FORGOTTEN SINS is now available for download! I thought it’d be fun to post Chapter 1 as a preview. So…here it is:
Josie’s heels clicked in rapid staccato against the well-worn tiles, the smell of bleach making her stomach cramp. Her mind spun. How could this be happening? It must be some sort of trick.
Someone had taped smiling pumpkins along the hospital walls to celebrate the month of October. Something about their jagged teeth against the dim walls creeped her out. Even as an adult, the sense of helplessness she’d felt as a child in the hospital caused her body to tense and brace to flee from the antiseptic smells.
Several nurses converged behind a wide counter, studying charts. Josie ignored them and hurried down the hall. She reached the last room on the left and ran smack into a uniformed police officer. Bouncing back, she struggled to balance herself in the heels she’d worn to work. The call had come in after dinner, and she was still at the office. As usual. A promotion to vice president was up for grabs, and she was going to get it.
The cop steadied her, dark eyes appraising. “You all right, ma’am?”
“Yes.” She tugged her handbag strap up her arm, needing to get a grip. She was an adult and in control now. “A Detective Malloy called me to come down. I’m Josie Dean.” Her breath hitched on her last name; she’d be changing that soon.
“He’s inside with Mr. Dean.”
“Major Dean,” she said automatically, and then her face heated. “I mean, he used to be a major. He may have been promoted.” God. She sounded like an idiot.
A voice over a loudspeaker announced a code blue. The officer straightened, listened, and then relaxed his shoulders as a room on the third floor was named. “You can go right in.” He tipped his head toward the open doorway before flashing a smile at a pretty nurse pushing a book cart down the hall.
Yeah. She’d go right in. Easier said than done. Josie took a deep breath, steeled herself, and walked inside, her attention instantly captured by the male figure perched against the hospital bed.
For the briefest of seconds, time stopped. Memories flooded through her mind, her body, maybe somewhere deeper until her lungs forgot their job. That quickly, she was helpless with the need to heal him. Coughing, she forced air down her throat and took a good look.
Several bandages were strapped across Shane’s muscular torso while a splotchy purple lump rose from his forehead. His long legs were encased in bloody jeans, and he’d crossed his thick boots at the ankles. He sat bare to the waist, his scarred chest and packed abs betraying a life of combat. The new wounds would fit with the rest.
Those scars broke her heart all over again.
His gray eyes lasered in on her, and she fought the urge to run. Pain, need, and familiarity swirled through her brain. Her skin warmed. Damn, he looked good. Dark brown hair swept back from his battered face, and even with the bruises, his rugged features spoke of strength and masculine beauty. Fierce and dangerous like a wolf.
His hair had grown to his shoulders and added a wild new edge to the danger.
She had a lot of layers, and he’d appealed to her on each one by providing security and fulfilling her desperate need to belong. Until he’d abandoned her. She faltered and clutched her handbag strap until the leather cut into her skin.
A throat cleared. “Mrs. Dean?”
“Josie.” She shifted her focus to a man in a rumpled brown suit who leaned against a poster depicting the inner ear. The room was small—examination table, smooth counter with sink, one rolling chair for a doctor. Yet she hadn’t even noticed the other man until he made a sound. “Detective Malloy?”
“Yes.” Shrewd eyes the color of his suit studied her, and he began scribbling in a notebook. “Is this your husband?”
The quiet power of Shane’s presence yanked her attention back to him. Even after all this time, he commanded her body’s responses. He cocked his head as if awaiting her answer.
She nodded. “This is Shane Dean.” This couldn’t be happening. The helplessness she’d felt as a frightened and hurting child in the hospital closed in on her. The need to flee made her knees tremble. She focused on the closest person she had to family, struggling to keep her lips firm. It was really him. Really Shane. “They said you have amnesia.”
Shane gave a short nod. “I can’t remember a damn thing.”
The familiar rumble of his voice slammed into her solar plexus. Emotion washed through her edged with a sharp pain. Two years. Two long years since he’d left her. “What happened?”
The detective stopped writing. “We were hoping you might provide an explanation. Where was your husband going today?”
