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Saturday, June 18, 2011
Always by Sherry Gloag
The blood thrummed through his veins, while anticipation licked at his heart. Six months! Six long months since he last saw her. And now? He fingered the four-inch-square white card in his pocket. No identification. Only fancy printed script named the destination, date and time. And yet he knew.
Luke first met her nearly three years ago when he arrived at the victim’s house.
“Drug lord assassination,” his partner Jack, informed him, as he drove them towards the crime scene. “Given what we know from the surveillance data, Drew Saunders paid the price for encroaching on another drug gang’s patch and attempting to take over their suppliers.”
“How the mighty are fallen.” Shuffling the papers on his lap Luke stopped long enough to study the bullet-peppered face of the revered lawyer, predicted by many to go all the way to the White House.
Why did a man who appeared to have everything get mixed up in drug cartels? He’d seen images of the aspiring senator and his beautiful wife. For that matter, how did his wife manage to condone her husband’s lifestyle? Did she know?
Even in death the man looked hard, ruthless, and merciless. He’d always attributed it to the man’s well documented ambition to run for President one day. But then, as leader of one of the most famous, or should he say, infamous drug cartels in the area, perhaps Drew Saunders considered himself at the top of that pole and wanted more.
“Has the widow been informed?” Luke sighed when his partner shook his head. Of course not, why had he asked. He pulled another photograph from the folder and studied the face captured when she’d smiled at someone standing close to the photographer. He hadn’t expected the punch to his gut when he stared into those midnight-blue eyes with laugh-lines flaring round the edges. A woman who didn’t resort to Botox, he decided, and stuffed the picture between the other papers before his fingers skimmed the glossy gold locks falling free against her shoulders. It took him a moment to work out what else struck him as odd about the picture. Retrieving it he studied the face again.
Innocence stared back at him. The kind of uninhibited innocence and an understated elegance that came from within. She was good, he thought, as with a vicious thrust he pushed the image out of sight.
Either she lacked a conscience, and as Drew Saunders’ wife it seemed the most likely prospect, or she had no idea that the money she undoubtedly lavished on her high profile image came from more than his work as one of the most ambitious lawyers in the area. He’d talk to her after he finished at the crime-scene. Mary Saunders stole his heart and scrambled his sanity during their first meeting. During the long months of the investigation into her husband’s murder, Luke struggled to keep his feelings under control. But Jack knew. His partner didn’t hide his anxiety about Luke’s escalating feelings for a potential murder suspect.
“It’s not like you, Luke. And I don’t appreciate you allowing a pretty face to wreck to your career and, by extension, mine too. If you’re not careful, they’ll throw us off the case. Do you want that? Because I sure as hell don’t.”
Something about Mary drew him in. Against everything he’d learned they spent time together. At first he told himself he needed more answers, but before long he admitted to himself, and Jack, he’d met the only woman he’d love for the rest of his life.
With a resigned sigh and a hand on his shoulder, Jack implored him not to act irrationally. “You’re in danger of jeopardizing the whole case, Luke. If I can see what’s going on between the two of you, it won’t be long before others notice how much time you’re spending over at the Saunders’ house. At best they’ll pull us off the case; at worst they’ll suspend you before firing you.”
“Luke?” The sound of his partner’s voice shot Luke back to his current surroundings. “I didn’t know you came here.” Hesitancy warred with curiosity in Doug’s eyes.
Luke squirmed in his chair. Shit! Why had she chosen this restaurant tonight?
“I don’t normally.” He fought to control his flaring embarrassment.
Either he failed, or Doug, who’d taken a lot of flack from him during the six months since he last saw Mary Saunders, decided he’d taken enough from him today and led his wife to their own table after another brief exchange.
Luke glanced at his watch. Anticipation moved out to make way for nerves. He wanted a drink; instead he grabbed the glass of water and gulped. Had he got it hopelessly wrong? The sound of the chair opposite him gliding over the plush carpet snapped his head up.
“You came!” He rose and rounded the table to hold her chair for her before the waiter arrived.
“You look amazing.” Way to go, he told himself. Remind her of the last time they’d spoken, when her laughter had disappeared leaving her face pale and gaunt.
Against police advice she turned up every day for the trial of her husband’s murderer. And nothing he’d said changed her mind. Every day, as she listened to the sordid details of her late husband’s second life, she lost a little bit more of her innocence.
When the trial ended, and they stood together at the top of the courthouse steps, he wanted to take her away but she laid her hand on his arm, offered him a sad smile and shook her head. Bewildered and hurt by her refusal he’d stepped back. “Why not?” Hell, after the time they spent together during the previous months did she intend to dump him? Had she been using him and he’d been too besotted to see it? Well he had his work, she could…
“Luke!” Her voice cut through his rising hurt. “There’s nothing I want more than to go home with you.”
She stepped back before he could reach out to take her arm, and held up one hand, palm out. “I love you Luke, but I need some time alone.”
Struggling for patience and understanding he’d dropped his hand to his side and nodded.
“Without you beside me I wouldn’t have survived this.” Her hand arced towards the courthouse. “But now, I need time to find myself again.”
She’d stopped him with a beseeching look before he could utter a word. “I thought I knew Drew, and I loved the man I married.” She’d drawn in a deep breath and looked him in the eye. “I need to know who and what I am before I commit myself to another man. To you.” She’d paused, her gaze beseeching. “I need to trust, that after making such a horrific mistake before, I’ve got it right this time. It’s hard when you discover that far from assessing people accurately, by falling in love with Drew I got it horrendously wrong. I need time alone to come to terms with my sense of failure.”
He’d tried to persuade her they could work through her fears together but she’d turned to watch a group of people exit the building and scurry down the steps before looking at him again. “I’m asking the impossible,” she said, cupping his cheek with her hand. “I’m asking you to trust me, when I can’t trust myself.”
Covering her hand with his, he turned it, kissed her palm and curled her fingers into a fist.
“Always,” he’d promised, hoping she wouldn’t keep him waiting too long.
Now as he studied her across the table, his heart leapt in his chest. In her beautiful eyes he saw serenity, and more. Unfettered love shone back at him!
He sought the ring box and opened it. “Will you marry me?”
He slipped the ring on her finger. “I love you, Mary.”
“I love you too, Luke.” Her smile engulfed him. “Always.”
About the Author: Multi-published author of romances that stay with you, Sherry Gloag is a transplanted Scot now living in the beautiful coastal county of Norfolk, England. While out walking she enjoys talking to her characters, as long as no other walkers close by. She loves to hear from her readers. Her website: www.SherryGloag.com Her Blog: http://tinyurl.com/68oomm6