Beau Rochester has an entire house full of secrets. And those secrets are putting Jane Mendoza in danger.
She fell in love with the one man she can’t have. She should leave Maine to protect her heart, but the thread refuses to be severed. The brooding Mr. Rochester and his grieving niece are more than her job. They’re her new family.
She races against time to find answers and protect the people she loves. The cliffside grows dark with the misdeeds of the past. Her heart and her sanity fight a battle, but they are both at risk.
Will Mr. Rochester learn to trust Jane? And will that trust destroy her?
About the Book
Strict Confidence by Skye Warren
Series Rochester Trilogy | Genre Adult Contemporary Romance
Publisher Independent | Publication Date June 15, 2021
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A Rochester Trilogy Novel
© 2021 Skye Warren
I dream about angels with white robes and talons for hands. They scratch at me, angry, accusing. I gasp against the pain. Flames lick at my skin. And all the while there’s the voice, low and vibrating with fury. I could have loved you, it says.
Consciousness reaches down a hand and drags me up. It’s like breaking the surface of the water—salt on my tongue and sea spray clouding my vision. It’s too much. I can’t move my arms or legs. Can’t stay afloat. I cough into rising water.
Alone. I’m alone in this hazy, painful place.
“Hey,” comes a voice. “Take it easy. Let’s get you sitting up.”
There’s a mechanical whir, and then the world tilts. I look into concerned green eyes. A stranger. My waterlogged mind attempts to place him. I’ve seen him before.
My lips feel swollen as I mumble something. A greeting. A plea.
The nurse bustles around me, straightening the blanket. “Don’t try to move. You’re doing very well, but I want the doctor to sign off before you so much as sneeze.”
I squeeze my eyes tight, trying to orient myself. Frantic moments at the hospital. A doctor shouting. The rest of the memories fall on me like a tidal wave.
Beau Rochester. The sex. The fire. The words he spoke in the inferno when I believed I was going to die: I love you, damn you.
A muted beep speeds up, and the nurse’s face reappears. “Hey, now. No freaking out. You’re going to be just fine. Some smoke inhalation. Some contusions. Let’s not have a heart attack while you’re under my care, please and thank you. You’ll ruin my stats.”
He keeps talking, so I can hear him, sense him, even though I can no longer see him. I like that he’s got a touch of humor. It helps me focus on the current moment. The beeps slow down again. I guess that means I’m calm, but inside I feel frantic.
“Paige,” I say, my voice hoarse.
“The little girl,” comes the answer. “Two floors below us. She’s going to be fine.”
Relief washes over me. “Thank you.”
“How long do you think it will take that handsome man of yours to get here? He insisted I text him as soon as you woke up, so I did. I’m guessing he skips the elevators. They’re slow. No, he’s probably climbing the stairs right now, which is not great for his leg, but does anyone listen to me? No, he’s putting pressure on all the fractures which means that any minute now—”
The pale hospital room fades into the background. The beeping quiets. The nurse retreats to his work, scribbling down notes on a clipboard that’s attached to my hospital bed.
There’s only him. Rochester. Dark eyes. A square jaw covered in a two-day beard. He looks rumpled and strong. But when he steps into the room, he limps. God, his leg was already messed up from the fall. It hadn’t fully healed when the fire happened. It must hurt like crazy. I’m sure he shouldn’t be walking around, but he is. He took the stairs to get to me as soon as I woke up. Something tightens in my chest.
“Are you okay?” I whisper.
Emotions flash through a stormy night gaze. Relief. Guilt. And anger. It’s the last one that holds my breath hostage. “Am I okay?” He makes a slashing motion with his hand. Then with visible effort he reins in whatever he’s feeling. He strides over to me, his limp barely visible; I can tell he’s trying to hide it. “I’m fine. The child in my custody almost died from a fire. And her nanny just woke up, when I thought she was going to—Yes. Fine.”
My heart lurches. I remember his fury in the middle of the fire. His anguish that he couldn’t force me to leave while he was pinned. “I’m sorry I didn’t leave when you asked me to.”
One dark eyebrow rises. “Are you?”
That’s the worst part. I’m not really sorry, and he knows it. I would do it again in a heartbeat. How could I have left him to die? I know how it feels to be abandoned. I would never do that to him. “I’m sorry you’re mad about it.”
“Mad.” A harsh laugh. The smoke inhalation affects him. His voice sounds like gravel. The exhaustion I feel must be affecting him, too, but he doesn’t seem to show it. He’s vibrant with anger. “Mad doesn’t even touch what I’m feeling right now.”
I want to ask more about how he’s feeling, about whether he meant what he said. I love you, damn you. I search his expression, but I don’t find any love there. Nothing soft or even kind. He looks as hard and as remote as the man I first met on the cliffside.
“The kitten,” I gasp out.
“Safe and sound,” he says. “Mateo’s picking her up from the vet later.”
One eyebrow raises. “Mateo Garza? The famous actor? I hope you didn’t suffer memory loss, because I need you whole and healthy. We’re checking out this afternoon.”
The words are a slap in the face. I have to fight the physical recoil.
We’re checking out this afternoon. Who? Him and Paige?
I’m still groggy from whatever’s going through the IV attached to my hand. I can barely lift my head. Walking feels a million miles beyond my abilities.
That means he’s leaving me behind. Where is the man who held me so tight it crushed my body? Where is the man who shouted that he loved me as if he could hold back the flames through force of will? He has the same dark eyes, the same square jaw. The same mahogany hair. Physically he’s the same man. Emotionally he’s a stranger.
“I’ll be fine,” I say around the knot in my throat.
It’s habit that has me reassuring him, habit that comes from being alone and abandoned. Habit that I should have known better than to expect anything else.
In sixth grade the case worker was supposed to pick me up from one foster home and take me to a new one. She got delayed with another case. There was a phone call somewhere, a misplaced text, but the end result was that I sat on the curb in the blazing sun, sweat streaming down my face, running into my eyes.
And then it turned dark.
It got cold.
I huddled with my black trash bag full of clothes and schoolwork, waiting. I knew better than to go back inside the house. The door was locked. I didn’t have a phone or any way to reach her, so I waited. I tore up blades of grass into thin slices. I dragged my finger along the rough pavement, trailing along after the ants and roly-polies who accepted me as one of them.
The case worker showed up the next morning, horrified that I’d been waiting.
I used the same voice then as I do now. The same expression. False brightness. “I’ll manage fine on my own. Don’t worry about me.”
Beau gives me an incredulous look. “Leave.”
For a terrible second I think he’s talking to me. The nurse shakes his head. Out of the corner of my eye I watch him walk out of the room, muttering under his breath.
I have a vague recollection of firefighters crashing into the room. They looked like martians in their huge yellow suits and helmets, wielding axes and hoses. There were EMTs who loaded me into an ambulance. A flurry of doctors when we arrived at the emergency room bay.
And then, when I woke up, there was the nurse.
I don’t blame Rochester for not sitting with me. I understand he has his own injuries, his own exhaustion, though most likely he was with Paige. He has a responsibility to her. Of course he would stay with her, but it does mean this is the first time we’ve been together.
The first time we’ve been together since I thought I was going to die.
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