Love Is a Battlefieldby Annalisa Daughety
All relationships are doomed to fail—
at least that’s what history has taught Kristy O’Neal.
Left at the altar, Kristy returns from her solo-honeymoon to ask for her old job back as/p>/p>/i>/p>/i>… See more details below
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All relationships are doomed to fail—
at least that’s what history has taught Kristy O’Neal.
Left at the altar, Kristy returns from her solo-honeymoon to ask for her old job back as a park ranger at Shiloh National Military Park in Tennesse. But the position’s already been filled. So she takes a seasonal position, praying something will open up before this job ends at Labor Day.
Ace Kennedy gets off on the wrong foot with beautiful, spunky Kristy—not only does he have her job, apparently she doesn’t always like the way he does it. But he has a secret: he’s really here to write a history of his family, who can be traced to this very battlefield.
Ace is appalled to learn Kristy doesn’t believe in true love. Using his own ancestors’ story as proof, Ace begins the battle to win Kristy’s heart.
But when Kristy learns he’s keeping secrets from her, her skepticism seems justified. Can she risk her heart on the battlefield of love one more time?
Read an Excerpt
Love is a Battlefield
By Annalisa Daughety
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Annalisa Daughety
All rights reserved.
If someone had told Kristy O'Neal that the battlefield at Shiloh would see another casualty nearly one hundred and fifty years after the battle ended, she'd have thought they were crazy.
Yet two weeks ago, one last soldier had been injured on the majestic field. And Kristy had the battle scars to prove it. Admittedly, her wound was emotional, not physical, but she still wondered if the splintered pieces of her heart might be tougher to knit back together than a bullet-shattered bone.
Whether she was ready or not, her recovery time was over, so she squared her shoulders and headed back onto the hallowed ground. Never let it be said that Kristy couldn't soldier up with the best of them. Ranger hat firmly in place and gold badge glinting in the May sunlight, she marched briskly to the visitor center.
"Morning, Kristy." Ranger Owen Branam stopped putting money in the cash register slots long enough to nod in her direction. "You have a nice trip?" He closed the drawer, finished with his preparations for the day's visitors.
Nice trip? A cruise spent faking allergies to explain away tears. Who wouldn't enjoy that?
"Lovely." she managed what she hoped was a convincing smile. "The weather was great." scooting past him, she attempted to make it to her office without further questioning.
The apprehension in the older man's voice made her stop in her tracks. She slowly turned to look back at Owen.
He ran his finger around the neck of his shirt as if he had a little too much starch in the collar. "The chief asked me to have you go straight up to his office when you got in." He motioned toward the counter. "You can leave your things here. I'll keep an eye on them while you're upstairs."
Only five minutes into her morning and her plan to fly as far under the radar as possible had already gone out the window. So much for the low-key first day back she'd hoped for.
"Thanks, Owen." Kristy put her hat on the counter and tucked her purse underneath the desk.
As she got to the top of the stairs, an unfamiliar voice called out a greeting to Owen. Twisting around, she peeked over the railing. Wow. A Johnny Depp look-alike was helping Owen straighten the brochures. The second thing she noticed about him, after his movie star resemblance, was the park service uniform he wore. Surely he wasn't a new employee. She'd only been gone a few weeks. Things didn't usually happen that quickly at Shiloh national Military Park.
"Glad to have you back."
The gruff voice of Chief Ranger Hank strong made her jump and turn around.
She felt her face grow hot. Had he been watching her ogle Ranger Depp? she cleared her throat.
"Glad to be back." She followed him into his office and perched on one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs in front of his desk. Her gaze skimmed over a hodgepodge of furniture, maps, and historical books. None of the furnishings matched, except for Hank's oversized desk and equally oversized chair that had always reminded her of a king's throne.
"Good, good." Hank settled himself behind the desk and peered at her over his round bifocals. "Look, Kristy. There's no easy way to tell you this." For a moment, an expression that looked like uncertainty flitted over his weathered face.
Uh-oh. As befitted his name, Hank strong was always sure of himself. Whatever he was about to say, she wasn't going to like it.
"I told you before you left on your trip there'd be a job waiting for you when you got back." Hank paused.
Kristy could tell he was choosing his words carefully.
She nodded. "Yes. And believe me, I'm so grateful." When she'd turned in her two-week notice, it had felt like she was letting him down, letting the park down. After all, she'd begun working at Shiloh while she was still in college. It was the only place she'd ever worked—or ever wanted to work, for that matter. After her plans had abruptly changed, she'd been relieved when Hank stepped in and told her there was still a place for her at Shiloh.
"Well, there was one thing I didn't mention."
"Oh?" Why do his words sound so ominous?
"By the time I found out you weren't moving and were still available to work, your position had been filled." He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Kristy. The paperwork had already gone through. There was nothing that could be done."
She tried to catch her breath. Knowing she was at least able to come back to work at the park was the only thing that had gotten her through the past two weeks. "But you said..." Her voice trailed off as she willed herself not to panic.
