Read an Excerpt
Deep in the Heart
John Thomas Knight always knew he was going to hell. He just never expected to get there in a yellow cab.
Since his plane set down in Los Angeles two hours ago he'd prayed more than he'd prayed in his entire life, and he still wasn't certain he was going to ever see home again. From where he was sitting, Cherokee County, Texas, was looking better all the time. Here in L.A., traffic didn't flow, it snarled and jammed, and the people who drove in it wore equally snarled expressions.
People have to be crazy to live here, he thought.
As his cab stopped for a red light, a tall, thin man wearing combat fatigues appeared in the median of the busy thoroughfare, seemingly out of nowhere, and proceeded to execute a perfect somersault. He landed on his knees and then began chanting in a language John Thomas couldn't understand.
"Crazy fool," he muttered, and tried to imagine the Sam he had known living in a place like this.
The thought of Sam reminded him of why he was here, and of the last time he'd seen his childhood playmate who'd become his first love.
He'd been eighteen and hurting, trying to be a man and not cry as he kissed her good-bye at the bus stop. Samantha Carlyle had been sixteen and so full of their love that he could still remember the sheen of tears in her eyes as the bus pulled away.
He frowned, remembering also that the next time he'd come home -- ten weeks later for his father's funeral -- her family had already moved to California without a by your leave or a forwarding address to help him find her.
He traced the thin, hairline scar across hiswrist, remembering late summer nights, and blood oaths taken and promises given. Swearing a "cross my heart and hope to die" friendship forever. Nights when the extreme heat of slow summer days had lessened to an acceptable simmer and the only witnesses to their meeting were locusts buzzing a crazy cacophony in the mimosa trees overhead.
His gut tightened as the cab took a turn, and he wondered if it was from fear of traffic, or the pain of remembering the night of her sixteenth birthday, when they'd exchanged a different kind of oath. A promise that ended with them wrapped in each other's arms beneath the same mimosa trees. He shuddered and shut his eyes, trying to call back the memory of the expression on Samantha's face as he'd taken her undying pledge of love, as well as her virginity, all in one night. They'd been so happy ... and so sure.
And it had ended so swiftly that thinking about it still made him ache.
His mouth curved in a wry smile as he thought back to the dreams of callow youth. Then the smile died when he remembered the letter he'd received at home two days ago. The letter that had sent him flying across the country from Cherokee County, Texas, to L.A. with his heart in his throat. The letter that had him praying he wouldn't be too late to keep the promise he'd made all those years ago.
He won't leave me alone, she'd written. And I have nowhere left to run. Johnny ... please come get me! Don't let me die!
The lingering resentment of her unexplained disappearance, and the old, unanswered questions from their youth were not enough to make him ignore her cry for help. Not after all they'd been through together. It was the least he could do for someone who'd been his best friend for the first half of his life thus far.
He shifted in the seat and then frowned, jamming his Stetson tighter on his head as the cabby took a corner like a piss ant hunting dry ground. He wondered if the man drove this way out of repressed aggression, or if it was because he didn't know enough of the English language to understand the road signs.
"Either slow the hell down or pay attention to what you're doing," he growled, flashing his badge across the front seat for good measure. A Texas sheriff's badge carried no authority in California, but John Thomas was too fed up to care about details.
The cabby's shocked expression did little toward appeasing the nervous twitch John Thomas felt low in his belly, and he knew that the sinking feeling he'd lived with for the last forty-eight hours had nothing to do with California traffic.
Minutes later the cabby pulled up in front of a pink stucco apartment complex surrounded by palms. The black wrought-iron fence and ornate gate standing ajar told him in no uncertain terms that he was definitely in laid-back L.A.
He crawled out of the cab with his bag in one hand and his hat in the other, then tossed some bills through the open window opposite the driver.
"My God," be muttered, and jammed his Stetson back on his head. "Pink houses! Back home they'd either slap on some whitewash or burn 'em all down and put them out of their misery."
"Vat you say to me?" the cabby yelled.
John Thomas just shook his head and waved the cabdriver away. Then he took a slow, deep breath and stepped up onto the sidewalk. He stared straight up into the underside of a towering palm tree and back at the odd, almost garish blending of color and cultures surrounding him. Readjusting his Stetson, he picked up his bag and headed toward what he hoped was the vicinity of Apartment 214.Deep in the Heart. Copyright © by Sharon Sala. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.