Thank you for subscribing to my newsletter! So LEGEND OF LOVE is Callie’s story. The Muse of Epic Poetry has been reborn inside of her, and she’s about to meet her Guardian, Hunter Armstrong. Hunter is a Navy SEAL with some baggage of his own, but together, this book was an EPIC adventure! I can’t wait for you to read it! 😀
Legend of Love
Book #2 of the Muse Chronicles
Legend of Love – Copyright © 2016 by Lisa Kessler
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Hunter Armstrong sat in the waiting room, flipping through the dog-eared pages of a months-old People magazine while mentally sizing up every person who came and went. Most were shaken-up enlisted soldiers, but this wasn’t his base so he didn’t recognize any faces.
Man, he couldn’t get back to Coronado soon enough.
An elderly female clicked the keyboard behind the desk, her silver hair tied back in the same no-nonsense bun the enlisted women wore. She glanced his way over the rims of her glasses. “Dr. O’Connor will be with you shortly.”
He tossed the magazine aside. Who was he trying to fool anyway? He didn’t want to be here. He’d survived debriefing already. He didn’t need to have his head shrunk by some old guy who thought he understood the horrors of combat. Sure, the mission had unraveled as they were crossing the finish line, but he was still standing.
The door opened, and a petite woman with a killer body, short black hair, and dark-brown eyes checked the file in her hand. She lifted her head and called out, “Hunter Armstrong?”
“Present.” He got up and approached her. Although he was at least a foot taller than she was, she didn’t seem unsettled. In fact, she stood her ground, forcing him to move around her.
Maybe after this appointment with the doc, he could take this little lady for a spin. Nothing lifted his spirits like appreciating every inch of a beautiful woman.
She opened the door and gestured for him to enter, but instead of closing it behind him, she followed him inside. Taking the high-backed leather chair across from him, she crossed her legs and raised a brow. “Expecting someone else?”
Hunter was rarely surprised. He was trained to notice even the slightest details, but this woman had definitely been unexpected. “I pictured Dr. O’Connor to be much older. And male.”
She reached for her water tumbler, her full lips encircling that damned lucky straw. This doc was not Government Issue. She placed the cup back on the side table and smiled.
“You’re not the first soldier to walk through my door with that assumption.” She picked up his file, and his gut tensed. Her dark eyes met his. “This doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. There’s no pass or fail in my office.”
“Good to know.” The corner of his mouth twitched, and underneath his Special Forces watch, his wrist burned.
What the hell?
He bottled up the discomfort and focused on the doc. “Why don’t you save us both a little time and sign the fit-for-duty form?”
She set the file on her desk. “Mr. Armstrong—”
“Captain.” Her mouth curved, hinting at a smile. “And you can call me Doctor O’Connor. Ma’am doesn’t really work for me.”
Damn. She wasn’t intimidated by his size, his occupation, or his rank. He could respect that. Or at least he should. And he should not be seeing her as a challenge. Shit.
“According to your file, you lost a member of your team on your last mission.” She shifted, her expression softening. “Anything you want to talk about?”
He crossed his arms, shaking his head. He refused to allow himself to replay the moment they’d realized Briggs hadn’t rounded the corner to meet the transport. “Not really.”
She sat back in her chair. “This is a safe space. Nothing you say will leave this room.”
“With all due respect, I have nothing to say.” He stared her down. “I’m fine. You can sign my form, and I’ll be out of your hair.”
“Has this tactic worked with your other psych officers?”
He looked up at the ceiling. “We train for every outcome. We all understand the danger we face every time we leave for a mission.”
“I know the mantra. You’re not my first Navy SEAL, Captain Armstrong.”
Her statement rubbed him raw, a stab of aggression biting into him. Jesus, maybe he was more insane than he realized. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”
She rested her hands in her lap. “What I want is not why we’re here. How have you been sleeping lately?”
Not much, still waking up a few times every night in a cold sweat. No different from usual.
“Nothing new,” he said truthfully.
She nodded. At least she wasn’t scribbling notes like he was some kind of lab rat. “So no nightmares?”
“I didn’t say that.” He rubbed a finger under the watch face on his wrist. His skin was hot. Maybe a rash?
He lifted his focus to her face. There was something about her—a fire. She dressed the part of a tight-laced psychiatric professional, but her dark eyes betrayed her. She was like a pixie in hiding.
She shifted under his scrutiny, but he didn’t detect nervousness. He leaned in, expecting her to instinctively back off, but she didn’t. He kept his gaze locked on hers. “Let’s get out of here. We can talk over a couple of beers.”
Dr. O’Connor laughed, and the sound threw him. Clear. Fearless. And her smile… Damn.
Her eyes sparkled. “I don’t date my patients.”
He rested his elbows on his knees, focused on her dark eyes. “That’s not a no.”
“It’s also not a yes, Captain.” She mirrored his body language, not backing down in the slightest.
