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Series: Rose Canyon #2
New York Times bestselling author Corinne Michaels brings another second chance standalone in the town of Rose Canyon.
My biggest mistake was falling in love with my fake husband.
It was supposed to be a marriage of convenience between two best friends in the military. Our plan was to collect extra money and stay stationed together.
But what failed? Me. I did. Because suddenly I wanted a man who was never meant to be my real husband.
In an attempt to remedy my mistake, I severed all ties and put my life as a combat medic and Emmett Maxwell behind me. I’ve lost too many people to open myself up to love.
Now I’m working as a private investigator, and fate has stepped in, forcing our paths to intersect again when I’m looking into the disappearance of a missing girl with ties to Emmett’s hometown. A case I fear puts his life in danger.
He gives me one week to prove my suspicions and then I need to sign the divorce papers and leave. The problem with that? The moment I see Emmett again, I realize how foolish it was to leave him, to think I could ever stop loving him. All I want is a second chance.
When the case threatens not only my life but also his, I’m faced with my worst fear. How many times can a heart break before it shatters beyond repair?
This isn’t happening.
No way is Blakely Bennett in Rose Canyon. Not at Brielle and Spencer’s wedding reception. She is supposed to be in Washington DC, not in Oregon.
This is a dream—or a nightmare, depending on what she’s here for.
“Great,” I grumble as I watch as the woman who haunts me stalks across the room as if she owns it.
“Who is that?” Brielle asks Spencer.
That is a world of trouble and a whole lot of things I tried to forget. I run my fingers through my hair. “Fuck.”
“Umm, Emmett?” Spencer grips my shoulder. “Is that—”
Brie snorts. “Can you clue me in?”
“That’s Blakely Bennett. She was in the military with Emmett.”
“Oh? Are they friends?” Brie asks, but I can’t stop watching Blakely. I can’t stop the wheels from turning as to what the hell this woman is doing here.
I did what she asked.
I am not being difficult.
Her dark brown hair that feels like silk sways with each step she takes. I can see the warm brown eyes with flecks of yellow watching me.
“I guess. She was his captain and the medic for the unit.”
I turn to him, needing a second to get myself under control. Staring at her is like looking into the sun. It hurts and leaves an impression long after you’ve glanced away. “No, we were the same rank,” I clarify. We were both captains, and she did not outrank me, contrary to whatever she thought.
“She totally was his boss,” Spencer says softly to her.
I’ll kick his ass later for that.
Then she’s here. Right in front of me, and I swear to God, I can’t fucking breathe. She’s so beautiful, so everything, and I still don’t feel as if I’m good enough to be in her presence. I never have.
I still want to fall at her feet, which pisses me off.
“Hello, Maxwell.” That soft, sweet voice of an angel falls around me.
Only I know better because there’s nothing angelic about Blake. She will kill you in your sleep, which is why I never should’ve trusted her.
“Bennett,” I get out in one breath.
Blake turns to Spencer, her smile never faltering. “I thought it was you, Cross. You look wonderful and so happy.”
They embrace, and I clench my jaw to stop from saying something stupid. Spencer is happily married and has zero interest in Blake. I don’t either. Not at all. She’s just . . . Blakely.
Spencer pulls back, holding on to her arms. “It’s because I am. It’s good to see you, Blake.”
She keeps talking to him as though I’m not here. “You too, and I hear this is your wedding celebration?”
“You heard correctly.” Spencer nods. “This is my wife, Brielle.”
Blakely pushes her hair behind her ear and then takes Brielle’s hand. “It’s lovely to meet you. I know your husband from one of the training exercises we did. I wish you both much happiness.”
Enough with the chitchat. Blakely didn’t come across the country without a phone call for nothing. She wants something from me, and I would like to know exactly what that is.
“What are you doing here, Blakely?” I ask.
Blake tilts her head to the side, batting those long, dark lashes. “I came to see you, darling.”
Unreal and a lie. I’m going to assume she has the divorce papers and this is some kind of ploy to piss me off. “I sent you paperwork months ago.”
She waves her hand. “I’m not here for that. I came for something else.”
Spencer clears his throat. “What paperwork?”
Blakely shrugs. “Divorce papers.”
Instead of screaming like I want to, I groan, running a hand down my face. “Jesus Christ.”
“You’re married?” Brielle practically shouts.
A horde of nosey people turn to look at me. Great, this is really going to be all anyone talks about.
I look to Spencer and Brielle. “Yes, Blakely Bennett is my wife. And if you’ll excuse me, I need to speak with her outside.”
I grab her hand, pulling her toward the large glass door. My wife doesn’t seem fazed at all as she waves a quick goodbye to everyone currently staring at us. “I’m sure we’ll see each other soon.”
The hell she will. I’m packing her ass back onto a plane and shipping her home as soon as I can. Whenever she’s around, things go badly for me. I forget who I am and become the man she needs but will never want.
Or she wants but won’t have.
I had to put distance between us, and apparently, I miscalculated just how much distance would keep her away.
When we get onto the deck, the cool air helps to clear my muddled mind. “Out with it,” I say a little more forcefully than I intended.
“Be nice, Emmett, you aren’t usually a dick.”
“And you aren’t here because you missed me.”
“You’re right, that’s not why I came, but I do miss you.” She smiles. “How are you? I heard you’re the sheriff of this tiny town.”
