Broken With You - J. Kenner

Broken With You

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True love never fades…

After surviving a troubled childhood, Denise can’t believe that she’s blissfully married to her partner and soulmate. She’s confident that not even Mason’s long-term, deep-cover assignment will shake their bond. And she certainly doesn’t anticipate that when he finally walks back through her door that he’ll have no memory of her, himself, or their time together…

When Mason is pulled out of an operation gone bad, all he knows is what he’s told — that he was a covert agent, that he has information vital to national security somewhere in his head, and that they can tell him no more for fear of burying those hard-fought secrets even further. They tell him nothing else; not even that the beautiful woman who makes his heart beat faster is not just his partner, but also his wife.

The secret she must keep wrecks Denise, who wants only to return to Mason’s arms. But despite the desire that still burns hot between them, she can’t tell him who she is—or that she’s carrying his child.

But when dark forces threaten both their lives in order to retrieve the information trapped in Mason’s mind, it’s not their past that will be tested, but the tenuous new love now burning hot between them.

You don’t want to miss this sexy, suspenseful amnesia romance!

Broken With You
Broken With You is Story # 2 in the

About this Story

Publication Date 06/18/2019 Story Type Book Series Stark Security - Standalone Novels Place in Series Story #2 Genre Contemporary Romance Romantic Suspense

Excerpt

Darkness.

For an eternity, that’s all there was. Just darkness. A void. An empty hole where nothing existed. Not even him, whoever the hell he was.

There was comfort in the dark. As if he was wrapped in a womb. Safe now. Not like before.

Before?

Strands of emotion, the precursors of thought, twisted inside him. There’d been pain in the before time. So much pain. Like fire in his gut. Like glass in his eyes.

How long had he suffered, his mind screaming, his body so exhausted that death would have been a welcome relief?

He didn’t know. For that matter, maybe death had come to release him. Or maybe none of it had happened yet, and his pain wasn’t a memory but a forewarning.

He didn’t know. He was simply there—no longer attached to time, to space, to anything. He was free. Not hot or cold. Neither happy nor sad. He was secure in the comfort of simply being, and it seemed as though he could stay that way, safe and warm and content—for all eternity.

Except…

Except there was something hidden beneath the calm acceptance of this new reality.

Something important. Something urgent.

A secret? A task?

It was right there, at the edge of his memory, but every time he grasped for it, it slipped away. He shouldn’t—couldn’t—let it go. But how could he follow? How could he leave this safe, warm place?

He longed to stay forever. Secure and comfortable and free.

And yet at the same time he didn’t. He wanted more. He wanted…

He didn’t know what.

He just knew that something was nagging at him. Something he missed. Something he craved.

Her.

A shock of awareness cut through him, along with a jolt of something he recognized as fear. And loss. And regret.

Mischievous green eyes flashed in his mind’s eye. Warm laughter teased him even as soft strands of golden-blond hair brushed against his skin.

She was his—and he yearned for her with a longing so intense it bordered on pain. Urgency roiled within him. Danger. Terror. Those dark secrets that he needed to—

No!

Oh God oh God oh God, please no.

His body—his being—lurched, trying to reach her. Trying to battle back the horror that was looming, coming faster and faster. But he couldn’t see it. He couldn’t fight it. All he could do was sink into the whirlpool of disconnected, incomprehensible voices and images that were suddenly swirling around him, thick and fast and hot.

Where is it?

You might as well tell us?

Nothing to go home to. Nothing at all.

But there was. She was there. His life. His woman.

He had to get back to her.

Back? There’s nothing for you back there. She’s dead. I fucked her, then I killed her.

His body burst apart from the force of his scream, but the relentless, horrible words wouldn’t stop.

Do you know why she’s dead? Because you went to her. You told some useless cunt our secrets.

Broken With You

Beep-beep!

We had to punish you. Had to show you that we can always get to you.

His mind was spinning, trying to remember. To see her. To feel her.

To save her.

Remember, dammit. Remember the roadrunner. They can’t kill the roadrunner.

But he couldn’t move. Couldn’t think. Couldn’t do anything but exist in this cold, dark limbo as more voices assaulted him.

It’s all your fault.

Your friend? I was never your friend.

