Fighting Redemption
Author:Kate McCarthy

Why was she telling him? He was the last person she should be talking to about this stuff. Ryan wasn’t a virgin. Neither was Jake. They both had their fair share of girls chasing them. Sex was good, but for him it was never more than that. Ryan could let himself go physically, but emotionally he was never in the moment. Knowing that Fin would be subjected to guys that felt the same way made his blood run cold.

 

He plucked at the same blades of grass and tossed them at her. She looked up from beneath her long, pretty lashes, firing a grin his way that tripped his heart.

 

“What do you care about?” he asked.

 

She tossed some blades of grass back his way, chuckling softly as he brushed it out of his hair, bits of green falling in his lap. “Promise not to laugh?”

 

He crossed his heart silently and waited.

 

“I want to be a scientist.”

 

Ryan’s chest expanded with pride. Fin was so smart. She could do anything she wanted. “Why would I laugh at that?”

 

“Because my best friend Rachael did.” She bit down on her lip but they twitched a little. “She thinks I’m so clumsy I’ll blow up a lab or something.”

 

He laughed then. Fin was clumsy. Crashing her way around a lab was highly possible.

 

Fin punched his shoulder.

 

“Ouch.” He winced, pretending it hurt, and rubbed his shoulder. “What sort of scientist anyway?”

 

“Environmental or marine. I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll study both.”

 

Ryan grinned. “You’re a nerd.”

 

An utterly beautiful, adorable, clumsy nerd.

 

She straightened her shoulders and returned his grin. “I am a nerd and proud of it, so there.”

 

“Fin.”

 

“What?”

 

Ryan shook his head, swallowing the lump rising in his throat. He was so close to kissing that grin off her lips he couldn’t stand it. “Nothing.”

 

Fin fell back on the grass, her hair fanning out around her. Her eyes on the stars, she asked, “What about you, Ryan?”

 

“What about me?” he quipped.

 

“What do you care about?”

 

Ryan stretched out beside her and found his hand reaching for hers; it was so tiny and smooth in his. The warmth of it sent flutters through his stomach. He squeezed her hand, fighting the sensation.

 

“Being in the Army. Being a soldier.”

 

You.

 

“That’s it?”

 

“Yep. That’s it.”

 

“I already know that. Tell me something new.”

 

Ryan glanced across at her, finding her eyes on him. “There is nothing new. I want to get out, Fin. I need to. I can’t live at that place for much longer. I’m tired of the fighting and the yelling, the alcohol and the …”

 

“He hits you.”

 

Ryan closed his eyes, hating that she knew—hoping she didn’t see him as someone weak and helpless for putting up with it. He would never tell her why his family fell apart and why his father turned into such a lousy drunk. He couldn’t stand her knowing and looking at him differently.

 

“I want to be SAS,” he replied eventually, deliberately ignoring her statement. “The best there is. There are countries full of people unable to fight for themselves. I want to be there to do it for them in the only way that can make a difference.”

 

Rolling to her side, she cupped his cheek with her hand. “Ryan,” she whispered. His heart pounded as her eyes searched his face. Unable to summon any restraint, he turned his head and pressed a soft kiss against her palm, feeling her shiver at the intimate touch.

 

After a beat of silence, his eyes lost in hers, Ryan came to his senses and pulled back.

 

“I better get back inside,” he stammered, and scrambling to his feet, left her sitting there by herself.

 

After that he was careful about being alone with her, but then Fin turned seventeen and she got her first date. Jake and Ryan were nineteen by then and rarely home on a weekend, but they were both home that Saturday night to see Ian come collect her. The guy had been in the year below them at school. He was tall and outgoing, with broad shoulders and a wide chest from playing rugby. From what Ryan knew of him, he was actually a nice guy, but that didn’t stop the urge Ryan felt to pound him into the ground.

 

That one date turned into another, and another, until Ian was over at the Tanners’ almost as much as he was. Ryan felt sick seeing Ian kiss her, wrap his arms around her waist, make her smile like he used to do. It was Ian causing a flush to fill her cheeks in a way that was no longer awkward, but charming and sexy.

 

Ryan wanted to punch him. Hard. Over and over. That was how he knew it was time to leave.

 

Two weeks later, he packed his belongings and stole his way into Fin’s room. She wasn’t there, so he stretched out on her bed, hands tucked behind his head, eyes trained on the ceiling, and waited.

 

It was midnight when she came through the door, giggling as she read a message on her phone. Finished, she tossed it on her bedside table and froze when she caught him lying there in the dark.

 

He heard her breath catch. “Ryan?”

 

The lamp by her bed switched on, coating the room in a warm, cozy glow. Fin was illuminated, her skin golden in the soft light, her cheeks flushed with happiness.

 

“What are you …” She trailed off after meeting his eyes. He knew what she saw. He couldn’t hold any of it back—regret, heartache, and loss for something that had never been his.