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Authors: Melinda Leigh

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BOOK: She Can Scream
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When violence touched people, the damage didn’t stop once the deed was done. It burrowed into the soul and made itself at home.

“How long has she been divorced?” Luke didn’t know why he asked. He wasn’t interested.

“About two years, but Ian traveled a lot. And even when Ian was around, he wasn’t really around.”

Luke kicked through a layer of dead leaves on the grass. The idea of Brooke being unhappy for years bugged him. The two-story farmhouse rose from the sloping rear lawn, blocking out the waning moon and a chunk of clear black sky. The yellow porch light highlighted weather-beaten trim. They climbed the steps to Brooke’s back porch.

When would she be home? The quick stir of nerves in Luke’s belly at the prospect of seeing her was as ridiculous as the teen crush he’d had on Wade’s sister in high school. Other than being polite and sweet, Brooke, the hot college student, had barely noticed dorky Luke back then. Damn Wade for putting those thoughts back in Luke’s head after he’d spent the last twenty years trying unsuccessfully to keep them out.

The back door stood open. Through the screen, Luke had a clear view into the kitchen. The space had been updated with bronze-toned granite and stainless-steel appliances since Luke had seen it last, but earth tones kept the room as inviting as it had been in his youth. The messy jumble of schoolbooks, folded laundry, and stacks of mail strewn across every flat surface spoiled the designer decor.

Luke thought of his absurdly expensive apartment with the minimalist furniture that came with the unit. What had looked sleek and modern when he’d moved in had felt cold and impersonal when he actually lived in the space for longer than a week. After three months of solid residency, the apartment still felt like a hotel. Its most attractive features were the third-floor location,
way below panic height, and the sturdy fire escape outside his bedroom window.

Chris was standing in the kitchen, worried eyes riveted on a small countertop TV. An old collie snoozed on the tile next to his feet. A cool breeze swept across Luke’s face, and clumps of dog hair blew across the kitchen floor like fur tumbleweeds.

Wade pushed through the screen door. “What’s wrong?”

Chris pointed at the television, where a newswoman stood in a dark parking lot. Behind her, emergency lights flashed and swirled. “Somebody attacked a woman in the woods behind the Coopersfield Community Center. That’s where Mom is.”

CHAPTER FOUR

Luke crossed the kitchen and turned up the volume, but the breaking news story segued into the weather report. Nails scratched on tile. The dog scrambled to its feet and stuck a narrow, whitening muzzle into his crotch. He gently averted the nose and stroked the bony head.

Wade pulled his cell phone out of his back pocket and punched a couple of keys. His mouth flattened out as he waited. “She’s not answering.”

“When she texted me that she’d be late, she didn’t mention any of
that
.” Chris gestured toward the TV.

“I’m going over there.” Wade’s phone buzzed. He yanked it out of his pocket. “It’s Brooke.” He slapped the cell to his ear. “Are you all right?” He listened for a minute. “I’ll come and get you.” He frowned. “Luke Holloway is here with me. He’ll pick up Haley.”

Luke could hear Brooke’s disembodied voice. He couldn’t make out the words, but the anxiety in her tone rang clear. He stood in the center of the kitchen, feeling useless, while Chris’s bare feet paced the sand-colored floor.

“OK, I get it. You want me to pick Haley up,” Wade huffed. “I’m sending Luke to pick you up. He’ll be right there.” Wade pushed
END
, cutting off the sound of Brooke yelling his name.

Chris stopped pacing. “What happened to Mom?”

“She’s fine.” Wade put a hand on his nephew’s shoulder. “A woman was attacked. Your mom chased the guy off, but she tripped and hurt her knee.” He turned to Luke. “Brooke is in the ER getting an X-ray. Do you mind going to get her? She wanted to call a friend of hers, but I’d feel better if she’s with you. They haven’t caught the bastard yet.”

“Of course I don’t mind,” Luke lied. Hospitals were a close second on his list of places to avoid, right under high-rises, but he wasn’t going to wimp out on his friend.

