Unexpected Changes Book Three
Published: May 2017
Genre Information: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Interracial, Military
Length: 71,043 Words
Ed Moore and Emma Berk have the same goal: to forget the horrible things they witnessed while overseas. Together can they find a way to heal?
Ed likes to keep his nose out of other people’s business. He works hard to be a good friend, son, brother, and employee. When he served in the military, he was the best soldier he could be. So when his former commanding officer asked for a favor, giving his recently released niece some guidance, Ed vows to help. But there’s a problem. She’s feisty, impulsive, and stubborn. And Ed can’t stop fantasizing about her.
Emma resents her uncle pushing his way into her life. She knows she’s capable of fixing her own problems, and is sick to death of hearing about Uncle Cain’s star soldier. He refuses to shut up about how perfect Ed is. He has a good job, is a dependable man, and he did what Emma can’t seem to do: adjust flawlessly to civilian life. When she meets him, she’s frustrated to find out that he’s perfect on the outside, too. His hard body, smooth dark skin, and calm attitude draw her in. Anxious to find a flaw, she’s willing to look everywhere for one.
The longer Emma stays in his life, the closer she gets to unraveling his secrets. Can Ed continue to hide the truth about the darkness that consumes him? Or will he be forced to part with the sexy little spitfire that’s brought joy and happiness to his life?
Bonus Prologue Scene: The Coffee Shop
With his back to the wall Cain watched the coffee shop entrance. He’d purchased two drinks, a double double for himself and a black coffee for Ed.
Waiting for his companion, he removed a miniature picture of his niece from his wallet. There were more recent photos on his phone, but this one always made him smile.
Cain had never married, never had children of his own, but he’d always felt like a surrogate father to Emma, his sister’s daughter. Though he was retired now, his leave time had always been spent with them. Ever since Emma’s father had taken off Cain had tried to help out the best he could.
Emma had always been a bit of a tom boy. Alice, his sister, hated it when Cain encouraged her boyish ways, but Cain and Emma had always bonded best playing catch or when he’d shown her how to change the oil in the car, or when he’d taught her how to drive stick. They had gone on fishing and hunting trips together.
It shouldn’t have surprised him that she’d followed his career path, and joined the military. He hated that it had changed her. She was no longer that fun loving, little, explorer. The army had taken her spirit and tried to break it. Her defense had been rebellion.
He blamed himself for the mess she was in now.
At the entrance of the coffee shop a black man held the door for an elderly couple as they made their way out. Cain slipped the picture back into his wallet. Taking a sip from his coffee he tracked the man as he came further into the shop.
Tall, broad and rippled with muscle, Cain noticed that Ed still kept in shape. Standing as Ed approached the table they shook hands and exchanged greetings. “Ed, thanks for coming.”
“Anytime. How have you been?”
“I’m well,” Cain motioned for Ed to take a seat. “Still drinking it black?”
Ed nodded and peeled the lid off to allow the coffee to cool. “Thanks.”
For the next half hour they jawed, catching up and reminiscing. They had regularly kept in touch through email, but it was nice to see him in person. He told Ed about his retirement, and the side business he’d created, taking used furniture, refurbishing it, and selling it as unique pieces.
Ed had served under Cain when they’d been stationed at home. Now he was a jack of all trades. A fast and capable worker, Ed had taken a job with a company called Fuller Homes and Construction after his service had expired. He’d mastered one trade after another.
He was an impressive young man. Solemn, with his priorities in order. He had a stable job, owned his own home, and his own car. He’d easily made the transition from soldier to civilian. He’d succeeded where many had failed.
That’s why Cain had called Ed. Ed was basically a handyman, fixing problems was his specialty.
Ed finished the last of his coffee, folded the plastic lid and shoved it inside the cup. “It’s been great catching up, Cain.” Ed’s dark gaze met his. “But I know that’s not the only reason you called me.”
Cain moved the empty cups aside, and with a heavy sigh, leaned forward. “I need a favor.”
