A Santini in Love
Book 6 in the Santinis Series
Part of the Santini World
The moment I met my sister’s best friend Madison Baker, we immediately take a dislike to each other. She always thinks she’s right, and worse, she usually is. We spent our four years at the academy torturing each other.
Years later, she’s out of the Marines thanks to a roadside bomb. If you think that means she’s fragile, you’d be wrong. She’s stronger than anyone I know, and we still drive each other crazy, and when one of our arguments ends up in a blazing hot kiss, we can’t seem to keep our hands off each other.
When she tells me she’s seen a murder, and no one else believes her, I stand up for her, because this is Madison–she’s always right. Together, we sift through the meager evidence, trying to unearth the secrets someone is trying to hide. Neither one of us expected that it would draw us closer—or that a killer is hell bent on making sure those secrets stay buried.
Reader Interests in
A Santini in Love
A Santini in Love
3 years ago
Madison Baker didn’t know what day it was or where she was, but she knew one thing.
She fucking hurt.
Pain radiated through her entire body. It was if someone had beaten every centimeter of her flesh. She tried to open her eyes—nothing. Hell, she wasn’t sure she was even breathing.
Am I dead?
That thought had her struggling, pushing her hand through something heavy. Dirt? She was buried? Panic surged as she tried to gulp in air and found nothing. Weight settled on her chest. It was getting so dark, so cold…she felt a bit of her soul drift away.
Gonna give up, Madison?
Her father’s voice echoed mind. How many times did she hear him say that in her lifetime? Thousands.
If you weren’t being a coward right now, I wouldn’t have to scream at you.
No. Fucking. Way.
She used what was left of her energy to move her hand. It might have been only inches, but it felt like miles. A renewed sense of survival had her pushing harder, up through the debris. Up, up, then she felt it. Cool air washed over her fingers.
In the next few seconds—even if it felt like hours—she pushed harder and got her hand up through.
“Over here! I found one over here!”
As feet pounded toward her, she kept pushing until she felt a hand grab hers. It tugged and she held on with all her strength. The voice kept talking to her, telling her they would get her out of there. Then, she was free, air rushing over her face and she tried to open her eyes. Bright light burned her corneas and she shut them.
“That’s okay, Lt Baker, we have you,” her savior said. The whop, whop, whop of the approaching copters almost drowned him out.
“Who…” she broke off not sure if he could even hear her. Her voice sounded and felt like gravel.
She felt him lean closer as people started to dig around her. “What?”
She licked her lips and tasted blood and dirt. “Who are you?”
“I’m Sgt Gee Santini of the US Air Force, and we’re here to take you home, Ma’am.”
“Thank you,” was all she could say. Then, her world faded to black again.
Madison came awake with a gasp. Her pulse hammered in her neck as panic settled in her chest. No matter how many breaths she took, she couldn’t seem to get enough air into her lungs. As the walls began to close in on her, she tried to count backwards from ten. She couldn’t seem to remember the sequence of numbers.
In that instant where she almost bolted from her bed, she felt Charlie’s cold, wet nose.
His presence allowed some of her panic to dissolve; although, she still felt as if she had thousands of bugs crawling over her.
She pulled herself together and looked at the golden retriever. “That was a bad one, huh?”
He laid his head next to hers on the bed. He had become her best friend in the last two years and her constant companion. She really didn’t know what she would do without him.
“Why don’t we get up for a few hours?”
Charlie’s tail thumped on the bed and she smiled. She might not be able to deal with a man in her life, but then, all she needed was Charlie to keep her happy these days. She slipped out of bed. When she stepped into the bathroom, she turned the light on and off three times before heading for the toilet. After relieving herself, she turned the light off again, three times, just as it had been when she turned it on.
She looked at Charlie, who was still lying on the bed. “How about some toast? And Chocolate milk. Well, chocolate milk for me.”
He followed her to the kitchen, waiting as he always did for her to turn the lights off and on three times. He knew this routine well. She knew it had more to do with the job he had of keeping her from completely slipping over the edge, but she would pretend otherwise. She was just a normal woman with a normal case of insomnia. Because if she thought about it too much, she might just fall apart. Again.
Grabbing her favorite bread, she pulled a couple pieces out. Then she looked down at her companion and grabbed a third piece.
“Eating me out of house and home.”
He licked his lips and gave her his regular doggie smile. With a sigh she went to the refrigerator to get butter. It was going to be a long day.
* * *
“So, you had another nightmare last night,” Dr. James said to her. He had told her to call him by his first name of Ed, but it just didn’t seem right. Ed was a guy who fixed your car or had your back in a firefight.
He was a middle-aged man who had gone a little soft around the middle, but still looked healthy. His dark brown hair had threads of gray throughout it and he always dressed just like she expected a therapist to dress. Relaxed pants, casual shirts. Nothing seemed to ruffle his feathers.
“I have lots of nightmares.”
He said nothing; those patient puppy dog eyes that were so much like Charlie’s watching her. Some days it soothed her. Today, it irritated the hell out of her.
