Christina Lee Two of Hearts

ISBN 13 : 9780451473257

Two of Hearts

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9780451473257: Two of Hearts
Extrait :

PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS
OF CHRISTINA LEE

Also by Christina Lee

 

Dear Reader:

We can probably all agree that there needs to be more diversity in romance novels. Probably all novels in general. Having said that, writing about diverse characters in books can feel daunting for an author. It can be tricky and scary to take on the challenge, because we desperately want to get it right.

This is my second time writing about the Nakos family and this Native American community. The first time was in WHISPER TO ME, a book in my New Adult series. But what makes this experience different is that the nature of the plot required me to take an additional amount of time to consider all options and points of view. I immersed myself deeply in the culture through dozens of hours of research.

Even still, there was much more to learn and discover. All of it awe-inspiring and devastating and beautiful.

But as this book goes out into the world, I remember what one of my sources said. That within each culture, gender, age, or socioeconomic status, there are differences—in opinions and traditions and mind-sets. And unless you’ve actually lived in the community or culture you are writing about, you won’t inherently know it. You can only try your best in your interpretation of it. That’s what I’ve aimed to do here.

Still, any mistakes or misinterpretations are my own. I painstakingly tried my best to create a story that I hope you will thoroughly enjoy.

Chapter One

DAKOTA

I inhaled a shaky breath as his coffin lowered into the solid ground. The drumbeat echoed in my bones and the tortoiseshell rattle reverberated in my veins. The holy man murmured his final offering in each direction of the wind—north, east, south, west—and then thanked the Great Spirit for safely seeing my father home.

My mother’s quiet whimpering added mass to the hard ball developing in my throat, and my vision blurred through the haze of my own tears. But still I held on to that breath—because when I finally expelled the air from my lungs, it would all be over. Different. Altered forevermore.

My father would truly be gone. And I’d be left in charge of operations at the Golden Arrow Casino.

For the past two weeks, I’d been going through the motions while the police conducted their investigation and the autopsy was performed. But this—the actual cemetery, the sacred ritual—made it absolute. And the finality of that was staggering.

I averted my gaze from the six-foot hole because the throbbing in my chest became so severe; it felt as if my heart had vacated my torso, leaving an enormous crevice. Thank goodness I remained steady in my sensible black heels and had kept my swollen eyes hidden behind my shades. I needed to stay strong for my mother and this community.

My brother Kai’s fingers slid beyond my mother’s arm to reach my shoulder, and finally I released a puff of air. I gave him and his wife, Rachel, a slight nod, then offered a brief glance to my uncle Elan and his family, standing on just the other side.

Stuart, my father’s most trusted employee and friend, stood across the rectangular pit next to Chief Red Hawk and other casino employees. He was always the rock, the voice of reason, and he’d let me lean on him the last two weeks as pressure mounted and decisions were made about the casino going forward.

Finally, I allowed my eyes to scan across the grass to the crowd gathered around. Old and new friends, members of the reservation and of the tribal nation respectfully mourned my father’s death. Later, these same people would be whispering about how his passing had impacted our community and our family’s business. The thought of their gossip made my stomach churn.

Making a sweep past the trees, my gaze collided with a set of vivid blue eyes, like two pieces of sea glass lying in the warm and calming sand. The slice to my gut was so intense my shoulders slumped forward like I might be cut in half. Mom grabbed my arm right at that moment, either to hold herself or me up, and my eyes snapped back to my father’s grave.

But Shane’s gaze remained fixed on me. I could feel it pressing in—cool and heated at the same time—similar to how that sea glass feels in your palm after hours in the surf. I gave him a cursory glance, quickly scrutinizing him the best I could, hoping my dark glasses hid my intentions. I hadn’t seen him in years, not since Kai’s wedding. Even when my brother, who’d been his best friend all throughout high school, had met with Shane during the holiday season, I always found some excuse to keep myself busy.

