Former Special Forces soldier Hank Fleming is living a safe, quiet life in upstate New York, but there are days he isn’t sure he’s going to make it. The sole survivor of a devastating grenade attack in Afghanistan, he is still scarred, physically and emotionally. He hangs on to his faith and tries to keep moving forward, waiting for the day that something—or someone—can make him feel whole again.
Cindy Giordano is searching too—for her biological family and a fresh start. When her journey to find her brother, Edward, leads to Hank’s front door, she is instantly drawn to Hank . . . and instantly wary. With her ex-fiancé’s betrayal still fresh in her mind, friendship is about all she can muster.
When shadows from Cindy’s past threaten, Hank’s protective instincts shift into high gear, and he realizes everyone has their own battles to fight. But the road to healing would be much sweeter with the right person by his side . . .
About the Author
In 1972, a few months after graduating high school, Irene met James Onorato, a soldier who had just returned from Vietnam. After dating two weeks, they married, raised three children, and are still happily married today.
Irene and James, both radiation protection technicians, retired from the nuclear power industry in 2014 and now reside in Louisiana. Readers can visit Irene’s website at ireneonorato.com, and find her on Facebook at facebook/authorIreneOnorato.
Read an Excerpt
More Than A Soldier
A Veteran's Heart Romance
By Irene Onorato
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Irene Onorato
All rights reserved.
Hank Fleming peeled off his cold, wet T-shirt and tossed it aside in the dark. The nightmare clung to his psyche even as he stood at his hotel room window staring into the night illuminated by only a stingy sliver of moon. Whitecaps danced like ghostly apparitions across the pitch-black ocean surface, adding to his uneasiness.
Was this reality, here, now, with his toes deep in the plush carpeting of a resort hotel in Miami Beach with the air conditioner humming? Or was the real Hank Fleming still lying on the ground in Afghanistan, a soldier bleeding from multiple wounds with his left eye dangling off his cheekbone by a few threads of nerves?
If only he could erase the images. The sounds. The RPG blast. The roaring fire consuming what was left of the truck he'd been driving with four men inside. But most of all their horrible deaths.
Hank willed his breaths to an even cadence and reined in his galloping heart. The rat-a-tat of M4 rifles, acrid smell of burning rubber, and the unit medic's face started to dissolve as if being sucked, particle-by-particle, feature-by-feature, back into another realm.
Hank brought his fingers to the eyepatch that covered his left eye socket and pressed the fabric into the hidden void. Reality, harsh and merciless, stung him to the core. He'd lost an eye, hearing in one ear, and bore fading scars where the explosion had hurled shrapnel into his flesh. But, he'd survived while four of his fellow soldiers perished.
Hank lifted his gaze to the crescent moon. "Why, God? Why?"
* * *
Cindy Giordano hurried across the parking lot, threw open the door to Wallis and Jameson Architectural Designs, and stepped inside. A glance at the wall clock brought a sigh of relief. Even with traffic nearly gridlocked, she'd managed to arrive at work a few minutes early.
The receptionist didn't return her smile.
"Good morning, Chloe. I thought I'd be late for sure. A tractor trailer was overturned on Parkview and —"
The usually cheerful and perky Chloe sat chewing her bottom lip, and worry lines creased the area between her brows. She strangled a No. 2 pencil with a nervous twisting motion as she rose to her feet.
"Is something wrong?"
"Ricky said to send you to his office as soon as you got here."
Next to Chloe's desk, a corridor passed through cubicle city to the far wall where the passageway split into a T. The table that held the coffee urn, stacks of Styrofoam cups, and fixings stood strangely silent. A man peeked over a white partition in her direction but turtled his head back into concealment when their gazes met.
"What's going on? Why is it so quiet back there?"
Chloe's pencil snapped in half with a pop. She flinched. "You'd better go see Ricky."
"Okay, I'll do that now."
Rick Jameson's door stood slightly ajar. Cindy gave a light rap with her knuckle and pushed it open more. "You wanted to see me?"
"Yes, please come in, close the door, and have a seat." He motioned to a leather armchair.
Cindy sat with hands folded atop her purse. "What's up, Ricky? Why the hangdog look, and why's everyone so quiet this morning? It's like a tomb out there in the cubes."
The boss ran a hand over his salt and pepper hair. "There's no decent way to segue into this, so I'll just come out with it. You're a good kid, and I like you. But, I've got to cut back on staff, and I'm going to have to let you go. Sorry, kiddo."
"Have I done something wrong?"
"This has nothing to do with your performance. I couldn't be more pleased. We're in a bit of a slump and not making enough money right now. We decided to lay off the person with the least seniority. Unfortunately, that happens to be you. Let me know if you need a reference for your next job." He slid an envelope across the table.
