Smoke and Embers, страница 1
Table of Contents
Praise for Taylor Anne
Smoke and Embers
A word about the author…
Thank you for purchasing this publication of The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
The man in front of her
showed more compassion, more interest than her husband ever had. Mike’s touch was comforting and deeply sensual. It forced Brooke to hold back a passion that begged to be ignited. Those feelings scared her. Brooke was stuck between feeling a duty to her dead husband, giving him one more chance, and following her gut instinct by not fighting the urge to open up to Mike.
“None of this is fair. It all needs to stop.”
Mike wiped her face, wetness covering his fingers. “Damn, Brooke.”
She looked up at him. “Make it stop, Mike.”
“Shit.” His brow knotted. He trailed a finger over her moist lips.
“Please. Make the hurt go away.”
He closed his eyes for a brief second. Opening them, he stared straight into her soul. “Baby, there is only one way I can make you forget about all of this.” He leaned down, and his lips touched hers.
She moaned and leaned into him. “Please.”
Praise for Taylor Anne
“…there was plenty of both romance and suspense in [SMOKE AND MIRRORS]. The writer was able to retain a smart, believable balance. Both sides were well represented. The suspense plot line was well-crafted and complimented the romantic development of the characters…I appreciated and enjoyed the age of the main characters. They were mature and sexy with it. They were smart. They were experienced. And they were compelling. And thirdly, oh my gosh—the setting. I love the beach.”
~Karyn Good, author of Exposed and Backlash
A CHRISTMAS FOR SANTA received a 2015 Best in Holidays award from the Authors on the Air Global Radio Network.
Smoke and Embers
Up In Smoke Series
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either 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.
Smoke and Embers
COPYRIGHT © 2017 by Taylor Anne
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Contact Information: [email protected]
Cover Art by Debbie Taylor
The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
PO Box 708
Adams Basin, NY 14410-0708
Visit us at www.thewildrosepress.com
First Crimson Rose Edition, 2017
Print ISBN 978-1-5092-1784-7
Digital ISBN 978-1-5092-1785-4
Up In Smoke Series
Published in the United States of America
Thanks to Brooke for pushing her way into my head when I wasn’t sure which characters to write this book about!
Many thanks to my readers, bloggers, and author friends. You make the writing world complete. This community is awesome. Cherie, Brandy, Rose, Teri, Andi, Diana, and Sarita—the story wasn’t complete without all of your input. I love your honesty in constructive criticism and in praise. Thank you!
Ally—thank you for taking that chance on me. Several books later, I am still happy you are my editor!
Extra thanks and hugs to my PA, Teresa at Poised Pen Productions. You’ve made such a difference!
“What are you doing here?” Brooke gasped for air. Her whole body shook with anger. Mike’s tall frame, covered in a black suit, stood between Brooke and the casket. Sunglasses shielded his eyes, but the intensity of them burned Brooke’s skin.
“I came to pay my respects. Kyle was—”
“You killed my husband. You are not welcome at his funeral.” The audacity of this man to show up pretending to be Kyle’s friend.
She noticed Mike earlier in the church service. He sat several rows behind her. She’d felt his gaze on her throughout the service. Family and friends passed by her for the last glance at the man in the casket before he was transported to the cemetery. Brooke had turned her head to avoid looking at Mike. Her hope was that he would not have come to the gravesite. That was not the case. At least he stayed away from her. Until now. Brooke turned to walk away from him. A gentle hand on her shoulder stopped her movement.
She shook away his touch and turned to face him. “Leave. I never want to see you again.” Abby and Laci stood on either side of the now widowed woman. Their protection was as powerful as an armored wall. Brooke slid her sunglasses back on to shield the blazing sun from her tear swollen eyes. Although the February temperature was cool in the upper fifties, the sun was glaring, trying to warm the air.
Mike opened his mouth to say something else, but clamped it shut when Graeme stepped next to him. “Come on, Mike.”
Brooke watched as Graeme and Cooper escorted Mike away from the gravesite of her husband of nine years. Forty-one was much too young for a man to die. As a widow at thirty-eight, what was she to do next?
Six months later
Brooke walked into Tucker’s and found Abby sitting at the bar talking to her husband, Graeme. He tucked her hair behind her ear and kissed her forehead. Abby smiled and winked at her husband of almost a year. Such an adorable couple. They were perfectly made for each other. Brooke sighed at the thought of what could have happened to Abby if Graeme had not been placed in her life. The danger that brought them together paid off in the end. Hopping on the barstool next to her best friend, Brooke waved in greeting to Graeme and his bartender, Cooper. “I’ll take a cold Coors Light.”
“Hey cuz,” Abby said, giving her a hug. “You are looking good.”
