Juliet’s daddy had always told her to stay away from men who bowed. But tonight, as she struggled with her groceries in the snow, she almost asked the stranger in the shadows across the street for help. He bowed as she walked by and, as creepy as that seemed, she was reconsidering her daddy’s warning. It was still Valentine’s Day, after all.
She blinked against the freezing wind, and the man had disappeared. She made it to her apartment and almost stepped on the ivory envelope. Balancing her bags in one arm, she picked it up. From its weight and polished paper, a letter instead of a bill.
A valentine, maybe? From Rafe?
Flurries blew as she unlocked the door. Five months apart. Five months since their argument. Five months and he’d finally sent her an apology. The ache in her heart loosened, and she went inside. Frigid, mildew-tinged air blasted at her, and her breath came out in cold, white gusts. The heat was off. Again.
She placed the bags on the kitchen counter and turned the envelope over. The linen stationery felt thick and expensive. Someone had sealed it with a wax stamp of a sword piercing a heart and written her name in script on the other side. It wasn’t Rafe’s familiar, irregular printing.
After trading her coat for her favorite sweater, she curled up on the couch. Her husband was undercover with his A-team. Had someone else sent the letter on his behalf? It wouldn’t be the first time he’d broken the rules. Still, five months wasn’t the longest they’d gone without contact. Last year he’d been away for eight. Except this goodbye had been different. They’d argued, said things she prayed they hadn’t meant, and hadn’t made love before he left.
Something that had never happened before.
She held the letter to her heart and looked at the unpacked boxes stacked around her. Rafe had left the week they’d moved from Fort Bragg’s temporary housing into this apartment, days after his mother’s funeral, and she’d refused to unpack completely. Without him, it didn’t feel like home.
Worry and lack of sleep had left her exhausted. Nightmares plagued her nights. Dreams she’d had since childhood that only Rafe’s touch could heal. For the past few weeks, she’d been obsessed with a heavy feeling in her heart she could only define as doom.
She broke the seal and read. The back of her throat burned. Her sweaty hands gripped the edges of the stationery, tearing it. And she read the letter again. It wasn’t a valentine.
No. No. No.She fell off the couch and crawled to the bathroom. She barely made it before the eruption hit. Minutes later, she rinsed her mouth and leaned her forehead against the window. The room smelled like vomit, bleach, and mold. It reeked of betrayal.
Outside, the moon hung full, like on the night he’d left. Another wave of nausea drove her to her knees. She rolled into a ball, her arms tucked in close. He wasn’t dead. He just wasn’t coming home. Ever.
The doorbell rang, and she ignored it. She lay there for minutes or hours or days. When even the moon turned in, she shifted onto her back and stared at the stained ceiling. The brown concentric circles reminded her of constellations. The star patterns she and Rafe identified together out on the Isle when they were kids.
“Pegasus.” She raised one arm to reach the sky. The winged horse constellation had been her favorite, only visible a few weeks of every year. She’d always dreamed of flying away from the Isle, her father, her poverty. But instead of reaching the stars, she’d married the man she’d adored since she was four and he was eight.
When the doorbell rang again and again and again, she got up, determined to send whoever the hell it was away. She flung the door open to find two Army MPs in full uniform, wearing pistols, standing side by side. Their grim faces shared identical hard angles. Cold air burst into the room, chilling her even more.
Sharon Wray is a librarian who once studied dress design in the couture houses of Paris and now writes about the men in her romantic suspense series where ex-Green Berets meet their match in smart, sexy heroines who teach these alpha males that always defeats .