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When Riley Kane left San Antonio three years ago, she swore she'd never return.
In a moment of sheer desperation, she'd packed her bags and driven halfway across the country, hoping to give herself a chance at a new lifeand the chance to make new memories.
Memories that didn't torment her with images of Trevor. Trevor, laughing and teasing her as they wrestled over the last slice of pizza. Trevor, broad shoulders swaying as he sauntered across a bustling police station to greet her with a kiss.
Trevor, gunned down in an alley forty-six days before their wedding.
Although time had softened the pain of his death, the nightmares that plagued Riley were as sharp and vivid as ever. And the same memories that had driven her away from home were the same memories that ultimately lured her back.
She wanted answers. And this time, she would not leave without them.
Which was why she was parked outside a private detective agency at eight o'clock at night, trying to work up the courage to leave the safety of her car and face the man inside the nondescript building.
Noah Roarke. Trevor's best friend and former partner on the police force.
A man who'd made it perfectly clear to Riley that he wanted nothing to do with her.
She closed her eyes for a moment, her hands tightening reflexively on the steering wheel. Even after all these years, Noah Roarke's aversion to her remained a mystery. He and Trevor had been friends since childhood. They'd attended the same college, graduated from the police academy at the same time, and had been assigned partners. As Trevor's girlfriendand then fiancéeRiley had always hoped, and expected, that she and Noah would become friends. After all, they had the most important thing in common: their love for Trevor. But despite her efforts to reach out to Noah, he'd always treated her with polite reserve, making it clear he didn't share her desire for a friendship.
At Trevor's funeral, Noah could barely look at her. It was she who'd approached him after the service to thank him for the beautiful eulogy, which she knew had been as heartrending for him to deliver as it had been for her to hear. She'd wanted to comfort him, and a part of her had wanted to be comforted in return, to be held and told that everything would be okay. Instead they'd stood at the gravesidenot touching, not speaking, regarding each other with the awkwardness of strangers, instead of two people who'd lost a mutual friend.
The memory of that strained encounter had haunted Riley for the past three years, surfacing at the oddest moments, and lingering in her mind longer than it should have.
And speaking of lingering too long!
Riley heaved a deep sigh and frowned at the digital clock on the dashboard. She'd spent nearly half an hour inside her Toyota Avalon, her stomach tied up in knots, trying to convince herself she was doing the right thing by coming to Noah. He was the only one who could help her find the answers she sought. He was the only one who could help her find closure.
And the sooner she could put the past behind her, the sooner she could get on with her life.
Without giving herself another chance to reconsider, Riley cut off the ignition and opened the door. As she stepped from her car, a gentle breeze caressed her face, stirring tendrils of hair that had escaped from her ponytail. One thing she'd always appreciated about summers in San Antonio was that no matter how sweltering the days were, the cool, breezy nights always provided a welcome reprieve. It was one of many things she'd missed about home.
She walked up to an old single-story brick building that had once housed a print shop, a real estate office and a family-owned travel agency. The name of the current tenant was painted in white lettering on the plate-glass windowRoarke Investigations, Inc.
Riley could see through the miniblinds that the reception area was mostly dark, save for a solitary lamp perched atop the large reception desk. Knowing that the agency was closed for the day, she tried the glass door anyway and was surprised to find it unlocked. She stepped inside the building and took a quick glance around. The tastefully decorated room with its rustic pine furniture, lush potted plants and papaya-colored walls was not what she'd expected to find in a private detective agency.
Stepping further into the office, Riley called out, "Hello? Is anyone here?"
There was no answer. But from somewhere down the narrow corridor, she could hear the low whir of a machine. She hesitated, wondering if she should just wait until someone emerged to help her. She knew Noah, at least, was back there. Before heading out to Roarke Investigations that evening, she'd called Noah's direct line, remembering what a workaholic he'd always been. She was counting on him being at the office after hours, burning the midnight oil. When he answered the phone, she'd hung up without a word and hightailed it over there, praying he wouldn't leave before she arrived.
