The Way We Were by A.T. Brennan

Allie Chase and Ben Egan have been best friends since they were eight years old and after ten years of friendship Allie is having a hard time keeping her love for Ben a secret. On the night of her eighteenth birthday, Ben confesses how he feels and they are finally able to give in to the moment and each other.

Just when Allie thinks her life is finally looking up, Ben drops a bombshell on her; he’s joining the marines and they’ll have to try to keep their relationship alive as they live apart. Things aren’t perfect but they are determined to make it work. Then Ben is deployed overseas and Allie’s world is shattered.

Fourteen years later Allie still isn’t happy. Her life hasn’t shaped up to what she envisioned and she’s lonely. After leaving the military riddled with mental and physical scars, Ben doesn’t know who he is or where he belongs and on impulse reaches out to the only woman he’s ever loved.

Will Allie be able to forgive Ben for breaking her heart? Will Ben be able to let go of his demons and completely let Allie in? Or will they be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past?

Targeted Audience: 21+

Author Bio:
A.T. Brennan, who also writes under the name Mandie Mills, is a romance and erotica author. A native of Ottawa, Canada, she enjoys picking up and moving from city to city every few years. A former member of the Canadian Armed Forces, current entrepreneur and freelance writer, she enjoys spending her days working on her many projects and her nights writing and not getting enough sleep. Currently she lives on Canada's East Coast with her family, both two- and four-legged. She enjoys collecting books and exploring the different sides of romance and romantic expression in her works.

What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I am a former military member and have seen the effects PTSD can have on those who have been to war, and how it affects every aspect of their lives.
I decided to write a series that focuses on three ex-marines who feel lost and broken after leaving the services, and the women who help them heal and find peace. The books deal with some pretty heavy issues that many veterans struggle with, including mental health issues, alcoholism and self-medication, and difficulties transitioning into civilian life.
I've also pledged to donate a portion of every sale from each book in the series to a charity dedicated to helping veterans in crisis.

Read more, including a sample from the book
Sample from Book:

