Return (Coming Home #1)

BOOK: Return (Coming Home #1)
8.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

(Coming Home Book 1)

Meli Raine

On a dark, rainy night I drove my overstuffed junker car back to a town I never expected to see again.

And when I needed a rescue by the side of the road, a six-foot tall piece of hot, unfinished business named Mark was what the universe sent me.

Three years earlier I’d fled town (and Mark) to follow my wrongly-convicted father to his federal prison,
working crappy jobs to stay afloat and visit him every second I could. But now Dad’s dead and I’m mysteriously offered the best job of my life at the college where his life blew up when he was accused of a crime he didn’t commit.

Someone wants me here. Desperately.

I’m hoping it’s Mark.

Because if it’s not, I’m in more danger than I ever imagined.

And if it is?

Mark may be the most dangerous
choice of all.

2015 by
Meli Raine

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval
system without express written permission from the author / publisher.


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Chapter One

New job. New apartment. Old town. Old regrets.
Same Carrie.

r am I?

The drive into town as I pass the old sign declaring that I’
m entering
the town of
Yates ma
me shiver.
My thin cotton v-neck is suddenly not enough to keep me from feeling cold dread
. You’d think three years would be long enough to come back
without feeling like I have my tail between my legs, but apparently

The sick feeling in the pit of my stomach ma
me wonder if I’
doing the right thing. A little late for that. After all, I’
quit my old job
at the bank
, pulled out of my room with my roommates in the ratty old house we shared outside of
Oklahoma City
, and come back to my hometown, ready to finish what I’d started years ago.

f this isn’t the right thing to do, I ha
undone my
life for nothing.

It’s one of those nights where the sky is so clear and the clouds arrange themselves so perfectly around the moon
you’d think they were trying to get its autograph.
ike something out of a
movie poster
, a little too perfect. The kind of night that deceives you into thinking maybe—just maybe—
you can get a fresh start in life

The lightest sprinkle of rain begins to dot
my windshield.
It’s m
ore than a mist but not quite a
I’m humming along to a fabulous song and it’s all good.

Life is getting better.

And then my bald tire blows out.
Rear passenger tire.
Yanking the jerking car to the right,
my hands know what to do because this is the third tire to go on me in seven months. Fixing an already-patched tire is my only option. The twenty-five dollar repair
was cheaper than the eighty dollar used tire. A new tire might as well have been lined with gold bricks from the quote the mechanic gave me.

My long hair c
loose from the scrunchie as the car jolt
to the shoulder of the road, riding the rim.
A strand of hair catches as my hand struggles to grip the steering wheel.
If I damage the
tire rim
be in for a repair job that cost
more than
my piece-of-junk car
s worth.

A loud crack, like the sky snapping in two, ma
me jump.
y forehead bang
the visor.
huge flash of light blind
me. And then that lovely, dewey drizzle turn
into a raging thunderstorm in seconds.

Great. Just

Fumbling in my purse, I f
nd my phone.

No bars.
No service.

Oh, geez,” I mutter, tossing the phone on the cracked vinyl seat and running
my hands along my bare arms. The night chill starts to creep in and I wonder how far from town I am.
Cheap flip phones with
ten cent
per minute pre-paid fees don’t exactly get the best coverage. At least it c
turn into a flashlight when I
into desperation mode.

in it already.

Blowing a puff of air in a sigh that echoe
for miles, I hunch over the steering wheel and th
my options.
I can’t call the only friend I have in town
. Amy would come and help me, but no signal mean
no help.

The rain sound
like bullets falling on the hood of my dented Civic.
The old car is
kept together by my own determination and rust spots that ma
e it look like something growing in a petri dish from a high school biology class. I close my eyes and will myself to think.

Spare tire?
Yep. Bald,
like the one that just shredded, but it is good enough to get me to my new place. If I can get there, I can set up my clothes, my coffee maker and my ancient laptop, all of which are currently crammed in my car.

On top of my spare tire.

Mumbling a curse my
mother would
of, I open the car door.
It responds
with a loud, rusty groan.
I make a similar sound out
of frustration.

get to work.

In seconds I’m soaked through.

I am my own wet t-shirt contest.

Just as I open the trunk and start figuring out where to put my things on the wet ground, blue and red lights flash behind me.

No. Just
. My heart speeds up and starts slamming against my ribs.
y fingers go numb from cold and fear.
You would think I would be relieved to get help so quickly,
but you would be wrong.

What are the chances, though?
There are only ten cops on the force. There’s no way
that on this one, wet night, in the middle of this long, wooded road the one cop who happens to be patrolling this stretch is—


Oh, God.

It’s him.
Mark. My ex-boyfriend.

