Originally published in the collection Romantic Interludes, Justin’s Second Chance will be offered as a stand-alone short story on Valentine’s Day.
Ten years ago, April Peterson asked her long-time crush and pen pal Lance Corporal Justin Clark for a date. Just a day spent alone together. Though he cared for her more than he had ever let on, he was still in shock after his first military deployment to Afghanistan, and responded in perhaps the worst possible way: He ignored her.
When they meet again, April Peterson Sinclair is a widow with a young daughter. Gunnery Sergeant Justin Clark is hoping to win April’s heart and asks for a second chance.
He didn’t know what it was, but something inside him threw caution to the winds. A coward dies a thousand deaths; a brave man dies but one. Was that how that quote went? She’d probably know, but he wasn’t going to ask her. “What I’d really like,” he began slowly, kneeling so that they were knee to knee and he could smell the slightly spicy scent of whatever it was she was wearing for perfume, “is something you asked of me once.”
He saw her jaw tighten, saw the muscles in her throat move as she swallowed. “What?”
“I’d like a day to spend with you. Just the two of us. We could share the long versions of our stories, maybe. I could give you a tour of D.C. Just one day.”
“Justin…” Her lips parted, her breath caught, and she studied his face. He grew nervous, wondering what she was seeing. He felt all kinds of vulnerable, more than he felt when he’d been deployed in places far away and quite dangerous. “I’m not ready.”
“My husband died a year and a half ago, you know? And I, we moved out here for a fresh start. To get, to get away from…some things.” She slid his present to her back under the tree to rejoin the other gifts that waited patiently for tomorrow morning and the eager eyes of a little, red-haired girl. “I’m not ready to date yet, Justin, is what I’m trying to say.”
“All right. How about being ready for a friend?” He offered her his hand.
Slowly, she took it and he rose to his feet, pulling her up with him. “I could use a friend.”