By: Brenda Jackson

It was only after their pastor had encouraged her parents to enroll Crystal in public school to enhance her social skills that they did so. By then she was fifteen and starving for friends. But she’d discovered just how cruel the world was when the other girls had snubbed her and the guys had made fun of her because she’d been advanced in all her studies. They’d called her a genius freak. She had been miserable attending school until she’d met Bane.

Brisbane Westmoreland.

The man she had secretly married five years ago on her eighteenth birthday. And the man she hadn’t seen since.

As a teenager, Bane had been her best friend, her sounding board and her reason for existing. He’d understood her like no other and she’d felt she had understood him. Her parents made the four-year difference in their ages a big issue and tried keeping them apart. The more her parents tried, the more she’d defied them to be with him.

Then there was the problem of Bane being a Westmoreland. Years ago, her and Bane’s great-grandfathers had ended their friendship because of a dispute regarding land boundaries, and it seemed her father had no problem continuing the feud.

When Crystal came to another traffic light she pulled out a business card from her purse. It was the card those two government officials had left with her. They’d asked her to call if she changed her mind or if she noticed any funny business. At the time she’d thought their words were a scare tactic to make her give their offer more consideration. But could they have been right? Should she contact them? She replaced the card in her purse and looked at the note again.

No matter what, don’t trust anyone.

So what should she do? Where could she go? Since her father’s death, her mother was now a missionary in Haiti. Should Crystal escape to Orangeburg, South Carolina, where her aunt Rachel still lived? The last thing Crystal wanted was to bring trouble to her elderly aunt’s doorstep.

There was another place she could hide. Her childhood home in Denver. She and her mother had discovered, after going through her father’s papers, that he’d never sold their family homestead after her parents moved to Connecticut. And even more shocking to Crystal was that he’d left the ranch to her. Had that been his way of letting her know he’d accepted that one day she would go back there?

She nibbled her bottom lip. Should she go back now? And face all the memories she’d left behind? What if Bane was there? What if he’d hooked up with someone else despite the promises he’d made to her?

She didn’t want to believe that. The Bane Westmoreland she had fallen in love with had promised to honor their wedding vows. Before marrying someone else he would seek her out to ask for a divorce.

She thought about the other promise he’d made and wondered if she was the biggest fool on earth. He’d vowed he would come back for her. That had been five years ago and she was still waiting. Was she wasting her life on a man who had forgotten about her? A lot could have happened since he’d made that promise. Feelings and emotions could change. People could change. Why was she refusing to let go of teenage memories with a guy who might have moved on with his life?

Legally she was a married woman, but all she had to show for it was a last name she never used and a husband who’d left her with unfulfilled promises. Her last contact with him after her father had sent her away was when he’d called to let her know he was joining the navy. Did he expect her to wait until he got tired of being a sailor, moving from one port to the next? What if an emergency had come up and she’d needed him?

She knew the answer to that without much thought. Had an emergency arisen, she could have reached him through his family. Although the Westmorelands had no idea where she lived now, she’d always known where they were. She could have picked up the phone and called Dillon, Bane’s eldest brother, if she’d ever truly wanted or needed to contact Bane. Several times she’d come close to doing that, but something had always held her back. First of all, she knew the Westmorelands blamed her for a lot of the trouble Bane had gotten into.

As teens, her and Bane’s relationship had been obsessive and she didn’t want to think about the number of times they’d broken the law to be together. She’d had resorted to cutting school, and regardless of what her parents had assumed, the majority of the time it had been her idea and not his. Nothing her parents or his family said or did had torn them apart. Instead, their bond had gotten stronger.