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Excerpt for Raking the Ashes by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Published by EVERNIGHT PUBLISHING ® at Smashwords


www.evernightpublishing.com




Copyright© 2019 Kait Gamble



ISBN: 978-1-77339-874-7


Cover Artist: Jay Aheer


Editor: Audrey Bobak



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.


This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.






DEDICATION


For all those who have loved and lost.







RAKING THE ASHES



Kait Gamble


Copyright © 2019


Chapter One

“Don’t you ever do anything but work?”

Tamara Roberts looked up from her screen at her assistant and gave her a mild smile as she pushed a stray lock of dark hair out of her eyes. “The last I checked, yeah. I eat, sleep, breathe, watch the occasional movie.”

Very funny.” Angela Parsons, PA par excellence, slumped into the chair on the other side of the table to smile at her boss and friend. Gentle concern was clear on her face. “You’ve got to get out there. Live a little.”

I’ve lived plenty.” Hard, fast, and stupidly when she was younger. Tamara viciously stabbed the keyboard with her fingers as she finished a paragraph. They’d been through this many times before. Angela couldn’t seem to understand that not everyone needed—or wanted—to date wildly inappropriate men and party every weekend.

There was nothing wrong with wanting a quiet life. Work was more than fulfilling. Her writing was both a living and an escape. And it gave her a comfortable life. All pluses in her book.

I’m just saying that being cooped up in the house all the time with nothing but your screen and the voices in your head for company can’t be great for you.”

It’s more than enough, Angela.” Tamara picked up one of the many pens on her desk and jotted a note on a pad before she forgot about it. “Besides. I have you.”

You need to find a man like the ones you write about.” She leaned forward, her beautiful red hair bouncing with her movement. “Smart. Sexy. Handsome. Won’t take no for an answer. Worships the ground you walk on. You know, the perfect man.”

Ignoring the man that came to mind at that description, Tamara shook her head. “There’s no such thing as a perfect man except on paper.”

Oh, I don’t know about that. The guy I’m seeing this weekend seems promising.”

Tamara tapped her pen against her glasses. “You’ve said that about the last four men.”

It’s different this time. Caleb is a winner. I can feel it.”

Tamara smiled as encouragingly as she could. Why Angela felt the need to go through the hassle of a relationship, no matter how short, was beyond her. “So…”

It took her almost a full three seconds to remember what they had been discussing before she went off on a tangent. Angela nodded. “Of course. I’ll get your blog sorted out. Was there anything else you needed?”

Milk?” Tamara was already thinking about the hero’s final grovel. Angela didn’t usually need things spelled out for her. “I have a list on the fridge.”

“I’m on it.” She stood and stretched sinuously.

How can anyone be so innately sexual? Tamara shoved her glasses up her nose. Apparently, some people were just born with it. She, on the other hand, preferred to fly under the radar.

Angela made no move to leave, however.

“What’s wrong?”

I just thought you might want to talk about what your editor said.”

Tamara bit the inside of her cheek. “It’s all good, Angela.”

Really? Because it looks like your head’s about to explode just thinking about it.”

Why would she be upset over the fact that her editor said that her latest projects felt a bit ‘samey’? That her heroes lately were all barely redeemable jerks? That she needed to get out of her comfort zone and try something different?

Not upsetting at all.

Tamara was so okay with it that she had cried for a little bit. What was half an hour spent wallowing? Okay. It was an hour of wine and tears in the bath, but it was all part of a writer’s life, right? She knew she needed to evolve. And that was exactly what she was going to do with this new book.

Her PA’s voice cut through the reverie.

If you say so. But you know I’m always here if you want to talk.”

Tamara couldn’t help but smile. “Thanks.” Angela was a true friend.

One who was currently distracted by something she saw outside.

When Angela continued to stand and stare, Tamara had to ask, “What’s up?”

She pointed. “If you wanted to get out of your rut and try something new, you should take a run at the guy outside,” Angela said approvingly. “Very hot.”

