The Army Ranger's Surprise

By: Donna Michaels

(the Men of At-Ease Ranch)

Once again, I’d like to dedicate this book to all the readers who asked for Vince’s and Leo’s stories. This was a very special “write” for me.

And to those whose lives have been touched by suicide in any way. You have my heart and my support.

Chapter One

Restlessness was a bitch.

Until recently, Leo Reed had been perfectly content to spend his free time on At-Ease, the ranch his Army Ranger buddies opened to help veterans transition back into society. He was one of those vets. Hell, he was the reason behind the ranch, thanks to relentless pain, too much booze, and too damn many memories in his head that led to poor judgment and two hospitalizations he wasn’t proud of.

All of that was in his past. The carnage-heavy memories that used to taunt him with images of those he failed to save no longer ate at him day in, day out. He could start to move on—live again—but not if he clung to the ranch. Lately, he itched to do more. See more. Be more.

But more what?

Leo finished his shower, got dressed, then sat on his bed and shoved his feet into his boots.

Although he could relate to some of the sullen veterans staying in several of the bunkhouses and who had just sat in the group therapy session that finished downstairs, the suffocating dark cloud that used to follow and surround him no longer existed. Seeking help, both here at the ranch and at the rec center near his grandmother, plus the support of family and friends had motivated him to crawl out of the pit and back into society.

Trouble was he wasn’t sure what to do. Or with whom. All his buddies were in relationships. He lived with two of them and their significant others.

Grabbing his packed duffel bag, he headed downstairs in the main house they all shared.

“Hey, Leo.” Stone came out of the kitchen carrying tortilla chips and salsa. “You’re just in time for movie night. Vince is making popcorn, and Jovy and Emma are in the rec room grabbing the drinks.”

Jovy was Stone’s wife, and Emma was Vince’s fiancée. Over the past fifteen months, all four of Leo’s Ranger buddies had fallen in love. Two were married, and the other two were engaged. He was the lone bachelor of the Ranger Rifle Unit.

Stone frowned. “Do you remember whose turn it is to pick the movie?”

“It’s the girls’ turn,” Vince replied, exiting the kitchen with two big bowls of popcorn that filled the room with a buttery aroma that made Leo’s mouth water.

Hah. Any chance the guys had of watching car chases and gunfights just went out the window. Leo had shared enough Friday night movie nights to know the women usually chose a romantic comedy.

Stone motioned with his head to the duffel bag in Leo’s hand. “Where are you off to?”

“I’m heading to my grandmother’s for the weekend.” He slung the strap over his shoulder, never more grateful to have a legitimate reason to leave. Watching a chick flick while the couples snuggled on the couch was getting old. Not that he wasn’t happy for his friends. He was, but it was damned awkward, and a reminder of all that he lacked. Like a clean past worthy of getting involved with someone. Courting a girl was out of the question.

Helping his mom out, however, was a different story. She was in Galveston, assisting his sister who just had twins, and he knew it would ease her mind if he checked in on his grandmother a little more often while she was away.

It would also ease his mind. Ava Pendleton was a senior citizen who acted like a feisty thirty-year-old. Without his mom around to keep his gram out of trouble, he decided to stay on the weekends and check in on her once throughout the week, too.

“That’s too bad,” Stone said. “The girls will be disappointed, because they picked the movie just for you.”

He lifted his brows. “They did? Which one?”

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Vince grinned.

Leo grimaced. Christ, if he had a nickel for every time someone told him he looked like the actor who played the Winter Soldier, he’d have enough money to finance a damn movie.

Stone chuckled. “I thought you’d approve.”

Leo flipped him off.

The asshole chuckled louder, and Vince joined in. Now they were both on his shit list. He would’ve told them, too, but they glanced at the girls in the other room and got sappy looks on their faces.