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Missing in Action
By Amanda Young
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.Copyright © 2007 Amanda Young
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe man stood alone at the back of the room, his hip propped against the wall beneath the glowing red exit sign. His face partially hidden in shadow, Sara couldn't make out many of his features, but what little she could see stopped her in her tracks.
It couldn't be ...
Sara started across the room, weaving between the mass of people shaking their stuff all around her. If she could just get close enough to see his face, she would know. Then maybe her heart would stop trying to beat out of her chest and she would be able to breathe again.
Vaguely, as if through a glass wall, she heard Cindy call her name from somewhere behind her. She ignored her friend and continued toward the mystery man, afraid he would disappear if she took the time to stop and explain. Cindy wouldn't believe her anyway. No one ever did. They just shook their heads at her and smiled sadly, placating her as if she'd lost her mind.
Sara was beginning to see their point.
By the time she pushed and shoved her way over the crowded dance floor, the man was gone. Her gaze darted frantically around the room, searching for him.
He must have gone outside.
She shoved through the back door, shivering when the brisk night air washed over her sweaty skin. Rubbing her hands briskly up and down her arms to ward off the chill, Sara's gaze ate up the dark alley outside the club.
A moist palm slapped down on her shoulder. She whipped around, expecting to find him behind her, staring at her with those fathomless, pale blue eyes she remembered so well. Instead, Cindy stood there, a scowl on her face and what looked like pity in her eyes. The pity stung.
Sara's nose began to burn, a telltale sign that she was going to cry. She sucked in a deep breath and pushed back the tears building behind her eyes before they could rush to the surface and embarrass her even more. She felt like such a damn fool.
"Are you okay?"
Sara turned away, staring back out into the darkness. "Yeah, I'm good. I just needed to get some fresh air."
Cindy moved to stand beside her, her arms crossed over her chest. "You never could lie worth a damn."
Busted. "Kiss my ass, Cindy."
"I'll pass. Thanks anyway, but it would take me the rest of the night to cover every inch of that huge caboose you've got."
"Fuck you," Sara said with a laughing snort. "My ass is fine. Not all women want to be built like a stick figure, you scarecrow." It was the same inside joke they'd shared since ninth grade, when Cindy had sprouted up to just beneath six feet, her body long and lanky like a supermodel, while Sara forever remained short, and on the borderline between curvy and chubby.
"Want to tell me what had you running outside like the hounds of hell were nipping at your heels?"
"Nothing, I told you I just needed some air."
"Yeah right, and I'm the queen of England."
Sara gave a curt nod. "Your majesty."
"Will you just let it go?"
"I don't know," Cindy replied quietly. "When will you?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I think you know exactly what I mean, Sara. When are you going to let the man go? Tristan has been gone for six years. He's not coming back."
"You think I don't know that, damn it? You make it sound like he just left me. He didn't. He died." Her voice choked on the last words, stopping her from saying anything else. Knowing she was the object of her friend's pity was bad enough. She didn't want to make things any worse by crying.
"You've got to quit chasing his ghost, Sara. I thought when you finally accepted Mark's proposal that you were ready to move on."
"I am." When Cindy only continued to eye her in disbelief, Sara sighed loudly. "I'm trying to."
"Mm-hmm. Who are you trying to convince, you or me?"
"Can we just drop it?" Please.
"Yeah, for now, but you've got to let him go, girl. Mark doesn't deserve to play second fiddle to a dead man for the rest of his life. It's not fair to him."
Since when is life fair? Sara bit down on her bottom lip so hard she tasted the coppery tang of blood. It was the same lecture her friend had given her on more occasions than she cared to remember. Knowing Cindy was right didn't make it any easier to listen to.
Mark loved her. He was good to her and Sam. Hell, he'd asked her to marry him. Wanted to adopt her son. She should be down on her knees thanking God for him. Lord knew he'd long since proven himself to her, been the one anchor who kept her grounded through Tristan's disappearance. Mark had comforted her every night she'd cried herself to sleep, knowing the child she carried would never know his father. If there was any man alive she should be in love with, it was Mark.
Cindy pulled open the back door to the club. "Come on, Sara, let's go back inside and grab our coats. I think we've both had enough excitement for one night."
The back of Sara's neck prickled. She spun around, sure someone was staring at her. Her shoulders slumped when the alleyway appeared just as empty as it had the second before. Sara turned and followed Cindy back inside.
* * *
He stood in the shadows. His heart galloped against his rib cage while he watched the two women reenter the club.
Realizing how close he'd come to being discovered, his brow broke out in a nervous sweat. Tonight had been a close call. Too close. He needed to be much more careful in the future.
As it was, he'd barely been able to restrain himself. It took almost more willpower than he possessed to keep himself from going to Sara, wrapping her in his arms and promising her everything would be okay from now on. It was a lie, but he longed to say the words and mean them all the same.
Seeing Sara again, inside the smoky bar, had caught him off guard. He'd been so intent on his mission he hadn't even noticed Sara among the crowd until she was damn near on top of him.
His negligence was unacceptable. Not to mention dangerous in his line of work. Something he couldn't afford to let happen again.
Though unsure about what the specific repercussions were for an identified operative, he was smart enough to know it wouldn't be something as simple as a slap on the wrist. Chances were better than good that it would result in his death. A real one this time.
Tristan McKade was dead and buried. No matter how much he might wish otherwise, it had to stay that way.
Excerpted from Missing in Action by Amanda Young Copyright © 2007 by Amanda Young. Excerpted by permission.
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