Seattle, two years ago…
Ashton Kane faced the casket, feet braced apart, hands fisted together behind his back. Voices murmured around him, the constant rise and fall scratching at his consciousness. He stared directly ahead, looking through the crowd toward the other side of the graveyard. Mist curled over the distant hill, creeping amidst the rows of crosses, slowly blanketing the gravesite in a numbing gray. He shifted his focus when a line of officers raised their weapons, preparing for the instant the rifles would fire. The one moment he couldn't block out.
The reports echoed across the cemetery, scattering a flock of birds. Cackling squawks faded as the low vibrations roiled through the air, settling like stones in his gut. Tendrils of smoke swirled upwards, the smell of sulfur heavy in the light breeze. Memories flashed through his mind, the images cloaked in black and white—the pop of gunfire, the clatter of footsteps. They played in an unrelenting stream of sound and disjointed pictures, all culminating into one singular truth.
He closed his eyes, willing the voices in his head to stop, to leave him the fuck alone. He'd already lost his partner, his sanity. What more could they possibly want? What amount of guilt and self-loathing would be enough to quiet them?
A gentle touch along his shoulder jerked him back, and he looked to his left, glancing at the woman standing beside him, her face blurring in and out of focus as the memories shuffled, Ben's dull eyes still staring at him from the darkness. He wanted to hold her gaze, knowing it was expected, but he broke eye contact, wishing he could fade like the pictures inside his head.
Cassidy's sighed, the shaky sound only increasing the guilt threatening to pull him under. “It's time to go. They'll be expecting us at his parents' house.”
Ash nodded, glancing back at the grave, watching the coffin as it disappeared into the ground, nothing but a hollow thud whispering through the air. He clenched his teeth, willing Ben's voice out of his head, choking back the bitter taste in his mouth as the scent of blood smothered his senses. It wasn't real. None of it. Just his imagination playing with his mind. Twisting the events until he barely remembered which parts had actually happened.
Not like the lingering cry of Ben's mother—the memory of her screaming when he'd informed her that her son had been killed. The feel of her fingers cinched around his wrists, her weight—dead like her son—hanging limp in his arms. Those were real. Those gnawed at him. Clawed at what little remained of his sanity. Pounded through his head like a damn battering ram.
“Ash? You okay?”
He forced himself to turn, to meet Cassidy's gaze and hold it this time. Blue eyes surrounded by creamy smooth skin. He couldn't remember if he'd even looked directly at her since the raid. Since the part of him that made him Ash—made him worthy of her love, worthy of fucking living—had died. Gotten misdirected like that damn bullet, leaving nothing but pain and chaos behind. She was just as beautiful. Just as pure as when he'd first met her.
He'd taint that. Turn it into something ugly. Something she'd want to hide.
She frowned, scanning the empty site. “It's okay. I'll explain it to the Director. It's too soon. We'll drop by once things have settled.” She touched his arm, only to draw back her hand when his muscles clenched beneath her fingers. “I'll give you a few moments. Meet me at the car.” She turned, taking a few hesitant steps away before twisting to gaze at him. “As long as you need. I'll wait.”
He watched her walk away, her boots leaving small impressions on the wet grass. It must have rained, though he couldn't seem to remember. The weather. If he'd bothered to eat. What day it was.
Ash swallowed past the lump in his throat. He should leave. Walk away. Take Cassidy home and make love to her until the memories vanished. Until the haunting rasp of Ben's voice and his partner's vacant stare faded into the press of her body beneath his. Until her soft, wet heat surrounded him, healing him.
It was a ricochet, Ash. One fucked-up bounce. No way you could have known…
“Shut up. Just shut the fuck up!”
He pressed his hands against his temples. Excuses. Lies. He was to blame. He'd given the orders, told Ben to secure the rear exit. If Ash had just done the damn job himself…
He turned on his heels, heading for the red Jeep parked near the end of the lane. He could see her brown hair through the window. The way it cascaded across her shoulders, the muted light highlighting the golden streaks in it. He clenched his fists. He could still feel the ghosted caress of the silky strands across his skin as he gathered them in his hands, holding the mass back as she moved above him. Sweat-slicked flesh gleaming in the moonlight. Her back arched, head thrown back as she pulsed around him, making him feel alive. Deserving.
He hadn't so much as kissed her this past week. Had barely been able to bring himself to be in the same room with her. She'd tried talking to him then had left him to his thoughts, always reminding him she was there. That she'd always be there. That she'd wait.
He walked woodenly to the car, opening the door then sliding in. He didn't turn to meet the gaze he felt centered on him, choosing to stare straight ahead as he turned the key, letting the hum of the engine fill his head. He glanced over his shoulder, pulling into the lane, refusing to look at the grave in the rear-view mirror. He'd made his choice. He just didn't know if he could live with it.
A moment he can’t take back…
An unlucky rebound has left US Marshal Ashton Kane broken. His partner’s dead and, consumed by guilt, he’s walked out on the only woman he’ll ever love.
A love she can’t forget…
Cassidy Ryan has tried to move on. Losing the love of her life cut deep, but she vowed she wouldn’t let it break her. And she’s finally taking back her life—until she stumbles upon a deadly encounter that threatens to destroy everything and everyone around her.
One last chance at redemption…
Ash has fooled himself into believing Cassidy’s better off without him—until she puts her life on the line, forcing him to face the demons that still whisper in the dark—or risk losing her. Again. Only this time, it’ll be no one’s fault, but his.