Ransomed Dreamsby Sally John
Sheridan Montgomery leads a charmed life as the wife of Eliot, U.S. ambassador to Venezuela. But an attack on their lives cripples Eliot, and they retreat to a remote Mexican village. As Sheridan quietly cares for her husband, she sees her dreams slipping away. Luke Traynor shatters their reverie when he arrives to tell Sheridan of her father’s heart attack and the evidence implicating him in a conspiracy. Sheridan returns to Chicago to untangle the web of her father’s past and is forced to confront her feelings for Luke, a trail of deceit, and the truth about her marriage. Tyndale House Publishers
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By SALLY JOHN
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Sally John
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTOPALA, MEXICO EIGHTEEN MONTHS LATER
Like everything about the small village tucked into the foothills of the Sierra Madres in central Mexico, sunrise was a leisurely event.
Sheridan waited for it, tea mug in hand, shawl over her cotton nightgown, bare feet chilled against the tile floor of the second-story balcony. Alone, she listened in the dark to the squawk of roosters and clung to their promise that the world would once again know light.
"Oh, good grief," she murmured to herself with a groan. "That is so maudlin. Truly and hopelessly maudlin. You might try something more chipper. Something like ... Something like ..." Her foggy brain offered nothing.
She scrunched her nose in defeat. The morning had shuffled in on the heels of a sleepless night. Chipper was not going to happen, no matter how hard she tried to talk herself into it.
If she could turn the calendar back eighteen months, she would not be talking to herself. No. Eliot would be right next to her, responding, most likely pointing out a dozen chipper thoughts in that funny way of his.
Nostalgia and regret hit her, a powerful one-two punch that still took her breath away. She clenched her teeth, waiting for it to pass, mentally spewing forth a verbal attack at the counselor who had promised her that time healed all wounds, that month by month they would see improvement.
What drivel that was! Eighteen months-or to be more precise, seven teen months, three weeks, and two days; but who was counting? All that time had passed and only one thing was healed: Eliot's gunshot wound. His other wounds, the invisible ones, still oozed like toxins from a waste dump site. He was not the same man she had married.
Sheridan took a deep breath and let the bitter argument go. Nostalgia and regret settled back down into whatever corner of her heart they'd found to hide out in. Their impact, though, lingered.
Would time ever erase her longing for the Eliot she had married? The animated one, the one others adored, the one who was engaged in every detail of life, whether simple or complex, with every person who crossed his path. The one from B.C.E., Before the Caracas Episode. Now, in their A.C.E. days, he might as well be a deaf-mute for all the interest he showed in the world around him.
Sleep deprived, she totally blamed him. She didn't mean to. It wasn't like he had much of a choice. The bullet that shattered his nerves shattered their life. Everything about it was over. Health, career, home, friends. All gone. Kaput. Some days she barely recognized herself and Eliot. Where were the Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery she once knew? These routines, hometown, health, acquaintances, and even personalities seemed lifted from the pages of some stranger's biography.
"Oh, honestly. Get over it already, Sher." She forced a swallow of tea and focused on the scene before her.
A lone sunbeam pierced between two mountain peaks and sliced into the distant mists. Another followed. And another and another until finally pure light broke free. Valleys and canyons burst into sight. Loud birdsong erupted. Then, as if God had uncurled His fist, long fingers of sunlight shot forth and touched the wrought-iron railing where she stood.
It was achingly gorgeous.
Sheridan flicked at a tear seeping from the corner of her eye. "You should have stayed in bed, you foolish, stubborn woman."
Sunrises were the worst because they represented the best of what had been.
Most days she could ignore that thought. Evidently not today. She and Eliot were morning people. Had been morning people. Their daily ritual of tea and conversation at an east-facing view, awaiting dawn, was seldom missed. With crazy-full schedules, they needed such a time to relate on the deepest levels. Some days their hearts positively danced and sang in union. Naturally, through the years the tune changed now and then, the tempo sped up and slowed down, but the music never stopped. It never stopped. They always talked. They always connected.
Until that day in Caracas.
Now she watched sunrises by herself.
"You really should've stayed in bed."
But it was so beautiful. And it went on and on like a slow waltz. At the bottom of her street now, purple haze still shrouded the town square. The sky brightened in slow motion above it, the fiery ball itself still hiding behind a peak.
Something moved in the semidarkness below. A person. Early risers were not uncommon, but she was startled. Something felt off about this one.
Or was that just her hypervigilance? Compliments of the incident in Caracas, it kicked into gear at times without warning, filling her with anxiety and suspicion.
