Authors: Sarah Ballance
Tags: #romantic suspense, #detectives, #romantic thriller, #double cross, #friends to lovers, #on the run, #reunited lovers, #cop hero, #cop heroine, #urequited love
by Sarah Ballance
Published by For the Muse Publishing
This is a work of fiction.
Names, places, characters, and
events are fictitious in
every regard. Any similarities to actual
events and persons, living
or dead, is purely coincidental. Any
trademarks, service marks,
product names, or named features are
assumed to be the property
of their respective owners, and are used
only for reference. There
is no implied endorsement if any of these
terms are used. Except for
review purposes, the reproduction of
this book in whole or part,
electronically or mechanically,
constitutes a copyright
Copyright © 2013 SARAH
Published by For the Muse Publishing at
Cover Art Designed By Elaina
Edited By Holly Atkinson
For Allison Stone, who uttered a
line so hilarious I had to put it in my book. Granted, when my bad
guy spits those words it's not nearly as funny as when Allison does
it, but she's prettier than he is. I almost expected it out of him.
Allison, however, had me on the floor laughing and — yes — wishing
there was a Linwood Stove and Fireplace nearby.
And for Karen Cherubino, the kind
of reader any author would hope for… one who has become a friend. I
am eternally grateful for your help with this story.
Special thanks to my editor,
Holly, who squeezed a twenty-fifth hour in her day to work with me
on this release… and is probably thrilled she'll never have to see
I'd also like to thank Nikki "KNL"
London for her beta-proofing. No, that's not a real word, but she
rocked it anyway.
And a very special thank you to
Elaina Lee, who welcomed me to For the Muse Publishing with open
arms… and the patience of a saint.
Rhys Clark swore and jerked her
foot from the murky puddle that had just claimed one of her new
. The day was now officially
She blamed Nick Massey.
Blaming him was easy enough. She
didn't know which required more nerve on his part — leaving town or
crawling back — but both events left her bitter and raw.
, she grumbled
inwardly. With the sky spitting rain and the occasional pellet of
sleet smacking her face, she should have skipped her evening jog.
The street was little more than a concrete alley of shuttered
businesses, and the bleak weather amplified the emptiness. But
tonight, with Nick hot on her mind, running through the cold was
her last ditch effort to return to her senses.
It hadn't worked.
Another blast of icy air howled through the
narrow street. If she hadn't been standing still, she probably
wouldn't have heard the shouting that followed.
A few months ago, an altercation wouldn't have
been unusual in this part of town. But the whole area was under
reconstruction. Local crime dissipated to nothing with the razing
of several apartment buildings, and until now Rhys had long found
her route to be a place of solace. She glanced around as the voices
drew closer and more intense. Rapid footsteps smacked the wet
pavement. Then the echo of a gunshot cracked the night.
Where fear left her paralyzed, instinct
insisted she get out of sight. She looked around and found an
unbroken expanse of concrete wall offering few options. Heart
pounding, Rhys ducked into the recessed doorway of a vacant
storefront and hoped the deep shadows would keep her
Terrifying seconds passed. The sound of her
own suppressed breath roared in her ears.
Voices came, clearer this time.
"If we screw this up…" The words, terse and
hushed, were encapsulated in panic.
"Shut up," demanded a second voice. "No one
messed up. He's as good as dead."
"You think you're going to sell that without a
body? We didn't get paid to lose him."
"He took one to the gut. He won't get far.
We'll find him."
"He's leaving a trail.
We got the big
bucks for a
Rhys shuddered, fear scaling her spine. A professional hit
would have been silent — something not accomplished by the gunshot
or the ensuing conversation — but in this game, experience wasn't
always a prerequisite for willingness to pull the trigger. Two
years of undercover work had taught her as much.
So had a bullet.
Rhys froze, waiting for the voices to pass.
But luck was not on her side. Rather than drawing away, the
"Well, well, well," said the confident one.
"Looks like our little game of hide and seek is over."
Hope crumbled. The voice was far too close.
Had they seen her?
She dared not move. Through her lashes, she
saw nothing in her narrow view of the dimly lit street but dirty
puddles and the occasional bit of trash plastered to wet pavement.
She prayed they didn't look her way should they walked
Grunts erupted nearby, followed by the sound
of sneakers scuffling on concrete. Then two shots fired, and all
sounds of struggle gave way to profane celebration.
In the same instant, a man fell to the
sidewalk in front of Rhys. His eyes, sightless and familiar, bore
She choked a gasp.