I can’t look. I just...can’t. Too many memories are in that face. That rugged, handsome face.
My heart
jumps up like an excited puppy, wagging in my chest, eager to be acknowledged and touched. The rest of me shoves it down.

Officer Mark Paulson stands in front of m
in uniform, soaking wet, his hat making the rain fall in streaks in front of him. The curtain of water catches my eye. It’s easier to watch it than to stare at him.
If I did stare, though, I know what I would see.

Broad shoulders
under that crisp black uniform shirt. A thin scar running under his jaw, where he was knifed in a fight
when he did a tour in Afghanistan
Wet, blonde hair I used to love to stroke.
Gentle hands that once cupped my face.
Eyes that could
draw me in with a hot breath. The tender taste of lips meant only for me.

He speaks, pulling me out of the memory.
Stop it, Carrie
I think
. Stop with the dreams
you destroyed.

“You okay?” he ask
, looking around swiftly. He’s worried. That’s really touching. It’s nice to know he cares. Three years is long enough
for him
to stop hating me, right?

And I know he hates me.

has to. I disappeared one day and never said goodbye to him. When you do that to someone, they tend to really resent it. Especially if they love you.

“I’m, uh...” My voice fails
me as I watch the water fall in sheets down his cap. “My tire blew.”

He thumps his hand on the car door. “She’s still around, huh?” I know he means the car, but it feels like a dig. Like he’s cutting into me for leaving.

Like he’s still hurt.

If he’s still hurt, that means the feelings haven’t faded, and if his feelings are still that strong, then mine make more sense.
I thought when I left
town I would shed so much damage and hurt.
Because leaving town meant I could leave behind so much pain.

But leaving Mark? That meant the pain came with me.

I start to shiver. It’s not from the cold and the rain.
Those arms. The rain drops gather and ripple
down his taut muscles, dotted with a sprinkling of dark hair. I remember when I was in those arms.

I remember every single time he touched

“Uh, yeah. Gum and duct tape,”
I joke. It’s easier to be coy. I can’t get hurt that way. And I can’t hurt him. My heart beats so hard it’s like a bass drum. Can he hear it? I’m sure he can. It’s beating in my ears. My throat. Behind my eyeballs.


He chuckles, then his face gets serious.
Tipping his head up to the sky, he shakes his head at the storm. The tiny bit of moon
between the clouds shines on his face and makes him look wolflike. Predatory. Attractive.


I can’t let him in again. My hands itch to touch him. My heart feels covered in barbed wire.

“Get in the squad car and I’ll change the tire for you.” His hand reaches out for my arm. I pull back before we can make contact.

Mark flinches, then nods. He doesn’t say another word, just sweeps
his long, muscled arm toward his police car and starts popping the trunk of my car.
I remain in place.

My legs can’t remember how to move. A deep breath helps. He mistakes my exhale for impatience.

“Give me a minute. Cool your jets. I’ll have this changed in no time.” He’s standing in front of the open hatchback. I’m to his left, next to the road. The sound of the rain is so hard. I wish it
could drown out the screaming inside me, the voice that says—

Kiss him.

Headlights come and go around a corner. The dull flicker of the red and blue lights on the squad car blend
into the background and time disappears. Mark shuffles all my crap
in the car
around, then turns to me. It’s the first time I’ve looked him in the eye.

They’re so
deep, like whiskey glistening in sunlight
. But even
more, they’re eyes that see the real me.

The only pair in the world.

“I’ll have to get some of your things wet,” he sa
, regret in his voice, as he sticks plastic storage tubs on the ground. “There’s no good way to get your spare tire.”

A distant, tinny sound of voices from his radio catches my ear. The scanner. The unreality is hitting me now as my teeth chatter. I’m coming home to a mess.
My car is a mess. I am a mess.

And Mark is here helping me fix the mess.

And then, suddenly, his arms are around me and he’s yanking me to the ground.

Chapter Two

A flash of light from the corner of my eye
catches my attention. I hear the
screech of tires on gravel.
I feel the shock of pain. My mind can’t grasp what’s happening
. Mark’s arms wrap around me and
, gravel digging into my bare elbow.

I feel w
etness and pressure, then the shock of having the air whoosh out of my lungs. My back
is flat against
wet grass. His chest presse
against mine.
Mark’s h
ot breath
against my neck and ear as the rain hits us. The screech of tires
fills my ears

The sickening slide of a car’s headlights toward us
catches my eye

It all registers as Mark rolls our bodies three times down the edge of the
. His arms are wrapped around me tightly. A heartbeat jams against mine, my breasts tingling from surprise and fear.

And then the
scrape of tires as the headlights shift away
makes the danger go away

BOOK: Return (Coming Home #1)
8.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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