Broken embrace, p.1
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       Broken Embrace, p.1

           Dana Mason
 
Broken Embrace


  Praise for the Embrace Series

  "Dangerous Embrace is the perfect kind of romantic thriller. There was plenty of suspense, but the evolving relationship between Sarah and Mark is what really made me love this story."

  ~New York Times Best Selling Author, A.L. Jackson on Dangerous Embrace

  "5 I'm in deep serious love with Mark stars!! Don't you just love it when a book grabs you from the very beginning? That''s what happened here. The action started right away and there was no way I could have put my kindle down! My eyes were completely riveted to the pages of this story."

  ~Erica, Back Porch Romance Book Reviews on Dangerous Embrace

  "I'd recommend this book if you like a dark, psychological thriller that leaves you guessing right to the end. Full of twists and turns and the right amount of romance, it's a great read."

  ~JB Johnston, Brook Cottage Books on Dangerous Embrace

  "Ms. Mason so artfully puts you in the lives of Ali and Johnny. You can almost feel sweet Micah in your arms and then the emptiness when he is gone. By the time the last page is turned you will have the answers you seek, a deeper understanding of the pain of losing a child and the euphoric feeling of new love."

  ~Katie Mettner, author of the Sugar Series and the Northern Lights Series on Precious Embrace

  "This is the second book by Dana Mason and already she has found a fan in me, with her ability to intertwine and perfectly balance an edge-of-your-seat thriller and a scorching and passionate romance. All this written with keen insight, sharp intelligence and a good sense of dramatic timing, to make for a truly excellent, highly recommended read!!!!!"

  ~Margreet Asselberg, Ripe for Reader on Precious Embrace

  "Once again, Dana Mason brings the heat. Precious Embrace positively sizzles. If it is even possible, Mason has brought us an even more delicious male protagonist than the one we fell for in her last novel. A smoking hot guy with washboard abs, a southern drawl and a gun who changes diapers? It doesn't get better than that. This book was a wild emotional roller coaster ride. The perfect blend of hot romance and pulse-quickening suspense."

  ~Lisa Regan, Award Winning Author of Finding Claire Fletcher and Aberration on Precious Embrace

  Praise for Broken Embrace

  "Seduced by Mason’s dynamic prose and emotional sensitivity, Broken Embrace effortlessly engages the reader into a vortex of pain and treachery, of enduring love and unfulfilled dreams, of hope and second chances, while dealing with every woman’s greatest fear and every man’s worst nightmare. And yet, the story, steeped in reality and authenticity, manages to deftly maneuver the reader into the land of happily-ever-after. This book will strike fear in your heart while it wrings out every emotion. Do not even think of missing it."

  ~Nancy S. Thompson, Author of The Mistaken and Leverage

  "Broken Embrace so far is my second favorite story in the Embrace Series. I love Melissa. She's realistic, likable and different. She's a wounded heart and I got emotionally attached to her character easily. Brian, he's a wounded heart hero so he's a bit different than the other heroes in the Embrace series. I enjoyed watching him grow throughout the book though I did want to jerk a knot in his noggin a time or two. Erin, I was so wrapped up in what she was going through, I had to put it down but wanted to pick the book right back up. Overall, Broken Embrace is an emotional romantic suspense perfect for those who love the edge of your seat books."

  ~Tobi Helton, Forget the Housework, I'm Reading…

  Broken Embrace

  Dana Mason

  Copyright © 2014 Dana Mason

  All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior permission of the publisher.

  Dana Mason Romance

  First trade paperback edition, May 2014

  The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Names, characters, places, and plots are a product of the author's imagination. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

  ISBN-13: 978-1499396072

  Cover Design by Valerie Neumark Mickela @ www.Rootid.in

  Cover Image by Regina Wamba @MaeIDesign

  www.facebook.com/MaeIDesignandPhotography

  www.MaeIDesign.com

  Cover models: Jax Turyna & Brady Greer

  You can find the Dana Mason at:

  Facebook: www.facebook.com/danamasonromance

  Twitter: twitter.com/danamason06

  Website: DanaMasonRomance.com

  Dedication

  For Grandma

  Acknowledgments

  There is a trio of ladies who have been instrumental in keeping me sane and getting this book published. I need to give a special thanks to Nancy. Thank you for being so smart and patient, and for being willing to spend so much of your valuable time helping me. Lisa, thank you for hating Mondays as much as I do, and for always listening and reading. Carrie, you are certainly one of the most generous authors I've met. Thank you for answering every single question, and for the time you've taken to help your fellow authors, including me. I hope all three of you know how much I appreciate your friendship.

  Thank you members of D.A.M.N, you know who you are. We're an eccentric group, but that makes us a family.

  Valerie, thank you for the long hours and for all your help. You're immensely talented and such a great friend! Broken Embrace would still be a lame Word doc on my laptop if it weren't for you.

  Linda, Natasha, Katie, Tobi, and Tajara, I truly appreciate the time you've spent helping me shape this into an enjoyable story. Your feedback and honesty is very important to me. Thank you!

