Sydney Castleton has worked hard to put her less than savory past behind her…until her sister asks for her help. Devin Starke has fought too many battles, seen too many deaths, to look forward to a peaceful future…until his best friend and partner asks him to help return the horse his wife, Sidney’s sister, took when she left.

Stormhaven, a ranch in northern New Mexico, has become a place for fighting men to readjust to the world, a sort of decompression chamber for those who have seen too much. Devin Starke is such a man. And Sydney isn’t far behind him.

When the sparks ignite between them, Devin and Sydney fight the attraction, as neither one is good at relationships. But when Sydney is attacked and fighting for her life, Devin realizes things aren’t quite what they seem. Can these two overcome the issues from their past, or are they doomed to lose any chance for love in the future?

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In A Question of Honor by Mona Karel, Sydney Castleton has a past she is not particularly proud of, working with her father as a soldier of fortune. Now her father is dead, and Sydney is trying to start over. Wanting to right a wrong committed by her sister, who may also be dead, Sydney agrees to take a stolen horse back to its owner at Stormhaven Ranch in New Mexico. The horse’s owner doesn’t want Sydney driving alone, so he sends his right hand man, Devon Starke, to California to bring both Sydney and the horse back to the ranch. But trouble is following Sydney and her life—as well as that of anyone she cares for—is now in danger.

This book, like the others Karel has written, shows a depth of understanding of people and their relationships. You can’t help but root for her characters as they struggle to find their way through unique trials and tribulations. The story has a good strong plot that will keep you turning pages, but it’s the charming, heart-warming love story that will have you reading this one again and again.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: A Question of Honor by Mona Karel is both a suspenseful spy thriller and a captivating romance. Our heroine, Sydney, is a former mercenary who worked with her father, a legendary operative known as “The Rook.” When her father is killed by an act of vengeance and his team disbands, Sydney tries to start over, but her past haunts her. She is convinced she will never find anyone to love her enough to overlook her shady, less-than-legal past. Our hero, Devon, is a veteran of the Special Forces and has seen way too much death and tragedy. All he wants now is a little peace. Devon’s boss at Stormhaven Ranch in New Mexico sends him to meet Sydney in California and drive her, and the horse her sister stole from Stormhaven—which Sydney tracked down and recovered—back to New Mexico. A tough, seasoned cowboy, Devon tries to ignore the sparks igniting between him and Sydney. He’s convinced that he’ll never find anyone to love him enough to overlook his none-too-subtle scars, both physical and emotional.

Karel is one of my favorite authors, and this book doesn’t disappoint. One of the things I like best about her work is that her characters both male and female are not the “mass-produced” incredibly beautiful hunks and hotties we see so much in romance fiction today. Karel’s characters feel like real people and the obstacles they face are tough, intriguing, and complicated. Not that I have anything against beautiful people. I enjoy drooling over a hunk as much as the next red-blooded female. But Karel brings an authenticity to her characters that pulls you in and tugs at your heartstrings page after page.

Chapter 1

She knew that walk. With a slight hesitation in one leg, he prowled like a wounded predator, conditioned to succeed against the most dangerous game of all. Even limping, his reactions would be instantaneous, his balance superior. By itself, his body would be a weapon. He’d be the best man to have on your side in a battle. After the battle, he’d unwind with a drink and a woman. The drink would be strong and straight. The woman would be bosomy and not too bright. He’d very likely spend more time with the drink than the woman.

Sydney Castleton let her mind drift through bitter thoughts and buried memories as she waited for the man who proclaimed danger with every step he took toward her. He was no different from the men who’d worked with her father: soldiers of fortune, whose luck could run out at any minute.

What trouble had her sister gotten her into this time?

This late at night, the Long Beach Airport was far quieter than its Los Angeles counterpart to the north. Weary passengers straggled across the large hallway, looking for friends, for family, for signs guiding them to their luggage and the end of their trip. The surrounding crowd would see only the man’s height, the breadth of his shoulders, perhaps the dark hair under his wide-brimmed hat. His distinctive gliding walk might seem merely athletic, and who else would notice his awareness of everything around him?

