Dark Secrets of the Heart [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Margaret Marr
eBook Category: Romance
eBook Description: Anna Michaels lives in a small town where life is slow and quiet, and she likes it that way. Her only fear is that someone will discover rock star, Chris Gentry, visits her from time to time to get away from the hassles of the music business--to find peace from an out-of-control lifestyle. A place where dark secrets remain hidden until someone digs them up. Caught between the love of two men--one a rough country boy, the other a wild city boy--Anna's life becomes endangered when someone follows Chris to his hideaway--someone with deadly vengeance in their heart--who will stop at nothing to take Anna out of the equation and hit Chris where it hurts the most.
eBook Publisher: SynergEbooks, Published: SynergEbooks, 2007
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2007
11 Reader Ratings:
The author creates a spiral of suspense from the start in this dramatic page turner. With gripping moments keeping the momentum and a heroine who deserves only the best, readers of romantic suspense will enjoy this mixture of love, passion, betrayal, and retribution.
I clawed my way out of a deep sleep and opened my eyes, but didn't move for thirty seconds or so, as if my brain had awakened before my body.
A noise had disturbed me. But what? A muffled thud of a car door slamming shut? Or something more sinister, like an intruder dropping to the floor from a windowsill? Possible, because I lived out in the country and loved fresh night air blowing through an open window.
I shivered and glanced toward the bedroom window. Moonlight spilled across my bed, and I registered the full moon suspended above the trees. Along with a few smoky clouds, the ever-present stars twinkled as if an unseen hand had strewn silver glitter across a navy canvas.
No other noise disturbed the quiet night, and I thought about rolling over and going back to sleep. It wouldn't be the first time a sound in my dreams awakened me--real or not. Once I'd heard my name as if someone stood next to my bed and shouted it, but after struggling from sleep and searching the cabin, I discovered no ghostly specter or another human being had invaded my living space.
Tonight's noise might also turn out to be nothing.
Still. Maybe it's Chris.
With a tired sigh, I swung my legs over the side of the bed and stood. I knew I wouldn't be able to return to sleep until I checked. At the window I pulled the curtain aside and peeked out. A shadow moved in the darkness, and, even knowing Chris might be down there, a jolt of fear zapped my nerve endings anyway.
"Damn it, Chris," I whispered. He loved to show up unannounced late at night. Always welcome at any hour, he knew I wouldn't mind, even when he gave me such a fright.
As my heart rate returned to normal, I watched him. Tenderness stirred inside me ... such a tormented man; his career as a rock star didn't bring him much peace. He only found solitude here in the back of the beyond where no one knows his name.
He leaned against the driver's side door, gazing at the moon. I would have missed him if it hadn't been for his candy-apple red Porsche. Black T-shirt, black jeans and black shoes made him one with the night.
He sensed the weight of my stare and shifted his attention from the moon to look at me. A slight smile, so full of love, crossed his face. He said so much without speaking a word. I've never seen him smile at anyone else in the same way. Granted, I wasn't with him a lot, but I was pretty sure no one else received that particular smile.
Chris came to me most often when he needed a place to hide from the world. I wondered what or who had chased him into obscurity this time.
I hurried out of the bedroom, down the stairs, and flicked on the porch light. Shoving my feet into a pair of house shoes, I unlocked the door and raced across the yard. "Chris."
He opened his arms for me, and I launched into his embrace. With a furious hold, he squeezed me tight, almost as if he were afraid it'd be the last time he'd get to hug me if he let go.
"Anna--it's been a while," he said against my hair, his breath warm on my scalp. "Everything okay out this way?"
"Seems to be." I stepped back from his embrace, and looked him over as if I were his worried girlfriend--something I'm not, though I have entertained the thought of what it might be like to date Chris, sleep in his arms--but he's the closes friend I've ever known, and romance can kill the friendship between a man and a woman quicker than a bullet smacking into its target.
In the light from the porch, his pale face appeared washed out and tired. Eyes, once vibrant blue, looked dull and listless. What on God's green earth had happened to him this time? I wasn't sure I even wanted to know. His glamour world didn't match my quiet country life.
I puckered up and blew at his face, and then flicked his black hair out of his eyes.
"Hey--hey. Don't." Sensitive about the small scars left on his forehead after a violent car crash eight years ago, he ducked away from my fingers.
"Your hair hurts my eyes. How can you see with such a stringy mess in your face?"
He shrugged. "I got used to it."
I reached for his hand, and led him toward the house. "Come on, let's go in, and I'll fix you something to drink." I stopped short when his body didn't follow his hand. I tugged on his fingers and shot him a curious glance.