Cindy picked it up. "What's this?"
"It's your final paycheck and a little something extra to let you know how sorry I am."
She tucked the envelope into her purse, stood and extended an arm across the desk.
Sadness filled her boss's eyes as he cupped her hand between his.
"Thanks for giving me a job, Ricky. It's been nice working for you. You're a good man."
His lips lifted into a frail smile. "Right now, I don't feel like such a good guy."
"Well, you are." Cindy went to the door, opened it and looked back before stepping through. "Take care."
* * *
Punishing rays of sun forced Hank to move from one narrow strip of shade to the next as he examined the explosive charges attached to the framework of the abandoned Sailfish South Hotel. Precision positioning was crucial if the building was to implode on itself rather than damage one or more of the neighboring resorts.
Clipboard in hand, Hank added another item to his long list of discrepancies. There was no way the hotel was coming down in two days. No way at all. Bingham Whitehall wasn't going to be happy with his report. More than likely, he'd regret hiring Hank for the consultation. But happy or not, the fact remained that more preps were needed for the job to be done in a safe and efficient manner.
Hank leaned against an I beam, guzzled a half-liter bottle of water, and mopped his head with an already-soaked bandana from his pocket. Beyond the fence surrounding the demolition site, vacationers lazed in the shade of palms, walked the sandy beach, or splashed in the crystal waters in the shallows. Except for the rusty bones of the Sailfish, the shoreline made a picture-perfect representation of paradise.
A bikini-clad beauty strode by on the beach strand's promenade. Tall, slender, and tanned to perfection, she moved with the grace of a well-lubricated perpetual motion machine. Smooth. Fluid. Everything in sync.
A man with washboard abs walking from the opposite direction spread his arms wide, and the flaxen-haired goddess sprinted into his embrace. Their marathon kiss garnered the attention of several passersby.
Hank turned his back to the lovers with a sigh. Maybe if he wore his prosthetic eye, shaved more often, and got a haircut he'd have a better chance of a tall delicious babe jumping into his open arms. The idea deserved serious consideration. He'd start his mini-makeover as soon as the job was finished and he got back to New York. Right now, he had work to do. He slipped his glasses back on and returned for one last look at the lower part of what had once been an elevator shaft.
"How's it looking, ol' chap? Think she's ready for us to take her down?" Mr. Whitehall approached from the direction of the worksite's temporary office building, his British lilt coloring his words with hopeful expectation. Rubber boots slip-slapped against bird-thin calves until he came to a stop at the threshold of Hank's sliver of shade. Sunlight penetrated the weave of Whitehall's pith helmet and painted a crisscross pattern across his nose and cheeks. His teeth appeared as nuggets of white-hot coals as his lips parted and stretched into a smile.
Sweat drizzled down Hank's temple and marched into his beard like an army of ants. He scratched his chin against his shoulder. "I know you're the site manager, but it's not safe to be out here without a hard hat, safety glasses and sturdy work boots."
"Right you are. Sorry about that. I suppose this does set a bad example for the rest of the crew. Shall we go into the office where it's nice and cool to discuss your findings?"
"Sounds good to me." Hank fell into a slow walk beside the boss. "If you wouldn't mind, I'd like an hour or two to go over my data before giving you an official report. I'd also like to run it through a couple of computer simulations for verification."
"I wouldn't mind at all. In fact, I appreciate your thoroughness."
The initial chill of cool air inside the building caused the skin on the back of Hank's neck to tingle, bringing immediate relief from the sweltering heat. At the open door to the first office, he paused and nodded a hello to the Bracket brothers, who stood hunched over a plywood table looking at a set of blueprints. Three of their associates sat near the window sipping soft drinks. The London-based team acknowledged him with a flick of their eyes and nothing more. Their less-than-enthusiastic response came as no surprise. They'd made it clear Hank's "so-called" expertise wasn't needed or welcome.
"Bunch of no-accounts," Hank mumbled. "Who cares what they think."
"What's that you say, my good man? I'm afraid my hearing is getting a bit squidgy these days," Whitehall said from behind Hank.
"Just talking to myself, that's all." He entered the next room and nudged the door closed with his foot.
* * *
The silver hatchback's tires crunched through the gravel as Cindy pulled up to the duplex she shared with her neighbor, Mrs. Baker. The older woman rose from the wooden rocking chair on her side of the porch, and set her knitting aside and stood with a quizzical look on her face.
Cindy tossed up her hands as she climbed the steps. "I lost my job, Mrs. B." Saying it out loud made the reality of the loss even worse.
"They fired you?"
