Author’s Note: “This scene appeared after a flashback very early on in the first draft of Honor Reclaimed. (In the timeline of the two series, this takes place shortly after Jude’s wedding in Wilde for Her.) I wrote it mostly for my benefit–to re-orientate myself in the HORNET world after writing two Wilde Security books and also to help me get to know Seth a little better. Although I ended up cutting it because it felt like an info dump and slowed the pace of the story, bits and pieces were re-purposed and used in other places throughout the book.”
“And then…I don’t remember.”
Dr. Knox set her notebook aside and leaned forward in her chair, meeting his gaze. “Can’t remember or won’t?”
“Can’t,” Seth said. “I get flashes, snippets of sound, usually in my dreams, but mostly it’s just blank until I woke up in the hospital. And, honestly, Doc? I don’t think I want to remember. I recall every detail about the day my men died, down to the smell of their blood. I have the scars from my captivity and they’re pretty much a goddamn road map of what happened to me. How they got there’s not something I particularly want in my head, you know?”
And Knox did. She was the most understanding in the parade of shrinks he’d seen over the past year, but she still wanted to get inside his head, poke around, shake things loose that were just fine wedged deep in his subconscious. Just like all the other shrinks.
“But,” she continued after a beat. “You understand that you’ll not heal until you let yourself remember and develop new coping skills for everything you’ve pushed out of your mind. If you keep shoving it down and bottling it up, it’s going to consume you. Eventually, you’ll not be able to function in a normal, healthy way.”
“Yeah, I get it. I know. I’m just…not ready.”
“But you think you’re ready to go work with HORNET?”
“Yes, ma’am.” More than anything, he wanted to go back to work, back to what he’d spent years training to do, back to the only thing he was good at. He wanted to prove to everyone, himself included, that he was still the best. That he wasn’t broken. That he could still do the job.
Knox sighed. “I have to be frank with you, Seth. I don’t think you are ready for such a big step, which is why I’ve never suggested exposure therapy for you.”
“With all due respect, Dr. Knox, I’m not changing my mind. I’ve already completed several training missions with them.”
“And how did you do?”
Well, he hadn’t made any friends on the team, especially after he locked up during the last simulation. Everyone got punished for it, ended up getting “wet and sandy” as the two former SEALs who ran the team liked to call the practice of jumping into the freezing ocean, rolling in the sand, and enduring a four mile run. On top of that, Gabe Bristow, the team commander, had his number. Without a doubt, he’d be gone already if not for Quinn, the team’s XO, repeatedly going to bat for him. He didn’t know why the guy was pulling so hard to keep him on and didn’t care as long as it got him back to the job. He’d be okay. He just had to work harder.
“I’d rather not talk about HORNET,” he said.
She nodded and settled back in her seat again. “Would you like to talk about what happened this weekend instead?”
And to the crux of the matter, the whole reason he’d decided to take the bus from his home in Key West to the VA hospital in Miami where Dr. Knox practiced.
He sucked in a breath, let it out slowly. “My best friend got married.”
Knox consulted her notes. “That’s Jude Wilde, correct? He was with you in Afghanistan and Operation Overload was originally his mission.”
“Yeah, until he got sick and had to be shipped out to the hospital, then our commander assigned my team.”
“I see. And so you went to Jude’s wedding this weekend?” she prompted.
“I tried. I wanted to be there for him like a normal best man, but the noise, all those strangers around me…it got to be too much.” He scoffed. “Jude even sent his hostage negotiator brother to talk to me, like he was afraid I’d hurt myself or some shit.”
“No. Never. And I’ll tell you the same thing I told Cam Wilde when he asked me that. I didn’t live through hell just to come home and off myself.”
A smile played over Dr. Knox’s lips and her kind brown eyes crinkled behind her stylish glasses. “I know, Seth.”
Unable to stay seated, he got up and paced her small, plain office. It was Government Issue all the way: white and beige walls, industrial carpet, metal desk, uncomfortable furniture. She tried to class it up with photos of her grandkids, and a few leafy plants, but under those trappings it still felt sterile. Hospital-like. One of the reasons he hated coming here. He’d spent enough fucking time in hospitals.
“Suicide’s not on the table, Doc. It’s never even entered my mind.” He hesitated and rubbed the thick ridge of scar tissue across the front of his neck. Caught himself doing it, dropped his hand, and faced her again. “I’ve been okay. I mean, it’s been a while since I felt claustrophobic in a group of people, since I got that creeping sense of paranoia up the back of my neck. But Saturday…I stood with those wedding guests and all I could think was how easily a bullet would end all that happy-happy-joy-joy. I couldn’t catch my breath, started to panic. And, dammit, I thought I was over all that. I thought I’ve made progress.”
“Were you angry?” Knox asked. “Do you begrudge Jude his happiness?”
Fuck, he didn’t want to admit it. But if he could say it to anyone, it would be her. “I don’t blame him for what happened to me, okay? I want to get that on record now. I do not blame him for getting sick. Shit, he nearly died himself from that bug. They couldn’t keep fluids in him and—”
“Seth.” Knox said his name gently, but the reprimand was there under the gentle.
“All right, yes. I was pissed off. But not at Jude.”
His ex-fiancee’s name spurred him into motion again and he strode laps around the desk. “I know I wasn’t husband material when I came home, but—fuck. She accepted my ring before I left. That’s basically a vow before the actual vows, right? And now she’s marrying someone else.” In three weeks, five days, and—he checked his watch—yup, three hours to be exact. Not that he was counting down or anything.
He stopped next to Knox’s bookcase and stared at the double frame containing her wedding photo on one side and a picture of her and her Marine husband celebrating their 30th anniversary on the other. They looked as happy together thirty years later as they had on the day they said “I do.” Maybe even happier.
He glanced back at the doctor. “You would’ve stuck by your husband if he’d come home all fucked up.”
Sighing, Knox set her notepad on an end table and took off her reading glasses. “Yes. Marriage is in sickness and in health.”
“Emma didn’t stick.” But, really, he couldn’t even blame her for giving him his ring back and running into the un-traumatized, baggage-free Matt Mathis’ waiting arms. Maybe if he’d been stronger, kept his wits about him when he’d gotten home, he’d have been the one standing at the altar in less than a month watching her walk toward him.
Or probably not. He wasn’t the same man that had proposed to Emma before leaving for deployment to the Country-That-Would-Not-Be-Named. The SEALs may have dragged his ass out of there, but part of him was still in those mountains, the part capable of being loved and loving in return. He didn’t figure it was something he’d ever get back. Or even something he wanted back.
It was easier to keep a wall up between himself and everyone else.