Moving to the North Carolina Outer Banks was a chance for Leah Kymes to put her life back together, after her marriage went sour. But peace and quiet evade her, when her father is discovered murdered in his fish and tackle shop. Not willing to wait for authorities to solve the crime, she begins to delve into recent events involving her Dad. What she uncovers shatters her understanding of the man she thought she knew so well.
At Leah's side is her old flame, Officer Aden Parker, who runs interference between Leah and the salty detective who sees her as a hindrance. Ignoring Aden's warnings, she deepens her probe, but soon draws the attention of a handsome stranger. Is this new man just competing for her affection - or a vicious killer intent on making Leah his next victim?
Perched on top of a sand dune, Leah looked across the ocean as waves curled and crashed against the shore. Behind her, stalled traffic lined North Carolina's Highway 12, six miles deep. Residents of the Outer Banks fled their homes days earlier as the dark clouds of a Category 3 hurricane raced toward them. Now they were headed back to whatever the storm had left behind.
Leah's father, Rex, had ignored the warnings. "I ain't scared of no damned storm," he'd said. "It's the price we pay for living in paradise, honey."
Rex had been born and bred on the North Carolina coast. He was sun-tough, with seawater for blood. An average-sized man with a shock of white hair, a face lined by hard living, and eyes as blue and alert as a clear summer sky, he feared no man, and believed destiny was his to write. She believed that he was invincible when she was a child. She knew better now. After a week without a word from him, Leah's frustration was speeding toward fear.
She dug her toes beneath the warm sand, ran her hands through her thick auburn hair, and twisted it into a bun. She'd spent nearly four days huddled in a hotel room, watching hours of new reports as the storm tracked toward the Outer Banks. Afterward, she searched photos of the destruction, straining to see if the home she shared with Rex and their businesses had been spared.
Leah picked up her cell phone and tapped the photo of her father. Since the storm hit, communication had been spotty to the Outer Banks. Like all the times before, her call went straight to Rex's voice mail. Instead of leaving another agitated message, she ended the call, picked up a stick, and jammed it into the sand.
She was irritated. If she knew him well, and she did, her father hadn't thought once about the worry he caused. The old cuss was probably fine, but it was strange that he hadn't called to check on her, not even once. When her mind pondered over that loose detail, she pushed it to the furthest spot in her brain.
The blare of horns signaled that it was time to move. She skidded down the dune that hugged the road. Course granules of sand shifted underfoot as she descended. Heat pressed against her bare feet as she fished her keys out of the pocket of her cutoff shorts. Gaps in the line had been created by drivers who'd already moved forward and the woman parked behind Leah laid on her horn and growled, "We're trying to get home today, please!"
Leah sighed, grit her teeth, and gave a quick wave. "Sorry." Beneath her breath, she mumbled, "Go to hell." They were all in the same predicament and moving a few feet forward wasn't going to get either of them on the ferry any faster. She'd been in line for nearly two hours on the southern tip of Ocracoke Island. It would take another hour before she reached the pier for a forty-minute boat ride before landing on Hatteras Island, then another fifteen before she got to her father's house in the town of Frisco.
A hand tapped her on the shoulder. "Excuse me, ma'am. Are you Ms. Leah Kymes?"
A Hyde County police officer stared down at her. Sometimes, cops issued tickets to drivers who walked away from their cars when they were in the line for the ferry, especially at times like this. A ticket was the last thing she needed.
"I'm getting ready to pull up. We've been sitting here--"
The cop threw a hand up to stop her. "It's okay." He stepped closer and asked again, "Are you Leah Kymes?"
She frowned and looked down the line of cars. Eying him, she answered, "Yeah, I'm Leah Kymes."
"I'm Officer Alfred Hawkins. The Dare County Police Department requested that we locate and help you back over to Hatteras."
She stepped back. "Why?"
He shrugged, "Don't know. I was just told to find you."
"Is this about my father?" Her stomach turned at the thought that something bad had happened.
Hawkins held up a hand, "Ma'am, I don't know." He was a tall man, with smooth dark brown skin and an open face. "I was asked to get you back over to the island."
She looked at the backed-up traffic. There were still six miles to go before getting to the landing.
As if reading her mind, Officer Hawkins added, "I can take you back on one of the guard boats. Your car won't fit but another officer will get it on the next ferry."