Besides, it wasn’t like he’d tried reaching out to me the past five years. The last real conversation we had, if you could even call it that, was just before he left for his intensive Marshal training.

But as I stood at my father’s funeral, my emotions raw and at the surface, all my feelings for Shane hit me like a thunderclap, much the same way that sorrow always railroads me. Everything became clear, like the gleam on the edge of a knife. How I’d secretly adored him for years, even though I never said it aloud. And how once he finally returned my affection, we never got the chance to see it played out.

My gaze traced the sweep of his eyebrow, the curve of his mouth, the indent in his cheek. Then it moved down to his long fingers that now tap, tap, tapped his muscular thigh. I remembered how those same nails had dug into my hip as he’d thrust me forward so he could bury his head in my neck. Remembering was so overwhelming that I nearly sank to my knees in the grass.

His years of chasing fugitives as a United States Marshal had kept him fit. His broad shoulders filled out the black suit and his close-cropped hair illuminated those baby blues. I had to force my gaze away, which only sent me back to the tragedy at hand. My senses pelted from all sides. I didn’t know how I was going to make it through the rest of the day. Let alone the year.

As the funeral attendees filed past the grave to throw handfuls of cornmeal or evergreen boughs onto the wooden casket, an ominous fog arose from the ground. Gloomy clouds aligned overhead, casting a dusky silhouette, and almost at once it began to mist. The wetness soothed my heated skin and I welcomed it, tilting my cheeks to the sky.

Rachel’s hand grasped my arm, her low voice urging me to move forward, and when I cast my gaze around, only our immediate family remained. The funeral attendees had drifted back to their cars, some already pulling away from the curb and heading toward the exit. As a group, the four of us moved closer to the remains of my father.

We stood with our arms intertwined in a semicircle. No one spoke as we each said our private, ultimate good-byes. I closed my eyes and whispered my final peace. I’ll make you proud, Daddy.

My shoulder took the brunt of her weight as my mother’s knees gave out, so I shifted and tightened my grip on her waist. As her sobs set my teeth on edge and carved deeper grooves in my soul, Kai took firm hold, tugging both of us into his arms.

When I turned to the parking lot, I spotted Shane and a flare of nostalgia wrapped over my senses, swathing me in comfort. But everything about him seemed different. He stood near a sleek Range Rover, which was a stark contrast to his beat-up high school truck. Even his very being seemed larger, not just in stature but also in self-possession. He was an imposing figure, monopolizing all the air in the space between us.

His hands were shoved deep in his pockets and his muscular chest filled out his crisp white shirt almost too well. His eyes remained glued to mine and I nearly faltered, so pure was my longing for him in that moment. Instead, I tipped up my chin and stayed poised.

I’d never forgotten how it felt to have him leave, first after our secret summer together and then after college graduation. He’d always been the one to go. Which meant that I never was important enough for him to stay. But the problem was that nobody else since had felt essential enough to fill the void that Shane had created in my world.

Now another important man had disappeared from my life. My father. My pillar. My heart. And I was left holding all of the pieces. Again. It’s simply not true that leaving is the hardest thing. Being left was a far worse penalty.

I gazed across the expanse of trees and lawn, trying to keep in the tears threatening to escape my eyes once again. Then I looked down at Shane, who mouthed a single word to me.

Two syllables that could mean so many things, given our history.

“Sorry.”

Chapter Two

SHANE

I drove through the cemetery’s ornate gates with my thoughts still entirely centered on Dakota. Five years later, she was still the most gorgeous girl I had ever laid eyes on. And now she was even more beautiful. She was all woman. Her legs long and solid, her hips lush, and her breasts full. Allowing my mind to drift to those few times she’d been wrapped around me, her scent like new grass after a fresh rain, was pure torture.

This was her father’s funeral and I needed to snap the hell out of it. Still, the idea of holding her, comforting her made my fingers itch, my skin flush. I wanted to be there for her in her grief. True, my best friend, who just so happened to be her brother, looked worn out, but there was no one I felt the urge to support as much as her.