I close my eyes for a beat and sigh. “Yes, I am. Well, technically, I’m a sheriff of the county, but this is where I’m contracted to work.”
“Okay, and how are you?”
“I’m great,” I lie.
“Good to know.”
“Why are you here, Blakely?” I ask through gritted teeth. “I sent you divorce papers, I am ready to be done with it all, and you haven’t sent your copies back. So, what else would bring you out here if it wasn’t to give us both what we want?”
“As I already said, I’m not here about the divorce, which I also never said I wanted.”
No, she never said she wants a divorce, but she did make it abundantly clear she didn’t want me when she left me that night. I release a heavy sigh through my nose. “You’re killing me.”
“No, I’m here to make sure that doesn’t happen by someone else.”
This woman confuses me. “Okay . . .”
“You’ll thank me later.”
“Or you can tell me who you think is going to kill me.”
Which no one is. She’s full of shit.
“I plan to, but first, aren’t you going to ask about how I’m doing?” Blakely changes the subject.
“Not until you answer the original question.”
She shrugs and then moves toward the railing. “This place is beautiful. It’s literally like you described it. Super quaint, and the people are all very nice. I was able to find you in just a few minutes.”
Sometimes the people in this town are out of their minds. They have no sense of danger or concept of just how much damage can be done with something as basic as a person’s location, but she and I do. Years of military training caused us to be cautious of everything and everyone.
“So glad my descriptions lived up to your ideas,” I say, not feeling like making small talk. “Bennett?”
“We haven’t seen each other in two and a half years. I’ve missed you. Can we please catch up a little, and then I promise to tell you why I’m here and for how long I plan to stay at your place, which you’re going to have to agree to since there are no hotels anywhere around here.”
“No to which?”
I tilt my face heavenward and pray for divine intervention. “No to all.” A deep rumbling sound emits from my chest. No one makes me as crazy as she does. And the worst part is that all I want to do right now is pull her into my arms and kiss her until she melts.
She grins. “I missed that growl.”
I miss feeling in control, and I don’t around her. “I am on the last thread of my patience.”
“Then play nice and ask me what I’m up to. Who knows, maybe you’ll get that answer.”
Of all the things this woman is, manipulative is not one. She and I have always valued each other enough to be honest. When you’re commanding a team of soldiers, you have to be able to trust the person who has your back. Blakely and I were instantly a team. I ran all the logistics, and she was our medic. She made sure the soldiers were cared for, and I made sure she was safe.
At least I tried.
We got married for all the wrong reasons, or maybe they were right at the time. We were both single, wanted to bank some extra money, and more because I didn’t want to lose her from the unit.
It was strictly paperwork—that was, until I started to fall in love with her.
How could I not?
She’s perfect, other than the fact that she refuses to love anyone.
That part is not so damn perfect.
“What are you up to, my beautiful wife?” I ask, forcing the frustration to stay out of my tone as I stand in front of her.
“How sweet of you to ask.” Her hand moves to my chest, and a familiar current runs through me. Her eyes meet mine, and when her breath hitches, I know she feels it too. She steps back, shaking her head. “I am running a private investigation company out of DC.”
There’s a shocker. “Really? When did you get out of the army?”
“After you were discharged, I took a desk job with the FBI. I was going to head up a medic training program for them, but I ended up working on their task force for missing people. Once I was discharged from the army, I decided to stay in DC, leave the FBI—way too much bureaucracy—and start my own company since I really enjoy the investigating side.”
“No big deal, I left two months ago.”
“Why did you leave?”
“Because I’ve had enough of the government owning me. The politics and the drama . . . it’s ridiculous. I got a few clients recently, and I’ve been able to use my Bureau contacts to get information.”
She huffs. “Please, I’m not bound by the same rules as someone who works for an agency.”
“Okay, so now you’re a PI, but why are you here?”
Blakely leans against the railing, her long legs crossed at the ankles. “I’ve thought about you, Emmett.”
The admission stuns me. Not that we weren’t close. Not that our friendship ever wavered, not until she walked out on me that night. Not until I realized that I couldn’t be around her because I was going to fall even more in love with my wife.
“I’ve thought about you too.” The admission slips out so easily.
She pushes up and walks closer. “Then why haven’t you called?”
“The phone works both ways, love.”
She grins. “You owed me a call first, and you know why.”
Because the only response she’s gotten from me in two and a half years is a one-line email after the countless ones she sent and then I filed for divorce. “I should’ve warned you.”
“That would’ve been nice.”
“I didn’t think much of it since we were basically roommates with a higher pay rate.”
Blakely steps closer, her dark hair shimmering in the fading sunlight. “It still hurt, Emmett. Not a note or a text. No responses for years to how many emails? Nothing other than some guy showing up, handing me the paperwork, and saying I got served. We won’t even talk about the shit leading up to that.”
I feel like an ass, but I needed to get it done. We are both living in the past that is built on lies. I need to be free to live my life and move on. Because, when I realized that I was falling for her . . . that I wanted to be married in every damn sense of the word, she reminded me why that wasn’t possible.
“I thought you weren’t here for that.”
She shrugs. “I’m not, but you were the cherry on top for this trip. I’m here because you stepped in some shit, buddy, and being the loving and doting wife I am, I came here to get you out of it before you end up dead.”
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Kidnapping, Action scenes, war flashbacks, death, subplot of missing persons.