“I don’t want your pity,” he said, a snarl transforming his face into something wolfish, alien. “Don’t feel sorry for me, babe. I don’t need charity and I sure as hell don’t need you to tell me some dumb ass feel good bunch of shit. So quit crying over me. Maybe it makes you feel better, but it makes me mad.”
“It isn’t pity,” Gracie told him. “I admire you. It takes a lot of courage to overcome hurts like this. I hurt for you, but I don’t feel sorry for you. I hate you had to go through such pain, but I’m crying because I care.”
His hard face softened a little. “Why?”
In this raw moment, she could give him nothing but honesty. “I don’t know, but I do.”
Then Gracie leaned forward and bent just enough to touch her lips to one of the ugliest lesions, the worst of the scars. He shuddered as she kissed his chest and when she lifted her tear streaked face, Devlin grasped her arms. He held her in place and kissed her back, full on the mouth, without remorse or mercy. Gracie gasped with surprise. His lips burned hers as if she kissed a devil fresh from the pit, but she liked it. Her body answered his call and her arms moved to circle his neck as she gave him back the kiss. -- from Devlin's Grace.
Meet Devlin, an Iraq war veteran who lives a lonely troubled life until he meets Gracie. Readers who enjoyed Slattery’s Sin, Will’s Way, or any of my other novels dealing with military veterans will want to read Devlin’s Grace, a full-length work dealing with the demons of PTSD with a poignant love story. It’s been a website bestseller in the new military category at Evernight Publishing and a long time reader favorite. Here’s the blurb, the first chapter and buy links. Happy reading!
When Iraq war veteran Devlin rides his motorcycle into Gracie’s life, he’s everything she’s not, wild, wicked, and more than a little crazy. Opposites attract because good girl, college student Gracie wants more of this bad boy. She invades his personal space, takes liberties no other woman has dared, and although he struggles with PTSD, she sticks by her man. He teaches her to live a little more and she helps him battle his demons. If there’s any chance the shattered combat veteran can find his way back, Devlin’s Grace can help him find it.
In The Beginning…
Devlin conjured her out of nothing but imagination. Creating his dream woman consumed his rare moments of free time and when he’d finished, she possessed every quality he ever wanted. He didn’t name her. He couldn’t, because it’d make her seem too real. But her long, dark hair with natural highlights cascaded down her slender back in curls. He dreamed of her wise, blue eyes and her fair skin with a few freckles. Her generous lips were rich pink, and her small hands fit into his big paws with simple ease.
Devlin’s woman offered him the fantasy that someone cared. He dreamed about her and imagined the things she’d say to encourage him. He decided her voice would be soft, a little husky and deep, the kind of voice a man could let pour over him like a gentle rain. When he got tired, he imagined she’d urge him onward.
And when he got wounded, hurt almost to death, her face kept him going. He counted on her, even though she wasn’t real.
He never thought he’d meet her.
And by the time he did, it was almost too late. Life didn’t mean much, and he’d decided it probably never would.
Fog curled upward from steaming pavement. The late shower lasted just long enough to soak everything before evaporating into the humid August heat. Rain failed to cool anything down, but the contrast in temperatures created a haze.
Gracie slowed her hectic gait to admire the way the mist blurred everything with an almost mystical aura. She heard the motorcycle’s whine two blocks away and cocked her head to listen as it approached. Although she’d never ridden one, probably never would, bikes fascinated her and caught her attention. After chastising herself for such curiosity, Gracie sighed and tried to focus on her new art course. Just as she began walking again, afraid she might be last to her first watercolor class, the rider emerged from the vapor.
His older Honda roared out of the cloud like a demon rising from the pits of hell. Whoever he might be, he handled the bike with finesse. His denim jacket fit with snug certainty, as if made for him and no other. Gracie gaped at twin devil horns sprouting from his helmet, both bright red and curved to points. She blinked and saw the biker also featured the same evil horns on the edges of his rear view mirror. His face remained all but invisible behind a pair of mirrored sunglasses, but the taut set of his mouth seemed intense. He slowed and rolled the bike into a parking space, balanced it, and hopped off. As he shed the helmet, Gracie watched from beneath a huge old tree, oblivious to the water dripping down the back of her cotton blouse. Something about the rider intrigued her, but scared her, too.
He rooted through his saddle bag and pulled out a battered sketch pad, then jammed his keys into a front pocket. Gracie’s eyes followed him as he headed down the sidewalk toward the art building and then, after a quick glance at her watch, she hurried in the same direction. She rushed into Ellis Hall and hunted down the right classroom, entering just as the class came to order. Gracie fumbled her way into a chair and sat down, catching her breath and struggling to seem unruffled. As her rapid breathing slowed to a normal pace, she ventured a glance around the table. One blue-haired elderly matron, one lanky teen age boy, so far, so good, then she caught sight of the biker. Unlike the other students, He sat utility pole tall and straight across from her. His gaze met hers, and she realized he watched her the way a predator eyed a potential meal.
