Read an Excerpt
The man was watching her.
Marin Sheppard was sure of it.
He wasn't staring, exactly. In fact, he hadn't even looked at her, though he'd been seated directly across from her in the lounge car of the train for the past fifteen minutes. He seemed to focus his attention on the wintry Texas landscape that zipped past the window. But several times Marin had met his gaze in the reflection of the glass.
Yes, he was watching her.
That kicked up her heart rate a couple of notches. A too-familiar nauseating tightness started to knot Marin's stomach.
Was it starting all over again?
Was he watching her, hoping that she'd lead him to her brother, Dexter? Or was this yet another attempt by her parents to insinuate themselves into her life?
It'd been over eight months since the last time this happened. A former "business associate" of her brother who was riled that he'd paid for a "product" that Dexter hadn't delivered. The man had followed her around Fort Worth for days. He hadn't been subtle about it, either, and that had made him seem all the more menacing. And she hadn't given birth to Noah yet then.
The stakes were so much higher now.
Marin hugged her sleeping son closer to her chest. He smelled like baby shampoo and the rice cereal he'd had for lunch. She brushed a kiss on his forehead and rocked gently. Not so much for himNoah was sound asleep and might stay that way for the remaining hour of the trip to San Antonio. No, the rocking, the kiss and the snug embrace were more for her benefit, to help steady her nerves.
And it worked.
"Cute kid," she heard someone say. The man across from her. Who else? There were no other travelers in this particular section of the lounge car.
Marin lifted her gaze. Met his again. But this time it wasn't through the buffer of the glass, and she clearly saw his eyes, a blend of silver and smoke, framed with indecently long, dark eyelashes.
She studied him a moment, trying to decide if she knew him. He was on the lanky side. Midnight-colored hair. High cheekbones. A classically chiseled male jaw.
The only thing that saved him from being a total pretty boy was the one-inch scar angled across his right eyebrow, thin but noticeable. Not a precise surgeon's cut, a jagged, angry mark left from an old injury. It conjured images of barroom brawls, tattooed bikers and bashed beer bottles. Not that Marin had firsthand knowledge of such things.
But she would bet that he did.
He wore jeans that fit as if they'd been tailor-made for him, a dark blue pullover shirt that hugged his chest and a black leather bomber jacket. And snakeskin bootsspecifically diamondback rattlesnake. Pricey and conspicuous footwear.
No, she didn't know him. Marin was certain she would have remembered hima realization that bothered her because he was hot, and she was sorry she'd noticed.
He tipped his head toward Noah. "I meant your baby," he clarified. "Cute kid."
"Thank you." She looked away from the man, hoping it was the end of their brief conversation.
"He's what seven, eight months old?"
"Eight," she provided.
"He reminds me a little of my nephew," the man continued. "It must be hard, traveling alone with a baby."
That brought Marin's attention racing across the car. What had provoked that remark? She searched his face and his eyes almost frantically, trying to figure out if it was some sort of veiled threat.
He held up his hands, and a nervous laugh sounded from deep within his chest. "Sorry. Didn't mean to alarm you. It's just I noticed you're wearing a medical alert bracelet."
Marin glanced down at her left wrist. The almond-shaped metal disc was peeking out from the cuff of her sleeve. With its classic caduceus symbol engraved in crimson, it was like his bootsimpossible to miss.
"I'm epileptic," she said.
"Oh." Concern dripped from the word.
"Don't worry," she countered. "I keep my seizures under control with meds. I haven't had one in over five years."
She immediately wondered why in the name of heaven she'd volunteered that personal information. Her medical history wasn't any of his business; it was a sore spot she didn't want to discuss.
"Is your epilepsy the reason you took the train?" he asked. "I mean, instead of driving?"
Marin frowned at him. "I thought the train would make the trip easier for my son."
He nodded, apparently satisfied with her answer to his intrusive question. When his attention strayed back in the general direction of her bracelet, Marin followed his gaze. Down to her hand. All the way to her bare ring finger.
Even though her former fiancé, Randall Davidson, had asked her to marry him, he'd never given her an engagement ring. It'd been an empty, bare gesture. A thought that riled her even now. Randall's betrayal had cut her to the bone.
Shifting Noah into the crook of her arm, she reached down to collect her diaper bag. "I think I'll go for a little walk and stretch my legs."
And change seats, she silently added.
Judging from the passengers she'd seen get on and off, the train wasn't crowded, so moving into coach seating shouldn't be a problem. In fact, she should have done it sooner.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I made you uncomfortable with my questions."
His words stopped her because they were sincere. Or at least he sounded that way. Of course, she'd been wrong before. It would take another lifetime or two for her to trust her instincts.
And that was the reason she reached for the bag again.
"Stay, please," he insisted. "It'll be easier for me to move." He got up, headed for the exit and then stopped, turning back around to face her. "I was hitting on you."
Marin blinked. "You what?"
"Hitting on you," he clarified.
That took her a few moments to process.
"Really?" Marin asked, sounding far more surprised than she wanted.
He chuckled, something low, husky and male. Something that trickled through her like expensive warm whiskey. "Really." But then, the lightheartedness faded from his eyes, and his jaw muscles started to stir. "I shouldn't have done it. Sorry."
