and someone wants to make sure Amber Talbot never reveals it. When she becomes the target of a car bomb and a home invasion, she gets the message loud and clear. If she tells anyone her secret, she will die. The person charged with protecting her is police detective Patrick Wileythe fiancé she walked away from but never forgot. The same man she never wanted to tell about the attack that left her for dead. Back then Patrick couldn't save her. Now he must. Because the attacker has returned to finish what he started. Except this time he's got them both in his sights.
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The distant toll of the Chatham County, Georgia, clock tower rang twelve noon as Amber Talbot left the Safe Harbor Counseling Center and headed down River Street to her car.
The forecast had called for late-afternoon thunderstorms here in Savannah, but already dark clouds hovered low in the sky. A rising breeze swept the tree-lined streets, rustling spring foliage and delivering a sudden chill to the air. Turning up her collar, Amber eyed the murky waves that boomed against wooden docks. Boats tied to their posts bobbed like corks in the water. Curling white-caps crashed over their bows.
Amber pulled in a breath of humid air and picked up her pace. Perfect weather to snuggle up with a good book. Exactly what she needed. After weeks of being bogged down at work, she was treating herself to a restful weekend.
With those thoughts echoing in her head, Amber jogged up a short flight of steps to the parking lot. Lengthening her strides, she dug out her key fob and unlocked her car with a click.
"Ma'am, did you drop this?"
Amber spun in the direction of the male voice and found an older gentleman waving a manila envelope with her name sprawled across it.
She glanced at her open messenger bag, crammed full with her purse, client files and notes for her fund-raiser. How careless, she chastised herself, for forgetting to zip it closed.
Tucking the bag under her arm, she started toward the man. "Thank you, sir"
A deafening blast filled the air.
Amber flew backward, landed hard on the pavement. Black smoke plumed in front of her. The ground shook as glass and metal rained down like a hailstorm. Scrambling to her knees, she hurled her arms over her head to protect it from the shower of stinging objects. A whoosh sounded, then she heard crackling as heat blanketed her. She willed herself to move but couldn't.
I'm going to die!
"Lady, are you okay?" The man's distant shriek filled her ears. "You need to get away from the flames!"
Amber's body pulsed with pain. Smoke raked across her eyes like claws. She squeezed them shut as coughs racked her lungs. She pulled herself forward, crawling in the direction of the man's voice. Shrapnel bit into her palms and knees, but adrenaline kept her moving until the man grabbed her arm and yanked her to her feet.
"I called 9-1-1. Help's on the way," the older man screeched between hacks. "Was that your car?"
Amber's lungs burned. She worked to breathe. On shaky legs she managed to turn.
The smoke had subsided some, but the car was engulfed in flames. Panic grew; her mind spun with shock.
"Yes," she said, disbelieving. "That was my car."
"Possible car bomb off River Street," the police radio blared.
Detective Patrick Wiley forgot about the lunch meeting with his boss, swung his SUV around and headed that way.
His years as a navy SEAL had taught him one thing: get to the scene when the evidence was fresh. Facts and data meant a lot when he put his senses to the test.
Pulling a small siren from under his seat, he slapped it on the roof of the vehicle and sped onto the Talmadge Memorial Bridge. Cars swerved out of his way, and in moments he was over the Savannah River and nearing River Street.
He knew about car bombingsshrapnel, flying debris, collateral damage, innocent bloodshed. A coward's weapon of destruction.
Unlike his days in Afghanistan, this, he surmised, was likely faulty mechanic work resulting in an engine fire.
He came to a stop at the scene and leaped from his car. His positive rationale faded, and a dire feeling settled in his gut. Dark smoke blanketed the sky, the smell of destruction in the air. Rescue vehicles crammed into the small parking lot. Lines of fire hoses snaked every which way from multiple trucks.
Fortunately the parking lot hadn't been full. The tourist season had yet to take off, due to the looming storm and cooler-than-usual spring temperatures. A blessing in disguise, as it turned out.
Patrick wove his way around rescue and police vehicles, moving closer to the scene. Firefighters battled the last of the flames biting at the charred skeleton of the small sedan. A dozen yards away, paramedics tended to a young woman sitting in the back of an ambulance.
He gave another assessing glance of the area. No other casualties came into view.
Lightning flashed in the distance, followed by a clap of thunder. Hopefully the forensics team could collect any evidence before the storm hit.
Officer Bill Robinson hurried toward him, stepping around the tangle of hoses. "That was some explosion.
We got calls from folks who felt it ten blocks away." He jerked his head toward the woman sitting in the back of an EMS vehicle. "Somebody really wanted that girl scared, or dead."
