Harlow: A Military Bad Boy Romance: The Bradford Brothers,
Book # 2 in the Bradford Brothers Series
Copyright 2016 by Juliana Conners; All Rights Reserved.
Published by Swann Song Books.
Cover design by Kasmit Covers.
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This book is a work of fiction and any similarities to real places, people or events are entirely coincidental. This book may not be reproduced or distributed in any format except for short quotes for review purposes, without the express written consent of the author.
This Limited Release Bonus Edition of Harlow contains a free copy of Jensen, Book # 1 in The Bradford Brothers Series.
without whom Harlow would not be complete,
and neither would I.
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Table of Contents
HARLOW: Book # 2 in the Bradford Brothers Series
JENSEN: Book # 1 in the Bradford Brothers Series
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Other Books in The Bradford Brothers Series
HARLOW: Book # 2 in the Bradford Brothers Series
8 Months Ago
Our Boeing CH-47 Chinook is barely off the ground before all of us within it begin celebrating.
“Yeah buddy!” My brother Jensen shouts, high- fiving everyone around before swooping me up in an exuberant hug.
“We did it!” shouted my other brother Ramsey, but the smoke that still fills his lungs forces him to cough out the last part of the exclamation.
We’ve just successfully extracted eight downed servicemen from behind enemy lines in southeastern Afghanistan. Their plane had been shot down by a surface- to- air missile. Without us rescuing them from hostile territory they’d likely have been captured and taken as prisoners as war.
“And this is why we do the things we do!” shouted Brian, a team member who isn’t my literal, blood brother like Jensen and Ramsey are, but one who has become a figurative brother— just as all the men in my unit have become. “That others may live!”
Several other men began chanting our motto along with him.
“That others may live! That others may live!”
As pararescuemen, we’re special operators within the Air Force Combat Search and Rescue team. And we spend years training for rescue missions such as these. It’s our whole job: for every helicopter that goes down, a team must go into that same hostile territory to rescue and medically treat the downed crew.
We’re part of the Guardian Angel Weapon Systems, and we do whatever it takes to rescue even one downed service member. In fact, we’re the only unit the Department of Defense has designated to rescue and recover such service members when they’re trapped behind enemy lines. It’s nice to know that our hard work and perseverance have paid off, and that once again we’ve rescued American lives.
As my brothers in arms continue to celebrate, and I chant along with them, I can’t help but feel a sense of foreboding. I hear shots being fired in the distance, and think of how we’ve been warned that rescue helicopters and their crews often come under fire during or immediately after their rescue efforts.
“Are we completely in the clear yet?” I ask Jensen, looking out the window at the smoldering scene below us.
It’s only getting more dangerous out here: insurgents lay ambushes and place bombs or other devices that specifically target rescue teams. We call these “SAR traps”: Search and Rescue traps.
“Lighten up, little brother,” Jensen says, playfully punching me on the shoulder.
“Shut up, spoil sport!” Brian shouts, and a few other people chant, “Shut up Harlow! Shut up Harlow!” in a teasing manner.
“Seriously, Harlow,” says Ramsey. “You did well, and it’s time to celebrate.”
Fuck it. If everyone else is in good spirits, I might as well make sure to shift mine to match theirs.
“That others may live! That others may live!” I shout, beginning the chant anew that they were all stuck on before they started telling me to shut up.
They soon join me but my voice is louder and stronger than the others, who had been repeating the phrase for quite a while now, while I was brooding. I’m on a roll, swept up by the momentum and exhilaration we’re all feeling.
And then it happens.
Our helicopter is spinning out of control, being downed just as certainly as the one from which we just rescued the eight other men.
“We’ve been shot down!” someone yells.
This obvious statement is the last thing I hear for a while.
I come to in the aircraft that is now flaming and downed. I see an uncountable number of unconscious people in the helicopter, so I spring to action, extri
Where’s Jensen? Where’s Ramsey?