Loyally, Ed nodded. “Of course.”
Digging out his wallet Cain pulled the photo free and asked, “Do you remember Emma?”
Ed took the picture. “Your niece? Sure. You used to brag about her all the time.”
“This was her at her high school prom. Almost five years ago.”
“She’s alright?” Ed passed the picture back.
“Depends on your definition of alright.”
“She enlisted. She’s back now, but you know how it can be sometimes. She wasn’t serving in an active zone, but was training the locals. There was this one incident…” Cain trailed off. “She hasn’t been the same.”
“She should probably see a counselor. The army has lots of services available.”
“She won’t go.”
“I don’t see how I can help. I’m no good with weepy women. My sister can vouch for that.”
“That’s not really her problem.” Cain hesitated. He didn’t want to admit how bad it had become. “She’s been acting out, drinking, piercings, tattoos. All of a sudden these things she’s doing in excess, without any thought. I want to help her before she does something she can’t undo. Last week her mom and I had to bail her out of jail on a Thursday night. She’d been arrested for exposure.” Cain couldn’t bring himself to say that she’d been caught flashing. “She’s having trouble adjusting.”
“Don’t we all,” Ed stated. “What do you need me for?”
“I was hoping you might talk to her. Maybe give her some advice. Tell her what you did. How you made the transition.”
Ed frowned. “Why me?”
“Because you did it seamlessly.”
“Well, you made it seem that way. Could you just meet with her? For coffee one day, perhaps? Maybe she just needs someone to connect with.”
“It doesn’t sound like we’d have all that much in common.”
“I don’t know what else to do.” At a loss Cain shook his head. If Ed wouldn’t help him, he honestly didn’t know what to do.
Ed sighed. “I’ll meet with her, but I can’t guarantee it’ll make a difference.”
“That’s all I ask. Thank you.” Cain produced a folded piece of paper. “That’s her number. She’s expecting your call.” Cain didn’t mention the arguments he’d had with her over the whole idea.
Not bothering to look at the number Ed put it in the pocket of his jeans. “Let’s say I wanted to do a little recon first.”
Cain smiled. Ed wasn’t the type of man to half-ass something. He’d want as much information as possible before proceeding. Another reason Cain had chosen him. “She’s been hanging around a local bar called the Wellington.”
“I’ve been there before.”
“She seems to be there almost every night, and then sleeps well into the afternoon. You’ll probably be able to find her there.”
“Can you send me a picture? Maybe something a little more recent.” Ed pulled out his phone. After checking the time he stood up and reached across the table. As they shook hands he said, “I’ll give her a call. Might pop into the bar this weekend and see how she’s doing.”
“Thank you Ed. So much. I’ll owe you.”
Ed waved away that idea. “It was nice to see you again.”
Through the front window Cain watched his former subordinate cross the parking lot to his vehicle. Out of habit Cain removed his wallet to check that the photo was still safe inside. He loved Emma more than anything, and prayed Ed would be able to help her. Just thinking about it helped to ease the heavy ball that had formed in the pit of his stomach after Emma had pulled her first all-night drinking binge.
Like a honey-badger, Emma was surly and unpredictable. Cain hoped he hadn’t just set his friend up to be annihilated.
Through the thick throngs of bar patrons, Ed watched her stumble around the pool table, cue in hand. The guy she’d been hanging off of moments before groped her ass when she went by. Ed took another sip of his water. He’d been watching her for over an hour, and he was sure she was the right girl.
Emma Berk was not what he’d expected.
She aimed the cue ball and shot it toward a solid, which in turn scuttled across the table and into the corner pocket. Again not what he’d expected.
For the fifth time, he checked the picture on his phone. It almost didn’t look like the same girl. In the photograph she was well groomed, looking directly at the camera, her brown hair pulled back and mostly hidden beneath her khaki colored cap, her uniform pristinely pressed.
