Authors: Abbie Williams
Tags: #Minnesota, #Montana, #reincarnation, #romance, #true love, #family, #women, #Shore Leave
Everheart Books Edition
Copyright Â© 2014 Abbie Williams
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This edition is published by arrangement with Abbie Williams
First electronic edition
Created and distributed by Everheart Books, a division of Central Avenue Marketing Ltd.
Published in Canada with international distribution.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are 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.
Cover Design: Michelle Halket
Cover Photography: Courtesy & Copyright iStock by Getty Images: whitetag
This book is dedicated to my readers. Thanks for giving me plenty of excuses to keep writing!
Camille's voice woke me what seemed minutes after I had fallen asleep and I sat up too fast, reeling, my hands reaching blindly into the darkness. The blood in my veins thundered like water over a falls. Only a second earlier my niece had been screaming in my ear and now all I could hear was the violence of my heartbeat. I could not draw a full breath.
what is it, what's wrong?
I closed my eyes and concentrated for all I was worth, trying to discern a shred of an answer. Sending the thought with as much force as I could muster, I pleaded,
Camille, tell me!
Beside me, Justin ceased snoring and rolled to wrap an arm over my lap.
“What's wrong, Jilly?” he murmured, his warm hand curving around my right thigh. “What is it, baby?”
“Justin, I'm scared,” I said hoarsely. The only time a sense of foreboding had ripped through me so fiercely had been the long-ago winter night my first husband, Christopher, had died.
Justin was wide awake now, sitting up fast, the sheet falling away from his hips. At once he collected me close to his chest, his arms protective. He said, “I'm here, honey, I'm right here.”
I clung back, breathing against him to calm myself. I whispered, “It's not that.”
He smoothed loose hair from my flushed face and asked intently, “Is it Rae? Clint?” Before I could answer, he said, “I'll check them.”
The hall light clicked on as Justin assured himself that our children were both safe in their bedrooms down the hall; seconds later he was back, gathering me against his warm, bare chest. Even in the dimness of our room, I could see the tense concern in his dark eyes. He held me close and asked, “What is it, Jills? What's happening?”
“It's Camille,” I whispered, pressing all eight fingertips to my forehead. “Oh God, something's wrongâ¦”
Justin knew me well enough not to question my words. He said firmly, “I'll call Jo and Bly.”
Against the backdrop of my closed eyes a picture wavered into place, a horizon in the distance, etched with the outline of a low-slung, jagged-edged mountain. For a fraction of a second I could see Camille plainly through what appeared to be misting rain; despite the dark night around her, she was momentarily highlighted by a rending in the cloud cover and a milky spill of moonlight gilded her hair. She was screaming one word repeatedly, hysterically.
“Mathias,” I said frantically, pushing to my feet, trembling, utterly helpless as the vision rippled away, as a reflection in a lake when disturbed by motion.
Justin had caught up the bedside phone and was already dialing.
, I tried to tell them, sending my words as hard as I could through the night.
Oh God, hold on.
Sultry June heat, sticky as fresh honey and manifesting as sweat upon my temples and a thin trickle down my spine. The sky was thickly overcast, hanging low and sullen on this late Saturday afternoon, and I was crabby as hell. I had just scraped the driver's side fender of the Shore Leave work truck against the headlight of a pristine little Audi with Michigan plates, clearly belonging to an out-of-towner. Though my father-in-law Dodge would offer to fix it as good as new, the owner would undoubtedly be annoyed at this destruction, best case scenario. I was currently scribbling a note on a piece of lined paper torn from my order pad, which had been on the passenger seat of my mother's truck, my daughter Rae tugging on the hem of my tank top and fussing that she was thirsty. I was also craving a drink, something ice cold and about fifty-proof; because I was pregnant, this possibility was unfortunately out of the question.
“Rae-Rae, give me just a second,” I told her with as much patience as I could manage to inject into my tone, trying rather unsuccessfully to brace the note I was writing against my thigh. Rae bumped my leg with her belly and the pen jerked in my hand, creating a long scribble across the paper.
“Dammit,” I muttered in an undertone, flipping it to the other side and starting over.
I was getting a headache and wished that my husband would magically appear and take our child off my hands, at least until I could collect my thoughts. Rae was just past two years and though she resembled a golden-haired, brown-eyed angel, she could be temperamental as hell; I supposed I shouldn't have been particularly surprised, given her genetics, and at that thought I almost smiled, finally finished on the second attempt with my apologetic note. I stuck it under the windshield wiper on the driver's side of the Audi, thinking that I wouldn't feel too terrible if the wind just happened to blow it away before the owner finished shoppingâ¦
, I scolded myself, hitching my purse strap over my shoulder and collecting Rae by her hand. She was still grumpy as we made our way across the parking lot of Farmer's Market, though upon entry to the familiar old grocery store she brightened considerably, breaking from my grasp and darting towards the carts.
“Mama, can we get cake?” Rae asked as I lifted her into the basket seat on the cart.
“There's cake at Shore Leave, sweetie,” I reminded her, pausing to select apples.
