Posts Tagged ‘Saving Grace’
Guarding Suzannah, the first book in my Serve and Protect Series, is currently free! It’s featured today on Free Kindle Books & Tips, an excellent site to learn about free and bargain books.This is a great time to try the series for free. If you like it you can go on the check out Books 2 and 3.
And here’s a little known fact – my Montlake romantic suspense Fatal Hearts, while not strictly a part of the series, is set in the Serve and Protect world. If you’ve already read the series, you can revisit some of the key characters in Fatal Hearts.
So what’s the last series you discovered by getting the first book in the series free? The best series you discovered that way?
Saving Grace, Book 2 in my Serve and Protect Series, is currently free. It’s enjoying very good reviews (4.4 stars on 485 reviews), which is a relief! Sometimes when you make a book free, lots of people who wouldn’t otherwise read a romantic suspense will pick it up, and quite often they give it two or three stars because it’s not to their taste. Basically, they dislike it for conforming to a genre they don’t like in the first place. But for some reason, I haven’t had very many of those types of reviews. What I do get are reviews that begin, “I didn’t expect to like this book…” I love that!
I should note that while this is Book 2 in the series, it stands alone very nicely. They all do. But as always, there’s something to be said for reading books in order. That way, when you glimpse secondary characters, you already know a lot about them.
Oh, and Saving Grace is currently featured in Kindle Books and Tips, one of my favorite newsletters for learning about free and bargain Kindle books. Check it out. http://bit.ly/1p4w8Mu
Book 2 in the Serve and Protect Series
Copyright © 2010 Norah Wilson
Published by Norah Wilson
All rights reserved.
Being drunk slowed Ray Morgan’s reaction time. The telephone managed a full ring before he snatched the receiver.
“Grace?” To his own ears, his voice sounded like someone else’s.
A second’s silence, then a man’s voice. “That you, Razor?”
Ray sagged back into the depths of the couch. John Quigley, from the station.
Not Grace after all. Never again Grace.
“Yeah, it’s me.” Ray dragged a hand over his face. “’Fraid I’m no good to you tonight, though, Quigg.”
Another pause. “You okay, Ray?”
“Sure. Been keeping company with Jim Beam, is all.” Ray’s lips twisted at his own wit. Okay, so maybe he wasn’t that witty, but it was either laugh or cry. “S’okay, though. I’m not catching tonight anyway. Hallett is.”
“Just a sec, Ray.”
Quigg must have covered the mouthpiece, because Ray could hear muffled conversation in the background.
“Okay, I’m back,” Quigley said.
“I was sayin’ to call Gord Hallett. He’s your man tonight.”
“I don’t need a detective, Ray. I was looking for you.”
“Huh? You’re looking for me at, what…?” He squinted across the room at the glow of the VCR’s digital clock. Grace’s VCR. She hadn’t slowed down long enough to take anything.
What had he been saying? Oh, yeah, the time. “…eleven o’clock at night?”
At the mention of his wife’s name, Ray felt the hollowness in his gut open up again, wide and bottomless as ever. Guess the bourbon hadn’t filled it after all.
Leave it to Grace to get stopped on her way out of town, in her red Mustang the boys in Patrol had come to know so well. Had she explained why her foot was so heavy tonight? His grip on the phone tightened. Had she told the uniform — a guy Ray would have to face every day for the next ten years — that she was rushing off to meet her lover and couldn’t spare the horses?
“You got her downtown?” he asked evenly.
“Downtown? Hell, no. They took her to —”
“’Cause you can keep her. You hear me, Quigg? I don’t care.”
“Dammit, Ray, listen to me. She’s been in an accident.”
Ray shot to his feet, dragging the telephone off the table. It hit the floor with a crash, but the connection survived. “What happened?”
“She missed a bend on Route 7, rolled her vehicle.”
He felt his stomach squeeze. “Is she hurt bad?”
“Hard to say. By the time I got there, they were already loading her into the bus. But she didn’t look too bad, considering she rolled that puppy like the Marlboro man rolls a cigarette. Paramedic said he thought she might have lost consciousness for a bit, but she seemed pretty with-it to me.”
Wait a minute, Quigg was off duty. Why’d they call Quigg?
Unless Grace was hurt so bad they thought his best friend should break the news.
Ray gripped the receiver so hard now his fingers hurt. “Why’d they call you?”
“Nobody called me. Suz and I were on our way home from visiting friends when we came on the scene. I stopped to see if our Mountie friends could use a hand. When I saw it was Grace, I offered to make the call.”
Okay, relax, man. Breathe. Maybe it wasn’t that bad. But she’d rolled the car.
Pressing a thumb and forefinger to his closed eyelids, he pushed back the images from every bad wreck he’d seen in his twelve years on the force.
“They taking her to the Regional?”
“She’s probably there already.”
“I’ll be there in —” Ah, hell, the booze. Morgan, you idiot. “Quigg, I’m in no shape to drive. Can you send a car?”