"I know. I said I had a position for you. And I do." He leaned back a little in his chair, visibly relieved to have the bad news off his chest. "You're welcome to stay on as a seasonal ranger."
Seasonal? That was where she'd started nine years earlier, the summer after her freshman year of college. She glanced around, hoping for a paper bag she could breathe into. Of course, what she needed most was a rewind button that would allow her to go back in time and decide not to quit her job. But if she could travel back to the past, knowing what she did now, there wouldn't have been a reason to leave Shiloh in the first place.
"You want me to be a seasonal?" Kristy's voice squeaked. "What about my salary?"
A frown drew his bushy brows together. "There'll be a pay cut. And you'll move to the office shared by the seasonal staff. In fact, Owen has already put your box of office doodads in there."
If she hadn't been so shell-shocked, she probably would've laughed at his word for the contents of the box she'd left in her former office weeks earlier. Instead, all she could think was how she'd planned to stop by and pick up her things once the movers arrived. But the moving van had been permanently rerouted.
"You can still live in park housing. I know you've already packed most of your things, but Owen said he didn't think you'd actually moved anything out yet." He handed her a manila folder. "Your decision, kiddo. We'd love to keep you around. You're a great park ranger. But I understand if you want to go in a different direction now."
She took the file from him and glanced at the paperwork inside. The contents of the folder would effectively help to move her back down the career ladder she'd been climbing.
"What happens in September?" The seasonal positions at Shiloh ran from Memorial Day through Labor Day. And since they were only a few days shy of Memorial Day, she figured she should feel lucky there was even a seasonal position still available. They usually filled pretty quickly.
"Well." He leaned back even farther and pressed his fingertips together. "At that juncture you'll have a few options. Perhaps a permanent position will open here. Or we can look around at other parks and try to get you a transfer."
Or I can leave the park service.
He rose to his feet. "If you want to think about it for a day or two, that's fine."
She knew Hank well enough to know that giving her time to consider the offer was his way of being sympathetic. Despite her trembling legs, she managed to stand. "Thank you," she mumbled and scurried for the stairs, her mind spinning like a recently fired cannonball.
A permanent position opening at Shiloh was pretty much out of the question. Most of the rangers planned to stay until retirement age, some of them even longer. And she wasn't interested in a transfer. This was the park she loved. Kristy had grown up in nearby Savannah, Tennessee, and some of her earliest memories were of the cannons and monuments at Shiloh.
Owen avoided eye contact with her as she descended the stairs.
Thanks a lot, buddy.
He'd obviously known what the meeting was going to be about, but he hadn't had the nerve to give her a warning before she went upstairs. Kristy couldn't blame him though. No one liked to be the bearer of bad news.
And with her newfound knowledge, the mystery of the unfamiliar ranger was solved. The Johnny Depp look-alike was the ranger who now had her position. Not to mention her office.
She silently gathered her hat and purse from the front desk and took them to the room reserved for seasonal staff. As she passed the office she used to occupy, a fleeting glance told her that Ranger Depp wasn't inside. The seasonal office, if it could even be called an office, was full of old desks and equipment. Kristy turned on the light and took in the sparsely decorated white walls. It was a far cry from the cheerful yellow she'd painted her former office last year. Thankfully, the other members of the seasonal staff wouldn't arrive until Monday. At least I should have peaceuntil Memorial Day. She could even move the desks and junk, buy some paint for the walls, and live out the next few days in Pretend Everything's Okay Land.
Except, eventually, she'd have to face reality.
She flipped on the computer and silently tapped her fingers on the desk as she waited forever for it to boot up.
Can I do this? Can I take a step down in pay and status? seasonals were at the low end of the totem pole. She remembered those days all too well. Getting assigned the tasks no one else wanted to do and being expected to do them without grumbling. Would they do that to her again? Or would she continue to be treated as permanent staff, despite the demotion?
Either way, it wouldn't be pleasant.
She glanced down at the box of her things on the floor next to the computer, and tears flooded her eyes. Empty picture frames peeked out from the box flaps. The pictures that had once been in them were nowhere in sight. Someone had wanted to spare her feelings today. Either that, or they didn't want to be stuck with an emotional female to console.
The frames might've been without pictures, but Kristy knew what they'd once held. Her heart pounded as she grabbed all three frames and tossed them in the trash can, taking unexpected pleasure in the sight and sound of shattering glass. A yellow and white wad under a large shard caught her eye. She couldn't resist carefully fishing it out of the can, even though she knew better.
Kristy unwrinkled the ball and smoothed it out on the old beat-up desk, running her hand over the creases in the paper. Fancy paper, as Owen called it months ago when he'd first seen it. Her vision blurred with fresh tears, but she didn't need to read the words to know what they said.
For a long moment, she stared down at the engraved invitation.
To her wedding.CHAPTER 2
The buzzing cell phone put a stop to what could have been a disastrous trip down memory lane. A glance at her phone identified the caller as Vickie Harris, park ranger at the Washington Monument—and one of her best friends in the world. Kristy quickly wiped away the tears and flipped open the phone.
