A winner for holiday reading…and any time
A SEAL’s Sugar Cookie Christmas by Connie Y. Harris
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Former Navy SEAL, Bill Evanston, AKA Pudge, enjoys a secret passion. Every Christmas, he bakes sugar cookies for the wounded military recovering at the Veteran’s Hospital. But a request for a home visit to a troubled Marine, Gunnar Greyson, ignites a different passion when he meets Gunnar’s sister, Stella. As their relationship deepens, so does Gunnar’s depression after his bid to adopt his beloved K-9, Pyro, is denied and the dog is sold.
Stella Greyson is a Hollywood stunt woman and an alpha female. With her focus on career and helping her brother, she doesn’t have time for romance. That is until Pudge disarms her with his masculine charm and his all-in commitment to save her brother. He’s the man she’s always dreamed of but thought only existed in the movies.
With Gunnar’s life hanging in the balance and his relationship with Stella in shambles, Pudge needs a Christmas miracle to pull off his most important mission: find Pyro and win back the love of his life.
Former Navy SEAL, Bill Evanston, aka Pudge checked his G-Shock watch and noticed the afternoon he’d spent doing inventory in his retail surveillance store had disappeared. To beat LA rush-hour traffic, he needed to boogie. His manager helped him load his Toyota Land Cruiser with dozens of boxed sugar cookies he’d baked the night before. After a final glance at his storefront, he steered toward the on-ramp of the multi-laned 405 Freeway, which would take him to his destination, Wilshire Boulevard and the massive West Los Angeles VA Medical Center. As he adjusted his rearview mirror, he viewed the back seat stacked with small white containers, each graced with a red, green, gold, or silver bow, and imagined spreading the spirit of Christmas to the recipients.
He realized his friends worried about him being alone during the holidays, but the reward he got from helping other veterans more than filled his stocking. His gift was the hope he’d made a difference for a soldier or a sailor but not just with cookies. The sweet treats were his way into their lives.
Combat veterans often had trouble with reentry into civilian life. They shut out most people. The ones, in their minds, who wouldn’t understand the horrors of war. After four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he returned home at a loss for what to do with the rest of his life. With the financial backing of a fellow SEAL, he opened his spy store. Still, his life lacked purpose and a tangible sense of happiness. More importantly, mental peace escaped him. Then, during an annual Christmas visit to his friend’s Ocala, Florida horse farm, he discovered cookie baking. His friend’s wife slapped an apron on him, put a rolling pin in his hand, and changed his life forever. Together they took the cookies to the VA hospital in Tampa, Florida. The overwhelming gratitude from the patients ended his quest for purpose. Every year, he pinned his identifying SEAL trident on his chest and strolled into their hospital room or rang their doorbell. “Freshbaked cookies. Have one.” Followed by, “How’s it going?” Sometimes they needed a job; sometimes they simply wanted a friend.
With his radio tuned to the Pearl Jam station and traffic moving in a steady hum, Pudge relished the idea of receiving his new list of wounded warriors from VA hospital nurse Jasmin. She had championed his idea and volunteer work from the beginning. She was also a tall, blonde hottie. And single. He didn’t think there was a downside, but he hadn’t ventured to ask her out…yet. He had, however, made a special batch of his dark-chocolate, peppermint, Christmas cookies for her and fantasized about feeding them to her naked. Oh man. I love to bake.
When Pudge stepped off the elevator on the fifth floor, Jasmin greeted him with an enthusiastic wave and smile that accentuated her dimples. She sauntered in his direction, allowing a gentle sway in her hips.
“Hi, Bill. What you got in the boxes?” she asked, fidgeting with the drawstring of her green scrubs.
“My secret passion,” he replied. With an impish grin, he handed her the one with the biggest red ribbon. “For you.”
“Wow. Thanks.” She lifted the cover and peeked inside. “Umm. Dark chocolate with powdered sugar.” She licked her lips. “Your secret’s safe with me.”
“And peppermint,” he added, with a wink.
“Outstanding. All my favorites.” She scrutinized the batch like they were golden eggs before picking the cookie on top. “This one demands a taste test.” She tore off a chunk and tossed the piece into her mouth. “Oh yum. So good. Thank you.”
She handed him a list of names and room numbers and one local address. With her index finger on the last name, she said, “This one is your biggest challenge. He’s a former Marine dog handler who had an IED blow up close enough for shrapnel to injure his dog and give him a traumatic brain injury from the blast. The dog recovered and deployed with another handler, but the Marine, a guy named Gunnar Greyson, was shipped home on a medical discharge. His wife couldn’t handle his bouts of depression and left him. He lives alone and he isn’t returning my calls.”
Pudge shook his head. “Not good.” He folded the piece of paper, hesitated, then stuffed it in the back pocket of his cargo pants.
“If you want, I can hand out the cookies to the guys here on this floor, and you can head out to see Gunnar.”
Pudge squinted his steel-gray eyes. “I gift you with cookies, and you offer to take away all my fun. How’s that fair?”
She gave a sweep of her arm and said, “Lead the way.”