Friday, February 2, 2018

Showcase Final Siege by Scarlett Cole

I'm excited to bring you #2 in Scarlett Cole's Love Over Duty series,  Final Siege.
Enjoy!


ISBN-13: 9781250128461
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: 1-30-2018
Length: 320pp
Buy It: Amazon/B&N/Kobo/IndieBound


ADD TO: GOODREADS

Overview:
Hard, hot, and exhilarating, a sexy ex-Navy SEAL and a headstrong investigative journalist get a second chance at love in Final Siege by Scarlett Cole.

IN THE LINE OF FIRE.
Former SEAL Malachai “Mac” MacCarrick is all about the future he’s created with his Navy brothers in Eagle Securities, taking assignments in the most dangerous places, and doing things no one but ex-military would attempt. But when an urgent phone call brings his troubled past—and the woman he once loved—into the present, it’s a chance to redeem himself that he can’t refuse.
STRAIGHT TO THE HEART...
An investigative journalist researching an explosive story, Delaney Shapiro tells herself she got over Mac—and his role in her brother’s death—a long time ago. But the first moment she sees him at her bedside in an overseas hospital, she knows it’s not true. Every moment together rekindles the desire that once burned between them, and now that she’s a target for an emerging Russian arms dealer, Mac won’t let her out of his sight. To protect her, he’ll risk it all—including his life…
“Non-stop action and heart-pounding romance...a must-read for romantic suspense fans!”
—Cynthia Eden, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author on Under Fire


excerpt courtesy St. Martin's Press––

CHAPTER ONE

Malachai “Mac” MacCarrick pulled the knife from its sheath with barely a whisper. During his years as a Navy SEAL, most of his ops had been black in nature, with silence a prerequisite for staying alive. He and this knife went way back, a gift from someone special who knew and understood his appreciation for a well-made blade sharpened to his exact requirements. Light reflected off the metal, its balance perfection as he turned it in his hand. It had spent most of the last decade in storage in his parents’ garage, but in the nine months since he’d left the Navy to start up Eagle Securities he’d enjoyed using it again.
“It’s a goddamn chef’s knife … not an MK 3. Can you bring it into the living room so we can cut the damn cake?” Six, his partner in crime since the day they’d met in kindergarten, and co-owner of Eagle Securities, leaned against the doorframe of the bright kitchen in Mac’s apartment. Well, it wasn’t technically his apartment. He was housesitting for his younger brother, Lochlan, who had not only gotten away with a marginally more bearable Irish name than he had, but had also gotten the lion’s share of the brains. He was off in San Francisco, angel investing in some tech incubator, doubling his money in a building that had slides for grown-ups and mandatory massage breaks. Still there were worse places to be than his brother’s pad in the luxurious condo building, The Legend, which overlooked the Padres’ stadium, especially on a day like today.
Cake. He looked down at the knife. A birthday cake for Cabe, the final part of their triumvirate. Once, though, they had been four. The memory of Brock stabbed at him as surely as if he’d pierced his heart with the knife in his hand. You never got over killing a friend, no matter what the circumstances.
He cleared his throat and locked the memory down tight as he had for the last fourteen years. Thinking of Brock would also mean thinking of Brock’s sister, Delaney, and there definitely would be no coming back from that.
“On it. Did you talk to Lou about heading out again so quickly?” Mac asked. Lou had come into Six’s life last summer when they’d taken on the job of protecting her from criminals who wanted to steal a formula she’d been working on and turn it into a weapon for chemical warfare. Somewhere along the line they’d fallen in love with one another.
They were quite the pair, the outgoing warrior and the cripplingly shy scientist, and it hurt Mac to watch them at times. He’d once had what they had—and he’d lost it through his own recklessness.
“Yeah. She isn’t thrilled we’re heading into Syria, but she gets it. Gets me, I guess.”
