So I thought you guys might enjoy reading the first scene in HIS LAST BREATH. I got a lot of emails about Chris and if he was going to find his HEA after Addison’s and Murphy’s story, and it took me almost two years to write the damn thing. Not to mention six false starts because the story wouldn’t gel just right.
Chris deserved the best I could give him, though, so here he is. Your first look at HIS LAST BREATH, releasing December 3rd, 2018. For those counting down, that’s thirteen days from now…
The gentle sway of the train served just enough movement to keep Christopher Hardy from giving into the darkness that waited as his life’s blood coated the floor of the compartment. Dark blooms appeared against his vision. Fear and worry that he’d failed his sister and that she was going to die soon overwhelmed his fading mind. His body was numb when his best friend knelt over him, alarm in his icy blues that promised the Grim Reaper was coming for Chris soon.
The silence that followed after his sister and his best friend been taken away stretched over him, broken only by the click-clack of the train. Time had no meaning as he waited for death. All he could remember was the pain in his chest and the worry in his soul.
Somehow he’d survive.
He still wasn’t sure how.
Waking up in the hospital after he’d been shot and almost killed on that train was…. Well, it had a lasting influence. A week after that moment, he was barely alive. They said it was too soon to see if he’d have full use of his extremities again since he’d been bleeding out for so long. Too soon to see if his life as he knew it was over.
“Do we have a deal, Mr. Hardy?”
Chris focused on the man before him, taking in the black-rimmed glasses that had seen better days, and the faded, hole-ridden jeans that looked like he’d wiped out on the skateboard a few too many times. His expression wasn’t grim. He’d asked the question like they were having coffee instead of deciding life or death.
“I don’t think I can make that decision,” Chris replied, hating how hoarse and raspy his voice sounded. He’d trained his entire life to be strong and capable. To be a Navy SEAL. To serve his country. To be a hero. Without that, what was he but a guy with a broken body? “My family is all I have left.”
The man—Nathan Hawk, he called himself—was definitely a cocky son of a bitch. The way he’d entered the room, his head high, his shoulders back and body tall… The man knew what he wanted and how to get it. Every time his dark eyes focused on him, such intense power within them… A lesser man would have cowered under the sheets.
“Your outlook isn’t good otherwise,” Nathan said, flipping through Chris’s chart. “There’s a lot of damage to your internal systems, and maybe your spinal cord. Looks like they’re worried about future mobility in your extremities as well.” He focused on me. “Could you really live in a wheelchair, Mr. Hardy? Walk with a cane? No more runs down the beach, no more missions, no more saving the world.”
Nathan’s dark fingers turned the pages on Chris’s medical chart. He’d explained the procedure already, the one that might save him. He definitely talked as if he knew what he was doing. But Chris didn’t trust him. He hadn’t asked for money, but Chris was sure a miracle treatment had to come with a price tag.
“I could still pull through on my own,” Chris said. According to the doctors, Chris wasn’t out of the woods yet, but it wasn’t impossible that he could do it.
“It’s unlikely you’ll survive another session under the knife.” Nathan waved the chart before hanging it back up at the end of the bed. “If you don’t go through another surgery, I think you’d live. But you’ll never be one hundred percent again. Shit, you might not even be fifty.” He came around the bed and leaned over Chris, those intense eyes boring into him. “And we both know that mere survival isn’t enough for someone like you.” He paused, searching Chris’s face. “Is it?”
Chris glared at the mother fucker then glanced where the machinery beeped beside him, monitored his vitals, and the IV dripped what was definitely dulling the pain he should have been feeling. Surviving two shots to the chest at close range and not bleeding out before help arrived on a moving train was a damn miracle. By every account, Chris should have been dead. But if this man had his way, he still would be, to everyone that mattered to him.
“Well?” The man asked.
“No, it’s not,” Chris admitted. Surviving was only the first step.
“It’ll be months before you’ll be able to do physical therapy. Maybe even longer if the damage to your nervous system isn’t reversible.” Nathan stood up straight and crossed his arms. “It’s a fairly simple procedure, in three phases. It’s not the most pleasant. But it will cut your recovery time to a quarter of what it is now. You’ll not only survive, but you’ll thrive.” He studied Chris carefully. “But I don’t think the procedure is what you’re having difficulty with.”