“Mama, let me help!” Rae insisted, and I indulged her, unable to keep from smiling, passing the fruit piece by piece into her small hands and letting her drop it into the plastic bag.
“Mama, can we get cookies?” Rae asked next. “Daddy gets oatmeal cookies!”
Justin was such a sucker when it came to our kids, Clint and Rae both, but most especially Rae; he was definitely the softie in our parenting team, but again I smiled at the thought.
“We'll see,” was all I said in reply.
“Please, Mama,” she wheedled, already starting the begging campaign.
“Maybe,” I hedged, kissing her nose and then turning to choose bananas. At the same moment, Rae leaned from the cart like a little monkey and plucked an orange from the bottom of a pile, displacing about seven thousand other pieces of fruit. I squeaked in alarm, dropping the bananas I was holding.
“Uh-oh, Mama!” she said delightedly, bouncing in her seat.
I sighed and looked around as though to catch a glimpse of the real adult who would come take care of the problem, before kneeling carefully, mindful of my six-month pregnant belly, to collect the errant produce. I had just retrieved the last orange and stood to tuck it back on its stand when someone behind me said, “Well hi there, Jillian.”
I looked over my shoulder in semi-annoyance which changed at once to a burst of consternation; I found myself confronted directly with Aubrey Pritchard. More specifically, my husband's ex-wife. I had to draw a breath past my suddenly hard-pounding heart before I could reply.
“Hi, Aubrey,” I managed, pleased at the relative calm of my voice. Aubrey looked much the same as when I'd seen her last, her skin a deep brown from the summer sun. I noticed small wrinkles webbing her eyes and felt a spurt of purely vindictive glee. I couldn't truly claim to hate her any longer, but I still disliked her way down deep in my bones; I was abruptly reminded of this as her gaze roved openly over Rae, so clearly Justin's child.
“Congratulations,” she said after an awkward silence. Her eyes swept down to my belly before coming back to my face, and she studied me frankly for the space of two heartbeats. There were many things she might have said, but she chose, and I was not mistaking the bite in her voice, “Your hair's gotten so long.”
The situation was so totally awkward, facing off here in the produce department, Rae watching raptly; Jim Olson called hello to the both of us as he pushed by with his own cart. As though in response to my silence, Aubrey flipped her auburn hair over one shoulder, an old, self-affirming gesture I recalled from our teenage years. She added caustically, “He always had a thing for you, you know. Yet
the one everyone blames.”
I felt my eyebrows lift inadvertently, mildly shocked; she really wanted to get into this now? In the grocery store?
When I didn't take the bait, she went on, shifting her weight to one hip, “He used to talk about you all the time, how worried he was about you. Seriously. And again, when
step outside our marriage,
“Aubrey,” I interrupted firmly. I kept my voice low, but allowed an unmistakable note of warning.
She bit back a comment with real effort, I could tell, her sparkly, bronze-shadowed eyelids lowering just slightly. Flipping her hair to the other shoulder, she settled for, “Like it matters anyway. I'm just in town for a few weeks. Like I could ever live in this shithole again.”
“Come on, Rae-Rae,” I said softly to my daughter, clutching the cart handle. Feeling uncomfortably as though I was running away, I pushed the cart around Aubrey without another word.
“Tell Justin I said âhi,'” she called in a sing-song to my back, and I just barely resisted the urge to flip her off over my shoulder.
“Aw, baby, I'm sorry,” Justin
said later that night as I lay over his chest on our bed, my cheeks hot with frustration as I related the story. He tucked a strand of hair behind my ear and let his warm hand linger on my jaw. We were virtually alone; Rae had been in bed for an hour and Clinty was sleeping over at his friend Liam's. Justin added, “If she knew you were upset it would only make her that much happier. She's that way, mean-spirited. Jilly-honey, I'm sorry. I wouldn't have let her talk to you like that.”
shouldn't have let her talk to me like that,” I said, tears broiling and wetting my eyelashes, which made me even more furious. “She totally caught me off guard. And Rae was right there. I'm just so pissed.”
Justin shifted and used both thumbs to brush away the tears that spilled onto my cheeks. He said again, softly, “I'm sorry, sweetheart.”
“It's not your fault,” I said, tenderness for him flowing over me and displacing the swell of my anger. In the amber-tinted lamplight I studied my husband's familiar face, his strong jaws stubbled with dark beard a day past shaving, framing the sexy mouth that routinely and earth-shatteringly kissed every inch of my skin. His straight nose and incredible, long-lashed eyes of rich, dark brown, the shade of coffee without cream and just as hot. His black hair that was as unruly as ever, through which I spent most every night curling my fingers, stroking him. The planes of his cheeks, the squint-lines in the outer corners of his eyes, the shape of his chin. I let my hands slide from his muscular chest to frame his face with its livid scars that I never even noticed anymore, moving so that my breasts pressed flush against him. I was wearing an old pale-blue tank top, so threadbare that it was nearly worn through in spots, and absolutely nothing more. Justin's eyes kindled with a sudden heat and his lips curved upwards in the half-wicked grin that I had come to know so very well in the past three years.
