Authors: Deidre Knight
Just when the darkness seems permanent, fate flips a switch.
Michael Warner has been drifting in a numb haze since his lover was killed by a drunk driver. As the anniversary of the wreck approaches, Michael’s grief grows more suffocating. Yet he must find a way through the maze of pain and secrets to live for their troubled young daughter who struggles with guilt that she survived the crash.
Out of the darkness comes a voice, a lifeline he never expected to find—Rebecca O’Neill, a development executive in the studio where Michael works as an electrician.
Rebecca, a former sitcom celebrity left scarred from a crazed fan’s attack, has retreated from the limelight and from life in general, certain no man can ever get past her disfigurement. The instant sparks between her and Michael, who arrives to help her during a power outage, come as a complete surprise—and so does her uncanny bond with his daughter.
For the first time, all three feel compelled to examine their inner and outer scars in the light of love. But trust is hard to come by, especially when you’re not sure what to believe when you look in the mirror. The scars? Or the truth?
Warning: This title contains a three-hankie redemptive romance, a man with a complicated past, a heroine who’s stronger than she knows, and tender, explicit sex scenes that may just break your heart—and make you believe in love once again.
They cannot be sold, shared or given away as it is an infringement on the copyright of this work.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
577 Mulberry Street, Suite 1520
Macon GA 31201
Copyright © 2009 by Deidre Knight
Edited by Angela James
Cover by Natalie Winters
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
electronic publication: April 2009
To Ann Leslie Tuttle for having been the very first to believe. Without your encouragement, I might not have persevered. I’ll be forever grateful for your kind words and guidance.
To Pamela Harty for having always believed—in me, this book, my abilities, my talent. You are a gift from God in my life.
And to Angela James for being the one: The editor who believed that Michael and Rebecca’s story deserved publication. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Chapter One: Rebecca
Ben McAllister carried a knife, my name burned into the handle like a cattle brand. Oddly enough, I remember noticing that fact while he was stabbing me with the thing. The police showed me his weapon months later, and that’s when I realized it wasn’t just my first name—he actually had my picture embossed into it. A kind of stylized representation of me, one that matched the tattoo on his forearm. Rebecca O’Neill as cartoon character, not the professional actress I was at the time.
It seemed, according to the police, that he’d named his knife after me, in true devoted stalker fashion. How nice of Ben. It was a butterfly knife, and I’m convinced that something so destructive shouldn’t bear such a beautiful name. Killers are like that, though. They find the poetry in violence.
When you work with writers for a living like I do, life’s little details are an herb garden, and you pluck a few ripe things here and there to give away. Right now, sitting in a script meeting, I decide to borrow this tidbit from my own personal history for the greater good of Hollywood. I’ve been giving notes to a screenwriter for an hour, when this brilliant inspiration comes my way.
“You could have the killer carry a knife,” I suggest, arranging my pens on the desk in front of me so I can avoid meeting Kelly’s eyes. “A knife with the victim’s name on it.”
“I’m not sure I know what you mean.” She leans forward in her seat. “How can a knife—”
“Imprinted in the handle.” I hold up my Montblanc pen to demonstrate, pointing to the company logo. “He could’ve named the knife after the object of his obsession.”
“Hmm.” Kelly isn’t convinced. Clearly, she hasn’t made the connection with my own, well-publicized past—and she hasn’t made the connection to this clever idea of mine, either. Kelly’s young; too young, which means she’s quick to see things in bold colors, not subtle shades.
“You have to realize, if he’s been stalking her for such a long time, he’s consumed.” I dare to lift my eyes upward as I talk. “What better reflection of that than naming his weapon after her.”
From beside Kelly, my assistant Trevor expands on the idea, his upper-class British accent automatically lending it more weight. “It’s a classical idea, really.” He pushes his expensive wire frames up the bridge of his nose as he talks. “Many of the great bandits throughout history named their guns. I believe Billy the Kid’s shotgun was Big Betty and Jesse James called his rifle Bertha.”
Even though he stares at me earnestly as he talks, I have to avert my eyes to keep from smiling. He’s the real writer in our midst, capable of spinning a tale faster than anyone I’ve ever met.
“Okay, sure.” Kelly nods enthusiastically, buying into Trevor’s fictitious history lesson. “This gives the killer an almost anti-hero quality.”
“That’s not really what I was going for.” I hold out a staying hand. “Our killer can’t be sympathetic. I mean, he’s the baddie. He’s got to be bad.
. I’m more looking to convey his obsession with the heroine. I think the knife does that job very well.”
Ed Bardock, V.P. of Development and my boss, stands by the window, blowing cigarette smoke through the small open casement. But he’s listening and paying much closer attention than he lets on. I won’t allow him to smoke in my office—not with my asthma—and he refuses to endure a one-hour script meeting without a little nicotine jiving through his bloodstream.