Again, he seemed sincere. So maybe he wasn't watching her after all. Well, not for surveillance any way. Maybe he was watching her because she was a woman. Odd, that she'd forgotten all about basic human attraction and lust.
"You don't have to leave," Marin let him know. Because she suddenly didn't know what to do with her fidgety hands, she ran her fingers through Noah's dark blond curls. "Besides, it won't be long before we're in San Antonio."
He nodded, and it had an air of thankfulness to it. "I'm Quinn Bacelli. Most people though just call me Lucky."
She almost gave him a fake name. Old habits. But it was the truth that came out of her mouth. "Marin Sheppard."
He smiled. It was no doubt a lethal weapon in his arsenal of ways to get women to fall at his feet. Or into his bed. It bothered Marin to realize that she wasn't immune to it.
Good grief. Hadn't her time with Randall taught her anything?
"Well, Marin Sheppard," he said, taking his seat again. "No more hitting on you. Promise."
Good. She mentally repeated that several times, and then wondered why she felt mildly disappointed.
Noah stirred, sucked at a nonexistent bottle and then gave a pouty whimper when he realized it wasn't there. His eyelids fluttered open, and he blinked, focused and looked up at Marin with accusing blue-green eyes that were identical to her own. He made another whimper, probably to let her know that he wasn't pleased about having his nap interrupted.
Her son shifted and wriggled until he was in a sitting position in her lap, and the new surroundings immediately caught his attention. What was left of his whimpering expression evaporated. He examined his puppy socks, the window, the floor, the ceiling and the ruby-red exit sign. Even her garnet heart necklace. Then, his attention landed on the man seated across from him.
Noah grinned at him.
The man grinned back. "Did you have a good nap, buddy?"
Noah babbled a cordial response, something the two males must have understood, because they shared another smile.
Marin looked at Quinn "Lucky" Bacelli. Then, at her son. Their smiles seemed to freeze in place.
There was no warning.
A deafening blast ripped through the car.
One moment Marin was sitting on the seat with her son cradled in her arms, and the next she was flying across the narrow space right at Lucky.
Everything moved fast. So fast. And yet it happened in slow motion, too. It seemed part of some nightmarish dream where everything was tearing apart at the seams.
Debris spewed through the air. The diaper bag, the magazine she'd been reading, the very walls themselves. All of it, along with Noah and her.
Something slammed into her back and the left side of her head. It knocked the breath from her. The pain was instantsearingand it sliced right through her, blurring her vision.
She and Noah landed in Lucky's arms, propelled against him. But he softened the fall. He turned, immediately, pushing them down against the seat and crawling over them so he could shelter them with his body. Still, the debris pelted her legs and her head. She felt the sting of the cuts on her skin and reached out for something, anything, to use as protection. Her fingers found the diaper bag, and she used it to block the shards so they wouldn't hit Noah.
The train's brakes screamed. Metal scraped against metal. The crackle and scorched smell of sparks flying, shouts of terror, smoke and dust filled the air.
Amid all the chaos, she heard her baby cry.
Noah was terrified, and his shrill piercing wail was a plea for help.
Marin tried to move him so she could see his face, so she could make sure he was all right, but her peripheral vision blurred. It closed in, like thick fog, nearly blinding her.
"Help my son," she begged. She couldn't bear his cries. They echoed in her head. Like razor-sharp daggers. Cutting right through her.
Sweet heaven, was he hurt?
There was some movement, and she felt Lucky maneuver his hand between them. "He's okay, I think."
His qualifier nearly caused Marin to scream right along with her son. "Please, help him."
Because she had no choice, because the pain was unbearable, Marin dropped her head against the seat. The grayness got darker. Thicker. The pain just kept building. Throbbing. Consuming her.
And her son continued to cry.
That was the worst pain of allher son crying.
Somehow she had to help him.
She tried to move again, to see his face, but her body no longer responded to what she was begging it to do. It was as if she were spiraling downward into a bottomless dark pit. Her breath was thin, her heartbeat barely a whisper in her ears. And her mouth was filled with the metallic taste of her own blood.
God, was she dying?
The thought broke her heart. She wasn't scared to die. But her death would leave her son vulnerable. Unprotected.
That couldn't happen.
"You can't let them take Noah," she heard herself whisper. She was desperate now, past desperate, and if necessary she would resort to begging.
"Who can't take him?" Lucky asked. He sounded so far away, but the warmth of his weight was still on her. She could feel his frantic breath gusting against her face.
"My parents." Marin wanted to explain that they were toxic people, that she didn't want them anywhere near her precious son. But there seemed so little breath left in her body, and she needed to tell him something far more important. "If I don't make it "
"You will," he insisted.
Marin wasn't sure she believed that. "If I don't make it, get Noah out of here." She had to take a breath before she could continue. "Protect him." She coughed as she pulled the smoke and ash into her lungs. "Call Lizette Raines in Fort Worth. She'll know what to do."
Marin listened for a promise that he would do just that. And maybe Lucky Bacelli made that promise. Maybe he spoke to her, or maybe it was just her imagination when the softly murmured words filtered through the unbearable pain rifling in her head.
I swear, I'll protect him.
She wanted to see her son's face. She wanted to give him one last kiss.
But that didn't happen.
The grayness overtook her, and Marin felt her world fade to nothing.