When a young woman searches
her dark past for answers,
she realizes that some secrets
are best left unrevealed.
When a young woman searches her dark past for answers, she realizes that some secrets are best left unrevealed.
In this touching Friessen family novel, as Cat searches for answers from a past that still haunts her, she unexpectedly meets a man hired to keep her safe, a man who reaches her in a way no one else has. When a dangerous flirtation ensues, and secrets are revealed, the ultimate cost could be her first love.
Growing up, Cat Friessen didn’t always know who she was. In fact, her earliest memory is of being alone in a silent world, terrified and misunderstood, left like garbage in a Mexican orphanage. The memory haunts her, and it’s one she’s never shared with her parents, Neil and Candy Friessen, who have given her their name, their love, and a surgery that changed her life for the better. Now nineteen, Cat struggles with her sheltered existence and the fact that she doesn’t really fit in. Her identity lies somewhere between deaf and hearing, and even though she now has a life she’s grateful for, she can’t help feeling as if this world belongs to everyone else, as her past continues to follow her like a dark cloud of secrets.
Desperate to find answers, Cat can’t share with anyone what she’s thinking or feeling, but all that changes when she meets Xander Jennings, a man who takes tall, dark, and dangerous to another level. When the house almost burns down one night and Cat sleeps through the alarms, Neil hires Xander to make sure it can never happen again. Only Xander has secrets of his own, ones he doesn’t share with anyone. He sets one strict rule for his jobs: No getting involved with the client. That is until he meets Cat, who leads him into a dangerous flirtation and forces him to choose between doing the job he’s been hired to do or coming clean with her about everything he’s hiding, which could cost him this opportunity for love.
Cat Friessen hadn’t always known who she was.
In fact, she had no idea who she came from, what her middle name was, or why she had been tossed away as if she were garbage. Her earliest memories came from a place nightmares were born: dirty and poor, eating from a garbage can in a back alley—an unfriendly and silent world.
It was a memory she still hadn’t shared with her adoptive parents, an image of her early life that haunted her, being tossed around by strangers, terrified, feeling irritation, rough hands and concrete walls. She’d been dumped in what she now knew was a Mexican orphanage, where no one realized who she really was. She hadn’t understood the world, and it hadn’t understood her until the day she was found by Candy Friessen, her mother, who had pulled her from that place. It was a time in her life she didn’t speak of.
Yes, she was fortunate to have two parents who loved her, Neil and Candy Friessen, who wanted her and would move heaven and earth and everything in between for her. She knew that. She loved them for that. Only the problem was that she didn’t believe they really understood who she was, especially considering she herself didn’t have a clue who she really was, deep down—that is, aside from being Cat Friessen, adopted by Neil and Candy Friessen.
Maybe she lacked a solid foundation, a branch of family that could let her know where she came from, with roots and history, connecting her to the past, the present, and the future. She needed that instead of the giant hole she was beginning to feel more and more every day she had ascended from.
Or maybe it was that there were days she felt as if she were trying to fit into a world that belonged to everyone else. Her hearing came from a mechanical device wired into her brain, a device that had flung her into a state where she wasn’t really hearing and wasn’t really deaf. That left her where, exactly? That was the dilemma she found herself unable to share with anyone. That came along with the fact that Cat had never in her eighteen years been kissed and was now working for her dad from home in an administrative job she neither liked nor felt needed in, further isolating her from the world.
Although she should’ve been happy with her life, she couldn’t help, especially as of late, being troubled over a minute detail: No one really knew what her actual date of birth was, considering there were no records. That piece of paper everyone had and likely took for granted was the key, she realized, to why she hadn’t been able to find her footing.
She glanced up and saw that her mom was walking her way. She had long dark hair and was slim and gorgeous in blue jeans and a jean jacket, looking more like a supermodel than what a mom, in her mind, was supposed to. Cat tried and tried to look like her, but the best she could do was wear a sheer blouse over a tank long enough to cover her flat chest and butt, which couldn’t make a pair of jeans look as if they’d been made for her. Her short stature, at five foot one, was nothing like her mother’s tall, curvy, and leggy perfection.
