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Coming Home: Inspiring Women's Fiction: Beck Family Saga, #4

Coming Home: Inspiring Women's Fiction: Beck Family Saga, #4

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Coming Home: Inspiring Women's Fiction: Beck Family Saga, #4

Length:
385 pages
5 hours
Released:
Oct 19, 2020
ISBN:
9781393152415
Format:
Book

Description

Veteran Jen Torres's latest fight might be her toughest.

 

For Jen the Nature Fund in Montana is a chance to readjust to civilian life. But she doesn't feel like she fits in, especially when a fellow employee takes every opportunity to snipe at her. Is he threatened by her gender, ex-military status, the color of her skin, or all of the above?

Ignoring his negativity, she initiates the idea of running a fishing program for disabled vets. If she succeeds, she'll have more standing in the organization and can do more of the fieldwork she craves. But like much in life, things don't go exactly as planned.

 

First, she has to stand in front of her fellow soldiers, many who'd been in more senior positions, and act like she's in charge. Second, there is her annoying attraction to Cameron Beck, in spite of her vow never to get involved with another vet. Then there is her concern for one of the men who seems to be losing the battle long after he left the war. 

 

Will she be able to survive the swirling waters around her? Or will the current pull her back into the perceived safety of the military life?

 

A woman's fiction novel based on real events, Coming Home examines the phenomenal strength it takes for our military veterans to come to terms with civilian life.

Released:
Oct 19, 2020
ISBN:
9781393152415
Format:
Book

About the author

Casey Dawes writes emotional contemporary women's fiction and romance. Her latest series, Rocky Mountain Front, explores the five siblings from a ranching family living in Montana, the people who love them, and the characters in the small town in which they live. She has crafted many short stories set in the state as well, and you can get a collection of them free by going to her website! Her previous series is a series of romances set in California which is available as a set. She is also the author of a children's book, with more in the works. To learn of new releases, sign up for her Stories About Love newsletter.


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Coming Home - Casey Dawes

Coming Home

by

Casey Dawes

Mountain Vines Publishing

Copyright 2020 by Casey Dawes LLC.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by reviewers, who may quote brief passages in a review.

Some characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

Book cover design by For the Muse Designs

Edited by CEO Editor (ceoeditor.com)

Interior design by Concierge Self-Publishing

(www.ConciergeSelfPublishing.com)

Published by Mountain Vines Publishing

Missoula, MT

Contact email: info@ConciergeSelfPublishing.com

To all who truly serve this county in a myriad of ways with their hearts, minds, and bodies.

To Project Healing Waters and the fine work you do. And to the Nature Conservancy and its enormous efforts to preserve our natural heritage while respecting all who depend on it.

To our veterans, may we appreciate them more.

Especially to Kaylee K., a veteran who now works for nature and others;

and to Louis Bruno who has worked for decades to save the Badger-Two Medicine.

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Other Books

The Story Behind the Story

Acknowledgements

About Casey Dawes

Chapter 1

September

Jen Torres looked at her watch again. What was it with civilians? Couldn’t they get anywhere on time? She popped a piece of gum in her mouth to still the chatter in her head. There was no point in trying to change the culture of the Nature Fund. She was just going to have to get used to it.

Picking up her phone, she reread the message she’d received from Project Healing Waters. They were extremely interested in working with the Nature Fund on a fishing event for vets. Now all she had to do was convince the powers that be that it was the right thing to do. That, and find a fishing group, like Trout Unlimited, to be the third partner for the project.

Not insurmountable, but she’d only been in Montana for a month, so she was still trying to figure out the major environmental players. There were a lot of them. It seemed like every corner of the state was important to some group or another.

It was nothing like the military or her parents’ home in Middletown, New York.

Dan Morgan, the director of the Montana chapter of the Nature Fund, came into the room. He was a tall man, broad-shouldered and deeply-tanned from the summer’s work outdoors.

