Status: Believed to have been killed in action until now!
Three years is a long time. Long enough for Tatum Huntley to leave heartbreak behind for the idyllic town of Sweetheart, South Carolina. Long enough to start over. Yet not long enough to forget the devastation left behind when he died. Her husband. The man whose touch haunts her And the man who just walked back into her life.
All Evan Huntley wants is to get the woman he loves back in his arms and his bed. While her love for him never died, Tatum can'tand won'tforgive Evan for letting her believe he was dead. For leaving her alone. But can she resist giving in to the exquisite passion that still burns between them?
About the Author
Double winner of the National Readers’ Choice Award, Kira Sinclair writes passionate contemporary romances. Her first foray into writing fiction was for a high school English assignment, and not even being forced to read the love story aloud could dampen her enthusiasm...although it did make her blush. She lives in North Alabama with her two amazing daughters and their pet hedgehog. www.KiraSinclair.com
Read an Excerpt
Through the rainbow slivers of colored glass, Tatum Huntley watched soft, fluffy snowflakes drift down from the darkened sky to blanket the dead grass surrounding the church. The scene was beautiful, just like everything else about Hope's wedding day had been.
She wanted that for her friend, the perfect day to celebrate the love she'd found and fought for with her husband, Gage.
Behind Tatum, the background noise of her friends' chattering voices was both soothing and a little abrasive. They were helping Hope gather the last of her things so she and Gage could head out on their honeymoon.
Any other time, Tatum would have been right in the middle of the laughter and friendly ribbing, making an inappropriate comment or slipping a sex toy into Hope's luggage as a jokeanything to have her friend blushing.
But tonight Tatum couldn't muster the energy to pretend everything was okay.
There was no way for her friends to know how much this day ripped at raw emotions. Hell, she hadn't realized it would affect her this much.
It wasn't as if she and Evan had had a perfect, white, church wedding. They'd gone to the courthouse with a handful of their friends gathered around as witnesses. Sure, she'd worn a white dress, but it had been off the rack and nothing like the confection Willow had designed for Hope. And her bouquet had been a simple mix of spring flowers they'd picked up at a local florist on the way.
Far from Hope and Gage's extravaganza. Although, she probably should have assumed she'd loved Evan with every single cell in her body, just as Hope loved Gage. Their days definitely shared that.
But Hope, Lexi, Willow, Macey, none of them even knew she'd been married. And that was the way she wanted it.
No one in her current life knew her pastit was the whole reason she'd bought Petals, become a florist and moved to Sweetheart, South Carolina. Here she could pretend her life was okay, that her heart hadn't been ripped from her body and stomped on by fate and some military mission she didn't have the clearance to know the details about.
Her floral business gave her a purpose, a reason to get up every morning and keep going.
Tatum's focus shifted to the reflection of her friends in the window, and she tried to pull her emotions back from the brink of melancholy. Hope didn't deserve her moping.
Taking a deep breath, she pushed the sad memories deep beneath a layer of false bravado. Later. She could wallow later.
Willow was fussing with Hope's train, repositioning the long layers of silk she'd pulled up into a bustle. Even now, after the ceremony and a large chunk of the reception were already over, she couldn't seem to keep her hands off the dress.
Reaching behind her, Hope grasped Willow's arm and pulled her back onto her feet. With exasperation, she said, "Will you please leave it alone? You aren't supposed to be working. You're my bridesmaid not my dress designer."
A frown tugged Willow's dark brows. "Can't I be both?"
"Not if it means you're on your hands and knees while the rest of us are sipping champagne."
Willow sighed, looked longingly at the folded edges of the trainthat from Tatum's point of view looked perfectand then studiously turned her back on it, taking one of the glasses of sparkling wine.
"Hope, are you ready to go?" Gage's deep voice came from the other side of the closed door.
"Just a minute," she called, twirling with a swish of material against the floor.
She grabbed the last two glasses of wine, and thrust a cool flute into Tatum's empty hand.
Flinging an arm around her shoulders, Hope beckoned everyone close. They crowded together, a tight circle of people Tatum hadn't known existed a few years ago.
Now they were her best friends. Her strength.
Hope's gaze traveled around the circle, her eyes going misty. "I love you guys. Thank you for being part of my day and making sure it was perfect."
There were murmurs and answering tears, glasses clinking and gulps of champagne.
And then Hope was gone, folded beneath Gage's arm and ushered out into the chilly December night.
