A former Navy SEAL, Cole Makani Hunter has returned home from a disastrous black ops mission without his best friend, his hearing, or the use of his right arm. So when his ex–commanding officer assigns him to an undercover mission at a rehab center for vets to discover who leaked sensitive military information to an enemy, he’d rather be anywhere but there. Almost immediately, Cole finds himself at odds with Annie Murray—a peace-loving ecotherapist whose dream is to open an animal sanctuary out of her home. While the two seemingly have nothing in common, their spirited arguments soon fuel a passion for each other.
But just as things begin to heat up between therapist and patient, dangerous complications arise. So does the past—and a shocking revelation that puts Cole and everything he now holds dear in the path of a murderous traitor.
“I’m Annie Murray, your ecotherapist at Hope Hill. How are you this morning?” She held out her hand, drawing comfort and strength from the trees behind her. “Nice to meet you, Cole. I’m looking forward to working with you.”
He didn’t even look at her hand, let alone take it. Suddenly he was watching her as if she were something he thought about eating for breakfast and he was wondering if he should bother with a knife and fork or just grab the damn thing.
She ignored the urge to step back and instead rolled into her spiel. “We have a two-hour introductory session today. I’d like to walk the full five-mile track.”
“Do the inmates ever get a choice?”
“I think the word you’re looking for is inpatient. A wonderful program, isn’t it? The intensive therapy you’ll receive here will make a huge difference.”
Disdain oozed from his pores.
“But back to your question.” She smiled. “You do get a choice. All therapy is voluntary here. We will have our introductory session today, and then you can decide if nature therapy is something you’d like to add to your schedule.”
He watched her.
“OK,” she said. “That’s an impressive don’t-mess-with-me look.”
“Smart people usually heed it.”
The words those who don’t are dead hung unsaid in the air between them.
She shook off her sudden sense of doom and said, “The sooner we start, the sooner you’ll feel better.” She poured all the cheer and optimism she had into her voice, even as her gaze dipped to his combat boots.
“Actually, let’s start with this,” she amended. “I know the boots are obviously sending a message.” And so did the camo cargo pants and faded military T-shirt he wore. Street clothes were strongly encouraged at Hope Hill, both for the patients and the staff. Civilian readjustment was one of the program’s goals.
“But for now,” she continued, “I’m going to ignore that. Your reluctance for civilian wear should be discussed in your counseling session with your psychiatrist, Dr. Ambrose. I’m sure he’ll bring it up, if he hasn’t already. My objective for today is to explain ecotherapy and lay out a treatment plan for the month that you’ll be spending at Hope Hill. If you choose to work with me, over the next weeks, we’ll work that plan. Then, toward the end, we’ll focus on continuation, providing you with a list of things you can do once you leave here.”
He frowned so hard, she was pretty sure that if she squinted she’d see the wrinkles on his forehead spell out no way in hell.
She kept on smiling. “You don’t have to wear boots.” She wiggled her toes on the dirt path. “Barefoot feels pretty great.”
He said nothing.
She smiled wider. “To start with, I’d like to introduce you to earthing. Easy peasy. We’ll walk around barefoot in nature. It’s a relaxing and healing practice. Our bodies absorb negative electrons—which are actually good for us—from the earth through the soles of our feet.”
The birdsong fell silent for a moment, as if nature were asking, Did she say easy peasy to a murderous-looking Navy SEAL?
Yep, she did. And the look on his face said she’d be super smart not to say it again. But she’d gone too far now to go back, so she forged ahead.
“Also, walking around barefoot on an uneven surface massages the pressure points in your soles. I can tell you more about it, if you’d like, or you can ask Libby, our reflexologist.”
His angry-bear grunt stopped her.
He stepped forward and then around her. “The sooner we start, the sooner we finish. How about we walk in silence?”
She reached after him to touch his elbow so he’d turn back to her. “Actually, this session requires removal of footwear.”
He looked at her as if he’d seen smarter dandelions. “Military people protect their feet. A sliver can become an infection. Slow soldiers are dead soldiers.”
“You’re not in the military. You’re at Hope Hill. We are not heading into combat. Take off your boots, please.”
He set his feet apart and brought his hands to his hips. He let his gaze slide over her with deliberate slowness, not assessing this time, but going for a blatantly male vibe. He clearly couldn’t believe he hadn’t shut her up yet, and he was now switching to a different tactic.
“What else do you want me to take off?” His voice turned richer, smoother, suggestive. “Are we going to run through the woods naked?”
“No.” If he thought he was going to rattle her with that, he had another think coming. “But if you’d like to do it privately, on your own time, it might be beneficial. You have twenty acres at your disposal. The property is posted, so there should be no trespassers.”
He blinked. “Have you ever run naked through the woods?”
“Certainly.” She allowed a moment to enjoy the way his eyes flared.
“Why?” His voice roughened, deepened, back to that just-awakened grizzly-bear tone.
“To be one with nature, without barriers. To feel the wind and the moonlight on my skin.”
Several seconds passed before he responded. “You can’t feel moonlight.”
She smiled at him mysteriously. He’d come here with a set of expectations about how this session would go—with him firmly in charge. Anything that knocked him off that rail and made him think was good.
“Is this a progression kind of thing?” His energy grew more intense with every word. “Today no shoes, tomorrow no shirt.” His gaze slid to her chest. “Then the next session, no pants, and we’ll be running through the woods naked by Friday?”
“We are not going to run through the woods naked together at any time. What we have here is a therapist-patient relationship.”
When his gaze dipped back to her chest, she added, “Which also means that you should stop checking me out, and you should probably stop flirting with me.”
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About the Author
Dana Marton is the New York Times bestselling author of the Agents Under Fire series, the Hardstorm Saga, and the Broslin Creek novels. She is the winner of the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, the Readers’ Choice Award, and the RITA Award. For more information about Marton and her work, please visit her at www.danamarton.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/danamarton.