The stipulation. Yeah, that was exactly where the problem was. No contact with family or friends. No SEALs. No Addison. No Mom or Dad. Chris Hardy would die, and be reborn in secret.
But Chris would be alive. He’d have purpose again. Would he have that if he took his chances here? Or would he spent the rest of his life on disability and wonder if he’d made the right choice?
“Obviously, this is your decision, and it’s not an easy one.” Nathan’s phone vibrated from inside his pocket. He glanced at it for a second and shoved it back into his jacket pocket. Nathan let out a slow breath and stood up. “I have another appointment I cannot miss. Think about it, yes?”
“The procedure must be done within the next forty-eight hours for maximum effectiveness. After that, it’ll be iffy if it takes or not.”
Or whether he survived it or not. “Got it.”
“I’ll come by tomorrow and check in.” Chris nodded, though he wasn’t really processing exactly what Nathan was saying. At the moment, feeling or thinking was sort of a gray zone. The medication they were pumping into him dulled everything, and his head felt a little like a Bobblehead.
Pretty soon though, those meds would be gone, and their effect would wear off. He’d be left with no career, stuck in his tiny apartment with a home care nurse because he wasn’t able to walk to the bathroom alone. Or worse, he’d have to move back home with Mom and Dad. He loved his parents, but Mom was the type to overreact to stupid shit. He’d never have a moment to himself again. They were getting older. They needed to not have to take care of him in their retirement.
Chris must have dozed off after the man left because the next sound he heard was his best friend Eamon Murphy saying his name. He forced his eyes open, ignoring just how well they tried to stick shut and tried to focus on Murphy’s face beside him. “Hey.” God, his voice still sounded like his grandfather’s.
“How ya doing?” Murphy asked, his icy blue eyes studying him.
Anger came unbidden inside him, born from the soft pity in Murphy’s voice. He knew Chris was broken. Murphy knew he might never be whole again. Beside him, the beeping indicating his heartbeat increased, just a little, enough to make him realize what he was doing. He blew out a breath, trying not to inhale deeper than he needed to. Even with the painkillers, the pain was still there, reminding him that even though he lived, he wasn’t the same.
“I got shot. Shit hurts a lot.” He forced a grin he didn’t feel. The conversation with Nathan seemed like a dream. Like it wasn’t real. Maybe it wasn’t and it was just the effects of the painkillers he was on.
But seeing Murphy’s pity for him, Chris thought about what Nathan had said. If he did it, he’d be able to walk, run, shoot a gun. Everything he’d trained for all his life to do. But there was also uncertainty in Murphy’s expression and Chris knew why. He’d been almost killed trying to save his twin sister, Addison. Because Murphy loved his sister. His sacrifice spoke volumes for the kind of man he was… Chris wasn’t sure he was on the same level as his friend anymore. “You did good, Eamon. Thank you.”
Murphy blinked in surprise. Chris wasn’t sure why he said it out loud. The two of them usually didn’t engage in sentiment. But they were SEALs, or at least one of them was. Honestly, Chris’s life might end the next day—one way or another—so he was inclined to say whatever the fuck he wanted to say. “You promised me she’d be safe, and you kept that promise.”
Chris almost kept going, almost told Murphy about Nathan, about the offer he’d made, but he already knew what Murphy would say. He’d tell him he was looking for an easy out. And maybe he was. But Murphy couldn’t understand what it was like, facing a lifetime of being disabled and useless. He wasn’t in the same position. He would heal, and be whole again. His life would continue. Chris wasn’t just in pieces. He was broken.
A deliberate feminine cough broke the uneasy silence between us. Addison stood in the doorway, her arms crossed. She looked a little banged up but healthy. Nothing broken, looked like. Her eyes landed on Murphy before anything else. “Hey there.”
“Hi, beautiful,” Murphy croaked out. His eyes lit up at the sight of her. Chris glanced between the whole of them. That moment right there, they probably didn’t even know he was there. He’d known Murphy had harbored feelings for his sister a long time ago. He’d even known about Addison’s stupid little teenage crush on him. But he’d thought they’d gotten over it, moved on. Then Alex Giroux happened and everything had changed.
