Navy SEAL veteran Grant Anderson is no longer the same golden boy he was when he left his small town of Dale, Georgia. An IED took his lower leg, and his wife didn’t stick around long after he was discharged. He’s not ready to come back to Dale and face the past and how far from it he’s come, but his dad is sick, and something’s not adding up in the family business.
Ellie Hall has had a crush on Grant for as long as she can remember. She’s no longer the gawky little girl next door, but having Grant back in town sure makes her feel that way. Helping Grant figure out what’s going on with his father’s business gives her the opportunity she needs to show him just how much she’s grown up.
Grant doesn’t think he’s the man for Ellie. She deserves a hero, not a broken man. But Ellie has her own ideas about what she needs and wants.
Each book in the Dale series is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order.
Book #1 Giving It All
Book #2 Going Home
Book #3 Storming the Castle
About the Author
Arianna is an English teacher who doubles as a taxi driver to her three girls. When not running all over New England for her daughters, she enjoys Irish music and dance, reading, spending time with her husband, and attending concerts.
She lives in Connecticut with her husband, three daughters, two dogs, and one very lazy cat.
Read an Excerpt
Present day, Dale, Georgia
Grant was coming home. Ellie smiled to herself as she fumbled open the door to her apartment over the Andersons' garage. Putting the grocery sacks on the tiny kitchen table, she looked out the window above the sink. The one that faced the back of the Andersons' house. And Grant's bedroom.
He'd be back in Dale, living a mere hundred feet from her.
She did a happy little butt wiggle and bumped the table with her hip.
"Great, he's not even back yet and already you're reverting. Pull yourself together, Elyana." Ellie laughed and started to unload her groceries. Peter was coming over for dinner tonight and she couldn't wait to tell him the news.
Mrs. Anderson had seemed happy, relieved and anxious all at once as she'd told Ellie about Grant's homecoming. He was flying in from California Thursday night on the red-eye and she'd pick him up at the airport Friday morning. When she'd asked if Ellie could sit with Mr. Anderson while she made the two-and-half-hour trip to Atlanta, Ellie had assured her it would be her pleasure.
Ever since Jenny, Grant's younger sister, had gone back to college, Ellie had tried to help out whenever her schedule would permit. She did most of her work as an accountant from home, so she was happy to stay at the Andersons' house when Mrs. Anderson had to do errands in town. The poor woman was running herself ragged taking care of her husband, the house and their auto parts business.
It was good Grant was coming home to take some of the pressure off her. Just his presence in the house would be good for Mrs. Anderson. Even if he couldn't do everything he could before he was injured in Afghanistan, he could still sit with Mr. Anderson so she could visit with her friends and have a little more free time.
Ellie's heart physically ached when she thought about Grant's injury. It had been almost three years since they'd gotten the news that a member of his team had stepped on an IED and Grant had been seriously injured. The Andersons had flown to Germany to be with him. The town had held candlelight vigils at the church and Ellie had said novena after novena praying for his recovery.
When Mrs. Anderson had returned to Dale after traveling from Germany with Grant, she'd looked years older. The stress had left grooves in her face and she'd lost at least fifteen pounds. She'd told everyone that Grant had lost his left leg below the knee and would need a prosthetic leg. His left arm and the left side of his face would be scarred, but they wouldn't know how badly until the skin grafts healed completely.
She'd said he would be in physical therapy for a long time and was choosing to stay in California even though he'd been medically discharged. She'd tried to say it was better that way because all his doctors and therapists were there, but Ellie knew it had darn near killed her that he wouldn't come home where she could take care of him herself.
But he was coming home now.
She hummed along with the radio as she chopped onions for dinner. Her mind conjured daydreams of Grant seeing her and his eyes popping out of his head at how different she looked as an adult. The image was so ridiculous she laughed out loud. Even when she'd lived right next door, Grant had hardly noticed her. She doubted he'd even remember the scrawny kid who'd been all knobby knees and pointy elbows.
She'd hit 5'10" by the time she was fifteen, and it wasn't until she was out of high school that she'd actually grown comfortable in her body. Taking yoga classes had helped control the clumsiness and given her a boost of self-confidence. She was still stick skinny with no hips or breasts to speak of, but she'd learned to enjoy her height. A better hair cut had helped give volume to her lanky, brown locks and her face no longer looked so long and angular either. Heck, with makeup highlighting her large hazel eyes and the right bra, she was actually somewhat attractive.
