I am over the moon in love with Connor Arrowood and I’m pretty damn sure you will be too! He’s devoted, loving, and each minute I spent with him is one I cherish. There are three books that when I wrote, I had this intensity with. They are almost a part of me and I’ve not been able to fully detach from them, this is one. Come Back for Me is the book that was so loud in my head, I couldn’t silence it any longer, and I’m glad I didn’t. I hope you enjoy this sneak peek of Chapter One and Two!!
“Arrowood! Wake the fuck up!” Someone punches my arm, and I shoot out of my seat. My eyes dart around for whatever danger is present, but only find my buddy, Liam, next to me on the plane. “Man, you sure like to talk in your sleep.”
I rub my hand over my face, trying to clear the cobwebs. “I have no idea what I was dreaming about.”
Great. God only knows what I said. “Doubtful.”
“Dude, you were totally talking in your sleep.” His voice goes higher. “Oh, Connor, you’re so sexy. Yes, give it to me like that.” Then he returns his voice to normal. I’m just saying that she was very animated.”
I know exactly what I was dreaming of—an angel. A beautiful woman with dark brown hair and the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. It doesn’t matter that I spent one night with her eight years ago, I remember her perfectly.
The way she smiled and crooked her finger at me to follow. How my legs moved without my brain ever giving them permission. It was as if she were sent from above to save me.
The night my father had gotten so drunk he sucker punched me as I walked out the door for boot camp, promising never to return.
She was perfect, and I don’t even know her name.
I elbow him, knowing there isn’t a chance in hell I’m about to confess any of that. “Thank God you’re married. No woman would be stupid enough to ever go for you now. Your impressions suck and you’re an asshole.”
He grins, no doubt thinking of his wife. Some guys have it all—Liam Dempsey is one of them. He has a beautiful woman to come home to, kids, friends, and he had one of those picture-perfect childhoods.
Basically, his life is the opposite of mine.
Only things I have that are worth a damn are my brothers.
“What are you talking about? There’s a reason they call me Dreamboat and call you Arrow. I’m a goddamn dream.”
“Here we fucking go. They call me that because of my last name, asshole.”
Liam chuckles and shrugs. “Maybe, but mine is because of my glowing personality.”
Even though he’s a total idiot, I’m going to miss him. I’m going to miss all of my team. I hate that this was my last deployment and I won’t be a part of this brotherhood anymore. I’ve loved being a SEAL.
“Thankfully, you’re so vain that I will see your glow anywhere I end up.”
“Any idea where that’s going to be or what you’re going to do now?” Liam asks.
I lean back in the much too uncomfortable chair of this C-5 plane and push out a deep breath. “Not a clue.”
“Glad to see you’re on top of your life. You need to get your shit together, Arrowood. Life isn’t going to hand you shit.”
Liam has been my team leader for the last two deployments and is like a big brother to me, but right now, I’d like not to be lectured. I have three older brothers who do enough of that as it is.
Although, I guess that’s what the SEAL team is . . . brothers. Brothers who would do anything for each other, including help the other through a big transition, even if it’s one that’s been coming for a while. Three years ago, I was on deployment. It was a routine checkpoint and my leg was crushed when a car tried to run through. I had a few surgeries, all looked good, but I’m not healing right. This deployment, I was on light duty, which was basically admin. I fucking hate admin. I wanted to be out there, making sure my brothers were safe. Then the doc gave me the news that I’m going to be medically discharged.
I’m no longer fit to be a SEAL.
And if I can’t do this, then I don’t want any part of it.
“I have plans.”
“Like?” he asks.
“Kicking your ass, for one.”
“You could try, young buck, but I wouldn’t put money on it.”
“If my leg were a hundred percent . . .”
Liam shakes his head. “I’d still kill you. But, all kidding aside, you can’t sign the papers in two weeks and have no idea what to do.”
My oldest brother Declan was up my ass and saying the same thing when I called him a month ago. Dec runs a huge corporation in New York City and said he was looking for a new head of security, but I’d rather ram my bad leg through a meat processor than work for him. He’s a hothead, who knows everything, and he doesn’t pay shit. I’ve already done eight years of that, so I’d like an upgrade in the financial department.
