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A killer’s obsession could destroy their second chance for love.
A Love on the Edge romance.
Only a year ago, Officer Alex Juran and his wife Tess had it all. Love, a solid marriage and a baby on the way. Then in one heartbeat they lost everything.
Now, Tess is doing her best to move on. She has a thriving business and while she may be lonely at times, she’s proud of the new life she’s built without Alex.
Two days before their divorce is final, Alex is shot in the line of duty and left for dead. He faces a difficult recovery so Tess finds herself postponing the divorce and offering to care for him until he can live alone again.
At first, cohabitation is little more than combat. Alex’s incapacitating injuries, the looming divorce, and his inability to remember who shot him have him lashing out at the nearest target: Tess. When someone begins stalking her, he suspects his shooter has returned. Convinced that Tess is in danger, Alex becomes desperate to recover his strength.
Because no matter how much she’s hurt him in the past, they’ve been given a second chance—and he’ll do anything to protect his wife.
This book does not come with a box of Kleenex, so please grab one before you start reading. Contains two people struggling to learn to love again along with graphic sex, explicit violence and realistic language. And some very hot cops.
Copyright © 2009 Sharon Cullen
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Alex Juran’s breath condensed on the cold night air. He adjusted the brim of his John Deere cap and tucked his chin into his thin coat, straining to hear past the sounds of traffic a few blocks away and the mournful horn of a barge chugging down the river.
The scrape of a boot against the ice-encrusted blacktop had him twisting around in time to see a shadow emerge from between the two warehouses. Alex released some of the tension in his shoulders when Jason sauntered forward, all teenage bravado and rich-boy entitlement.
“You got the stuff?” Alex asked.
“You got the money?” Jason’s eyes darted around.
Alex reached for the wad of cash in his back pocket just as another shape materialized beside Jason. Fingers on the cash, Alex paused, his heart damn near pounding out of his chest. His gaze jumped between Jason and the newcomer.
“Jason here told me you’re interested in dealing.”
“Yeah?” Alex narrowed his eyes. The voice sounded familiar, but the shadows revealed only a tall shape. Runner’s build. Above-average height. Educated voice. Authoritative.
“Why?” came the disembodied question.
Alex slowly withdrew his hand from his back pocket. “I have an old lady with expensive tastes,” he said on a shrug. “Need the extra cash.”
The guy chuckled and walked into the light. Immediately Alex knew why he’d recognized the voice and he sucked in a cold breath of shock.
“Take your hat off.” Roger Sheffield—his brother-in-law—stepped forward and knocked the cap off Alex’s head. “Fuck,” he muttered.
“My thoughts exactly,” Alex said.
For half a second, a freakin’ half a second, Alex pulled his gaze from Roger’s hands to look into his eyes. Before he could take another cold breath, Roger was pointing a Beretta at him.
Alex stepped back and raised his hands waist high, his heart beating hard. “I’m not armed, man.”
“You brought me a cop, Jason? A cop?” Roger said over his shoulder.
“I didn’t know.” Jason’s panicked voice came to him through the darkness. “I swear. I didn’t know.”
Sirens broke through the thick silence. Roger’s eyes darted like a cornered animal. His lips curled, and Alex knew with gut-clenching certainty he was staring at death.
He lunged for the gun but Roger twisted, sliding out of Alex’s hold. The sound of a gunshot echoed and bounced off the metal sides of the surrounding warehouses. The bullet slammed into Alex’s Kevlar vest, forcing him backward and knocking the breath out of him. He rolled to avoid the second shot but searing pain ripped through his knee. Two more shots exploded and Jason cried out.
The sirens grew louder. Closer.
Alex clutched his knee. Warm blood oozed through his fingers, soaking his jeans, making his hands slick.
The world faded to gray. His body convulsed in pain. Jason. Where the hell was Jason? He raised his head and searched the shadows and slush. Jason lay two feet from him, his glassy eyes staring at nothing.
With a groan, Alex’s head fell to the pavement. He stared up at stars that pulsed and glimmered as soft snow began to fall.
