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Noah (7 Brides for 7 Soldiers Book 6)

By:Cristin Harber

PROLOGUE

February, Washington, DC

The sun cracked through the open slats of Noah Coleman's blinds in the  bedroom of his sparsely furnished Eastern market apartment. His Navy  SEAL team had landed in Baltimore a little after one o'clock in the  morning, and with the time change and travel, coupled with the  exhaustion of the intense job, he crashed face-first into his pillow.

But it wasn't the sun keeping him awake. His roommate, FBI Special Agent Kenneth Murphy, banged on the wall. "Kenny, go away."

The noise didn't stop. Maybe Kenny was banging again, from what Noah's foggy and exhausted mind could tell.

"Stop," Noah muttered and turned over with his pillow, burying himself  under the cool sheets. Two days without sleeping-Kenny could give him  the morning.

"I hate to do this to you" came through the wall. "But you have to wake up."

Noah rolled onto his back again. He'd gone longer with less sleep. Kenny wouldn't bother him if it weren't important. "Hang on."

He pulled on a pair of sweatpants and grabbed his personal cell phone  that had been on its charger since he'd left for the special forces op  days ago. The screen awakened as he lumbered out of bed.



Twenty-seven notifications.



More than two notifications were unusual, and a dull sense of dread  rolled through Noah as he opened his bedroom door and paced down the  hallway, glancing at who had reached out. His folks. Lainey. And now  Kenny who had banged on his wall when-Noah glanced at the time-his  roommate should have been at work, and now faced him in their apartment.  "What's wrong with my family?"

Kenny's clean-shaven face didn't have the answers. "All I know is your father called me."

Noah looked back at his notifications then scrolled through the text  messages, finding generic but strongly worded "call as soon as you get  this" requests.

Dad might've called Kenny, but it was Noah's cousin Lainey who would tell Noah the unfiltered truth.

He pulled up her name and pressed Send, holding the ringing phone to his  ear. "Voicemail." He did the time-difference math and figured Lainey  was either dropping her daughter off at preschool or walking into work.

"Really?" Kenny asked. "Your dad tracked me down at work then didn't pick up the phone?"

"I called my cousin first. She'll tell me what my parents will skirt  around." With that many messages, texts, and a call to Kenny, his family  back in Eagle's Ridge was competing to get to him first-or they wanted  to make sure they heard from him between special ops. Either way, that  type of call was easier when it wasn't sugarcoated. "I'll make a cup of  coffee and try Lainey again. If she doesn't answer after that, then I'll  call my dad."

Kenny nodded as he tossed his keys into the air. "I'm headed back in. If you need anything, let me know."

A cup of coffee later, Noah decided to call Lainey at work instead of on her cell phone.

"Eagle's Ridge Pediatrics," the receptionist answered from the Coleman Center. "Can I help you?"

"Is Lainey Force in?"

"She is, but she's with a patient. If you have a question, I can send  you to the nurse's voicemail and someone will get back to you-"

"This is Noah Coleman. I'll hold."

"Oh," the receptionist said, in a way that put him on alert. The hairs  at the back of his neck stood on end as she hurried off the phone, and a  recording of child health safety tips began to play. By the time he  heard the first tip twice, his patience was running low.

"You're home." Lainey's sweet voice interrupted a useless-to-him tip  about testing bathwater before putting a baby in it. Heaven help the  woman who he had children with. Except, never mind. A family wasn't in  his future. He was a SEAL, through and through. The military was his  life. Not that he was wild or didn't want to settle down, but he wasn't  the type to leave the service.

"What's wrong?"

"Noah, I'm so sorry."

Her voice stopped him cold, and tension pulsed at his temples. "For what? What the hell is going on in Eagle's Ridge?"

"You didn't talk to your dad?"

"No, dammit. I called you first. I always call you first."

"I'm sick, Noah," she whispered.

Exasperated, his forehead furrowed. "So, you get sick. You're a nurse.  You're around kids all the time. They're little germ magnets. You're  bound to get-"

"No, I really am, and I should have known better. Because I am a nurse. Because I ignored signs and symptoms-"         

     



 

"Lainey, stop." The tension in his temples froze, and his tired muscles stiffened. "What are you talking about?"

