Embattled Hearts

SERIES: Lost and Found, Book 1
GENRE: Military/Police, Romantic Suspense
ENDING: HEA (They’re a couple and live Happily Ever After.)
WORD COUNT: 45,000 to 59,999 (small book)
HERO’S AGE: 20-29
HEAT LEVEL: Very Sexy (Let Me Show Exactly What I Want)
GRAPHIC LANGUAGE: Keeping It Real (Full of “F” bombs, graphic sex, and whatever)


John Palmer hasn’t felt like a real man since he was injured during combat in Iraq. Though not content with his new life, he is mostly adapting, just like the other vets at the Lost And Found Investigative Service. When Shannon Murphy is hired on as the new office manager, life suddenly gets a lot more interesting. Before long, John finds himself wondering if he could ever be the kind of man Shannon needs.

Shannon Murphy wasn’t really looking for love when she hired on at LNF but finds herself hopelessly attracted to the sex-on-wheels former Marine, John Palmer. The man is grumpy and nearly impossible to work with, but his brand of masculinity appeals to her on a basic level. Soon Shannon is wondering just what it would take for John to want her the way she wants him.

When an old enemy tries to settle a vendetta against Shannon, John insists on protecting her. He moves into her house, fanning the spark of attraction into a blaze. But the danger continues to escalate. Will the connection that they’ve found survive when they’re thrust into a fight for their lives?


John gritted his teeth and clenched the wheels of his sport chair in his fists as he listened to the men blather on about how good their lives could be. He wished they would just shut the fuck up so he could hear Shannon in the outer office. She’d come in beautiful but frazzled two hours late and said her tire had been flat. That actually hadn’t worried as much as the unease he had seen in her eyes. She’d tried to laugh the incident off, but he’d been watching her for a long time. Everybody else accepted her explanation, but in his gut, he knew something wasn’t right.

Something one of the men said snagged his attention. Pictures? Really? He was supposed to be taking part in the meeting, but the proposal was so ridiculous he’d zoned out. He focused his attention on the two…men seated beside him. Were they for real? Yes, they were competent, knew the security business and had plenty of money to throw around, but at the bottom line, they wanted the publicity of financing an all-veteran detective agency. His eyes flashed to Duncan’s across the desk, and he was gratified to see his boss was as unenthused as he was.

Time to end this farce.

“Are you fucking serious?” he snarled.

The men looked uncomfortable for all of two seconds before they plowed on with their spiel.

As if it wasn’t bad enough they were disabled, now these yahoos wanted to make money off them? No fucking way. Even Chad seemed turned off. Texas was his home state, and he was the one who had pushed for this meeting, to talk about a possible expansion to Dallas. John personally thought that the Denver office was enough for now. They were busy, but not so busy that things slipped through the cracks.

John was relieved when the meeting finally began to pull to a close. The automatic cringe on Duncan’s face and the way he crossed his arms when he heard the proposal had said it all. How were they supposed to be effective investigators if their faces were plastered everywhere, as well as their disabilities? That was the part that turned his stomach. Why on earth would he want more people to know he was damaged? He could hardly stand the stares now. He had taken the online crimes section and the technology side, the bugs and wires the guys used every day, deliberately so he wouldn’t have to deal with the public. To offer them money was just crass.

Chad, ever the laid-back Texan, deflected the conversation to a favorite sports team and Duncan told the men they would consider their proposal. John knew by the sound of his voice, though, that they would do no such thing.

The business was doing great, but he could not help but be resentful that he was not part of the detectives out on the street. Looking down at his worthless legs, he was once again swamped with anger. As a Marine, it had been standard practice to run for five or ten miles a day. Now he was lucky if he could get his thigh to twitch on command. It was historic if he could even get a hard-on.

Although, he thought with a slight smile, it was happening more and more often when Shannon was in the room.

The first time he’d met her, more than six months ago now, she and Mrs. Harrison had been kneeling on the floor going through files. Shannon had straightened and arched her back to work out the kinks. She’d been wearing a cute little pink outfit thing that clung to her lush curves, but she’d kicked off her high heels. The lust that had fired through his veins caught him totally unaware. For the first time in five years, he’d gotten excited looking at woman’s ass and bare legs. He sat stunned, soaking up her subtle beauty and the exhilaration of being turned on.

The women hadn’t seen him yet, so he cataloged everything he could about Shannon Murphy. Mrs. Harrison had told them she was extremely intelligent and would be a wonderful office manager, but she had not told them how exceedingly beautiful she was, with her petite little shape and curly, dark-chocolate colored hair laying gently on her shoulders. She was a good bit smaller than the older woman beside her, and had a husky laugh that gave him chills. His own lips curled up in shared humor, even though he had no idea what she laughed at. Without conscious thought, he’d pushed his chair forward to get their attention.

Mrs. Harrison noticed him first and pushed herself to her feet, then urged Shannon to join her. John barely heard the introduction as his eyes took in the details of her face. In honest fact, she was not classically beautiful. Actually, cute would more likely be applied to her mobile features and wide-set hazel eyes. Her broad smile started with up-tilted lips on one side, then spread to encompass her whole mouth.

He held out his hand and was entranced as she pumped energetically. Without blinking, he watched for any hint that the chair or his disability bothered her, but she seemed almost oblivious to the fact that he could not stand up to shake her hand. For the first time in longer than he could remember, he had met a person that not by word or deed made him feel like less than a man.

Even her height made him feel manlier. In her bare feet, she was maybe an inch over five feet. With heels on, she stood about five four. Before the accident, he’d been six three in his stocking feet. Sitting in his modified chair, he was only a bit shorter than she was. And no shorter when she sat in her own office chair, which she seemed to do a lot when he entered the office. She seemed to sense that it put him more at ease, to be on an equal level. John appreciated that more than she knew. It infuriated him and frustrated him beyond belief to be stuck in this chair, especially when he had to look up at men he could not tolerate.