Still, he has a point. I can only survive on what little savings I have for so long, then I’ll need to get a job.
“I’ll figure it out,” I tell him.
“Why not go back home to the farm?”
My eyes narrow, and I bite back the anger that fills me at the mention of that place. “Because the only way I’ll step foot on that land is if I’m burying the man who resides there.”
The Arrowood brothers made a vow to take care of each other, protect one another, and that was what each of us did until I could get out. Two weeks after graduation was the last time I touched that farmland in Pennsylvania. I’ll live on the streets before I go back there.
He puts his hands up. “All right, brother, no need to look like you’re about to slice me open. I get it. No going home. I’m just worried. I’ve seen a lot of guys get out and struggle to navigate civilian life. As much as we bitch about this life, it becomes us, you know?”
He’s right. Hell, I’ve seen it too, but I wasn’t ready for getting out to be my reality. I would’ve done twenty years with a smile because the navy saved my life. I was going to end up in jail if I hadn’t enlisted. Then, when I was in, I got selected for BUDs and refused to ever be anything else. Now, it isn’t my choice.
“I’m not sure what else I could even be at this point.”
“My buddy Jackson has a company that takes broken SEALs, I’m sure he has room for one more.”
I flip him off. “I’ll show you broken.”
Before we can get any further into a spat, the officers come around, letting us know we’re preparing for landing and how they want the offload to go.
Homecomings are like nothing anyone can comprehend. They are filled with emotions, balloons, fanfare, tears of happiness, and a lot of excitement. The wives are dressed up, and the kids look perfect and polished when we know that their lives the last nine months were anything but. You can see the families so ready for a glimpse of their loved one they would climb on top of each other.
Then there is how we feel.
Our nerves are different. We are ready to get home and see the people we love, but at the same time, we know that it won’t be easy. Loving a man who is preparing to leave again can’t be easy. It’s why I’m grateful that love and marriage were never high up on my priority list.
I like knowing that there is no sacrifice made in order to love me.
The commander falls quiet, waiting for everyone’s attention. “Patterson and Caldwell will go first since they had babies while we were gone. Then it’ll be alphabetical to deplane. Once you’ve checked out with me, grab your gear and don’t report back to base for two weeks, understand?”
“Aye.” We all answer in unison.
He puts the clipboard down and eyes us all. “Don’t make me have to explain to my wife why I have to leave home to come bail one of you idiots out.”
A few of us laugh, but he isn’t because it may have happened two deployments ago. Thankfully, it wasn’t me.
The plane touches down, and I swear I can feel the energy shift. Since it’s alphabetical, I’ll be one of the first off, but our team is filled with guys who have kids. I’ll wait until they’re off, take the ass-chewing from Commander Hansen, and go on my merry way the same as the other single guys do.
Commander calls my name, but I stay rooted. His voice rises again. “Arrowood!” He glares at me, but I shrug. “Jesus, every damn deployment you morons do this. Fine, I’ll call your name twice, and if you don’t get up, you’re moved to the back of the line. Idiots. I’m surrounded by them.”
“See you in a few weeks,” Liam says as his name is called.
“I’ll be sure to say goodbye.”
He slaps me on my chest. “You do that.”
After the rest of the names are called, I hear mine again.
Commander doesn’t look at all happy, but I see the hint of pride hidden behind his scowl. “You’re a good man.”
“Those kids want their fathers.”
He nods. “Here’s your paperwork. I’ll see you back in fourteen days.”
I nod, take the paper, and head off. The sun is shining, and the air smells clean. There’s no dust or dirt clinging to my skin as I walk down the stairs.
“Yo, douchebag.” I freeze for a second before turning to face my brother—who isn’t supposed to be here.
“Sean?” He walks toward me, arms open and a huge smile on his lips.
“Good to see you home in one piece.”
We give each other a hug, slamming our hands on each other’s backs. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I figured someone should see you home from your last deployment.”
“Well, it’s good to see you,” I say with a smile.
“It’s good to see you too, little brother.”
I may be the youngest, but I’m not little. Sean is the shortest out of us, but he has the biggest heart. I sometimes wish I was more like him.