“Jilly,” he murmured, sliding both hands slowly over my ribs, continuing downward along my hips, at last taking anchor around my ass, which he cupped and used to draw me more firmly against his nearly-naked body.
I spread my thighs over his boxers, smoothing my hands to his collarbones and then to his wide shoulders, so solid and warm beneath my palms. I sighed a little, in pleasure, feeling a jolt of heat between my legs as he shifted with a deliberate laziness that belied his serious intent. His big hands settled me just where he wanted, and I arched up and skimmed the tank top over my head.
“God, you are a beautiful woman,” he said, his voice hoarse with desire. “Come here, woman, and put your nipples in my mouth.”
I smiled and curled my fingers into his chest hair. I shook my head.
Justin caught my hips in his hands and his dark eyebrows lowered menacingly, like a pirate who was intent upon having his way with a captive. My smile widened at the thought; we had played that little game on more than one occasion. Justin had an old red bandana in the nightstand on his side of the bed, which had done its fair share of duty as a headscarf, a garter, and sometimes to bind my wrists. And there was truth to the rumor about the second trimester of pregnancy, of which Justin took whole-hearted advantage; to be fair, I couldn't get enough of him as it was.
“God, we're so naughty,” I reflected as Justin cupped both of my breasts, heavy against his broad palms, and told me with his eyes that I should bend forward and let him have his way.
“Hell yes,” he agreed, and I giggled, then moaned as he tipped me into his mouth and lightly bit my right nipple, before taking it sweetly between his lips. Pulses of pleasure spiraled outward from this point of contact and rippled between my legs.
A soft thump from the bedroom across the hall and I murmured, “Dammit.”
Justin rolled me beneath him at once, growling teasingly against my neck even as he tugged the sheet over us. Not a moment too soon, as Rae pushed open the door and came straight into our room, dragging her tattered elephant by its trunk. She stood regarding us with her eyes squinted in the bright light of the lamp.
“Mama,” she implored, rubbing her nose with her free hand, just like Clint used to do.
My heart melted and I reached for her, saying, “C'mere, little one, what's wrong?”
Justin leaned and caught Rae under the arms, hefting her effortlessly atop the mattress and smoothing a hand over her soft golden hair. Rae burrowed against Justin with a happy grunt, her little feet churning to get beneath the covers with us.
“Daddy, I had a bad dream,” she informed. She whispered, “Elephant, too.”
Justin tucked Rae into the crook of his arm and rocked her close. My heart was nearly undone for the countless time since giving birth to our daughter; Justin was an amazing father, as I had known he would be, and tears sparked into my eyes as I snuggled against them, sandwiching her between us.
“Tell Daddy all about it,” Justin soothed, but Rae's long eyelashes were already fluttering closed.
I kissed Rae's forehead, feathering her downy hair. She sighed and popped a thumb into her mouth and a moment later was fast asleep. I kissed my husband's forehead then, breathing against him. I whispered, “I love you so much.”
Justin stroked my face with his free hand, pulling me close for a kiss. Against my lips he whispered tenderly, “Jillian Rae. My darling. If you spoke those words a thousand times a day I would still beg to hear them again.”
I smiled into his eyes and implored, keeping my voice soft, “Now get this girl to bed and get in back in here. And hurry.”
Justin grinned at me and gently covered Rae's ears, teasing me. He added, “Don't start without me. Waitâ¦on second thoughtâ¦”
“Hurry,” I said again.
“Holy shit, baby,” he said upon reentry a minute later, locking the door behind him. I had gotten started without him.
Justin was out of his boxers and braced over me before I could blink, and I muffled a shriek, giggling and struggling against him, but he held his ground, his dark eyes lancing heat right through me. I shivered delightedly as he stroked me firmly, displacing my own hand. He lightly bit the side of my neck and I groaned and laced my arms about him, lifting my hips into his touch.
“You're soâ¦incredible at thatâ¦” I whispered, growing ever more breathless, my head tipped back against the mattress.
“Fuckin' right,” Justin replied in his usual poetic fashion, licking along my throat to my earlobe, where he closed his teeth and I shuddered and gasped, then felt him grin against my neck. I told him this at least twice a week.
“Don't you dare stop,” I ordered, and he deepened his stroking touch at once as I clung to his back, surely leaving nail marks. I bit his shoulder as I came against his hand, reaching immediately to grasp his cock. I shifted and took him fully within me, his hands curving around my hips as we thrust together. I gasped out, “Yes, oh God,
He kissed me deeply in response and I arched against him and then held absolutely still as another orgasm shook through me. Justin slowed his pace just a little, grinning down into my half-closed eyes as I quivered beneath him. He whispered, punctuating his words with soft, suckling kisses upon my chin, “I know you've got one moreâ¦c'mon, babyâ¦”
,” I moaned, as turned on by his words as his touch, clinging to him as he bent to my breasts and lifted my hips in his big hands. No more than minutes later I tightened in heated waves yet again and he groaned, overcome, sweat trickling along his temples as he plunged one last time.