her forgotten betrayal

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Excerpt of opening chapter

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Her Forgotten BetrayalbyAnna DeStefano

Coming in June from Entangled Publishing

Image by Jen Talty

Cover Art will be revealed the week before release!

Chapter OneRun! The thought screamed through Shaw Cassidys mind, her entire body, every instinct demanding that she escape. Youre not going anywhere, she silently scolded herself. Not until this is over.The cramped darkness around her shrank closer, choking off her oxygen like a fist clenching around her throat. She fought to swallow. She crouched behind the closed closet door. On the other side, an angry argument escalated. Unholy plans seethed like brutal, living things.Thats not the price we agreed upon! someone shouted, every syllable laced with the threat of violence. The words held a foreign accent, even though the mans English was impeccable.The parameters of our deal have changed, answered a raspy voice that was familiar, yet she couldnt place it. Ive absorbed enormous risk to get you what you need. Pay up, or our deal is off. And I assure you, sir, no one backs out of an agreement with me.The coldness of the second mans response made Shaws stomach roll as they continued to argue. She shivered. What had she stumbled into?

If she made the slightest noise, shed be discovered crouching amidst surplus office equipment and supplies. Frozen to the spot, she strained to hear each word, her heartbeat pounding in her ears. This was insane. But she had to know everything these men were up to, even if it took all night for them to finish so she could get away and finally alert the authorities.The world she'd created from her empty life was imploding around her. These bastards clandestine activities would ruin her. They were putting countless livescountries, evenat risk. Her multi-national corporation, Cassidy Global Research, and the valuable work they did were the center of her worldif she didnt count Esmeralda, who condescended to being petted twice a day when Shaw filled her geriatric Siamese food bowl. Every other waking moment was consumed by her research, client conferences, her smartphone, and an endless stream of reports and deadlines. Her research made a difference. Her companies provided the government and other select clients with top secret technology and scientific innovation in various fields, while she was rarely required to venture farther than her office or her labs. At thirty-two, she was successful. She was content. She was as close to happy as shed been in fifteen years. As close as shed ever be again. No way was she letting these men rip that away from her. She hunkered deeper within the cloying dimness. The only light was a sharp seam of illumination cutting across her bent knees from where the door didnt completely meet the carpet. Shed been lying in wait for these guys, certain of the timing of the meeting, even though there was no mention of it in the Cassidy scheduling system. She had to stop them. She needed more information, incontrovertible proof of the security breaches shed uncovered. Otherwise if an official investigation was launched, the trail of evidence would lead authorities straight to her, not these dangerous men.

She shifted her balance. Fresh blood circulated through her legs. Pain seared up her thighs. Pinpricks of sensation swarmed like bees. You wont get away with this madness! the foreign-sounding man raged.

I will, shouted the raspy-voiced man. Then he calmly added, I always have.

The verbal sparring escalated to even greater decibels. She winced. At any moment, theyd come to physical blows. Who was arguing like they wanted to kill each other in her father's abandoned conference room? A winter storm battered rain against the outer windows, drowning out more and more of what was being said. One of the men moved closer to her, a body blocking the light filtering under the closet door. She cringed, her hand grabbing the doorjamb, until the person stepped away. How had she convinced herself that the solution to stopping their criminal activity was to spy on them herself? In a closet. In the middle of the night. With an ominous wail, wind buffeted the high-rise that housed her corporate headquarters. An agonizing cramp grabbed at her right calf. Her leg slipped, her shoe banging into the closet's wall. The room beyond her stilled, the sudden silence terrifying her. She held her breath, her hands plastered against the door, hoping. Praying. Maybe theyd think the noise had been caused by the storm. Someone approached again. This time, she could hear his footsteps. Steady. Measured. The tread of men's dress shoes, muffled by carpet. He slowed, stopped, stalling mere inches from her. Another pointless wave of fear sucked away the air around her. Her lungs burned. Her hands balled into fists. She wanted to pound them against the door. God, how could she have been so reckless, so stupid?The doorknob turned. She grabbed it, as if she could prevent whomever was there from getting inside. The knob was wrenched away. Light from the conference room pierced her hiding place. She blinked against the brightness, and squinted. The barrel of an ancient-looking revolver emerged through the glare. Her gaze tracked from its muzzle up an arm and then a mans torso, both covered in an expensive, dark suit coat. Until she was staring into the face of a monster.Her mind seized. Reality seemed to contract, then expand. One second, she thought the carpet was rising up to smack her. The next, she realized shed crumpled to the floor, in a boneless heap at the mans feet. Her thoughts blanked to nothingness, except for the conviction that it wasnt possible. He wasnt possible. You... said the raspy, eerily familiar voice. A menacing hand grabbed her hair. Its grip kept her from crawling away. He jerked her head up. The muzzle of the gun bit into her temple.

