Publication Date: September 13, 2016
Genres: Adult, Contemporary Romance, Sweet / Clean Romance, Thriller
Sometimes, relationships can be deadly.
Terri thought she was marrying a strong, loving man, only to find that beneath that handsome face lies something cold, brutal, and dangerous. After years of abuse, her husband takes things a little too far, and Terri finally summons the courage to take matters into her own hands and make her escape.
But freedom comes at a price.
Forging a new life, Terri moves to a new town and tries to forget her past, but she can’t help looking over her shoulder at every turn. When prison bars can no longer hold her husband, and her past comes knocking, Terri finds that the strength to trust again may be her only salvation. When her attractive new boss steps up to the plate and vows to protect her at all cost, she’s inclined to accept…but can she ever allow herself to trust her instincts again?
*Author Note* Her Only Salvation is a bold and enticing storyline with a hint of romance (sensual but not explicit). This book was originally released under J.C. Valentine’s given name and was entitled “Spring Cleaning.”
Luke pulled into the short driveway and cut the engine. They sat together quietly, looking up at the squat ranch-style house.
“Nice place,” he commented, his head nodding slowly.
It was a very nondescript house, only nine hundred square feet. It had a slab of concrete for a porch, box hedges under each shuttered window, so overgrown they blended together, making them appear as one giant bush. She hadn’t trimmed them in ages. A plastic bag, stark white against the deep evergreen, sat tangled in one of the branches, moving lazily with a soft breeze. The yard was little more than a strip of grass, plain and unremarkable.
“You should trim those bushes,” Luke told her. “It’s a good hiding place for someone who wants to break in.”
Terri’s stomach fell. She had never thought about that, but now that the idea was planted she knew she wouldn’t get any rest until the problem was taken care of.
“I’ll cut them,” she assured him. Maybe even tonight, she added to herself.
Luke’s head swiveled around, and he regarded her with a serious expression.
Dropping her hand, she covertly wiped her wet thumb nail off on her skirt and searched for something to say. What kind of conversation can you hold with your boss anyway? she wondered.
“Well.” Terri smiled awkwardly and reached for the handle. “Thanks for the ride. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She was all the way out of the car when Luke stepped out to join her.
“I’ll see you inside if you don’t mind.”
He was already moving toward the house, leaving her with little choice in the matter. She was actually kind of relieved. Nothing was more unsettling than coming home to a dark, empty home.
Walking alongside Luke, Terri peered at the darkened windows and wished she would have had the foresight to at least leave on a lamp.
“You shouldn’t come home to a dark house,” Luke remarked, echoing her thoughts.
Terri smirked, bypassing him so she could fit the key in the lock.
Pushing open the steel-clad door, she stepped inside and flicked on the wall switch. Light flooded the living room, illuminating the adjoining hallway that led to the back two bedrooms.
Luke came in behind her and performed a cursory glance around the tight space.
“I know.” Terri immediately began apologizing for the state it was in. “It’s a little cluttered, but it’s not dirty.”
“No, it’s not dirty,” Luke agreed slowly. “Just a lot of furniture.”
Terri took in the oversized sofa and loveseat, the recliner and two end tables, the coffee table and finally, the entertainment center, all crammed into the restrictive room.
“I couldn’t afford a storage unit after the divorce, and I didn’t have the heart to let everything go,” she confessed, then immediately zipped her lips. She hadn’t intended to share her past with anyone. The more you revealed about yourself the more likely the past would come back and haunt you. And Terri’s past was better left secret.
“You were married?” Luke sounded surprised.
Terri wasn’t sure if she should be offended—as if a woman like her wasn’t capable of securing a husband—or embarrassed that she was standing here talking to her boss about her personal life.
“Still am, actually. But the divorce will be final at the end of the month,” she went on.
Of course, that’s what her lawyer had told her. It had been the same song and dance month after month for nearly a year. At first she thought it would be a quick process, but it turned out to be more complicated than that. Randy had disputed one thing or another all the way, resulting in several postponements until things could be worked out between their lawyers.
Luke nodded slowly, his gaze sliding around the room. “Must have been something bad for a woman like you to call it quits.”
Terri frowned. “What do you mean?”
A shrug. “Just that I figure you to be the type with stick-to-itiveness. Care if I have a look around?”
Terri was too tired to protest. She waved him on. “Go for it.”
She followed closely from one room to the next. Luke peeked around the corner into the kitchen. He went for the bathroom next, drawing back the shower curtains and replacing them.
“What are you doing exactly?” she asked him, moving to the side so he could get past her.
“Making sure everything is secure,” he replied, opening first her guest bedroom, then her own. He stopped to study the room. “I think you might have a hoarding problem,” he told her.
