If you’re a sucker for a man in uniform, The Return Home by Jen Talty is available on Kindle Unlimited as of this week! Get started with the first chapter, then enter to win a goodie bag that even includes chocolate!
About the book
The Return Home: The Aegis NetworkAuthor: Jen Talty
Series: The Sarich Brothers #4
Publisher: The Crafty Word Slingers
Release date: September 6th 2018
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Add to TBR: Goodreads
Purchase: Amazon UK | Amazon US
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Major, Dylan Sarich, knows only one thing: Delta Force. He has dedicated his life to the Army and his country and can’t imagine doing anything else.
Until the unthinkable happens.
During a top-secret operation, Dylan is nearly sent home in a body bag with the rest of his team. With his wounds still fresh and on extended medical leave, Dylan returns to his hometown in Jupiter, Florida to heal his body. However no amount of physical therapy will destroy the demons lurking deep in Dylan’s soul.
Dr. Kinsley Maren is an expert in PTSD and brain trauma. When her neighbor comes to her, begging for help with her son, Kinsley can’t say no, especially when she meets Dylan. She’s certain she can break through the anger and help restore his confidence and mend his broken heart. Only she never expected he’d steal hers.
Two things needed to be accomplished during Operation Stingray. First, find and rescue three marines.
Second, make sure his men got out alive.
On all accounts.
Major Dylan James Sarich closed his eyes tight, trying to erase the memories. But even if he could make the images disappear, he’d never be able to stop hearing his men, good men, scream while being tortured. The smell of burnt flesh lingered in his nostrils.
It had been four weeks since he’d woken up in a hospital in Germany, having no idea how he’d gotten there. Now he sat in the back of a small, private jet, donated by his oldest brother’s in-laws, waiting for the cabin door to open.
He glanced out the window. His mother, three brothers, and their families stood on the pavement. His niece, Abigail, helped her cousin, Kaylee, blow kisses while his nephew, Tyler, ran in circles around a stroller holding Michael, who looked to be passed out cold.
His mother held the newest addition to the Sarich family, Nick and Leandra’s second son, Emmerson, only two months old.
Behind his family, a large crowd had gathered, waving American flags, holding signs, welcoming home a hero.
Nine soldiers’ blood was on his hands. It didn’t matter that the President of the United States had called him to thank him for his service. The president had even gone as far as to say that Dylan deserved a medal.
Surviving torture, while other men died?
Nothing to be proud of.
“Are you ready?” the Army nurse who accompanied him from Germany to the Palm Beach International Airport asked.
What was he going to say, no?
At least he’d be able to walk down the stairs. It would hurt like hell, but nowhere near as bad as being electrocuted. The skin on his chest tightened, and he swore he could still feel the current tear into his muscles.
Carefully, he pushed to a standing position, grimacing the entire time.
He took the hand the nurse offered and hobbled with his broken ankle still in a removable boot. The stitches that had covered much of his body, including the ones that curved down the side of his face, had been removed. The burns on his chest and back were healing nicely, according to the doctor.
His family understood the military, and knew it would be weeks, maybe even months before they released a statement as to what really happened. His brothers, even when they saw his wounds, would refrain from asking him about any part of the mission.
Didn’t matter if he could talk about it.
He didn’t want to.
“You’ve got a lot of people out there happy to see you home,” the nurse said.
“The town of Jupiter is a tight-knit community.” He inhaled slowly so as not to shift his broken ribs, two of which had punctured a lung. “Let’s get this over with.” Standing on his own two feet still took more energy than he cared to admit. His back felt as though he’d been snapped in half. Every muscle shook and ached with each calculated step.
The pilot opened the door. “Thank you for your service.” He pulled up his sleeve, showing off a marine tattoo.
“Semper Fi.” Dylan nodded, grateful to have been flown back by a brother, but shame filled his heart.
Three marines and six members of Delta Force, dead.
They were the ones who should be given the hero’s welcome. Instead their wives, parents, children, and other loved ones buried what had been left.
The second Dylan’s feet hit the stairs leading to the pavement below, the crowd erupted in cheers.
His mother handed the baby over to his brother Nick as she raced to the edge of the staircase where another nurse and a wheelchair awaited.
Hell no. If he could walk down these steps, he’d walk to the fucking limo.
All he could hope for was that he didn’t fall.
‘Hi, Mom.” At six four, he towered over his mother, who wasn’t short by any means at five-foot-seven.
“I want to squeeze you like a bug, but I’m afraid that will hurt.”
He laughed. “A hug would be nice.”
Holding his mother gently in his arms, he blinked his eyes closed. There were nine mothers who would never get to hug their boys again.
“Sir, let me help you,” the nurse standing behind the wheelchair said.