He scanned the wooded area along my driveway; his eyes narrowed as if something in the trees disturbed him.
"What is it?" I whispered.
After a moment, his shoulders relaxed. "Nothing."
I looked along the same area he had, but didn't see anything. A chill crawled up my arms anyway. Chris had a knack for spooking me. Maybe his paranoia about some crazed fan shooting him dead had rubbed off on me. He didn't want to end up like John Lennon. I didn't want him to either.
Fifteen minutes later I stared across a steaming cup of cocoa at Chris. I sipped it slowly and waited for him to say something about what had brought him here.
He glanced at the ceiling, the sink, the curtains, and stared at the trash can for so long I thought something of value lay among the egg shells, empty milk cartons, and 'tator peels. But he wouldn't look at me.
"It's a woman again, isn't it?" I asked. Most women didn't last long in his life. I was one of the few he kept in touch with. I suspect because we'd never crossed the line of friendship.
His head swung around, and he pinned me to my chair with the fire in his eyes. "What makes you think I'm here for a reason?" He twisted the turquoise ring he always wore on his index finger--a gift from his long-dead sister.
"You never visit unless you want to get away from something or someone." This is where Chris Gentry the rock star came to hide. Very few people knew of my existence in his life, and we both preferred it remain so.
"Not true. Your birthday. Last year. Remember?"
Right. I sighed and set my cup on a placemat decorated with black and white cows. As long as I didn't push him, he would open up to me eventually. I placed my hands on the table and stood. "I'm going back to bed."
He nodded without looking at me and shoved aside his cocoa. Perhaps he needed something stronger.
"You know where your bedroom is." I paused at the dining room exit and gave him a lingering look. "Will you be okay?" With him, I never knew. He hadn't broken yet, but one day he might. A man took only so much heartbreak before he snapped.
He raised his head. The look in his eyes scared me. "I just needed to make sure you were safe."
I frowned. "Chris..."
He held up his hand. "It's got nothing to do with my sister or dad or best friend. Not this time."
"What do you mean?"
"I ... it's nothing, Anna. Go on to bed." He shoved his chair back and stood. "I'll see you in the morning."
Awakened the next morning by a repeated dull thud, I groaned, rolled over, and covered my ears with a pillow. I hated the morning hours with a heated passion.
When the thuds didn't stop, I decided to get up and see what Chris thought he needed to hack to pieces at this hour of the morning. I certainly hoped he wasn't trying to remodel one of the rooms. What a disaster he'd created last year by tearing up the entire floor of the downstairs guest bedroom right before he got called back to the studio for an emergency recording. Six months passed before he returned and finished the job.
I watched him out the kitchen door for a bit. His bare chest, solid and tough, glistened with sweat. I knew why women wanted him in their bed. I'd be a liar if I said it hadn't crossed my mind a time or two. But men like Chris, with all his addictions, sex included, didn't settle down with one woman. My heart would not go there. Ever.
With each swing of the ax, a pained expression flashed in his eyes. He hacked at the blocks of wood as if trying to murder them rather than cutting them into smaller pieces to fit the fireplace. Exorcising demons again, no doubt
"Chris," I called. "Do you want some breakfast?"
He ignored me, swung the ax over his head, and slammed it down with a grunt, splitting the wood in two with one clean swipe.
I closed the door and left him to wrestle with whatever haunted his mind this time around. He continued to chop wood all day long, coming in to get a drink of water, but never anything to eat.
Around ten o'clock at night I found him out front in a lounge chair, mesmerized by the moon. I'd gotten so used to the sound of the ax chopping wood I hadn't noticed when he'd quit.
"What are you doing?" I squeezed his shoulder, and then took a seat in a lounge chair next to him. I wished he would talk to me.
"Looking at the moon," he said, his voice low and mournful, as if it pained him because he couldn't hold it in his hands.
I glanced up in the sky. A heavy moon gazed down at me. I sat back and listened to the night. Even with the sound of katydids and the nocturnal creatures serenading us with their own brand of music, the night held a tension on the verge of erupting.
A pack of coyotes yipped and howled, sending a wave of goose bumps up and down my arms.
"Do you ever think you see a face on its surface?" he asked.
"You mean like the man in the moon?"
"No, just a face."
"I don't spend a lot of time gawking at the moon."
"I wonder..." he trailed off. Chris remained silent for so long I thought he'd gotten lost in his thoughts and forgotten my presence.
"Wonder what?" I prompted after a few minutes.
"I wonder if it's the face of God standing guard as His children sleep." He glanced at me. "I sometimes wonder if we matter to Him."
