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What you are holding in your hands right now is no ordinary book, it’s a BookShot.

BookShots are page-turning stories by James Patterson and other writers that can be read in one sitting.

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This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorized distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

Epub ISBN: 9781786531926

Version 1.0

Published by BookShots 2017

Copyright © James Patterson 2017

Cover photography © Shutterstock

The BookShots name and logo are trademarks of JBP Business, LLC.

James Patterson has asserted his right to be identified as the author of this Work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

First published by BookShots in 2017


The Penguin Random House Group Limited

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BookShots is part of the Penguin Random House group of companies whose addresses can be found at

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library


Dear Reader,

Clear, honest writing that gets to the heart of a character’s emotions is one of the most important things to me as a reader. It was the first thing I noticed when I read Jessica Scott’s book, Dawn’s Early Light. She vividly potrayed all of Cam Warren’s dark and tangled feelings about the war as he assimilated back into civilian life.

I knew Jessica had it in her. She, like Cam, is a war veteran who served in Iraq, so she approached these characters with a vision and with expertise. She brought them all to life, setting them in a small town in upstate New York where the action never stops.

The action never stops in this story. There are fistfights and stolen kisses at county fairs. There are brotherly fishing trips and breakfasts with Mom’s famous blueberry pancakes. And during each of these scenes, Cam Warren struggles to come to terms with who he is and who he’s meant to be. I think it’s something we all worry about from time to time.

I hope you enjoy following his journey as he tries to sort it all out—and finds love along the way.

James Patterson

Chapter 1

THE FIRST TIME he dreamed of blood, he woke up with a mouth full of it. He’d bitten his tongue after he’d fallen asleep in the prone position, his cheek resting on the buttstock of his M4. His drill sergeant had kicked him in the back of the head to wake him up. He never slept well again after that.

It seemed the Army was determined to claim his soul even as he struggled to catch a few hours of sleep a night. It had gotten worse recently, ever since he’d redeployed from Iraq.

But the Army wasn’t his life anymore, and he no longer needed his commander’s approval.

Cam Warren was free. No longer a soldier, asking permission to go on leave, to buy a car, to rent a goddamned apartment. He was on his own now, his own man who could come and go as he pleased.

Except that he didn’t know what that really meant. And the drive across the country over the last week hadn’t helped. What was he supposed to do now that he no longer wore the uniform?

Jesus, he’d been out of the Army for a week and he was already missing it? What kind of weak-minded fool was he? He refused to think wistfully of Fort Hood. Texas had never been home. It had just been a stopping point on the journey into the madness of war.

He pulled into the night, amazed at how bright the stars were now that they weren’t muted by city lights. The moon filled the road as Buffalo Springfield came on the radio and that haunting peal—the anthem for his father’s war—pulled him to the present.

It felt like he was sneaking home under the cover of darkness. It wasn’t as if his folks didn’t know he was coming. Still, he needed a little time alone first.

Ten years he’d been gone. Ten years since he’d walked through the halls of his high school with his buddies and his brother, getting into trouble with Sheriff Metzger after partying a little too hard after their latest win on the baseball field.

God, that was a lifetime ago.

His tires crunched on the gravel driveway of what had once been his parents’ house. It was his now.

He was home.

The log cabin was nestled against a hill on a ten-acre field that had once been a pasture with an old red barn filled with dairy cows. The sight made him smile as he remembered chasing fireflies around the barn with his brother.

Funny how that was the first thing that came to mind. He wondered if Ben would lord his past indiscretions over him, like the time he’d accidentally set that fire in the gym at homecoming senior year. It was strange, thinking of Ben as the new county sheriff. Cam wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about that.

He wasn’t sure how he felt about a lot of things.

He sat in the driveway, unable to move. His mouth went dry and he reached for a beer. The snap-hiss was the only sound in the night. He slammed half the can, then downed the rest as he pulled the keys from the ignition and stepped out of the truck.

The urge to rush out of the open space nearly propelled him into a run. He forced himself to walk through the moonlight to the house. He sucked in deep breaths while he took the stairs two at a time—but at least he was still walking.

He was not afraid of the dark.

