Chapter 1 – Broken


My heart is racing, and my flesh is on fire.


Chance Bridger.

I’m standing in front of Chance Bridger—the man who broke my heart fifteen years ago.

You think there’s a woman out there for me?

I’d like to think there is.

What was I thinking, answering him like that?

I knew he was single. That he’d never left the ranch. I’m in the FBI and have access to all the intel I want on him. Except I hadn’t looked into him until my supervisor put me on the case. To do so would have been too painful.

McGuinness knew the case was in my hometown. What he didn’t know was that I’d been in a relationship with the suspect…and more.

One look at Chance and I’m that eighteen-year-old girl again, believing his professions of love and devotion, giving him the gift I could only give once. Trusting him. Loving him.

God, after all these years, the wound still hasn’t healed. I didn’t want to come back, but this is my job, and my hometown. I’m the best person for the case.

I’m a trained special agent for the FBI, so I know how to keep my emotions in check. No way can he have any idea how much I’m quaking inside at this moment, how my legs are jelly and I’m forcing them to stand.

How amazing he looks. Older. Bigger. He was big at eighteen, but now? Broad shoulders, barrel chest, the same chiseled jaw, and piercing eyes. He’s even more handsome now than he was back then, which I didn’t think was possible.

“You?” Chance shakes his head, his blue eyes boring into me. “Avery. I can’t fucking believe it.”

I solidify my stance. “Believe it. I just got back from Detective Peterson’s office. He wasn’t happy that we’re taking the reins, but he’ll deal.”

“He’s a dick,” Chance mutters. He runs a hand over the back of his neck.

So are you.

I want to say the words so badly. I want to cry and scream and shout about how he shattered my heart all those years ago. I want answers, damn it. I deserve answers. He left me broken. So broken. And alone when I needed him the most.

But I maintain my professional countenance like a heavy winter coat because I don’t have a choice. He hurt me once. I’ll work this case and nothing more. I’ll move on, just like I did before. But I have my eyes wide open now. I know what Chance is really like and I will protect my heart.

I shrug, playing nonchalant. “Locals are never happy when the Feds take over. We’re used to it.”

He doesn’t reply. Just continues to stare at me, rake his gaze over every part of my body as if cataloging. And damn… It’s like fifteen years have vanished in the blink of an eye. Chance Bridger can still melt me into a puddle with a look. Just like he did in the halls at school.

He’s as gorgeous as ever, with that light auburn hair, fair skin, and blue eyes that I swear can see into my soul. The years have been kind to him. Other than a few laugh lines, his face still looks the same—russet scruff, sculpted jawline, full pink lips.

God, those lips…

And his body… He was always tall and muscular, but I swear he’s broadened. He’s wearing jeans and a red and black plaid shirt, and he’s downright brawny.

I draw in a breath, regaining control over my body.

He shakes his head and takes a step toward me. “Damn, Avery, I have so many questions.”

I hold up my hand. “I think you’d better leave the questions to me.” I shove my badge into the purse hanging over my shoulder. “I have every intention of getting to the bottom of this murder.”

His eyes widen and he takes a second. “You can’t possibly believe that I—”

With a shake of my head, I push on. “I’m not here to believe anything, Chance. I’m here to investigate. I find facts. Sometimes, it turns out people aren’t what I thought.”

Yeah, it was a not-so-subtle dig.

He takes another tentative step toward me.

I draw in another breath.

His gaze meets mine and then drops to my lips, my chest. “Avery. My God. Where have you been?”

I cock my head. “I could ask you the same thing.”

“You know where I’ve been.” He raises his arms and then slaps his thighs. “Here. Working the ranch. And still wondering, after all these years, what the hell happened between us.”

Really? He’s going to play that card?

I’m not sure how to respond and still remain professional, but I don’t have to because he keeps talking.

“You married?” he asks.

“Engaged,” I say.

Why? Why did I just lie to him? I’m thirty-two years old, and I’m playing high school games. I need to stop it now. Right now.

I clear my throat. “That’s a lie. I’m not engaged.”

A little frown forms in his brow. “Oh?”

“I was engaged, but we broke it off a few months ago. I guess I’m still on auto-pilot with that answer.”

There. At least that’s the truth. Although my breakup with Tyler was nine months ago. Does that still count as only “a few months?” Close enough.

“Thank God,” he murmurs.

“How about you?” I ask, even though I know the answer. Besides, he’s not wearing a wedding ring, but that doesn’t mean much working on a ranch. “Married? Engaged?”

“Hell no.”

Even though I knew, a wave of relief sweeps through me when he says the words, and I berate myself for it. Chance doesn’t want me. He never did. He ended things abruptly all those years ago—the fucking day after I gave myself to him.

