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Authors: Kennedy Layne

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Hearths of Fire

BOOK: Hearths of Fire
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Hearths of Fire

Includes Starr’s Awakening

Kennedy Layne


HEARTHS OF FIRE & STARR’S AWAKENING

Copyright © 2014 by Kennedy Layne

All Romance Ebooks Edition

E-Book ISBN: 978-1-943420-14-8

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

Table of Contents

Cover

Title Page

Copyright Page

Starr’s Awakening

Title Page

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Hearths of Fire

Title Page

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

About Buried Flames

Books by Kennedy Layne

About the Author

Starr’s Awakening

Red Starr, The Prequel

Kennedy Layne


Dedication

Jeffrey—you awakened my heart and soul. I love you.

Cole—high school is your prequel. Enjoy these years and kick off the bright future ahead of you with friends and happiness. I am beyond proud of you.

Chapter One


C
atori Starr stared
at the thunderous waves of the Atlantic Ocean as they rolled onto the white sand only to be sucked back into the vast void. The strong tide gave them no say in the direction they wanted to take. She understood how the untamed foaming caps felt as the massive body of water dictated their efforts. Her fate had been taken out of her hands and there wasn’t a thing she could do to change any of it.

Reminiscing over the same memories for the past two years kept
him
alive in her heart. Their wedding night played over and over in Catori’s head until yet other special moments crowded in. She had numbed herself to the pain and went through her days in a mindless state doing absolutely nothing. Within the span of a single hour on a critical mission, her life had been ripped to shreds. She hadn’t been there in his last few minutes of life and she felt the guilt eat at her soul every second of every hour of every day. The part she couldn’t accept was no one survived in whom she could seek solace or revenge. The spirit within her anguished over that fact and constantly pierced her heart as a reminder. There was nothing left.

The evening air contained a chill, which had her pulling the beige crocheted knit sweater that Brendan had bought her on their honeymoon over her shoulders just a little bit tighter. The evening sun was setting, but Catori couldn’t bring herself to move from the bench along this stretch of the beach. The reservoir of energy that used to course its way through her veins had been depleted long ago. A movement to the right in her peripheral vision caught her eye, and although her old recognition of tradecraft more or less had become dormant, it still existed.

A man was located around a hundred feet away, strolling through the cooling sand with his hands in his pockets and his face toward the breeze. His brown hair was short but still in need of a cut if she could see the strands moving from here. Gavin Crest. She recognized him immediately and she settled back against the wooden bench, accepting that she’d have to bear his company while he had his say.

Catori studied him while she waited, taking in Crest’s Tommy Bahama black button-down shirt and khaki shorts. It was rare she saw him wearing something so casual, but the classic style fit his personality. The brown leather sandals were a nice touch and he still wore those Ray Ban sunglasses from years ago in the desert. They’d been friends for a very long time and she knew what he’d come to see her about. She just didn’t think she was ready.

Crest pulled out a folder from behind his back that must have been tucked into his waistband and sat down beside her without a word. The two of them continued to stare out over the ocean and Catori found that the company wasn’t the same without her husband. She shifted slightly, trying to rid herself of the chill of loneliness that she’d gotten much too acquainted with lately. It wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

“How did you find me?”

“You didn’t make it that hard,” Crest replied, lifting the blacked out sunglasses until they sat perfectly on top of his head. “Besides, yesterday marked the two year anniversary of Red’s death. I figured you’d come back to where the two of you met.”

Red. Hearing her husband’s nickname caused her to wince and Catori could see that Crest hadn’t missed her reaction. Brendan O’Neill. He was as Irish as they came and the complete physical opposite of her mixed Apache and English heritage. Saying his name aloud brought his image alive and it was as if he were standing directly in front of her. His nickname stemmed from his tousled blond hair that contained a hint of fire and that damned flame-red beard, but it was his grey eyes that had captured her attention the first time she’d had the privilege to meet him. The vision faded just as quickly as it appeared.

“And you’re here why?” Catori already knew the answer to that question, but she felt compelled to let Crest know he wasn’t welcome. “I would have thought you would be too busy with setting up your new agency. Speaking of which…Minneapolis? Really? I heard you only see green grass a couple of times a year.”

“That’s an exaggeration and you know it.” Crest shot her a sideways look that said he wasn’t humored by her comment. “Besides, I have family in Minnesota. It was time to go back home.”

“We have no home, Crest.” Catori didn’t want to get into another debate with him in regards to family and friends, so she switched the subject by motioning toward the folder in his hand. “What’s in the file?”

“Before we get to that,” Crest replied, not giving an inch and stirring an irritation that Red had liked to poke from time to time just for the hell of it, “CSA will open its doors shortly. I cherry-picked my team and have also spent time cultivating relationships with numerous agencies that I can rely on in specific situations. You and Red had something that can’t be thrown away, Starr. You have the ability to lay out a strategy and develop the detailed plan of attack that is required for a highly trained tactician to lead a team into the most dangerous of hostage rescue missions. You have an innate sense of operations in a way that no one else has that I’ve ever seen. It’s time to get back in the game.”

“Red Starr HRT died the day Brendan did.” Catori hadn’t just lost her husband that fateful day, but the group of five men that made up the hostage rescue team had been like brothers…family. She’d stayed back in the States due to another potential assignment they had both thought warranted attention. She’d left men behind and there wasn’t a minute that went by that she let herself forget it. “I’m out.”

“Really? Is that what Red would want?”

“Don’t,” Catori warned, sitting a little straighter on the bench. She brushed away her long black hair as she met the gaze of Crest’s green eyes. She hated the sympathy she saw within them, and even though she promised herself she wouldn’t go on the defensive the words came out anyway. “Red and I started the team together. It was
ours
. Not mine alone. Don’t put that bullshit on me, Crest.”

“Bullshit? You’re the one that’s spewing that shit. You’re a retired Master Sergeant of the United States Marine Corps, for fuck’s sake. Square your ass away and act like the senior staff non-commissioned officer I know you are. You’ve had your time to grieve for Red. All those years of training didn’t teach you to fold at the first roadblock in your path. Hardships are just leadership opportunities. The missions come first. Red knew that and you know that. So sack up and get your ass back in the game.”

BOOK: Hearths of Fire
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