There was someone outside? Tamara couldn’t imagine who would go out of their way to search her out. True, she had some diehard fans, but she wrote under a pseudonym and, thanks to her reclusive nature, people who lived nearby had no idea who she was besides being the quiet writer. That was if they ever saw her stray farther than the mailbox.

She pushed her chair back and strode over to stand next to her friend. The instant she saw the familiar tall, broad-shouldered build clad in a fine dark suit, Tamara’s knees wobbled a little.

Even after nearly a decade, she still knew him on sight. She didn’t even have to see his face. And her body reacted with a force only he’d even been able to elicit from her.

No. It couldn’t be.

As if he could hear her thoughts, he turned his head slightly to peer at the window where they stood. Tamara’s heart stuttered to a stop. What she already knew was confirmed.

Dark hair shorter and his face leaner than she remembered, he was still a fine specimen of the male of the species. One look at him always had the ability to knock the breath from her lungs.

Peter Worthington.

Impossible. What would he be doing there?

Her first impulse was to hide. It would have been so easy to get Angela to answer the door and deny her being there, but it was obvious he knew she lived there. Why else would he be there?

Tamara? Are you okay?” Angela’s bright green gaze bounced between her and the man outside. “Who is that?”

“No one.”

You’re not reacting like he’s no one.” Alarmed now, she put her hand on Tamara’s shoulder. “You don’t think he’s a stalker or something, do you?”

No.” Tamara watched him take long-legged strides up the boarded path with growing dread. “It’s my husband.”

****

Peter stared up and down the beach and the white house set on the hill just above the water. It looked small, secluded. Cozy. Not at all what he imagined Tamara would call home. It was too lonely. He recalled a woman who loved going out to meals and shows. A woman who delighted in hanging out with family and friends. Not someone who would hide on windy bluffs miles from civilization.

Did he have the wrong place?

No. Tamara was around here somewhere. Though he couldn’t see her, he could feel her gaze on him.

What had caused her to move away from people?

He shook off his curiosity. What did he care? She was no longer a part of his life. No longer his concern. Tamara had ceased to be his … anything … a long time ago.

So why did the thought of her being alone out here bother him so?

The fact that he had to really dig to find her added to the nagging suspicion that the Tamara he knew was gone.

Of course, she would be. She had been but a girl when he’d seen her last. Touched her last…

They’d both been so young.

So stupid.

Peter Worthington shook off the melancholy that always accompanied memories of them.

What surprised him was that she was now quite famous and wealthy writing romance novels. Though under a pseudonym. It had taken great time and cost to track her down. Now that he had, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to see her, let alone talk to this recluse she had become.

Only he had to.

He knocked though he knew she’d already seen him approaching. Peter had felt her gaze as surely as if she’d reached out and touched him.

After a long moment, the heavy wooden door opened to reveal a striking redhead. Anger flashed in her stunningly green eyes. So, this woman had been forewarned about him. It was almost amusing that his wife had sent her minion, or whoever that was, in her stead. Of course, she couldn’t face him. “I wish to speak with Tamara.”

“I’m sorry but I don’t know any Tamara.”

Fuming, he considered barging in. Did they think he was an idiot? “I didn’t come all this way to the corner of nowhere to be sent away.” He looked over the redhead’s shoulder. “Tamara! I know you’re in there.”

The woman before him looked as if she was ready to set him on fire but a soft voice inside called her off. “Angela, it’s okay.”

The woman who walked into view was beautiful, as he knew she would be. Even in loose clothing, her hair up in the messy bun and glasses, she shone like a star. Why was she trying to hide from the world?

Why did he care?

Peter gritted his teeth. “Tamara, we need to talk.”

She stood taller. Glared at him. “I think we’ve said everything that needed to be said years ago.”

He glanced at the judgmental mannequin that was the other woman. “Can we speak privately?”

Tamara shook her head. “I just told you we have nothing to talk about.”

Obviously, she wasn’t going to be budged. At least not without some persuasion. “I thought we could at least be adult about things.”

Right. Adults.” There was a flash of something in her eyes that let him know she wasn’t completely unfeeling toward him. That, at least, he knew how to exploit.

Can I come in, at least? It’s been a long trip.”

