Witness...And Wife? Book Cover

Chapter 1

Straining to open her eyes, Cassie fought the darkness that pressed in from all sides, ominous and threatening like the murky depths of a midnight ocean. An undertow caught her, dragging her deeper and deeper into the abyss. Desperately she snatched at handholds to slow her descent.

Her clutching fingers came up empty. The current grabbed her, sent her tumbling and spinning farther and farther from the surface. A scream welled up inside her. She was trapped. Prisoner in a surreal world of turbulent water and inky despair.

Minutes...hours...went by while she struggled, driven as much by fear of the unknown as by instinct to survive. Seaweed tangled around her legs. Her movements grew sluggish. Warmth drained from her body, like blood from an open wound.

A traitorous voice urged surrender, told her she couldn't win. She refused to listen. Ignoring her aching chest, her cold-numbed limbs, she gathered herself for one final assault.

She called on her last bit of willpower and launched herself.



Toward freedom.

For long moments she floated, pulling great gulps of air into her burning lungs as the nightmare receded. Gradually her breathing steadied and the world stopped spinning. The gentle rocking of waves solidified into a hard, lumpy surface that poked uncomfortably into her backside. She opened her eyes. Beneath her head, the pillow was damp. A sheet twisted around her legs.

Sounds, muffled and distant, grazed her ears. A low hum. A faint rattle. Her muddled brain registered the whisper of rubber-soled shoes brushing against tile. An antiseptic smell hung in the air.

Groggily she peered around, straining to make sense of the dim shapes. Metal bars hemmed the bed. The outline of a nightstand. And on the other side of the room, the edge of a darkened doorway.

A hospital? What was she doing in a hospital? Alarm spasmed through her.

"Awake?" a voice whispered.

The single word perforated the quiet of the room. Her heart lurched. She jerked toward the source and instantly regretted the movement. Pain stabbed behind her eyes, setting off a jackhammer in her skull. Muscles screamed in protest.

She gasped. What on Earth was the matter with her?

"Take it slow, slugger."

Slugger? No one called her slugger anymore. The only ones who used the nickname she'd earned at age eight were her brothers and...Luke.

No, it couldn't be him.

The metallic taste of despair coated her throat, overriding the throbbing in her head. She closed her eyes in denial, remembering the last time she'd lain in a hospital bed, the last time she'd heard the same gravel-edged voice utter the silly nickname.

The last time.

Or was the last time now?

Her stomach knotted and she clenched a fist against it in an attempt to ward off a rising tide of nausea. Surely she hadn't just...

Fragmented scenes flashed across her mind--bits and pieces of her life that assured her she hadn't imagined the passage of time. Her queasiness eased.

A nightmare, then.

She frowned, wincing as skin tightened over bone.

No nightmare. She felt too awful to be dreaming. Taking care to make no more sudden moves, she shifted her head and peered into the shadows, hoping she was wrong about the speaker's identity.

"Can you stand a little light?"

No. She didn't want to see, didn't want to know who was there. Before she could protest she heard a click and white pricked the darkness, illuminating the figure next to the bed. She squeezed her eyes shut as her suspicion was confirmed.

It was Luke.

A rush of longing, more potent than anything she'd allowed herself to feel in ages, clogged her throat. What was he doing here? No one had told her he'd returned to Colorado. But then, why should they? No one knew it mattered. No one--not even her family--knew what it had cost her to offer her ex-husband his freedom and then watch him walk out of her life. Without a single protest.

A familiar, aching hollow opened inside her, an emptiness more draining than whatever had landed her in this bed. Wearily she opened her eyes, knowing she had to say something. "What...happened?" Her tongue, suddenly three sizes too big for her mouth, stumbled awkwardly over the words.

"There was an accident." He lifted the water container from the table beside the bed. "Would you like some water?"

She nodded, then regretted the movement as pain needled down her neck. What did he mean, "an accident"?

Before she could make sense of the statement, he'd slipped an arm beneath her shoulders for support and eased her higher, allowing access to the container's plastic straw. She gulped greedily, trying to ignore the pressure of firm muscles at her back and his palm warm against her arm. When he finally drew away, it was like losing him all over again. Perilously close to tears, she said the first thing that came to mind. "I thought you were in Texas."

Only when his expression tightened did she realize how accusatory she sounded. Helplessness enveloped her. Around Luke, it seemed she never said the right thing.

"I've had enough of Texas. Two years was all I could take." He shrugged, the nonchalant gesture at odds with his bleak tone. "No Rocky Mountains."

Two years? It seemed like yesterday. Through eyes barely open she studied his heavily shadowed jaw and uncompromising mouth. He hadn't changed a bit. Except that now, instead of condemnation, she sensed a flicker of concern in his eyes. Tears prickled against her lids.

Too late. An eternity too late.

wo years ago she'd needed him. Not now. She concentrated on the throbbing in her head in an attempt to blot out the pain in her heart.

It hurt so bad.

When she raised a hand to her forehead, her fingers brushed a padding of gauze. "What--"

"Leave it alone," Luke said. Laying a restraining hand on her arm, he reached across her to press the button on the bed's control panel.

Although Cassie tried to summon resentment at the authority in his tone, her senses overrode her. His touch warmed her chilled skin. His familiar scent filled her nostrils, stirring old memories, old needs, old desires.

The hall door swung open.

"You've finally decided to rejoin us, have you?" said a cheery voice. The nurse touched Cassie's wrist, checking for a pulse Cassie felt sure was elevated, then smoothed the bedclothes. "How do you feel?"