His intensity sent shivers through her body, but curiosity trumped her fear. Gracie peeked at the biker, noticing his close-cropped dark hair, deep brown eyes the color of buckeyes, and his regal nose. He wasn’t smiling and, although she found him attractive, he exuded sadness along with something more. His eyes were veiled with wariness and despite the lines carved into his weathered, tan skin, Gracie guessed he probably wasn’t much more than ten years older than she. Some ferocity beneath the surface frightened her, but deeper, she sensed something troubled this man, and she ached to help.
He’s not a kitten you can take home and cuddle. Gracie had a bad habit of taking in strays, something which landed trouble in her lap more than once. Remember some dogs bite. She shifted her attention back to the instructor.
“Now I need you to each select a partner, an art partner. You’ll share storage space and you can critique each other’s rough work.”
Gracie glanced around the room. Somewhere among the faces must be someone she knew, but no one appeared familiar. She turned to her right just as the senior citizen accepted the teenager’s offer to unite. Flustered, she tried to banish a sense of panic, the same crazy way she’d felt as a child when everyone in gym gained a buddy or each student but her found a locker partner on the first day of school. If she ended up being the teacher’s little helper, she’d drop the class.
“Hey,” the biker said. His voice carried some depth and a little gravel. “I’m short a partner over here and I wondered if you might be mine.”
“Sure,” Gracie said. He extended his large hand toward her, and she took it. She held it before realizing he’d meant only to shake. To cover the faux paus, she said, “I’m Grace, Gracie Alloway.”
“I’m Devlin. Are you a student here?”
She nodded. “I’m a senior and hope to graduate in December. I work, too.”
“On campus?” Most women would think he came across as nosy, but Gracie sensed he just wanted to keep the conversation going.
“No, I work part-time at the big Barnes and Noble on south Glenstone,” she told him. “Are you a student, too?”
For the first time, Devlin smiled, faint but she caught it. “No, I’m not. I never got a chance to do the whole college thing, but I like to draw and thought maybe this class would help me learn to paint.”
The same notion had inspired her to sign up for the course. Maybe they had more common ground than she’d thought. The instructor shushed the class to offer more details, then passed out the syllabus and a list of needed supplies. She wondered if the first class might end early, but it didn’t.
Mr. Zeller, the teacher, talked about watercolors and paints for the remainder of the class. By the time they filed out, most of the students chattering to one another, night covered the campus like a blanket.
Somewhere in the press of bodies spilling out over the sidewalk in a way reminding Gracie of scattered leaves, she and Devlin separated. She saw him head for his motorcycle as she tucked her head against a rising wind and used the crosswalk to get to the opposite side of National. Her feet followed the familiar walkways, wide for a few blocks until the campus petered out and city sidewalks resumed. Off in the distance thunder rumbled, and Gracie picked up her pace. If she didn’t hurry, the storm might hit before she made it back to her apartment.
She mistook the sound for more thunder until she felt the vibration. Devlin was riding his Honda Magna in the street, keeping pace with her. As Gracie turned her head, he called out.
“Want a ride?”
She did, but the idea of climbing astride behind Devlin and taking off on a motorcycle ignited an inner terror. As a kid, Gracie couldn’t even always manage to balance her bicycle. If she said yes, she might do something awkward, and they’d both take a spill. As she hesitated, Devlin cut the engine and stared at her, eyes intent. “You’re scared, aren’t you?” he asked after a long few moments. His perception surprised her.
Gracie nodded. “I am, a little.”
“You’ve never ridden a motorcycle.” It wasn’t a question, but she responded.
“What about a bike? Surely to Christ you had a bike.”
Her shy tongue responded, almost against her will and with more candor than she offered anyone else. “I did and I skinned my knees every time I tried to ride it.”
Devlin didn’t laugh. “It’s going to rain. If you want a ride, all you’ve got to do is hang on. I won’t dump you out on the street, I promise. How far away do you live?”
“It’s not far, on East McDaniel off National,” Gracie told him and gave him the full address.
“Hop on and I’ll get you there before you get soaked.”
She parted her lips to tell him thanks but no thanks, but instead her feet took control. Gracie walked over to the bike and climbed onto the seat behind him. Her purse ended up between his back and her chest. Always safety conscious, she asked, “Shouldn’t I wear a helmet?”
“Yeah, you’re supposed to, but I don’t have a spare with me.” Devlin turned his head around so she could hear his reply. “Hold on.”
Gracie put her hands on his sides, barely touching, and he reached back. His large hands grasped hers and placed them snug around his waist. “When I say hang on tight, I mean it.”
Before she could protest or make a sound, Devlin took off, the bike gliding over the pavement with increasing speed. The same wild, irrational fear she experienced on every carnival ride she’d attempted took wing and panic threatened to erupt. Gracie yelped, but she didn’t think Devlin heard her. As he rolled the bike faster, she clung to him, eyes closed. At the first traffic light, he paused and shouted in her direction. “Okay so far?”
Unwilling to admit she’d been frantic, she yelled, “Yeah.”
