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Authors: P. J. Alderman

Tags: #Suspense, #Mystery, #Romantic Suspense, #pacific northwest

A Killing Tide (2 page)

BOOK: A Killing Tide
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She returned his look without blinking, a shiver dancing across her skin. This guy wouldn't welcome her sympathy.

He nodded, the slightest inclination of his head, then turned back to his meal.

"Kind of cute for a burnout, huh?" Lucy's voice cut into her thoughts.

Kaz made a noncommittal noise, disguising her reaction by drinking more beer. "Maybe he wanted to downshift, live with a little less stress," she murmured, not believing it for one minute.

Lucy harrumphed. "If that's true, he'll go stark raving mad the first winter. Guys like him come out here to kick back, to live the supposedly idyllic, small-town life. After the first hundred inches of rain and thousand dollars of counseling to help them cope with all the peace and quiet, they de-web their feet and head back home."

Kaz smiled, her tension easing a little. Living on the north coast of Oregon
did
require a certain kind of fortitude. "Still, if he's got the kind of experience you say he does, maybe Astoria is lucky to have him," she pointed out.

Raised voices forestalled Lucy's reply. Kaz turned in time to see her brother Gary shove his friend Chuck hard against the bar. The room fell silent.

She jumped to her feet, shaking her head at Lucy, who was already half out of her chair, then headed toward them.

"I need your help, damn you," she heard Gary say in a low tone as she neared. His large hands fisted in Chuck's shirt.

She ducked under Gary's arm and placed a hand on his chest. "Hey." Pasting a smile on her face, she glanced over her shoulder at Chuck. "What's going on, guys? You're starting to draw attention."

Beneath her hand, Gary's muscles were rigid with suppressed violence. Their genetic propensity for height had blessed him even more than Kaz—he towered a good six inches over her five foot ten. And whereas she tended toward a willowy frame, a stint as an Army Ranger and grueling years of drag fishing had given Gary a solid, powerful build.

"Yo, guys? You're turning me into a candidate for high blood pressure, here. What d'you say we—"

"Stay out of it, Sis," Gary muttered, not looking her way.

She risked a quick glance at Chuck, whose expression was calm. But then, Chuck
always
looked calm.

"Bad move, what you're thinking, man," he murmured to Gary, his lips barely moving.

A frisson of unease slithered through her. "What's this all about?"

Chuck spared her a chiding look. "Not your business."

"You're making it my business," Kaz shot back softly, "as well as everyone else's." She angled her head toward the room. People's gazes were lowered, but they hung on every word.

"Problem?" The resonant baritone came from behind Kaz. She swung around, her shoulder connecting with Gary's chest, which served to force the two men slightly apart.

The new fire chief stood a few feet away, boots planted, arms hanging loosely at his sides. He was taller than she'd realized, and if the crow's feet around his eyes were any indication, older than she would've originally guessed—maybe around forty.
Formidable
was the first word that leapt to mind. If any more tough men showed up, she'd asphyxiate from the ambient testosterone.

"I'm handling it," she insisted.

Chapman's gaze flicked over her, then he turned back to the men. "You two might want to continue this outside."

"Who the hell are you?" Gary demanded, causing Kaz to wince. He had an almost preternatural gift for irritating the authorities.

"Just a guy who wants to finish his dinner in peace," Chapman said, crossing his arms. The soft wool of his cable-knit sweater glided smoothly over hard muscle. "And I'd prefer that the lady not get hurt."

Kaz frowned. "I won't—"

Gary overrode her. "No one asked you to butt in, pal."

Chapman shrugged and nodded toward his booth. "Zeke—over there—tends to get real stressed out." The dog let out a snore. "I do what I can for him."

"You're a regular comic."

Steve chose that moment to walk up on the other side of the bar. "Take it outside, Jorgensen. I don't want another fight in my bar."

Gary rounded on him, his expression lethal. "You've got no room to complain,
no room.
For all I know—"

Steve's normally pleasant expression hardened, his eyes going flat. "I
said
, leave. Now."