Chapter One

June 2002

“Happy fucking birthday,” Allie Chase muttered to herself as she twisted her grad ring around her finger.
She was sitting alone in her bedroom listening to her parents scream at each other. Every once and awhile the screaming would be interrupted by shattering or something solid hitting a wall, and then the screaming would start again.
It was a familiar scene, and this fight had been going on for almost three days. Her father would be leaving any minute now. Who knew how long he’d be gone this time.
The sound of a bottle shattering against the kitchen counter made her jump. That one had been full of whatever booze had been in it. Over the years she’d learned that full and empty bottles made different sounds, and those sounds depended on how much liquid was left in it. She’d also learned what they sounded like as they were thrown at pretty much every surface in the house.
“Happy prom,” she whispered and closed her eyes as she tried to push past the feelings of hurt and loneliness welling up inside her.
It wasn’t just her birthday, it was her senior prom, and she was alone in her room.
Her high school took school activities to a new level of fanatic, and they’d gone all out for prom this year.
Tickets were two hundred dollars per couple, and no single tickets were allowed. Girls could go with their friends and guys could buddy up if they didn’t have dates, but you had to buy tickets in pairs or you weren’t allowed to go. The dinner was at the fanciest hotel in town and the dance itself was in the ballroom. The event was black-tie with a very strict dress code. There was an after party that cost an additional one hundred dollars per couple on a touring river boat that would go up and down the river from midnight until two a.m. After that there were busses to bring people back to the hotel where they could be picked up by their limos or find other ways home.
Allie didn’t have one hundred and fifty dollars to spend on tickets. She didn’t have another hundred dollars to try and buy a second hand dress that fit their dress code, and she didn’t have anyone to go with.
She wasn’t a loner. She had friends and she wasn’t the only one who was single in their group, but she was the only one who didn’t have money.
Her family lived in a decent area surrounded by sought after neighborhoods, so most of the students at her school didn’t hurt for money. The only reason Allie lived in the house and not in a trailer was because her grandparents had left it to her mom when they’d died. She didn’t really remember them, but they were the reason she had a roof over her head.
Her friends had really embraced prom and they’d rented several limos to take them to the hotel. The girls had spent small fortunes on their dresses—her friend Jacklyn had spent over two thousand of her parents dollars getting hers custom made, and the rest had spent about half that. All the girls had gone to a spa together and spent far too much money getting their nails, hair and makeup done. It was way more money than Allie could ever have access to.
Even the guys had gotten into it. They’d all rented tuxes and bought corsages for the girls. Even though they were all underage they planned on drinking, so they’d gotten several rooms at the hotel so they could party and crash after the cruise.
There was no way Allie could cover her share of the expenses so she’d had to pass on prom while everyone else excitedly prepared for it.
Now they were all at prom and she was sitting alone in her room listening to her parents scream and throw things.
She sighed again and went over to her stereo to put her music on. If she played it loud enough the music would drown out the fighting and crashing.
Just then she heard something—a very soft clicking sound, almost a pinging.
She listened closely and heard it again. It sounded like something hitting glass. Her window, maybe?
She shook her head and went to her window, and pulled back the curtains.
What she saw made her smile and she pulled the window all the way open and leaned out.
“What the hell are you doing here?” she asked with a grin as she looked at her best friend.
“I wanted to wish you a happy birthday,” Ben Egan said as he gave her one of his trademark perfect smiles.
He was standing on her lawn in his tux and he looked even more fantastic than usual.
Ben was one of the most popular guys in their school. He was everything that every guy wanted to be, and every girl wanted to date. He came from a good family, he was gorgeous with his dark-brown hair and piercing blue eyes, and he was tall and athletic. He was kind, he was smart, he was funny, and he was confident.
The two of them had been best friends since the first day of third grade when Ben and his family had moved to town. Thanks to the very popular practice of assigning students to their desks alphabetically, Allie and Ben had been seated next to each other.
He’d asked for a pencil and by recess they’d been giggling and chatting like old sleepover buddies. They’d been best friends ever since.
Ben wasn’t part of her usual group of friends. He was in a class of his own. He was so popular he hung out with everyone from the student council to athletes and cheerleaders. The only criteria was that they had to be popular. Her friends were right on the cusp and just shy of being ‘cool’. They were all smart, involved in school activities, and well liked, but they just missed out on being one of the cool kids. They were friendly with them, but they weren’t friends.
Ben and Allie were the exception. He’d never cared that he was more popular than her, or about her hand-me-down wardrobe. While the entire school loved to talk about her parents and their embarrassing behavior he’d always stuck up for her.
He’d been there for her since they were eight-years-old, and he’d helped her through everything from her father constantly leaving to her mother fucking their school mates.
“Don’t you have a prom you’re supposed to be at?” she asked as she grinned back at him.
“Yeah. But I couldn’t let you spend your eighteenth alone.”
“Too late.” She ruefully shook her head. “My birthday is over. It’s after midnight.”
“Is it?” He grinned and cocked his head to the side. “Check.”
She glanced behind her and looked at the clock next to her bed. He was right. It was five minutes to twelve.
She just shook her head and looked back out the window. “You’re going to miss the cruise. It starts in five—”
“I know,” he cut her off. “Come on.”
“Put on something that makes you feel good, something fancy, and get your ass down here. Unless you want to sit up there and listen to your shit being broken all night.”
“Give me five minutes?” she asked excitedly.
“Take ten.” He nodded to the street. There was a limo parked on the street a few houses up from hers. “Meet me in there.” He gave her another charming smile and winked before heading to the car.
Allie laughed and shook her head as she closed the window.
She had no idea what he was planning or thinking, but she’d learned that anything could happen when Ben had a plan.
She looked down at the worn shirt and shorts she was wearing and hurried over to her closet. She didn’t have a lot of clothes, definitely didn’t have a lot of nice clothes, but she did have one dress that could work. She’d bought it on clearance at a store that had been going out of business. She loved it but had never had a chance to wear it.
She heard a door slam and a moment later a car squealed its tires before peeling away. Her father had left, again.
She just sighed and went into the bathroom, the last thing she wanted to think about was her fucked up home life. She combed out her long brown hair and brushed her teeth. After she’d rolled on some deodorant, she applied the slightest bit of lip gloss to her full lips and a touch of eyeliner and mascara to highlight her green eyes. Then she rushed to her room to get dressed.
She stripped off her clothes and put on a strapless bra before slipping the dress over her head. It was long and silky, and had halter straps and a low-cut neckline. The dark green material of the dress set off her eyes and there was a beaded belt at the empire waistline. She grabbed a lightweight and sheer black cardigan since she didn’t own a shawl or wrap, and picked up her only pair of heels.
She paused at her dresser to look herself over one last time, and then dabbed on a touch of the vanilla and cinnamon perfume that she’d mixed herself using essential oils, before grabbing her purse and heading down the stairs.
At least with the fight over and her father gone she could slip out without being noticed. Her mother had been drunk when the fight had started in earnest over an hour ago. She wouldn’t be in any shape to notice Allie now.
When she was out the door she slipped her shoes on and headed toward the limo. As she approached it she saw the door was open and Ben was sitting inside grinning at her.
“Wow.” He looked her up and down as she slid into the car and settled next to him. “You look amazing.”
“Thanks, so do you.” She blushed as she looked at him. His tux fit him perfectly and the dark jacket and crisp white shirt were incredible on him. He looked like a movie star, and she had to force herself to look away from him so she could check out the limo. “Wow, I’ve never been in one of these things before.”
“Me either. I could get used to this.” He grinned as the car started to drive down her street.
“What’s going on?” she asked as she turned to him. “What are we doing?”
“You deserve to have a prom, Allie,” he said simply. “I would have sprung for your ticket, paid your way but—”
“It’s a lot of money.”
“And I knew it would make you uncomfortable,” he said seriously as he looked at her. “I know you don’t feel comfortable around my friends. I didn’t want you to feel like you were being judged.”
She smiled at his thoughtfulness. He was right. She didn’t like taking anything from anyone and his friends could be cruel when they found a target to gang up on.
“So while all of them are out cruising the river we’re going to have our own prom.” He grinned and stretched his legs out.
“Really.” He grinned and patted her leg. “Just you and me.”
She smiled and settled against the seat. He didn’t move his hand right away, and she just smiled and put her hand over his, trying to ignore the small rush of heat at the contact.

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