Mac handed the knife to Six and then grabbed a beer from the counter before heading into the living room that overlooked the ballpark. The rest of the crew was spread around the apartment. Gaz, and Jackson, stood laughing by the open balcony doors as Miller complained for the thousandth time about his nickname, Lite. March in San Diego was a little hit and miss, but today the sun beat down on the patio where Sherlock, Buddha, and Ryder were looking out over the stadium toward the Coronado Bridge. On days like this, when the water sparkled blue and he was surrounded by his friends and coworkers, he focused on the good that had happened in his life instead of the bad. They didn’t sing “Happy Birthday”—because they were a group of grown men for fuck’s sake. But Louisa stepped out of Six’s shadow to place a single candle on the cake and instruct Cabe to blow it out. When Cabe rolled his eyes, she playfully smacked him on the shoulder and pointed to the candle. Honestly, Cabe was probably doing them all a favor by putting off the moment when he’d have to cut that cake. Louisa had baked it herself, and knowing how dedicated the vegetarian was to healthy eating, Mac was pretty sure it would be sorely lacking in butter, eggs, and sugar. All the good stuff his mom crammed into her cooking, Louisa wouldn’t use. So, the cake was destined to taste awful.
“Come on, make a wish!” Louisa insisted. It was impossible to guess what Cabe would wish for, really. An hour-long sit-down with Warren Buffett? A first edition of The Art of War … in Chinese, if such a thing still existed.
Mac had spent most of his life mediating between Six and Cabe since the day he’d had to break them up as they’d fought over a tattered copy of One Fish, Two Fish in kindergarten. For all their love for each other, they were so different. Cabe was as cerebral as Six was spontaneous. At the same time, though, their differences also made them a great team. With Cabe’s intense focus, Six’s ability to roll with just about any situation, and Mac’s resourcefulness, they were a force to be reckoned with.
It was a very rare day that the entire team was home at the same time. Since setting up Eagle Securities nine months before, they’d quickly developed a reputation as exceptional special ops contractors, putting them in demand both domestically and internationally. At first it had been a crazy rush of excitement when the contracts had started to come in and they could step away from the security training they’d set up as a sideline. But trying to stay ahead of the resources required and keeping up with scheduling had quickly become a logistical nightmare. Though they periodically hired outside contractors to keep up with the demand, their ultimate goal was to attract the best ex-special-forces skills possible and add them to the team. Interviewing and screening candidates took time. And truth be told, all three of them would much rather be out in the field than stuck behind a desk asking people where they wanted to be in five years. But it had to be done, so despite the demand for their expertise, they were on a three-day break to rest up, refocus, and take care of administrative shit that was piling up around them.
Mac’s cell phone rang, and he looked down at the screen. Germany. His chest tightened. The largest military hospital outside of the U.S. was in Landstuhl. Over the course of his career, calls from Germany had either been the best kind of news—that everyone had survived their missions intact—or the worst kind, in which he’d find out that someone was injured. Or fallen.
“Hello,” he said, stepping back into the kitchen.
“Am I speaking with Captain Malachai MacCarrick?”
He tried to place the voice. Female. American. Plus, he hadn’t been called “Captain” in a while. It was almost strange to hear. “Speaking, although I’ve left the service.”
“This is Meredith Dean from the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. I’m calling on behalf of one of our patients. A Delaney Shapiro.”
Mac’s mouth went dry at the mention of her name. A name he thought about a thousand times a day but never said out loud. An image of her laughing in the surf, the tiny diamond stud she wore in her nose sparkling in the sunshine as she grinned at him, crashed into his brain. “Is she okay?” he asked, trying to stem the flood of memories that threatened the edge of his usual control. Memories of their first kiss, of the first time she’d let him slide his hands over her soft, tanned skin. The day she’d let him take her virginity in a motel room on the way to Napa for a relative’s wedding. The moment she’d slapped him in front of her brother’s coffin fourteen years ago and told him she never wanted to see him again.
And she hadn’t since.
“Ms. Shapiro has sustained significant injuries, but in moments of lucidity, she has asked if you are here yet. We have been unable to reach her immediate next of kin.”