Fuck. She was baiting him. And he was a sucker for the hunt.
She sat back and grabbed the file off the table. “I’m well aware you’re not happy about being here, but I can’t sign off for you to return to duty in Coronado until I’m satisfied I wouldn’t be sending them a loose cannon. We can either talk about your last mission and its impact on your mental state, or we can schedule another appointment when you’re more prepared to chat.”
No hint of her smile.
He stood up. “I’m fine. Dredging up a bad day isn’t going to help me in my next mission.”
She stayed in her seat, staring up at him. “The United States Navy doesn’t agree with you.”
He pulled in a slow breath, calming the rage in his gut. “I’ll see you soon, ma’am.”
Now she was on her feet. Good. At least he’d gotten a rise out of her.
At the door, he glanced over his shoulder. “The offer of a drink still stands.”
He walked out to the front desk, leaving Dr. O’Connor standing in her office doorway.
The elderly receptionist looked at the doctor and then back to him. He got under her cool skin.
Hunter blinked, narrowing his eyes. “Excuse me?”
She raised a silver brow. “I didn’t say anything.”
But she had. He’d heard her.
She looked at her computer screen and then focused on him again. “You need to schedule another appointment?”
“Oh.” He looked at the doc, then nodded. “I guess so.”
Dr. O’Connor closed her office door, and the older woman clicked a few more things with her mouse.
Callie hasn’t chased him off yet.
The woman almost flinched, frowning up at him.
Okay. Fuck. Maybe I am nuts.
“Sorry.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I thought you said something.”
She shook her head. “Did the doctor tell you her first name?”
“No.” He shook his head. “She’s not really—”
“Friendly?” the older woman offered.
He chuckled and nodded. “You’ve noticed.”
She handed him an appointment card. “She’s also the best damned therapist I’ve ever worked for, so if anyone can help you, it’s Dr. O’Connor.”
“Nothing needs help.” He snagged the card. “But thank you, ma’am.”
He slipped the appointment reminder in his pocket. How did he know the doc’s first name? It wasn’t printed on her door, and she sure as hell didn’t offer it.
But he’d heard the woman at the front desk clearly, even though her lips hadn’t moved.
He hustled out of the office and straight for the cantina. He needed a drink.
Callie waited for the door to close before she shook out her arms, pacing the room. Her job would be so much easier if she could shut off the hunger for adventure inside her. She was the damned Muse of Epic Poetry deep down, and something about Captain Hunter Armstrong had commanded her muse’s full attention.
She blew out a pent-up breath. Yes, he was hot. Yes, the shadows in his green eyes made her ache to help him. And yes, it had been way too long since she’d been touched by a man.
But hormones and muses be damned, she had a job to do, a reputation to uphold, and a no-dating pact in effect until the Theater of the Muses was rebuilt.
In her defense, she never would have suggested the pact if she’d known the renovation would take so long. Over the past three months, she and her fellow muses had buried one of their own, discovered that some cult of Kronos worshippers were after them, and Mel—one of her closest friends—was getting married later this month.
It was enough to make even the most driven person go insane.
Maybe she needed saving more than Captain Armstrong.
She stalked over to her desk and yanked the top drawer open. She grabbed her small bottle of Febreze and covered his clean, masculine scent with the faux stench of a Hawaiian breeze. There. It was like he’d never been there.
No men, she reminded herself, especially not patients.
Marty tapped on the door and poked her head in. “I’m going to lunch.”
Callie glanced at the clock. “Okay. I’ll lock up.”
Marty’s brow creased. “Everything all right?”
Callie nodded, trying to convince herself more than her office manager. “Just frustrated.”
“Captain Armstrong didn’t come here willingly, did he?”
“No, but I’ll help him anyway.” She forced a smile. “See you soon.”
Callie waited for Marty to exit, then grabbed her purse and keys. She checked her schedule and groaned. No time to leave the base for lunch.
Instead of taking her car, she opted for a brisk walk. Exercise usually helped channel her sexual frustration, but a walk wasn’t going to cut it today. She’d go for a run after work.
Life hadn’t always been this complicated. Before she’d turned eighteen and the Muse of Epic Poetry had come alive inside of her, she’d been heading to Cornell University. She’d grown up on the East Coast, but college had been her first time in New York.
During her time at Cornell, the recurring dreams of a theater in Paris had her scouring the campus library until she’d finally found it—Les Neuf Soeurs, the meeting place of great minds like Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire. While she chased after her PhD in psychology, the dreams changed until a dilapidated theater haunted her, eventually leading her to Crystal City, California.
Now she and her muse “sisters” were working as a team, all drawn to the same place by dreams none of them could explain. And once they’d found each other, they’d banded together to make their dreams of reopening the Theater of the Muses a reality. Together, they’d inspire mankind to reach for their dreams in the arts and sciences. But in order to stay focused on the project, they needed to limit their distractions.