He was just like every other high school boy—only after one thing.

Some lessons are learned the hard way.

I gave him my virginity—something I can never get back. All these years later, though, I still don’t regret it. How can I? I’ve never found another man I wanted to give it to. Good thing, since I no longer have it to give.

He dumped me in a letter. A fucking letter!

And I still don’t regret it.

That’s how much I loved this man fifteen years ago. And looking at him now? The feelings inside me are whipping back around like a boomerang.

And I remember.

I remember that day at the spring…


Chance and I stand, facing each other, the whooshing of the waterfall splashing over the gray rock surrounding us like a protective bubble. He’s so tall, so full of muscle, and I love the scattering of chestnut hair across his powerful pecs. How can he be so much a man at eighteen?

Ranch work, he’s said so many times.

But still, I’m amazed.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen each other naked. We’ve gone nearly all the way on many occasions, but this time…

This time…we’re going to do it.

We’re going to make love.

We talked about waiting until prom night, but we decided yesterday that today will be the day. Here, by our spring.

The spring is on the edge of the Bridger property, and Chance swears no one else knows it’s here. It’s become our special spot, our magical place, and in my soul I almost feel like it’s ethereal, and that the tiny evergreens sprouting through the cracks in the rock belong to fairies.

Chance reaches toward me, trails a finger down my cheek, my shoulder, over the top of my breasts. “You’re so beautiful, Ave. You look like a goddess. A goddess of this spring.”

I close my eyes, breathe in the robust scent of the fresh air laced with wildflowers and moss. Then I open them, meet his burning gaze.

“Are you sure?” he asks.

“I’m very sure.” I smile. 

I am. I ache for him, and when he touches me, he’ll know how eager I am.

In fact, I’ve never been surer of anything in my life.

“Part of me wants to wait,” he says, his heated gaze a contrast to his words. “Wait until we’re husband and wife. But there’s one part of me in particular that’s done waiting.”

Indeed, his cock is big and hard and majestic. I’ve seen it before. Handled it, sucked it.

But today, it will go inside me, and we’ll be together in the most intimate way.

He slides his hands between my legs. “Mmm. Ready for me.”

I whimper at his touch, roll my hips for more. “Always, Chance. I’ll always be ready for you.”

With his other hand, he takes mine, entwines our fingers together. “I love you so much, Avery Marsh.”

“And I love you, Chance Bridger.”

He leans down, brushes his lips over mine in a soft kiss, and then he leads me into the warm spring. It’s not a bed. Far from it. But he takes me to a flat piece of rock and places me upon it. The height is perfect for him to slide inside me.

He leans down and takes my lips, kissing me deeply, passionately. Chance Bridger is an amazing kisser, and I love the way his soft tongue encircles mine. The kiss becomes hungrier, more raw, more untamed, and he squeezes one breast, thumbing my hard nipple.

I’m throbbing between my legs, so aching and empty…and today, I’ll be filled.

Filled for the first time.

We’ve been waiting for a month. I went on the pill four weeks ago, and we had to wait for it to take effect.

And now?

We’re both so needy and aching and full of the lust of young love.

Chance breaks the kiss and inhales a deep breath. “You sure, Ave?” he asks again.

I love that he’s checking on me, but he doesn’t need to.

“God, yes. I’m sure.”

His body is tense while his words are gentle. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

I shake my head. “You won’t.”

“Put your arms around me, baby. I’m going to go in quickly, okay?”

“Please,” I breathe.

I gasp as he pushes into me, taking my virginity with one swift thrust. Is there pain? A little. But it’s nothing compared to the fulfillment I feel in my body, heart, and soul.

“Fuck,” he growls, holding himself still deep inside me.

This is the man I love. The man who will be my husband. The man who will father my children.

The man who is my life.

“Okay?” He looks down into my eyes.

I shift my hips, adjusting to being stretched. I nod and raise my knees to squeeze his hips.

“Please,” I beg.

He moves, pulls back, fills me again. “Fuck, kitten, you’re so perfect. Tight. Too good.”

He reaches between us and thumbs my clit. He’s made me come before, but this is different. More sensation. Just more.

He moves and circles me. I lift up to meet him and we find a rhythm. We’re not good at this, but it feels amazing. He clenches my hip with his large hand.

“Can you come?” His voice is rough.

I nod and wrap my legs around him, hooking my heels.


He listens and is soon pounding into me. It’s too much. I cry out, clenching around him.

“Avery!” He thrusts deep and holds still.

I feel him fill me. Know I’m now his.



Vanessa Vale