Everyone late again? he asked.

Appears to be, she replied.

It’s normal, he said with a smile. They get their minds focused on something and lose all track of time.

Maybe she was being too harsh.

I’m just as happy that I have a little time with you. How are you doing? I mean, are you adjusting okay? It’s got to be tough.

I can handle it. She’d learned that lesson in the military. Never show weakness. Guys would eat a weak woman alive. It had happened to a recruit who entered the same time she had, a small, blond woman from Delaware. She’d screamed the first time a lizard ran across her boot, and the hazing started immediately: snakes in her bed, insects dropped down the back and front of her uniform.

I’m sure you can. We wouldn’t have hired you otherwise. He looked down at his hands, which were clasped calmly in front of him. But I want to make sure you know you can come talk to me about anything. This isn’t the military—

I’ve noticed. Her voice was more strident than she’d intended.

His hazel eyes glanced sharply at her.

Sorry, she said.

No problem. The strained silence was interrupted by the arrival of Amy Cooper, the organization’s event manager, who’d be a key person if Jen’s project was approved.

Jen smiled at her, trying to make sure Dan saw it. He didn’t need to be thinking she wasn’t a team player.

Hi, Amy said, looking around. I guess I’m not that late. She sat across from Jen and began to spread her things across the table in front of her: tablet with keyboard, phone, date book, sketchpad, notepad, as well as pens and pencils in varying degrees of sharpness and color. When she was done, she smoothed back her light brown hair and gazed at Dan with the warm smile she reserved only for him.

Jen still hadn’t decided whether Amy liked Dan as a man or was just sucking up to him as a boss. Civilians were hard to decipher.

The last two of the invitees, the guy in charge of external affairs and the finance guy, came into the room at the same time, obviously carrying on a discussion they’d been having for some time.

Looks like we can begin, Dan said. Jen, can you tell us about the program you’re proposing? He glanced around the room. It’s innovative and involves a community we don’t serve well—exactly the kind of thinking we need in this office.

Jen straightened her spine, embarrassed yet pleased at the unexpected compliment. What I’m proposing is a partnership with Project Healing Waters Fly-Fishing, a group that supports programs that help veterans learn to fly-fish. The program would help Montana’s disabled veterans’ rehabilitation through fly-fishing. There are two benefits to this organization. The first is supporting an underserved group of people and helping them become engaged with nature, and the second is to get these people involved in supporting the organization financially, as employees and as volunteers. She ticked her final two points off on her fingers.

Then she waited for the inevitable skepticism.

And just how are disabled veterans supposed to fly-fish? Gary, the finance guy, asked. Are we supposed to wheel them out to the stream or something?

If we have to, Jen said evenly.

I think it sounds wonderful, Amy said. My cousin loved to be outdoors, but since he’s come back from the war, he’s barely left the house. He’s not really disabled physically, a few battle wounds, but he seems angry all the time, my aunt says.

There are adaptive devices that injured vets can use to fish, Jen said. They are also taught to do it without if that’s their choice. They learn to use their mouths or adapt with one hand. The guy I spoke with said the things they learn during these fishing trips help them adapt to the rest of their lives.

Sounds impressive, Dan said.

Sounds expensive, Gary said.

It’s not as expensive as it sounds. The vets have to get to the site—or the closest airport—on their own, then we take it from there.

What if someone can’t afford to come but wants to? Amy asked.

I suppose we can look into some type of scholarship to help them, Jen replied, making a note on her phone.

How is this going to help our mission? Steve, the director of external affairs, asked.

In a few ways, Jen patiently explained, even though she’d been over this territory with him a few times before. The first is, we are letting veterans know about our organization. Most haven’t ever heard of it. Second, vets make terrific employees—they’re loyal, hard-working, and disciplined.

And you don’t think non-vets are that way? Gary accused.