Of course we do.
In spite of the unseasonable warmth of the night, another chill worked its way through my body. Chris always knocked me off balance when he said eerie things like that.
"It could be the face of Santa Claus checking to see who is naughty or nice," I joked, trying to lighten the mood. "After all, it's getting pretty close to Christmas."
Chris threw me a faint smile. "Perhaps." He reached for my hand and laced my fingers with his.
I closed my eyes, and let the night soothe me. The coyotes had moved on, their yips faint in the distance. About the time I nodded off, Chris spoke again.
"No other beauty surpassed her."
My eyes flew open. I knew it.
"Everything a woman could be; everything I wanted--needed..."
"She turned out to be a psycho nut."
I almost laughed. Chris thought all women were psycho.
I unlaced my fingers from his and swung my legs around until I faced him sideways. "Damn it, Chris. Can't you commit to one woman?"
"Not that one." He turned his head my way. Those brilliant blue eyes burned me to my soul with the pain I glimpsed there. "She threatened everything I hold dear."
I jumped up and paced back and forth. "You just won't let anyone in will you?" I stopped in front of him with my hands on my hips. "You can't keep pushing people away, Chris. Don't you understand?" He wouldn't look at me. I knelt by his side and twisted his face in my direction. Tears shimmered in his eyes; tears I knew he'd never let fall. My best friend hurt, and I wasn't able to make the pain go away. I wanted to scream and shout to the heavens and everything contained within them.
"It's not what you think. Not this time, Anna."
"Look, I know you've lost people you care about through life--your sister, your dad--but you can't hide from the world. It'll find you no matter how far you run." I tenderly smoothed a strand of hair out of his face. "The pain is still with you, isn't it?"
He sighed deeply, but said nothing more.
Impossible to talk to someone who refused to hear me, I let out a defeated grunt and headed for the storage shed. "I'm going fishing."
"In the dark?"
"Yeah, you wanna go with me?"
"In the dark?" he repeated.
"Yeah, in the dark. Don't you know it's the best time to fish?"
"I don't know if it's safe."
Panic lit his eyes. "Nothing. I'm going with you."
"What do you mean it's not safe?"
"You might fall in the lake."
Lame answer, but I let it go. Something bothered Chris, but I knew he wouldn't talk until ready.
I took a flashlight out back and gathered a few night crawlers, rustled up a couple of fishing poles, and we headed for the lake within walking distance of my cabin.
We sat on rocks at the edge of the greenish black water with our poles propped up by forked sticks impaled in the ground. We didn't say much. Comfortable in our silence.
Drawing a worm out of the can, he held it high. It wiggled and curled in the air. Chris grinned and scooted closer to me. "Wanna gummy worm?" He slurped as if he thought the worm would make a yummy treat.
"Ewe," I said and laughed.
He moved closer and dangled the worm in front of my mouth. I drew back, but he moved the worm closer. I drew back some more until I fell over backwards. "Chris, no," I said in between laughs. "If that thing touches my mouth, I'm gonna whack you upside the head. Yuck."
He pinned me to the ground. "What? You don't eat worms?" He smiled and for the first time since arriving last night he appeared happy and relaxed. Grateful I at least gave him a small measure of comfort, I counted myself lucky he still visited me. After all he is a major celebrity with thousands of screaming female fans on his tail.
He kissed my cheek and let me sit up. "Thanks, Anna, I don't know what I'd do without you."
My breath caught. He'd never said those words to me before. Even though we shared closeness, a thin wall still separated us--a wall he shielded himself behind to protect his heart. He carried around the motto 'Don't allow yourself to care too much' in his heart wherever he roamed.
I reached for my pole and reeled it in. So much for the fish biting after dark. I drew the pole over my shoulder and prepared to cast it out in a different area, but the hook caught in a tree. I yanked on the line. It wouldn't turn loose. I yanked harder, nearly losing my balance.
"Careful," Chris warned.
Frustrated, I gave it another mighty yank and lost my footing. When the line jerked loose from the branches, I tumbled over backwards, fell down the bank, and rolled toward the lake. I must have hit my head, because the next thing I remembered I had awakened with a raw throat, a throbbing headache, and the god-awful taste of the lake in my mouth.
Chris held me in his arms, rocking back and forth. Both of us were soaked to our skin. He whispered, "Please don't take her. Please don't take here."
I took a deep breath, coughed and turned onto my side to vomit out the lake water I'd inhaled. I didn't have the strength to raise my head so I lay with my cheek pressed against the cool dirt.