"Hello," she said softly. The old building's thin walls meant phone conversations had to be whispered in order for them to remain private.
"Hey, girl. I had a second and wanted to call and check in on you. How's the first day back?" The concern was evident in Vickie's voice and immediately became the first bright spot in Kristy's morning.
"You're not going to believe this, but I just had a meeting with Hank, and—"
"How is good old Chief Strong?" Vickie cut in. "Still as grumpy as ever?"
Every summer during college, Vickie and Kristy had worked seasonal positions at Shiloh. They quickly learned that beneath Hank's tough exterior was a heart of gold. But after today, Kristy wasn't so sure.
Kristy barely managed to keep her voice down as she filled her friend in on the bombshell that had effectively blown up her morning. Saying it out loud to Vickie only made her predicament all too real.
"No way. What are you going to do?" Anger tinged Vickie's soft southern drawl. No matter how many years she spent in Washington, Vickie would always be a southern belle. "You aren't going to take it, are you?"
"I don't see that I have a choice. You know I'm not interested in another park. Besides, I live in park housing. If I don't take it, I'll have to find a new place to live. And I really don't want to move right now on top of everything else." The buzzer sounded as the back door opened. Had her replacement entered the building?
"Well, I can understand that, but why can't you just have your old job back?"
"They've already hired someone to fill my position."
"What?" Vickie obviously wasn't expecting this bit of news. "That was fast. Who is it?"
"Captain Jack sparrow." "Who?"
Kristy already felt like everyone expected her to have a nervous breakdown. No need to give them any more reason to be suspicious. "Nothing. I haven't met him yet." she looked around at the bare white walls and wrinkled her nose. "Oh well. At least I have one more summer here."
"Oh Kris. I'm so sorry. This has to be tough. Any word from Mark?"
Kristy glanced down again at the wrinkled wedding invitation and rubbed her fingers over the raised letters that spelled out her and Mark's names.
"Nope. None. I don't have anything to say to him anyway." she took a deep breath. Just the mention of Mark and she felt her blood pressure rise.
"Well, I have plenty to say to him." Vickie was almost yelling. "Listen to me. You deserve so much more than he could've ever given you. I know you're hurting. But I promise you this is a good thing."
Kristy could feel the hot tears welling up again. Sometimes being female wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
"I know. I can see that we didn't belong together. And believe me, I've had a lot of time to think about things these past two weeks." she wadded the invitation back into a ball and shoved it into the trash. Where it belonged. "You ever need some alone time? Just go on a honeymoon cruise by yourself. You'll have plenty of time to think."
Although, even with all the time she'd had to reflect on her problems, she still wasn't sure which she'd rank as the lowest point of the past two weeks—Mark literally leaving her standing at the altar, or the reality of embarking on their honeymoon alone. She couldn't decide.
"if it's any consolation, I think the worst is over. I'm praying for you."
Kristy was glad someone was praying for her. Ever since the almost wedding, she was having a tough time talking to God. It seemed like her prayer button was stuck on mute.
A rap at the door made her jump. Owen poked his head in and signaled for her to come out front. She held up one finger to let him know she'd be there momentarily, and he disappeared.
"Vick, I need to go help Owen collect visitor fees and get the movie started."
They said their good-byes, and Kristy closed the phone with a snap. As she walked out to the familiar desk, she took a deep breath. It was time to put her troubles aside. After all, rangers were supposed to be tough and ready for anything. She smiled at a visitor who had a question about the driving tour and found her tension lift as she slipped into ranger mode. Whatever the circumstances, she was glad to be back.
"The twenty-five-minute movie will begin in five minutes. Please make your way to the theater and be seated." Owen's booming voice was magnified by the loudspeaker. He gave Kristy a wink as she grabbed the remote for the movie. He knew how much she hated making announcements into the microphone. She guessed he must be trying to make up for her lousy morning.
Kristy ushered the last of the visitors into the theater, pressed Play on the remote control panel, and closed the door. Finally. For the first time all morning, things felt almost back to normal. But her resolve faded completely as she came around the corner and saw the job stealer behind the desk with Owen. They were talking and laughing. Like buddies already.
betrayal stabbed her gut, even though she knew it was ridiculous to expect Owen to ignore someone out of loyalty to her. She forced herself forward. She'd been hoping to put off meeting the new guy until she'd adjusted to the fact that someone had come in and taken over her job. It looked like she was out of time, though.
As Kristy made her way to the spot where the men were standing, she couldn't help but take note of her replacement's appearance. His chiseled jaw gave him the air of someone accustomed to being in charge. Tanned skin and muscled forearms indicated time spent in the great outdoors. As she got closer, she could see the flecks of gold in his dark brown eyes, watching her with interest as she approached. But no matter how nice he was to look at, he had her job. That was a permanent strike against him in her book.
Excerpted from Love is a Battlefield by Annalisa Daughety. Copyright © 2009 Annalisa Daughety. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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