She ignored him. The man had been a real pain in the butt ever since she’d gotten to Helena. Was it because he didn’t like veterans? Women? She glanced around the table at the four white faces. Or was it because she was the only person of color in the entire office?

Plus, she continued, it’s great publicity. We’re helping vets who need it. The military is a fairly conservative organization. Environmental organizations are seen as liberal. She raised her hand to forestall any objections from Gary, who’d already opened his mouth. I know the Nature Fund is dedicated to both people and nature and strives to be bi-partisan, but the world doesn’t always see it that way. She vigorously chewed on her gum, a habit she’d picked up in the arid desert that seemed equally appropriate in the dry air of Montana.

Seems like a fair assessment, Dan said.

I think it’s a great idea, Amy added, giving Jen a large smile of support. The woman had always been kind to Jen, going out of her way to ask her to go for coffee with her now and then.

Jen had always refused. The job was too new, and she wasn’t totally sure it would work out. Maybe she was being foolish, though. Having an ally wouldn’t hurt. She didn’t need anything more than that.

It might work, Steve said.

Whatever, Gary said. I’ll crunch some numbers to see how much it’s going to cost. Since it won’t be an income-producing event, it’s going to need to come out of someone’s budget, which means there will be less money for our core mission.

Everyone’s agreed then, Dan said. Jen, would you get together with Amy and create a project plan and timeline?

Yes, sir, she answered automatically.

He smiled, then leaned back. I guess that’s it then. Thank you all. Jen, would you hang back for a moment?

She chewed harder.

I just wanted to tell you not to let Gary get under your skin. He can be difficult, but he’s dedicated to the organization and excellent at managing our funds effectively.

Yes, sir, she said.

And you don’t have to call me sir, he added with a grin. It makes me feel like there’s a wall between us that will make it harder to get to know you. And you’re someone I’d like to get to know, he added, his hazel eyes lingering on hers.

Her antenna went up. Was he implying something more than a professional relationship? If so, it was a bad idea. Getting involved with a civilian wasn’t a good idea. She’d heard countless horror stories.

Actually, getting involved with anyone was a bad idea.

THE TIME FOR WALKING was over.

Cameron Beck stood at the top of the farthest rise of Beck ranchland. He’d been walking for 189 days, three hours, and approximately six minutes, ever since his return from a veteran’s hospital in D.C. Except for his missing arm, he was strong and fit but still had no idea what to do with his life.

The walking should have helped. Every psychiatrist he’d gone to while he was recovering had recommended it as a tried-and-true method for a veteran to get on with his life.

Problem was, he wanted the life he’d had before; the military had suited him. Structure, camaraderie, and purpose made life work for him. But if he went back to the military, they’d assign him to a desk. No one wanted a one-armed soldier in the field.

Cameron started back down the trail toward the ranch house.

The easy solution would be to get a prosthetic. Then he’d be able to function, at least contribute to the ranch work. Most of it fell on his oldest brother, Jarod, and since his second oldest brother, Dylan, had bought a new house south of the ranch property, he was around even less to help out.

The rut his feet had worn on the trail guided him through the foothills, making a southern turn around one and an eastern climb over another. Behind him, the Rockies stood sentinel, making it possible for him to relax his guard.

Except he didn’t.

Everything around him was on overdrive. The birds chirped too loudly and the colors, even faded under summer’s heat, were too bright. A rustle in the high grass forced him to look, only to discover the bright yellow breast of a meadowlark.

He couldn’t live like this much longer.

Forcing his brain to count his steps, he plunged ahead. Birdie would have a list of errands to do. Since he’d finally broken down and learned to manage to drive with one hand, she’d sent him for one thing or another a few times a week. As Jarod’s wedding to Samantha came closer, Cameron’s trips became more frequent, often extending to Great Falls, about an hour away.

Focus on today. That’s all he could do right now. Once the brouhaha was over, he’d plan what to do next.

