Ultimate Redemption, page 1
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Copyright © 2016 by Lydia Rowan
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, businesses, and incidents are invented by the author or used fictitiously. Any similarities to real people, living or dead, businesses and business establishments, places, or events are entirely coincidental. This book is intended for mature audiences only. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Their secrets could end them—or be their salvation.
* * *
Five years ago, disgraced ex-Navy SEAL Damien Silver lost everything: his medals, his reputation, his freedom. But nothing hurt worse than losing the woman he loved. Lacey Bowers abandoned him in his darkest hour, and he swore he’d hate her until the day he died.
* * *
But when Damien learns that Lacey’s in danger, his anger is only matched by his undeniable need to keep her safe. His sudden reappearance shocks Lacey to her core. The chemistry between them is as strong as ever—but secrets from the past could derail their precarious reconciliation.
* * *
When an enemy intent on settling old scores threatens to end their future before it starts, Damien and Lacey must risk everything in order to trust each other—and rescue a love that refuses to die.
Damien Silver killed the headlights but stayed behind the steering wheel. He gripped it tight and stared into the thick trees, seeing nothing.
But the forests, the darkness didn’t change what he knew awaited him on the other side of the bush.
The forest, the darkness also didn’t change the fact that he had no business being here, didn’t change the fact he should leave.
Didn’t change the fact that there was no way he could.
He curled his fingers even tighter around the wheel and then, on a heavy sigh, let go.
Damien sat in the dark interior and let himself acclimate to the lack of light, listened intently to the sounds of the forest all around him. The terrain could be dangerous, especially at night, and without a light to guide him, Damien would have to be exceedingly careful.
He wouldn’t risk the light, though. Too much of a clue to the others who might very well be in these woods seeking what he sought, one that would almost instantly give his position away.
After another deep breath and a moment’s yearning for a drink, just a little something to take the edge off, Damien got out.
He closed the door quietly and then stood for a moment on surprisingly steady legs with a surprisingly clear mind. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been like this, and he wasn’t sure if he welcomed the clarity.
Because clarity was dangerous, made it impossible for him to ignore what was happening. Made it impossible for him not to feel.
He took a single step and then stopped, torn, his instincts telling him to leave.
He might be too late, and besides, what could he do? What could anyone do? Nothing.
That knowledge should have carried him back into the driver’s seat to make the long drive home, where he could finish drinking himself into oblivion, but his feet moved him forward.
He made his way through the thick, dense woods, his destination well over a quarter mile away.
Damien heard the sounds of wildlife scurrying, the wind rattling through the leaves. Only he was silent, which surprised him.
It had been a long time, a very long time, since he had done anything like this, but it appeared his years of training hadn’t left him completely.
Sure, he was a little rusty, could feel the strain in long-neglected muscles, but he was moving with deadly stealth. He finally made it to a clearing and looked down at the small house centered in it.
It was completely dark, part of the reason Damien had left the car in the woods. There would be no way to approach this house with a vehicle without tipping off the owner, and he didn’t want that.
Praying there was no motion detector or video camera, Damien swiftly made his way across the backyard. A quick circle of the perimeter of the house revealed that all was quiet—and that the house was well secured.
But Damien would find a way in, first trying the sliding glass door, the most likely point of entry. He peered through the glass, but it was so dark he couldn’t really make out anything that was inside.
What he did see was the steel bar wedged along the sliding glass door to hold it in place. No way to make it through there without breaking glass, so Damien searched for an alternate point of entry.
A late-model sedan was parked under the carport, but Damien barely looked at it, instead focused on the single door inside. He made his way to it quickly, and just as quickly saw the keypad.
An alarm system was something he could handle. Or at least something he used to be able to handle.
He worked the plastic cover off the keypad and came face-to-face with a tangle of wires. On a guess, he touched the blue wire to the yellow, exhaling in relief when the red light turned green.
He examined the doorknob, saw that it was dead-bolted, so he crouched down, and began to make quick work of the lock.
As he worked, he couldn’t manage to keep back the bitter snort.
This was a first for him.
He’d acquired these particular skills and they had often come in handy, but not in this situation. Damien hadn’t made a habit of breaking into people’s houses.
But desperate times…
He heard the satisfying click of the dead bolt and paused for a moment, hoping the sound didn’t disturb the house’s occupant. When everything remained still and silent, Damien, still crouched low, turned the knob slowly, pushed the door open, and slipped through the small crack.