Her mom was saying something and smiling, and it was then Cat realized she hadn’t fastened her device, because she was seeing her lips move but hearing nothing. Her component was in her room, beside her bed, where she’d left it. She didn’t need it when she was working on the computer, answering emails, and sifting through all the boring administrative tasks that kept her father’s investments in order, the Cancun resort and other worldwide collaborations in the hospitality sector. It was a business that drove him, excited him, and bored Cat to tears.
She signed to her mother and took in the puzzled expression as Candy gestured to her ear and signed back, “Where is the component to your cochlear implant?”
“Upstairs,” she signed. “Sorry, forgot it.”
No, she hadn’t. She found that the silence, as of late, gave her much-needed time to process her thoughts, because sometimes hearing all the background noise became distracting. There were times she just wanted to think, which were different from the times she was forced to take off the component when bathing or swimming. Then there was the beauty of sleeping in silence, when she heard nothing and slept peacefully. There were also the times it failed when she forgot to change the battery or carry a spare. Those were the times she was stuck in the silence, in a world that could have terrified her but didn’t.
“Everything okay?” her mom asked and reached out to touch a strand of Cat’s recently lightened hair. She’d been going lighter and lighter with streaks of gold until her hair actually seemed blond rather than the mud brown she hated. There was a fullness about her hair that she loved, as well, as it allowed her to hide her implant, her overly plump cheeks—all her imperfections.
“Of course,” she signed, her standard answer. “Listen, I’m going to the library in town. Can I borrow the car?”
Her mom dangled the keys to her new vibrant red Chevy Traverse, something her dad had picked. Neil Friessen was a man who went and handled things before people could even realize something was in the works. In fact, her mom had reacted with shock when the car showed up in the driveway one morning. Candy tapped her ear and said, “You finished all the work your dad left for you?”
Another reason for her need to get out of the house. “Yup, all done,” she said, having read her mom’s lips.
“Okay, then go get your receiver, put it on, and have your cell phone with you, and…” Her mom stopped signing and rested her hand on Cat’s shoulder. “And when you get back, you and I are going to have a talk about some things before your dad starts rearranging your life and questioning you about what’s wrong. We’ve both noticed, and you know how your dad worries at times.”
Yeah, she knew well. Her dad was filled with vibrant energy, a doer who was determined to see that his family had everything they needed, and if they didn’t, he’d make sure they got it, whether they wanted it or not. He was a control freak and, as her mom had joked a few times, was obsessive compulsive about life in general.
She definitely needed to get out of there before her dad pulled in from wherever he’d gone and poked, prodded, questioned, or, God forbid, started organizing some other activity for her to do.
She drove past the historic seventh street theater and glanced into the rear-view mirror to see a black Mustang behind her. She took in the bridge over the water and made her way through the roundabout, taking in the people, the cars, all the signs of life. She pulled into the library parking lot and couldn’t keep the smile from her face. Perfect, freedom for a moment! She would also have internet access without having to worry that her dad would wonder what sites she’d been visiting.
She pulled into a spot in front between an old rusty Jeep and a pickup and climbed out, taking her small purse and the blue sweater she could pull over her sheer blouse, which did nothing to ward off the chill. She pressed the key fob to lock the car and heard the beep, then turned as she spotted the black Mustang from earlier pulling in and parking two spots over. She climbed the steps to the library, pulled open the glass door, and looked back to see a tall, dark-haired man in a leather jacket, obviously the driver of said Mustang. A hot guy inside a hot car. She lingered a second, watching him through the glass as he locked the car and then came her way. He was looking to the side, wearing dark glasses, yup, he fit the image of a perfect guy in a muscle car. He was just missing a supermodel girlfriend.
Then he looked at her, and she wondered for a second whether he could see her watching him. She’d just started to go in when a lady came out, a kid in tow. “Excuse me,” the woman said. The kid was crying, and the woman seemed hurried.
Cat felt a hand touch the door above her head. She glanced up and actually turned to take in the guy. He was lean and broad shouldered, and he wasn’t just hot, she realized as he pulled his dark glasses from his face. His eyes were dark brown, surrounded by thick dark lashes, and he was the kind of good looking that brought to mind the word “dangerous.”
“After you,” he said and smiled, showing white teeth, not perfect but the kind that just added to the package. Then there was the dimple. What was it about guys with dimples? She kept going into the library, feeling the guy following her as she made her way to the computers. She took an empty one at the end and pulled her library card from her wallet so she could log in. She glanced up and didn’t see the guy anymore. Pity, she thought.