Brooke smirked at her. “Right. I’ve been cleaning all day. I have sweat and dust in places you can’t even imagine. My hair is so tangled even Mom couldn’t get these knots out if she were still alive. A blonde mess. That’s what she used to call it.”
Abby, Graeme, and Cooper joined in her laughter. After months of prodding her, Brooke knew her friends were just glad she was finally getting out and doing things. Participating in life again. Since Kyle’s passing, she pretty much shut herself away from the world. She couldn’t bring herself to face anyone. If only they knew the real story behind it all, maybe it would be easier for Brooke to socialize once again. Brooke and Kyle’s life was nothing but lies and deception, and bordered on abuse. She wasn’t prepared mentally or emotionally to divulge those secrets, even to her best friends, and family.
Cooper placed a bottle in front of her. Ice crystals melted in the August heat of Orange Beach. “Nice and cold. Enjoy.” Cooper and Graeme walked away to te
“So, how are you? Really.” Abby took a sip of water and set the glass on the counter.
Brooke took a deep breath before answering. She turned to look the other woman straight in the eye. It was like looking into a mirror. Bright blue eyes. Monroe eyes. Thanks to their father’s genes. “I am doing okay. I’ve hauled off the last of his things. It was a mixture of emotions. Dread, hurt, loneliness, yet it was refreshing; a heart cleansing.”
Brooke calmed when Abby laid her hand over hers. “You’ve dealt with a lot in the last six months. I’m sure you’ve gone through several stages of the emotional roller coaster.”
“You can’t even begin to imagine. One day I will fill you in.” Brooke savored the cool, refreshing liquid as she drank her beer. “But for now, I want to know more about this party tonight. I think I just might be ready for something like that.”
Abby’s smile lit her face. “Yay! I know it’s a month and a half early, but we are celebrating our one year anniversary tonight. Lauren won’t be able to make it next month, so we figured, what the heck. Oh, and Laci is on her way. She’s working on a new career path and will be our official photographer of the night.”
“So she gave up the badge and uniform?”
Brooke felt bad that she hadn’t been in touch with Laci much over the last few weeks. She did miss their companionship. Maybe now was a good time to get the three of them back on track.
Abby nodded. “Yeah. After the whole ordeal in New Orleans with my kidnapping and her killing her partner, she decided to try her hand at photography. Her therapist thinks it is a great idea. Laci still works with the police department doing crime scene photography, so she still has a hand in doing good deeds for the world, but she doesn’t want to be so up close and personal any longer.” Abby glanced across the room to where her husband served a couple at a corner table, her eyes lighting up when he looked her way. She smiled at him then looked back at Brooke.
“That’s good.” If only she could find true love like Abby had. Brooke finished off the beer and slid the bottle away from her. “She is more than welcome to stay at the Bed and Breakfast. The cottage is empty. Or she could stay in the main house with me. I have an open room this weekend.”
“She will love that.” Abby’s head tilted to the side and she smiled. That warmed Brooke’s heart.
Brooke stood and gave Abby a hug. “I’ll see you tonight then. Tell Laci to call when she gets here.”
“Okay. Where are you headed?”
“I have to pick up a few things at the grocery store. And hey, I might as well find something new and fun to wear tonight.” She winked at the incredulous expression on her cousin’s face.
Everyone thought that for the last six months she had been wallowing in self-pity and mourning the loss of her husband. That was partly true. She did mourn Kyle’s death. No person should be taken from this Earth at such a young age. And yes, she did go through the stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. As well as bitterness, rejection, freedom, joy, and elation. Going through Kyle’s things had been bittersweet. They had some good times in the nine years they were married. He was her first love, best friend, lover, and much more. She couldn’t remember at what point all of that changed. But it had. If she had met Kyle three years ago, she had no doubts she would not have fallen in love with that man.
Now she had to deal with life on her own. Running the B&B would be no problem at all. It was her dream job and throwing herself into running it was her escape. She and Kyle had scrimped and saved enough money to pay off the mortgage. It was part of his plan so Brooke could have fun doing what she loved without having to worry about the struggle of a monthly note. Luckily for her, the B&B was part of the main house, with the cottage attached by a walkway. That meant no additional house note. Just the monthly maintenance expenses, and the revenue she brought in was certainly enough to cover that. At least Kyle had seen to her financial security.
It was hard to believe it was already the big one year anniversary for Abby and Graeme. The craziness that threw them together forced a bond that no one could break. Graeme’s undercover expertise was the key to Abby’s peace of mind. Graeme’s bar, Tucker’s, had been the center piece of their blooming relationship. A year later, the weathered wooden building was successful and the much talked about place to be in Orange Beach. It was where people came to relax with friends, have a few drinks, spend some alone time, and also start relationships of their own.