Kaz reached out and gripped his arm. "Gary. Please."

He glared at her for a moment, then jerked away. "Hell, I'm out of here." He tossed some money on the bar. When she reached out again, he glanced down at her, his expression momentarily softening. "Leave me be, Kaz." Then he shot a hard look at Chuck—a look, she realized, that was tinged with fear. "You think about what I said." He snagged his coat off the back of the bar stool and shouldered his way between them.

Chuck slanted a quiet look at her while he paid his bill. "Stick to the sidelines on this one, kiddo." Then he followed Gary out the door.

She stood for a moment in the spot they'd vacated, then huffed out a breath. Turning back to Chapman, she forced another smile. "You know, I really could've handled that."

He studied her without comment. She'd been right—his eyes were light blue, so light they were almost silver. But his gaze wasn't so much unfriendly as simply world-weary.

"Most women would hesitate before getting between two rough-looking men spoiling for a fight," he said finally.

She shook her head. "One of those 'rough-looking' men was my brother."

"Ah." He nodded and held out a hand. "Michael Chapman."

"Yes, I know." His grip was firm, warm, and slightly rough. He held her hand a moment longer than was called for, and she pulled away, taking an involuntary step backward and crossing her arms.

One corner of his mouth lifted at the movement. "Small town—word travels fast, I imagine." He waited.

"Oh, sorry." She introduced herself.

"Kaz." He cocked his head. "Unusual name."

"It's short for Kasmira, a family name—my grandmother's," she explained, then gestured vaguely toward the center of the room. "Well. I should be getting back—"

"I'm not keen on women getting shoved around in bar fights. In the future, you'd be wise to be more careful."

She curbed her impatience. He was new; she probably should cut him some slack. "Gary and Chuck can disagree on something as minor as whether the Cubs have a chance to win this year's pennant race," she explained. "They're
friends
. It wouldn't have gotten out of hand."

"Obviously you didn't think so, or you wouldn't have raced over to break it up."

Her irritation notched a peg or two higher, her voice chilling. "This is a small town, Mr. Chapman. You'll find folks around here won't appreciate you butting into their business."

A flicker of something, possibly humor, came and went in his eyes so quickly she might have imagined it. "Folks rarely appreciate my butting in, as you put it, no matter where they live," he replied, his tone dry as dust. "Ma'am."

She watched him walk back to his booth, annoyed that she'd let him push her buttons. Protective males made her crazy, and Astoria had an overabundance of them. There had to be something in the water—this guy had been indoctrinated in less than a week.

"Well?" Lucy asked when she returned.

"Not a clue."

"What did Chapman want?"

Kaz jerked her shoulders, still unsettled by him. She was good at handling aggressive men—it'd been part of her job description for the last ten years. But Chapman had gotten her defenses up in less than thirty seconds.

She noticed Lucy was scanning the room, her "cop" expression on.
"What?"

Lucy hesitated, then shook her head. "You'd better have that talk with Gary, and soon," she said, referring to the discussion they'd had when she'd called Kaz early one morning a month ago and suggested she come home on extended leave from her consulting gig in San Francisco.

Hearing the uncharacteristic worry in her friend's voice, Kaz hadn't even hesitated. She'd packed her laptop, told her business partner she'd handle whatever she could from Astoria, then booked the first flight to Portland. Once home, she'd made excuses to a disgruntled Gary about how she could use the break from her high-stress job, about how she figured she could use the downtime to help him get the family fishing business back on its feet. About how getting back out on the water would be good for her.

He hadn't bought her last argument any more than she had. She'd known coming home would cause old memories to resurface, keeping her awake late into the night. But she'd deal with them—she didn't have a choice. And though she hadn't been able to ferret out yet what was bothering Gary, she was working on it.

"I don't want Sykes back on his case," Lucy said, bringing Kaz out of her thoughts. Jim Sykes, the chief of police and Lucy's direct superior, had never been able to stand Gary, even when they were kids growing up. "And I
really
don't want to be the one to haul your brother in on another assault charge on the chief's orders."

