Excerpt from Hidden Legacy
Her long legs ate the road, and even with his conditioning of daily workouts, he found catching up to her difficult. She sprinted as if the devil licked at her heels. But it wasn't him she feared. The knowing hit him like a brick and he stumbled for half a step, swearing as he regained his balance.
She should be afraid of having been caught. She should be afraid of spending time in prison for her crime. She should be afraid of him, of the questions he'd ask her. But as he caught up to the long-limbed woman he'd known intimately, he realized something else made her fly over the narrow sandy shoulder. Something greater than her fear of breaking the law, greater than her fear of punishment, gave her wings.
She'd bolted to survive.
But from what?
Was that what had happened six years ago, too? What had she been running from then?
"Juliana!" His cry huffed raggedly as he overtook her.
"No! Go away."
Just as he grabbed for her, she sidestepped. With a lunge, he tackled her. They fell. He twisted in the air, catching the brunt of their impact with the ground, then kept rolling into the shallow ditch, pinning Juliana beneath him and the Nadyenka Sapphire between their bodies.
"Let me go." Breathing hard, she struggled against his grasp like a woman possessed. "You have no idea what you're doing."
She sobbed now as she struggled. Great big sobs filled with fear, desperation, and anguish. "I have to get home. I have to get home. Please, Lucas. I have to get home."
He anchored her into the ground with his weight, while she bucked for freedom. Holding both her hands, he twined his fingers with hers and stayed the movement of her arms with his forearms. He stilled the motion of her head by placing his face against hers, cheek to cheek. "Shhh, shhh," he whispered in her ear, giving in to the strong urge to calm her, comfort her, take care of her. "It's all right, Jewel. Whatever it is, I can help you."
"No, no." Her breath puffed against his nape. "You're only making things worse. Let me go, please, let me go."
Her tears spread hot against his cheek, melting something inside of him, flooding him with the peace that had evaded him for so long. He understood now the restlessness that had hounded him since his transfer back to Boston six months ago, fueling in him the unsettling urge for stability and familiarity. The dreams, starring Juliana, that had come with unnerving regularity should have given him a clue. Her proximity had been the reason for his fretful sleep, his impatient days.
And even though she'd just stolen his most precious possession, his heart suddenly ached for the tenderness she'd once showed him, for her seductive kisses, for the softness of her body moving in rhythm to his. Sliding cheek against wet cheek, he moved his head until their lips met. He tasted the saltiness of her tears, the anguish in her sobs, and desperately tried to alchemize both into the trusting bond they'd once shared.
She gulped and gave a small cry that could have been regret or longing, but she remained unyielding. Maybe there had never been as much between them as he'd believed. The thought saddened him, but the tenderness remained. Juliana was no thief. She had a reason for her unlikely action, and he would get to the bottom of it.
He stared into her eyes, now more gray than blue. They reminded him irrationally of thunder on a stormy day. He should have fought for what was his, shouldn't have let her walk away just to save his male pride. He caressed her cheek with his own, gentled his voice. "Why are you running? What are you afraid of?"
She closed her eyes. Torment etched into her features, distorting them. Her chest heaved beneath his.
"Talk to me, Jewel."
"Let me go."
"I can help you."
She shook her head.
"We can work this out. Let me help you."
"I can't. There's too much at stake. I know you didn't steal the Nadyenka Sapphire for yourself. Who did you steal it for?"
Her eyes opened wide. "How—"
"It's not your style. Who coerced you into this?"
"I don't know."
"I don't know. I really don't know."
"What's he holding against you?"
She turned her face away from his and struggled once more. He absorbed her blows, letting her tire herself out. Sensing he was on the right track, he kept up the pressure of questions drilled with precision.
"What's he holding against you, Jewel?"
"Nothing. He's holding nothing. Now let me go!"
"Blackmail? Is that it?"
"He has pictures of you in a compromising position with some public official, and you're terrified he'll publish them?"
"You cheated him on an original piece, on an appraisal, and now he's buying your silence with this theft?"
"You fenced some of the other pieces he's stolen, now he's threatening to expose you?"
A car whizzed by, shivering the grass above them in its backwash.
"Then what, Juliana? You're not the sort of woman who'd compromise her ethics for a stone, no matter how big or how valuable the damned sapphire is. What does he have on you that would make you break the law, make you take the chance of spending time in prison, make you run the risk of destroying your career? It has to be something big, something priceless. For the life of me, I can't think of anything you'd be willing to give up your precious lifestyle for. You certainly weren't willing for me."
Pain twisted in her eyes. He'd pushed too far, made his point too personal. But hell, this was personal. He'd lost her six years ago and still didn't know why. If he didn't catch the Phantom, he stood to lose the only proof to his lineage to Dunavia. He stood to lose all the hard gains he'd made in his career. Old Rules-and-Regs, his squad supervisor, wasn't going to give him many more chances to botch this case before passing it on to "abler" hands.
And now that he'd found Juliana again, he wasn't sure he wanted to let her go.
"What's he holding against you, Juliana?"
She whispered something.
"What?" he asked, bending his head closer to catch her response.
The words came out on a thin thread of voice. He thought he'd misunderstood them, but the truth was wide and frank in her eyes, which shifted from gray to deep blue. He stared down at her as if seeing her for the first time.
Juliana had a child? His heart contracted with pain. Juliana with another man? His mind couldn't quite click the picture in place. Ridiculous as it sounded, he hadn't thought another man could tame her. He'd unconsciously waited for her to realize the fact and come back to him.
"What?" he asked again, more to jump start his stalled brain than because he wanted her to repeat her unexpected blow.
She cried harder now, and her sobs resonated inside him, making him share her torture. "He's got my baby. I have to get home before he calls. I have to give him the Sapphire, or he'll hurt my daughter. Please, Lucas, let me go."
Kidnapped. Her child had been kidnapped. Now everything made sense. To save his baby, he would have given up the sun and the moon, stolen the Seven Wonders of the World—he'd have done anything.
He lightened his weight on her, but didn't set her free. "You need me."