Read Shameless (The Contemporary Collection) Online

Authors: Jennifer Blake

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Shameless (The Contemporary Collection)

BOOK: Shameless (The Contemporary Collection)
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“With
Shameless
, the fabulous Jennifer Blake continues her uninterrupted stream of thoroughly delightful novels which spin tales of hidden dangers, suspense, and romance.”

~Romantic Times Magazine

 

“Laid in the northern Louisiana that Jennifer Blake knows so well, this is one of her best. Hero and heroine are strong but not perfect; the love scenes are riveting; the excitement never ends.”

~Romance Reviews

 

“The sexual tension fairly crackles in this fast-paced, suspenseful contemporary…. Blake

consistently produces high-energy, compelling stories rife with steamy Southern atmosphere.”

~Library Journal

 


Shameless
is an exciting and stimulating work of romantic suspense that looks beneath the seemingly pretty rural Louisiana area to the decay and corruption that simmers below it. There’s a haunting beauty to the work as author extraordinaire Jennifer Blake shows how love, compassion and understanding can redeem the most tortured soul.”

~Affaire de Coeur

 

“…solid plotting and truly felt male/female dynamics
.
..
fans of the multimillion-selling Blake will be thoroughly pleased.”

~Publishers Weekly

 

“Blake provides a steamy love affair and suspenseful action

more than enough to please her enormous readership.”

~Booklist
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

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 — except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews — without the written permission of publisher or author, except where permitted by law.

Cover Art by Amanda Kelsey of
Razzle Dazzle Design
.

Copyright © 19
94 and 2013
by Patricia Maxwell

First
Ballantine Hardcover Edition
:
May 1994

First Ballantine Paperback Edition: June 1997

First Fawcett Mass Market Edition: August 1997

First E-Reads Publication:
September 2008

First Steel Magnolia Press Publication: 2013

 

 

                                      

  
1
 

CAMILLA GREENLEY HUTTON STOOD IN THE MIDDLE of the
muddy road deep in the game reserve with a .357 magnum pistol gripped in her outstretched hands. The cool rain of a Louisiana spring fell in silver streaks around her. Drops the size of quarters dimpled the surface of puddles caught in the wheel ruts. They clattered in the branches of trees that overhung the road, beaded the wax finish of Cammie's Cadillac Seville on the road's shoulder, and made the green sand-washed silk of the blouse she wore with her jeans cling like a second skin. Wind whipped long, damp strands of golden-brown hair from the green silk tie that held the curling mane at her nape. She narrowed her hazel eyes against the blown rain and flying hair and the fading light of late evening. She waited.

Cammie heard the roar of the Land Rover long before it came into view. Keith was hurtling toward her at reckless speed. He was so intent on staying on her tail in the treacherous maze of game-reserve back roads that he didn't care who or what he ran over in the process. It was typical. Cammie had been depending on it.

Her husband wasn't chasing her because he loved her madly, or even because he wanted her. It was a matter of pride. He couldn't stand the thought that she might be able to outrun him, and hated the idea that she would even try. The thing that drove him most of all, however, was the knowledge that she had managed to survive without any problem since the filing of their petition for divorce. He took it as a personal insult.

The oddest part about the situation was that dissolving their marriage had been Keith's idea. For the first few months after the legalities were in place, he seemed to revel in his freedom, living openly with the girlfriend, nineteen and pregnant, that he'd been keeping in a trailer just outside town. Cammie had expected any day to hear of plans for his wedding. Then, three weeks ago, Keith knocked on her door, his suitcase in his hand, a cocksure grin on his face. He'd changed his mind about the divorce, he said. He wanted to be her husband again.

Cammie had laughed; she couldn't help it. Beneath the amusement, however, there was the painful irony that the man who had shared her life for six long years could fail so completely to understand her. She needed to love and trust the man in her life. Keith had killed those things for her. Without them, there was nothing.

That was when his harassment began.

Cammie had had enough of it. She was tired of hearing her phone ring at all hours of the night, tired of demands that she explain her every movement and appointment. She was sick to death of refusing the delivery of unwanted flowers, and could not bear another visit from her former mother-in-law, pleading her son's case. Most of all, she was disgusted with being spied upon and followed everywhere she went.

She had tried again and again to make Keith realize she wanted no part of being his wife, now or ever, that she was looking forward to the legal end of their marriage in just five weeks. She had told him plainly she didn't like the tactics he was using to try to win her back, but he didn't seem to believe she meant it. There was only one way she could think of to make him see.

