I run a hand over my beard as I look down at the wild mint growing beside my cabin. Pressing a green leaf between my thumb and forefinger, I think about the next chapter I'm working on for my survival guide -- medicinal herbs found in the Alaskan wild. Mint like this can help with pain and inflammation. This tiny green leaf can do so much.
But I'm not naive enough to think it can help with the pain in my heart.
Still, I hold onto this crazy hope that maybe, just maybe my mother was right. Maybe love can cure all ailments.
It's why I ordered a bride.
I pick a handful of the mint and walk toward my cabin, feeling that never-ending phantom pain in my prosthetic leg.
As I push open the door to my cabin, my cell phone on the counter begins to ring. Setting down the mint, I answer it.
"Harrison?" my twin brother, Sullivan, asks.
"Who else would be answering?" I retort snarkily as I fill a jar with water and place the freshly picked stalks in it, then grab myself a beer from the fridge and go outside to my back porch. It's my favorite place on this entire stretch of land. Facing a rushing river, with big pine trees reaching to the sky, thickets of wild blackberry brambles where deer graze undisturbed--it's paradise.
"You left a message? Something about Mom's wedding ring?"
I clear my throat. "Uh, yeah. Just wanted to make sure you were okay with me using it. I know we never really discussed it. I have her things, though, and--"
Sully cuts me off. "You’re asking someone to marry you?"
I frown. "Do you care?"
"You're my twin fucking brother, Harry. Of course, I care."
"I know you have your own life in Anchorage. I just didn't think you'd really..."
"What?" Irritation is laced through his single word.
"You're not exactly sentimental, Sully."
"And you are? The last thing you told me was that you were going off the grid for good. Now you call asking if it’s okay to give someone Mom's diamond ring? You see where I might be a little confused?"
I rake a hand through my hair. "I know."
"Who is she?" Sully asks.
"Does it make a difference?"
"God, Harry. Could you try and go easy on me? I know I'm not the war vet, but hell, I'm still your brother. You're my only family."
"Look, nevermind," I say, picking up my beer and taking a swig. "I don't need to use Mom's ring."
The call goes quiet and for a moment I think he might have hung up.
Then he speaks. "You sure you're okay, man? I know things are hard sometimes, after everything you've been through. Maybe you should talk to someone?"
I groan into my beer. "Sul, all I did for a year after I got home was talk to someone. I'm fine now. I'm doing what I want, where I want."
"And you want to get engaged? Where did you even meet her? Don't you live in the middle of bum-fuck, Nowhereland?"
I snort, trying to push down the truth. I know he'll judge me for it. Sullivan has never had a hard time dating women. Or, more correctly, sleeping with them.
Well. Let's just say I haven't had much experience. Make that any experience.
And now with my war injury, I can't see myself getting on Tinder and looking for a hookup. Besides, there isn't a woman within fifty miles of this cabin.
"Dude, Harrison, are you even listening?" he asks.
"Sorry, what?" I was lost in my fucking insecurities.
"I was asking who this girl is?"
"Honestly? Uh, I don't know, man."
He snorts. "You don't know?"
"Yeah," I say, refusing to feel judged. "I ordered a bride."
"You heard me, Sul. I ordered a bride. She's coming next week. And I need to give her a ring."
"That's so fucking weird," he says, laughing. "Do you even know what she looks like?"
"I'm gonna hang up now," I tell him. I have no interest in Sullivan's condescension.
"It's just, Harrison, you're a fucking Green Beret. A Special Ops war hero. You don't need to buy a wife."
Easy for him to say. He didn't lose his leg in Afghanistan. He didn't go through the pain of watching his friends die in a war zone. He didn't have to fucking piece together a life after losing so damn much.
Not to mention, he's not a virgin.
I can't fucking go meet a girl and try to act normal. Nothing about me is normal, especially, not after the shit I've seen. I'm a changed man and there is no going back.
"I want to do this, Sullivan," I tell him plainly. "I don't expect you to understand." We may be twins, but we're so goddamn different.
"Can I at least come to the wedding?" he asks, still cracking up.
"Fuck, Harrison. You know, for a hero, you're a pretty big asshole."
"Look, we're going to the courthouse after I pick her up. It's not gonna be a thing. It's all pretty straightforward."
"You have any idea what you're getting into, brother? Women like weddings. White dresses. Flowers. Cake. The whole nine yards."
I contemplate his words. Fuck. All that stuff hasn't been on my radar. I thought I was being prepared by finding her a ring.
"You think?" I ask apprehensively. To be honest, I've mostly been worried about our wedding night. I'm a fucking twenty-seven-year-old virgin.
"Yeah. Get some flowers for the wedding at the very least, and some sort of cake. Some rose petals on the bed? Women like that shit, I'm telling you."
"And the ring?"
"You sure she's gonna stick around after she sees where you live?"
I clench my jaw, looking around my cabin. It's small, but it's modern, and everything in it is less than a year old. "I hope so."
"Go with your gut, then. It's never served you wrong before."
I laugh wryly. "Let's hope you're right."
"Worse case scenario, she's just a good lay."
"Hey," I say sharply. "Don't talk about my bride like that."
He laughs. "Damn, man, you haven't even met her and you’re already protective. Just make sure you don't scare her away; you aren't exactly an open book."
"Don't worry," I tell him. "The agency did a screening. They are sending the right woman for me."
"How much did she cost?" Sully asks.
Now it's my turn to laugh. "Why? You considering using some of your trust fund to buy a wife?"
He laughs. "Nah, I get plenty of pussy as it is. Don't need to settle down."
I hang up with my brother, thinking we couldn't be more different.
I just hope the woman running the agency, Isabella, found the right woman for me because Sullivan is right about one thing: I've never opened up with a woman before.
And now, I'll have no choice.
I may be a wounded warrior, but I'm also a mountain man.
When it comes to commitment, I'm going all in.
Let's hope this bride who's coming can handle me.