In this tender military romance from the bestselling author of Hold on Tight—perfect for fans of Jill Shalvis and Susan Mallery—a war-shattered veteran gets a second chance at love with the one that got away.
No girl can resist a man in uniform—especially if that man is Nate Riordan. But after an injury in the line of duty leaves Nate broken, body and soul, the soldier finds himself addicted to his pain meds, with no place to call home. Desperate for an escape, Nate reluctantly accepts a friend’s invitation to a new veterans’ retreat. Expecting a little R&R, Nate is shocked when the sight of his physical therapist opens up another old wound: heartbreak.
Years ago, Alia Drake fell hard for Nate, but never made her move. Instead, she set up her sister with the sexy, confident military man, a foolish decision that continues to haunt all three of them. Now, with Nate as her patient, she can make things right—even if it means getting too close for comfort. A healing touch and a little honesty work wonders, fueling a physical intimacy that crosses professional boundaries. This time, with desire in the air once more, Alia won’t hold anything back.
“When the book keeps you up until after 2 in the morning then you know it’s damn good. I’ve waited so long for this book but it was worth it!” —Lisa, Fic Talk
“I inhaled this book on a wet Sunday afternoon, and it was time well spent! Serena Bell writes some seriously smart, funny and sexy stories. 5/5 stars.” —Onni, I Love Romantic Fiction
“Can’t Hold Back is a wonderful example of great writing, careful weaving of emotions and reality into a special situation, and of course – great, passionate and sexy romance. Grab this second chance romance today. 4.5 stars.” —Eleanor, The Book Hammock
“Romance could do with a bit of examination of the problematic aspects of the female-as-caretaker role. Which is why, perhaps, I so enjoyed Serena Bell’s latest contemporary romance, Can’t Hold Back.” —Jackie Horne, Romance for Feminists
“Sweet and Sexy, Can’t Hold Back is a military romance with heart and soul.” —Beth, Tome Tender
“By the end of the book you love not only Nate, but also Alia. Serena Bell did a fabulous job with this novel.”—Samantha, Sam’s Ramblings
“Can’t Hold Back is a lovely story of second chances and new beginnings.”—New York Times bestselling author Kathy Clark
“With deceit and forgiveness, pain and addiction, healing and a second chance at love, Can’t Hold Back has it all. You do not want to miss this sexy story of a soldier coming home.”—Wendy S. Marcus, award-winning author of All I Need Is You
“This sweet story is full of physical and emotional healing.”—Publishers Weekly
Excerpt from Can’t Hold Back
Copyright © 2015 Serena Bell
All rights reserved — Penguin Random House
“Is this seat taken?”
From her perspective in the grass, he was a giant, with broad shoulders and a luminous smile. She’d always thought it was exaggeration when women said they lost their breath in a man’s presence, but she just had.
She got a grip and shook her head. “Pull up some turf.” She patted the lawn beside her, and he sat.
He was vivid, like a soldier in a movie: ripped, swaggering, grinning, golden-haired. He’d smiled in her direction earlier, and for a split second she’d thought, Who me? before she remembered that she was standing next to Becca. Her sister was a man magnet. All the two of them had to do was idle in a patch of sunlight admiring the garden, and sexy six-foot-plus men in butt-hugging jeans and black T-shirts materialized from nowhere—
Abracadabra! Hot guy for Becca.
In the car on the way over here, she’d told Becca that Jake’s picnics boasted not just amazing food, but other earthly delights. “We’ll get you back on your feet,” Alia had promised, sneaking a glance at her sister, slumped in the passenger seat. Ever since Becca’s boyfriend had left her three months ago, she rarely smiled.
Becca had been hoping for a proposal, and Alia was almost as disappointed as Becca was. She wanted her sister to be happy. Settled. Cared for.
Hot Guy for Becca set his plate on the grass. He sat cross-legged, and his thighs and calves, which looked like they’d been hewn from wood, were generously decked with curly golden hair.
“My sister just went to get some food,” she told him, pointing.
He cast a glance at Becca, standing by the salad table, loading her plate with potato chips. Tall, beautiful, blond, and glowing with vitality.
“You guys don’t look anything alike.”
“We don’t.” She forced a smile. It wasn’t only blindingly obvious differences, like Becca’s blond and Alia’s dark hair, but everything else, too—Becca was slim, with hourglass curves, while Alia was “athletic”; Becca had porcelain skin and Alia was generously freckled; Becca’s features were classic and even, and Alia was—well, she’d be kind to herself and say “cute.”
“Nate Riordan.” The man beside her reached out his hand for a shake.
Big hands. Warm. A moment ago, the world had smelled like summer. Like grass gone somewhere to seed, roses in bloom, and the mingled marvels of mesquite smoke and grilling meat.
Now her head was filled with a different scent entirely—soap, shampoo, the faintest whiff of some spicy male deodorant or cologne.
He was going to have no difficulty making Becca forget her romantic troubles. He could probably make any woman blank on her own name.
She retrieved her hand before she could reflect any more on that. He was Becca’s hot guy.
Alia worried about Becca a lot. Probably too much, considering they were now both adults and capable of standing on their own. But it was an old, old habit, born after their father’s death and during their mother’s long depressions, when Becca had struggled to keep her head—and her self-esteem—above water.
They were both adults now, but Alia totally got what parents meant when they said your worry didn’t vanish just because your kid had taken off for college.
“You friends with Mira?” Nate asked, hoisting his burger for a bite.
“Jake. We went to PT school together.”
