REBECCA HAGAN LEE
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
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Copyright © 1999 by Rebecca Hagan Lee.
A Wanted Man
by Rebecca Hagan Lee copyright © 2013 by Rebecca Hagan Lee.
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Ebook ISBN: 978-1-101-65815-4
First Jove edition / January 1999
Cover art of “Bouquet of pink flowers” © Andrii Muzyka/Shutterstock.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
For Karen Marie Dunlap, the original Treasure and the inspiration behind the fictional ones. Thank you for your friendship, support, encouragement, belief in me, and boundless enthusiasm for my stories—and you’ve read them all—from third grade until now.
I hope I did you justice.
And for the three “guardian angels” who refused to give up on this story and who worked hard to make the dream of publishing it a reality: my friend and mentor, Teresa Medeiros; my agent, Laura Blake Peterson; and my editor, Cindy Hwang.
With love and gratitude.
How shall I lose the sin, yet keep the sense,
And love th’ offender, yet detest th’ offence?
English satirical poet
SHE NEEDED ABSOLUTION
from him. She couldn’t continue without it. But absolution for her sin was the one thing he couldn’t yet find in his heart to give. He needed time. Time for the horrible pain to lessen. Time for the terrible wound to heal. Time to forget.
And so, she hid from him. She abandoned the laughter, the gaiety, the joy, the love, and the sunlight that had once made up the parts of her life. She abandoned the beautiful life she had known and existed in the darkness. She covered her face and remained in the shadows, keeping to her room with only her maid for companionship, refusing to look upon the precious countenance of the person she loved most in the world.
She had begged his forgiveness.
But he could not give it.
And her unbearable sin was never spoken of again.
He did not punish her. He didn’t speak harshly or starve her or beat her. He didn’t do any of the things she thought he should have done to relieve her of a measure of the
horrible guilt she carried within her heart He had done none of the things she expected him to do when he learned of her sin. He had simply stared at her with condemnation and unshed tears in his eyes. Stared at her, unable to speak.
She could not resume her old life, could not pick up the pieces of her life until he absolved her of her guilt, so she stayed to herself and wept. Each day and long into the night.
No one could console her as she wept bitter, heartbreaking tears and prayed for his forgiveness.
And each night as he lay in his solitary bed in the room adjoining hers, he prayed for the strength to look her in the eyes and tell her he understood, that he forgave her for the terrible mistake she had made—for the unspeakable sin she’d committed.
He wanted to forgive her, wanted to love her again, wanted desperately to return to the life they had had together. Before. But now no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t bring himself to say the words she needed to hear. The words of forgiveness he wanted to utter stuck in his throat. He couldn’t push them out. And he couldn’t lie. She knew him too well, had loved him too long. She would know the difference between truth and lies. She would see it in his eyes, hear it in the sound of his voice, feel it in the touch of his hands. Try as he might, he knew that he couldn’t forgive her until he could put aside the horror of the sight burned into his memory. He couldn’t forgive until he forgot. And he knew that as long as he lived, he’d never forget what she had done.
And as the days wore on, he continued to lie in bed each night praying as he listened to the sound of her tears. Praying she would find the strength to forgive herself even if he could not. Praying that one day her tears would come to an end.
Until the night they did.
San Francisco, California
THE SOUND OF
her heartrending sobs penetrated his sleep.
James Craig immediately identified the sound, opened his eyes, rolled out of bed, and padded barefoot across the dark room to the door connecting his bedroom to hers.
Reaching for the doorknob, he softly called her name. “Mei Ling?”
She didn’t answer. And the terrible grief-stricken cries continued as James felt for the doorknob. But there was no doorknob. Or door to attach it to. Only a solid wall, covered in flocked wallpaper.
James leaned his forehead against the wallpaper, remembering. This was San Francisco, not Hong Kong. He was in a hotel thousands of miles away from the bedroom in his dreams and an entire ocean away from his house in Hong Kong. He licked his top lip, tasted the salt of his sweat, and felt another damp trickle of it slide down the curve of his spine. James took a deep breath to steady himself, to gather his bearings as he sorted through the rush of memories triggered by the sound of a woman’s grief.
“Are you hurt?” he whispered into the velvet flocking, knowing even as he did so that the woman on the other side of the paper-thin walls couldn’t hear him. Knowing, too, that any woman who cried as if her heart was broken had to be gravely wounded—in spirit if not in body.
James heaved a weary sigh. He couldn’t begin to count the number of nights he had lain awake listening as Mei Ling cried herself to sleep. He couldn’t begin to count the times he had tapped on the connecting door offering comfort, begging admittance, only to be met with more tears. He should go back to bed, bury his head in the feather pillows, pull the covers up over his ears, and pretend he didn’t hear. Just close his eyes and will himself to sleep once again. Ignore her pain, her heart-wrenching tears. That’s what he should do.
But James Craig had never been one to listen to logic when every fiber of his being told him to listen to his heart.
Pushing himself away from the wall, James groped his way back to the big brass bed. He shoved his long legs into his trousers, then reached for the silk dressing gown lying at the foot of the bed. He located his leather satchel on the floor beside the bed, felt inside until he found a square of clean linen, shoved the handkerchief into the pocket of his robe, then pulled the silk garment over his bare shoulders and knotted the sash at his waist. Closing the bedroom door behind him, James quietly locked it and pocketed the key before making his way down the dimly lit hall to the adjoining room.