“You know, I can slice you from ass to cheek in about ten seconds, you really want to spar?”
He slaps me on the shoulder. “Not today, I’m here for something else.”
“Yeah, we have to go meet Declan and Jacob . . .”
A sliver of worry fills me. We don’t exactly have family reunions. In fact, I think the last time the four of us were together was the day I graduated from boot camp. My brothers and I are all one year apart going down the line. My poor mother had four kids in four years and then spent the next seven years raising four boys who weren’t known for being easy kids. We banded together and were best friends—in all things mischievous.
Now, though, we’re all scattered like the wind and only see each other separately for the most part.
“Meet them where.”
Sean clenches his jaw and then releases a heavy sigh. “Sugarloaf. Our father is dead. It’s time to go home.”
“And now that’s over,” Declan says as he stares down at the hole in the ground where the casket rests. The graveyard is old with a few headstones that are still broken from the bonfire night where we all were idiots.
It’s quiet, and the smell of farming fills the air. A bit of manure, a bit of smoke, and a lot of regrets. I thought I would feel better now that he’s dead, but all I feel is anger.
“Not completely,” Sean reminds us. “We still have to figure out what to do with the farm and the land.”
“Burn it,” I say without feeling. Being back here makes me itch. Even with him dead, I still feel as if he’s watching, judging, and preparing to raise his fists. Hell, it still feels as if the secrets we’ve kept because of him are trying to choke me.
“Connor has a point. Although, it would make me feel better if the old man were still in it when we set it on fire,” Jacob tacks on.
I agree. My father used to be a good man. He loved his boys, his wife, and his farm, giving everything he was to each one. Then my mother died and we lost both parents.
Gone was the kind, fun, and hardworking man who taught me how to ride a bike and fish. Instead, he became a hollow drunk who used his fists to speak his rage.
And boy was he angry.
At everyone. At everything. Mostly, at my brothers and me for reminding him of the woman he loved and God took way too soon. As if we weren’t grieving the loss of the most wonderful mother who ever drew breath.
Dec shakes his head. “This is the only thing the bastard left us, and it’s worth millions. It’s also where Mom’s ashes are scattered. We’re going to be patient, like we’ve been, and sell it. Unless one of you wants it?”
“Hell no.” I don’t want a damn thing to do with it. I want it out of my life so I never have to come back to Sugarloaf again.
Everyone else grunts in agreement.
“Well, we’re all going to have to meet with the lawyer sometime this week, and then we sell the fucking thing.”
I have no doubts Dec has already pulled strings to get us the hell out of here as quick as possible. Just like the rest of us, he has a lot he wants to avoid in this town, which won’t be possible if we’re here more than a day.
The four of us pile into Sean’s car and head back to the house, but as soon as we get to the entrance, the car stops.
The wooden pillars with the sign overhead and our last name burned into the wood is aged, but still standing strong. I try not to remember my mother’s voice, but the memory comes too strong and too fast and I’m eight years old again.
“Now, what is one truth about an arrow?”
I groan as her brow lifts and she waits for the answer. “Mom, the new Nintendo game is at home, and I want to play.”
“Then you best answer me, Connor. What is one truth about an arrow?”
I saved money from my last birthday, but it wasn’t enough so I had to borrow money from Jacob for the game. He’s so mean, he made me do his chores for six months, but now I have the new Mario. All I want to do is play. I don’t care about the arrow.
She puts the car in park and crosses her arms. Mom used to be my favorite.
“Why do we have to say this each time?” I ask.
“Because it’s important. Family is what matters in this life, without that, you have nothing. When we cross this threshold, we’re back home. We’re with those who love us and this, my sweet boy, is where you will always belong.”
My mama is the best person I know, and as much as I want my Nintendo game—and I really want it—I want to make her happy more. I like making Mama happy.
“You can’t take a shot until you break your bow,” I grumble, hating that this is one fact she makes me recite.
She smiles. “That’s right. And why is that important?”
“Mooooom,” I whine because the game is calling me.
“Don’t, Mom me,” she tsks. “Why is it important?”
“Because if you don’t break the bow, you’ll never go forward, and an arrow was meant to forge ahead.”