“Way ahead of you, buddy. Stevie B will be there in about four minutes.”
Four hours later, Ray sat across the desk from Dr. Lawrence Greenfield, the neurologist who’d just finished Grace’s workup.
The six cups of coffee he’d downed had sobered him up, but his stomach lining felt like he’d been drinking battery acid.
“So she’s going to be okay?” Ray had been through such a wild range of emotions in the five hours since Grace had dropped her bombshell, he didn’t know how he felt about this news. Christ, he didn’t even know how he was supposed to feel. He eyed the doctor, who looked way too young to be fooling around with anyone’s grey matter. “She’ll walk away with no real injury?”
“I wouldn’t go that far. At least not yet. She did suffer a Grade Three concussion.” Dr. Greenfield leaned forward in his chair, steepling his hands. “Brain injury is more of a process than an event, Detective. It can escalate over as much as seventy-two hours, so we’ll have to wait and watch for the next little while. What I can tell you is she has no focal injury we can pinpoint with conventional imaging.”
“No concentrated damage in any one area. The scans were clean. On the other hand, any time a patient loses consciousness, we have to be suspicious.”
“What do you mean, suspicious?”
“She could have a diffuse injury, where the pathology is spread throughout the brain, rather than focused in a specific spot. We’ll have to follow her for a while to rule out more subtle brain injury.”
Ray slouched back in his chair, kicking a leg out carelessly. “She’s conscious now?”
“Yes. And anxious to see you.”
Ray rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “Then I think I’d go back and look at those scans again, Doc.”
“She can’t possibly want to see me.” He congratulated himself on how matter-of-fact he sounded. “She left me tonight. She was on her way to join her lover when she had her accident.”
Dr. Greenfield blinked. “She told me she was coming home from an interview with a man who raises miniature horses, and that you’d be worried that she was late.”
The pony interview? “Doc, that interview was a week ago. The story ran on Monday.”
“I see.” Dr. Greenfield leaned back. “Well, this puts things in rather a different light.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying we could be looking at a retrograde amnesia.”
Amnesia? Oh, Christ, he was in a bad novel now. “But you said she’d escaped injury.”
“Amnesia can accompany any loss of consciousness, however brief, although I thought we’d ruled it out.” Greenfield removed his glasses and polished them. “She identified the date and day.”
“Couldn’t she have picked that up from the EMTs or the hospital staff?”
“Absolutely. Amnesia victims can be very good at deducing such things from clues gleaned after the accident. But she correctly answered a whole host of other questions for me, including the results of Tuesday’s municipal election.”
Ray digested this information. “Is it possible she remembers some things, but not others?”
“Oh, yes. In fact, it’s quite probable.” Dr. Greenfield replaced his glasses. “Amnesia can leave holes in the memory, with no predicting where those holes will appear. The location of the gaps can be as random as the holes in Swiss cheese. In fact, we call it Swiss cheese memory.”
Terrific. Freaking wonderful. “So she might remember the election results, but not the fact that she’s taken a lover?”
“I suppose it’s possible.”
To his credit, Greenfield’s gaze remained steady, but Ray could read his eyes. Faint embarrassment, carefully masked empathy for the cuckolded husband.
“Or she may not have forgotten Romeo at all, right, Doc?” he rasped. “Just the fact that she told me about him.”
“That’s also a possibility,” the neurologist conceded. “Whatever the case, Detective, I can vouch for the fact that she seems genuinely anxious to see you. She’s very much in need of some sympathy and support.”
Ray made no comment, keeping his face carefully blank.
“I should add that new memories are especially vulnerable, since it takes a few days for your brain to move them into permanent memory.” Dr. Greenfield hunched forward again. “Do you use a computer, Mr. Morgan?”
Ray struggled to follow. “Of course I do. Who doesn’t?”
“Well, to make a very crude analogy, fresh events, whatever might have happened in the last couple of days, are to your brain what random access memory, or RAM, is to your computer. If the computer unexpectedly loses power before a bit of data gets stored on the hard drive, it’s lost. You can boot up again, but whatever was in the RAM has been wiped out. Thus, with any loss of consciousness, it’s possible to lose memories that were in transition.”
Great. She’d probably forgotten she’d dumped him.
Ray stood. “Well, no time like the present, is there, Doc? Let’s go see my darling wife.”
Dr. Greenfield’s eyes widened. “Surely you don’t plan to tell her … I mean, you won’t —”
“Won’t what? Suggest she call her boyfriend so she can cry on his shoulder instead?” Ray drew himself up, growing in height and girth, and let his expression go flat in the way he knew inspired fear. Bad cop to badder cop. “Why shouldn’t I? She chose him.”
Dr. Greenfield looked singularly unintimidated, no doubt because he’d already seen the raw edge of Ray’s anguish.
Damn you, Grace, how could you do this to me?