Not that she had delusions of a future relationship with Grant, but it sure would be nice to be able to glance out her kitchen window and see him every day. Just because she couldn't afford the prime rib didn't mean she couldn't look at the menu.
She was still laughing to herself when Peter knocked on the door.
"Come in," she called, having seen his Jetta drive up.
"What smells so good? And does it go with white wine? I bought a beautiful bottle of Pinot at a local vineyard."
"I've only just started sautéing the onions and garlic, but we're having chicken a la Elyana, so the Pinot will go great. When did you go to a vineyard?" she asked as she handed him a bottle opener.
At home in her kitchen, he got two wine glasses out of a cabinet before opening the wine. "Last night. I was on a blind date there."
"Really? How'd it go?"
"The wine wasn't the only thing that was dry."
"That bad?" Taking a small sip, she nodded in appreciation and added a splash to the oil, onions and garlic sizzling in the pan.
"Worse. He was pompous and annoying with no sense of humor. It's hard enough being a gay man in Georgia, you should at least be able to laugh about it."
"This isn't the 1950s. There are plenty of openly gay men in Georgia."
"In the city maybe. Out here in the sticks, not so much."
"Maybe you should move closer to the city."
"What, and give up my exciting career in the newspaper industry?"
"The Dale Weekly isn't exactly The Washington Post. You're not just the only reporter, you're the editor and publisher. I'm sure you'd make more money working for a bigger newspaper."
"But then I'd have an editor breathing down my neck and I wouldn't be able to report on the ever-so-exciting news of Pansy Campbell getting caught in flagrante delicto with Branson Taylor behind the old high school."
"Again? Doesn't that woman have a house?"
"I bet she's an exhibitionist."
"Probably. I think you just don't want anyone saying you can't write your scathing editorials."
"There's that too." He relaxed on a bar stool and took a sip of his wine. "I actually like it here in Dale. I didn't think I would when my uncle left me the paper, but it's a comfortable fit, except for the rampant heterosexuality."
"It's also a great place to hide if you don't want to face your past," she said, flipping over the browning chicken breasts.
"Let's not throw stones, my little sparrow. At least I went out in the world and have something to hide from."
"Touché." Ellie's grandmother's health had deteriorated before Ellie had graduated high school. She'd balanced commuting to college and taking care of her grandmother until she'd earned her master's degree. It was a choice she'd never regret, even if she did sometimes wish she could have accepted one of the scholarships to an out-of-state college.
"Speaking of hiding, are you still up for going to the Press Club dinner on Friday night?"
"Absolutely. I never pass up a chance to dress up and mingle with the fourth estate. There is an open bar, right?"
"Of course. Pressmen never pay for their own booze if they can avoid it. What were you planning on wearing?"
"Why? Are you going to buy me a corsage?"
"Very funny. No, but I want to coordinate."
"Hold on, I'll show you." She turned the burner down to simmer and washed her hands before heading to her bedroom. A shiver of delight zipped through her as she retrieved the dress Mel had convinced her to buy on her last trip to Atlanta. Carefully removing it from the plastic, she carried it out to show Peter.
"Basic black is always a good choice, but isn't it a little bland?" he asked, frowning at the high-necked, sleeveless silk sheath.
"Not when it's on. The slit in the leg goes up practically to my hip, and when I wear a pushup bra, I can fake having a figure. The high neck keeps me from looking like a giraffe, and the silk clings like a second skin. And look at the way it shimmers in the light." She used her arm to shift the fabric so the deep blue shimmered under the black like an oil spill.
"Nice. You should wear the chandelier earrings I got you for Christmas."
"I was planning on it. I'm not sure about hair though. I'm figuring up, but with all my layers, it's hard to keep them confined."
"Low bun, and use the hair wax I gave you for the layers around your face. You don't want wispy with a dress like that, you want sharp. How about shoes? Please tell me you got a pair of stilettos."
Ellie frowned as she carefully put the plastic back over the dress. She was 5'10" in bare feet. Peter was 5'8" if he stretched. She loved heels, but even little kitten heels put her at six feet tall. "Mel talked me into this awesome pair of strappy black stilettos, but I'll look like an Amazon next to you."
"Sweetie, this isn't really a date, and we're not in the eighth grade. I don't care if you're a foot taller than me. Wear the heels, they'll make your legs look a mile long and give your butt a lift. You'll have all the men drooling, and they'll be green with envy that you're with me."
