With no pride or safety net, she was determined to prove that he was her first love, her endless love...
A love she will never forget…
Horrified and devastated upon witnessing the brutal murder of her husband at the hands of her family, Zara Hamilton narrowly escaped with her life, and that of her unborn son, intact. For years she lived in anguish, anger, and mourning over her husband’s death, while struggling single-handedly to raise their son.
A betrayal he will never forgive…
Jaden Hamilton has loved Zara for as long as forever. He was first drawn to her as a friend and mentor in high school; recognizing that their love had grown to the foreverkind, he married her. Jaden was shattered when she died, and vowed to destroy Zara’s family following their violent assault on him, and their role in his wife’s death. Years later, he was stunned to discover his wife alive and well in another country. After being beaten, shot, and left for dead, how can he ever forgive her for not trying to gain justice for him, for depriving him of his son’s formative years, and for his years of torment? Consumed with rage and utter contempt, Jaden was determined to execute his own brand of revenge and justice upon Zara and her family.
The years of fending for herself and raising their son made Zara a strong, independent, confident woman. Certain of her ability to overcome an angry, stubborn husband, who had once loved her so fiercely, she fought to regain his love and trust. With no pride or safety net, she was determined to prove that he was her first love—her endless love.
Zara Hamilton’s face softened with maternal pride at her eight-year-old son’s wildly sprawling limbs, spread haphazardly across his twin-sized bed. It appeared as though the bed was shrinking, given his seemingly endless growth spurts.
Smiling at his peaceful, careless slumber, Zara gently shook his shoulder, attempting to wake him, which was always a difficult endeavor.
She whispered close to his ear, “Happy birthday, Dante!”
He woke with immediate alertness, sitting up in his bed to gift her with his usual, exuberant mile-wide grin. Zara felt a sense of accomplishment on seeing the happy, optimistic look on his face every day; it made all of the sacrifices she’d endured in the past eight years worthwhile.
Softly caressing his dimpled cheeks, she was awed every time she looked at him and noted his striking resemblance to his father. Same smooth, chocolate brown skin, raven, almond-shaped eyes with lashes most women would kill for. He was a carbon copy of his father, with a large, slightly wide nose, smiling, full lips, and pronounced dimples in both cheeks. He showed the promise of attaining and exceeding the height his father had, and quite uncannily walked with the same lazy, confident swagger. Jet black, wavy hair and a devilish sense of humor were characteristics he seemed to have gained from her. However, tenacity and intelligence were definite traits he’d inherited from both parents.
Jaden had loved tinkering with computers, car engines, or anything electrical or mechanical. Dante was the same. She’d lost count of how many television sets he had turned into computers, or computers into televisions. Their television could do things she hadn’t known a television could do, or was ever supposed to do. Any electronics she bought were immediately enhanced to something supersonic compared to what it was supposed to do. He was completely amazing, and Zara knew Jaden would have been so very proud of him. Her eyes misted in a brief moment of melancholy as bittersweet memories, and regret, assailed her.
“Good morning, Mom! Did you get me a birthday present?” Adding a mischievous grin and without missing a beat, Dante quickly added, “and can I stay home from school today?”
Suppressing a grin of her own, she paused, waiting him out.
“Everyone knows a man shouldn’t work on his birthday!”
Zara arched an eyebrow. She was sure he knew that look: don’t push your luck, kid!
“Just kidding, Mama!”
Dante jumped up from his bed with his usual fluidity and athleticism. He gave his mother an enthusiastic hug, almost lifting her from the ground.
“Boy, put me down!” She screamed with joyful giggles. “You are beyond crazy. Now tell me, what would you like for your birthday breakfast?” Zara asked as she disentangled herself from her son’s lanky frame. He was already a head taller than the other boys in his grade.
“Oh, I think I will be a bacon-and-egg man today!” He puffed out his little chest and tried to deepen his voice.