For an instant I thought someone watched me from the bushes--a face full of cold hatred reflected by the moonlight. Had someone followed Chris here?
I don't know if it's safe.
Chris lifted me in his arms and carried me back along the trail. Once in the house, he stripped me to my bra and panties and wrapped me in a blanket. I sat on the couch while he zipped off to the kitchen. A few minutes later, he returned and handed me a mug of hot cocoa.
"Are you sure you're okay?" he asked me for the umpteenth time.
"I'm fine." I smiled, taking the warm mug from him. "Good thing you were there."
"Don't ever go fishing without me," he said. "Promise me you won't."
"I promise," I mumbled as my eyelids drooped toward sleep. My body ached and a wave of weakness swept over me. When I closed my eyes, the face in the bushes loomed before me. Had someone really been hiding there? Good gravy, Anna, you hallucinated, that's all.
Chris removed the cup from my hands and set it on the end table. Too weak to put up much of a protest, I allowed him to carry me up to bed. After he pulled back the covers, he laid me between the sheets and drew the blankets up to my chin. "Rest well, my angel," he said and caressed my cheek before leaving me to sleep.
A ferocious thirst woke me around two a.m. My throat still burned from my tumble into the lake. I slid from the bed and headed downstairs for a cold drink of water. When I reached for a glass over the sink, I saw Chris standing outside staring at the moon again.
I walked to the back door and opened it. What on earth is he doing outside at this hour?
Suddenly he stooped and picked up a handful of gravel. One by one he flung them at the face of the moon.
"Damn you," he said, barely loud enough for me to hear him. "Don't you take her from me too." He bent and picked up another handful of gravel and threw them at the moon. "Don't you dare..." the word dare ended on a sob.
He whirled around. For a few seconds he only stared at me. My heart banged against my ribs. The animalistic look in his eyes scared me.
With four long strides he reached me and clutched my shoulders. "Promise me you won't die."
I stared at him in disbelief. I would do anything for him, but he had asked the impossible. I couldn't control whether I lived or died at any given moment.
He shook me, causing my teeth to clack together. "Promise me," he shouted. He swallowed hard and fought for control. His fingers dug painfully into the soft flesh of my shoulders. "I allowed myself to care too much. Please, promise me you'll live forever," he pleaded.
"Chris, honey, I--I can't promise you something like that." It hurt me not to give him what he wanted, but I couldn't lie to him. I would never make a promise I had no power to keep. "I can only promise I'll be careful with my life."
He let go of me and bowed his head. His shoulders shook. My heart ached for him. I pulled him close and held him. At first he remained stiff with his arms dangling by his side, and then he wrapped his arms around my body and buried his face against my neck. Though he made no sound, his tears wet my skin.
The moon's beams retracted and expanded as I gazed at it through my own tears. Please keep me safe, I silently prayed to the face I thought I saw there. For Chris.
The next morning I came downstairs to find Chris at the door with his bags packed. My heart throbbed in my throat. Would this be the last time I'd see him? Had my near death last night scared him away for good? "Leaving so soon?" I tried to swallow the lump in my throat.
"Anna, make sure you keep your doors locked, okay?"
I nodded, but didn't trust myself to speak again.
"I need to get back. I've got a concert in Dallas tomorrow night. I just needed to see you for a little while." He pushed a strand of hair behind my ear. "You always put my world back into focus after it spins out of control."
Casting my gaze toward the floor, tears stung my eyes. The wood pattern blurred into a light brown mess as they welled up. One tear slipped down my cheek. He'd never left so soon before. It might not matter to the man in the moon if he stayed or went, but it sure did matter to me. Maybe I was just too damn lonely.
Chris lifted my chin and wiped away a tear with his thumb. "Hey, what's this?"
"Nothing," I said and attempted to pull away.
He gave me his special smile full of love; the one meant only for me, and then kissed me lightly on the lips. "Hey, kiddo, I'll be home for Christmas," he said.
"Yeah, here with you where my heart is." He ruffled my hair, picked up his suitcase and let himself out. "Hey, I'll bring my Mom out this year," he called from the car.
I stared down the road long after he had disappeared from sight. Somehow I'd gotten in; broken through the wall around his heart. I suspected I'd broken through a long time ago, but didn't know it. I'm one of the lucky few who will ever get that close. So why did I have this feeling of dread whenever he left me?
I turned to go back inside when my eye caught the early morning sun reflecting off something metal.
Just a hunter's truck.
The face in the bushes sifted through my mind. "Just a hallucination." I wrapped my sweater tighter around my body and went back inside, locking the deadbolt behind me.