SURE ENOUGH, BIRDIE had a list for him that involved multiple stops in town as well as a foray to the nearby Hutterite Colony to pick up a load of chickens, which would then be slow-cooked using local spices over a barbeque two of his brothers had hauled to the ranch for the wedding.

Cameron’s first stop was Waldron Creek Cheese and Pastry Shop. There were only two other vehicles in the lot when he pulled in, probably normal for early afternoon. One was a dust-covered pickup with the words Dinosaur Butte Ranch, Nature Fund, stenciled on the side. The butte was south of town, but he hadn’t realized there was a ranch down there. And what did dinosaurs have to do with nature ... other than providing oil deposits?

Courtney Lewis, the shop’s owner, waved at him when he went in. She was sitting at one of the customer tables, coffee cups and papers spread out between her and a stocky man in jeans and a western-style shirt. His cowboy hat lay upside down on the chair next to him.

Cameron went to the counter and got a to-go coffee from Megan, his brother Dylan’s girlfriend. How is the alpaca doing? he asked once he’d given her the order.

She’s thriving, Megan said, a huge smile spreading across her face. Vet says she’s healthy and her baby is just fine and coming along nicely for a spring birth. She gestured to the shelves that Courtney used to display crafts from local artisans. But I’m heads down knitting and spinning. The shop in Great Falls will take anything I have, and with the winter season coming soon ...

Cameron nodded. He liked Megan, but she could be more energy than he was used to dealing with. Jarod’s fiancée, Samantha, was more his speed, laid-back and thoughtful. Of course, her nine-year-old daughter, Audie, made up for it.

So, it looks like you’re next, Megan said as she handed him his coffee.

Next for what? he asked.

To find someone, to fall in love.

He smiled but shook his head. That’s not happening. I’m still a bit of a train wreck in case you haven’t noticed.

I think you’re wrong, but you’ll need to figure that out on your own. She looked over at Courtney, who was still engaged with the cowboy. What does Birdie need? she asked. It looks like Courtney may be a while.

Who is he?

Manages some sort of dude ranch south of town, not too far from where Dylan bought the house. He’s having some kind of event and wants us to supply some hors d'oeuvres plates with the cheese, and some pastries for the mornings.

Adding a catering sideline has boosted business, he said.

Sure has. Courtney’s hiring two or three more people, which is great news.

And the Nature Fund? he asked, remembering the lettering stamped on the side of the truck.

Not sure about that. Courtney may know. Anyway, what does Birdie want?

She’s double-checking on the cake, wanted me to give you these instructions. Also wanted to know if Courtney was going to want to stay for the ceremony and gathering afterward.

I’m sure she’d love to, but Saturdays are her busiest day right now. Tourists are still heading to Glacier Park to see if they can spot an elk herd or grizzly before winter sets in.

He hadn’t been up to the park in a while. After all the fuss of the wedding was over, he’d have to borrow the truck and head on up there.

Thanks. Tell her if she can make it, we’d love to see her.

Will do. Megan held up a finger. Wait a sec. I want to show you what I made for Samantha to wear at the wedding if she gets cold.

She came around the counter and opened a box that was sitting on a back shelf. Inside was a gossamer web of white and silver.

Can I touch it?

Sure.

The creation was as soft as it looked.

It’s a shawl, Megan said.

She’ll love it.

I hope so.

Cameron looked at her, all smiles and red hair. Dylan had chosen well. I’m glad you’re going to be part of the family, he said.

Your turn will come, she said.

He waved the thought off, gave a similar gesture to Courtney, and headed out the door. He’d finish the rest of the local errands after he went to Great Falls to pick up the tent they’d ordered for the wedding reception. It was great that his older brother was getting married, but it would be better when they could move on with their lives.

TWO AND HALF HOURS later, he rolled back into town and headed for the liquor store to pick up beer, wine, and champagne. It had all been ordered weeks ago.