The interior of the house was warm, a welcome change from the chilly night air, but Damien didn’t linger to enjoy it.
He stayed crouched low, hoping to avoid being seen through the windows should someone be watching, though if they were, he would have known about it.
Still, Damien was cautious, so he moved slowly, inch by inch. First through the small, tidy kitchen and then the equally small, equally tidy living room.
The room looked empty, almost like it wasn’t lived in. But Damien didn’t let his gaze stray too long and instead focused on the door at the end of the hall.
Besides, he pretty much knew what he’d see.
She’d always kept an impeccably neat home, and he wouldn’t expect that to change, even though everything else had.
Damien continued down the hall, and when he reached the door at the end, he stood, put his fingers on the knob.
His heart was racing so hard, he lifted one hand to rub his chest, hoping the motion would calm the th
Instead, the beat only intensified.
Damien felt like he was outside of himself, like he was watching himself as he twisted the knob. The man who did these things was long gone. All that remained was him, a shell of the man he had been, one who had no business being here at all.
So why was he?
The answer was immediate, but the idea of confronting it was less welcome than the idea of confronting what lay on the other side of that door, so he pushed forward and stepped inside.
He closed the door behind him quickly, and instantly, his gaze centered on the form that lay curled in the center of the queen-size bed.
She was why he was here.
Damien recognized her instantly, would have recognized her anywhere, anytime, just as he recognized the feelings that threatened to choke him.
His heart kicked at his chest, an involuntary reaction, one he hated. The rush of adrenaline that sped through him was also quite unwelcome. He was keyed up enough as it was, and distraction would lead to failure.
And failure wasn’t an option.
He took a moment to glance around the room, saw nothing of note, which didn’t surprise him. She’d always had Spartan tastes, something they shared, so he hadn’t expected anything of interest in her furnishings.
He very much wished that wasn’t the case.
Something, even something as mundane as more elaborate furniture, would have been welcome if only to buy himself a few more seconds free from her. But none was to be had, so he stepped closer, the rug under his feet padding his steps.
The blood rushed through his veins so fast he couldn’t really hear anything, and could only focus on the still form in the bed.
Half of him wanted to turn, leave, but he still moved forward. He’d never wanted to see her again, still didn’t, but yet he moved, his blood thrumming through him on a sea of rage, desire—the storm of conflicting emotions that only she was capable of inspiring. Those emotions that had held Damien in thrall for years.
He stepped even closer and then reached out to her. She was still at first, but Damien saw the instant she opened her dark eyes. There was no fear, no confusion, just steady calm. Calm he understood when she finally moved and lifted her hand. The glint of metal in the ray of moonlight was the first hint, and the soft sound of the gun being cocked was the second.
She’d pulled a gun on him.
He couldn’t contain his bitter laugh. “I should’ve known I couldn’t sneak up on you so easily.”
“You taught me well, Damien.”
He closed his eyes at the first sound of her voice. He had loved that sound for years, then hated it for years too, and though he’d thought he was prepared, hearing the sound of it took him back, made those emotions real.
Not the hate.
He lived with the hate every day, every moment, was more than halfway convinced it was the only thing that kept him alive. So it was familiar to him, didn’t have the power to shake him as profoundly as he was shaken now.
It was the other feelings that did that.
They tortured him, reminded him of the days when his life had been different, when he’d been different, when it all had meant something.
When Damien opened his eyes, she had sat up from her reclined position. Damien did his best not to stare, but he couldn’t stop the instinctive drop of his gaze, the first glimpse of her small T-shirt, the full breasts it barely covered, adding an unneeded and unwelcome dimension to this strained encounter.
Then, when she threw her legs over the side of the bed, the barely-there shorts not covering the long expanse of her soft thighs, the sliver of her hip that was visible between her shirt and shorts, Damien almost turned and left.
Because despite everything that had passed between them, the feelings that even now threatened to make him dizzy, his desire still burned bright.
It had sparked the very first moment he’d seen her all those years ago and hadn’t wavered, never, not even in those darkest years, and it still burned bright now.
She stood, met his eyes.
“Is there a reason I shouldn’t shoot you?”
He looked at the gun.
He should have stayed in the fucking car.
Lacey Bowers held the gun tight in her hand, but only to keep herself from trembling.
Impressive that she didn’t, because though her mind could scarcely process it, Damien Silver was standing in her bedroom.
She never thought she’d see Damien again—though God, how she had wanted to. But this was not what she had hoped for or imagined, Damien dressed in all black, standing at the side of her bed without having taken the time to ring the doorbell.
