Gabriel Taggert. Former naval officer, man of honor--and her best friend's husband. Cara Thorpe's feelings for the one man she could never have had always been her own shameful secret. And when her best friend disappeared without a trace, she lost them both. Until a postcard arrived, eight years late.... Receiving an eight-year-old message from her best friend was disturbing enough. Now Cara had to face the man she'd quietly loved for years. Would teaming up with Gabe on a dangerous hunt for the truth jeopardize their own lives...and the chance for a future together?
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July 31, 2008
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Excerpt from Her Best Friend's Husband by Justine Davis
"It's time, Gabe."
Gabriel Taggert looked at his father-in-law and wanted to punch him out. Which was odd, because he admired, respected, and yes, loved the man. And he would never do it, since at his own six-foot-one he towered over the slighter man.
"He's right, dear," Gwen Waldron said quietly, agreeing with her husband. She usually did. Not that she wasn't more than capable of standing up for herself if she truly disagreed; it was just that the forty-years'-married couple rarely differed in opinion.
"Just like that?"
Gabe's voice came out low and harsh, which startled him. Shouldn't he be over it by now? They all--meaning every well-intentioned person who knew what had happened--told him it was a process that was individual, that everyone had to do it at their own pace and in their own way. But despite the platitude, he was fairly certain most of them would expect his world to have gone on by now.
"Do you think we like this any more than you do?"
For the first time the undertone of emotion broke through in Earl Waldron's voice. Somehow that made the tightness in Gabe's gut ease a little.
"But it's been eight years." Gwen put her hand on his arm then, a touch he treasured because of who she was and hated because of who she wasn't. "You know she'd have been in touch, no matter what happened, if she could."
He supposed the worst part of what he was feeling was the knowledge, somewhere buried deep, that they were right. He fought to keep it buried, but with both of them digging at it now, he wasn't sure he could. The simple fact was, his wife was gone, vanished so completely that not having found a body didn't make it any less likely she was dead.
"We're not asking for a decision here and now. Just promise you'll consider it," Earl said. "Really consider it, son. We need to move on. And so do you."
"All right." He owed them that much, and he couldn't help it if the words came out a little sharp.
He stood there on the deck of the hundred-and-forty-nine foot boat that was his world these days and watched them walk down the gangplank. They'd been a huge part of his life for so long--accepting him as the son they'd never had and still treating him that way, even though the link between them was gone-- that he couldn't imagine going on without them.
But then, he'd gone on with an even bigger piece missing. Not well, or with any particular grace, but he had gone on.
"Everything all right?"
The soft inquiry came from behind him, and Gabe turned to look at his friend and boss, Joshua Redstone, who was also the designer and builder of this dream ship. Gabe had been in the depths of the darkest hole when Josh had offered him the job of heading up his boat-building enterprise. And when the desk-oriented job had begun to pall a couple of years ago, Josh had seemed to sense it. He'd given Gabe the chance to be at sea again, with the captaincy of this lovely vessel, the latest and biggest to bear the Redstone name.
It was to be, Josh had told him, the literal flagship of Redstone, not to be sold as others had been, but to be kept for the use of the Redstone family. From division managers to file clerks, anybody who worked for Redstone, Incorporated and had the need would have access to the boat.
And Gabe had been among the first to learn exactly what Josh meant; the first weeklong cruise he'd captained had been for the concierge of one of the Redstone Resorts, whose husband had died in a traffic accident. She was but one of thousands of employees, and at a relatively low level on the Redstone chain, but Josh, as he always did, had heard about the death and had offered the boat to the entire family.
He snapped out of the memory as Josh gently prodded. "I...I'm not sure."
"Were they your in-laws?" Josh's drawl was barely discernable, telling Gabe how carefully he was picking his words. "Hope's parents?"
"Tough," Josh said.
Gabe turned to look at his boss then. "Yes," he agreed.
"They made a special trip out here to see you?"
Gabe nodded. And then, because no one knew better exactly how he felt, he let it out.
"They want my wife declared dead."
Josh was silent for a long moment. If it had been anyone else, Gabe might have assumed he had nothing to say, but the head of Redstone, Inc., was never one to speak lightly or without thought. That characteristic delay--and the drawl--gave some, to their detriment, the idea he was slow or lazy. They inevitably spent time afterward musing on the cost of their assumptions.
"They want their daughter declared dead?" Josh finally said, quietly.
And there, with the insight typical of him, Josh reminded him gently that their loss was as great as his. Greater, perhaps; they'd had Hope Waldron for twenty-nine years, he for only six of those.
"I know, I know." Gabe shoved a hand through his dark hair, realizing only after he'd done it that he'd still, after all this time, raised both hands as if he were wearing his officer's combination cap, to be removed before the gesture and resettled after precisely an inch and a half above his eyebrows, according to navy regs.
"Old habits die hard," Josh observed mildly, and Gabe knew he'd caught the lapse. "Old thoughts sometimes die harder."
"How long did it take you?"
The question escaped him before he could block it. Not for anything, even to ease his own pain, would he intentionally call up bad memories for this man he admired, respected, even loved, as did most who worked for him. Josh Redstone had built an empire that spanned the globe, employed thousands, and Gabe would be willing to bet there wasn't one of them who wouldn't walk into hell for the man. In part because they knew he'd do it for them--and had.
"I'm sorry," Gabe began, but Josh waved him to silence.
"How long did it take me to accept that she was gone?" Josh asked. "In my head, I knew it right away. But then, she died in my arms. I felt her go."
Gabe's breath caught. He hadn't known that. He'd known Elizabeth Redstone had died of cancer several years ago, known that Josh had been alone ever since, knew the common wisdom at Redstone was that she'd been his soul mate and he would never even try to replace her. But Gabe had never really thought about the details of it. Hope, he thought, would likely have had the whole story within minutes of meeting the man; she had always been good at getting people to open up.