Sydney knew these skills demanded a greater price than most would willingly pay. What had his payment been? She shook her head to dispel the thought and quell her imagination. He was just a man, after all, here to help her move a horse. She put aside her memories and stepped forward to greet him.

He didn’t seem to notice her at first, his attention on the rowdy returning youth sports team about to overrun the lobby. With a quick step to the side, he slowed down and put himself behind a young mother pushing a stroller, until the swarm separated around them without incident. Then he looked over at Sydney and tilted his head, indicating a door leading to the outdoor baggage claim area.

When they were both out of the air conditioning and fluorescent lights and she could get a closer look at his face, she saw his eyes more clearly. Amber. His eyes were like the finest Baltic amber, translucent, with darker streaks that had once been alive. Now the darker streaks were suspended in the depths of eyes that had seen too much, surrounded by a face that had experienced too much. Small lines on his face marred the healthy tan of an outdoorsman. One of those lines had cut deeper, too near the memory-shadowed eyes for anyone’s health.

She shook away the impression. Now wasn’t the time for any distraction.

“Mr Starke?” She waited a beat for his reply, then forged ahead. “I tried to call the ranch, but you left early. Something’s come up. I won’t be able to leave as soon as I’d hoped.” She looked closer into the shadow cast by his hat brim, gauging his response. “It might be as much as a week.”

He stared at her in silence, obviously trying to filter her words through layers of exhaustion and what looked like a nasty headache.

“Is the coffee in here any good?” His voice rasped in the best Marlboro man accent. “The stuff on the plane tasted like it was strained through old socks.”

“I’ve always suspected the coffee here is what they can’t get the passengers to drink on the plane.” She tilted her head, judging how badly he needed coffee. “A couple places nearby make it fresh every hour or so. Would you like to try one of them?”

“If that’s your best offer, I’ll take you up on it, Ms. Castleton.”

“Sydney, Mr. Starke. Ms. Castleton is someone who has to work for a living. I try to leave her at the job site.” She turned toward the outside baggage claim area. “Do you have any luggage to pick up?”

He shifted his carry-on bag and settled his hand in the middle of her back, urging her away from the door. “Just this bag. And no one’s called me Mr. Starke since I spent the night in the county jail for busting up a bar. Devin’ll do just fine for me, Sydney.” He matched strides with her, and she couldn’t help noticing how much better his longer legs looked in worn jeans than hers.


The coffee might not have been French roast, or whatever was trendy today, but it was fresh and strong and hot. Devin held it in his mouth long enough to burn his tongue then let it slide down his throat, obviously enjoying every aromatic sting. Even as he seemed to lounge on the restaurant’s turquoise vinyl bench, seat he remained balanced, his senses alert. Sydney remembered men who sat like this, the power in their hard bodies barely leashed. Their eyes had spoken of pain deeper than any scar. She remembered sitting that way herself, more than once, her every sense tuned to survival. But that was in a lifetime she’d left far behind.

No wonder the pretty blonde waitress hovered, refilling coffee cups, bringing water and, in general, stalling as long as possible while she waited for Devin to shift his attention away from the fresh strawberry pie and steaming black coffee. An aura of menace always attracted the foolish young.

Devin lifted his head only to scan the meager crowd before returning his attention to the strawberry pie. Sydney indicated no further need, and they were left alone.

“That was good.” He pushed away the empty plate. “Our fruits are just barely starting to flower.”

“One of the few advantages of being in Southern California. We’ve had fresh strawberries for most of the last two months. Mosby thinks they’re special.”

“You’re wasting strawberries on that stud horse?”

“He likes them, almost better than carrots.”

“Never said he was dumb.” He took in a healthy swallow of coffee. “You actually keep Mosby in the back yard? In Los Angeles?”

“County, not city. The house is east of the city in a more rural area near the San Gabriel river bed. Maybe an hour away from where I’m working.”

