Three Years Ago
TJ “Rock” Rockwell sat on the tiny balcony and stared out into the dark night. He absently swirled the whiskey in his glass and wondered what in the hell he was doing with his life. He’d woken up an hour ago and couldn’t get back to sleep. That was nothing new.
But instead of dreaming about the faces of the men, women, and children he’d killed while in the service of his country, he couldn’t get Milena out of his head. It was thoughts of her that woke him and drove him out of bed.
She’d gotten home from her shift at the rehab facility where they’d met, and when she’d asked how his day had been, he’d jumped down her throat.
“How do you think my day’s been?” he’d snarled. “I’m stuck here in this fucking apartment instead of being at Fort Benning with my team. The goddamn psychiatrist won’t release me back to active duty and I’m tired of sitting around doing nothing!”
Silence had greeted his outburst. Milena had looked at him for a long moment, sorrow and confusion in her beautiful blue eyes. Finally, she’d asked, “Why are you so angry?”
He’d had a nightmare about that look on her face not too long after he’d gone to bed. There were plenty of reasons why he was angry, and not one of them was Milena’s fault.
When TJ had woken up in the hospital in Germany after almost dying in an explosion, he’d found out that his entire squad had been murdered. Because he’d trusted the wrong person. Because he’d taken his attention off his teammates.
He’d wanted to go back to Afghanistan and kill as many terrorists as he could. But the doctors in the VA hospital had sent him to the States instead. To Austin, Texas, and a world-renowned rehabilitation hospital.
His first day there, TJ had met Milena. She was younger than him by a few years, blonde, and always so perky. It had annoyed him at first, but the longer he was there and the more he got to know her, the more she’d appealed to him.
One of the things he liked about her was her willingness to do whatever was needed. A patient needed pain meds? She immediately stopped what she was doing and got them, even if it wasn’t her patient. When one of her fellow nurses needed to take a day off, Milena volunteered to take her shift. And it wasn’t that she was a pushover; she wasn’t. It was obvious she simply enjoyed doing things for others. Most people he met had some sort of hidden agenda. Not Milena. She was nice. Genuinely nice. She didn’t look for what people could do for her; but what she could do for them.
TJ hadn’t met many people in his lifetime like her. He’d found himself looking forward to talking to her when she came on shift. She smiled all the time and generally made him forget some of the awful shit he’d done while serving on his Special Forces team.
He missed his friends and teammates more than he’d ever thought possible. As a sniper, he worked alone more times than not—in high-stress situations—but his team had always been there for him. In return, he was responsible for keeping them safe while they carried out their missions. He was their “eye in the sky.” TJ wasn’t proud of his kill rate—one of the highest in the entire Army, he’d been told. He didn’t mind killing men so much…it was the women and children who got to him.
In his mind, they were as much victims in the horrible fight against terrorism as anyone else. Forced to carry bombs to try to blow up American and British checkpoints. Or taught as young as two years old that all foreign soldiers were the enemy.
Shutting off that line of thinking before he got sucked down into the black pit in his mind, TJ tried to turn his thoughts back to Milena.
He’d been in the rehab hospital for four months, recovering from the wounds he’d received on that fateful day. Four months during which he’d gotten to know Milena. They’d both flirted and teased—and more—and when she’d found out he had no place to go when he was released, she’d offered to let him stay with her until he was back on his feet.
That was two months ago, and he was still at her apartment.
From that first night, he’d shared a bed with the generous and giving Milena. At first it had been idyllic. The lovemaking was off-the-charts good. TJ hadn’t ever felt about a woman the way he did Milena.
She was adventurous and up for anything he wanted to try. They’d had sex on every surface of her apartment. The wall, the couch, the kitchen table, the shower, the coffee table, the sink in the guest bathroom, even the balcony one night when they were both drunk and their inhibitions were down.
But somewhere along the line, things had changed. He had changed. TJ was frustrated with his life. He didn’t like relying on Milena for everything. He didn’t have a job, he was officially being medically retired from the Army. He couldn’t seem to go forward, and he definitely couldn’t go back.
He felt like a prisoner in Milena’s apartment, and he hated that. She didn’t deserve a boyfriend who was constantly on edge and hated where she lived because it wasn’t in the best part of the city. She didn’t deserve his anger either, but that hadn’t stopped him from giving it to her anyway.
He stared out at the warm Austin night and made the decision he’d known was coming. He couldn’t stay. All he was doing was hurting Milena, and she was the last person he wanted to drag down the hellish road he was on.
She deserved better. So much better than him. But he knew she’d never kick him out. It just wasn’t in her. He needed to leave. Tonight.
TJ had nowhere to go, but he couldn’t stand the person he’d become.
His decision made, TJ stood and put the glass of whiskey he’d been nursing on the small glass-topped table on the balcony. He entered the apartment and went straight to the master bedroom.
Standing in the doorway, TJ drank in the sight of the woman who meant more to him than anything he’d ever had in his entire life. Memories of her sitting astride him, her head thrown back as she came, blinked through his head as if he were watching a movie. The small grunts she made when he was pounding into her from behind. The way she smiled shyly up at him from between his thighs when she was giving him a blowjob.
But it wasn’t just the sex he would miss. No, he’d miss Milena’s caring ways. Everything she did was with him in mind. Her fridge and pantry were filled with the things he liked to eat and drink. The DVR was full of shows he frequently watched. Even the new towels hanging in her bathroom were his favorite color.