She barked out a laugh. Seriously? “I have absolutely no idea. We’re separated.”
Shane stilled, the air thickening with tension around him. “We are?”
“I haven’t seen you in two years.” Her voice shook, and she fought to settle raw nerves. She would not let him affect her. “I didn’t even know you were back in the country.”
“What country should he have been in?” the detective asked.
Like she’d know. “He’s in the marines based out of Pendleton. Call them.” Wait a minute. “How did you know to call me if you didn’t know he was in the military?” She took a small step back to study her husband. “And what are you doing in WashingtonState?”
Shane shrugged. The paper on the table crinkled as he moved. “Dunno. Probably coming to visit you from my home in Oregon? I have an Oregon driver’s license as well as a card with your name and phone number in my wallet…along with our marriage license. Am I from Oregon?”
Her thoughts began to swirl. “Yes. I mean, I think so.”
A muscle in his jaw ticked. “You don’t know?”
“No. I didn’t know much about you, Shane. We met in California and married there.” Within three weeks of meeting each other—the one and only time in her life she’d taken a risk and been spontaneous. Of course it had ended in disaster. She had been so stupid. What had she been thinking?
The detective cleared his throat. “Your husband isn’t wearing dog tags. He was found down by the river, which is miles across the city from your home. To your knowledge, does he know anyone else here in Snowville?”
“No.” At least, she didn’t think so. More than 100,000 people lived in the eastern Washington town. Shane might know somebody else who lived there.
Her knees began to tremble, and she forced them still with stubborn pride. She dug her nails into her palms to quell the urge to caress his bruises. Her romantic notion of being able to heal him, to show him love was possible, had earned her a broken heart. Rightfully so. It was over. They were over. Her body needed to freakin’ remember that fact. As did her heart.
Shane’s eyes sharpened. “When did you move to Washington?”
“Two years ago.”
“When we separated.”
He lifted an eyebrow in an expression she remembered well. “Did I know we were separated?”
Warmth flushed through her chest, just under the skin. “Ending our marriage was your choice.” In fact, he hadn’t bothered to officially end the marriage. He had just disappeared—leaving her alone after making promises he clearly had never intended to keep. Some people didn’t get a family, and she should’ve remembered that before trusting him.
The detective clicked his pen, gaining her attention. “Please explain. Is it some religious type of deal? The separation?”
Josie tilted her head. “Excuse me?”
Malloy straightened his pose against the wall. “The separation instead of a divorce. Is it a religious deal?”
Josie blew out air. “No. We’re getting a divorce. I didn’t feel right requesting it in absentia, and I wanted to wait until Shane could sign the papers. It just seemed fair…” She’d wanted to face him, to end it right. Of course, there had always been that tiny chance he’d try to win her back—explain why he’d deserted her.
No such luck.
Now she’d had enough of waiting—the papers were ready. As was she.
“That was nice of you, to wait I mean.” Irony clanged in Shane’s tone and spurred Josie’s vertebrae to snap to attention one at a time.
“Yes, it was.” More than once she had thought about filing the papers, but she couldn’t steel herself to end it one-sided. To divorce a soldier most likely in combat seemed wrong. Even after everything, to hurt him like that would hurt her more. “I sent the divorce papers to your base in Pendleton. You could’ve mailed signed copies back to me.”
“Maybe I don’t want a divorce.” Shane’s jaw set in the way always guaranteed to prod her temper.
She forced anger down. Way down. She would not argue in front of the cop. Her gaze searched Shane’s bruised face. “Was he mugged?”
The detective began to write again. “We don’t know. If so, the muggers might need medical help, as well.” He gestured toward Shane’s bloodied knuckles. “He beat the crap out of someone.” Scribble. Scribble. “Ah, Mrs. Dean, would you know anyone who’d want to injure or kill your husband?”
Besides her? She’d have to know him to know his enemies—and she didn’t. “No. But again, I haven’t seen Shane in years. You really should contact the military. Or his brothers.”
Shane’s head snapped up. “Brothers?”
“Yes. You let it slip once that you had brothers.” How could he not remember anything? For a control freak like Shane, it had to be hell. “Though I have no idea who they are.”