They’d found each other, found love in the other. He was happy for them, but jealousy crept in like black oil. Not because they were in love, but because they had each other and Chris would be left alone and broken.
“Awkward…” he whispered. “That’s still my sister you’re ogling, man…”
If he could have left the room, he would have. But he was stuck there, in pain, and drugged out of his head. He had protected his baby sister all his life, even though she wasn’t actually his baby sister. They were only fifteen minutes apart. But it felt like she was his baby sister. But she didn’t need a protector anymore, and he wasn’t in any shape to protect an ant, let alone his sister. Jean Giroux’s bullets had imprisoned Chris in just the right nightmare.
Addison grinned as she stepped into the room. Exhaustion radiated out from her, each step slow and sluggish. She needed a good shower to rinse away the layer of dust and the dried blood that coated her body and clothes. Whatever had happened after he’d been shot had been huge. And no one had told him much more than she and Murphy had survived it. Guilt ransacked him, pulsing out from the holes in his chest. He hadn’t been able to be there for her when she’d needed him more. “You two. What am I going to do with the both of you?”
It was too much. His heart hurt to see the pain on her face, the worry etched in her forehead. Chris scowled, trying to mask the pain that kept time with his heart and decided to break the tension. “Look, I’m still a little weirded out by my best friend making out with my little sister.”
She rolled her eyes, just like he knew she would. “We’re twins. It’s a fifteen-minute difference.”
“Different birthdays,” Murphy shrugged. Chris chuckled, but it hurt, so he winced instead. Her eyes narrowed at them, but Murphy just grinned. Of everything, he was glad this was what was saved. His sister and his best friend, safe and happy. She had Murphy to take care of her now.
The thing was… Chris liked thinking of her as his little sister. He knew she hated it, but it gave him a purpose in a weird way. He was her big brother. Except now he couldn’t fill that role. Now he was just a broken shell.
“You guys nearly died on me.” Addison’s anger and sadness swirled around the room. Chris had expected tears when they finally had this conversation, but there were none. Somewhere along the way, his little sister had grown from a spoiled art student into this incredibly fearless woman that his best friend was in love with. A woman of courage and bravery. A woman… who didn’t need her twin brother anymore. “Don’t you dare do that to me again.”
Guilt spiked inside Chris’s chest because if he took Nathan’s offer, she’d be experiencing his loss all over again. No contact with family ever again. They would think he died. How would he die in their eyes? In surgery? An accident? Could he do it just to be whole again?
Murphy’s eyes met his, speaking volumes about how he felt about Addison. Chris would have shrugged if it didn’t hurt like a bitch.
“You guys can’t leave me alone. I need you. Both of you.” Addison looked down at her fingers, picking at her fingernails in that nervous manner she had.
Chris’s chest ached and it wasn’t because it had a couple extra holes in it. Choosing a new life meant he would never see her or Murphy again. She thought she needed him, but it wasn’t true. She needed the old Chris, the one who wasn’t practically dead already. And now she had Murphy, who he knew would always watch out for her. Who would give his life for her.
The corpsman knocked on the door. “Sorry to interrupt. Just need to check vitals and I’ll be out of your hair.”
Chris nodded, but not before he saw Addison whip around and leave.
“Damn it,” Murphy grunted, his voice laced with pain.”Addison!”
That’s when Chris realized it for real. Addison didn’t really need her brother anymore. She only thought she did. She needed Murphy.
“Go,” he told him. “It’s okay. Take care of her.” Murphy looked hard at Chris like he had something else he wanted to say, but instead, he wheeled himself out the door.
Which was what Chris wanted. He needed them to support each other so he didn’t have to worry.
The corpsman was quiet as he checked Chris’s blood pressure and for that, he was glad. He didn’t want to talk.
Chris stared up at the ceiling. He was already alone. A window let in the sunlight like a warm glow upsetting the incoming cold and darkness. But it didn’t quite reach his bed.
Taking Nathan’s offer wouldn’t change much at this point. He wasn’t needed, he wasn’t able to do the job he loved. He had an opportunity to continue the work he’d started as a SEAL. Maybe it wouldn’t be for the SEALs, but he could still make a difference in the world, and that was all he’d ever wanted.
He could be whole again.