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Excerpt - Love is a Battlefield by Annalisa Daughety

Captain's Log, Stardate 10.19.2009

Love is a Battlefield
by
Annalisa Daughety


Left at the altar, her old job filled by someone else, all Kristy O'Neal wants is for life to return to normal. But working as a seasonal park ranger at Shiloh National Military Park alongside Ace Kennedy, the man who stole her job, may be more than Kristy can handle—especially when she realizes she's falling for him. But Kristy doesn't believe in true love anymore. With the history of her beloved park and his own ancestors in his arsenal, Ace begins the battle to prove to Kristy that true love does exist. . .before he loses her forever.

Excerpt of chapter one:

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.



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.



“Umm. Kristy?”



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 lookalike 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 her things up 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 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 lookalike 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 peace until 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?



Demotion. Ouch.



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 trashcan, 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.



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