Forever Amber

by Patty Campbell

Forever Amber by Patty Campbell
Wounded Marine veteran, MSgt Misty Beachy, is retired from active duty and has found a niche in civilian life. She trains sniffer dogs for U.S. Customs. Her life is going according to plan until an older officer, Jack Hawk, a hardheaded close-air support combat pilot reappears and turns her world upside down.

Misty Beachy is never far from Major Jonathan Hawk’s mind. They met during briefings in the heat of battle in Iraq. She commanded Marine ground troops but looks like a high school cheerleader. Misty — prickly, tough, and fearless. An intriguing mystery to him. He never expected to see her again, then suddenly, there she is.

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Release Date: December 14, 2021
Genre: Contemporary | Military Novel



Chapter One 

Spring Grove, California

Santos McPherson reached for the doorbell, then hesitated. All the lights were on in his parents’ house. Music and laughter drifted from the backyard patio. Whose birthday did he miss?

This was his childhood home. He could open the door and walk in, but he didn’t. He rang the doorbell instead. He took a breath and raised his eyes skyward hoping Amber wasn’t here.

A young woman’s voice called, “Coming!” The door flew open, and there stood his fourteen-year-old sister, Maureen. Her welcoming smile turned into a look of shock. She shrieked, “Santos!” and flung herself into his arms, clinging to his neck like a spider monkey. “Mama! Daddy! Ric! Come quick. Santos is home!” She planted several kisses on his face and clamped her legs around his waist.

Santos put his arms under her bottom and laughed. “Sorry you’re not glad to see me.” He set her down.

Maureen made a face. “You big jerk! Why didn’t you tell us you were coming?” She doubled up her fist as if to slug him, but wrapped her arms about him and pressed her face into his chest. She was the image of Mama. “You’ve been gone almost two years. Don’t ever do that again!”

He hugged her hard. “I won’t, Mo. I’m home to stay.”

“Meu amado! Meu amado!” His beautiful Brazilian mom, Graciella, reverted back to Portuguese in moments of excitement. She ran to him, her arms outstretched. The love in her eyes nearly knocked the wind out of him. She placed her hands on his cheeks.

“Mama.” He squeezed his eyes shut against threatening tears. “I missed you, Mama.” He drew her tall, slender dancer’s body tight against his.

He blinked them open to see his dad rushing forward. “Oh, my God. Santos, son, it’s so good to have you home.” Maureen and his mother stepped back, and he drew the man who’d adopted him when he’d married his widowed mother, into a fierce hug.

“You got your E6 rate, I see. Nice going.” He laughed. “You outrank me now.”

Santos laughed and shook his head. “I’ll never outrank you, Dad. Not around here anyway.”

“Hey, bro.” His brother Ric punched him in the arm and flashed a wide grin. Seventeen-year-old Ricardo had grown a foot. He had Cluny McPherson written all over him and was nearly as tall as their dad. But had a way to go to reach Santos’s six-foot-five.

Santos remembered when he used to carry this young man around on his shoulders. They’d been inseparable since Ric was an infant. He hoped that not too much time had passed in the teenager’s life for them to rekindle some of that closeness.

He studied their faces. “So, whose birthday did I miss? Or is there another reason for the party going on here?”

Cluny crossed his arms. “Think back twenty years.”

It hit him like a shock wave. “Oh, wow. It’s your anniversary. How could I forget? I was there in that weird little Las Vegas chapel.”

“You were my best man.” Cluny’s smile was huge. He still looked like that handsome thirty something retired Marine who’d captured his mother’s heart and become the father Santos had longed for.

“That’s right, and Queen was Mom’s four-legged maid of honor. I’ve had happy memories of Las Vegas ever since that whirlwind trip.” He glanced around the house as they made their way to the backyard and patio and then stopped abruptly. “Is...?”

Graciella shook her head. “Amber isn’t here, but her parents and brothers and sisters are. They’ll be so glad to see you. Come.” She took his hand and led him through the wide French doors out onto the patio.

Of course, the entire Dempsey family would be here whatever the occasion. Amber’s father, Dwayne Dempsey, and Cluny McPherson had grown up together in Wyoming, had gone to UW together and then into the Marines. The Dempseys and McPhersons were like one large extended family. Santos felt an involuntary squeeze in his chest as he thought of the single Dempsey who wasn’t here tonight. She must still be in Illinois.

He’d loved Amber Dempsey since the day her godfather, Cluny, had brought her to Malibu Beach to meet him and his mother. They were only about eight at the time and he’d fallen head over heels for the fearless tomboy who helped him overcome his fear of the surf. She’d screamed with laughter, clapping, and jumping with happiness for him when he finally mastered the belly board. He ran straight to MacFearsome and his mother to report his success. Amber dissolved into a puddle of giggles when he called Cluny Mr. MacFearsome.

He spotted Dwayne Dempsey, bent over the barbecue grill. He couldn’t recall how many times he’d witnessed this scene. Dwayne had somehow become the official chef at every cookout. Just then Dempsey looked up and saw him. “Hey! Get your oversized butt over here, sailor!”

Dempsey wiped his hands on the towel tied around his waist and opened his arms when Santos approached. They indulged in a hard, satisfying man-hug and finished with vigorous back pounding. “God, it’s good to see you, son. You done with the Navy? Home for good?”

