Familiar Light By Sarah Ballance SPOTLIGHT
Seven years of longing comes down to just one night.
Laney Kent returns to Barrier Shoals hoping to reunite with her first love, Bridger. She anticipates his reception might be chilly, but what she doesn’t expect is to become the victim of a deadly obsession . . . or that this night with Bridger could be her last.
Bridger Jansen tangled a lot of sheets trying to forget about Laney, but his heart knew what the rest of him refused to admit: he could love no one else. He’s determined not to forgive her for leaving him without explanation, but when he fails to protect her from a viscous attack, the person he can’t forgive just might be himself.
Sarah lives a charmed life as the mother of six incredible homeschooled children, all of whom are completely adorable when they're asleep. Her husband of many years (long, long years, he calls them) is the kind of guy who could teach those heroes from the books a thing or two about romance, not that he'd readily admit it. Completely supportive of her love for writing fiction, he's generously offered to help with any necessary research for "the good parts." She's never had to ask twice.
Although the idea of writing initially intimidated Sarah, it has morphed into a favorite pastime since her characters, unlike her kids, actually listen to her. (Er, sometimes.)
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"Can I help you?" The gruff question trickled through the cavernous space like water leaking through pipes. He seemed to materialize from the shadows as he strode toward her, the rise of heat from the concrete floor keeping him just out of focus.
But her heart knew.
She swallowed a hard knob of regret. "Bridger?"
He couldn't have heard her—not with the way she clung to his name, as if saying it out loud would be to lose another piece of him. But his step faltered, and the recognition in that interrupted cadence brought the burn of tears to her eyes.
She stood, trembling, as the fifty feet between them dwindled to ten. When he was close enough for her to make out the stubble lining his jaw, his legs stopped moving, but his gaze tore over her. The impassioned glare was without direction, a harsh reflection of the hard lines edging his face. The warm brown eyes she remembered were now a bitter shade of espresso.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
The words, tense with fury, sent her backpedaling against the concrete wall. Too late, she realized she no longer knew this man. They were kids when they'd parted ways, too naïve to realize they'd never keep those breathless promises. At least she'd been that way. His tone suggested otherwise.
They were alone in the deeply shadowed belly of Barrier Shoals Light. And for the first time within those walls, Laney tasted fear.
"Was I supposed to wait for you?" he asked.
Seven years had passed since her weak-kneed promise to return to him. She didn't have an answer for that.
He took another step, boxing her against the curvature of the rock. He stood close—so close, she had to tip her head to meet his eyes.
And she summoned courage to do it.
"Was I?" he asked, his voice softer now. He leaned closer. The stifling heat morphed into sexual innuendo, his skin slick with sweat, daring her to touch.
She was one careless thought away from taking him up on that unspoken suggestion. Her fingers itched to claw through his hair, to draw him closer until the distance between them evaporated. Memories of frantically grasping for purchase against the stone wall besieged her, curling fear into boundless adrenaline. "Did you?"
Her words coaxed a slow grin from his sensual mouth. "Was I supposed to?"
Wait for me, Bridger I'll be back.
The thought came from nowhere, peeling away seven years to their last night together. He'd held her, caressed the hair from her face, and kissed every salty inch of her skin. Stay. A single word. A plea from a man who asked for nothing—and yet owned it all. Every piece of her was his.
She'd just taken too long to realize it. And those eyes . . . . They bore into her, dark with the kind of passion that made anger futile and sex magnificent.
She remembered the latter well.
"Can we talk?" she asked. Lame. But in that moment, all that mattered.
He ran his index finger along her jaw—a slow, teasing exploration he abandoned in short order to toy with a strand of her hair. Dipping his head so his lips grazed her ear, he said, "To think I have anything to say is to assume I still give a damn, Laney. And I think I left that behind a long time ago."
His words were so much at odds with his actions she failed to reconcile the two. Lack of awareness might also be blamed on the hand curling at her nape, the gentle touch drawing her against his chest. Or the heat of his mouth lingering on her flesh, following the coy path his finger trailed across her jaw. Every nuance of touch electrified her, each moment captured in a single thud of her heartbeat.
He stood so close she saw only snapshots of memories, each one triggering another landslide of emotion. His mouth closing over her skin. His fingers laced through hers. That wicked grin he wore as he held her captive with his touch, her wrists pressed overhead against the sand. The dark shadow of his profile blotting out the dance of moonlight on water, their heavy breaths intoxicated with salt air and lust . . . and a promise she failed to keep.
"If I were less of a man," he said, "I'd tell you what you wanted to hear. We'd have a good time, and then I'd walk. Let you spend the next few years wondering what the hell you did to lose me."
"But no one deserves that. Not even you." His tight smile brought hard lines to his jaw, but no trace of forgiveness. Holding fast to her gaze, he stepped away, taking twenty degrees of Fahrenheit with him.
Laney shivered. He may have put distance between them, but the narrow darkness in his eyes clutched her throat. She'd mistaken the flat, slated glare for fury, but it wasn't anger . . . it was hurt. She'd hurt him by not coming back. And that was far worse than his wrath.
"You should go."
She opened her mouth and closed it. Every reason she counted for coming back begged her to stay and stand up for what they once had, but there was one thing missing from her fight: a leg upon which to stand.
So, with nothing left to say, she went.