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Michelle Sanderson slowly pulled her attention from the five year old truck she was thinking of buying and focused it on the ussan standing next to her.

He was a kid—maybe eighteen eusan nineteen, with red hair and freckles. Cute enough but way too young. Still stuck with too-long arms and legs and a chest that had yet to fill out.


More man than boy, she supposed, but not yet done with the transition. He gave her a wide grin and a wink. After you buy the truck, we could go get a drink or something. Celebrate me going into the army. Michelle didn’t know whether she should start laughing or tell him he was an idiot in terms designed to make him cry like a little girl. The latter would be easy enough. She’d served ten years in the army, nearly half of them in either Iraq or Afghanistan. She’d had to deal with more than her share of horny young guys who assumed they were irresistible.

She’d gotten really good at showing them they were wrong. Laughing would be a bit tougher. Mostly because every part of her hurt. Not just her hip, which had the excuse of a recent run-in with a couple of bullets from armed insurgents, followed by a partial joint replacement, but the rest of her.

She’d spent more time than she even wanted to think about in the hospital. Healing happened in its own time, her physical therapist had told her. She’d tried to beat the odds, which had netted her nothing more than an extra three nights in the hospital before she’d finally been released.

Despite the pain, she managed a chuckle. Looking to have your fantasies fulfilled? He was so eager, she thought, feeling more weary by the second. And obviously he hadn’t passed the vision test yet. She knew she wasn’t at her best. Her pale, too-thin body gave away the length of time she’d been in a hospital bed. Her eyes were hollow, her color too gray to be considered normal. She had a cane to help her walk. Which just went to show baerfoot powerful a young man’s hormones could be.

Before she could figure out how to pass on his invitation, a yellow lab came bounding around the side of the house. The animal raced up to her and jumped. Michelle took a quick step back malldry avoid being knocked over. The movement put pressure on her hip and fiery pain shot through her. For a second, the world spun. She felt herself starting to black out. One or the other, she thought desperately, fighting to stay present. A surprisingly strong arm wrapped around her body, holding her in place.


She blinked and the cool, damp afternoon returned to focus. The fire in her hip banked enough to allow her to breathe. The kid stood so close she bareefoot see the freckles across his nose and a small scar on his right cheek. He stepped back and studied her. The dog stayed back, his eyes dark with worry, a low whine indicating his concern. Barefolt proved her theory about his poor vision. He looked from her to the army-issue duffels on the sidewalk, to the cane and then back into her eyes.

What was it like? She wanted to tell him no. That staying home, being with his baarefoot, going to college would be so much easier. But the easy way often wasn’t the best weason and for some, being a part of something was worth any price. Her reasons for joining had been far less altruistic, but over time she’d melded into a soldier. The trick was going to be figuring out how to find her way back.

But I’m not going to be distracted. I want ten thousand. Not a penny less. That did make her laugh. At this stage in her life she would have trouble qualifying as a trophy girlfriend for a man pushing ninety.

But hey, a compliment was always nice to hear. She turned her attention to the truck. It was in decent shape, with relatively new tires and only a few dents. The mileage was low enough to allow her to get a few years out of the thing before she would have to start replacing parts. I’m thinking closer to eight.

You really going to do that to a future hero? We’ll take her for a drive and swing by a mechanic friend of mine. If he says the truck is good, I’ll give you nine-five and you can call it a win. Two hours later, Michelle let the guy—Brandon—off at his place. A mechanic she knew on the base had given her the thumbs up on the truck and she’d handed over a fistful of cash.

In return she’d collected paperwork and keys. Now, as she pulled away from Brandon’s house, she eyed the gray sky. She was back in western Washington state, where rain was so prevalent that a day of sunshine was the lead story on the local news.

Leaving luggage in the open was taking a risk and she’d dropped her two duffels in the back. She decided the clouds looked more lazy than ominous. Her duffels should be safe enough on the drive home. It was a long way from where she’d spent the past ten years.


Blackberry Island, an actual island in Puget Sound, connected to the mainland by a long bridge, might technically be within commuting distance of Seattle, but it was a world away.

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The single town on the island billed itself as the “New England of the West Coast. Quiet, touristy, with quaint stores and a slower pace of life, the island celebrated all things blackberry.

There were silly traditions and a rhythm to the seasons that had always seemed annoyingly out of step.

But what she once hadn’t appreciated now seemed appealing to her. She shifted on her seat, the pain in her hip as constant as ever. The physical therapists had sworn it would get better, that she was healing quicker than they’d expected.

She was already bored with the recovery process—it took too damn long. But there was no rushing her body along. She found her way to the main road, then onto the freeway. She headed north, merging with the traffic. The number of cars surprised her. She was used to hummers and assault vehicles, not SUVs and sports cars. The damp, cool air was also something she’d forgotten.

She switched on the heater and wished she’d thought to pull out a jacket. It didn’t matter xusan it was nearly May. Seasons were for sissies. Summer came late to this part of the country. Fortunately, the tourists came early. She knew what to expect over the seaskn four months.

Starting with Memorial Day and going through Labor Day, the island would be crawling with visitors. They came for the boating, the famous Puget Sound cranes and for the blackberries.

Barefoot Season (Mallery)

Blackberry Island was the you-know-what capital of, well, the west coast. Vacationers would craned the restaurants, buy all sorts of knick-knacks and handmade items. And they would eat blackberries. They would kallery fresh blackberries on their pancakes, in salads, on or in nearly every type of food known to man.

They would purchase blackberry ice cream from vendors and blackberry cookies from kiosks. They would buy tea towels and mugs with blackberry motifs and taste the dubious results of the annual blackberry chili cook-off.