Ensley is thrust into a world of super-secret missions and Jack's past. One that involves Jack's team and a former Mossad agent. A domain filled with more maneuvering and intrigue than she thought was possible. She is faced with surviving the man intent on killing her and escaping those who want to hold her in an effort to control Jack. Something she refuses to let happen.
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I'd told myself a hundred times a day in the past two weeks — I wouldn't return to Idaho and Spirit Springs. Still, I'd driven straight here from the Boise Airport. Now, I sat parked in the driveway of Jack Trace's perfect home. Two weeks to the day, I'd left him lying horribly beaten on the floor of his library. Yes, I'd called for help before I walked out.
Christmas Eve had roiled in a hundred-year blizzard, Jack's kidnapping, the unexpected arrival of my ex-fiancé, Don March, and the heartbreak of Jack's admission to being a murderer and a thief. It ended Christmas Day with me on a plane back to D.C.
Jack's confession had implicated my dad and Uncle Stan. Were the two men I'd trusted my whole life thieves, too?
For the second time in three months, my lifeline was ripped from my hands. This time, the pain was different. The loss of my job was nothing compared to my dad's death. But this ... this. My heart gave a spasmodic double beat.
I leaned against the steering wheel as I looked up the sandstone steps leading to Jack's front door.
I'd devised a plan, I'd sell the bed-and-breakfast my dad left me. With the sale came the problem of my inheritance. I trembled at the thought. Dirty money. If it came from a stolen ransom, I didn't want it. With that came another problem, should I tell my brother Cole? I leaned against the headrest. He was part of that clandestine world, too. Had all the men in my life lied to me?
More, if I sold the B&B what would become of Jane? She and I were the innocents in all of this, yet we'd pay the highest price.
Jack said he'd come to break things off with me Christmas Eve. The thought crushed my heart. I'd tried to convince myself a relationship based on one traumatic experience after another wouldn't last.
Facing Jack would take every ounce of strength, mental and emotional I had left. I needed closure. I had to hear the story away from the disaster of Christmas.
The hurt from today would live with me forever. I took a calming breath but found I couldn't draw in the air.
Jack's brick two-story home rose strong and stable out of the four feet of snow covering the valley. After I sorted the lies from the truth, I wasn't sure what I'd do. I wouldn't be going back to Washington, D.C. That was my past.
The wreath Jack and I had picked out before Christmas was gone, but it would be in January.
I left the warmth of the car for the frigid air of Idaho's high prairie. My breath formed frozen gasps of fog that floated away on the wind.
The snow crunched as I made my way up the expansive sandstone steps. He may not be home. Of course, he'd be at work.
Turmoil ripped at my heart. I didn't know who or what to believe. My dad's last words were for me to trust Jack. But. Oh, God could this get any worse?
Don's comment still haunted me, "Ensley, he's attractive to women. I've used his appeal in the past, so has he."
Emotionally shuddering, I walked to the entry.
On the other side of the glass paneled front door, Lois, Jack's Spinone, hurried toward me, a toy in her mouth. She sat down and wagged her stubby tail as she gazed up at me with warm golden eyes. She looked so happy. I craved that contentment. With the sight of her, the memories of Christmas Eve engulfed me. Her fuzzy face and gentle way had helped me through the horror of that night. She wouldn't be able to help me today.
I glanced up as I rang the doorbell. Jack stood at the foot of the stairs dressed in slacks and a blazer. When he saw me, he didn't hesitate. His deliberate steps matched his determined expression.
I swallowed hard.
He opened the door. "Ensley, come in." He stepped aside.
The expanse of the hardwood floors gleamed in the afternoon sun. His beautiful home was the scene of a horrible fight that left two men dead on Christmas Eve. One lay in the upstairs hall. Above the body, scrawled in blood, were the words, 'We have him.' Now, all the furniture was set right. The broken items removed, but not replaced.
So much destruction, so much pain, and so much heartache. A hurt so deep I lay awake at night. I couldn't eat. In the last two weeks, I'd lost the five pounds I'd been struggling with and more.
"Jack, I promised myself I'd hear your side of the story." Technically, I had. He'd told me my ex-fiancé's, version was right. Don lies. "I ..." Damn it. "In here." He indicated the living room.
I had to keep this clinical. I do clinical very well. "How are you healing?" "The bruises are mostly gone." He indicated the sofa. "The broken ribs will take a while."