It was irrational, yes, but she didn’t care at the moment. A woman had a right to be a little bitchy sometimes—especially with her history. She picked at one of the pillows he had on the couch. Days like today…well, it reminded her that she would never be normal again.
And that pissed her off too.
Still, he said nothing. She sighed and looked up at him.
“Yes, I had another one. It was about the day.”
There was no reason to tell him what day. He had been her therapist for long enough, he understood what she meant…when her world had dissolved around her.
“Can you think of anything that may have triggered it?”
She shoved a hand through her hair. Patience. The man had enough patience to give therapy to Satan. Or Satan’s kid. Or even Hitler. Dr. James would just wait her out until the bitter end.
“The anniversary is next month.”
He nodded. “I didn’t know if you noticed.”
She looked at him then. He wasn’t smiling, but she knew he wasn’t being completely truthful. “You knew?”
“Of course I know the date. I have your military records. And don’t give me that look, Madison. There was a reason I didn’t mention it.”
“Because you wanted to see if I remembered.”
He shook his head. “You always remember, right? Every time you have one of those nightmares, you remember.”
It was her turn to just blink. He wanted a reaction. She knew it bothered him that she never lost it in their sessions.
“What I wanted to see is if the date triggered anything. If I mentioned it, I couldn’t gauge your reaction.”
Irritation then morphed into anger, but she suppressed it. She almost choked herself doing it, but she knew exactly how to handle over the top emotions. Of course, most therapists thought it was what caused her PTSD to be so acute at times.
She was emotionally stunted. Truth was, for a Baker, she was a font of overwrought emotion.
“You don’t have to hide your emotions from me,” he said.
She picked at her nail and said nothing for a few moments. “What do you mean by that?”
The look he gave her was filled with understanding, but it was tinged with pity. “You’re angry with me. Tell me why.”
Not a question, an order. She could handle emotions, but she couldn’t always deal with emotions.
“I feel like a guinea pig.”
He chuckled. “You are not a guinea pig. I’ve been working with people who suffer from PTSD for a long time.”
She knew that. He had even been in Bosnia years ago, helping refugee children who suffered from it. A former military doc, she knew he understood the stress of the job. It was his specialty.
“I’m not likely to forget the day I lost everything.”
“You didn’t lose everything, Madison. You survived.”
The only one. The only freaking member of the unit.
“I lost my career.” Not to mention my sanity, but let’s not talk about that because Bakers didn’t fall apart.
“But you have one you love now. And you’re training to help teach companion pets.”
She glanced over at Charlie and smiled. “Yes. And the yoga is good for me, so teaching it is easy.”
“Now, back to the remembering of the date.”
She rolled her eyes.
“I saw that.”
She smiled. “Okay, so I remembered the date. I don’t think I will ever forget it.”
“No, you won’t. And I won’t lie to you and tell you that you will ever hit this time of year and not have nightmares. The date is a trigger.”
She pursed her lips. “So, in other words, you’re useless?”
Dr. James decided to ignore that question. “What makes you successful in life is how you deal with it. Preventing nightmares is impossible. But dealing with them, that you can control. And you’re doing great this year.”
“I’ve been up since three in the morning.”
“But, where were you last year when this date came up?”
Madison didn’t like thinking about those days and the week she spent huddled in her room, under the covers, shivering like a coward. She’d spent two weeks alone. Crying and drinking had been the only two things she accomplished then. She’d had no one to call who would understand.
“Exactly,” he said, apparently picking up on her thoughts. “You might not see it because you are in the middle of the struggle, but you’ve made significant strides since last year. Just remember that.”
* * *
Dante pulled up alongside the curb and parked his car. He liked that he was regularly getting offers of home-cooked meals from Jack and his wife Hannah. They regarded him as family and he was happy to oblige, especially if it meant food. He grabbed the wine he’d brought with him and slipped out of the car.
Since he’d returned from deployment a month earlier, Dante had been invited over twice. The one thing he missed about his assignment to California was spending time in the kitchen watching his mother cook. A guy could only eat out so many times or eat sandwiches before he started to get sick of it.
He was halfway to the door when it opened and Jack stepped out. The Marine’s face was stamped with what Dante could only call regret.
“Hey, Dante,” he said. “I have some bad news.”
Crap. Hannah had promised fried catfish tonight. He’d been dying to taste it all day. The woman knew how to fry a fish better than his mother, although he kept that information to himself.
“Hannah invited our new tenant next door to eat with us. I’m worried Hannah sees it as a set up.”
Hannah had a way of trying to fix him up with lots of her friends. It never worked, although he enjoyed spending time with interesting women. Most of them had been and all of them had been pleasant.
“But I still get catfish?”
Jack chuckled. “Yeah, but that means Hannah will be tossing hints all night.”
Dante smiled. “Dude, I’m a Marine. I can handle anything.”
Jack studied him then laughed again. “This might be fun to watch.”
