Authors: Rachelle Ayala
Tags: #mystery, #FIC054000 FICTION / Asian American, #interracial romance, #Australia, #asian american, #Romantic Suspense, #FIC027110 FICTION / Romance / Suspense, #Romance, #Suspense, #Family Drama
Chance for Love #3
World Literary Press
To my darling daughter
Praises for Knowing Vera
Excellent and exciting read! –
The tension just ups and ups! Well, done. –
An exciting, gripping read that I highly recommend. Great mystery and Zach and Vera’s hot romance had me swooning! –
Knowing Vera is chalk full of suspense and romance. Once I started reading it, I didn’t want to put it down until I knew the ending! –
Engaging read. Distinctive voice. –
A romantic novel with suspenseful twists and turns that will have you on the edge of your seat until the very last page! –
I felt as though I was driving through Australia with how the author described the setting. A perfect summer read. –
F. L. Williams
Great story, great characters a romantic mystery you must read. –
Deeply flawed characters who fight their inner demons and find themselves and each other. –
Stefanie J. Pristavu
Copyright © 2013 by Rachelle Ayala. All rights reserved.
Visit Rachelle at blog:
Or like Rachelle at her
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission from the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real events or real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
All trademarks belong to their respective holders and are used without permission under trademark fair use.
The named songs belong to their rights holders and artists. No lyrics are quoted and no rights are infringed.
“Nandito Ako (I’m Here)” sung by Lea Salonga
“Bakit Labis Kitang Mahal (Why Do I Love You So Much)” sung by Lea Salonga
“Paalam Na (Goodbye)” sung by Rachel Alejandro
“I Do (Cherish You)” sung by 98 Degrees
Cover design by Robin Ludwig,
Edited by Lauren McKellar
World Literary Press
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
In 1991, there was no safety rail separating the roadway of the Golden Gate Bridge from the pedestrian walkway. Today, the bridge is closed to pedestrian traffic after dusk, but is open to bicycles twenty-four hours a day. Cyclists must present themselves at a gate and are buzzed through by a guard. There is no suicide barrier on the bridge at the time of this writing.
Other than the Prologue and Epilogue, the main chapters in this book take place between the last chapter of
Hidden Under Her Heart
and the Epilogue of that book. Vera and Zach are best friends of Maryanne and Lucas. Vera also appeared in
as the sister of Jen Jones’ blackmailer. The books do not have to be read in order, but plotlines of the earlier books will be spoiled by reading this one.
The timetable for recovery after an amputation is fictionalized.
– My gratitude goes to Stacy Eaton for her expertise in police procedures and Katie Mettner who generously helped me with amputation rehabilitation and prosthesis details. Thanks also to Rebecca Berto, the resident expert in Melbourne, Australia. Finally my awesome editor, Lauren McKellar, made me work hard with her detailed questions and insights.
Also by Rachelle Ayala
Chance for Love Series
Hidden Under Her Heart
March 1991, San Francisco, CA
“Papa, are we there yet?” Seven-year-old Vera Custodio yawned and hugged her stuffed bear, Bing-Bing. The lights on the Golden Gate Bridge glowed orange in the night sky. In the distance, a foghorn bellowed like a sick cow.
Vera watched the rain dribble down the side of the car window. Her stomach growled and she shivered. Mama would have made her put on a jacket.
“Papa?” She picked crusted blood from her fingernails. “I wanna go home.”
“Hun-Hun, almost there.” Her father braked and slowed to a stop. Horns blared, and their car shook from the passing traffic.
“Why are we stopping on the bridge?” Vera tapped the back of the driver’s seat with her toe.
“There’s a small emergency. Will you be a good girl and stay in the car? Papa has to look at something.” He grabbed a backpack from the passenger seat, opened the door narrowly and stepped into the rain.
The motor was still running and the twin wiper blades jittered back and forth. Her father crossed in front of the car and lifted the hood. A truck barreled by on the left, its deep horn blasting.
Vera unfastened her seatbelt and pressed her nose to the window. Instead of fixing the car, Papa crossed to the pedestrian walkway. He walked past an emergency telephone and leaned over the railing.
“Wait! Papa!” Vera dashed from the car and chased after him.
He turned and held a hand out. “I told you to stay in the car.”
“But Papa, I love you.” Vera clamped her arms around his legs.
He picked her up and kissed her cheek. “I love you, too. Go back to the car. Remember, you didn’t see anything.”
“Is she dead?”
“Shhh. It wasn’t real. You had a nightmare. Sit in the car and wait for Mama.”
