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The First Boy I Loved

The First Boy I Loved

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Vietnam took her first love away from her.
Now it may take her next love, too.

After her husband dies, Gillian Warner realizes how many sorrows she carries inside her, including unresolved grief over her first love, who died in Vietnam decades earlier. Haunted by his death in combat and a tangled web of guilty secrets, she books a guided trip to the battle site.

The tours are led by cynical Vietnam War vet A.J. Donegan, who makes his living taking naïve Americans on what he calls Guilt Trips, Inc. If they’re looking for peace of mind, they can forget it.

A prickly attraction sparks between Gillian and Donegan, with neither able to let go of the past without the other’s provocative challenge. In a test of willpower and desire, they’ll have to share much more than a journey to a place and a memory; they’ll have to travel deep inside the walls they’ve built around their hearts.
Vietnam took her first love away from her.
Now it may take her next love, too.

After her husband dies, Gillian Warner realizes how many sorrows she carries inside her, including unresolved grief over her first love, who died in Vietnam decades earlier. Haunted by his death in combat and a tangled web of guilty secrets, she books a guided trip to the battle site.

The tours are led by cynical Vietnam War vet A.J. Donegan, who makes his living taking naïve Americans on what he calls Guilt Trips, Inc. If they’re looking for peace of mind, they can forget it.

A prickly attraction sparks between Gillian and Donegan, with neither able to let go of the past without the other’s provocative challenge. In a test of willpower and desire, they’ll have to share much more than a journey to a place and a memory; they’ll have to travel deep inside the walls they’ve built around their hearts.

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Categories:Book Excerpts
Published by: BelleBooks Publishing House on Jan 10, 2014
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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Chapter One
“I‟LL TAKE HER with me. That‟s the best I can do.”
 Gillian waited for her son to finally absorb the fact that she was actually saying no to him. No,
she wouldn‟t postpone her trip, and no, it didn‟t matter to her that he and his new wife had
 very important career obligations that precluded their being bothered with the troublesome female child from his previous marriage.
“Well, how long are you going to be gone?” he asked. “Maybe we can still—”
 
“The invitation is for a month.”
 
“A month! Mom, she‟s fifteen years old. She can‟t pick up and go half way around the world for a month!”
 
“Why not?”
 
“She‟s in school?” he suggested pointedly.
 
“Justin, there are only— 
 what
 —two weeks left? Marie here told me she‟s failing math
and 
 English
 — 
apparently becaus
e she hasn‟t passed a test or handed in an assignment since before Christmas.” She couldn‟t keep the criticism out of her voice at his having let a bad situation continue for far too long. “What difference will it make if you pull her out early? I doubt sh
e can catch up at this late date even if she wanted to. She has a current passport. She has a father who can afford to buy her a roundtrip airplane ticket. She has a grandmother willing to take her along. What neither of you has is a lot of time to make up
your minds. I‟m not changing my plans.”
 
Gillian offered no apology, no explanations. The arrangements were all made, and she hadn‟t come to the decision to go easily. She didn‟t miss the look that passed between her son and his wife,
a look that landed somewhere between
 Now what? 
 and
Could we? 
 Clearly, Marie, at least, wanted to.
“I‟ll
 . .
. have to think about it,” Justin said.
 
“Fine. You have less than a day. I‟ll be at home if—”
 
“What makes you people think I‟d go!”
  The inconvenient child in question had suddenly found her voice. Gillian looked in her
granddaughter‟s direction, wondering as she always did these days what had happened to the loving
little girl she used to know. She barely recognized the sullen creature that had taken her place
 — 
the one with a silver stud body piercing above her left eyebrow. And the new creature had embellished its disguise by wearing black nail polish, tri-colored hair, and a deliberately provocative, raveled-hem denim skirt that was hardly more than a belt. None of that bothered Gillian, however. Teenagers were determined to make their statements,
even if they didn‟t realize that what they were actually telling the world about themselves was far
from what they intended. It was the look in the iridescent turquoise-rimmed eyes that worried her. A look that had only appeared in the last few weeks and had apparently made no impression  whatsoever on the people who should have noticed that this girl had a tiger by the tail, and she was beginning to realize it.  At the moment, they were both too concerned about their high-powered jobs . . . and now too
engaged in considering the merits of Gillian‟s offer. Everything about Justin and Marie suggested it
 would be a blessed relief to actually send this bothersome, troublemaking child twenty-plus hours away by jet plane.
“Mae!” her father said sharply. “You watch yourself, young lady! I‟ve just about had it with you!”
 