He exhaled in exasperation, and his gaze wandered over her face in a caress so familiar she almost sighed. “Sounds like I didn’t trust you much, blue eyes.”
“You don’t trust anybody.” She’d given him everything she had, and it wasn’t enough. Tears pricked the backs of her eyes, and she ruthlessly batted them away. He didn’t get to see her cry now. Before he’d left, there was one night when she’d thought they were getting closer, she had thought he was finally letting her in. Then he’d disappeared.
His eyes warmed and a hint of a smile threatened. A tension of a different sort began to heat the room. Josie tugged her jacket closed as her traitorous nipples peaked. She’d forgotten his ability to shift affection into desire. Damn the man.
Shane glanced over his bare right shoulder. “Have I always had the tattoo?”
“Yes.” Malloy leaned for a better look. “Nice symbol. What does it mean?”
“Freedom,” Shane murmured, rubbing his shoulder. He swiveled his head to meet Josie’s gaze, both eyebrows rising. “Right?”
“Yes.” She swallowed. “You already had the tat when we met, and you said it meant freedom.”
“I don’t remember getting inked, but I know what the symbol means.” Shane frowned, running his wounded hand through his hair.
The detective cleared his throat. “So, you don’t know who’d want to attack your husband, and you haven’t seen him in two years. Ah, Mrs. Dean, you’ve built a life here, right?”
“Yes.” A good life with roots. Sure, she was alone, but she was secure.
The detective nodded. “Are you dating anyone?”
Heat rose into her face even as Shane’s eyes sharpened to flint. She shook her head. “That’s none of your business, Detective.”
Shane lifted his chin. “But I believe it is my business, angel.”
The man always could issue an effective threat with the mildest of words. She opened her mouth to tell him to stuff it when his words hit home. “You remember. You called me ‘angel.’” He’d given her the nickname the first day they’d met at a small coffee shop in California.
He shook his head, giving a slight wince and then holding still. “No. No memories. You look like an angel—big blue eyes, wispy blond hair. My angel.”
“Not anymore.” She wouldn’t let him do this to her. It’d taken two years to deal with the past, and she couldn’t face the pain again. No matter how lost he looked, or how lonely she was. “We’re over.”
“Who are you dating, Josie?” As usual, Shane ignored her words and narrowed his focus to what he deemed important.
“We do need to know, Mrs. Dean,” Detective Malloy cut in before she could tell Shane to go to hell. “Just to clear the suspect list, if nothing else.”
She sighed. “I’m not dating anybody.”
“Someone popped into your mind,” Shane said softly. Too softly.
Icy fingers traced her spine, and her heart rate picked up. She shrugged off the sensation. The cop narrowed his eyes. Both men waited.
She took a deep breath, pulling calmness in. “I’m not dating anyone, but I do spend time with Tom Marsh. He’s in construction, and the last thing he’d ever do would be to mug somebody. And we’re just friends.”
“What kind of friends?” Shane kept his focus solely on her as if the cop wasn’t in the room.
“None of your business.” The panic that rushed through her veins ticked her off.
He grabbed a crumpled shirt off the flattened pillow and yanked it over his head, grimacing as he tugged down the worn cotton. He pushed off the bed—toward her. “Does Marsh know you’re taken?”
Awareness slammed into her abdomen as Shane’s unique scent of heated cedar and rough male washed over her. How could she have forgotten how big he was? How much taller than her own five-foot-two? She tilted her head to meet his eyes. “Tom knows I’m about to be divorced.”
“You sure about that?” Shane grasped her arm, his focus on the detective. “Malloy, you have my contact information while I’m in town. I’ll be staying with my wife. Call if you hear anything.”
The firm hand around her bicep—so warm, so familiar—sent a wave of thrilling awareness through her veins. The one touch could set her back months, maybe more. The man had always been unreal and larger than life. Wanting him had nearly destroyed her once. Never again. She sucked in a breath. “Did the doctors release you?”
