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“Mary said I’m done. If I’m on leave tomorrow, I have to pack up my apartment. Anyway, I want to get home and see my family.”

“When do you leave?”

“Next month sometime,” Bridget said, frowning. “Sorry, I didn’t get the date. I must need my head examined.”

“You’re stressed! Call her right now.” Someone handed the phone over, so Bridget dialed the desk and Mary answered.

“When do I leave?” Bridget asked. “I forgot to ask.”

“Let me look.” She rifled through some papers. “Four weeks on the nose. That’s why you’re done now. They’re getting an impromptu party together for you tonight, just an FYI. Tell your coworkers.”

She hung up and gave Mary’s message to the people in the room while they got the patient off the table to take to the recovery room.

“You got your wish. It’s party time tonight,” she said. “Ask Mary for details.”

Four days later, at the San Diego airport, she’d packed the contents of her life that didn’t go into storage into four giant suitcases and placed them on a conveyor belt headed to the underbelly of a plane. She was in a state of disbelief, thinking she’d be at that job, in the apartment she shared with two other nurses, for the foreseeable future.

“Your deployment is eight months,” one of her housemates said, crying. “You’ll come back here and everything will be just the way you left it.”

Not very likely, she thought. She had a feeling of finality she couldn’t explain. Maybe she’d be back, and maybe not. They couldn’t guarantee the same assignment when she returned, regardless of Mary requesting her. Her orders were standard orders issued to an officer in the Navy. And when her tour of duty was over, she’d go home to rest for a brief time until her next orders came through.

The flight to New Orleans took five hours with one layover. In New Orleans, the heat and humidity slammed the passengers as they got off the plane and hiked up the sweltering skyway.

“Yikes, I’m home!” she cried over the phone to her waiting father. “It’s so hot.”

“You’re not in San Diego any longer. I’m waiting in baggage.”

She hadn’t seen her father in nearly six months and he’d aged, scaring her. “Daddy, are you okay?”

“I’m fine. I need a haircut and a shave.” He hugged her, laughing at her concern. “You look wonderful. But I’m heartsick about the reason you’re home.”

They waited at the carousel for her baggage, talking about her orders. Thom Benoit had served in the Gulf War and now his daughter, who ostensibly joined the Navy because he had served in the Navy, was going to a war zone. Her baggage finally arrived, and they hauled it out to his waiting SUV.

“I’m not sure about this heat…”

“Just wait, the tourists are in full force, too. We don’t leave the house unless it’s absolutely necessary, like to pick up our only daughter at the airport.”

She lasted two days and confessed she was miserable. “I’m ready to go back to San Diego,” she told them.

“Let me call my brother, Val,” her mother, Gretchen, said. “He’s down in Cypress Cove and the weather is different there.”

“Sweetheart, it’s not that different,” Thom said. His brother-in-law, Val Amotte, was not one of his favorite people. “The bayou is hot and they have bugs.”

“Yeah, but there are no tourists,” Bridget said. “I can’t stand this another day. Maybe just a few days…”

“We’ll take you,” Gretchen said, flashing her husband a look. “I want to see Val. I missed his wedding…”

“They didn’t invite us,” Thom said, snickering.

“I’ll get in touch with the cousins while I’m there.”

Chris Harcourt, Dave and Justin Chastain and their significant others would play an important role in Bridget’s life in the coming months.

Chapter 1

Luke Esprit, age thirty-two, known locally as The Bod, was the guy who was available to do most of the construction in Cypress Cove. On Saturday, on the way to Bayou Cottage to work on a barn raising, he stopped in at the hardware store for supplies. Lola, girlfriend of the hardware store owner, teasingly took a step back with her hand to her heart when Luke walked through the door, amusing the female customer whom she was waiting on.

“Lord, have mercy,” the woman said. “Who is that?”

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