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While You Were Dead by CJ Snyder
Back Cover Blurb….
Lies have consequences…
Twelve years ago, Max Clayton had no choices. Honor bound to hunt a traitor, the government declared him dead to the outside world. He completed his mission, but lost the only woman he ever loved and a child he never knew existed.
And so does breaking a woman’s heart…
Max was her life, her very heartbeat. After his death, alone and haunted by a dangerous past, Kat Jannsen made the ultimate sacrifice to keep their daughter safe.
When Kat discovers Max is alive her carefully constructed jigsaw puzzle life is torn to pieces. But an old enemy has been watching…waiting to strike. As the danger mounts, she has nowhere to turn but to Max. She can trust him with her life, but does she dare trust him with her heart?
EXCERPT….While You Were Dead
Twelve years ago
Kat Jannsen didn’t cry the day they buried Maxwell Crayton.
Plenty of others did. Mourners gathered four and five deep around the long, flag-draped coffin. Even more had packed the church, but Kat skipped the God part.
She stayed back by a tree, feeling out of place, uninvited, unwelcome and wondering about the flag. Military? What other secrets had he kept?
Kat couldn’t say why she’d come. Except she’d loved him, as she’d never loved another human being in her life. So much hope about to be buried in that coffin. So many dreams. So much despair left behind.
His actual death shouldn’t have made a difference. He’d been missing for two months before he died. He’d tossed her away like a used Sunday paper three months before that.
Now Kat shivered in the cold, sleeting rain. She gave her head a vicious shake, warding off the tears that threatened for the first time in days. She straightened her shoulders. You will not cry. She had no right to attend the family’s service, but she represented someone who did. Her gaze darted over the ring of mourners. They were folding the flag. In just moments she’d know. They’d give the flag to Miriam, the sister who’d raised him. Miriam. Kat’s baby’s one chance at a sane life. Anguish wrenched her heart. Sorrow for Max, sorrow for this baby she already loved too much to keep. Kat fought her tears so she could see the woman who held her future—her child’s very life—in her hands.
The soldier stopped in front of an older woman and Kat frowned. Miriam was forty-three, fifteen years older than Max. This woman looked a decade older than that. Too old? No. She couldn’t be too old. Women had babies in their forties all the time. Bereavement might make her look older. An even older man supported Miriam, his arm strong and sturdy around her shoulders. Five others surrounded them, forming a protective half-circle around the couple. Two nephews, Max’d said. Nephews with wives, or at least girlfriends? Grown nephews? The woman turned her head in response to something her husband said and Kat caught her breath, nearly undone by the naked pain on the face that so closely resembled Max’s own. The resemblance was nearly as close as that between her own mother and herself.
So this was Miriam. So much grief. She must have loved her brother very much. But Kat hadn’t expected her to be so old. She’d pictured a warm, loving younger couple. For just a moment, she sagged back against the tree.
It’s never easy, Kat. Max’s words, and before that her mother’s. Words to live by. Why would she expect this to be any different?
You don’t have a choice. Unless you damn your sweet baby before it even draws a breath.
All true. No choices, no options, except to entrust her innocent child into the hands of fate. No. Better to trust Miriam.
More movement at the graveside. Mourners began to greet Miriam and her husband. Time to go. Kat wouldn’t intrude today. But soon. There wasn’t much time.
Five Years Later
Max Crayton eased his car over to the side of the road and shut off the engine. His hands were shaking. His heart pounded hard in his chest and loud in his ears. Too loud. Too hard. He focused on the Dairy Queen, on the trees waving gently in the sweet spring breeze. Home. After too many long years, it was over. He was finally free to pick up his life nearly where he’d left it.
You can’t have Kat back.
Regret stung, so sharp and strong he winced. He should go—just start the engine, drive to his sister’s house and get it over with. That’s what he was here to do. But he wasn’t ready. Arrival at Miriam’s heralded a new start. The first day of the rest of your life. His fist connected with the steering wheel. It just wasn’t that damn easy.
Because arrival at Miriam’s also firmly closed the door on his past. That’s why he was here, sitting above Bluff River Falls, Wyoming, watching life go on in the valley below. He’d survived the long years because the past was waiting for him. The ultimate reason for what he’d done. His life. Intact. Complete with Kat. Finishing the simple drive to Miriam’s would end that fantasy forever.
He closed his eyes, fighting the inevitable moment when the door—that door to her—would latch so resolutely behind him. “Kat,” he whispered. “Ah, baby, I’d do it so differently….”
Faster than a single heartbeat.
He’d taken the only path he could. Kat was the most valuable thing he’d lost, but not the only thing.
You knew it going in.
“Not when I agreed,” he argued.
Yeah, well, that ship sailed.
Frowning now, he restarted his car. Miriam would help. His sister always had a knack for making him feel better. She’d mothered him when his elderly parents died. Miriam’s husband, Doug, died during his “absence” and he wondered how his sister was coping. Most importantly, how would she react to her “dead” baby brother?
He wound through streets as familiar as his childhood, pulling to a stop once again, this time in front of her modest, yellow tri-level. For a long minute he sat, staring at the house, surprised by the pink Big Wheel parked defiantly in front of the porch. A neighbor’s kid, probably, as Miriam’s two boys were grown and gone now. Thirty seconds later, he sidestepped the trike, and stood in front of the door. He lifted his hand to knock, and let it fall back to his side.
What would he say? “Hi, sis. Surprise! I’m not dead after all.” Would she understand that he still couldn’t discuss his manufactured death? Would she accept him back into her life? Forgive him?
He lifted his hand again, but the door suddenly flew open, revealing an enchanting pixie of three or four. Perfect little teeth flashed as she grinned at him. “Hiya, Max.” He bit back a frown. She knew him? Long, blond braids swung as she turned her head. “Mommie, Max is home from Heaven.”
CJ received her first Nancy Drew book for Christmas the year she turned six. Before the next Christmas, she’d finished every Nancy Drew book written. At 11, she discovered Daphne du Maurier and the die was stamped in titanium. At 13, she penned plays starring her friends and their favorite Tiger Beat magazine crushes, a 500 page (unfinished) blatantly graphic novel (blush!) and countless story starts and stops. Her parents (pastors) were thrilled when she settled into suspense salted with romance and left the all-sex-all-the-time behind.
She’s won numerous awards, finalled in dozens of contests and before her husband passed away was very involved with Colorado Romance Writers, Kiss of Death Mystery Chapter and RWfA. She lost the love of her life to an aggressive prostate cancer and avidly supports cancer prevention research and men who take saw palmetto every day.
When she’s not writing, she dotes on (and loves to embarrass) her eight wonderful grandchildren: Nick, Josiah, Joshua, Naomi, Nathaniel, Rebekah, Samuel, and Timothy. She lives in a four-generation household, which gives her much insight into familial relationships.
She’s a member of We Are Scripsi, where she blogs with members of her awesome and amazing critique group.
FMI about CJ Snyder & her books: http://www.cjsnyderbooks.com/
Now Available! WHILE YOU WERE DEAD by CJ Snyder