T. J. Kline’s Healing Harts series continues as a soldier suffering from PTSD and a therapy dog trainer find that some scars can only be healed by love…
Julia Hart knows how much good she does training therapy dogs—it’s what helped her overcome her own trials after a relationship turned unexpectedly violent. But moving beyond her mistakes meant trusting only her family with her heart.
Dylan, a former soldier, has run out of hope for recovery. Plagued by nightmares and flashbacks, he doubts anything will help him overcome his PTSD. When his brother convinces him to try one last time, he agrees to get a therapy dog.
Dylan didn’t expect to find Julia or a chance for a “normal” future again. But when Julia’s attacker is released from prison, Dylan and Julia will have to face the past together.
Julia gasped as Dylan’s lips touched hers. She’d been thinking about this all night, even dreamed about it, but never thought she’d wake to find his hands stroking the edge of her jaw. His thumb traced the hollow of her cheek and she leaned into him, wanting more but afraid to ask for it. She felt Dylan tense as her hand lifted to his face, the rasp of his unshaved cheek sending fire through her veins and coiling in her chest. Tango moved at her feet, and she gave him a hand command to stay. There was no way she was allowing the dog to interrupt this again.
Dylan’s lips were soft and gently insistent, but his arms were confident as they moved around her back, pulling her closer as he deepened the kiss like a man drowning. She clung to him, winding her arms around his neck, letting him lead the way. It had been so long since she’d felt any sort of yearning that she wasn’t sure whether to pull back or give more. She let Dylan guide her as he nipped at her lips, plucking them between his, stealing her breath and her ability to think. She was dizzy when he drew back only far enough to lean his forehead against hers. The sigh that escaped him was warm on her face.
She could see the turmoil in his eyes. She wasn’t sure whether it was regret or doubt, but she didn’t want to hear him try to apologize. “Dylan, it’s okay.”
His eyes were hot when they met hers. She saw the doubt in them but she also saw desire, and he didn’t try to hide it. “What is?”
“It’s just a kiss.” She was ignoring the fact that her heart was still racing, pounding against her ribs as her pulse burned through her veins.
He laughed but there was nothing pleasant about it. The sound was hollow and sad. “Is it? Is it just a kiss?” He tipped her chin up so she was forced to meet his gaze. She felt scorched by the heat she saw there. She’d wanted him to open up, to allow her a glimpse of his vulnerability. Now that he did, it frightened her. “Because that wasn’t just some kiss.”
“I know.” She hadn’t meant to whisper the words, but they fell from her lips without her bidding. “But . . .”
Dylan didn’t let her finish what she’d been about to say. His lips sought hers again, asking more of her without demanding, seeking what she wanted to give him freely.
Dylan leaned toward her, his hand at the base of her neck, his lips finding the hollow behind her ear, and she arched against him. He groaned deep in his chest, and she trembled in response, her body on fire from the simple touch. She’d never felt this way with any man before, but Dylan wasn’t like any man she’d ever known. Her fingers trailed over the side of his neck, and she felt his scar under her fingertips.
Dylan froze, every muscle in his torso tensed, as if ready to bolt. She could read his expression as if she were hearing the thoughts running through his head. “Dylan, don’t.”
He clenched his jaw under her hand. “Don’t what?”
“Don’t shut me out.” She heard the pleading note in her voice. “Please?”
“Julia,” he whispered, his voice strained almost to the point of being hoarse. “I’m broken.”
She wasn’t sure how deep his scars went beyond those he’d covered with the tattoos, or what other injuries he’d sustained, but it didn’t matter to her. She was beyond the point of thinking with her head. It might be another mistake, but Dylan made her want to trust herself again.
Julia let her fingertips trace the tattoo on his neck and to his collarbone where it disappeared beneath his shirt. “This doesn’t define you unless you let it.” She laid her open palm against his chest, over his heart. “This defines who you are, and this”—she ran her fingers over his head—“decides who you’ll become. We’re all broken, Dylan. Don’t let one bad experience outweigh the good ones.”
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