[BookStrand Contemporary Romance, HEA]
Simon McBain forgot his promise not to endanger another innocent. He’s taken the high ground with Jordan Tate, keeping their relationship platonic because Simon is hiding in the town of Battleford, far from Chicago where it all went wrong. As a paramedic-firefighter in the Windy City, he couldn’t save a battered woman. The husband, John Williamson, blames him, despite causing her injuries, and exacts revenge.
When the family home is burned to the ground, along with the family pet, his sister’s fiancée kidnapped and beaten, and his mother assaulted, the family relocates to Battleford. Simon then gives into temptation and seduces Jordan. Worried Williamson will find him and target her next, he breaks things off, leading Jordan to believe he regrets their liaison. Jordan, heartbroken, finds out the truth, and comes up with a plan to keep Simon and deal with Williamson. Now it’s up to Simon to accept, or break both their hearts forever.
A BookStrand Mainstream Romance
Jordan stared at Simon, pushing down all the dreadful feelings his unforeseen words elicited, and shaped her face into a mask, shuttering her eyes as she did so. You’ve still got your pride, girl. Not trusting her voice, she nodded and took one step backward before turning to make her way into the bathroom, forcing herself to move slowly, portray confidence. She indeed still had her pride, or at least a shard of it to crouch behind, like an animal facing the end of its existence, and she made it to the comparative safety of the small space without crumbling. Managing to shut the door quietly and ease the dead bolt into place without fanfare before her legs went out from under her, she sank to the cool tiles, the tears now falling with abandon. Silent sobs swelled in her chest, grinding painfully as they struggled for release. She huddled there for a moment, the hurt knifing through her, emptiness yawning ahead.
“Jordan!” Simon’s deep voice pierced the door panels far above her. “Sweetheart, I had to be honest with you. I owe you that!”
He owed her, strange currency, that. Like a…whore. It took an effort to even crawl to the tub and she hauled herself up by curling her hands around the furled rim and commanding her arms to stiffen. Leaning against the claw-footed sturdiness for support, she reached for the taps, twisting them with her remaining strength. The water thundered and creaked through the old plumbing and splashed out of the spigot, drowning Simon’s voice. It didn’t serve to take away the words he’d already slain her with. They echoed and reverberated within the walls of her mind and Jordan suspected they always would, even when she became strong enough to parcel them away. We can’t do this anymore. We can’t hide it in this small town. I’m sorry, Jordan. I wish I could make it all go away.
He was sorry he’d been with her. Ashamed.
Those words would slip the bindings and poison her thoughts and her future relationships, and if they didn’t escape, she would take them out to beat herself with, as a reminder that trust and love were things she obviously wasn’t good at and would never attempt again. A lesson hard learned but well taught for all of that.
Simon’s incessant pounding on the solid old oak panels was percussion to the now babbling sound of the water, easing as the tub filled. Jordan hummed under her breath to cover the words he was shouting but heard the more insistent thumps. He was trying to break the door down. She dipped her hands into the scalding water and dashed it over her face, the jolt of it making her eyes widen and her hands sting like fury. It served to ground her enough so she could push herself to her feet, uncaring of her nudity, her shell-shocked brain enough of a defence. She fumbled with the lock and the knob simultaneously.
Simon nearly fell as his big body tumbled into the bathroom, spinning her around and into the wall as his hip caught her on the way by. The jarring sensation further centred her and she waited for him to once again say his piece, make further excuses. Why didn’t he just go? He faced her and she absently noticed his muscled chest, lightly dusted with dark hair, an arrow of the same silky stuff dipping down the middle of his ridged abdomen to disappear behind the waistband of his jeans. He had dressed, perhaps in order to “explain” himself further, but she still didn’t feel at a disadvantage. She didn’t feel much of anything actually, and that was probably good. Shock tended to protect a person after the initial injury, to give them time to get help before the pain returned with a vengeance. She’d read that someplace. Well, there was no help for her in this instance so she’d take the numbness for now.
Stalking forward until he towered over her, taut features rather intimidating, his green eyes glowed like a jungle cat’s, and as he reached out a hand to her face, she flinched despite herself. He yanked it back as though she’d bit him and eased away to sit on the edge of the tub. He felt behind him to shut the water off and lurched upright.
“It’s freaking hot. Were you going to get in there?”
When she didn’t answer him, he made an impatient sound and came to take her by the shoulders, gently pushing her ahead of him into the bedroom. Ah, the scene of her humiliation, the stage of his perfidy. She didn’t resist when he sat her on the tumbled, well-used bed and crouched before her. The scent of sex wafted around them and she quailed at the olfactory trigger of memories surfacing beneath the layer of denial.
“Let me finish, honey. I’ll…I’ll try to explain. Will you listen?” His deep voice was placating, conciliatory, as he waited for her to acknowledge him.
Something snapped deep within her. She wondered who it was important to. Him? Likely. Well, she hardly cared about his needs anymore. Not when she’d already met them with her heart and her soul, not to mention her body. She took a breath and when she was certain of the words, spoke them.
“I’m not interested, Simon. Not. Interested. I thought you were serious about us, what we started. I was wrong. I must have somehow misinterpreted your pursuit, your proclamations of love and caring. I certainly made my interest known to you for the past year. I now understand you didn’t want me until you saw me with James. Well, thanks for the intense past couple of days. I appreciate the education. It’ll come in handy in the future.”
Actually growling deep in his chest, Simon pushed both of his big hands through his thick dark hair, tugging at it. Jordan suspected he wanted to use them on her instead and felt a flicker of arousal. She ruthlessly stomped on it and stood, straightening her shoulders and projecting as much disdain as a naked, heartbroken, rejected woman could.
“I want you to leave. It’ll be impossible to avoid running into each another in this town, but don’t look at me, don’t speak to me, don’t even breathe in my direction, or you’ll be sorry.”
The ultimatum flew through the air to land at his feet and Simon’s face darkened. His eyes drifted across her face as if assessing her determination before dropping over her body and it took everything she had not to cover herself or flinch, especially when she realized that he wasn’t being lascivious or ignorant. The naked need on his features, coupled with the tenderness reflected in those cat-like eyes, made it harder somehow to keep her defences high. It gave her pause, because it was so at odds with his earlier proclamation. But then he tore his eyes from her and nodded, moving to snatch up his shirt. He spoke over his shoulder.
“I’m sorry, Jordan. I know that doesn’t cut it, but it’s all I have.”