by Cassandra Barnes
Drugs, murder, and kidnapping rip open the shameful pasts kept carefully concealed by Amanda Reed and Santiago Yazzi, forcing them to forgive old and new betrayals before they discover the secret love hidden deep in their hearts.
ISBN 978-1-59431-639-5 Cover art by Shelley Rodgerson
Also available in HTML and RTF formats.
The baby reached out to Amanda, his tiny arms stretching toward her, a toothless grin tugging at her heart. The grin turned to a grimace as his body convulsed in pain. Amanda struggled to get to the crying child, but couldn't break free of the invisible web holding her. She had to reach the babe! She had within her power the ability to stop his pain, to turn the encroaching darkness to light. The wails increased. "Let me go!" she screamed, flailing wildly.
And awoke, drenched in perspiration, the sound of an ambulance siren fading in the distance. She threw off the covers and glanced at the clock. 5:00 a.m. She might as well get up. There'd be no more sleep. But she lay there, trying to recapture the face of the baby. It wasn't Michael, yet somehow it was him. But Michael wouldn't need help from her. Her son was a grown man now. Yet the dream haunted her. Somewhere a child needed her help. If she could only touch him, she could save him.
Amanda rarely had prophetic dreams, but she knew beyond any doubt what she'd just experienced was more than a dream. It had been a plea for help, one she couldn't ignore.
An image of her friend Yazz floated through her senses. She'd dreamed about him too, and flushed at the recollection of her seduction of the stoic cop. Or had he seduced her? Didn't matter. She stretched and yawned before sitting up. She cared about Yazz, sure, and he cared about her. But lovers? Never. She pulled off the camisole top she slept in and headed for the shower.
Amanda assessed her body as the warm water coursed over her. A little flabby here and there, but generally she was in pretty good shape for a forty-two-year-old woman. She gently touched the stretch marks on her abdomen. It'd been more than twenty years since she'd grown huge with Michael, but the pearly marks remained, a continual reminder of her loss.
Why dream of Yazz? Amanda turned off the water, grabbing a thick terry towel as she stepped out of the shower. It couldn't have anything to do with the dream about the baby. Puzzled hazel eyes gazed from the mirror to her. The baby. What baby needed her help, and needed it desperately? That was more important than some silly fantasy about Yazz. She'd only dreamed of making love with him because it'd been so long since anyone held her.
And it would be a lot longer, she silently scolded herself. That part of her life was over. Men and sex had brought nothing but trouble in the past, and she wouldn't permit either to disturb the peaceful life she'd created for herself.
Returning to the bedroom, Amanda dressed quickly in an ankle-length skirt covered with a riotous array of flowers, a teal blouse edged with lace, and sandals. She completed the costume with a faux turquoise necklace, then finger-fluffed the hair curling around her face.
"Yes, I know it's breakfast time," she said to her two long-haired, golden-brown tabby cats pacing between the bedroom and kitchen. "Neither of you look like you're on the verge of starvation, so just relax."
After filling the cat dishes, and starting her own breakfast, Amanda opened her back door just in time to see the sun turn the sky luminous pink. She paused to absorb the beauty displayed for her, then descended the stairs to pick up the morning papers.
She put aside the paper serving Dos Rios, Arizona, her hometown, in favor the San Diego news. San Diego. Michael's town. Forbidden to her.
Amanda sighed and put the paper aside as a slice of homemade raisin bread popped up in the toaster. She couldn't expect news articles about him now that he had outgrown his days as a top athlete in high school. Spreading almond butter on her toast, she paused to address her feline breakfast companions. "Quit looking at me like that. You know you don't get fed from the table."
Cinnamon answered with her usual petulant meow, while Nutmeg stretched. Both returned to hopeful waiting.
"I wonder if we'll ever know which career he chose." Amanda sipped jasmine tea, savoring its delicate fragrance. "He had lots of choices, you know." The Spice Cats yawned and sauntered away, obviously uninterested. For a moment she wished she could tell someone about Michael. Wouldn't it be fun to brag about his accomplishments? Not that she had a right to. Others had raised her son and were responsible for his successes.
She got up and removed an orange from the refrigerator. Michael had to remain a secret, she thought, as narrow strips of orange peel fell into the sink. She couldn't break the promises she'd made so many years ago. Only harm would result from revealing the truth. "Get down!" Amanda swatted the curious cat that had jumped up onto the counter top. "Go play with your sister."
Amanda finished her breakfast, rinsed the dishes, and stacked them in the sink. She'd wash up everything later. After she brushed her teeth and ran a comb quickly through her hair, she and the Spice Cats descended the old stairway to her shop. She left the stairwell door open, as the cats usually retreated upstairs if they got bored or wanted something to eat. At first, Amanda had tried to keep them out of the shop, but neither she nor the cats were happy with that arrangement. Now almost three years old, the feline twins freely roamed downstairs, and had endeared themselves to most of her customers.
Amanda lingered, cherishing all that was hers. Earth Scents specialized in natural, pure fragrances. She'd begun work here nearly seventeen years ago, as a clerk. As time passed, she attended workshops and took on more responsibilities. Ten years ago, when old Mrs. Walsh died, Amanda purchased the inventory and made the shop hers.
Well, almost hers, she thought ruefully, as she turned on the overhead lights. There was always Hardnose Harley to deal with. Harley Martin owned her building, as he did all the other buildings in the Jacaranda Village Mall. Like Earth Scents, most of the tenants had leased from Harley for years, and all struggled with his refusal to maintain the old Victorian homes he'd converted into retail shops.
She looked around with satisfaction at the brown glass bottles with colorful labels sitting neatly on display cases and shelves artfully arranged on the polished wood floor. Despite the past, she'd made a wonderful life here. Hardnose Harley couldn't spoil that. Nor could anyone take away 'Amanda's Aromas,' the line of natural perfumes and lotions she created. The little porcelain jars and cut glass bottles containing her special blends occupied one whole section of the shop.