“I’ll be walking.” Dylan draped his arm over his mother’s shoulders. He’d been a teenager when his father had died and through it all, his mom had been the glue that held this family together.
He and his brothers had always been close and had all served in the military, but Dylan felt like the outcast. It wasn’t just because he was the youngest, or that his career with Delta Force had been very different from his brothers and their time in the service. No. Dylan felt alone in a sea of marital bliss. He didn’t begrudge any of his brothers their wives or children. He loved them all and couldn’t imagine life without them anymore. However, that didn’t mean he wanted that life.
“You were always the most stubborn,” his mother said with her arm around his waist as they made their way across the tarmac.
His three brothers stepped forward and snapped to attention, saluting him. Tequila, his brother Ramey’s wife, also saluted as she’d served in the Air Force.
“Uncle Dylan!” his nieces and nephews shouted, jumping up and down, waving frantically, their mothers holding them back from racing forward and attacking. It had been months since he’d last seen them all, and every single one of them looked different.
“I hope we aren’t all staying at home,” he whispered.
His mother laughed. “Just you and me. Mia’s parents put up everyone else.”
Logan’s wife, Mia, came from boatloads of money, but you’d never know it by talking to her. She was one of the most down-to-earth women Dylan had ever met.
And she was perfect for his oldest brother.
“I won’t be staying here long.”
“You’re on mandatory medical leave for two months, where the hell are you going to go?” His mother had never been one to mince words.
He let out a long breath, saying nothing. Hurting his mother’s feelings wasn’t something he wanted to do, but he didn’t think he could stay with her for more than a week. He loved his mother too much to put her through the torment that raged inside his head.
“Baby Dyl,” his brother Ramey said. “Welcome home.”
“Thanks.” Dylan wanted to look away. He couldn’t stand to see the pain in his brother’s eyes. He and Ramey had a special bond having both gone to West Point. Not to mention they had shared a room their entire lives.
“You look like shit,” Nick said, sporting a forced grin.
Where Ramey had been the prankster of the family, Nick had been the most mature, and never much liked Ramey’s odd sense of humor. But over the last few years, Nick had loosened his reserve and that had been because of his wife, Leandra. She brought out the best in Nick.
“I look better than I feel,” he admitted, slapping his brother on the back. Nick had suffered great losses in his life, but he managed to find love again.
Dylan couldn’t love. Not that he’s really ever tried. Loving a woman just wasn’t in his wheelhouse.
He kissed each of his sisters-in-law and their children, fighting the desire to hold them so tight he sucked the life right out of them.
“You must be exhausted,” his oldest brother said while placing his arm around Dylan’s waist, forcing him to lean on Logan’s strength.
Logan had been a free spirit most of his life. Nothing much got under his skin. Then again, life had always come easy to Logan. Even when he lost an athletic scholarship, he managed to make it all work.
Dylan wanted to pull away. The idea he needed someone to lean on made him want to vomit, but truth be told, if he had to stand on his own accord any longer, he’d fall flat to the pavement.
“It has been a long few weeks,” he said, heading toward one of the limos. He figured he could sleep for a week, and he might just do that. His mom had promised him peace and quiet. His brothers had only come for the night, to welcome him home.
And make sure he was actually in one piece.
Only he’d left a large piece of himself in an undisclosed location on a mission he couldn’t talk about.
His brothers would return for the Fourth of July parade. The one Dylan hoped he would be able to get out of participating in.
“Can you manage dinner with everyone?” Logan asked.
“If I can get in a nap for about a half hour, sure. Actually, I’d like that,” Dylan admitted. Being around family for short bursts between missions had always been something he looked forward to. He could get a dose of what family life was like for everyone else, and then go back to what he loved more than anything.
“Good.” Logan held the limo door open. “We’ll do something at Mia’s parents’ house and you can leave whenever you need to.”
“Sounds good.” Dylan had known Mia and her family for most of his life. They were good people and treated him like family.
A sharp pain shot through his spine as he adjusted himself in the limo. His three brothers climbed in with him, closing the door.
“Mom’s not coming with us?” Dylan glanced out the window. His mom helped the grandchildren into the other limo, before looking over her shoulder.
“She thought we’d all like some male bonding,” Logan said.
“I’ve bonded enough with you idiots over the years,” Dylan said, rubbing the back of his neck, knowing exactly where this conversation was headed.
The Aegis Network.
All his brothers had left the military and now worked for the special organization located in Orlando, Florida. No visit went without an invitation to come work with them, so why would this be any different?
“Mom is thinking about moving to Orlando,” Nick said. Of all his brothers, Nick had always been the most serious.
And the most damaged.
Until he met his wife. He still sported a serious attitude, but he’d become a much happier man.
