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Authors: Rick Murcer

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BOOK: Carolina Rain
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Josh noticed her gaze and she saw the corners of his mouth turn up and then down so quickly she wondered if she’d seen it at all.

“What was that?” she asked.

“What was what?”

“That look.”

“Oh. I’m looking for someone. He said he’d meet us here. But I don’t see him, so we should go
inside
.”

Taking Chloe’s arm, Josh turned up the sidewalk and headed for the side entrance of the funeral home. Alex held out his arm for Jen and she took it, holding tight. Dean turned his head, offered a small grin, and
Sophie
looped her arm through his. She didn’t care how odd it may have looked, this caravan of twos
. S
he only knew it made them all feel better to be touching someone else, especially someone
who
cared for you.

Sophie took two steps and then felt a massive hand on her arm, pulling her from Dean’s grip and sending her into a defense stance that would have made her combat instructors proud.

She focused on the giant of
a
man and felt her jaw drop. It was the only opening he seemed to need. He snatched her up like a three-year-old and began to squeeze.

CHAPTER-
2

 

 

Sitting on the deck of the oceanfront condo, Lily felt her body fall into rhythm with the waves as they toiled endlessly to the bright sands of Kure Beach. She’d loved North Carolina from the first
moment
her dad had brought her here on a long-awaited vacation. There were a myriad of other popular beaches he could have opted for, but this one was perfect. And she guessed he
’d
hoped it would be therapeutic for her. He
r father
knew she was “broken”
even
back then, but there is no blindness like that of a father to a daughter’s “imperfection.”
He’d taught her that one
. . .
and
had
taught it well.

The beach was quiet on this barrier island
,
and even though there were a few more houses and condos than she remembered,
Kure Beach
was still the epitome of a beach town. Her life had been spent around water, but this part of the Atlantic Ocean had n
ot
stopped calling to her. Her dad had said that kind of thing could happen and she believed him. He’d never lied to her; at least she still had that.

Glancing down at her gloved-hand, she rubbed it together with the other, winced, and then turned back to the beach. After watching the dolphins dive for an early meal, she focused on the aged Kure Beach Fishing Pier standing tall to the south of her. It looked rickety, with its weather-faded veneer, but had survived several hurricanes and still stood
fast
. She glanced at her leg and wondered when she’d do the same. The doctors said it would be a few more weeks, maybe even two months, but the strength would return fully. That was a good thing for
her
. S
he was going to need strength.

Turning back to the pier and squinting into the bright morning sunlight, she noticed the huge brown pelicans nestled on the top of the painted light towers running down the center of the long dock. The birds weren’t in their normal fishing mode but
,
instead
,
chose to see how many of the numerous fishermen and women would offer them something that wasn’t going to end up in a frying pan or a freezer. Something for nothing. How enterprising. But was she so different? She’d come a long way since the incident back home and had truly had to rely on others for everything, up to now. There were times, even with the pile of pain pills and constant flow of meds
via
IVs designed
to dim the pain

and her senses
she guessed

that she was still totally coherent.
Completely
. It may have driven some people mad to think that clearly and not to have command or control over their movements. As always, however, she exercised great patience induced by a hope that everything she was going through would evaporate the desire that had always
subsisted
.

Desire? It was far more than that, was it not? It was as if she’d been programmed from birth to feel, if
feel
was
the proper term, like she did. Destined, if one believed in su
ch horseshit, to be the counter
balance to all that was proper and supposedly moral
.
W
hatever the hell that meant.

The world stank of cops who killed the innocent, priests who raped young men, pastors who left their wife for the church secretary
. P
residents
, kings, and queens
who lied
without guilt
, and parents who held secrets dark enough to plummet them into the recesses of a
God-forsaken
jail. Those contradictions told her that moral
ity
was in the eye of the beholder
and she was free to exercise
her
choice
s
.

She supposed there were men and women who practiced what they preached but they were as rare as gold and twice as shiny. No. For the vast majority of pathetic lives, the human race
consisted of liars and self-indulgent hypocrites. Not that
i
t really mattered to her anymore because, after all of those years of living in denial, she was now honest about her
self
. . .
and her
“urges.”
Lily
sighed
. Maybe she wasn’t so out of whack after all.
Maybe she was the pure one
.
Time would tell.

The morning breeze freshene
d and she pulled the blue hoodie
a little tighter. Late March had some warm days but today wasn’t one of them. If anything
w
as true about the Carolinas, it was the propensity for sudden changes in weather
,
specifically
in the spring, before the famous Southern heat crept over
and strangled
the region. But
cooler weather
was okay, for now. When
it
was right, she’d help turn that summer fire into an inferno.

