A Season to Celebrate

By: Fern Michaels

Chapter One

Kevin Matthews watched from his window seat as the tarmac faded from view. He was finally heading home to Texas after three tours in the military. Home for the holidays. The first time in six years.

At thirty-two, he was going to start his life all over again. Yes, again . . . for the second time. Third if you were counting his birth. He had accumulated a lot of experience in the past several years, and his appreciation and vitality for living had been renewed.

Kevin was twenty-six when he joined the Air Force. A Special Forces group known as Pararescues—“PJs” for short. His proficiency at skydiving and scuba, hobbies from his high school days, had made him a much sought after airman. Throw in six years as an EMS volunteer, and he was the perfect candidate to join the group. And it was the perfect group for him to join.

He needed a serious change of scenery, and the French Foreign Legion was no longer an option. Did people really do that years ago? Join the Foreign Legion? He wondered. But being a Texan, it was hard to imagine joining any international organization that wasn’t homegrown American, even if Texas would make noise about seceding from the union   every couple of years. He thought the new term “Texit” was hilarious. Nope. He was going to serve his country, the USA, and the PJs’ slogan, “Relief from Above,” was something he could easily adopt, especially since he was in need of relief as well.

Running his fingers through his full, black, wavy hair—a habit he had had since he was a kid—he hoped he could endure the next ten hours on the plane to Dallas. Sitting in one position for any length of time could get uncomfortable.

He considered asking the fellow in the aisle seat to switch with him, but the guy had his head buried in what looked like an Avengers comic book and simply grunted when Kevin approached the row. He didn’t even make a move to allow Kevin easy access. When Kevin squeezed past him, the guy gave another annoying grunt. It was obvious he wasn’t going to be very cooperative. As Kevin folded his six-foot-two-inch, lean, muscular body into the seat, he resigned himself to discomfort until he absolutely needed to move around.

Two years back, during a precision air-drop exercise, some of the supplies had plunged from the cargo plane too soon, and he had to jump to retrieve them. His chute got caught in a bizarre tangle that sent him spinning perilously to the ground. Fortunately, he was able to come out of free fall and managed to land safely but not well. Two operations later and he had his mobility back, though he still had a slight limp. No, sir. Rigorous activities were no longer an option. If he ever took a bad fall, the titanium that held his femur together would stay intact, but it would also cause the shattering of what remained of his own bone structure. Nope. Horseback riding wasn’t on the menu, and neither was skydiving anymore—maybe scuba diving if he ever got back to Lake Travis. Hiking, fishing, and riding a bike would be his limit. He’d have to avoid anything that would threaten his Humpty-Dumpty leg.

He sighed and smiled at the same time. It was worth it , he told himself. The faces on the refugees as they clamored for the lifesaving supplies were more than a “thank-you,” and the rescues from the earthquake in Japan that he participated in were experiences he could never have imagined. Knowing he actually made a difference in people’s lives—total strangers, in fact—gave him a sense of satisfaction that nothing else on this earth could replicate.

The broken bones eventually healed. But the greatest recovery was his heart. It had been broken—devastated. Now he was whole, with the additional help of some titanium and screws, and an experience that gave new meaning to life and the little things in it.

Yes, he was thankful for it. He was still alive and heading home to his mom’s skillet corn bread. During the flight attendant’s safety speech, Kevin thought back to the circumstances that had brought him on this journey: the hobbies that would scare the bejesus out of his mother, and the breakup with Melissa. Funny thing about it—he was grateful. Grateful for the breakup, but at the time, he couldn’t imagine what his future life would be like.

They had been high-school sweethearts. Getting married, having a family, and—one day—opening a sporting goods shop were the only things he envisioned. Yes, he was going to thank Melissa when he saw her, because running into her was inevitable. Cedar Park was a small town: the very reason he started his life all over for the second time, counting his birth. Now here he was again, starting fresh. This time, though, he had a much better attitude.

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