Authors: Alyssa J. Montgomery
Echoes of the Heart
She betrayed him and left him to be with another. Now that she’s alone again, nothing is going to stop him from coming for her.
Australian media tycoon Jake Formosa does not believe in forgiving…or forgetting. So when he discovers that Amanda — the woman who once broke his heart — is newly widowed, he immediately enacts his revenge. Jake is intent on making Amanda remember him, and making her suffer for what she did. He will leave her broken and alone, and finally have his closure.
But Amanda is not the sweet girl that Jake remembers, and her life is far from perfect. As the web of lies surrounding her begins to unravel, Jake finds himself once again ensnared. Can he learn to overlook the past and risk his heart again?
Alyssa lives on acreage south of Sydney with her husband, three children and a menagerie of animals. She has a Master’s degree in Science, and is a Speech Pathologist in her own private practice. Alyssa has also been a professional pianist and an international flight attendant. She loves to travel with her family, play tennis and to entertain friends at dinner parties.
Thank you to my critique partners—Enisa, Malvina and Katrina—and also to my sisters Kathy and Elaine, and niece Marita. All shared their opinions which have made this story stronger. A huge thanks also to the team at Escape Publishing and especially to my awesome editor, Gabby Maait, who has been fabulous to work with.
is the birthday of my very close friend, Diane Ebsworth. Di, as this book is released on your birthday, I think it’s fitting that I dedicate this one to you. We always said at university that we would be friends through thick and thin. Thirty years on, that friendship is still strong and I value it tremendously.
Her husband was dead.
Amanda Bennett stood beside his grave, her eyes blurring as Lloyd’s polished mahogany casket was lowered into the ground. People surrounded her, yet she was quite alone. Fleetingly, she wondered how many of those in attendance truly mourned Lloyd’s death and how many were here because this funeral was Sydney’s society event of the week.
She tried to pretend she was somewhere else but it was impossible. With every breath, she smelled freshly turned earth mingled with the heady, sweet scent of the roses adorning the funeral wreaths. Helicopters from television news networks hovered overhead, almost drowning out the priest’s words.
Just another couple of hours and this will be finished
, she told herself. Then she could finally escape the nightmare she’d been living as Lloyd’s wife and start fresh.
Across from her, the solid wall of black-clad bodies cracked open as people muttered protests and exclamations. The priest stopped mid-sentence at the disturbance, then gawped as Lloyd’s sister, Fiona, pushed determinedly to the front.
‘You’ve got a nerve, standing there in your black designer-label dress, pretending to be the grieving widow,’ Fiona said. Venom dripped from every word and her voice echoed around the quiet cemetery. ‘We all know what you put my brother through!’
People in the crowd gasped.
Amanda’s breath caught in her chest. The blood froze in her veins and her eyes pinched with strain. The unexpectedness and ferocity of her sister-in-law’s public attack rendered her speechless.
‘My brother would still be alive if it wasn’t for you!’
‘Miss Bennett!’ The priest’s voice was full of censure. ‘We’re here to pray for your brother’s soul.’
Amanda suppressed the sudden, hysterical laugh that threatened to burst through her lips with the full force of a tidal wave. Lloyd’s
, if he possessed one, was rotten to the core. It would surely burn in hell.
‘It wasn’t enough that you trapped him into marriage,’ Fiona continued unabashed, ‘you had to flaunt your affairs in his face.’
Lies! All lies!
The bile rose to Amanda’s throat. Prickles of humiliation crawled over her skin and her insides twisted from the impact of each untrue accusation. Her vocal cords were too thick with emotion to shout out a denial, and there wasn’t enough air left in her lungs for speech.
. She must act with dignity and find the strength to stand tall in the face of Fiona’s untrue allegations. No way would she allow Fiona to drag her into a fight at Lloyd’s graveside—or anywhere else for that matter.
Perhaps she should try to placate her. ‘Fiona —’
‘You should be tried for murder!’ Fiona cut through her protest and strode around the graveside to confront her at close range. ‘You may not have pulled the trigger, but you drove Lloyd to suicide.’
‘That’s enough.’ Lloyd’s lawyer, Hugh Middleton, protested from the opposite side of the grave, but his objection only fuelled Fiona’s fury.
‘You would come to her defence,’ Fiona raged as she swung around to face him. ‘But you’re equally as guilty. Lloyd trusted you, and you repaid that trust by having a torrid affair with his wife!’
The crowd gasped collectively, yet nobody intervened.
Hugh’s body jerked. ‘That’s a lie!’ he denied vehemently.
‘My brother was a brilliant lawyer. He’d hardly kill himself if he didn’t have proof of your affair.’
The blood started pumping again through Amanda’s veins in indignation. Heat flamed her cheeks, but she held her spine rigid and her head high. She refused to be cowed by the slanderously untrue reports that had appeared in the newspapers since Lloyd’s suicide. She would not give Fiona the satisfaction of reacting to her malice. Her sister-in-law had never liked her and hadn’t even been close to Lloyd.