“The fact remains that she seems to need you right now. She’s quite distraught. The last thing she needs is to be upset any further. If a diagnosis of retrograde amnesia is confirmed, I’d like to give her a chance to recover her memories on her own.” Dr. Greenfield’s intense gaze bored into Ray. “Can I have your cooperation on that point?”
Ray stared back at the doctor, unblinking. “I hear you, Doc. Now, take me to her.”
Grace Morgan felt like a dog’s breakfast.
Despite the painkillers the nurse had given her, everything she owned seemed to hurt, albeit in a distant way, and her head ached with a dull persistence. But she hadn’t cried.
In fact, she seemed unable to cry. Instead of tears, there was just a hot, heavy misery in her chest. If only Ray would come. If he were here with her, she could cry rivers.
She’d cry for her beloved Mustang, shockingly crumpled now, a red husk of twisted metal they’d had to open like a sardine can. How had she come out of it alive?
She’d cry for her carelessness.
She’d cry for scaring Ray, and for scaring herself.
Ray. He would gather her close and soothe her while the pain seeped out, soaking his shirt. He would lend her his strength, his toughness. He’d kiss her so carefully and sweetly….
She could almost cry, just thinking about it. Almost.
Ray, where are you?
On cue, the door swung open to admit her husband. Her heart lightened at the sight of him, so strong, so solid. His shoulders seemed to fill even this institutional-size doorway.
If she felt bad, he looked worse. Haggard. And for the first time she could remember in the six years she’d known him, he looked positively rumpled, and his face was shadowed with stubble as though he’d missed his second shave of the day.
Poor pet. He must have been so worried.
“Ray.” Her right arm hindered by IV lines, she reached across her body with her left arm. He took her hand, but there was something wrong. He looked … funny. Guarded. Wrong.
Oh, Lord, was she dying after all? Was her brain irrevocably damaged and nobody wanted to tell her? She could be hemorrhaging right now, her brain swelling out of control. Maybe that’s why her head hurt. Maybe….
Then he touched her forehead, brushing aside the fringe of hair peeping out from under the bandage, his gentleness dispelling her crazy impression.
“You all right?”
She would be now. “Yeah, I’m all right. Unless you know something I don’t.”
That look was back on his face again. “What do you mean?”
“They didn’t send you in here to tell me they mixed up the charts, by any chance? That my brain is Jell-O after all?”
He smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “No, your head is fine, as far as they can tell.”
She drew his hand to her cheek, pressing it there with her own palm. Some of the pain abated. “That’s what they told me, too, but you’d never know it from the way I feel.”
“Do you remember what happened?”
She swallowed hard, her throat tight with the need to cry. “I rolled the Mustang.”
“Like a cowboy’s cigarette, to quote Quigg.” Another ghost of a smile curved his lips. Lips he hadn’t yet pressed to hers.
She smiled tremulously. “I guess I’m lucky, huh?”
The tears welled, scalding, ready to spill. “I really loved that car.”
“Something tells me you could love another one.”
Again that twisting of his lips. It wasn’t humor that lit his eyes. What? A vague, formless anxiety rose in her breast.
“A newer model, with fewer miles on the odometer. Or maybe something faster, flashier.”
She wasn’t imagining things. His tone was … off. What was it she was hearing? Accusation? Grace blinked. “Are you very angry? About the car, I mean?”
He seemed to swallow with difficulty, and his hand tightened on her chin. “Grace, I don’t give a damn about the car.”
For the first time since he entered the room, she finally saw what she expected to see in his face. To hell with the car. You’re okay. You’re safe, his eyes said. Her sense of strangeness dissipated.
“I was so scared.”
He pulled her into his arms. The dam broke and her tears spilled over at last.
They kept Grace overnight for observation.
Ray stayed, planting himself in the single chair by her bed. Once he dozed off, waking when the night nurse came in for yet another check. At eight o’clock, he left Grace to her breakfast and went down to the lobby to find a pay phone.
He was a fool, plain and simple. He knew it, but knowing didn’t seem to help. He was going to take her home anyway.
Of course, it wasn’t like he had a helluva lot of alternatives. He couldn’t send her home to her mother, that frozen excuse for a human being, even supposing Elizabeth Dempsey would take her daughter in. Grace’s father had died two years ago, completing the retreat from an imperious wife which Ray figured must have begun minutes after Grace’s conception.
No, there was no place for Grace to go. Not in her current condition.
Ray dropped his quarter and punched in the number, kneading the tense muscles at the back of his neck as he waited for his Sergeant to answer. It was likely to be a short-lived arrangement anyway, having Grace back home. When she didn’t show up for her rendezvous, no doubt lover boy would come looking —
“Quigg, it’s me.”
“About time you checked in. How’s it going?”
“Grace is good. Concussed and sore as hell, but okay.”
“Yeah, I’ve been getting regular updates. But that’s not what I meant.”
Ray bit back a sigh. “Is this where I’m supposed to ask what you did mean?”
“Last night you were ready to let her rot in the lockup.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Pain shot up to the base of his skull, and Ray massaged his neck again. “Biggest favor I could do for the motoring public, with that lead foot of hers.”