Now she could see that it was a man. He passed the bandstand, his strides too deliberate for a villager, too American. He headed straight for the steep incline that led up to her house. In city terms, the distance was perhaps a block. In Topala terms, it was simply up beyond the sculptor's shop.
The sun overtook the peaks and the man came into view.
"No way." Her heartbeat slowed, but not quite to normal.
Even with his face concealed by a ball cap, his body clothed in a generic khaki jacket and blue jeans, a city block separating them, she recognized him. She recognized him simply because the air vibrated with him.
Luke Traynor owned whatever space he occupied.
Sheridan set the mug on the table beside her, tightened the shawl around her shoulders, and massaged her left arm. She felt no surprise at his unannounced arrival nor at the early hour. It was as if she had always expected him to show up sooner or later.
But as he climbed the narrow street, an uneasiness rose within her. Her muscles tensed. Why was he here? He had promised not to come. Sixteen months ago he promised. Not that she was keeping track....
The sound of a soft whistle drew her attention back toward the square. Javier, the young sculptor, stood on the porch steps outside his shop. Behind him, the handicraft shop owner emerged from his door.
Javier raised his chin in question.
Sheridan gave a half nod. They needn't be concerned. The stranger was, so to speak, a known quantity. Not that she felt the least bit glad to see Luke. Eliot would most likely be severely distressed at his arrival.
Wishing Luke were an apparition did not make it so. He continued his steady pace, arms swinging gently, head down as if he studied the cobblestones, making his way to her house.
Since that day in Caracas-the day her husband died in every sense except physically, the day this man saved her life-Sheridan had understood intuitively that Luke would always be a part of her life. And there he was, out of the blue, ascending her street in the middle of nowhere on a spring day as if he visited all the time.
She suddenly remembered the date. "Good grief."
It was Annunciation Day, a day of remembrance, of celebration for when the angel Gabriel visited Mary and announced her future. How apropos. Luke appeared without warning. He would not have come unless he had something to tell her, some message that would irreversibly change her future.
Was this his joke or God's?
Luke neared and looked up, straight at her.
She saw not the man whose presence had always triggered apprehension in her, but rather the guardian angel who had saved her life.
Sheridan turned and made her way inside, down the stairs, and through the house.
* * *
Sheridan opened the front door and stopped.
Luke Traynor stood less than six feet away, at the low gate in the stone wall where her front terrace met the steep hill.
She returned his steady gaze, knowing full well her own expression did not mirror the one before her. While dread, relief, and excessive gratitude rearranged every muscle on her face, his remained perfectly composed. The sharp nose, thin lips, and deep-set eyes could have been made of the same cobblestone he stood on.
He flashed a rakish grin. "I was in the neighborhood."
"That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."
He cocked his head, somber again. Always the gentleman, he waited for her to make the first move.
Sheridan clutched her shawl more closely and resigned herself to riding out the emotional disarray rumbling through her. She both loathed and loved this man. Of course he knew that, so it didn't matter how she reacted to him except that she'd like herself better if she were polite.
With a quiet sigh, she walked to him, planted a kiss on his scruffy, unshaven cheek, and eased into his embrace. Nestled against the rough collar of his jacket, she smelled the familiar scent of him, an indescribable mix of earth, sun-drenched air, and confidence that bordered on lunacy. She felt the hardness of his body, always unexpected given his average height and build.
"Sheridan. How are you?"
"Fine." She backed away, crossing her arms.
"And Eliot?" he said. "How is he?"
Luke blinked, a slow movement of lids indicating he could take the truth.
She wanted to shriek obscenities at him. The disconcerting thing about angels, though, was that it was impossible to keep up any sort of pretense. Like an angel, Luke had stayed close beside her for long weeks after the shooting. He had gone with her to the edge of hell, holding on to her until she came back. He knew her better than she knew herself. Glossing over answers was a waste of time with him.
She tried another phrase. "We're doing about as well as could be expected."
"Eliot is still asleep."
"It's early. Perhaps I can greet him later."
The resistance drained from her. Yes, Gabriel had come to deliver a message, and he would not leave until he'd done so.
She had no inkling how to shield Eliot and herself from this unexpected source of distress but gave a lame attempt. "I don't suppose you're passing through town and simply must be on your way right now, this very minute?"
She inhaled, her shoulders lifting with the effort, and blew the breath out with force. "Coffee?"
Excerpted from RANSOMED dreams by SALLY JOHN Copyright © 2010 by Sally John. Excerpted by permission.
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