BEYOND A SHADOW
print edition
SG-5 #8
December 2006

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Beyond A Shadow by Alison Kent

BEYOND A SHADOW
digital reissue edition
SG-5 #8
August 2016

https://goo.gl/vqVn7F

   
Most people come to Comfort Bay, Oregon, in search of a quiet respite. But that's not on the agenda for undercover operative Ezra Moore. He has ten days to unload a shipment of illegal weapons and take down Spectra IT, the international crime syndicate he's infiltrated. Spectra's man, Warren Aceveda, is playing dirty pool. To beat him and stay alive, Ezra has to play dirtier. However, even the best-laid crimes can go sideways, and Ezra's about to find out how far...

Alexa Counsel likes her boring life in Comfort Bay. But there's nothing boring about the new handyman working at the local B&B. Great with his hands? Oh yeah. But there's something much deeper running beneath those still waters. Something she's not sure she understands or trusts. No one is going to use her as a cover, no matter how irresistible he may be. But Ezra is the only man who's ever made her feel so complete, and she's in way too deep to turn back...

Playing cat and mouse with one of the world's fiercest criminals, Alexa and Ezra are about to find out just how dangerous and delicious starting a new life—and finding a new love—can be.

Read an Excerpt

BOOKLIST

The Comfort of Favorite Things - Bliss and the Art of Forever - The Sweetness of Honey - Beneath the Patchwork Moon - Boots Under Her Bed - A Blue Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock(Digital Edition) - Unforgettable - The Second Chance Café - Unbreakable - Undeniable - Holiday Kisses/This Time Next Year - Twenty-One Hours/SEAL of My Dreams - At His Mercy - Playing Love's Odds (Digital Edition) - Love Me Tender (Digital Edition) - Love In Bloom - (Digital Edition) - The Icing On The Cake - With Extreme Pleasure - One Good Man - No Limits - A Long, Hard Ride - Maximum Exposure - Kiss & Tell - Deep Trouble - In Danger - At Risk - Tex Appeal - The Perfect Stranger - Beyond A Shadow - Infatuation - The Complete Idiot's Guide To Writing Erotic Romance - Deep Breath - Goes Down Easy - Red Letter Nights - Totally Charmed - Kiss & Makeup - Undressed - Larger Than Life - Sara Smiles/Beach Blanket Bad Boys - The McKenzie Artifact - The Beach Alibi - The Samms Agenda - The Shaughnessey Accord - The Bane Affair - Mother, Please! - Indiscreet - Wicked Games - A Blue Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock - Striptease - The Sweetest Taboo - Bound To Happen - No Strings Attached - Roped Into Romance - All Tied Up - Love In Bloom - Four Men & A Lady - Love Me Tender - The Badge And The Baby - The Grinch Makes Good - The Heartbreak Kid - Call Me - Playing Love's Odds

Alexa Counsel wrapped her cardigan tighter and huddled deep inside the wool. She hurried down the sloped driveway from the bed and breakfast that was also the Maples’ home toward the path that cut across the lawn to the candy store whose business, when combined with that of the B&B, brought in almost as much income for the family as did Danny Maples’ fishing tours.

Molly had told Alexa she was certain her daughter had gone down to the docks to wait for the handyman she’d recently hired. Danny’s bookings had picked up to the point that he had little time to spare around the house or for the B&B these days, leaving Molly no choice but to pay someone to take care of what had always been her husband’s honey-do work. Finding help in the small fishing and tourist community of Comfort Bay on the Oregon coast was an iffy proposition.

With so many of the town’s residents self-employed in one of those two trades, the full-timers who weren’t retirees had their own work to keep them busy enough to put their teens to work as well. And since many of the part-timers flew south for the winter, that left Molly slim pickings.

Alexa trusted her friend to know what she was doing, but couldn’t help but wish Molly knew something about Ezra Moore. Something as in anything besides the fact that he happened to be in the Maple Sugar Shack the morning she put out the “Help Wanted” sign and told her he’d take the job. He didn’t ask about hours. He didn’t ask about pay.