The word no was already leaving the redhead’s mouth but Tamara placed a hand on her shoulder. “Let him in, Angela.”

Her guardian stepped aside grudgingly.

You don’t need to be here for this, Angela.” Tamara held his gaze. “He won’t be long.”

Are you sure?” The redhead eyed him again as if he would sprout fangs and try to kill Tamara the instant her back was turned. “I don’t mind waiting.”

Tamara shook her head. “I really need some of the stuff on the list and it’s getting late.”

Angela nodded curtly, still eyeing Peter with distrust. “I’ve got my phone if you need me.”

Thanks.” Tamara gave her a wan smile before turning her attention back to Peter. “I apologize for Angela. She can be a bit overprotective. Can I get you something to drink?”

“A coffee if it’s not too much trouble.”

****

Tamara saw the fatigue on his face, in the way his shoulders were set. What would have prompted Peter Worthington to wear himself out?

She nodded at the breakfast bar. “Have a seat. Would you like something to eat?”

He shook his head. “You have a lovely home. “

Knowing it was nothing compared to what he was used to, Tamara just smiled, even as grim as it was. After pouring him a coffee from the carafe that she kept almost constantly full, Tamara proceeded to pour herself one too. Whatever it was he so urgently needed to talk to her about probably warranted it.

Sliding his over to him, she stayed on the other side of the bar.

Peter hadn’t changed much. Besides maybe getting better looking. He’d lost the softness of youth. His face had been honed, as had the rest of him from the looks of it. At first glance, she would have him pegged as a banker, a CEO, maybe even royalty. He oozed wealth and privilege as if it was part of him.

Which, of course, it was. His family’s wealth was as old as time and almost unimaginably vast. So much so that they could never spend it all. They probably owned an even larger chunk of the world now.

Like she’d know. She hadn’t taken an interest in the Worthington name in a very long time.

What piqued her curiosity now was the fact that Peter had taken the time to track her down. She had made sure it would be very difficult. Yet he’d managed it.

Whatever it was had to be important to even get him off his pedestal to talk to her.

Tamara leaned back against the counter and sipped her coffee. He came to her, he could be the first to speak.

Peter regarded her evenly over the rim of his mug. “You’ve done well for yourself.”

Her grip on the mug tightened. “You seem surprised.”

He studied her for a breath. “Not at all. I always knew that you could do anything you put your mind to.”

She scoffed, irritated by the platitudes. “Why are you here, Peter? We both know you’re not here to compliment my life choices.”

Surprise flashed in his eyes as he put the mug down. “You’re right. I want you to come back with me.”

Now it was her turn to be stunned. “You’re joking, right?”

Do I look like I’m kidding?” His voice had hardened. The words came through gritted teeth. No, he wasn’t and it seemed he was having a hard time keeping his temper in check.

Shaking her head, she scoffed. “You can’t honestly expect me to drop everything to run off with you just because you show up after all these years and ask.” Hadn’t she done that once before? And look how well that had turned out.

Peter stood fluidly, rounded the bar, and loomed over her. He was too close. She could smell him and that brought back far too many memories. Holding her breath, Tamara stood her ground with the help of a death grip on the countertop behind her.

My father is … dying and apparently, he has something to say to you.”


Chapter Two


A chill rushed through her, so fast and so fierce she shuddered and grabbed her mug again, needing its warmth. “Your father wouldn’t have anything to say to me, Peter.” He’d said more than enough over the few months she’d known him.

His eyes glittered warningly. “Apparently, he does. Why else would I be here?”

Why else indeed. They’d had nothing to do with each other for so long, Tamara was sure she’d never have to see Peter or any of his family ever again.

You could have done it over the phone or vid chat. You’ve obviously done some digging to find me. After all that, my contact information would have been just as easy to come by.”

He huffed a derisive breath. “And would you have answered if you knew it was me or my father?”

No. That was the truth. If she had known he had found her and was going to show up at her door, Tamara would have made sure she wasn’t around. Maybe even taken that vacation she so desperately needed.

Since you’re here now, I don’t mind calling him and talking. Anything else would cut into my schedule. I have a lot going on right now.”