“Except you don’t know how to be mean to Grace. Leastways, not before yesterday.”
“Yeah, well.” Ray rubbed at a scuff on the tiled floor with the toe of his Nikes. There was a pause at the other end of the line, no doubt so Quigg could digest that pithy comment.
“I think you should take some time off,” Quigg said at last.
“That’s actually why I’m calling. I’ll need a day or so to get Grace settled.”
“I was thinking more in terms of weeks.”
“Weeks?” The idea of spending days at home with Grace as she recovered her mobility — and her memory — filled him with cold dread. Not that it would take long. Even if nature didn’t cooperate, Grace’s paramour was bound to show up to hurry the process. Ray had been counting on putting in long days on the job, both before and after Grace’s veil of forgetfulness fell — or was ripped — away.
“I can’t take time off. You’ll be short-staffed.”
“Not for long. Woods is three days away from rotating in.”
“He’ll need orientation….”
“He’s been here before,” Quigg said. “Couple of days, it’ll be like he’s never been gone.”
“But what about Landis?”
“I’m pretty sure our small-town bad guy will be here when you get back.”
“There’s nothing small-town about that bastard, and you know it.” Ray knew he was letting the simmering fury of his domestic disaster leech into his voice, but he didn’t care. That puke Viktor Landis was a worthy target for it. “He’s got his fingers into every dirty deal that goes down in this town.”
“And some day you’ll catch him at it, but not this week. And not next week.” Quigg’s agreeable tone turned hard. “Compassionate leave, Razor. Two weeks, starting now. The work’ll be here when you get back. It’s not going anywhere.”
“But I only need a few days, not weeks.”
“Take ’em anyway.”
A definite command. Ray gripped the receiver tightly. Dammit, how could his friend do this to him? He needed to work.
“Get away from the station house,” Quigg said, his voice softer now. “Spend some time with Grace. Chrissakes, Ray, you haven’t taken a real break since your honeymoon.”
Quigg’s words stopped the retort on Ray’s tongue. Had it been that long since he’d taken a vacation? He was passionate about his job, but four years? Why hadn’t Grace said something?
“What do you say, buddy? You gonna take the time or do I have to suspend you?”
Before his promotion last year, Quigg had worked right alongside Ray in the detective bureau. Hell, he was the best friend Ray had in the world. But it wasn’t going to make any difference here. Quigg meant business.
Ray put his hand on the phone’s switch hook, ready to break the connection. “A week.”
“Two.” Another command. “And Ray? I know you’re not in the market for unsolicited advice, but I’m gonna give you some anyway. Whatever you need to do to get straight with Grace, do it. She’s a keeper.”
“Of course I’m right. She’s a good —”
“I meant about the unsolicited advice.” With that, he replaced the receiver.
He stood staring at the telephone for a few minutes. Then, feeling like a man condemned, he turned on his heel and went in search of the doctor to see about Grace’s discharge.
Six days later, Grace sat in her bedroom, battling tears.
Her headaches had receded, and her bruises were resolving nicely. The total body agony she’d come home with had faded to mere muscle pain, easily tamed by a couple of Ibuprofen. In fact, she had everything a recuperating patient could wish for.
Ray had taken time off to nurse her. He’d fixed her meals, bought her medication, ferried her to and from the doctor’s office, and generally anticipated whatever she needed before she asked for it.
In those first days, he’d massaged her sore muscles and changed the bedding regularly. He’d helped her in and out of the bath until her soreness abated enough for her to manage by herself.
He rented videos for her, most of which they watched together.
He talked to her, too. Did she remember the bird-watching trip they’d taken to the Tantramar Marshes last year? The Christmas they spent in their first apartment, before they’d bought this house? He even pulled out the photo albums she’d lovingly constructed over the years, and which he’d largely ignored, and got her to narrate each snapshot.
Yes, her husband was the perfect companion.
And she was thoroughly, completely miserable.
Oh, he was the soul of kindness, but his kindness was platonic, his touch devoid of anything remotely sexual. Even with their heads bent together over the photo album, she hadn’t managed to strike a spark off him. And she’d tried. Somewhere along the way, she seemed to have gained a care-giver and lost her lover. He even slept on the couch at night, claiming he didn’t want to jar her sore body.
That last thought had her knuckling her eyes like a kid.
Oh, grow up. He just doesn’t want to hurt you. It’s up to you to show him you’re better, that you’re ready to be treated like a woman again, not an invalid.
Though she thought she’d been pretty eloquent on the subject last night when he’d given her the back rub she’d requested. Or at least as eloquent as she could be in a non-verbal way. She squirmed as she recalled the way she’d purred and stretched under his hands, but none of her signals had slowed his firm, clinical strokes or brought that fierce light to his brown eyes.
Why, oh why, couldn’t he see how desperately she needed this connection with him, the reassurance of physical closeness?