“You ever been in New Mexico?”

“Just the weekend in Santa Fe, when I met Ty at the wedding party. I was looking forward to spending more time there. I haven’t had a vacation for years.”

“It’s the least he could do, after you took care of his stud. You’re talking like you can’t come out–does it have to do with that delay at your job?”

He’d been listening, of course. He’d know how to control the topic and answer when he chose. Sydney allowed herself a small smile and let him wait while she sipped at her coffee.

“As I told Ty, I won’t be ready to leave for at least a couple of days, maybe a week. The best thing would be for you to take Mosby back to the ranch yourself. After you rested up, of course. There are several decent motels nearby,”

“What’d Ty have to say about you not coming out?” Devin’s face and voice had taken on a polite, noncommittal tone.

“To talk it over with you.”

“The only thing I hate worse than airplanes is motels, and I’d rather not pull a horse trailer that far by myself. You didn’t say if there was another choice.”

She hesitated, searching for the best words “It’s late tonight, and I have to work tomorrow,” she heard herself say and wondered at her rashness. “You can stay with me, if you don’t mind roughing it. We can figure the rest out tomorrow. You can use the bed. You’re too tall for the couch.”

“You’re awfully ready to trust someone you barely know.”

His voice was deep, gravelly, ineffably sexy. He wasn’t coming onto her, was he? No, she’d imagined the flash of interest in his eyes. He just looked tired. Tired, edgy, and out of place in the impersonal coffee shop glare. She understood and, for the first time in years, wished she could reach out and offer comfort. She didn’t have time for this. Not now, when every moment wasted could lead into potential danger for anyone around her.

“Ty Randolph wouldn’t send someone I couldn’t trust to move his horse.” It was an incomplete answer, but the best she could offer for now.


Devin studied her while he took another gulp of the coffee he really didn’t need. Now he understood Ty’s insistence that only Devin could be trusted to deal with Sydney and found himself wishing he and Ty weren’t such close friends. He also wondered what had brought the flash of wariness to her face.

“Ty’n I’ve been partners for years. He’s a helluva guy,” he said, as much to remind himself as her. Before he could signal, the waitress was there with a refill and another series of eyelash flutters.

The blonde was too obvious, and as cheap as the perfume she’d reapplied in the last few minutes. Any perfume on the woman perched on the bench seat across from him had long since blended with her personal scent. Even from this distance she smelled fresh, spicy, and undeniably arousing.

When he’d questioned her invitation, Sydney had looked annoyed, a flush highlighting her cheeks while she narrowed her eyes at him. Didn’t she know she was too cute to boss anyone around? A strand of hair brushed her cheek and her mouth primmed up, daring him to kiss it soft. Damn, he’d been on the ranch too long.

“Too bad Ty hooked up with the wrong woman,” he said, probing for a reaction. “I’m glad to see he finally wised up.”

“I’m afraid I don’t follow you.”

“He married the wrong woman the first time. Looks like this time he’s going about it the right way.”

“That woman is my sister, Mr. Starke.”

“Don’t worry, honey, I won’t hold that against you.” The reaction was more than he’d expected. She straightened out of her tired slump, growing a whole quarter of an inch. Whatever problems Lana Randolph had dumped on her, Sydney wasn’t about to let anyone dump on her big sister. Misplaced or not, Devin admired that kind of loyalty. He also admired the spark she got in her eyes at the casually drawled endearment. Damn, she’d be fun to tease.

“Trouble is, Sydney,” he went on, trying to convince his body to let him get down to business, “I’m not a sightseein’ kind of guy. Unless you’re plannin’ to leave real soon, I don’t know what I’d do with myself in the city.”

He could see Sydney was no more taken in by his country bumpkin approach than she had been by his headache-induced rudeness. Suppressed annoyance showed in the set of her mouth.

“I’m sure you could find some way to occupy your time,” she said, a dangerous edge to her smooth voice. “Or someone.”

