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The Other Side Of Broken
SERIES: Whisper of the Pines, Book 3
GENRE: Romantic Women’s Fiction
ENDING: HEA (They’re a couple and live Happily Ever After)
WORD COUNT: Over 100,000 words (very large book)
HERO’S AGE: 40-49
HEROINE’S AGE: 40-49
HEAT LEVEL: Steamy (Talk Dirty To Me)
GRAPHIC LANGUAGE: Some (The occasional “F” bomb, lots of smack talk, some explicit sex)
One night shattered her life–a horror fifteen years couldn’t erase. To escape the past she must first relive it.
Rachel Caldarone hides the memories of the night she was sexually assaulted in a locked compartment in her mind, but when a letter arrives notifying her of the attacker’s request for early release from prison, the past threatens to unlock the horror.
Miles Malone, a local veterinarian and SAR volunteer, can’t forget the woman he comforted the day her husband went missing five years ago, whose image guides him through his own nightmares of Iraq and a senseless personal loss. Nor can he untangle Rachel’s daughter–the little girl everyone calls Ladybug–from his heart. An audacious adventurer by nature, Miles is accustomed to taking risks–but he can’t compete with a ghost.
As Rachel’s fears deepen, so do her feelings for Miles. With Miles by her side, Rachel gathers the courage to ensure the man who assaulted her remains behind bars. But her defenses collapse at the prison and she can’t contain the horrifying memories. Miles vows to protect her and keep her from disappearing into the past–and from his life.
Rachel is a survivor–but surviving the aftermath without losing Miles may be more than either of them bargained for.
READ AN EXCERPT
The envelope trembled in her hands. Maybe if she didn’t open it, the darkness would stay hidden in the creases. Maybe it wouldn’t burst open and scatter bits of her sanity across the snow. And maybe the memories wouldn’t threaten to consume her.
She’d worked hard to forgive. Even harder to forget. With so much emphasis on the present, she’d forgotten how much time had come and gone, and life’s cruel editor had spliced the past headlong into the present. It hadn’t tapped her on the shoulder. It hadn’t whispered in her ear. It hadn’t knocked on the door. It had come from hell and grabbed her by the throat.
She stuffed the unopened letter into her coat pocket.
“I thought I’d find you here.” He swept a hand in the direction of the spruce-lined hollow and eased himself to the bench beside her. “Whisper of the Pines, this little valley, the bench, they’re special to you. It’s your place.”
Rachel Caldarone nodded but didn’t turn. If she did, if she looked into her grandfather’s quiet eyes, the thin thread holding her together would snap. Instead, she reached inside her coat and found Zoe’s sweet spot, massaging the hollow just below the little dog’s ears. Her gift. Her companion. One who asked for nothing but a warm lap or shoulder to snuggle into now and then.
Marshall Gowen leaned into the bench, the cold wood groaning, drowning out the pop and creak of brittle bones. “I wondered if you’d received the letter.”
She turned toward him, his thoughts hidden in the lines of a weathered face. The cold had been hard on him, the ache lodged deep in unforgiving bones and once carefree smile. Five years he’d endured the frigid winters. Five years he’d grieved her husband’s disappearance and apparent death alongside her. Five years he’d been there to catch her if the weight became too much to bear. Not once had he complained.
“I can’t go through that again.”
Her grandfather thrust his chin out, the way he always did when pondering a suitable reply, the pause as deafening as the silence between snowflakes. Not the silence that came with the peace of falling snow but that of inward thought. “You can’t change the past, Rachel. But you can change the way it affects you. And others.”
“What good will it do, Grandpa?” Cold air stung her lungs, her words tinged with ice. A whorl of mist floated in front of her as she exhaled, the cloud as transparent as the question and as opaque as the answer.
He draped an arm across her shoulders, gloved hands possessing the assurance and unconditional love of confidante, friend, and advisor, taking up the roles of both father and mother she’d lost so many years ago. “You’re a strong woman. Stronger than you think.”
Rachel dug a boot into the snow taking in the ordinary feel of the movement, the warmth inside a buffer to the cold creeping under her skin. “I’m a coward.”
“Then why can’t I face this?” She ground the words into a ragged question.
Grandpa rubbed his leg, stalling for time or warming his limbs she couldn’t say, but the longer he paused the more constricted her throat became. “There’s never been a need.”
Moving her foot back and forth, she carved a compacted furrow in the ankle-deep snow. “Don’t ask me to do this. Please.”
“I understand your hesitation.”
“I’m not hesitating. I can’t do it.”
“Can’t? Or won’t?”
“Both.” She stripped the word of any charity, the period marking the end of an unwanted conversation. “I’d better get back or I’ll be late for work.”
She cradled Zoe and stood, but he took her elbow. “Sit.”
“I need to go.” He let her go, but she remained standing.
“You’re the supervisor. You can be late.”
“That’s not setting a good example for the rest of the nursing staff.”
“Molly is covering for you.” He looked away and then back to her. “This is important. You must consider it carefully.”