He strode to his office, grabbed his passport from the safe, and shoved it into his back pocket. “Tell her I’m on my way. I’m coming from San Diego. I’ll be on the first flight I can get.”
He hung up the phone and threw enough clothes for a few days into his backpack. Clean underwear and socks, always-packed toiletry bag, three T-shirts, two pairs of jeans, and a couple of hoodies, because if he remembered correctly, March in Germany was cold.
He hurried to the living room and signaled to Cabe and Six.
“What’s up?” Cabe said, eying the backpack on the bed. “We got a job?”
“I gotta go,” he said. “Delaney is in Landstuhl.” He unplugged his chargers from the wall and shoved them into the front pocket of his pack.
“What the hell?” Six tugged his hand through his hair. “The place or the hospital? What happened?”
For the first time since his phone had rung, Mac allowed himself a moment of panic. “Hospital. I don’t know how she ended up there. All I know is that she’s been asking for me when she’s lucid. I’m sorry guys, it means we’re going to be short for—”
“Shut up,” Cabe said. “You need to go. And we’ve got your back. Don’t worry about tickets. I’ll find you a flight while you’re on route to the airport. I’ll text you details, okay?”
Mac nodded and gathered his wits. He shoved his jacket into the top of his backpack as he had no intention of checking anything. He wanted to walk off that plane and head straight to the hospital. “Thanks, guys. I’ll let you know what’s what as soon as I get there.”
Cabe stood and slapped him on the back in a hug. “Take care, man.”
Six did the same.
“Lock up for me?” he said to Six as he made for the door without waiting for a response.
Delaney needed him.
He finally had the chance to make things right.
* * *
Even though her eyes were closed, Delaney could tell the light above her head flickered. And it was making the pain in her head so much worse. With the last of her energy, she attempted to force her eyes open but couldn’t. It felt like her eyelids had been glued together. Had she been in an accident? Her heart raced. Nothing made sense.
Every part of her body ached. Her chest felt like it was on fire when she breathed. And the one time she’d tried to move her leg to relieve the ache in her lower back, pain had seared up her calf. Voices came and went, some not speaking English and none of them familiar.
Fear. She couldn’t control it. It consumed her. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew that staying alert was the only way to get out of a difficult situation, but she was so tired. Exhaustion threatened to suck her back under, but she was determined to push through.
“Delaney? Hey, Buttons, can you hear me?” A man spoke to her. Knew her name. Sounded familiar. Who was Buttons? She tried to turn her head toward the voice. Anything that would let the person know she could hear him, whoever he was.
She clung to the voice, but it became garbled. Soon, she could no longer hear it. Then she felt … nothing.
She had no idea how much time had passed before she finally heard the voice again.
“How long will she be like this for?” The voice sounded clearer. Less … muffled.
“It’s the combination of the painkillers and medication she needs right now, Sir, and the legacy effect of drugs they used on her. She needed rest. They said she was very lucky to be rescued.” A different voice. A woman. And titles, like Sir.
“I want to know who brought her in. Can you get me that information, please?” The man was controlled. Insistent. Firm.
“That’s not information I am able to provide, but it’ll be my pleasure to find somebody who can talk with you.” Footsteps moved away from her.
“Goddammit, Delaney,” the man muttered. “What the hell were you doing?”
Someone took her hand. The man, she assumed, given how close to her ear his voice was. Close enough that she could feel his breath on the side of her face. Something about his touch felt familiar but it was impossible to process anything more than that. She tried to move away, to tug her hand free of whoever held it.
“Delaney, oh my God. Can you hear me? Squeeze it again if you can hear me, Buttons.”
This time, instead of pulling away, she willed her fingers to move.
“Nurse! She just squeezed my hand.”
She gave opening her eyes another try, finally prying them apart. But the bright sunlight in the room and the flickering fluorescent were more than she could stand. She closed them again and tried to speak, but her mouth was drier than the desert.
The desert.
She heard a click, and the room darkened mercifully. Somebody had shut off the light. Memories raced back. Something beeped next to her, the noise feeling like nails driven into her eardrums. Stop it, please! Someone! She reached for her face and felt a tube near her nose, trying to tug it away. Where the hell am I?