Her eyes fill with love and happiness as she stares over at me. “That’s right, and you were meant to go places. Now, let’s go to the house to see if your brothers have left it standing.”
“And I get to play my game.”
Mom laughs. “Yes, and that—after your chores.”
“I can’t do it,” Sean admits as he stares at the dirt driveway.
One by one, my brothers left this place, and each of them took shifts coming back until I was old enough to leave as well. They protected me in a way I couldn’t appreciate at the time. Jacob delayed going to college by a year to make sure Sean could play ball and I wasn’t alone with Dad as much. Sean would take me to games, making sure I got out of the house once in a while after Jacob left. Declan went to college but spent his summers back at the farm, ensuring he could shield me from Dad’s fists whenever possible.
He looks the most uncomfortable, but he’s also the strongest willed of us all. “What is one truth about an arrow?” Dec chokes the words out, and I close my eyes.
Mom. What would she think of us now? Would she understand why we all left this place? Did she see the hell he put us through and what we became because of his choices?
Jacob answers. “Removing half the feather will make the arrow curve and alter its course, which is why sticking together matters.”
“Mom would be disappointed in us,” Declan says. “No women, no kids, nothing but jobs.”
“We have each other,” I pipe up. “We always have, and she would’ve wanted that.”
Declan stares out the window. “She would’ve wanted us to have more . . .”
“Yeah, well, it’s hard to have more when you grow up the way we did.”
Jacob’s voice is quiet and full of sadness. “We made a pact. No marriages, no kids, and never raise our fists in anger. She would’ve understood. She would’ve wanted us to stand by each other and be nothing like he was in the end.”
Maybe she would, God knows that’s what we hoped for. I like to believe that if she’s watching, she has seen it all and would understand that her boys made this choice for a reason. I had her the least amount of time, but I think she would’ve respected the desire to protect others.
If we came from a man like that, surely it was inside us too.
Declan looks at Sean, the brother who was by far the closest to her. He has never forgiven himself for the night she died. “Drive, brother. It’s time to go forward.”
Sean slams his hand on the steering wheel before putting the car in drive and slowly accelerating down the path to hell.
None of us speak. I know that I can’t gather a thought long enough to say a word. There are memories everywhere.
The fence that lines the driveway where my brothers and I would sit and watch the cows, dreaming about running way. I spot the tree that’s on the left side of the property where we made a ladder with scraps of wood so we could climb into the branches, pretending we were hidden and safe.
Dad could never reach us up there.
He was always too drunk to get up more than two of the rungs.
Over to the right is the archery course where my brothers and I spent hours imagining we were Robin Hood or other great men who did right.
I can hear the four of us arguing over who shot better, all the while knowing it was Sean. The bastard always had the best form and aim.
And then what once was my home comes into view.
“It’s like a fucking time warp,” Dec comments. “Nothing has changed.”
He’s right. The house is exactly the same as it was when I left. It has two stories, and a big wrap-around porch with a swing. The white paint is faded and chipping, and the black shutters are missing on one of the windows and hanging off another. While it may be the same structurally, it’s not the home the four of us remember.
I clear my throat. “Only now it’s a damn mess.”
“I don’t think the old man did a damn thing after we left.” One of my brothers says from behind me.
There’s no way we’ll sell this house for what it’s worth. Although, the house has never been the prize, the land has been. Over three hundred acres of some of the best cattle land in Pennsylvania. A winding brook flows through it, the grass is premium for the cows, and it’s picturesque.
“How could he?” Declan snorts. “He didn’t have his workhorses to tend to things while he was drunk off his ass.”
I nod, feeling a new type of anger toward him. At least he could’ve cared about the farm.
“What about the animals?” Sean asks.
“We’ll need to do a full inventory and see what the hell we’re walking into,” I speak up.
My brothers agree, so we divvy up the tasks. It’s time to see what else he destroyed.
The farm is a mess, that’s all I keep saying to myself. It’s a nightmare. He hadn’t maintained a single thing other than the diary equipment, which he would’ve had to keep up and running if he wanted to make enough money to buy his liquor.
