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By Emilie Rose
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHer husband. She'd loved him. She'd hated him. And now he was gone. Guilt and pain seeped through Lynn Riggan, chilling her to the bone. She'd wanted to end her marriage, but not this way. Never this way.
Eager to shed her painful four-inch heels and a dress so tight she hadn't been able to sit down all day, she closed the front door behind the last of the mourners and sagged against it. God, she hated this dress, but it was the only black one she owned that wasn't cut to reveal more cleavage than she felt comfortable displaying at a funeral, and Brett had liked it. She took comfort in the fact that today was the last time she'd have to dress to impress someone else.
"Are you all right?" Her brother-in-law's quiet baritone scraped over her raw nerves.
She clenched her teeth, swallowed hard and opened her eyes. Straightening, she folded her hands at her waist and forced a smile she did not feel. Her lips quivered, and she knew she hadn't fooled Sawyer when his dark brows dipped with concern.
He crossed the cool marble foyer and stopped in front of her. "Lynn?"
"I thought you'd left." She wished he had because she hated for him to see her this way. Weak. Needy. Her world was falling apart, and she didn't have the strength to pretend everything wouldbe all right - not even for Sawyer's sake.
"I stepped out back for a minute." Losing his beloved baby brother had been hard on him. Grief filled his cobalt-blue eyes and deepened the laugh lines fanning from the corners. A muscle ticked in the tense line of his chiseled jaw. His ruggedly handsome features were drawn and pale, and his shiny dark hair looked as if the late-spring breeze or restless fingers had tumbled it. The rigid set of his broad shoulders beneath his black suit revealed how tightly he held his emotions in check.
"You should go home and rest, Sawyer." Please leave before I crumble.
"Yeah. Probably. But I feel so damned ... empty." He shoved a hand through his inky hair, mussing it even more. A lock curled over his forehead, making him look more like a college boy than the thirty-two-year-old CEO of a privately owned computer software company.
"I keep waiting for Brett to come through that door laughing and shouting, 'Gotcha.'"
Yes, Brett had liked cruel jokes. She'd been the butt of several. His worst joke yet was the financial mess he'd left for her to unravel. But even he couldn't have faked the fiery car accident that had taken his life.
Sawyer's eyes lasered in on hers. "Will you be all right here alone?"
Alone. Already the walls of this mausoleum of a house closed in on her. Right now she needed a hug more than anything, but she'd learned how to survive without that simple comfort a long time ago. She chewed her lip, wrapped her arms around her middle and avoided his probing gaze. "I'll be fine."
Her eyes burned from lack of sleep, and her muscles ached from pacing the floor all night. She wished she'd never found that key in the plastic bag of personal effects the hospital personnel had given her. If she hadn't found the key, she wouldn't have opened the safe. And if she hadn't opened the safe ... She took one shaky breath and then another trying to ward off panic.
What was she going to do?
She'd been searching for a life insurance policy to cover the funeral costs, and instead she'd discovered statements from empty bank accounts and a private journal in which her husband had written that he'd never loved her, that he found her such a dud in bed that he'd turned to another woman for pleasure. He'd catalogued her faults in excruciating detail.
"Lynn?" Sawyer lifted her chin with the warm tip of his finger. "Do you want me to stay tonight? I could bunk in the guest room."
No, he couldn't. She'd moved to the guest room months ago, and if he saw her personal belongings in the room he'd know that all wasn't right in the Riggan household. She didn't want to tell Sawyer that she and Brett had been having trouble for months, and she'd suspected her husband might be having an affair. She'd even consulted a lawyer about a divorce, but Brett had blamed their problems on his workload and charmed her into giving him one more chance. Against her better judgment, she'd allowed him to convince her that a baby would bring them closer, and they'd slept together one last time - just moments before she'd found proof of his infidelity, lost her temper and kicked him out of the house. Minutes later he'd died in the car crash.
"No, I'm okay." Her voice cracked over the last word and a tremor worked through her. She had no money, no job, and no way to pay for this extravagant house Brett had insisted they buy. The house and car payments were due, and she had no idea how she'd make them. As if that weren't enough ...
Her nerves stretched to the breaking point. She pressed a hand to her belly and prayed that the intimacy with her husband three nights ago wouldn't result in a child. She loved children, and she'd always wanted a large family, but she didn't know how she'd take care of herself right now, let alone a baby.
Sawyer pulled her into his arms, breaking her train of self-pity. After a stiff moment, she laid her head on his shoulder and selfishly allowed herself to savor the comforting warmth of the strong arms enfolding her and the softness of his suit against her cheek. A sob hiccuped past the knot in her throat. She mashed her lips together, clenched her teeth and stiffened her spine. She was not a quitter. She would survive this.
"Shhh," he murmured against her temple. The whisper of his breath swept her skin, and his hands chafed her spine. The spicy scent of his cologne invaded her senses. A shiver of another kind worked over her. Appalled, she tried to pull free, but his arms held fast. His chest shuddered against hers, and a warm, wet trail burned down her neck. Sawyer's tears.
Her throat clogged and her heart squeezed in sympathy. Sawyer had stood beside her through identifying Brett's body and every step of the funeral arrangements.
The fact that he'd hidden his grief and been strong for her up to this point made his loss of control more heart-wrenching. She focused on his pain rather than her own. It was safer that way, because hers was tied up with so many other emotions. Disappointment. Failure. Anger. Betrayal. Guilt.
Excerpted from Forbidden Passion by Emilie Rose Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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