His expression turned blank. “I don’t know why I expected more from you.”

“That’s funny coming from you.” She practically spat the words and she edged past him. “As usual, it’s what you want and to hell with everything else.”

You’re talking about work being more important than a man’s dying words.”

Anger flared, blurring her vision for a flash. “That man has held nothing but contempt for me since the moment you’d introduced us.”

Peter held up his hand. He’d been through this with her more than once. “I’m just asking for a few hours. We’ll fly in, you’ll listen to what he has to say, then you’ll fly back.”

He made it sound so simple and it all would likely be just as he said, but Tamara knew that if Peter was involved, things could get infinitely more complicated.

The fact that his father wanted to speak to her brought back the same dread she’d felt whenever she had to be in his presence in the past. It was ridiculous. Tamara pressed her trembling hands together. She was a grown woman. That she still reacted this way when imagining herself in the presence of Arthur Worthington was beyond silly.

There was nothing he could do to hurt her now.

The man next to her, however, still managed to hurt her. Not through action or word, but through his utter indifference. They might as well have still been married for all the mind he paid her about her feelings. Back then, it had been unexpected—a shock—that he hadn’t paid attention to her concerns. It had been quite clear from the moment she met his family that they came first and she came a very distant second.

Not anymore. She was a girl no longer. She was a strong woman and as such could do what she liked. The last thing she wanted to do was get dragged into whatever twisted game his father had in mind.

I’m sorry, Peter. Call me cold-hearted if you want, but I’m not going with you. If he just wants to talk to me, it can be done over the phone.”

Color rose in his cheeks but he did well to keep his temper in check. “You’re not cold. You’re heartless. We’re talking about a man’s dying wish.”

It tugged at her heartstrings, truly, but the last thing Tamara ever wanted to do was talk to that man ever again. Not after the hell he put her through before. “And you’re asking me to drop everything for a man I haven’t seen in nearly a decade and when he was in my life, he made it a living hell.”

The anger on his face fell away. His voice was soft when he asked, “It wasn’t that bad, was it?”

She gave him a withering glance. “You know it was, Peter.”

He tried to put a hand on her arm, but she took a quick step back.

Don’t.” She jabbed him in the chest and felt a crackle of electricity arc between them. Tamara took another half step back to look at him. Peter’s expression flashed with confusion. Anger. Fluster, even. It all quickly disappeared. Along with something she was hesitant to try and name.

Just this one last thing and you won’t have to see me ever again.”

Peter loved his father. She couldn’t fault him on that. What she could judge him on was his treatment of her. But, if this would rid her life of him for good… “You promise that I only have to see him and then I’m straight back here?”

His shoulders relaxed a little. “Yes.”

Even if he reneged, it wasn’t like she couldn’t find her own way back. “Very well. I take it you’ve brought the family jet?”

The look he leveled at her confirmed that. As if he would fly any other way.

She needed a moment to get to grips with what she was doing. To put some space between them. “I’ll meet you at the airport. I have some things I need to take care of before I leave.”

He crossed his arms as he leaned back against the counter where she had been. “I can wait.”

Don’t trust me?” She smirked at the irony but turned away in disgust before he could answer. “Stay right there and don’t touch anything.”

She didn’t bother looking at him but heard him huff an amused, if somewhat irritated, breath.

Tamara knew she was an idiot for doing this. Though Arthur had been nothing but horrid to her, she couldn’t deny a man his dying wish. Maybe whatever he had to say would give them both some closure.

Or maybe he would flay her alive with that acerbic tongue of his once again.

She took a deep breath. In that case, she’d let loose a few things she’d been holding on to and get some weight off her shoulders.

Either way, she would be free of the Worthingtons.

And that was an idea she liked very much.

She found her cell phone and started dialing. Other than Angela, there was no one else Tamara really needed to call. Her life was pretty much contained within the walls of her house and anything otherwise could be coordinated with a phone or with a laptop and a Wi-Fi connection.

She waited for Angela to pick up.

Two rings were all it took before her friend answered with a breathless, “Tamara? What’s the matter?”