“I don’t want to.” Vera held on to her father’s neck. She peered over the rail at the dark water below. Wind whipped her wet hair into her face, blinding her for a moment.
“Let go.” He pried her arms and dropped her to the sidewalk, then slapped her. “I told you to stay in the car.”
“Ow, ow!” Vera gasped, not believing he’d hurt her. Hadn’t he told her she was his special girl? That he loved her best?
He swung a leg over the rail.
“Papa, I love you!” She grabbed his trousers, her stuffed bear dangling between them.
Heavy footsteps pounded toward them.
“Get off that rail,” a man’s voice shouted and rough hands pulled Vera from her father.
“Tell Mama I love her.” He dropped over the edge.
January 2014, San Francisco, California
I’ve never been in love. Serious
Yes. But love? Not happening. Doesn’t matter if he’s sinfully hot or responsible for global panty warming. Or even if he’s the sweetest, most gorgeous man on the planet. I can still walk away. I have to.
Zach Spencer, scion of an Australian wine fortune, ambles slowly from the light-rail platform and waves. His swimmer’s physique, sun-streaked blond hair and audacious grin revs my heart every time. I can’t help but jump to my tippy-toes like one of those silly game show contestants. But today, I’m not going to run into his arms because I have to break up with him.
He steps toward me, oblivious of the crowd parting at the sight of his artificial leg. The muscular calf on his right leg contrasts sharply with the metallic rod and linkages of the other, ending with an artificial foot.
Until a few months ago he was a world-class athlete, a contender for the 2016 Olympic Triathlon team, but he lost his lower left leg in a jet ski accident while rescuing my friend Maryanne.
His magnetic blue eyes lock onto me as he wraps me in a toe-curling hug. Butterflies tickle my stomach and I want to disappear into his arms. How on earth can I end this without hurting him?
“Ready for the opera?” He guides me through the turnstile.
I tug at one of his oversized pockets. “Seriously, cargo shorts in winter?”
“I’m Aussie.” He kisses me with a loud smack.
“I suppose you’ll tell me it’s summer Down Under. Are all Aussie men so tough?”
“Dunno, but all Filipinas are gorgeous.” He winks and takes my hand, pulling me up the stairs and onto the crowded street. His smile raises the temperature a few degrees. “Shall we hop on a cable car or have dinner first?”
“Let’s catch a cab and take a walk on the Golden Gate Bridge. Have you ever been there?” I’m dressed to the nines, spiky stilettos and a metallic sequined dress, but the walk hopefully won’t be long.
He tucks an errant strand of hair in back of my ear. “No, but I hear guys are always proposing there. I’d have a hard time dropping to one knee …”
“Stop joking. We’re only friends—with benefits.”
“True, but we haven’t been very …
… lately.” His eyes telegraph bedroom, and his tongue does a quick flick over his teeth. “It’s my fault, of course.”
I caress the back of his hand with my thumb. “You’ve just recovered from major surgery. I’m glad to see you walking again.”
“Me, too. Now we can go places and get to know each other. Maybe start dating?”
A gasp catches in my throat. I never pegged him as the dating type. I suck in a deep breath to calm my speeding heart.
If only things were different and I hadn’t discovered the truth about our families.
“I want to show you something.” I pry my fingers from his hand and wave at a taxi.
The driver pulls over and lowers the window. “Where to?”
“Golden Gate Bridge.”
“Gonna be cold up there with the wind.” The driver’s gaze centers on Zach’s lower legs. “Special occasion?”
“Yes,” Zach says at the same time I say, “No.”
We get into the cab and Zach pulls me so close I have to secure the middle seatbelt.
“You look serious.” He traces the sides of my cheek. “I know it’s been hard with my injury, the pain killers and physical therapy. Now that I’m back on my feet … er … foot, we can continue where we left off.”
“Things have changed.” I swallow hard and avoid the puzzled look he gives me. Three months ago, I didn’t know how his mother had died. Three months ago, he was a bed partner, a party playmate, man candy. Then the accident happened, I met his father and figured out the family history.
“What’s going on?” he asks.
“I’d rather show you.” Then he’ll understand it’s not his fault, maybe even realize it’s best if we go our separate ways.
Slowly Zach exhales and releases me from his embrace. The driver weaves through the side streets and takes a turn too fast. I bounce against Zach. His body is stiff, and he stares pointedly out the window. Maybe I’m being overly dramatic, and I consider telling the driver to turn around.
I wait too long. The taxi arrives at the parking circle in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. Zach swipes his credit card to pay the fare before I can open my purse. Without speaking, he holds the door and helps me from the car.
