Chapter One - Miguel

Miguel Medina splashed cold water onto his face. A run in the blistering Sedona, Arizona heat had him longing for a cooler climate.

“Miguel, you mustn’t exercise outdoors when it is so hot.”

 

Bianca Flores moved through the bathroom doorway. She glided toward him, her sandals tapping on the terracotta-tiled floor. A bright yellow linen sundress highlighted her deep tan. Curly charcoal-colored hair framed her angular face and dipped below her shoulders. Silver hoop earrings dangled from each lobe.

 

His eyes swept over her. Bianca meant nothing more to him than a poor substitute. Although she cared for him with tremendous passion and understood the black hole lying at the bottom of his soul, she could never replace what he lost.

The woman he loved no longer walked this earth. For a brief time, Carmela Santiago became his reason for living. With each rise and fall of her breath, his love for her grew deeper, up until the moment of her brutal murder.

 

Miguel pressed Bianca’s hand to his lips and kissed her palm. “I must stay fit. My profession requires it.” He stripped and stepped into the huge walk-in shower.

 

“You could just as well use a gym rather than suffer outside.”

 

Water cascaded down his muscular frame. He tilted his head and laughed. “Ah, but it’s the suffering which toughens me, not an air-conditioned gym.”

 

“I give up. There is no changing your mind.”

 

When he finished, she handed him a towel. He dried off, then wrapped it around his waist. Bianca’s fingertip traced the rough scar running along his left cheek, a reminder of his turbulent past.

 

His fists clenched at her touch, recalling the night they came for Natalia. Many fell in Tahoe, Diego Silva among them. If only Carmela had survived. Instead, a bullet put an end to her life. It didn’t matter who pulled the trigger. Only one man remained responsible for her death. Nicholas D’Angelo destroyed what he treasured more than anything else in the world.

After his confrontation with Nick, he had torn through the woods like a wounded animal until he determined it was safe to return, arriving in time to watch them leave with Natalia and carry Carmela’s body away. He’d never forgive himself for not saving her.

With a rag to stem the torrent of blood pouring from the knife wound on his cheek, he’d taken his things, traveling just shy of the Mexican border where he managed to have his face stitched before crossing over into Mexico.

 

“Three years is a long time, Miguel,” Bianca said, sensing his thoughts. “They are living their lives while we hide away here in Arizona.”

 

“I will make them pay,” he said, brushing a loose tendril back from her forehead. He focused on the flecks of gold in her brown eyes, the same eyes that had seduced him one night in a Mexican Cantina as she set a shot of tequila on the gleaming bar. Later, their lust for each other satisfied in a local hotel, he learned of her premature widowhood and subsequent poverty. His choosing to remove her from those unfortunate circumstances had led to her undying devotion.

Her eyes locked with his. “Remember, my love, you must take the child from them.”

Adrenaline flowed, feeding his anger. “Sí, Natalia belongs to me.”

 

She sat on the rim of the clawfoot tub, her hands clasped together. “I promise to do whatever is necessary to help you get her back.”

 

“My sources inform me Nick and his family still live in South Dakota,” Miguel said. “His friend, this other ghost, Dalton, also lives there. I will need you to become acquainted with them.”

 

“Acquainted?”

 

Arms folded, he leaned against the sink. “Sí, it seems they are managing Carmela’s restaurants. One in New York, and a new location in Rapid City.”

 

He rubbed the prickly stubble on his chin. “As a matter of fact, they will be short a waitress soon. Do you happen to know someone with experience?”

 

Bianca rose and he drew her close. She moved against him. He inhaled the perfumed scent of jasmine. “I think I do.”

 

Miguel’s desire rose at her words, and he led her to the bed. While she removed her clothes, he concentrated on the flaming red rocks rooted in the distance beyond the window, their rich tone fueling his smoldering rage, a fury nothing would appease until he faced Nick again.