Forsaken

By: Sarah Ballance



Her past is back to haunt her—and this time, it’s got a gun.

When Gage Lawton finds his brother shot to death on his back porch, every shred of evidence points to one person: Gage’s ex-lover, Riley Beckett. The only gun in town that fires a bullet of that caliber belongs to her.

Certain the shooting is payback for his part in the loss of her parents, he abandons his promise to stay out of her life and confronts her, his rage backed up with a revolver. Yet when she steps through the door, all thoughts of revenge burn to ashes.

A year after Riley unwillingly walked away from Gage, she enters her home to find him sitting in the dark, gun pointed at her head. One look into those achingly familiar blue eyes reminds her how wrong she was to let him go. But now there’s more standing between them than their heated past.

A twist of fate—and a hail of sniper bullets—puts them in the cross hairs of a killer, leaving Riley with just two slim options: trust her greatest betrayer, or face a murderer alone.






Dedication

For everyone who believes in second chances.





Prologue

Just a test.

It was a bullshit excuse, and he knew it. But he fired anyway, relishing the power unleashed in his grip. The bullet zinged past the trunk of a possumwood tree, barely missing the coarse silver bark providing his cover.

Perfect.

He drew the barrel of the old Sharps rifle skyward and set the butt on the toe of his boot. His muscles ached from supporting the heft of the weapon, but lugging the fifteen-pound relic across the mountainous Oklahoma Cookson terrain had its perks. The heavy gun absorbed most of its recoil, something his battered body appreciated more than pride would allow him to admit. Fleeing the scene in slow motion wouldn’t be a problem, but if the kickback set him on his ass, he’d be lucky to move from the spot before the sheriff arrived. And that would ruin everything.

He tipped his gaze toward the crystalline blue sky and let the smell of gun smoke coax long-buried memories to life. The gun held aching familiarity, and a fleeting encounter with his conscience threatened to bring the whole plan to a roaring stop. But the bitter ache spread from his heart to his bones, and the pain he lived with every day of his life splintered like hot shards through his body.

No regrets. Not today.

The homestead sprawled before him, picturesque. Harboring a killer.

He set another bullet in the chamber and then filled the dead space with black powder. With a practiced hand, he turned the gun to the ground and tapped the barrel before righting it and capping the rifle. Every motion was automatic, rehearsed. Ingrained.

He had one shot. The pain couldn’t stop him, and neither could the law. Only one person in the vicinity of Barefoot, Oklahoma was known to own an old Sharps 50-90.

And it wasn’t him.

Motion from the back of the house roused his attention. A silhouette passed the gritty window, and the rusted screen door screeched to life.

He lifted the weapon and took aim. Only adrenaline and a thirst for vengeance kept his body from giving up. A mere fraction of the rifle’s thirteen hundred yard killing range stood between him and his target, and he’d come too far to miss.

He allowed Gage Lawton a final breath of fresh air. Then a bullet pierced his skull, and justice was served.





Chapter One


Something was wrong. Was the dark playing tricks on her? Riley Beckett froze, arm outstretched, hand poised to toss her keys on the table just inside her front door. But she didn’t let go. Instead of dropping them in their usual spot, she feathered pieces of the makeshift weapon between her knuckles. Heart pounding, she pressed the keys in a silent, white-knuckle grip and prayed her concerns were her imagination, that the paranoia of coming home alone to a dark house was getting the better of her.

One, two steps in. Wood planks echoed underfoot. She fought to breathe air that grew thinner with every tense second.

Three steps.

Then it hit her. The scent. His scent. And with it a flush of memories. The burn of hot grass on her bare skin. Rough hands, a tender touch. Love so sweet she ached for it, her dreams raging, and her body drenched with need.

“Gage?” Her voice broke on the single syllable. Riley’s grip on the keys tightened, her blood raging hot and cold all at once.

A creak sounded from the corner chair. Her eyes refused to adjust in the darkness, but not even the faint light kept the blond streaks in his russet hair from giving him away. Like rays of sunshine, she used to tease, and her words never failed to draw a scowl across his rugged face.

“Riley.”

God help her, her name on his lips sounded as it always had. Coarse. Dangerous. Forbidden. Even before… The memory surged, hot and vivid, leaving a metallic taste in her mouth. White heat assaulted her from every corner of the room.

The keys fell to the floor with a dull clink.

“An eye for an eye, is it?” His voice sounded unpracticed, as if he hadn’t spoken in a long while.

She couldn’t see his face, but she knew his expression. Flat and humorless. Broken. She remembered the day he stopped smiling. Every part of her wanted to flee, but she stood frozen to the spot.

“What do you mean?” Riley wondered if the words, whispered and weak, had the strength to make it across the room. Hadn’t she always known she’d shatter the next time she saw him? Hadn’t she dreamed of seeing him anyway?