No! She stared at her captor and saw nothing but death. Her mind refused to process the rest.The ruthless, emotionless logic shed mastered since she was a teenager deserted her. She fought the all-consuming confusion that replaced it. She strained to focus. To really see him. But his features wouldnt register. There was only the gun and the terror, the ominous sound of a vicious storm, and the absolute certainty that he was going to kill her.

I dont understand, she said. This wasnt happening. It couldnt be happening. Kill the bitch, said the man with the foreign inflection. Shes heard everything weve said.No, please Shaw struggled against his hold, hating that she was begging, that she once more felt like a desperate teenagerpetrified, fighting for her life, and crumbling under her fear. I won't tell anyone you were here. I swear.Pain burned across her scalp, her hair pulling out from its roots. She tried to crawl away. Her legs tangled in something from the closet.

Sorry, Shaw, said the man restraining her. His tone was annoyed, hassled, maybe even a little amused, as if killing her was a special treat just for him. Its time for you to learn your true place in my world.

She heard a click. The sound of a revolvers hammer being cocked. She stared up at him in defiance, wanting to spit in his face so hed know he hadnt won.

Instead, she screamed when the gun fired and her world dissolved into darkness.***

Cole Marinos jogged through biting-cold rain toward Atlanta Memorial Hospitals ER entrance. The entire eastern seaboard had been socked in by slushy winter storms. It had been a bitch of a night to catch a flight in from New York, and then a cab to midtown from the airport.

Stepping inside, he shucked his leather jacket, which was soaked even though thered only been a few feet between the cab and the sliding doors that now whooshed shut behind him. Rubbing a hand over his face and through his longer-than-regulation hair, he dripped water onto the admissions counter.

Sorry. He flashed his badge, then asked for the directions he required. An older woman in a starched white shirt and pink jumper consulted her computer, then jerked a tissue from the box at her elbow. Sixth floor, she grumbled. Ask at the desk. The button pinned to her shoulder said she was a hospitality volunteer. Evidently, three oclock in the damn morning was no place for hospitality to make an appearance. Just as Atlanta was no place for Cole himself tonight.

He draped his jacket over his shoulder, dampness soaking through his T-shirt. The foreboding that had hounded him since boarding the plane grew stronger as he strode to the central elevators, rode to the sixth floor, then followed a second set of directions given by an equally irritable nurse, down the hallway to their right. After flashing his badge twice more at plain clothed officers who were either Atlanta Police detectives or Federal Marshals or, like Cole, FBI, he stopped at the rooms observation window and stared inside.The patient was a fragile-looking blonde, even though hed read she hit the private gym at her corporate headquarters seven days a week, and was a devotee of several eastern meditative disciplines. The single light over the bed shrouded her in shadow. If it werent for the bandage covering the right side of her head where a bullet had grazed her skull, the breath-taking beauty would have appeared to be resting peacefully. Like a princess, awaiting the hero who would kiss her back to awareness. Cole rubbed a hand across his still-damp neck, echoes from their childhood whispering through his mind. He brushed them away.He didnt have to look to know that the man stepping to his side was his latest supervisor. Cole tensed, instinctively anticipating the worst. Hed been summonsed to Atlanta ostensibly to offer an in-person consultation on the their task-forces prime suspect. But he wasnt buying it. The escalating stakes of the Cassidy Global situation had put their team on high alert. With Shaw Cassidys shooting on top of everything else, there were too many unanswered questions now for their investigation to continue without a significant shift in tactics. You said she was hysterical, Cole began.The doctors had to sedate her again, Chief Inspector Rick Dawson replied, unwrapping a stick of chewing gum and slipping it into his mouth. The faint, cloying scent of tobacco clinging to the man hinted that Dawson still hadnt fully kicked his addiction. Each time she wakes up, its as if she realizes that she cant remember anything all over again. Its happened twice already. At this point, the doctors think it will take considerably longer for her condition to resolve itself.

