Excerpt: His Secret Past

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He went back toward where he’d parked his black Pontiac Firebird. It was the last thing remaining of his rough living Jersey boy days—he’d never been able to trade it in for a Subaru. He rested the poster display on the hood while he leaned on the car, patting the pockets of the suit jacket he’d worn in the hopes it would make him seem trustworthy. He might as well have worn camo.

Just when he pulled out a pack of Marlboros and his silver lighter, a breeze kicked up and he turned his shoulder as he put a cigarette in his mouth and flicked the lighter. He dragged the smoke deep into his lungs and held it there, eyes closed, feeling the burn and savoring the scent.

“Smoking’s not good for you.”

Mason startled, releasing the smoke before he was ready. A woman was standing in front of him. He’d been so absorbed that he hadn’t heard her come up. She was about Stephanie’s height, a little less than shoulder high, but that was the only thing the two had in common.

Where Stephanie was all neatly contained planes, this woman curved and swerved. Her light brown, gently curling hair was streaked liberally with dark gold and tumbled down her neck with smaller curls springing around her face. Her eyes, golden brown with a dark circle around the iris, tilted at the corners, contrasting exotically with her small, slightly upturned nose. He thought he’d recognize her if she was from the neighborhood—the way she filled her jeans was hard to overlook—but he’d better be civil on the chance she was one of them.

“I only take the one drag a day.”

“What?” The woman’s eyes widened in surprise and her expression was almost studious, like she was taking notes. She shoved quickly at the soft curls the wind had blown into her face, twisting and pushing them behind her ear. Mason caught the flash of chunky silver rings on slender fingers as her deft hands quickly and decisively tamed the curls. Woman 1, Wind 0.

“One drag,” Mason said. “I kicked the habit but I miss it. The smell of it, the taste, the fire.” He flipped the top of the lighter back and flicked the wheel, smiling at her through the flame. “If the day really sucks, I take two drags.”

He took a second long drag and then carefully ground the cigarette out on the edge of the trash can next to the Firebird before tossing it in. “Haven’t had to take three yet, though.”

The woman studied him intently, seemingly unconcerned that he had no idea who the hell she was. He thought he’d have remembered her if they’d met before. And okay, she was round and sexy with her curvy hips and the black v-neck T-shirt shaping itself to her, but he didn’t pick up strangers on the street. He grabbed the display, intending to cut this encounter. She could be an old fan—that still happened, someone recognized him and approached. But this woman with her sharp, studying gaze didn’t seem awestruck like a fan.

“One drag,” she said. “That’s a fascinating detail. Weird and oddly masochistic, but fascinating.” She stuck her hand out. “Anna Walsh. Good to finally meet you, Mr. Star.”

Ambush number three. Suddenly that third drag wasn’t so far out of the question.

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