It’s not a tunnel. Just a black hole painted on rock.

32355 5-null 717

That won’t help you anymore. Not anymore, you wily sonofabitch.

You think he’s the only one? Damn naive considering your reputation.

Guess you’re not made of brick or stone after all, are you fucker?

Beep-beep.

Wily? Maybe once, but you’re not wily anymore.

Again and again, the flat, emotionless voices pounded against him as he struggled to find himself. To understand. But there was nothing. Only the words and the nonsensical images of numbers floating against a black background as a variety of tones beeped in his head.

32355 5-null 717

Beep-beep!

Most of all, there was fear. A cold, harsh terror that ran through him like ice, freezing his blood, making his skin prickle.

His blood? His skin?

Slowly, realization came. He was returning. Heading back from wherever he’d gone. Going back to the pain. The hell.

Mostly, though, he was going back to her…

     ___

The first thing he noticed when he woke was the cold. An icy blast from a wall mounted air-conditioner. An ancient unit with white plastic strings streaming from it, flapping in the frigid air.

He sat up, realized he was naked, and pulled the dingy, gray sheet up to his hips. There was no blanket, and the thin sheet did little to relieve the chill. His palms stung as he clutched the sheet, and when he looked down at them, he saw that the heels of both hands were abraded, as if he’d fallen onto something rough, like asphalt or gravel.

Maybe he’d been in an accident? Thrown from a car? A motorcycle?

He didn’t know.

Squinting against a violent headache, he let his gaze sweep over the rest of the room, looking for—what?

Something, anything, that would tell him where he was and what had happened to him.

And, most of all, who in God’s name he was.

Because right then, he didn’t have a clue.

A cold shaft of panic impaled him, and he fought against it, determined not to lose his shit. Not when control, reason, and observation were all he had going for him.

Observation first.

He cast his gaze around the room. A pair of threadbare jeans hung over the back of a straight-back desk chair. He stood, planning to walk toward them, but was forced to clutch the bedside table as his head dipped and swam.

What the hell was wrong with him? Had he gone on a bender? Been involved in a drunk driving incident?

Broken With You

He didn’t remember, but he didn’t think so. He didn’t think he was a man who’d drink to excess.

Was he?

Christ, what the hell was going on?

He drew in a breath and ordered himself to be calm, not actually believing he’d get anywhere with such nonsense. But to his surprise, it worked. As if something in him was programmed to focus. As if this was just one more problem he could tackle.

Hell, yeah, he could.

He took another step, relieved when the room seemed to spin a bit less this time. He hadn’t passed out drunk—he was certain of it. Considering his vertigo and queasiness, that would actually be a reasonable guess, but the evidence suggested otherwise. There was no smell to his breath. No fuzzy sensation on his tongue. He hadn’t vomited that he could tell, and he didn’t need to. He didn’t need to piss, either.

Without any evidence that he was lost in the mother of all hangovers, he moved methodically on to the next option. But after running his fingers through his short hair and over his scalp, he found no bumps or abrasions.

So not a head injury. Strike two.

He thought of his red, raw hands. Something more sinister, then?

He shivered a bit, certain he was right. He didn’t know why he was so sure, but at the moment he didn’t know much of anything. If intuition was knocking, then he’d damn well open the door.

He continued to the chair, but didn’t stop. He just ran the tips of his fingers over the filthy denim. He glanced at the dust that attached to his fingertips, but since he had no explanation, he pushed the questions away. His head was clearing, and he needed to focus on what he did know. Solid facts based on his surroundings, not to mention any memories those facts might provoke.

He’d start with himself.

The bathroom door was ajar and he stepped over the threshold into a small but surprisingly clean bathroom with a porcelain basin on four thin chrome legs, a fiberglass bathtub with a clear plastic shower curtain, and a toilet with a dingy brown mineral stain at the waterline.

The only mirror hung above the sink. A fogged-up piece of shit glass with a long crack marking off one corner. But it was large and mounted in a way that tilted down, so that he could see his head and his hips at the same time. And if he backed up, he could see even more.

He looked, his dark brown eyes taking in the image reflected back at him. His left brow was broken by a scar—probably a knife wound—but a quick check confirmed that his vision was fine in both eyes. The question of why someone had come at his face with a knife was one that would have to wait.