He sighed sadly. She was way too good for the likes of him. If he was ever going to be able to be in a healthy relationship, he needed to get his head on straight and figure out what the fuck he wanted to do with his life. He couldn’t sit around Milena’s apartment and suck the niceness out of her…because he knew that was what would happen if he stayed.
He glanced at the numerous pairs of scrubs hanging haphazardly in her closet. She loved being a nurse, loved helping people. TJ needed to let her do that and stop standing in her way.
Tiptoeing to the side of the bed, TJ sat next to Milena. She stirred and turned toward him. Her eyes opened into slits and when she saw it was him, gave him a small smile.
“Can’t sleep again?” she asked.
“I’m good,” he told her softly.
“I can sit up with you if you want,” Milena offered.
TJ’s stomach twisted. He’d been a dick to her earlier, and yet she still wanted to help him. When he’d first moved in, she’d stayed up with him when he couldn’t sleep, and more often than not they’d ended up making love. It hadn’t helped him sleep, but he’d felt content simply holding her as she fell asleep in his arms afterwards.
A selfish part of him wanted to say that he’d love for her to stay up with him. They hadn’t made love in a week, and TJ knew it was all his fault. But he’d already made up his mind, and it would make it harder to leave if he had another taste of her. If he felt her tight pussy clench his dick as she came all over him, he’d never be able to go.
He leaned over and kissed her forehead gently, then pulled back and looked into her beautiful blue eyes. He couldn’t see the color in the dim light of the room, but he knew he’d never forget what they looked like. “I’m good. You have to work in the morning. Go back to sleep, Doc.”
She brought one hand up to his face and palmed his cheek. “I can call off if you want to spend the day together. I know things haven’t been easy for you lately. Let me help.”
TJ almost changed his mind about leaving at hearing her words. Almost.
“I’m sorry I’ve been a dick,” he told her.
“You haven’t been that bad.”
He snorted. “I have, and I’m sorry. Sleep.”
“Love you, TJ,” she said sleepily, then dropped her hand and closed her eyes.
TJ froze. She hadn’t said the words before. But then again, neither had he.
Hearing them right before he planned to leave her was torture.
He sat next to her for the longest time, watching her sleep. Her slow, even breaths making her chest rise and fall in a gentle rhythm.
Feeling as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders, TJ forced himself to stand. He gathered the clothes strewn about the room and stuffed them into his Army-issued duffel bag. He went into the bathroom and quickly retrieved his toiletries. When he went back into the bedroom, Milena hadn’t stirred.
He wanted to go to her. Slip beneath the sheets and gather her in his arms. Wanted to wake her with his mouth between her legs, show her how much he cared about her, show her what he couldn’t say with words.
But instead, TJ walked silently to the door of the room and shut it behind him without looking back.
There wasn’t much else he needed to gather, but he took his time, making sure he removed as much of his presence in her life as he could.
TJ knew Milena would be upset, but she’d get over him. He also knew what he was doing was cowardly, but if he saw even one tear fall from her beautiful eyes, he’d cave and stay. He was messed up, and he’d ruin her life eventually. It was better this way.
He considered writing a note, but he had no idea what to say.
That he loved her, but had to leave anyway? That he was leaving because he loved her? That she should find another man and live happily ever after?
The thought of anyone else touching what was his made TJ angry all over again. And that right there was why he needed to go. The anger was eating him alive. He was afraid one day the rage festering inside would break free, and Milena would be caught in the crossfire. He’d rather die than hurt her in any way.
TJ took the key to her apartment off his key ring and placed it on the kitchen counter. It looked almost obscene sitting there. He stared at it for a long moment, knowing if he walked out the door, there was no coming back. If he left, he was giving up Milena forever. She’d never forgive him for leaving without a word, and he couldn’t blame her. He wouldn’t deserve to be forgiven if he snuck out in the middle of the night, leaving no trace he’d ever been there.
Closing his eyes, TJ turned and slipped out of the apartment without a sound. He made sure the knob was locked and shut the door behind him.
The second it snicked closed, he wanted to throw up.
Don’t do this, asshole. She’ll understand, and will stand by you until you get your life figured out. She’s meant to be yours. Go back.
TJ ignored his inner voice and turned toward the parking lot. He didn’t have a car, but it didn’t matter. He didn’t have a destination in mind, and for the first time since he’d woken up in the hospital in Germany in pain and confusion, he felt lighter.
He was a dick for feeling that way, especially after all Milena had done for him. But now he didn’t have to worry about disappointing her. About seeing the love in her eyes slowly die.
He looked back once. Her apartment was completely dark. He mourned what could’ve been if he were a better man.
Then TJ “Rock” Rockwell turned his back on the best thing that had ever happened to him, the woman he knew deep in his gut could never be replaced, and headed for downtown Austin…and whatever the future held for him.
It had been years since Milena Reinhart had seen TJ “Rock” Rockwell. He’d torn her heart out of her chest and she still hadn’t completely recovered.
TJ left his sniper days behind him for good when he’d left the Army and become a respected Texas Highway Patrolman. But he never forgot the girl he’d loved and stupidly given up.
Neither thought they’d ever see each other again. But when a pedophile’s operation is taken down and he sets his sights on Milena, TJ gets a second chance. They both have secrets that could end any relationship they might have before it even starts. But when the bad guy threatens the one thing that means the world to the couple, they’ll have to trust in each other to triumph over evil.
** Justice for Milena is the 10th book in the Badge of Honor: Texas Heroes Series. Each book is a stand-alone, with no cliffhanger endings.
Justice for Milena
New York Times Bestselling Author
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