What he’d told her was that he was taking a sabbatical from a position teaching disadvantaged youths in his Caribbean island home. He wanted a change of scenery to stave off burn-out, new experiences to share with his students, broader horizons with which to expand his teaching repertoire. As noble as it sounded in theory, Alexa wasn’t easily duped.

That said, she wasn’t the one desperate for someone to take over the repairs, maintenance, and odd jobs Danny wasn’t able to find time to fit in. And, really. She had no reason to doubt Mr. Moore’s claims. She’d come to Comfort Bay five years ago for a similar purpose. She’d stayed because, well, the small community was now her home. Her job was here. She had commitments. She had friends.

And that reminder had her scrambling across the lawn toward the back of the candy shop calling for Emmy Rose Maples to come home, her boot soles slipping on the damp grass, the even damper air kinking her hair around her face. If Ezra Moore was with Emmy Rose, all the better. The trip down would do double-duty; on the way back, she could show him around the property for her friend.

If not, then once he arrived he’d have to find his own way to the Maples Inn. Comfort Bay’s population of just over twelve hundred guaranteed he could ask anyone he met on the street and come away with detailed directions. Five years later and Alexa, a California girl, was still getting used to that element of small town living herself.

“A-lex-a!”

Alexa looked up from watching where she was walking and searched out Emmy Rose. The girl had just rounded the side of the Maple’s candy shop and waved hugely with both of her arms. Alexa waved back, her mirrored enthusiasm fading as she realized Molly’s daughter had, indeed, found the new handyman.

At least that was who Alexa assumed was following on the girl’s heels. And even knowing all she knew about Ezra Moore’s impending arrival, she had to bite down on her tongue to keep from screaming at Emmy Rose to run.

Even from this distance, Alexa had no trouble discerning that Ezra Moore was a formidably intimidating and dangerous man. He was still too far away for her to see his features clearly. She didn’t need to. She stood by her assessment. With every step he took, danger rippled in his wake like rings of water from a smoothly skipped stone.

It was in the way he never stopped soaking in his surroundings, looking over his shoulder as he hefted his duffel bag higher, lifting his chin as if listening to the sounds carried in on the ocean breeze, as if scenting anything in the air he found threatening or unfamiliar.

She had no idea how or why she saw all of that so clearly. She only knew that she did. She was not imagining the tingling at her nape, or the flesh on her arms pebbling from fright more than from cold. All she was doing was watching him, the tension in his stride, the stiffness in his posture, thinking that both of those even more than his skin color would cause him to stand out in Comfort Bay.

And then before she knew it, he was standing in front of her, Emmy Rose a buffer between. Alexa met his eyes directly and held herself tighter as she shivered anew. She reached for Molly’s daughter and pulled the girl close. And only when she felt the small body tucked safely to hers did she hold out her hand.

“I’m Alexa Counsel. A friend of Molly’s.”

“Alexa’s my teacher,” Emmy Rose added as Ezra swung his duffel to the ground. “Except at school I have to call her Mrs. Counsel.”

“As is proper,” Ezra said, his eyes never leaving Alexa’s, his cool fingers swallowing hers, the music in his voice continuing to sing in her ears. “I am Ezra Moore, Mrs. Counsel. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

Smooth, dangerous and . . . damaged. She saw it in his eyes that were bright and sharp but devoid of emotion, heard it in his words that were still playing a tune. She felt it most of all in his touch, in the way he took too long to release her, waiting until she hit the edge of nervous discomfort before letting her go.

“It’s actually Ms. Counsel. I’m divorced. But the kids knew me first as Mrs., so . . .” Blabbering. She was blabbering. “Please. Call me Alexa.”

“Alexa.” He took in her hair, her mouth, the line of her jaw before his gaze returned to her eyes. His were nearly black, not so much like coal, more like . . . bottomless. She didn’t think she’d ever seen eyes quite so dark, and had yet to look away when he added, “I am sorry for your loss.”

Her loss?

“You husband,” Ezra supplied before she could ask. “It was difficult for you, the loss, and I am sorry.”

She backed up, straightening her spine and pulling Emmy Rose with her, putting one step between the two of them and Ezra, wanting to put more. “Thank you, but I’m fine.” It was the only thing she could think of to say.

