The Outer Banks of North Carolina
Late September 2012
The full moon rose, lighting the sandy beach. Stars and sea spray twinkled in its clear reflection. The surf rolled endlessly, and Claire Winslow stood in her thin summer gown, steps from the porch of the house she had rented, remembering the night she first saw Jack Porter. Remembering the brewing hurricane, and the storm that had chewed up and spit back her life at her—
The night she had made love with a man who was not her fiancé.
She closed her eyes against the clutch in her heart. Had she given up everything for an incredibly foolish act of passion?
Chiding herself, she whispered. “What does it matter now?” Don’t ever tell him. Lying to the man she had planned to marry was not something she’d wanted to do—an omission of truth was not her style either. But no matter, since she had broken off the relationship and Rick likely never wanted anything to do with her again.
She’d left Rick. Left her home, her job. Cincinnati. Him. Everything.
It was done.
She sighed, letting breath ease out of her throat slowly, calming her. Pushing away the black, like Vicki, her psychic friend and confidant, had taught her. Get rid of the negative; bring in the light.
A soft hand rested on her shoulder.
Had he returned? Jack?
Eyes closed, she listened for his heartbeat, waited for the warmth of his breath against her neck. Paused for the hush of his voice. It had to be him. There was no one else around on this isolated area of Ocracoke Island.
She fell back in time to that night when she had surrendered to the power of her lover’s kiss. Of his tender and warm embrace that entranced her soul and took it captive. He had met her here and had laid claim to her body and soul. Had he come back for her now, to make her his own, forever?
Please God, let it be him.
Turning, she reined in her anticipation, but as her gaze settled on the man’s face, backlit somewhat, by the porch light, she gasped and jerked back.
“Claire, I had to see you.”
She exhaled deeply, a bit disoriented. “Rick. How did you find me?”
“I… I followed you. Have been watching you.”
“Claire…” His voice was soft, alluring, but the look on his face was harsh. “Claire, come with me. I will give you everything you ever dreamed. I love you, honey. Come back. Say it was all a mistake, that you love me and want us to be together. We will be together, Claire.”
She inched back a little, somewhat alarmed. This was Rick, after all. The man she’d known for half her life, and whom she had planned to marry. But she was instantly frightened at his tone. Perhaps the devil-spawned look on his face had triggered her concern. She mustered some courage from deep inside. “You need to leave, Rick.”
Fire leapt into his eyes. “Not unless you leave with me.”
“Rick, this is ridiculous. We’ve discussed this. I’m starting a new life. And I’m very sorry to be so blunt—” She backed away. “Now, please go.” She hated the way it all sounded. “Make it easy on both of us.”
Rick stepped forward. “No. Not without you, Claire.”
Shaking her head, she answered quickly. “That’s not possible.”
He grasped her arm.
She jerked it away. “No, Rick!”
“You don’t understand, Claire. You don’t have a choice.”
One more step backward. “Oh, but I do! What are you going to do, kidnap me?”Rick’s gaze drifted across the dune, to his right. Her gaze followed to two men standing beside her Honda. Slowly, Rick turned back to peer into her eyes. “If I have to.”
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