Tatum trailed slowly behind the other girls as they rushed to watch the newly married couple race for the waiting car ready to drive them into Charleston to catch their flight.
Hope and Gage rushed through a gauntlet of bubbles mixed with snowflakes and ringing good wishes. Tatum stood at the top of the steps, watching the scene below, unable to fight the sensation that she was on the outside looking in.
When she'd first moved to town, that sensation had been pretty much constant. As a transplanted Yankeefrom Detroit, no lessarriving in Sweetheart had felt a little like landing on another planet. But that's what she'd needed. A fresh start. Something completely new.
In the last two years, the out-of-place sensation had faded to little more than an unpleasant memory. Until tonight. Something about tonight had made her feel off-kilter.
Grasping the edges of the black velvet shrug that accompanied her deep burgundy dress, Tatum hugged herself. She thought she was alone, everyone else focused on Hope and Gage's escape, until a soft hand landed on her hip.
Startled, she gave a little jerk as Willow's arm settled around her waist.
"Hey, chickie, you've been quiet tonight. Wanna tell me what's up?"
For the briefest moment, Tatum thought about unloading on her friend, telling her every second of anguish and anger she'd dealt with over the last three years. But that wouldn't exactly be fair.
She shook her head. "It's nothing." Willow squeezed, pulling her in tighter. "You know I'm not buying that lie, right?"
"It isn't a lie."
"Oh, it is. But I'll let you get away with it. For now."
Below them, Hope folded into the backseat of the car, yanking the voluminous layers of skirt in after her. Willow cringed, making a small, wounded whimper.
Tatum's mouth twitched. Finding something to smile about was a gift she hadn't expected, even if it had come at Willow's sense of affront as the dress's designer.
It was her turn to wrap a comforting arm around Willow's shoulders. "Maybe it would be better if you didn't watch."
With a resigned sigh, Willow said, "No, I want to see them leave."
The driver closed the car door and ran around to the front. Trails of steam hit the cold air and billowed from the tailpipe, leaving a hazy cloud behind as he finally pulled away.
The minute the car disappeared, people streamed past Tatum into the reception, rushing for warmth, another slice of cake and a chance to enjoy the DJ waiting to crank the party up another notch and let them dance into the wee hours of the morning.
But Tatum couldn't move to follow them.
Her body was frozen, her eyes trained on the vision of a ghost, propped against the sleek chrome of a badass bike parked against the curb across the street.
He couldn't be real. It must be her imagination. Memories. And possibly too much champagne.
Although, that didn't stop the frantic pace of her heart as it picked up inside her chest. Her body turned hot and then cold. She couldn't breathe. Tears pricked the back of her eyelids, just as painful as the day she'd learned he was gone.
Why would her imagination play such a cruel joke?
She'd forgotten Willow was beside her, until her arm tightened around Tatum's waist. "Who is that guy?" her friend asked.
Tatum's mouth and tongue wouldn't work.
Willow grasped her hand. "Are you okay? You've gone seriously pale."
Somehow, she found the power to whisper, "You can see him?"
"You mean the guy with the bike staring at you like he wants to throw you on the back and race away? Yeah, I can see him. Why wouldn't I be able to?"
"Because that's my husband and he's dead."
She looked as though she'd seen a ghost, which was pretty much true.
No, she looked amazing, but then Tatum always had. Different, but that was to be expected. It had been three years.
They'd both changed.
Evan watched her, waiting. Beneath the lie of his relaxed posture, his body was strung tight.
There was no way to anticipate her reaction. Although he'd sure as hell tried.
In the dark moments, the ones where he thought it might have been better if he had died on that night three years ago, she had been the only thing that had drawn him back from the brink. When he'd watched men, women and children killed in front of him. Hell, when he'd done the killing, trying to justify his actions by remembering the men dying deserved what they had gotten.
The memory of her had kept him goingher rasping laughter, the rare times when her eyes danced with delight and the feel of her body rubbing against his, reminding him there were good things in the world. And that once, before his life had turned to shit, he'd been a part of them.
Evan desperately needed her now. Needed the connection to what he'd left behind.
Without it, he was afraid the darkness would swallow him for good.
Tatum stared at him, a jumble of emotions melting one into anothershock, relief, anger, resolve.
A woman, wearing the same long burgundy dress and velvet wrap as his wife, stood beside her. Tatum murmured something he couldn't hear. The other woman rocked back on her heels as if she'd been hit, her eyes going wide. She sputtered, wrapped her arm around Tatum's waist and pulled her tight into the protective shield of her body.