She obviously meant the waitress who’d done everything but write her telephone number on the back of the check. Did Sydney really think he was the kind of bum who’d hit on another woman while he was with her? Devin scanned the shifting restaurant crowd.

“She’d be disappointed if I took her up on what she thinks she’s offering and her boyfriend didn’t try to beat the stuffin’ out of me. You wouldn’t want me to upset her, would you?”

She turned her head slightly, checking out the crowd much as he had himself. He knew when she spotted the glowering, shaggy-haired man at the counter. Not content with one flirtation, the waitress now flaunted herself in front of a group of truck drivers.

“It’s sad she thinks she has to resort to such cheap tricks.” Sydney frowned, obviously upset by the situation, and perhaps by some memory it sparked.

Devin remembered more than one time a woman had tried to pull cheap tricks like that to get her way. Lana’d been a master at the game. Sydney took a final sip of water while she reached for the check. Her attention flickered back to the counter, and she tensed.

“Who the hell do you think you are, cowboy?” The sneered words came from across the room, followed by heavy footsteps.

Devin straightened, ensuring his body was between the rapidly advancing unkempt young man and Sydney, but he stayed in his seat. Best would be not to encourage the fool.

The waitress rushed across the room, grabbing the young man’s arm.

“Billy, what in the world are you doing?”

“I saw you slip him your number.”

“No I didn’t. Stop being stupid.” She pulled at his arm, digging in her heels to attempt to stop him.

“Oh, bad move,” Sydney muttered, seeming to try to make herself smaller.

Devin stood. No reason to let her be any more worried than she already was. He straightened to his full height, braced his shoulders, and was happy to see awareness seep into the young man’s face.

“Son, I don’t know what’s goin’ on with you and your girl, but I suggest you take it outside.”

Before he could say anything else, the front door swung open, and two policemen stepped through. Obviously realizing he was surrounded, the boyfriend stopped moving forward and gave in to the waitress’s pull. In the resulting confusion, Devin slid the check out from under Sydney’s hand. Quick reactions were good for more than doing a job better and faster than anyone else.

“Your place’ll do for tonight.” He urged her toward the exit, letting his hand settle lightly on her back. Just enough to tease himself with the subtle shift of her spine. Not enough to crowd her. “Be kind of silly to waste time flying back and forth. Besides, it’s a big city. Maybe I’ll find something I want to do.”

He still hadn’t figured out why he wanted to spend any more time than he absolutely had to in Los Angeles. One thing for sure, he wasn’t about to put Sydney out of her bed.


The bed smelled of her. Even with fresh sheets that had obviously been dried outside on a less smoggy day than average, the damned bed smelled of her. So did the pillows she’d left when she went to make up the couch for herself. He couldn’t sleep for thinking about how she’d calmly and sweetly steam rolled him into her bed.

There wasn’t much else in the little house. More of a bungalow than a real house, the ceilings were so low he found himself ducking if he turned around too fast. There was the bed and a dresser in here, a ragged couch and chair in the living room, and a battered table with two chairs in the galley-sized kitchen.

Except for shelves holding the television, some books, and a radio, it was a pretty damned depressing place. She’d read his expression, shrugged with a funny little smile, and said it was a good place for the horse. He listened for any sounds from the living room. She slept quietly, only an occasional slightly deeper breath showing where she was. Did she favor sleeping in the raw, like he did? She probably wore a flannel nightgown she thought hid everything from view, when it actually just teased him to hunt for the treasure underneath. He laughed quietly at himself, and wondered when he’d lost touch with reality. Of all women to turn him on–a pint-sized career woman interested in his partner. Life could be a real bitch sometimes.


The jungle underbrush rustled in stealthy whispers around him. They were out there, just beyond the range of his senses, watching him. They were small and quick and had knives that could cut a man in half if–


Devin came awake with a start, every muscle tensed. Light filtering around the edges of the blinds made a subtle pattern on the wall. It was before dawn and this room, wherever it was, faced east. There was someone in the room with him. He could sense them, hear their breathing, smell them. No, what he smelled was the damned bed. Then he realized the fresh scent on the air was the same scent that had plagued him throughout the night.

