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After spending the night with her parents, the next day she boarded a plane for Kennedy airport where she met up with her colleague from Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton, Connie Frederick, to begin the fourteen-hour trip to Kabul.

The women didn’t hesitate to hug when they saw each other at the gate. They had a cordial, professional relationship with little in common, until now. Connie was leaving behind her husband, a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, and two girls, six and ten.

“How’s your family taking this?” Bridget asked.

“My husband just got home in June,” she answered. “My kids are freaking out. But they’ll be okay. My mother lives in Oceanside and she’s promised to help. What about you?”

“My folks freaked out. There’s no one else. Well, I met someone while I was on leave and he’s ready to get serious, but there’s no way.”

“You might change your mind once we get there. It gets lonely fast.”

This was Connie’s second tour of duty.

“Well, he’ll be available, he said. But he’s pretty hot so I’m sure he’ll find a replacement.”

The boarding call echoed over the loudspeaker, and the women queued up to get on the plane. There was a tap on her shoulder.

“Bridget? No way.”

Turning, she was face-to-face with Corpsman Benjamin Akins. They hugged, happy to see each other.

“Ben, are you on this flight?” she asked, shocked. “Why didn’t you get in touch?”

“Show them your boarding pass,” Connie said, elbowing her.

They got through the kiosk and started the journey down the gangway to the plane.

“I swear to God, I thought of it but I figured you would probably think I was in line for a mercy screw.”

“You’ve got to know me better than that,” she said, laughing. “By the way, this is Connie. Connie and I work together in the OR.”

“Nice to meet you, Connie.”

They sat three across when a sympathetic granny who was flying to the first stop traded her seat with Bridget. Connie and Ben talked nonstop about their favorite Boston sports teams; they were both from Massachusetts, and Bridget didn’t have the slightest interest. In a matter of minutes, she was sleeping.

The morning after Bridget left, Luke woke up with an emptiness he’d never experienced before. The empty wine bottles in the kitchen were partly to blame. He’d sent her a text message, and she never answered him. Checking the time, he figured her plane had taken off, and she’d land sometime early in the morning the next day.

He lay there thinking about their time together; after the first night, she’d moved into his bed. He pulled her pillow over, burying his face in her scent, unable to help himself. He laughed, knowing it was bordering on perverse. Love was the furthest thing from her mind, so it was difficult to admit but he was in love with her.

Finally, he forced himself to get out of bed.

Gratefully, he was busy. He’d slacked off when Bridget was staying with him and now, he’d make amends, working twelve hours a day to get caught up. On the weekend, he helped Justin Chastain out, lending a hand with his barn and clinic project again. No one asked him about Bridget, and he wouldn’t know what to say if they had.

In retrospect, it was the loneliest time of his life. Over Christmas, he’d run into Val Amotte at Spencer’s, ordering sausage for their Christmas gumbo. Bridget had left two months ago. He’d never received an email from her, nor had she answered his texts. Heartbreak had segued to anger, an emotion he wasn’t that familiar with, and ended in apathy.

When he saw Val, his first inclination was to turn and run out of the store but it was too late.

“Luke! Long time no see. How’s the construction business going?” Val’s jocularity pushed all the wrong buttons and Luke could barely be civil.

Finally nodding his head, he surrendered. “It’s okay, I guess, Val. You doing any projects?”

“I’m restoring my old barn. Finding lots of treasures in there, too. Hey, I’d like you to come by and look at a piece that I think came out of your house. The previous owners had stashed it in back with a bunch of trim. This looks like a mantel. You interested?”

That immediately got his attention and he pushed Bridget out of his thoughts. “I’m interested. You name the time and I’ll be there.”

“Whatcha doing now?”

“Picking up my dinner, just like you,” Luke answered.

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