Still, the fact that he let the land go, is unbelievable. What could’ve been a ten million plus inheritance is worth half that at best. It’s going to take a hell of a lot of work to get it close to what we’d want to sell it for.
I’m walking in the field out to the left of the creek, the place that I would come to hide. The first time my father drank himself into a rage, I was ten, and Declan took the beating, shielding all of us and telling us to run and hide.
I didn’t fully understand what had happened, just that my brother, who I loved, was screaming for me to go.
So I did.
I ran. I ran so hard that I wasn’t sure I’d ever stop. I ran until my lungs struggled to get air. I didn’t stop until I was where I thought no one could ever find me because Declan had something in his eyes I had never seen—fear.
I’m standing here, on the edge of the creek, looking up at the platform I built in the tree where I spent so many days and nights hiding from the hell that was in my house.
What a fucking mess.
Being here is the last place I want to be, but there’s nothing I have to hide from anymore. I’m no longer that scared little boy, and there are no more monsters hiding in the house. Yet, I can’t help but feel the pit in my stomach.
The quiet is almost loud as I stand here listening to the creek that used to lull me to sleep. The farmland is beautiful. I can’t help but see the lush greens and deep pink hue of the setting sun in the sky, illuminating the clouds and making them look like cotton candy.
I close my eyes, lifting my face to the sky, hearing the sound of my breathing.
And then a thump from above causes my senses to kick in.
I look around, trying to see what it was.
Then a sniffle.
“Hello?” I call out, turning to the tree and the platform high in its branches.
There’s a scuffle, the sound of feet shuffling on the wood. Someone is up there. It has to be a kid because a grown adult wouldn’t be hiding up on that platform. However, whoever it is doesn’t answer.
“Hello? I know you’re up there,” I say a little softer because I’m trying to be less scary. “You don’t have to be afraid.”
Another bit of movement and then a cry that is clearly in pain.
I don’t wait, I move up the tree, using the wood steps my brothers helped me build so I would always be able to come here.
“I’m coming up. Don’t be scared,” I instruct, not wanting whoever is up there to fall off the scrap of wood.
I make it to the platform and a little girl is huddled in the corner. Her eyes are wide and full of fear. She doesn’t seem much older than I was the first time I headed up here, but I’m not really around kids much, so I have no clue how old she really is. I do know all about the apprehension and the tears running down her face. I used to wear a similar expression in this spot.
“I won’t hurt you, are you okay? I heard you cry.”
She nods quickly.
“Okay, are you hurt?”
A tear falls down her cheek and she nods again, clutching her arm.
“Is it your arm?” I ask, knowing that’s what it is. When she still doesn’t speak, I try to remember what it felt like to be hurt and alone, hiding in a tree. “I’m Connor, and I used to live here. This was my favorite place on this whole farm. What’s your name?”
Her lip trembles, and she seems to wrestle with whether she can answer me. In the end, her green eyes watch me like a hawk as she clamps her lips tight, letting me know she has no intention of speaking to me.
I take another step up the ladder and lean on the platform. “It’s okay, you don’t have to tell me.”
I’ll stay up here for as long as it takes to get her down.
She sits up, her brown hair falling around her face, and she sniffs before pushing it back. “You’re a stranger,” the little girl says.
“I am. You’re right not to talk to strangers. Would it help if I told you that I was also a sort of police officer in the navy?”
Her eyes narrow, assessing me. “Police officers have uniforms.”
I grin, smart kid. “That’s right. I wore one, but I’m not working now since I’m on the farm. Can you tell me how you hurt your arm?”
“How’d you climb up here?”
She shifts a bit. “I didn’t want anyone to find me.”
My gut tightens as a million answers as to why this little girl is hiding up here with her arm in pain instead of running home for help. I have to keep myself under control and remember not everyone has a shitty home life. It could be anything.
She worries her bottom lip. “Daddy said I wasn’t supposed to leave the house, and I didn’t want him to be angry.” Then she wipes her nose with her arm and another tear falls. “I came here so I could wait for Mommy to come home.”
I give her a knowing nod. “Well, I’m sure your daddy is worried about you. We should get you back home and get your arm looked at.”
“He’s going to be so mad.” Her lip quivers.