“Now you are pushing it, kid. I would drop the ‘man’ part if I were you, and stick to being my little boy. You’ll be a man soon enough.” Zara smiled at her son’s antics. As she’d already completed her five-mile run on her treadmill, Zara left him to take a shower, while she prepared their breakfast and get ready for work.
Two hours later, she left Dante at the gate of his school with an overly enthusiastic hug and kiss, which her son wasn’t too happy about. He’d insisted she not touch him once he was on the school premises; according to him, this wasn’t cool.
He gritted his teeth and muttered under his breath, “women!”
It was customary at his private school for parents who wished to take an active interest in their elementary child’s class activities to visit with the teacher at any time before school started. Zara liked that. This was yet another practice her son found totally uncool. To avoid his mother ever having to check up on him in this manner, he did every assignment on time, took every note home the teacher gave, and maintained straight As in his classes.
Zara simply shook her head, not responding to her son’s comment.
What the hell I’m going to do when he’s a teenager?
A shiver of dismay sliced through her body. Dante’s show of independence was really rattling her—her eyes watered at the thought of how quickly he was growing up. He had been her world for the past eight years and she was terrified at the thought of losing him as she had lost his father. He had been her love, her husband, Jaden.
Zara was not impressed with her moments of weakness today. Where were these waterworks coming from? She didn’t have time to be emotional, not now. Not ever again.
At twenty-nine years old, Zara had achieved significant milestones in her young life, despite the turbulent and devastating months after she’d first arrived on the island. She was grateful her son was happy and well-adjusted, and she had a very promising career in an international consulting firm.
However, she couldn’t get over losing Jaden. Some days, the pain was dull enough she might smile a little, while observing the antics of her co-workers or her son, but there were too many times when she was filled with anguish. Her pain was made even more poignant because of the manner in which he’d died—suddenly, violently, and brutally. No one deserved that kind of death, and watching someone she loved so deeply being brutalized had been too much. The image was etched in her memory and when those memories resurfaced, it destroyed any sense of well-being or joy she had momentarily gained.
The existence of her son gave her the will to live and a determination to at least make his world as happy as possible. However, as far as anything else in her life, she simply went through the motions—working to pay the bills, exercising to remain healthy in order to take care of her son, and going to church to ensure her son understood the value of having God in his life. Everything was done for Dante’s benefit and growth. She had nothing else. She went out occasionally with friends, but even that was done for Dante. Her friends were parents of children Dante’s age. Dating wasn’t an option, not even considered. The thought of another man touching her…words were insufficient.
Nothing and no one could replace Jaden in her heart and she hadn’t remotely come close to replacing him in her bed. She looked at men without really seeing them. They were just people who made up the pattern of life. She maintained such a cool, untouchable façade, only a very few brave or extremely arrogant men attempted to ask her on dates. And when they did, her first response was one of bewilderment, complete incomprehension of why they were even interested; then her rejection of their advances would be swift and definitive. Nothing existed for her except her son. He was her world, her reason for living, and the driving force for her to succeed.
Zara knew and accepted a part of her died with her husband. However, she couldn’t possibly fight her body’s involuntary, subconscious remembrance of Jaden. She’d lost track of the number of times she’d woken up in the dead of the night, wet and panting from an involuntary orgasm brought on from erotic dreams of him. Those were the worst, because for days afterward she would remember and again mourn for Jaden.
Upon arriving to work, Zara was surprised by the partners’ request to take part in a meeting scheduled for later in the morning. She was expected to sit in for another senior manager who had called in sick.
After being given minimal facts on the client, the owner of a local electronics company who intended selling his interest to an international buyer, Zara was intrigued by the size and complexity of the project. They not only created computer security software, they also provided electronic security-monitoring services to a number of high-profile international clients domiciled on the island. Her firm had been engaged by an international firm to perform independent due diligence and assist in the initial fact-finding exercise. She was tasked with reviewing the report prepared by her colleague, gleaning the technical capability of the various security programs available, and determining whether the fair value of the assets stated was reasonable.