There are many limp bodies, but I don’t see theirs among them. Although amidst the flames I can barely make out who’s who, I’m certain I could recognize my own brothers, whom I’ve known since I was born. I can only hope the fact that I don’t see them in this pile of wreckage means that they’re among the men helping to rescue others, as I myself am doing.
Those of us who are conscious work to remove those who are unconscious, without looking at or talking to each other. We’re simply determined to save lives before we run out of time. Time until the aircraft explodes. Time until the enemy shows up…
In the back of my mind I fear captivity and torture, and I can’t help but hope that someone just like me is on the way to save us. There’s not much time for fear, though, and pure adrenaline keeps me working like a madmen to scoop up the bodies out of the plane before…
Our helicopter explodes.
I’m trapped, I can feel that my flesh is on fire, and I’m certain I’m headed to hell. Guys like me aren’t likely to be welcome in heaven. Sure, I’m a hero for what I do professionally, but the same can’t be said about my personal life.
I blink and call out my brothers’ names, desperately searching for them in the hopes that I can find them before I lose consciousness…
My patient stretches length- wise across the ballet barre in the physical therapy session room. He’s a young Airman Basic who was injured when an IED blew up his caravan. Normally he wears a uniform or fatigues, but for our sessions he changes into gym clothes.
“You can do it, Jim,” I assure him, feeling more like a cheerleader than a physical therapist intern.
He stretches a bit further, and now he’s supposed to remove his foot from the barre, but his position looks so precarious that I doubt he can make it. I glance nervously at Lance, who is lingering in the corner of the room, politely pretending not to be observing me as closely as I know he actually is. He’s the proctor for my internship— and therefore technically my boss— but ever since we’ve worked closely together during my internship, he’s become my friend as well.
He nods at me, so I know I have to continue to encourage the patient, even though I myself feel a bit doubtful.
“Just a little further,” I tell Jim. “Now let go.”
He lifts his foot off the barre and plunges downward, about to fall face- first onto the floor.
Great, I think, doing my best to try to catch him or at least break his fall.
“It’s okay,” Lance says, as he somehow miraculously appears by my side.
He holds onto Jim while I steady his arms.
He doesn’t fall. But it was close.
“You told me I could do it,” Jim says, glaring at me accusingly. “She told me—” he begins to complain to my superior, switching his glare to Lance’s direction now.
“You can do it,” Lance tells Jim, easing the knot that had gathered in my stomach. “If not today, then tomorrow. You just have to keep trying. It’s part of your treatment.”
I’m glad that Lance always has my back.
Jim doesn’t look convinced, but he gathers his things and begins to leave.
“See you at this same time on Monday!” I call out after him, but he just scowls.
Most of our patients hate us for the work that we do, even though it’s for their own good.
Once he’s gone, I head to the computer to clock out, since Jim was my last client for the day. I also turn on my cell phone.
While there’s no official rule that I can’t have my phone on or with me at work, I don’t want to take any chances. I was so happy when I scored this rather prestigious internship, and I would hate to screw up such a good opportunity.
Many of my co-workers have already left for the day, and the weekend. Like Lance, they’re in the Air Force. But I’m only doing an unpaid internship here.
Most of my classmates had to look for paid internships but I receive a non- profit grant that pays for a portion of my college credits, which include this internship. So in that way I’m lucky I’m able to do this internship without additional financial hardship, although money is already tight.
“Thank you for helping me catch him!” I say to Lance.
“No worries. Although you did look a bit worried, Girl!” He chuckles.
“I knew I was doing the right thing, and following the protocol you taught me, and I could tell you were backing me by the look on your face. Yet I also knew he was going to fall. I could just tell he wasn’t quite there yet.”
I look down at my cell phone, expecting a text from my boyfriend Tony, but there isn’t one.
“Sometimes it has to do with the patient’s own level of self- confidence,” Lance says. “It’s our job to push them as much as we think they’re capable of handling, and their job to figure out if they can handle it. Kind of like a metaphor for life in general, right?”
He laughs, but I’m preoccupied.
“What’s wrong?” he asks. “You always laugh at my jokes. Because they’re so damn funny, of course.”