This time he launched with more speed and she grasped him tight. As they sped over the streets, light rain began falling on them, little more than mist. For a stray second or two, her angst yielded to exhilaration, intoxicating and sweet. Gracie resisted an urge to raise both hands in the air and yell whee. The brief moment faded as Devlin slowed and eased over to the curb. “Is this it?”
“Yes,” Gracie said. She swung her leg over the seat and dismounted, managing to bump him with her leg. Her klutziness embarrassed her. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t sweat it.”
By then she stood on the sidewalk, the old frame house looming behind her. “Well, thanks for the ride. I appreciate it.”
His deep brown eyes fixed on her face, and his lips curved upward into a smile, larger than the previous one. “No problem, Gracie. I’ll see you next week for class?”
“Sure,” she said. “Thanks again, Mr. Devlin.”
The smile vanished and he frowned, transforming his face into a foreboding mask. “Don’t call me that,” he said, and she realized he wasn’t joking. “It’s just Devlin.”
Her mother taught her proper manners, old-fashioned ones long out of style. Calling someone she just met by his last name only didn’t seem correct. Gracie would rather use his first name, but he hadn’t shared it. “Okay,” she said, chastised. “I’m sorry. It’s just I don’t know your first name and…”
Devlin reached out from his perch on the Honda and touched a finger to her lips, silencing her immediately. “You don’t need to apologize for everything. It’s cool. If you want, call me Dev. It’s that or Devlin or Devil. I don’t use my first name.”
In three sentences, he created a dozen questions, but Gracie wasn’t sure what to ask first. Devil must be a nickname and if so, it explained his horned helmet and mirror, but she wondered why. The question popped out before she considered he might not want to share the reason. “Why do they call you Devil?”
He never blinked, not once. “I did a lot of evil things once, in Iraq.”
“Oh.” Gracie couldn’t find anything else to say and stood, silent and self-conscious. The light rain intensified, but she failed to notice until the dampness of her thin blouse filtered into her consciousness. This man intrigued her in a way no one else had. She wanted to ask him up for coffee, talk to him for hours long into the night, and at the same time she longed to run away. She sorted through the options for something to call him and chose the simplest. “Dev?”
“It’s raining harder. Do you want to come up to my apartment to dry off?”
Dev shrugged as if he didn’t care either way. “I don’t live very far.”
His nonchalance increased her desire to have him come out of the rain. “I can make coffee,” she offered. “You’re getting soaked.”
Five seconds, then ten passed before Devlin nodded. Although she didn’t hear any more thunder, the rain increased with speed. “All right, you talked me into a cup of coffee.”
“Come on,” she said and hurried through the downpour up to the porch.
She used her first key to open the middle door of three then led Devlin up the narrow stairs. At the top, she turned to the left and unlocked another door. Gracie walked into the front room of the three room apartment and turned on a lamp. The soft electric light illuminated the space.
Although she rented it furnished, she liked to think her efforts at decoration enhanced it and made it cozy. The red couch with big yellow sun designs seemed more hideous than usual. It claimed almost a third of the small room, flanked by the maple rocker she brought from home and a wire plant stand holding three pots. Her battered television, an analog model hooked to a converter box, rested on a 1960’s vintage coffee table shoved against the wall space between the doorway to the miniature kitchen and the tiny bedroom. A few cheap rag rugs, the kind favored by kindergarten teachers for nap time, covered the hard wood floors in select spots.
Dev dripped just inside the doorway, staring around as if he’d entered an oasis or magical palace. “Go ahead and sit down,” Gracie said. “A little rain won’t hurt the couch and I’ll grab you a towel.”
She ducked through the bedroom into the single bathroom dominated by a big clawfoot tub and returned with two fresh towels. Devlin reached for them and began toweling off his hair with the smallest. Gracie sat in the rocking chair and wiped away the rain from her own hair then her arms. When she glanced up, she saw he’d removed his denim jacket and she reached for it. He frowned, as if he thought she might steal the thing.
“I’m going to hang it up on the back of a kitchen chair to dry,” she explained.
He relaxed. “Oh, okay, sure. Nice place you’ve got.”
Gracie thought he must be making fun of it until she caught sight of his expression. Something poignant crept into his eyes along with a little awe. “Thanks,” she said, humbled. “I’ll go make the coffee.”
She draped his jacket over one of the Arrow back chairs. In the light, she noticed the patch across the back of the denim and traced it with her fingers. An eagle perched atop a globe. An anchor ran through the globe and rope twined around the world. ‘Semper fi read the words coming from the eagle’s beak in a banner. Around the edges of the patch, Gracie read Department of the Navy – United States Marine Corps. Beneath it, another sewn-on addition, this one handmade, proclaimed, Marine Expeditionary Forces – Operation Iraqi Freedom. A few pieces of the Devlin puzzle connected. So he’s a Marine, Gracie mused, or was.
It explained a lot and she pondered it all as she made coffee in her percolator by rote, the familiar motions done without thought. When the coffee was ready, she poured two cups and carried both back into the living room, to Devlin.