He focused next on his body as a whole. His chest and abs were rock hard, but laced with scars, most white, but some still slightly pink. None tender, though, and he assumed that even the newest was several months old.

The same couldn’t be said of his neck, where five fresh, circular scars rose from his skin in a jagged line down from under his jaw to his collarbone. Cigar burns, maybe?

Broken With You

He filed the possibility away to contemplate later. This was a time for inspection, not for opining about why someone would hold a lit cigar against his flesh.

Still, he had to acknowledge that the wounds didn’t hurt, despite two of them clearly bordering on infection. Which meant that he was in shock or someone had drugged him and the effects still lingered.

He didn’t know, but he assumed the latter. Especially considering the odd, frenetic quality of those dreams he couldn’t quite recapture.

Once again, he mentally filed the question and returned to his assessment.

He guessed himself to be about thirty-seven years old, and since he had the kind of body a man only got by working out regularly, that gave him a solid bit of information about himself. From his position facing the mirror, he could see that he had a tribal band tattooed on his left arm and something else inked on his right, though he was at the wrong angle to make out the design. He didn’t bother turning for a better view. All in good time, and right then he needed to be as methodical as possible. Anything detail could be a clue to his identity. Any wound or bruise might bring back a flood of memories.

His dark hair was short, but still long enough to be sleep-tousled. An ungroomed beard suggested he hadn’t picked up a razor in ages, and that lined up with his sense that he’d been passed out for days.

He turned his attention to his hands. Notwithstanding the scrapes, they were strong, and his fingers were calloused. He wore no wedding ring and had no tan line suggesting that a ring had once been there. That thought made him pause, as a glint of green eyes and golden hair flashed in his mind. His dream.

Was she real? A girlfriend? Sister?

Was she in danger?

In the dream, someone had been speaking to him, saying vile things about a woman. But who?

Try as he might, he couldn’t recall the dream. Damn frustrating, but it would come back eventually. And he had more than enough to worry about at the moment.

Drawing in a breath, he continued his self-inventory. His teeth were white and mostly even, so he’d probably had money for braces as a kid. But his nose was crooked, and he guessed it had been broken more than once. Possibly sports, possibly fights.

Considering the scars that decorated his chest, abs, and eyebrow, his money was on fights.

He turned sideways, and once the tattoo came into view, the crisscross of scars over his body made more sense. It was a skull wearing a green beret on what looked like a coat of arms. The words de oppresso liber filled the space at the bottom. He recognized it, though he didn’t remember the circumstances around him getting it.

The Special Forces motto.

So he was a soldier. Or he had been. And though he didn’t remember one minute of combat, knowing that he was part of that brotherhood gave him some comfort. And it proved what he already felt in his gut—that he could take care of himself, no matter what the world threw at him next.

Broken With You

Based on the man he saw in the mirror, it seemed that the world abused him regularly.

Christ. What had he been into? And who the fuck was he?

A wave of panic crested over him and for a moment he let it sweep him away. He let himself wallow in fear and self-pity, losing himself in the black hole of his mind.

And then he turned that shit off. He had more pressing things to do than wallow. He didn’t have a memory? Fine. That was his starting point.

So, first question: what did his lack of memory tell him?

That something had happened to him.

Okay, but what?

Best guess—trauma. Either physical or emotional.

As for which, he didn’t care. For the moment, the question was academic. Either way, he was dealing with the same blank slate.

The situation stank, but God knew it could be a hell of a lot worse. He’d once watched a movie about a guy with no short term memory at all. He’d had to tattoo himself to hold on to facts. Great flick—Memento, it was called.

And goddamned if he didn’t remember that. He had some memories, at least. He remembered the names of the planets and the months of the year. He knew how to read. And he remembered that Luke Skywalker was Darth Vader’s son.

He didn’t have a fucking clue what the names of the elements on the Periodic Table were, but at least he remembered there was a Periodic Table. And he had a feeling he’d never known the elements, anyway.

So his mind worked. To a point.

His name, his age, his background? As for those facts, he was completely at a loss. But he’d get it back, damn right he would.

