By RITA Award Winner Inglath Cooper
She has the life most women dream of.
Too bad for Audrey Colby it’s all a facade. Her seemingly devoted husband is really a monster. Their high-society friends protect his ugly secrets. The mansion they live in is just a gilded prison for her and her son, Sammy. Everything hinges on escape. One day, Audrey, decides she and her son need to escape. She’s had enough. If only Nicholas Wakefield would stop interfering.
Former state prosecutor Nicholas Wakefield has seen his share of violence perpetrated against women. He knows there are some injustices he can’t make right, like the unsolved rape and murder of his teenage sister. He failed her. But he won’t fail Audrey…
NICHOLAS’S SOCIAL SKILLS could be classified as rusty at best, and with another half hour to go before midnight, he headed out one of the doors at the back of the house, intent on a few minutes of solitude. A slate terrace took up much of the yard. Round, white tables with matching chairs were scattered across the expanse of it, umbrellas planted in the center of each one. A set of wide stone steps led away from the lit-up house.
Three quarters of the way down, he saw her. Her hair was a pale blond, straight, parted in the middle. It grazed the curve of her shoulder. Diamond solitaires matched the one on her left hand in size.
Compared to the plunging necklines most of the women had worn here tonight, her dress rated conservative. Understated though it was, it failed to conceal the curves of her body. She had a quiet elegance that was undeniably appealing.
He recognized her then. Recalled a newspaper photo at some fundraiser.
Colby. Audrey Colby.
He should go back inside.
Nicholas had always trusted his intuition. It was almost never wrong.
But he ignored the voice of reason now. Something stronger pulled him across the terrace, as if he’d been drawn by some magnetic force field.
She looked up, took a step back. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I didn’t hear you,” she said, one hand at her throat.
He slid one finger around the rim of his shirt collar. “It was getting a little stuffy in there. The air feels good.”
“Yes, it does,” she agreed after a few seconds. She watched him for a moment, then said, “Excuse me,” before stepping past him toward the steps that led to the house.
Again, that voice. Let her go. “You’re Jonathan Colby’s wife, aren’t you?”
She stopped on the third step, her back to him, pausing before she half-turned, silent.
“I’m Nicholas Wakefield,” he added. “Ross just hired me. I’ll be working with your husband.”
She stared at him for another long moment during which he saw something in her expression he couldn’t quite identify. Disapproval? A quick intake of breath, and the look disappeared to be replaced with blankness. He thought he might prefer the disapproval, even though it made him curious as hell.
He filed that alongside his initial impression of Colby. Interesting.
“Congratulations, Mr. Wakefield.” She started back up the steps. “I really have to go now.”
Nicholas didn’t think there would have been much of anything left in the world that could bother him. For the past nine years, he’d had crazies traipsing through his office, calling him obscenities that would curl most people’s hair. Why then was he bothered by this woman’s tone? Maybe because there was judgment in it. And he wanted to know why. “Did I say something to offend you, Mrs. Colby?”
His question again stopped her halfway up the stairs. She turned around, slowly retracing her steps. She glanced quickly over her shoulder at the house. “I don’t know what would make you think that.”
“Why don’t we try this again?” He stuck out his hand. “I’m Nicholas Wakefield.”
Reluctantly, she offered her own. “Audrey Colby.”
Her voice was southern soft at the edges. Even in the shadowed light, her eyes ensnared him. Wounded eyes. As if they held scars that ran deep.
She glanced again at the doorway, then stepped deeper into the darkness close to the rock wall behind them. She crossed her arms and looked out into the darkness. “All those people. . .it gets a little close.”
He couldn’t have said why, other than the fact that she was married to his new firm’s biggest client, but he felt uneasy here with her. It had been a long time since he’d felt awkward around a woman. “Yeah,” he said finally. “That crowd can get a little—” He broke off, deciding she wasn’t the person to whom he should reveal his real feelings about the party.
“Presumptuous?” she finished, surprising him.
He tilted his head to one side. “Your word.”
“Yes. My word.”
“Good music, though.” Jill Scott floated out from the house, the band apparently taking a break.
She glanced again in the direction of the door.
He leaned a hip against the wall and folded his arms across his chest. “So. Made any resolutions for the New Year?”
A stretch of silence and then she replied, “Only one.”
When she failed to ask the same question of him, he volunteered the information anyway. “I made one or two, despite my cynicism. Think you’ll stick with yours?”
She looked back out into the darkness, her face set, unsmiling. “Yes,” she said.
A door opened behind them. Laughter flowed out from the party into the night. She took a startled step farther into the shadows.
A man crossed the terrace, stopped by one of the carriage lights and lit a cigarette.
“Are you all right?” Nicholas asked.
“Yes. Thank you. But I have to go,” she said.
He couldn’t explain the disappointment he felt. There was nothing logical about the instant connection he had with this woman. He knew nothing about her, and yet, inexplicably, he wanted to know everything there was to know.
She stepped around him and ran back up the steps.
He lifted a hand. “Wait!”
But she kept going. And did not look back.