Lily’s hand jerked, scattering a fistful of soil onto
the casket awaiting its final blanket. The deep rumble of a Harley Davidson
shattered her illusion of serenity. She sighed, hiccupped. The splintered
silence lent a momentary respite from the day’s somberness. Bleary-eyed, she
glanced up at a tall, black-clad intruder sauntering with a slight limp
across the wet lawn toward the grave, peeling off his black helmet.
Vivid blue eyes stared at her from a sun-drenched face
framed by dark, almost black hair. Rocker hair. It flowed back from a
strong, smooth forehead, tied at the nape of his neck. Underneath the
leather jacket and pants, immense power radiated off his muscled body in
waves. He towered over her. An unexplainable potent charisma and an unknown
promise transfixed her as they stared. Dumbfounded, she blinked rapidly as
if to dispel a hallucination. Nope. Grief overload. He was as real as
the humid air dampening her last happy vibe forever.
The stranger perused her for a long brazen moment
before she mustered words in her desert-dry mouth. “Can I help you?”
He swept his gaze over the headstones peppering the
lawn, some embedded flat in the grass, others rising out of the earth.
“Sorry I’m a bit late, darlin’.”
His southern drawl tingled across her shoulders. A
bit? The funeral ended hours ago! And who does he think he is, calling me “darlin’”?
Lily swiveled away on her sensible blunt heels. She studied the stargazer
lilies covering the grave—her father’s favorite flower—and counted to ten
slowly. The heady scent wafted up and the tranquility of the cemetery
blossomed into her senses.
Another unsettling change in the air stroked her bare
arms in warmth, despite the damp pre-autumn chill. She chose to ignore the
man and the inexplicable reasons why he suddenly exasperated her, captivated
her. Arms folded tight over her chest, she wrapped herself in a cocoon while
despair beat down the door to her heart.
Hundreds of her father’s friends and acquaintances had
long departed. After a brief appearance at the wake, she’d returned to the
cemetery to view her father’s remains in their eternal resting place. The
cemetery landscapers would flatten the mound and add sod later, but she
couldn’t witness the final act of her father’s internment. She’d already
shed enough tears to overflow a river.
Yet, she had a rough time leaving and allowing the
earth to claim her father after already devouring her mother and younger
brother. She shot a glimpse at the twin headstones next to the new grave.
Tears welled and fed that damn river again. Another stab of grief pierced
her heart, a new forever ache. Quiet sobs racked her, and she sank to her
knees onto the damp ground. A lump in her throat threatened to obstruct her
airflow. Get a grip, Falbrooke.
“Lily,” a husky voice whispered behind her. A heavy
hand alighted on her shoulder and squeezed gently. Another large, tan hand
proffered a cotton handkerchief. She accepted the square cloth to replace
the sodden wad of tissues in her fist.
“Can I give you a ride home?”
She twisted around and pinned a glare on him. Tears
glistened in his odd aquamarine eyes, and she sucked in a breath. “No…I—”
she stuttered. “Who are you?”
He held out a hand and she grasped it, lifting herself
up with his aid. She brushed loose dirt off her bare knees, and kicked a
clod of grass off her right pump. Unable to prevent dusk’s cool damp from
reaching into her barren soul, she shivered violently.
He shrugged off his jacket and draped the leather over
her shoulders. She melted into the warm weighty material, a welcome shield
against her miserable life. A pleasant mixture of leather and spicy cologne
teased her nose. Her grief shut down the wild thoughts threatening to
unhinge her further, warming places within her body that had no right to
“I’m Jake McAllister.”
McAllister? Numbness refused to allow her mind to
stretch her memory. “Friend of my father’s?”
“Something like that.”
“I see.” She wiped the handkerchief under her sore
nose, fearing she resembled Rudolph. “Well, thanks for coming.”
“Sorry I’m late. I was…on another assignment.”
“I’m sure my father appreciated it, no matter what time
you came.” Idiot, much? Dad would never appreciate anything again.
Reluctantly, Lily shook the jacket off. He stopped her and tugged it back
over her shoulders.
“Keep it for now. It looks good on you.” A smile
splashed his sun-darkened face, and she realized how incredibly handsome he
was, with his days’ old stubble and rugged good looks.
Lily buried her asinine meanderings. Not the time,
not the place. “I really must be leaving.”
“Let me take you home,” he blurted out.
She eyed the behemoth two-wheel cause of his unwelcome
interruption. “On that?” she asked with as much scorn in her tone as she
could drum up. “No thanks. I have a car and driver waiting.” Legs listless,
she plodded through the wet grass toward the parking lot.
The clomping of his boots followed at a discreet
distance. When she reached the limo, she slipped off his jacket and held it
out to him. “Thanks. My jacket’s in the car.”
As if he’d read her mind, the limo driver handed her a
long black duster to match her silk sheath. Her crystal and emerald shamrock
pin broke her head-to-toe black. So much for four-leaf clover luck. She
may as well toss her pin in the hole with her father. Worms might get lucky.
“I’m truly sorry about your father.” Jake McAllister
shouldered his jacket. “See you soon, Lily.”
She stepped into the limo and sank onto the plush
leather seat. “Goodbye, Jake,” she said into the air of graveyard
It wasn’t until the limo was on the road when she
noticed she still carried the borrowed hanky. She unfurled the damp piece of
rich cotton and smoothed her fingers over the silk-embroidered initials.
Why did a rocker-looking, hawg-riding man in black
leather own elegant handkerchiefs? Who was Jake McAllister and how did he
know her father?