A man stepped into her line of sight, his
weapon at the ready. Before she could stop herself, she locked eyes
with him. Big mistake. The decision threw her into a cloud of
emotional shrapnel, the past flying at her in shards. She'd been
shot once before.
It hadn't ended well.
The gunman opened his mouth and formed an ugly
grin, his breath coming in visible puffs through yellowed teeth.
"Looks like a double header tonight, T," he said, never taking his
gaze off Rhys.
"Whaddya mean?" came the reply. The voice… she
blinked until the second man shifted into focus.
She glanced to the dead man, and her vision
wavered. Panic shifted her world into a screen of jarred pixels,
the flashback jagged and severe.
Stay with me, Rhys. Do you hear me? Rhys!"
Blood. So much blood.
"Nick." She touched his face,
feeling stubble beneath her fingertips. Then the weight of her arm
was too much; as gravity won he slipped away. The world twisted
into a sickening spiral until all that was left was his voice, the
desperation in his tone bringing warmth to the darkness.
Motion jarred her to the present.
The gunman gestured. "Our witness here is
about to have an unfortunate accident." He raised the weapon,
aiming for the kill.
It was a short view down the barrel at point
blank range. She expected that.
What she didn't anticipate was the speed with
which he pulled the trigger.
Or how quickly the pain hit.
Nick Massey dropped a fifty on the bar. "Keep
'em coming," he said, claiming the stool he planned to own the rest
of the night.
Bart — short for bartender, because that was
the only name the bastard provided — raised his eyebrows, his face
scoured with surprise. The blink-and-you-missed-it moment passed,
but the edge of curiosity left his tone musical. "Thought you
didn't 'pay three times the cost of the grocery store' for a
drink," he said. It was Nick's oft-repeated refrain.
Nick snorted. He'd been a regular before he
left town several months back, but not the sort who paid well.
Since he mostly went for the company, he didn't find Bart's
scowling face worth the cost of the beer. "Special occasion." Nick
tapped the bill, the likes of which had never left his wallet in
present company. "You want it or not?"
Bart worked his hands through a dingy towel.
"Depends on how much of it's the tip," he said, eyeing the crisp
Ulysses as if dead presidents made a regular habit of walking out
of his bar.
Of course, this one might. "Not a damn cent if
you don't bring me a beer."
Before Nick finished his sentence, the drink
hit the counter in front of him, spewing from the mouth. He turned
up the bottle, the liquid going down a lot easier than his sorrows.
When he returned the beer to the counter, Bart's pinched, narrow
gaze bore into Nick.
"What?" he asked.
"You're drinking." Shaking his head, Bart
flipped the towel over his shoulder and pointed a thumb at the
television, which flashed the late news in a soundless cadence of
light. "World end or something?"
Sarcasm. Nick raised the bottle, tipping it
toward the screen. "Update at eleven."
Bart's face cracked into a grin. "It's a
Nick figured his lack of answer was answer
"Gimme one guess," Bart said, rubbing his chin
with meaty fingers. If the gesture intended to hide the slow smile
creeping across his lips, it failed. "The one you shot?"
"The one and only." Rhys Clark. Just the woman
Nick was there to forget. Bart had the memory of an elephant;
granted, if Nick had kept his mouth shut about the shooting eight
months ago, Bart wouldn't have anything to remember. The whole
incident had been swept under the proverbial rug — the media had
been none the wiser and evidentiary points of collateral damage
numbered two. One being Rhys's career, and the other the patch of
cemetery grass blanketing an innocent witness.
Nick had wasted a whole lot of time failing to
get over either one.
Bart pushed a finger against the bar. "She's
been thinking about you. And after what went down, goes without
saying you'd be thinking back."
Nick drained the bottle and slid it across the
counter. "What do you mean, she's been thinking about
Bart dropped a replacement on the scarred
wooden slab, then pointed to a table in the corner. The same table
Nick had shared with Rhys for all of an hour, days before he shot
her. "She's been here once or twice. Same real estate."
The news hit him in the stomach, some odd
combination of grief and hope. "She sat at the same table?
Bart's bushy brow lifted. "Sitting — and
drinking — alone."
Nick's grip on his beer turned white. As
partners on the force, he and Rhys had been intense. Though much of
their shared passion bordered on adversarial, there hadn't been a
single moment he didn't fight the urge to take her to bed. Hell,
the look in her eyes dared him to do it; the table in the corner
was as close as things had ever come to getting