Zara immediately took all of the files to her office and sat quietly, trying to comprehend the massive amount of financial data provided and decipher the mess her colleague had left in his review notes. The phone on her desk rang far too early. I hope this meeting provides more clarity before I have to give an opinion, because this valuation makes no sense!
Slightly distracted, Zara was one of the last to enter the boardroom. She was astonished by the number of people already seated. Twenty usually sat around the mahogany table, and today more than half the seats were taken. As this wasn’t one of her clients, she didn’t recognize anyone, except for three members of her firm.
After being introduced by the senior partner, Anthony Rolle, to the eight representatives of the local electronics firm, Zara quickly sat. She listened attentively as Anthony explained the meeting’s two-part format. The first portion would review their prospectus and financial data. The second meeting was scheduled for the next hour, with the management team from the international firm vying to purchase the local company.
“Mr. Jeffries, there’re a few details missing from this proposal your buyer may be interested in,” Zara finally stated, twenty minutes into the meeting and after it appeared no one on her team was prepared to ask any controversial questions or challenge Mr. Vincent Jeffries, the owner of the company and their client.
“Well, I don’t want to give too much away, young lady. Sometimes, you just have to let people find things out for themselves.” Mr. Jeffries’ gaze shifted swiftly around the room, looking at anyone other than Zara. He laughed loudly, as if he had told the greatest joke.
“I’m afraid that isn’t how this works, sir. We were contracted by both firms to attest to the material accuracy of these documents.” Zara kept her posture still and held Mr. Jeffries in a steady gaze.
“Now, Tony, you’re not going to let this young lady steamroll me, are you?” Mr. Jeffries laughed again and looked to Anthony to move the meeting forward.
Tension filled the room. Zara wasn’t worried. Her boss was a decent guy and he’d always support his employees.
“Vincent, we’re confident Zara would only ask for details pertinent to this project. I’m sure that information shouldn’t be too difficult to have your staff supply,” Tony stated in a conciliatory manner.
Mr. Jeffries huffed in defeat, and then turned to Zara. “What do you want to know?”
“Why don’t we start with the last maintenance log of your systems? Do you have the logs readily available? It will give us a better gauge on your equipment value.”
Jeffries gave her a slight smile, and everyone relaxed.
“You may call me Zara,” she supplied calmly.
“Yes, Zara, we do have the information. But to be honest, we haven’t changed our systems in over two years and the last maintenance was conducted more than a year ago. We simply couldn’t afford to keep up with the astronomical cost increase.” He finished sheepishly.
“Okay, we will have to adjust these numbers accordingly. Would you also tell us a little more about your building? Who holds the title to it and when was the last appraisal?” In her usual, efficient manner, Zara put her questions one after the other. She was dogged in her investigation and diligently adjusted the price points for any material deficiencies noted, and increased it for any undervalued asset.
Zara thought the meeting was going well and she was finally able to provide some constructive insight into the numbers and technical details to be presented to the international firm, JSM Industries. As the end of the hour approached, she noticed there seemed to be some buzz among the other occupants in the room—they were brimming with excitement and anticipation about meeting the president of JSM. Zara hadn’t gotten far enough in the file to know the other players in the acquisition. Her focus had been on the asset valuation and software data.
However, given the conversation going on around the table, it was apparent he was well respected and viewed with awe by those in the computer programming and electronics worlds. Frustrated with the lack of information forthcoming from the conversation, she tried to refocus on the data in front of her. Better to lessen her learning curve, or at least ascertain who they were discussing, without giving her ignorance away.
As the meeting wrapped, Zara was only vaguely aware of Tony leaving the boardroom to escort the JSM team members in order to resume the second phase of meetings. She busied herself by reorganizing the paperwork in front of her. She was so intent on her task it took her a moment to realize their guests had arrived.
