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Phantom Heart

esKape Press

Heat Rating: SENSUAL
Word Count: 63,000
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Luke Wainwright doesn’t remember leaving, can’t recall where he’s been for the past several weeks, and hasn’t a clue how he came to be so far from home. The only thing he knows is that he woke up one morning desperate to get back to his wife. But Rachel’s reception breaks his heart. She has questions he can’t answer, and even though he vows never to leave again, she refuses to let him in.

Time all but stopped for Rachel Wainwright when she lost the love of her life in a tragic accident. She still goes to work every day, but she isn’t really living, doesn’t remember how to exist without Luke. Just as she picks herself up and starts to recover, a stranger who seems very familiar walks into her life—and changes things forever.

Rachel finds herself at the center of a phenomenon even doctors don’t fully understand. Dare she believe? Her mind can’t quite comprehend it, but she holds onto this second chance at love with everything she can.

Or tries to…

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I could have told you I loved you the day I met you. Would have, if I hadn’t been worried it would scare you off. But I didn’t truly know how much I loved you until you cooked for me the first time. You made chicken parmesan. I hate chicken. Loath the stuff. It was on the tip of my tongue to tell you that as you set the plate in front of me. But you were grinning from ear to ear, and the eagerness for me to like it shined in your eyes and on your face. So I ate every bite, forced it down. Told you how much I loved it. In hindsight I could have saved myself from having to eat chicken every week if I’d just been honest with you. In spite of that, if I had it to do over, I’d still choke down that chicken and love every minute of it just to see you smile.
Chapter Ten
“THE FIRST TIME you kissed me?”
“I’ve never kissed you — ouch! What was that for?” he asked, rubbing his stomach where she’d jabbed him with her elbow. “It’s true. You’ve always been the one to kiss me. You can’t get enough of me.”
She twisted around and tried to glare at him but kissed his nose instead. “True.”
Scamper nickered softly and twitched his ears. She’d been reluctant to ride the feisty bay horse bareback; she’d seen him buck like a bronco enough to be leery of him. But Luke had worn her down, reminded her that he’d hopped on the gelding dozens of times without a saddle. In the end, she’d agreed because she didn’t want him lifting the heavy hunk of leather to put it on the horse.
Luke leaned into her. “You smell amazing. Thank you for letting me pick our adventure.” He trailed the fingers of his left hand slowly up her leg. “This is heaven. Riding my horse, a beautiful lady between my legs…”
She grabbed his hand and placed it back around her waist. “Don’t try to change the subject. When was the first time you kissed me?”
He groaned loudly and leaned his head against her back. “Why is this stuff important to you females and your elephant memories?”
Rachel fell silent. How did she explain that she needed the constant reassurance that he was real?
He hugged her tighter and kissed her on the neck just below her left ear. “The first time I kissed you was four days after I met you.”
Rachel wiggled and twisted so she could look him in the eyes. “Um… no, it wasn’t—”
He kissed her to silence her. “You just zip it. I’m telling this story. I’d gone into Moonshine Bill’s Bar and Grill for two nights, trying to get my courage up to ask you out.”
“But you said you kissed me four days after we met—” She squealed when he nipped her shoulder.
“It was four days after we met. I came in on Saturday with Billy Jordan and Frank Donovan.”
“How could I forget?” She rolled her eyes.
“I know I never will. You were so cute in that Raggedy Ann costume.” He nuzzled her neck, sending goose bumps down her arms and back.
She leaned into him. “Don’t try to distract me. You know if I hadn’t been wearing that sexist outfit you never would have noticed me.”
“What? I’m hurt. Truly wounded that you think I only came back because of your long, shapely legs—” He trailed his fingers from her knees to her thighs then lifted them, reins dangling from his right hand, and cupped his hands in front of her chest. “—and your pert, full—”
She smacked his hands. “Pig.”
He laughed and hugged her to him. “Can I help it if I thought you were hot?”
“I looked ridiculous.”
“You didn’t happen to keep that get-up, did you?”
“Ugh! You drive me crazy.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Forget I asked.”
The grass and bushes on their left rustled moments before Rowdy bounded out and ahead of them on the path. Scamper let out a low snort and shook his head. A pang of sadness tugged at her heart. This was the first time she’d ever ridden on the bay. Bella had always been the horse she rode.
“Hey, you okay? You got awful quiet,” Luke said, concern in his voice.
Rachel didn’t want to spoil the mood by bringing up the beautiful sorrel mare. They’d shared enough grief, now it was time for a little enjoyment and pleasure. “I was thinking how perfect this feels. Even if you are driving me insane by not answering my question.”
“All right. All right. So, I left that first night with no intentions of seeking you out again. Come Sunday, I couldn’t get you and those baby blues out of my mind.”
She angled her head and stared at him. “You mean you noticed my eyes?” She blinked rapidly several times.
He ran his fingers through her hair. “And the handful of freckles on your cute little button nose. By Monday morning, I knew I had to see you again. I talked Billy into going back to Moonshine Bill’s with me by agreeing to buy his dinner. The bastard cost me almost thirty dollars in beer. I went back Tuesday with Frank, and we sat at the bar — a big mistake. His bar tab alone was fifty dollars. I sat there for hours, trying to get the courage up to ask you out, Frank razzin’ me.”
Rowdy ran back to them, his tongue hanging out. They were almost to the fork in the path, so Luke would head Scamper around to the end of the pasture through the small woods.
“How long were you there before I saw you?”
“A couple of hours. I almost lost it when that asshat put his hand on your behind.”
She jerked around, nearly knocking him off Scamper. “You saw that?”
“Careful, woman. Yeah. Probably a good thing Frank was there, or I would’ve really made a fool of myself.”
“I took care of it, thank you very much.”
He chuckled. “That you did. You bent his index finger back so far as you removed his hand that you had to have broken it.”
“Dawn did make sure her girls could take care of themselves. Why didn’t you sit in my section that night?”
“I didn’t want to press my luck. I figured I might have a better shot if I played it cool.”
“Chicken shit.”
“Hey!” He tickled her. When she broke out laughing hysterically, he stopped, stiffened, pulled Scamper to a halt.
“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Everything is right. Perfect. I just want to remember this moment forever. The sound of your laugh — a real I’m-happy-and-I-can-breathe laugh — the smell of your hair, the way you feel in my arms. Home. That’s what this is. I know it’s cliché and nothing new, but home is where the heart is, and my heart has been held in the palm of your hand since the day I saw you in that skimpy Halloween costume. That’s the real reason I kept coming back. Kinda hard to return to normal in Bee Cave, Texas, when your heart is miles away in Austin with the cutest little Ragdoll in the state — hell, in the world. Well, my world, anyway.”
She caressed his cheek. “Damn you.” She pulled his face down and kissed him.

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