* * *

By the time the pre-shows ended and the commentators worked the red-carpet crowd, Liz's Oscar party was in full Texas swing. Caterers flitted about as though on Rollerblades. People with heaping plates clustered around the screen on the patio and another in the oversized den. The largest crowd occupied the living room, which had been transformed into a theater with room to sit or sprawl before a wall-size screen. The crowd hooted as the lights dimmed. Stanley and the two men he'd brought remained in the back corner. They neither approached nor spoke. But they also did not let Brent out of their sight.

He drank his share of ginger ale and laughed at the banter. When friends asked him about the ceremonies and the parties, he did his best to respond. But his fears would not let him alone. There might come a time when he could be easy around cops, when he did not constantly fear the wrong step that might land him back inside. But he wasn't there yet.

After a half-dozen awards, Brent finally gave up and left by the side door. The crowd's noise followed him as he crunched down the drive to where he'd left his truck. His isolation bit hard. He knew twelve of those up for the top slots, had acted with two of the leading ladies, and had performed under three of the directors. There was an exquisite agony to seeing their faces painted and smiling on a night he yearned for and knew would never be his again.

But something even stronger than memories drove him away from the house, stronger even than his fear. He had been acting back there. Playing the role for the two sets of eyes at the back of the room. Honesty was one of those vital components of his new life. If he couldn't be honest, he had to leave. There was no going back on certain promises.

A lingering image chased him down the drive, of a woman with white blond hair, gemlike gaze, and the finest smile Brent had ever known. As he drove into the night, Brent could not say which was worse—not seeing Celia Breach among the glittering Oscar crowd or knowing she was absent because of him.

* * *

Celia Breach sat in the dark house and winced at the television's flickering images. Aiming her remote at the screen, she pushed the channel button as though shooting a fatal bullet. The awards show vanished, only to be replaced by the image of her own face, a closeup in a cable rebroadcast of one of her films. The image filled the screen with painful perfection. She snapped off the TV altogether.

Setting her wine glass on the coffee table, she rose and crossed the room on shaky legs. She halted before the gilded hall mirror. She should have asked Manuela to take this thing down long ago. A crack snaked down one corner, a souvenir of her rage after his last visit. She traced a finger along the scar that snaked down from her hairline, its pattern eerily similar to the crack in the mirror.

When she saw the tear reflected in the glass, she angrily swiped it away. "No." She spoke aloud, the single word echoing in the empty house. I will not let you do this to me. Never again. ...

Excerpted from My Soul to Keep by Davis Bunn; Copyright © 2007; ISBN 9780764204357; Published by Bethany House Publishers.  Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.