The girl he was looking at now was a complete mess. Ed guessed her hair hadn’t been brushed in a few days, and the makeup that was smudged under her eyes didn’t look as though it had been applied today. She wore itty bitty shorts that barely contained her ass cheeks, and if not for the sports bra she was wearing anyone would be able to see her breasts through the giant, gaping armholes of her draping tank top. In addition to the sports bra, the shirt revealed glimpses of the black ink that decorated her torso. To top it all off, she was completely hammered.
It shouldn’t have surprised him. Not after everything Cain had told him.
Earlier that week, Cain Berk, Ed’s former commanding officer, had asked to meet. Since leaving the army, Ed had kept in touch with Cain. Over coffee one evening they’d had a long chat, a few laughs, and then Cain had asked for a favor.
He’d shown Ed a picture of Emma, his niece, and explained what a difficult time she’d been having adjusting to civilian life. Following in Cain’s footsteps, she’d enlisted in the army, and spent several months in Afghanistan during Operation Attention, helping to train the Afghanistan National Army.
Now she was back in Canada, refusing to get a job and spending every night carousing. Cain was concerned her behavior was getting out of hand, and after she’d been arrested for indecent exposure, Cain had called Ed.
Ed really had no idea how he was supposed to help. Cain wanted him to try talking to Emma, but Ed didn’t think that would do any good and seeing her now, he knew she wouldn’t be open to the idea of anyone giving her advice. But for his commander, he was willing to try.
He’d come to the Wellington in hopes of doing a little surveillance. He was supposed to call her and set up a meeting next week, but first, he wanted to get an idea of who Emma was. After studying her for all of five minutes, he was pretty sure that a peaceful coffee meeting wasn’t how it would go down.
Vacating his bar stool, Ed approached the billiards room. He found an unoccupied spot along the wall and leaned against it, casually enjoying his ice water, all the while watching her and wondering just what Cain expected him to do.
Anytime she wasn’t bending over the table she was leaning against the big bruiser. Ed hadn’t liked him on sight. It wasn’t just his greasy hair, thick ears, and potato-like nose, it was the way he kept groping Emma. Although she was encouraging the tanker, he was taking advantage of her inebriated state.
Her friends didn’t seem to be too bothered by it. It was difficult to tell who from the crowd was with Emma, but Ed was sure of three—a guy and two girls. If the situation turned ugly, they wouldn’t be able to provide much aid to their friend.
Ed wasn’t sure if he should step in and try to convince Emma going home with that gladiator was a poor idea, or if he should leave her alone. Really, what did he care if Cain’s niece had horrible taste in men and ended up with some kind of disease from her lack of sense?
But, he cared because she was drunk. She wasn’t capable of making the right choice. Someone needed to make it for her. He debated on whether to intervene or call Cain to come collect her. While he teetered over his options, she spotted him.
Across the room, she leaned over the table to line up her shot and her gaze clashed with his. She paused as her stare ran over the length of him. Ed refused to be intimidated by her bold appraisal of his body. Keeping his stance relaxed, he lifted his glass to his lips and took a long drink, his gaze never leaving hers.
Briefly, her eyes narrowed. She attempted to compose herself and ignoring him as best as she could, took the shot.
The cue ball went wide, knocking into a few other balls, scattering them in such a way that it lined up the next shot perfectly for the opposing team. The ensuing string of curses Emma released would have made any navy man proud.
Glaring at Ed, she shoved the pool cue into the hands of her male friend. She stomped over, stopping with her face mere inches from his, and demanded, “What’s your problem?”
Even though the smell of stale beer assaulted his nostrils, Ed grinned. “I don’t have a problem.”
She cocked a hip and propped her fist on it. “You keep staring at me.”
“That sounds like your problem, not mine.”
Through narrow eyes, she continued to study him until she groaned. “Oh, no! You’re Ed, aren’t you?”
That made Ed smile wider.
“Whatever my uncle told you, you can just forget about it right now. I told him, and I’m telling you, I don’t need any help.”