Authors: Sharon Sala
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Love Stories, #Casting Directors, #Romantic Suspense Fiction, #Cherokee County (Tex.)
Deep in the Heart
Deep in the Heart
First love is sweetest, because it is new.
When it goes the distance, it is rare.
This book is dedicated to first loves,
and to the lucky few
who kept theirs alive.
FOR ALL INTENTS AND PURPOSES, Samantha Jean Carlyle was dead.
JOHN THOMAS KNIGHT always knew he was going to hell.
“SAMANTHA JEAN, where are you going?”
THE RESTAURANT WAS CROWDED, which, in Samantha’s case, made everything…
SAMANTHA WOKE SLOWLY. For a moment before she opened her…
REBEL BARKED ONCE at the sound of a pickup…
JOHN THOMAS PULLED into the driveway at home and parked.
NEARLY A WEEK had come and gone since John Thomas…
SAMANTHA WAS MESMERIZED by the man standing at the foot…
SAMANTHA’S LEFT FOOT was asleep and her back ached from…
IN THE DAYS THAT FOLLOWED, it became evident that neither…
SAMANTHA BURST INTO the sheriff’s office and then stopped…
A FEW HOURS LATER, a knock on the door startled…
THE MILES BETWEEN Rusk and New Summerfield shortened as Claudia…
THE SUN WAS ONLY minutes away from the horizon when…
WHITE WALLS LACKED IMAGINATION. John Thomas cursed the hospital’s lack…
JOHN THOMAS STOOD on the porch, waving as the preacher’s…
OR ALL INTENTS AND PURPOSES
, Samantha Jean Carlyle was dead. It was just the when and how of it that had yet to happen.
The floor of her latest apartment was no softer than the last one, but it was where she felt safest. After all that she’d gone through during the last three months, below window level was the closest thing to heaven that she could find.
The proof of her fate lay in a circle on the floor around her, encompassing her with the evil that it contained. The hate mail and answering machine message tapes overflowed with warnings and promises from a stalker who wanted her dead.
Her face was blank. The light in her eyes had been out for weeks. When hope finally died, it had taken Samantha’s will to survive with it. The police had all but accused her of making up the entire story. Her boss had sent her home to get herself and her act together before she was permitted to return. Her friends were gone…and so was her faith in her fellow man.
Samantha’s breath caught at the back of her throat and came up on a sob.
“Oh God, I need help,” she whispered. Her head hit the wall as she slumped against it. “There’s no one on this earth who will believe me. My parents are dead. My so-called friends have abandoned me. If only there was someone left who would…”
The words froze on her tongue. She shuddered as a memory suddenly surfaced—of a boy she’d known, and the man that he’d become—of the vows they’d traded and the promises that they’d made to each other. She traced an old scar on the inside of her wrist and wondered if she’d finally lost her mind.
But the thought wouldn’t go away. Long hours passed while she remembered a young man who’d sworn an allegiance that she thought never would be broken. But as she crawled to her feet and made her way through the shadows in her apartment to the phone, she kept thinking, “What if he’s no longer there? What if he doesn’t even remember me?” Another sob slipped from her lips as she dialed with trembling fingers.
A phone call later, she had the assurance of knowing that there was a number listed in his name. And Cotton, Texas, was so small that a name on an envelope would be all that was needed to get a letter delivered to a resident.
If he was the man she remembered him to be…if time hadn’t changed Johnny Knight to the extent that he’d lost all value for an old promise made, then maybe there
still one person left who cared if she lived or died.
“Dear God, let him come,” she whispered, and began to write the letter, knowing full well it might be her last.
always knew he was going to hell. He just never expected to get there in a yellow cab.
Since his plane set down in Los Angeles two hours ago he’d prayed more than he’d prayed in his entire life, and he still wasn’t certain he was going to ever see home again. From where he was sitting, Cherokee County, Texas, was looking better all the time. Here in L A., traffic didn’t flow, it snarled and jammed, and the people who drove in it wore equally snarled expressions.
People have to be crazy to live here,
As his cab stopped for a red light, a tall, thin man wearing combat fatigues appeared in the median of the busy thoroughfare, seemingly out of nowhere, and proceeded to execute a perfect somersault. He landed on his knees and then began chanting in a language John Thomas couldn’t understand.
“Crazy fool,” he muttered, and tried to imagine the Sam he had known living in a place like this.
The thought of Sam reminded him of why he was here, and of the last time he’d seen his childhood playmate who’d become his first love.
He’d been eighteen and hurting, trying to be a man and not cry as he kissed her good-bye at the bus stop. Samantha Carlyle had been sixteen and so full of their love that he could still remember the sheen of tears in her eyes as the bus pulled away.