"Like I've been keelhauled."

"That's to be expected. How's the head?"

"Sore. What happened?"

"You had an accident." The nurse shot a glance at Luke. "Hasn't Detective Slater--"

Confused, Cassie saw Luke shake his head, halting the nurse midsentence. A look of consternation crossed the woman's face, but she recovered quickly. "You'll be fine," she assured Cassie with a comforting pat before leaving. "I'll let the doctor know you've regained consciousness. He'll want to see you right away."

Cassie scarcely registered the nurse's departure over the sound of blood rushing in her ears. Every instinct screamed they were hiding something--something worse than the car accident she'd imagined when Luke first spoke. But that was crazy. She wasn't pregnant. Not this time.

Dizzy with tension, she fumbled for alternatives. For one crazy instant she envisioned herself paralyzed, but a quick test of her legs beneath the covers assured her everything was in working order.

The fact that she was relatively uninjured did little to stem her rising flood of panic. She hadn't imagined the odd exchange between Luke and the nurse, so what else could it be?

A gruesome thought popped into her head. "Did someone die?"

Avoiding her eyes, Luke massaged the back of his neck in a all-too-familiar gesture of reluctance.

My God, that's it. I've killed someone! Her breath caught in her lungs as she waited for the answer.


She recoiled. Around the lump of horror forming in her throat, she managed to croak, "Who?"

Luke turned away, his voice muted. "Judge Wainright."

Judge Wainright? Why would Judge Wainright be in her car?

Cord whispered across metal.

Cassie's gaze leaped to where Luke stood at the window, pushing aside the curtains to look at the predawn sky. She stared in alarm at his slumped shoulders while faint impressions brushed her consciousness.


Shifting shadows.


Abruptly, before she lost her nerve, she spoke. "I don't remember the accident. Tell me."

"No accident." Luke let the curtain fall back into place. "Murder."

Light flashed across her memory. Light and the sound of thunder.

A storm. Yes--a storm! She'd been on her way to interview Judge Wainright... She remembered rain splattering her face as she hurried from the parking lot into the building.

Into the building?

Her heart slammed against her ribs. Something about the building. She gripped the bedrail, struggling to remember.

Shifting shadows.

The taste of terror on her tongue.

A flash of light.

Her gaze leaped to the door of what she supposed was the bathroom, strangely unsettled by the darkness beyond. And like a rubber band stretched to the breaking point, the string of impressions snapped.

Shuddering, she released the railing and stared at her open hand, unsurprised to see the imprint of the metal bar on her palm. She rubbed at the ache and took a shaky breath. "It's all a blank."

Luke took forever to settle into the room's only chair, an eternity of time during which her anxiety level went up several notches. His guarded expression, when he finally raised his eyes, made her tense in anticipation.

"At approximately seven-thirty last night, a guard at the Justice Center called the police to report a homicide."

She clutched at the sheeting. "Judge Wainright?"

Luke touched her fisted hand and nodded.


For several moments she feared he wouldn't answer. Head bent, he loosened her grasp from the sheet and, with elaborate attention, smoothed her fingers between his palms. His clumsy attempt at comfort only increased her apprehension.

"Please," she pleaded.

His hands stilled. "A blow to the head. Something heavy enough to crush his skull."

She'd thought she was prepared to hear the details. She wasn't. Her stomach plummeted as an image of Thomas Wainright's benevolent smile formed in her mind. "He called...left a message..."

Luke lifted his head, slipping into cop mode. "What about?"

"I don't know. I assumed it was something to do with the series I'm working on. He'd been helping me--"

"What's the series about?"

"Drug traffic, the new white collar crime."

Luke frowned, but didn't comment. "Did you erase the machine?"

"There wasn't time. I jumped in the car and..." She swallowed convulsively and gripped his hand. "He wasn't there. At least, I thought..."

Something stopped her, an elusive scrap of memory that fluttered ghostlike on the edge of her consciousness.

"Tell me what you remember."

"I heard something." The tape holding the gauze in place tugged at her skin as she knit her brows, but the harder she tried to concentrate, the farther away the memory slipped.

"I can't remember."

"Take your time. It works better if you don't try to force it."

She recognized the tone. She'd heard him use it often enough on others. Accident victims and hysterical witnesses--they all responded to his quiet concern and spilled their guts. But Cassie had nothing to spill. No explanation. No insight. Nothing except a vast void.

And a lump on her head.

"We found you just inside the door to Judge Wainright's chambers, unconscious," Luke explained, his gaze fixed on her face as if hoping the telling would prompt her memory. "The attacker probably hit you with the same object he used on Wainright."

The same object? With Wainright's blood still dripping--

Cassie jerked her trapped hand free, then stiffened, tormented by fragmented images. Shifting shadows. A flash of light. Thunder.

"I don't remember..." she whispered, fighting against a queasy sensation in the pit of her stomach. "Anything."

If her response frustrated him, Luke was careful to hide it. His expression remained neutral as he leaned back in the chair. "Okay, Cassie. It happens sometimes. Especially with head wounds. Given time it'll come back. Meanwhile we'll see what we can get from the tape."

His composure grated on her nerves. She hated the way nothing bothered him. She'd always hated it. No matter how bad things got, Luke remained calm and unruffled. Even when...

Cassie turned her face away to hide the tears that suddenly welled in her eyes.

If only her head would quit pounding. If only she could forget the past as easily as she'd forgotten last night. If only...

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