Cammie's father had given her the high-powered pistol when she went off to college, and had taught her how to handle it. She was finally going to put that training to use.

The Land Rover rounded the curve in front of her. She waited until she was sure Keith saw her, until there could be no doubt in his mind who she was and what she was doing. Taking a steadying breath, aiming carefully, she squeezed the trigger of the magnum.

It bucked in recoil, jarring her arms and shoulders, flinging up her hands. The concussion blasted her ears.

Glass flew from the Land Rover's right headlight. She saw Keith's wide eyes and the pale blur of his face, his mouth working as he cursed. She steadied her aim again. Firing quickly, she took out the left headlight.

Brakes screamed. The Land Rover fishtailed wildly on the muddy road, spraying mud and gravel as it plowed sideways. The right front tire caught in a rut, spinning the vehicle in a half circle. Motor whining, it plunged into the ditch. There was the hollow thud of metal crunching as it struck a tree, then stillness.

Cammie brought the pistol down, backing toward her car on the side of the road. She stopped abruptly as she saw Keith inside the Land Rover, slumped over the wheel.

He was faking, she knew it. He had to be. Yet it looked as if there was a splatter of red on his shirt.

She couldn't just leave him there. It was impossible, in spite of all the callous things he had said and done, in spite of everything she knew about his weak, manipulating ways.

“Idiot,” she said under her breath. She meant herself. Still, she clenched her teeth and walked toward the Land Rover.

She opened the door on the driver's side with care. Keith was breathing; she could see the rise and fall of his chest. There was a trickle of blood running from his nose. Still holding the magnum, she reached out left-handed to touch his shoulder, giving him a slight nudge.

Keith came upright with a jerk. Twisting in the seat, he grabbed her wrist. His slickly handsome features were set in a malicious grin, and satisfaction shone in his yellow-brown eyes. “Fooled you again,” he said on a short laugh as he climbed out of the vehicle. “You always were a sucker for anything hurt.”

The name she called him was not a compliment.

“Oh, yeah?” Fishing a handkerchief from his back pocket, he wiped at the blood under his nose. “Well, I'm also your husband, and I think it's time you had a reminder. This looks like a good, quiet place for it to me. That should put paid to this dumb divorce petition, plus help make up for the damage to the Rover.”

There was a sick feeling inside Cammie, and her heart hammered against her ribs. The falling rain suddenly felt like ice water pouring over her. She made no attempt to release herself, however, but left her wrist flaccid in his grasp. Moistening her lips with her tongue, tasting the rain on them, she said, “If your Rover's damaged it's your own fault.”

“Is that so?” A sneer crossed his face, though there was the glitter of a perverse excitement in the depths of his eyes. “I could say the same thing, you know. If you weren't so stubborn, we could have had our reconciliation in a nice, soft bed. As it is—”

He spread his legs and shoved his hips forward, as if inviting her to notice the bulge in front of his pants. At the same time, he exerted pressure on her arm, pulling her toward him.

“Let me go,” she said. Raising the handgun in her fist, she pressed the muzzle against his chest.

He snorted. “You think that thing scares me? You're too softhearted to shoot a rattlesnake, much less a man.”

“Don't be too sure,” she said quietly.

A faint uneasiness flitted across his face before he laughed and reached for the magnum.

In that instant, Cammie brought her knee up toward the juncture of his spread legs. He saw it coming and tried to turn. Still, she caught him a glancing blow. Keith grunted, releasing her as he bent double and clutched at himself.

Cammie danced backward out of his reach. Whirling, she ran toward the Cadillac.

Keith shouted after her. She heard footsteps, hobbling at first, then growing stronger. They splashed and thudded behind her. She redoubled her efforts. Her breath rasped in her throat. He was coming nearer. He would be on her before she could snatch open the car door. There was only one thing left to do.

Cammie swerved and leaped the roadside ditch. At the edge of the trees she spun back and raised the handgun. It spat bullets like a live thing, the reports jolting her until her teeth hurt. Mud and water spouted around Keith's feet.

He yelled, throwing himself backward, landing full-length in the muddy roadway. She didn't look to see if he was hurt. Swinging around again, she put her head down and ran.

The woods of the game reserve closed around her, wet, shadowed, and protective. The dripping branches that she pushed past snapped back into place behind her like gates. She heard Keith shouting at her to come back, but she didn't stop. He was never going to touch her again, not in warped passion, not in revenge, especially not in anger. Never.

She heard the crash and thud of his footsteps. Or maybe it was her own gasping breaths and the pounding of her heart in her ears. She ran harder.