What had happened? The jarring groan of grinding gears, of a broken or misused clutch, sounded through her head. But she couldn’t figure out why it was relevant.
“Delaney, stop it. You’re going to hurt yourself.” The man’s voice was right next to her ear. He held her by the wrist. They’d been held before. With rope. Oh, God. Why was I tied up?
She was going to be raped. Or worse, killed like in those awful videos. Frustration battled with fear as her body wouldn’t respond to the most basic of demands. What had they given her? Something to subdue her. A drug of some kind. Her head spun with all the possibilities, but her body lay useless. She couldn’t die, not without trying to live.
“Help,” she tried to shout as the beeping sound increased. But she could barely speak. Hands pressed her shoulders to the bed. “No!” But her body still wouldn’t respond. Tears burned the corners of her eyes as defeat settled over her.
“Please,” she whispered. “Don’t do this.”
“Nothing’s going to happen to you, Delaney. You’re safe.”
The accent. It was American. That had to be a good sign. She forced her eyes to open again. “Help me.”
“Buttons, I got you, okay? It’s Mac. I’m here.”
Through the tears and the halo of sunshine, she tried to take in the blurry outline. “Mac?”
“Yeah. It’s me, Delaney.”
Mac. Dear God. What the … She closed her eyes, but held onto biceps that were firm and strong. Her anchor.
“Hey. It’s okay, sweetheart. You gotta wake up. I know you hate waking up, but I need you to.”
She opened her eyes again, concentrated on focusing, as he wiped her cheeks with a tissue. “What … happened? Why are you…”
What had she done? Everything hurt and her headache pounded in rhythm with her racing heart. Why was Mac there? Had somebody called him?
Rescuers. There had been rescuers. She gasped, then exhaled. Air escaped her lungs so quickly she feared they’d permanently deflated. She’d been taken, shoved to the floor of a truck. Her source had told her that those men could be trusted. They were supposed to be willing to share their side of the story. God, she was going to vomit.
The hut. She could still smell the dirt into which she’d been thrown down face-first. In the spot where she’d been left for what felt like days, hours blending together. When finally the guys with guns had burst into the house in which she’d been hidden and had told her in calm American accents that they were there to get her out. They’d lifted her broken body, and the pain had been too much. Passing out had been blessed relief.
“Mac,” she whispered, and tried to stop the tears and the uncontrollable shaking of her body. She shrugged his hands off her shoulders, and scrambled to the other side of the bed. Even as he held his hand in the air, the universal sign of surrender, a part of her wanted to reach for him, to let him hold her the way he had when she’d sneak into his dorm room at night.
Her head spun in confusion as she pressed her fingertips to her temples. She couldn’t do this again, couldn’t grieve for him all over again. Not on top of everything else.
“Delaney, sweetheart. You’re safe.” Those eyes of his that always reminded her of the dark blue ocean at sunset reassured her she was. She’d dreamt of them. Missed them.
God, the anger she felt toward him now was only a fraction of the love she’d felt for him all that time ago. Until he’d killed her brother when they were both twenty years old.
Delaney jolted and swallowed, trying to get some moisture back into her mouth, and failing. “Where am I?” she gasped as she attempted to hide her confusion. She had a thousand questions right now, but getting answers was what all her years as an investigative reporter had trained her to do best.
“Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany. What happened to you? Where did they bring you in from?”
Germany? “Water,” she gasped.
“On it,” Mac said, jumping to his feet. Delaney took one deep breath after the other to regain control.
What was he doing here? How had he even known where she was? And if he’d found out she was here, wouldn’t her mother also … She glanced around the room, though she knew better. Her mother was no doubt still at home, self-medicating with a large bottle of Southern Comfort.
With a grunt of effort that caused a sweat to break out on her forehead, Delaney attempted to push herself up into a seated position. Her ribs screamed in agony, and her wrist buckled beneath her.
