Date Published: 1/10/20
Opposites attract at LA's largest soup kitchen when a businesswoman falls in love with one of her patrons.
Savannah Carrington is too busy for romance. She has a soup kitchen to operate which, thankfully, helps her avoid her socialite mother's attempts to marry her off to some L.A. millionaire. When a patron is attacked, she runs fearlessly down a dark alley to help. Saved by a man who emerges from the shadows, she wants to thank him but he's disappeared.
Yosef "Joe" MacArthur, a Green Beret, has gone into hiding. Admiring Savannah from afar, he'll never admit to his growing feelings for her and will stop at nothing to keep her safe. But the White House is making it hard, tearing apart L.A. to award him the highest military honor any soldier could receive. Joe has no time for that with Savannah still in danger. Hunted by the leader of a notorious drug ring Joe is faced with an impossible choice: save a city full of innocent civilians or save Savannah.
A most unlikely paring, love shows no limits in this emotional, action-packed, heartfelt story.
Romance and danger ensue in Rachel Homard's debut novel.
The beans were cold, the sun was hot, and the plastic crate beneath him imprinted tiny squares all over his fourth point of contact. It had been three hours, after all. Sitting there, watching, waiting. He scraped the inside of the can for the last bite of beans, but his eyes remained focused on the road.
Joe was hoping for trouble. It didn’t matter what kind. He needed something to do, someone to help, a bad guy to test his aim on. He was bored out of his mind with the mundane. Having a friend in Allen was the only thing that kept him sane, but it wasn’t enough. He’d been trained to act by the Army and, before that, by his dad. But if it was between this and allowing himself to be found, he’d choose this every time. There was no way he was ever stepping foot in D.C.
So, he waited, sweat rolling in beads down his back and through his thick beard. His foot tapped impatiently. The street was barren. Everyone was at the soup kitchen. He could always go. It would make Allen happy, but there was a high chance he’d try and play matchmaker between him and Savannah. Joe shook his head. Nope. He’d leave that as plan Z. What would he do there, anyway? Play cards and talk to people about their feelings? Pass. He wanted to make a difference, but more than that, he wanted to make up for his failure in Afghanistan. Not that he ever could. He’d bled to earn that Green Beret, just like his dad, and then he disgraced it.
Now he was alone on a street that reeked of piss and cigarette smoke. He ran his hands through his hair, grown out and wavy, and tossed the empty can of beans in a trash bin a few yards away. It clattered to the bottom. Allen would be by at eleven-thirty with good food. Food like his mom used to cook in their rusty, old 1960s kitchen. That woman was talented. Just like Savannah.
He rose from the crate and stretched, adjusting a faded ball cap over his eyes when a woman ran by in hot pink tights and jewel-studded sneakers, shrieking into her phone about taking a wrong turn on her jog. How many clues did she need to sense she’d left high society? Tents, drug needles, dilapidated buildings? Maybe a flashing sign would have helped. It did give him something to do. He’d follow her and make sure she made it safely back to her millennial friends and their venti soy, triple-shot lattes.
He listened for her voice as he shimmied a brick loose in the wall of a run-down chicken factory and retrieved his Glock, catching a reflection of a man he barely recognized in a broken window. He replaced the brick and brushed the mortar crumbs off his hand. He had slicks all over the city. Allen said he was like a squirrel hiding nuts. Instead of nuts though, he stashed pistols, cash, and C4. Any day could be his last in L.A., and he had to be ready in case someone found him. It made good tactical sense, and it kept his hands busy.
He slipped the Glock into a holster at his back and kept a safe distance. She didn’t notice, just continued her tirade, waving her free hand all around to signal her distress over the situation. With her boobs bouncing around in a low-cut top that was even tighter than her painted-on pants, she was lucky she’d made it this far without a threatening situation. Savannah’s holiday feast probably saved her life. He’d follow her the last block until she was safe.
Just as the thought of safety hit him, a man emerged from a side street behind her, lurking into the available shadows on the side of the street. She missed that, too. Was it possible for someone to lack all basic survival skills? He shook his head.
The man, who was wearing a black hoodie, closed in fast, with a knife reflecting the morning sun in his right hand. Joe sped up, breathing steady. He reached out and jerked the man backward just as he’d brushed the woman with the tip of his blade. She turned and screamed. The man—he appeared to be in his mid-forties—was completely off balance as he threw a lame punch. Joe dodged it and frowned. This wasn’t the rush he needed. It could barely be considered a rush at all. With a huff, he smashed his fist against the man’s cheek, knocking his head into a brick wall. The man fell to the ground, unconscious.