"And the ones who suspect you are gay but haven't had the guts to ask will be even more confused."
"Exactly. Oh, this is going to be so much fun. I'll pick you up at five. That will get us into Atlanta in time to be fashionably late to the cocktail hour, but not so late as to miss the hot hors-d'oeuvre."
"Oh, that reminds me. Did you hear who's coming back to Dale?" Ellie asked with a smirk as she put the dress away. It wasn't easy to scoop Peter, he practically had supernatural powers when it came to gossip.
"I can't imagine, but I can see you're fit to bursting to tell me." He set the table as she fluffed the rice.
"Sue and Ed's son, the war hero?"
"Yes," she said with a little exasperation at his lack of response. "Grant hasn't been home except for the occasional visit in ten years. The last time he was here was before he got injured, over five years ago."
"It's good he's here to help Sue out, but I don't understand your level of excitement. I don't recall you getting this giddy when Nadya Sarov came back to Dale."
"I barely knew Nadya. She was a senior when I was a freshman. I grew up next door to Grant."
"Wait, wait, it's all coming back to me. Is this the Grant of your teenage fantasies?"
"I wouldn't call them fantasies. I was too young to fantasize. More like a childhood crush."
"I see. And lucky you, he'll be living right across the driveway. Do you plan on sneaking out and climbing into his bed? Or maybe he can climb the oak tree by your window and slip into your bedroom?"
"He lost his leg below the knee in Afghanistan. I doubt he's going to be climbing any trees. And he barely knew I was alive before, I doubt he's going to suddenly fall head over heels for me now. It's just —" She waved her hands in front of her, looking for the words to describe the feelings churning inside of her. "He was such a huge part of my childhood, having him back in Dale feels, I don't know, right. Better. Like a piece of my life is back where it belongs. It's stupid."
"No, it's not, it's nostalgic. But just like anything else from your past, he's going to be different now too." Peter's face grew serious and he concentrated on dishing out the salad for a moment. "He was a SEAL, right?"
"Yup. Graduated at the top of his class."
"He's seen things, done things that will have changed him. He's not going to be the same boy you remember."
"I know that."
"I'm not sure you do. War hardens a person. I was in Serra Leone for six months, and I still have nightmares about what I saw there. He was on the teams for years. He'd have to have built up a shell just to survive."
"Peter, I'm not stupid. I don't expect him to come back and be the same boy who used to pop wheelies on his bicycle in the driveway. I know he was hurt, and I'm sure he's damaged in ways I'll never understand, but he's alive. That's what matters to me. I don't expect to date him."
"You're just happy to admire him from afar?"
"You make it sound so corny."
"That's because it is. Look, if you like this guy as he is now, not the memory of how he was, I say go for it. You're an attractive woman and you most certainly need to get laid. Why not make a play for him?"
"Self-esteem? A severe dislike of awkward situations? Do you forget that I live practically in his backyard? If I threw myself at him and he didn't make the catch, I'd have to face him every single day. No thank you."
"I prefer cautious. And really, I think I'd rather be his friend. He's coming back to his hometown, not as the conquering war hero, but as an injured, divorced man. I think he's going to need a friend a lot more than a groupie."
"Friends with benefits?" Peter asked slyly.
"No, you dope." Ellie laughed out loud.
"Then how are you ever going to get laid?"
"Maybe Friday night, one of your press buddies will try to steal me away from you, and I'll let him."
"Don't you dare. Reporters make terrible boyfriends. I should know."
The ache in Grant's back was a continuous throb of misery. Trying to fit his 6'8" frame in an airplane seat was a joke. He should have coughed up the extra cash to go first class, but he just couldn't justify the expense. Now, with his spine contorted like a pretzel, he could kick himself for being a cheapskate.
Just a little longer and the plane would be touching down. The red-eye flight had been uneventful. He'd slept through most of it, hence the muscle cramps in his back and quads. That reminded him, he'd have to find a new physical therapist and a gym. He doubted Dale had anything that would suit his needs, unless the place had changed a great deal in the last five years.
God, had it been five years since he'd been back to Georgia? He did the math in his head. The last time he'd been on leave, he'd come home with Chastity for a visit. He'd hoped spending time where they'd fallen in love would help their relationship, but looking back, it had probably only signaled the beginning of the end. Their marriage had been on rocky ground before he'd been injured. He couldn't blame her for bailing when faced with months of rehab and a medical discharge.