“Wait, Delaney. What are you trying to do?” Mac placed a glass of water with a straw on the table next to her hospital bed as a doctor and nurse joined them.
“Here,” Mac said, reaching for her gently. He took her weight and slid her up the bed, then held her with one arm while he adjusted the pillows behind her head. His arm felt warm, safe. And much larger than she remembered.
When he lowered her back onto the pillows, she took in the face whose contours she’d once known better than her own. She reached out her hand and trailed her fingertips along the angular jaw that always used to be clean-shaven, although now it was covered in a dark scruff that gave him a certain appeal. The freckles across the bridge of his nose that a buried piece of her was relieved to see he’d never grown out of, even though they reminded her of summers spent surfing and hanging out with him on the beaches of Encinitas. Hair the color of dark chestnut, as thick as ever. It stood up in all directions, which should have looked foolish but instead made him more handsome … and more of a man … than she could deal with.
But it was his eyes that got her. They always had. The ones that had always seen her as they’d grown up together—he as her brother’s loyal best friend, she as the younger sister who went from being an annoyance he’d had to deal with to … well, back then he would have said to the woman he was going to marry. Those were the sweet words he’d often whispered to her after they’d made love in the back of his truck.
When he leaned into her hand, she snatched it away quickly. “Meds,” she said hoarsely by way of explanation. Perhaps more to herself than to him. His sigh told her he’d missed their connection just as much as she had. But it was pointless getting nostalgic.
Mac offered her a sip of water, and she took it, the ice-cold fluid soothing her parched throat.
She looked away, unable to bear the pain that welled up inside her. She’d loved him with every piece of who she was, but she’d been sure that she couldn’t stay with him without being reminded of losing Brock. And yet, no matter how far she got from Mac, the agony of Brock’s loss had never left her.
The pain of being beaten and thrown onto the dirt floor while being held hostage was second only to the breakdown of her family. The loss of her brother had been horrifying enough, but the death of her father—a heart attack not three months later brought on by stress—had caused what was left of her family to implode. Mac had taken two people she loved from her.
“Better?” Mac handed her the glass.
Her hands shook as she took it from him, the adrenaline pounding through her veins. Against her better judgment, she turned to look up at him. “You can’t be here,” she whispered. “Not like this.”
There was a scrape of metal as Mac lifted a chair and placed it next to the bed. “Yeah, well, for all the ways I thought I’d see you again, I never quite imagined this, Buttons. There’ll be time for chitchat and shit later. But for now, I want to know how the hell you ended up here, and like this.”
* * *
For the first time in more than forty-eight hours the tight band that had locked itself around Mac’s chest loosened.
His Delaney.
He shouldn’t think it, shouldn’t let himself believe that she was his even for a single minute, but he couldn’t help himself. When she’d touched him, he’d felt it. Even better, had seen it. The look that had always been there when she’d trailed her eyes over his face, like he was everything she wanted. Once upon a time it had made him feel a million feet tall. And those lips he’d kissed a hundred thousand times, and had dreamt of kissing a hundred thousand times more after they’d split. Shit, he was a mess that she was so close and wouldn’t let him so much as hold her hand, to reassure her she was going to be okay.
But there was finally a pinkness to her cheeks, even if it was offset by a yellowed bruise around her eye. That some asshole had brought his fist to her face was almost enough to have him pulling all Eagle operatives onto the first jet available to a place to which he’d vowed never to return.
He’d waited patiently as nurses, followed by two doctors, hurried into the room. The nurse politely asked him to give Delaney some privacy, but he bluntly refused. Until he understood what exactly had happened to her, until he was certain she was safe, he wasn’t going to let her out of his sight for a millisecond.
Plus, he’d missed her. And he’d waited two grueling days on a plastic chair for her to open her eyes.
As a concession, he stepped out of the medical team’s way and watched as they went through their checkup on her progress.
