It was time to destroy the ghosts of her past…before they destroyed her!
Everyone has skeletons in the closet, but Simone Cooper Sheridan’s involve secret CIA operations in the steamy jungles of South America. Now, after years of disguising her true identity, she’s finally come face-to-face with her previous life.
Reece Sheridan knows that a smart man doesn’t think with his heart. After all, he is the one who divorced Simone, when their marriage just couldn’t overcome her mysterious past. But he’s never gotten over her.
Now Simone’s secrets have captured the two of them in a deadly game with a ticking clock…and nothing can tear him from her side.
Simone leaned against the doorjamb, watching as Martin walked down the back drive. Even his gait was reminiscent of her ex-husband’s. Separated by almost sixteen years, the two brothers had too much of a gap between them to have ever been joined at the hip. In fact, growing up, Martin had hardly seen his older brother. But when their parents were killed in a traffic accident, Reece had been there, ready to take on responsibility for his eight-year-old brother.
He’d given up a promising career in the military and instead come home to south Texas to put himself through law-school, all the while serving as surrogate parent for Martin. It had been tough for them both. But a real relationship had developed.
When Simone had met Reece, Martin had simply been part of the package. And in all honesty, she’d fallen in love with them both. After Reece had asked her to marry him, Martin had followed up with a proposal of his own. And from that moment on, they’d been a family.
The three of them against the world.
It was everything she’d ever wanted. An instant connection. Two people on whom she could lavish all the love she’d been hoarding over the years. It had seemed a perfect existence. But unfortunately, it hadn’t held up over time. What had started as mutual attraction had devolved into mutual distrust, Reece’s constant questioning turning into an inquisition that ultimately had forced Simone to pull back behind the façade she’d depended on for so many years.
And now, there was simply no crossing the gulf that had grown between them, but that didn’t mean that Martin couldn’t remain a part of her life. She’d held his hand through first dates, and football injuries, flunked tests, and college entrance exams. He was part of her family. And nothing was going to change that.
She knew better than most how fleeting human connection could be. And she wasn’t about to lose Martin just because she hadn’t been able to make a life with his brother.
She stood for a moment more, fighting against the empty feeling gnawing at her gut, then drew in a deep breath, letting the sound of the ocean soothe her. The bay was calmer than open water, but there was still a peaceful ebb and flow as the water gently moved in and out. She’d loved this house almost from the minute they’d found it.
It had needed a lot of TLC, but the work had been almost as important to her as the house itself. It had filled her days. In the beginning of her marriage, she’d been content with the role of wife and surrogate sister to Martin. But with Martin heading off to college, she’d found her days empty. So the restoration had been a godsend.
Reece had had opinions of course, but the day to day elements, the planning and creation, that had been hers alone, every detail taking on personal proportion, her personality reflected in the house’s grace and beauty in a way she couldn’t have possibly imagined.
And now it was all hers. Reece had removed it from the settlement, instead agreeing to sign it over to her completely. The cynical part of her brain insisted his generosity had stemmed from guilt, but the part of her that had fallen for him knew it was more than that. Reece had understood her attachment to the house, even without knowing the reasons behind it.
A seagull’s plaintive cry echoed above, and she shielded her eyes with a cupped hand to look out over the water. The sky was a crystalline blue, with only the faint wisp of a cloud here and there, the sea glistening like sequins in the dancing light. In the distance, she could see a freighter making its way between buoys as it moved toward the great arched bridge and the port beyond.
If left to her own devices, she’d probably never have chosen to come to Texas, let alone Corpus. She’d have probably found a job that let her travel. Avoid roots altogether. But Maurice had had other ideas, placing her in a temporary job with a Houston oil company. Unfortunately it hadn’t been a good fit. Actually Houston hadn’t been a good fit. So she’d jumped at the chance to transfer to Corpus, hoping for something better.
And then she’d met Reece.
And, in truth, even if she’d known how her marriage would turn out, she’d still have made the commitment. Without him, she wouldn’t have Martin, or her house, or at least for one brief moment the feeling that she belonged.
With a smile, she reached down to pull a weed from the potted bougainvillea on the back porch. The day was still young. And she was free to do with it as she wished. She reached down to grab the laundry bags, thinking that she’d start the washer, and then maybe go for a run.
One of the things she’d never lost sight of was the need to stay in shape. Her body was her best ally and she wasn’t about to lose that edge. It had become a family joke actually that if Simone missed a workout it was obviously the end of the world. When she and Reece had remodeled the house, they’d turned half of the basement into a gym, and Simone still found solace in the mind-numbing routine of weights and aerobics.
But even with all the high tech gadgetry they’d installed, nothing could beat the rush of running. Maybe it was being outdoors, or feeling her body work as a unit. Or maybe it reminded her of different times. Hard to say, but she still loved it.
Heading down the hall, she stopped at the basement stairs, and then with a shrug, dumped the bags. Laundry could wait. It was a beautiful day, and Martin could live a few more hours without clean clothes. She opened the front door and headed down the steps, stopping at a honk from the curb. Laura, the post woman, waved as she pulled the cart up in front of the mailbox. Simone returned the gesture, already heading for the box.
“Got big plans for the weekend?” Laura asked, handing her the mail.
Laura had been delivering their mail since they’d moved into the house three years ago. And since then, she and Simone had formed a friendship of sorts. At least as far as front yard conversations allowed.
“Well the plan was to veg on the sofa. But Martin is here.”
“So the two of you have plans?”
“Martin and I? No. Other than a date with his laundry, I’m on my own.”