Tamara took a deep breath. “I need you to do me a bit of a favor.”

Anything. What’s up? Should I come back? I can be there in twenty minutes.”

Pinching the bridge of her nose, Tamara sighed. “I need to go away for a little bit. A few hours at most. I just need you to take care of anything that might pop up. It’s a long shot, of course.” There would be no calls unless she missed a deadline or forgot something that Angela managed anyway. “There isn’t anything I’m forgetting that needs to be done urgently, is there?” Tamara almost hoped there was.

That tenuous lifeline was quickly severed. “None that I can think of. What’s going on?”

Tamara walked back to her desk and packed up her laptop. She could try to get some work done while she was in the air, at least. “I’m just going on a short trip.”

“Tamara.”

Knowing she wasn’t going to get away without at least a tiny explanation, she said, “I just need to go with Peter to do something then I’ll be right back.”

Do what with him, exactly? I didn’t get the feeling you two were friends.”

Peter strode into her office area, probably impatient. She glared at him. “We’re not.”

“Then why are you running off with him?”

It’s just something I have to do. I’ll call you when I land.” She swiped the phone to frown at Peter. “Didn’t I tell you to stay where you were?”

“I thought I’d have a look around and see what was taking you so long.”

You’re kidding, right?” She’d barely been gone five minutes. “I just have to pack my laptop and change.” Tamara frowned at him when he started to follow. “You’re not coming upstairs.”

“Was that your boyfriend?”

Her brain faltered and she almost missed a step on the staircase. Boyfriend? That was a laugh. “What?”

“On the phone.”

“What does it matter to you?”

****

Tamara scowled at him, eyes blazing with anger. He never imagined she had moved on. Mostly because he hadn’t thought about her. Made sure he didn’t think about her. But being forced to face the fact that she had probably found herself another man didn’t settle well. What was he like? He was okay with his woman taking off with her ex? A man who was still legally her husband?

They were still married.

How could she just move on? What they had might have ended badly, but the stuff before that had been good.

Since Tamara, Peter hadn’t bothered with women. Work had been his escape. His life. Who needed to get entangled in another emotional mess?

“You’re right. It doesn’t matter. And you look fine as you are.”

She gave him a withering roll of her eyes and continued up the stairs, leaving him watching the movement of her still glorious ass as she ascended.

Wrenching his gaze away, he turned around to look at the huge walls of books she had in what he assumed was her office. They were only eclipsed by the massive window that provided an unprecedented view of the ocean.

Peter wasn’t surprised to find that a huge section of the bookshelves was dedicated to the books of Tempest Moon, a massively popular romance novelist. A woman he’d discovered that afternoon was his wife. He pulled out a hard-covered copy and looked at the image emblazoned on it. A hard, male chest and abs with her pseudonym and title in huge bold type.

Another was decorated with a dark-haired male with blue-green eyes, again with his shirt off.

I have nothing to do with the cover design. All I provide is an idea of what the characters look like.”

Caught, he pushed the book back onto the shelf then turned to her. “I’m not judging.”

Her arms were crossed and her eyes narrowed. “Looked like you were.”

Peter turned to find that Tamara had changed into a more sophisticated outfit, lost the glasses, and let her hair loose to fall in a cascade of ebony around her shoulders. Damn. He’d always loved her hair.

It would feel like silk and smell like jasmine.

His cock jerked to life at the memory of it.

Great. You ready?” He all but snarled the words.

As I’ll ever be.” She picked up her laptop bag and purse, managing to look like she was going to the boardroom rather than a flight.

“You pack light.”

She turned to him with an accusing light in her eyes. “You said I was only going to be a few hours.”

So I did.” Because she looked as though she would go and pack her entire apartment if given the provocation, he slid his hand to the small of her back with the intention of propelling her through the door if he had to. Instead, a frisson of awareness jolted through him. He’d done it so many times in the past, he didn’t even think not to.

At the way Tamara stiffened, however, she wasn’t as appreciative of the gesture.

She shot away from his touch as if he’d zapped her with electricity. “Lead the way.”

