Jaded Until Jax
Jaded Until Jax
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- Single Mom
- Ex Marine Returns to Small Town
- Man in Uniform
- Family Saga
- Living with Anxiety/Panic Attacks
Return to Red Maple Falls for this newest installment to the steamy small-town series where a wounded Marine and a grieving single mother help each other find light in the darkness.
Being a Marine is all Jax Marshall knows, but a tragic event has him honorably discharged from the service and back in the last place he wanted to be--his hometown. Struggling to come to terms with his injury while dealing with PTSD, his life is further rocked when his younger siblings are less than welcoming. Encouragement from his eldest sister provides him with the push he needs to give therapy one more shot. Not once expecting that decision to change his life.
Kristen Morgan never imagined she would be a single working mom, but a house fire left her widowed and grappling to rebuild life for her and her two boys. In the midst of a panic attack while waiting for her son to finish his therapy session,she strikes up a conversation with a handsome, brooding ex-Marine who turns out to be a complete jerk.
As their encounters become more civil and the attraction too hard to ignore, these two broken hearts begin to find comfort in each other. But when one of them ends up in danger, they have to decide if being together is worth the fight.
Intro Into Chapter 1
Intro Into Chapter 1
Not much had changed in the small town of Red Maple Falls where Jax Marshall spent the first eighteen years of his life. There was one traffic light, the winters sucked, and there were more trees than people. When he was in the sandpits of hell, sweating his ass off, he would dream about the winters of his childhood—back before Mom died, and his life was simple, his family only slightly broken.
Pain radiated up his thigh, and he shifted his weight, cursing the wound that ended a twelve-year career in the Marines, sending him back to the one place that held just as many bad memories as his time in war zones.
A sign was displayed on the front yard of his childhood home. In big, bold, navy-blue letters, the phrase Welcome Home Hero was scribbled across the white painted wood. The word hero ate at his insides. If he was a damn hero, he would have spotted the suicide bomber before she yanked the cord that tilted the world on its axis.
“Be grateful,” his sister Layla said, nodding from the driver’s seat toward the sign. “Terry was looking to organize a parade in your honor. I told her you were looking for more of a quiet homecoming.”
Even after twelve years, Terry, the town’s flamboyant redhead, was exactly the same. “Thank you. I’m not ready to deal with the town yet.”
He’d never been fully comfortable with small town life—everyone knowing his business, judging his family based on their shortcomings, acting as if they gave a shit about him. He knew the truth. It was pity for the poor kids whose father didn’t want them and whose mother died tragically.
“I figured, which is why I asked everyone to respect your privacy while you heal. That won’t keep Terry away, but it should keep the others at bay.”
“Is that why Chase and Brooke aren’t here?”
His baby brother and sister hadn’t come to welcome him home. The ungrateful jerks had no idea how much he’d sacrificed for them… Or maybe they did and simply didn’t care.
He didn’t want to care that they didn’t meet him at the airport with Layla, but despite his best efforts, it stung like a bitch.
Layla’s lips pressed into a thin line. “Give them time.”
“Time for what?”
She pulled into the driveway of the home he left behind so long ago. Other than the years of disrepair, it too, looked the same.
She killed the engine and turned to him. “You’ve been gone for twelve years.”
“I was working so they wouldn’t have to worry about where their next meal was coming from.” It’s not like he wanted to join the Marines at eighteen. When Mom had died, it was the only choice he had in order to help Layla with the bills and support their siblings in school. He didn’t want them to know the struggles he and Layla witnessed when their mom had fallen behind and the electric and water had gotten turned off.
“I know that,” Layla said. “We both did what we had to do, but the point was to keep the family together. Family doesn’t go twelve years without coming home.”
He thought Layla of all people would understand. “I’m sorry I didn’t fly home every vacation. I saved that money so Chase could go on his senior field trip and Brooke could get that ridiculously expensive prom dress she wanted.”
Layla let out a breath and leaned into the driver’s seat. “I’m not trying to argue or make you think what you did wasn’t appreciated.”
“Really? Because that’s how it feels.”
“Look, I’m sorry. We did everything we could for Chase and Brooke, and they turned out pretty damn good, but those kids who watched you walk out of their lives and into the military are still inside them. They were young, and they didn’t see things the way we did.”
“They’re adults now. They should understand.”
“They will. Like I said, give them time.”
“Whatever.” He got out of the car, putting too much weight on his bum leg. Son of a bitch. Pain exploded, the raw heat reminding him of where every piece of shrapnel had pierced his skin. His ankle buckled, and he grabbed the passenger door before he went down into a weak puddle of limbs.
“You okay?” Layla ran over, bag falling down her arm, a look of pure terror in her blue eyes.