Sydney was taking something out of the dresser. She wasn’t sneaking in, peering at the bed every few steps, but stood at the dresser pulling out lacy feminine things. A dark suit covered her arm. She’d already gone to the closet. He must’ve been more tired than he thought to not have heard her before.

He watched her through slitted eyes. A plain, dark blue robe covered her slight figure and her golden brown hair was pinned up in a prim knot. He was glad to be lying on his side, or he would’ve tented the bed covers. It made no sense.

“I have to go in for a half day,” she said from the doorway in a normal tone of voice, not turning around. She knew he’d been watching her. He liked that. “I’ve taken care of Mosby for the morning. There’s coffee left. Help yourself to whatever you can find to eat. If you need to rent a car or call a cab, I’ve left money on the table. I’ll call if anything comes up.” She slid out the door, letting it close soundlessly behind her without ever turning in his direction.


Much later that evening, Sydney eased the extended cab pickup truck to a stop outside the wooden gate in front of her temporary home. For a moment, she leaned forward, resting her head against the steering wheel while she gathered strength to open the cumbersome barrier. The half day had stretched into nine hours, complicated by multiple problems. Scant, restless sleep the night before and retrieving her clothes with Devin in her bed had done nothing to ease her state of mind, and she still hadn’t figured out how to convince him to leave sooner rather than later.


The voice near her elbow and a rap on the truck window jerked her upright. A shadowy figure stood a few feet away, its size and uncompromising stance potentially alarming. She’d almost fallen asleep in the driveway. She shook the cobwebs from her mind and partially rolled down the window.

“Sorry, the day caught up with me.” She looked ahead at the opened gate. “Oh, thank you. That gate gets heavier every day.”

As he stepped away, Sydney slipped the truck into gear, letting it glide forward into the customary parking space beneath a mulberry tree. She was out of the truck, gathering up her briefcase and purse before she heard the rattle of chain wrapping around a heavy pole, securing the gate. It was a safe, comforting sound. Ridiculous.

Delicious odors reached out to her as she stepped inside the front door. She stopped, sniffing deeply. Devin took the heavy leather briefcase from her and settled his hand in the small of her back. Sydney had never known the comfort of a strong man’s gently guiding hand. Then again, no man had ever gotten close to her who hadn’t known enough about her to believe she needed guiding.

“You fixed dinner?” It seemed a safe enough topic. Turning to face him as she asked the question made it possible for her to step away from the warmth of his hand. If she felt suddenly bereft, she could blame the impossibly long hours she worked.

“I found some meat in the freezer. When you called to say you’d be late, I started a stew.” He moved past her to set the briefcase down next to the couch. “It’ll be ready any time.”

“I have to change and take care of Mosby.” Not even her father had ever fixed her dinner. Men didn’t take care of women that way.

“The nice thing about stew is that it just keeps getting better, the longer you cook it. I cleaned Mosby’s pen and tossed him some hay a while ago, but I wasn’t sure what else you were feeding him.” The corners of his mouth twitched briefly before he turned to check the gently bubbling pot, almost as though he really had a sense of humor. “You go on ahead and change.”


Two days later, Devin sipped rich, dark coffee, savoring the difference freshly ground beans made. The tap water here tasted just this side of poison, but Sydney bought bottled water, especially to make coffee. In the short time he’d spent in Los Angeles, he’d at least learned that much about her.

Sydney was gone from dawn until well after dark. They saw so little of each other, moving to a motel seemed foolish. While she worked, Devin managed to keep himself busy. He’d done some simple repairs around the ratty old house, walked to the dry river bed, fussed with Mosby, checked out the horse trailer, and rested enough for the next ten years. The old leg injury he’d aggravated back home had finally eased into a standard level of discomfort. How in the world did city folk survive having so little to do day after day?

