Autumn Reger is no stranger to mistakes—she’s made more than enough to last a lifetime. Unfortunately, the consequences of those mistakes and her distrust of men keep haunting her.
Keith Burke served his country with honor, but his service in Afghanistan ended with a roadside bomb. The emotional and physical scars leave him wondering if he’ll ever be able to make a friend or find true love.
Can two wounded hearts heal the scars of the past to find the future God has planned for them?
The Haven Falls Community Center echoed with laughter of happy children and adults. Keith Burke leaned against the wall, wishing he were anywhere else. Why had he let his pastor talk him into coming?
Because Pastor Joe threatened to talk to Mom and Dad about my depression.
His parents couldn’t deal with any more. That’s why Keith had gone to his pastor in the first place. Seeing a professional counselor was out of the question, since it would mean explaining to his parents why he needed a ride to the appointment. The church was close enough for him to walk.
Of course, if he hadn’t lost the sight in one eye, he could probably drive himself wherever he needed to go. But wishing the past hadn’t happened changed nothing.
A woman came into the crowded room who didn’t look any happier to be here than he was. Keith straightened as he studied her. Shiny black hair brushed the tops of her shoulders, her tan complexion fairly glowed, and she had a figure to die for.
Maybe the pastor had done him a favor by insisting he come.
Keith took a step in her direction and stumbled against an empty chair. A small twinge shot through his right hip as humiliation washed over him. As if he could impress any woman. That had all ended over two years ago, and he no longer had hope of ever getting a date. A friend would be nice, but even that wasn’t likely. Not with the way people looked at him with pity or disdain, or treated him like a pathetic invalid. A man could only take so much before he went postal or became a hermit.
He straightened the chair and headed for the exit. There was no point in staying, and his pride wouldn’t have to suffer any more injury if he left now. Pastor Joe should be happy he’d put in an appearance.
“Keith! Wait up!” Joe joined him with long, steady strides. “Leaving already?”
Keith sighed and turned toward the pastor. “Yeah, I didn’t see a point to staying any longer.”
“You’ve been here less than twenty minutes.” Joe crossed his arms. “That doesn’t show me you’re willing to fight past the depression and give enjoying life an honest try.”
“So, what do you want me to do? Stay here and try to ignore the pitying looks everyone gives me? Pretend I’m just ever so happy to be surrounded by people who have no idea what I’ve been through?”
“If that’s what you want to do, I suppose you could.” Joe cast a glance over the room before returning his gaze to Keith. “Or you could relax and have fun. Quit focusing on your misery and look at the good in life.”
Keith snorted and looked away. Joe kept telling him to focus on the good in life, but Keith still hadn’t figured out where to find it. His gaze landed on the dark-haired woman. She stood close to a side door and looked ready to bolt. Maybe he wasn’t the only one forced to be here against his will.
And maybe she was his way to make Joe happy. “OK, Joe, you want me to participate in the evening? Fine. I’ll give it one shot, but if it fails as miserably as I think it will, you’re going to let me go home. And you won’t tell my parents I’ve been talking to you. They don’t need to know that.”
“I’ll accept the deal with one minor change. You have to give it a true attempt. You can’t just halfheartedly pretend you’re trying to enjoy yourself, because we both know that will fail.” Joe placed a hand on Keith’s shoulder, his gaze softening with sympathy. “But if you give it your best effort, and you honestly can’t deal with being here any longer, I won’t force you to stay.”
“Thanks.” It was these rare moments of seeing Joe’s compassion that kept Keith talking to the man. Joe wouldn’t take any nonsense, and he insisted on pushing people to their limits, but he also knew there were times people had to retreat and regroup before they were ready to be pushed again. “If you’ll excuse me, I have an event to pretend to enjoy.”
Joe chuckled and lowered his hand. “Pretend long enough and hard enough and you just might surprise yourself by actually having fun.”
Keith shook his head and walked away, doing his best to avoid limping. If he stayed here long enough, he might have to beg a ride home from someone so he didn’t get stopped for public intoxication again. Thanks to passing a breathalyzer and having a senator for an uncle, that time, he’d been released without being charged with anything and all record of the stop had been destroyed. He could probably get off again, especially since he didn’t drink, but he didn’t want to go through the hassle or the humiliation.