They walked into the house together. The first thing that hit him was the splendid, salty smell of catfish frying. Damn, he loved a home-cooked meal, and he had loved fried catfish since he’d been in the third grade. That’s when his Dad had been stationed in North Carolina and he had his first taste of it.
Hannah’s massive dog Hercules, along with a retriever came running towards them. It wasn’t strange to see an extra pet. Hannah was a veterinarian and often had one or two extra pets around.
“Get a new dog?” he asked as he leaned down to give both dogs a few pats.
“No. That’s our neighbor’s.”
Then, Dante heard that voice. She was laughing as she said, “I don’t know about you, but I better get at least two good filets out of that bunch.”
It was the voice he hated, the one that had haunted his time at Annapolis. She had always been a pain in the ass, besting him in everything except the physical challenges. And she had not been that far behind him.
“It can’t be.”
“Is there something wrong?” Jack asked.
Dante didn’t answer. He followed the sound of female voices with Jack hard on his heels. As he stepped into the kitchen, he found her there. Leaning against the counter talking to Hannah as she fried up the catfish.
“You,” he said, his voice filled with accusation.
She looked at him, then gave him that same smile. The one that didn’t reach her eyes and told her opponent they were about to die. Dante had always been convinced it was a smile she reserved for him.
“Yes, it’s me, Santini.”
Hannah turned around and looked at Baker, then at Dante. “Hey, Dante, I take it you two know each other?”
He nodded slowly, not taking his gaze from hers. “You could say that.”
“I beat Santini here for eighth spot on the top ten of our class.”
Jack clapped his hands together. “Well, if that doesn’t beat all. Wait until I talk to MJ about this.”
They were still locked in a stare down, when she broke first to smile at Jack. This time, it reached her eyes. She’d always had the most amazing blue-green eyes. He had seen them sparkle a time or two and always felt that weird shift in his blood—from irritation to blazing heat. All for a woman who pissed him off.
“Why would she care?” she asked.
“Oh, because she’s married to Dante’s cousin, Leo.”
“Small world,” she murmured.
“In the mood for a beer?” Jack asked as he made his way to the fridge.
“Sure,” he said, knowing it would calm his nerves. There was something else there, beneath the surface that he couldn’t put his mental finger on. It had always been like that with Baker. And she hadn’t changed, not really. Her hair was longer than she had kept it in college.
She was a bit shapelier, but that might have to do with age. It wasn’t like it looked bad. In fact, the loose fitting t-shirt and hip hugging jeans were perfect.
“What happened to all that golden blond hair, Santini? Did you quit bleaching it?”
“Naw, you know us Santinis. Our hair turns darker as we age. Like Elena’s.”
At the mention of his twin sister, she smiled. “I haven’t seen her in a couple of years.”
“All brunette now. She just got to Miramar.”
“Well, good for her. I’ll have to see if she wants to get together sometime,” she said, then looked at Hannah. “While Golden Boy here and I didn’t get along, Elena and I were best of friends. We roomed together.”
“So, are you stationed here at Pendleton?” he asked. “Last I heard you were headed to Afghanistan.”
And like that, the temperature in the kitchen dropped twenty degrees. The retriever slowly walked over to Baker’s side.
She ran her hand over his back. “No. I’m not in the Marines anymore.”
The answer wasn’t what he was expecting. He opened his mouth to ask what the hell was going on, but he was saved by Jack’s wife, Hannah.
End of Excerpt
A Santini in Love
by Melissa Schroeder
is available in the following formats:
Autographed Books From Melissa
You can order this book autographed in print—directly from Melissa! When you click “Add to Cart” you’ll be taken to PayPal page to complete your transaction. Don’t want to use Paypal? Click on the gray “Check Out: Pay without a PayPal account” button.
Price includes all shipping and taxes. Unfortunately, Melissa can only ship to the continental U.S. at this time.
Melissa ships out her autographed books once per month, so please allow 4-6 weeks for shipping. Unfortunately, Melissa can only ship to the continental US at this time.
A Santini in Love
All of Melissa's Series
- Bounty Hunters Series
- By Blood Series
- Camos and Cupcakes Series
- Cursed Clan Series
- Dominion Rockstar Romance Series
- Faking It Series
- Fighting Sullivans
- Fillmore Siblings Series
- Fitzpatricks Series
- Hands On Duet
- Harmless Military Series
- Harmless Trouble Series
- Hawaiian Holidays Series
- Juniper Springs Series
- Lonestar Wolf Pack Series
- Mafia Sisters Series
- Melissa Schroeder Bundles
- Once Upon an Accident Series
- Only For Him Serial
- Original Harmless Five Series
- Rough 'n Ready Series
- Saints and Sinners Series
- Santinis Series
- Savannah Heat Series
- Semper Fi Marines Series
- Spies, Lies, & Alibis Series
- Stand Alone Books
- Sweet Shoppe Series
- Task Force Hawaii Series
- Telepathic Cravings Series
- Texas Heat
- Texas Temptations Series
- Wulf Family Series