Once he’d checked in and ordered room service, he collapsed on the California king-sized bed in his suite. The past month he’d been doing nothing but work as he methodically eliminated the people who had put him in prison. It had been difficult since he was wanted by many different authorities, but the payoff of killing his enemies was worth it.

Now he only had one more person left on his list. He’d spent an ungodly amount of money for the information he now possessed and he still wasn’t sure it was even correct. Neville would have to see the woman in person to be certain.

If the woman he’d known as Cait Chilcott was still alive, he’d be selling her into slavery soon enough. No less than what the bitch deserved. His information on her was scant, but he had a name and he planned to use it: Mara Caldwell.

Chapter 2

Mara rolled over and sighed when she realized Harrison’s side of the bed was already empty. It wasn’t even seven o’clock, but he was up and clearly avoiding her. Normally Sunday was their day together but without even looking for him, she knew he’d gone into work.

Not that she could blame him.

She’d been distant the past month, but that couldn’t be helped. Though she was a pro at compartmentalizing things, the potential threat coming for her had knocked her new world right off its axis. She’d thought she was safe, that she’d created a new life with the man she loved. That the evil from her past could never touch her again.

She’d been wrong.

Meeting Harrison hadn’t been part of her plan, but once she’d met him, walking away from him had never been an option. Now she wondered if he’d be the one to walk away from her when he knew the truth about her past. He’d been so brutally honest with her about his own life and his career with the CIA before he’d started working for Red Stone Security.

But she’d kept her secrets.

Sharing didn’t come naturally to her and now her secrets could possibly hurt the people she loved. Harrison, his family, or her friends. She might have to walk away from Harrison even though it was the last thing she wanted to do. If it saved him, she’d do it no matter how much it would rip her heart to shreds.

After showering and dressing, she decided to head to the women’s shelter she volunteered at. When she’d met Harrison almost two years ago she’d been running a travel agency but she’d hated it with a passion. Eventually he’d convinced her to quit so she could do what she loved. Now she was in the process of looking for real estate to purchase so she could open her own shelter.

While a very small part of her didn’t like that she wasn’t bringing any money into their household at the moment, the fact that she was able to help women who needed it practically seven days a week overpowered the lingering guilt she sometimes experienced. For someone who’d been working since she was fifteen, it would take some getting used to.

On the drive to the shelter, she called Harrison.

He picked up on the third ring. “Yeah?” There was no softness in his voice.

“You left without saying goodbye this morning.” And it stung something fierce. He hadn’t even held her last night. She’d been awake when he’d finally come to bed and he hadn’t attempted to touch her. She’d been too afraid of his rejection to reach out.

He cleared his throat. “Sorry, you looked so peaceful I didn’t want to wake you.”

No doubt he was lying, but she couldn’t call him on it. It was her fault there was this awful wall between them but she didn’t know how to break it down. “Are you going to be at work all day?”

“Yeah. Got a dignitary coming in tomorrow with his entourage. Porter’s heading up the detail but I wanted to go over some last minute things.” Yeah right, more like he wanted to avoid her.

Her husband worked for and was part owner of Red Stone Security. A well-respected security company that guarded visiting dignitaries, high profile individuals and anyone wealthy enough to afford them, they had contracts all over the globe. They also conducted a lot of business in Miami, where their headquarters was. Everyone who worked for them in the security arena had former military experience and received a detailed military-level background check. Mara’s own best friend, Porter’s soon-to-be-wife Lizzy, worked there, though she was a security expert in a different sense. The woman could hack most systems and was a genius with computers. “Want to grab lunch? I’m headed to the shelter but it should be slow since it’s a Sunday.”

He paused for a moment, then, “Don’t think I’ll have time, but I’ll try and make it home for dinner.”

She swallowed back the lump of emotion. “Sure, okay. I’ll talk to you later.” Without waiting for a response, she hung up. It was rude, but she didn’t care. She might have been keeping secrets from Harrison, but he was downright cold. She couldn’t match up the man she’d fallen in love with to the stranger in her bed last night.

Once she arrived at her destination, a three-story home a block from the beach that had been converted into a shelter—and was becoming too small for their growing needs—some of the tension lifted from her chest. She pressed the green button on the small device that looked like a garage door opener and the privacy gate rolled back, allowing her to drive inside the perimeter of the property.