Rising from the padded deck chair, she grabbed the cane that looked like a crooked stick from some fantasy movie and began the tedious journey back inside. She grimaced with each labored step
,
but the smile inside grew brighter. She’d already started to think about her first lover, really think about him.

Finally reaching the sliding glass door, she plopped on the couch, stretching for her laptop as she settled in. After hitting the enter button, his face came into view. He was young
and
more than good looking, even with that Ivy League persona
. . .
and he had money. Why did the perverts always have money? A
real
pervert, according to his weekend pay-for-fun friends on the Carolina coast.

The blood pulsed through her veins at the thought of getting him alone. She wondered if he’d feel the same when the day was over. She laughed. She didn’t think he’d be feeling much at all
,
but she was sure she’d come fully alive. In fact, she was counting on it.

“We shall see,” she whispered as she
blew the screen a kiss
. “We shall see, indeed.”

CHAPTER-3

 

 

“Where you been all my life, girl?” whispered the voice elicit with the Caribbean accent Sophie had grown to love.

“Braxton Smythe. It’s good to see you. Now put me down before I kick your ass in front of all of these people,” she whispered back, smiling in spite of the reason they were all gathered at the funeral home.

Huge ebony hands lowered her to the asphalt. The giant of a man had to bend down almost horizontally from the waist to comply with her request.

She looked up at his face and felt the momentary joy escape her like a deflating balloon. His dark eyes were clear, but held no ability to hide the pain that haunted his thoughts
. . .
just like the rest of the lives that Manny Williams had touched.

An old song about knowing him was to love him raced across Sophie’s mind. Braxton had known Manny just a day or two and had visited him several times in the hospital but that hardly called for a trip to the man’s funeral. Yet, here he was.

“Good to see ya all
too
.
I hate da reason but you be looking good to me, all
of
you.”

“It’s good to see you too,” said Josh.

Sophie watched the two exchange looks and nods and was struck with how close and yet far away people’s lives were to one another. The two men hadn’t known each other for long but they were obvious friends, brought together by circumstances and their encounters with Manny.
And
perhaps
it was more than that. She frowned. She couldn’t put a finger on it but
,
like Manny used to say, it would come to her.

Just then, Gavin Crosby, Lansing’s
p
olice
c
hief, his son, Mike,
who was
the department's new lead detective, and Frank Wymer, the larger
-
than
-
life detective she’d worked with a couple of times previously approached the somber group, all wearing the same look of
this
can't
be happening
. Flashes of how Manny had impacted each of their worlds came to life in her thoughts
,
and for the tenth time in four days
,
she suddenly felt overwhelmed. She wanted to scream
,
and her tears wanted to break free
,
but she wouldn’t allow it, not now. Tonight, in her apartment, maybe then.

“I’m glad we caught up. We’d like to walk in to
. . .
this
. . .
place with you all,” said Gavin.

Gavin looked as stoic as ever

especially dressed in his formal
royal
-
blue uniform
—only
his voice gave away his emotion. It had faltered to a soft whisper she’d only heard from him one other time.
His voice and actions had been identical
when he’d
spoke
n
at the funeral of his deceased wife, Stella.
He had loved Manny as a son.

She glanced at Chloe and saw her nod her head and smile another lost, polite smile. But as Sophie turned away from Manny’s wife, more heartbreak squeezing what was already too full of a heart, she noticed Braxton scanning the crowd. For no reason she could think of, she turned to Josh
,
who
was doing the same. They were in sync
;
Braxton to the right, Josh to the left. Following Josh's eyes, she saw who he was looking at, not where.

For the first time since they’d arrived, she noticed the others from the Bureau. There were at least four men and three women agents that she could see and no telling how many of Braxton’s DEA group might be hanging around.

The Bureau’s people weren’t all that great at subtle
ty
.
Each of them
, including the women, were dressed in dark suits and glasses to match. Each was positioned according to
protocol;
and
were
scann
ing
the
throng of
people coming to Manny’s funeral from
every
angle
. Pretty damn odd for a funeral.
Something was up and she was in no mood for guessing games. Apparently Chloe wasn’t either.
Before Sophie could speak, Chloe grabbed Josh by the arm, then pointed to Braxton
,
and nodded at Sophie. The invite was as obvious as the cold wind.

“You two care to step over there with Sophie and me
for
a minute? We
’ve
got a word or two to share, don’t ya know.”

A few seconds later, the four were huddled in a group some twenty feet away. Chloe didn’t beat around the bush, her green eyes on fire.

“What the hell are you two doing? This is Manny’s funeral
,
for God’s sake, and y
a
got agents crawling all over this place. You better have a good reason or I swear I’ll shoot
the
both
of you
.”

Sophie cringed. There wasn’t even a hint of humor in Chloe’s voice. She just might do it.

BOOK: Carolina Rain
5.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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