“Yes. I have a concussion, and once it’s healed, my memory should be restored. Though”—his voice dropped to a rumble—“you’ll need to awaken me every two hours tonight, darlin’.”
The twang. That Southern twang that escaped when he was either tired or aroused—an idiosyncrasy he normally managed to camouflage. The mere sound of it ignited memories of heated nights and soft whispers from her brain straight to her core. It was an intimacy most people didn’t know about him, and learning about it made her feel special. Her mouth went dry.
A visible tic set up underneath the detective’s left eye. “You’re not free to leave, Major Dean.”
The air rushed out of Josie’s lungs. She knew that smile. The detective didn’t stand a chance.
Neither did she.
Shane lowered his voice to a purely pleasant tone that wouldn’t fool anybody with half a brain. “Malloy, I was attacked and have cooperated with you. I unfortunately have no new information, nor am I under arrest. Thus, I’m going home with my wife. Call me if you have questions.”
The twang was gone.
Malloy tapped his pen. “I could hold you as a material witness.”
“Try me.” Somehow the tone became even more pleasant.
Josie fought a shiver.
Malloy, to his credit, ignored the threat and turned bloodshot brown eyes on her. “Is there anyone who’d want to hurt you, Mrs. Dean?”
Josie sucked in air. “You think he was injured because of me?”
The detective shrugged. “I don’t know. This might’ve been a random mugging, but we need to explore all possibilities.”
She hadn’t seen her husband in two years. No way was the mugging connected to her. “Nobody wants to hurt me. Besides, most of my friends don’t know I’m married.” Next to her, Shane stiffened, and her breath quickened in response.
The detective nodded, his gaze taking in them both. “Are you sure you want him with you?”
No. Though it was time to finish this. “Sure. We need to talk, and I have papers for Shane to sign. Thank you for your concern.” Not for one second did she think Shane would stay away at this point.
“Are you sure you’re safe? He may be dangerous.” The detective appraised them both without expression. Cop face…soldier face. She’d seen it on her husband.
“Shane’s dangerous as hell.” He’d saved her from an obnoxious jackass the first day they’d met, his combat training obvious. She allowed herself a wry grin. “But he would never hurt me.” Physically anyway.
Malloy cleared his throat. “Major Dean, what about your safety?”
Shane blinked twice and then chuckled. “Ah. You mean from the deadly pixie doll standing next to me?”
“Perhaps.” Malloy’s gaze probed Josie’s eyes as he addressed Shane. “You’re estranged and she has moved on. Statistically, it’s possible the pixie hired someone to take care of you.” He smiled. “No offense, ma’am.”
She coughed out a laugh. “None taken, Detective. Though I assure you, if I wanted Shane dead, I’d do it myself.” He’d tried to teach her some dangerous skills during their brief marriage, but she’d never had cause to use them.
The detective’s eyes narrowed.
Shane chuckled even deeper. “Let’s go, angel.”
She allowed him to tug her from the room. They passed the uniformed cop and the many rooms, Shane’s large form dwarfing her in a way she’d forgotten, in a way that made her feel safe—protected—and yet so vulnerable. The detective’s concern filtered through her thoughts. Shane was dangerous before. What if he was even more so now? Where had he been the last two years? She didn’t know him anymore. Heck, she’d never known him.
Maybe she wasn’t so safe.
However, as the exit doors came into view, her stride sped up in an effort to escape the hospital. For her first visit, when she was seven, she’d been brought in by a foster parent who had hurt her. The second time, when she’d turned nine, she’d been carried in by a foster parent trying to save her. Different experiences, yet the result had been the same. She’d ultimately ended up alone.
Here she was again, leaving the hospital with someone who would soon leave. He’d abandoned her once. No matter how quickly her heart had leaped when she’d seen him again, or how lost he seemed right now, he wouldn’t stay.
Shane wasn’t a guy who stuck around.
He paused near the sliding glass exit doors, turning her to face him, tipping her chin up with one knuckle. The breadth of his shoulders, the narrowness of his waist, the strength bunched along his muscles promised power and danger. Warmth and the masculine scent of heated cedar wafted her way. “So, wife. Have you slept with this boyfriend of yours?”