In Long for Me by Shiloh Walker, Christina Bell remembers what it was like to be part of a loving family. The youngest of the Bell children, she simply cannot believe that her dad, or anyone else she loves, had a hand in her mother's disappearance. She's looking forward to moving on and spending more time with her sexy best friend, Guy Miller, who she is starting to see in a whole new light.Their attraction sizzling and love deepening, Christina feels confident in her life and ability to handle what comes her way...But when Nichole's body is found—and the mystery of her death slowly reveals itself—Christina is left not knowing who to trust. What if Guy, her one true desire, proves to be her biggest danger?
About the Author
Shiloh Walker is an award-winning writer…yes, really! She’s also a mom, a wife, a reader, and she pretends to be an amateur photographer. Her Secrets and Shadows series includes Burn for Me, Break for Me, and Long for Me.
Read an Excerpt
Long for Me
By Shiloh Walker
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Shiloh Walker
All rights reserved.
For the first time in her life, Christina Nichole Bell thought the smell of the flowers perfuming the air might make her ill.
The small church where her parents had married wasn't large enough for this.
They'd thought it would just be the family and a few friends, but there were so many people, the doors were flung open and people had gathered outside to pay their respects.
So many had brought flowers.
Sweat gathered at the nape of her neck, but she was freezing.
Sitting in the front pew, she tried not to cry as she stared at the pictures of her mom, of her as a child, of her brother and sister, her dad; nearly a dozen freestanding images, all blown up to show Nichole as she'd been in life.
She's really gone.
For fifteen years, she'd waited.
Deep inside, she'd known. They all had. Mom wouldn't have left them.
But she'd fostered that hope.
Now it was gone.
A harsh gasp left her.
Jensen reached over and caught her hand, but that light touch wasn't the comfort her sister probably wanted it to be.
There was a band around her chest, tight and powerful, constricting her breaths. She almost bolted up from the seat in the middle of the service as the pastor's voice, usually so calming, continued to drone on. Today Mike Channing's voice was more like a gnat's and she couldn't understand anything he said. Couldn't understand anything —
Blindly, she swung her head around, found herself caught in Guy Miller's dark gray eyes. "When ..." She licked her lips, cleared her throat, and tried to lower her shaking voice. She'd saved him a seat, although more than once she'd almost given up waiting. "When did you get here?"
"Just now." He had a grim look on his face as the voices around them started to rise, a dull roar of whispers. He reached up and touched her cheek. "Breathe, Tink."
Obediently, she opened her mouth and sucked in a breath of air.
The ache in her chest lessened and she reached up, rubbed the heel of her hand across her breastbone. He crooked a smile at her and then settled back against the seat, staring straight ahead.
She wished she could relax as easily as that.
She could breathe again — it helped to actually take breaths and blow them out, something she was having trouble doing right now. Absently, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a rubber band. A habit instilled in her as a child and one she still hadn't broken. She slid the rubber band over her wrist and snapped it. Breathe.
In a minute or two, she'd do it again. Yeah, she had to breathe more often than that, but when she was stressing — and she was stressing so hard right now — she needed that extra feedback.
Feeling the heavy weight of her sister's concerned gaze, she made herself stare straight ahead. Mike's words still weren't connecting in her head. She stared at the flowers. They were pretty. Other than the display she'd placed in the middle, between her parents' wedding picture and then the one they'd taken that last summer of them all at a picnic down near the river, Chris hadn't done any of the displays.
Tacky. No. That would be so tacky.
Her thoughts bounced around madly, zigzagging from one topic to another. Absolutely that would be insane to be doing the arrangements, but she hadn't gotten any local orders in the past few days either. That kind of made her wonder if somebody had been messing with the messages on her phone. She'd have to check.
Needed to check on that. Her stock. Her bills. Fuck, her mom —
Tears burned her eyes as she stared at one of the pictures, one of her with her arms wrapped around her mother's neck. She'd been eight.
No more pictures like that.
Stop it. Stop thinking —
Check. What did she have to check on?
She snapped the rubber band and sucked in a breath. Her stock. The phone. Needed to make sure nobody had been deleting her messages or anything. Had she been paying her bills? The past few weeks —
"... believe he's here."
She stiffened as that voice cut through the static in her head.
"Don't," Guy said softly, leaning in and pressing his lips to her brow.
Slowly, she turned her head and stared at him.
Then she looked back over her shoulder and found herself staring into Louise Pembry's eyes.
Sitting next to her daughter, Louise opened her mouth, then closed it before shifting her attention back to the front where Mike had paused.
Slowly, Chris stood.
Those whispers were still going on, but as she looked toward Mike, they started to fade and die.
"Mike," she said softly.
He didn't even blink an eyelash as she started up the steps. She hadn't planned to speak. Tate had said something. Dad and Jensen had, too.