She started the search engine and hesitated just a second before she typed in Mexican orphanages, and up came pages and pages, one of which was titled “Black hole for children.” Then she started fine tuning her search, first using the term Cancun, then Cancun orphanages run by clergymen, which brought nothing specific but pages of everything.
A chair squeaked beside her, and her stomach nearly bottomed out when she took in the guy from the Mustang.
“You come here often?” he asked and smiled again, leaning back and swiveling in the chair.
She found herself staring at his perfect full lips, reading them. “Sometimes, when I want some time to myself,” she said.
He tapped the keyboard at his computer, giving her another easy smile before taking in her screen. “Oh, nasty stuff, Mexican orphanages. Doing research?”
What could she say? In a way, yes, research about all her unknown and missing pieces. “Just getting some much-needed answers,” she said.
“Oh. Xander, by the way.” His dimple, just one, was popping, and there was a magical spark in his eyes as he held out his hand. He was older than her. He was a man, she supposed, early twenties, maybe a little older, but there was something about him that screamed he knew a lot about everything. She wondered why some guys seemed to just carry that aura.
Here she was, feeling like a country bumpkin as she tapped her hand on the hard top of the desk, completely rattled. “Cat,” she said too loud and caught the look from the librarian at the desk.
His hand surrounded hers, large, warm, callused, a touch that rattled her even more. She pulled her hand away and tucked her hair behind her ears, bumping the receivers on both sides. Why did she act like such a complete klutz around good-looking guys? Maybe it was the fact she didn’t have a clue how to talk to a guy, but then, how could she, being the sheltered misfit she was?
“Cat, short for Catrina?” He was still talking to her, and she was doing her best to hide her receivers. At the same time, she could feel her face warm, so she gave all her attention to the computer screen, tapping the keyboard and navigating back to the search engine.
“No, just Cat.”
He was typing something and not saying anything else. “So I noticed you have hearing aids?” he finally said—so he wasn’t going to let it go. What was it about her that he found fascinating enough to make him want to talk to her?
She hesitated and then did something she’d never done with a stranger before: She reached behind her ear and lifted one receiver. “A cochlear implant. I’m deaf, but when I wear these, I can hear.” Why was she explaining this? She never talked about it.
“That is so cool. So I bet you read lips too, and sign? Any other talents?” Was he actually flirting with her? He couldn’t be.
She didn’t know what to say. “I ride,” she said, then realized by the confusion on his face that he didn’t get it. “Horses.”
“Oh, cool. Never been on a horse. You have horses?”
Her fingers hovered over the keyboard. “I do, well, my mom’s horse. She keeps it at my uncle’s place, not far from where we live.”
He was giving her all his attention when the lights flicked off and on.
“Closing in ten minutes,” the librarian called out.
Great. She knew she wouldn’t have a lot of time, so she signed off the computer and reached for her purse.
“So, Cat, who likes libraries, is researching Mexican orphanages and rides horses.” He smiled again, and not a boyish smile, either. It was one she thought she could look at forever, because it was that of a man giving her all his attention. “It was a pleasure to meet you.”
Then he was walking away, and she looked around the computer, taking in his butt, which was just another view of his male perfection. She heard a throat clear and took in the librarian watching her watching him.
Cat didn’t know what had woken her as she blinked in the darkness of her room. Her closed door opened, and it was her dad, hurried. The light was on in the hallway. He was in his pajama pants and a shirt, barefoot, and she coughed, realizing it was foggy. No, it was smoke!
She could hear nothing, just silence, but could see he was talking fast, upset. He pulled her out of bed by the arm and down the stairs, where she could see a light flashing from the smoke alarm. Then she was outside, standing in the wet and cold in just her pajama shorts and a tank top. There was her mom, wearing a green silky housecoat, her long dark hair a mess, and her brother, Michael, was looking a lot freaked out. Then she saw sirens, one firetruck and then another. Her mom gripped her arm, pulling her closer, and then her dad was jogging back, saying something to them.
“What happened?” Cat said and signed the words.
Her dad rubbed her arm, which was covered in goosebumps, then hurried off back to the firefighters, who were now going into the house.
