*He was home from prison.
Ten years compressed in the nerve-racking space of a few seconds.
This tall, broad-shouldered stranger was her husband. Every memory she had of his appearance was there, stamped with a brutal decade of maturity, but there. Except for the look in his eyes. Nothing had ever been bleak and hard about him before. He stared at her with an intensity that could have burned her shadow on the floor.
Words were hopeless, but all that they had.
"Welcome back," she said. Then, brokenly, "Jake."
He took a deep breath, as if a shiver had run through him. He closed the doors without ever taking his eyes off her. Then he was at her in two long steps, grasping her by the shoulders, lifting her to her toes. "I trained myself not to think about you," he said, his voice a raw whisper. "Because if I had, I would have lost my mind."
"I never deserted you. I wanted to be a part of your life, but you wouldn't let me. Will you please try, now?"
"Do you still have it?" he asked.
Anger. Defeat. The hoarse sound she made contained both. "Yes."
He released her. "Good. That's all that matters."
Sam turned away, tears coming helplessly. After all these years, there was still only one thing he wanted from her, and it was the one thing she hated, a symbol of pride and obsession she would never understand, a blood red stone that had controlled the lives of too many people already, including theirs.
The Pandora ruby.*
Deborah Smith is the NYT bestselling author of A Place To Call Home and the Kindle No. 1 bestselling author of The Crossroads Café. Learn more about her books at BellBridgeBooks.com.