"No, nothing like that." She sat on the porch rail. "They aren't doing well, so they had to give someone the ax. I just happened to be the last one hired, so my neck ended up on the chopping block."
Mrs. Baker wagged her head. "You should have kept your secretarial job with the police department. Security, benefits, pension plan. I don't know why you ever —"
"If I'd stayed with the P.D., I would've had to look at that ex-fiancé of mine every day and be reminded of how he —" The pain was still too deep and raw. Talking about it would only bring on the familiar feeling of suffocation. "It makes me mad just to think about it."
"It's been what, four months now? Isn't it time for you to let go of the anger?"
"Let it go? Mrs. B, are you forgetting that Eric cheated on me? With my sister, no less."
"She was a foster sister, wasn't she?"
"Foster, biological, it made no difference to me. Belinda and I had been together since before we started school. I loved her."
"You still do. Even with the mountain of anger hiding it from view, you still love her. But you need to forgive her for what she did. The Lord would want that, you know."
"Easier said than done." More like impossible for a betrayal of that magnitude. "I'd better go inside and change out of my work clothes. Besides, I don't want to ruin your day with my problems. See you later, Mrs. B." Keys in hand, she started for her door.
"Maybe you should take a look at the bright side of your situation, dearest."
"Bright side?" Was she kidding? Cindy made an abrupt about-face. "My fiancé got my sister pregnant, I left a job I loved because of it, and now I've joined the ranks of the unemployed. I wouldn't be surprised if lightning struck my car right this red-hot minute. I'm sorry, Mrs. B, but I fail to see the silver lining in my cloudy life."
"Eric did find the information you wanted so you could track down that brother of yours, the one you never met, didn't he?"
"Oh my gosh. You're right, he did."
Chin held high, Mrs. Baker pressed her lips into a smug smile. "Now do you see the silver lining?"
"Mrs. B, you're a genius."
Mrs. Baker buffed her fingernails on her blouse. "I know."
"Now I can afford to devote some time to finding Edward. Why not? I paid September's rent a few days early, and the utilities are up to date. If I absolutely have to, I can tap into the money I've been saving for a new car if it takes a while to find another job. I might even be able to receive unemployment benefits. Oh, Mrs. Baker, you just made my day. Come in. I'll brew us some fresh java."
Finding Edward would mean family — a real family like she'd always dreamed of. Not that she'd been unhappy with her foster parents. They'd loved her as their own. But a blood relation could open up a whole new world for her. Edward could be married. With kids. Cindy could already be a sister-in-law, maybe even an aunt, and not even know it.
She snatched the large manila envelope Eric had given her from the top of the fridge and slid it onto the bar. Hurrying, she set up a pot of coffee then sat on a stool next to Mrs. Baker.
Mrs. B turned the envelope over. "This package is still sealed. You mean to tell me you never bothered to open it?"
"Eric gave it to me the day I found out about him and Belinda. I was upset, and for a long while I didn't even want to touch anything he had his hands on. Afterwards, in the funk I was in, I was so stressed out I couldn't concentrate on anything but living from day to day."
"Today your funk is officially over. Open this, and let's take the first steps in finding your big brother."
Cindy pried the envelope open, and slid the contents onto the countertop. "Here, you take half, and I'll take the other. Let me know when you see something interesting."
Half-glasses sat perched near the tip of Mrs. Baker's nose as she hunched over a stack of papers. Elbow to elbow, Cindy sat with her and started examining another pile. Across the kitchen, the coffeemaker bubbled and hissed, filling the air with enticing aromas while pages crinkled and swooshed with every turn.
"Listen to this," Cindy said. "It says Mom gave birth to Edward on December thirty-first, and then threw him in a trashcan in an alley. Poor baby, how terrible."
"Oh, my. Was he okay? Did somebody find —?"
"Hold on, let me read ahead." Cindy read the rest of the page, flipped it over and finished a short paragraph on the reverse side. "Unbelievable."
"What's unbelievable? What happened?"
"By the time he was found and brought to the hospital, Edward had frostbite and had to have the little toe on his left foot amputated."
"Good heavens. What about his mother? I mean, your mother. Oh, you know what I mean. What happened to her?"
"Says here she started hemorrhaging shortly after giving birth and ended up at the same hospital as Edward. Then, let's see ..." She turned the page. "Mom named him Edward Levi, gave him her last name, Giordano, and refused to identify Edward's father, just like she did when I was born."
"You mean you don't know who your father is?"
"Nope. No idea."
Mrs. Baker rubbed Cindy's back. "I'm sorry, sweetie."
"It's okay. I may never know who my father is, but at least I have hopes of finding my brother. Let's move on and see if we can uncover a clue as to how to find his present whereabouts, shall we?"