“Thanks. My niece is at the school. Brooke wants me to pick her up because Haley won’t know you.”

“Understandable. Your sister might not even recognize me.” Luke pulled his keys from his pocket.

“Can I come?” Chris asked Luke.

Wade shook his head. “You’re with me.”

Chris opened his mouth.

Wade cut him off. “Your mom is worried enough right now. We’re going to do whatever makes her feel better. This is about her, not us.”

And that summed up Wade’s motto. It was always about someone else.

“Whatever,” the teen sulked.

“Don’t worry. Luke will take care of your mom.” Wade bumped a fist on his nephew’s biceps. “And we’ll pick up that pizza while we’re out.”

“I’ll bring her back safe and sound.” Luke headed out of the house. As he climbed behind the wheel, his phone vibrated. He glanced at the display, recognized the number, and ignored the call while nausea rolled through him.

Can’t think about
that
now. Focus on Brooke.

He lowered the window. The air that flooded the car smelled of hayrides and bonfires. He backed out of the drive and pulled onto the country road that fronted the property. Like Gran’s place just a few minutes away, there wasn’t another house in sight. He glanced at his odometer when he passed the first neighbor—a full mile away. Who would Brooke call if she needed help in a hurry?

Fifteen minutes later, Luke parked in the ER parking lot. Double glass doors parted with a soft swish. He crossed the waiting room. A dozen people slouched in plastic chairs in a variety of miserable states telegraphed by ice packs and elevated limbs. A red-cheeked toddler slumped against his mother’s chest while she stroked his sweaty head.

The nurse directed him to a long room with curtained-off triage bays. The glare of fluorescent lights brought back memories Luke tried his best to suppress on a daily basis. Sweat broke out between his shoulder blades, making his scars itch.

A uniformed policeman emerged from the middle unit. “Can I help you?”

“I’m looking for Brooke Davenport.”

“I’m in here,” a female voice called out.

“She’s all yours.” The cop gestured toward a gap in the curtains.

“Coming in.” Luke ducked behind the curtain. At the sight of her, anger clamped his lips tight. One leg of her jeans had been cut off mid-thigh. Her leg was elevated on a pillow, her knee was covered with a square of white gauze, and an ice pack perched on top. Her chin was scraped, her lower lip swollen.

Shit like this shouldn’t happen. Not here. This corner of the world was supposed to be insulated from violence.

“I appreciate you coming to get me.” Brooke gave him a tight smile, then winced and touched her mouth. The sudden desire to press his lips to the injury shocked him.

Despite the decade since he’d seen her, his schoolboy crush hadn’t faded one bit. Even with the passage of time, the mussed hair, and a puffy lip, she was still a gorgeous, capable woman. Her fair skin, shoulder-length dark hair, and athletic figure oozed small-town wholesomeness. Gran would say she had good bones, the kind of face that improved with age. As always, it was her determined brown eyes that drew him in, rich with the complexity of aged brandy. But meeting them tonight was a revelation. His soul recognized the damage behind her resolve and responded with a surge of need. Whether the demand was hers or his, he had no idea, but it didn’t seem to matter. Something that was crushed inside of him stirred to life.

OK. Overreact much?
Luke broke eye contact before he creeped her out.

A nurse came in with papers for Brooke to sign and a wheelchair. “Keep it elevated, iced, and wrapped.”

“Thank you.” Brooke tucked the pink copies into her purse.

From the open door, an alarm went off. A voice echoed “code blue” and a number. People ran in the hall.

“I’m sorry.” The nurse hurried from the room.

Luke’s gut twisted at the familiar sights and sounds of a medical crisis. “Are you ready to get out of here?” He sure as hell was.

“Definitely.” She tossed the ice pack aside and slid off the table. Though average in height at about five-foot-five, standing next to his six-three, her head barely reached his shoulder. Their size difference and her injuries sparked a “me Tarzan” urge to
swoop her up and carry her to the car. He restrained the impulse. She’d think he was nuts.

She hobbled toward the door. “Nothing’s broken. Just a nasty scrape and a bruise.”