He looked up. The woman still screamed. It was high pitched, shrill, and drawing a lot of attention. “Oh my gosh! What did you do to that man? Is he alive?” She moved away a step at a time, eyes never leaving his. “Stay back. I’ll call the cops. I mean it, mister. Don’t touch me!”
She turned and ran. Fast. He’d just saved her from whatever that loser had planned, but all she saw was a scruffy Middle Eastern man with tattoos. Why did skin color dictate threat level? Screw it. She was alive. Job done.
He dragged the guy away and propped his limp body against a decaying dumpster with the rest of the trash. The dude would probably miss the irony when he woke, but whatever. He deserved worse, maybe to lose a finger or a hand, but it wasn’t his job to dole out justice. He did take the knife, stowing it in his boot before turning the opposite direction the girl ran. He needed to breathe some fresh air and stretch his legs. Yeah, it was the same air on Skid Row, but it never felt fresh. Each breeze that blew through was sour and stale.
Slapping one of those plastic bracelets on her wrist as a kid probably didn’t count as an actual slap. So, Joe was her first, and she’d sure slapped him good. It felt like a hundred tiny snakes biting all over her palm. But where had it come from? A side of her that didn’t exist until they met—and kissed. It was the only way she could think to stop him from saying anything else annoying or stupid.
“Oh my lord, Joe. I couldn’t leave you if I wanted to. Haven’t you seen our current accommodations? It’s not the Ritz, and if my dad doesn’t come through, we might be killed.” She balled her fists and tightened her jaw, forcing out anything but this conversation. “How could I make that any clearer? I told you I cared for you, and you said the same thing. The only difference is you run away from anything that isn’t shaped like a bullet. Do I have to shoot you for you to believe me? I can’t keep going around on this. Holden wanted me to leave with him tonight. You saw him: blond hair and muscles, looked like a walking Ken doll? If I wanted him, I could have gone, but I didn’t. Of course, in hindsight, I might not be stuck in a cargo container, but I picked the right guy. So, start acting like it before I slap you again. I am not the person that made you afraid to connect, so don’t put that on me. I listen when people talk. I don’t make the same mistakes twice. You shouldn’t either.”
Joe was laughing. Laughing! Not exactly the response she’d been shooting for, but it was deep and jolly, like Santa Claus. It made her laugh, too, and for a second the dark seemed lighter, and she didn’t feel so cold. “You would have made an excellent drill sergeant. As a peace offering and a distraction, I’ll give you this: Back in the hotel room, you still had three questions you could ask me. If it’s okay, I’ll ask you three questions too. It’ll help keep our minds off everything. But you aren’t going to die here. I’ll get you out.”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Joe.”
“I never make a promise I can’t keep.”
Savannah smiled and adjusted herself tighter against him as he leaned into the corroded metal corner, pretending it was her bed, with candles burning and those soft, gray satin sheets wound around them. Unclenching her fists, she interlaced each of her small fingers between his.
He sighed. “Okay. You start, but don’t go easy on me.” He laughed again, and a wave of tension spiraled through her fingertips and floated away on the bitterly cold air. She wasn’t delusional. Death or torture might come, but she’d be insane before they got to tomorrow if she dwelled on it. All she could do was take this olive branch Joe offered and ignore the thought of the tetanus shot she’d be getting as soon as possible.
“Well, normal Joe would ask what your favorite color was, but because I don’t want to get slapped again, I’ll ask the obvious. Who was the child your parents lost?” Joe enunciated each word carefully, and not because it was cold. Someone had given him trust issues. Then there was whatever was keeping him from going to DC, his history in Afghanistan, why he killed those two men after her date with Holden instead of waiting for the cops, and that weird moment when he wouldn’t let her take his shirt off. Squeezing all that into three questions would be a challenge, but she was resourceful. She made a living feeding sixty people on food donated for twenty.