She'd married a SEAL. She hadn't signed on to be a nursemaid.
Damn, he thought he'd moved past the bitterness, but it was apparently still there, waiting to pounce when he least expected it. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to remember what he'd learned from his Wounded Warriors Alumni buddy and let it go. Blaming her for not having the strength to stick with it was unfair and self-destructive. Hell, almost seventy percent of SEAL marriages ended in divorce without life-changing injuries.
Still, he hated the thought of failing at anything. Getting divorced, no matter how common it was in the teams, was a big failure. Now he was coming back to Dale where everyone would know about his injury and divorce, but no one would talk about it to his face. All his mom's friends from the Garden Club would stop by with cookies and pies and cluck over him, even as they said they knew his marriage would never last behind his back. His dad's cronies would slap him on the back and offer him a beer all the while trying not to look at his left leg.
His dad. Shit, he'd avoided thinking about his father's condition the entire flight. When his mom had called him and given the news that his father had had a stroke, he'd wanted to fly out immediately, but she held him off, telling him to wait until his father got out of the rehab hospital. Remembering what it was like during his own stint in rehab, Grant had used the time to get his affairs in order so now he could be home for good.
And he needed to be. Every time he'd spoken with his mother or sister over the last few weeks, he could hear the strain in their voices. There was more going on than just dad's injury, although how his mother was handling that was anyone's guess. His father was a big guy, at least as tall as Grant. Helping him to move around with one half of his body paralyzed would be no easy feat, even if his mom was taller than most women.
But beyond that, his mother was worried and wouldn't tell him why over the phone. Well, they had a two-and-half-hour ride back home where he could grill her. There'd be no dodging the truth when he had her face-to-face.
The plane landed and his fellow passengers bustled around, trying to be the first off. Grant waited, not wanting to fight his way through the crowd when he wasn't sure his back wouldn't spasm on him and he'd end up stuck in the aisle blocking everyone else.
Excerpted from "Giving It All"
Copyright © 2015 Arianna Hart.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.5 stars. First time I have read this author's work, this story was great. This was a little heart wrenching with what Grant, Navy Seal vet, went thru in his enlistment. My heart went out to him, and so many that this has actually happened to in one form or another with our military heroes, He had a lot to deal with, along with his early out from the Seals, his dad has a stroke and his mother needs his help more then ever. As he helps his mom, her neighbor, Ellie, has been a big help (but she has known the family for years, and had a crush on Grant all thru her teenage years.) Grant, being a few years ahead of her, never really seen her. Well that all changes...... It was a wonderful book, filled with steamy romance, conflict, action, and 254 nook pages.****
I can’t believe how much I enjoyed this story. It seemed pretty straightforward – a mixture of tropes that I like (PTSD, returning hero son, childhood crush, popular boy/unpopular girl, a mystery) – but Hart brought great emotion and depth to the story. Some people might get a little tired of Grant’s hot and cold attitude, but it definitely makes sense and works well with the man and the relationship. I have a pretty low threshold for that kind of thing but I think it worked well here. I really liked Ellie. She’s so caring and smart and out of her element with the oh-so-sexy Grant. When she lets herself go for it though … perfecto! The fact that she’s had a crush on him for years just adds that bit of extra umph to her issues. Grant is great too. He’s dealing with a lot – the loss of his leg and his marriage, not being a SEAL and moving home again. It’s a lot to take but when he discovers a sexy, smart, somewhat complicated woman living in his parents’ garage … things just got more interesting. The two of them together are a riot! I also loved Grant’s parents and their friends. They aren’t overly quirky like you sometimes get in small town Southern towns but there is a great mix of personalities that make you just want to move to Dale so you can call them friends. There’s also some intrigue about what is going on at the family store, which adds a little extra drama to the story and helps Grant find a sense of purpose he needs in coming home. It also gives him a reason to hang out more with Ellie, which he takes full advantage of – he’s no dummy! I will say that even though I don’t think it is a requirement to have read Son of a Preacher Man there are enough references to the characters and events from it that I think it might help give readers some additional depth to the story. If you are like me and joining here, you’ll be fine but you’ll probably be like me and add the other book to your TBR pile :) (Complimentary copy provided in exchange for an honest review)