But Chris hadn't known what to say, hadn't wanted to say anything. There were words now, though. Trapped inside her, all but burning to get out.
She didn't look at anybody, just focused on the beautiful bits of glass in the stained-glass window that hung over the entryway. That window had always fascinated her. Mom had fought with her every Sunday to get her to sit still, then eventually, she'd learned that Chris would listen, and almost be still, if she had something in her hands.
She'd do even better if she could see that window.
She stared at it now, thinking about her mother.
"Some of you knew my mom. Some of you were probably friends. Those who knew her well knew how funny she was. She was strict. She could be too rough on us sometimes," she said, her voice trembling a bit before it firmed out. "And she kept the door open."
Now she shifted her gaze, looking at Guy.
He stared at the picture of her with her mother.
"Jensen and Tate almost always had friends over. Me ..." She shrugged. "I didn't make friends too easily, but if I had, they would have been just as welcome. Tate spent half his life fighting with Guy. He spent the other half of his life hiding up in his room with him while they fought over video games, girls, and comics. My mother would have wanted him here."
Guy looked up at her now and for a moment, she saw the gleam of tears in his eyes.
Then he was staring at the floor, his broad shoulders rising and falling on a ragged breath.
She wanted to be out of here.
Done with this.
She'd mourn away from these vultures. Half of them were here out of curiosity or some weird sense of obligation. Shifting her attention to Louise now, she watched as the woman swallowed and stared resolutely at the front of the church, not looking anywhere. Look at me, you sanctimonious cow! She wanted to shout it. Under any other circumstance, she would have. But she'd finally learned to control some impulses. This was her mother's memorial service.
"My mom loved Guy, almost like another son," she said softly. She licked her lips and looked around, staring at the pictures, all the flowers. "She would have hated this service. Hated having people sit around and think dark, sad thoughts. Having people sit around and decide who had the right to be here, who didn't. If we were going to do this — and it looks like we are — Mom would want the people she loved here. The people who loved her. She'd want some happy thoughts. Because she was that kind of woman."
* * *
"I noticed Louise didn't hang around."
Chris gave her older brother the innocent face she'd perfected almost in the cradle. "Didn't she? What a shame."
Tate laughed and reached up, tugged on a lock of her hair. "You are such a brat. You ..." He sighed and looked away. "Part of me wanted to start clapping while you were up there. I never would have thought to say anything like that. You were dead-on."
She shrugged and sat down next to Guy, leaning her head against his arm. A headache brewed at the base of her skull. She wanted to find someplace dark and quiet, try to sleep it off, but that wasn't going to happen.
"None of us would have thought to say anything like that." Jensen sipped from a can of Sprite. All around them, people were talking quietly, eating. Doug moved around, talking here and there, but mostly playing interference any time somebody tried to approach their table.
Chris suspected it was because of her.
Her control was about at its breaking point and he probably knew it after what had happened earlier.
"Maybe I should have just kept my mouth shut," she said, sighing.
"No." Jensen tipped the can toward her in a toast. "You did the exact right thing. Part of me was cringing — I remember the way you told one of my dates that he looked like he'd stuck his hand in an electric socket with his hair all sticking straight up. But, yeah, what you said? It's something Mom would have wanted people to hear."
Guy sat in silence at the table.
Chris reached over and touched his arm.
He gave her a tired smile and caught her fingers with his. "It's okay, Tink," he murmured. "People are people. They'll think stupid shit all the time."
"Are you mad at me?" she asked.
"No." He leaned in and kissed her forehead. "I'm used to you saying any last thing that comes to your mind. You've done it all your life."
Jensen chuckled. "There was this boy — who was it, Chance Hayworth?"
Chris groaned and covered her face with her hands. "Please don't."
Jensen ignored her, looking over at Dean, the sexy attorney she'd just started seeing. "She was maybe fifteen. Dad wasn't even letting her date yet and she could have used that as an excuse, but this kid came over and asked her if she maybe wanted to go out to the movies with him. She shrugged and said no. Instead of him being decent about it and just walking off, he was a jerkoff, said some mean shit and then laughed at her. She told him she had some standards — didn't date guys who didn't know how to wear their pants right —'You look like you're walking around with a load in your shorts. I'll pass.'"
"That was the punk who called you cra —"
Chris slid Tate a look after he cut himself off midsentence. "Why stop there? He called me a crazy chick. Thought I'd be so happy to have somebody pay me attention, he'd get lucky. He's not the first person who thought I was crazy or stupid."
Next to her, Guy went rigid. "You're not crazy or stupid," he said, his voice flat.
"Stupid ..." She shrugged. She'd struggled with school, even more after Mom had died. It wasn't until high school that one of her teachers had realized she had dyslexia and then the school started looking deeper. It was actually more than dyslexia. That, ADHD, and depression were enough to make her feel crazy. "People have varying opinions over what stupid is. I was barely able to graduate. But on the other hand, there are easily fifty people in this room who can't so much as keep wave petunias alive and there was this time I saw Dr. Hansen planting some lily bulbs so far down, those things would never grow. To me, that's not terribly smart. And what's crazy anyway?"