This big man was a second father to him. “Yes, sir. I’ll get my papers in a few weeks.”

Dwayne crossed his muscled arms. “I think it’s time to knock off the sir business.”

Santos had enormous respect for this man. “Thanks, Gunny.” He extended his toe and tapped the shiny, metal prosthesis on Gunny’s leg. “New hardware. Impressive.”

He grinned. “Best the VA can buy.”

Santos pointed across the yard. “Are all those teenagers over there yours?”

“All except the two boys pestering my twin girls.”

Santos chuckled. “No worries. I’m sure they’re terrified of you. I would be.”

“Marla keeps harping on me to ease off, says they’ll never be able to get dates with nice young men if I keep it up.”

“You gonna ease off?”

“Hell, no. Not till they’re at least your age.”

“I’ll be twenty-eight in September. Good luck with that one.” He patted Dwayne’s shoulder. “Guess I better go say hello.”

“Yeah. Take your two-hundred-fifty pounds of muscle and throw the fear of god into those two for me, will ya?”

Santos shook his head. “Not without your wife’s permission. I’m no fool.”

“Hey, hold up, sailor.” Dwayne leaned in close. “When are you going to mount that white charger and go drag my daughter back from Chicago?”

Santos had no response. Did he want to open up that old wound? He pressed his lips together and shoved his hands in his pockets.

* * *

Amber Dempsey hunched her shoulders, her face half hidden by a knitted scarf wrapped around her neck and face. With gloved hands, she clutched the front of her calf-length down coat snug against her chest. Without the down coat and fleece-lined boots she wouldn’t be able to trudge down Michigan Avenue in today’s freezing wind and lake-effect snow. Lord! She couldn’t see more than several feet ahead. She thought she’d freeze this morning waiting for the L, and she had it to look forward to again at the end of her day.

Days like this made her appreciate growing up in southern California. It wasn’t the weather that enticed her to come to Illinois. It was the rich fellowship she’d been awarded in pursuit of her forensic accounting degree. She had a great job now, one she enjoyed going to every day, but there was something missing, make that someone missing from her life.

One of the twins, Kathleen, had called last night to tell her the family had been to the McPherson’s anniversary party on Saturday night and that He, was home from the Navy. Kath didn’t have to say Santos, because there’d ever only been one he in Amber’s life.

“Oh”. She swallowed. “That’s nice. I know Uncle Cluny is looking forward to having him join the business.” The business being Veterans Plumbing. Cluny had built it up from scratch into a prosperous contracting firm, and he employed veterans exclusively, both men and women. She couldn’t recall how many times Santos had bragged about going to work with his dad on a weekend, learning the art of repairing a leak or fixing a toilet. At the time, she thought it was icky, but later understood it was all about Cluny and Santos working together as father and son.

“You’ll like this, sis. He whispered to Syl and me that Daddy had asked him to come and try to scare off our boyfriends. Do you believe it?”

Amber smiled. “Sounds like something Daddy would do.” She pictured Santos the last time she’d seen him, before their break-up. He’d always been gentle as a lamb, but he was a large, imposing man. Half black from his Navy SEAL father, the man who’d been killed in Iraq before he was born, and half Brazilian from his tall and willowy mother.

She and Santos had seemed an unlikely couple when children. Her hair light brown and sun-streaked, his dark brown and curly. Her eyes a soft amber-brown and his like hot fudge. The shy, skinny, brown boy, and the daring, freckled, little girl running up and down the beach and playing in the surf. The love they shared from the day they met had made her believe in destiny.

When they were teens, she’d placed her hands on his bare chest and shoulders and marveled at his strength. She always bold, he tentative and shy. It was she who took the lead, initiating sex for the first time. They were sixteen. She was ready. Santos sighed with knee-trembling gratitude. Always chivalrous and protective of her. He was her Mr. Darcy and Jamie Fraser, all rolled up in one.

It was she who’d shattered his heart. He’d assumed she’d wait for him to complete his initial Navy enlistment and then marry him. In fact, he asked her to marry him when they were in high school, then again in college. That fateful day he’d made splendid love to her and asked her again as they lay on the sunlight dappled blanket in their secret wooded place. She’d laughingly quoted her grandmother, “Why buy the cow when you’re getting all the milk free?”

Instead of laughing with her, he’d pulled away, his handsome face infused with a brick-red blush. She realized her mistake. “Santos, honey, I’m joking. You know I love you.”

“Do I?” He stood and pulled on his t-shirt and jeans. “I gotta get home. The folks want me to spend as much time with them as possible before I ship out.”

“But we...”

He turned his back on her and zipped up his pants. “Get dressed. I’ll drop you off on my way home.” He grabbed the picnic basket and sped up the path to the trees where’d he’d parked his pickup in the shade.

Reacting angrily to his sudden coldness, she shouted at his retreating back. “Stop, damn you!” When she got to the truck, she threw the blanket in the truck bed, climbed in the passenger side, and slammed the door. They rode in silence for the full half-hour it took before he pulled up in front of her parents’ house. She tugged the door handle and turned to face him. “We need a break. Maybe I’ll see you when you get discharged, sailor boy.”

He didn’t answer, just threw the truck in gear and tore away down the street.

How many times had she re-lived that awful scene?

She didn’t notice she’d passed her office building until she’d gone a half block beyond it in the freezing wind.


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