"I have cancer, Noah. Late-stage cancer."

A knot formed in his throat. Breathing through the pain seemed harder to  survive than his op covert op in Serbia just forty-eight hours ago  under the worst of circumstances. That job had been nearly mission  impossible but deemed critical. He'd attacked the problem and won. "You  fight it. Right? There's medicines, right? Like chemo and radiation.  Surgery." He didn't even know what kind of cancer, but it sounded as  though she'd already given up. "This isn't a death sentence."

"There are a lot of things I wish I had done differently. But more than  anything, I need to talk to you about Bella. Can you come home? I can't  do this over the phone, and not at work."

He pinched the bridge of his nose as his eyes seared, and he rolled his  lips together. Lainey was his cousin, but they had been raised as though  they were twins. His dad and her mom were fraternal twins, and Lainey  and Noah were born so close together that with a family this close-knit,  she seemed more like his sister than his cousin.

"I'm not coming home to plan your death and how to help Bella."

Lainey sniffled. "Of course you are, Noah. You're a Navy SEAL. You're my protector. This is who you are."





CHAPTER ONE



October

Eagle's Ridge, Washington State



Noah hit the ground running that morning. As soon as he landed at  Eagle's Ridge Airport, he had a list of action items to complete within  certain time frames.

First, he swung by his parents' house for all the necessary hugs and  catching up, promising his Aunt Virginia, Bella's grandma, that the last  of her bags would be stowed safely in her own home by lunchtime. Noah  checked that off his list before eleven in the morning.

He hit the grocery store, moving down the aisle as though he was on  orders, grabbing essentials, even though Aunt Virginia had said she'd  left plenty in the fridge and cupboards for him to cook. Noah was taking  no chances. He had a plan, and that revolved around preparing recipes  that were fast, reliable, and things he knew how to cook. As much as his  aunt loved baked cinnamon apples as a side dish with dinner, if she  left apples, they would eat them as apples were normally eaten-by biting  into them.

Now, everything had been checked off his list-homecoming with minimal  fanfare, groceries purchased and put up where he thought they should go,  and a quick pit stop at Westbrook Real Estate to pick up the keys to  Nuts and Bolts Auto Garage.

He was home an hour earlier than he'd expected. That was a good thing  since Zane and Adam, the twins from high school, had stopped in to catch  up since the last time he was in town. Noah needed the distraction. The  closer his watch ticked to the time Bella would arrive home on the  school bus, the more anxious he became.

The guys caught him up on friends they had in common, and Noah gave them  a tour of Lainey's house. They all stared into Bella's glittery pink  bedroom as if it might sprout the same ghost and goblin heads that were  starting to pop up throughout Eagle's Ridge, announcing the start of the  Halloween season.

"Dude, are you sweating?" Zane chuckled as he leaned against a wall decorated with vinyl star stickers.

"Of course he's sweating," Adam cracked. "What does he know about raising a kid?"

"Enough." But the tension knot at the back of his neck called BS.

Zane walked to a bookshelf, picked up a reading primer, and held up the  cover, which showed a giraffe wearing ballet shoes. "Noah looks like  he's been thrown into a war zone without training."

"I haven't had training," Noah mumbled. Nor could he explain why a giraffe would wear any shoes, much less pointy-toed ones.

Dancing wildlife wasn't his concern, though. Not when he hadn't had  enough time to wrap his head around life changers like Lainey's death,  departing the military, and starting a civilian life. It wasn't just  parenting that he had to adjust to. His brilliant decision to buy Nuts  and Bolts had seemed smart. What a great idea, being his own boss. Plus,  Eagle's Ridge had missed the friendly, quirky auto shop.

But now he'd added "running a business" to the list of things he had no  clue how to do, and he was researching how-tos like a madman. His search  history continually jumped among related topics. In between Googling  how to be a successful small business owner and how to raise a gifted,  orphaned five-year-old, Noah had nearly short-circuited his brain. "I  missed this day at SERE school."         

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