Isabella Walsh was alone in the world. Working full-time and attending the local college, her life was difficult but happy. Until the night she witnessed a police officer execute her boss, forcing her to leave the only place she called home in order to save her own life. Finally, exhausted from months of running, Isabella settles in a small town, but soon realizes the men searching for her have found her once again. Gathering what strength she has left, she fights back, only to collapse in a wooded area, cold, exhausted, and alone. Ethan Shay, a former member of the armys elite Special Forces unit, is happy with the quiet life he has chosen to lead. Finding a broken and bleeding unconscious woman was not something he anticipated, but finding her in the woods and knowing that someone had badly beaten her brings out his natural instinct to protect. Shocked at her vehemence that he not call the police, Ethan takes her home to give her time to recover. When she finally tells him her story, it quickly becomes clear that it will take more than just his resources to help her. As they work together to uncover the mystery surrounding Isabella, they learn that the political ramifications of what she witnessed were only the beginning of what was truly happening. To stay alive, Isabella and Ethan will have to figure out how deeply her secrets go and whom, if anyone, they can trust. The decisions they make going forward could be costly, including whether or not they should stay together and forge a relationship they both desperately want. Its only when the bullets start to fly that their true relationship is put to the test.
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Love's True Destiny
Out of the Darkness Series
By P. L. Byers
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2016 Paula Drengberg
All rights reserved.
Ice-cold water rushed over Isabella's feet as she ran headlong through the stream in a desperate attempt to shake the men who were chasing her. The need to evade them was so strong that neither the frigid temperature of the water nor the fact that her clothes were getting wet registered in her brain. The only thought that came to her mind was simple yet crucial. Run!
As she crashed through the wooded area, Isabella could feel her cheeks and arms start to burn as the branches she was running through slapped against her skin, cutting her as she went. She had blocked out the pain in her feet hours ago, knowing that the fact she had no shoes on wasn't something she would be able to remedy any time soon. The pain wouldn't matter anyway if she were caught. They would kill her and she knew it.
Coming to a large oak tree, Isabella backed against it, trying to control her breathing. She needed to hear if there were any other noises near her that would indicate how close the men were.
She stood as still as she could, listening for the crunching of the fall leaves. The air around her was crisp and cool, giving a hint of winter that was soon to come. Sheer black terror swept through her as a twig snapped not far from where she was standing. Holding her breath, Isabella looked to her left and sighed in relief as a deer moved into her path, munching on an apple he had found on the ground. Exhaling with relief, Isabella shook her head, gaining the attention of the deer. They stared at each other for a few brief seconds before he took off at a run, frightened by her presence.
Isabella waited a few more minutes before stepping away from the tree, knowing that night was coming soon and she needed to find a place to hide.
It frustrated her that they had located her so quickly this time. She'd been on the run for the past year and each time she settled in a place where she thought she would be safe, they somehow found her. Isabella tried getting lost in New York City, hoping the sheer number of people living there would allow her to be swallowed up and hard to find. Unfortunately, that had only lasted about five months before they found her and she was forced to run again. Her next attempt at disappearing was in a small town in Pennsylvania, but that proved fruitless as well. There she lasted about three months before the telltale black SUV coasted down the main street, sticking out like a neon sign in the simple town. It was at times like that Isabella felt the men tracking her just liked toying with her, knowing that at some point she would be too exhausted to run and would finally give herself up.
Stepping lightly through the woods, Isabella made her way toward the lights of the town. She needed to make her way back to the single room she rented above the restaurant where she had been working as a waitress for the past several months. As much as she liked this small town, she knew it was time to retrieve what little money she had managed to save and run. If she could just get back to her room and grab the money and her only pair of sneakers, she might have a chance.
The one blessing in her life lately was the fact that she had looked up when the bell to the restaurant door rang earlier, letting her know that another customer had come in. Standing in the kitchen to load her tray with a diner's food, she came close to dropping it when she realized who the two men were who entered, and that it wasn't food they had come in for.
Quickly removing her apron, Isabella had tiptoed toward the back entrance of the restaurant that led out to the alley. Hoping not to draw attention to herself, she had reached down and removed the ridiculous heeled shoes the owner insisted they wear and began the run that hours later, found her in her current predicament.
Creeping to the edge of the tree line, Isabella stopped and looked around for any sign of either man. Stepping out, she only got a few feet before she felt an arm circle around her throat. "Gotcha," he said, squeezing her tightly, choking off any chance of her taking a deep breath to scream.
Feeling blackness starting to descend, she raised her foot and slammed her heel down on the man's toes as hard as she could. The force was enough that she heard him grunt and felt him loosen his hold enough that she could move forward a little to be able to swing her arm back to elbow the large man in the nose. She started to run when he grabbed her arm again, jerking her to face him, and punched her on her right cheek. The blow to her head stunned her and she started to sway when he struck her again, letting go and allowing her body to slump to the ground.