  Elizabeth, Kaitlin, and Trevor, I love you! Always remember to follow your dreams.

  Jim, you're my rock. Thank you for always being here for me.

  To all my friends and family, thanks for your constant support and encouragement.

  Table of Contents

  Praise

  Dedication

  Acknowledgments

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  Chapter Thirty-Six

  Chapter Thirty-Seven

  Chapter Thirty-Eight

  Chapter Thirty-Nine

  Chapter Forty

  Chapter Forty-One

  Chapter Forty-Two

  Chapter Forty-Three

  Chapter Forty-Four

  Chapter Forty-Five

  Chapter Forty-Six

  Chapter Forty-Seven

  Chapter Forty-Eight

  Chapter Forty-Nine

  Chapter Fifty

  Chapter Fifty-One

/>   Chapter Fifty-Two

  Chapter Fifty-Three

  Chapter Fifty-Four

  Chapter Fifty-Five

  DANGEROUS EMBRACE, Embrace Series 1

  PRECIOUS EMBRACE, Embrace Series 2

  Chapter One

  Detective Brian Hammel shook hands with the Sebastopol Police Chief and nodded his thanks. Brian hadn't gained much information from the visit, but he had gained an ally, and that surpassed anything else. One could not have too many friends in law enforcement, especially when investigating a case like this.

  "I'll let you know what we come up with," he said.

  "We'll do the same. Thanks for driving out, Detective Hammel." Chief Lee Morgan looked over at Brian's partner, Johnny Rhay Bennett. "You, too, Detective Bennett." He shook his hand. "It's a small town. We don't often have to deal with this kind of stuff."

  "Hey." Brian chuckled, not that it was funny at all. He pushed open the heavy glass door and squinted at the sun glaring in his face. "It's a first for me, too," he said as the chief followed him out into the sweltering heat.

  One hundred and four degrees on the Friday before Labor Day. California was in store for another Indian summer. What he'd give for a steady, cool rain every day of the year. Typically as temperatures went up, so did crime, and he already had enough work to do. Brian glanced back at the chief, and wished like hell he and his partner hadn't had to drive out from Santa Rosa to inform him of the potential disaster brewing in Sebastopol's largest preschool.

  "I'll work with the administration at the preschool and let them know about Ackerman. Hopefully, we won't find any victims," Morgan said.

  "I think that's best, too." Brian rested his sunglasses on the bridge of his nose. "None of the photos we collected were of kids that small, but it doesn't mean he's not guilty of other forms of abuse."

  "We'd like to talk to the admin, too. Talk to Ackerman's boss, ask about his work habits, interests," Johnny said.

  "Right." Morgan nodded. "I'll pass on your card. They'll be closed for the holiday weekend, but I'll make sure they call you next week."

  Brian snatched at the smoking hot door handle and let the wave of heat escape the car before sliding onto the hot-as-hell vinyl seats. He immediately started the car and cranked the air on high then waited a moment before closing his door. His seat was hot enough; he didn't want to scorch his hands on the steering wheel of fire, as well.

  He maneuvered the car onto Wallace, scanning the street ahead of him. Sebastopol was a quiet little town about ten minutes from downtown Santa Rosa. It certainly didn't look like the breeding ground for pedophiles. Then again, things were never as they seemed.

  "So what is the age range on those kids again?" Brian asked.

  Johnny flipped a page in the file. "They're just babies. These here are between twelve and sixteen."

  "And what's the likelihood there are more? Pretty damn likely if you ask me. This shit is like an addiction. Once they start, they can't stop."

  "Nasty shit," Johnny said. "Who the hell gets off on naked, twelve-year-old boys?"

  "I've never seen this in Santa Rosa. You ever see a kiddy porn case when you worked in Nashville?"

  "No, but I worked homicide. Give me a murderer over a pedophile any day of the week. I say we castrate every damn one of 'em."

  Brian turned off Wallace onto North Main Street. "Let's run this down again. We got one guy, Scott Ackerman—worked as a teacher at the Sebastopol preschool—two dozen photos, and six different kids, all boys between twelve and sixteen. What am I missing?"

  "He's originally from SoCal. He's not married and has no kids of his own."

  "No, there's something else." Brian snapped his fingers and pointed at Johnny. "The guy doesn't own any camera equipment, at least none we've found."

  "So he's not taking the pics himself. He's got a producer, and you know what that means, partner."

  "It means there's a lot more of this stuff around." Brian held the steering wheel with a white-knuckled grip. This case was killing him. Of all the things he'd seen in his years as a cop, this one would not come together for him. "Let's hope to hell we don't have ourselves a child porn network operating out of Santa Rosa."

  "Maybe he brought this crap up with him when he moved from down south."

  Brian wished like hell he believed that, but he had a sick feeling about this case, sick enough to keep him up at night. "Martinez is sure they're local Santa Rosa boys. He's at the Community Center now. He thinks some of the pictures might have been taken there."

  The light switched to green and Brian turned left onto Bodega Avenue. He slowed for a car that had stopped in front of O'Farrell's Pub with its hazard lights flashing.

  "It's a red zone, jerk, move your ass."