At first, only a few drivers showed any interest when Hawkins first appeared beside Leah, but radios quieted and chatter ebbed when a second cruiser pulled alongside them and deposited another cop. Hawkins called over his shoulder to a female officer, "Direct the rest of the cars around us."
This officer was young. She'd chopped her brown hair into a pageboy and appeared to be losing the battle against acne. Giving Leah a quick, dismissive glance, she turned and waved the other cars along.
The woman who'd shouted at Leah earlier eased by slowly, but kept her curious gaze locked on the action.
"You sure you don't know anything?" Leah asked, searching Hawken's face.
"No," he said. Dark shades covered his eyes. Leah couldn't read his face but there was something in the brevity of his reply that worried her. Before she could question him any further, he said, "That's Officer Maynard." He pointed to the woman directing traffic. "She'll drive your car to the ferry. Someone on the other side will make sure it gets to Hatteras."
Maynard didn't look old enough to drive, and Leah didn't like the idea of leaving her car in someone else's hands, but what choice did she have. The line wasn't getting any shorter and she needed answers. Eyeing Hawkins again, she worried that he was being evasive. Cops never tell the whole story until they're ready. She opened the car door, pulled out her shoes and handbag, and tossed her keys on the seat. "Okay, I'm ready," she said to Hawkins.
He raced them along the shoulder of the highway, past the line of cars waiting for the next ferry. He parked against the edge of a sand dune and then escorted Leah to a small, white police boat. "We'll ride over together," he said.
He separated from her as soon as they hit the boat's deck and nudged himself into a corner with four other cops. Leah sat alone on a small portside bench and watched them watching her. They kept their voices low and, every so often, shot skimming glances in her direction. Hawkins had been sent to find her--to look specifically for Leah Kymes. There were thousands of people trying to get back on the island and every resource was tied up in the restoration effort, yet some official had seen fit to use Hawkins and a police boat to fetch her. Why?
After a moment, she stood and turned away from the cops. Leaning against the rails, she closed her eyes, pushed her face into the wind, and tried to concentrate on the roar of the boat's engine, the swish of the wake created as they cut through the waves, the call of the seagulls sailing overhead, anything but the sound of doubt coming from deep inside her own chest.
She had tried not to get anxious over the twenty-four-hour media coverage. She left the hotel room as often as she could, sped through several novels, caught up on emails, and even allowed herself the luxury of uninhibited sleep. None of it managed to shake loose a growing sense of foreboding. Something bad must have happened to Rex, a thought that drove her to file a missing person's report. Her father would be furious with her for doubting him. There was, of course, another issue. Rex loathed the police, a fact that made Leah pause each time she started dialing the emergency hotline. There were some cops he'd warmed to over the years but, as far as he was concerned, most could pucker up and kiss his crotchety old ass.
On Hatteras Island, Officer Hawkins walked her to a squat, yellow building known as the Inlet. Hugging the tip of the pier, the Inlet served as a visitor's center. A balmy wind pushed three blue signs that advertised snacks, restrooms, and ferryboat information. Across the lot was Hatteras Landing, where a collection of tourist shops and eateries were housed in a blistering white stucco building. It was usually overrun with tourists this time of year but stood empty because of the storm.
Rex had to be okay, she thought. Then, like an erratic wind, her mind shifted, and the voice in her head would shout, they don't send police escorts for a simple missing person's report, or do they? Maybe it was because Rex was elderly and kind of like a town fixture. If he were the only citizen unaccounted for, the officials wouldn't hesitate to put more effort into finding him.
Perhaps they had located Rex, but he'd been injured. The storm had been a whopper. It had raged against the coast for nearly eight hours. News reports showed cars and debris thrown all over the place, and homes and buildings had been torn apart like toys. A crack had appeared in Highway 12, severing lower Hatteras from the northern shores.
Immersed in her thoughts, she almost plowed into a man standing at the top of the ramp. She started her apology without even bothering to look up then began to move around the figure when a hand closed around the top of her arm.
She raised her eyes to study the face of the man that had used her name. He was a head taller with soft brown eyes and tanned skin. A faint scar zigzagged from his bottom lip and disappeared beneath his chin. She'd given him that scar, slamming her Hello Kitty lunch box into his face after he'd popped the head off her Cabbage Patch doll.
"Aiden?" she replied. Then, more confident, she gushed, "Aiden Parker!"
She hadn't seen him since she was eighteen. A thousand questions popped into her head, as she considered his ruggedly handsome face. Was he married? Was he back in the Outer Banks? How was his family? Did he have kids?