So this was how it was gonna end, huh? Lying on the wet ground between two dirty warehouses?
Tess’s face wavered in front of him and he tried to reach for her, wanting to feel her skin against his fingertips one last time.
His partner’s face suddenly appeared. “Hang in there, AJ. Help’s comin’.” Tony pressed his hand to Alex’s shattered knee. Alex to rolled to his side and bit his lip to keep from crying out. His vision dimmed and he fought to stay conscious.
“Tony… Tell Tess…”
Tony shook his bald head. “No way, bro. Tell ’er yourself.”
“Shef…” Alex choked on his own spit and coughed.
“Where’s the ambulance?” Tony bellowed behind him.
All around them, officers yelled and cursed. Pulsing red lights lit the sides of the warehouses. The wail of sirens abruptly stopped.
He fought the black waves lapping at his conscience.
More sirens. Probably the ambulance this time.
Tess lunged off the bed and raced through the dark house. Her black lab, Othello, ran beside her, his nails clicking in time to her pulse. Grabbing the edge of the kitchen doorframe with one hand, Tess slapped at the light switch with the other. Canister lights flared, illuminating the kitchen and ten layers of Saran-wrapped wedding cake in various stages of decoration.
She collapsed against the wall, her body shaking in silent laughter. Such a stupid dream, but it had seemed so real.
The bride had been ready to throw the bouquet. The clutch of white flowers went sailing through the air, and who should jump out of the crowd but Alex, his arm outstretched, reaching for the flowers. Tess could only stare in mute horror as her soon-to-be ex-husband dove for the bouquet and landed in the cake.
She shook her head and turned off the light. Freud would have a heyday with the symbolism of that dream.
“Come on, O. Back to bed.” She headed for her bedroom, glancing through the living room at the illuminated clock on her cable box. Only two more hours of sleep before she had to start on the pies. Then she had to whip up several batches of cookies for a diner and complete Debra’s cake. A hectic day, but she loved every minute she spent creating and designing desserts for Tess’s Temptations.
She crawled under the still warm covers and curled into a ball with Othello at her back, pushing away the loneliness that haunted her in the lonely hours of the early morning. She didn’t know why she missed Alex the most at this time of the day. It wasn’t like he was ever here when they were married. She’d slept alone just as much then as she did now.
Just as she began to drift into sleep, Othello growled. The sound of the doorbell pealed through the silent house and the dog bounded off the bed like a shot, running into the living room and barking loud enough to wake the dead.
With shaking hands, Tess pushed the heavy covers off. The doorbell rang again. She padded quietly down the hall and walked a wide path around the front door to press her back to the wall next to the window. Pushing the heavy drapes aside, she peered into the cold December night at a blue-and-white police cruiser parked behind her white catering van.
She covered her mouth with a fist and took a step back.
If something happens to me, the chief won’t call. He’ll tell you in person, Alex had always said.
She took another step from the window and then another, her heart beating unevenly, the blood in her veins moving at warp speed.
The chief wouldn’t be here. She and Alex were no longer living together. Sure, they were still married, but only for a few more days. Surely, he wasn’t here to—
The doorbell rang a third time and Othello barked so hard his front paws came off the ground.
“Tess, it’s Tony.”
Recognizing Alex’s partner’s voice, Othello whined and scratched at the door.
Tess relaxed marginally. So it wasn’t the chief. Just Tony Blankenship.
“Mrs. Juran? It’s Chief Foster. Could you please open the door?”
Oh, God. She swiped at her tears with trembling hands and took a few short steps to the door to turn the deadbolt.
Tony pushed his way in before she could get the door open and Chief Foster stepped forward, his white hair sticking up, his face still bearing the wrinkles of his sheets. “Mrs. Juran—”
“No.” Tess shook her head and glanced blindly at Tony.
“Mrs. Juran, I’m sorry to inform you that at twenty-three hundred hours this evening Officer Juran was shot in the line of duty.”
“No,” she whispered. She looked into Tony’s eyes—brown eyes that usually bore laughter but now held only grief.