“Fine,” he muttered. He slammed the door, frustration and anger ebbing at the edges of his control.
Layla reached for him like he was some sort of helpless creature.
“I said I’m fine,” he snapped. She held her hands up and stepped back. Shock mixed with disappointment in her gaze, and Jax slumped against the car. “I’m sorry. It’s been a rough few days. I’m… tired.”
Layla nodded. “Then let’s get you inside and settled.”
His older sister hadn’t changed much either—still taking care of people like it was her birthright to do so. Most of the time he was grateful for her; God only knew what would have happened after Mom died if it wasn’t for Layla, but right now, he didn’t want her to take care of him. If anything, he just wanted to be left the hell alone.
He nodded and waited for her to go ahead. If he went first, she’d hover behind him like he was one of her patients at the nursing home.
When she made her way toward the house, he took a deep breath, careful to not put too much weight on his leg, and followed with his duffel bag slung over his shoulder.
“All that money I’ve sent home, you couldn’t have bought a can of paint and spruced the place up a bit? It looks like shit.”
Layla spun on her foot. Anger flared in her crystal blue eyes, turning them dark and vicious. She jabbed him in the chest. “I get that you’ve been through hell and back.” Poke. “But that doesn’t give you the right to be a dick.” Poke. “You weren’t here.” Poke. “If you were, you would know that I used that money to pay the electric bill, the oil bill, the mortgage, the water bill.” Poke. “Those bills didn’t take a vacation; they showed up every single month.” Poke. “So yes, the house might be in a little disrepair. But we still have the house. Brooke and Chase made it through high school with clothes on their backs, food on the table, and a roof over their head.” Poke. “So, excuse me if the paint is chipped.”
He held his hand up. “Look, I’m sorry.”
She held her head high. There was something different about her, and it was more than just the time that had gone. Maybe she wasn’t the same old Layla. There was an edge to her that was never there before—a stern take-no-shit-from-anyone attitude.
“You’ve gotten tough,” he said.
“Yeah, well, when you get kidnapped at gunpoint, it kind of changes you.”
He clenched his jaw at the memory of that phone call. Jax still hadn’t met the boyfriend who’d endangered his sister’s life, even if he was the one who saved it. She never would have been in that predicament to begin with if it weren’t for him and his sketchy past. “I wish I had been here.”
“Well, you weren’t, but it’s fine. I survived.”
“Is it, though? Fine, I mean.”
She shrugged. “It is. Declan was there for me, and I went to therapy.”
He closed his eyes, already knowing where this was going. He’d walked himself right into the damn trap. “I don’t need to see a shrink.”
“I just think—”
“Layla, please. I was cleared to leave the hospital. I don’t need to relive it all in some office. I just want to move on.”
“Okay.” She pushed the door open, and a loud pop echoed through the air. Jax shoved Layla out of the way and covered her body with his own.
“Jax, what the—?” Her words blurred along with his vision. He tried to focus, but it was too late. He was already back to that dreaded day.
Heat clung to him like a second skin. Back home, the leaves would be changing color, but here in the desert, it was still ninety degrees and not a single tree in sight. Sanders, his best friend and partner in crime for the last decade, walked beside him.
A woman dropped a bag, and Sanders, being the southern gentleman he was raised to be, jogged over to help her pick it up. Jax stopped and waited, his eyes scanning the surrounding area for anything suspicious. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, and when he brought his eyes back to the woman, his heart slammed against his chest as she held her arms out like a woman ascending.
“Sanders!” he screamed. “Take co—” An earsplitting bang resonated through the quiet afternoon. Everything around him burst into a rainfall of sand and debris. The explosion, so powerful, knocked him off his feet. He slammed against the ground yards away from where he stood.
Sharp, burning pain pierced his thigh and his body, but he didn’t care about the pain. He needed to get to Sanders. He got on his knees and crawled toward the chaos. Finding the strength, he pushed to his feet and stumbled over a body.
“Jax!” His arms shook, and the world came back into focus until he was staring into the familiar glass blue eyes of his sister.
He ran a hand over his face, taking in his surroundings and planting himself firmly in reality. He looked at the old pictures on the wall Layla had never updated, the brown couches, and the leopard-print-clad Terry who was standing innocently with a bottle of champagne in her hand. The cork lay on the floor, and the bubbles ran over the bottle and dripped onto a towel in her other hand.
“Whoops,” she said, and Jax sighed.
He glanced over at Layla. Terror widened her eyes to the size of saucers. Other than the shock, she seemed okay. He didn’t hurt her, but he could have. There were many things he’d done in his life that he wasn’t proud of, but if he’d hurt his sister, he’d never forgive himself.
“I’ll make an appointment,” he said.