Tom swung his duffle bag down from the overhead rack and shuffled slowly with the other passengers off the commercial flight and out into Boston's Logan Airport.
Moving slowly was good, especially since--like right now--he still had bouts of dizziness from that head injury that had nearly taken him out of action permanently.
Outside the terminal, the city skyline was muted by the hazy morning sky. Welcome to summer in New England.
The humidity would lift, Tom knew, as he headed toward the tiny North Shore community of Baldwin's Bridge. The stiff ocean breezes kept the temperature down and the skies blue in the picture-perfect tourist town.
Tom was staying only until Sunday.
He had thirty days of convalescent leave to fill, which pissed him off. He didn't want thirty days, dammit. He'd just spent far too much time in the hospital, too much time away from his command. Of course, thanks to Rear Admiral Larry Tucker, at this point he wasn't sure he even had much of a command to return to.
Was it any wonder he'd lost his temper when he'd found out that while he was in a frigging coma, Tucker had tried to make SEAL Team Sixteen a line item to be deleted on the upcoming fiscal year's budget? And when Tom had found out that Tucker had taken Sixteen's SO squad, the elite group of men that Tom had taken years to handpick--nicknamed "The Troubleshooters" by some and "The Troublemakers" by the non-SEAL brass like Tucker--and scattered them to the ends of the earth ...
But Tom had only lost his temper with the rear admiral. He hadn't thrown the man through the fourth-story window of his D.C. office. He hadn't even slapped the self-satisfied smirk off the bastard's face.
All he'd done was list his objections perhaps a little more strenuously than he normally might have.
And for that, he'd lost another week of his life undergoing psych evaluations, as teams of medical doctors and psychiatrists tried to decide whether or not his outburst was directly related to his recent severe head injury.
Tom had tried to assure them that, indeed, his loss of temper was merely a side effect of dealing with Tucker.
But his doctor was a captain--Howard Eckert--who was up for promotion and eager to please Rear Admiral Tucker, and Tom's excuses didn't fly. Eckert gave him thirty days' convalescent leave in an attempt to recover further from the head injury. The doctor and the shrinks warned Tom that with such an injury it wasn't unusual to experience some temporary and slight changes in personality. Aggressive behavior. Feelings of persecution and paranoia. And of course there was the dizziness and headaches. He should try to stay calm and relaxed. Because after thirty days, when he returned to the naval base in Virginia, he would undergo a similar set of psychiatric tests, after which his fate would be decided.
Would he be given a medical discharge and cut adrift, or would he be allowed to continue his career in the U.S. Navy?
Tom didn't want choice A, but he knew that Tucker would be pushing to have him safely retired. And that meant Tom needed to spend these next thirty days doing everything he could to get as rested and relaxed--and as sane--as possible.
He knew himself well enough to know that going home for more than a long weekend would be a major mistake as far as staying sane went. And Tuesday through Sunday made for a very long weekend.
But a short visit would be good. He wanted to see his great-uncle, Joe. He even wanted to see his sister, Angela, and his niece, Mallory. Mal had graduated from high school this year. Her teenage years were proving to be as rocky as his and Angie's had been.
Apparently it still wasn't easy to be a Paoletti kid growing up in highbrow Baldwin's Bridge, Massachusetts. Hell, there were members of the police force who still bristled when they saw Tom coming.
He was thirty-six years old now, a highly decorated and respected commanding officer in the U.S. Navy SEALs, yet all those old labels--troublemaker, fuckup, "that wild Paoletti kid"--persevered.
No, as much as he missed Joe's solid company, a weekend in Baldwin's Bridge would definitely be long enough. But maybe he could talk Joe into going to Bermuda with him for a week or two. That would be cool. And if Joe insisted, Tom would even bring Charles Ashton along on this trip.
Mr. Ashton was Joe's crotchety best friend or arch nemesis, depending on the two old men's moods. He was a contender for Mr. Scrooge and the Grinch all rolled into one delightful, alcohol-soused package. But Joe had known the man since the Second World War. There was a lot of history behind his loyalty, and Tom could respect that. Besides, any man who'd managed to father Kelly Ashton couldn't be that bad.
Kelly Ashton. Tom thought of her every time he returned to Baldwin's Bridge. Of course, he thought of her when he wasn't there as well. In fact, he thought of her far too often, considering it had been more than sixteen years since he'd seen her last.
Excerpted from The Unsung Hero by Suzanne Brockmann. . Excerpted by permission of Ivy Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.