She laughed when Aaron said it.
They were sitting on a tiny balcony of their room on a tiny Greek island as the sun came up over the Mediterranean in front of them. No man could pick a more perfect spot or more perfect moment to propose.
Navy Lt. Aaron Carson looked insulted, maybe even a little hurt. “You think it’s funny? Me asking you to marry me?”
“No.” She used her hands to smooth out the frown now marring his beautiful face. “I didn’t think you were serious.”
“Well, I am. Absolutely serious.”
“Aaron,” she protested. “We’re leaving today. We’re supposed to catch the ferry in a few hours, to take us to the mainland, so we can catch the train to get us to the airport in Athens in time to fly home and for you to get back to your post in Saudi Arabia.”
“So, we’ll do it today. Here. Just you and me. I don’t want to wait.”
“God, you really mean it.” She nearly choked getting out the words, a little fissure of nerves and excitement zinging through her.
He nodded, then gave her one of those grins that made her want to agree to anything he wanted.
She usually did, from soon after she’d drawn his name out of a pencil holder in an adopt-a-soldier program at the school where she’d done her student teaching the past semester. They wrote actual letters back and forth for a month, but it wasn’t enough for him.
Give me your e-mail address, he’d said. The packages of cookies, gum and baby wipes she’d sent were great, but he didn’t want to wait so long to get her letters.
Give me your phone number, he’d said two weeks later, because he wanted to hear her voice.
Skype with me, he’d said a week later, because he wanted to see her.
She’d done it all, happily, in a crazy rush of excitement and disbelief. She was an ordinary girl. Things like this did not happen to her. Guys like Aaron did not go crazy over her.
Meet me in Greece when I get leave, he’d said, so I can show the most beautiful girl in the world the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.
She’d never been anyplace like Greece. She’d never been outside the U.S., never been to the West Coast or even the Mid-West. She was a small-town girl from Virginia, still living in the same town where she’d grown up.
I love you, he’d said, playing his trump card. I can’t wait any longer to see you. Get your passport. I’ll send you a plane ticket.
She’d gotten her passport, paying extra to get it so fast, and cringed as she’d put the outrageous plane ticket on one of the new credit cards companies were eager to give new graduates. No way she was letting him pay for it.
He’d turned out to be everything she’d ever imagined and more. Sweeter, sillier, happier. Even more irresistible in person than he was by e-mail or phone or Skype. She hadn’t stood a chance. They’d had nineteen perfect, amazing days, and now, only one left. Her heart felt wretched as she thought of being apart for another four months.
“We’ve only known each other for six months. We haven’t even spent three weeks together,” she said.
“I know, and they’ve been perfect. I’ve never been this happy.” He pressed his finger to her lips, cutting off her words. “No buts. I love you. Do you love me?”
She’d told him that her first day here, wrapped up in his arms after they’d kissed until they were breathless and more than a little bit crazy, right before he’d taken her to bed for the first time. Which had also been scarily perfect.
“Then marry me. Go find a dress. I’ll find a minister or justice of the peace and a place. We’ll have our wedding night right here, tonight.”
“So fast?” she asked. “What about your family? Your mother. Won’t she be disappointed to not be at your wedding?”
“She’ll get over it.” He looked away for a moment that really scared Dani, then faced her again. “She can be a little overbearing. If she put on a wedding for us, it would be a big, complicated thing. Not for us. For herself, because that’s what she’d want. But it’s not her wedding. It’s ours.”
“I really don’t like the idea of making her mad before I even meet her for the first time. I want her to like me.”
“She will. She loves me, and I love you. You’ve made me happier than I’ve ever been, so she’ll love you, just like I do. But I want today for us, and I want it here. It’s so beautiful. We’ve been so happy here. This would be the perfect end to our trip, a perfect beginning for the rest of our lives, which will also be perfect. I promise.”
They had been deliriously happy. She’d felt a connection to him from his first letter. It had only grown stronger every time they’d talked, every day they’d spent getting to know each other, every day they’d been here together. They’d barely slept the previous night, knowing they had only hours left, which was why they’d been up to watch the sunrise.
Aaron pulled her close, cupped her face in his hands and gave her a blinding smile. “I know what I want. You. Now. I need to know you’re mine before I put you back on that plane.”
How could a girl turn down a guy who said things like that?
His words seemed to have an odd urgency, but they were also so like him — crazy, romantic, impulsive. All along, she’d given him everything he’d wanted, given it happily, eagerly, pushing aside all the little nagging doubts that said this was all too good to be true and that it happened too fast.
He kissed her, hard and full of need, and whispered against her lips, “Dani, please. Marry me.”
That was it. She said yes.
That evening, as the sun set, they stood on a rock plateau above the Mediterranean Sea as a weathered old man, speaking more Greek than English, married them.
Time seemed to both slow down and speed up to a terrifying pace. They ate a special wedding supper on their balcony. Aaron made love to her with a sweetness and an intensity that left her shaky and tearful. He thought he’d done something wrong, but she told him it was so right it scared her.
She had an unnatural dread of leaving him.
They hardly slept again that night, watched the sun come up and hurried to catch the early ferry, then a fast train to the Athens airport.
They sat as close as possible and held hands but barely spoke. Aaron tried to tease her about her tears, telling her they’d be together in Virginia before she knew it and that she’d made him the happiest man in the world.