Poor thing is terrified. Of her father or because she broke the rules, I’m not sure. I don’t know who she is or who her father is, but she can’t stay up here injured and scared. She’ll fall. “How about I don’t tell him where I found you if he doesn’t ask.”
She eyes me curiously. “You mean lie?”
“No, I just think that friends keep secrets, and we’re friends now, right?”
“I guess so.”
“Well, friend, you know my name is Connor, but I still don’t know yours.”
Her lips purse. “I’m Hadley.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Hadley. Can I help you down since your arm is hurt?”
Hadley’s head bobs quickly.
I instruct her how to get close, and then she wraps her arm around my neck, holding on tightly as I get us both down without jostling her too much. When we get to the ground, I set her on her feet and squat.
We’re eye to eye, and there’s something about the way she looks at me—as though I’m her savior—that makes my heart ache.
“Is your arm okay?”
“It hurts.” Her voice is small and holds a quiet tremor of pain. She moves it across the front of her body, cradling it closely.
“Can I look at it?”
Hadley is a tiny thing. Although, I have no frame of reference on how old she is, if this is a normal height for a kid, or I’m an idiot.
I take a look and there’s some bruising and it’s swollen, but nothing glaringly obvious that she broke it.
“Well, it doesn’t look terrible, but I think we need to get you home so they can make sure it’s not broken. Where do you live?”
She points across the creek to where the Walcott farm is.
“Is your last name Walcott?”
I smile. It’s good to know they didn’t sell off their farm. The Walcott’s were good people. My mother and Mrs. Walcott were close friends. When Mom died, Jeanie would bring us food and make sure we still had pie every now and then. I loved her and was sad when she passed. Tim died about a month after her, and my father would say it was from a broken heart. I wish my father loved my mother enough to go die alongside her, but I wasn’t that lucky.
I had no idea if someone bought it or if the property was passed down to someone. They never had kids of their own, but it seems it’s still in the family.
“I’ll walk you home and make sure you don’t get hurt again. Do you want to cut across or would you rather I drive you?”
I see her worry, but there’s no way I’m letting this kid go off on her own when she’s hurt.
“We can walk.”
“All right.” I stand, put my hand out, and smile when she takes it, knowing I earned a little of her trust.
We make our way to her house, neither of us saying much, but then I feel her start to tremble. I can remember all too well not wanting to go home because my parents were going to be mad at me. Too many times I had the wooden spoon to my hide because my mother said to be back before dark and I’d wandered off, lost in the vast lands that looked the same, and one of my brothers had to come find me.
“How long have you lived here?” I ask, wanting to take her attention off her impending punishment.
“I grew up here.”
“Yeah, and how old are you?”
She must’ve moved in right after I left. “You live here with your parents?”
“My daddy runs the farm with my mommy. She’s also a teacher.”
“They sound like nice folks.”
Hadley looks away, and that feeling niggles at me again. I’ve lived my entire life based on trusting my instincts. In the military, it’s kill or be killed. I had to rely on myself to know when something was a threat or not. Something about her demeanor has red flags going up all over.
“My parents probably aren’t home, so you won’t meet them.”
I nod as though I don’t see through what she’s doing. I grew up making excuses as to all the reasons my friends couldn’t come or my teachers shouldn’t call. My father was sleeping, he wasn’t home, he was on the tractor, or he was out of town. Anything I could say to deter someone from seeing anything. From finding a reason to ask questions.
Hiding wasn’t just for me, it was for everything about me.
“Well, if they’re not, I’ll at least know you got home safely.”
“Do you think I can come over sometime to climb your tree? It has steps and mine doesn’t.”
I grin at her. “Anytime, kid. My tree is your tree. And if you come by in the next few days, I can show you two other hiding spots my brothers and I built.”
“Really? Cool!” Hadley lights up.
We get toward the drive and there’s someone at the car. Her dark brown hair falls down her back in waves and she’s lifting a paper bag from her trunk. When she turns, our eyes meet, and my heart stops.
Her lips part as the groceries tumble to the ground forgotten as I come face to face with the woman who has haunted my dreams.
My angel has returned, only she isn’t mine.