  The passenger door opened and a pair of female legs swung out. The woman leaned in and kissed the driver, lingering intimately as her hand lifted to cup the driver's face, holding him close for another moment.

  Brian slammed the palm of his hand down on the horn. "Come on, I need to get back to town!"

  Johnny motioned to the left. "Just squeeze around him; you'll fit."

  "Ah, damn it, I've got shit to do," Brian groaned, turning the wheel to drive around. At the same time, the passenger got out, waving to the driver as she stepped up on the curb. The car pulled away.

  "Hey, is that—" Couldn't be Julie. "Mother fucker!" Brian squinted to get a better look then turned to Johnny, who was also watching the woman.

  Brian looked back to his wife and found her staring at him, eyes wide. Julie quickly turned and walked in the other direction.

  "What the hell?" Brian accelerated and popped the curb, parking half on the sidewalk and half on the street. How could she walk away and ignore him after he'd watched her get out of some jerk's car? Brian threw his car in park and snapped the door handle.

  Johnny caught his arm. "Take a breath first, Brian."

  "Did you see—who was that guy?"

  "You're on the job. You can't go out there with guns blazing."

  "Screw the job!" Brian jumped out with a racing heart. "What the hell, Jules?" he shouted.

  She stopped, but didn't turn around.

  "What are you doing?" he said, walking up behind her. "Who was that guy?"

  She turned. Guilt oozed out of her. "Brian." She glanced around as several patrons stepped out of O'Farrell's. "Don't do this here." She held up a placating hand. "Let's go home and talk."

  Brian took a step closer. "Who's the guy, Julie?"

  "Don't do this, Brian."

  "Me!" He poked his chest with a finger then turned it on her. "You're the one out here whoring around."

  Her eyes finally met his, narrowing. "You asshole! As if you give a damn. You're a blind, ignorant son of a bitch!"

  "Are you kidding me right now?" He dropped his hands to his hips. "Seriously, are you joking?" Julie's indignation pissed him off even more. How had she turned this around on him?

  She shook her head, her shoulders slumping as she turned, waving him away. "I'm sorry. I can't do this anymore."

  Before he could respond, she was two strides away, walking toward the parking lot.

  "You're walking away? Giving me nothing? I can't believe this." He lurched forward and grabbed her arm.

  She froze, still averting her eyes. "Let go," she said over her shoulder.

  Johnny grasped Brian's arm, and at the same time, Julie tugged free.

  "Who was that guy, Julie?" he shouted, but she kept walking.

  "Stop, Bri," Johnny said. "Not the place." He pulled on Brian's arm, eyeing the crowd that had collected. "You've had enough trouble at work. Save this for home."

  Chapter Two

  Brian whipped his car out of the police parking garage. He could not get the picture of Julie kissing that guy out of his head. He pounded the steering wheel and followed Sonoma Avenue toward the freeway.

  He'd never believed she was capable of cheating on him. It wasn't in her character. Their best friends, Mark and
Ali, had split up after an affair, and it had devastated Julie. She'd even stopped speaking to Ali for months after. Julie constantly complained about the country's divorce rate, bitching about families breaking up. "What about the kids," she'd complained. But what about their own kids? How was she going to explain this to them, much less him?

  How would they move on from this? She could have done anything and been forgiven. But this? He wasn't so sure. He'd given up everything for Julie, and now she'd given up everything for another man.

  Brian parked and gazed up at the building in front of him. He hadn't even realized where he was going until he stopped the car. "What the hell are you doing here?" he muttered, staring at the two-story warehouse.

  He spotted Melissa's car so he knew she was home. "Huh—home," he scoffed. Who in the hell talked her into buying this monster to live in? Why a freaking warehouse off Bellevue Avenue? Why did she move back here? Was she trying to torture him by mending her relationship with Julie and pretending to be his "friend"? Melissa hated him. It was obvious every time she looked—or more appropriately—glared at him.

  Julie had told him all about the warehouse Melissa had bought, and she'd asked him several times to come over with her to see it. He'd driven by, but for the life of him he didn't know why he cared—or why he'd come here now.

  His eyes searched the high windows on the top floor where Melissa's loft apartment sat above the big, empty warehouse. She planned to rent the warehouse to a business and live upstairs in the loft. Johnny told him she wanted to remodel the upstairs to include a photography studio. Fine, a photography studio he understood, but why buy the whole damn warehouse?

  Melissa Parker. Her name sent an all too familiar ache to his chest. Their tangled past was something he had never quite let go of. It's funny how old habits never die. When they were kids, he talked to her about everything—anything—and everything. For most of his life she had been that person for him, and here he was, in need of a friend. He'd be lucky if she didn't throw him out…but he knew she wouldn't. She'd extended the olive branch to him and Julie first. She'd forgiven them for what they'd done, and now she wanted to be friends again. Her forgiveness didn't bring any relief to his guilt. If anything, he only felt worse. He simply didn't deserve her forgiveness and he knew it, but more than that, he wasn't sure he trusted it. She'd hated him for years after he broke her heart. Yet, here she was, back in Santa Rosa, trying to make nice.

 
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