The unseasonal rain had held off from
dampening the earlier funeral, but had unleashed after the mourners departed
for the wake, a fitting tribute to her father who loved the rain. Drizzle
dripped again, increasing the jackhammer digging a trench through her head.
Closing her eyes and mind, she shut out the world and leaned against the
cool leather seat.
Jake gazed longingly at the sleek limo until the
vehicle turned the corner and absconded with the most enchanting women he’d
ever met. He’d watched her from a distance all day and sensed something raw
and engaging about her. When he’d neared her, she stole his breath away.
Lily Falbrooke wasn’t beautiful in the classical sense.
She was petite, elegant, poised, and underneath the glossy, fiery hair
flowing halfway down her back was a pale, heart-shaped face and rosebud
lips. An angel. Certainly not the type he usually went for—wild, voluptuous,
leggy, tan. Pictures hadn’t done her justice.
Desire so pure swept away the desolation destroying him
since hearing the hellish news about Michael’s accident. His hands wanted to
caress her, his arms wanted to lend comfort and chase off her sadness. His
lips wanted to kiss away her pain.
Heat slammed him, and he was thunderstruck by the depth
of his emotions, especially when their origins escaped perception. Never in
his life had he experienced such intense feelings at the mere sight of a
woman. One who wanted nothing from him.
“What the hell? I’m losing my grip.” Insanity didn’t
run in his family, yet who was he to forestall it from running amok within
Drizzle magnified the day’s dreariness, dispelling the
unnerving thoughts chasing through Jake’s head. He slipped on his jacket,
inhaling Lily’s perfume—a dominance of honeysuckle—and zipped it up to
preserve the bouquet close to his heart.
With heavy footsteps, he trudged to the grave to pay
his final respects. Words from the Lord’s Prayer from his Catholic school
days resurfaced in his memory and he recited them. Time lost all meaning as
he hunched down and grabbed a handful of moist dirt from the mound, bringing
finality to the existence Jake had only recently embraced.
“Ashes to ashes.” He tossed the dirt on the grave.
“Dust to dust.” Another sprinkle of earth followed the first. His broad
shoulders heaved, his stomach knotted. He made the sign of the cross,
leaving dirt trails on the black leather. Jake wiped his hands on his pants
and reached into his rear pocket for the hanky he’d brought for the
“Damn, Michael, what happened?” His throat constricted,
and he swiped the back of his hand over his wet cheeks. One final look at
the pile of dirt covering the body of Michael Falbrooke, and he strode
toward his motorcycle, cursing the rain he’d have to slog through to reach
home. Cursing the bastards who’d taken his friend, and the darkness that had
set the invisible wheels in motion coercing his every move from that point
“I will keep my promises, Michael. I’ll keep her safe.”
A breeze floated his whispered words toward the grave. No matter what the
future entailed, he’d not let his friend down.
The motorcycle growled to life. The engine’s steady
vibrations soothed him, dipped deep into his soul to assuage the deep-seated
bleakness. He yanked on his helmet, steered the hulking bike out of the
parking spot, born a part of it like a Centaur, and shadowed the long black
limousine tugging on his heartstrings.
The heady aroma of coffee filtered into Lily’s fogged
brain. Dad always had coffee ready in the mornings, black and sweet. She
smiled and cleared the last vestiges of sleep from her head. As she lifted
on her elbows, her neck creaked and stiffened. She’d fallen asleep on the
couch in Dad’s den. What the what?
The sudden vivid memory of yesterday dug a new hole in
her chest, and she collapsed onto her back. Dad had always been there for
her, through all her life’s upheavals, including the summer that had haunted
her for a decade. She had no one left now.
By the time she’d returned to the house where she’d
spent her childhood after visiting the cemetery, another early autumn rain
hammered the San Jose foothills in the final act showcasing the worst day of
Lily’s life. Instead of facing the reality that her entire family was gone
forever, she’d downed a sleeping pill and passed out.
Hauling her mother’s afghan up to her chin, she tossed
around the idea of not getting up at all. But the heavenly aroma of caffeine
continued to lure her out of her funk. Elizabeth must’ve let herself in.
Lily wanted to thank her for making all the funeral arrangements, for caring
for her father after Lily left town three years ago. She couldn’t have
crawled through the funeral and wake without her surrogate mother.
Rising, she dragged her fingers through her tousled
hair. Her neck twinged again, and she crooked it from side-to-side to
stretch the tight, aching muscles. Reining in her interminable grief,
she slogged into the living room and pushed open the swing door to the
“Elizabeth?” Dead still, she stood on the threshold.
The loose raven-dark hair and wide-shouldered back of a tall muscular man
threatened to disturb her temporary pocket of equilibrium. Fear raced down
her spine. Lily eyeballed the butcher block of knives on the far side of the
kitchen. Too freaking far.
The man spun around. A network of scars marred his
thick-muscled left arm. The gorgeous motorcycle man from the cemetery.
Alarm seized her intestines. She snatched up a pair of
scissors sitting on the black granite counter next to the door. “What the
hell are you doing here?”
Wry amusement veiled the darkness of his eyes, adding
anger to her alarm. She held the scissors aloft to plunge them into his
heart at the slightest provocation.
“Well?” she demanded, edging closer to the cordless
phone on the wall inside the door.
“Whoa there, darlin’,” he drawled in that sensuous
voice which served to irritate her more. “Put the scissors down.” He paused
a beat. “I live here.”