Yeah, Brooke was ready to get out and mingle with people once again. Sure, she kept the B&B running during these troubling months, but that wasn’t the same as being with friends and family. She was ready to find herself and her place in this world. Six months was long enough to mourn, right?
She walked out of the bar and into the bright sunshine. The salty air tasted good on her lips. The open breeze tortured her blonde hair into even more knots. She rounded the corner to the parking lot, clicked the button to unlock her car, and stepped up to the driver’s side door. She heard the honk of a horn and looked up. A few rows down, a man stood next to his truck. He was staring at her. Mirrored sunglasses covered his eyes, but Brooke knew they were locked on her every move. Behind those glasses were the green eyes of the devil himself.
For six months she had avoided him at every corner. They may have said a total of ten words to each other during that time. His attempts at conversation were blown off. His apologetic texts and calls were ignored and deleted. Brooke couldn’t bring herself to warm up to him even though her friends said Mike was genuinely concerned for her. Their friendship suffered at the hands of her late husband.
Brooke drew in a deep, calming breath. She would not let this man get to her. He had done enough in destroying her life. Her husband’s life. She got in her car and started the engine. Backing out, she glanced in her rearview mirror. He stood there, staring her down. His hands were jammed into the pockets of his well-fitting jeans. The black t-shirt he wore fit snugly against his frame, accentuating his biceps. Brooke bit down on her lip. His tall, muscular body did not intimidate her one bit.
She sped out of the parking lot, onto the main drag. Mike Montana could go to hell.
Brooke was one step away from backing out of going to the party. Who was she trying to fool? She was not up to facing all of her friends tonight. She didn’t want to hear their condolences all over again. Their looks of pity. Looks of accusation from those who didn’t think she should be out partying after only six months of losing her husband.
“I’m not going.” She kicked her sandals off and sat on the bed.
“Oh yes you are.” Laci bent down, picked up the shoes, and thrust them at Brooke. “Put these back on or you will go barefoot. But you are going.”
Like a belligerent child, Brooke crossed her arms and shook her head. “No.”
Laci sat next to her and put a hand on Brooke’s bare shoulder. “But this dress was made for you to show it off.”
That only made Brooke question her actions more. Maybe her choice of dress wasn’t right. But she really liked the soft blue, one shoulder sundress. It fit her body like a glove. The soft fabric enveloped her and ignited a spark inside her that she hadn’t felt in years. No, it wasn’t the dress. It was facing the people. She had voiced her concerns to Laci earlier and then they had both agreed to put other people’s ideas out of her head. She deserved to have fun. If it felt right to her, then to hell with anyone else.
“Come on, Brooke. We’ve discussed this already. Everyone has their own opinions on how long a person should mourn. Heck, look at Mrs. Flynn. She and Ronald were married for twenty years. Everyone knows they had a special relationship. He worshipped the ground she walked on. Four months after he passed, she was seriously dating someone. Granted, that didn’t work out because he was an ass.”
Brooke smiled. “Yeah, you’re right. And she still talks about Mr. Fl
“They were. But she knows he would want her to find someone to love and take care of her in his absence.”
Not exactly Kyle’s dying wish. He was so possessive. He would never have wanted Brooke to be with another man. That grated on her last nerve. If she were the type of woman to throw morals to the side, she would sleep with every man she saw just to put Kyle in his place. But that wasn’t her style at all. If she ever shared her body and soul with another man, he would have to have carved a special place with her. Hell, no worries. She didn’t put much faith in meeting a man like that. She slid the sandals back on her feet.
She stood, gave Laci a hug and said, “Let’s get this party started.”
“Yeah, because you are rocking it in that dress.” Laughter echoed throughout the room. They both laughed as they headed outside to Laci’s car.
Minutes later, Brooke and Laci walked into Tucker’s. The dim lighting inside mixed with the reds of the setting sun beaming through the windows. There was a calm, free feeling in the air. And the smell of grilled shrimp. Brooke’s stomach rumbled reminding her that she hadn’t eaten much throughout the day. They went in search of the food.
At the end of the bar they found the gang. Abby, Graeme, Cooper, Colby, and Mike. No, he was not part of their circle. At least not to Brooke. No one else had a problem with the man, only her. They didn’t understand her anger toward him. One day they would get it. Or she would lighten up. All the analyzing she had done over the last six months, she couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt at being rude to Mike. She questioned herself in blaming him for the car accident. She hesitated in her steps, but Laci urged her along. Everyone turned their attention to the approaching women.
Cooper whistled low in his throat. “Wow, look at you.”
Laci smiled. “Aww. Thanks Cooper.”
He shook his head. “I was talking to Brooke.” Laci’s jaw dropped open. Everyone laughed. Cooper winked at Brooke then pulled Laci into his embrace. “Seriously Laci, you look awesome too.”