The front door creaked and groaned as he pushed it open, the screen door slapping behind him with a crack that made him jump.

He stood in the foyer, just breathing. This was where he grew up. This was where he belonged. Right?

He tried to ignore the nagging emotions as he looked around the empty foyer. It was surreal, standing there on the old braided rug in the entryway.

The house smelled like apples and cinnamon, even though no one had been living there for a while. Mom and Dad had downsized a few years ago, if Cam remembered correctly, and the place had been empty since then.

The house had been built with massive logs, which also stood as rustic columns throughout the great room. The deer he’d shot when he was twelve was still mounted on the wall over the fireplace, right next to his brother’s moose head.

A shiver ran across his skin. Christ, it was cold here. It was the last week of June; it wasn’t supposed to be in the forties.

He wanted a sweatshirt, his bed, and another beer. The front door suddenly loomed larger, consuming every particle of visible light. His heart pounded in his chest and he could almost feel the weight of his Kevlar on his head.

He stood and breathed, hard and deep, willing the panic to retreat. Relieved he was alone as he rushed to the ancient truck, he dragged his Army-issued duffle bag and assault pack from the back seat. He was still breathing hard when he slammed the front door behind him, locking out the demons of the night.

He dropped the duffle bag inside the door and carried his backpack and a fresh beer up the stairs to the bedroom he’d once shared with his brother. He stopped, then turned, heading to the master bedroom. It was his now.

You’re not a boy anymore, his mom had written in her last email. But it didn’t feel right, sleeping in his parents’ room.

He sat on the edge of his bed and pulled the .45 out of the holster he wore at the small of his back. He dropped the clip and cleared the weapon, checking the chamber automatically and catching the ejected round before it fell. It was cold and smooth against his palm. Comforting.

One by one, he slid the rounds from the clip. One by one, he reseated them, then fed the clip into the weapon.

He reached into the front pocket of his assault pack, palming a plastic bottle. He popped the top, pouring out its contents. The Ambien felt like a hundred smooth Tic Tacs, but their appeal was greater. They called to him, promising untainted sleep. One by one he counted them, dropping them back into the bottle. One hundred and sixteen.

One less than the night before.

He checked the safety on his .45 and set it on the bed next to him. He didn’t want to think about what would happen when the pills ran out. How much would he need to drink to sleep without them?

But that was one hundred and sixteen days away. He’d figure it out when the time came.

Chapter 2

GET YOUR LAZY ass up!”

Cam didn’t move. The deeply ingrained practice of waking up in absolute stillness kept him from shooting out of the bed and tackling his younger brother.

“Mom and Dad saw you pull in late last night,” Ben said, toeing Cam’s assault pack at the foot of the bed. “They want you at the house for family breakfast.”

Which meant all of the aunts and uncles and cousins.

Cam groaned, dragging his pillow over his face. He inhaled the clean scent deeply, counting slowly and waiting for his heart to stop pounding in his ears. “Tell them I’m not here. That you couldn’t find me.”

“Nice try. You’ve been gone a little too long if you think you’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell of avoiding this.” Cam heard Ben moving around the room and wished his brother was anywhere but here.

Cam refused to move. Maybe this was all a bad dream and Ben wasn’t really in his bedroom. “What next? Did she rent out the town hall for a welcome home supper, too?”

“How’d you guess?”

Cam groaned again.

Last time the whole town came out, they’d been sending him—their state champion pitcher and resident problem child—off to the Army.

He didn’t think he should be welcomed back the same way.

“Tell them I have food poisoning or something.”

He needed … he needed a little more time.

Cam wasn’t ready to face everyone’s questions about what was he going to do now. He knew he needed a job. But he still needed to figure out what it would be—and who he was without the uniform.

Cam felt the bed dip and a moment later the pillow was yanked from over his head. Ben’s annoyed blue eyes looked into his. “You know that if you don’t get your sorry ass up, Mom is going to call in all the troops. This house will be crawling with cousins and aunts and every other distant relative in the county. So unless you feel like hosting this event yourself, get moving.”

Cam opened his eyes and stared at his brother. “You’re a pain in the ass. You know that, right?”