He frowned, remembering also that the next time he’d come home—ten weeks later for his father’s funeral—her family had already moved to California without a by your leave or a forwarding address to help him find her.
He traced the thin, hairline scar across his wrist, remembering late summer nights, and blood oaths taken and promises given. Swearing a “cross my heart and hope to die” friendship forever. Nights when the extreme heat of slow summer days had lessened to an acceptable simmer and the only witnesses to their meeting were locusts buzzing a crazy cacophony in the mimosa trees overhead.
His gut tightened as the cab took a turn, and he wondered if it was from fear of traffic, or the pain of remembering the night of her sixteenth birthday, when they’d exchanged a different kind of oath. A promise that ended with them wrapped in each other’s arms beneath the same mimosa trees. He shuddered and shut his eyes, trying to call back the memory of the expression on Samantha’s face as he’d taken her undying pledge of love, as well as her virginity, all in one night. They’d been so happy…and so sure.
And it had ended so swiftly that thinking about it still made him ache.
His mouth curved in a wry smile as he thought back to the dreams of callow youth. Then the smile died when he remembered the letter he’d received at home two days ago. The letter that had sent him flying across the country from Cherokee County, Texas, to L.A. with his heart in his throat. The letter that had him praying he wouldn’t be too late to keep the promise he’d made all those years ago.
He won’t leave me alone,
And I have nowhere left to run. Johnny…please come get me! Don’t let me die!
The lingering resentment of her unexplained disappearance, and the old, unanswered questions from their youth were not enough to make him ignore her cry for help. Not after all they’d been through together. It was The least he could do for someone who’d been his best friend for the first half of his life thus far.
He shifted in the seat and then frowned, jamming his Stetson tighter on his head as the cabby took a corner like a piss ant hunting dry ground. He wondered if the man drove this way out of repressed aggression, or if it was because he didn’t know enough of the English language to understand the road signs.
“Either slow the hell down or pay attention to what you’re doing,” he growled, flashing his badge across the front seat for good measure. A Texas sheriff’s badge carried no authority in California, but John Thomas was too fed up to care about details.
The cabby’s shocked expression did little toward appeasing the nervous twitch John Thomas felt low in his belly, and he knew that the sinking feeling he’d lived with for the last forty-eight hours had nothing to do with California traffic.
Minutes later the cabby pulled up in front of a pink stucco apartment complex surrounded by palms. The black wrought-iron fence and ornate gate standing ajar told him in no uncertain terms that he was definitely in laid-back L.A.
He crawled out of the cab with his bag in one hand and his hat in the other, then tossed some bills through the open window opposite the driver.
“My God,” he muttered, and jammed his Stetson back on his head. “Pink houses! Back home they’d either slap on some whitewash or burn ’em all down and put them out of their misery.”
“Vat you say to me?” the cabby yelled.
John Thomas just shook his head and waved the cabdriver away. Then he took a slow, deep breath and stepped up onto the sidewalk. He stared straight up into the underside of a towering palm tree and back at the odd, almost garish blending of color and cultures surrounding him. Readjusting his Stetson, he picked up his bag and headed toward what he hoped was the vicinity of Apartment 214.
By the time he reached the second floor of the complex, he’d encountered two sets of men holding hands, a woman with purple hair who was wearing a tight, pink bodysuit, a teenager walking four dogs—none above the size of a half-grown armadillo—and had been propositioned by a preteen girl young enough to be his daughter.
But when he arrived at the door to Apartment 214, he no longer worried about where he was, but who he was going to see.
He and Samantha were no longer teenagers. But they’d been friends long before they’d been lovers, and in spite of the painful and dramatic way in which they’d parted, he still considered her more than a friend. The twenty-plus years of friendship that lay between them were still as strong as it had been on the night their blood had mixed and their promises had slipped into the silence of the night.
He dropped his bag beside the door, threw back his shoulders and knocked. It was, after all, why he’d come.
There were no tears left to cry. Unmitigated terror had become commonplace for Samantha Carlyle. She was waiting for the inevitable. Day by day the stalker came closer, and there was nothing she could do to stop him.
She could barely remember her life three months ago when she’d been a highly valued member of a Hollywood casting agency, calmly and competently going about the business of fitting the famous and the not-so-famous into starring and supporting roles.
She had thrived on the constant pressure and excitement of finding just the right actor or actress for the part in question. And although she’d been in the business over seven years, she had never gotten used to being the one who also doled out the bad news to the ones who didn’t make the cut. Most of the times the actors and actresses took the rejections in stride. But now and then, there would be one who was devastated by the news. Those were the times that she wished she’d been checking groceries in some supermarket, not ruining someone’s hopes and dreams.