she told herself. After all, they didn’t know what she’d been through. What she’d given up. So in her mind, feeling this good was still a milestone worth celebrating. Worthy of cheesecake, even. Who cared it wasn’t even noon.
Bree shoved her cart in the direction of the bakery, where she perused the refrigerated display case. Turtle. Strawberry swirl. Double chocolate.
She sensed someone hovering and her earlier irritation reared its ugly head.
“When a woman is stalking the cheesecake case first thing in the morning it can only mean one thing,” a man whispered in her ear.
Bree spun around, prepared to kick this guy in the nuts and tell him exactly what he could do with his one thing, but her plan of action died the moment she laid eyes on him.
“Oh. My. God.”
It had been years since she’d seen Michael MacGregor, but he looked just the same as he always did with his preppy clothes and dark blond hair cut in a traditional military style.
“Definitely not God,” he said with a hint of Southern twang. “God complex? Maybe.”
With a wink and a smile, Michael extended his arms wide and Bree practically leaped into his waiting embrace, wrapping her arms around his neck. Then, just as he’d done when they were younger, he lifted her feet several inches from the ground and spun her in a tight circle. She laughed as they narrowly avoided a bread rack and towering cupcake display. Then with her feet firmly planted on the ground, he kissed her forehead and released her.
“How you doing, kiddo?”
“I’m good. Really good,” she said with a smile. And for the first time in a very long time, she wasn’t lying. “What on earth are you doing in town?”
“I’m on leave. Came home to visit Dad. Play some golf.”
“Got to play when I can.”
Some things never changed. “You’re still in the army, then?”
Mike scrubbed the palm of his hand over his crew cut. “Still have twenty months left on my contract.”
For as long as she could remember, he was the big brother she’d never had. After Lily MacGregor died, it was Mike’s job to look after his younger brother, Danny, while their father worked. And since she and Danny were inseparable for most of their youth, Mike played mother hen to her, as well.
His smile slipped a bit. Bree braced herself, knowing what was coming.
“You look good. Considering.”
And if that wasn’t a wet blanket on her morning. So much for going an entire day without talking about cancer. Bree did her best to shake off the irritation. If anyone deserved a pass, it was Michael. After all, he was a doctor. And one of her oldest friends. So for him, she’d let it slide. This time.
“Considering?” Bree held on to her smile as best she could and took a playful swipe at his chest. “Thanks so much for qualifying your statement.”
His cheeks and ears tinged pink in response. At least he had the good graces to blush.
“You know what I mean,” he said. “All done with treatments?”
“Last one was nine weeks ago. Just trying to get on with life now.”
“Good girl. That’s the right attitude.” He smiled and patted her shoulder, probably with the same bedside manner he was taught in medical school. Then his gaze drifted from right to left across the back of the store.
“Have you seen Danny? He’s around here somewhere.”
Of course he was.
At the mention of his name, her heart stuttered in her chest. Daniel Patrick MacGregor. The boy she’d loved her entire life. The man she’d hated for a decade. Or at the very least, tried to.
To know he was in such close proximity made her want to jump for joy as much as run screaming for the door.
“There you are,” came a voice from behind her. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”
Bree closed her eyes, knowing exactly who that voice belonged to. And she wasn’t so naive as to think he was talking to her. But now simply turning and walking away was an impossibility.
For ten years she’d prepared herself for this moment, rehearsed what she would say if ever given the chance to confront Danny face-to-face. Only now the time had arrived and she couldn’t remember a damn word of any of it. Out of options, she pasted on a smile and turned to face her demons.
Or more like one devil in particular.
If she had any lingering delusions his words were meant for her and not his brother, they quickly disappeared. His gaze shifted to her, then to Michael, and back to her. Confusion gave way to realization then surprise.
“Long time, no see, huh?” She smiled so hard it was a wonder her face didn’t crack. And before she realized what she was doing, she leaned in to give him a quick hug. Although she couldn’t remember the plan, Bree was pretty damn sure this wasn’t part of it. But she recovered quickly and pulled away, giving him a little finishing pat on the arm. The kind of gesture typically reserved for old schoolteachers or distant cousins you haven’t spoken with in a million years. To be honest, he didn’t deserve that much affection, but she was trying to be the bigger person. Let bygones be bygones and all that crap.
Nope, no hard feelings here. No deep-seated resentment that had been festering in her heart for years.
Bree took a deep breath and turned her attention back to Michael. Even heard herself ask a million questions about who knows what and not really hearing the answers. Occasionally, she’d glance in Danny’s direction so as not to appear rude, but she purposely avoided looking at him too long; otherwise he’d realize the effect he still had on her.
She jammed her shaking hands into her pockets. Kept her words clipped and short to hide the tremor in her voice. Although she focused on Michael, her skin prickled under the weight of Danny’s stare. She could practically feel all the questions waiting on the tip of his tongue. Things she didn’t want to talk about with anyone, but especially not with him.
Bree glanced at her wrist only to realize she didn’t wear a watch. Hopefully neither noticed. “I’d love to stay and chat but I’ve got to go. It was nice seeing both of you.”
She smiled and grabbed her cart, ready to make a hasty exit.
“What about your cheesecake?” Mike asked.
“I shouldn’t be eating that anyway.” She waved goodbye as she rushed toward the closest aisle.
As her luck would have it, the bakery was located in the far back corner of the store. She raced toward the front door, blazing her way through the maze of shelves and freezer cases. In the detergent aisle she abandoned her half-full cart due to a temperamental front wheel that only slowed her down. Her eyes burned from unshed tears, and Bree could only hope to make it outside before the inevitable meltdown began. With the front entrance in sight, a sense of relief washed over her.
Right until a hand captured her elbow.
About the Author
Cheryl Etchison graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in journalism and news communications and has worked as a newspaper reporter, marketing coordinator and in public relations for a MLB and NHL team. Currently, she lives in Austin, Texas and is a stay at home mom to three girls. ONCE AND FOR ALL is her first novel.