Terri glanced over his shoulder seeing the large queen bed framed by two bedside tables topped with elegant Tiffany lamps. There was an armchair in the corner by the closet, a five-drawer pine dresser she had picked up at a flea market and painted white to match the rest of the furniture, and a cedar chest at the foot of the bed.
“What?” she said defensively. “This isn’t that bad.”
He shook his head, a glimmer of a smile creeping up on his face. “No, not nearly as bad as the guest room, I’d say.”
“Well nobody asked you,” she snapped.
No longer in the mood to be judged, Terri shoved past Luke, hastily grabbing the handle and slamming the door shut.
Laughing, Luke followed her back into the living room.
“I didn’t mean anything by it, honest,” he insisted.
Terri wasn’t having any of it. She had long grown tired of having to answer to a man.
She spun on him, shoving a finger in his face. “Who taught you that you could just traipse into someone’s house and start passing judgment, huh?”
He held up his hands in self-defense. “I’m sorry, Terri. Really.”
Narrowing her eyes briefly, Terri backed off. If she wanted to keep her job, she better not get on her boss’s bad side. “Don’t let it happen again,” she warned.
Luke tracked her as she moved around the room, retrieving the afghan she kept draped over the loveseat. She folded it into squares just for something to do. The man had a way of stirring up nervous energy.
“Do you want something to drink?” she asked, growing tired of looking for something to distract herself while he stared after her.
“No, thank you,” he said quickly. Taking two steps back, Luke opened the front door. “I should be heading home.”
“Okay.” Terri crossed the room to see him out. Polite as ever, she mused, holding the door open as he stepped out onto the porch.
“I’ll swing by to pick you up at four,” he informed her, and took off down the short path leading back to the driveway. Stopping midstride, he spun back around. “And Terri?”
She raised her brows.
“Don’t forget to keep a light on.”
Jerking upright, she saluted him. “Yes, sir!”
He grinned as he made his way to the car. Terri waited until he was out of sight before shutting and double-locking the door. Call her paranoid, but she felt much better having sturdy locks barring the outside world from intruding on her personal space.
A smile tipped her lips as she readied herself for bed. Luke may be her boss, but he had captured her attention from day one. She often replayed that fateful day she walked into Sunset Black. She was desperate for a job, and no one had wanted to take the time to train someone with no skills, no job experience, and no references. She had the word unemployable stamped across her forehead it seemed.
Determined to land something before she went fully bankrupt and ended up homeless, Terri marched into the dimly lit club during peak hours of operation and demanded that she be interviewed. It was the first time she ever stood up for herself or raised her voice to anyone. So of course it wasn’t a character she could maintain.
About halfway through the forced interview, about the time Luke was preparing to turn her away, Terri broke down into tears, utterly defeated.
Worried by her obviously fragile mental state and realizing the deep need for her to have this job, he offered to start her right away. As in that night. She didn’t know a thing about bartending or waitressing, but she was eager to learn and that seemed to make all the difference.
It was a rough start, but she thrived under the constant praise and encouragement from Luke, picking up things easily. Despite her attraction to him, as well as half the staff who looked at him with lust-filled eyes, she figured out pretty fast that he didn’t see any of them in the same light. They were more like sisters to him, and he kept a watchful eye to make sure they were staying out of trouble and trouble wasn’t finding them in turn. He offered a certain sense of brotherly protection, a shelter from the rain. Even though the pay wasn’t so great, Terri grew to love working at Sunset Black. The view wasn’t so bad either.
One day some lucky girl would snatch Luke up, leaving his admirers grieving from the loss.
Dressed in her pajamas, Terri ventured into the kitchen for a snack. Despite her pack-rat tendencies, her kitchen was sparse, lacking anything to make a real meal out of. Finding one last slice of bread in the bag, she made a peanut butter sandwich and poured herself a glass of milk. She was planning to fall asleep in front of the TV tonight watching infomercials.
She was halfway to her bedroom before Luke’s words came back to her.
Turning around, she went back and flipped on the porch light. It was going to make a dent in her electric bill, that was for sure, but she would do it because he was right. Safety was important.
About the Author
J.C. Valentine is the USA Today and International bestselling author of the Night Calls and Wayward Fighters Series and the Forbidden Series. Her vivid imagination and love of words and romance had her penning her own romance stories from an early age, which, despite being poorly edited and written longhand, she forced friends and family members to read. No, she isn’t sorry.
J.C. earned her own happily ever after when she married her high school sweetheart. Living in the Northwest, they have three amazing children and far too many pets and spend much of their free time together enjoying movies or the outdoors. Among the many hats she wears, J.C. is an entrepreneur. Having graduated with honors, she holds a Bachelor’s in English and when she isn’t writing, you can find her editing for fellow authors.