From things Sydney mentioned, the little they talked, she’d supervised projects around the world. Yet she now worked a temporary job any decent secretary could do, lived in a dump of a house in a neighborhood one arrest away from an all-out police crackdown, and drove a truck that had to make the hour long commute seem endless. All to help out a someone she insisted she barely knew.

There’d been no more early morning forays, but he was always aware of her. His errant mind provided pictures to go along with the muted sounds she made. More than one restless night found him heading for the door and the relatively open air outside. Seeing her cocooned on the couch, blankets pulled up over most of her face, guaranteed he would stay outside even longer.

A sound at the front of the cottage drew him away from the kitchen. She was early today. Muttering a half-formed curse, Devin tossed the rest of his coffee down the drain. That old wooden gate was too heavy for such a little woman to move.

By the time he was out the door, Sydney was back in the truck, driving forward enough to be able to close the gate. She saw him through the deepening gloom, raised an acknowledging hand, and continued on behind the house.

She’d pulled up near the horse pen before he could secure the gate and follow her. When he rounded the corner of the house, he hesitated and felt the corners of his mouth twitching. Sydney had gone around to the side of the truck bed. As she leaned over the side, small, furry felines appeared, rubbing themselves along her arms and head in obvious delight. The feeling seemed to be reciprocated. Trying to wrestle feed sacks became more of a chore when she had to stop and provide equal time to all her little friends.

“I wondered where they kept themselves. I saw the bag of food, but no pans and no kitties.”

At the sound of his masculine voice the cats scattered, tumbling over each other to get away. Sydney turned, a sack of feed on her shoulder and a guarded smile forming on her face. He relieved her of the sack and watched her smile slip away.

“I’m perfectly capable of carrying that sack. It wouldn’t be the first one.”

“I’m sure it’s not,” he said in a level, non-confrontational tone. “I’m also sure it’s the last one you’ll ever carry.” With no further comment, he took the feed into the small storage shed. He turned back just as she reached for the next sack. “Put that down, Sydney. Take care of your kitties.”

“Being small and female is no more a sign of weakness than being large and male is a sign of stupidity.” She reached for the next sack. She had no more luck lifting this one to her shoulder than she had the first one.

“Has anyone ever mentioned you have an overdose of stubborn in your make-up?” He tried to keep the humor out of his voice.

“Isn’t this a case of the pot making color references to the kettle?”

This stopped him cold. Feed bag perched casually on his shoulder, he tipped up his hat brim to look more closely at her stormy face. “Sydney, it’s just a feed sack. It’s no big deal.”

“If it’s no big deal, why can’t I help unload? And don’t you dare tell me this is men’s work, and not to worry my little head about it.”

That killed one argument before it had a chance to draw a breath. Her chin tilted up as she watched him try to come up with a logical reason why she shouldn’t be doing what was, in his opinion, a man’s job. At least, not while a man was around to do it. He looked her over, from the restrained knot she was keeping her hair in to the low heeled shoes that gave her a much-needed fraction of an inch more height. He grinned.

“Well, for one thing, you could break a nail.”

Sydney transferred her glare from his face to her hands. The small fingers ended in perfect ovals. It was an exquisitely feminine touch. He wondered how those ovals would feel trailing down his body–and wrenched himself back to the current situation.

“Heaven forbid I should harm a nail.” She spun away. Reaching down to yank a handful of long grass from along the fence, she headed toward the gray stallion that stomped its feet and tossed its head for her attention.

There were only a few more bags of feed in the truck, enough to take with them to ease Mosby’s change to a new diet. While Devin transferred them into the shed, he watched Sydney’s stiff back and high-held head. She’d lost the serenity that seemed so much a part of her. For the life of him he couldn’t figure out why.

Once he’d finished unloading, he hesitated. Natural inclination told him to just walk away and let her work out her own problems. Women had a tendency to be moody, and there wasn’t much a man could do about it. It was simply the way they were. But this woman had shown no previous sign of moodiness. Leaning back against the truck, he crossed his arms and waited.