She chewed at her lip. Maybe men really did need things spelled out. They were always complaining women expected them to read their mind. Maybe she had to be more direct about it.
Except he’d never had any trouble reading her body language before the accident. She’d never had to ask for that. The very idea made her face flame.
She’d come to Ray a shy virgin, and while he’d carefully and skillfully relieved her of that state, he’d seemed content for her to keep her demureness. More than content, she suspected. He’d grown up with a mother who prized ladylike decorum above all else. Grace grimaced, thinking how often her own nature fell short of that saintly mark, at least in thought if not in actual deed.
But in the five years they’d been married, Ray had never avoided their bed before. His disinterest had to stem from the accident, and his reaction to her injuries.
Her spirits revived as she warmed to the idea. Really, it made perfect sense. He’d always treated her gently, so careful not to frighten or hurt her. So much so that she sometimes wanted to scream. Obviously, he needed her to affirm her return to health more forcefully.
She’d do it, she decided. She’d do it tonight.
This was sheer, unmitigated hell.
Ray leaned against the cupboard as he waited for the kettle to boil. He’d been in some tight spots in his time. Hell, in the four years he’d put in on the Metropolitan Toronto force before coming to Fredericton, he’d seen some truly bad shit. But nothing had tested him quite like this.
Six days, and still she acted like everything was normal.
As far as he could tell, Grace’s recall was perfect, except for the last day or two before the crash. Which meant she must remember the fact of her lover’s existence. Much as he’d like to, he couldn’t believe those random Swiss cheese ‘memory holes’ Dr. Greenfield alluded to could excise the bastard so neatly.
Clearly, though, she had no memory of telling him.
And equally clearly, she was in the mood for sex.
The word brought down the cascade of visuals he alternately tortured himself with and ruthlessly suppressed. His wife, another man. Grace welcoming another man, opening her arms for him, parting her legs —
The shrill scream of the kettle dragged him back from the edge of madness. Cursing, he shut the burner off, forcing the images back into the dark place from which they’d escaped.
Back to the problem at hand. What to do about Grace’s amorous urges? He threw two tea bags in the pot and added boiling water. He sure as hell wasn’t going to oblige her. Thank God for that puritanical streak her mother had instilled in her. She wouldn’t ask him to make love to her, at least not in so many words. As for her non-verbal invitations, he’d continue to let them sail over his head.
How long would it take for her memory to return? Greenfield had urged him not to force the matter, allowing Grace to remember by herself. But there was a limit to how much a man could take, a limit Ray feared he was rapidly approaching.
And where was this jerk? It’d been six days. What kind of man wouldn’t come looking for a woman like Grace when she failed to show up?
The smart kind. The kind who fears the righteous wrath of a man who carries a gun for a living.
With a fierce oath, he drove the violent fantasy from his mind. Satisfying as it was, it was only fantasy. If Grace wanted to walk out that door with another man, he wouldn’t detain her.
Grimly, he put the teapot on the tray, along with the weekly rag containing the story he knew she was going to hate. Willing his face blank, he lifted the tray and headed to the bedroom.
Where was he? She’d heard the kettle whistle minutes ago.
Grace lay on the bed pretending to read, wearing nothing but one of Ray’s good white shirts.
Well, okay, Ray’s shirt and a pair of bikini panties. She wasn’t brave enough to dispense with that bit of covering. But it was literally a bit, a barely-there scrap of lace.
She flicked back her hair, lustrous from the oil treatment she’d used on it earlier. Smooth and touchable as silk, straight as a waterfall, it was her one vanity. She tossed it back again and drew one knee up, striving for a sexy pose.
Striving and failing. Shoot. She was far too jittery to pull this off. Ridiculous to get so twisted out of shape over the prospect of seducing her own husband. It’s just that he’d been so … distant. While he accepted her touch, she sometimes got the soul-shriveling impression he had to fight himself not to shake her off. And he sure as heck hadn’t initiated any touching of his own, at least nothing that wasn’t related to her care. Now that she was so much better, he hardly touched her at all.
Oh, God, what if his distance sprang from more than concern about her injuries? What if he didn’t want her? What if he found her efforts at seduction crass? What if he turned her down?
Grace pressed a hand to her stomach. It felt like she’d swallowed a dozen Mexican jumping beans, like the ones her father had given her when she was six. Jumping beans her mother had discarded with the trash despite Grace’s protests that the caterpillars inside would perish before they could emerge as butterflies.
She groaned. Way to go, Gracie. When he comes in, you can be wearing that whipped puppy look you get when you think about Mama. That’d be real seductive.
No, she needed to think positive thoughts. She needed to show Ray she was a well woman. Strong. Lustful.
Abandoning the magazine, she rolled onto her back. Closing her eyes, she imagined Ray approaching the bed, looking down at her with those smoldering, hooded eyes. He’d bend down to kiss her with exquisite delicacy, and his hand would go to her waist, careful not to rush her. Then, as she grew ardent beneath him, he’d lift his hands to her breasts.