Consequently, when she did raise her head, she could only stare at the imposing, domineering figure standing next to her boss.
The neat pile of papers slipped from her fingers.
This isn’t possible!
She was flattened by an avalanche of battling sensations: shock, hope, happiness, lust, love, and back to shock.
Zara couldn’t hold on to a single one of them.
He was introduced around the table to each person, before finally coming to a stop in front of Zara.
His onyx gaze held her spellbound.
It couldn’t be, but it was—her husband, Jaden Hamilton, stood before her.
Jaden was massive; at least six feet five of muscle, not an ounce of spare flesh at his lean waist or anywhere on his tall frame. His close-shaven head sported a square, arrogant jaw. His lips were neither too plump nor too thin. His skin had a flawless, velvety, dark-chocolate complexion. He was strikingly handsome and his features were marred only by a vicious scar that ran along the left side of his face. From the jagged edges, it was evident he had suffered greatly while receiving it. His dark, raven stare appeared cold and hard with an air of cynicism, but still sharp, intelligent, taking note of everything around him. His grey suit was obviously custom made, because it fitted him superbly. He looked elegant and dangerous at the same time. His posture was arrogant and brutally imposing. He wasn’t someone you wanted to meet in a back alley.
She had yet to move. Her brain still could not accept what her eyes were telling her.
His gaze lost some of its coldness, and instead blazed with instant disbelief, then recognition, and stunned awareness. His nostrils flared and his breathing became visibly labored. His emotionless shield was obliterated for a brief moment.
Zara was afraid to breathe for fear the image in front of her would disappear. Even as she hungrily drank him in with her eyes, she was certain she was hallucinating.
She was confused by the harsh, angry look Jaden gave her before he slowly turned to Tony and fiercely whispered a few words to him. Tony looked initially perplexed and shocked, but upon spying the almost savage look Jaden had in his stony eyes, he abruptly sprang into action and herded people out of the room.
Zara had never seen a room emptied so swiftly.
She was too stunned to move a muscle, and watched in an almost disembodied detachment as her colleagues left the room. Her mouth had gone dry. Her stomach felt like there were thousands of butterflies dancing in it, and her hands and legs wouldn’t stop trembling.
Tears ran unchecked down her cheeks.
Jaden could feel the harsh breath of air fighting to escape his nostrils. His jaws tightened almost to the point of pain, and his head throbbed at the rapid pounding of the pulses in his temples.
He was absolutely stunned to see his wife, alive and well and living on this island paradise. He was initially paralyzed with grateful, searing elation when he’d first glimpsed her. His emotions ranged from piercing joy, paralyzing disbelief, and excruciating, mind-numbing desire. But now, an omnipotent rage, the likes of which he’d never felt before, reigned supreme. It flowed like hot lava through every pore in his body.
Fortunately for her, his feral emotions were momentarily checked by her visible distress. Jaden couldn’t ignore that. Zara’s woeful, unceasing tears stopped him from lashing out in a fit of rage.
However, he couldn’t ignore the facts bombarding him. While he had brutally suffered at the hands of her family and had bitterly mourned her death, she had conveniently escaped to an idyllic life on an island.
He became livid all over again.
“Tears, Zara? Really?” Jaden fell silent again in angry disgust, fighting to find the words to ask the questions and express the thoughts running through his mind.
“I was choking in the pool of my own blood, worried about the safety of my wife, while you were busy organizing your island getaway?” Jaden ignored her confused stare.
“Did you marry me, and then decided being married wasn’t as much fun as you thought it would be?” He was embarrassed by the emotional break in his voice and had to look away from her to gather his thoughts. Every muscle in his body tightened in pain, as if he were being tortured on a rack. He would be damned before he would let her know that.
He continued in an emotionless, calm voice. “You could’ve simply asked for a divorce. It would’ve most definitely been a little less bloody, and less fucking dramatic!”