He had no idea who the woman was, but it was obvious she cared about his wife. He was glad. He'd worried about Tatum so much. Hated that his choices had hurt her. Left her alone. But there was no way he could have prevented it.
In true Tatum fashion, she allowed the comforting embrace only for a moment before pulling out of the hold.
That was his wife. She hid her soft, gooey center beneath a steely hard shell. Life had taught her how to protect herself.
It hurt knowing his "death" had only reinforced the lessons.
Tatum's feet shuffled. Was she going to head back into the group of buildings behind her and pretend he didn't exist or walk across the street and deal with him? He wasn't entirely certain.
Apparently, neither was she. Her body hesitated, moving forward and then pulling back several times before she actually took a step toward him. One led to two and three and then a rush of a handful more. She raced across the pavement, her heels clicking against the ice-slicked asphalt.
Evan straightened, spreading his feet wide and dropping his arms to his sides.
Her long dress spun out around her legs, fluttering in the breeze caused by her flight. He braced, thinking she was going to launch herself at him. His heart stuttered, hope and happinessthe first he'd allowed himself to indulge in for a very long timebubbled up through his chest.
But she didn't throw herself into his waiting arms.
Instead, she reached back, put every ounce of power behind her shoulder and slapped the shit out of him.
The ringing crack of palm against cheek broke through the night. His head snapped sideways. Evan groaned, an involuntary sound that tore through his throat.
"Bastard," she hissed.
Cradling his jaw with a hand, Evan slowly righted his body.
Tatum shook out her fingers as she glared at him through tempting, flashing green eyes. Eyes that had haunted both his nightmares and dreams. The worst had been the nightmares where he was certain the enemy had found her, torturing her as revenge for the lies he'd told.
Evan barely registered the other woman hovering behind them. He knew she was there, but he couldn't drag his gaze away from Tatum long enough to notice her. He'd hoped not to have an audience for this reunion.
"I buried you," Tatum said. "I stood beside your sobbing mother and father and buried you. For months, I visited your grave, bringing flowers and talking to you, sharing how hard it was to move on and let you go."
"I know," he whispered. The anguish in her voice and eyes killed him. What he wanted to do was hold her close, offer her the comfort of his body. Something told him that wouldn't go over well.
Her eyes flashed. "Where the hell have you been for the last three years?"
"And I don't suppose they had cell phones, or email or, hell, a post office in Colombia?"
He thought the anguish was bad, but the caustic rage was ten times worse. It made his chest ache with helplessness. He didn't like to feel helpless.
"Let me explain."
"Oh, you're definitely going to do that. But not now. Not here. This is my friend's wedding and I will not ruin the rest of their party with your drama. You've waited this long, one more night won't hurt."
Evan wasn't entirely certain of that. The moment the Army had released him, he'd hightailed it to Sweetheart, not even bothering to stop for a change of clothes.
He'd been in the States for a little over a week, relating the specifics of his deep-cover mission to some arrogant prick who'd never seen a dirty, dangerous day of battle in his life. Not to mention helping tie up the loose ends after single-handedly dismantling one of the most bloodthirsty and ruthless drug cartels in Colombia. And going ape-shit crazy because the bureaucrats in charge were taking their sweet time and wouldn't flippin' release him.
His wife had been so close, and he hadn't been able to get to her. Beyond frustrating.
The other bridesmaid stepped up beside Tatum, her voice soft and soothing as she said, "I'm sure everyone would understand if you needed to leave, Tatum. Hope and Gage are already gone."
"Maybe, but that's beside the point, Willow." His wife's hands fisted at her sides.
Evan shifted away, putting a little more space between them just in case she decided she needed to use them on him.
It struck him as hilarious that he'd spent the last three years rubbing elbows with some of the most hardened criminals in South America, constantly wondering if today was the day he'd end up with a bullet in the back, and taken the inherent danger in stride.
But a pissed off Tatum? She scared the shit out of him. Always had. She didn't hesitate to fight dirty. It was one of the things he'd always loved about her. And hated, since life had taught her the need and skills to do it.
Her gaze darted from him to Willow and back again. Her mouth thinned and her eyes snapped. Finally, she growled, "Dammit!" She poked a finger into his chest. "Stay here." She wrapped a hand around Willow's arm and dragged the other woman behind her.