She was tolerating having him around—at least for now. It was hard to believe it had been fourteen years since she’d slapped him in front of Brock’s coffin. Not that he could blame her. And so, while everyone around them mourned Brock, he’d mourned the loss of both his friend and Delaney. He’d lost a future he’d wanted more than any of his swimming scholarships. One he’d cared about more than the military career he’d ultimately undertaken to fulfill Brock’s dreams. One he still mourned.
Mac looked over to where Delaney lay in bed. Occasionally, she would nervously nibble on her bottom lip, something she’d always done when she was uncertain or unsure. The first night she’d kissed him, when she’d stepped up onto her toes and surprised him in the hallway of her parents’ home and he’d told her that as much as he wanted to, he couldn’t—Guys don’t kiss their best friend’s sister, he’d said—she’d bitten down on her lip just like that. He’d kissed her back, then, just to stop her from doing it again. Or so he’d told himself at the time.
Her chocolate brown hair was still long, but dirty, and he knew that it would bother her once she processed everything else that was going on. Those eyes in which he’d once seen his future reflected back at him, one that involved late-night surfs and kids and travel and forever, darted from left to right as she took in the people talking around her. Occasionally, she’d look toward him, seeking him out for a fleeting moment, but then her shoulders would rise and fall as if sighing, and she’d look away.
Banking the exhaustion he felt, and affronted by how long the medical team was keeping him at arm’s length, he stepped back to the foot of the bed so he was squarely in her line of sight. He needed her to know he was there for her, even if she needed time to get used to the idea. She’d repeatedly asked for him, after all. Even if she’d been too out of it to realize what she was doing. At some point, he’d need to figure out the logistics of getting them out of the hospital and back on American soil as quickly as he could. He hoped to convince her to let him help her once they were home, but even if she wouldn’t, he wouldn’t be far away. At least for now, while she recovered. He’d worry about needing to get back to work at Eagle Securities later.
“I’m advising we keep you here for at least a few more days before you even consider moving,” the doctor said. “But we can review again in the morning.”
Delaney blanched. “It’s important that I get back to work.”
There were logistics to consider. Delaney was going to need clothes, travel papers, and probably some heavy-duty pain medication prescriptions to get her home.
“Perhaps Mr. MacCarrick can help get you set up to work here.” The doctor looked in his direction, but Mac made no acknowledgment. Mac had no clue what kind of work was so urgent, but he was going to make sure Delaney’s health was front and center first.
As the room began to empty, he moved his chair closer to the edge of the bed. “You doing okay, Delaney?” He reached for her hand, taking in her scabbed and bruised knuckles, the short unpainted nails, but she pulled it out of his reach and placed it on her lap.
“They wouldn’t answer my questions,” she said, her voice as rough around the edges as if she smoked twenty a day—though he knew for a fact she hated cigarettes. Plus, there was something to her tone—helplessness tinged with frustration. “I wanted to know what happened to my interpreter, Farzam. He traveled from Tajikistan with me.” She looked straight at him, her bloodshot eyes wide. “They might tell you if you asked.”
Of course they wouldn’t tell her. They probably wouldn’t tell him. Everything would be need-to-know only. But he’d play along and try to find out what was going on if it helped her stay positive that she was doing something. And he’d ignore the look in her eye, the one that told him she hated having to ask him, to rely on him for anything, even though it cut through him. “Where were you?” he asked. “I’ll see what I can find out.”
A look of doubt crossed her features, like she didn’t believe he’d do everything he could to help. Which hurt. Or maybe it was because she didn’t trust him with the information, which hurt twice as bad.
“Kunduz.”
A Taliban stronghold. Holy shit.
Taliban and Afghan forces were constantly battling for control of that city, a critical transport hub with a porous border into Tajikistan used for smuggling opium and heroin to Europe through Central Asia. It was always going to be one of the first places under attack—a situation he’d experienced firsthand.
Train, advise, and assist—that was all he and Cabe and the rest of his brothers had been supposed to do when they’d been out there. But there had been too much heavy resistance, and the Afghan Special Forces had been surrounded by insurgents. Damn, it was the closest he’d ever come to panic on a battlefield, but of course they’d had to engage. They’d have been dead within the hour if they hadn’t. By the time backup air strikes had eventually come, two good men were dead.