Her knees gave way and Tony grabbed for her.
Not Alex. Please, God, anything but that.
The lights of the hospital parking lot illuminated the snowflakes drifting down to earth as people scurried about, dodging the half-frozen puddles.
Through the reflection of the glass Tess could see the officers behind her, crowded into the waiting room. The chief stood to one side conferring with the sergeants and lieutenants. On her other side Tony sat in a chair, his bald, dark-skinned head cradled in his hands.
She rolled her forehead against the cold glass and closed her eyes.
All the way to the hospital the cruiser’s siren had wailed a passage through the sparse traffic and Tess had prayed she’d make it in time to see Alex. To tell him… She didn’t know what she wanted to tell him. They hadn’t spoken in months, and she’d had this need to see him and speak to him. But when they arrived, Alex had already been taken into surgery and she hadn’t been given that chance.
She pushed away from the window and wove through the officers, unable to look anyone in the eye, afraid she’d fall apart if she did. She sank into the chair next to Tony.
He opened one eye and looked at her. “Doin’ okay?”
She nodded, shook her head, then nodded again.
“Yeah, me too.”
She bent forward, tunneling her fingers through her hair. “Tell me what happened.”
“Alex was meeting his contact in a drug ring he’d been trying to infiltrate.” Tony drew his legs back and sat up.
“It got all fucked up. We heard shots.”
She struggled to breathe, feeling as if a hand was squeezing the air out of her lungs. “Why, Tony? Why narcotics? He said he’d never leave patrol.”
Tony shrugged. “He wasn’t himself after… He wanted a change. Something different.”
He wasn’t himself after she’d kicked him out. And why not say it? It was the truth, wasn’t it? She’d kicked him out. The reasons on the divorce papers would read “incompatibility”, but it hadn’t always been that way.
“Mrs. Juran?” A man in wrinkled scrubs and mussed hair stood with one hand on the open door of the waiting room.
Tess stood on shaky legs. He came forward. Deep lines of fatigue etched his mouth. His eyes were bloodshot and watery behind his glasses.
He held his hand out to her. “Dr. Sullivan. There’s a room down the hall that’s a little more private.”
He turned to go, but Tess snagged his elbow.
“Alex?” She cleared her throat. “Is he…?
He hesitated. “He’s out of surgery and in recovery.”
Tess nodded and followed him out the door. Alex was alive for now. That’s all she would concentrate on.
Dr. Sullivan led her to a chair identical to the ones in the room she’d just left.
“He’s a lucky man.” The doctor settled into the chair across from her. “Thankfully he was wearing his vest. There’s bruising in the chest area but no broken ribs, which is a plus, considering. The other bullet damaged the knee joint and nicked the popliteal artery causing him to lose a substantial amount of blood. We’ve stopped the bleeding and have been giving him infusions. When he stabilizes, we’ll replace the knee.”
Tess tried to concentrate but her thoughts kept scattering. Alex’s knee. Bullet. Damage.
She blinked. “Yes?”
“I know this is a lot to take in.”
She nodded. She should ask questions but didn’t know what to ask. She felt helpless, alone and so scared. “He’s going to be okay? He’ll live?”
“The next few hours are critical, but all indications are good. He’s strong and in great shape and that will help.”
She closed her eyes. A lone tear trickled down her cheek. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Tess stood inside the recovery room. Curtains separated the large room into smaller segments. Monitors beeped while nurses scurried back and forth and doctors conferred with patients’ families in hushed tones. In the center of it all stood the nurses’ station like central command during a battle.
“This way.” A kind, plump nurse motioned for Tess to follow her through the controlled chaos.
“Talk to him,” she said over her shoulder, deftly swerving in and out of clumps of people. “Touch him. Let him know you’re here.” She avoided a near collision with another nurse pushing a cart. “He’s been taken off the respirator but is still heavily sedated. He might hear you. He may even wake enough to see you, but he won’t be able to talk.” She stopped and pushed a curtain aside.
Tess hesitated, then poked her head in.