And if he didn’t … well, he’d coped with shit situations before. Not that he could remember any of them, but there was a certainty in his gut and the evidence was on his body. He might not know who he was, but he damn well knew what he was. And he wasn’t the kind of man who curled up into a fucking ball and whimpered.

A sharp rap sounded on the door, and he spun around, his right hand crossing over to his left side as he reached for a holstered weapon.

For a moment, he froze in that position. Then he slowly pulled his hand back and repeated the motion, a smile breaking across his face.

Muscle memory. Three cheers for muscle memory.

A key rattled in the lock, and he sprinted across the room and practically threw himself against the door before whoever was rattling that key could enter.

“Who is it?” His voice came out raspy, as if he hadn’t spoken in months. He coughed, then tried again. “Who’s there?”

“Housekeeping. I clean room, yes?”

He shifted, then peered through the peephole at the wisp of a woman standing next to a rolling cart. Behind her, a battered Toyota was parked in front of the door. His?

He didn’t know.

All he knew was that she wasn’t coming in. “It’s fine,” he said. “I’ve got everything I need.”

Not the truth, but not exactly a lie, either. He had air in his lungs and a beating heart, didn’t he?

Broken With You

“Okey-dokey, mister,” she said, then pushed on toward the next room. He stayed at the peephole, his attention now on the Toyota’s plates. California.

Frowning, he returned to the desk, then grabbed the jeans and shook them, sending dust flurries into the air and a pair of navy blue boxer briefs tumbling to the floor. He scooped them up, sniffed them, then shrugged and put them on, following the underwear with the jeans.

In addition to being filthy, the jeans were a mess. Ripped at the knees and not in a way that was fashionable. More like he’d taken a nasty fall.

He looked at his palms, looked at his knees, and as he did, he remembered. Not everything. Not his life. Not even his name.

But it was something.

Darkness. And motion.

He was blindfolded in some sort of moving vehicle, probably a cargo truck, his ankles tied together and his hands tight behind his back. He was listening, trying to gather as much information as possible, but there was nothing. Just heat and motion. And that was all he knew. Literally, all. It was as if he had been born into that moment, fully adult, and into that truck. There were things he remembered, yes. But not him. Whoever he was, he’d just popped into existence. A blank slate. An empty jar.

But he was aware now…

The truck bumped and rattled—and then it screeched to a stop.

A door rumbled up, and light seeped in around the edges of his blindfold. Strong hands grabbed him, pulling him to his feet and making him stumble forward. He was standing—he must have been right about it being a cargo truck—and then he heard the sound of a blade slicing through cord. His ankles were freed first, then his wrists. And before he could react, the truck started to move.

At the same time, someone shoved him from behind, and he fell onto the rough, hot asphalt, his hands thrust out to break his fall.

He turned, yanking off the blindfold and squinting into the sun, as someone in a black T-shirt and jeans rolled the truck door down from the inside as the vehicle peeled away, careening down the deserted highway toward the horizon.

In the motel room, his memories flooded back. Nothing before the truck, but now he recalled the feel of the road beneath his hands, the sun beating down on him as he walked for miles, the relief of finally coming across this shitty little godsend of a motel.

He’d stumbled into the office, found a hundred and fifty dollars in his pocket, and bought six bottles of water, five cans of mixed nuts, and three Hershey’s bars. Then he’d booked a room for two nights.

That left him with just over thirty dollars, which he remembered shoving back into his jeans.

He’d had no identification, but the woman behind the counter hadn’t seemed to care. He’d registered as Jack Sawyer. He couldn’t remember his name—or anything about his own life from before the ride in the truck—but he did remember the television show, Lost, and he’d claimed those two characters’ names for his own.

Broken With You

Now here he was, Jack Sawyer, in a shitty motel with no memory at all. His whole goddamn world was this tiny room and these filthy clothes. And wasn’t that a happy notion?

He shook his head, tamping down on the fear and frustration that was returning. Yes, it sucked, but at least he was alive. And he was going to stay that way.

Resolved, he tugged on the T-shirt. Originally white, the shirt was now a dingy gray with sweat stains under the arms and at the back of the collar.

