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In order to truly save him, I need to redefine us. Xander Dixon was my best friend. Loyal and dependable. A brave warrior. A permanent presence in my life until that fateful day he boarded a plane headed overseas. Xander’s unwelcome silence haunted me for three years… Until he suddenly resurfaces. Blinded by misplaced fury. Trapped in a pool of darkness. Unable to escape the perpetual pain. Though it would be easy to walk away, I refuse to give up on him. I want to know his misery and torment, so I can rescue him. Then Xander will finally be mine.
Prologue Pain. Debilitatingain is all I feel as I attempt to keep my emotions in check. Saying goodbye to my best friend was never a thought I entertained. Now it's my reality. “Wills.” His voice takes on a pleading tone as he stares into my tear filled eyes. “Please don’t make this harder for me than it already is.” He continues to look at me as the saltwater drips down my cheeks. “I’m sorry, X, but you have no idea how difficult life will be here without you.” I can’t catch my breath as the hysteria threatens to take over. I try to take deep inhales between puffs of pitiful exhales. He presses his forehead to mine and I don’t think he understands how much that involuntary, ingrained move means to me at that moment. Xander is one of the greats and I’m about to lose him. “Promise me,” I begin in a begging voice. “Swear to me that you’ll come back and everything will be the same.” “Willow Shae, I could never stay away from you longer than necessary, so you don’t even have to ask. But yes, I promise and swear I will be back as soon as possible to return to our regularly scheduled friendship.” With that remark, he has me cracking a smile. Even through the tears. Gosh, I will miss this man. “Will you write me? Does that sound cheesy? I see it in all the old time movies and I always wanted to say it.” Maybe it is the dreamy lilt to my voice that has his lips quirking into a smile. “Wills, I will write you every chance I get and I expect the same. Now, give me a hug that means everything you feel because I won’t see you for at least a year.” His eyebrows crease with that devastating blow, even though I’d heard that timeline before. I can tell he’s still very worried about how I’m feeling based on the telling nonverbal cues radiating off him. We embrace easily, like so many times before, yet this is different. His hands linger on my hips before settling on the middle of my back. His breath holds until he blows it slowly across my neck. His eyes find my gaze like he had more to say than his voice would allow. I indulge these rare affections and give a few curve balls of my own. “I’ll miss you every day, Xander. I will never go a single moment without a thought of you. Best friend or not, you mean more to me than any other person in this world. Please be careful. I will be waiting for you.” I pull away before he’s able to reply. I can’t stand to further delay this inevitable separation. Xander looks down at me once more before picking up his pack and hoisting it over his shoulder. Then he tosses out the toughest blow ever dealt. “When I am having a bad day, or we get into brutal battle, or a friend gets hurt, or… just something awful happens, I will think of your smile because it always makes me happy.” Then he turns and walks toward the airline gate. This was it. I have to tell him. It is now or never. As he passes through the threshold, I gain my courage. “Xander!” I scream. He turns around immediately and looks startled by my outburst. It’s then I realize he had planned to keep walking until I called out. I can’t lay out my heart then just watch him leave. Instead of telling him exactly how I feel, I blow him a kiss. Maybe for good luck or maybe for all the kisses I wish we had actually shared. He catches it and smiles. Then continues on his way. Xander is much braver than I am, he's an amazing man, and he will make our country proud. But my most forefront thought is worry that I will never get to tell him how much I love him.