As I sat on the couch, my heart began pounding so hard it throbbed in my ears.
He settled on the matching sofa across from me. I'd rehearsed this as many times as I'd said I wouldn't come back. I raised my chin against the inevitable. "I have Don's version of the events in Africa. I came for yours." I'd keep it direct. Businesslike. I'd get his side, sell the B&B and move on. All business. Like buying a car.
"You know the purpose of the mission." His tone was firm and confident. Jack and his team had gone to Africa to rescue the passengers and crew of a downed aircraft.
His self-assurance took me by surprise, maybe because I felt so vulnerable. I was terrified this would end and knew it already had.
Jack leaned forward, rested his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands. When he began, he glanced at me. "When we got there —" He shook his head as his eyes darkened with the memory. "Boko Haram refused the diamonds they'd agreed to. They'd raped the diplomat's daughter so many times —" the knuckles on his hands grew white with the pressure of his grip. "She died three months later. Her mother drowned herself in liquor, and her father shot himself. A family destroyed for what? A handful of rocks." His torment stole the life from the room, leaving behind only breathless despair. "The rest of the girls are mending."
"And the drug lord's daughter?" He had to say the words. He wasn't a murderer. Jack's shoulders slumped.
My stomach cinch into a knot. Please — please don't let it be true.
"I tried to persuade her to ask her father for more time. My bribe of a new life anywhere in the world didn't work. In the end, she told her father everything." His hands hung lifeless, and his eyes held profound sorrow. "When we found out the helicopters weren't coming, I had to order some of my men to hold off our attackers to give us time to escape. I lost them all — five good men — friends." His silence held the agony of that day over three years ago.
I felt his pain from across the room. "And the drug lord's daughter?" My words were a whisper.
He gave a weak smile. "I'm not good with women. She'd been offended by my offer. At least, that's what she said before she put a bullet in me. I had all those lives to protect. When she turned her weapon on one of the girls, I killed her."
"And the diamonds? Are they the real reason you can afford all this?" I would have waved my hand to indicate his magnificent home, but my it was all I could do to breath. "Did my dad and Uncle Stan share in it?"
"What?" At that moment, he realized what he'd admitted to all those anguished filled nights ago. "Who —" He closed his eyes as he shook his head. "Your father and Stan are two of the most honest and honorable men I've ever known." He looked me right in the eye. "All we brought out were the hostages and the bodies of our comrades."
There was more.
"I told you I'd never lie to you." I saw the soul-wrenching sadness on his face. "I did on Christmas Eve. It's haunted me every minute of every day since."
Deception, lies, and hate had filled that bitter night two weeks ago. That's when Jack told me; he didn't want me any longer. I was still paying the price for his words. That left only one question. My fingers dug into the arm of the couch. The first and last one on my list. "And me? Was I your way to get back at Don?" I held my breath waiting for the answer I wasn't sure I could survive.
He stood, walked over, and sat beside me. "God. No. March has nothing to do with us."
I thought I was ready, but like always with this man, I found the upheaval in my heart unbearable. I struggled to my feet. "I said I'd hear your side. I ... I believe you." I swallowed hard as I fought against my gathering tears. "I know what you want. I won't stay. I can't ..." What? Be so close to you and not want to be with you? "I'm selling —"
He rose. "You have to understand, I —"
"No, I don't."
"I wanted —"
I had to get everything Don had told me out, or I'd explode. "I know you and Lacey were lovers. I've seen the way you look at her now. I couldn't bear it if you looked at me that way. I can't stay."
"Who the hell told you that?" He squeezed his eyes shut. "March. Son-of-a-bitch." He reached for my hand. I pulled back. "Ensley, forget him. He's the past."
"Lacey told —"
"There's nothing between Lacey and me." His words rushed out in a stream of frustration. "Past, present, or future. Ensley, please —"
"You came to break things off. What's left to say?"
He reached for me again.
I stepped away. If he touched me, I'd never leave.
"I thought the only way you'd be safe was if you weren't here. Weren't with me. I —" "You get your wish, I'm leaving."
"I hate that you've been shot at, that you had to rescue me from that basement hell.
Ensley. Listen to me."
"No." I turned my head.
"Ensley —" His voice became stern.