“I don’t know, just the smoke detectors went off,” her mom signed. “There was smoke downstairs, and you couldn’t hear the alarm.”
Cat didn’t have to hear to tell that her mom was upset. Her arm was around Michael, and Cat shivered in the cold, wishing she’d thought to grab a sweater, a housecoat, anything.
Neil jogged back over, put his arm around her, and hugged her, then her mom and Michael. He stepped back, shaking his head. Cat was watching his lips, seeing how upset he was. It was about her, her not hearing, her sleeping without her device, which she’d done before.
“What if they couldn’t get to her? She would have slept right through the fire.” Her dad was upset. She could see how he talked to her mom, who also was shaking her head and agreeing, saying, “We have to do something, Neil.”
When some of the firemen finally came over to them, Cat took in the chaos. They were all dressed in fire gear, helmets, some still going in and out of the house.
“Faulty wiring behind the wall,” the chief said. “We pulled the wall down in the room in back, and there was chewed wiring from a rodent. It was smoldering. The only reason we figure it didn’t ignite to a full-scale fire is that the insulation around it was damp. Water’s likely getting in through the same place as the rodents. We’ve turned off the power to that room, but you’re going to want to notify your insurance company, get someone in tomorrow.”
She couldn’t see what her dad said, as he stood in front of her, but whatever it was, the fireman was pointing to the house.
“Yeah, you can go back in tonight, but keep the electricity off in that room, and get someone in tomorrow morning to assess the damage. We’re going to do a last check through the house, make sure there’s nothing else.” Then he was gone.
Her dad went with him, and maybe Cat’s expression revealed her question, as her mom signed, “Your dad went to get your coats.”
There he was a few seconds later, hopping off the front steps, carrying her sweater, Michael’s jacket, and her mom’s all weather.
It was another hour before they were allowed back in the house and given the all clear.
Cat had become the silent observer, taking in her mom and dad and their back and forth about going to Brad and Emily’s for the night, but they decided against it. That was fine with Cat, although her adrenaline was racing from the excitement. It hadn’t quite hit her, she realized, that it could have been far worse, and if her dad hadn’t come through that door, how would she ever have known?
Maybe that was why, when she finally did go back to bed, she attached the audio processor behind her right ear. As she lay there, trying to go to sleep, she picked up the sounds in the house, her parents’ voices and a buzzing she couldn’t put her finger on.
When she woke the next morning, the sun was high in the sky, and it took her a second to realize she couldn’t hear anything, because she’d somehow detached the component while sleeping. As the events of the previous night came back to her, she slid out of bed, pulled on her housecoat, and fastened both audio processors behind her ears before stepping out of her room and hearing talking from downstairs.
She made her way down and saw that her dad was dressed along with her mom, both with their backs to her, speaking with someone she couldn’t see—but as she stepped off that last step, her eyes hooked on the tall, dark, and dangerous Xander from the library just the day before standing opposite her dad. He was wearing blue jeans and a blue and white dress shirt, which revealed his amazing build.
Everyone was looking at her, and she wished in that moment two things could happen: The first was that she’d thought to brush her mussed bed hair, and the second was that the floor would open up and let her slip away and hide.
“Cat, come here,” Neil said. “I want you to meet someone.”
To her horror, she realized he didn’t get that she wanted—no, needed to go back upstairs and make herself presentable. Could this get any worse?
Xander smiled with that charming flash, and there was the dimple. Shit! She touched her hair and gripped her fuzzy housecoat, which was about as flattering as a grain sack.
“Xander, this is my daughter, Cat,” Neil said. “Cat, this is Xander. He’s here to make sure what happened last night never happens again.”
Instead of saying they’d met or something to reveal that he knew who she was, Xander stepped around her parents and held out his large hand. “Cat, nice to meet you.”
She slid her hand into his, feeling the tight warm grip as it surrounded hers. Why the pretense? At the same time, she was grateful for it. “Xander, nice to meet you. And you’re here to do what?”
His smiled broadened, his hand still holding hers. “I’m here for you, Cat. Whatever you need, you get.”
As she stood there like a fool, she was stuck on the fact that mister tall, dark, and dangerous was giving her all his attention. For what and why, she didn’t have a clue, but right now, all she wanted to do was race upstairs, get dressed, and come back down to try this again.
Copyright 2017, Author Lorhainne Eckhart