For her memory to return?

Dawson nodded stiffly and chewed faster.

Like what? Cole asked. A few more hours?

Days. Weeks. It could be months, for all they know. Or possibly never, if we push her too hard for answers, and her fucking mind closes down for good. Thats what the experts say, anyway.

Cole winced. He reminded himself for the dozenth time that the spiraling-from-bad-to-worse circumstances of this case meant nothing more to him personally than any of his others assignments had. Because of her injuries?Because of the trauma of whatever happened. Her brains intact, but its shutting down for some reason. Well try interviewing her, but

Dont you mean interrogating? Cole snapped.

Whatever. Dawson shot the gum wrapper at a nearby waste basked and missed.The calculating look in his gaze said hed relish the opportunity to close this case once and for all. Any way he could. Shaw had been on their radar since the beginning of the Cassidy Global investigation. Yet legally theyd been unable to touch her. Most of the team would be happy to use any means necessary to finally get some real answers. Including ruining a womans mind.

Dawsons jaw clenched in frustration. He patted his pants pockets, as if searching for a pack of cigarettes that didnt materialize. The neurologist says to give her time, Dawson said, chewing even louder. Quiet. Isolation. Familiar surroundings. Additional agitation or trauma will worsen her condition. Maybe make it permanent. Which means, at least for now, we still keep our hands off.

Cole gave the taller, fairer man a measured stare. Feeling as if a guillotine had been positioned precariously above his head, he shrugged back into his soggy jacket, already calculating how long it would take him to backtrack to the airport. Then me interviewing her personally is a non-starter. Of all the people who might agitate her, I assure you Im tops on the list.

Dawsons focus tracked back to their patient. I didnt call you in to interview her.

Cole froze. The moment that hed somehow known was inevitable had arrived. He let his head fall forward, picturing a razor-sharp blade swiftly dropping toward him. He glanced into Shaws hospital room again. Then why am I here?

Dont you still own that piece of junk fishing cabin up on her familys mountain?Ah, hell.

Chapter TwoThree Weeks Later

Shaw woke in the dead of night, kicking at the attacker whod discovered her in the conference room closet. Awareness returned, her nightmares lingering hold as sickening, as real as every other time shed dreamed it since her shooting. But, thankfully, there was a pile of suffocating pillows beneath her, not office carpeting. There was no faceless man or brutal grip restraining her. Instead, her arms and legs were tangled in linen sheets, the fabric so fine and so old it was gossamer-soft to the touch.

She forced her eyes to open completely.She wasn't being dragged to her death by a murderer. She was sitting alone on an overstuffed mattress, fighting her bedding and losing her mind, and grasping for the details of that nights memory before they once more slipped beyond her reach. Just as every other recollection of her life before the shooting had stubbornly refused to return. Which left her smack-dab in the middle of a living nightmare, in a world beyond her control that her detail-obsessed brain refused to make peace with.

This is ridiculous, Esme, she said to the cat winking sleepily at her from the foot of the bed. And its not working. How did we end up here?Here being Shaws grandmothers bedroom, on a secluded, mountain estate she couldnt remember any better than she did her family or the life in Atlanta, Georgia, shed been whisked away from. Her body and flannel nightdress were drenched in sweat. Her mind, her thoughts, every part of her was shivering. Not from fear. But from the possibility that she might never remember what she had to in order to reclaim the successful life shed been assured shed lived before that awful night.

She wrapped her arms around herself and gave her mind a mental shake

Jeez.

Maudlin much?A bedside lamp illuminated the room. Its cheery glow was no match for the dark spell the dream had cast. Something thudded softly beyond her closed bedroom door, jerking Shaws gaze toward the hallway, then back to her cat.Did you hear that? she whispered