Her breathing grew short. With one hand, she cupped a tingling breast, using her other hand to skim her thigh where the hem of Ray’s shirt left off. Next, he’d slowly unbutton the shirt —
Something — not noise, for Ray always moved soundlessly as a cat — made her open her eyes. He stood in the doorway, a tray clutched in his hands, looking like he’d been turned to stone.
Which, I guess, would make me the Medusa head.
Grace shook the dismal thought away. At least she’d captured his attention. Even as a blush warmed her face, she drew herself up on her elbows.
“There you are.” Her shallow respirations made her sound breathless as a schoolgirl, but she couldn’t help it. “I was going to come looking for you in another minute.”
Her words had the effect of unfreezing him. His movements jerky, he approached the bed, putting the tray down on the night table.
“I brought you the weekly paper.” Keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the tray, he poured the tea. “You better read it.”
Grace’s shaky confidence took a plunge. He hadn’t even spared her a sideways look after that first eyeful. To counter her flagging assurance, she reminded herself how much he loved seeing her in his shirts. He’d said so dozens of times, proved it dozens of times.
She took a deep breath, drew herself up on her knees. “I can think of things I want more than the Tribune,” she said, running her index finger along his bare forearm.
Ray sloshed the tea he was pouring. With a muffled oath, he put the teapot down and snatched the newspaper up before it could become totally saturated. Grace shrank back as he shook droplets off the newspaper.
“Here,” he said gruffly, thrusting the paper at her while he mopped the tea up with a napkin. “Front page, bottom right.”
Her face burning, she took the paper, more as a physical shield to hide her humiliation than anything else, but the photo at the bottom of the page drew her eye. The sight of her crumpled Mustang, its roof peeled back grotesquely, struck her hard. Without warning, her mind lurched backward.
She was in her car, hurtling through the night, the road black, unwinding in her headlights like a shiny snake. Her hands gripped the wheel, and her heart was heavy with misery. Oncoming cars, their headlights brilliant blobs through the prism of her tears. Tires catching the graveled shoulder. That sick feeling when she started to lose it. Then … nothing.
Grace lifted a hand to her head.
“It’s not like you didn’t expect this, right?” Ray swiped the bottom of her teacup with a cloth napkin and handed it to her. She accepted it automatically. “It’s one thing for your own paper to give the story a pass, but you had to know this other rag would run with it.”
She looked up at him, seeing black road, headlights. “My accident — what time was it?”
His gaze slid away. “Ten thirty. Ten forty-five.”
Almost eleven o’clock! That couldn’t be right. She’d been coming home from an interview with the horse guy. Garnet Soles.
The idea seemed somehow both right and wrong. She’d started home from that interview well before five o’clock. It just didn’t add up. And what was she doing out that late?
“Ray, where was I going?”
He lifted his gaze to meet hers, his expression guarded. “I don’t know.”
She searched his face for long moments. He spoke the truth, she decided at last. But he also lied. If he didn’t know where she was going, he most certainly knew why.
“I wasn’t coming back from the horse interview.”
She swallowed when he shook his head.
“I’ve forgotten something important, haven’t I?”
“That’s why Dr. Greenfield kept asking me those questions.”
Her stomach took a plunge. That’s why Ray had pored over the photo albums with her. Testing her memory, not reminiscing.
Ask him. Ask him why you were flying down that rain-wet highway after dark.
No! Whatever it was, she wasn’t ready to hear it.
Something scalded her thigh. She looked down to find she’d spilled most of her tea on herself.
Ray swore, taking the china cup from her trembling hands.
“Your best shirt,” she said.
He cursed. “It’s my fault.”
“It’s the one I bought you for your birthday last year.”
“Forget the shirt.” He strode to the bathroom. She heard the splash of water, then he was back, wet cloth in hand.
“Egyptian cotton.” She examined the brown splotch. She’d bought it at a men’s luxury store, spending the better part of a paycheck on it. Ray appreciated a really fine shirt.
“Here, put this on your thigh.”
Suddenly, it seemed imperative that she save the shirt. If she didn’t deal with the stain immediately, it would set, and she couldn’t use bleach on the fine fibers. “I’ll wash it now.”
Her fingers fumbled with the buttons, but he brushed her hands away.
“Forget the shirt, dammit. Just lie down and let me put this cold cloth on that burn.”
She lay back. He was right; it was just a shirt.
Ray perched beside her on the edge of the bed and gently applied the cold cloth to the red flesh at the top of her thigh.
As he bent over his task, Grace studied his lean face, so infinitely dear to her. Deep grooves bracketed a sensual mouth, and sandy brown hair sprang back from a high, smooth forehead. His downcast lashes lay sooty against his dark skin, shielding warm brown eyes.
Oh, God, why did it feel like she was losing him? It made no sense. Nothing made sense.
He glanced up. “Better?”
A muscle leapt in his jaw and he lowered his gaze again. “It’ll be okay,” he said, his voice gruff as he flipped the cloth to the other, cooler side.