Her mouth had started to quiver out the first question when Officer Hawkins moved past her, and like a pendulum swinging, her thoughts immediately shifted back to Rex. "I know this sounds rude, but I'll have to catch up with you later. I have an emergency right now. Maybe we can exchange information or something," she mumbled, already heading away.
"I know," he said, taking the crook of her arm again, to stop her.
She cocked her head. "You know what?"
"I'm a cop with the Dare County Police Department, and I know you made a call about Rex."
She narrowed her eyes and stared into his face for a moment. Like Hawkins, his expression was flat. "Where is he?"
"Come inside so we can talk," he said.
"Where's my father?" she insisted, determined not to move from that spot until she got an answer.
"Come on," Aiden said. He placed his hand on her shoulder and urged her up the last few feet of the ramp. They crossed the store and walked down the hallway past a set of restrooms. He opened a thick door with a sign, AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY. The building also housed offices for the Park Service and the North Carolina Department of Transportation, which operated the ferry service. Three uniformed officers chatted beside a bank of windows. Their conversation halted then picked up again in hushed tones.
Aiden pointed her to a conference room. "We can talk in here."
A large man with flaccid jowls and a rumpled brown suit stood at a window overlooking the sound.
"This is Detective Eric Lawson," Aiden said.
"Where's my dad?" Leah asked. This time, she didn't try to hide her irritation. Fear crawled up her spine, and she bound her prickly arms around her belly, as the big man turned to greet her.
Lawson pointed Leah to a seat at the table. "Let's talk for a moment."
She pulled back one of the chairs, barely noticing when the leg scraped against her foot. Lawson lowered his considerable frame into a seat opposite her, while Aiden replaced him at the window. Her leg shook and the sound of her flip-flops slapping against the sole of her foot broke the uneasy quiet in the room. Lawson leaned in and smiled but, despite the wide, toothy grin, Leah felt no warmth coming from the man. She recoiled, slight uncomfortable under the unyielding glare of his cold, gray eyes.
"I have a few questions," he said, "if you don't mind." He didn't wait for her to agree. "When was the last time you saw your father?"
She rubbed her hands together. "Um, the day before the storm. Why?"
He scribbled her response on a short, wire-rimmed notepad. "Home, or at his store?"
"At the house. He refused to leave, but wanted me to go."
"Was he planning to ride out the storm at the house?"
"I don't mean to be rude, but you gotta give me something." She tugged her hair out of the bun, twisted it tighter, and reset the scrunchie. "Is my father still missing?" Her head was spinning and all the horrid images of what that could mean rushed through her brain. She pressed the back of her hand to her upper lip, blotting away a light sheen of sweat. Despite the hum of the air conditioner and the bank of windows that stretched the entire length of the room, the space felt small and stifling. She asked again, "Is he still missing?"
Lawson pursed his lips. "No. He's not missing."
She let her head fall back and whispered a quiet prayer. "Thank, God." But her elation turned midstride as another wave of terror struck. "Is he okay?"
Rex wasn't a young man. That had been the point of their argument. Riding out a murderous storm was dangerous, but for a sixty-nine-year-old man, it was akin to lunacy.
Aiden turned from the window and slipped into the chair beside her. He grabbed the seat's edge and scooted closer. His face was hard and serious, but softened when he took her hands. "Leah, there's no easy way to say this." He stopped to swallow, the sound loud enough for her to hear. "Your father is dead."
She tilted her head and stared at him in disbelief. Her mind a blur, Leah struggled to process what he said. The air grew thinner, and she snatched her hands away from Aiden, held them in mid-air, then turned her gaze to Lawson, as if seeking confirmation.
He nodded. "He's dead, Ms. Kymes."
A long, sorrowful moan lifted from her chest, and Leah leaned forward, pressing hands to her eyes, as if trying to hold back the flood of tears. She turned suddenly to Aiden. "How?" she asked. "How?"
He inched closer, his knees pressing into hers. "Lee," which was the name he'd given her when they were children, "I need you to listen to me." The next words sliced into her like a knife. "Lee, your dad was murdered. Somebody shot him."
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About the Author
K. S. David lives in the Mid-Atlantic with her husband, their three children and a spoiled sheepadoodle. She’s addicted to true life mysteries and crime shows, both of which marry well with a great romance. Some of her favorite things are long walks, reading in bed, baking and, of course, writing her next novel.