When his brother is arrested for murder, Damon investigates andfinds a "Jane Doe" who holds the key to the case, along witha darker terrorone that threatens to expose Damon's deadlysecrets and destroy them all.
Despite the danger, he's drawn to the nameless beauty, igniting apassion that burns hot between them. But with a madman out tosilence her forever, Damon knows he must deny their love. Andto stop the man responsible, he must return to the one placehe has desperately tried to leave behindthe dark shadows ofa killer's mind.
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About the Author
Award-winning author Rita Herron wrote her first book when she was twelve, but didn’t think real people grew up to be writers. Now she writes so she doesn’t have to get a real job. A former kindergarten teacher and workshop leader, she traded storytelling to kids for writing romance. She lives in Georgia with her own romance hero. She loves to hear from readers, so please visit her website, www.ritaherron.com.
Read an Excerpt
A year later, New Orleans
DAMON DUBOIS WAS A DEAD MAN.
As dead as the soldiers who'd fallen and given their lives for the country. As dead as the ones who'd lost their lives during the terrible hurricane that nearly destroyed New Orleans.
As dead as the woman he had killed.
His own heart did still beat and blood still flowed through his veins, forcing him to go through the motions of life.
A punishment issued by the gods, he was certain. He could still see the flames licking at her skin, see the smoke swirling above her face, hear the crackle of the house as wood splintered and crum
For although his head hadn't yet touched the pillow this dreary evening, nightmares already haunted him with the cries of that anguished woman screaming in pain.
And the bébé's ghostlike cry "Tite ange," he whispered. "Little angel, you did not deserve to die."
Perspiration beaded on his neck and trickled down into the collar of his shirt as he opened the French doors to the hundred-year-old bayou house and breathed in the sultry summer air. The end of May was nearing and already the summer heat was oppressive. Sticky. The air hung thick with the scent of blood and swamp water. Eerie sounds cut through the endless night. The muddy Mississippi slapping at the embankment. A faint breeze stirring the tupelo trees. The gators'shrill attack cry in the night. Insects buzzing for their next feed. A Louis Armstrong blues tune floated from the stereo, the soul-wrenching words echoing his mood.
Though a thick fog of blessed darkness clouded the waning daylight, forming morbid images to bombard him. A hand outstretched, begging for help. The fingers curled around the tiny bébé's rattle. The accusing, horror-stricken eyes.
He blinked to stop the damning images, but they flickered in his mind like flashes of lightning splintering the sky.
The scream tore the air again, and he swallowed back bile. Its tormenting sound refused to stop, pounding against his conscience with a will he couldn't defy. Reminding him of his past. His sins. His vow of silence.
So many secrets Tell and you die.
Inside his pocket, his cell phone vibrated, jarring him back to the present. Hauling him away from the pain and self-recriminations clawing at his mind.
He connected the call with sweaty fingers. "Special Agent Damon Dubois."
"Damon, thank God you answered." His little brother Antwaun's strained voice rattled unevenly over the line. Something was wrong. What kind of mess had his youngest sibling gotten into this time?
Hell, not that he had a right to judge anyone. But the family knew nothing of his secrets. Or his lies
"You have to come meet me. We found a woman at least part of one."
Holy Christ. "I'll be right there. Where are you?" Antwaun relayed the GPS coordinates and Damon snapped the phone closed, grabbed his badge and weapon and strapped it onto his shoulder holster. Fifteen minutes later, he parked and headed through a dense stretch of the swamp. The scent of murk floated from the marshy water as the mud sucked at his feet. The voices and faint beams of flashlights ahead served as his guide through the knot of trees, and when he reached the crime-scene tape, he identified himself to the officer in charge.
Through the shadows, he spotted Antwaun and strode toward him. His brother's forehead was furrowed with worry, the intense anger in his dark eyes warning Damon that this was not an everyday crime scene. Something personal had entered into it.
"What's going on, Antwaun?" he asked quietly. Two uniforms frowned and muttered curses at his arrival, already the thread of territorial rights adding tension to an anxiety-ridden situation.
Antwaun leaned in close, his voice a conspiratorial whisper. "Hell, Damon. I think I know the victim."
Damon's gaze shot to his brother's, his pulse racing. "How do you know her?"
"I can't be sure, but " His gruff voice cracked.
"But if it is who I think it is, we dated."
The heat thickened, causing a cold clamminess to bead on Damon's skin. "You recognize her or what?"
Antwaun scrubbed a hand over the back of his scraggly hair, his face as pale as buttermilk. "Like I said, we only found part of her."
Damon sucked in a sharp breath, then followed Antwaun over to the edge of the swamp. The murk chewed at Damon's shoes, the stench of blood and a decaying animal hitting him. Somewhere nearby the hiss of gators warned him that hungry creatures lurked at the edges of the rivers. Yellow eyes pierced the inky darkness, scaly predators hiding beneath the water's surface, taking stock of their prey. Biding their time. Waiting to strike.
Then he saw her. At least the part that was visible. Her hand.
Just a single hand sticking up through the quicksand.