Dylan wasn’t unhappy. Delta Force gave him purpose, and he loved what he did.
Well, he didn’t love being captured and tortured, but everything else was pretty cool and rewarding.
“She should be with all of you living there.” Dylan stretched out his good leg. Well, the leg that hadn’t been broken. Instead, he had twelve scars from where some asshole thought it would be fun to run a hot metal blade across his skin. “She could see her grandkids all the time.”
“She comes down every weekend as it is,” Ramey said. Talk about the least likely to get married and have kids. That was Ramey. Even more so than Dylan, or so everyone thought. “Puts everyone in one central location.”
“Except you,” Logan said.
The limo rolled through the gate. The sea of people that had gathered made room for the vehicle.
Dylan rolled down the window and waved as they passed through before getting on Interstate 95 for the twenty-eight-minute drive to his childhood home in Jupiter, Florida.
“I can make Orlando my only stop in Florida,” he said, catching Logan’s gaze.
“You’re homeless.” Logan shook his head.
“I’ve quarters in Ft. Bragg when I need them.” If Dylan spent twenty nights there in a year, it would be a miracle.
“That’s not a home,” Nick interjected, glaring with those deep intense blue eyes. “Not to mention the possibility that your career could be over.”
“I’m not even thirty yet. My career is far from over.” Only, Dylan knew that wasn’t true. Besides the damage to his body, his brain wasn’t functioning properly. The neurologist told him the symptoms were most likely temporary, and he had been doing better, but only time would tell.
“I know what it’s like to have an injury destroy your dreams.” Logan leaned forward. In college, he’d lost his athletic scholarship and a chance to be a pitcher in the major leagues when a shoulder injury benched him for a season. “But you have other options and I’ve already talked to Bain Asher and Decker Griggs, and they’d welcome you to the Aegis Network family.”
“The job is yours, if you want it,” Nick said.
Dylan understood why his brothers thought he should consider the job offer. He’d be lying if he didn’t get a little excited about working side by side with his brothers. The few ops they’d worked together on the side, had been some of the best times he’d ever had working.
But it wasn’t Delta Force.
And he didn’t have a wife or kids.
Nor did he want them.
“I appreciate it, but I plan on staying in the Army, with Delta Force.”
“I want you to do me one favor,” Logan said, leaning back, crossing his arms. “Take a month to recover, and then let’s have this conversation again.”
“I won’t change my mind,” Dylan said.
“Maybe not, but what happens when the Army pulls you from missions because your body can’t handle it anymore?” Ramey asked.
“Or your brain injury isn’t temporary,” Nick said with an arched brow.
“I’m only a few weeks out from the blown mission. I’m on leave so I can heal, which I will. So let’s not get into the doom and gloom, because I’m not dead and in a few weeks’ time, I’ll be able to kick all of your asses at once.”
“Doubtful, baby Dyl,” Ramey said with a chuckle.
“Call me baby Dyl again, and I’ll ram this boot where the sun doesn’t shine.” Careful not to shift his shattered ankle, he lifted the foot that sported the boot, shoving it dangerously close to his brother’s crown jewels.
“Hey, it’s better than when what’s-her-name called you baby dildo.” Ramey grinned.
“Her name was Vicki, and she didn’t use the word big, not baby. It was not meant as a dig.” Dylan’s laugh cut short when the pain in his side reminded him of the steel beam that had crushed his chest.
The limo pulled into his childhood neighborhood, a trailer park on North Highway, A1A on the Intracoastal Waterway, and across the street from the beach. A few of the neighbors stood at the gate and a big welcome home sign hung over his mother’s double-wide that overlooked the water.
Logan opened the limo door, helping Dylan to his feet. “I’ll send the limo back in about an hour.”
The driver popped the trunk and set his rucksack on the front porch. Logan quickly opened the front door, taking the bag.
Dylan took the two steps slowly, gripping the cane, turning his knuckles white. He had a bottle full of pain pills but hadn’t taken a single one. He didn’t like how they made his mind fog over. If he was going to get through this, he needed to know what his body could really handle, and when.
He also needed to keep his mind as sharp as possible, and doping up would only make things worse.
“I put your bag in your old room, and Mom has the fridge fully stocked.” Logan stood at the front door with his hands on his hips. “Do you want us to stay until dinner?”
“No. I told Mom I wanted to nap, so I appreciate you all giving me a little space.”
Logan nodded and left, leaving Dylan alone with his thoughts.
He hobbled to the bookshelf and pulled down the picture of him, his brothers, and his father on the last day they’d seen their dad alive.
Stick together, boys. Make sure you always have each other’s back.
A dryness rubbed across his eyes. “I miss you, Dad.”