His leg was swathed in bandages—from the top of his thigh to his toes—and nestled in a metal contraption with tubes sticking out of both sides and wires connecting him to various machines.
His eyes were closed, his lips pale and chapped. His sable-colored hair, usually worn high and tight, almost touched his shoulders. Although he was a big guy, the machines and tubes made him seem smaller. Vulnerable. Defenseless. He’d hate that. To think he looked anything but strong and confident.
Tess stepped up to the bed and brushed his hair away from his face to reveal more bruises. She touched his cheek as tears blurred her vision. Slowly she sank into the chair next to his bed and twined her fingers in his.
Alex opened his eyes and blinked several times, but nothing came into focus except the woman standing at the foot of the bed.
At first he thought he was dreaming. Why would Tess be here? And why was she crying? Then he saw his leg hanging in the air and wrapped in bandages. Something beeped behind his head and the memory of being shot came racing back, yet strangely he seemed disconnected from it.
Against his will his eyes closed, the exhaustion pulling him under.
When he awakened again he had no idea how much time had passed. He looked for Tess, but couldn’t find her. Had she been just a dream? Was this his hell, seeing Tess but not being able to touch her? If so, he’d been living it for months.
Something tickled his arm but he couldn’t move his head to look, so he shifted his gaze to the right. She was sitting in a chair beside him, her cheek resting on the sheets, her bright red hair trailing over the bed to touch his arm. His hand was curled in hers and she was caressing the back of it with her thumb.
Tess turned her head to look behind her and the ends of her hair grazed his hand. His fingers moved—slightly at first, then with more strength. He stared hard at them, willing them to move, and soon he was clutching her hair.
“We need you to step out for a moment,” someone said.
The words dragged his attention to Tess’s face.
Her hand slid from his but when she tried to stand, his hold on her hair pulled her back. She tugged it free. He forced his fingers to close over the few strands that remained.
“Can I stay a little longer?” she asked.
“I’m sorry, but no.”
Tess turned back and kissed his temple. Her hair fell in his eyes and the strawberry scent of her shampoo surrounded him. “I’ll be back,” she whispered in his ear.
He tried to reach for her, to grab her hand, but she disappeared before he could get his muscles to work.
Tess ran a shaking hand through her hair and leaned against the wall outside recovery.
“Tess?” Her brother-in-law, Roger Sheffield, stepped up beside her. “We came as soon as we heard. Shannon’s in the waiting room. She’s… Well. Upset.” He glanced away, looking haggard and concerned, his face pale, his lips bloodless.
Tess nodded, too close to tears to speak. She appreciated their support, but wasn’t up to dealing with her sister’s hysterics at the moment and wished they would have just stayed home.
“How is he?” Roger asked.
“Is he awake?”
She shook her head and repeated to Roger what the doctor had told her about the knee and the vest that had saved his life.
“He was wearing a vest?” Roger asked.
She nodded and rubbed her temple where a headache was forming.
“He’ll live then?”
“If he can get through the next few hours.” She leaned her head against the wall and closed her eyes. When she opened them, Roger was gone.
Alex existed in a haze. Awake, yet not awake. Aware, but not really caring. The continuous beep of the monitors above his head should have been annoying, but instead they were comforting. At least then he knew he was alive.
Occasionally, he tried to open his eyes, but found it easier just to float.
Sometimes he heard Tess’s voice and the monitors changed their beat. Grew stronger, faster. He thought he’d talked to her once, but couldn’t be sure.
“You should have died, Juran.”
Alex jerked. The monitors made a screeching sound. He tried to open his eyes but they seemed weighted down—like he was in a dream and couldn’t wake up. Except he knew this wasn’t a dream. You didn’t smell in dreams and he could smell this guy.
Old cigarettes and fear.
“You’re delaying the inevitable. You know that, don’t you?” The person leaned in, tickling Alex’s ear with his smoker’s breath.
Scenes flashed behind his eyelids. Metal warehouses. Jason. A John Deere cap.
“Why didn’t you cooperate? Why didn’t you die?”
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