After retrieving a bag of clothes and books from her trunk that her friend Lizzy’s wealthy mother had donated, Mara set the alarm on her car and walked down the long driveway past two cars until she reached another gate surrounding part of the backyard. The entire property was surrounded by a nine foot privacy wall, but the gate was an extra precaution for the pool area. What the home was used for wasn’t common knowledge to anyone and current residents knew to use the private keypad for the gate, then another keypad to get in the back door. And the code was changed every two weeks for extra security. A lot of these women were running from abusive spouses or ex-boyfriends so they all took their security seriously.

Mara smiled the second she opened the back door as she smelled fresh coffee. Pamela Barrera, the woman who ran the home full time, leaned against the counter next to the almost full pot as she sipped from a white mug covered in roses.

“I didn’t expect to see you on a Sunday.” Pamela put her mug down and took one of the bags from Mara.

She shrugged. “Harrison had to work so I figured I might as well help out.”

Pamela gave her a shrewd look as if she didn’t quite believe her, but as usual, she didn’t comment on Mara’s personal life. Pamela was very good about that, something Mara loved about the woman. Today Pamela had pulled her unruly dark curls back into a ponytail and she wore jeans and a plain black sweater a size too big for her small frame. “Heidi’s the only one awake. She had another nightmare. I tried to talk to her, but she was pretty shut down this morning.”

Mara’s heart squeezed. Heidi was tall, blonde, and one of the most beautiful women Mara had ever met in her life. She came from a broken home with a mother who didn’t deserve the title considering the lechers she’d let move in with her and prey on her daughter. Desperate to escape a shitty situation, Heidi had jumped into the first relationship with a man six years older than her when she was just seventeen years old. He hadn’t been abusive at first, but over the years he’d grown more and more controlling. Then he’d started hurting her physically and Heidi had left. Considering she had the reading skills of a fourth grader and no work experience, Mara was in awe the woman had the guts to leave with almost no money. She knew women who wouldn’t leave their abusers despite having the capability to work and support themselves. Heidi was brave in a way Mara wished more people were. “I’ll see if she’ll talk to me. Maybe we can work on reading again today.”

Pamela nodded, then paused. Finally she spoke. “You know you can talk to me about anything and I won’t judge.”

Mara half-smiled. “I know and I appreciate it.” But the secrets Mara had, she couldn’t tell a soul. Not if she wanted to live with herself. Her secrets were the classified kind and anyone who knew about them would automatically be put at risk. Mara couldn’t live with herself if she hurt someone she cared for, even inadvertently. She had enough nightmares. No way was she adding even more.

After pouring a cup of rich Colombian coffee, she found Heidi sitting at one of the desks in what had once been a dining room, but Pamela had turned into a computer/teaching room. There were five computers in all—donated by wealthy supporters. They were monitored and for the most part the Internet connection was turned off, but there were tons of learning programs on them for children and adults. And sure enough, Mara found Heidi using the phonics program she’d showed her how to use a couple days ago.

Though Mara was silent, Heidi jumped as Mara stepped into the room. Her expression immediately changed to one of relief when she saw her and the pretty woman tentatively smiled. “Hi,” she said softly.

“Hey.” Mara stepped fully into the room and pulled out the swivel chair next to her. “What are you working on?”

“Phonics exercises. Like you showed me.” Heidi smiled shyly again and Mara wanted to hunt down the man who had taken her self-esteem and kill him.

“Want some help?” She didn’t like to push if she wasn’t needed but when Heidi nodded, Mara gave her a genuine smile and shelved all the other crap in her life for the moment. Right now she was actually doing something for someone else and it felt good. Her own problems could wait.

After an hour and a half of reading with Heidi, Mara helped Pamela with laundry while most of the women worked out in the yard. Sundays were typically ‘yard work’ days and the sunshine always helped with dark moods—something common among the residents. Since there were only five women in the house at the moment, and surprisingly no children, the cleaning and organizing wasn’t too bad.

When three o’clock rolled around and Mara still hadn’t received a call from her husband, the edginess that had been building inside her was about to explode. They used to call and text multiple times a day, but now he was the one pulling back from her and she hated it. She felt so lost without Harrison and that scared her because she might have to give him and her life in Miami up very soon. She was close to calling it a day when her cell phone rang.