No one had ever realized the toll the break-up with Brett had taken. Molly and Rachel, her two best friends in Comfort Bay, had called him a cheating bastard and supplied her with chocolate, doing their best to keep her spirits from falling into a deep dark hole.

They’d fallen anyway, and she’d had to learn not to wear her private face in public. She hadn’t wanted them to know the truth of all she’d felt.

But Ezra knew.

He’d looked into her eyes and he’d seen the truth she tried to keep from herself. She had no idea how he’d done it. She hated that he had. She would have to work harder. Reveal less. Find a new trick to use to hide what she was feeling. One that would fool the keen eyes of perceptive strangers as well as her friends.

“I’m hungry,” Emmy Rose said, squirming away from Alexa, her interruption breaking the coil of tension binding them that was ready to snap. “I’m going home.”

Alexa watched the girl scramble up the hill, crossed her arms over her chest to ward off the chill, and followed. Behind her, Ezra hitched up his duffel and then fell into step at her side. “Molly tells me you teach school.”

He nodded; she saw it in profile. “Yes. Already you and I have that in common.”

Was he expecting them to have more? He had no reason to expect anything at all. He shouldn’t have even known she existed. Unless Molly had mentioned her to him. Alexa latched onto the change of subject and asked, “What all has Molly told you about Comfort Bay? Maybe I can fill in the blanks for you. Or answer any questions?”

“You are not from this place originally, are you?”

She avoided glancing over. Too much about him had already set her on edge. She did not need the reminder of his size. Or of his hard strength. She listened instead to the crunch and squish of the ground beneath their boots and wrapped her cardigan tighter.

“I moved here five years ago. From L.A.”

“With your husband.”

“He wanted to get out of the city and give the quiet life a try.”

“He did not find it to his liking.”

“He grew tired of it. After a while. Yes.” Grew tired of her. Of their marriage that had been comfortable but never passionate.

“But you did not.”

She had, but she’d stayed. She did not abandon friends or treat her commitments lightly. But yes. She missed the energy of the city, the excitement, the environment that stimulated in ways Comfort Bay could not.

It took her a moment to realize Ezra was no longer walking beside her. She stopped, turned, snagged back strands of hair blowing into her face, but said nothing, waited instead for him to voice whatever he had on his mind, this man who was so very intriguing, so very . . . alive.

He didn’t make her wait long. “I was wrong about you, Alexa Counsel. You don’t like it here at all.”

She shook her head emphatically to disabuse him of the notion that he knew anything about her. To disabuse herself of the notion that he was right. “I have some of the best friends here I’ve ever had in my life. I love my students. There are so many advantages to teaching in a small district. The teacher student ratio for one. Of course there’s the disadvantage of less funding, but the pros really do make up for the cons.”

“None of that proves my assessment wrong.”

This had to be the most bizarre conversation she’d ever had with a man she’d just met. “What are you so interested in how I feel about living here?”

He tilted his head to the side, and she noticed for the first time the jagged scar like a lightning bolt running from his temple to his chin. It was old and faded, a wound from a long time ago, and it started her wondering about where he’d come from, the life he’d lived, how old he was now.

“Because of what it tells me about you.” He smiled then, a slight movement of his mouth that revealed the deep groove of a dimple at odds with the intensity of the rest of his face.

She wasn’t buying whatever it was he was selling. No dangerously perceptive stranger was going to cause her to start doubting herself. And she was not, she told herself, was not the least bit intrigued by the dichotomy of his dimple and that lethal looking scar.

“You’re wrong,” she assured him, assured herself as well. “I do like it here. I’m sure you will, too. Oh, one word of warning. If you stick around for any length of time, don’t be surprised if you get the sense that you’re living under a microscope. Comfort Bay is a very . . . friendly town.”

This time when she started walking, he was quicker to catch up. He also moved closer to her side, their shoulders brushing, the breeze blowing the salty scent of the sea from his clothes into her path along with the clean smell of soap.

“That will not be a problem. I am an open book.” He lifted his duffel bag higher. “I have no secrets.”

She didn’t believe a word that he said. She smiled politely, ignoring the prickles of premonition crawling down her spine, prickles telling her that his secrets were ones it might kill her to know.