Mr. Nakos’s death had been a huge blow to his community. Knifed in a parking lot and robbed of a few bucks, it was such a senseless death and one that reminded me of how fragile life was. The thugs I dealt with pulled shit like this every day, not even realizing the pain they put the families of their victims through. It was hard for me to keep my cool and not want to tear their heads off.

Out of habit I looked at each and every guest who had attended this funeral and even scouted out the perimeter of the grounds to see who else might’ve been lurking around this huge crowd. It was in my blood to be on constant alert, aware of my surroundings, and to proceed with caution.

Everything seemed to check out despite the tension in the air. The reservation was on edge. I could see it on the casino employees’ faces, ones I recognized from when I used to work there in high school and college. Stuart and Sam, Meadow and Grayson, all still employed in the family-friendly casino. They were hurting, sure, upset about this death. But there was something else there—an undercurrent that I couldn’t quite place my finger on.

As I hung a left at the light in the Commons where Kai’s studio was located, I considered whether or not to drive directly to the Nakos estate where I had been invited after the ceremony. Because that would place me in close proximity to Dakota again. But being around her would bring back that same feeling I’d just had at the ceremony—that tightness in my chest. That overwhelming urge to pull her into the safety of my arms. This was why you didn’t date your best friend’s sister.

In reality, I should just drive the hell back out of town. But this is where I had grown up. They were like family to me, and they had just suffered a huge loss. I wanted to be here for them. I needed to be here for me.

I had worked in that casino for years, knew this culture, respected it like hell, and felt relaxed around this community. The Nakoses had always been successful and Dakota was no exception. I always knew she’d make a name for herself.

After a couple of left turns, my eyes scanned the horizon, connecting with the outskirts of the reservation and the looming structure of the casino. I couldn’t help feeling curious, wanting to know what had people up in arms besides this great man’s death. It felt comfortable being home, almost too much so. But I couldn’t get swept away in this community’s problems. I had plenty of my own to take care of.

As soon as I heard about the funeral, I had taken a few days’ leave from my duties. I needed the time off from work to get my head screwed on straight. I was told that it happened to the best of us. The defeat, hopelessness, and frustration you experienced when you’d dealt with one too many scumbags. The problem was that I had reached my limit.

I pulled in to the only gas station this side of the reservation, all the while considering how my job had taken its toll on me, body and soul. I’d put in a special transfer request weeks ago because I was done with fugitives. With their bullshit, their fucked-up logic about how the law worked. I no longer had the need nor the drive to deal with the underbelly of the world—and maybe I never did.

I stepped out of the car, lifted my hand to an elderly gentleman with shiny black hair and wrinkled skin behind the counter, and stuck the nozzle in my gas tank. As I stood there, I considered how I had worked on a couple of protection cases—for witnesses and federal judges—and wondered if a transfer to that department would solve my itch to leave the field altogether. The job had its perks for sure. I had traveled a fair share and developed a close network of task force buddies—I’d definitely miss them. But fugitive work and I had never felt like a solid fit.

Maybe it was because of how easily Dakota had let me go. We’d never had the opportunity to get anything started. By the time I had graduated with my criminal justice degree, things had already been strained based on distance alone. So when I announced I’d be heading to Marshal training, that had obviously sent her over the edge. She had said the words I’d always feared I’d hear from her: Let’s take a break.

That had been one of our final conversations, other than some random text messages where neither one of us got to the bottom of anything. We definitely weren’t truthful with our feelings, anyway. And I was partially to blame for that. I’d never been one to openly express anything. Just like my dad.

It felt like I was steering on autopilot as my Range Rover followed the curve of the road to the Nakos estate. I considered driving my beat-up red pickup truck from college while in town, because I liked the way her engine purred when I fired her up. But she was from another life, one I had tried hard to leave.