Her marriage was over. The gladness inside her was like a rising shout. Maybe this time Keith had heard it, too.

Trees. They pressed around her. Towering pines with a skirt of slippery needles around their ankles. Whispering cedars so green they were nearly black. Massive sweet gums leafed out in aromatic green. Shivering maples with red veins under their leaves and gray lichen like a tracery of silver on their bark. Gnarled old black oaks. Great, spreading white and red oaks. Hickory trees with leaves like spear points, and decorated with the tiny green blooms.

The connecting branches overhead blocked the last of the watery twilight, turning everything to green-tinted dimness. Seedlings, sprouting thickly around the trees, green along with wildflowers, weeds, saw vines, and briers, the underbrush making it impossible to see more than a few feet in any direction. Also impossible to be seen.

Cammie loved trees; had since she was a child. That love ran in the distaff side of her family. Plants of all sorts, but especially trees, had always been an interest of the Greenley women.

It was her grandmother who had first taken Cammie into the woods, into the game reserve that came to the edge of their property. The elderly woman had introduced her young granddaughter to each variety of tree as if presenting an old and valued friend.

As Cammie grew, she passed through a tomboy stage where she rode limber sassafras saplings like wild ponies, and climbed into the cool upper regions of tall pines to find the privacy and quiet to read. Sometimes, when no one was looking, she would press her palm to the bark of some bay or ash, oak or pine, and think she could feel the life flowing through it.

She had never been lost in the woods before.

When she finally stopped to catch her breath, she realized she could no longer hear Keith behind her, and hadn't for some time. The woods around her stretched quiet and still, and endlessly the same.

A chill wind soughed through the treetops. Cammie shivered, rubbing the wet silk on her shoulders and arms as she gazed around. Apprehension touched her as she realized she had no idea how to find her way back to the road, no inkling of which direction to take to reach her car again.

It seemed a betrayal, as if the woods she loved had turned as false as the man she had married.

That was ridiculous, of course. The dense woods of the game reserve covered more than thirty thousand acres, and she had never ventured far beyond the few acres that came up to the back door of her house. There was no reason she should know every inch of it.

The reserve spread over a large portion of the parish. It circled behind the paper mill, and crowded the town of Greenley. This section she was in might be several miles from her home by road, but could be no more than two or three, maybe even less, straight through the woods. If she just knew how to go, she could find her way to her own back door. There were several roads crisscrossing, winding through the reserve, and even a few houses. If she walked southeast she was bound to hit one of the roads. Someone was sure to come along, someone who could drive her home.

But the gray shadows under the trees were turning black, and there was no way to tell which direction she was pointed. It would be so easy to walk in circles until she dropped. It might be better to stay where she was, wait for morning in the hope that she could see some landmark. However, spending the night in the woods held no appeal.

She moved on again. Her shirt slapped around her, snagging on bushes and briers. Her jeans grew clammy and so soaked that water dripped into her shoes. Rain trickled in a steady stream from her tied hair, dribbling down her back.

Cold and tired, she slipped in the wet, tripping over tree roots and the vines that clutched at her ankles. Once, she sprawled full-length. The .357 magnum went flying. She searched the thick growth of saplings and briers that were matted together with dried grass and pine straw, but couldn't find it in the dim light. She left it.

She could hardly see any longer, but still would not quit. The temperature was dropping as darkness fell. She could feel the wet chill creeping through her, cooling the warmth of her exertion. She had to go on, had to get home. No one knew where she was, no one knew which way to start looking for her.

One minute she was plodding doggedly along, the next she stopped as if she'd reached an invisible barrier. There was something, or someone, in the woods with her; she knew it with an instinct more certain than anything she had ever felt in her life.

Cammie turned slowly, searching the darkness with her eyes. There was nothing there, no movement, no slightest whisper of sound. And yet, she knew she was not wrong.

She felt the brush of dread, as if there was a wild animal or some devil in human form out there, following her, creeping closer. She wasn't fanciful under ordinary circumstances, but there was nothing ordinary about this.

A tree branch shook with a rustle of leaves.

Suddenly she broke into headlong flight, twisting through the underbrush, ducking under limbs, leaping over fallen logs and massed briers. She sprinted between the dark, towering sentinels of tree while her lungs burned and her gasping breaths scraped through her throat. Thorns tore at her blouse and raked her skin, but she hardly felt them. She scraped past tree trunks in a shower of bark, ricocheting off them to blunder onward.

BOOK: Shameless (The Contemporary Collection)
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