The Texans stood to make their goodbyes, and John pulled his attention back, glancing at his watch. He was eager to leave Duncan’s office and join Shannon for lunch. As often as he could he tried to join her in the break room. Even such casual contact calmed him, and made him appreciate relating to another person. They didn’t talk about anything in particular. For the most part, Shannon carried the conversation, and he was content to just sit and listen. And wonder. It sounded like she had an interesting life, with her animals and her family, and the house she’d moved into last year. Totally different than his own boring day to day routine. She didn’t badger him with questions about what had happened to his legs or try to dance around his disability. The only time she hesitated was when she told him she jogged occasionally. He knew by the reaction on her face that his own must have reflected a crushing desire to feel the hot asphalt beneath his pounding feet. Smiling softly, she left the table, but not before she rested her hand gently on his shoulder. “Believe me,” she told him softly, “you’re probably faster in that chair than I’ll ever be on my feet. Maybe you can join me sometime.”

And just that easily, she made one of his greatest losses just a bit easier to bear.

He powered out of Duncan’s office. He didn’t care if he was abrupt. They usually shook their heads at him no matter what he did.

Shannon wasn’t at her desk when he rolled by, nor in any of the other offices down the hallway. His heart began to pound as he pulled up to the break room door and looked in the half window. There she was. Laughing and gesturing with her hands to Roger Stottsberry, one of the Bravo Team afternoon detectives. Roger had been coming in every Friday for Shannon’s lunch since she started. And John didn’t blame him. When not at the agency, it seemed he just sat at home and stared at the walls. There was only so much brainless TV you could watch before you slowly went insane. It was hard to go out in public, both physically and mentally, and these offices had turned into a haven for the men who worked here. Duncan had let them convert one of the empty offices into a multi-purpose room, with a couple of bunks in one corner in case somebody needed to crash, exercise equipment and a TV and game system on the opposite wall to help them relax. The refrigerator was always stocked with easy, microwaveable foods. John found himself occupying that room more and more. As did a lot of the other guys.

Every week the shift teams, Alpha, Bravo and Charlie, got together for some kind of tournament, be it darts or jeopardy or anything they could think of to be competitive. It built camaraderie between the teams and was a great way to blow off steam. At first, they’d tried to separate into whichever branch of the military they’d been discharged from, but because there were so many more Marines than any other branch, it hadn’t always worked out.

He rolled through the break room door and was immediately warmed by Shannon’s broad smile. Any aggravation she felt earlier in the day had apparently faded away. The tension in his own body eased.

“I was just telling Roger about my niece naming one of my kittens Boohini. I had called him Houdini because he kept getting out of wherever I put him, and somehow she changed it around to Boohini.”

That was kind of cute, and he chuckled along with them, before he wheeled around the table to the large crock pot on the counter. His mouth watered before he even lifted the lid. Shannon’s food was phenomenal. But by the time he got his meatball sandwich made and situated on his lap for the return trip, Shannon had gathered up her things to leave. He almost dropped his plate as she stretched behind herself for a cola, her luscious breasts outlined by the cloth of her peach colored sweater. Man, she looked nice in that sweater. Dragging his gaze away, he situated himself at the table. She plunked the cola in front of him, threw her stuff away and told the men goodbye.

He watched intently until she disappeared down the hallway, curvy hips swinging.

Roger had his head tilted to one side, and his dark brown eyes were squinted in laughter. “Oh, so it’s that way huh?”

John picked up his sandwich. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The former Marine laughed and slapped his leg with his good hand. The molded right hand rested on the table, currently immobile. John admired Roger, because his amputated arm had been replaced with a state of the art prosthetic that was actually wired into the nerves of his arm. It was truly a wonder to watch, because it was so lifelike. Even the skin tone was incredibly close to Roger’s dark walnut color. It was seriously cutting edge stuff. There were military medical trials going on with paraplegics and quadriplegics using stem-cells and spinal implants, but John had chosen not to participate in them. If he’d had a family, maybe it would have been a different story.

Roger had leaned down to try to catch his eye.

“What, damn it?” John shoved his plate away and sat back in his chair, ready to fight. Adrenaline coursed through his veins, disproportionate to the situation.

Roger held up his hands before sitting back in his own chair. “I didn’t mean anything by it. I think Shannon is a great girl. Why do you think I get myself out of bed so early every Friday?”

John narrowed his eyes and tried to breathe deeply. Was Roger interested in her like he was? He could understand some women would be attracted to him. The man wasn’t bad looking, even with the shrapnel scars covering one side of his face and the prosthetic forearm.

He had legs.

“I didn’t realize you had a claim on her.”

“I don’t,” John grumbled. That was the whole problem in a nutshell. He had no claim on her. He didn’t even know if he wanted to claim her. Yeah, she turned him on, but what could he offer her? Certainly nothing long term. What would an active, vibrant woman like her want with a broken man like him?

John tried to think of other things as he finished his sandwich, and ignore the ache in his chest.


NY Times and USA Today Bestselling author J.M. Madden writes compelling romances between ‘combat modified’ military men and the women who love them. J.M. Madden loves any and all good love stories, most particularly her own. She has two beautiful children and a husband who always keeps her on her toes.

J.M. was a Deputy Sheriff in Ohio for nine years, until hubby moved the clan to Kentucky. When not chasing the family around, she’s at the computer, reading, and writing, perfecting her craft. She occasionally takes breaks to feed her animal horde and is trying to control her office-supply addiction, but both tasks are uphill battles.

Happily, she is writing full-time and always has several projects in the works. She also dearly loves to hear from readers! So, drop her a line. She’ll respond.