“Ha. I’m sorry, Lance. I have to admit I’d kind of stopped listening, so I didn’t really get the joke.”
I’m staring in annoyance at my cell phone, which is devoid of text messages from Tony.
“What did Mr. Moochie McMoocherson do now?” Lance asks.
That’s his “nickname” for my boyfriend.
“He just… completely ignored me, I guess,” I say. “Before my shift started, I’d texted him asking if he wants to go out tonight.”
“Sure,” he agrees. “I mean, it is Friday night.”
“Right. So I was expecting him to text me back. Maybe he’d decline, like he usually does, but at least he should get back to me, right?”
“But he didn’t. There’s nothing. No texts at all.”
I sit down at the computer chair, feeling defeated.
“Further proving my theory…” Lance begins.
“Oh come on, you need to hear it again. You need to believe it. Just like Jim needs to believe he can stretch that far and still take his foot off the barre. Or he’ll be stuck there, upset at you for supposedly making him fall, forever.”
“You really think Tony just uses me?” I ask Lance, with a pout.
It’s an often- repeated theory of Lance’s, which I don’t want to believe. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.
“Whitney. He only talks to you when he needs money. He’s probably sitting at home in his boxer- briefs, too busy playing video games to look at your text message, let alone respond.”
“He wears boxers!” I protest.
But otherwise his prediction sounds entirely too realistic.
“Even worse. Sounds like the perfect stereotype of every lazy heterosexual man mooching off his girlfriend that I’ve ever heard of.”
I have no idea how Lance accurately knows what my boyfriend does— or doesn’t do— all day. I suppose I’ve complained about him one too many times.
“Well, I guess I have nothing else to do now except go home and hear about his progress in Call of Duty,” I say, with a sigh.
“Does he spend any time looking for a job?” he asks.
I shrug. “Probably not.”
“And it’s been how many months now since he lost his?”
“Too many. But Lance, I know it sounds like an excuse— that I’m giving him, not even that he’s giving himself— but I really think he’s depressed. He just mopes around all day and gets so irritated over nothing.”
“That could be, but it doesn’t change the fact that I hate to see you like this. You are such a go- getter and so ambitious, and he’s admittedly a pessimist who intentionally or unintentionally mooches off of you.”
“Well, when you put it like
I slump down further in the chair, not at all excited about going home. I guess I can’t argue with Lance. Reality is in his favor.
“Well Love, I would take you out for a drink to drown your sorrow and cheer your spirits, but I’m doing something much more exciting,” Lance says.
From the tilt of his head and the smile that he’s obviously trying to hide, I know he doesn’t really believe it.
“There’s a conference and seminar for physical therapists,” he says. “The military is presenting an award to a hot shot doctor who has worked with some of the same patients we do and who is going to start sending us even more referrals.”
“What kind of a doctor?”
“A reconstructive surgeon or some other such fancy title,” he says. “But that’s about all I know. Apparently his work is fascinating. I know it’s no hot date with your Studmuffin Moochie, but it really could be interesting. And enlightening for your career. You should come.”
I look at him dubiously. I’m not sure what reconstructive surgery has to do with physical therapy, but I am intrigued by anything that can help my career.
“Why not?” I look down at my phone one more time, but there’s been no new activity. No sudden bursts of apologetic text messages from Tony. And I was stupid to think that such texts would come. “What else do I have to do?”
“Exactly,” says Lance.
I slide my phone into my back pocket as I follow him out the door.
The conference is in a different part of the base than our clinic is located, so Ken and I arrive there a little late. We have no choice but to sit in some folding chairs in a make- shift row that someone obviously set up when they realized there would be more people here than anticipated. It’s a bit too close to the front for my comfort but at least we don’t have to climb over too many peoples’ laps.
“Excuse me, pardon me,” Lance says as we make our way to the empty seats.
I admire his confident way of not caring that people always turn around and inspect him. I guess he’s used to it by now. Even though it’s become officially okay to be a gay member of the military, that never stops people from staring.