“I’m not sure I buy it,” he answers in a gravelly voice. “How come a killer like that goes to so much trouble? He’d stab her, The End.”
“But, Ed, he’s a stalker.” My pulse skitters nervously.
“So?” he insists without meeting my gaze. Dang it, he knows all about Ben and what happened to me. I live with this pain; I should be able to mine it, mold it, and reinterpret it whenever I want.
“Ed, it’s real.” I lift my eyebrows, tossing my long blonde ponytail back over my shoulder. I make sure my facial scars come into clear view for him, illuminated beneath my desk lamp, a small reminder that I know exactly what I’m talking about.
Seated across my desk, Trevor and Kelly squirm in their seats, but not before blessed Trevor manages to offer me one of his kind smiles. He loves me. That’s why he’s here in this job—not just because he’s got fantastic story instincts, but also because he’s the one person in my life who can consistently truss me back together. Even though he’d be happy passing his days at Starbucks sipping lattes, writing and living off his trust fund, he spends them here working at the studio with me.
“So it’s real,” Ed says finally, extinguishing his cigarette in a Styrofoam cup of cold coffee. “But does it add to the story?”
“I think so,” Trevor pipes in. “I think everything Kelly can do to show how this killer’s obsession has escalated over time is key to the script.”
Then, without meaning to, I leave the room. Not physically, of course, but my mind flutters away. I’m eight feet high, pasted against the ceiling, floating there. Bobbing above them all, listening in. I’m watching
, down there; that girl at her desk with the Montblanc pen and the ruined face, lost in a company town, in her remote corner of an oversized studio lot.
This is what it’s like to almost die. The way you see yourself below, only there’s no warmth to what’s happening here right now. All that roaring golden
, that love from the other side, it’s always missing when I feel like this.
“Rebecca?” Trevor’s black eyes grow wide. He takes hold of me, tugs me by my feet back down into my body. I was a balloon, ready to drift away, and he held me tight, tethered me to this world.
Trevor pins me with his dark gaze. “Rebecca, what do you think about the
dying at the
I’ve told him how these anxiety attacks work, the way I feel disembodied, the floating sensation. If I’m lucky, the asthma that I feel tightening my lungs won’t overtake me.
“The killer dying,” I repeat, my whole body numb. Kelly looks at me, nodding, and I realize it’s her idea to change the way we’ve conceived the whole story. But Ben McAllister didn’t die. He’s up at Chino serving life plus twenty. And more important, he’s
; I live with Ben every day, all wound up inside of me like a ball of hard twine.
Ed’s BlackBerry rings, and he begins talking, already moving toward my office door. “Go with whatever Rebecca says,” he announces loudly, making his way past my desk. “It’s her baby. Time to wrap this one up.” Then, just like that, we are dismissed from his consciousness.
Kelly tries following in his wake, calling after him. Totally uncool, but she’s still a newbie. “Just think about it and let me know,” she insists, looking back at me.
But I know exactly what I think of an ending in which the heroine wins, the stalker dies, and everything is wrapped up neatly with a bow. “Too easy,” I murmur, staring at my Montblanc. “It doesn’t work because it’s way too easy.”
Reaching into my pocketbook, I retrieve a small medicine bottle of what my mama would call “nerve pills”. Anything to stop the out-of-body stuff for a while; I dispense a couple of tablets onto my desk. It’s been at least six months since I’ve needed these, and I say a quick prayer that I won’t need them again after today. Coughing, I dig around for my inhaler, too.
Trevor leans in my office doorway, slipping his headset back on. “Since when did development hell become worth
?” He gestures at my prescription bottle with a concerned expression.
“Since we started nudging up against my past in story meetings.”
“Ah, right. The Britney Spears solution,” he says. “Perhaps you could add head-shaving to your repertoire as well.” He laughs, but then his expression grows more somber. “But tell me, should I be worried?”
?” Such a ludicrous suggestion, even if I did nearly die in his arms three years ago. “Trevor, I am
. Fine, fine, fine. So very fine.” And I mean it; the asthma didn’t even kick in this time, so something must be improving. “I’ve been feeling really good lately. Honest.”
His dark eyes narrow. “Which must be why your mother’s been phoning me weekly to check up on you.”
“No, she’s just convinced that one day you’re going to realize you’re straight and decide to marry me.”
“Well as your future husband, perhaps you won’t mind me saying it’s time you got out again. Started dating, making new friends.”
“I make friends every day.” I kick back in my chair. “After all, this is L.A.”
“Talent agents and struggling screenwriters don’t count, darling.” Then his dark eyes widen with irrepressible excitement. “Look, I know this really cute guy from my writing group—”
“I’m not sure a date with one of
friends is the answer, Trevor.”