Would it really? Something terrifying loomed at the edge of memory, just beyond her grasp. Would it ever be okay again? A shudder racked her.
“Hold me, Ray.” The words were out before she knew she was going to say them. His head came up again and she met his eyes, realizing with a shock that they were as pain-filled as hers must be. Her fear took another leap. “Please.”
He groaned, pulling her into his arms. She pressed herself against him, seeking to obliterate the fear bleeding into her soul from that dark, shrouded corner in her mind. Love me, she begged silently, her hands roaming his back.
He crushed her against his chest, trapping her arms and burying her face against his neck. Oh, Lord, he was going to rock her like a baby. He planned to comfort her in that same sexless way he’d treated her all week.
No! She wouldn’t let him do this. Her arms might be pinned by his embrace, but she still had options. She opened her mouth on his neck, tasting him with her lips and tongue.
Her name on his lips was a growl, a warning she was past heeding. She needed this, needed him. Wriggling on his lap, she inched higher, kissing the underside of his clenched jaw, inhaling the clean scent of the lemongrass soap he used.
“No, Grace.” He grasped her upper arms. “Your leg.”
“It’s fine. I’m fine. I have been for days.”
He eased her away, holding her at arm’s length. A few days ago — shoot, maybe a few minutes ago — she’d have let him put her aside. But not now. She couldn’t let him retreat to that place he’d been these past days.
She dipped her head as though giving up, and he slackened his grip. The instant he did, she leaned into him, using her full weight. Had he anticipated such a move, she never could have budged him, but as it was, she overbalanced him easily. The next instant she sprawled atop him. The look of astonishment on his face would have been funny, under other circumstances.
Oh, my God, I’m on top! What now?
Quickly, before he could recover his wits, or maybe before she recovered her own, she bent and kissed his slack mouth.
For a few heartbeats, he lay there, unresponsive. Fueled by equal parts of fear and need, she kissed him with renewed desperation. Then, just as she began to despair, she felt him catch fire beneath her. In a single heartbeat, he was right there with her. Trapping her head, tangling his fingers in her hair, he kissed her back.
Giddy, she slid her hands over him, glorying in the way he arched up into her. Could she take him like this, claim him as thoroughly as he’d claimed her so many times? The idea sent bolts of excitement zinging jaggedly along her nerve endings. Did she dare try?
Deciding she had nothing to lose, she broke the kiss and sat up so she could tackle his belt.
He groaned and pulled her back down. Wrapping an arm around her, he rolled her swiftly onto her back, pinning her beneath him. She wanted to protest, but then he was kissing her again, deep and hot and insistent, and she couldn’t think of one single thing to complain about.
Besides, it was probably best this way. She needed him to take her with an authority that left no room for doubt.
“Love me, Ray,” she urged against his ear. “Love me like you’ve never loved me before.”
His body stilled. Cursing, he levered himself off her and strode out of the bedroom.
Grace was still trying to process what had happened when she heard the front door slam. A few seconds later, Ray’s truck roared to life, reversed out of the driveway and accelerated off. As she listened to the sound of his engine growing fainter, she realized she’d felt this same black despair before.
At the wheel of her car as she sped away from her husband on a ribbon of wet blacktop.
Buy Saving Grace here:
To set the scene, Fredericton Police Detective Ray Morgan has been forced to take the wife he believes has been unfaithful on the lam with him while he tries to figure out who is trying to kill them. She’d shocked him to the core a week ago when she’d announced she was leaving him to go join some unnamed other man, but she’d wound up crashing her car on the way out of town and no longer remembers anything. Not the name of the guy, not even the fact that she was having an affair. Her neurologist says the memories may come back, but she needs time and peace and rest. That plan goes out the window when bullets start flying and Ray gets jammed up by an internal investigation he fears is a frame job. He has to keep them safe until he can unravel the mystery and safely go back to his life. What he doesn’t count on is falling in love with his wife of five years, for real this time.
Ray was right, Grace thought, as she clutched the towel around her shoulders. Her hair had always been her “thing”. A full, rich sable, it fell perfectly straight with the lightest encouragement with a brush and blow dryer. Everything else about her might be forgettable, but people noticed her hair.
It seemed only right somehow that she should sacrifice it.
“Okay, give me some guidance, here.”
Poor Ray. He’d dodged bullets back there in that parking lot without breaking a sweat, but his hands were shaking now. She pretended not to notice.
“Just comb out a small section, then pull it tight between your fingers.”
“Forget it, Grace. I’m not cutting it that short. There’d be nothing left for the hairdresser to fix.”
“But that’s hardly short enough to make any difference.”
They compromised, agreeing on a mid-length.
“Okay, what now?”
“Just angle your fingers like so.” She used her own fingers to demonstrate.
“Perfect. Now snip away.”
He muttered something that sounded like “Hail Mary,” and snipped.
The coppery lock fell onto her denim-covered knee. No going back now. For a moment, panic assailed her.