Just as he had done in Great Falls, he stood by while other men loaded the kegs and boxes into the truck. How the hell was he ever going to find anything useful to do? A desk job loomed in front of him, and that would feel like going through trauma all over again. Maybe if he could leverage his skills or work for a place he cared about, it would make the job less painful.

Or ... he could just bite the bullet and get a prosthetic.

But the thought of anything artificial attached to his body, to be dependent on gears and wires, depressed him more than his empty sleeve.

He spun out of the parking lot with a little more force than necessary, spewing gravel everywhere. Fortunately, the guys who’d helped him had returned to the store.

As luck would have it, he wound up behind a pickup driving exactly at the speed limit, which was too slow for Cameron’s adrenaline-fueled mood. The truck looked familiar. A few miles farther, he realized it was the same vehicle he’d seen in the bistro parking lot, the one from nature something.

What was that about? He’d never seen the organization before, and now he’d run in them twice in the same day.

An omen? Or merely an annoyance?

Chapter 2

The day of the wedding dawned bright and clear, although Cameron was sure the bride and groom had driven God mad with their requests for such a day. He rolled over in bed and stretched. Not only was it his brother’s wedding day, it was his last day of freedom before he had to buckle down and find something worthwhile to do.

The whole family was going to be gathered together.

Birdie was already at work in the kitchen, cooking up masses of pancakes and bacon, while barking out orders to Dylan, CJ, and her partner, Nick.

Somehow I think Samantha and I have lost control of this wedding, Jarod said, occupying a corner chair while going through a stack of pancakes.

What made you think you ever had control? Cameron asked as he took the plate of pancakes CJ handed him. A cup of coffee followed.

Wishful thinking, he said.

I heard that, Birdie said.

Sorry. Samantha and I appreciate everything you’re doing.

Better, the housekeeper said. Your bride has enough to do corralling Audie and getting herself ready. When are you going over, CJ?

Birdie, his sister said, the wedding isn’t until four o’clock. There’s time.

If you’re not out of here by two, I’ll tan your hide. I can still do it, too, Birdie said, emphasizing her point with a spatula.

Yes, ma’am, CJ said.

You two finish up your breakfast, Birdie said to Jarod and Cameron. There’s too much to do for you to dawdle.

Yes, ma’am, they chorused.

If Cameron thought the last two days had been a series of unending wedding chores, the wedding day itself became an absolute madhouse. The tent had to be set up as well as tables for food, wine, beer kegs, and serving utensils and glasses. Dylan helped Megan twist flowers in the arbor Nick and Jarod had built for the occasion. Cameron went back into town to pick up last-minute items like ice and the boutonnieres from Samantha. Jarod had invited Dylan and Nick to be his groomsmen, with Dylan serving as best man. CJ was the maid of honor, and Megan the matching bridesmaid.

He and his youngest brother, Kaiden, had been placed in charge of setting up chairs and ushering everyone to their seats. Finally, they were done, and it was time to get ready.

He stood in his bedroom staring at the dress uniform. He wished he’d thought about what he was going to wear days ago. Surely, during all those trips to Great Falls, he could have found a suit.

You’ll look good in it, Jarod said from the doorway. It’s just for the ceremony. After that, feel free to change.

It was a simple request. Jarod had been patient with his inability to be much help at the ranch and his long walks in the wilderness. He should just go ahead and do it.

I’ll feel like a fake, he said.

You served. You’ve got the right. Besides, he said with a slow grin, it’ll make the ladies all hot and bothered.

Cameron laughed. All right. But as soon as we’re done, it comes off.

Deal.

An hour later, he watched as Audie pranced down the aisle, carefully placing rose petals at her feet as she walked between the chairs overflowing with people from town. Jarod and Samantha were well-liked, and they’d been generous with invitations. Samantha’s daughter had stolen a piece of Cameron’s heart, just like she’d done to everyone else in the family.