By the looks of the damage and scattered debris, Patrick didn't doubt it. "Is she the only victim?"
"As far as we can tell," Bill said, taking off his hat and shaking his head. "She was fortunate. If she hadn't dropped something and went back to get it. " He didn't finish, just wagged his head.
Patrick got the picture. "Did she give you any information about who might be responsible?"
Bill shook his head again. "Shocked and confused is all I got out of her. She's pretty cut up, too. Probably needs a little time to process everything."
"I'll talk to her and see what I can find out." Patrick patted Bill on the shoulder, then made his way to the ambulance.
As a paramedic cleaned the wounds on Amber's hands, she watched firefighters douse the remaining flames from her car until the charred piece of metal smoldered. Nausea rolled through her abdomen. Forty-eight months of payments up in smoke. Literally.
Amber drew a deep breath. What am I thinking? At least she hadn't been in it.
"You really need to get to the ER," the paramedic reiterated for the fourth time.
She clenched her fist against the sting of alcohol and settled her gaze back on the man. "Do you think I'll need stitches?"
"You've got some pretty good lacerations on your hands and knees. If nothing else, you'll need to get a tetanus shot."
Amber looked at her palms and grimaced. The bloody gouges in her flesh looked as painful as they felt. "I'd really like to just go home. A hot shower and antibiotic cream sounds more appealing than a trip to the ER."
"Your call, but I wouldn't recommend it."
Of course not. She stretched out one leg and winced. Then glanced at her hands again. He probably was right. "Okay. I suppose I should go."
"Great. We'll get packed and be on our way. Since you're stable, you can buckle up where you are on the bench seat. We won't need to strap you onto the gurney."
"I really appreciate that." More than he could imagine.
Still, the mere thought of the ambulance ride made her uneasy. It was something she'd never wanted to experience again. Let alone a trip to the emergency room. She flexed her fingers and cringed against the pain. She was being ridiculous. Nearly a decade had passed. The nightmares had faded.
But the memories lingeredalong with the guilt.
"Ma'am, could I speak to you for a moment?" The rich deep timbre of the man's voice raised goose bumps along her arms.
She jerked her head up, and her breath caught as a tall figure stepped to the door of the EMS vehicle. Broad and muscular, he had a bewildered look on his face that probably mimicked her own. "Patrick?"
"Amber?" Patrick cocked his head to the side, his dark, velvety eyes and strong, chiseled features as intriguing as ever. Little had changed over the past eleven years. If anything the years had only enhanced his good looks.
"I sure wasn't expecting to find you here." The glint in his brown gaze was unexpectedly warm. So unlike the last time she'd seen him.
Ditto. She swallowed. "I didn't know you were back in town."
"Got home about a year ago. I work with the SavannahChatham police department violent crimes unit." He flashed his badge, very detectivelike. "How are you?"
"Happy to be alive." She tried for a smile, but hated that just the sight of him caused her pulse to rev. He shouldn't have that effect on her, especially after all she'd put him through. Her guilt alone should have tamped those emotions years ago.
"I'm sure you are happy to be alive. That was a pretty violent explosion." Patrick gestured to the remains of her car. "Who do you think did this?"
Shaking her head, she shrugged. "No idea. Maybe a random act. I don't know."
His head moved in an agreeable nod, but she could just imagine his churning thoughts. He didn't buy it. He hadn't changed one iota. Always suspected the worst. Still, she held on to the hope that her car had been a random choice by some wayward lunatic.
Patrick turned his head and stared back at the charred debris. "Did you see anyone in the parking lot or notice anything unusual before the bomb went off?"
"No. The parking lot was nearly empty. With the storm approaching, this area of town has been pretty deserted."
His gaze met hers again, his eyes narrowing. "What about the man who found the item you dropped?"
"I dropped a file on the sidewalk leading to the parking area. Thankfully, that gentleman was around, otherwise" Amber choked on the last word, suddenly dizzy. She could have been killed.
"Detective, are you about finished with your questions?" the medic asked as he placed the orange plastic supply box into the back of the emergency vehicle.
"For now." Patrick gave the medic a nod, then returned his attention to Amber. "I'll let you get to the hospital and catch up with you later." He pulled a card from his wallet and handed it to her. "Call me if any new revelations come to you."
Amber took the card, breathing relief when the paramedic closed the doors. A siren roared and the ambulance maneuvered out of the tight parking lot. She lolled her head back against the vinyl seat, ignoring the pain streaking through her extremities. Tears welled in her eyes just before she squeezed them shut.
