Issued to the Bride:One Airman

By: Cora Seton

Prologue







General Augustus Reed knew better than most the way courage and cowardice raged a constant battle in a man’s soul. All his life he’d felt confident courage won out as far as he was concerned.

Not today.

As he sat back in his wooden chair in his office at USSOCOM at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, his gaze rested on his cell phone. Soon enough he’d have to make a call he dreaded.

His daughter, Cass was getting married in a few hours.

And he wasn’t there to walk her down the aisle.

There were all kinds of reasons why not. Reasons that involved meetings, tasks, duty—hell, even national security—but he could have overcome them if he’d really tried.

He hadn’t tried at all.

He’d never once gone back to Two Willows after his wife, Amelia, died. That was more than anyone could expect him to do.

Even if it meant the gulf between him and his girls had widened into an abyss.

At least he’d done one thing right, the General assured himself. Amelia had left him instructions to send Cass a man—a good man. He’d sent her a Navy SEAL.

Brian Lake.

Now Cass was marrying him. That filled him with a small sense of accomplishment. It was as if he’d managed to build a slender bridge to Two Willows, the ranch where his daughters lived. That bridge wouldn’t hold his weight yet.

But maybe someday it would.

He opened the bottom left-hand drawer of his desk and surveyed the small stack of envelopes that remained there. His wife’s legacy to him. Drawing out the top one, he smoothed his hand over Amelia’s neat script. Cass had sent the box of letters shortly after her mother’s death—when it became clear to both of them the General wasn’t coming home.

He opened the letter Amelia had dated for today.

Dear Augustus,

I wish I could be there to see Cass walk down the aisle—and you with her. I know you are as handsome as ever, and Cass will enter her married life with her father’s support and comfort through one of the most important days of her life.

The General stiffened.

Swallowed.

He’d let Amelia down—again.

But she didn’t understand; his wasn’t a job he could turn his back on easily. Trouble could crop up anywhere in the world at any moment—it was a far different time—

The General blew out an angry breath. Did he think he could fool himself with his own lies?

Truth was he couldn’t face the ranch. Couldn’t walk the land she’d walked all her life. Two Willows was Griffith land—not Reed ground. Every inch of that property reminded him of his wife.

He wasn’t ready to go back to it.

Not yet.

He returned to the piece of paper in his hand. Up until Amelia’s death, the General had been able to wave away her hunches and suspicions as mere women’s intuition. But nothing could explain these letters. Letters she’d written before her stroke. Years of letters carefully dated—each of them prescient in ways the General could hardly believe.

Augustus—enough bullshit. I know you’re not at Two Willows for Cass’s wedding. I’ve tried to ignore these feelings—this intuition—through all the letters I’ve written you so far, because I cannot believe a man brave enough to face death a thousand times over during his career has succumbed to a fear so irrational.

The General stared at the page. Read those sentences again. This was an Amelia he’d never seen before—or read before. She… knew?

Knew how badly he’d failed her?

Augustus, treading on Two Willows land won’t make me any more dead, just as sitting there in your office won’t make me any more alive. You are a man of science—of knowledge. You know this. What are you doing in Florida when Cass is marrying the man she loves?

The General couldn’t have been more shocked if Amelia had walked through the door and bashed him with her pocketbook, which he’d figured she’d like to have done once or twice when she was alive.

She never had, though. Had never raised her voice to him—not like this.

Now her exasperation spilled right off the page.

What’s done is done. But it’s time to pull yourself together and get it right. It’s Sadie’s turn. Do you have a man for her?

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