by Caitlyn Willows – www.caitlynwillows.com
They hunt a killer who will stop at nothing to protect his identity, even if that means threatening the one link between them—their son.
When Staff Sergeant Rowan McKinley is charged with murder, she wants the best defense counsel the Marine Corps has to offer—Captain Phillip Stuart. Seeking his help means opening old wounds. It’s a risk she must take to save herself.
Phillip swore he’d never have anything to do with the one woman who had not only broken his heart but had crushed it. Helping her was personal suicide. But professionally, it could be the coup de grace of his career—that next rung on the ladder, the next challenge he was looking for.
The love and passion each thought gone sparks to life—only now it is forbidden by military law. Knowing the rules and adhering to them are very different matters. But who should make the sacrifice when both are destined to soar to the top of their ranks?
The choice might be taken from their hands. There is a killer with just as much to lose who will stop at nothing to protect his identity, even if that means threatening the one link between Phillip and Rowan—the son Phillip never knew he had.
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The accused, Staff Sergeant Rowan A. McKinley, requests your presence as independent military counsel…
Phillip’s face drained of color. His gut twisted. Breathing was out of the question.
Odd, when he had been thinking of her only minutes before. But then, when didn’t he think of her?
Beautiful, talented Rowan McKinley… The one woman he held up against the others. The one who hadn’t bothered to return his heart before she’d walked out of his life.
What the hell is she doing in the Marine Corps? More importantly, what had she done to need the services of a Marine defense attorney?
Time stopped as he grappled for the stack of papers—or maybe it took a giant step back. In either event, Phillip couldn’t put two coherent thoughts together. Before he could read on, the door to his office flew open. The tan, inquiring face of his best friend and fellow attorney, Captain Zachary Taylor, poked around the doorjamb.
“I got a call from a friend of mine at the base in Twentynine Palms. There’s been a murder involving a staff sergeant, some woman by the name of—”
“McKinley,” Phillip muttered. Afraid Zach would see the true depth of his feelings, he kept his gaze locked on the papers. “The case has been offered to me.”
Zach lunged for the papers, snatching them out of Phillip’s grasp. “Well, aren’t you Mr. Popularity. Let’s have a look-see.”
He scanned the request form, eyes widening. “Why you? You’re not a defense counsel. This staff sergeant could have any military attorney at that base or even a civilian lawyer, providing she could afford one.”
Zach glanced up before Phillip could mask his feelings. The teasing stopped as Zach’s deep brown eyes narrowed with suspicion. He knew Phillip too well. A definite downfall in having a best friend.
“What is she to you?”
“What was she, you mean.” Phillip met Zach’s steady gaze with one of his own. “She was once the most important person in my life.” His mouth twisted and he whispered, “The bitch.”
Zach tossed the papers back to the desk. “That’s funny. I’ve known you for over eight years and you’ve never mentioned her.” He dropped into the chair across from Phillip, resting his feet on the edge of the desk. “Why the big secret? What’s the story?”
Phillip sighed and copied his friend’s position. Zach’s ability to focus on and unearth information was uncanny. Now those relentless abilities were focused in his direction. He forced a deep breath and sketched out his turbulent history with Rowan McKinley.
* * * *
Rowan drew her knees up against her chest and wrapped her arms around them in an effort to control her shaking. Nine hours of confinement in this tiny cell and she still hadn’t been allowed to speak with or see anyone—not that they would listen to her, anyway.
She took pride in her work. Her record reflected that. Legal administration might not be the blood and guts of the Corps, but it was important. Every separation, every investigative report that crossed her desk was dissected until nothing was left in question. So why would her word be doubted when she suspected foul play in the Lava training area?
Imagining things. That was what Rowan had been told over and over again, despite the five seemingly unrelated incidents that had come across her desk in the last month. Only Charlie would listen and now he was dead.
She was sure the command would see she was right, but the finger of blame was now pointed in her direction.
Rowan rested her head on her knees then winced as the bruised and swollen side of her face protested at the contact. Rocking back and forth on the metal-framed cot, she tried to quell the panic that threatened to overwhelm her. It was so close in the holding cell and she was so alone.
“Stop it!” She pushed the words through clenched teeth. “This isn’t going to help you at all.”
She flicked her gaze to the camera mounted in the corner of the room on the other side of the cell partition. Its baleful eye watched her every motion, allowing her no privacy. This portion of the room was small, too small. The cell’s dimensions barely spanned ten feet across. Even the dim light in the hallway didn’t help.
Rowan closed her eyes. Breathe. Take deep breaths. No hyperventilating.
Phillip was her only chance at getting out of this. She had to be strong—strong enough to endure the claustrophobia closing in, strong enough to face him again.
Phillip. She had forgotten nothing about him. How could she when she lived with his image every day? The way the sun gleamed off his golden head, the ready smile and his eyes.
God, those eyes! They could burn like quicksilver when his temper flared or glow a soft, satiny gray when they made love.
She was probably a fool for contacting him after all these years. But there was no doubt she needed his help and she would accept whatever consequences resulted from having him back in her life. Only Phillip could save her now. That was, if he accepted her request for his services.
The hallway door opened. The roar of the evaporative coolers lessened. A military policeman walked in and glared at her through the bars. “Your request for counsel has been expedited. They’re waiting for the captain to either accept or decline the case.”
“How long will that take?” Rowan fought in vain to keep the quiver from her voice. “When will I be able to contact my family?”
“You work in legal. You tell me.” He lowered his voice. “Frankly, I hope you get what you deserve. He was a friend of mine, murderer.”
He slammed the door in his exit, putting pressure back on the cooler. The roar this time was nothing compared to the pulse of blood in her ears.
“Yeah, he was a friend of mine, too,” Rowan replied to no one.
She tucked herself into the farthest corner of the cot, her despair as smothering as the walls surrounding her.