She cleared her throat. “That’s good. Keep going.”
The second lock fell, this one hitting the newspapers, joining Ray’s impossibly blond hairs. She blinked rapidly. It was just hair. An external manifestation of her stupid vanity. She would not cry.
Besides, her old precision haircut was fine for the woman she’d been before this nightmare started. The new Grace needed something different. It was going to take all the courage she could scrape together to get through this. Just as her smooth coif had given her poise and polish, maybe a sassier color and a rough-and-ready cut would lend her the edge she needed.
Image was everything, right? Fake it until you can make it.
“What do I do with the front?”
She glanced up at Ray. His mouth was set in that way that made his jawbones stand out, the grooves bracketing his mouth deeper than ever. He looked like a man completely out of his depth and hating it.
“Leave it fairly long, about so.” She indicated a spot at the level of her cheekbone.
“Christ, I’m probably making a mess of this.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she assured him. “With all the mousse and hair spray I bought at that drug store, I could probably make it look like the CN Tower, if I wanted to.”
That earned a laugh, but when he made the next snip, his jaw had again taken on that grim line. The chair wasn’t high enough, she noticed. He had to bend to do the job, which must be killing his back.
And that’s not all she noticed, now that her panic had passed. His hands were clumsy in her hair, compared to the brisk competence of her stylist. But they were gentler, too. He separated the next section delicately, easing the comb through a snarl. She shivered.
“It’s okay. It doesn’t hurt.”
But it did hurt. Quite suddenly, it hurt a lot. It hurt that this was the first time he’d voluntarily touched her for so long, apart from that display they put on for the clerk.
And, oh, that scene in the office! She dropped her eyelids, her face heating at the memory. The way he’d touched her….
She clamped down on the warmth flooding her belly. Nothing had changed. Their performance had been necessary to divert the clerk’s attention.
Still, awareness shimmered through her when he pushed his fingers through her hair again.
“Almost done. Then you can get that cold towel off your shoulders,” he said, obviously mistaking her shiver.
True to his word, he was soon finished. Grace didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed when he pronounced her done. Removing the towel from around her neck, she strode to the closet-sized bathroom to inspect her new appearance. She flipped the switch for the overhead light and froze.
Yikes! Was that really her? Her eyes looked huge, her chin more pointed. Lord, it even seemed to lift her cheekbones.
Ray’s reflection appeared behind her in the mirror. “What’s the verdict?”
“Sorry,” he said gruffly. “I told you it was a mistake.”
“No, it’s good. You did a better job on me than I did on you.”
“Really. A little mousse and a blow dryer and it’ll kick butt.”
He just regarded her in the mirror, unspeaking, a yellow-haired stranger.
She pushed a tendril of hair behind her ear and sighed. “I suppose I should style it now, so we can hit the road.”
“No, let’s get a few hours sleep first. We can finish our transformations in the morning.”
She met his gaze in the mirror. “I thought we were going to sneak away under cover of night?”
He shook his head. “Better to blend in with rush hour traffic tomorrow morning than travel tonight. I just wanted to pay for the room in advance so we wouldn’t have to show ourselves to the clerk after we’d morphed.”
“We actually get to grab some sleep?”
The corners of his mouth turned up at her obvious relief, his eyes crinkling the way she loved. She smiled back into the mirror. For a few seconds, despite their altered appearances, they were the old Ray and Grace, but then his face sobered again.
“You take the bed; I’ll sleep in the chair.”
He turned and left the bathroom, leaving her staring into the mirror at the empty spot where he’d stood. She drew a deep breath, then followed him.
“That’s not going to work, Ray. You’ll insist on driving tomorrow, which is fine, but that means you’re the one who needs the rest. I’ll take the chair tonight, then doze in the car tomorrow.”
“I can sleep anywhere, Grace. It’s part of the training. You, on the other hand, would sit awake all night, and we can’t have that. We’re both gonna have to be sharp.”
And you’d rather wake up with a cricked neck, a sore back and a killer headache than share that bed with me.
She felt like crying again, which was really stupid. He’d slept on the couch every night since she’d come home from the hospital. Why should it hurt that he sleep elsewhere again?
She shrugged and turned away. “Suit yourself,” she said, picking up a t-shirt and disappearing back into the bathroom.
So, I’m not the most tech savvy blogger/author/writer person you ever met, but I do like a cool widget. Here’s one I nabbed from Amazon.com. If I’ve done this properly, you should be able to see all my books below on a carousel!
Okay, they’re not all MY books. Several are collaborations with my writing partner, Heather Doherty. Those would be the very kick-ass YAs, THE SUMMONING and ASHLYN’S RADIO.
So, just push an arrow and watch the carousel turn. Wheeee!
Also, if I’ve done this right, if you hover your mouse over the book, it’ll show you how many reviews the book has and what the average star rating is. And if you click on a book, it’ll take you to Amazon where you can BUY it!
So, what do you think? Is this not nine levels of AWESOME?