Chapter One

Kristen stood under the cloudless sky on the tarmac of the U.S. Army airfield in Wiesbaden, Germany, waiting for her husband to disembark. The plane stood in front of her, but the hatch had yet to open. With every minute, her eighteen-month-old daughter grew fussier. When busy little hands began to pull on Kristen's uniform epaulettes, apparently attempting to rip the embroidered gold leaf of a Major off her shoulder, she put Amy down and tried to redirect her daughter's attention with erh car keys.

So much for looking nice for this reunion with her husband after a year and a half apart. The crisply ironed uniform shirt she'd c=donned in the morning was now wrinkled and damp in places. She doubted her black necktie had remained straight after all the jostling she'd done in the last half hour, but she didn't dare let her attention drift long enough to check.

She pasted a msile on her lips. Hoping. She'd been told of his extensive injuries and about his depression, disorientation and occasional bouts of delusion. The man who had never known defeat would take longer than others to adjust to its bitter taste, she'd been told. So she'd spent hours and hours working with the on-post psychologist to map out the best plan to aid Anthony's emotional recovery. But how could she really be ready for hi? His face had been torn up so badly that it would required more plastic surgery once he recovered some strength. He'd lost a few yards of intestines, through they'd been able to piece him back together one he'd been transported to Kabul from wherever in Afghanistan he'd been at the time of the explosion.

Kristen wanted to weep just thinking about it. But tears wouldn't do the touch Major Anthony Garitano a bit of good. Her proud warrior husband would hate being on the receiving end of even the tiniest bit of pity. For that reason, she'd force herself to keep from rushing to him in the Afghanistan hospital. And her duties at the U.S. Army airfield here in Germany left little room for sitting helplessly at his bedside. Better to stay him with AMy, better to remain at her duty station, better to pray for his recovery in private so no one--least of all Anthony--would se eher tears.

Finally, the hatch at the side of the airplane swooshed open. The darkness beyond the door drew her focus and she fumbled for a better hold on her daughter's hand. "Daddy's coming," she bent down and whispered to her. "Look, AMy, Daddy's coming."

That got Amy's attention. She'd heard a great deal about her daddy and she'd even started kissing his photograph goodnight after her bedtime story. "Da Da?" she queired as she looked with a creased brow toward the yawning, empty opening in the plane. She pointe her chubby finger toward the door and waited. Anticipation, the stepsister of dread, uncoiled within Kristen's heart and began to pound against the walls as they waited.

At last, a figure appeared.

She'd expected a wheelchair, so when a man stapped out into the light, she let out her pent-up breath. This could not be Anthony. Not this man, who lacked her husban'ds six-foot-three-inch height and muscled breadth. Slowly, he walked the few feet to the railing of the ramp and scanne the area.

He could not be her husband--and yet there was Anthony's dark, wavy hair. Moving slowly closer, towing a resistant Amy, Kristen saw the dark, deep-set eyes, the stubborn jaw, the sensuous mouth. She looked at Anthony's face--thinner, paler and with a long, jagged scar running fromhis temple to his throat and another, less obvious one from the bridge of his nose across his cheek--an she felt a deep sadness,

She had tried so hard to prepare herself But reality made a direct hit to her solar plexus and she could hardly breathe. This Anthony--whose desert camouflage uniform humg loosly on his frame--this Anthony was not anything like the man she'd married.

Neither was she the same woman whom he'd exchanged vows, she reminded herslef. So much time had passed, so much had happened to them independently. They were strangers to one another. complete strangers.

And yet…and yet…her husband had come home. Alive. So many had not. Against all odds, Anthony had escaped the deadly explosion with his lungs still drawing breath and his heart still beating Barely.

Suddenly, the tears she chol=ked back were tears of joy. She needed to touch him, reassure herself that he lived and breathed by holding him clue. Pulling Amy behind her, she strode toward him, never taking her gaze away from his ravaged, unsmiling face.

A Marriage of Majors:

"I can't do this, Kristen. God help me, I love you," Anthony said. "But I can't live my life when all my men are dead. Every minute I spend in this house, guilt eats at me. Every second I spend with you, I feel ashamed that I came home when all the others came home in body bags."

Kristen gently took his face into her two hands. "You've been given more time than your men=, that's all," she said. "Shutting yourself off form living life in the time youd've been given hurts everyone, including me and Amy. We 'need' you to be part of our lives. It's your responsibility--your obligation--to live, Anthony. You were a hero to your men. You can't let them down now."

Anthony could't see past the blur of his tears, so he b=pulled Kristen into his arms. The ice inside him receded a little. And the guilt began to ease it's stranglehold on his heart . . .

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