“Pot, meet kettle.” Ben grinned. Then he swung the pillow at Cam’s head.

Cam deflected it and pushed himself upright. The world spun around him and he gripped the edge of the bed. His vision filled with black stars.

Ben said nothing. Either he hadn’t noticed Cam teetering on the edge of a panic attack or he was being polite and pretending he hadn’t. Cam was grateful either way.

So far, this interaction had gone relatively smoothly. No fighting, no arguing.

He finally looked up and saw his brother staring at the weapon on the nightstand.

He offered him a lopsided smile and said, “Going to arrest me, sheriff?”

Ben shrugged and leaned against the wall, folding his arms over his chest. “No. But you better learn you’re not in Texas anymore. We’re not as freewheeling on concealed handguns, even if you have a license.”

“I’ll get the paperwork straight next week.” Cam dragged both hands through his shaggy brown hair. He thought about keeping it. Letting it grow. It would be weird, having a lot of hair.

Maybe it would help him forget about the last ten years of his life. Maybe if he looked like a civilian, he’d feel more like one, instead of a displaced veteran longing for the dirt and the mud of Iraq.

“You always wear your boots to bed?”

“Must have fallen asleep with them on.” He tried to keep the defensiveness out of his voice. The boots were his Altamas. The most comfortable pair money could buy. No break-in time. No blisters.

Silence greeted his response, so he looked up, painting a grin across his face.

He’d only slept for three hours, but Ben didn’t need to know that. He’d give anything to sleep without using Ambien, but after four years of war and six more training for it, he knew better than to try.

Besides, three hours were better than none at this point.

Ben pushed off the wall and wiped his hands on his pants. “Mom said she’d have breakfast ready by ten. Don’t be late.”

Cam ignored him as he unlaced his boots and toed them off. He finally looked up at his brother. “You going to stick around while I take a shower? You afraid I’m going to split town?”

Ben said nothing.

Cam could sense the slight antagonism that had grown between them over the years. He’d pulled away from the family and Ben had moved closer.

“Nah. See you in a little bit.”

Cam waited until he heard his brother’s footsteps fade down the stairs, followed by the slap of the screen door. He wondered if Ben had locked the front door behind him.

Who was he kidding? People didn’t lock their doors here.

He stripped off his T-shirt. The bathroom was fully modern now, completely different from how it had been when he’d lived here growing up. A glass shower stall filled an entire corner of the room and was lined with expensive chocolate- and cream-colored tiles. There was a whirlpool tub surrounded by a huge bay window that overlooked the field and the distant tree line.

Cam felt exposed by the massive window. Vulnerable. And that feeling didn’t sit well with him.

Eying it warily, he reached into the shower and turned on the hot water. He waited a moment before stepping inside and was pleasantly surprised as the water hit his skin with enough pressure to pound his tired muscles. He let his head hang back into the spray, watching the door through the steamed-up glass.

He felt vulnerable without his uniform and weapon. He washed quickly, needing the comfort of his boots.

He dragged the thin, dark brown towel over his body, the rough fabric an odd but familiar comfort. It was better than his Army-issued towels, anyway. He draped it over his shoulders and walked naked into his bedroom, then remembered he’d left the rest of his clothes in his duffle bag downstairs by the front door.

He headed toward the stairs, resisting the urge to clear the stairwell, and froze at the top.

A woman stood just inside his screen door. She held a casserole dish. It was blue and white and covered in foil.

He recognized that dish. Even after all these years.

He recognized the woman carrying it.

How could he not?

Her curly blond hair was longer than she’d worn it in high school. She was softer in some places and harder in others. Hayley Arsenault’s emerald gaze looked around the house, her expression guarded and tense.

But the moment her gaze landed on him, the years fell away. He remembered how she’d looked at him that first time he’d touched her where she’d never been touched by a man before. Her intense green eyes had pierced his soul. In that single moment, he’d known she’d discover his every secret, even the ones he pretended he did not have.

His mind somehow grasped that he was naked. That he should move. Cover himself. Instead, he stood there, frozen and mute.

“Welcome home, Cam.”