Her eyes widened in disbelief and she moistened her lips with her tongue, as if she was finding it difficult to speak.
“What’re you talking about? Where? Wh-what’s going on?” she finally whispered.
“I must’ve been crazy to have spent the past nine years grieving for you!” His soft voice was barely above a whisper. Flaming rage consumed and overwhelmed him; clogging his voice and making him fight to suppress the sudden need to shed angry tears.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t just haul your ass out of here and turn you in to the authorities?” Jaden refused to let her break him apart again. He had cried enough over this woman. He was resolute he wouldn’t waste any more. Why had this happened? Looking into her sweet, innocent face, he couldn’t reconcile her actions with the brutality of what had happened to him.
Jaden watched her try to compose herself as she rummaged through her handbag, coming away moments later with tissues to mop up the tears pouring down her cheeks. Her struggle to respond to his questions annoyed the hell out of him. He wanted an explanation and she was doing nothing to clarify how she’d come to be here. Why had she left him to die? Why had she married him?
He had so many questions!
“What the hell is the matter with you? Answer me, dammit!” His posture reeked with impatience and brooding anger.
“Stop it!” Zara held her palm up to as if to fend him off. Her head bent as if it was too heavy for her neck.
Again, he watched her difficulty in dealing with his sudden appearance. He had to admit, it was jarring to him as well.
“Jaden, we really need to talk first before you start spewing such nonsense!” Zara stated angrily, and then drew in a deep breath. “Obviously, we’ve a lot to talk about, but I just need to take in the fact you’re here.” Her voice had softened again to match the look of awe on her face.
She slowly pushed her chair away from the table and stood gingerly.
Zara swayed unsteadily. However, the change in position seemed to infuse her with some confidence. She moved toward him cautiously but with a defiant glare in her hazel eyes.
Momentarily stunned by her beauty, Jaden almost swallowed his tongue as she stood in front of him. The rebellious glint in her eyes, her body vibrating with youthful energy and good health, and the sensual curves of her hips and breasts paralyzed him with instant arousal. Her glossy, black hair, caught up in a sophisticated twist at the back of her neck, left bare the creamy, caramel complexion of her striking oval face, which featured light brown eyes, soft, pouty lips begging to be kissed. As he took in the full impact of her presence, he was incredulous at the intense urgency of unwelcome, molten, hot lust invading his body.
That pissed him off even more.
How dare she stand there in a flesh-colored suit that molded her body to perfection? He didn’t need a reminder of the generous swell of her breasts, which was visible through the soft, silk tailored blouse, which also provided a glimpse of her creamy, abundant cleavage. Who the hell cared about her flat stomach and a tiny waist highlighted by the tapered fit of her jacket and the slender belt around her waist? As if he wasn’t already being tortured, her pencil-shaped skirt clearly delineated a pert, firm bottom, and a side split ran to mid-thigh, giving a hint of a shapely thigh and long, endless legs. At eighteen, her body had been sleek and voluptuous at the same time. Now, with maturity, it was stunningly lush and feminine. Her Latina heritage was front and center to her physical appearance.
Jaden hated his body’s immediate and urgent response to the sight of her beauty. But as she drew closer and her unique scent engulfed him, he hardened to the point of acute pain. His desire was blatantly obvious, and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do to stop the graphic bulge in his slacks.
Breathing slowly, he fought doggedly for control. As he closed his eyes, his other senses kicked into high gear. Her scent invaded his nostrils and was even more potent as his brain played a happy kaleidoscope of images of her seductively curvy body in various stages of dress and undress. He was so screwed. Despite his anger, her beauty was etched in his brain with merciless clarity and he wanted to sink his bulging length into her more than he wanted to take his next breath. I have every right to have her; she is my wife, dammit! He tried to dispel that thought, currently dominating and clouding his messed-up brain.
“You are alive.” Zara whispered again, as if she’d just realized he was in the room with her. She reached out as if to touch him, completely ignoring his angry glare and stiffening, rejecting frame. Her fingers finally touched him lightly on his cheek.