"What? I should understand? Well, I don't. How could you do the things you did, say what you said, and have them all be lies?" I walked to the door. I grabbed the latch. No. I was going to make him appreciate how deeply he'd hurt me. I whipped around. "It wasn't hard, a few kind words, and I fell for you. Not much of a challenge, was I?" I couldn't look at him.
He pulled my hand from the door. "I meant everything I said to you. Everything, except that I was calling it quits." His voice was soft in my ear. He turned me to face him. "You don't...." I pressed my back against the cold panes of the door. The smell of his warm citrus aftershave surrounded me. His strong hands held mine with gentle care. I had to center my thoughts.
I tried and failed.
"Tell me." His words were tortured with remorse. He closed his eyes. "God, what have I done?"
"I'll tell you exactly what you've done. I spent two weeks in D.C., not sleeping, or eating. All I did was run with Sophie and cry." I pulled my hands free and reached for the door handle. "You broke my heart. No one has ever done that before. You want to know why?" On the plane, I'd come to the conclusion my heart was broken. By the time I landed in D.C., I knew it was permanent. "Because I've never cared this much for anyone. Ever. Get it?"
He looked down at me, his hazel eyes soft and moist. "I'd die if you got hurt."
"Oh. Oh, right." I put my hand in the middle of his chest to hold him back as I exchanged my pain for anger. Good, if I got mad I'd leave. I can do all kinds of stupid things when I'm mad. "If I were hurt? Well, too late, buddy. I may not have been wounded or beaten, but I pulled the bullet out of you up on that mountain." I pointed to the resort area south of town. "You don't have the memory of you hanging from that ceiling in that basement. Do you have any idea how many times that car battery and that basement brought me screaming out of a nightmare? I won't live long enough for that particular hell to fade." I squeezed my eyes shut. Seared into my memory was the sight of him nearly naked, hanging by his wrists, bloody and beaten. The car battery sitting by his feet. I pulled free. "So, yeah! I was hurt." I fumbled for the handle. All my mad had drained away, and raw emotion stepped forward. Damn it. "If I was so important, why didn't you call me in D.C.?"
"What I needed to say had to be said in person. Not in a phone call. I needed to see you, to touch you."
We stood there for an eternity.
Me trying to leave and knowing I couldn't.
Him watching me with his extraordinary hazel eyes, the brown centers melting into glistening gold that flows into a lush, earthy green.
Was I going to leave? Being this close to him, hearing his voice, feeling his touch, I knew that possibility was slipping away.
"Ensley, I —"
"Stop it. You only call me Ensley when you're annoyed with me."
"You told me never to call you Ens."
"Of course, I did." I let go of the door handle and stopped pushing against him. This was not supposed to be happening. I had a plan. "Don was on one side, telling me you were a mercenary who lived hard and threw away women. On the other side you told me he was right. And I — I was in the middle wanting so desperately for it not to be true. No, needing it to be a lie." I took a trembling breath. "Which is it? The man who kept track of those girls to be sure they were safe. Or the mercenary?"
He wiped a tear from my cheek. "You know the answer. If you didn't, you wouldn't be here fighting so hard to stay." He brushed the hair from my neck. "You can't leave any more than I can let you go. You've got to give me another chance." He gently pulled me into his arms. His warm kiss filled me with the desire I never thought I'd know again.
On the nights, I wasn't having screaming nightmares — and waking up Sophie's whole family — I was dreaming of his tender kisses. Of how he made me feel, and the warmth of his embrace.
As a military brat, I learned early to imagine the worst-case scenario. Then figured a way to survive it. No matter how I'd tried, I hadn't been able to devise a way to continue without Jack in my life.
I'd pictured every outcome for today. I'd even half-expected to find Lacey here. I'd fully anticipated driving out of Spirit Springs with no hope for happiness. Ever.
Me wrapped in Jack's arms, with his kiss warm on my lips, was not one of the outcomes.
When he started to pull back, I stopped him. "Oh, no."
"Ens, I still can't breathe very well." He led me back to the couch.
That's when I saw the suitcase by the stairs. "Were you going somewhere?" I sat beside him.
"I was coming after you."
"How ... did you know where I was?"
He smiled. "I have contacts."
Excerpted from "Spirit Road"
Copyright © 2016 Peggy Staggs Spinone.
Excerpted by permission of Spinone Press, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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