“He’s straight, Rebecca!” he cries, not bothering to disguise his frustration. “The fellow just moved here from Boston to sell copiers or ATMs or something useless and industrial like that. Does he
gay to you?”
“Yee-ha. Maybe he’ll take me to a trade show.”
“Since when did you get picky? Let me fix you up with him.” Again, my hand moves to my face, feeling the harsh scar tissue with my fingertips. Of everyone in my life now, only Trevor truly understands. After all, he was there to see the damage firsthand.
“I’ll think about it.”
“He’s a real hottie,” he promises, “in that computer salesman sort of way.” I’m about to make a dubious remark about his taste in men when the whole room goes black without warning.
From down the corridor, Ed shouts, “Damned electrical department! They’ve screwed us again.” When Ed shouts, it’s more like divine thunder, and Trevor snaps to his feet without wasting a moment.
“Happy Monday to me, strapping lads in tool belts on their way,” he sings to himself. There goes Trev with his recurring Ty Pennington fantasy again.
His shadowed outline moves past the shuttered bank of windows, toward the hall. Moments later I hear him at his desk, phoning over to the electrical construction department.
After a few minutes of darkness, Ed bellows, “Anybody working on this yet? It isn’t brain surgery,
! Give me some damn light!”
Light. When all I’m thinking is that I can’t read my phone messages without it. Funny, because otherwise I’m never more at peace than I am in the dark.
It seems forever before electrical construction sends somebody over to deal with our crisis. I guess Brad Pitt’s latest blockbuster takes precedence over our development staff figuring out the
blockbuster for the studio to bankroll. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not an executive in charge of production or anything; I’ll leave that up to Ed and his team. It’s just about tracking hot projects and trying to land them for the company. Frankly I’m in it for the reading. Lord knows I’m not looking for a producing credit, since unlike most everyone else in this town, I actually want to stay put in my job, not ascend the power ladder.
I’m on my cell phone, returning a call to a literary agency back east, when a huge shadow lumbers past my desk. I glance up, mid-discussion about the viability of translating a bestseller to the screen, when the shape stops in front of me, hesitating, obviously a man shadow, what with the size factor involved and all. In an effort to remain focused, I spin my chair in the opposite direction, toward the wall, continuing my conversation.
There’s quiet mumbling from the stranger, then a flashlight illuminates some control panel on the lower part of my office wall, right beneath the covered windows. “Look, I’ve got to run, okay?” I say, wrapping up the conversation. “We’re in the middle of a blackout here or something.” I snap the phone shut, and sit in the dark, perfectly still. Slowly I rotate my chair in his direction, although I’m not sure what to say to a shadowy stranger, not like this. Finally I give it my best effort.
“You must be the electrician,” I say, tugging nervously on my ponytail.
“You must be from the South.”
“Geez, is it that obvious?” I ask, trying to make out the guy’s face as he lifts the flashlight to eye level, tinkering with the control panel.
“Subtle, but the accent’s still there.” Guess all the dialect coaching in the world won’t rid me completely of my Dorian, Georgia roots.
There’s the metallic clanking sound of a fuse box or panel opening as he settles on the floor until he’s leaning low on his elbows. In fact, from what his flashlight allows me to see, he’s now stretched out on his stomach like a cat sunning itself, and I’m mildly curious about a guy who can make himself so at home in my office. “You figuring out the problem?” More enlightened commentary from yours truly as he aims the beam of light into the open electrical panel.
I’m met by silence, until he gives a long sigh. It’s an exhausted kind of sound that actually surprises me. “The problem, Ms. O’Neill, is the antiquated wiring system in this building. Been patched and whatnot for about half a century, but what it needs is a complete overhauling.”
How does he know my name?
“Your assistant told me this was your office,” he continues, answering my unvoiced question. “Not trying to spook you or anything. Seeing how it’s dark in here and all that.”
“Now look who sounds southern,” I tease, feeling a strange familiarity rise between the two of us. The kind you get talking to someone you’re intimate with on the phone late at night—in your bed, well past midnight. Or maybe trading e-mails at three in the morning, when neither of you can sleep.
“Virginia, if that counts.”
“Not to a Georgian.”
“Reckon not,” he says with a throaty laugh. “Might as well be a damned Yankee in your book, right?”
“Great, he mocks me.”
“I mock not, Ms. O’Neill. I simply speculate.” Okay, it’s definite. This guy is flirting with me. A nameless, faceless stranger is right here in my office, flirting with me for all he’s worth, and I’m not sure what to make of that. Suddenly, I’m blushing despite the darkness. And I’m running my fingertips along the left side of my face, praying he won’t see my freakish scars once the light comes back on.