He tried to push the memories away as he sat back in his chair, crossing one leg over the other. “Want to tell me what you were doing there?”
Delaney reached to push her hair off her face, but winced and dropped her arm. It hurt him that she was in so much pain. He’d do just about anything to switch places and bear it for her.
Without thinking, he leaned forward and tucked her hair behind her ear. It was still as soft as silk and he wished he could wrap it around his hand as he kissed her.
“Where are my things?” she asked, looking around the room. “Did anything make it here with me?”
He gestured to a chair with the folded pile of clothes and small purse that the nurse had shown him when he’d first arrived. For now, he’d ignore the fact that Delaney had totally avoided answering his question. It could wait a few minutes more. “That’s all they brought in with you.”
“Damn.” She coughed and took a sip of water. “Don’t suppose there’s anything in the purse?”
He shook his head. Whatever she’d once carried in it had been taken—he’d gone through it and wasn’t going to apologize to her for doing so. Silently, he’d prayed that she wasn’t stupid enough to have been carrying anything with too many personal details. “You’re going to need travel papers, emergency ones, but those can be arranged.”
Delaney shook her head. “What’s the date?”
“What’s the last date you remember?” Mac asked.
Sneaky. Answering a question with a question.” She picked at a thread on the utilitarian bedding. “The journalist in me hates that.”
The corner of his mouth twitched as he watched her slim fingers twirl a loose thread of cotton around. “Well, the SEAL in me hates that you were in the crosshairs of a violent insurgency and won’t tell me why that happened, so…” He let the sentence hang between them.
She looked toward him and narrowed her eyes. For a second he thought she was going to smile, could have sworn he saw a ghost of one whisper across her lips.
“I arrived in the village on Monday. What was that? Like the twenty-fourth, maybe twenty-fifth. Of February.” Delaney wrinkled her forehead and pressed a hand to her temple. He could tell the effort hurt. “We walked into the hills the next day, and that’s when … well, when I was taken … maybe a couple of days in house … hut … whatever. So, I guess it’s Friday or Saturday.”
It worried him that she was a few days off, even though it was to be expected. “It’s Monday. You lost a bit of time. The doc said the people who took you gave you something that knocked you out.”
It was warm in the room, but Delaney pulled the blanket up under her chin as she yawned. “That explains why I couldn’t open my eyes properly,” she said, snuggling into the pillows.
He was losing her to sleep, and Lord knew she needed it. But there was one thing he needed to know before he let her slip into it. The chair scraped the floor as he stood and went to perch on the edge of the bed. He reached out without thinking and moved another stray piece of hair from her forehead. Delaney pulled away from him, and he remembered that she wasn’t his anymore. Hell, he didn’t even know if she was somebody else’s.
“Delaney … how badly did they hurt you? Did they…?” Shit. He couldn’t even bring himself to say the word. No matter what had happened to her, he’d be by her side, but he needed to know what he was up against.
“They beat me, that was all,” she mumbled, her eyes closed as she drifted toward sleep. Her hand slipped into his, and warmth trickled through him. He knew he shouldn’t read anything into the actions of an exhausted woman, but it gave him hope. She’d be embarrassed in the morning if he told her what she’d done. But at some subconscious level, she needed him.
“I felt so alone, Mac.”
Alone.
As her body relaxed into sleep—the deep, heavy sleep that Delaney had always loved, sleep so restful she would struggle to get out of bed in the morning—he traced his fingers along her heart-shaped face, along her jaw while holding her hand tightly.
“I’m here, Delaney,” he whispered before placing a chaste kiss on her temple. “You’re not alone anymore.”

Copyright © 2018 by Scarlett Cole

Available now                 Out July 2018  


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Meet Scarlett:
Born in England, Scarlett Cole traveled the world, living in Japan and the United States before settling in Canada where she met her own personal hero – all six and a half feet of him. She now lives with her husband and children in Manchester, England where she's at work on her next book. She is the author of The Strongest Steel.