Behind her, Megan looked stunning in an emerald-green dress that matched her eyes. With a broad smile, she placed her steps carefully in time with the lyric notes of Pachelbel’s Canon in D. CJ followed in a pinkish dress that brightened her face.

Looking good there, soldier, she whispered to Cameron with a wink and a smile as she passed.

His family was happy. They were pairing off, and soon there’d be a new generation of Becks. Cameron pushed back an unexpected wave of sadness at the realization. Instead, he focused on Samantha being walked down the aisle by her dad, Jake. Her hair flowed as naturally as it did every day, but the ribbons that kept it tamed were white and covered with roses of the same color. He’d heard every bride was beautiful on her wedding day, and Jarod’s was no exception.

He nodded at Jake and smiled at Samantha as they passed, answered by a bemused stare from the father and a steady smile from the daughter. As soon as they reached the front, Jarod took her arm, and the ceremony began. Gratefully, Cameron took a seat by Kaiden and Birdie.

A half hour later, when the couple had said their vows in front of God and everyone, he and Megan followed Kaiden and Samantha’s friend, with Dylan and CJ trailing behind. A cheer went up and birdseed rained down as Jarod and Samantha turned and followed, the first Mr. and Mrs. Beck since their parents had died more than a decade ago.

His throat tightened. They’d all reacted differently: CJ had headed to college for photojournalism, and he’d enlisted. Jarod, steady as a rock, had taken over the farm while Dylan drifted into a world of imagination and painting.

And Kaiden? He glanced at his brother, who was talking animatedly to Samantha’s friend. His youngest brother had declared he was too young to be affected by all that, went off to school in Butte, and now worked for some oil company in Wyoming.

His youngest brother’s temperament reminded Cameron way too much of his father, the man who’d died on an icy highway following a visit to his mistress in Lincoln. Even Kaiden’s smile was hauntingly like the one Cameron remembered on his father.

It was a smile meant to engender trust, but it always made Cameron feel the opposite.

The sun beat down on his uniform, and he snuck a finger into the back of the collar to release some sweat before it glued itself to his neck.

Hey! Dylan shouted. They want us for pictures.

Cameron double-timed it to the rise where the wedding party had gathered. Others stood around to take pictures as well. Birdie stood to the side, beaming like the mother hen she was, until she, too, was dragged in front of the camera.

He dutifully stood where directed and gave out as much of a smile as he was capable. It was as if those particular muscles had begun to atrophy from disuse.

But still, it was good to be surrounded by his family on a glorious day in September, a day they’d remember all their lives. It was what life should be about—no wars, no disease, no division of the country over stupid things.

Perfect.

Too bad it couldn’t last.

ONCE THE PHOTO SHOOT was over, he made his way back to the ranch house and changed. Birdie had pressed a shirt, and he had clean jeans. He slipped an old bolo tie around the collar. A number of the guests had worn similar outfits, common in outside weddings, so he wouldn’t feel out of place.

I liked you better in the uniform, Audie informed him when he returned to the festivities. You looked special.

Thank you. It was too hot.

She nodded like a wise old woman. I can see that.

What have you got there? He pointed to the plastic cup in her hand.

Lemonade. Want some? She held out the cup.

It’s okay, he said. I’m planning on an iced tea.

I’ll show you where it is. She held out her hand.

He took it and followed her to the drinks table where Dylan and Kaiden were discussing something intently.

Look, Dylan said. You’re here for the next few days. You’re the only one of us who knows geology. Just come on up with me to the ridge Jarod and I found. Tell me what someone could possibly be looking for.

Won’t he want to be there? Kaiden asked.

He’s got other things on his mind. Dylan nodded at Jarod standing as close as possible to his new wife, a hand on her hip. Besides, it would be a great wedding present if we could figure out what those people were up to. He looked at Cameron. You come, too.

Come where, exactly?

"To the place Jarod and I found up by where the fence was cut last autumn in the northwest corner of the ranch. We saw signs someone was looking for something. There are

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