Gemma Rhodes has her entire life ahead of her. At eighteen, she should be at college, living life to the fullest. Except she doesn’t have her life even the slightest bit figured out. Instead, she’s taken the year off to learn who she is and what she wants – aside from the unattainable Jake Bennet. Her brother’s best friend, her knight in shining armor, and a man who thinks of her as a little sister. She knows she should move on, but how can she when no one could ever compare to Jake?
Jake Bennet might be half a world away in the middle of a war, but the Marine only has one thing on his mind – Gemma. The one woman he can never have. There were some rules a guy just didn’t break, and dating his best friend’s sister was one of them. Riley would break him if he caught Jake looking at Gemma like the lovesick fool he was. When he’s injured and sent home, he knows he should stay away, but sometimes temptation is just too much for a mere mortal to handle.
There’s only one thing Jake needs to know… Can Gemma love a broken Marine? Because she’s had his heart for years, and if he’s learned anything, it’s that some things are worth the wait.
Copyright 2020, Charity West
Jake Bennet reclined on his bunk, his booted feet crossed at the ankles, one hand behind his head. The picture on his phone wasn’t new by any means, but it was no less enthralling. He’d had a thing for Gemma Rhodes for as long as he’d remembered, not that he’d ever admitted it to anyone other than his mother. If his best friend, Riley, knew that Jake was crushing on Riley’s younger sister, there would be hell to pay. Although, after he’d offered to pay for half her car two years ago, he’d wondered if his friend might have an idea. It had cleaned out his savings account at the time, but it had been worth it.
He smiled a little as he stared at the picture and wished he could be there with her now. Even though she was still in high school, after everything he’d been through, nothing would keep him from her side. Her smile was bright enough to light up any room, and her eyes were bewitching. He’d wanted to ask her to his senior prom, but then the school had passed a rule that only seniors could attend. Jake had fought the ruling, but in the end, he’d lost and had to take a fellow classmate.
The way Gemma had chased after her brother and him had always been cute, even if her brother had never thought so. But sometime around Gemma’s fifteenth birthday, Jake had realized that she was growing into a rather stunning young lady, one that he wouldn’t mind dating. As he’d watched Riley chase off all of Gemma’s would-be boyfriends, he’d known that he didn’t stand a chance, not until he’d proven himself worthy. When Riley had talked about joining the Marines, Jake had thought he’d finally found a way to prove he wasn’t a screw-up, but someone who Gemma could depend on when things got tough. Not a boy chasing after dreams, but a man who could provide for her and offer her a real future.
And now he was stuck in Afghanistan, fighting for…hell, he wasn’t even sure what they were fighting for, and he doubted any of his fellow Marines knew either. It was hotter than the lowest level of hell, and every time he inhaled, he swore he breathed in more sand than air. He’d joined the Marines with thoughts of being a hero and defending his country, and now he realized that in this war, there was no such thing as a hero. Every man here followed orders the same as everyone else. Some had medals from previous battles and acts of bravery, but if you asked those men if they were heroes, every last one would tell you no.
His phone vibrated then flickered out, and he cursed the low battery. Shoving to his feet, he decided to check his email and see if there was any news from home, but on his way, he passed Riley.
His best friend looked deathly pale, and like he might puke at any moment. Unease settled in Jake’s belly. He didn’t know what had caused Riley such pain, but he knew it wasn’t good, and since Riley only had two living relatives, something had to have happened to either his dad or his sister. Just the thought of anything bad happening to Gemma was enough to make him feel a little green himself.
“What’s up, Riley? Bad news from home?” Jake asked.
“It’s Gemma. Dad said she went to the store the other night, and someone crashed into her car. She went down the embankment and into the gorge off Brierview Road.” Riley lifted his gaze. “It’s bad, man. Dad sent the email yesterday and said Gemma hadn’t woken yet. She has a broken wrist and stitches in her head where she bashed it against the window and steering wheel. They aren’t sure when she’ll regain consciousness.”
Jake had to lock his knees to remain upright. There was a roaring in his ears and tightness in his chest.
“I want to ask for leave to go home and be with her, but dad told me my duty was first to our country, and I had a job to finish. He’s right. I know he’s right, but it tears me apart thinking of her lying there hurt, and I’m way the fuck over here unable to do a damn thing.” Riley shook his head. “This is seriously fucked up.”
Jake couldn’t argue the point since he felt the same. The worst part was that he didn’t even have a right to ask for leave to check on Gemma. They weren’t dating, or engaged. If they were older and married, he’d take off in a heartbeat to be with her, but he knew that was just a dream for many years down the road. If Riley wasn’t going to let him date Gemma, big brother sure as hell wasn’t going to let him marry her. Hell, he was only nineteen and shouldn’t even be thinking such thoughts, but when he saw Gemma, he saw forever.
He just hoped he’d get the chance to tell her that someday.
ABOUT CHARITY WEST
Charity West is a young adult/new adult romance author who has always had her head in the clouds. She had her first crush when she was four, and it lasted for six years. Then she quickly fell head over heels for another boy, until she had to move away and leave him behind. Jumping from one boy to another, she finally found a keeper when she was twenty, and she’s been married to him ever since.
By the time Charity was twelve, she was sneaking her mother’s Harlequin romances and reading them in secret when she was supposed to be asleep. Teased throughout middle school and high school for the bodice ripper covers on the books she openly read in class, she knew that one day she wanted to write her own happily-ever-afters.