Once she hit the ground, he kicked her in the ribs several times before leaning down to pick her up by the collar of her uniform and hit her in the face again. Dropping her back to the ground, he kicked her a few more times before he stopped, leaning over to hold his nose to stop the bleeding from the blow she'd so accurately delivered to his face.
Isabella was aware enough to know that if he called the other man and got his attention, she didn't have a hope of surviving. Knowing she only had seconds, she shifted her body, lifted her leg up, and kicked with all the energy she had left, hitting the man between his legs, dropping him like a rock to his knees. As he groaned in agony, holding his crotch, Isabella searched the ground and found a rock lying near her. Grabbing hold of it, she leaned up and swung with all her might toward his head.
Breathing heavily, she watched as a stunned expression came across the man's face. Seconds later, as blood poured from a cut the rock had made to his scalp, he fell to the ground in front of Isabella. She waited a few seconds before tapping his body with her toe. When he didn't move, Isabella knew this was her only chance to get away.
It took several attempts before she could get to her feet. Blood was pouring from her nose, one eye was almost swollen shut, making it difficult to see, and any time she tried to get air into her lungs, the sharp stabbing pain was almost unbearable. The man had to have broken a few of her ribs when he kicked her.
Knowing her other tormentor was probably somewhere close, Isabella moved back into the woods, hoping to find a place to hide for the night. She needed daylight to see what was in front of her and time to get her bearings to figure out where to go next.
Isabella spent the next few hours wandering through the woods, stopping often to try to catch her breath and to listen for anyone who might be tracking her. She followed the stream for a little while, and then started to climb the small embankment when she tripped over a log hidden beneath the leaves. Too exhausted to go any further, she scooted close to the log and covered her body with leaves, hoping to hide herself as much as possible.
Isabella shivered as she lay on the cold ground. Her face hurt, her ribs were killing her, and she'd stopped feeling her feet hours ago. It was moments like these that giving up seemed like the best option. She couldn't remember the last time she'd smiled or didn't feel bone-achingly tired. What she wouldn't give for a small span of time where she wasn't scared.
As she lay beneath the leaves, Isabella let her mind wander back to the moment her life had changed irrevocably. She began to shake as the fearful images built in her mind. Her life had been lonely but it had been good ... right up until the night she witnessed the murder. As she closed her eyes in exhaustion, the last image she had was of the menacing form of a police officer as he glanced her way, lowering the gun he had just used to ruthlessly and cold-bloodedly kill her boss.CHAPTER 2
Ethan Shay loved spending Saturday afternoons playing baseball with his friends in the local park. The league he played on and jokingly referred to as "the old man's league" was one of the things that he really looked forward to. It wasn't that he wasn't content in his life; he'd just felt that something was missing lately.
Working as a part-time firefighter for the town of Palmer, Massachusetts, was very rewarding. Ethan loved the thrill he got when he went out on a call. There was something about the calculated risk he and his fellow firefighters took with each call they responded to that gave him the adrenalin rush he missed since leaving the U.S. Army Delta Force several years before. He loved the rush it gave him when he brought out a survivor from the flames of certain death and knew that he had made a difference.
There was also a certain satisfaction he got working part time for his brother Ben as well. No job he was sent out on was ever the same. Whether he was providing security for some event his brother's company was contracted for or designing and installing a security system for a client, he loved doing it.
No, it wasn't either of his jobs that were making him restless. It was not having someone to share his life with. The sad thing was the girls he'd been dating lately weren't anything special enough to entice him to seek a second date. They were nice enough, just not anyone he would consider spending the rest of his life with. He wanted someone to come home to after a particularly tough day or a call that had gone bad. He wanted someone to share his life and be with for the long haul.
"Shay, get your head out of your ass and move!"
Ethan looked up and realized he'd missed the entire three outs as he sat on the bench lost in his own thoughts. Grabbing his glove, he headed out to play short-stop.
"What's going on?" Ethan's friend Mitchell Beckett asked as they walked out to take the field. "You've been distracted since the first inning."
"Nothing. Just thinking, that's all."
"Thinking about the blond from the bar the other night? You two looked pretty into each other when you left together."
"Hey, Ethan," one of his other friends called out. "Heads up," he yelled as Ethan looked over in time to catch the ball that had been thrown his way. Tossing it back, he looked back to Mitchell. "Nothing really happened with her. I mean, she was nice enough but the sparks just weren't there."
"Too bad, man. She was a beauty," Mitchell said before jogging out to left field.
The rest of the game passed quickly. By the time it was finished, it was well after twelve o'clock in the afternoon so the beer they consumed cheering their win was justified. Ethan took the ribbing that was directed at him for being so distracted with good humor. He knew his head wasn't in the game and that if it had been any one of them, he would be the one doing the teasing.
That's what he liked about their Saturday afternoon games. They played competitively but it was still a good time. He liked being surrounded by his friends and he especially liked that no one took things too seriously. His teammates were a good group of men and he enjoyed their company.