“You all right?” There wasn’t much Laura didn’t know about Simone’s situation. She’d been through much the same herself.
“I’m fine. Just taking it day by day.” It had been almost four months since Reece had moved out. But in some ways he’d been gone much longer than that. Besides she was used to surviving on her own. “And today is a day for doing nothing. I’m going for a run, and then I figure I’ll order a pizza, open a good bottle of wine and watch the new Johnny Depp movie on Pay-for-View.”
“I’d kill for a weekend of vegging.” Laura grinned. A single mother, she didn’t get a lot of ‘me’ time. “The last time I had the bathroom to myself, it was still the twentieth century.”
“Trust me, it’s not as exciting as Calgon commercials would have you believe.” Simone had meant to be funny, but somehow the words had come out on an almost wistful note. “Not that I’m complaining.”
“It’s hard, I know.” Laura nodded, her tone commiserating. “I remember when Jack left. I wasn’t sure I’d make it through the day. But I had the kids, and well, time does heal all wounds.”
“And mine aren’t that severe.” Simone forced a smile. “We parted amicably.” The minute the words were out she knew how stupid they sounded. Amicable divorce was an oxymoron.
“I know.” Laura’s eyes were wise. “But that doesn’t mean they don’t smart a bit.”
“True enough.” Simone nodded, then changed the subject. “How’re the kids?"
“Fine. Ethan informed me yesterday that he didn’t need me to take him to school anymore. He wants to ride the bus.” Laura’s oldest, Sally, was in fifth grade, and Ethan, the youngest, was in first.
“Are you going to let him?”
“Yeah, I guess so. Although I might follow behind the bus the first couple of times just to be sure he’s okay.”
“I think you’re brave to even consider it.” Simone said, meaning every word.
“What about you?” Laura asked. “Have you given any more thought to what you want to do? Now that you’re on your own, I mean?”
It was an ongoing conversation. “No. And I know I should,” she said, heading her friend off at the pass. “I just haven’t been able to really focus on what it is I want to do next. It’s all a little overwhelming, you know?”
“I do.” Laura nodded. “But it’s important that you figure out what you want. Besides, even if it’s only temporary, it beats hanging out at the mailbox waiting for Netflix.”
“Although when we’re talking Johnny Depp…” Simone shrugged.
“ ‘Nuf said,” Laura said, shifting the cart back into gear. “Same time tomorrow?”
“Absolutely.” Simone smiled. “As you so eloquently pointed out, I haven’t got all that much on my agenda.”
“Guess I know where I rank.”
“Hey, just commenting on my very dull life.”
“Be careful what you pray for,” Laura quipped, laughing as she pulled away from the curb. Simone waved goodbye and then turned back toward the house, thumbing through the mail. Predictably it was made up of bills and junk mail, the junk only slightly outweighing the bills.
She quickly sorted things into two groups, bills on top, everything else on the bottom. As she moved the final catalogue to the back of the pile, a card fell out, drifting in the breeze to land at the foot of a pot of moss roses.
She bent to retrieve it, surprised to find a postcard rather than the advertisement she’d expected. The photograph on the front showed an over-forested mountain, the thick undergrowth making it look hot and oppressive. Simone shivered, memory flashing with intense clarity.
It was just a postcard.
She drew in a shaky breath and turned it over, her heart stutter-stepping as she read the message.
Trip is fine, but storm is coming. Must seek cover. – M
The card fluttered from her fingers as she struggled to breathe. Then with a force of sheer will, she cleared her head, banishing her roiling emotions, and leaned over to retrieve the postcard, tucking it into the pocket of her jeans.
Once inside the house, she threw the mail on the credenza in the hallway and walked into the kitchen, her movements rote as she opened the pantry and began removing cans of green beans and peas.
Three minutes later, the shelf was empty and Simone carefully peeled back a Velcroed square of wallpaper. Despite the fact that her stomach was churning her fingers were steady as she reached for a knife and levered it between two planks of the shiplap wall. There was a click, and then the bottom plank swung free, revealing a dark cavity.
Simone reached inside and pulled out a plastic wrapped package. Pushing the wood back into place, she replaced the wallpaper, and then the cans. Certain that everything was returned normal, she crossed to the table, and opened the package.
The gun was in pieces, but it took only a few seconds to put it together, the magazine sliding into place with a gratifying click. She slid it into the waistband of her jeans the metal cold against the small of her back, then reached for the passport, flipping to the photograph, satisfied that it was a good enough likeness to serve her purpose.
Next she grabbed a black leather wallet, checking the contents briefly. Drivers license, social security, even a library card. The pictures were all of her, the name matching the one on the passport. She closed the wallet and picked up a manila envelope. Inside, she thumbed through four stacks of bills. A hundred thousand should take care of her needs. At least until she’d sorted things out.
The only remaining thing in the package was a cell phone. She took it and shoved it into her purse, along with the wallet, envelope and folded square of plastic.
Then with a shuddering sigh, she removed her old wallet, cell phone and key ring, placing them on the table. Her current life summed up in paper, plastic and leather.
She turned slowly, her eyes falling on the divorce decree. All it needed was a signature. A line of ink, and her marriage would be nothing more than a memory. The thought broke her heart. But then sometimes life made decisions for you.
She grabbed a pen and scribbled her name.
What was it Laura had said?
Be careful what you pray for.
Excerpt from EYE OF THE STORM by Dee Davis, Copyright ©2006 by Dee Davis. All rights reserved. Reprint only with permission from author. Please contact .