Rachel clutched her scarf, the same one she’d worn the past five winters. His scent had long since faded from the threads, but she couldn’t part with the connection it offered. To Nico. To what could have been. She sank back into the bench, tightening the scarf around her.
She shoved a hand into her pocket and wadded the letter into a tight ball. “I have considered it,” she said, drenching the word with contempt, “every day for fifteen years. I’ve considered it night after night when I wake from the nightmares and I have no one to make them go away. I’ve considered it every time I hug my daughter and wonder how the hell I can protect her from monsters like him. And every time I touch the cold granite of my dead husband’s headstone I’ve considered it.”
“How many times do you think that bastard considered my pleas, my fear, or what it would do to me while he was raping me?” The last words broke from her lips and her throat closed around them. “Oh, Grandpa.” She hadn’t meant to dredge up the past and drag him into it, but she had, and her heart split in two. She scooted beside him, raking him into a fierce embrace. “I didn’t mean—”
“I know.” He held her at arm’s length, the tremors bleeding through heavily lined leather gloves. “Rachel, listen to me.”
A light snow had begun to fall. He blinked, moisture gathering in thoughtful blue eyes. The ones he’d given her mother. The same ones her mother had given her. It wasn’t only the moisture from the brisk morning that pooled there but empathy for what an unspeakable monster had done, his tears the confession of years of hell—years he’d shared as much or more than he’d shared her joy.
“It’s not just about you this time.”
The odd comment settled uneasily and she paused. “What are you talking about?”
“The letter. Did you read it?”
She shook her head.
She didn’t want to read it. Didn’t want to see the bastard’s name. Didn’t want to re-create the past, bring it back to life. If she didn’t acknowledge it, she could pretend it wasn’t real. Inching her hand into her pocket, she tightened her fist around the wad, forcing the reality to remain hidden.
“Given his prison record,” he said, clearly choosing his words carefully, “he could be released early.”
“That’s not possible.” She put a finger to her temple and traced the remnants of the scar, the remembrance digging beyond her flesh but the evidence nothing more than a thin silvery line. “Is it?”
The lines between his brows deepened. “He’s applied for commutation of sentence, and there’s another—”
“I don’t understand.” The implications gathered in a fog of disbelief, rooting her to the bench. “How can they shorten his sentence? According to Arizona law, he has to serve the full term.”
“The how and why aren’t relevant at this point. The Board of Executive Clemency has already passed it on to a Phase II hearing, and I think it would be wise to attend. He’s been a model prisoner and that will serve in his favor.”
“Model rapist, you mean.” She clamped down hard on the urge to scream.
“I’ve spoken to Everett Dumas. He’s the DA now, and—”
She turned abruptly.
Grandpa raised and then lowered his hands. “Please hear me out. Dumas has been through this with you. He knows this case. Knows how to prosecute a sexual offense.”
The term rolled over her like a wave on the edge of breaking, primed to take her with it. “That term sounds so… weak.”
Grandpa set his jaw. “Dumas is anxious to keep Chastain—”
“Refusing to acknowledge his name,” he said, turning away and then slowly back to her, “doesn’t make him any less real, Rachel.”
Anger wrapped its hardened fingers around her chest and squeezed. “Don’t ever say his name. Not to me.”
Grandpa rubbed a gloved hand across a neatly trimmed white beard and cleared the hesitation from his throat. “Dumas is determined he stays behind bars.”
“I’d have to go back to Phoenix.” Fear’s groping fingers crawled up her spine and nausea rose as the words bumped off the walls of her stomach. “But if I don’t…”
“There’s no guarantee regardless of your testimony, but Dumas thinks the chances are better if you testify. The board needs to see your face, to hear what you’ve gone through because of what that bastard did and how it’s affected your life.” He pounded a fist on his thigh, but the illness had stolen the strength behind it.
Her head ached, each throb a reminder of the darkness that lurked in the places she’d tried to hide from her everyday world. Rachel raised the scarf to cover her nose. Where had Nico’s scent gone? Had she spent so much time trying to forget the past that she couldn’t remember him? The details, those small little things that crept into her thoughts at the oddest times? He’d been there to catch her when the nightmares tormented her and helped her through them one step at a time.
But Nico was gone.
Meet Susan Haught
A multi-award-winning author and Australian black liquorice connoisseur, Susan Haught writes deeply emotional stories of family, friendship, and the healing power of love. She believes Love is Ageless and has the power to change lives, and you’ll find her characters are “seasoned” in all the right ways.
When Susan isn’t writing, you’ll find her tending her flower garden with a notorious brown thumb, or escaping into someone else’s words. She enjoys mentoring new writers, and she’s always on the lookout for the best in Australian black liquorice and ways to spoil her grandpuppy, a feisty Yorkie named Ryleigh. Yes, her son named his gorgeous Yorkshire Terrier after the main character in A Promise of Fireflies.
Susan and her husband call the mountains of Arizona home where they raised their son. They spend their spare time catering to a high-maintenance princess, their Shih Tzu, Mercedes, and on FaceTime with Ryleigh…and their son!