Peter did as he was asked and didn’t slow until they were outside where he waited for her to secure her home. Impressed at her security system, he actually found himself nodding. At least she took her safety seriously. Being who she was and so far away from other people, she had to.

The sleek black car he’d taken from the airport sat on the dirt road inches away from long grass and looked completely out of place in the relaxed atmosphere.

He wanted to offer to take her bags, but from the death grip she had on them, Peter doubted Tamara would relinquish them without a fight.

The less of that they did, the better.

She gave her home a long lingering glance as if she might never see it again as they pulled away. As he took them to the airport, he couldn’t help but notice her knuckles grew whiter and whiter the farther they got from her home.

What on earth was she thinking? Did seeing his father again upset her this much? He might have wanted to honor his father’s wishes, but putting Tamara in a state of panic wasn’t on the agenda.

At a red light, he’d finally had enough. “Are you okay?”

Fine,” she grumbled the word through a clenched jaw.

If fine meant talking to him through gritted teeth and lips pressed tight with anxiety, he might have believed her.

“If you don’t want to do this, then you don’t have to.”

That’s funny. Now you grow a conscience?” She clawed her nails into the tough leather exterior of her laptop bag. “I’ve come this far. Let’s just get it over with.”

Peter pulled away when the light turned green and swiftly took them the rest of the way to the airport. It took moments to board and they were soon in the air.

Tamara barely glanced at him once on the trip to the plane and now she busied herself with setting up her laptop and getting to work.

Dedication? Or anxiety? From the look of her pallid face, he’d wager a bit of both.

After stalking to the bar, he pulled out brandy and a couple of snifters. He poured them both a couple of fingers and held one in front of her face, blocking the screen. “You look like you could use some.”

She took it with trembling fingers, downed it with one gulp and a mighty grimace before handing it back. “Thanks.”

He took it with wide-eyed speculation. Had she become an alcoholic? The thought faded as he watched her continued reaction to the drink. No, if all the head shaking and the look of disgust twisting her beautiful face were to be believed.

Peter strode back to the bar. He retrieved a bottle of water then brought it back to wave in her face. “Here.”

No reply this time, just a look of thanks before guzzling a bit and going back to work.

Peter sat in the seat across from her and watched as she absorbed herself in work. He had envisaged an awkward trip. Probably some arguing. Maybe a few tears. But to be blanked by Tamara so completely infuriated him more than anything else she could have done.

“Are you at least going to say something?”

Her beautiful sterling-gray eyes flicked up to meet his. “I have nothing to say to you. The only reason I’m here is to make a dying man happy and to get you all out of my life.” Flipping her hair over her shoulder with a toss of her head, she started typing again. “If you have something to say, go right ahead.”

Right. And she would go right ahead and ignore him as she wrote.

He leaned back in the seat and loosened his tie with a tug of his fingers before taking a sip of the scotch. The drink she had so callously tossed back was meant to be savored. Closing his eyes, he took a slow breath. And then another.

Rough day?”

Peter opened his eyes a crack to see her regarding him, her fingers still typing up a storm. The moment she caught him looking, she returned her gaze to the screen.

“No more than any other.”

She didn’t need to know that he’d spent weeks tracking her down. Or that the moment he’d found her, his heart skipped a beat as he called the pilot and jumped straight on board. Or that he was so disconcerted when he discovered her so cold and indifferent toward him.

What did he expect? They hadn’t seen each other in years. Before she walked out, things hadn’t been good. At all. Did it hurt her to remember how things had ended? What she’d done?

Did she ever think about that at all?

About him?

****

Tamara couldn’t stop herself from looking at him from time to time. How could she not? After all these years, after wishing him all kinds of hell, Peter was still a devastatingly handsome man.

There had been a time she would have climbed onto his lap and tugged that tie loose before peeling away the shirt and undoing his trousers…

She screwed up the next few words when her fingers twitched in unconscious reaction to the mental image. Flexing the wayward digits, she deleted and tried again. Failing utterly when she looked at Peter again. He might have looked relaxed, but she knew he was alert. The set of his shoulders was enough to tell her that much.

“Stuck?” Peter hadn’t opened his eyes when he asked the question.


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