So much for the best security system money could buy, not that Lacey thought something like a security system, or anything else for that matter, could deter Damien when he’d put his mind to something.
“You want to answer my question?” Lacey asked, shifting under Damien’s scrutiny.
She was holding the gun, yet why did she feel like he had the upper hand?
His jaw twitched, his eyes glittering in her dark bedroom. Long seconds passed before he spoke. “No. I don’t even want to be here. But if you can believe it, I came to help,” Damien said.
His voice, the cadence deep and rich, filled the small space of her bedroom, and Lacey’s lids lowered, her futile attempt to fight back the emotion the sound stirred.
Instead of focusing on the words, she listened to the sound, one so familiar but different. There was a change in it, something she couldn’t identify, but now wasn’t the time to examine that.
“Why would you want to help me?” she asked. After all that had transpired between them, Lacey couldn’t think of a reason he would.
“I don’t know,” he said.
Apparently, Damien couldn’t either.
They stood in silence after he spoke, that tic moving his jaw and making it impossible for Lacey not to notice how hollow his cheeks looked, his face having taken on a thin, almost gaunt look she’d never seen before.
“You want to put that gun down?” he finally asked.
It was only then that Lacey noticed how close he was, realized that at this distance he could snatch the weapon from her hand and she’d be powerless to do anything to stop him. The nerves that had been simmering turned up a notch, and Lacey tightened her grip on the gun.
“I don’t know,” she said, using his earlier words and pushing past the fear that had suddenly begun to clog her throat.
He shrugged. “Do what you want, but know that I could take that gun from you at any time.”
“And I’m supposed to read something into the fact that you haven’t?” she asked, allowing some of her fear to show through, but trying to mask it with anger.
Damien did the same, but Lacey suspected his anger was pure, not backed by the fear that had her in its grip. His voice took on a roughness that was new. “You’re good at that, aren’t you? Reading into things, making decisions despite whatever I might have to say. Drawing conclusions even if I never had a chance to say anything at all,” he said.
His anger only intensified her own, and inflamed some of the guilt she had never been able to get rid of. But the anger was an easier emotion, so she focused on it.
“You show up in my home, my bedroom, and you have the nerve to be offended?” she scoffed, everything, the fear, the surprise of seeing him, forgotten in the face of his accusation.
“Oh, you think this little intrusion is something I should apologize for. This isn’t even a drop in the bucket compared to how you fucked me over, Lacey,” he said.
Damien didn’t know the half of it, but Lacey stayed quiet, watched him as he stared at her, a heartbreaking and heartbroken smile on his face. He stroked his hand along his stubbled cheek, but his eyes never left her.
“I’m a fucking moron, but I’m here to help you,” he
His voice was still rough, but the hint of vulnerability that lit his words raked at her heart, and broke the anger that had only moments ago animated her. “Help me what?”
“Stay alive,” he said.
In the next instant, Lacey heard the ding-dong of her motion detector and then looked from Damien to the bedroom window.
“When does that trigger?” he asked.
“Quarter mile out, my early warning system,” she said.
“So that’s how you knew I was coming?” he asked, and Lacey couldn’t help but wonder if she heard a hint of admiration in his words.
She nodded but still kept her gaze on the window.
“Yeah. I like to know when I’m going to have visitors, and at this hour, I’m not expecting particularly friendly ones.”
“Good instinct. I doubt these latest guests will be as friendly as I am,” Damien said.
That got Lacey to look at him then, and he lifted one corner of his mouth, though the expression wasn’t anything she would call a smile. So unlike him, or the him she had loved so deeply, the one she’d thought she knew.
Her Damien was never less than authentic, and when he chose to smile, it was never a half measure, not like the sad imitation of a smile he had just given her. Her heart thudded, the guilt and sadness that coursed through her intensifying the beat.
“This is what you came for?” she asked.
The question was simply academic, because Lacey knew the answer. There was no reason Damien would be here otherwise. She was more than surprised he was here anyway.
Lacey didn’t plan on staying around to get confirmation.
She dropped the gun on the bed and quickly moved to the chair in the corner and grabbed her clothes. She stuffed her legs into jeans and pulled on a sweatshirt, not bothering to put on a bra.
She quickly jammed on socks and pulled on her hiking boots. In less than a minute, she was ready. She picked up the gun and tucked it into her waistband, and then finally glanced at Damien. “A phone call would have been more efficient,” she said.
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