It seemed the cats decided once he stopped moving around he ceased to exist. One tiny feline after another emerged from around the shed, whiskers twitching and ears at the alert. Without fail, they headed toward the woman rubbing the horse’s neck, her back uncomfortably straight.

Sydney gave the gray stallion a final ear scratch, drew a deep breath, and turned back to the house. Late sun filtering through the thick trees feathered shadows across her face, almost hiding her expression. She took an awkward step forward as if to distract him from the expression she hadn’t hidden soon enough.

“I’m sorry if I upset you,” he said, not shifting from the side of the truck. “But you might as well get used to it. Outside of Ty, I’m the most liberal man on the ranch. You’ll be lucky if anyone lets you pick up a napkin.”

“My fault.” She buried the threatening emotions beneath a professional calm. “Being tired makes me over-sensitive.” She brushed past him, reaching into the truck cab for her jacket, purse, and briefcase.


“Where’d the cats come from?”

Sydney looked up, obviously startled. She’d changed into old jeans and begun dinner in a silence charged with emotion. He’d started a fresh pot of coffee then puttered around outside while it brewed. By the time he came back in and poured coffee for both of them, she was acting like they’d never disagreed. Wonderful thing, denial.

“They were here when I moved in. I trapped the ones I could to have them neutered. Fortunately they don’t seem to hold a grudge.”

“Will you take them with you?” he asked, wanting to nurture the tender expression he saw on her face.

“I can’t. Once Mosby’s out of here, I’ll go on to my next job. There’s a place in Fullerton that takes in stray cats and tries to find homes for them. They’ll have a slightly better chance there than with the animal shelter.”

For a moment she forgot he was looking, forgot to control her reactions. Then she shook back her hair, reaching for her coffee, while she stirred the soup heating on the stove.

“I bet you had a lot of pets as a kid.”

“Not hardly. Pets take up time and room that can be used in more useful ways.” She seemed to be quoting something been said to her times without end. “Lana had pets. I didn’t.”

“Your sister seemed to have a lot of things you didn’t have,” Devin ventured, watching her closely. Had she brought up her sister to discourage his conversation? “Like a husband.”

“I had a husband, Mr. Starke,” she said, preserving a cool distance between them. “Marriage is a vastly overrated concept. The few benefits were outweighed by the effort it took to keep my husband amused.”

The primly delivered words stung, even if he did agree. “Couldn’t keep him in your bed?”

It struck home. He’d wanted only to irritate some answers out of her. For a moment her composure crumbled, and Devin found himself peering into the coldest depths of hell.

“No, as a matter of fact, I couldn’t. Nor could I keep him out of any other woman’s bed. I finally decided I didn’t want to keep him at all.”

Setting down the coffee cup, Sydney pushed away from the counter and started to walk out of the room. Then she took a deep breath. “I took the truck in today for a final checkup. It’s ready to go, any time you want to leave.” The comment seemed to come out of left field, and her expression had gone politely blank.

“When are you going to be ready to leave?”

She frowned, picked up the coffee cup, put it back down. “If you left this evening you could get out during the slow traffic. Otherwise you have to leave extremely early in the morning.”

“Sydney, what aren’t you telling me?”

“I just think it would be an extremely good idea for you to leave as soon as possible.”

Now he took her arm, and turned her to face him. “You’ve been acting like you expect a bomb to go off since you got here today. What the hell is up?”

“I really can’t explain it. Not now. There’s no time. But if Mosby’s not here, I don’t need to be here. We don’t need to be here.”

“And that would be a good thing?”

She nodded, watching his face as if gauging his reaction. Obviously she wasn’t going to say anything more.

“Okay.” he ran his hand through his hair, searching for the right words. “Okay. I’ll leave if you come with me.”

“But I–”

“No buts. You come with me, and not just to another part of Los Angeles. You come with me to Stormhaven. Whatever the hell you’re running from, you’ll be better off there.”

She stared up at him in silence and he wondered what thoughts she kept hidden behind her blank expression. Then she nodded again and he felt the pressure release from around his heart.

© 2015 by Mona Karel