I gesture to the driver. “Maybe we should go back.”
“You want me to wait? I’ll wait.” He bobs his head.
“It’s her show,” Zach grumbles with his hands in his pockets.
The driver puts on an uh-oh face and taps the meter. “Take as long as you want.”
We stroll through the plaza to the bridge. A few diehard tourists pose for pictures, their hair flapping like batwings across their faces. A couple ahead of us leans close, smooching every few steps. They park themselves near a twisted cable and wrap their arms around each other.
Zach doesn’t offer his hand and I don’t reach for him. I’m studying the road signs and counting the suspension ties, but I have no idea where my father jumped. This is a stupid idea, so I stop and turn toward the waiting taxi.
“Vera,” Zach shouts above the snapping wind. “Whatever you wanted me to see, get it over with and we’ll go.”
I follow his surprisingly brisk steps about a quarter of the way onto the bridge. Traffic and wind noises vibrate through the railing, still damp from the earlier drizzle. Stopping at the base of a tower, I pull Zach against the rail with me.
“My father jumped when I was seven.” I study his face for a reaction.
His eyebrows rise, and he sucks in a breath. “I had no idea. I’m sorry.”
There’s no sign of recognition or a slow dawning of understanding. Instead, he says, “Is this the anniversary of his death?”
“No. He died in M-March. His name was Rey, and he, he—”
My voice catches as I start sobbing. Zach’s arms encircle me, and he rubs my back, kissing the top of my head.
I bury my face into his comforting chest infused with his sporty, sunshiny scent—optimistic. He tries to keep up appearances, although it must kill him to have lost a limb. The Zach I knew before was cocky, at the top of the totem pole—rich, handsome, and oh, so-good-in-bed. Everyone wanted a piece of him—sponsors, race organizers, and women—lots and lots of women.
He tugs my arm. “Come on, let’s go back to the taxi.”
“Not yet.” I stare at the tower, burnished a fiery red by the departing sun. “I’m not sure he jumped here. It might have been further out.”
“It’s upsetting you,” he says. “Why does it matter?”
“Because it’s my fault. I should have held onto him.”
“You were there?”
I nod mutely and wipe my eyes. The wind picks up again and flips my hair in my face.
“How could it be your fault?” Zach puts a hand on my shoulder. “You were just a kid. He made his own choice.”
“No, no.” My teeth start chattering. “He … he wouldn’t have jumped if I hadn’t seen …”
“Seen what?” Zach drops his hands, his head shaking. “Why did he commit suicide in front of you? Didn’t he—”
I cover my face and lean over the rail.
Of course he loved me.
Zach caresses my shoulders and hugs me from behind. His breath warms my ear and we stand still. I’m conscious of the rumbling traffic and the sun setting, the wind gusting, the shriek of a seagull, and Zach.
I almost believe he cares.
Slowly, he guides me toward the taxi, his right hand protective on my lower back. The driver leaps out and opens the door, and I slide numbly across the vinyl seat to the left side, away from Zach. My lower jaw shudders and I hiccup, quickly dabbing my eyes with my sleeve. Fortunately, my hair hangs like a curtain over my face, a black silken shroud.
That fateful night runs through my mind, over and over. Papa had to go because of something I saw. Something bad.
But, Papa, why didn’t we call the police?
You didn’t see anything.
I watch the traffic blur. My stomach lurches over every bump and around every corner. I peek at Zach, and he gives me a friendly smile.
“I’m sorry about your father,” he says. “Do you want to talk about it?”
My heart’s beating a mile a minute, throbbing. I have to end this before I get mired in too deep. I don’t want to talk; I want to forget.
One last evening and then I’ll let him go.
I give his hand a reassuring squeeze. “It’s okay. Let’s watch the show.”
We get out of the cab in front of the War Memorial Opera House. Well-dressed patrons mill around in tweed jackets and designer gowns, speaking in hushed tones. I thread through them as if they were phantoms, catching foreign accents and phrases in French, Russian, Japanese.
After the ticket check, Zach pulls me through the white columned foyer and up a flight of stairs. We rest against the plush velvet curtains lining the seating platforms.
He offers to buy food but I have no appetite. I need time to think through how to tell him, so I visit the powder room. My hand trembling, I dab the smeared mascara with a napkin and touchup my makeup.
We can’t see each other anymore.
Because … My father …
Zach’s been through so much; he doesn’t need another shock. I reapply my lipstick and shut my purse.
Some secrets are best untold.
… killed your mother.