“You’re a physical therapist, too, huh? I’ve always thought that was a cool job.”
“I love it. Love the work, love the people.”
“Yeah? You’re lucky. Not too many people get to say that about their jobs.”
“You don’t love yours?”
He laughed. “Caught that, did you? I don’t have a story like Jake’s, all that post-Nine/Eleven conviction. Going to college for me meant a staggering amount of debt, and the only way I could hope to get myself out from under it was to join up. So that’s what I did. And it’s not that I hate it. I just . . . I guess . . . you find meaning where you can, you know?”
She did, or thought she did, and it made her want to glide straight past small talk and delve in, but instead she asked, “Are you a Ranger, too? Is that how you know Jake?”
“No, actually—Army grunt, between deployments. And I met Jake when he gave a talk. ‘A Life of Purpose’ or something like that. I was a senior in college, it was career week, and I almost didn’t go because I knew I was enlisting, so I figured I knew my purpose, or at least my purpose for a little bit.” He gave a wry shake of his gold-streaked head. “But some of my friends were planning to go, and I thought I should at least check it out. And I was, like, okay, here’s a guy, a Ranger, out of the Army, missing a leg, doing all this great stuff—competing in triathlons, going back to school, helping other soldiers—”
“He is,” Nate agreed, suddenly serious, and that was almost more dazzling than the smiling version. She found herself sucked into his blue-eyed gaze, a little dazed, nodding. “So fu— freaking inspiring. I mean, not some saint, but a guy who suffered and figured out how to come back stronger, to be a dad and a husband, and how to help tons of people, but also not bragging about it.”
She smiled, because, yeah, that was what she loved about Jake, too. Not just the bravery, but: “He won’t take any credit for doing what needs to be done.”
“Right. Damn, couldn’t have said it better. Exactly.” He grinned.
Oh, my God, that grin. Confident but not arrogant, his eyes bright, corners crinkled, a crease that stopped short of being a dimple in one cheek.
She was staring at him, and the moment had stretched too long. Right. She looked away and took a hasty bite of potato salad. Wow. Really good. Mira’s work.
“Now he’s building the retreat—have you seen it?”
He shook his head. “Not yet. But he was telling me about it, and it all makes sense. That he’d end up doing that, helping other guys with the transition. He had a tough homecoming.”
Jake had come back from Afghanistan with an above-the-knee amputation, having lost both his leg and his teammate to an IED explosion—and promptly discovered he was the father of a seven-year-old he’d had no idea existed.
They exchanged knowing glances, then both turned to watch Jake, who was tossing a football with Sam.
“But he turned it into something. And he’s made this great life for himself, you know?”
Yeah, again, she knew, but suddenly she couldn’t quite get the words to come out around the feeling in her chest. The tightness was caused by thinking about Jake and what he’d lost and found, yes, but it also had something to do with the sympathy, admiration, and longing on Nate’s face when he watched father and son together.
“Anyway—” Nate’s lopsided smile and half-shrug said, Back to lighter topics. “I went up after the talk and said how much I admired what he’d done, and we ended up getting drunk together. So now I’m on the picnic invitation list.”
“And once you’re on the list, you’re on forever. And Jake and Mira know how to throw a party.”
They smiled at each other, and he raised his red plastic party cup to hers in a toast. “To the picnic list.”
She’d almost forgotten about Becca, who was now standing over them with her plate, looking faintly uncomfortable. As if she were waiting for an invitation she wasn’t sure would be extended.
She’d seen that look on her sister’s face far too many times. The expression Becca wore after of years of being unsure of herself.
Becca, who hadn’t learned to read till she was ten, who called herself dumb way too often, who still found writing almost impossible. Becca, whose boyfriend had told her he needed to be with someone who was his intellectual equal.
Becca, who was Alia’s family. Because their dad was gone and their mom was—well, she was who she was—and the two of them had still somehow made a childhood out of the muddle.
Becca needed a guy like Nate Riordan way more than Alia did.
Plus, Nate really wasn’t Alia’s type. Alia’s life, for better or for worse, had made her into someone who thrived on taking care of people. It didn’t tend to work out well for her with guys who were more the fiercely independent alpha types.
And if there was something she knew about Nate Riordan after five minutes in his company, it was that he knew what he wanted and how to get it.
So Alia said, “Nate, Becca. Becca, Nate,” and caught Becca’s eye and grinned at her sister. Look what I found for you!
Nate stood to shake Becca’s hand.
See? That right there. The kind of guy for whom chivalry wasn’t dead. He could take care of Becca the way she deserved.
Alia stood, too. Becca was—she was actually smiling at Nate. Or at least most-of-the-way smiling.
God, she’d missed her sister’s smile.
Nate smiled back at Becca. Her hand was still in his.
Perfect. The handshake would do its magic, and Becca could handle the rest.
Alia watched the two of them, golden in the sun, and felt—
She wasn’t sure. The pleasure of a match well made, maybe.
“I’m gonna grab some lemonade. Either of you—”
“No, thanks,” Becca said.
“I’m good,” Nate said.
Alia walked away.
Half an hour later, Becca caught her arm beside the dessert table.
“Are you sure? He talked to you first. You guys looked like you were enjoying yourselves.”
What Alia wanted, she reminded herself firmly, was to make her sister happy.
When she answered, she made herself do it casually, with so much confidence there could be no doubt.
“A hundred percent positive.”
She was. A hundred percent positive about wanting to make Becca smile. All the way. All the time.