Afraid she might lose her nerve if she waited around a second longer, Riley started down the corridor, following the whirring noise to an office located near the end of the hallway, where light spilled from the half-open doorway. The brass nameplate on the wall read Noah Roarke, Licensed Private Investigator.
Drawing a deep, steadying breath, Riley pushed the door open all the way.
Noah Roarke sat behind a large oak desk littered with files. His back was to the door as he fed papers into an old shredder that had likely seen better days. The machine was so loud he didn't even hear Riley enter the room.
Not wanting to startle him while he was at the mercy of the paper shredder but seeing no other alternative, she said, "Noah."
He spun around, and those dark, deep-set eyes she remembered so well widened at the sight of her.
She mustered a half smile. "Hello, Noah. It's been a while, hasn't it?"
Paper shredder all but forgotten, Noah Roarke slowly rose to his feet, staring at her as if she were an apparition. Riley had almost forgotten how tall he was. Six-three, with a lean, muscular physique he'd honed while on the police force and maintained four years after leaving it. He wore charcoal-gray trousers, a white broadcloth shirt with the sleeves rolled to his elbows, and a silk tie that hung loose around his collar, as if he'd been meaning to remove it but hadn't gotten around to it yet. How had she forgotten how incredibly broad his shoulders were? Or how rich and smooth his chestnut-brown skin was?
As Riley gazed at him, she became aware of a slight tension building in her muscles, tiny hairs rising on the back of her neck. She quickly dismissed the odd sensation, attributing it to nerves and fatigue. After all, she was still recovering from her twentyfour-hour drive from Washington, D.C. She needed a whole lot more than the two hours of sleep she'd allowed herself that afternoon before taking a shower and heading out there.
Finally Noah seemed to find his voice, and the deep, husky timbre of it roused Riley from her silent musings. "How did you get in here?"
"The front doors were unlocked," she told him, somewhat apologetically. "I called out, but you didn't hear me." A smile tipped one corner of her mouth.
"You must be losing your touch, Roarke. There was a time no one could sneak up on you, not even a cat tiptoeing on feathers."
He barely cracked a smile, his dark gaze intent upon her face. "What're you doing here, Riley?"
"In San Antonio, or in your office?"
Though he hadn't offered, she walked over to one of the visitor chairs across from his desk and sat down, hoping Noah would follow her lead. For some reason, she thought he might be less!overpowering if he were seated.
He remained standing. "I took a leave of absence from work," she explained, folding her hands in her lap. "I'll be home for two months. I'm staying at my parents' house."
Although Noah's expression didn't change, Riley had the vague impression he wasn't terribly thrilled about the news.
"Is everything okay?" he asked quietly.
"My family's fine, if that's what you're asking. In fact, my parents are vacationing in Hawaii, and my grandmother will be celebrating her seventy-fifth birthday in a few weeks. She sends her warm regards, by the way."
This, finally, brought a smile to his face. Noah and Florinda Kane had met at Trevor and Riley's engagement party four years ago. Riley's grandmother had taken an instant liking to Noah and had spent the entire time introducing him to every single woman at the picnic, then dismissing each prospect as "unsuitable" or "not good enough" for him. When she wasn't playing matchmaker, she'd flirted shamelessly with himmuch to Riley's chagrin. But Noah had been a good sport about it, indulging the old woman's antics with a warmth and relaxed humor that Riley and her mother, watching from across the yard, had found endearing.
"Tell your grandmother I said hello," Noah said now.
"I will," Riley agreed, "if you'll do me a favor and sit down. I swear I'm getting a cramp in my neck from looking up at you, Noah Roarke."
His mouth twitched as he lowered himself into his chair. "How's that?" he murmured.
"Better," Riley said, wondering if it really was. Because now that they were almost at eye level, she couldn't help but notice just how handsome he was, with his granite-hard cheekbones, square jaw and slightly crooked nosebroken during a training exercise at the police academy. Before she could stop herself, her gaze dropped to his lips, and she realized that she had never really looked at them before, never noticed how beautifully sculpted they were, never noticed just how lush and sensuous his bottom lip
Shocked by the direction of her thoughts, Riley forced herself to look away, anywhere but at Noah. What in the world was wrong with her?