From the author of the Between Breaths novels comes a gripping romance about finding yourself while taking a second chance at your first love...Dakota Nakos was always the resilient, strong-willed achiever. But when her father dies and she's entrusted with the family's casino, she feels vulnerable, scared, and more than a little emotional --not exactly the best time to see an old lover she's never really gotten over. Dakota once meant the world to Shane Garrity. Then suddenly he left town to train as a U.S. Marshal, and their love for each other crashed into a memory. Now he's come home for her father's funeral, and one look at the girl he left behind stirs up both memories and regrets, and reignites a fire he feared he'd lost forever. Dakota may be the same driven girl she always was, but she's also changed in ways neither could have anticipated. She's not just a young woman searching for own identity in the Native American community in which she was raised, but one questioning her new life outside her father's shadow. Above all she wonders if Shane can push past her weakened defenses to rekindle what they once had, or whether the intense blaze between them will ultimately reduce her heart to ashes.
Christina Lee is the author of The Between Breaths Series, including Whisper to Me, All of You, and Before You Break.
Praise for Christina Lee "Steamy, honest, and full of heart." --Roni Loren, New York Times Bestselling Author of the Loving on the Edge novels
"A fresh and fascinating twist on the classic love story."--New York Times Bestselling Author Jasinda Wilder
"Hot, sweet, emotional, [and] awesome."--New York Times Bestselling Author Monica Murphy
"Christina Lee makes you ache, cry, smile and sigh."--New York Times Bestselling Author Sophie Jordan
"Christina Lee is a New Adult wonder."--USA Today bestselling author Alice Clayton
"Emotional, sexually charged story...believable and HOT."--Stina Lindenblatt, author of Tell Me When
"Deep, powerful, and stirred up all the emotions within me as I read."--Rachel Harris, author of Seven Day Fianc
Praise for Christina Lee "Steamy, honest, and full of heart." -Roni Loren, New York Times Bestselling Author of the Loving on the Edge novels "A fresh and fascinating twist on the classic love story."- New York Times Bestselling Author Jasinda Wilder "Hot, sweet, emotional, [and] awesome."- New York Times Bestselling Author Monica Murphy "Christina Lee makes you ache, cry, smile and sigh."- New York Times Bestselling Author Sophie Jordan "Christina Lee is a New Adult wonder."- USA Today bestselling author Alice Clayton "Emotional, sexually charged story...believable and HOT."-Stina Lindenblatt, author of Tell Me When "Deep, powerful, and stirred up all the emotions within me as I read."-Rachel Harris, author of Seven Day Fianc
PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF CHRISTINA LEE Also by Christina Lee Dear Reader: We can probably all agree that there needs to be more diversity in romance novels. Probably all novels in general. Having said that, writing about diverse characters in books can feel daunting for an author. It can be tricky and scary to take on the challenge, because we desperately want to get it right. This is my second time writing about the Nakos family and this Native American community. The first time was in WHISPER TO ME, a book in my New Adult series. But what makes this experience different is that the nature of the plot required me to take an additional amount of time to consider all options and points of view. I immersed myself deeply in the culture through dozens of hours of research. Even still, there was much more to learn and discover. All of it awe-inspiring and devastating and beautiful. But as this book goes out into the world, I remember what one of my sources said. That within each culture, gender, age, or socioeconomic status, there are differences--in opinions and traditions and mind-sets. And unless you''ve actually lived in the community or culture you are writing about, you won''t inherently know it. You can only try your best in your interpretation of it. That''s what I''ve aimed to do here. Still, any mistakes or misinterpretations are my own. I painstakingly tried my best to create a story that I hope you will thoroughly enjoy. Chapter One DAKOTA I inhaled a shaky breath as his coffin lowered into the solid ground. The drumbeat echoed in my bones and the tortoiseshell rattle reverberated in my veins. The holy man murmured his final offering in each direction of the wind--north, east, south, west--and then thanked the Great Spirit for safely seeing my father home. My mother''s quiet whimpering added mass to the hard ball developing in my throat, and my vision blurred through the haze of my own tears. But still I held on to that breath--because when I finally expelled the air from my lungs, it would all be over. Different. Altered forevermore. My father would truly be gone. And I''d be left in charge of operations at the Golden Arrow Casino. For the past two weeks, I''d been going through the motions while the police conducted their investigation and the autopsy was performed. But this--the actual cemetery, the sacred ritual--made it absolute. And the finality of that was staggering. I averted my gaze from the six-foot hole because the throbbing in my chest became so severe; it felt as if my heart had vacated my torso, leaving an enormous crevice. Thank goodness I remained steady in my sensible black heels and had kept my swollen eyes hidden behind my shades. I needed to stay strong for my mother and this community. My brother Kai''s fingers slid beyond my mother''s arm to reach my shoulder, and finally I released a puff of air. I gave him and his wife, Rachel, a slight nod, then offered a brief glance to my uncle Elan and his family, standing on just the other side. Stuart, my father''s most trusted employee and friend, stood across the rectangular pit next to Chief Red Hawk and other casino employees. He was always the rock, the voice of reason, and he''d let me lean on him the last two weeks as pressure mounted and decisions were made about the casino going forward. Finally, I allowed my eyes to scan across the grass to the crowd gathered around. Old