In Florence Town, people appear to live life without a care in the world. When members of one of the leading families are suspected of building bombs, FBI Agent Nicolas Hayes is sent undercover to investigate. He learns a lot more than anticipated about the dark secrets behind the scenes of a placid rural life.
Alexander leaned into Charlene’s warm hand and closed his eyes. He relished the time they spent together and hoped that soon they could move to a small house, closer to his home and therefore far away from Florence Town. He imagined them sitting at a table to celebrate the birth of their first child, and that his wife would vow to be his for all time. His heart swelled with joy that was partly a trick of his mind. He wanted a woman at his side. The years of living single had been filled with missions, but success lacked the warmth of a friendly soul waiting for him.
His marriage to Deborah had been short. She had left him for a rich snob, acting as if their time together had been a nuisance. The pain following the separation had been life changing. He had felt substandard and unworthy, a man no woman would desire as a partner. Even four years later, he was still single, spending more time at work than ever to forget the void in his heart.
Charlene lifted her head from his shoulder and caressed the curve of his ear. “I knew you’d be a gentleman when I saw you enter the diner for the first time.”
Alexander smiled in the darkness, remembering her statement that a man’s ears told much about his character.
“I’m so happy we met.” Her words were as soft as her body resting next to his. “You’re so gentle. After everything I’ve come to know in this town, I want to be with you and only with you.”
Alexander heard the yearning in her voice and winced. Since the day he had met Charlene at the small diner where she worked, he had felt drawn to her and was astonished to learn that she felt the same for him. Since then, they had stolen away to meet secretly in her father’s house whenever possible. However, he felt the sting of danger whenever he entered the old man’s premises. If Carlton Loman were to see him walk into his daughter’s private quarters, he’d most probably call the sheriff first and his vigilantes next.
“I don’t see your father giving us his blessing.”
“I don’t care.” Charlene traced his temple down to his jawbone with her fingertips. “You saved me from Milton. You saved me when I couldn’t save myself. My hero.”
Alexander had a vivid memory of that night in January. He had seen Charlene with her apron trailing to the floor, running from the diner’s kitchen toward the yard, her face covered with tears. Milton, drunk as a skunk, had been behind her, screaming for her to come back. He’d been like a demon running after a soul, his face covered with sweat. Without hesitation, Alexander had intercepted him, knocked him out, and dragged his unconscious body out of the yard and into the alley.
The next day, when Milton had entered the diner for breakfast, he acted like nothing had happened the night before, even though the large bruise on his chin said otherwise. Charlene had stopped by Alexander’s table to thank him, then fled with reddened cheeks when one of the regular customers took a seat at the counter. Alexander had been touched and intrigued by her actions and pleased to meet her again under better circumstances.
“Oh, and there’s another wish on my list. Once we’re far away from here, I want to start a family with you.”
Glad she couldn’t see him, Alexander thought of his own desire for a family. He wanted to have children to share love and life. He wanted to see them grow and learn, teach them what little wisdom he had gathered. He imagined how they’d look—a striking mix of Charlene’s gentle features and his dark blond hair. He swallowed, not trusting his voice for a moment. The idea of having a wife and kids was scary, both from trepidation and honest yearning. “Yeah, that would be nice.”
Charlene kissed his cheek. “I imagine every night that we’ll leave together. That we find a home somewhere far away from here, and I will give you all my loving.” She hummed the Beatles’ song as she nuzzled his cheek.
Alexander smiled though she couldn’t see him. They shared a love for the Beatles and possessed a collection of their greatest hits. Charlene knew all the words by heart and would sing them at any given moment—much to the joy of the guests and the portly cook at the diner.
Alexander took a deep breath. His plan of keeping an inner distance was smashed by her warm lips on his and the sensuous kisses that followed. For the second time that night, they made love—gentle, caring, enjoying the intimacy.
Charlene was such a sweet woman, warm-hearted in every way. He was amazed at how quickly he had fallen in love with her, and at the same time, ashamed that they had met under pretense. He knew she wouldn’t forgive him once she learned the truth. Twice, he had sought for words to explain his situation, and twice he had failed, for fear he would lose her. He wanted their relationship built on trust and love but didn’t know how he could accomplish that mission. The inner conflict took his breath away. Deep down, he wanted them to drive out of town, to never return, but he knew he couldn’t do it.
Charlene rested her head on his chest, sighing and obviously oblivious to his inner struggle. “I didn’t know that I was alive until I met you.” She lifted her chin. “Will you take care of me?”
Alexander choked on his words, then placed a light kiss on her brow. “I’ll do whatever’s in my power.”