"So is your sister still single?" his friend Jack Sanders asked innocently, taking a drink from his beer bottle.
Ethan looked up and frowned at his friend. "Stay the hell away from my sister, Sanders. She's off limits to you," he growled.
"Take it easy, I wasn't asking to marry her. I just asked if she was still single," Jack smiled.
"Shay has a sister?" one of the newer team members asked.
"A seriously hot sister," Devon Rossi, another of Ethan's closest friends interjected, a mischievous look reflected in his eyes.
"Guys, stop egging Ethan on. You know how he gets where his sister is concerned," Travis Johansen, another buddy chuckled. "Leave the poor guy alone." Looking over to Ethan, he lightly punched him on the arm. "You're too easy, man."
Ethan just smiled, knowing they were joking, but it still made him happy that his sister was in Florida with their dad and not anywhere near them. The last thing he needed was to have to worry about her. While he loved his closest friends Devon, Mitchell, Jack, and Travis, he wanted better for his baby sister. These four men were as close to him as his own brother, and he knew that there were no better guys around, but she deserved so much more than some war-torn, shattered man. And God knows, among the five of them, they had enough ghosts and bad memories from their time in Afghanistan and Iraq to scare the most hardened criminal. He simply wanted better for his sister.
Ethan watched as one by one the guys tossed their beer cans in the trash barrel and picked up their equipment.
"You coming?" Travis asked.
"No, you guys go ahead. I'm just going to hang here for a while. I'll see you later," Ethan smiled.
"Suit yourself," Travis said, bumping fists with Ethan before heading to where his car was parked.
"You know I was kidding, right?" Jack asked as he slung his bag over his shoulder. "I know how protective you are about Tessa."
"We're cool," Ethan smiled. "I'll catch up with you later this week."
After everyone left the field and the last car drove off with dust from the parking lot waffling in the air behind them, Ethan picked up his bat and glove and packed them into his bag. Grabbing the beer he hadn't finished, he walked over to a picnic table that was in the shade and sat down, facing the woods.
He loved coming to this park. There were two baseball fields and two soccer fields that the town kept neatly mowed. A tennis court was situated near the entrance of the park as well as a playground for kids. There were picnic tables strategically placed throughout the area as well as benches for people to sit and enjoy their time at the park. The entire park was surrounded by trees so in the summer you could always find a cool place to sit. The table Ethan picked was near the stream that ran along the back edge of the park. This was one of his favorite places to sit and just be. Sometimes he would listen to the water as it gurgled nearby and sometimes he would bring a book to sit and relax and enjoy the quiet.
Today he wanted to try to clear his mind. The restlessness he'd been feeling was starting to drive him crazy, not to mention the looks he was getting from the guys he worked with. On more than one occasion, he could feel his older brother, Ben, staring at him as they worked side by side on an installation Ethan was helping him with. To Ben's credit, he didn't pry or pester Ethan to talk, but Ethan knew if he didn't snap out of it soon, his big brother would lose patience and start hounding him for an explanation.
Ben was the one person in his family that Ethan had counted on when he came back from Iraq. Having just been released from service as a member of Delta Force, Ethan needed peace to work things out in his head and Ben seemed to understand that. He always made sure that Ethan knew he was there if he needed to talk but never pushed him, a fact that he was grateful for.
Looking out to the stream, Ethan took a deep breath and inhaled the fresh air. He smiled as the cool October wind blew his hair around. He loved the fall with the colors of the changing leaves, the briskness of the air; he especially loved watching the pumpkins grow in the small garden in his back yard.
Deciding it was time to head home, Ethan stood up to grab his bag. Tossing the strap over his shoulder, he glanced to the stream one more time, but just as he made a turn to leave, he noticed what looked like a foot sticking out of some leaves.
Shaking his head, Ethan looked closer, arguing with himself that it couldn't be what he thought it was. Knowing he wouldn't be able to sleep if he didn't make certain that it was nothing, he put his bag back on the picnic table and walked toward the water. Stepping down the small embankment, he looked for the best way to get across the stream. Noticing a few rocks sticking out a few feet away, he went in that direction and gingerly stepped from rock to rock until he came to the other side. He made his way back to the pile of leaves where he had seen what he thought looked like a foot. When he knelt down, he realized that a bare foot was exactly what he was looking at.
Ethan quickly brushed the leaves away, revealing a woman lying beneath the debris. Shocked at what he was seeing, he reached in his back pocket for his phone to call the police. Too late, he remembered that he'd left it in his bag across the stream. Looking around the park for someone to help, he quickly realized that he was alone except for a few kids farther away on the playground. Certainly not close enough to hear his cry for help.
Excerpted from Love's True Destiny by P. L. Byers. Copyright © 2016 Paula Drengberg. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Love the Ethan and Isabella's story! I just had to finish reading it in one sitting !!! Love the Ethan and Isabella's story! I just had to finish reading it in one sitting !!!