“The nurse just said to stay off of it. You’re going to make it swell even more.” Annoyed, Luke grabbed the wheelchair. He released the brake and rolled it behind her. “Here. Sit down.”

She
huffed
but dropped into the chair without a word. Luke pushed her down the hall, through the exit, and to the car waiting fifty feet away. He took her elbow and helped her into the passenger seat. “Lock the door.” He left the wheelchair just inside the ER waiting room then returned to his car. He hadn’t meant to be bossy, but damned if he’d let her make her injury worse under his watch, not after he’d promised Wade and Chris he’d look after her.

Escorting Brooke home was the biggest responsibility he’d accepted in months.

And it wasn’t just any responsibility. It was Brooke.

He turned left on the country road that led toward her place. “What did the cop have to say?”

“He asked me some questions.” Her head fell back onto the headrest. “They didn’t catch him.”

Luke clenched the wheel. To his right, the lights dotted the foothills. It was peaceful out here, but seclusion had its drawbacks. Wade was staying with Brooke tonight. But after that? She and her kids would be alone.

Brooke’s knee was a hot, pulsing mess. She sank into the passenger seat as Luke steered through a bend. The recently repaved
road stretched out ahead of them, the strip of tar shiny and black as an eel. They left the busy hospital and its brightly lit parking lot behind. A waning moon hovered, its outline crisp in a stardusted sky. She’d lived in the country all her life. The dark had never bothered her. The small community of Westbury represented safety. But tonight, patches of impenetrable blackness crept among the foothills, and menacing shadows shifted in the moonlight. She pulled her gaze off the black landscape and studied Luke.

Wow. What a change. Of course, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen him, but Wade had told her about the explosion. From her brother’s comments, Brooke was glad to see Luke in one piece. She certainly hadn’t expected him to look so…
Wow
.

Luke did not look like
that
in high school.

He’d been a sweet, geeky teenager with a lanky frame even the appetite of a starving wolverine couldn’t fill out. But there was nothing gangly or geeky about him now. With his wavy brown hair tamed into a
GQ
cut and a car to match, Luke was sophisticated, successful, and much, much hotter than she remembered. His shoulders were broad and his chest muscular enough to make her look twice.

The dashboard light emphasized the sharp angles of his face and added to the intensity he’d projected even in his youth. Always a man on a mission. A few minutes ago, under the glare of the hospital lights, those piercing green eyes had focused 100 percent on her, cutting through her bullshit “I’m fine” act with the precision of a laser.

He stopped at an intersection. His gaze caught hers and held it for a second. There was a soul-deep sadness in his eyes that called to her. Like recognizing like? Her eyes filled at the
unexpected reflection of pain. She blinked the connection—and the tears that threatened to spill out—away. Crashing adrenaline challenged her self-control, but she had plenty of practice keeping it together until she was alone.

“Are you all right?” Concern drew his brows together.

“Yes.” She sucked in a deep breath and gathered her frayed emotions. “Thanks again for picking me up. I really needed Wade to be with my kids.”

“No problem.” Turning back to the road, he accelerated. Long, elegant fingers wrapped around the steering wheel. The tendons on the back of his hands corded as if his grip was excessive. “Do you want to talk about what happened?”

“I’d rather just do it once, if you don’t mind. Wade’s going to demand all the details. You know how he is.” One retelling was going to be hard enough.

“I do.”

Brooke wanted to think about something else for a few minutes. “How is your grandmother?”

“Pretty good.” Luke made a left. “Busy with her charities.”

“I haven’t seen her in ages. Does she miss teaching?”

“I think so. She still teaches Sunday school. She was never one to sit around.”

“Haley was in her fourth grade class the year she retired.” Brooke lifted her head as Luke turned into the driveway.

He parked on her gravel drive and came around to help her out of the car, his hand strong under her elbow as she limped up the front walk. Luke wrapped an arm around her waist and lifted her up the three wooden steps to the porch with little effort. His body was rock solid against hers.

BOOK: She Can Scream
4.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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