 
“Yes, Daddy,” she said sweetly, the tone rife with sarcasm.
 
“Damn it, Mae, I mean it!”
 
“Hold it!” Gillian said loudly. They both looked at her, startled. “I‟d like to answer Mae‟s question,” she said more quietly. “If I could have a minute with her alone, please.”
 
Marie was only too happy to relinquish her participation in trying to rein in Justin‟s ungrateful
daughter.
“Come
 
on, Justin,” she said, all but pulling him out of the room with her. Gillian could hear
their whispered but heated discussion as they continued down the hall toward the kitchen.
“You‟re not going to talk me into anything,” Mae said. “I love Carson. I‟m st
aying here. With
him.”
 
“Mae—”
 
“I love Carson! You don‟t know how I feel!”
 
“No, you don‟t know how
I
feel. I‟ve been your age—you haven‟t been mine. I don‟t want to talk you into anything. You asked a question. I‟m going to answer it— 
speaking only for myself, of
course. I‟m going to tell you what makes me think you‟d go.”
 
“Things are different now. It‟s not like it was when you were young.”
 
Things 
 are different. Not people
 —”
 
“It won‟t do any good! I‟m not going
anywhere 
. I mean it!”
 Gillian waited for a moment before she continued, gathering her thoughts, reminding herself not to bring
Carson 
 
into the discussion. Mae‟s need to protect him was too strong— 
because Marie had come home unexpectedly yesterday and found him and Mae in bed together. Gillian did
n‟t know how far the tryst had gone, and she didn‟t want to. Her goal at the moment was not to make Mae‟s clearly unsuitable relationship with this boy seem any more like “forbidden fruit” than it
already did. She walked over to the mantel, to the silver-framed photograph of Mae when she was in preschool.
“Do you remember when this was taken?” she asked.
 Mae stared at her, apparently trying to decide if this was a trick question
 — 
or something worse.
“Well, I remember,” Gillian said when she didn‟t answer. “I
t was during the early days of the  war between your mother and your dad
 — 
before you got used to it. You were old enough to understand something of what was going on, and you were so scared. You and I were sitting at the kitchen table
 — 
coloring in one of your coloring books. It was raining outside . .
.”
 
“Gran, I have things to do. Are we going somewhere with this?” Mae interrupted, her profound
boredom with the topic causing her to look at the ceiling and sigh.
“I guess not,” Gillian said. “I‟ll get back to the question.” She couldn‟t tell if Mae was listening
or not.
“Your dad thinks I‟m going to Vietnam to visit one of my old nursing school classmates. Her
son-in-
law and her daughter live and work in Saigon. He‟s a film producer— 
I understand you can make movies very cheaply there. Her daughter runs an art gallery. My classmate
 — 
 June
 — 
moved
there so she could be close to her grandchildren.”
 
“Gran, I really don‟t need to know all this.”
 
“Yes, Mae, you do. It‟s not good to make important decisions without knowing
all the particulars. So. I
am 
 
going to see her, but that‟s not the real reason I‟m making the trip. I‟m going
because I have something I need to take care of, something I should have dealt with a long time ago.
I‟d just
 . . . buried the whole thing and hop
ed it would go away. Sometimes things won‟t stay buried, though, and this pilgrimage, if that‟s what it is, is going to be
 . . . hard for me. Emotionally. Actually,
I expect to get my heart ripped out.”
 
Mae looked at her then. “Why?”
 

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