First line: Texas attorney Jake Hopkins was severely allergic to two things: peanuts and a sweet young army nurse named Madeline Bright.
That first line reeled me in. It told me the heroine was going to be a young, dewey eyed, probably sunshiney girl, loved and adored by everyone she meets. Not my favorite kind of heroine (probably because I'm an old, weary eyed, well, you get the point). But it also told me we would get the story from both the heroine and the hero's point of view, which I'm a big fan of. And it told me there would be plenty of amusing lines and humor infused in the story, which I'm also a big fan of.
Jake and his best friend, Noah, who was Maddie's older brother, were in the army together, flying Apache helicopters. They were shot down by insurgents, and Noah was killed. Jake was severly injured, and still suffers pain in his leg, and has to use a cane to help him walk. He also blames himself for Noah's death. Not because they were shot down, but because of decisions he made immediately after. He suffers from flashbacks and nightmares, but he stoically keeps his feelings bottled inside and refuses to talk to anyone about what happened.
Maddie adored Jake from the first time he came home with Noah, when she was in the first grade, and they were Cadets at West Point. She grew up and pursued her dream of becoming a nurse, then, after hearing Jake express admiration for doctors and nurses who served at army combat hospitals overseas, she joined the army. She wanted to be a hero. But she soon realized serving as a combat nurse just wasn't for her, and now she's in Priarie Springs, working as a nurse in the maternity ward.
Maddie very much wants to talk with Jake about Noah, and about what he's been through, and she worries about him and prays for him. Jake lost his faith in God after the accident, and he is determined to fight his feelings for Maddie, convinced that he would not be good for her and would end up hurting her. And that if she knew the truth behind Noah's death, she might never forgive him. So he continually puts her off, and she doggedly continues to advance on him. If she can't have him romantically, she still wants to be his friend.
I'm not a very religious person myself, and I'll admit to you now that I was pretty far into this book before it hit me that the tile was a reference to God, not just a military reference. I've never read anything by Brenda Coulter before now, but I enjoyed her breezy style while addressing a serious topic, and her humor. I particularly liked this passage:
"You both turned up your noses because I put beans in it. And you like beans."
"Not in chili. No self-respecting Texan does." He couldn't believe she didn't know that. She might have been raised in Alabama, but that was no excuse. Not when she'd been married to a Texan - a retired rodeo cowboy, no less - for almost as long as Jake had been alive. Was Leland Ridge aware that his wife was going around putting beans in chili?(I purchased this book at a library book sale in March 2011.)