A spring from the mattress scratched against her blue-jean-covered legs. She scooted an inch to the left as a mosquito buzzed between them. “His name is Cole. He ran off and disappeared thirteen years ago. We all took it badly, but instead of drawing us closer together, it tore us in different directions. I took it especially hard because I’d thought Cole and I told each other everything. But while I just lived in the moment, he internalized everything. I naively assumed he could brush things off like I had. I didn’t get people weren’t all the same, and I should have. We shared a womb! He was my twin, and if I hadn’t been so worried about popularity, I would’ve seen that all the signs of discontent had been there for years, with my dad grooming him to take over a business he had no interest in. So, I opened the soup kitchen, against my parent’s wishes, because I wasn’t going to mess up again. I wanted to show others that someone would listen.”
Her eyes were adjusted to the dark enough now, and the creases between Joe’s eyebrows had grown deeper. “I’m sorry, Savannah. I know that—” He stopped. He’d wanted to say more, but she couldn’t force it, and it was her question anyway.
“What happened in Afghanistan?”
He tensed, his fingers pulling away from hers. But she squeezed, crushing them until they popped. “That’s something I don’t talk about.”
She squeezed harder. “Tell me. I may not know your past, but you’re honorable, and I believe that whatever happened, you did everything you could to stop it. Didn’t you?”
Joe’s voice scratched the chill with a whisper. “Probably, but just saying it is like I’m giving myself an out for what happened or something. My dad and grandpa, they were great soldiers. I always wanted—needed—to prove myself to them. But I let them down, too, even though my gramps is gone now. And my parents are looking for me, along with the White House, and I can’t ever face them.”
The air kicked on again, the breeze itself absolutely frigid. Each hair stood up on her arms, and her body broke out in a wave of goosebumps. Spending three decades in L.A. gave her a strong aversion to cold. She didn’t even use ice in her drinks. Joe roughly alternated between holding her tight and rubbing her arms, but it didn’t help her toes. She’d lost control of them, and each finger hurt.
Her teeth chattered. Her lips were frozen, but the words still came out. “Just tell me. I’m literally freezing in here, and I need to consume my mind with something. The only other option would be to take our clothes off and use our body heat to warm up.” Although she said it half-heartedly, Joe’s reaction was swift; his jaw tightened in a definite no. And the energy in the room shifted like they’d been flipped upside down.
“You’re trying to build up to something. You suggest we take off our clothes to warm up because you want me to say why I wouldn’t take off my shirt. Right?”
That’s exactly what she was getting at, but with the hope he was still the guy laughing five minutes ago. Hitting a nerve had totally backfired and agitated him. He was like the book she’d dropped in her bubble bath last week; the pages were soaked and stuck together. She’d needed a pair of tweezers to separate each one, but even then, the print was running and illegible.
The air cut off abruptly and warmed to a comfortable temperature. Joe dropped her arms and jumped up, likely ready to barrel through the wall and make his own Joe-shaped exit. She fell forward, right hand catching against a loose spring on the mattress and reopening one of her cuts.
“I’m done answering questions now.” He ran his fingers over every inch of the wall nearest them and shook his head, those wrinkles between his eyes digging in deep. “This wasn’t a good idea. I need to be focused on getting you out of here, and now my mind isn’t clear. I’m not ready for you to see me…the way I see myself.”
This was the time where her peace, hugs, and love-couldn’t-ever-let-a-bonding-moment pass self usually kicked into high gear, and she donned her imaginary glitter cape. She’d kept that soggy old book, so Joe wasn’t going anywhere. Her heart ached just thinking about it. But smothering him with her normal approach would end in nothing but trouble. No amount of cupcake baking would get him to confide. She needed to prove his corner wasn’t as empty as he thought. She crossed her arms over her bent knees and put her head down so Joe couldn’t see the tears rolling over her cheeks. Without his company, she was just stuck with fear and a bunch of unanswered questions.
About the Author
Rachel's vivid imagination and creativity made her six years of teaching elementary school even more fun. But when she and her husband had their awesome son, she decided to stay home and save her hugs for him. Between playing trains and being chased by a three-year-old T-Rex and his furry, four-legged sidekick, Rachel picked up a pen and began writing stories like she did when she was younger. Even at four, when she couldn't write by herself, she recruited her mom to transcribe them for her.
Rachel pairs relatable characters to storylines of romance and suspense, and she loves adding in military characters. She had a great appreciation for all the brave men and women fighting for our country and wants to acknowledge them, like her father, a retired US Army Green Beret. Rachel's first book, The Green Triangle, will be published in 2020, and she is already working on a sequel.