The autumn ocean breeze whispered between us, seeming to steal the air from my lungs.


“Erica,” I whispered. I brushed my hand over her flawless cheek.

She gazed up at me through her dark lashes and leaned into my gentle touch. I fought the urge to kiss her. Not yet, a little voice reminded me.

My grand speech had flown out the window, into the wind somewhere. Suddenly nothing had ever been as important as the words I was about to say to her. They had to be real. From the deepest place in my heart, they had to speak directly to hers.

“I promise to be deserving of your love and your trust. You’ll never want for love or comfort or happiness. I promise that you’ll always have a safe place in my arms and in our home. I’ll love you completely, with every ounce of my being, every day, for the rest of my life.”

The justice began to speak. As soon as I heard the word kiss, I beat him to the finish and brought her to me. She came willingly, her arms like silk winding at my nape, as if she’d been waiting too. I brushed my lips over hers and kissed her tenderly.

“You want some coffee?” Heath asked when he came into the room, tearing me from the memory.

My eye twitched. I’d already had enough coffee to fuel a college campus. All it had done was make me edgier. “You have anything stronger?”

He paused. “It’s nine in the morning, and you know I’m done with the strong stuff.”

I sighed. “I know. Sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”

You’ll always have my trust.

I leaned forward, burying my face in my hands. Her words were a tattoo on my heart, indelible in my mind. We’d made promises. Were those simply the words of a couple hopelessly in love on day one of marriage? Was her trust in me so easily shaken? Maybe other people slacked on their vows from time to time, but she sure as hell wasn’t letting me forget mine.

Had she given up on me so soon? Had I given her a good reason to?

If she’d only come home . . .

Where was she? We’d fought, and I was being a stubborn bastard, but I figured she was used to that by now. I thought her days of running away were over too. We were married now. We had to fight our way through these things—together. She couldn’t just walk out on me. Not like this. Not when everything else was falling apart.

Something cold tapped my shoulder. I opened my eyes to Heath holding out a beer. I took it, grateful. He sat on the opposite couch, still in his boxers, holding a cup of coffee.

“You look like shit you know,” he said, peering at me over the rim of the cup.

I ran a hand over the coarse hair on my chin. I’d pulled on the closest thing within reach this morning, which was the wrinkled shirt I’d worn yesterday. With Erica gone, the last thing I cared about were my looks. I leveled a desperate look at my brother. “Where is she?”

He shook his head, his eyes tentative. “Alli said there was something Erica had to do. She wouldn’t tell me anything else, except that I shouldn’t worry.”

Un-fucking-acceptable my mind shouted, but I forced myself to stay calm. “Did you ask about her?”

“Of course I did.”

“And?”

Heath looked past me, working his tense jaw.

I gripped my fingers around the bottle I held. “Heath. Talk to me, or I swear to God . . .”

“She’s upset, Blake. She’s your wife, so I figure you knew that already. What happened before she left?”

“We fought.”

“About?”

I lifted the bottle to my lips and took a deep swallow. “She wants me to track down Trevor, or at least let the feds know who they should be looking for.”

“And you won’t?”

“He’s not worth our time. Hers or mine. He’s—”

“He’s what, exactly?”

“Not the answer. The authorities can’t pin this on me. Sending them after him is a waste of time.”

Heath set his coffee down on the table and clasped his hands together. “You know I’m not big on confrontation, but this fucker has been after you for years. Maybe I’ve been too busy making a mess out of my own life to speak up about it until now. But he needs to be stopped. The fact that someone as smart you hasn’t put an end to it is ridiculous.”

I didn’t respond for a moment, tempering the verbal lashing I wanted to dole out. Maybe he was right. Maybe he and Erica both were. I cursed under my breath. I rubbed my eyes to soothe the stinging from lack of sleep.

“Erica thinks it’s because I feel guilty about Brian.”

“Do you?”

I swallowed down more of my beer. “Maybe,” I confessed, almost too quietly to be heard.

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