The street was so crowded that cars had piled up on the lawn. I parked several houses down so I could make a quick escape if I needed to. My parents had gone home after the cemetery, so I was in this alone. Not that anyone would’ve been able to place a buffer between Dakota and me.

The first person I saw as I headed up the driveway was my former boss at the casino and Mr. Nakos’s best friend.

“Stuart,” I said, shaking his hand.

“Son,” he said. “Looking good. Atlanta’s been treating you well.”

“Yes, sir,” I said. “Not that I get to enjoy it much. Been on the road a lot.”

He nodded. “Proud of you, son. Knew you’d find your peace, make something good of yourself.”

“Thank you,” I said, not really certain his portrayal was accurate—but I let it go. “Sorry that this is the reason I’m back in town. How’s everybody holding up?”

L...

Présentation de l'éditeur :

From the author of the Between Breaths novels comes a gripping romance about finding yourself while taking a second chance at your first love…

Dakota Nakos was always the resilient, strong-willed achiever. But when her father dies and she’s entrusted with the family’s casino, she feels vulnerable, scared, and more than a little emotional —not exactly the best time to see an old lover she’s never really gotten over.

Dakota once meant the world to Shane Garrity. Then suddenly he left town to train as a U.S. Marshal, and their love for each other crashed into a memory. Now he’s come home for her father’s funeral, and one look at the girl he left behind stirs up both memories and regrets, and reignites a fire he feared he’d lost forever.

Dakota may be the same driven girl she always was, but she’s also changed in ways neither could have anticipated. She’s not just a young woman searching for own identity in the Native American community in which she was raised, but one questioning her new life outside her father’s shadow. Above all she wonders if Shane can push past her weakened defenses to rekindle what they once had, or whether the intense blaze between them will ultimately reduce her heart to ashes.

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Description du livre Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2015. Paperback. État : New. 206 x 138 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. From the author of the Between Breaths novelscomes a gripping romance about finding yourself while taking a second chance at your first love Dakota Nakos was always the resilient, strong-willed achiever. But when her father dies and she s entrusted with the family s casino, she feels vulnerable, scared, and more than a little emotional not exactly the best time to see an old lover she s never really gotten over. Dakota once meant the world to Shane Garrity. Then suddenly he left town to train as a U.S. Marshal, and their love for each other crashed into a memory. Now he s come home for her father s funeral, and one look at the girl he left behind stirs up both memories and regrets, and reignites a fire he feared he d lost forever. Dakota may be the same driven girl she always was, but she s also changed in ways neither could have anticipated. She s not just a young woman searching for own identity in the Native American community in which she was raised, but one questioning her new life outside her father s shadow. Above all she wonders if Shane can push past her weakened defenses to rekindle what they once had, or whether the intense blaze between them will ultimately reduce her heart to ashes. N° de réf. du libraire AAS9780451473257

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Description du livre Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2015. Paperback. État : New. 206 x 138 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. From the author of the Between Breaths novelscomes a gripping romance about finding yourself while taking a second chance at your first love Dakota Nakos was always the resilient, strong-willed achiever. But when her father dies and she s entrusted with the family s casino, she feels vulnerable, scared, and more than a little emotional not exactly the best time to see an old lover she s never really gotten over. Dakota once meant the world to Shane Garrity. Then suddenly he left town to train as a U.S. Marshal, and their love for each other crashed into a memory. Now he s come home for her father s funeral, and one look at the girl he left behind stirs up both memories and regrets, and reignites a fire he feared he d lost forever. Dakota may be the same driven girl she always was, but she s also changed in ways neither could have anticipated. She s not just a young woman searching for own identity in the Native American community in which she was raised, but one questioning her new life outside her father s shadow. Above all she wonders if Shane can push past her weakened defenses to rekindle what they once had, or whether the intense blaze between them will ultimately reduce her heart to ashes. N° de réf. du libraire AAS9780451473257

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