Thus, her no-dating pact with her muse sisters was born.
And her best friend, Melanie Jacoby, had already broken it.
Callie passed by the officer’s club and the cantina, then crossed the street heading for the commissary. She was already starting to sweat. In November! She’d been in California for almost two years, but she still missed the change of seasons that happened back home on the east coast. There, the leaves would have been changing colors and there would be a chill in the air—a small warning that winter was creeping closer.
But here in Crystal City, if she was lucky, it might dip below seventy degrees for her run later tonight.
At least she still had an ocean to commune with…
At the deli counter of the commissary, she ordered her usual club sandwich with potato salad and a banana, and then headed toward the beach. Seated on her favorite bench, she ate as the waves crashed into the shore.
The base’s property included five miles of coastline, affording the Navy families a gorgeous private beach. She’d never been down to the water, though. It wasn’t that it was forbidden, but she was a civilian working for the government; she hadn’t devoted her life to her country, only to their soldiers. It didn’t feel right to use the beach. These families had earned the privilege. So she’d contented herself to watch the waves from her bench at the edge of the sand.
Munching her sandwich, the wind slid through her short hair, and before she realized it, she was smiling again.
Ocean therapy for the win.
Nursing his third beer, Hunter stared at the other guys at the bar. He narrowed his eyes trying to…hear?
Nothing. What the fuck was wrong with him?
He took off his watch and frowned. The crescent-shaped birthmark on his wrist was an angry shade of red. In all his years of trudging through rivers and lakes in third-world jungles, he’d never gotten so much as a leech, but this didn’t look like a bug bite. Maybe a weird rash? He lifted his arm, turning it toward the light.
Apparently his streak was over.
But where would he have picked it up? He’d been stateside for a few weeks now after his commanding officer had put him on mental health leave and sent him home to Crystal City.
“Spend the holidays with your family, Armstrong,” his commander had said. “You can talk to the psychologist at the base up there. I’ll be in touch if we need you.”
Neither of them had mentioned Briggs, but the impending extraction mission was implied.
Until this last mission, Hunter had witnessed death and had lost teammates to IEDs, gunshots, and grenades, but Briggs being taken by insurgents; that had been new. Hunter and his team had searched huts and houses on foot, and drones and helicopters scoured the area from the air, but there had been no trace of Briggs.
Hunter needed more beer.
The door opened behind him and a familiar voice called to the bartender. “I’ll have what he’s having.”
Hunter glanced up and smiled at his best friend since high school. He got off his stool and embraced him quickly and tightly. “Hey, Reed.”
“Good to see you.” Reed released him, grabbed his beer, and grinned. “When’d you get back in town?”
“A couple days ago.”
“First I’ve heard of it.” Reed frowned and set his beer down. “Where are you staying?”
“Here on the base for now.” Hunter looked over at Reed. “I should’ve called you…and my mom.” His gaze shifted to his bottle. “Just not ready yet.”
“All right.” Reed sat down. “Speaking of your mom, she told me you were thinking about getting out.”
“Maybe. One more mission first.” Hunter picked at the corner of the label on the bottle. “Thanks for checking on Mom for me. How’s Alicia?”
Reed chuckled and took a swig before answering. “She’s headstrong like her brother.” He waited a beat and set down his bottle. “You don’t know, do you?”
Hunter straightened. “Know what?”
“She moved out. She’s got her own studio apartment now.”
“My sister?” His head pounded. Between his earlier confrontation with the beautiful shrink and then unexpectedly running into Reed, his head was already spinning, and now this?
There was not enough beer to handle this shit.
“Why didn’t she tell me?” Hunter asked.
Reed shrugged. “Maybe it was a surprise?”
Hunter rubbed the bridge of his nose. The buzz he’d been nursing was gone, and without it, clear thought wandered back in. “There’s more, isn’t there?”
“Not from me.” Reed finished his beer and shook his head. “Call your mom. She’ll be happy to see you.” He gripped Hunter’s shoulder. “Once you’re settled in, let’s get together. Still remember how to surf?”
Hunter chuckled and resisted reminding Reed that Hunter still had one more championship surfing medal than Reed had. “Like riding a bike, right?”
“You hope.” Reed nudged him. His cell buzzed. He checked the text and sighed. “Gotta go haggle with the mechanic for my truck.” He headed for the door. “See you soon, man. If you don’t call, I’ll be calling you.”
Hunter nodded, letting the door close before he fished out a couple of bills to leave on the bar. He put his Special Forces watch back on, ignoring the throbbing of the rash on his wrist. Usually he came home from missions eager to sink back into life, but this time half his heart was still in the desert outside of Afghanistan. With Briggs.
Wherever the hell he was.
The book is up for preorder now and it’ll be in your eReader on December 5th! Can’t wait for you to read it! 🙂