“I saw them shoot you. How’s this possible?” she asked him in a husky, tear-clogged voice.
Jaden couldn’t breathe.
He was drowning. His gaze glued on the blossoming tips of her breasts, which had hardened to pebbled buds and were graphically displayed. Her silk blouse and bra couldn’t contain them. He watched with a sense of dismay as she pulled her lower lip between her teeth, slowly wetting her lips, with a clear invitation for him to kiss her. He couldn’t deny he wanted to taste her. It didn’t make him feel any better knowing she apparently desired him just as much.
Breathe, punk! There was no way he would show her his weakness.
Jaden angrily stepped away from her, making it abundantly clear he didn’t appreciate her touch. Color, blushing embarrassment, exploded across her face.
“Of course I’m alive, no thanks to you.” Jaden had to force the contempt to enter his voice; he would’ve had to be blind not to recognize the desire ricocheting between them. He had to get the hell out of there before he surrendered to it. Even when they were first married, he didn’t remember feeling desire this intense. This alarmed him further, because their brief marriage had been such a feast of the senses, extremely passionate. They’d connected on every level. He’d thought they had the same values, the same dreams, supported each other’s goals, and would fight to the end to protect the other. He’d thought they were two halves of the same coin. Soul mates!
His heart shattered on the destruction of what they had lost.
“I can explain,” Zara pleaded, helplessly reaching for him again, without success.
Jaden immediately stepped out of her reach. He held on to his control by a thread. If she touched him again, there was no way in hell he’d be able to stop from tasting her like his body demanded.
“I’m sure you will try, but I’ve no intention of listening to your lies.” Her deception had finally been uncovered. There was nothing she could say to exonerate herself.
Zara looked at him in bewilderment. “Why are you acting like this?”
Jaden could well imagine her not accepting this side of him. Forget the gentle, loving, caring husband he’d once shown her. It was time she got the cold bite of his rage. She’d pay for what he’d suffered.
“Why am I acting like this?” He gave a sardonic bark of laughter. “I’ve just spent almost nine years of my life mourning the horrible death of my wife, whom I loved more than life itself. But the better question is: what happened to you? When did you become such a cold bitch? How could you let me believe you’d died and then leave me in the brutal hands of your family? Answer that! Who the hell are you? What are you?” He lowered his voice with each word, making his tone vicious and full of contempt.
“But I saw them shoot you. My mother—”
“If I’d known you wanted your freedom so badly, I would have readily given you a divorce. Although I’ll at least be grateful I found you before you made a bigamist out of me. I’m sure my lawyers can hammer out a quick divorce. And my wedding can proceed as planned, a few weeks from now.”
“W-w-w-what? What’re you saying?”
Jaden dispassionately watched her spatter and protest, but he felt nothing. He was cold inside. She’d taken what remained of his soul, and crushed it.
“I want a divorce. Is that simple enough for you?”
“Jaden, please, you have to listen to me! You’ve completely misunderstood what happened to us! Please just listen!” Zara screamed and then quickly slammed her hand over her mouth as if to prevent further anguished cries of denial. Tears clouded her hazel eyes again.
Jaden wasn’t going to be swayed by anything this woman had to say.
Throwing his business card at her in disgust, he walked out, irrevocably changed.
Zara watched numbly as he walked out of the room. She couldn’t stop crying.
How much pain could one person endure in a lifetime? She’d seen his lips moving, hurling ugly, hateful words, words her brain had refused to decipher or comprehend at the time.
Long moments passed as she came to the realization she could lose him again.
Zara couldn’t let that happen. It seemed as if she’d been fighting all her life to preserve their love, and she knew it was worth the effort. He was her soul. Her life hadn’t been worth living without him. Death, she couldn’t hope to conquer, but a little misunderstanding, and a fiancée? Compared to death, that would be no challenge at all.