To her, crazy was sitting there with words trapped inside you and not saying them because it was impolite or because people might think you were weird.
Chris was weird. She had odd thoughts going off in her head at any given moment and stress made it ten times more intense.
If normal meant being like Louise Pembry? Screw normal.
"Personally, when I see a kid — or worse — a grown man walking around with his pants hanging around his knees, I want to do what my father did to me the one time I tried to do that," Dean said, his deep, melodic voice cutting through the noise in Chris's head.
She looked up to see him leaning forward, a smile on his dark face. He was a nice-looking guy. She'd sketched him once — she wondered if she could find it and give it to Jensen. Jensen might like it.
"What did your dad do?" Jensen asked, refocusing Chris's attention.
"Well." Dean clasped his hands in front of him, a pensive look on his face. "Dad is into the DIY thing, always has been, even before it was the 'thing' to do, you know? Has his own workshop out back and everything. You know what any man worth his salt is going to have in his workshop?"
He didn't —
Chris started to laugh.
Dean shot her a grin, his dark eyes twinkling at her.
"What?" Jensen demanded.
"He came inside with this big roll of duct tape. I was there with these jeans, my boxers showing about three inches above them. I'd bought them with my own money, you see. I figured if I bought them with my own money, I could wear them however I saw fit."
Chris laughed harder.
Tate covered his eyes with one hand.
Jensen started to giggle.
"My dad looked over at me while I was finishing up my breakfast and he said to me, 'Son. I'm going to give you a choice. You will either go put on a belt or I'm going to make you a belt.' I told him I couldn't find it. He wasn't really going to duct tape those damn jeans to my ass. I was sure of it." Dean sighed, slumping back in the seat. "But he did it, and two of my older brothers were at the table, laughing the whole damn time. They'd tried to do the same thing, you see. And those assholes hadn't seen fit to tell me how Dad would react."
"So you changed after that?"
Dean gave Jensen a long, quiet look, then he sighed. "Baby, you haven't met my dad yet. The whole point of it was to make sure I got the point. He'd waited until I had no time. The bus was due in five minutes. I barely had time to brush my teeth." He shrugged. "I peeled the duct tape off on the bus, which he knew I'd do. But I gave those damn jeans away and never tried to buy another pair, I can tell you that."
"How much skin did you lose with the tape?" Chris asked, the question popping out of her without her even realizing she was thinking it.
He blinked and then he started to chuckle. "A bit."
Laughing, she rested her head against Guy's arm.
Her headache had faded, she realized.
He turned his face into her hair and she sighed. If she could just stay like this, the noise in her head might stay quiet a little longer.
* * *
"Come on, Tink."
In response, Chris just sighed and turned her head away from him, burrowing deeper into the seat.
Deputy Guy Miller closed his eyes and tried to mentally prepare himself.
He could do this.
He had done it before, after all.
Blowing out a breath, he reached over and unerringly freed the catch on the seat belt. As he climbed out of the car and circled around, he braced himself. Chris was tired. Chris hadn't just had a rough day — the past few weeks had been hell and he needed to be there for her.
All he was doing was taking her inside, putting her to bed.
Just being friendly.
Yeah, because that was how she wanted things.
That was how she'd decided things would be between them, just a couple of years ago.
Friendly. That was exactly how he felt. Friendly.
Lust and love twisted inside him. Just lifting her into his arms made his dick ache. Of course, he'd been a fucking disaster all day, ever since he'd slid onto that hard bench at church, seen the red dress she'd worn. No black for Chris. Her mother had loved color, so Chris had given her color. A brilliant spray of red roses and white lilies had stood between two of the pictures and he already knew who had designed that arrangement, and Chris had worn a dress the same shade of red as those roses, a deep, dark red that had glowed against her skin and she'd left her arms bare so the tattoos had been on display.
Roses that climbed up her arms and trailed down her back.
Once, he'd stripped that delicate body naked and learned each curve, each bloom of ink, and tasted that soft flesh.
One weekend, frozen in time.
But now, he was just a friend.
Settling her against his chest, he paused, gave himself a minute to rub his cheek against the softness of her hair.
Just a friend, maybe.
Even if everything he felt inside was so much more.
"Chris, baby," he murmured.
She hummed in her throat and snuggled against him.
Sighing, he shifted around and managed to kick the door to his car shut. He relished the soft feel of her in his arms as he carried her to the back door, using his key to unlock the door.
"You're good at this."
He stilled at the sound of her voice.
Excerpted from Long for Me by Shiloh Walker. Copyright © 2014 Shiloh Walker. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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