Davis Fields stared out the cabin’s only window as he waited for the computer call to connect. He could barely see the tips of the black spruce that circled the remote Alaskan gold camp through the layers of dust on the single pane of glass. At least it wasn’t raining. The sun still hid behind the low clouds, but the break in what had been constant drizzle the last week gave Davis hope the call would go through.
The screen flickered, and Rafe Malone, Davis’s best friend and now brother-in-law, filled the screen. “Well, if it isn’t Paul Bunyan taking time from his busy schedule to call us little people.”
“Paul Bunyan was a lumberjack, you twit.” Davis rubbed his hand over his beard then through his hair he’d let get scruffy. He hadn’t worried about his appearance since he came to the mine. He kind of did resemble Paul Bunyan.
Davis scowled at the computer, but the ribbing settled in his heart.
Rafe was family. Had been since middle school when Davis’s parents died and he and his sister, Piper, moved in with his aunt and uncle. Bouncing meaningless insults back and forth had always been Davis and Rafe’s relationship. Rafe was the joker of their duo. Davis, the serious one.
“When is the call of the wild going to stop calling, man? Your sister misses you.” Rafe ran his hand over his red hair as he settled into the chair. “I don’t. Not one bit. It’s not like I’m crying myself to sleep every night because you aren’t here to beat at Mario Kart.”
“Don’t know.” Davis rolled his eyes. In truth, he wondered if his escape to the Alaskan wilderness was even helping his PTSD.
When his military buddy Justin had said he could use a hand at his gold mine the fall before, Davis had taken the opportunity as a sign. He could spend the spring and summer helping a friend far away from everyone and get a handle on his burning anger and paranoia that simmered just under the surface. Anger sparked by lies and disloyalty during his last deployment. Paranoia leftover from the need to always watch his back. Only problem was being hundreds of miles away from civilization hadn’t cooled him down, just left him lonely and frustrated.
Not a good combination.
“Listen—” Rafe sighed and leaned toward the screen. “I know something happened that you aren’t telling us about. I’ve been patient and haven’t hacked into the military records to see what it is. But you have to talk to someone, man. Hiding away won’t fix things. Trust me. I know.”
“What are you talking about?” Davis didn’t want to have this conversation.
“I might not have literally run and hid like you, but I hid behind a mask, acting like everything was all right. It took your sister calling me out to make me realize that the more I pushed down my past, the worse I got.” Rafe shook his head. “If you can’t talk to me, talk to someone. Every single one of us here at Stryker understands on some level what you’re going through, man. We all want you to find healing so you can move on, find a beautiful woman to marry, and have wonderful babies. My boys need cousins.”
“Moving a little fast, don’t you think?”
Davis wanted that. In fact, he’d met someone at his friend Lena Rebel’s wedding last fall that he’d been comfortable around. But he couldn’t get into a relationship when he felt at any minute he’d blow. He wouldn’t physically hurt her, but he couldn’t guarantee a verbal outburst wouldn’t bruise or crush. But his reaction to her had given him enough hope he could get a handle on his PTSD, so he’d hauled himself to the middle of nowhere.
“Never too fast when you find a sexy-as-all-get-out woman.” Rafe wagged his eyebrows.
“You done, Dr. Phil?” Davis crossed his arms over his chest.
“And don’t talk about my sister like that. I can still beat you in hand-to-hand.”
Rafe held his hands up in surrender and looked off to the side. “Speaking of the most beautiful woman in the world…”
“Whatever.” Piper took Rafe’s seat he vacated for her.
Her arms held Davis’s identical twin nephews. A soft, pink blush colored Piper’s cheeks as Rafe fussed to make sure she was comfortable. Even though Davis had worried about Piper when she first got together with Rafe, his sister beamed with happiness. She deserved someone who fawned over her like a lovesick puppy. That the man was Rafe, her secret crush she’d had forever, just made their love that much more special.
“Hey, Pipster.” Davis smiled, his chest warming as he gazed upon the people he loved most in the world. “How are the munchkins?”
Piper launched into all the new things the boys had learned. Davis still couldn’t believe Rafe had talked Piper into naming one of the boys Rex. The few times their teenage conversations had veered into that territory, Rafe had claimed he’d name his firstborn Rex, after the dinosaur. Davis didn’t think he was actually serious, but Piper held Rex in her arms.
The kid was wild, living up to his name, even though he wasn’t even one year old. He climbed all over his mom, pulling on her hair and grabbing for her nose. His brother, Dieter, lay calmly in Piper’s other arm, sucking away on his thumb. His eyes followed his brother like he was either taking notes or just wanted his brother to chill for a moment.
Rex gripped Dieter’s arm and yanked his hand away from his face. Dieter’s face pinched into a scowl that had Davis snorting a laugh. Piper didn’t miss a beat or a word in her story as she peeled Rex’s fingers from Dieter’s. Rex smiled and climbed up Piper’s shoulder, while Dieter went back to sucking his thumb.
“I swear, it was like the two of them communicated their escape. One minute, they were both in the living room, playing. The next, they were climbing the kitchen shelves.” Piper laughed, shaking her head. “Dieter literally let Rex climb onto his back so his brother could reach the higher shelf where the cookies are. I wish you could’ve been here to see it.” Her smile faltered, then she pushed it back up. “Rafe caught it all on the security cameras. I’ll have him email it over.”
“Thanks. I’d like that.” Davis hoped Piper didn’t catch his fake cheerful tone.
What was he doing here, miles away from his family, bored out of his mind? He was missing so much of the boys’ first year, and for what? Maybe Rafe was right, and Davis would get control of his issues better by talking to someone than by hiding.
He hated feeling bottled up when he was back in Colorado. He couldn’t play bodyguard at Stryker Security Force anymore. It left him feeling like a shaken soda waiting to be opened. He wanted away from the violence and the need to watch his back all the time. Being there hadn’t helped his constant sense of wariness. But what could he do if not that? He’d gotten into the military right out of high school.