Julia Hart has used the trauma of her ex-boyfriend’s attack to benefit others by training therapy dogs for PTSD. When Dylan Granger arrives at her facility, at his brother’s request, he doubts that a dog is going to help change the nightmare his life has become. The last thing either of them expected was the connection they share. But, when they are both required to face their pasts, they find it’s possible when they rely on one another.
With the Healing Harts series, the covers were specifically chosen to convey the romance of the relationship but also the emotional connection of the characters. Since animals play a very special part in this series, it was integral that they be included in the covers. I also wanted to let the readers form their own picture of Julia in their minds, without relying on a cover model. In the end, I think this cover was a great choice and conveys a touching, emotional story.
He couldn’t keep doing this to his brother. He’d become nothing more than a burden, the way their alcoholic father had been. Dylan had been the one who had stepped up from a young age, far too young for the responsibility of taking care of his mother and younger brother. To know that Gage might one day resent him, the way he did his father — he couldn’t let that happen. As much as he didn’t think a dog would help him, it might at least do enough good that he could give his brother back the freedom he’d lost when Dylan returned from Afghanistan.
He shifted in the seat of the Camaro his brother had rented. The old Dylan would have been itching to open the car on the long stretch of highway, to press his foot to the floor and let the powerful beast fly over the asphalt, like Icarus soaring toward the sun. But that man had become mortal, died the day a bullet grazed his temple and a grenade exploded beside him. He fisted his hands, trying to control the anger that rose to the surface whenever he thought of what he’d lost.
“Yeah. Where is this place? B.F.E.? How much farther?”
Gage checked the GPS navigation. “About five miles. Just off the next exit.”
Dylan’s brows drooped. “Not much around here, is there?”
Gage shrugged as he turned off the highway. “Maybe that’s a good thing.”
“I don’t like it. There’s a lot of trees and ground cover. Too many hills.”
He knew it might not make sense to anyone else but the hills and wooded areas made it harder for Dylan to see anyone approaching. He might not be in combat any longer, but that didn’t stop him from scanning the woods for enemies. The doctors claimed it was just part of the PTSD, but he hadn’t met a soldier yet who didn’t continue to watch his back, even at home.
It was the same reason he’d done Internet searches on this training facility while his brother was sleeping. He not only wanted to get a lay of the place, but he wanted to know what he should expect. He was surprised to find out it was run by a woman. He’d even watched a few of the videos posted on her website. As much as it looked like she knew what she was doing, he wasn’t sure how much a dog trainer could understand about a PTSD case like his without having been in combat. The woman in the videos looked more like a cheerleader than someone who knew anything about fear, trauma, or death.
Dylan crossed his arms over his chest as they approached the entrance and a sign welcoming them to Heart Fire Training Facility. As they pulled up to the main house, Dylan saw his brother’s eyes widen. The house was a sprawling two story ranch style with a wraparound porch but what really caught his attention was the beautiful woman seated on the steps waiting for them.
Dylan chuckled at his brother’s response. He couldn’t help but agree. She was much prettier in person than she’d been in her videos, and that was saying a lot. He turned to say something and found his brother staring at him. “What?”
Gage stopped the car and turned it off. “That’s the first time I’ve heard you laugh since you came home.”
Dylan clenched his jaw, reaching for the door handle. His brother was right, and it had actually felt good, until he realized that he was the only one in his unit still able to laugh. Guilt washed over him as he thought about the families who had lost loved ones because of his failure. He climbed out of the car, refusing to respond.
“Hi, I’m Julia. You must be Dylan?”
The woman moved down the stairs, a broad smile on her face as she extended her hand. Immediately a monster sized dog bounded down the stairs and sat at her feet, staring up at Dylan. He tucked his hands into his pockets, his mouth turning down as his brows bunched in a frown. He wasn’t about to put out a hand where this beast could bite. The dog cocked his head to one side, studying Dylan, then opened his mouth in what looked like a grin, his huge pink tongue lolling to the side.
She laughed. “It’s okay. Tango is a big teddy bear.” She seemed to catch herself. “Unless he’s on alert and working.”
He wondered at her hesitation and looked back at the dog, and the teeth he could see inside the sloppy grin. “Teddy bear, huh?”
His brother moved around the car and reached for her hand. “Hi, I’m Gage. We spoke on the phone. This is Dylan.”
Dylan nodded at her, not moving to approach as he looked around at the facility. He assumed from the barks, yips and howls that the solitary outbuilding was a kennel or training area. The rest of the property was open with pine trees surrounding the back of the property into the hills. She had landscaped the front with wildflowers and grasses that looked native yet too orderly to be natural.
“If you want to grab your bags, I’ll show you to your rooms,” she offered as she turned back to the house.
Dylan didn’t miss the fact that the dog rose and followed behind her. He met his brother at the truck of the car. “That dog is a monster,” he muttered. “If you think I’m taking something like that home, you’re the crazy one.”
“You’re not crazy and just give it a chance, will you?” Gage looked around the side of the car, making sure Julia couldn’t hear the criticism. “What’s the worst case scenario? That you get to stare at her for three weeks?”
Dylan glared at his brother. The last thing he needed was any sort of romantic entanglement. He couldn’t even take care of himself right now. “You go right ahead.”
“You can’t be serious. Are you blind?”
Dylan shrugged. He hadn’t missed anything – not her curves, not her smile, not the white scar at her temple, and certainly not the way her dark brown eyes seemed to dance as she spoke. But he had nothing to offer and he wasn’t selfish enough to sentence anyone else to the hell that was his life now. It was just easier to avoid any emotion, even the good ones. Hurt followed too closely at every turn.
“Are you two coming?” she called from the doorway. Dylan shut the trunk as his brother headed toward the house.
That smile was on her lips again as she opened the door and he felt stab of jealousy at the opportunity he’d just passed up for his brother. He didn’t fault Gage; under different circumstances, he would have taken a shot at her. Dylan had always assumed he’d hoped to be married by now, maybe with a kid or two, but now, with a different sort of future ahead of him, he was glad he’d never taken the plunge. He had enough guilt on his shoulders without a wife and kids to disappoint. Gage held open the door for him and followed Julia inside.
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