She waited until the last minute to board. He kissed her sweetly and had to push her away. Going through the gate, she kept turning her head to look back at him. His hair had grown, just in the time they’d been away, and the sun had baked in highlights into his sandy brown hair. He had a glorious tan, and he was so tall and lean and perfect. She held onto the sight of him until the last second, when she’d walked so far down the gateway she couldn’t see into the airport waiting area anymore.
Somehow, she held it together until she was in her seat on the plane. Then she wept, biting her lip to try to keep from making a sound, hiding her face against the window of the plane and behind a tiny airplane pillow.
Her roommate, Betsy, picked her up from the airport in Washington, DC, drove her the two hours home and put her to bed. She dreamed of Aaron, sweet, perfect, insistent Aaron. She relived all the best moments of their trip, and then it was like he was with her in her bed in Virginia, so loving, so real she didn't want to wake up.
By the time she finally got out of bed, it was twenty-eight hours since she’d left him and it felt like forever. She missed him so much. She dragged herself out of bed and into the kitchen to find coffee.
Betsy was there, looking tense.
Dani knew something was really wrong, before Betsy said a word, before she asked about how and when Aaron was getting back to his base.
Dani didn’t know for sure. He might have had to rearrange his trip back because they’d stayed that extra day.
So they could get married.
She whispered it, held out her hand to Betsy — her right hand, because in Greek weddings, the ring went on the right hand. There it was, the plain, worn, rose-gold band that Dani already loved so much.
Betsy bit her lip and asked Dani to sit down.
There had been an incident on a train in Germany. A man with a gun, maybe a terrorist, maybe not. Two U.S. soldiers had tried to stop it. Had stopped it. But one was injured and one was dead.
Dani shook her head. “It’s not him. What are the odds? There are so many U.S. soldiers based in Germany or who travel through there. It’s not him.”
She ran for her phone. She had text messages, voice messages, too. She listened to them first.
I’ve never hated leaving anyone as much as I hated to let you get on that plane. It hasn’t been five minutes. I’m still at your gate, I guess hoping that you’ll get off the plane and come back to me, even though I know you can’t.
Four more months away from you sounds like hell, and I know we have some details up in the air, like making sure we end up in the same city. Your job and the year-long contract you signed. Where I’ll end up stationed, once I’m back. Whether I’ll stay in the Navy or get out. God, we didn’t even talk about that, but we’ll work it out.
Everything will be fine. We’ll be together, and nothing will ever tear us apart.
I didn’t know I could feel as much for someone as I do for you. I’ve never felt as close to someone, never really got what it meant to have a woman I could count on for anything, someone I knew would always be by my side. Right from the first letter you sent me, everything clicked. I knew you were it for me. I love you so damned much.
Listen, we have some things to talk about, some things to work out … But it’ll be okay. I know it.
Damn, they’re calling my flight. I’ve got to go. With the time difference and travel times, I’m not sure when I’ll get to talk to you again. Just know I’ve still got the biggest grin on my face, just thinking about you.
We’ll come back to Greece one day, back to that same island, maybe stay at that same place. I want to give you the whole world. Just … I’ve got to make this flight and get my ass back to base. Call me when you get home, and maybe dream of me. I’ll be dreaming of you.
The message ended with a beep.
He was fine, at the airport getting ready to get on his plane.
She saved the message, just because, and clicked to hear the next one.
But it was Betsy, asking Dani about her flight’s arrival. The text messages were Betsy, too, saying she was at the airport, then at baggage claim.
No texts, no more voice messages from Aaron.
It didn’t mean anything, Dani told herself. He’d told her not to worry.
But Dani knew.
She felt sick, like she was already coming to pieces. She gripped her phone with one hand, and clutched Betsy’s with the other. They flipped TV channels, searching for someone to finally give them the two sailors’ names.
Someone gave ages. One was young, early twenties maybe. Aaron could easily pass for that, though he was twenty-five. Blondish hair and a beautiful smile. Oh, God.
One of them had tackled the gunman, frightened passengers said. He was so brave, saved them all.
He was a Navy SEAL, shot, in serious condition but expected to live.
Dani never heard his name.
Hours later, bleary-eyed and nearly crazy with worry, she finally saw Aaron.
His photo, one that looked like it was taken from a military ID, popped up on the TV. He looked so young, so proud.
She put her hand up to the TV screen, wishing she could reach through it and touch him one more time.
He’d been on the train, and he was dead.
The military turns incredibly young American women into widows.
I thought about them as I looked at a heart-breaking photo that was being passed around Facebook one Memorial Day, of a young widow and her baby lying on an afghan spread out on top of her husband's gave.
Part of it looks like a day in the park, the afghan spread out on the grass, her in her jeans, the baby, the baby's car seat, the diaper bag. Except they're facing one of those haunting, plain gray headstones you see in military cemeteries, all the same, rows and rows of them.
I don't know who the woman is. I couldn't find her name or a source or the photographer's name. There was no caption. But I imagine, she just wanted to spend the day with her husband, and the closest she and their baby could get to him was at his grave.
So, Entrusted To The SEAL is about a young military widow and the man who is still haunted by her husband's death.
If you've read Hero of my Heart, you've already met Mace Daughtry. He helped Will rescue Amanda when she was taken hostage. To celebrate the release of my new book, three newsletter subscribers have won a copy of Hero of my Heart.