Still, a kinder voice reasoned, his death surely must have upset her. He was the only family she had. Perhaps, if she showed her sister-in-law some compassion, she could bridge the great divide between them and put an end to this shameful confrontation. ‘Fiona, this is an upsetting time —’
‘He was heartbroken,’ Fiona stated melodramatically as she turned again to Amanda. ‘God knows why. You’ve never been anything more than an opportunistic little tramp, marrying him for his money!’
Fiona’s eyes sparked with hatred. She moved a step closer and raised her hand.
Amanda’s stiff facial muscles cracked into life as her eyes widened in shock. Flinching, she expected to feel the sting of Fiona’s open palm on her cheek, but there was no connection.
A tall, broad-shouldered man stepped in front of her, catching Fiona’s wrist in his hand in one swift movement.
Amanda’s knotted muscles eased a notch as she realised the assault had been prevented, but before she could exhale a relieved breath, her heart stopped in sheer, blind shock. The classically handsome, chiselled profile of her rescuer was one she recognised all too well. Her mouth fell open as she stared in stunned disbelief at her protector.
Rich, powerful, and better looking than any man had a right to be, Jake had superstar status these days and was instantly recognisable. Like the sudden drop of a pebble into still water, Jake’s presence and intervention radiated out through the gathering in ripples. Amanda heard his name being uttered in hushed and awed tones.
Every one of her muscles tightened again, becoming so hard there was pain across her shoulders. Panic restarted her heart with a surge of adrenalin. Her blood heated and raced through her veins at supersonic speed bringing her cold, numb body to life.
What was Jake doing here?
‘No,’ Jake told Fiona. The words were barely audible but the command was unmistakable.
Jake shifted a fraction and Amanda saw the incredulity in her sister-in-law’s face. No doubt Fiona was as shocked as she was that Jake was in attendance at Lloyd’s funeral.
‘She’s not worth it.’ Fiona scoffed and ran a scathing gaze over Amanda before she stalked off several paces and lapsed into a mutinous silence.
‘You may continue, Father,’ Jake instructed the priest with calm authority before turning toward Amanda.
She tried to avert her gaze but her reactions were too slow. Jake’s eyes held her prisoner, burning into her like twin laser beams. Every self-protective mechanism urged her to turn tail and run, but she couldn’t break free from the intensity of his regard. She was trapped by the flickering gold in the black depths of his eyes. Eyes that seared her to the spot, trying to see into her very soul.
In a horrifying second she knew what he would see there—memories of the passion that once burned between them.
No! She couldn’t still feel this way.
Fingernails of apprehension scored her skin and raked down her spine as Jake shifted beside her. At last she could turn her head away from him, but there was no ignoring his presence. He exuded charisma in powerful waves, and her skin tightened in awareness. Over six feet tall, every inch of his hard-packed, muscular frame emitted a dangerous aura that proclaimed him as a force to be reckoned with. A man whose commands were instantly obeyed.
Jake was back in her life.
The priest coughed and continued with his final prayer, but nobody appeared to pay attention to his words. All eyes were on Amanda and the man who stood next to her. Jake’s name was still being whispered around the crowd and she knew his actions would create more ugly rumours.
Why was he here?
The question circled around in her brain like a menacing shark.
Unintentionally, she glanced in Fiona’s direction. Lloyd’s sister stood silent, but she glared at Amanda. Recoiling from the hatred in Fiona’s expression, Amanda trained her eyes on the gaping hole in the ground which housed Lloyd’s coffin.
She was at the end of her reserves—in danger of falling apart because of the immense pressure she’d faced over the last few days. Police detectives had grilled her as though she’d been guilty of murdering Lloyd, and she’d faced constant harassment by members of the media.
She closed her eyes tight and gripped her hands together with painful intensity.
Pins and needles pricked her feet from standing still for so long. Numbness spread from her extremities to her brain, seizing up all rational thought processes. A sweet, black oblivion beckoned from the foggy recesses of her mind, enticing her to escape the enormous strain of the situation. Her head was too heavy for her neck to support and her spine threatened to cave in.
The second she whimpered her distress, one of Jake’s strong arms encircled her, holding her upright. The heat from his hand burnt through the fabric of her dress, branded her shoulder with his touch and shocked her into full consciousness. Her treacherous body shivered in recognition of his nearness. Every nerve synapse fired dangerously out of control.
Another murmur passed around the crowd. Jake’s physical closeness had been noted.
Amanda was transported back in time. Unbidden recollections of just how hot Jake’s flesh had been without the barrier of clothing overrode all other thoughts.
The priest’s voice faded, drowned out by the memory of waves crashing against the rocks of a different shoreline...
It had been a beautiful day. She could almost feel the softness of the sand shifting under the towel as Jake eased her down. She ran her tongue along her lower lip and tasted salt on her lips, just as she had that day. The flash of desire from his eyes as he removed her bikini top was one she’d held close to her heart. She remembered the strength and heat of his palm as he cupped one of her breasts, then…