This was definitely not her day.
Patrick watched the ambulance ease through the crowded parking lot and then pull away. Catching his breath, he felt his insides reel from the sucker punch that caught him the moment Amber's crystal-green gaze collided with his.
She hadn't changed at all. Sill had the same delicate featuresstraight little nose, high cheekbones, luscious full lips. And a tumble of dark mahogany curls, soft and flowing about her shoulders.
She was still mesmerizing.
Seeing her had unearthed a whole host of emotions he had no business feeling, given their history. Feelings he'd thought he'd buried the night she'd walked out of his life the summer after their freshman year of college. Just weeks after she'd accepted his ring.
Waves of emotion shuddered through Patrick as memories of Amber flooded his mind. Sweet memories still outnumbered the bad, which made seeing her sting that much more. Crazy, he thought. It had been eleven years.
He tilted his head back and deeply inhaled, trying to calm the turbulent pulsing in his veins. Instead, adrenaline kicked him into overdrive as the stench of smoke entered his lungs. He stiffened his posture. Refocused. This was not the time to deal with the irrational emotions knotting his gut. Someone had blown up a car. Amber may have been the target.
He had a crime to solve.
The next five hours passed in a blur. Amber sat on the edge of a stretcher in the ER and studied her hands wrapped in gauze. She wiggled her fingers. Tender but tolerable. Somehow not seeing the wounds made them smart less.
Not so with her legs. She straightened one. The wounds had been cleaned and left open to air, with several jagged stitches on each knee. The black tights she'd been wearing had offered nothing in the way of protection, as the deep abrasions on her now-bare legs attested. Not pretty and painfully sore.
The events of the day still struck her as surreal, even impossible. Why would someone plant a bomb in a nearly deserted parking lot?
In her car?
Thoughts tumbled around her mind, but no answers emerged. Amber rubbed a knuckle against the pounding in her temple, where a tension headache had taken hold. She'd grown up in Savannah. It was the one place she felt safe.
A nurse walked into the room carrying a small syringe. She pulled gloves from a box mounted on the wall. "After I give you this tetanus shot, you'll be ready for discharge."
"Thank you." Amber nodded, happy to be nearing the end of her visit. Although her dreaded time in the emergency room hadn't been as difficult as she'd imagined in terms of invoking memories.
A near miss with a bomb had taken care of that.
Her blood chilled at the thought.
"Right arm, please." The nurse pulled off the plastic tip of the syringe.
Amber flinched a little as the nurse gave her the shot.
"It may be sore for a few days, so just use a warm compress for the pain. I'll be right back with your paperwork." The nurse left the room.
The pain from a tiny shot was the least of Amber's concerns.
"How about a ride home?"
At the sound of the deep voice, every fine hair on her neck rose to attention. She glanced up. Detective Patrick Wiley stood there, his commanding presence filling the doorway, his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket and one shoulder leaning against the door frame.
"A ride?" Amber blurted, startled more than she was surprised to see him again. She'd thought he'd wait at least until she got home and settled.
"The hospital called and said you were ready to be released."
Amber instinctively tucked a stray curl behind her ear. The sooty film on her hair reminded her how terrible she must look, while Patrick stood there looking well, incredible. "Someone from the hospital called you?" She barely kept her voice from cracking. She sat up straighter, trying to look somewhat together, although after the day she had, she could hardly be expected to look calm and collected. It wasn't every day a bomb blew up her car, or Patrick Wiley popped back into her life.
He nodded. "I asked them to. I still have a few questions. So if you haven't called for a ride already, I can give you one."
Hesitating, Amber scoured her brain for an excuse. Then again, what excuse could she have? She hadn't called anyone. She blew out a breath. "Okay if you don't mind."
"I'm ready whenever you are."
Which would be never.
Patrick pulled keys from his pocket and Amber blinked.
The man at the door was not just her old boyfriend, he was a law enforcement officer, here to do his job. That truth alone should have calmed her.
Instead, a fresh burst of regret exploded in her chest. Regret for choices she'd made and the results they'd caused.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Amber Talbot and ex-Seal Patrick Wiley's romance was star-crossed but a series of murder attempts on Amber's life gives their romance a chance at a new life. If you enjoy riveting romantic suspense, you'll enjoy this book. Annslee Urban's twists and turns carry you around Savannah's cobblestones with a vengeance. Just when you think you know who the villain is -- it isn't. By the time I'd gotten three-quarters through, I was suspecting everyone! This genre is Urban's specialty and she just gets better and better. My thanks to the publisher for a copy in exchange for my fair and honest review.