and new friends, members of the reservation and of the tribal nation respectfully mourned my father''s death. Later, these same people would be whispering about how his passing had impacted our community and our family''s business. The thought of their gossip made my stomach churn. Making a sweep past the trees, my gaze collided with a set of vivid blue eyes, like two pieces of sea glass lying in the warm and calming sand. The slice to my gut was so intense my shoulders slumped forward like I might be cut in half. Mom grabbed my arm right at that moment, either to hold herself or me up, and my eyes snapped back to my father''s grave. But Shane''s gaze remained fixed on me. I could feel it pressing in--cool and heated at the same time--similar to how that sea glass feels in your palm after hours in the surf. I gave him a cursory glance, quickly scrutinizing him the best I could, hoping my dark glasses hid my intentions. I hadn''t seen him in years, not since Kai''s wedding. Even when my brother, who''d been his best friend all throughout high school, had met with Shane during the holiday season, I always found some excuse to keep myself busy. Besides, it wasn''t like he''d tried reaching out to me the past five years. The last real conversation we had, if you could even call it that, was just before he left for his intensive Marshal training. But as I stood at my father''s funeral, my emotions raw and at the surface, all my feelings for Shane hit me like a thunderclap, much the same way that sorrow always railroads me. Everything became clear, like the gleam on the edge of a knife. How I''d secretly adored him for years, even though I never said it aloud. And how once he finally returned my affection, we never got the chance to see it played out. My gaze traced the sweep of his eyebrow, the curve of his mouth, the indent in his cheek. Then it moved down to his long fingers that now tap, tap, tapped his muscular thigh. I remembered how those same nails had dug into my hip as he''d thrust me forward so he could bury his head in my neck. Remembering was so overwhelming that I nearly sank to my knees in the grass. His years of chasing fugitives as a United States Marshal had kept him fit. His broad shoulders filled out the black suit and his close-cropped hair illuminated those baby blues. I had to force my gaze away, which only sent me back to the tragedy at hand. My senses pelted from all sides. I didn''t know how I was going to make it through the rest of the day. Let alone the year. As the funeral attendees filed past the grave to throw handfuls of cornmeal or evergreen boughs onto the wooden casket, an ominous fog arose from the ground. Gloomy clouds aligned overhead, casting a dusky silhouette, and almost at once it began to mist. The wetness soothed my heated skin and I welcomed it, tilting my cheeks to the sky. Rachel''s hand grasped my arm, her low voice urging me to move forward, and when I cast my gaze around, only our immediate family remained. The funeral attendees had drifted back to their cars, some already pulling away from the curb and heading toward the exit. As a group, the four of us moved closer to the remains of my father. We stood with our arms intertwined in a semicircle. No one spoke as we each said our private, ultimate good-byes. I closed my eyes and whispered my final peace. I''ll make you proud, Daddy. My shoulder took the brunt of her weight as my mother''s knees gave out, so I shifted and tightened my grip on her waist. As her sobs set my teeth on edge and carved deeper grooves in my soul, Kai took firm hold, tugging both of us into his arms. When I turned to the parking lot, I spotted Shane and a flare of nostalgia wrapped over my senses, swathing me in comfort. But everything about him seemed different. He stood near a sleek Range Rover, which was a stark contrast to his beat-up high school truck. Even his very being seemed larger, not just in stature but also in self-possession. He was an imposing figure, monopolizing all the air in the space between us. His hands were shoved deep in his pockets and his muscular chest filled out his crisp white shirt almost too well. His eyes remained glued to mine and I nearly faltered, so pure was my longing for him in that moment. Instead, I tipped up my chin and stayed poised. I''d never forgotten how it felt to have him leave, first after our secret summer together and then after college graduation. He''d always been the one to go. Which meant that I never was important enough for him to stay. But the problem was that nobody else since had felt essential enough to fill the void that Shane had created in my world. Now another important man had disappeared from my life. My father. My pillar. My heart. And I was left holding all of the pieces. Again. It''s simply not true that leaving is the hardest thing. Being left was a far worse penalty. I gazed across the expanse of trees and lawn, trying to keep in the tears threatening to escape my eyes once again. Then I looked down at Shane, who mouthed a single word to me. Two syllables that could mean so many things, given our history. "Sorry." Chapter Two SHANE I drove through the cemetery''s ornate gates with my thoughts still entirely centered on Dakota. Five years later, she was still the most gorgeous girl I had ever laid eyes on. And now she was even more beautiful. She was all woman. Her legs long and solid, her hips lush, and her breasts full. Allowing my mind to drift to those few times she''d been wrapped around me, her scent like new grass after a fresh rain, was pure torture. This was her father''s funeral and I needed to snap the hell out of it. Still, the idea of holding her, comforting her made my fingers itch, my skin flush. I wanted to be there for her in her grief. True, my best friend, who just so happened to be her brother, looked worn out, but there was no one I felt the urge to support as much as her. Mr. Nakos''s death had been a huge blow to his community. Knifed in a parking lot and robbed of a few bucks, it was such a senseless death and one that reminded me of how fragile life was. The thugs I dealt with pulled shit like this every day, not even realizing the pain they put the families of their victims