A pair of dark brown loafers peeked out from under the desk, and he shoved his feet into them, unable to find any socks. At the same time, he patted himself down, his hands searching the pockets of the jeans and the seams, just in case there was something sewn in. But he found nothing except the thirty-three dollars he’d received in change and a room key with 107 etched on it.

Finding no help on his own person, he searched the desk and bureau drawers, but the drawers were empty except for a Bible, a Book of Mormon, a black pen, and a takeout menu for a pizza place in Victorville, California.

His stomach growled, and he started to reach for the phone to order something, then decided against it. Thirty dollars wouldn’t last long. Better to stick with what was in the room.

He popped nuts as he paced, analyzing his next steps. His fevered dreams still lingered, but the words had no more clarity than they’d had while he was sleeping. Less, even. In his dreams, he’d felt trapped, but not confused. Now, the strange words and threats and cartoon references were just nonsense, the numbers even more so.

Without anything else to write on, he pulled out the menu, then scribbled what he remembered: 32355 5-null 717

Presumably, the word “null” meant zero, so he crossed out what he wrote and started over: 32355 50 717

Still nonsense, and he scowled at the numbers and their refusal to provide him any information whatsoever.

But, fine. The numbers meant nothing to him? Then he’d start somewhere else. He knew that something had happened to him, and after that mysterious interlude, he’d been blindfolded and bound, pushed from a truck in the desert heat, and abandoned.

Not a scenario he wished to repeat, and since he had no idea whether his captors had truly abandoned him, he intended to be ready if they returned.

In other words, he needed a weapon.

He could splinter a drawer and use a length of wood, but he had a feeling the nice lady in the office would frown on that. Instead, he returned to the bathroom, then tugged the key out of his pocket. He shoved the end between the mirror’s frame and the glass in the lower right corner, then gently pried. As he’d hoped, the crack was both long and deep, and as he increased the gap between the frame and the mirror, he was able to pop it out, an icicle-shaped piece of the mirror, about five inches long.

Just what he needed. Because he sure as hell didn’t know what to expect when he walked out the door.

Broken With You

He wrapped one raw edge in toilet paper, forming a makeshift handle, then shoved the whole thing deep in the pocket of his jeans as he crossed to the door. He opened it slowly, then stepped hard into a wall of heat.

The sidewalk was clear on both sides, and only a few empty cars dotted the parking area as heat shimmers rose off the asphalt. The world was a fucking inferno, but all things considered, that seemed apropos. Hadn’t he been tossed right out of the frying pan and into the fire?

A sign that looked like it hadn’t been updated since the fifties sat perched atop vertical steel poles and identified the rundown little motel as the Stay-A-While Motor Inn. Hopefully that was only a suggestion, because he wanted to get out of there sooner rather than later.

He walked down the sidewalk toward the sign, passing the pastel colored doors along the way. Green, room 106. Blue, room 105. Yellow, room 104.

This path was familiar, and there was some comfort in that.

At the same time, having the full extent of his remembered life marked by the Easter egg colors of a half dozen doors wasn’t exactly enough to have him jumping for joy.

The same woman was in the office. About sixty with Lucille Ball hair—he remembered I Love Lucy!

She smiled at him from behind a counter. “Well, you’re looking much better today. Got yourself some sleep, I guess?”

“I did,” he said, then cleared his throat as he glanced around the room. “You got a bus schedule?”

She shook her head. “Sorry, no. Where you heading?”

“Just meandering,” he said, as if he was Jack Reacher, and it was perfectly normal to wander aimlessly around the country.

“Well, let me see if I can find a schedule online for you.” She inched toward a computer that looked to be older than he was, but stopped midway down the counter to answer the phone as she rummaged through a drawer.

He cocked his head, his hand sliding into his pocket as his senses went on high alert.

The phone.

He relaxed.

Of course. He should have realized immediately. The numbers. They were a phone number. 323-555-0717.

“Oh, good, I found it,” she said after ending the call. She pulled a crumpled brochure from a drawer. “So the Greyhound station’s not too far away. That what you’re looking for? Or did you want local routes?”

“Greyhound,” he said, thinking of the 323 area code. “I need to make a phone call. And then I think I’ll head to Los Angeles.”

“Friends there?”

“I guess I’ll find out.”

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