Run out and buy this one. You won't be sorry you did.
It’s not the past that wounds us…it’s the ghosts we hold onto.
Hearts Awakened by Linda Winfree
Book Six of the Hearts of the South series
A lifetime ago Mark Cook’s pregnant wife vanished, taking everything and leaving an empty, aching hole in his life. Since then, as penance for his failure as a husband and father, he’s refused to allow himself to live. Refused to lay his sleeping heart on the line for any woman.
Enter Tori Calvert, his best friend’s baby sister. Suddenly, against his will—and against his better judgment—that same damaged heart seems determined to reawaken. And Mark’s not sure he can withstand the pain.
When she was a teenager, a vicious attack ripped away Tori’s very essence as a woman. Finally she feels ready to focus her existence on something other than her job as a rape crisis counselor. And to step outside the shelter of her loving, protective family. She trusts Mark more than any man, yet fear holds her back.
Fear that even the healing light of love may not be enough to banish the shadows of the past.
Excerpted from Hearts Awakened:
With the bathroom light offering slight illumination, Tori lay awake and stared at the ceiling. Outside her window, car doors slammed and disembodied voices moved along the sidewalk. Another car cruised through the parking lot, a spotlight flashing briefly against the heavy drapes. In the room on her east side, the television droned.
She hadn’t heard Mark’s door or his moving around in his room. Restless, she flopped over in the bed. The blanket pulled at her belly button ring and she winced, rubbing the spot. Above her, a deep voice rumbled, followed by a roll of male laughter.
The red numerals on the clock radio glowed. After one in the morning. Where was he?
Like she had to ask. The idea caused a painful clench in her chest and she rubbed at her gritty eyes. Pushing the covers aside, she padded to the window and perched on the ledge to peek between the drapes. Nothing moved in the parking lot. No vehicles traveled on the street.
A figure stood silhouetted on the sidewalk facing the bay. A familiar male build, arms at his sides, head slightly bent. The ache in her chest increased and she clutched the edge of the drape. Everything in the line of his body spoke of intense pain and misery.
Go to him.
“I can’t,” she whispered. He didn’t want her comfort or help. What he wanted was easy, anonymous sex. He was right—he wanted the one thing she couldn’t offer him.
As she watched, he lifted his head and turned toward the motel. She froze, not wanting him to see her watching. Soft footsteps shuffled on the walkway. His door opened and closed, and she breathed a slow sigh of relief. At least he’d come back alone. He hadn’t brought the other woman, whoever she was, with him.
The other woman. Tori shook her head. For there to be another woman, a relationship had to exist, and it definitely didn’t.
His television clicked on and the volume dropped quickly. She leaned against the wall, eyes closed. He was on the other side of that partition, getting ready for bed.
“Stop thinking about that. He’s back, and he’s alone. You can go to bed now. He obviously is.”
She slid from her perch on the window ledge. She’d grab a glass of water and go back to bed, try to get some sleep.
As she passed the second bed, her right foot caught the corner of the platform, under the bedspread. Pain exploded in her toes. She yelped, bent over with the force of the agony moving up her leg in waves.
Clutching her injured toes, she hopped on one foot and bit back a moan. Lord, that hurt.
“Tori?” Mark knocked on the connecting door, his voice sharp with concern. “Are you all right?”
She couldn’t speak, tears blurring her vision, her energy focused on breathing and fighting off the burning pain.
Blood leaked between her fingers. Biting her lip, she dropped on the end of the bed, rocking back and forth.
“Tori?” If anything, his voice was sharper, a note of alarm creeping in around the edges. “Tori, I’m coming in.”
Whatever. He could walk to Timbuktu if he wanted. All she wanted was for the throbbing in her entire foot to stop.
“What’s wrong?” He knelt in front of her, his hands running over her. Checking for injuries. She recognized that much. “Tori, what happened?”
His voice wavered. She shook her head, still clutching her foot. “My toes.”
The sharp gray gaze dropped to her foot and he swore. He cradled her heel in his palm. “Let me see.”
“Hit them on the bed.” She forced her fingers to let go. Blood dripped on the carpet.
He lifted her foot. “Oh, honey.”
One strong finger probed at the side of her toe and she sucked in a breath. “Ouch!”
“I’m going to get a towel and some ice. Hang on a sec.”
Gently, he set her foot down and rose to return to his room. In seconds, he was back, carrying two towels and his ice bucket.
“Here.” He lifted her foot again, wrapped one towel underneath and placed the second, filled with ice, along the top of her toes. She flinched. “I know,” he said, his voice soothing. His fingers moved over her ankle in a comforting caress. “It’ll feel better in a sec.”
Under the numbing cold, the pain receded slightly and she stared at him. Barefoot and resting on his haunches, he still wore his khakis, but he’d shed his polo shirt. A fine layer of dark hair covered his chest and formed an arrow down the line of his stomach. A small tattoo lurked between his pecs, an infinity swirl angled to the left, over his heart. He rested her foot against his thigh, muscles rippling beneath her heel. Her breath stopped, but this time it had nothing to do with pain. Her fingers tingled. What would it feel like if she traced the tattoo, ran her hands over his chest? Were those muscles as hard as the ones in his arms?
“Wiggle your toes for me.” She did, her gaze on his hands touching her. Deft and gentle, his fingers moved over her foot and shivers trickled through her, almost making her forget the burning pulsing. “I don’t think anything’s broken. You have a cut, but it’s not very deep. We can clean it up and put a bandage on it.”
“Thanks.” Warmth traveled out from his touch, an odd contrast to the numbing cold at her toes. He glanced up at her and all the warmth died. Deep pink lipstick smudged the corner of his mouth. Leaning forward, she swiped it away with her thumb. “Did she make you forget?”
He froze, staring at her. Slowly, he shook his head. “No. I mean, I didn’t…” A hard swallow moved his throat. “I couldn’t.”
A trickle of icy water dripped down the side of her foot. Tori moistened dry lips. “Why not?”
“Because it didn’t feel right. Because it’s not working anymore. She probably could have made me forget Jenny for a little while…” Another swallow, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “But she couldn’t make me forget you.”
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