Kaz frowned. "Come on. That's stretching it, don't you think?"

"Two fights in one night? I don't think so. And you
know
this gives Sykes the excuse he needs to yank Gary off his parole."

"Whoa. Earth to Luce.
Two
fights?"

The light dawned. "Right—you weren't here yet, were you? Gary and Ken got into it earlier." Lucy paused. "Now that I think about it, it was the same kind of thing—a serious row that looked like something I might have to break up. But Ken split before it could go anywhere."

Kaz rubbed at an aching muscle in the back of her neck, the uneasiness she'd been feeling off and on returning full force. Ken was usually already home with Julie and the kids by the time she made port, so she didn't see him all that much. Particularly now that his son was so sick.

But he and Gary had always been tight, ever since they'd served together in Iraq. They had a lot of shared history—both from the war and from being out on the water together. Their friendship had had its share of rough patches, but their disagreements had always been short-lived. Gary had always stuck by Ken, no matter what. In fact, both she and Lucy suspected that it had been Gary's loyalty to Ken that had landed him in jail six months back. Which made the fight Lucy was talking about incomprehensible. Kaz sighed. Just like the rest of Gary's behavior lately.

Lucy was waiting for an explanation, and Kaz dearly wished she had one. "Gary's been having nightmares—at least, I think he has," she admitted. "I can hear him pacing in the living room at night."

"Nightmares about what? The war?"

Kaz shook her head. "I don't know. He's hard to read under the best of circumstances. But still, bar-fighting has never been his style."

"Yeah, well, could've fooled me." Lucy's expression was grim. "And Sykes was here earlier—he saw what went down with Ken."

That
wasn't good news. If Sykes thought Gary was a danger to the community, he wouldn't hesitate to throw him back in a cell.

Kaz mentally reviewed what Gary had said to Chuck and Steve at the bar. Or not said, to be more accurate. She gnawed on her lip. "Look, you know those guys'll argue about just about anything…" Her voice trailed away as she took in Lucy's stubborn expression. "Okay, okay. If it'll make you happy, I'll go hunt Gary up and ask him some extremely pointed questions."

Lucy looked relieved, far more than Kaz would've thought was warranted. Which made her even twitchier. "Of course," she added, trying to inject a lighter note, "I'll have to take a rain check on the pool game."

"Yeah." Lucy sighed. "I should get back to the station anyway."

Kaz glanced around the room, schooling her expression so that she didn't show the worry that was gnawing at her gut. None of the fishermen would make eye contact with her. And now that she thought about it, they'd been unusually silent out on the water earlier that afternoon. The typical radio chatter had been missing—along with the camaraderie. "Hmmm?" She realized Lucy had been talking to her.

"I
said
, you just don't want to get trounced again at eight-ball and owe me double or nothing on last night's bet."

"Like hell." Kaz kept her tone light as she found a few crumpled bills to drop onto the table for her beer.

Lucy snagged her wrist as she walked past, her expression uneasy. "Just watch your back, okay?"

#

Michael Chapman leaned back in his booth and watched the Jorgensen woman leave. Thick, waist-length, blond hair, a slim, athletic body, and soft, chocolate brown eyes. And attitude—tons of it.

He grimaced. He hadn't paid much attention to women the last couple of years—a sad fact his friends in the Boston Fire Department had pointed out repeatedly—but Kaz Jorgensen had caught his attention and held it. And after talking to her, he could sympathize with the reactions he'd seen on the faces of the other men when she'd arrived. A few had watched her with wistful expressions, a few with barely concealed irritation. But the rest had looked relieved, perhaps even exasperated—probably fishing buddies who'd been worried about her. He'd bet she drove them crazy on a good day, taking chances they privately labeled foolish. She'd certainly caused
him
a qualm or two when she'd waded into the middle of a brewing bar fight—one that looked as if it might get real ugly, real fast.

BOOK: A Killing Tide
7.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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