"I'll pour us some coffee, and we'll sit here until we dig up the answers you're looking for." Mugs clinked as Mrs. Baker pulled them from the cabinet. "Cream and sugar, Cindy?"
"Yes to both, Mrs. B. Oh, and there are cookies in the narrow cabinet next to the fridge if you'd like some. I'm going to get a couple of pens and pads so we can take notes. I'll be right back."
Cindy found two lined yellow pads in the nightstand drawer. For a few moments, she sat on the edge of the bed with them clutched to her chest.
If a social worker hadn't slipped and mentioned Edward, she would have never known he existed. How angry she'd been, almost eighteen years old and suddenly finding out she had a brother. A real, biological brother.
"It was for your own good." Her foster parents parroted the social worker's reason for keeping Edward a secret as if they really believed it.
The manila envelope had stayed sealed, just like the records she'd tried to get from the courthouse. Sealed. As if she didn't have a right to know her real parents. Or her brother. Things that normal people take for granted.
With a deep sigh, Cindy got up and started back to the kitchen. As she passed the dresser, she did a double take and paused for a look in the mirror. Would Edward have steely blue eyes and dark brown hair like her, or would they look nothing alike? With a little luck, she'd soon find out.CHAPTER 2
The barrage of angry voices penetrated the paper-thin wall as easily as spaghetti through a sieve of chicken wire. Hank had expected a negative response to his report, but the red-faced hostility and military-grade cursing took him aback. The only one not ready to pounce and tear him to shreds was the gentlemanly Mr. Whitehall.
Hank dropped his six-four frame onto the tattered leather office chair, plopped his mud-crusted boots on the windowsill with a thud, and palmed his cell phone. His brother would be awake, dressed in his uniform, and ready to report for duty at Fort Bragg. He pressed Edward's number.
"Hey Hank, how's it going? Still in Miami Beach?"
"Yup. Should be wrapping up this job in —"
"What's the racket I hear in the background? Sounds like you're in the middle of a barroom brawl."
Hank sniggered. "Nah. The consultation report I just delivered went over like a cement cloud. One guy is heating up a bucket of tar, and another is plucking a couple of chickens. It might get ugly down here."
"The problems you found were that serious, eh?"
Excerpted from More Than A Soldier by Irene Onorato. Copyright © 2017 Irene Onorato. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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
LOVED this book!! The characters were well written and true to life. I loved how Irene weaved in true to life troubles for the character to deal with. I've read her other book in the Veteran's heart series and loved it also. You will not be disappointed!!
More Than a Soldier is the second installment of the Veterans Heart series, an inspirational romance with a touch of suspense in the tale. The mix of the character's growth in their faith in God, their struggles and triumphs in life, and the developing romantic relationship are all well mixed together in an intriguing storyline. Former Special Forces soldier Hank Fleming is easy to like. He is kind, considerate, fun, protective, a good man, who doesn't seem to take himself too seriously, likes to be active and laugh. He is an attentive son, a good brother, and a friend you can count on. The events in the army that caused his disability are hunting his sleep. He is struggling to find his place, and worth, after the military life, and grow in his faith in God. Cindy Giordano is a sassy daredevil who loves to be challenged physically. But currently, it is her life that is challenging her to the max. She is heartbroken and devastated for the reasons of her broken engagement. She lost her job, she is fighting with her family, and she seems to have a violent stalker after her. Cindy and Hank have a great connection. They click, they got each other, understand each other, there is a lot of fun and laughter, 'non-dates' where they get to know each other. I liked the chemistry between them, how their friendship was founded first until the deeper feelings took a hold of their hearts. When the danger Cindy is in escalates, and the fear intensifies, the story starts to move at a rapid pace. With all the stress Cindy is in, it is no wonder that she is a bit of a mess, and acts out of character that causes a conflict between her and Hank. It was effortless for me to connected with characters, understand their struggles, feel their pain, hope, and joy. All the different aspects of the story, Cindy finding her brother, the developing relationship with Hank, the suspense, and danger from the stalker, the character development, both as a person and in their faith made an alluring story that was easy to get lost in and enjoy immensely. I wish there would have been more to the ending, it seemed abrupt to me and left some questions in my mind. A poignant, encouraging, and touching story about trust, faith, and love that touches the emotions, entertains and inspires. ~ Four Spoons
From the book's description I was expecting to thoroughly enjoy this story but unfortunately that wasn't the case. I found the beginning slow and rather stilted, particularly the references to God which seemed tacked on as an after thought and rather out of place. I thought the middle of the story when Cindy was being stalked was fast paced and well written but found the ending too understated, rather like a damp squib. I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley. I was not compensated for my review, and I was not required to write a positive review. The opinion expressed here is my own.