Brittle, yellowed bones poked through skin that had been gnawed away. The fingertips were half-gone. Blood dotted the remnants of mangled flesh, revealing exposed veins that had been sawed away by the jagged teeth of animals now watching nearby in silent reverie.
"How " He had to clear his throat, push away the mounting fury and choking bile. No woman deserved to end up like this.
Had she been dead or alive when the gators got her?
"If this is all they found, what makes you think you know her?"
Antwaun's hand shook as he pointed to what was left of her third finger. "That ring "
"Yeah?" Damon squinted, moved closer, knelt and caught the thin thread of silver glinting through the mud and debris. Amazingly, the simple silver band still clung to the bone.
"I gave it to her," Antwaun said in a low, tortured voice. "Right before she went missing."
SHE LIVED IN THE DARKNESS. Had known nothing but pain for months.
And all that time, she had been missing, but no one had come looking for her. Why?
Clutching the sheets of her hospital bed between bandaged fingers, she begged for relief from the agony of her tormenting thoughts. Time bled and flowed together, sometimes nonexistent, sometimes slipping through the hourglass in slow motion. Sometimes chunks and days, even weeks gone by without notice.
Isolated, starved for human contact, she lay waiting for the doctor's visit.
The bleep-bleep of hospital machinery became her music. His voice, her salvation.
Gruff. Soothing. Coaxing her to sit up. Eat. Fight for her life. Heal.
His touch offered comfort, compassion. It murmured promises that she might recover one day. Be human. Even beautiful.
Yet as much as his manner evoked concern and care for her, even growing feelings, the scent of medicine and hospital permeated his clothing, reminding her that he was her doctor, she his patient. She was only one of many he had helped. But she'd heard the rumors. The hushed voices. And she had yet to see her reflection because he had stripped the hospital rehab facility of mirrors.
She was the woman without a face. A human monster.
He had repaired what he could. Endless, countless surgeries over the past few months. Bandages and medication, hours and hours of mind-control techniques to keep from going crazy. Sometimes she feared she walked a tightrope to insanity.
And when he left her room for the night, another man came. A monster like her who whispered in the shadows. The man with the scalelike skin.
Her one and only friend here. Lex Van Wormer. He seemed to sense when she was teetering on the edge, and reeled her back in, sewing the tethered strands of her mind together with some fanciful story. Silly dreams of a future she had to look forward to.
One he dreamed about as well, but one that eluded them both. Instead they had become prisoners of the darkness.
A gentle knock sounded at the door, and the heavy wooden structure squeaked open. A sliver of light from the hall sliced the black interior, causing her to blink. Slowly over the past months of her imprisonment, her vision had adjusted and returned to near normal, though she still preferred the shadows. Whether this was to shield herself from having to face others and see the disgust or pity in their eyes, or because she'd begun to view the darkness as her best friend, she wasn't certain.
Her breath lodged in a momentary panic in her throat as she listened to the approaching footsteps. One of the nurses with another round of injections? Dr. Pace with his soothing voice and promises that she would get better? Or Lex, somehow sensing that she had suffered another nightmare?
Nightmares or memoriesshe could no longer distinguish the difference. She only knew that night after endless night, some fathomless, sightless, black-hearted devil chased her. That he waited around every corner, watching, stalking, breathing down her neck. That she had to escape. That he wanted her dead and would stop at nothing until he achieved his purpose.
The door closed, blanketing the room once again in the gray fog that offered her safety.
It was always twilight in her room. "Crystal?"
"Lex." She exhaled a sigh of heartfelt relief. Still, the name felt foreign. The first time he'd seen her, he'd commented that her eyes reminded him of sparkling crystal cut glass, so he'd called her Crystal, and the nurses had latched on to it.
That she'd been blind at first and hadn't been able to see him hadn't mattered. She'd relished his company.
Then, finally, on a pain-filled admission to prove to her that she wasn't alone in her world of shadows, he'd allowed her to touch his hand. She'd felt the scaly dry patches of leatherlike skin and had understood his reason for withdrawing from the world.
The condition, caused by exposure to an unknown chemical he'd been exposed to in the war, had dis acid. For a brief time before the bandages from her eyes had been removed, she'd feared she would react to his impairment.
But she had grown accustomed to the sound of his voice as he read her poetry at night, to the cadence of his laugh as he fabricated stories of journeys he'd taken, and his looks hadn't mattered. In fact, she hadn't even cringed when she'd finally rested her eyes upon him.
Apparently, he had adjusted to seeing her without a face, and covered in bandages as well. Who else would be so accepting?
He dragged the straight chair against the wall near her bed, then reached for her hand. A light squeeze, and her breathing steadied.
"Thank you for coming." Heavens, she hated the choked, childish quiver of her voice. But she had been so lonely.
"I'll always be here for you, Crystal. Always." She closed her eyes to stem the tears threatening. Theirs was an odd relationship. Two misfits thrown together, two survivors hanging on to life by a severed thread. Yet they weren't really living either.
"I've missed you since last night, Crystal," he said in a low voice.
She tensed. She'd sensed that his friendship ran deep, that he wanted more from her. She loved him in a platonic way.
Too many pieces of her past lost. Too many questions unanswered.
Another man maybe waiting.